Monthly Archives: April 2014

No new prisons!

ending mass incarceration in MAssachusetts is a worthy goal that we must fight for. Injustice toward black and brown people from the "failed  "war on drugs" must be eliminated

Mass INC is a respected think tank with the goal of protecting the middle class. See more at http://www.massinc.org/

Mass INC tapped into public opinion and found out that Massachusetts residents want more drug and alcohol rehab instead of building new prisons.

Hallelujah. Now we need our state leaders to hear that message LOUD AND CLEAR. See more at Mass INC’s report here.

We are ready for reform. The political atmosphere has shifted radically. Activists have been rallying for ten to twenty years that we need to end the war on drugs and end mandatory minimum sentencing for non violent drug offenders.

Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow” is like an engine that is driving the movement forward. Once you know about the injustice of mass incarceration, it is incumbent upon you to take action — large or small.  Watch 23 minutes of Michelle Alexander speaking. If that doesn’t persuade and outrage you to take action, go back and re-read the U.S. Constitution. Have a good hard look at your white privilege.

If you’re in Massachusetts, see you tomorrow, Wednesday, April 30 at the Statehouse, 11 am to 1 pm, to wrap 46,000 signatures to advocated JOBS NOT JAILS.

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Call your state legislators Wednesday, April 30

On Wednesday, April 30, EPOCA will be following up the rally held on Saturday, by demonstrating at the Statehouse and delivering copies of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness” By Michelle Alexander, to all 40 senators and 160 representatives, courtesy of EMIT, Ending Mass Incarceration Together, a non-partisan, non-denominational effort with Unitarian Universalist roots.

If you can’t come on Wednesday, you can call your legislators as well as the speaker of the house and senate president. See the message below from EPOCA, Ex Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement.   If you want to deliver a book to your legislator, find us at 10 am at Sen. Jamie Eldridge’s office, Room 413 of the Statehouse.

CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS:
Below is a script, with information about six items that are immediately possible, which will help end mass incarceration and fund job creation.  Please call:
  1. Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo  (617) 722-2500
  2. Senate President Therese Murray  (617) 722-1500
  3. Your own Representative and Senator. Find their names and numbers at www.WhereDoIVoteMA.com

Tell them you support Jobs Not Jails and ask them to vote for the following items:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS
  • H.1646, An Act to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug offensesMandatory sentencing is one of the major causes of over-incarceration, and leads to disproportionately long sentences for low-level drug offenders – and even innocent people who have no information to trade to a district attorney.
  • S.1643/H.3099, An Act relative to motor vehicle license suspensionThis bill would repeal the law that automatically suspends a person’s driver’s license upon the conviction of any drug offense (not related to driving), followed by a minimum $500 reinstatement fee.  The current law makes it extremely difficult for people who are trying to secure employment and rebuild their lives.
  • House Budget Section 4512-0202Provides funding to divert people charged with non-violent drug offenses into addiction-treatment programs instead of prison.
JOBS
  • Spend $26.5 million on Youth Jobs, to engage young people in positive, self-sustaining work! $9.5 million for SSYI (jobs for teens who have been struggling)
  • $12 million for Youth Works (jobs in the community)
  • $5 million for School to Career (private sector jobs)
  • Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.50, and index it to inflation. Low-wage workers should not have to see their incomes weakened even further by inflation every year, even while corporate profits soar.
  • Oppose H.1311, which would charge applicants $50 per case for a request to seal their CORI.  This bill filed by Rep. Fernandes of Milford severely undermines CORI reform.  People have to struggle for 5-10 years before sealing a CORI, often unemployed or underemployed, and this fee (which could mount to hundreds of dollars as people are hit with multiple charges for one offense) could close the door on this hope.

You don’t have to list them all!  Elect your own priorities. Find out more atJobsNotJails.org.  The items listed above are just six of the most immediately viable and pertinent iss

 

Drug addiction as a health problem NOT as a crime

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To dismantle the big hairy mess of mass incarceration, we must treat drug/alcohol abuse as a health problem, NOT a crime. An estimated 90 percent of all crimes are tainted by drugs and alcohol. Addiction is another cause for folks to re-offend and return to jail.
 
