Huda Ahmed: Criminal Justice Reform

Individuals can feel insignificant in the face of complex issues like racism, climate change, and depressed economies. It is in partnership with others, however, that many of us find strength. Here are a few people on the ground that have been doing collaborative work.

Huda Ahmed is skilled at creating conversations that keep community members centered. She has been selected to lead a multi-year collaboration between Greater Twin Cities United Way, The Minneapolis Foundation, and the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation focused on criminal justice transformation. Starting in the Twin Cities, the multi-year project will be “open to wherever the conversations take us.”

It is about “more than grantmaking. It is about staying at the table, engaged with communities, defining the issues, funding solutions, implementation for whatever solutions come out of this process, including support and influence for decision makers at the state level.”

Ahmed is a strong believer in open, co-created conversations. “If we do that, we will be able to make some changes, to take collective action. Philanthropy is playing a role by supporting this work, and continuing to support whatever is co-designed based on the lived experiences of communities. Research will play a role by providing a data lens. We all play a role by building our overall awareness of the issue and taking action.”

Police reform is one piece of the puzzle. “The work of this collaborative effort is focused on looking at the span of the justice system, from disparities in how schools discipline to re-entry options for those who have been incarcerated. The goal is to address racial inequities in the justice system that stem from unjust policies and engaging with communities to identify priority areas and solutions.”

One thing she has noticed, for example, in a review of preliminary research, is that Minnesota ranks among the highest states for supervised probation. She wants to learn more about why that is.

Ahmed thinks she was selected for this role partly because she does not have a criminal justice degree or reform background. She has no preconceived ideas of what the solutions might be. She is committed to learning directly from and with the community. As a Humphrey Policy Fellow graduate, Ahmed’s strength is in convening community-based co-created conversations, which she has done around census and climate change. “Large topics like this are divisive, involving people [from many disciplines]. Getting to true criminal justice transformation will be a messy, unpredictable, non-linear process, that is about relationship building.”

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We Rise Leadership Collective — a collective of formerly incarcerated leaders who are dedicated to fighting for system & policy change

Disciplinary Action: In policed schools, disciplinary actions for students of color put them in the criminal justice system versus the school system (MinnPost, 2018; Hennepin County Attorney data, 2017)

Pre-Trial: A 2016 report by the Harvard Law School shows 34 percent of Americans who are incarcerated in are stuck in jail  are there because of the inability to pay bail. Those who don’t make bail are 25 percent more likely to plead guilty, often against their own interest.

Sentencing: Laws are designed to more harshly punish certain classes of offenses in a way that has a disparate impact on people of color. For instance, according to the Sentencing Project, one in three people in the U.S. arrested for drug law violations is Black, although drug use rates don’t differ by race and ethnicity.

Supervised Release: Re-entry programs post-incarceration are underfunded, with many parole and probation systems offering supervision with little support, according to the Sentencing Project.

Action = Change

Huda Ahmed: Let’s learn what we mean by the words we use. We talk about reform, defund, divest — and it often doesn’t mean what we think it does. We need to first all understand what we are saying, and develop informed opinions based on that. Also, let’s donate to impacted community-led initiatives around this issue.

Minnesota Women’s Press is creating Action = Change Guides about the homelessness issue, transforming justice, and reconstruction and recovery — but we cannot do this without financial support.

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