Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
As you may have already heard, we’re thrilled to share a new, first-of-its kind online resource designed to help communities start their own restorative justice diversion programs! A Diversion Toolkit for Communities provides step-by-step guidance, worksheets, and checklists on how to build a pre-charge restorative justice diversion program that reduces youth criminalization while meeting the needs of survivors. The toolkit went live on June 10th at RJDtoolkit.org, and we’d love for you to share this resource widely via social media using #RJDToolkit. Our team will present on the toolkit at the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice conference next week. A recording of the youth diversion panel and Q&A from the National Academies’ Committee on Law and Justice’s Seminar is available. Our local CBS station highlighted RYSE Youth Center, our community partner in Contra Costa County, along with Impact Justice’s President, Alex Busansky, in a TV segment and featured Ashlee in a radio story. We welcomed new team members - Kamilah Mims joined us as an Administrative Associate, and Mikayla Waters-Crittenton joined us as an Executive Assistant & Program Associate. Last month, sujatha and Rima facilitated a circle training for API Chaya in Seattle, and our Research & Action Center team conducted a site visit with our community partners in Nashville.
As the 2019 Louisiana Legislature came to a close last week, we're reflecting on the many ups and downs, big wins, and small setbacks we've experienced over the past two months. Most of all, we are reminded that long-term change is often a slow process. With patience and perseverance, VOTE staff and members have been at the State Capitol daily, fighting for the changes that will build the just future our community demands and deserves. Yesterday, we saw our biggest win of the session, which was the passage of HB 518, a modest reform to the state's habitual offender, or "three strikes" law. This means that fewer people will be put behind bars simply because the conviction in question is not their first, even if the previous convictions are nonviolent or minor in nature. In other words, we took a small step in the right direction of reducing overly punitive sentencing and policies. Read more about our legislative wins here and here.
Fair and Just Prosecution
In May, FJP embarked on a learning trip to Europe with reform-minded prosecutors from around the country interested in exploring international models and innovative strategies for reducing incarceration and responding to drug use that they can take back to their communities. First, we went to Germany to study the country’s charging and plea bargaining approaches, dramatically lower rates and reduced length of incarceration as compared to the US, rehabilitative and nonpunitive youth justice practices, and more humane thinking around confinement and reentry. Then, the group went to Portugal to learn about how officials there responded to a drug-based public health epidemic with a decriminalization model that has been in place for two decades and shifted resources away from enforcement and toward life-saving treatment and harm reduction approaches. Throughout the trip, the group met with a variety of stakeholders, including other prosecutors, judges, police, members of parliament, service providers, corrections officials, individuals with lived experience in the justice system, and more. Elected leaders from the trip are now thinking about how to implement strategies and practices they saw in their jurisdictions—including harm reduction approaches to address the opioid crisis. Also this month, FJP released a new video highlighting how 21st Century prosecutors are transforming the criminal justice system from within.
Prison Policy Initiative
In May, the Prison Policy Initiative was thrilled to see Washington and Nevada become the fifth and sixth states to end prison gerrymandering. From now on, these states will count incarcerated people as residents of their hometowns when it comes to redistricting, rather than as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. Legal Director Aleks Kajstura was present as Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Washington bill into law; she explains that, "Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state's largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote." Nevada's victory was particularly exciting, as the bill passed alongside another bill to restore the vote to formerly incarcerated people. Legislation to end prison gerrymandering is currently pending in six other states.
Last week, Court Watch NYC released its latest "report" -- it is a public education booklet highlighting stories from Queens Criminal Court in preparation for the upcoming June 25th District Attorney election. The booklet informs readers about the power of the district attorney in practice, the importance of this election, and it suggests ways to take action. You can download the booklet in English, Spanish, or Mandarin here: https://www.courtwatchnyc.org/reports
Promise of Justice Initiative
During this year’s legislative session, PJI supported community organizing and mobilization efforts related to Louisiana’s death penalty. Through press conferences, earned media, constituent outreach and community-based leadership development we educated Louisiana’s citizens and lawmakers about the persistent injustices of the death penalty system: racist application, cost, and wrongful convictions. Engaging the public and building a sustained media narrative yielded two tangible results in the Louisiana legislature this session: (1) for the first time in the Deep South a bill to repeal the death penalty was advanced out of committees in the House and Senate, and (2) a bill to make secret Louisiana’s lethal injection protocol – a bill specifically designed to restart executions – was defeated in committee. PJI also settled our longtime civil rights suit against the Department of Corrections for the extreme heat on Louisiana’s death row.
