Many state legislatures are in the final days of session. The next few months are an opportunity for community organizers and policy advocates to reflect on recent successes and challenges in the movement to end mass incarceration. Summer can also be a time to deepen expertise, establish relationships with new coalition partners, and plan for the next campaign.
Working to end life imprisonment requires deep study of the issue. Talking with other advocates about the underlying causes will develop a shared analysis and surface policy goals. Advocates might organize discussion groups to dig into the history of life sentences and other drivers of mass incarceration. Conversations might focus on the history of your state’s truth-in-sentencing framework, prosecutorial practices contributing to life sentences, or strategies to improve parole. People challenging mass incarceration often need to come together to discuss shared values that will undo the policies that contributed to prison growth.
Advocates are often helped by regular interactions that can amplify goals and leverage resources towards a common purpose. The next few months are an opportunity to develop new relationships with organizations and individuals motivated by shared goals. Organizing an effective coalition can achieve wider reach than any one group can attain. For example, Empower Missouri anchored the Smart Sentencing Coalition that included All of Us or None, ACLU, Jewish Community Relations Council, and Americans for Prosperity. The coalition worked together in support of several priorities including sentencing reform.
Getting ready for the next legislative cycle is an opportunity to identify policy goals and determine practical actions. The planning process can help determine targets and the best ways to persuade them to address mass incarceration. Realistic advocacy plans acknowledge resource constraints while prioritizing tactics that help achieve the goal. For example, if your coalition has a small membership organizing a protest may not work, but coordinating phone banking to legislative targets might be achievable. In developing a plan, determine clear and measurable actions that help achieve your advocacy priorities.
- Arizona – Policymakers advanced SB 1334, the legislation limits the use of sentencing enhancements if the defendant has no prior convictions.
- California – Assembly approved AB 32, a bill that would prohibit the state’s prisons agency from establishing or renewing a contract with a for profit prison company.
- Colorado – Lawmakers expanded voting to persons on parole with passage of HB 1266. As of 2016, more than 8,600 Coloradans were on parole.
- Delaware – The Senate approved SB 47, a measure repealing drug sentencing enhancements in targeted geographic zones known to exacerbate racial disparities.
- Illinois – Lawmakers advanced HB 1587, which authorizes probation as an alternative sanction for qualifying offenses that would otherwise result in a mandatory minimum.
- Oklahoma – Lawmakers approved HB 1269, which retroactively allows reclassification of certain felonies to misdemeanors and authorizes resentencing. Oklahoma voters previously approved a ballot measure reclassifying qualifying felonies to misdemeanors, but HB 1269 makes that change retroactive.
- Oregon – Legislature passed SB 1008, a measure that stops youth charged with a violent crime from being convicted under the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing structure, known as Measure 11.
- Nevada – The Senate voted out AB 183, which would phase out private prisons by 2022. There are no current private prisons in Nevada but the state does pay for 100 private beds in Arizona.
- Nevada – State lawmakers expanded the franchise by approving AB 431, a measure that authorizes voting rights for persons under parole supervision.
- Kentucky – The governor signed HB 299, a bill authorizing sentencing credits for life skills program participation for qualifying offenses.
- Louisiana – House lawmakers passed HB 518, legislation that eliminates nonviolent offenses from the habitual offense statute.
- Michigan – The governor signed HB 4129, legislation establishing a parole process for the medically frail. The new statutory framework codifies an early release process for persons who qualify.
- Missouri – Lawmakers approved HB 192, a measure that allows qualifying persons to have an earlier parole hearing. The bill requires the parole board to evaluate those currently serving mandatory minimums to decide if they should be released.
- Mississippi – Lawmakers opted out of the federal lifetime ban on food and cash assistance for residents with felony drug convictions.
- Pennsylvania – SB 135 was introduced to address life without parole as a sentencing option.
- Vermont – Lawmakers approved S. 112, a bill that establishes an earned time policy resulting in sentence reductions for certain offenses. The Legislature repealed the previous good time policy in 2005.