Reinforcing broad support to address mass incarceration has been a priority for several state advocacy organizations. This year, grassroots organizations in California, Maryland, and North Carolina organized lobby days in support of policy goals to scale back harsh criminal justice practices.
Earlier this year, 250 individuals attended the Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy Day. According to Dorsey Nunn, of All of Us or None and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), 30 lobby teams participated in support of advocacy goals relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities. The lobby day prioritized authorizing elder parole for persons 50 years of age who have served 15 years in prison and eliminating automatic housing exclusions for persons with criminal records.
The Quest for Democracy Day is anchored in the ongoing work of LSPC’s Policy Academy, which trains formerly incarcerated people throughout the state in basic legislative advocacy skills. According to LSPC, the trainings provide substantive background on mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on African American and Latino communities, as well as information about legislative advocacy and community organizing.
Out for Justice, a state-based organization led by formerly incarcerated activists, worked in collaboration with the Job Opportunities Task Force to support the Maryland Second Chance Act. The measure allows individuals to petition the court to shield certain low-level property, prostitution, and driving without a license convictions three years after satisfying any mandatory supervisory obligations. Activists advocating for the policy mobilized impacted persons and their families to support the measure during the legislative session. Broad grassroots support helped move the legislation through the process and secure the governor’s signature.
Despite a consensus to address employment opportunities for persons with criminal records, Maryland’s governor recently vetoed a measure to expand voting rights to persons on felony probation and parole, which would have affected approximately 40,000 individuals. In collaboration with Communities United, formerly incarcerated activists and their families are gearing up to override the governor’s veto when the legislature reconvenes in 2016. Legislative champion Del. Cory McKray, who has been directly impacted by collateral consequences, mobilized bipartisan support among his lawmaker colleagues.
The NC Second Chance Alliance anchored a lobby day earlier this year to reinforce support for several policy goals, including prioritizing funding for community-based reentry services and local reentry councils, raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 17, and authorizing “reasonable” wait-times for expungement of certain offenses. The group is a statewide alliance of formerly incarcerated activists, advocacy organizations, service providers, faith-based organizations, and interested citizens that collaborate on safe and successful reintegration of adults and youth with criminal records by advocating for policies that remove barriers to productive citizenship.
Alabama – Governor Robert Bentley signed SB 67 Justice Reinvestment Act of 2015, a comprehensive measure that includes several provisions. One provision reduces penalties for low level drug and property crimes. The measure is projected to reduce the state’s prison population by approximately 4,500 persons.
Connecticut – Senate Bill 952, proposed as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Second Chance Society,” would reduce the size of drug-free zones, which carry stiffer penalties for drug convictions. Under current law, the zones are 1,500 feet around schools and day care facilities. The proposed bill would reduce the zones to the property limits of schools and day care facilities. Grover Norquist supported the governor’s legislation and suggested that lawmakers should revisit mandatory minimum policies that are “significant drivers of prison overcrowding and skyrocketing corrections budgets.”
Nebraska – A nonpartisan coalition of lawmakers voted to override the governor’s veto of death penalty repeal legislation. The reform was championed by senior lawmaker Sen. Ernie Chambers, an Independent, who has introduced similar measures 40 times during his tenure with the legislature.
Wisconsin – Racial impact statement legislation was introduced to improve legislative deliberation on policies that impact the state’s prison population. Also, activists with the faith-led organization Wisdom for Justice protested new funding to expand the state’s prison system.
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