As the movement to challenge mass incarceration evolves there is growing attention being given to the dramatic impact of life sentences on the prison population. In 2019 national and state groups worked to build the base of support for ending life imprisonment. State advocates and organizers facilitated connections through strategy sessions to support reform.
Ending Perpetual Punishment
American Friends Service Committee Michigan hosted the Ending Perpetual Punishment Convening in Detroit. Nearly 70 advocates and community organizers from 13 states and the District of Columbia attended the event. Convening organizers centered the voices of persons serving life imprisonment and their families and shared their recommended solutions via audio recordings. Attendees brainstormed action-oriented goals and tactics, focusing on life without the possibility of parole, re-entry, alternatives to incarceration, hardest cases and mental health, and incarcerated elders. Suggested next steps included focusing state campaigns on sentencing reforms, establishing reentry support for persons sentenced to life terms, and facilitating peer mentorship between justice-involved residents.
Drop LWOP Convening
California advocates organized a statewide strategy convening in Los Angeles for over 120 persons on ending life without parole and other extreme sentences. The convening was hosted by the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), the Felony Murder Elimination Project (FMEP), Families United to End LWOP (FUEL) and a dozen other organizations. The event started with panel discussions that featured presentations on the history of life without parole (LWOP) in California and examples of other state campaigns. Working groups focused on current strategies for release (i.e. commutations), statutory reforms at the legislature and/or via ballot measure, public education and media, and organizing.
Life with Other Possibilities Summit
Nearly 200 activists met in New Orleans at a daylong summit hosted by Louisianans for Prison Alternatives. One of the meeting’s goals was to build momentum among the base in support of challenging life without parole sentences in Louisiana. Several persons currently serving life sentences were allowed to attend the discussion and shared their experiences. One key reflection was the creation of self-initiated programing among incarcerated lifers since many are excluded from other prison programming because of their life sentence.
National CURE Lifer Strategy Meeting
National CURE hosted a strategy meeting on challenging life sentences in Romulus, Michigan. More than 60 CURE chapter leaders from 18 states met to learn about best practices in reentry for life sentenced prisoners and strategize on advocacy efforts to challenge life sentences. The meeting focused on supporting grassroots capacity in building the movement to end life imprisonment. Participants identified several actionable steps including organizing for legislative reforms, establishing a speakers bureau for former life sentenced prisoners, and coordinating visits to lifers’ groups with political targets.
Arizona – Gov. Doug Ducey is considering early release legislation for persons sentenced for low level felonies who meet certain requirements.
Kentucky – Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order expanding voting rights to more than 100,000 persons with nonviolent felony convictions.
Kentucky – Outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin issued over 400 commutations and pardons to persons with prior criminal records.
Mississippi – Activists protested mass incarceration.
Nebraska – Nearly 800 incarcerated persons signed a petition addressing overcrowded prison conditions.
New Jersey – The Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission published its report recommending the elimination of mandatory sentences for certain nonviolent offenses.
New Jersey – Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation expanding voting rights to persons on felony probation and parole supervision.
Pennsylvania – Gov. Tom Wolf supports overhauling probation including shortening probation terms.
West Virginia – Lawmakers will address prison overcrowding next session.