Why We Can’t Wait
I just returned from the Interreligious Organizing Initiative’s Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race. The event brought together people who were formerly incarcerated, congregation-based community organizations (CBCOs), congregational representatives, policy experts, and funders. Throughout the summit, we shared stories and statistics, brainstormed about strategies and made commitments.
We heard stories from people directly impacted by the mass incarceration crisis. One speaker in prison for 28 years, including 20 years on death row, for a murder he didn’t commit. He was finally exonerated by the Innocence Project. Another speaker, an Iraq War veteran, is the mother of two teenage sons in jail who received a combined 200+ year sentences for reporting a violent crime. Because witnesses placed them at the scene! Story after story was told of communities and families under duress from systemic violence and policing, non-violent drug offenses and harsh prison sentences, and lack of re-entry options for people coming out of prison.
We heard about facets of the crisis including:
The Business of Prisons
Prisons have expanded at unprecedented rates in recent decades. This is, in part, due to the monetary gains to corporations involved in the prison industrial complex. Attendees talked about the connection between private prisons, big business and low-wage labor for prisoners coupled with the systemic employment discrimination people face when they return home.
Human rights violations surrounding the prison industrial complex including policing, detention and incarceration were discussed as pressing issues for advocates to address. The U.S. has one of the largest numbers of people in solitary confinement, considered torture after 15 days by the United Nations, in the world.
As prisoners are moved within their home state and nationally, census numbers shift. Though prisoners cannot vote while incarcerated, and many states have laws barring formerly incarcerated people from voting, they count as residents in the creation of voting districts.
And we brainstormed solutions:
I’m grateful for the folks who shared their stories throughout the weekend pushing attendees to ask questions about leadership. Countless speakers emphasized the need for efforts to end mass incarceration that are led by formerly incarcerated people. Their experiences, coupled with their visions for the future, will transform how we build new organizations and institutions.
Leading with Who We Are
Aptly titled a Summit on the Intersection of Criminalization and Race, the convening was centered in an analysis and guiding principle that racism and white supremacy in the U.S. have been a primary cause of our current “carceral state.” From policing and detention to incarceration and return our identities (including race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, language, and ability) impact our experiences with the criminal justice system. Our organizing must recognize the centrality of that reality.
Faith in Action
Faith, religion and spirituality were central to each activity of the convening. The moral imperative to understand and take action on the issue was made clear by the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton’s opening convocation about putting faith to work because as he reminded us, “Faith without work, is dead.”
What You Can Do
• Support the Smarter Sentencing Act – Join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales on this Clergy Sign-On
• Lay Leaders can sign this petition from Families Against Mandatory Minimums:
• Join the Facebook Group UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration
• Read the UUA Statement of Conscience on Criminal Justice and Prison Reform and find out how your congregation is already working on these issues
• Check out resources on the UUA website about work already happening to end mass incarceration
• Learn more about efforts to end mass incarceration led by formerly and currently incarcerated people with Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted Peoples Movement, All of Us or None, and Black and Pink, among many organizations.
• Research folks working on mass incarceration, prison reform and abolition in your community
Join us as we continue to explore and support efforts to end mass incarceration.
Standing on the Side of Love