Reforming punitive sentencing laws through legislation is challenging. Organizing public demonstrations can showcase popular support for reform. This year, advocates in several states have held rallies or protests designed to influence decision makers in support of justice reform goals.
Several demonstrations have been organized calling attention to recent homicides and suicides at Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman. Hundreds of family members of the incarcerated and other activists rallied at the state capitol in mid-January.
Faith leaders also held a “Prayers for Prison” rally that brought religious leaders together with the families of incarcerated people and returning citizens to challenge inhumane conditions in state prisons.
Groups held a day of action at the state capitol in support of two legislative priorities that would improve parole outcomes for persons sentenced to life prison terms. The Elder Parole Act would require an immediate parole review for people ages 55 and older who have served at least 15 years of their sentence. Under the Fair and Timely Parole Act, parole commissioners would have to evaluate an applicant based on their rehabilitative efforts rather than the crime of conviction.
Day of Action activities included lobby visits with lawmakers to advocate for reforms. Coordinating direct lobby visits with mass demonstrations can help organizers connect constituents with their state representatives or state senators to emphasize support amongst eligible voters.
Hundreds rallied in Olympia on MLK Day to challenge mass incarceration. The event was organized by a broad coalition of more than 20 organizations and called attention to growth in the state’s incarceration due to the elimination of parole and longer prison terms. The demonstration is part of a broader strategy to advance sentencing reforms like Senate Bill 6530. The proposed law would authorize a post-conviction review for most persons who have served 20 years.
Arizona – State advocates met with lawmakers to support criminal justice reform.
Georgia – Lawmakers are considering legislation to “Raise the Age” of young defendants from 17 to 18.
Illinois – Gov J.B. Pritzker pardons many with prior marijuana convictions.
Oklahoma – Legislation introduced to authorize racial impact statements when considering proposed sentencing laws.
Tennessee – Gov Bill Lee prioritizing criminal justice reform, including addressing technical violations for persons on parole.
Virginia – Gov Ralph Northam prioritizing several criminal justice reforms, including proposing parole eligibility for persons 50 years old who have served 20 years in prison or 55-year-olds who have served 15 years.
West Virginia – Lawmakers considering automatic parole for persons with qualifying nonviolent offenses to address prison overcrowding.