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State Advocacy Update: Inside-Outside Organizing in Ending Life Imprisonment

October 31, 2019
Raising awareness about the realities of lifelong prison terms has surfaced new activism in dismantling mass incarceration. This awareness can build on years of advocacy that aligns the lived experiences of those sentenced to life prison terms to activists on the outside.

Challenging life imprisonment started with persons sentenced to extreme prison terms and their loved ones. Raising awareness about the realities of lifelong prison terms has surfaced new activism in dismantling mass incarceration. This awareness can build on years of advocacy that aligns the lived experiences of those sentenced to life prison terms to activists on the outside.


More than one hundred activists and residents rallied at the state capitol in Lansing to address life imprisonment. The rally was organized by a chapter of the National Lifers of America and attended by formerly incarcerated activists, family members, and coalition partners. The rally builds on other efforts in Michigan to challenge life imprisonment including the Good Neighbor Project sponsored by AFSC Michigan. That program connects people serving life or long prison terms with outside participants to build community.

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Inside-Outside Organizing

Groups like California’s Initiate Justice prioritize an inside-outside strategy focused on the leadership of persons directly impacted by incarceration. The organization engages thousands of members through newsletters and prison visits. Members lead peer advocacy campaigns from inside state prisons. Other groups like National CURE and its state chapters regularly engage incarcerated members through newsletters.

Prior Movements

Organizers might be inspired to learn from historical efforts of inside-outside efforts challenging mass incarceration. Several formerly incarcerated activists were politicized before their imprisonment and continued their activism inside. Former prisoners Linda Evans, the late Mujahid Farid, and Laura Whitehorn established AIDS peer education while incarcerated when the state and other agencies failed to meet their needs. Laura and Mujahid co-founded New York’s Release Aging People in Prison campaign while Linda helps organize with California’s Drop LWOP (life without parole) campaign. The experiences of peer education and empowerment have aided an entire generation of incarcerated activists. Many are now on the outside and organizing efforts to end life imprisonment.

Other News

California – Gov. Gavin Newsom signed several criminal justice reforms. Among the signed measures, includes SB 136 which removes a 1-year enhancement added at sentencing for each prior felony jail or prison term served.

Colorado – Legislation was introduced to phase out for profit prison contracts by 2025.

Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds established a task force to examine reentry policies and racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Florida – Lawmakers pre-filed several bills addressing mandatory minimums. One measure, SB 486 would allow judges to depart from the mandatory minimums in cases where the defendant did not engage in a continuing criminal enterprise, used a weapon, and the crime did not result in death or bodily injury.

Massachusetts – Hundreds of people packed a legislative hearing in support of ending life without parole sentences.

Michigan – Senate overwhelmingly approved House bills to ‘Raise the Age’ which amends various areas of Michigan law to categorize 17-year-olds as minors rather than automatically try them as adults.

Nebraska – State Senator Tony Vargas would like racial impact statements added to certain bills when fiscal impact statements are developed. Racial impact statements are a tool for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation.

New York – Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez will propose state legislation authorizing prosecutors to reduce extreme sentences of people convicted of felony offenses.

Oklahoma – Hundreds of commutations planned when HB 1269 goes into effect. The legislation applies 2016’s State Question 780, which reclassified possession of “personal use” amounts of most drugs to a misdemeanor and increased the felony threshold for property crimes from $500 to $1,000, to currently incarcerated people. HB 1269 allows an accelerated commutation process for persons approved by the Pardon and Parole Board.

Pennsylvania – Hundreds of people rallied in support of ending life imprisonment.

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