Youth First built a new website that features films to engage people on the issue of youth incarceration; an interactive map showing where the largest & oldest youth prisons are as well as cost & disparity data; basic facts about the issues; solutions, including youth visioning sessions, alternatives to incarceration, reinvesting/divesting/investing dollars, how to stop new construction as well as how to repurpose youth prisons & ways to get involved. Check it out at www.nokidsinprison.org
Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
We’re thrilled to announce that on May 8th, Impact Justice, RYSE Youth Center, and the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office signed a collaborative agreement to bring restorative justice diversion to Contra Costa County. It now joins Alameda, San Francisco, and Los Angeles counties in California, and Davidson County in Tennessee, in meeting the needs of survivors and offering young people opportunities to take accountability for harms they’ve caused without getting pushed into the juvenile legal system. Please help us spread the word about this historic step by sharing with your networks! On May 15th in DC and live streamed, Sia Henry will present with Jenna Kress of Community Works West at the National Academies’ Committee on Law and Justice’s Seminar on Diverting Youth from the Justice System. Keep an eye out next month for the exciting launch of our new interactive online toolkit, which will guide local communities on diverting youth away from the juvenile legal system. Looking forward to seeing folks at the convening next week!
Texas Freedom Network had a busy April. Our Texas Rising program kicked off a Week of Action focused on voting rights. These activities included in-district lobby events, voter registration drives, campus demonstrations, and more. Plus, we announced our voter guides for the mayoral elections in Dallas, Brownsville and San Antonio this spring. One of the milestones of the week was the historic She The Peopleevent at Texas Southern University in Houston on April 24. TFN and Texas Rising were proud to join Texas Organizing Project and other partners in this effort. For the first time in American presidential elections, candidates seeking that office spoke directly to the values and experiences of women of color at the event hosted by women of color, led by women of color and attended primarily by an audience of women of color. Members of TFN’s Texas Rising organizing program traveled from across the state to participate in this important event. Additionally, our young leaders had the opportunity for one on one conversations with candidates including Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. Photos from the Week of Action are available here.
Chicago Community Bond Fund
The Coalition to End Money Bond, which CCBF convenes, is excited to be launching a statewide network! The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice will have its first convening July 13th in Springfield, Illinois, and hundreds of community members from at least ten different counties are expected to attend. Read more about the People's Convening on Pretrial Freedom here!
Texas Inmate Families Association
TIFA has been working hard during the state's legislative session to keep Texas families' voices at the forefront of the criminal justice conversations at the Capitol. Thousands of families have participated in advocating for changes including independent oversight for TDCJ and earned time credits for parole eligibility. These bills are about keeping our loved ones safe in the state's prisons, and giving them a chance to earn parole through work and rehabilitation efforts. State legislators heard testimony, had office visits with, and received phone calls, emails, and letters from many concerned Texans who want to see changes in our justice systems. TIFA has been keeping our lawmakers informed about the many issues within TDCJ, including one of the latest scandals from the "feeling cute" posts. Even if these bills run out of time to make it through the legislative process this session, they made significant progress and allowed thousands of people to become civically engaged and share their family's story.
Fair and Just Prosecution
In April, FJP staff attended the Harm Reduction International conference in Portugal to learn about cutting-edge harm reduction strategies from around the world and forge global partnerships around drug policy reform, and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky was invited to speak at a pre-conference Policy Day on the need for a public health – rather than a criminal justice – responses to substance use disorder. FJP also partnered with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership on a sign-on letter – endorsed by 35 elected sheriffs and prosecutors – calling for expanded use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in jails and prisons. Continuing to elevate the voices of prosecutors calling for a more compassionate justice system, FJP Executive Director and Florida State Attorneys Kathy Fernandez Rundle and Andrew Warren co-authored an op-ed in the Miami Herald on why voting rights restoration is key to successful reentry and meaningful second chances and how Florida’s Amendment 4 is critical to expanding opportunity for the 1.4 million Floridians with past convictions.
Citizens for Juvenile Justice
Building on last year’s passage of criminal justice legislation, CfJJ’s campaign to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction was re-filed this session, along with a complimentary Emerging Adult Justice package. These two bills would gradually end trying 18-20 year olds automatically as adults; and would infuse developmentally-appropriate policies into the state’s prisons and jails modeled after the Department of Youth Services for emerging adults under age 26. CfJJ was a named member of the newly-created Young Adult Justice Task Force and will use our position to influence both bodies to promote some of our advocacy campaigns. The Young Adult Justice Task Force is a time-limited body with a mandate to recommend to the legislature reforms to address the high recidivism rate of young adults – 18 to 24 years old, including the implications of raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to include 18-20 year olds, a campaign CfJJ has been leading for the past two years. CfJJ organized a powerful panel of four young men with former adult system involvement to present to the task force. They spoke of their experience in the adult system and its harm, and compared their experience in DYS to the adult system. The task force is expected to report on their recommendations by this summer.
