VOTE and partners made big strides at the local, state, and national levels this past month. Last week, after pressure from many directly impacted communities, the New Orleans City Council pushed forward an ordinance to clear all court fines and fees more than three years old. Our statewide canvassers continue to run one of the most successful Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns we've ever had, knocking on thousands of doors before next Saturday's super-election. Nationally, our Director Norris Henderson is gearing up to be one of four co-hosts of a town hall where they will presidential candidates what they intend to do to help end mass incarceration. The town hall will be held Oct. 28 on the grounds of what was once Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Senator Kamala Harris was the first to step up and say she would come and have the conversation, which will be moderated by Ari Melber of MSNBC as well as the four co-hosts: Daryl Atkinson, DeAnna Hoskins, Vivian Nixon and our own Norris Henderson. Read more about the first-of-its-kind event.
The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls
500 people came together for the National Council's 2019 FreeHer convening in Montomgery, AL from October 3-6. This year's convening was organized around the theme of "Reimagining Communities" - dedicated to developing the ideas, connections, analysis, and strategies to end the incarceration of women and girls. In addition to the full plenary sessions, there were over 30 workshops and a healing station. On October 3rd, FreeHer attendees toured the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is the nation's first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.
Project NIA and Community Justice Exchange
Project NIA and Community Justice Exchange partnered with Court Watch MA, Families for Justice as Healing, and Survived and Punished NY to produce a document that outlines abolitionist principles for organizing targeted at prosecutors, as well as strategies and tactics for organizing campaigns. The document can be found here. Many other individuals provided critical feedback and review. The principles came out of a prosecutor accountability convening hosted by Color of Change in June and they were created to provide a framework for what organizing around prosecutors might look like with an abolitionist lens. They are intended to foster alignment and inter-movement accountability for groups and individuals committed to abolition as a political vision and a practical strategy for organizing. You are invited to share the document with others in your network and communities, to register for an upcoming webinar on November 4th 630-8pm ET (register here), and to consider being an organizational signatory to the document if it aligns with your organizational ideology (sign on here). We hope that this document serves as a way to engage with others and deepen abolitionist analysis across our movements.
Worth Rises had a huge victory in our fight against predatory prison telecommunications corporations in September. Pennsylvania’s State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) refused to commit a single penny of its $27 billion fund to Platinum Equity, depriving the private equity firm of a proposed $150 million investment after our Liberate Our Pensions campaign exposed their ownership of the predatory prison telecom giant Securus Technologies. For months, we have been reaching out and speaking with SERS board members about Platinum Equity and Securus. Time and time again we shared important press coverage like the scathing Los Angeles Times exposé of Tom Gores and Platinum Equity published earlier this month. Above all, we explained that investing with Platinum would mean putting hard-earned pensioner funds into prison profiteering, the exploitation of Pennsylvania families, and an extremely risky asset. Our presence was felt, and our voices were heard.
Texas Freedom Network
Last week, our Texas Rising team registered more than 2,500 young voters in just 24 hours. This was one of the largest youth-focused efforts in Texas taking place on National Voter Registration Day. Check out the team in action and some of the extensive media coverage of our work around the state. Earlier in the month, our Texas Rising program partnered with Mano Amiga and MOVE Texas to organize a protest at San Marcos City Hall advocating for criminal justice reform. The protest took place following Hays County’s release of data showing the low use of cite-and-release. According to the data, only 20 of the 332 total cases eligible for cite-and-release in 2018 had individuals released with a citation. Seventy-two cases eligible for cite-and-release involved a black individual, all of which were arrested instead of cited. Texas Rising and our partners implored the new Interim Policy Chief to embrace cite-and-release and work toward implementing the LEAD program.
Prison Policy Initiative
In a new, first-of-its-kind analysis, the Prison Policy Initiative revealed how many people in every state go to local jails every year. This analysis builds on our August report Arrest, Release, Repeat, where we analyzed survey data from people booked into jails nationwide and found that people who are jailed are disproportionately sick, impoverished, and not a danger to public safety. Together, these new data points should prompt local policymakers to question why so many of their most vulnerable residents are being arrested and jailed instead of being connected with community resources to address their basic needs. Several news outlets used our analysis to shine a light on the misuse of jails in states where residents are arrested and booked at high rates, including South Dakota, Arizona, Kentucky, and Alabama.
Columbia Justice Lab
Justice Lab co-director Vincent (Vinny) Schiraldi traveled to Australia and New Zealand to consult with leaders about the future of youth justice and to present the keynote address on emerging adult justice at the National Justice Symposium in Melbourne, Australia. Vinny urged the Victorian government not to pursue its plan to construct a 224-bed, high-security youth prison, and his consultation ultimately led the state to shrink the planned building by 100 beds. Mr. Schiraldi spoke on Australia’s ABC news about the need for emerging adult justice reform and offered international perspectives as guidance. Vinny also delivered the keynote at the Advancing Juvenile Justice Reform in Vermont Conference and the Justice Lab shared its work in supporting Vermont’s implementation of historic legislation to gradually raise the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction to the 20th birthday. The following week, Boston’s NPR station highlighted the Justice Lab's research and interviewed Vermont stakeholders in a story aired on October 3 regarding Vermont’s jurisdictional shift and its implications for Massachusetts, as the neighboring state considers following suit.
The Mass Liberation Project
At the Mass Liberation Project, we are working for a future where Black communities thrive and are no longer undermined by the constant attacks of the criminal legal system. We envision a future that upholds our full humanity as Black people, where we flourish and are no longer defined by oppression and trauma. On September 9th, we began putting that vision into action, hosting our first national cohort in Santa Cruz, California. As we grow our program of trainings, coaching and local campaigns, we are centering our work on this question: What will it take to build a future where prisons and punishment aren't needed? One thing we already know...to get there we will need new movements and grassroots organizing traditions that are of, by and for directly-impacted people. To subscribe to our upcoming e-newsletter, sign up here.
Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
We’re thrilled to share that sujatha baliga, Director of the Restorative Justice Project, was selected as a 2019 MacArthur Fellow for her work as an attorney and restorative justice practitioner! With vision, compassion, and a rigorous evidence-based approach to implementation, sujatha is increasing the visibility of restorative justice while honoring its centuries-old, indigenous roots. We’re honored to work with her in carrying forward the restorative justice diversion model she developed as a solution to mass incarceration and its destructive effects on communities of color. Listen to this interview with sujatha to hear her describe the significance of this award in her own words. In other news, Rima Chaudry presented on a panel last month for LA County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group along with folks from Californians for Safety & Justice, Crime Survivors for Safety & Justice, Healing Dialogue & Action, LA City Attorney's Office Community Justice Initiative, and Urban Peace Institute. Our Associate Director Ashlee George and Yale instructor Emily Abruzzo presented together again at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture’s fall conference, LESS TALK | MORE ACTION: Conscious Shifts in Architectural Education. Later this month, look for Ashlee on a panel about restorative justice at the JDAI conference in Seattle. sujatha will present at Penn Law school on October 29 and is a keynote speaker at the Building Sustainable Peace Conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies November 8-10.
Fair and Just Prosecution
FJP brought over two dozen elected prosecutors together in Montgomery and Selma, AL to focus on vitally important issues around racial equity and disparity in the justice system. The trip included visits to the Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Edmund Pettus Bridge (the site of Bloody Sunday) among other civil rights sites; many of these visits were done jointly with members of the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network, a national group of leaders incarcerated as children. Elected prosecutors explored how our country’s legacy of racial injustice and violence has become ingrained in our criminal justice system and discussed how they can ensure that their offices’ policies move away from centuries of racial inequality. FJP also hosted a day-long convening that brought together reform-minded elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders to forge alliances and consider strategies to advance criminal justice reforms. Finally, at the end of the month, FJP released a new issue brief on harm reduction that highlights practices and policies aimed at avoiding the criminalization of substance use disorder, including strategies to prevent overdoses, reduce incarceration and ultimately save lives. This release was accompanied by an FJP video sharing lessons learned from our trip to Portugal with prosecutors earlier this year and recounting that nation’s successful decriminalization of, and public health response to, substance use.
Alliance for Safety and Justice
Alliance for Safety and Justice is excited to report that we have completed the Campaign Academy for Safety and Justice’s inaugural year where we trained a cohort of 30 state-based justice reformers. The academy, led by seasoned justice reformer Kung Li, is a place for emerging leaders, especially people of color and those directly impacted by crime and/or incarceration, to learn sophisticated campaigning skills and become trained leaders with a network of relationships that can support individual advocates’ work for years to come. The Campaign Academy trains participants on justice reform advocacy and campaign skills as well as somatics - embodied leadership - and high-impact communications to advance policy change. We are excited to report that the feedback received from our inaugural cohort has far exceeded our expectations. Every participant has expressed deep appreciation for the skills taught, the investment we are making and the immediate influence these skills are having on their work in their home states as campaigners and organizers. The next cohort will be selected through a targeted nomination process. Nominations have been solicited from leaders in the field and members of the inaugural cohort. The second cohort will launch in March 2020, wrapping in November.
American Conservative Union Foundation
Reports out of red and blue states, from east to west, continue to show that crime rates and prison populations can be reduced simultaneously, while better-utilizing precious taxpayer funds. Unfortunately, not everyone is receiving that message. In Arizona, vocal opponents of justice reform have continued to tout failed ‘tough-on-crime’ policies that, to this point, have made Arizona the nation’s 5th highest incarcerator, but have yet to provide a strong public safety return to show for it. Arizonans deserve better. In challenging the status quo, ACUF’s David Safavian appeared in the Arizona Capitol Times to make the case for smarter charging practices that will lead to a safer Arizona. When it comes to non-violent drug offenders, Safavian noted, “charging these people with felonies and sending them to prison doesn’t make Arizona communities safer. Nor does such an approach serve the interests of taxpayers. All it does is keep Arizona’s imprisonment rate – fifth in the nation – unnecessarily high.” Read the rest of the op-ed, here.
New Virginia Majority
On September 30th, New Virginia Majority launched its Court Watch of Central Virginia initiative.This chapter of Court Watch was created in response to the continued disproportionate representation of people of color and the poor in our criminal justice courts that feeds a system of mass incarceration in the state. Inconsistencies within sentencing plea agreements, public defender caseloads, and bond amounts only perpetuate the cycle of injustice. At the press conference our members made clear that the communities of Central Virginia deserve transparency and accountability from those serving the criminal justice system. Watch the video of CBS 6 local news coverage.
Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ)
Houston enacted a juvenile curfew in 1991 making it a crime for minors (10-16 years old) to be in public from 9:30am-2:30pm. The mayor has refused to decriminalize the ordinance, and it is unacceptable that our children are being criminalized for leaving their homes. Along with other criminal and juvenile justice organizations, TAJ stood firmly against the ordinance renewal citing the harm caused to the youth and the start of the school-to-prison pipeline. After two public hearings and testimonies from the community and advocacy groups, the city of Houston passed a new Juvenile Curfew Ordinance on September 18, 2019. The violation fine was reduced from $500.00 to $50.00, the day time curfew from 9:30 am -2:30 pm was removed, and no homeless child will be given a citation. Instead, resources and safe housing will be sought out for the child. Moving forward, the coalition will continue to fight for a Houston that chooses to invest in our youth instead of creating more reasons to criminalize and incarcerate them.