According to Mass INC, a Bay State think tank, reducing recidivism by 5 percent would save $150 million a year. WOW! With an eye on implementing more treatment, EMIT has arranted a tour of the STOP program at Worcester County Jail – Substance Abuse Treatment Opportunity Program on Friday May 16, 1-2:30 pm. This program is worth knowing about and imitating as we re-direct money for imprisoning people toward treatment.
 
STOP is a multi-dimensional treatment program for 36 participants enrolled for 6 to 12 months who live in separate housing. Founded by Pete Kosciusko, the program is 7 years old. He will be leading the tour. Initial evidence shows a 20 to 30 percent improvement on recidivism. I’ve requested that we hear from program participants as well as staff members. 
 
The program is so good that one participant elected to stay in jail to continue treatment ! They are housed separately to reduce the influence of other incarcerated people. Here is an article in the Worcester Telegram about STOP.
 
Treating substance abuse as a health problem can reduce recidivism. Mass INC predicts that if we reduce recidivism by 5 percent, the state will save $150 million a year. 
 
To join the tour, you must sign up by May 5.  Please RSVP immediately in order to complete the background check, which will be forwarded to you. The tour is arranged by the Worcester County Sheriff and EMIT- Ending Mass Incarceration Together, a task force of UU Mass Action. RSVP to endingmassincarceration at gmail dot com.

Jobs Not Jails rally Saturday 1-4 pm, Boston Common

I’m headed here on Saturday with thousands of others from across the Bay State. It’s a massive outpouring of people who care about ending mass incarceration, stopping prison construction and offering decent jobs for people so they don’t have to turn to the underground economy. We need to stop offshoring and REshore jobs for our people.

See you there! EPOCA has done a tremendous job organizing this rally and petition drive.

JNJ-Paper-web

Orange is the new symbol

 

"orange ribbons" are a powerful symbol that Americans must work together to "end mass incarceration" because it is one of the worst injustices of our time. "Michelle Alexander" in "The New Jim Crow" describes the "racism" behind the massive incarceration of American black and latino people, many because of harsh "mandatory minimum" sentencing.

Have an orange ribbon making party to churn out a few hundred or thousand ribbons as a wearable symbol of the movement to end mass incarceration.

Wearing an orange ribbon daily is a potent reminder that the United States incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s inmates, even though we have 5 percent of the world’s population.

You can make a pile of orange ribbons to wear and share with friends and fellow activists. See here for an illustrated guide to making orange ribbons.

I came up with the idea of wearing a ribbon after hearing the story of a man I’ll call “James” while volunteering in a prison. James had careers as a dancer, a character on Sesame Street, and in a show in Las Vegas, where he owned a nightclub. Unfortunately, his boyfriend at the time insisted that James receive packages in the mail. James resisted, and his boyfriend threatened him, as is often the case with drug dealers, who specialise in illegal lethal tactics.

James received 2 kilograms of crack in the mail from abroad, which lengthened the sentence, and 40 years in federal prison. “If I had murdered someone, I would have gotten only 25 years,” he said from prison, where James teaches others, with 22 years to go on his sentence. His boyfriend escaped any charges, as is often the case. Many dealers benefit by offering “substantial evidence” (to convict others from their testimony) while others serve lengthy mandatory minimum sentences.

James’ story spurred me to think, “What else can I do?” And the orange ribbon was born, to raise awareness of myriad injustices that comprise mass incarceration. Wear an orange ribbon in his honor, and for the tens of thousands of men and women incarcerated on low-level, non-violent drug charges that makes the USA the top incarcerator in the world.

Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” has launched a nationwide movement to correct the inherent racist bias in the profiling, targeting, arrest, jailing/bailing, trial, sentencing, imprisonment, probation and parole toward poor, black and brown people accused of drug crimes. This book informs and then motivates people to join the movement.

Wear your orange ribbon, make some for others, and shed light on the problem, which is the first step to criminal justice reform.

 

Rep. Niki Tsongas hosts Third District Day

That’s Rep. Niki Tsongas, right, with me, prison reform advocate Susan Tordella, left, April 7 at an opening reception with about 50 other people from Massachusetts who came to D.C. for the event. It was an opportunity to hear from many of our congressional representatives, including Senators Markey and Warren, as well as several representatives such as Capuano and Neal. Some of them had stronger awareness than others about the USA as the top-incarcerating nation in the world. The follow up is to send copies of “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander to all 11 Massachusetts congressional representatives.