Challenging mass incarceration surfaces activist collaboration inside and outside of prison. Earlier this month, D.C. residents sentenced to long prison terms endorsed The Sentencing Project’s Campaign to End Life Imprisonment. Establishing unifying policy platforms offer opportunities to raise public awareness about long-term prison sentences and the conditions that persons sentenced to life terms and others experience.
Prison Organizing and Challenging Mass Incarceration
There has always been activism to reform our criminal justice system inside of prisons. Critiques inside of prisons have involved Angela Davis and George Jackson, and today include Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun with the Free Alabama Movement and Kenneth Hartman. Incarcerated activists describe their conditions and share the experiences that contributed to their incarceration. Their activism engages directly with social movements anchored by civil rights reformers, women’s rights activists, and LGBTQ leaders.
Earlier this year the national prison strike shared organizing tactics among persons inside and outside of prisons. Prisoners in at least 17 states engaged in actions like work stoppages and hunger strikes in demand of 10 priorities, including recognizing the humanity of imprisoned men and women, ending life without parole, and expanding voting rights to incarcerated residents.
Collaborating to End Life Imprisonment
In D.C., incarcerated residents with Young Men Emerging (YME) endorsed The Sentencing Project’s Campaign to End Life Imprisonment. YME leaders mentor younger jail residents on life skills and violence prevention. The group also organizes around sentencing reform.
YME’s current policy goal seeks to eliminate intermediate life sentences by authorizing a court review for persons who have served at least 20 years in prison whose offense occurred when they were 25 years of age. The law reform aligns with a reform in California and legislative proposals in Texas and Washington.
- California – Sam Lewis, an advocate and former life sentenced prisoner, called on Gov. Jerry Brown to commute more life sentences before he leaves office.
- Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds signaled support for automatically restoring voting rights to residents disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.
- Kentucky – Policymakers are prioritizing criminal justice reform to address growing prison population.
- New Mexico – Lawmakers reviewed several criminal justice priorities for next year’s legislative session.
- Oklahoma – Gov. Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of 21 prisoners.