End the War on Black People

We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people. This includes:

  1. An immediate end to the criminalization and dehumanization of Black youth across all areas of society including, but not limited to; our nation’s justice and education systems, social service agencies, and media and pop culture. This includes an end to zero-tolerance school policies and arrests of students, the removal of police from schools, and the reallocation of funds from police and punitive school discipline practices to restorative services.
  2. An end to capital punishment.
  3. An end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.
  4. An end to the use of past criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs.
  5. An end to the war on Black immigrants including the repeal of the 1996 crime and immigration bills, an end to all deportations, immigrant detention, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids, and mandated legal representation in immigration court.
  6. An end to the war on Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people including their addition to anti-discrimination civil rights protections to ensure they have full access to employment, health, housing and education.
  7. An end to the mass surveillance of Black communities, and the end to the use of technologies that criminalize and target our communities (including IMSI catchers, drones, body cameras, and predictive policing software).
  8. The demilitarization of law enforcement, including law enforcement in schools and on college campuses.
  9. An immediate end to the privatization of police, prisons, jails, probation, parole, food, phone and all other criminal justice related services.
  10. Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people we demand an immediate change in conditions and an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them. This includes the end of solitary confinement, the end of shackling of pregnant people, access to quality healthcare, and effective measures to address the needs of our youth, queer, gender nonconforming and trans families.

An Immediate End to the Criminalization and Dehumanization of Black Youth Across All Areas of Society Including, but Not Limited to, Our Nation’s Justice and Education Systems, Social Service Agencies, Media, and Pop Culture

What is the problem?

  • Across the country, Black children attend under-resourced schools where they are often pushed off of an academic track onto a track to prison. Zero-tolerance policies — a combination of exclusionary disciplinary policies and school-based arrests — are often the first stop along the school-to-prison pipeline and play a key role in pushing students out of the school system and funneling them into jails and prisons.
  • Each year more than three million students are suspended from school — often for vague and subjective infractions such as “willful defiance” and “disrespect” — amounting to countless hours of lost instructional time. As a result, Black students are denied an opportunity to learn  and punished for routine child and adolescent behaviors that their white peers are often not disciplined for at all.
  • For Black youth, the impact of exclusionary school discipline is far reaching – disengaging them from academic and developmental opportunities and increasing the likelihood that they will be incarcerated later in life. In addition, current research emphasizes the need to examine the unique ways in which Black girls are impacted by punitive zero-tolerance policies. There are higher disciplinary disparities between Black girls and white girls than disciplinary disparities  between Black boys and white boys; yet, Black girls have historically been overlooked in the national discourse around youth impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.
  • Black youth are also more likely to experience higher rates of corporal punishment. According to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education, Black students constitute 17.1 percent of the nationwide student population, but 35.6 percent of those paddled. In addition, while girls are paddled less than boys, Black girls are more than twice as likely to be paddled than white girls. In the 13 states that paddle more than 1,000 students per year, Black girls are 2.07 times as likely as white girls to be beaten.
  • Outside of schools, young Black people are criminalized in ways that limit their life chances at every point. 2010 data shows that while Black youth comprised 17 percent of all youth, they represented 31 percent of all arrests. These disparities persist even as juvenile “crime” rates have fallen. Among youth arrests, young Black people are more likely to be referred to a juvenile court than their white peers, and are more likely to be processed (and less likely to be diverted). Among those adjudicated delinquent, they are more likely to be sent to solitary confinement. Among those detained, Black youth are more likely to be transferred to adult facilities. The disparities grow at almost every step, stealing the dignity of young Black people and forcing them onto lifelong pathways of criminalization and diminished opportunity.
  • For Black girls, the U.S.’s failure to address gender-based violence, which they experience at greater levels than any other group, is paramount to the criminalization they experience. In fact, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system, with girls often being routed to the system specifically because of their victimization. For instance, girls who are victims of sex trafficking are often arrested on prostitution charges. The punitive nature of this system is ill-equipped to support young girls through the violence and trauma they’ve experienced, which further subjects them to sexual victimization and a lifelong path of criminalization and abuse.
  • There is a critical need for a coordinated strategy in local communities that addresses rampant racial disparities in the application of zero-tolerance policies and criminalization practices that impact Black boys and girls. Fortunately, a powerful grassroots movement, led primarily by youth and parents of color, has taken shape across the country to address these harmful policies — but much more work remains.
  • Tens of thousands of youth under the age of 21 are currently incarcerated for offenses ranging from truancy to more serious charges. Every crime bill passed by Congress throughout the 1980s and 1990s included new federal laws against juvenile crimes and increased penalties against children. Similar trends can be seen throughout state legislation. There is mounting research that children under the age of 23 do not have fully-developed brains and that the cheapest, most humane, and most cost-effective way to respond to juvenile crime is not incarceration, but programs and investments that strengthen families, increase stability and provide access to educational and employment opportunities. Prosecuting youth with crimes is not only cruel; but it also permanently disadvantages them with a criminal record, which makes completing their education, getting a job, finding housing and growing up to be contributing members of society unfairly difficult.

What does this solution do?

  • Advances a grassroots organizing strategy at the local and state level that centers the work of ending the criminalization of Black youth through a racial and gender justice framework — led and informed by youth and parents.
  • Addresses state-sanctioned violence that stems from over-policed schools and the deprivation of resources to public schools.
  • Opens resources for alternative practices like restorative justice as a way to train students, parents and staff to deal with interpersonal conflict. Restorative justice practices are used as an alternative to zero-tolerance policies by helping to build stronger school communities through: 1) Developing effective leadership; 2) Building trust, interconnection and deeper relationships amongst students, parents, teachers and staff; 3) Providing methods to address misbehavior in away that gets to the root cause of conflicts and holds individuals accountable; 4) Repairing harm in a way that maintains the integrity of the community and doesn’t further isolate offenders.
  • By ending the practice of charging youth with misdemeanors and limiting the ability to charge them with felonies we would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually and provide the opportunity for our children to outlive their mistakes.

