On the Struggle for Freedom & Transformation, byt the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement

Michelle Alexander just posted this on her Facebook page:

These are the voices you almost never hear in the media, the voices of formerly incarcerated people who are speaking their truth and organizing for justice. This 29-minute radio documentary highlights the candid, brave voices of nine members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement, people who have experienced the workings of the criminal justice system first-hand, and who have dedicated themselves to the work of building a beautiful, radical movement for justice and basic human rights for all.

She’s talking about this. I highly recommend taking a listen – it’s really rare and special to hear these stories coming from those who have firsthand experience with the direct and collateral consequences of mass incarceration.

Most importantly, they share their vision for the future of criminal justice reform – a progressive and transformative future that does not relegate groups to second hand citizenship or new systems of socioeconomic slavery.

Stephen Bright (President, Southern Center for Human Rights) on Indigent Defense

Stephen Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights, talks with the American Constitution Society about Gideon v. Wainwright. This landmark Supreme Court case  requires state courts under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants who are unable to afford to pay their own attorneys.

Bright focuses on the nation’s continued failure to fulfill its promise of indigent defense. Watch it here:


TODAY @2:30pm EST: Join the ACLU and Campaign for Youth Justice to #STOPsolitary

Today, the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will be hosting a second hearing on solitary confinement, following up on progress made since the first-ever hearing in 2012. The focus of the hearings are on solitary confinement’s implications on human rights, in addition to assessing economic and safety concerns.

Both the ACLU and the Campaign for Youth Justice have been working hard on mobilizing the advocacy community online and in-person. You can help, too!

From the Campaign:

If you are in the DC area, we hope you will join us at the hearing on February 25. A large audience filling the hearing room is critical to showing interest in reforming solitary confinement policies and practices. If you are not in the area, we hope you will join us by watching the senate hearing webcast, here.

Please share this #STOPsolitary message with your networks!

TAKE ACTION to #STOPsolitary:

  • JOIN US ON TWITTER! Campaign for Youth Justice will be LIVE tweeting during the 2/25 hearing starting at 2:30 p.m. (EST). Follow us at: https://twitter.com/justiceforyouth and use the hashtag #STOPsolitary to participate in the conversation.
  • PACK THE ROOM! This hearing is open to the public. Advocates, youth, families, and community members who live in the DC area are encouraged to attend. A large audience filling the hearing room is critical to showing interest in reforming solitary confinement policies and practices. The hearing will take place in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, 2 Constitution Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002.
  • WATCH LIVE ONLINE! Watch the hearing live at 2:30 p.m. (EST), here.

‘Rainbow Black’ Documentary to Raise Funds for Re-Entry Storytelling Project

mg_eaPrv_3615As a young Stanford University film student, Cheryl Fabio made a movie about her mother Sarah Webster Fabio, a pioneer of the black arts movement in the 60s and 70s.

Now, Cheryl is the executive director of the Sarah Webster Fabio Center for Social Justice.  The nonprofit helps young adults use technology to learn to express themselves, and is currently working on a project to help former inmates re-entering society tell their stories through multimedia (think music and pictures).

Cheryl re-mastered the documentary about her mother with the help of a grant, and will be screening it on SundayJanuary 19th at The New Parkway Theater (474 24th Street, Oakland, California). Proceeds will benefit the re-entry project.

If you’re in Oakland, definitely check it out. Read this article for more information.

The Ugly Truth About the War on Pot + D.C. Decriminalization Bill Passes Council

04082013_marijuanaYesterday, Huff Post Politics published a great article on the racist roots of the war on drugs, particularly marijuana. Drug laws have long been used to systematically oppress and criminalize minorities. More research has unveiled the history behind these oppressive policies, and it ain’t pretty.

Huff Post writer Nick Wing (@nickpwing) dug up a few gems in particular from Harry Anslinger – the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a predecessor to the Drug Enforcement Administration:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

“Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

And that’s just what he said in public.

Wing also points out that Anslinger fabricated surveys that show a decline in drug use following his war on marijuana.  He also reminds us that many southern lawmakers were completely open and honest about the racist motivations behind the laws.

Click here to read the full article.

In other war on drugs news: D.C. is one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana. Read more about it here.


Is New York Leading the Way in Prison Reform?

According to a January 2013 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, the JFA Institute and the Vera Institute of Justice, New York is one of the first states in the nation to significantly reduce its entire correctional population – including citizens out on probation and parole.

In “How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change?,” criminologists report that New York City’s incarceration rate was 30% below the rest of the nation’s.  Given the NYPD’s horrible reputation for unlawful stop-and-frisk practices, this stat may seem unlikely to some.

The New York Times’ Jim Dwyer has a possible explanation:

Think about this: Hardly any of the people who were stopped and frisked wound up being arrested, so those stops did not add to the national prison or jail population. The people weren’t doing anything wrong. Their blamelessness — the very fact that they couldn’t be locked up — helped to expose the folly of the stop-and-frisk program, and to persuade a federal judge that it was being unconstitutionally practiced.

The New York City study aimed to analyze the connections – if any – between decrease in crime, decrease in the correctional population, and  sharp increase in controversial police practices that devote less resources toward capturing felons, and a lot more energy toward low-level arrests.

In the New York Times article, Dwyer also pointed out that a staggering 87% of those low level arrests (misdemeanor marijuana) are of blacks and Latinos. However, these arrests usually result in summons and not actual incarcerations.

The study – which uses data from 1985-2009, before NYC’s stop-and-frisk practices really took off – takes a hard look at New York’s model of criminal justice reform, and leaves us with some difficult questions  concerning police practices and their costs/benefits.

New York and other American states still have a long way to go in ending mass incarceration. Even if these low-level arrests do not result in incarceration, they still may impact the arrestee’s  chances of future employment, and possibly even access to education. We need holistic, systemic reform to reduce the widening net of mass incarceration into all facets of an ex-offender’s life.

Oakland Community Org Announces New Holistic Re-Entry Program

homeWatchdog organization PUEBLO (People United for a Better Oakland) recently announced a new approach to reentry for young men currently imprisoned at San Quentin and Santa Rita Jail.

The new program – called BIO for “balancing the inner and outer needs of the person and his community” – will focus on basic employment and housing needs, while also providing mental health, family relations and restorative justice services to former inmates. Through BIO, PUEBLO seeks to understand how a holistic approach to case management can help ex-offenders successfully transition back into the community.

PUEBLO’s BIO program is an Alameda County Health Care Services Agency 2013 Innovations in Reentry grantee. Former re-entry coordinator Isaac Taggart will lead the initiative.

For more information, contact People United for a Better Oakland (3528 Foothill Blvd., Oakland, Calif 94601) at (510) 525-2525 or email them at pueblo@peopleunited.org.