State advocates work every day to challenge mass incarceration and racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Summer offers an opportunity to build momentum for policy and organizing goals. Over the next few months, many state advocates will reflect on campaign wins and identify next steps to counter setbacks. They will plan grassroots activities, identify campaign next steps, and engage in political education.
Grassroots Advocacy Planning
Challenging mass incarceration requires a range of policy goals like recalibrating lengthy prison terms and addressing collateral consequences such as felony disenfranchisement. No matter the policy priority, state advocates can work with their members and coalition partners to plan grassroots advocacy strategies. Key elements of effective advocacy recognize that advocacy planning starts long before winning a reform goal.
- Assess past efforts and identify obstacles: State advocates can review successful strategies and apply them to new initiatives or consider how other winning efforts might assist in shaping new campaigns.
- Inventory grassroots resources: Building support by connecting with potential coalition partners, recruiting new volunteers, and identifying new communication tactics can help prepare state campaigns for the next step in criminal justice reform.
- Develop a grassroots plan: Working backwards from a policy goal can help grassroots advocates achieve benchmarks to develop timelines and a dynamic campaign plan. Determining what has to be in place to achieve strategic goals can help organizations and individuals with limited capacity prioritize resources and identify next realistic goals.
Moving an Agenda
Summer planning offers time for engaging with stakeholders including organizational partners and campaign supporters. Advocates can take the next few months to undertake landscape research, establish a community engagement strategy, and develop a shared analysis.
- Landscape Research – Advocates working on criminal justice reform can assess how their priority is different in the current environment. How might the upcoming midterm election shift the policy environment? How does the issue campaign align with the broad social justice environment?
- Community Engagement – Informal and formal coalition support can help amplify reform goals. Advocates can schedule one-on-one conversations to educate potential supporters.
- Shared Analysis – Organizers can work with leaders and members on a shared analysis that can help advance common goals to challenge mass incarceration. Starting a reading group with coalition partners can help. Books like Start Here: A Roadmap to Reduce Mass Incarceration and Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics offer pragmatic suggestions for those engaged in reform campaigns.
State Reform News
- Louisiana – Governor John Bel Edwards signed a law expanding voting rights to residents who have not been incarcerated in the last five years including those on probation or parole. HB 265 goes into effect in March of 2019.
- Michigan – State lawmakers plan for prison closure to reduce state correctional costs.
- Missouri – Former Governor Eric Greitens signed SB 793, requiring that youth under the age of 18 be prosecuted for most criminal offenses in juvenile courts unless the child is certified as an adult.
- Pennsylvania – State lawmakers and organizers started “Redemption Tour” in support of SB 942. The legislation would allow an individual sentenced to life in prison to be considered for parole after spending 15 years in prison.
- Washington – Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 6160, a measure that allows youth convicted in adult court to stay in the state juvenile corrections system until they turn 25, rather than being transferred to a prison when they turn 21.
- Wisconsin – Coalition working to reduce prison admissions for parole revocations and calling for closure of correctional facility.
State advocates join Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards as he signs legislation expanding voting rights to residents who have not been incarcerated in the last five years including those on probation or parole. Source: VOTE
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