Federal Action:

  • Target(s): U.S. Congress and Federal Agencies (Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education, Department of Justice)
  • Process: The potential for policy reforms to zero-tolerance and punitive disciplinary practices at the federal level are somewhat limited. In December 2015, the U.S. Senate approved the most recent iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as “No Child Left Behind.” The new law reduces the role of the federal government in education matters and leaves in place punitive high-stakes testing requirements that have been a force behind removing students from the classroom and closing schools in Black and Brown communities, creating a “test, punish, pushout” effect. However, there are opportunities to demand greater enforcement of civil rights violations, particularly within federal agencies responsible for enforcing claims of racial disparities involving the administration of school discipline. In January 2014, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued joint guidance outlining school district’s obligations to ensure that school discipline policies are not administered in a manner that fuels racial disparities. There is strong potential for additional guidance documents around these issues that can be used as a lever for local and statewide organizing efforts — although these documents lack the force to truly push real transformation in schools.
  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: This would require passage of a bill through both houses of Congress and signed by the President. The Bill would repeal all federal juvenile crimes and amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. It would also provide incentives to states, including the tying of federal prison and policing grants, to adopt statutes that ban the prosecution of children under the age 23. The bill would also include a mandatory reinvestment strategy where federal and state savings would be captured and reinvested in programs shown to reduce juvenile crime, increase youth educational attainment and support communities where youth incarceration has been most prevalent.

State Action:

  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: The passage of state law banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, and arrests) for all students pre-K through 12th grade.
  • State law banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, arrests) for vague and subjective behaviors including willful defiance, disrespect, insubordination, obnoxious, and disturbing the peace.
  • The passage of state law prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in all educational settings.
  • State law requiring the use of supportive services for students including fully funding restorative programs and support for students in crisis in educational settings.
  • Improve the child welfare system’s identification of victims of abuse, implement a gender-responsive approach to victims of abuse, and use Medicaid funds to improve quality care and trauma-related services for sirls in child welfare.
  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: This would require passage of a bill through the State legislature. The Bill would repeal all existing juvenile offenses and would also include a mandatory reinvestment strategy where State savings would be captured and reinvested in programs shown to reduce juvenile crime, increase youth educational attainment and support communities where juvenile incarceration has been most prevalent.

Local Action:

  • Passage of local school district policy banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, and arrests) for all students pre-K through 12th grade).
  • Passage of local school district policy banning exclusionary discipline (suspensions, expulsions, arrests) for vague and subjective behaviors including willful defiance, disrespect, insubordination, obnoxious, and disturbing the peace.
  • Passage of local school district policy prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in all educational settings.
  • Passage off local school district policy requiring the use of supportive services for students including fully funding restorative programs and support for students in crisis in educational settings.
  • Invest in creating safe and supportive group homes with specialized services for teenage girls.
  • Invest in training for students, parents, teachers and staff on restorative justice practices as an alternative to zero-tolerance policies.
  • Process: At the local level, reducing the prosecution of juvenile misdemeanors can be accomplished in a variety of ways:
    • Campaigns that target City and County prosecutors and demand that instead prosecution, youth defendants are diverted to non-punitive programs.
    • Campaigns that target police, who often have wide discretion in the arrest of misdemeanors, to publically de-prioritize the arrest of youth for misdemeanors.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • These solutions address exclusionary and overly punitive school discipline policies in public schools across the nation that deny Black youth an opportunity to learn. These policies have the greatest impact on queer and trans youth, foster care youth, and girls.
  • These solutions will propel Black youth towards graduation, and create a school-to-college pipeline.
  • Students will not have minor offenses on their academic records.
  • Legislation banning the prosecution of youth for all misdemeanors would have the largest impact on people who are made most vulnerable by incarceration including LGBTQ, undocumented and trans people. It would also reduce the number of incarcerated people significantly. The reinvestment aspect of the legislation would positively impact homeless people by providing increased services.

Model Legislation:

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • National
    • Advancement Project
    • Alliance for Educational Justice
    • Dignity in Schools Campaign
    • Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network
    • NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Local
    • Alliance for Quality Education (New York)
    • Baltimore Algebra Project (Baltimore)
    • Boston Youth Organizing Project (Boston)
    • Community Justice Project (Miami)
    • Critical Exposure (District of Columbia)
    • DeSoto County Parents and Students for Justice (Mississippi)
    • Dream Defenders (Florida)
    • Desis Rising Up and Moving (New York)
    • Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (New Orleans)
    • Girls for Gender Equity (New York)
    • Labor Community Strategies Center (Los Angeles)
    • Nollie Jenkins Family Center (Mississippi)
    • One Voice (Mississippi)
    • Padres y Jóvenes Unidos (Denver)
    • Philadelphia Student Union (Philly)
    • Power U Center for Social Change (Miami)
    • Portland Parents Union (Portland)
    • Project South (Atlanta)
    • Racial Justice Now! (Ohio)
    • Rethink (New Orleans)
    • SpiritHouse (North Carolina)
    • Tenants and Workers United (Virginia)
    • Tunica Teens in Action (Mississippi)
    • Urban Youth Collaborative (New York)
    • Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (Chicago)
    • Youth Justice Coalition (Los Angeles)
    • Youth United for Change (Philly)
    • *Local NAACP branches
    • And many others! (see map: http://safequalityschools.org/map)

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Thena Robinson Mock, Education Law Center
  • Ruth Jeannoel, Power U Center for Social Change
  • Rachel Gilmer, Dream Defenders
  • Chelsea Fuller, Advancement Project
  • Marbre Stahly-Butts, Center for Popular Democracy
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An End to Capital Punishment

What is the problem?

  • 31 states,the federal government and the U.S. military have the death penalty. 19 states do not. Seven states (New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Nebraska) have repealed the death penalty in the past decade, and for the first time in the modern era (since reinstatement of the death penalty in the mid-1970s), public support of the death penalty is at its lowest. New death sentences and executions are decreasing every year. We must engage in pushing this racist practice into the annals of history where it belongs.
  • The death penalty is morally repugnant. The death penalty in the U.S. was designed to bring lynching into the courtroom and has targeted Blacks and other people of color and poor people throughout its history. The death penalty devalues Black lives — statistically those convicted of killing white people are at least three to four times more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of anyone else. The death penalty is also geographically discriminatory (about 1 percent of U.S. counties produce more than half of the death sentences), expensive (even more costly than life in prison without parole), and has resulted in innocent people being sentenced to death (156 people and counting are confirmed to date) and some even executed. It is randomly and arbitrarily sought by prosecutors who have the sole discretion to seek or not seek death, upwards of 95 percent of whom are white. The death penalty requires a high level of counsel, skill and resources not available to most defendants. We do not believe the death penalty was designed to be fair nor can it be fairly applied.

What Does this Solution Do?

  • Our policy goal is to abolish the death penalty. Repeal is often prospective, while  abolition is comprehensive. Abolition is prospective and also removes any individuals currently on death row in the state.

