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2020 ELECTION UPDATES


Partnership for Safety and Justice
Here in Oregon, we are celebrating a major victory: Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 110, the “Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act,” leading the nation in decriminalizing people struggling with addiction and dramatically expanding access to recovery services. Partnership for Safety & Justice was involved in the shaping of Measure 110 and worked intensively with the Drug Policy Alliance and in-state partners to advance this historic measure. This was an enormous achievement and important step toward ending the failed War on Drugs that has devastated our communities for the past half-century. Together, we have rejected the gross racial disparities driven by selectively enforcing laws that criminalize drug addiction. Together we will truly provide people with the healthcare and treatment services they need and the solutions that our communities deserve. Our work on Measure 110 will now shift to implementing it as intended by the voters of Oregon. We will do so with a racial justice lens and in coalition with our local and national allies to ensure that treatment and other essential services are community-based, culturally specific, and available throughout our state. Click here for recent media coverage on this historic win and here to watch our webinar on Measure 110.

Alliance for Safety and Justice
We are so excited to report that Californians for Safety and Justice won a major victory in California with the defeat of Proposition 20, a ballot initiative that aimed to repeal key aspects of 2014’s Proposition 47 and 2016’s Proposition 57, both major criminal justice reform ballot measures that have substantially reduced the state’s incarceration population. We won the No on Proposition 20 campaign by a stunning margin of 38% yes and more than 62% no. All but seven of California’s 58 counties voted no on a measure that proponents sold as crime control for violent and repeat crimes. After a three year battle in which we raised millions, brought in more than 100 organizations to support and organized nonstop, it was a victory that was a long-time coming. This pivotal victory should help close the door on California’s failed tough-on-crime era and allow us to start building real safety for all. In addition to this huge win at the ballot in California, we’re thrilled to share that we reached more than one million people across the country with voter education resources including helping people take action to ensure they are eligible to vote or access early voting through our voter education campaigns targeting crime survivors and people with convictions. You can learn more about our work with survivors in this article from The Hill and more about our effort to reach people with convictions in this article from Mashable.


Texas Organizing Project
Many of the down ballot races we won directly impact our ability to change the criminal legal system in Texas.  Across Texas, we emerged with wins in nine judicial races (six of whom will sit on the felony court), three candidates elected to the commissioners courts, protected two sheriff’s races threatened by white supremacist candidates, elected a long-shot, County Attorney in Harris County, and added two new DA’s to our progressive DA fist to punch back against, right-wing state leadership. Of particular note, we played a major role in the historic elections of Rebecca Clay-Flores (County Commissioner’s Court), who will be the first woman of color to ever hold the office of County Commissioner in Bexar County (San Antonio) and has committed to work with us on realizing real bail reform.  Additionally Christian Menefee was elected as Harris County’s (Houston) new County attorney.  He’s the first Black and youngest County Attorney in Harris County history and his win is significant, because he’s replacing a County Attorney who spent millions of tax dollars fighting bail reform. This year we also expanded our organizing efforts to Travis (Austin) and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties through our successful engagement in the DA races. Most importantly, our members and leaders across the state emerged from this election cycle more unified, more knowledgeable, more developed and with a clarity about what’s it’s going to take to actually build a #Texas4All. We will continue to show up and we will continue to fight until that day comes. 

Court Watch NOLA
In the wake of the national elections, much of the country's attention has turned to the federal level. But here in New Orleans, we're focused on our runoff election for the most important race in the criminal legal system: the District Attorney's office. While Court Watch NOLA is a 501(c)3, and as such can't advocate for a specific candidate, we have been working with our allies in the New Orleans People's DA Coalition, a coalition of which we are a founding partner, to make sure that the people's voices are heard, and that all candidates running in the runoff hear the people's voice. We will continue to work with this coalition to advocate for policies that support reform, and reflect the will of the people.  We are fighting tooth and nail in New Orleans to ensure that New Orleans elects a prosecutor that reflects our values, stops tokenizing crime survivors, and ends mass incarceration. Groups that deserve credit in this fight to elect a progressive District Attorney in the run off-election include: Open Philanthropy, Color of Change, Real Justice, Promise of Justice Initiative, and Working Families Party.   

LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LJP)
LatinoJustice PRLDEF (LJP) welcomes Steven Mangual to our Southeast Office in Florida as our Justice Advocate Coordinator. For the 2020 elections, Steven worked with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) as part of the team in Osceola County that worked on voter registration, recruitment, and registering “Returning Citizens” onto FRRC’s Fines & Fees program. His team contacted thousands of Floridians. As part of our Latinx voter outreach strategy, LJP hosted Latino Vote: Dispatches from the Battleground, a virtual roundtable discussion with Latina/o/x leaders working on the frontlines to get out the vote in the 2020 election.  LJP’s Cada Voto Cuenta initiative deployed volunteers across Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York – lawyers, law students, activists, and others – during early voting and through Election Day. Each of the volunteers worked to identify and report voter suppression efforts and violations, particularly around bilingual voting compliance. Finally, in New Jersey voters approved a referendum to legalize recreational use of marijuana, the culmination of years of advocacy and testimony by LJP in favor of legalization as a vehicle towards decarceration. 

