The Houston Institute approaches public policy through “Community Justice.” This approach reflects both Charles Hamilton Houston’s admonition that “all our struggles must tie together” and a fundamental truth about public policy-making: in the United States, public policies are formulated by the few to serve the few. The standard policy-making mechanisms reward those who participate in the political process and ignore or exclude those who do not.
In contrast, the Houston Institute’s notion of community justice recognizes that citizenship has two basic elements: membership and participation. In a society that is defined by denying membership to a large segment of its population, it is unrealistic to expect participation. We believe we must create pathways to membership and participation for the excluded, and find ways to identify and amplify the voices of those too long excluded.
This fight for equality of educational opportunity [was] not an isolated struggle. All our struggles must tie in together and support one another. . . . We must remain on the alert and push the struggle farther with all our might.
– Charles Hamilton Houston
Thus, we have launched the Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice as one of two signature initiatives of the Houston Institute.
The Houston/Marshall Plan grows out of our recognition of the devastation and underdevelopment that have been inflicted upon poor communities of color in our nation’s cities over the past 40 years. This devastation is the result of the war on crime, the war on drugs, and on policies and practices of disinvestment that cut across otherwise separate domains – including transportation, housing, education, recreation, public safety, job creation, and health care – and have created an impenetrable, mutually reinforcing web of disadvantage. One of the most debilitating consequences has been the ongoing dilution of a sense of membership such that persons most directly affected by these policies have had no voice in their shape or implementation.
The Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice proceeds from a simple premise: These voices must be raised, heard, and at the center of our efforts to rebuild. Its goal is to strengthen and support the growth of activism that has swept the nation over the past several years. We view this activism as expressions of community justice. In practical terms, this means that programs and interventions must be locally conceived, and grounded in the wealth of knowledge, experience and determination that exist within communities across the country. It is time to invest these assets in our future.
The centerpiece of this project is the website houstonmarshallplan.org. This website is intended to serve as a bank for new ideas, programs, policies, and public advocacy; a bank into which we can all deposit and from which we can all withdraw, and one which we hope will enrich us all.
This project and its website are designed to grow and evolve. We will add features, including mapping, as our information expands. The site will feature original blogs on timely topics, which will also be posted at http://medium.com/houstonmarshall.
The Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice joins the Houston Institute’s other signature initiatives, the Fair Punishment Project, (http://fairpunishment.org/) and the Prison Studies Project, (http://prisonstudiesproject.org). The Fair Punishment Project, which is particularly focused on eliminating the death penalty and Juvenile Life Without Parole, illuminates excessive punishments in our criminal justice system and the systemic problems that create them. The Prison Studies Project works to increase educational opportunity for people in prison, awaken the broadest possible public to the ways we punish, and re-imagine justice in the United States. Through these three initiatives, CHHIRJ addresses the consequences of our nation’s ill-conceived 40 year “experiment” with “tough on crime” policies. We seek to eliminate the excessive criminal sentencing and punishment that created mass incarceration while simultaneously promoting investments in the communities that have been most deeply harmed by these policies.