Court Watch NOLA
On Saturday December 5th, New Orleans had a historic win with the election of DA-elect Jason Williams. Many New Orleanians have pushed for decades to elect a reform District Attorney in New Orleans, the wrongful conviction capital of the country, housed in a state which has the highest incarceration rate in the country. While the election of a reform DA is often a difficult feat in any city or state, DA elect Jason Williams has faced the opposition of the larger Louisiana political machine from the beginning of his campaign. Please see Jason Williams' victory speech here and Shaun King's commentary on the New Orleans' DA election here. This win was by the grass roots for the grass roots but would not have been possible without national groups such as Open Philanthropy, Color of Change, Real Justice PAC, and the Working Families Party. Also integral to the election victory was educating the public by way of the People's DA Coalition, supported by resources from Open Philanthropy, Color of Change, Movement Voter Fund (who got us VAN), Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, VOTE and an enormous amount of communications help from Color of Change. The People's DA Forum's first DA debate had a total of over 900 viewers who heard our platform and were forced to answer accordingly.
Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
On December 2nd, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments over whether their decision striking down Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury rule will apply retroactively to people whose convictions are final. The case will serve as an important test of whether America will continue to condemn the wrongs of the past – while continuing to tolerate their impact on the present. PJI was mentioned several times during the December 2, 2020 oral arguments and we remain hopeful. But regardless of the outcome in this new case, we at PJI are determined to restore justice to those whose lives have been destroyed by this relic of white supremacy. Check out PJI’s managing attorney’s interview with Audie Cornish on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Prison Policy Initiative (PPI)
As the approaching rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine brings hope of an eventual end to the pandemic, it also introduces ethical dilemmas. With various groups of Americans at heightened risk of exposure, and others at increased risk of severe cases, who should be vaccinated first? In our most recent policy briefing, we argue that incarcerated people and corrections staff should be prioritized in COVID-19 vaccination plans. We analyzed 48 states' vaccine distribution proposals to see how states account for incarcerated people and corrections staff, and found troubling results: Many states are planning to prioritize correctional staff before incarcerated people in vaccine distribution, and 12 states have failed to address incarcerated people as a priority group in their vaccination plans at all. Given that COVID-19 case rates are four times higher in state and federal prisons than in the general population, and twice as deadly, states must resist the inevitable pressure to neglect incarcerated people and make sure that people in prison and jail, and facility staff, are prioritized for vaccination.
Chicago Community Bond Fund
On November 12th, the Coalition to End Money Bond worked with our statewide partners in the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice to organize a Virtual Lobby Day in support of the Pretrial Fairness Act. Over 300 Illinoisans participated by texting, calling, sending letters to, and meeting with their legislators to demand they end wealth-based pretrial incarceration. The day closed with an online rally featuring legislators, impacted people, and community leaders—all of whom drove home why Illinois needs to end money bond and dramatically reduce the number of people jailed while awaiting trial now! You can watch a recording of the virtual rally here.
Dignity and Power Now (DPN)
Dignity and Power Now has had a powerful three months across our myriad program areas. Our Health and Wellness Team has created several guides to support the wellbeing of community, including a Re-Entry & Anti-Recidivism Guide to assist formerly incarcerated community members with employment, mental health, health care, educational and housing programs, as well as a COVID-19 Resource Guide to address the needs of our community members as they navigate the pressures of COVID-19. In addition to distributing resources to community members in need, such as diapers, pantry items, cleaning supplies, face masks, hand sanitizer, and COVID-19 test kits, DPN Staff Members supported political education efforts to educate community members on budget advocacy and the reforms needed to California’s pretrial system to ensure safety and dignity for our community members. Finally, on November 18th, 2020, RESIST, a twelve-episode docuseries that centrally features the work of DPN as well as other movement organizations, was released. The docuseries examines the impacts of mass incarceration and over-policing on Black and Brown neighborhoods, while highlighting the historic organizing efforts and wins that have taken place over the last three years in Los Angeles. As we wind down 2020, we look ahead to another transformative year in 2021.
Texas Organizing Project (TOP)
In San Antonio, a stunning 70% of fired police officers get their jobs back, including those who have committed murder. The San Antonio Police Association and Chapters 143 and 174 shield problematic officers. These chapters give police a one-sided due process and lopsided collective bargaining leverage that favors the police association and its members. TOP and FixSAPD organizers are collecting a total of 97,752 petition signatures to repeal these laws and bring much-needed accountability to the San Antonio Police Department. Once we reach this goal, the ballot proposals will head to San Antonio voters for approval in May 2021. Our communities are fired up about this opportunity to reform our local policing and is resulting in notable growth to our base of Black and Latino neighborhoods in San Antonio. Our mix of people power and political power are charting a path toward meaningful police reform by opting out of these laws and turning people out to the polls.
