Chicago Community Bond Fund
On Monday, February 22, 2021, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed the Pretrial Fairness Act, into law as part of HB 3653, the criminal justice omnibus bill. The Pretrial Fairness Act was written by advocates and organizers in the Coalition to End Money Bond and the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice and championed in Springfield by Senators Elgie Sims and Robert Peters and Representative Justin Slaughter. The passage of the bill was only made possible because of the thousands of people and more than 100 organizations in our robust and diverse movement for pretrial freedom. You can read about the key accomplishments of the Pretrial Fairness Act here, watch a recording of our recent teach-in on the campaign and bill here, or read about it in recent articles in NBC News, The Guardian, and The Intercept.
HEARD celebrated its 10 year anniversary last month! In honor of a decade of tireless advocacy, fierce love, and radical transformation, HEARD raised $13k in mutual aid funds for currently and formerly deaf/disabled incarcerated people and their loved ones; released new organizational Mission, Vision, and Values; announced our Public Education Team (PET); and launched our Spring 2021 Community Education series. HEARD’s next educational event will be on March 20th at 2 - 4pm EST / 11am - 1pm PST.
Last month, Worth Rises launched The Curriculum, a 15-week free, public self-study course based on its recent report, The Prison Industry: How it Started, How it Works, How it Harms. The course tackles the prison industry week by week, sector by sector. So far the course has covered architecture + construction, operations + manager, personnel, and programs + labor. Worth Rises invites anyone who hasn't joined yet to visit the course page and catch up on the readings, discussion questions, webinars, videos, and radio segments! Please also join the public study group, which will be moving from Clubhouse to Twitter Spaces starting next week, follow @biancatylek to see the space. And remember that there are 1,000 incarcerated comrades taking the course inside too!
Prison Policy Initiative
This month, the Prison Policy Initiative took a close look at how prison and jail populations have changed during the pandemic - in particular, we wanted to see whether the population drops reflect an increase in releases, through mechanisms like discretionary parole and special pandemic-response early releases. Troublingly, we found that very little of the population drop was actually due to releases; in fact, there were actually more people released in 2019 than during the pandemic. We also compared pre-pandemic (2019) parole board hearings, grant rates, and total releases to parole board activities during the pandemic (2020), for the 13 states with data available for both years. Again, we found that instead of releasing more people to the safety of their homes, parole boards held fewer hearings and approved fewer releases during the ongoing, deadly pandemic. Even as vaccine distributions begin, states need to do better and leverage every available option to reduce populations and protect the lives of incarcerated people.
Promise of Justice Initiative
On February, 26th, 18 people represented by The Promise of Justice Initiative, who were convicted by Jim Crow juries finally got a chance at justice. This included 70-year-old Albert Damond who was released that day after spending 45 years in prison. The release came as a result of newly elected Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams waived objections to new trials for 22 Louisiana people convicted by unconstitutional juries between 1974 and 2014. 18 of these were PJI clients. PJI continues to fight for the fair treatment of over 800 more men and women convicted with unconstitutional Jim Crow Jury verdicts.
Working Families Party
In January, the Working Families Party's Criminal Justice Initiative launched a new web series, Reimagining Justice: Profiles of Progressive Prosecutors, which puts a spotlight on the people and communities fighting to end mass incarceration and use the power of the district attorney's office to reduce harm, shrink the system and focus on a new vision for public safety. The show features an hour-long conversation and Q&A session to dig into the policies and thought processes that are shaping our criminal legal system, why people are drawn to the work, and the future of abolition and overhaul. Past guests on the show include Washtenaw County District Attorney Eli Savit and Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Victoria Burton-Harris, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins. Reimagining Justice airs the last Thursday of each month and is hosted by Tiffany Cabán.
Fair and Just Prosecution
As the process for confirming President Biden’s nominees continued into February, FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky and Shay Bilchik, former head of the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and founder of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, co-authored a USA Today op-ed urging the President to quickly fill key DOJ positions with diverse and reform-minded leaders who are committed to a new vision of justice. Krinsky also penned an op-ed with Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy Associate Director Tyler Yeargain on how state prosecutors’ associations have been holding criminal justice reform back for far too long. Also this month, FJP released a new issue brief, “Reconciling Drug Courts, Decarceration, and Harm Reduction,” which calls for elected prosecutors to closely examine whether drug courts in their jurisdictions are exacerbating cycles of incarceration and harm. Finally, 73 current and former criminal justice leaders filed an amicus brief in support of New Jersey’s landmark Immigrant Trust Directive, which aims to build trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement by limiting local entanglement in federal immigration enforcement.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
In February, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund launched the Vision for Justice campaign with a first-of-its-kind virtual summit that brought together advocates, celebrities, directly impacted leaders, and policymakers to outline their unified vision to transform the criminal legal system. The Leadership Conference also issued letters supporting HR 40 The Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, encouraging the Administration to depopulate jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic alongside 110 organizations, and supporting the passage of HR1280, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. In March, the team — in collaboration with Color of Change — will convene experts to strategize how to transform the pretrial justice system.
Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
We just wrapped up our Restorative Community Conferencing training, the last of our three core trainings, with our community partners in Philadelphia (the Youth Art and Self-empowerment Project (YASP)) and Miami (S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective (SSLC)). YASP and SSLC are incredibly powerful youth serving organizations deeply embedded in and dedicated to their respective communities. These two groups will be leading their counties’ pre-charge restorative justice diversion work. Now that both organizations are fully trained, we will be working with the system partners in Philadelphia and Miami over the next few weeks to finalize case referral processes and then both counties will be ready to launch their pilot, pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs! In other news, we will be holding a second webinar, "Introduction to Restorative Justice Diversion," as part of our new National Training and Innovation Center for Restorative Justice Diversion on March 10 at 10:30 am PST / 1:30 pm EST (register here). This webinar will serve as an introduction to our unique model of pre-charge restorative justice diversion.
American Conservative Union
The American Conservative Union supported an effort out of the Commonwealth of Virginia aimed at right-sizing the growing, and ineffective community corrections system. HB 2083 would move Virginia forward by imposing effective limits on supervision time, providing graduated and proportional sanctions for technical violations, and incentivizing hard work and accountability. We believe those on supervision who make minor mistakes must be held accountable in some way, but the Commonwealth can do so without subjecting Virginia taxpayers to upwards of $300 million dollars in unnecessary prison costs annually. Read the letter here.