For Prison Fellowship Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy Craig DeRoche, justice reform is more than a job, it’s a passion developed from personal experience.
At the age of 34, DeRoche was elected Speaker of the House in the Michigan State Legislature—the youngest person to ever hold that position. Yet there was a personal struggle, a battle with dependency on alcohol, that threatened to derail his promising political career.
Two alcohol-related arrests after leaving office gave DeRoche a different perspective on crime and punishment. His personal interactions with law enforcement and the courts provided new insight on the men and women who serve there, and his personal redemption opened his eyes to the possibilities that exist for restoring others who have criminal records.
Writing an op-ed for the Detroit News, DeRoche talks about the need to create a justice system that seeks to restore, and the possibilities to create such a system in Michigan.
“We are in the midst of a nationwide awakening to the damage caused by failed policies and the great potential of evidence-based, effective reform,” he says.
In Michigan, DeRoche highlights efforts to reform sentencing, to make incarceration more rehabilitative, and to raise the age at which juveniles may be tried as adults. Such changes, he says, offer the potential of lowered recidivism and safer communities.
“We must refuse to write off young people before they have matured,” DeRoche says, “a principle in line with the intent of our criminal justice system: hold people accountable, ensuring they repay their debt, while equipping them for a productive life.”
Similar proposals to the ones in Michigan are being considered by state legislatures nationwide. In each case, there is an opportunity, not just to update and correct laws and practices, but to foster meaningful and transformative change in the lives of those who are currently paying a price for their past deeds, and to the communities to which they are returning.
“Confronting the mistakes of my past helped me move into a restored, purposeful life,” DeRoche concludes. “Michigan can do the same by moving toward a safer, more restorative, more cost-effective way of administering justice. We must design criminal justice reforms that protect communities while affirming our highest values as Michiganians.”
Across the country, Prison Fellowship is working to enact policies and practices designed to restore and to give purpose to those affected by crime and punishment. To learn more about what is happening in your state, and how you can get involved locally, click here. And to receive up-to-date news and information on criminal justice reform efforts on the state and local levels, sign up to be a part of our growing network of reform advocates.