Public Service Announcement: 50 Years and a Wake Up

The Sentencing Project launches Public Service Announcement urging Americans to “Wake Up” to 50-year mass incarceration crisis.

Related to: Sentencing Reform, Collateral Consequences, Racial Justice, Voting Rights, Youth Justice, Gender Justice

As 2023 marks 50 years of mass incarceration in America, The Sentencing Project has released a new Public Service Announcement, “50 Years and a Wake Up,” that raises awareness about the dire state of the U.S. criminal legal system and the devastating impact of incarceration on communities and families. The PSA will run in broadcast markets across the United States.

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For the last fifty years, the United States has advanced punitive policies that have led to a staggering increase in the prison population. The prison population has grown 500% since 1973, and today, almost 2 million people – disproportionately Black Americans – are incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails. Alarmingly, there continues to be widespread misinformation about our criminal legal system and political posturing around failed “tough on crime” policy proposals that do nothing to actually make our communities safer.

The PSA features formerly incarcerated activists, Joél Castón and Kemba Smith, who share their valuable perspectives on why Americans must wake up to the dire consequences of our mass incarceration crisis.

We hope this public service announcement will urge Americans to understand that there is a better path forward to build healthy and safe communities.

I never thought I would have been a first-time, non-violent drug offender having to give birth to my son while I was incarcerated. Five minutes after I gave birth to him, the U.S. Marshals stormed into my hospital room and said that my legs had to be handcuffed and shackled to the bed at all times....It's time for our nation to recognize that we actually have human beings that are behind bars who make mistakes.

Kemba Smith
Author, Motivational Speaker, Criminal Justice Advocate and Consultant

An individual can age out of crime. If you have an emerging adult, 18 years of age, 20 years, now that person is 38. He or she, nine times out of 10, is no longer thinking like he or she once thought when they were 18. This is a good time to have a second look for everyone. But if you’re coming out that gate sentencing a young person, or anyone for that matter, to 40 years, 50 years, 60 years, that's absurd.

Joél Castón
Mentor, Writer, Activist

Earlier this year, The Sentencing Project and a coalition of advocates, experts, and partners launched a public education campaign, 50 Years and a Wake Up: Ending The Mass Incarceration Crisis In America. The title for the campaign was born out of a colloquial phrase that incarcerated people sometimes use to describe the life of their sentence, plus the day of their release (e.g. “I have 20 years and a wake up”). It also serves as a double-entendre, calling for our country to “wake up” to the harsh and dangerous realities of mass incarceration in America.

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