Working to abolish life prison terms will take a shift in public will. State groups in California and New York are anchoring grassroots efforts to limit extreme sentences in support of scaling back mass incarceration. Organizers can tap into a range of resources to support state campaigns.
Last summer, over 100 people in California rallied at the capitol in support of ending life without parole as a sentencing option. The Drop LWOP campaign organized by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners garnered support from formerly incarcerated persons and family members. The advocacy day involved lobby visits and actions targeted to the governor. The campaign has continued grassroots engagement through Drop LWOP town halls and other activities.
Earlier this year, the Release Aging People from Prison Campaign and the Parole Preparation Project, organized a Parole Justice Advocacy Day in support of legislative priorities to allow parole for all people aged 55 and older who have served 15 consecutive years in prison. Close to 100 supporters participated. Activists demonstrated support for a presumption of release for all parole applicants. Advocacy activities included a rally, lobby visits, and coordinating hearing testimony. In recent weeks other organizers held direct actions including a parole justice rally at the governor’s mansion with plans for a second advocacy day next month.
Resources for Grassroots Activities
State coalitions often need resources to support grassroots activities. Resist is a grassroots foundation that supports organizing and direct actions. Resources are available for senior organizers in need of capacity building. Activists new to organizing might be interested in community organizing trainings.
- Alabama: Lawmakers are considering sentencing reform following a recent report documenting prison violence and abuse.
- Colorado: House members advanced legislation H19-1263, reclassifying low level felony drug possession offenses to a misdemeanor.
- Florida: Lawmaker amended racial impact statement language into comprehensive sentencing reform measure SB 642, which includes several provisions such as authorizing judges to depart from certain mandatory minimums.
- Illinois: Senate is considering House measure HB 1587 to authorize non-prison sanctions for qualifying offenses that currently require a mandatory prison term.
- Mississippi: Lawmakers opted the state out of the federal lifetime bans on food assistance and cash assistance for residents with prior felony drug convictions as part of the comprehensive reentry reform measure, HB 1352.
- Nevada: Assembly passed legislation AB 183 banning private prisons; measure now under consideration in state senate.
- North Carolina: Legislation SB 404 was introduced authorizing judges to depart from qualifying mandatory minimums.
- Oklahoma: Senators are considering HB 1449, which requires consideration of mitigating circumstances for life without parole sentences for persons eighteen years of age or younger convicted of first-degree murder.
- Oregon: SB 1008 passed the senate. The bill includes a “Second Look” provision for youth convicted in adult court. Persons with qualifying offenses would be eligible at fifty percent time served when a judge would consider if they can continue their sentence under community supervision.
- Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, along with Kentucky’s Gov. Matt Bevin, recently discussed policies and practices around clemency and other criminal justice reforms.
- Washington: Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation SB 5207 requiring notification of voting rights for persons seeking provisional and permanent restoration of rights as a part of their release from prison.