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Mass Incarceration

Fighting Criminalization With Housing First

Housing is one of our best tools for ending mass incarceration. It does more than put a roof over people’s heads; housing gives people the space and stability necessary to receive care, escape crises, and improve their quality of life. For this reason, giving people housing can help interrupt a major pathway to prison created by the criminalization of mental illness, substance use disorder, and homelessness. For this briefing, we examined over 50 studies and reports, covering decades of research on housing, health, and incarceration, to pull together the best evidence that ending housing insecurity is foundational to reducing jail and prison populations.

Cleveland: A Message To The Community, ‘No New Jail!’

Cleveland, Ohio - The Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition was warmly received by participants and onlookers at Cleveland’s Labor Day parade Sept. 4, as it promoted its efforts to stop construction of a new county jail. With principal and interest to bondholders combined, a new jail could cost county taxpayers over $2 billion, making it the most expensive project in Cuyahoga County’s history. The Coalition banner, shown in the photo, called on county residents to “say no to 40 years of debt.” Every year in Cleveland, the 11th Congressional District Caucus holds its parade on Labor Day. For over a decade this Black community tradition has been joined by Greater Cleveland’s labor movement, which had at one time held a separate parade the same day.

Taking The School-To-Prison Pipeline Fight To State Legislatures

The system of mass incarceration extends into the public education system. Known as the school-to-prison pipeline, policies that criminalize youth and their families, from the presence of police in schools to discriminatory and punitive practices that push youth to drop out, disproportionately affect communities of color. Kentucky State Rep. Keturah Herron joins Rattling the Bars to discuss the school-to-prison pipeline and how it can be tackled through state legislatures. Keturah Herron (D) represents District 42 in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

US Sentencing Commission Could Reduce Prison Time For Thousands

On April 27, 2023, the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines that would recommend lower sentences for certain defendants. If these changes are applied retroactively, some 18,775 people in federal prison could become eligible for a sentencing reduction—including 3,288 individuals who could be eligible for immediate release. Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums joins Rattling the Bars to discuss the proposed amendments and what they could mean for thousands of prisoners and their families.

Training Formerly Incarcerated Leaders To Fight Mass Incarceration

Over 1.9 million people are incarcerated in the US today, and even greater 5.5 million people are subjected to the wide-ranging system of mass punishment from parole, probation, and beyond. One organization, JustLeadershipUSA, seeks to tackle the prison system by building leaders among formerly incarcerated people, and fighting for change from the local level up. JustLeadershipUSA President and CEO DeAnna Hoskins joins Rattling the Bars to explain the work of her organization and how it seeks to bring about to change. DeAnna Hoskins has been at the helm of JLUSA as the President and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) since 2018.

Chris Hedges: Sammy Goes To School

Newark, NJ - We know the story. The absent father who leaves when his son is five-years-old and moves back to Puerto Rico. The single mother, rarely at home because she works long hours to keep her three children fed and pay the rent. The poverty. The crime. The instability. Later, the stepfather who drinks, uses drugs and beats his stepchildren. The child acting up. Dropping out of school. Joining a gang. The robberies. The one that went wrong and left a man dead. Prison. The students I teach in prison have variations of the same story. They are funneled into the maw of the prison-industrial-complex, the largest in the world, and spat out decades later, even more lost and traumatized, to wander the streets like ghosts until most, unequipped to survive on the outside and without support, find themselves back in the old familiar cages.

Report: Mass Incarceration Doesn’t Stop At The Prison Walls

1.9 million people are behind bars in the U.S., but this number doesn’t capture the true reach of the criminal legal system in the country. In a new report, Punishment Beyond Prisons: Incarceration & Supervision by state, the Prison Policy Initiative shows how in America, the overuse of probation and parole, along with mass incarceration, has ensnared a staggering 5.5 million people in a system of mass punishment and correctional control. Punishment Beyond Prisons shows the full picture of correctional control in the country, with a particular focus on the overuse of probation and parole.

Prisoners Reignite Movement To End Mass Incarceration

On Dec. 5, I sat in a circle with 30 prisoners at the Washington Correction Center in Shelton, Washington. As we looked around the room, anticipation, resolve and relief reflected in our eyes — yet we were all eager for this moment. Unable to meet due to COVID restrictions, we watched the world change around us for nearly three years. During this time tragedies like the murder of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and countless others took place, and justice reform became a dinner-table conversation for many Americans. As incarcerated activists, we sat silenced, unable to convene — even though, as stakeholders, experts in the field and leaders in justice reform efforts in Washington state, we have a lot to contribute.