State Action:

  • Target: Legislative and judicial
  • Process: In some states, the death penalty can be abolished through legislative advocacy through the strategic efforts of coordinated coalitions accompanied by public education. In other states, the death penalty can be legislatively and/or judicially reformed to result in fewer new death sentences and less frequent executions. In some states, the courts are well-positioned to declare the death penalty unconstitutional for a range of reasons. As legislatures and courts in other states (particularly  former states of the Confederacy) are unlikely to reform, repeal or abolish the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to declare the death penalty unconstitutional in order to impact the entire country.

Local Action:

  • Community education and action on behalf of people sentenced to death row prisoners, coordinated with their counsel, and public pressure on local and state politicians and officials (including Departments of Corrections) in states with the death penalty. Such education and advocacy is needed in order to amplify the unfairness and immorality of the death penalty and grow the national trend away from the practice.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • As part of marginalized and often-poor communities, undocumented and LGBTQ people are overly-represented among those targeted for extermination by the government through the death penalty. Additionally, many people on death row have mental illnesses, cognitive limitations, severe trauma histories, and prior criminal records, often directly related to racial bias and poverty. And most women on death row are there in connection with the death of an abusive partner.

Model Legislation:

  • Depending on how death penalty laws are included in state statutes, repeal and abolition proposals must track the nuances. Each state death penalty coalition has developed repeal and abolition bills that are applicable to their state.

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
  • Equal Justice USA
  • Witness to Innocence (death row exonerees)
  • Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation
  • Murder Victims Families for Human Rights
  • American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project
  • American Bar Association Due Process Project
  • The Constitution Project
  • Amnesty International
  • Conference of Catholic Bishops
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • State-based coalitions in every state with the death penalty

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Tanya Greene, Attorney at Law
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An End To Money Bail, Mandatory Fines, Fees, Court Surcharges, and “Defendant Funded” Court Proceedings

What is the problem?

  • Low-income people who are arrested spend an average of 23 days in a cage before their day in court simply because they often cannot afford to pay bail. For people who live paycheck to paycheck, even a short stint in jail can have devastating consequences including  job loss, eviction, or having their children taken away. This is true even when they are not convicted.
  • According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report,for 72.3 percent of misdemeanor cases in New York, bail was set at  $1,000 or less and still defendants could not pay the bail amount.
  • Bail is not only inhumane, it is costly. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report calculated that New York City was paying $42 million a year to incarcerate non-felony defendants. Local jurisdictions now spend $22.2 billion every year on correctional institutions.
  • Bail, like all things criminal justice related, is also racially discriminatory. Black defendants have 44 percent higher odds of being denied bail and kept in jail pretrial than white defendants with similar legal circumstances.

What does this solution do?

  • The U.S. should initiate legislation to eliminate the bail system and capture the billions of dollars in savings to support more effective and humane alternatives to criminalization.

Federal Action:

  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: Initiate federal legislation to eliminate the federal bail system and use savings to fund strategies of pretrial release which have been proven to show no increased risk to public safety or risk of failure to appear at a designated court date.

State Action:

  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: State legislatures should pass laws that ban the use of cash bail and limit detention to situations where defendant is a clear danger to others. Savings from abolishing bail should be captured to fund strategies of pretrial release and community based responses to harm. Alternatively, legislation can require local and county officials to reduce local jail populations by eliminating the bail schedule and instead put in place policies like pretrial release and pre-booking diversion strategies.
  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: Local Judges should be mandated to prioritize pretrial release strategies while protecting the employment, housing, and education conditions of persons awaiting trial.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • Black women suffer disproportionately from the trappings of bail. 72 percent of incarcerated women made less than $22,000 annually prior to arrest, as compared to 51 percent of men; and the median income of incarcerated Black women prior to arrest was $12,735 in 2014.
  • Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable when they are jailed because they don’t have income for bail.
  • Bail amounts of $500 or more are common barriers for queer and trans people who face a myriad of others barriers to steady income and employment. According to a 2011 study, the average family income of same-sex couples raising children is $15,500. 15% of transgender people report making less than $10,000 a year, which is four times the national average.
  • After paying bail (and often times they aren’t offered bail because of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) holds), undocumented people are often funneled into the hands of ICE.

Model Legislation

  • While not perfect, Washington, D.C. releases approximately 88 percent of defendants. There are several components – from statutes to police department and court practices – that make this possible:
      • A bail statute that emphasizes least restrictive release for eligible defendants, statutory-based detention for those who would pose an unacceptable risk to the community, and an absolute prohibition on money-based detention.
      • Progressive use of “cite-and-release” procedures by the Metropolitan Police Department for low-risk defendants charged with misdemeanors. Citation release has helped increase the proportion (about 20 percent of people  securing release) of lower-risk defendants released on personal recognizance without supervision.
      • Quick assignment of defense counsel prior to initial appearance.
      • Prosecutorial charging decisions made within 24 hours of arrest. By statute, the U.S.attorney must decide whether to charge arrestees or dispose of the complaint. Quick charging decisions ensure that release or detention decisions are based on the most accurate charges, and that defendants are not detained on charges that eventually are dismissed days or sometimes weeks later.
    • A high-functioning pretrial services agency that helps courts make informed pretrial release and detention decisions and provides appropriate levels of support and treatment for released defendants. This has been a critical component of the court’s ability to move away from the money-driven system the existed  in the 1970s and the 1980s (in addition to the critical statutory language).

Resources:

  • Arifuku, I. and Wallen, J. (2013). Racial Disparities at Pretrial and Sentencing and the Effects of Pretrial Services Programs, National Council on Crime & Delinquency

Organizations Currently Working on this:

  • Color of Change
  • Bronx Freedom Fund
  • Chicago Community Bond Fund
  • Equal Justice Under Law

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Mark-Anthony Johnson, Dignity & Power Now
  • Rachel Herzing
  • Mary Hooks, Southerners on New Ground
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The End to the Use of Past Criminal History to Determine Eligibility for Housing, Education, Licenses, Voting, Loans, Employment, and Other Services and Needs

What is the problem?

