Our North Star

A vision for community safety beyond prisons and policing

Art via: mollycostello.com

1. Embrace healing & accountability

Our system of justice should be community-driven, grounded in dignity and restoration.

Policing and prisons do not keep us safe. But we know what does create safe communities: Helping people heal from harm. Creating accountability through transformative forms of justice. Using proven solutions like restorative practices and community-based re-entry programs. 

To become safer, we need to teach students mediation and conflict resolution skills. We need community members who are committed to caring for one another. And we need skilled unarmed emergency response teams to help find solutions and keep everyone safe in emergencies.

2. Invest in public health & community needs

Everyone should have access to health care, mental health services, food, housing, and all they need to thrive.

We all want to live in safe communities. But incarceration as a response to violence, drug addiction, and mental health problems has been an overwhelming failure. The “War on Drugs” has incarcerated millions of people. Families and communities have been torn apart. And these approaches have not made our communities safer.

We know what does help keep us safe: Living in communities where people of every color and background have fair wages, great schools, and affordable healthcare. 

Addiction and mental illness are public health issues. Our response should be prevention and treatment, not punishment. Directing resources towards health and wellness is one part of that. So is funding for public education, employment, housing, food access, and environmental protections.

3. Support community-based reentry

People returning from incarceration should be welcomed and set up to succeed.

Everyone deserves a second chance. But that is hard to come by for hundreds of thousands of people who are released from prison each year. Most face “collateral consequences” of incarceration and system involvement. These can include barriers to housing, employment, and voting. And these consequences have devastating impacts. They set people up to fail. They don’t increase public safety. And the effects are felt by families and communities, too. 

Instead, incarcerated people should be prepared for release. Communities should be resourced to receive and support them. Prison and parole administrators should focus on successful re-entry, not punishment. And state and local governments should remove barriers preventing true reintegration.

Photo: Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney

Photo: Isiah ThoughtPoet Veney

Photo: AFSC

Photo: AFSC

Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee

Photo: Sarah-Ji @loveandstrugglephotos

Photo: Sarah-Ji @loveandstrugglephotos

Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

4. Decarcerate

We need to reduce the number of people behind bars or under other forms of state control. That includes parole and probation.

We know that mass incarceration has not made us safe. We know that the war on drugs criminalizes Black and Brown communities. And we know that we deserve a new system that doesn't target people by race or identity. Yet certain politicians and their corporate donors use fearmongering to divide us. 

We need to change the policies that send people to prisons and jails, and the policies that keep them there for years or decades. Community-based programs work to build real community safety. We need to bring people home and help them succeed. 

5. End criminalization & surveillance

Local, state, and federal policing policies should never target people based on age, race, religion, or origin.

Racially targeted policing has fueled mass incarceration. And Black and Brown people are disproportionately targeted from a young age. Hundreds of thousands of children have been arrested, often by police in their schools. 

Women and LGBTQ people can land in jail for acts related to public order, poverty, child welfare, drug use, survival, and self-defense. “War on Terror” Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) surveillance programs target Muslims, Arabs, and Black and immigrant communities. Racial and social justice organizers are targeted, too. The term “Black identity extremists” has been applied to Black Lives Matter organizers.  

Surveillance does not keep us safe. And we need to reject measures that normalize it. Instead, we need to invest in our communities so that all people can be safe and thrive.

6. End prison profiteering

No one should profit from human suffering. It’s time to divest from–and abolish–the private prison industry.

Private companies are heavily invested in repressive carceral systems. As people have tried to reduce prison populations, these companies have developed new ways to profit. They have pivoted to “rehabilitation programs,” prison food, health care services, and reentry services. But their focus is on their bottom line, not on the well-being of people in prison. These companies have only entrenched the status quo, with its emphasis on punishment.

We need to abolish private prisons, private detention facilities, and all attempts to profit from incarceration. Divesting from corporations profiting off the prison industry is a good place to start.

7. Replace policing with community-centered safety

Communities are innovating to end their reliance on police—and succeeding. Let’s move money out of police budgets to fund new approaches to public safety.

No matter what we look like or where we live, we want our families to be whole and our communities vibrant. But the people entrusted to serve and protect us target, detain, and kill people – disproportionately Black people – while many politicians try to divide us. They know that if we’re made to fear each other, police officers meant to uphold the law can harm our communities. Elected leaders meant to represent our interests spend millions to militarize law enforcement. They also deny resources to the schools and healthcare we actually need. 

Together, we can demand our government work for us. We need to fund our communities and set our kids up to thrive. Everyone deserves the chance to have a full and healthy future, no exceptions.