Center for Racial Equality Update: Advancing Equality in the Criminal Justice System

Growing up in Southwest Detroit in the 1990s, I witnessed firsthand the deep-rooted trauma inflicted upon the community by the criminal justice system. Every individual, whether a father, brother, sister, or mother, who became entangled in this system represented a loss to our community. Each additional person incarcerated meant one less person to pursue higher education, build a career, raise children, or explore their unique talents. The absence of a family member, friend, or colleague dealt a significant blow to the community’s potential.

Motivated by a desire to prevent further losses and minimize the impact on families, friends, and communities, I recently embarked on a transformative journey at Walmart. Joining the Center for Racial Equity’s criminal justice philanthropy has provided me with the opportunity to effect change. Some may question why a retailer would endeavor to alter the narrative surrounding the criminal justice system. However, the answer is simple: Walmart is fundamentally a people-oriented company. When individuals—potential community leaders, talents, or customers—are ensnared by the criminal justice system, the entire community suffers. Walmart understands that its strength is intricately tied to the well-being of the communities it serves, and this awareness guides its leaders.

In June 2020, as part of Walmart’s commitment to racial equity, the company established Shared Value Networks (SVN). These networks comprise business leaders and employees who leverage Walmart’s capabilities to promote equity across four key systems. Within the SVN Criminal Justice Learning Path, we have explored the Halo69 various components of criminal justice reform: prevention, intervention during detention, and postpartum care. To enhance employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals, SVN initiated several endeavors, including second-chance pilots.

Recognizing that prevention necessitates systemic transformation within the structures that affect the well-being and future of the Black community, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have begun addressing root causes through initiatives like Retail Opportunity and Healthier Food for All. However, upon conducting a thorough analysis with SVN, we identified a need for more targeted interventions within the criminal justice system itself. Hence, the Center for Racial Equity aims to bridge this prevention gap. Our work revolves around effecting systemic change by addressing the root causes and reshaping the elements within the criminal justice system that contribute to the disproportionate incarceration of Black Americans.

We acknowledge that achieving such change requires time and sustained resources. Therefore, we are establishing national networks to develop and scale community prevention efforts. Currently, the center is investing in four networks, with Walmart and the Walmart Foundation having already committed $3.3 million:

  1. Criminal Justice Reform Prevention Research Network: This network brings together prevention-focused criminal justice reform researchers, including field researchers, who will approach their work through a racial equity lens.
  2. Network of National Violence Prevention Services: In 30 cities, the aim is to enhance the capabilities of local government agencies dedicated to violence prevention and reduction, thus establishing a national network.
  3. Prison Fellowship Opportunity Youth Network: This network creates a nationwide coalition of community-based organizations committed to providing positive experiences and preventing negative interactions with the criminal justice system for children with incarcerated parents.
  4. People’s Commissions on Criminal Justice Reform: This network facilitates information sharing and research across 14 cities, with a focus on preventing negative interactions with the criminal justice system and reducing racial bias in law enforcement.

It is vital for these networks to collaborate, share insights, and pool resources to expand crime prevention initiatives. Once established, the center aims to act as a partner, facilitating conversations, sharing best practices, and generating additional funding for these organizations. For instance, the People’s Commissions and Research Network will work together to disseminate new research, benefiting the efforts of the Opportunity Youth Network and local government agencies associated with the National Violence Prevention Network.

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