November Brings Advances in Criminal Justice Reform
Formerly incarcerated and convicted people's movement gains steam in Los Angeles
Last week brought two major developments in the fight to end mass incarceration.
Nearly 1,900 people currently serving time for crack cocaine offenses — historically punished more harshly than offenses related to powder cocaine — became eligible for immediate release. The importance of the day was clear, with one federal public defender cancelling vacation for his staff until they’ve done all they can to process the initial wave of releases. The quote this attorney gave USA Today indicates his commitment to seeing that justice is finally served for these victims of the failed war on drugs.
“We’re trying to make sure you don’t serve one more day than necessary,” Jim Wade, the public defender, said. “That’s the goal.”
The other development wasn’t heralded in the mainstream press, but it’s led by people who understand first-hand the plight of the 12,000 federal prisoners now eligible for release as a result of crack reform. Last Tuesday, more than 270 formerly incarcerated and convicted people met in Los Angeles in advance of the International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Their mission? Continue building a new front in the movement to end over-incarceration. The days of policy and advocacy organizations reaching out to people who have done time when they need a spokesperson or someone to hold a sign at a rally are numbered, they say. Instead, it’s time for people with records to be decision-makers and leaders in their own right.
A 14-point platform guides their work, and a provocative question called out from the cover of the program for last week’s gathering: “Am I a human being if most rights are denied me and most privileges are inaccessible to me as a formerly incarcerated and/or convicted person?”
These organizers’ efforts — with their critique of profit-generating prisons and their call to end the incarceration of youth — will likely be of interest to ColorOfChange members in the coming months. The members of our online community have proven time and time again that they are sickened and motivated by the facts: One in nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 is now behind bars. One in 15 black adults overall is locked up.
That’s why 65,000 of our members are successfully fighting to overturn the wrongful convictions of Illinois men who have served years based on forced confessions. That’s why 59,000 members fought to eliminate the disparity in sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses. It’s why hundreds of our members in Mississippi and Louisiana have demanded an end to profit-driven prison abuse and the unchecked growth of jails. And its why more than 250 people responded to our call to read and discuss law professor Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow.
The fight to reform our nation’s drug laws and prison policies takes a dedicated and multifaceted movement. Let's hope November is an indication of the successes and innovations we can craft together in 2012 and beyond.