Help Build a Movement Against Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts!
Our Failed Criminal Justice System
The United States locks up a higher percentage of our people than any other country in the world. Today, more than 5 million Americans are under criminal supervision – in prison or jail, or on parole or probation.
Racial discrepancies in prosecution and sentencing are huge. People of all colors use and sell drugs at similar rates, but a majority of those arrested and prosecuted are black or Hispanic. Teenagers with dark skins are often arrested and jailed for offenses that teenagers with light skins are just scolded for.
People with a prison record often can’t get a job, are barred from many educational and job-training programs, and sometimes can’t get enough to eat or find a safe place to sleep. With so many barriers to rejoining society, many people end up back in prison.
We have spent $1.5 trillion and arrested 46 million people since the war on drugs was declared. Drugs are now cheaper and more available, and the addiction rate is unchanged.
The Costs of Incarceration
Keeping one person in prison costs $47,000 a year – more than it would cost to send them to school or college. We in Massachusetts spend well more than $1 billion a year on our Department of Corrections. DOC funding has increased by more than $100 million in the last decade, sapping budgets for public schools and universities, local aid, human services, roads and bridges, and everything else.
The human costs for prisoners, their families, and their communities are incalculable. One in every 28 American children has a parent in prison.
Where We Stand in Massachusetts
Nationally, the number of incarcerated people is beginning to decline slowly as states realize they can’t afford these personally and financially destructive policies. But incarceration numbers will continue to rise in Massachusetts unless we make necessary reforms.
The cover letter to the 2012 Massachusetts Corrections Master Plan warns that we will need to build an additional 10,000 new prison units – costing $1.3 billion or more to build and $100 million a year to operate – unless we repeal mandatory minimum sentences, stop warehousing non-violent drug offenders, and improve the re-entry process to reduce recidivism. Today, for example, anyone who is convicted of any drug offense has their drivers’ license automatically suspended for five years, which often makes it very difficult to hold a job or take care of children.
We need effective and compassionate criminal justice policies. The next step is to build public support for these reforms and press our legislators to pass appropriate legislation. Please help!
More and more people are realizing that our system of mass incarceration is a moral, financial, and practical failure. Here are some ways you can help end it:
Help Build the Jobs Not Jails Campaign
Sign the Jobs Not Jails petition, which you can download from www.jobsnotjails.org, and get other people to sign it. UUs are invited to mail signed petitions to Rev. Bill Gardiner, 11 Menotomy Rocks Drive, Arlington, MA 02476, so we can count signatures, forward the petitions, and keep you informed.
Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and Piper Kerman’s Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison are excellent books in different ways.
The Sentencing Project’s website at www.sentencingproject.org is full of useful information.
The state’s Corrections Master Plan is online, as is an illuminating letter accompanying it. The URL is long and ugly, but it’s easy to search for “Massachusetts Corrections Master Plan.” You can also learn the history and status of any Massachusetts bill at www.malegislature.gov/bills/search .
Talk with Your Friends and Legislators
Many people don’t know what’s going on, or know but think that change is hopeless. Talk with people, listen to their experiences and opinions, share yours, and help build a movement for change.
Do you know someone who has been in jail or prison, or a family member of a current or former prisoner? Reach out to them and invite them to share their stories.
Call your legislators’ offices and ask their staff whether they are concerned about mass incarceration and whether they support (1) ending mandatory minimum laws that do not allow judges to take context into account in sentencing, (2) providing drug treatment instead of locking up drug users, and (3) changing policies and programs to help ex-prisoners find work and reintegrate with society – such as ending the automatic 5-year drivers’ license suspension for anyone convicted of a drug offense.
Host an Event in Your Congregation or Community (The Social Action Committee is planning several of these in the coming months)
Host a discussion of The New Jim Crow or Orange Is the New Black. You can find a video of Alexander’s talk at the 2012 UU General Assembly and other resources at www.uua.org.
“The House I Live In” is an excellent film about the failure of the war on drugs. You can learn about the film at www.thehouseilivein.org, and download it there or purchase it from Amazon.
Good free or low-cost speakers include: (1) Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a former narcotics officer who now devotes his life to ending the war on drugs (email@example.com or join LEAP at www.leap.cc). (2) Barbara Dougan, the very knowledgeable Massachusetts Director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (firstname.lastname@example.org or join FAMM at www.famm.org). (3) Susan Tordella, a Littleton UU who has volunteered in prisons for years (email@example.com or 978-772-3930). (4) Andrea James of Families for Justice as Healing (www.justiceashealing.org).