Criminal Justice Reform Should Reflect People’s Willingness to Change

My dad is one of the hardest working people I know. When I was younger, I used to stay up so late playing video games that I would still be awake when my dad was getting up for work—at 3 a.m. (Sorry Mom and Dad!)

The value of hard work is something my dad had to learn. As a young man, he got involved with the wrong crowd. Instead of working hard for what he wanted, he turned to a life of crime.

Coming from a broken family in a difficult neighborhood, he didn't have many positive role models. In a sense, all he knew was a life where crime was necessary for survival. Of course, none of this excuses what he did, and he would be the first to admit that.

Between the ages of 18 and 23, he was in and out of prison and rehab. Fortunately, there was a point—during his fourth month of rehab—when my dad said enough was enough. He made a commitment to turn his life around.

After rehab, he got a job that didn’t pay much. This was intentional because the owner of the company knew he had a criminal record. The owner's attitude toward my dad is still common today among employers who are hesitant to invest in people who've made bad decisions. But my dad didn’t let this attitude hold him back.

He took a better job at a construction company and continued to rebuild his life. It was hard for him at first, but he found strength and purpose in setting goals. And getting engaged to my mom didn’t hurt either!

My dad's experience is the common human experience. We all have goals. We all want to have a purpose and hope for the future. These things makes life worth living and provides motivation to do what’s right.

My dad's story is proof that people can change. This simple and important lesson should guide every endeavor to fix our broken criminal justice system. It’s also one principle that serves as the basis for CF’s upcoming policy brief summarizing transformative and achievable criminal justice reforms for Pennsylvania.

In September, we’ll be releasing the brief, along with a series of blogs highlighting the reforms necessary to create safer communities and a more efficient criminal justice system.