Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF)
On May 5, Chicago Community Bond Fund joined community members for a rally outside of Cook County Jail calling for the mass release of people inside to prevent more lost lives. The rally was organized by Cassandra Greer-Lee on what should have been her husband Nickolas Lee’s 43rd birthday. Mr. Lee died in April after contracting COVID-19 while in Cook County Jail. You can watch a video recap of the event here. Sadly, later that same day, we learned of the death of a seventh person from COVID-19 while in the custody of Cook County Jail. Currently, more than 500 people incarcerated in the jail have tested positive. CCBF continues to be centrally involved with a federal lawsuit on behalf of everyone in Cook County Jail seeking both release and conditions improvements. Since April, CCBF volunteers have heard from more than 300 incarcerated people and recorded their testimonies. You can read some accounts from incarcerated people filed in the case here: April 3rd, April 19th, and May 6th.
Prison Policy Initiative
As the COVID-19 disaster in U.S. prisons escalates, people serving time for violent offenses have the least hope of avoiding the virus, as states exclude them from opportunities for rapid release. In April, we released Reforms without Results: Why states should stop excluding violent offenses from criminal justice reforms, a major report explaining six reasons why excluding “violent offenders” from criminal justice reforms – like the decarceration efforts underway in response to the pandemic – is both ineffective and unjust. Demonstrating how common it is for people convicted of violence to be left behind, our report includes an interactive map that shows which states have left violent offenses out of reforms. Letting people convicted of violence apply for life-saving opportunities requires political courage, just as it has for decades. But denying relief to people based exclusively on their crime of conviction is not a successful strategy for reducing incarcerated populations, whether in the face of a pandemic or otherwise.
Court Watch NOLA
Court Watch NOLA has been dedicated to preserving transparency in the courts during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court Watch NOLA's staff and volunteers have been fighting for zoom access to bail hearings since mid-March. Though this fight is not over, Court Watch NOLA has made progress in getting speakerphone access to the proceedings. We will continue to fight for full access to the courts but in the meantime are sending regular data updates on the types of arrests made and the types of bail demanded in New Orleans. For more on this fight, please see here. Additionally, We have paired with the Office of the Independent Police Monitor, the MacArthur Justice Institute and Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, to call for an end to custodial arrests for non-violent, non-sex offenses--urging NOPD to instead utilize summonses. We know that unnecessary arrests mean unnecessary deaths. Join our campaign on social media using the hashtag #HealthNotHandcuffs. For more on this fight, take a look at this Citylab article.
Dignity and Power Now
Dignity & Power Now announced the establishment of its Emergency Relief Fund to aid in connecting community members to essential supplies during these challenging times. The Emergency Fund will be implemented in three phases to respond to the concerns of community members who are experiencing loss, hardship, and health concerns as a result of the coronavirus. The first phase provides essential needs such as diapers, baby wipes, and formula to families with children. The second phase provides pantry items, cleaning supplies, face masks, and toilet paper. The third phase will collect essential needs data and consider direct financial assistance to people in the most need, based on community needs assessments. To date, DPN has provided support to over 3,500 community members in California. For more information, visit: www.covidemergencyfund.org.
In order to stay on track to launch two new pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs in Philadelphia and Miami, we’re building out the tools to facilitate virtual versions of our trainings. Support from our district attorney partners has been unwavering as they’re committed to launching new programs and diverting cases amidst the Covid-19 public health crisis. We’re grateful to see a shift in their approach to prosecution, given the disproportionate impact the virus has on communities already targeted by criminalization. Four of our partners signed onto the prosecutors’ statement released last month by Fair and Just Prosecution. Later this month, our team will facilitate a training on restorative justice diversion for over 100 members of the San Francisco District Attorney’s office in preparation for their office to divert more youth cases and expand their referrals to include transitional age young adults. Other system partners have expressed interest in receiving a similar training in order to deepen their understanding of the process. Meanwhile, we are continuing to hold regular virtual meetings with our national cohort of restorative justice diversion practitioners, and our community partners continue to offer healing spaces and resources to meet the needs of their local communities. The whole national cohort is eager to make virtual restorative justice processes available, and the spaces we’ve created for cross-site collaboration have provided essential momentum.
Essie Justice Group
This month Essie Justice Group, with our partners at Color of Change, launched Lives on the Line: a campaign led by women with incarcerated loved ones to fight for our loved ones inside as COVID-19 rapidly spreads through jails, prisons, and detention centers. We launched Lives on the Line with an advocacy platform of demands, a national survey, a video project to tell our stories, and an upcoming National Healing Circle to connect, support each other, and build power as women with incarcerated loved ones during COVID-19. Please widely share this survey for people with incarcerated loved ones to expose what’s really happening inside prisons during COVID-19. With the data from the survey, we’ll be able to hold our public officials accountable for decisions they are making every day that put our loved ones’ lives on the line.
Alliance for Safety and Justice
For years, Alliance for Safety and Justice has been saying our constituencies - people living with convictions and crime survivors - are the most harmed and least helped, and that is an acute reality at this moment. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re working harder than ever to reduce incarceration and expand dollars going to vulnerable communities and the organizations that support them. We are also partnering with community-service providers to free up state money and advance our national Stop The Spread call to action. We’ve pivoted our advocacy strategies to adapt to closed statehouses and moved all of our organizing efforts online- including the first-ever Survivors Speak National Week of Action. During National Crime Victims Rights Week we hosted digital events to build power among crime survivors and provide opportunities for advocacy, community, connection, and healing during this unprecedented time. The week wrapped with the first-ever virtual Survivors Speak National Conference where elected officials joined survivors and cultural influencers like T-Pain, Mario, and Diana Gordon. We were joined by more than 2,600 online attendees across 36 states and our hashtag #SurvivorsSpeak reached 1.6M people.
Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
In April, FJP continued to focus on COVID-19 and the threat to incarcerated people, launching new website pages dedicated to the crisis and its intersection with mass incarceration, releasing a video from San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, and publishing an op-ed along with former DOJ leaders Vanita Gupta and Roy Austin urging the President to commute sentences of people who are elderly, medically vulnerable, or near the end of their sentence. FJP also coordinated two amicus briefs: the first in support of a petition seeking to immediately reduce the population in youth detention and correctional facilities, and the second challenging restrictions imposed by the Texas Governor on the release of individuals held pretrial. FJP issued two statements in support of other litigation to release vulnerable individuals from jail and prisons in Los Angeles and Ohio. Finally, FJP continued its ongoing efforts to strengthen community trust, including by submitting a statement to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement urging that group to embrace smart use of law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion to shrink the footprint of the justice system, and in an amicus brief opposing DOJ efforts to tie funding for community initiatives to cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE.
Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
Louisiana and the nation celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ramos v. Louisiana declaring non-unanimous juries unconstitutional. The Promise of Justice Initiative has identified and connected with over a thousand incarcerated individuals convicted by less than unanimous juries. This week, PJI has filed nine pleadings on behalf of some of these clients and is moving quickly to bring justice to those denied their rights under the constitution. Campaigns to free and protect incarcerated community members are especially urgent with the outbreak of COVID-19 in prisons and jails. Through several lawsuits, PJI has forced the Department of Corrections to reconsider their transfer of COVID-19 patients to a substandard medical facility at the far-flung Louisiana State Penitentiary and address their bureaucratic incompetence holding people past their release dates. PJI organizers are working in coalitions across the state to bring home the 145 individuals waiting for the governor to sign their commutations, including Mama Glo, Louisiana’s longest serving female prisoner who is currently battling COVID-19 which she contracted in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.
Columbia Justice Lab
The Emerging Adult Justice Project at the Columbia Justice Lab has added a new, regularly updated category on COVID-19 on our online library/clearinghouse. We recently co-led a webinar hosted by the New York Youth Justice Institute, which was attended by more than 100 researchers, advocates and justice practitioners. Finally, we are pleased to report that Massachusetts has once again invested in emerging adult justice reform: The annual budget includes $1.8 million for grants to community-based nonprofits for pre- and post-release support of emerging adults returning to their communities from state prisons and county jails.
Texas Freedom Network
As a member of the San Marcos Criminal Justice Coalition, our Texas Rising youth organizing program helped to mobilize and advocate for the passage of the first Cite-and-Release Ordinance in the state of Texas. In April, the San Marcos city council voted 4-3 to make the cite and release policy not just a resolution, but a binding law. Through our coalition efforts, our Texas Rising student leaders held informational meetings in partnership with Mano Amiga to recruit and inform our members to plug into this fight and reflect on how the ordinance could improve lives. Additionally, we offered testimony in multiple city council meetings on how the ordinance would affect individuals in the community, and how it could have affected those close to them had it been in place previously - avoiding a night in jail over low-level, misdemeanor, citation-eligible offenses, can be life changing for so many. This win took more than a year to achieve and represents important modernization of our criminal justice system.
We Got Us Now
On March 16, 2020, We Got Us Now released an open letter with 4 urgent demands from daughters and sons across the country seeking to #ProtectOurParents from COVID-19 behind bars. Since the release of our letter, we have been involved in national and local efforts to protect incarcerated people from COVID-19. In partnership with news outlet, MIC, We Got Us Now released an op-ed which featured a powerful video we produced to promote our Nationwide Forum to #ProtectOurParents which featured, We Got Us Now Actionists from 10 cities and states across the US and included a surprise visit from Congresswoman Karen Bass seeking to learn more about our advocacy efforts. Our Nationwide Forum was the kickoff event that launched our 7-week campaign to #KeepFamiliesConnected - a virtual series happening from Mother's day through Father's day to educate and uplift the concerns and experiences of daughters and sons with incarcerated parents and amplify the policies & practices we are advocating for to Keep Families Connected, End mass incarceration and #ProtectOurParents behind bars amid COVID-19.
American Conservative Union Foundation
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACU Foundation recently launched an initiative to take its message into the virtual world. Last month, we hosted a panel made up of Utah elected prosecutor David Leavitt, along with ACUF’s Pat Nolan and former NYC Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik to discuss criminal justice reform efforts in Utah. Moderated by former United States Attorney Brett Tolman, the online panel explored the role of prosecutors in the justice system, and how political ambitions and politics helped create the Tough-on-Crime mantra that remains prevalent today. You can re-watch the panel discussion, here.
Voice of the Experienced (VOTE)
Voters Organized to Educate and VOTE are focused on Louisiana's decarceration, and seeking for security experts to make way for public health experts during a pandemic. Our work has been driving the debate, including weekly meetings with the Secretary of Corrections, communications with nearly 1000 incarcerated people, our public delivery of 10,000 N95 masks to the Department of Corrections, and a prayer vigil outside one of the women's facilities. We were recently featured on The Rachel Maddow Show, alongside three formerly incarcerated women who read the op-eds of women currently incarcerated. Now, with a new legislative session opening this week, and the passage of emergency election laws, we are working hard to ensure people's rights are protected.
Texas Advocates for Justice
As the COVID-19 cases spread within the Harris County jails, Texas Advocates for Justice joined TOP, Texas Appleseed and other criminal justice organizations to demand the release of those in the Harris County jails who are in pre-trial, accused of non- violent crimes, and those charged with non-violent, low level offenses. While the executive order from Harris County Judge Hidalgo for their releases have been halted, TAJ is working locally with a community bail out fund organized by a non profit, Restoring Justice. The fund is designed to get our loved ones out, one at a time.