This week, Kansas legislators on a bipartisan criminal justice reform committee heard the disturbing news that half of the 213,000 Kansans with suspended driver’s licenses are driving anyway. What’s disturbing is not that these people are driving but instead that they are part of a system that can end their legal ability to drive for relatively minor infractions — not paying a fine, for example.
A system that makes it all but impossible for more than 100,000 Kansas to earn a living and provide for their families is a system that needs to change. We hope that those considering the subjects take information in these hearings to heart, and consider more besides.
It is important that legislators understand the ways in which the criminal justice system intersects with the lives of everyday Kansans. For many of those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, or those in communities of color, the system is not a source of comfort or relief but instead a set of barriers that prevents them from progressing forward in life and contributing to the state’s economy. And make no mistake, this system disproportionately affects those who are least able to handle its consequences.
Very few people, we would remind you, go into the world each day saying that they are going to be “bad” or break the law. No, most people have the very same goals. They want to earn a living. They want to support their children and spouses. They want to live in relative comfort. In other words, they want what everyone wants: a happy life.
The aim of public policy should not be making the lives of these people more difficult. The aim of public policy should be to make it easier to find family-supporting jobs. The aim of public policy should be making it easier to live in comfort and stability. It should not be criminalizing relatively minor infractions and the derailing of not only one person‘s life but the lives of their children for generations to come.
This is why criminal justice reform matters. This is why both liberal and conservative groups have united behind the cause. But it isn't a matter of just tweaking a few laws. It is the matter of rethinking our approach to justice itself. How do we keep our society safe while allowing our citizens the flexibility they need to make their lives better?
It will mean asking ourselves tough questions. Why does Kansas continue to prohibit any and all forms of marijuana? Why does Kansas make it so difficult to access the most basic public assistance programs? Why does Kansas continue to make it legal to discriminate against the LGBT community? Why does the Kansas foster care system still struggle?
Our current system criminalizes or demeans a wide array of people. Notably, it doesn't criminalize or demean the vast majority of those who serve in our Legislature. Basic humanity — and religious teaching itself — would suggest it is time for them to open their perspectives.