We just completed the Community Circle training (the first of our three core trainings) for SpiritHouse, the incredible organization that will be running the pre-charge restorative justice diversion program for Durham County. The training included other community organizers associated with SpiritHouse and was an incredible opportunity for folks, including us as trainers, to build and strengthen relationships, learn from each other's wisdom, and dream together. Meanwhile, system and community partners in San Francisco County have signed a memorandum of understanding, thereby expanding the County’s restorative justice diversion program to include transitional-age young adults. Over the next month we will be training individuals from San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office, Probation Department, and public and private defense attorneys to prepare each group to support the newly-expanded program.
Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
In the aftermath of exciting wins for criminal justice reform at the ballot box, FJP released “How the Biden-Harris Administration Can Advance Criminal Justice Reform: 13 Recommendations for Change and Federal Engagement,” with recommendations for how the new administration can advance a more just criminal legal system. FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky highlights one of these recommendations – establishing a Task Force on 21st Century Prosecution – in an op-ed in The Hill, where she explains why transforming local prosecution should be a central focus of the Biden administration’s agenda. The report also calls for reforming a probation and parole system that keeps over 4.4 million people in the country under supervision. This month, more than 50 elected prosecutors joined 90 current and former probation and parole leaders in issuing a statement calling for community supervision to be shorter, less punitive, and more equitable. Krinsky was also featured in an episode of The Briefing and co-authored an op-ed in USA Today with Columbia Justice Lab’s Vincent Schiraldi on this important issue. FJP expanded upon some of the other recommendations in the report in op-eds this month, including embracing harm reduction strategies and supporting local communities that decide to open overdose prevention sites, revisiting past extreme sentencing and advancing conviction integrity, and improving housing opportunities for individuals returning to their communities.
American Conservative Union Foundation (ACU)
ACU’s David Safavian joined with Fair and Just Prosecution’s Miriam Krinsky in an op-ed to address a proposal out of Texas that, if implemented, would block anyone convicted of a range of criminal offenses from living in supportive housing. Understanding that many of these individuals are already facing a myriad of obstacles that prevent them from a successful re-integration into society, adding barriers to housing will surely make these efforts all the more difficult. Proponents claim that these restrictions serve to protect the public. In reality, they would make Texas less safe knowing that people without homes are more likely to commit so-called “survival crimes” like theft, robbery, trespassing, loitering and prostitution. Over the past decade Texas has proven to be a pioneer in thew criminal justice space, however this proposal would surely take the Lone Star State back a step.
Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ)
We are excited to share our most recent publication on probation reform in Texas: How to Realize the State's Vision of Effective Community Supervision to Stop the Cycle of Crime. The report highlights the inefficiencies of the Texas probation system and provides best practices in community supervision that can reduce probation failures and incarceration costs, and more effectively stop the cycle of crime. Those reforms include 1) incentivizing rehabilitation, 2) implementing graduated responses statewide to ensure non-incarceration responses are exhausted before a person is incarcerated or revoked for a violation, 3) ensuring the courts have specific guidance to strengthen “ability to pay” determination standards, and 4) changing how prohibition is funded to maximize effectiveness. And, we’re excited to share the California Legislative Analyst's Office’s most recent report on the impacts of the state's prison population on the state's budget. This report affirms what Californians for Safety and Justice and others in the state have been saying for years — that prison closure is a viable way to save the state millions of dollars that could be re-invested in real solutions.
Movement for Family Power (MFP)
Since 2019, the Reimagine Support campaign lead by JMacforFamilies, MFP, Bronx Defenders Family Defense, and Drug Policy Alliance has been working to end the unnecessary separation of pregnant and parenting people from their newborns by the family regulation system in NY State as a result of unconsented drug tests and drug screens conducted by hospitals. In September, activists from a cross section of movement spaces, parents and youth impacted, doulas, harm reduction and medical providers came together to dream about what a world that nurtures families and supports community wellbeing might look like. Here is our vision. In other news, Movement for Family Power held a teach-in about the NYC policy changes in Health and Hospital Corporation (HHC) hospitals around drug testing. Watch the recording of the event here. For a brief overview of the investigation, read our graphic one-pager on the policy change.
New Virginia Majority
Each year New Virginia Majority holds a legislative summit, where members can learn more about issue priorities and how the legislative session works. During the summit, one of the focuses was criminal justice reform, including the decriminalization of marijuana and potentially restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated. Our members will also participate in a car rally on the first day of the legislative session to show members of the House of Delegates and Senate that there is support for criminal justice reform.