MORE CJR ELECTION WINS:

There were many, many wins in these elections! You can read this Appeal piece, or read the Talking Points Memo piece to see a pretty comprehensive list. Thanks to Daniel Nichanian (@Taniel on twitter) of the Appeal for compiling so much information and for being such a crucial source for so much local election news! Here are some stories about just a few of the big wins from November 3rd in Los Angeles:  

  • Measure J Passes in L.A. County L.A. County voters passed Measure J which will permanently require the county to spend 10 percent of its general fund budget on alternatives to incarceration, such as housing, mental health care, youth development and criminal justice diversion programs. The ReImagine LA coalition got the measure on the ballot less than two months after George Floyd's murder. Measure J focuses on transferring funds into community programs which is a message that clearly resonated with LA voters. 
  • George Gascón Wins Race for L.A. County District AttorneyGeorge Gascón defeated incumbent Jackie Lacey to become the head of the largest prosecutor's office in the nation. During the campaign, Lacey was fiercely criticized for pursuing harshly punitive policies and Gascón promised to consider reopening investigations into fatal police shootings and expand the use of alternative sentencing courts and pretrial diversion programs.

ONGOING UPDATES

Prison Policy Initiative
The Prison Policy Initiative published rapid responses to two recent Bureau of Justice Statistics data publications, pushing back against BJS’ positive framing of the new prison data in one and drawing attention to the jail boom on tribal lands in another. In a press release about Prisoners in 2019, BJS boasts that the United States’ incarceration rate is at its lowest since 1995, and that Black Americans are incarcerated at the lowest rate in 30 years. Our response, Prison incarceration rates inch down, but racial equity and real decarceration still decades away, focuses on the bigger picture: 1.4 million Americans, who are disproportionately Black, are still incarcerated in state and federal prisons, and the prison population is still five times larger than it was in 1975, before the “war on crime” really took hold. Rather than serving as a positive referendum on state and federal correctional practices, the new data underscores the need for bold criminal justice reforms that dramatically reduce our prison populations and eliminate the pervasive racial disparities in our criminal justice system.

Coalition to End Money Bond
On October 20th, two Illinois Senate committees held a subject matter hearing on ending money bond and alternatives to police response in emergency situations. In coordination with Access Living, the Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice secured over 2,700 witness slips in support of ending money bond and exploring alternative first responder models. During the hearing, Coalition member and policy expert Sharone Mitchell, Jr. and Campaign Coordinator Malik Alim provided testimony about the harms of pretrial and wealth-based incarceration and the Pretrial Fairness Act's solutions. Later that evening, the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice kicked off a series of Virtual Town Halls on the Pretrial Fairness Act, hosted by Senator Robert Peters and Representative Kelly Cassidy. Representatives Robyn Gabel and Barbara Hernandez, and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin joined Senator Peters to host two more Town Halls. Across the three virtual events, around 150 people attended via Zoom while many more tuned in on Facebook Live. Watch the first town hall here!

Texas Organizing Project
The fight to end cash bail continues. Even as we turned out hundreds of thousands of new and infrequent voters of color in Texas, we continued to push for ending cash bail in Harris County, home to nearly five million people, with a virtual town hall highlighting our progress and victories, and talking about the fight that lays ahead of us. On October 22, we were joined by partners in the work, Liyah Brown of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Judge Genesis Draper of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #12, and Alec Karakatsanis of the Civil Rights Corps. Watch the informative discussion here.  After five years of fighting to end cash bail in Harris County following Sandra Bland’s death, we have nearly eliminated cash bail in misdemeanor cases and are supporting a lawsuit to reform our felony cash bail system. Our next panel discussion is on November 18. Sign up here to join.

Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
FJP began October with a virtual convening on data-driven justice and public health approaches to violence prevention, where FJP announced new Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs) developed in collaboration with Florida International University and Loyola University at Chicago to measure success and increase transparency in prosecutors’ offices. The PPI launch included an FJP video and op-ed (coauthored with NYU Law Professor Anthony Thompson). The convening culminated with a virtual panel on the FJP and Mural Arts “Artist-in-Residence” program at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, during which formerly incarcerated artist James “Yaya” Hough created a collection exploring the human toll of incarceration. Also this month, FJP organized a joint statement signed by 68 elected prosecutors who pledged to not criminalize abortion and in a USA Today op-ed, Krinsky explained why prosecutors will be particularly critical in the fight for reproductive justice if protections in Roe v. Wade are eroded. In the wake of the recent election, FJP looks forward to working with around 20 recently elected reform-minded prosecutors and helping them successfully transition into their new roles in the coming months. Additionally, we were proud to endorse California's Proposition 17, which will restore voting rights to more than 50,000 people on parole and probation.