  • Over the last 40 years, the criminal legal system has expanded beyond contemporary and historical norms: there are 2.2 million people in prison, another 5 million on probation or parole, and more than 65 million people with criminal record history in an electronic database.
  • However, America’s fascination with punishment has not been equitably distributed across all demographic groups: Blacks and Latinos represent over 60 percent of the people currently residing in cages and 1 in 3 black men can expect to be arrested before they’re even 23 years old.
  • Further compounding this problem is the fact that contact with the criminal legal system triggers a set of formal and informal legal and social restrictions, often referred to as “collateral consequences,” which bar people with records from basic life necessities  employment, housing, and government assistance. Consequently, huge segments of Black and Latino communities are civically, economically, and socially excluded from participation in society, which is eerily reminiscent to the segregation experienced in the Jim Crow South.

What does this solution do?

  • Ban the Box, which is the prohibition or delay of inquiries about criminal record history until later in the decision-making process, was developed by “All of Us or None”, people directly impacted by the criminal legal system, in response to the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records in every aspect of life.
  • According to Dorsey Nunn, one of the founders of All of Us or None, “we decided to push Ban the Box to organize people with criminal records, not the other way around, meaning we did not organize people with records to only pass Ban the Box policies. That was not our primary objective. For us the larger goal was to get people with criminal records to exercise their self-determination to become organized and active in the fight against mass criminalization and the 2nd class status that comes with a criminal record.”
  • This solution goes a step beyond traditional “Ban the Box” campaigns and legislation, which usually only address employment, and would allow people who do time to remain eligible for voting, public assistance, licenses, and a host of other needs and services. All people with prior convictions should regain these rights and privileges as well.

Federal Action:

  • Target: Legislative or Executive
  • Process: Ban the Box policies in the employment context have been adopted through the legislative process and executive actions. In November 2015, President Obama announced an executive action that would Ban the Box for federal employees. However, the Obama administration’s policy does not apply to independent contractors or private businesses. Moreover, executive orders are not the most durable policy vehicle as the next President after Obama can undo Obama’s actions by simply issuing their own Executive Orders reversing the previous orders.
  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: On the legislative front, Sen. Cory Booker (NJ) and Rep. Elijah Cummings introduced Ban the Box legislation that would apply to federal employees and independent contractors.  
  • However, the Booker and Cummings legislation does not apply to private businesses. Obviously, the bill would have to pass both the House and Senate and then be signed into law by the President of the U.S. With regards to Ban the Box policies in other arenas like housing and education, an analysis would have to be done to determine who would have final decision making authority in order to choose whether legislation or executive action would by the proper policy making vehicle.

State Action:

  • Target: Executive
  • Process: State governors can make executive orders banning the box for government funded schools, housing and employment.
  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: States can pass legislation banning the box for government funded schools, housing and employment.

Local Action:

  • Target: City Council or Executive
  • Process: Over 100 cities and counties have adopted Ban the Box policies across the country through a combination of legislation, executive action, and administrative rule changes.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • Mass criminalization and the second class status attendant to a criminal record has impacted all of the most marginalized Black people, however, it should be noted that Black trans and undocumented people face unique challenges to gaining meaningful employment, separate and apart from the barriers associated with criminal record history. When these groups are marked with a criminal record, it only adds to their exclusion from economic opportunities.     

Model Legislation

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • All of Us or None
  • Southern Coalition For Social Justice
  • National Employment Law Project

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Daryl Atkinson, Southern Coalition for Social Justice
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An End to the War on Black Immigrants Including the Repeal of the 1996 Crime and Immigration Bills, an End to All Deportations, Immigrant Detention, and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Raids, and Mandated Legal Representation in Immigration Court

What is the problem?

  • The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), known collectively as “the 1996 laws,” expanded the grounds for deportation to include more than 20 offenses, both criminal and noncriminal under state law. Those deemed deportable as a result of one of these offenses is mandatorily detained and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • These laws also eliminated judicial discretion in immigration court and established a regime whereby local law enforcement agencies and ICE share information about those that are allegedly deportable (commonly known as 287(g)).
  • In a November 2014 speech, President Obama reiterated the federal government’s commitment to enforcing these unjust laws, stating that the administration’s immigration enforcement priorities are “felons” not “families.”
  • Further exacerbating this problem is the fact that most immigrants who enter deportation proceedings are not represented by an attorney. Since immigration proceedings are considered “civil” rather than “criminal” proceedings, constitutionally, there is no right to an attorney in immigration court.
  • The 1996 laws apply to both undocumented immigrants and those with green cards or some other formal status in the U.S.
  • Amongst all immigrants, Black immigrants are nearly three times more likely to be detained and deported as a result of an alleged criminal offense. Moreover, many Black immigrants are ineligible for any form of relief, including a green card, executive programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status, or citizenship as a result of criminal contact.
  • As a result of these laws, millions of immigrants have been deported over the last twenty years.

What does this solution do?

  • This solution would make it such that immigrants with criminal contact would no longer be subject to mandatory detention and deportation.
  • It would also make it such that immigrants are no longer automatically ineligible for legal status in the U.S. simply because of contact with the criminal justice system.

Federal Action:

  • Pass the resolution introduced by Rep. Grijalva of Arizona calling for the roll back of the 1996 laws.
  • Pass a Congressional bill repealing the 1996 laws.
  • Place a moratorium on deportations until Congress acts on immigration reform.
  • Provide full funding for legal representation in immigration court.

State Action:

  • Pass a bill prohibiting state and local law enforcement from collaborating with ICE.
  • Pass a “Sanctuary” Bill, prohibiting ICE from making immigration arrests on state-owned property.

Local Action:

  • Pass a bill to prohibiting state and local law enforcement from collaborating with ICE.
  • Pass a “Sanctuary” Bill, prohibiting ICE from making immigration arrests on city or county owned property

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • Black immigrants, who tend to live in communities that are over policed, face immigrant detention and deportation as an additional consequence of police contact. They may face detention and deportation for even the most minor offenses, including drug possession, shoplifting, and incidents that take place at school.
  • In addition, many undocumented Black immigrants are ineligible for federal executive action programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and special juvenile status as a result of criminal convictions.
  • Overturning the 1996 laws would render hundreds of thousands of Black immigrants eligible for immigration relief, providing them the ability to remain in the U.S. with their families.

Model Legislation

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Black Alliance for Just Immigration
  • Immigrant Defense Project
  • National Immigration Law Center
  • Families for Freedom
  • 1LoveMovement
  • National Immigration Project
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center
  • Southeast Asian Resource Action Center

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Carl Lipscombe, Black Alliance for Just Immigration
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An End to the War on Black Trans, Queer and Gender Nonconforming People Including their Addition to Anti-Discrimination Civil Rights Protections to Ensure Full Access to Employment, Health, Housing and Education

What is the problem?

