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Issues & Victories

Criminal Justice



CONECT Wins Police Accountability


On June 2nd, 153 CONECT leaders gathered for a night of prayer, reflection & dialogue after the murder of George Floyd.  By June 15th, 453 leaders gathered for a virtual Assembly to take action for racial and economic justice with our federal and state legislators.  A key item on the agenda at that virtual Assembly was leaders of our Criminal Justice team for a substantive police reform and accountability bill to be taken up and passed in the legislature's July special session.  The Connecticut Senate President, Senate Majority Leader, and House and Senate co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee all committed to CONECT to do just that.

On July 17th, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed bill via zoom.  Fr. Jim Manship, a key leader in CONECT, testified about the fruitless and frustrating experience of seeking help from state police and prosecutors in the face of a corrupt, abusive, and racist police department in East Haven and endorsed the bill's plan for an independent Inspector General to investigate police use of force and abuse cases.

During the ensuing week, CONECT leaders collectively sent emails and made calls to their Representatives and Senators over 1000 times pressing for the passage of the broad bill.  Dozens of other allies, organizations, and activists around the state did the same, seeking to see substantive change come out of tens of thousands of people attending Black Lives Matter marches over the past two months in every corner of the state, nation, and world.

After all night debates in both the House and Senate, the bill passed each chamber.  Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill into law on Friday, July 31st.  The broad bill includes an independent Inspector General to investigate police use of force cases, mandates body and dash cameras for all officers, allows for officer to be decertified due to misconduct, calls for additional recruitment of officers of color, calls for additional training of all officers, removes qualified immunity for officers judge to have committed a "willful, wanton, or malicious act," changes the use of force standard to include that officers exhaust all alternatives to deadly force before the use of deadly force.
 

MEDIA/PRESS LINKS

Press links on final passage:

Press links on CONECT action & work on bill:

Detail of what the bill includes:

Brief video of key champion of the bill and key ally of CONECT, Sen. Gary Winfield during floor debate:



VOICE Celebrates First-Ever Public Defender Office in Prince William County


600 VOICE leaders applaud commitments to create Prince William's first-ever Public Defender office.
 

Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) celebrates the historic creation of Prince William County’s (PWC) first-ever Public Defender office, which will lead to more equitable treatment for the poorest residents.  Prince William is the only Virginia county that is a majority people of color.  Having survived the state budget freeze resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the office is now funded and law.
 
During 2019 PWC teams of VOICE citizen-leaders personally interviewed hundreds of people concerning their experiences with court appointed attorneys to better understand the kinds of reforms that are most needed.  VOICE repeatedly heard that the poor quality of representation for low-income people in the courts was a major driver of inequality in PWC’s justice system. 
 
As the second-largest jurisdiction in Virginia, PWC is the largest locality in Virginia without a Public Defender’s Office.  Until the Public Defender Office stands up, it relies solely upon low-paid court appointed counsel to provide representation to indigent defendants—a system rife with serious flaws.
 
VOICE leader, Rev. Dr. Keith Savage, the Senior Servant at First Baptist Church Manassas, remarked “This is a major victory for the residents of Prince William County especially during the COVID-19 outbreak. Public Defenders are truly essential workers, as they help people from being unnecessarily incarcerated in jails and prisons—places where COVID-19 infections have run rampant.”       
 
The Virginia Indigent Defense Commission, the state steward for all Public Defender offices, is currently interviewing candidates for PWC’s Chief Defender position, plus securing office space for the 35 new lawyers and staff who will execute the office’s responsibilities.  This Public Defender office will be the third largest in the state while carrying the distinction as the first new Virginia office to open since 2004.  The office is slated to be operational in late summer or early fall of 2020.
  
In October 2019, VOICE mobilized 600 of its PWC leaders for an assembly with local elected officials to kick off support for the Public Defender office.  VOICE then held dozens of meetings with key decision-makers within the General Assembly, including Gov. Northam, to secure the needed $5.4 million in the budget to fund the office.  The bill to create the Public Defender office was sponsored and championed by Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (2nd District) and Sen. Scott Surovell (36th District) and received critical support from Del. Luke Torian (52nd District), the chair of the powerful Appropriations committee, and was listed as a top criminal justice priority by Gov. Northam. 

There was concern that because of the Covid-19 pandemic there would not be revenue to fund the public defenders office. Due to constant pressure and support from Gov. Northam funding has been obtained.

In addition to the public defenders office, VOICE was also able to win $350,000 in supplementary funding for the office from the local Prince William County Board of Supervisors.



CONECT assembly with Gov. Lamont, Attorney General Tong on Clean Slate, Guns & Immigration


CONECT
packed over 600 people into the basement hall of Mt. Aery Baptist Church on a Thursday night, less than a week before the start of the legislative session, to engage the Governor and about a dozen legislators on Clean Slate, a few mayors on Do Not Stand Idly By / the Gun Safety Consortium, and our Attorney General on suing to get ICE kicked out of CT courthouses.  

Gov. Lamont gave us great recognition and pledged publicly for the first time to lead on Clean Slate and get it done this year -- after he'd heard powerful stories from three leaders with felony records talk about the importance of Clean Slate.  Attorney General Tong pledged publicly that he will sue in federal court to get ICE from continuing its dangerous practice of arresting people in and around state Courthouses.

 

 

 

 

 

Governor Lamont & Attorney General Tong pledge to move CONECT agenda forward.



