Organizers and policy advocates work every day to advance policy solutions to address the nation’s scale of incarceration, challenge racial disparities in the system, and eliminate the collateral impacts of conviction. Efforts are underway in several states including, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas, to advance advocacy campaigns this year.
Nearly 70 Massachusetts Civil Rights Organizations Call for Reform
In Massachusetts almost 70 state and local organizations led by the Coalition for Effective Public Safety rallied around criminal justice reform. The groups urged immediate and significant changes in the state’s criminal justice system, specifically focusing on policies and procedures that disparately impact communities of color. The coalition published a ten-page letter that calls on senior elected officials to address the stark disparate treatment of people of color in the state’s justice system. The letter recommends several policy solutions including authorizing presumptive parole, improving fairness for those in the system, reducing the jail and prison populations and measures to reduce recidivism.
New York Coalition Fights against Mass Incarceration
The “Challenging Mass Incarceration” coalition coalesced late last year following a series of articles published by The New York Times, which exposed racial bias within the state’s prison system. The coalition is challenging the New York prison system by calling for an end to mass incarceration, working to establish stronger communities, ending state violence and reducing the punitive nature of the prison system, and ending structural racism. Challenging Mass Incarceration is organizing around a broad policy platform including reforming parole, raising the age of criminal responsibility for juvenile defendants, and expanding voting rights to persons under criminal justice supervision. The coalition’s policy platform is intentionally broad in order to support robust advocacy capacity that calls for structural criminal justice reforms.
Texas Criminal Justice and Immigrants’ Rights Groups Coalesce
A coalition of more than 100 immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals, and activists marched earlier this month in a show of solidarity to advance reform efforts before the state legislature. Though the experiences of immigrants and formerly incarcerated individuals are different, the common challenges they share have helped them to organize this coalition and elevate each other’s voice. The coalition is calling for the Texas state government to vote against legislation that would punish sanctuary cities, force law enforcement agencies to report undocumented immigrants, and reduce “fair chance” hiring policies.
Arkansas – Policymakers will consider SB 237, a measure that would require proposed House and Senate bills that create or change an existing felony or misdemeanor to include a racial impact statement within 15 days of introduction.
Florida – Lawmakers and voters have the opportunity to expand voting rights to persons with criminal convictions. The joint House resolution, if passed on next general election (or special election specifically for this) ballot, would allow individuals convicted of a felony to vote three years after completing their sentence. A proposed amendment by Floridians for Fair Democracy goes a step further, calling for everyone except those convicted of murder and sex offenses to have their voting rights restored upon completion of probation and parole.
Mississippi – HB 1054 would establish a joint legislative study committee to look into voter enfranchisement. The committee would examine the impact of nonviolent offenses on enfranchisement; explore reforms to restore voting rights to people with nonviolent felony convictions upon sentence completion; and investigate the negative societal impacts of continued disenfranchisement of individuals with nonviolent felony convictions.
Nebraska – Legislators are considering LB 75, a measure to end the two-year waiting ban following sentence completion for voter eligibility.
North Dakota – Lawmakers are considering HB 1041, legislation that would authorize those convicted of drug offenses access to public assistance programs; reduce drug free school zones from 1000 feet to 500 feet; allow for presumptive probation in certain cases; and decrease first-time drug use or possession of paraphernalia from a class A misdemeanor to a class B misdemeanor.
Washington – Legislators recently introduced SB 5312 that would prevent certain employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record during the initial interview stages and prior to determining whether or not the applicant is qualified for the position.