Dignity and Power Now (DPN)
On Friday, September 4th, Dignity and Power Now’s Healing Justice team held a virtual “Are You Okay, Family,” gathering for the community to address day-to-day challenges and mental health needs. Counselors and healers in breathwork, meditation, reiki yoga, acupressure, and small group healing circles were on hand to workshop the community through unprecedented times. #ReimagineLA is now Measure J on November’s ballot. Led by a coalition of advocates, neighbors, and community organizations, including Dignity and Power Now, voting Yes on J this November 3rd means dismantling systemic racism by investing in health, housing, and jobs. Commit to vote Yes on Measure J: https://yesonj.reimagine.la. Lex Steppling, Dignity and Power Now’s Director of Campaigns and Policy, spoke with Benjamin Dixon and The Young Turks about creating a future free of state violence. DPN’s Senior Policy Lead, Ivette Alé, interviewed with La Opinión about the harmful nature of Prop 25, a CA ballot initiative.
Forward Justice has been focusing much of its attention on a North Carolina re-enfranchisement case that Daryl Atkinson helped argue on August 19. This case could result in 56,000 people in NC getting their voting rights back before the November election. Through hundreds of pages of discovery and briefing from plaintiffs and defendants, strong evidence was put into the record that NC’s disenfranchisement statute N.C.G.S. 13-1 violates several provisions of the NC constitution through its history of racist intent, the current racial disparities in the NC criminal system, the current racial disparities in felon disenfranchisement, and wealth-based disparities in felon disenfranchisement. On September 4th, the court found that outstanding fees and any other court-imposed monetary obligations cannot prevent people with felony convictions from voting if they have completed the other portions of their sentence.
Essie Justice Group
Essie Justice Group published a new report—Lives on the Line: Women With Incarcerated Loved Ones and the Impact of COVID-19 Behind Bars—to share our urgent findings at the critical intersections of race, gender, and mass incarceration. We partnered with Color of Change to create a survey for people with incarcerated loved ones to seek out concrete data to expose what is happening behind bars and fight for immediate action. We hope that the data from 700 people with incarcerated loved ones, our analysis, and the voices of women with incarcerated loved ones will fortify the efforts of our partners across the country fighting to save lives and bring our loved ones home now. Please read and share our report. Learn more at livesontheline.org.
Texas Organizing Project
Our Right2Justice Dallas Co crew has been sprinting towards making an impact on the city of Dallas' 2021 budget, by joining forces in a coalition including In Defense of Black Lives Dallas and Our City Our Future, calling for the re-allocation of $200 million of the current $516 million police budget. Our organizing efforts have included a highway banner drop, takeovers of online public townhalls that "sought" community input on the budget, and targeted social media campaigns that poured emails, phone calls and re-postings into decision-makers various inboxes. With the budget set to be passed in the coming weeks, we are culminating the #DefundDPD campaign with a series of direct actions targeting councilmembers, a mural unveiling and an online community block party. This work dove-tails into TOP's largest get-out-the-vote effort to date, outreaching to 1.6 million Black and Latino voters across Texas. We know our local organizing efforts will be a central part of how we talk with voters in upcoming elections, inspiring action at the ballot box in 2020 and with an eye towards 2021 municipal races.
Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
FJP continued its efforts to promote long overdue drug policy reforms, partnering with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Data for Progress, and The Justice Collaborative Institute to advocate for marijuana decriminalization through: the release of a new poll and report showing bipartisan support for changes in drug policy, a powerful joint letter to Congress signed by over 50 current and former criminal justice leaders urging action on pending marijuana legislation, and a press conference with Congressional and other elected officials lifting up these efforts. FJP also brought over 60 prosecutors together in an amicus brief defending Commonwealth's Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion to dismiss and decline cases. And FJP continued its efforts to reduce incarcerated populations in light of COVID-19 with an op-ed in MarketWatch, co-authored with Right on Crime’s Marc Levin, highlighting compelling humanitarian and fiscal reasons for decarceration. FJP’s Executive Director also co-authored an op-ed in The Appeal with Loudoun County, VA Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj on the importance of addressing the inherent influence of police unions and the need for elected prosecutors to decline union donations and endorsements. Finally, FJP released a new video on closing youth prisons, and joined with Gladys Carrión, co-chair of Youth Correctional Leaders for Justice, in an op-ed stressing the need to thoughtfully closing these facilities.
Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of Deaf (HEARD)
HEARD just released one of the first American Sign Language (ASL) videos on mass incarceration and disabled people. This video release coincided with John Wilson, Jr. Freedom Week, a week where HEARD shared John Wilson's story, and art; and hosted teach-ins about abolition with disabled communities. John Wilson was a Black DeafDisabled man who HEARD worked for over a decade to free from federal prison. Wilson spent 25 years in prisons for a crime he did not commit with no access to communication, language, information, telecommunication, and more. He passed away just six months after returning home to Washington, DC. All panels were accessible in ASL, spoken Spanish and English, and written English via live captions, and can be accessed on the organization's YouTube page. The week's hashtag was #JohnWilsonLives.
Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
PJI client Derek Harris was released after spending almost a decade in prison for the sale of less than a gram of marijuana. PJI attorney Cormac Boyle was able to successfully reduce Derek’s original life sentence to nine years, which led to him being released with time served. While Mr. Harris worked for many years in the hospital at Angola, he will leave prison without a job or basic necessities to restart his life after his excessive sentence. Read more about Derek’s story here.
We have been working with our community and system partners in Durham in anticipation of the County becoming part of a national cohort of pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs. Specifically, we have partnered with SpiritHouse, who will be running the diversion program for the county. SpiritHouse is a multigenerational organization led by Black women and carrying a rich legacy of using art, culture, and media to support the empowerment and transformation of communities most impacted by racism, poverty, gender inequity, criminalization, and incarceration. We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to work with such a powerful group of organizers and advocates committed to creating spaces to uplift the genius of youth of color and deeply embedded in and attuned to the needs of their community. In addition to the growing work in Durham, our team has met with community members and individuals from system agencies in two new counties on the east coast, all of who are interested in exploring the possibility of pre-charge restorative justice diversion in their communities.
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisons and jails still account for the top 15 clusters of COVID-19 in the U.S. In our most updated analysis of population trends, we found that Jails and prisons have reduced their populations in the face of the pandemic, but not enough to save lives. Even as the pandemic spikes in many states, we find that counties are allowing their jail populations to creep back up, increasing the risk that the virus will spread behind bars. 71% of the 668 jails we’ve been tracking saw population increases from May 1st to July 22nd, reversing the trend of the initial 30% jail population drop we saw in the spring. The 17 state prisons we’ve been tracking, meanwhile, have reduced populations by 13% since early March – not nearly enough to account for all of the elderly and medically vulnerable behind bars. Depopulation is the most effective way to slow the spread of the virus in correctional facilities, but state prison systems are also failing at the most modest mitigation efforts imaginable: requiring correctional officers and incarcerated people to wear masks. This month, we also found that half of states don’t require correctional staff to wear masks while working. We’ll continue to monitor state and local progress (or lack thereof) in protecting incarcerated people and facility staff from the novel coronavirus; all of our related work is on our Virus Response page.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
On August 13th, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 220 national advocacy organizations, and more than 125 national, state, and local drug policy, criminal justice reform, and civil rights organizations, urged Congress to strongly support of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (H.R.3884) and bring the bill to the House floor for a vote in September. The MORE Act is bipartisan legislation supported by the Marijuana Justice Coalition, of which The Leadership Conference is a part, and is the first marijuana de-scheduling bill voted on favorably by the House Judiciary Committee. In the face of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and a growing national dialogue on unjust law enforcement practices, marijuana reform as a modest first step at chipping away at the War on Drugs is more relevant and more pressing than ever before.