HEARD
HEARD hosted a panel on wrongful convictions of disabled/deaf people for International Wrongful Convictions Day with the Innocence Network. HEARD's panel featured Rico Harris, a Black deafdisabled man who has been incarcerated in Georgia for eight years. HEARD also released a vlog about CARES Act stimulus funds being available for incarcerated people and supported imprisoned deaf/disabled people to fill out and send necessary forms to receive their funds. HEARD teamed up with Southerners on New Ground (SONG) to host a workshop on language justice, disability justice and police+prison abolition; and HEARD will be hosting a public workshop on prison phone justice for deaf/disabled people who still have little or no telecommunication access in jails/prisons in 2020. HEARD will be sharing our ten-year struggle to get basic telecommunications access for imprisoned disabled/deaf people, present some of the history of struggle of incarcerated deaf/disabled people to obtain access to telecommunications, and explain how community members can file their own comments to help us fight against this manifest injustice. HEARD also continued our months-long support of the Study & Struggle series, piloting a radical and innovative interpreting that inverts the power dynamics of traditional interpreting. 

Worth Rises
Worth Rises worked with artists and activists to force prison profiteer and billionaire Tom Gores off the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) Board of Trustees! Gores is the CEO Founder of Platinum Equity, which owns one of the most predatory prison telecom corporations, Securus. They charge families as much as a dollar a minute to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones. After Gores canceled a meeting with directly impacted people and ghosted us amidst conversations about operational reforms, we took the fight to the public arena and successfully targeted his LACMA board seat—securing a win in just 29 days. While we celebrate this victory—a clear sign that people are done with his excuses and are rejecting the predatory state of the prison industry—we also know that this win will not bring relief to the families he preys on. It is another pressure point to move Gores to do what’s right. We won’t stop until he meets advocacy demands for reform—not his own—and gets out of this predatory business once and for all. If he continues to refuse, we’ll see him at the NBA.  

New Virginia Majority
On October 31, New Virginia Majority members, formerly incarcerated organizers, and allies met at Forest Hill Park in Richmond, VA for a socially distanced, community reunion to demand that the Department of Corrections, Governor Ralph Northam, and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran expedite the early release of inmates across Virginia jails. This was followed by a car caravan to Hickory Hill Community Center for the last day of in-person early voting. Formerly incarcerated individuals and people with incarcerated loved ones shared testimonies about the importance of early release during the public health crisis, the need to support re-entry processes, and the Right to Vote Amendment Campaign.  

Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
In October, PJI secured the release of Ms. Edna Gibson, a survivor of domestic violence- who defended herself against her abuser. Ms. Gibson was freed after spending 30 years in prison after being convicted by a non-unanimous jury. PJI attorney, David Wheaton, went to bat for Edna at the parole board– and now she is free. David credits Edna for her “resilience and determination during three decades of imprisonment.” Learn more about Edna’s story and PJI’s ongoing fight for the release of the 1,601 people still imprisoned by non-unanimous juries.

American Conservative Union Foundation
Should children who commit serious crimes die in prison? "The answer should be no," said Pat Nolan, Director Emeritus of the ACUF's Nolan Center for Justice, in a recent op-ed.  The Supreme Court has acknowledged that “children are different” in a number of opinions that limit life-without-parole sentences for those under 18. Yet despite the court’s preclusion of life without parole for kids except in the rare circumstance that the youngster is found incapable of positive change, these decisions have been implemented inconsistently and arbitrarily in many cases. This has led to unjust outcomes, like in the case of Brett Jones, which the Supreme Court will make a decision sometime next year. Like Jones' case, there are many more teenagers in the same predicament. ACUF joined the ACLU in submitting an amicus brief in Jones v. Mississippi and continues to work on the issue in a number of states in the 2021 legislative session. We believe no one is without redemption, especially children.

Emerging Adult Justice Project
The Emerging Adult Justice Project at Columbia University’s Justice Lab is pleased to report that Vermont has formally closed (via the Legislature) the only youth prison in the state. Also, we provided intensive training this week on positive youth development to all the staff working across the State for a newly created division at the VT Department for Children and Families focused on system-involved adolescents and emerging adults. We also presented at John Jay College’s webinar program for journalists and editors. Two leading youth advocacy organizations in New York have released a great report, Expanding Youth Justice in New York, recommending a slew of emerging adult justice reforms, such as expanding youthful offender protections, eliminating fines and fees for emerging adults, and raising the the upper age of juvenile jurisdiction. New York is joining a growing list of states considering the inclusion of emerging adults in their youth justice systems. 

RESOURCES:

Jobs Postings
Here is an updated list of current job openings at grantee organizations. Please share this resource with your networks. If you have any other job postings to add to the list, please email Jesse at jesse@openphilanthropy.org.  



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