  • Trans, queer, and gender nonconforming people face harassment and discrimination in all facets of their lives, and the combination of anti-trans bias with racism leads to trans people of color experiencing particularly harmful levels of discrimination. Such discrimination and harassment exists in schools, workplaces, systems of policing, prisons, parole and probation, health care and more.
  • Police and Prisons: Black transgender people experience both pervasive profiling by police — particularly through “public order” offenses like bathroom gender policing and prostitution-related offenses — and consistent lack of protection by police. Endemic transphobic harassment, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, and unsafe, dehumanizing and degrading treatment in police custody, in prisons and by probation and parole officers, is also widespread.
    • Among Black trans people, nearly half have been incarcerated at some point[A1].
    • According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey:
      • 38 percent of Black transgender and gender nonconforming people who interacted with the police reported harassment; 14 percent reported physical assault, and six percent reported sexual assault.
      • 35 percent of Black respondents had been arrested or held in a cell due to bias at some point in their lives. Half (51 percent) reported discomfort with seeking police assistance.
    • Physical and sexual assault in jail and prison is a serious problem. Twenty-nine percent of Black respondents who had been to jail or prison reported being physically assaulted and 32 percent reported being sexually assaulted while in custody.
    • A survey of transgender people in Washington, D.C. found that a quarter of Black trans people reported assault by a police officer, more than any other group.[i]
  • Employment: According to the 2011, National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), trans people in the U.S. are nearly four times as likely to be living in extreme poverty. Additionally, Black trans people are more than eight times as likely as the general U.S. population, and more than four times as likely as the general Black population to live in extreme poverty. Black trans people also face unemployment rates two times the overall rate for trans people, and up to four times higher than the general population. Many Black trans people have lost their jobs or have not been hired due to bias; and even when they get the job, Black trans people face harassment and in some instances, physical assault. As a result, half of Black trans people reported that they had [A2] to sell drugs or engage in sex work for income at some point in their lives.
  • Health: The NTDS found that 21 percent of Black trans respondents had been refused medical care because of bias. Additionally, a Lambda Legal study found that 70 percent of trans and gender nonconforming respondents had experienced discrimination by medical providers. This lack of access is particularly devastating given the great need for health services. One report indicates that more than 20 percent of Black trans people are HIV positive and an additional 10 percent do not know their status. There is also a great need for mental health services, as nearly half of all Black trans people have attempted suicide.
  • Housing: 41 percent of Black trans respondents said they experienced homelessness, but many shelters and drop-in centers discriminate against trans people and deny them access.
  • Education: 50 percent of Black trans respondents reported experiencing harassment at school if they expressed a trans or gender nonconforming identity. Additionally, 27 percent reported physical assault and 15 percent reported sexual assault.
  • Many of these issues are further exacerbated by lack of accurate identity documents among trans people. Many states require evidence of medical transition, court orders, and processing fees in order to change identity documents, which is often a prohibitively expensive process.
  • Trans people often face violence by both private individuals and the state. At least 13 trans people have been murdered since the beginning of 2016, and the vast majority of the victims — more than 90 percent — are people of color and over three quarters are women. Last year was the deadliest year on record for Black trans and gender nonconforming women, with a total of 21 to 25 murder victims. As noted above, Black trans people report high rates of police harassment and physical and sexual assault in jails and prisons.

What does this solution do?

  • Reduces profiling, criminalization, police and prison violence against Black trans and gender nonconforming people.
  • Improves access to safe and equitable housing, employment, healthcare, social services, and education for trans, queer, and gender nonconforming people. This includes reducing unemployment and workplace discrimination; providing real, meaningful, and equitable universal health care; and full and equitable access to services, including counseling, community centers, and shelters.[A3]

Federal Action:

  • Target: The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • Process: Enforce rules that prohibit discrimination against trans people for funded housing properties, federally funded housing loans, direct service providers, drop-in centers, and shelters. Provide broad training on trans cultural competency for direct service providers, drop-in centers, and shelters.
  • Target: Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • Processes: Develop and disseminate model policies:
    • Banning profiling based on sexual orientation and gender identity alongside race, ethnicity, national origin, age, immigration status, disability and housing status;
    • Ensuring rights and dignity of LGBTQ GNC people in police custody;
    • Preventing, detecting and ensuring accountability for police sexual harassment and violence; and
    • Decreasing funding to departments that don’t effectively implement or enforce these policies.
  • Make adoption and effective enforcement of non-discrimination provisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity a condition of receiving federal funding through the Office of Justice Programs.[A4]
  • Ensure programs and services that receive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants are equally available to individuals regardless of gender identity.
  • For more, see the following briefs:
  • Target: U.S. Congress
  • Process: Pass a non-discrimination law that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, credit, education, and jury service. The legislation should also prohibit discrimination and bullying in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Process: Pass the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 which prohibits racial profiling based on race, national origin, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.

 

  • Target: U.S. Congress
  • Process: Pass legislation appropriating funds to expand housing options for trans homeless individuals, especially youth of color.
  • Target: U.S. Congress
  • Process: Pass a bill to expand public health care to all U.S. residents and prohibit line-item exclusions of procedures trans people need. All of trans people’s medical needs should be included in health coverage. For more see the universal health care one-pager.
  • Target: Federal government and agencies
  • Process: Clarify that existing executive orders that protect workers based on sex also include protections for trans employees.

State Action:

  • Target: State Legislature
  • Process: Pass a bill to appropriate funding and support to local LGBTQ community centers, drop-in centers, and shelters that are already providing direct service to the trans community. The bill should also appropriate funds to expand housing options for trans homeless individuals, especially trans youth of color.

 

  • Target: State Legislature
  • Process: Pass non-discrimination bill for employment, housing, credit, and education laws that include both sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill should include safe schools laws that explicitly prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and advance transformative justice rather than criminal legal responses to school-based violence and bullying.[A6]
  • Pass state anti-profiling legislation that includes bans on profiling based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression alongside race, religion, age, disability, housing and immigration status.
  • Pass legislation decriminalizing minor offenses disproportionately enforced against trans and gender nonconforming people including “broken windows” offenses, drug offenses, loitering for the purposes of prostitution and prostitution, and public order offenses.

 

  • Target: State Legislature
  • Process: Pass a bill to expand public health care to all residents and prohibit trans-related exclusions in insurance and Medicaid. The bill should contain explicit non-discrimination protection, including sexual orientation and gender identity, for Medicaid programs. For more see the universal health care one-pager.