American Conservative Union Foundation
Last month the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act was re-introduced by Congress Members Karen Bass (D-CA), Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), who worked with ACUF to develop this critical language. The Pregnant Women in Custody Act will provide a national standard of care to address specific needs of incarcerated women during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and post-partum periods. Specifically the Act will provide: data collection on pregnant inmates; address the pregnancy and childbirth-related needs of incarcerated women; provide training and technical assistance for the local corrections and law enforcement agencies; provide state incentives to prohibit unnecessary restraints and; provide services and programs for pregnant and postpartum inmates. Read more on the efforts to preserve the human dignity of justice-involved women and keep their newborn children safe and healthy, here.
Coalition to End Money Bond
On August 20, 2020, the Coalition to End Money Bond, hosted by Chicago Community Bond Fund, led a virtual teach-in with our partners in the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice about the Pretrial Fairness Act (“PFA”). This proposed legislation will end money bond and dramatically reduce the number of people incarcerated while awaiting trial in Illinois. The event included a presentation from policy experts and organizers and a panel discussion featuring impacted people and Illinois Senator Robert Peters, a sponsor of our bill. INPJ’s collective outreach resulted in nearly 600 registrations, successfully kicking off a series of public education and advocacy events planned for the coming months leading up to the Illinois legislative veto session in November. On September 1st, the Coalition’s Campaign Coordinator Malik Alim spoke about the need to end money bond at an Illinois Legislative Black Caucus press conference announcing their criminal justice reform agenda in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are excited to move the Pretrial Fairness Act this fall alongside so many other promising reforms!
The Emerging Adult Justice Project
The Emerging Adult Justice Project at the Columbia Justice Lab just started a new project to design a special pilot at the Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) Court in Manhattan specifically for Emerging Adults (ages 18 – 25). This project is a great complement to the Rikers Island Longitudinal Study being conducted by our colleagues at the Justice Lab, which asks “how do race, poverty, and related vulnerabilities shape pretrial outcomes?” The ATI Project provides an opportunity to focus on community-based solutions and avoid incarceration entirely.
Court Watch NOLA
Court Watch NOLA along with other Open Philanthropy allies Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) and Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) and with financial support from Open Philanthropy, Color of Change, and Movement Voter Project, among others, has been convening a progressive district attorney’s coalition since September 2019 in advance of the New Orleans district attorney’s election this November. This coalition includes crime survivors, the formerly incarcerated, the wrongfully incarcerated, and their advocates. The People’s District Attorney Coalition launched its platform this month and also released a promotional video publicizing its work. In addition to the work on the People’s District Attorney Coalition, Court Watch NOLA is helping create a restorative justice program in New Orleans and pushing for an anti-surveillance bill at the city level.
For the past couple of years, Mijente has been leading the No Tech For ICE campaign to disrupt the alliance between tech companies and immigration enforcement. The campaign is about to hit a key moment with Palantir - a historically bad actor in Silicon Valley with a plethora of government contracts - doing an IPO at the end of September. Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel, an instrumental Trump funder, who’s made the case for weakening public institutions and replacing them with his own companies. He’s also managed to place his key people in influential positions across the Trump administration. The recent USPS scandal exposes the extent of this cronyism, and Palantir is seizing the moment having secured key COVID-19 surveillance contracts. During this critical period, Mijente has been escalating pressure through research, public education, communications, and direct action, having made significant inroads in mobilizing affected communities, tech workers, students, investors, and the broader progressive movement. We need to push harder than we ever have before to make it clear to Palantir that contracts with ICE are harmful. Contracts with ICE are immoral, as they embolden a rogue agency that consistently commits human rights violations. Join us in making it clear to Palantir that contracts with ICE are harmful! Use our social media toolkit to demand that Palantir #CancelTheICEContract
Texas Inmate Families Association
TIFA has been hosting an Advocacy Training Program via Zoom for our families to teach them how to effectively advocate for their loved ones in prison. We cover topics from how bills are filed to how to tell your personal story. Currently, we are hosting a 10-week series that is one hour of training each week on various topics. Our last session covered how to have difficult conversations based on the book ‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss. If the Capitol reopens this year, we will send our advocacy teams in to visit offices and hand out educational material on our bills. The focus for TIFA this session is independent oversight, parole reform, and reducing the budget of the prison system so that more prisons can be closed. Currently, we have 56 families that participate in our the program calling their Representatives and Senators and asking for their support on our bills.