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Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

Who gets to be in the room where it happens? The DC Justice Lab is changing how we make policy

For too long, policymaking in the District has excluded the voices of the people directly impacted by these laws, turning Washington, DC into an epicenter of the injustices that result from a misguided and racially-charged criminal justice system.

DC Justice Lab (DCJL) is making a positive impact to advance racial equity, democratize civic engagement, decrease our reliance on policing, prosecution, and punishment, and establish a more accurate narrative about the state of criminal justice and the changes in our nation’s capital. By the end of the 2021-22 DC Council legislative session, DCJL helped secure checks on police officers’ power, brought attention to how people are being treated in our jails, and made it easier to seal criminal records.

“DC is one of the wealthiest, best-educated cities, but still has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Why?” Patrice Sulton, Executive Director of DCJL, asked the Washington Post. “Because of bad policies. And the reason the policies are so bad is because of a lack of inclusion.”

DCJL is a team of law and policy experts that researches, organizes, and advocates for large-scale changes to the District of Columbia’s criminal legal system. DCJL advocates for community-rooted public safety reform, taking its lead from Black Washingtonians in developing smarter safety solutions that are evidence-driven, racially just, and that will tangibly improve the lives of all District residents.

In the face of recent significant budget cuts and damaging and inaccurate narratives, DCJL is doubling down on the need to democratize civic engagement and improve public education around the process and substance of lawmaking in the District. This summer, it is launching a new intensive training program for 15 residents involved in their communities, who will each be paid a stipend to learn about policymaking and add it to their skillset as local community advocates.

Over the course of one full week, these 15 community advocates will gain a thorough background on the who, what, when, where, and why of local lawmaking, developing the tools they need to effectively advocate for large-scale change — from persuasive writing and speaking skills to research and advocacy training. Experienced DCJL staff will support participants as they prepare a campaign strategy plan and educational materials, which they will share directly with lawmakers and the public at the end of the week.

“There’s a lot to do to change how policymaking is done to democratize civic engagement,” Sulton told the Washington Informer.

This city is living through a challenging moment, with its autonomy being tested by new attempts to roll back hard-won gains to make our communities safer, freer, and more equal. It is crucial to ensure that native Washingtonians and individuals who have experience with the criminal legal system are equipped to turn their expertise into thoughtful law and policy change.

As Sulton said, “Changing policy can’t happen without changing who is changing the policy.”

Attend the Community Safety Fair on July 29 to learn more about the DC Justice Lab’s Policy Training Academy and to hear from its inaugural cohort of community advocates.

If you’re interested in supporting DCJL’s ongoing work and future iterations of this program, visit their website for more information and reach out to Naike Savain.

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