Kim Kardashian Passes the “Baby Bar,” Works Toward Prison Reform in America
Posted: January 11, 2022
On October 26, 2021, global celebrity Kim Kardashian passed California’s “baby bar” exam after two years of attempts, bringing her another step closer to becoming an attorney. Officially known as The First-Year Law Students’ Examination (FYLSX), this exam marks an initial success for Kardashian’s legal goals. Although some find her transition from reality TV star to lawyer to come as a surprise, it may help to know that her father, Robert Kardashian, practiced law for nearly a decade. Moreover, the “baby bar” was not Kim Kardashian’s first foray into the legal system.
Kardashian first began receiving attention for her criminal justice work in 2017 when she took an interest in the case of Alice Johnson. Johnson had been convicted 21 years prior, in 1996, for her involvement in a Memphis drug trafficking case. Although this was her first offense, and her involvement was non-violent, Johnson was sentenced to life without parole. In 2018, Kardashian met with President Trump at the White House to plead her case. On June 6, 2018, the White House released a statement that President Trump had commuted Johnson’s life sentence.
In the years since, Kardashian’s work in the realm of prison reform has blossomed, including her ongoing efforts towards becoming an attorney.
Kim Kardashian’s Efforts for Prison Reform
Since intervening in Alice Johnson’s case, Kim Kardashian has increasingly expressed her interest in prison reform and championed the need for fair sentencing on social media. These efforts include a documentary special entitled Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, released on Oxygen in April 2020. In addition to showcasing Kardashian’s work on justice reform, the documentary gave viewers insight into the lives of five incarcerated people and their efforts towards rehabilitation while still in prison.
Currently, Kim Kardashian is collaborating with attorneys and activists to change the lives of other individuals who have been affected by the current state of America’s justice system. As Kim Kardashian told TIME magazine, “We talk about it all the time,” she states. “I always say this is a team effort, I tell everyone I’m the last push at the end. I’m that vessel.”
Shining a light on prison reform through the lens of Kardashian’s celebrity status is only one part of the ongoing efforts from her team. Kardashian also says there are many cases that the team chooses to keep private, understanding that there are instances where her public image would negatively affect a client’s case.
“We are very strategic,” she explains. “There’s cases that I’m working on that people know nothing about and maybe never will — cases where we know that a state governor, say, would probably not like to receive a call from me, and that [my involvement] could even be used against our client. I speak up when I’m needed, and when it’s not, I don’t.”
Even when direct intervention is not the best strategy, Kardashian’s growing commitment to rehabilitation and legal activism speaks to a more significant movement of criminal justice reform gaining momentum across the US.
What Is Criminal Justice Reform?
Criminal justice reform encompasses many aspects, from addressing racial profiling and cases of police brutality to seeking solutions to mass incarceration. Regarding Kardashian and her team, their current focus seems to be reducing the number of prisoners held in the justice system through litigation and advocacy. But it will likely take widespread moves across the board to effect considerable change.
Although the United States accounts for only 5% of the world’s population, it has the highest incarceration rate globally, making up over 25% of the global prison population. Furthermore, rehabilitation rates are meager, with most imprisoned people becoming repeat offenders. A government initiative known as “The War on Drugs” also significantly impacted America’s incarceration rate, which increased 1200% from 1980 to 2018.
The movement towards criminal justice reform seeks to enact changes to this system, such as:
Reducing harsh prison sentences
Transforming drug sentencing policies
Decriminalizing specific laws, particularly those related to drug policies
Prioritizing the rehabilitation of offenders
Changing policies regard food assistance programs and voting rights for previous offenders
Changing minimum sentencing laws
With all of these efforts, the primary objective of reform is to assist those whose lives are drastically affected by the current state of prison systems in the United States.
Primary Reasons for Prison Reform in the United States
Among calls for criminal justice reform in the US, there are also specific efforts targeting conditions in the prison system.
With 2.3 million imprisoned, the number of incarcerated people in America is higher than ever. In other words, for every 31 adults, one of them will spend time in prison during their lifetime. However, the American prison system was never designed to accommodate so many people. To make matters worse, many prisons are woefully understaffed, and the federal government cannot afford the cost of healthcare, basic human needs, and rehabilitation programs for the incarcerated. Penal Reform International suggests that overcrowding is the direct result of strict criminal justice policies, not an increase in crime, spurring reformists to call for policy shifts.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws
Legally, every crime bears a specific number of years a criminal must serve if found guilty in a court of law. This is referred to as mandatory minimum sentencing. Currently, all 50 states exercise mandatory minimum sentencing, and prosecutors use mandatory minimums in 50% of all federal cases. Many reformists cite mandatory minimums as one of the primary contributing factors to the increasing incarceration rate and dehumanization of incarcerated people. They argue that mandatory minimum sentencing laws affect drug offenders more than any other crime, disproportionately impacting drug addicts, the financially disadvantaged, and people of color who cannot afford adequate representation.
Racism in the Prison System
In America, people of color face incarceration rates significantly higher than white people in every state. Studies from Pew Research Center show that African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. In some states, the black incarceration rate is even higher. For instance, Oklahoma has the highest black incarceration rate in America, where one in every 15 black adult males are incarcerated.
The communities most profoundly impacted by the current system are people of color and those who live in poverty — two demographics that overlap disproportionately. For instance, the US Census concluded that 19.5% of black people and 17% of Hispanic people live in poverty. In contrast, non-Hispanic white people have a poverty rate of only 8.2%. Reformists, therefore, point to the intersection of issues such as harsh drug laws, poverty, and overcriminalization with racial profiling as a primary cause of overcrowding and ill-treatment of prisoners. Reformists also critique that when this large demographic of POCs end up in prison, they are further dehumanized and rendered unable to rehabilitate or fully integrate back into society.
Kim Kardashian Urges Compassion for Convicted Felons
Among the various issues in America’s criminal justice system, the cause of better rehabilitation has become the root of Kim Kardashian’s transformation into an outspoken proponent of reform.
More than anything else, Kardashian recommends beginning with compassion. In an interview with Variety magazine, Kardashian states, “If they’ve committed a crime, they should do time. But the beautiful rehabilitation that can happen behind bars over time is what I wanted to showcase. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Dig deeper to understand what people are going through.”