 

  • Target: State Legislature
  • Process: Simplify and streamline the process to change identity documents for trans people.

Local Action:

 

  • Target: City or municipal government
  • Process: Pass local legislation banning profiling based on sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity alongside race, religion, age, disability, housing and immigration status.
  • Pass legislation decriminalizing minor offenses disproportionately enforced against transgender and gender nonconforming people including “broken windows” offenses, loitering for the purposes of prostitution, and public order offenses.
  • Divert savings into programs designed to provide housing, healthcare, employment and other needs identified by trans and gender nonconforming people.

 

  • Target: School Board
  • Process: School districts should develop comprehensive, tailored anti-bullying programs at all levels that advance transformative justice rather than criminal legal responses to school based violence and bullying.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • Black trans people face devastating levels of discrimination in many areas of their lives, and particularly at the hands of police and the prison industrial complex. This solution seeks to stop those discriminatory practices and protect trans people’s civil rights, including access to education, healthcare, housing and employment.

Model Legislation:

  • H.R.3185 – Equality Act establishes explicit, permanent protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, credit, education and jury service.
  • Student Non-Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in public schools against individuals based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • Safe Schools Improvement Act requires all public schools to enact an anti-bullying policy that includes specific protections for bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Argentina passed a law that allows people to change their gender on official documents without judge or doctor approval.[A7]

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Black and Pink
  • National Black Justice Coalition
  • Brown Boi Project
  • TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project
  • Trans Women of Color Collective
  • Trans People of Color Coalition
  • Black Trans Advocacy
  • Transgender Law Center
  • National Center for Transgender Equality
  • Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • ACLU LGBT Project
  • Trans Advocacy Network
  • Federal LGBT Criminal Justice Working Group

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview[8] [9] [10]

  • Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow
  • Arielle Humphries, Center for Popular Democracy
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An End to the Mass Surveillance of Black Communities, and the End to the Use of Technologies that Criminalize and Target Our Communities (Including IMSI Catchers, Drones, Body Cameras, and Predictive Policing Software).

What is the problem?

The Edward Snowden leaks in 2013 revealed a vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the FBI and NSA that collects information on everyone in the U.S. These leaks popularized the idea that surveillance is happening, but has been largely framed as having a universal impact. The reality is that surveillance has always existed and continues to be concentrated within targeted communities of color namely Black, Arab, and Immigrant; and activists who challenge state and corporate power.

The difference today is the role that technology is playing in creating multiple points of entry for surveillance. The Internet increasingly facilitates the speed, reach, and secrecy of surveillance. We willingly turn our information over to social media sites and applications as a precondition of use. This data often captures our location information, contacts, messages, search histories and more. Companies mine this data for commercial purposes and in some cases turn this information over to law enforcement agencies. 

Policing itself has also evolved to create additional ways to gather information on our communities. Street cameras, license plate readers, domestic drones, stingray cell phone interceptors and other technologies are deployed in public spaces without the knowledge or consent of local communities, and give the individual little choice but to be tracked. The data captured through these technologies  including location information, facial images, and cell phone data  are being centralized at digital fusion centers and held for indeterminate amounts of time. 

  • These practices violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of Black people in the U.S. Without guiding policies, practices, principles or regulatory parameters, these surveillance technologies supersize the potential for discriminatory policing. They expand the police state, facilitate big profits for a growing surveillance industry, and they use the Internet, potentially the most democratic communications platform the world has ever known, to do it. At the same time the few technological tools available to protect an individual’s information, like encryption, are being weakened through legislation.

What does this solution do?

  • Transform the relationship between technology and the economy to prevent digital technologies from automating industries, making Black and other workers disposable, and transforming the system of finance capital into data capital without clear points of accountability or levers of decision-making.

Federal Action:

  • End non-disclosure agreements between federal and local law enforcement agencies and publicize the surveillance technologies that police have access to, along with their capabilities. 
  • Update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to demand and win federal law that establishes digital due process: 
  • A civil rights act for the 21st century that includes electronic surveillance and internet rights reforms.
  • Federal and state legislation should require the use of a warrant in the application of a technology that captures the data of an individual or sets of people and disclose what data is being captured. 
  • Federal and state legislation should establish rights over an individual’s information, with mechanisms that allows an individual to know when their information has been tracked and limits the amount of time their data can be stored. 
  • Federal and state legislation should affirm the right to encryption, not weaken the technology.
  • Reform the Fourth Amendment for the digital age and an era of big data: 
  • Federal and local agencies should prevent the use of predictive systems that erode the Fourth Amendment.  
  • Federal and state legislation should affirm and defend the constitutional right of civilians to record the activity of on-duty police officers.
  • Federal agencies should disclose the number of National Security Letters that have been served to media and tech companies.
  • Federal agencies providing grants for the purchase of surveillance technologies should attach conditions that protect the civil and human rights of vulnerable communities and specify how and when the technologies can be used.
  • Federal agencies should stop providing grants for the purchase of surveillance technologies to local police departments without the approval of local communities.

State Action:

Local Action:

  • Total prohibition on the acquisition of any new surveillance technology or development of surveillance program
  • Immediate abolition of any and all current use of surveillance technology and programs
  • Full disclosure on the use of surveillance technology and programs since their inception including informing individuals and organizations who have been targeted;
  • Full reparations for individuals and organizations whose civil and constitutional rights have been violated;
  • Adoption of the Civil Right principles on Body Worn Cameras, and civil rights principles for the era of big data.
  • Municipalities should pass policies that require a community input process prior to purchasing any technology or software that will be used for policing and “counter-terrorism” activities. 
  • Municipalities should mandate a fiscal impact assessment on the cost of purchase, maintenance and storage of any policing technology and software. 

Model Legislation

  • Federal legislation

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • The Center for Media Justice, home of the Media Action Grassroots Network, with an Color of Surveillance Team: Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Ella Baker Center, Dignity and Power Now, Stop LAPD Spying.
  • Stop LAPD Spying Coalition 
  • ACLU
  • Data & Society
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Open Technology Institute
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations
  • Brennan Center
  • Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • NAACP

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Chinyere Tutashinda, Center for Media Justice
  • Malkia Cyril, Center for Media Justice
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The Demilitarization of Law Enforcement, Including Law Enforcement in Schools and on College Campuses

What is the problem?

