Over the past three months, I’ve been working with an impressive group of people from Adams County and from Philadelphia on an effort to understand our criminal justice system and agree on proposals to reduce mass incarceration. Mid-way through this project, I’ve learned that people of different political persuasions can work together and reach agreement on a controversial issue.

Through six days of meetings in Gettysburg and Philadelphia, the 28 participants heard from prison reform researchers and advocates, elected officials, and representatives of both the DA and public defenders. We learned about the obstacles faced by newly released prisoners and how a post-release re-entry coalition can provide assistance with jobs, housing, transportation, and treatment. We also learned that pre-trial detention as a result of cash bail requirements creates an undue burden on the poor and does not keep us safer. The organizers, Joe Bubman and Chad Collie of Urban Rural Action and Josh Alvarez of the Prison Society, created the project with a collaborative management team that promoted a collaborative atmosphere amongst people with different backgrounds and holding different political views. I met some people more or less my age and people nearly half a century younger than me; people who have been working on prison reform for a decade or more and people (like me) who are still learning the basic vocabulary; people who couldn’t imagine living anywhere but a big city and people who love life in a rural area; people who would be comfortable at a Democratic party fundraiser and members of the county Republican committee.

Leon Reed is a former policy analyst in Washington DC and chairs the Government Accountability Task Force of the Gettysburg Democracy for America.

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