Let 2023 Be The Year Of Dismantling Incarceration

Over the past year, organizers across the country have been working nonstop to free people from jails and prisons — and yet, of course, millions remain behind bars. Faced with this reality, it can be easy to slip into discouragement at the outset of a new year. But long-time abolitionist organizer and author Mariame Kaba reminds us that “hope is a discipline” — one we must practice even when the horizon is cloudy, when the new year brings no clarity, no easy optimism. In this spirit, I asked a number of organizers working to dismantle incarceration what is giving them hope for the coming year. I’m mentioning just a few decarceration projects out of countless important campaigns. And although I’m spotlighting decarceration projects (those specifically focused on shrinking incarceration and confinement), I want to note that abolitionist organizers are also working to build mutual aid networks, create non-carceral ways to address harm, and advocate for housing, non-carceral health care, education, environmental justice, and more.

Alabama Prison Strikers Demand Change Despite Severe Retaliation

Across the state of Alabama, where the state’s longest-ever strike is currently ongoing at Warrior Met Coal after over 18 months, another historic labor stoppage is in its second week. Thousands of incarcerated people at every major male prison in Alabama have refused to report to their work assignments. “The message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us,” a strike organizer who goes by Swift Justice told a reporter for independent news site Unicorn Riot. “This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.” “It makes no sense for us to continue to contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik Justice, another striking prisoner, told Unicorn Riot.

Advocates Cheer Biden Move To Pardon Marijuana Convictions

Reasserting that "no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana," U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that he is planning to issue an executive order pardoning everyone convicted of low-level marijuana possession, a move that drew applause from drug policy reform advocates. "Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives—for conduct that is legal in many states. That's before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction," Biden—who as recently as 2019 called cannabis a "gateway drug"—tweeted. "Today, we begin to right these wrongs." "First: I'm pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession," the president stated.

Rural County Jails Are Now The Main Driver Of Mass Incarceration

All across the United States, city and state governments have increasingly turned to fines and fees to make up for budget shortfalls. This has required a corresponding explosion in police department budgets, creating a perverse cycle where local governments must consistently expand policing in order to continue to pay for policing. Rural America has not escaped this trend, and a new Vera Institute report has found that small and rural counties are now the main drivers of growth in the prison industrial complex. According Vera’s research, the boom in county jails appears to be driven by an increased amount of people who are either held pretrial or warehoused for federal, state, or other municipal authorities.

Groups Urge UN To Call For Abolition Of ‘Death By Incarceration’

Several human rights organizations submitted a 31-page complaint to United Nations experts today, alleging that the United States is committing torture and violating the prohibition against racial discrimination by condemning people to death by incarceration through extreme sentences including life and life without possibility of parole (LWOP). The groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Drop LWOP Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center, are urging the UN to call for the abolition of all death by incarceration sentences. “Death by incarceration is the devastating consequence of a cruel and racially discriminatory criminal legal system that is designed not to address harm, violence, and its root causes, but to satisfy the political pressure to be tough on crime,” the complaint states.

The Alternative To Cash Bail Is A Simple Reminder

Last March, the California Supreme Court ruled that low-income individuals were not to be subject to cash bail, stating that “conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional.” This came four months after a widely scrutinized bail reform law subject to a referendum was defeated by California voters in 2020.  Other states have moved even further to eliminate cash bail, part of the growing national concern with how a de facto for-profit element of the criminal justice system jails and immiserates people by the millions, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of a crime. An Illinois bill from 2021 eliminates cash bail starting in 2023.

Los Angeles Is Creating A Model For Fighting Mass Incarceration

Los Angeles, California - In the late spring and summer of 2020, protests for racial justice erupted in response to the police murder of George Floyd. Mobilizations spread throughout the country and continued for months, producing what scholars identified as arguably the largest wave of mass protest in U.S. history. However, as with other surges of popular uprising, the actions died down over time. At that point, critics claimed that protesters made a lot of noise and drew public attention but were unable to translate their discontent into concrete policy gains. When the moment of peak protest passed, these detractors held, the movement disappeared with little to show for its efforts.
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