  • Under the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Excess Property 1033 Grant program, more than $4 billion in military grade equipment has been issued to local police departments, and colleges and universities across the country.
  • This is equipment that ranges from nuts and bolts for everyday repairs in the office and in automobiles, to grenade launchers that have been fitted for tear gas canisters and 19-ton mine resistant armored trucks.
  • There is little transparency in which police departments and campuses receive what equipment, and there is even less information that is available that conveys a reason why a police and campus safety departments may need such equipment.
  • Over the past few years, we have seen this military grade equipment used in our own backyards —-specifically on Black and Brown people in the U.S.
  • In the spring of 2015, President Obama put forth Executive Order 13688. The executive order helps to mitigate the optic of a militarized police, but leaves massive loopholes for local law enforcement and states. For example, it will only address the issue of campus police militarization if university presidents collectively demand it.
  • In summer 2016, the Dallas Police Department used an unmanned robot armed with a bomb to detonate a man accused of killing multiple police officers. The precedent set here is one that warrants thought, discussion, and accountability from the federal government and law enforcement agencies.

What does this solution do?

  • Demilitarize local law enforcement on and off college campuses.
  • Provides greater transparency around the flow of weapons to local police departments.
  • Create greater measures of accountability for law enforcement.

Federal Action:

  • Target: Legislative
  • Process: Our main audience for general law enforcement should be federal elected officials who often support local law enforcement in acquiring these materials. The ideal national policy is one that bans the transfer of material and immediately creates greater transparency. Hank Johnson recently introduced the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 1232), that would place restrictions and transparency measures on the Department of Defense (DOD) program that transfers excess military equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies.
  • Target: Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Process: We should also look to influence the DOD to raise the threshold for demonstrated need for local law enforcement agencies and border patrol agents to use these materials on unarmed undocumented immigrants and to police the U.S.- Mexico border.

Local Action:

  • Target: Local Elected Officials
  • Executive Order 13688 essentially leaves it up to local elected officials to be a major determining factor in whether or not their local police get access to 1033 equipment. We need to create levels of transparency so that local communities know what equipment their officers have access to, as well as who authorized the acquisition of that equipment.
  • Target: University Presidents.
  • We should concentrate on college and university presidents to demand policy changes that directly impact their campus law enforcement agencies, and we should demand that they are accountable to their students and their families by explicitly making them aware of the equipment the school has access to. This creates organizing opportunities for students as well as faculty. Further, there have been more and more arguments to arm campus police to appease the fear of a mass shooter. Campuses that allow guns on campus are only causing campus law enforcement to demand armament, creating a vicious cycle of firearms in higher education.

Model Legislation

  • Recently passed New Jersey State legislation requires law enforcement agencies to obtain the permission of local governments before obtaining equipment through the 1033 program. This legislation, however,  doesn’t stop the flow of weapons.
  • Proposed legislation in New Hampshire, while limiting the ability to obtain new military grade equipment, does not call for restricting the use of previously purchased military grade equipment. Potential legislation may benefit from such a provision.

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Pete Haviland-Eduah, Million Hoodies Movement For Justice
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An Immediate End to the Privatization of Police, Prisons, Jails, Probation, Parole, Food, Phone and All Other Criminal Justice Related Services

POLICY BRIEF COMING SOON

An End To All Jails, Prisons, and Detention Facilities As We Know Them and the Establishment of Policies and Programs to Address the Current Oppressive Conditions Experienced by People Who Are Imprisoned

What is the problem?

  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the United States currently imprisons more human beings than any other county in the world, both in real numbers and in terms of the percentage of the population. As of 2014, more than 6,800,000 adults were living in prisons or jails or under the restrictions and surveillance of probation and parole. More than 2.2 million adults were confined in prisons or jails—more than a quarter of the adult population of this country. More than 54,000 youth were held in juvenile detention during this same period. While Black people represent about 13 percent of the population of the U.S., we represent upwards of 40 percent of those caged in jails, prisons, and juvenile detention. Black women continue to be incarcerated at a rate twice that of white women, and are among the fastest growing prison population. Among Black transgender people, half report having spent time in prison. While recently state and federal prison populations have declined slightly, jail populations continue to swell.
  • The rate at which the U.S. imprisons its people and the staggering percentage of imprisoned people who are Black indicates the country’s orientation toward containment and control as its primary modes of dealing with the issues created by social, political, and economic inequities. The use of imprisonment and increasingly long sentences as “catch all” responses to everything from economic desperation, to substance dependence, to nonconforming gender identities also has devastating effects on the communities from which imprisoned people come. A Pew Charitable Trusts report found that a family with an imprisoned parent earned, on average 22 percent less per year than it did the previous year. Children with imprisoned parents are much more likely to be expelled from school than their peers—23 percent of students with imprisoned parents are expelled versus just 4 percent of the general student population. Communities suffering from high rates of imprisonment also frequently experience the consequences of destabilized neighborhoods and families including, poor physical and mental health outcomes, struggles to keep families afloat financially, and disintegration of family and other social bonds.
  • In addition to the punishment of loss of freedom, for those confined within prison, jail, and juvenile detention cages, life inside these institutions is often unbearable, with imprisoned people reporting daily humiliations, physical and psychological abuse, sexual violence, medical neglect and abuse, and withholding of information and communication with the outside world. These conditions are designed to compromise imprisoned people’s abilities to stay connected to their social networks, maintain physical and mental health, and develop their educational and vocational abilities—all things that have been demonstrated to help people thrive outside of prison and decrease their likelihoods of return to confinement. These conditions include:
  • Solitary Confinement: The over reliance on solitary confinement—also known as segregation, isolation and restrictive housing—yields growing safety concerns. People are typically subjected to 22-24 a day confinement, denied human contact, are not allowed to participate in programming, and often experience “no touch torture” including sensory deprivation, extreme temperatures, or forced insomnia.
  • Shackling: Although shackling is widely regarded as an assault on human dignity as well as an unsafe medical practice, women who are incarcerated are still routinely shackled during pregnancy and childbirth. Restraining pregnant women at any time increases their potential for physical harm from an accidental trip or fall. This also poses a risk of serious harm to the woman’s fetus, including the potential for miscarriage. During labor, delivery and postpartum recovery, shackling can interfere with appropriate medical care and be detrimental to the health of the mother and her newborn child. Despite the fact that shackling pregnant women is degrading, unnecessary and a violation of human rights, only ten states currently prohibit the practice by law.
  • Physical and Sexual Abuse: Physical and sexual violence are rampant in prisons. The imbalance of power between people who are incarcerated and guards leads to the use of both direct physical force and indirect force based on the person’s total dependence on guards for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges.
  • In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable — or even deserved — consequence of criminality. Nearly half of prison staff who sexually abuse people who are incarcerated face no legal consequences. In cases where sexual abuse is confirmed, only 30 percent of victims receive crisis counseling or medical follow-up. The glaring levels of impunity, lack of treatment and failure to take action against those who commit sexual violence sends a dangerous message.
  • In many women’s prisons, male corrections officers are allowed to watch the women when they are dressing, showering, or using the toilet, and some guards regularly harass women who are incarcerated. Women also report groping and other sexual abuse by male staff during pat frisks and searches. Studies on abuse of women in prison reveal that male correctional officers sexually abuse women who are incarcerated with almost total impunity. For victims of prior abuse, this environment further exacerbates their trauma. The full extent of the problem is unknown because many women who are incarcerated are reluctant to report staff sexual misconduct.
  • Healthcare: Incarcerated people are a population with significant medical and mental health needs, but health care services in prison are often abysmal. In many cases, this leads to needless suffering, disability, and death, and poses a serious threat to public health when contagious disease goes undiagnosed or untreated. A  2011 national survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of transgender people found that 12 percent of people who had been in jails or prisons reported denial of routine health care and 17 percent (and 30percent of Black respondents) reported denial of hormones.
  • Additionally, there are now far more people with mental illnesses in prisons and jails than there are in state psychiatric hospitals. People with mental disabilities may struggle more than others to adjust to the extraordinary stresses of incarceration, to follow the rules governing every aspect of life, and to respond promptly to staff orders. Subsequently, mentally ill incarcerated people across the U.S. are subjected to routine physical abuse by guards, including being doused with chemical sprays, shocked with electronic stun guns and strapped for hours to chairs or beds. The mistreatment has led to deaths, though the number of casualties is unclear in part because jails and prisons classify them in various ways. Additionally, jails and prisons are not uniformly required to report the use of force by guards. Prison administrations across the nation are failing to offer sufficient mental health treatment; doing too little to protect mentally ill patients from physical abuse by staff members, who are often inadequately trained; and having leadership not sufficiently focused on mental health issues. The overwhelming majority of people behind bars will someday be released. Providing people who are incarcerated with care today means having healthier neighbors and communities tomorrow.
  • Prison Education: Inadequate or the complete lack or prison education in some areas fails to meet the needs of men, women, and children behind bars. The learning needs of people who are incarcerated for long and short-term offenses are particularly challenging and complex, but it’s crucial their needs are met and every learning opportunity is fulfilled. Educational and vocational training as well as substance abuse treatment services are crucial. We need greater overall consistency in the provision of educational programming and a national system for recording data, so that people who are incarcerated are given every opportunity to progress and develop their skills during the period of their custody and on release.