Columbia Justice Lab
The Emerging Adult Justice Project continues to support and work closely with advocates in two states with pending legislation to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction over the 18th birthday (following Vermont’s historic reform): (1) Massachusetts, which created a special task force to study the proposal, recently took a site visit to a juvenile correctional facility where they learned how this agency already supports this age cohort up to 21 and even beyond with voluntary services (so long as the offense was committed before the 18th birthday) and how it is well-equipped to serve more emerging adults. (2) Illinois, which continues to consider legislation to raise the age over 18, has, in the meantime, recently passed legislation creating a special parole process for youth who committed crimes before the age of 21, ensuring an earlier review process for youth. The EAJ Project will be hosting special forums in both Boston and Chicago in early June, with a delegation of European experts, to share best practices in the field and push for developmentally appropriate responses for all emerging adults. We will follow this up with an international Summit on June 11 - 12 at Columbia University (although an invitation-only event, please let us know if you would like to join!).
Voice of the Experienced
VOTE has been extremely busy traveling to and from the State Capitol in an effort to pass sweeping criminal justice reform through the Louisiana Legislature. Last Monday, May 6, several hundred VOTE members descended upon the Capitol steps for Louisianans for Prison Alternative (LPA)'s third annual Lobby Day. We learned about the legislative process, met our elected officials, filled out support and opposition cards for bills with upcoming hearings, and listened to the stories of others who have built resilience and a passion for change in the face of systemic oppression. “We have buku blue shirts in here, which means I’ve got a team behind me,” said VOTE member Rena Vereen, who, despite being nervous, testified at the Capitol for the first time two weeks ago. “What do I have to be scared of? We can change the law. We’ve got to do our part.” Read the full report from Lobby Day here.
Prison Policy Initiative
Last week, the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Does our county really need a bigger jail?, designed as a guide to help local decision-makers and advocates push back against proposals to expand the county jail (or build a new one). We explain that there are simpler and more just solutions to jail crowding than building a new or bigger jail, such as changing pretrial release practices and expanding community-based mental health and substance use treatment. Our report helps local decision makers make smart choices to reduce jail populations, by laying out a list of best practices and questions that they should consider before approving new jail construction. While preparing our report, we also took action to stop jail expansion close to home. We sent a comment letter to the Massachusetts Senate explaining why the state, rather than building a new women’s jail, should invest in community programs and alternatives to incarceration. We raised the question: Why would the state need more jail space for women when jail incarceration rates are down?
As the city's ULURP process continues to unfold, #CLOSErikers campaign leaders released an updated plan to permanently and rapidly reduce the city's over-reliance on the criminal legal system. In response to #CLOSErikers demands and three major legislative victories on the #FREEnewyork campaign - including the elimination of money bail for all misdemeanors and most non-violent felony offenses - the Mayor's Office has announced that their proposal has decreased to 4000 beds (currently New York City has 15,000 available jail beds). The #CLOSErikers plan will continue to demand further population reduction through both legislative and executive action such as the decriminalization of sex work and turnstile jumping. The #CLOSErikers campaign organized with Speaker Corey Johnson’s office to host several roundtable discussions with advocates and service providers with the goals of identifying the priority concerns of formerly incarcerated people, and re-entry or other service providers, in closing Rikers and establishing a long-term commitment to decarceration. And #CLOSErikers community forums, where we continue to facilitate public education amidst the citywide ULURP process, continue through May and June in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island.
At the end of April, Worth Rises released the 2019 edition of The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players. We add 800 companies this year bringing our total coverage up to 3,900 companies operating within the PIC. We also added more data, including engagement in immigration detention and deportations. We hope this report continues to be helpful in your work!
Texas Advocates for Justice
Texas Advocates for Justice, GRL, Ice out of Austin and other community members were selected to participate in the Indigent Legal Services Working Group (which was put together by the Travis County Commissioners), charged with making recommendations for the first Adult Public Defender office in Austin Texas. They spent the last six months working on a proposal that is holistic, client-centered, and financially responsible. On May 7, Travis County Commissioner's voted 4-1 in favor of a proposal from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission that will initiate the creation of a public defender's office beginning in 2020. Public defenders will start seeing clients in February 2010. Thanks to all the hard advocates did to be a part of history in Austin, Texas.
American Conservative Union Foundation
In April, the American Conservative Union formally launched its ‘Prosecutor’s Advisory Council.’ This group of local, state and federal prosecutors, both active and former, understands that our current criminal justice system often over-incarcerates on the front end and underperforms on the back end, harming our public safety. “Often times when legislators consider criminal justice reforms, they are lobbied by a small, yet vocal group, in support of harsh sentencing and preserving the status quo. These people don’t represent the entire prosecutor community,” explained David Safavian, ACU’s General Counsel. “We aim to bring the voices of reform-minded prosecutors – public servants who are interested in, and support, conservative reforms – to the debate. This Council will serve as a counterweight to those anti-reform voices.”