Court Watch NOLA
Court Watch NOLA recently published our comprehensive report on the criminal court system here at home in New Orleans. With our team of dedicated staff, and volunteer Court Watchers, we’ve kept a careful eye on the courts and their various actors here in the crescent city. In our 2018 report, we exposed a judge--Paul Bonin--who has steered his defendants to an ankle monitor company, owned by his former law partner, that has donated thousands of dollars to his various campaigns. When defendants could not pay, Bonin threatened to incarcerate them. We also exposed a system of drug testing that is scientifically unreliable, calling on our criminal court system to stop incarcerating New Orleanians based on scientifically unreliable drug tests. In addition, the DA has continued to criticize pre-trial release decisions although his office doesn’t even show up to ⅔ of those bail hearings. In short, some of our findings were alarming--including the fact that we maintain one of the highest wrongful incarceration rates in the nation.
The Coalition to End Money Bond
The Coalition to End Money Bond in Illinois recently released a new short video about electronic monitoring (EM) featuring James Kilgore of the Challenging E-Carceration campaign. In it, James breaks down the harmful effects of EM and the campaign’s proposed “Guidelines for Respecting the Rights of Individuals on Electronic Monitors.” These guidelines have been endorsed by more than 50 organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU, JustLeadershipUSA, All of Us or None, the NACDL, and several Coalition member organizations. The Coalition to End Money Bond is thrilled to have James leading a workshop on electronic monitoring at the People’s Convening on Pretrial Freedom in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, July 13th. More information and free registration is at bit.ly/pretrial-freedom!
Alliance for Safety and Justice
We are excited to report that our comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, Florida House Bill 7125, has passed out of both chambers of the state legislature and is headed to the Governor’s desk. We are thrilled about this progress and have strong indications that the bill will be signed soon. This is the culmination of two years of work in the Florida Legislature, and in short it will: reduce the number of people going into Florida’s prison system, provide more support to survivors of crime and reduce barriers to employment for people living with past convictions.Through changes targeting how the state responds to low-level violations of probation rules, low-level property crimes, and numerous other provisions, we anticipate that this legislation will result in hundreds, if not thousands, fewer people sitting in Florida’s overburdened prison system. Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, our national network of survivors, has played a lead role as a key constituency pushing for these changes, culminating in Survivors Speak Florida on April 1st and 2nd where hundreds of our members gathered at the state capitol to call for survivor centered reform. Members engaged in more than 40 legislative visits in support of HB 7125 and brought a letter of support from more than 400 survivors across the state. Please watch and share this brief video highlighting the work of our CSSJ Florida members in advancing this groundbreaking legislative package. And for more on HB 7125, check out ASJ Vice President Robert Rooks’ op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel here!
In the last month, Youth First helped launch a state campaign to close a youth prison in Maine. Also, they helped organize a pre-campaign event in Philly. At the same time, campaigns in New Jersey, Connecticut, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Virginia made further progress. Check out this article and amazing footage from New Jersey that highlights a rally with 500+ people who have wrapped their arms around the potential site (a toxic waste dump!) proposed by the governor to build a new youth prison. They have effectively stopped the facility from being built there.
Texas Advocates for Justice
Texas Advocates for Justice Houston hosted a Know Your Rights workshop, presented by the Harris County Public Defender Office on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, at St.John’s Methodist Church Houston, Tx. Leading the panel were seven Public Defenders and Leslie Schweinle-Ginzel, an attorney with Beacon Law. Leslie led an informative discussion on criminal record expungements. The team of Public Defender engaged the community in an open discussion regarding our rights during a traffic stop, explained the process of how bail amounts are determined and explained the overall court hearing process. There were many questions from those in attendance, and the panel did an excellent job interacting with their audience by providing answers and resources. We were happy to host this event and hope to host the presentation annually.