What does this solution do?

  • Action is needed at the local, state, and federal levels to break the U.S. addiction to imprisonment as a remedy for the problems caused by its social and economic policies and to develop alternatives to imprisonment for adults and youth.
  • Additional action is needed to reduce the daily harms faced by people while they are imprisoned and to increase their abilities to maintain their health and wellbeing should be remain imprisoned, including:
  • An end to solitary confinement
  • The end to shackling of pregnant women and ensuring comprehensive reproductive health services and justice for all incarcerated people
  • Elimination of abuse in prison, including physical and sexual assault by prison and jail staff
  • Quality healthcare for all incarcerated people
  • Educational opportunities for people in prison, including expansion of second chance Pell grants
  • Policies ensuring safe conditions for trans and gender nonconforming people in prisons, jails, and juvenile detention.
  • Restoration of voting rights and labor rights of incarcerated people and people convicted of crimes

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • The most marginalized members of Black communities—young people, transgender and genderqueer people, women, people suffering with mental health issues, those without stable shelter, and low income people —are also often those people most frequently targeted for arrest and imprisonment.    

Eliminate Prisons, Jails and Detention Centers As We Know Them

  • Federal Action:
    • A recent report by the Urban Institute outlines both “front-end” and “back-end” policy recommendations for reducing federal prison populations and increasing cost savings.
  • State Action:
    • In 2011, New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to close seven state prisons (upstate, minimum security)
    • A recent report by the Sentencing Project outlines a range of approaches states have used to close state prisons.
  • Local Action:
    • Cities and counties are rejecting expanding their jail systems in favor of investing in community-based resources serving vulnerable populations.
    • Los Angeles
    • San Francisco
    • New York City

Establish Policies and Programs to End the Oppressive Conditions Currently Experienced by Imprisoned People

  • Federal Action:
      • Efforts are currently underway to eliminate the use of solitary confinement within jails, prisons, and juvenile detention.  
      • The MERCY Act (Booker, Durbin, Paul, Lee) recommends banning the use of long-term solitary confinement for federally adjudicated youth.
      • Access to Pell grants for educational financial aid to imprisoned people in state and federal prisons such as through the REAL Act (Edwards).
      • House trans and gender nonconforming people in prisons and jails based on self-described gender identity unless the individual expresses a desire for a different placement for safety reasons.
      • Ensure access to quality medical care for all federal prisoners and establish enforceable standards for state and local facilities.
      • Pass federal legislation reinstating voting rights for all incarcerated individuals
      • Pass federal legislation bringing people convicted of a crime within the protection of federal wage and labor standards (for more information please see economic justice one pager)
  • State Action
      • Efforts are currently underway to eliminate the use of solitary confinement within prisons, and juvenile detention.  While these efforts could all go further, promising models include:
        • Changes in policy compelled by lawsuits that limit the use of solitary on youth (Ohio); and adults (California)
      • Community groups are putting pressure on state prisons and juvenile detention centers to eliminate medical abuse:
      • Expand visitation access
      • Increase access between grandparents and imprisoned minor grandchildren (CT)
      • Ensure equal visitation rights for LGBTQ individuals
  • Local Action
      • Efforts are currently underway to eliminate the use of solitary confinement within jails and juvenile detention at the local level. Examples include:  

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Critical Resistance
  • Dignity and Power Now
  • Justice Now
  • Just Leadership USA
  • Black and Pink
  • Federal LGBT Criminal Justice Working Group
  • Solitary Watch
  • Vera Institute of Justice, Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project
  • Center for American Progress
  • Movement Advancement Project (MAP)
  • American Civil Liberties Union

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Rachel Herzing
  • Andrea Ritchie, Soros Justice Fellow
  • Rachel Gilmer, Dream Defenders
  • Crystal Peters, Center for Popular Democracy
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