VOICE Packs the House for Criminal Justice Reform & Schools


On October 20th, 576 VOICE  leaders from Prince William County held a standing room-only action with candidates for Board of Supervisors Chair, Commonwealth Attorney, and School Board Chair.  Candidates strongly endorsed the creation of a Public Defender office in Prince William County--Prince William is the only county in Northern Virginia that lacks such an office.  Receiving political support from Commonwealth Attorney candidates to open a Public Defender office is unprecedented in Virginia.
 
Candidates also pledged to work with VOICE to make significant funding increases for after-school programs, mental health support, and other schools’ issues.  120 parents and teachers from low-income Prince William County schools attended the action and are a growing part of VOICE's base in the county.
 
VOICE also pledged to put 450+ leaders on the ground in our annual strictly nonpartisan Get Out the Vote effort in 6 low-voting battleground precincts in Prince William County that will determine control in the state House and Senate this year.

UPDATE:  Gov Northam has included $2.7 Million in funding for Prince William public defenders’ office.

 

MEDIA



Standing Room Only Crowd Celebrates GCC Drug Court Win

A standing room only crowd filled St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Cleveland to celebrate Greater Cleveland Congregations’ most recent criminal justice win. In attendance were Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley and County Administrative Judge John Russo as GCC announced the addition of a new drug court with criteria that will not exclude people of color. In its research and attendance at the existing Cuyahoga County drug courts, GCC discovered that the courts were 85-90% white. The new court has criteria that will particularly focus on the inclusion of individuals who have had prior felonies, which will be life-changing for many families in Northeast Ohio.



VOICE-IAF Delivers Justice to 627,000 Virginians Drivers Licenses Restored for people with unpaid court debt


VOICE Team in Richmond

In October 2018, VOICE convened 1,400 of its members to ask Governor Ralph Northam to end Virginia’s draconian practice of suspending driver’s licenses over unpaid court debt, which almost exclusively impacts the poor and people of color.  Specifically, VOICE challenged Gov. Northam to allocate money in his budget to replace revenue lost from reinstatement fees, roughly $9 million per year, which in the past was a major roadblock to passage of the legislation.  In December 2018, Gov. Northam followed through on his commitment to VOICE and allocated the needed funding in his FY 2019-2020 budget.
 
On Wednesday April 3rd, as a result of Gov. Northam’s action, VOICE helped deliver a major victory to the 627,000 Virginians who have their licenses suspended over court debt with the passage of a budget amendment that bans the practice. This victory will enable thousands now to drive to work so they can provide for their families, as well as, contribute millions in new tax revenue. In the preceding months, VOICE sent teams of leaders from local congregations to discuss this issue with dozens of key lawmakers including House Speaker Kirk Cox, whose support proved crucial. VOICE also helped to organize key Virginia allies such as business and denominational leaders, who have helped organize support for the bill in key Virginia districts.
 
In 2018, VOICE won an increase in the felony level in Virginia. These victories are the beginning of VOICE’s multi-year fight on local and statewide criminal justice reform in Virginia.  VOICE is now focusing its non-partisan power on the upcoming 2019 local and statewide elections, where VOICE will hold candidate accountability actions and undertake non-partisan voter engagement organizing, mobilizing more than 500 experienced non-partisan voter engagement volunteers from its member institutions who participated in similar work in 2017 & 2018 elections.
 
Press coverage of VOICE’s work on this issue may be found HERE and HERE and HERE.
 



Clean Slate Campaign Picking Up Steam

CONECT Leaders Asti Jackson & Lonnie Spaulding questioning Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont about the Clean Slate proposal
 
 
CONECT’s Criminal Justice Reform Team is leading a legislative campaign to create a new system of automatic expungement of criminal records in Connecticut. Recently Hugh Bailey wrote a column in the CT Post & New Haven Register about the campaign and the New York Times ran an Opinion piece on Clean Slate nationally.
 
The Connecticut “Clean Slate” plan would build off of Connecticut’s existing Board of Pardons and Paroles system, making expungements of criminal records 3 years after a misdemeanor and 5 years after a non-violent felony automatic. 
 
Speaking at CONECT’s recent press conference was Rev Anthony Bennett and Rick DelValle, a former drug addict who now operates five recovery houses for addicts in New Haven.
------------------------------------
 
“This important legislation will help level the playing field for Connecticut’s racial minorities,” said Rev. Anthony Bennett of Mt. Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport and Co-Chair of CONECT. “Despite important gains in criminal justice reform here in Connecticut, racial minorities are still far more likely to have a criminal record, even surpassing national averages. That’s just unacceptable here in Connecticut.”   
 
See CONECT’s Fact Sheet and FAQ for more background information.



Current Issues - Criminal Justice



Powerful Day of Action Leads to GBIO Victories on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing and a Continued Fight for Education Funding.


GBIO’s Criminal Justice Reform Chair, Beverly Williams, poses questions to the candidates for District Attorney at GBIO’s Primary Accountability Action.
 
On August 23rd, dubbed a “GBIO Day of Action,” GBIO leaders ran multiple actions within a 6-hour period, pushing forward the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization’s priorities on Criminal Justice Reform, Healthcare, Affordable Housing, and Education.
 
At a Primary Accountability Action, 537 GBIO leaders secured commitments from both Democratic candidates for Governor, Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie, to contribute $50 Million to a Homeownership fund and to stop a healthcare merger estimated to cost taxpayers $230 million annually.
 
The merger, between healthcare giants Beth Israel Deaconess, Lahey and others was announced in 2017. Earlier this year, the MA Health Policy Commission came out with a report concluding that the merger would conservatively cost the state’s citizens $230 million per year.  
 
The two candidates were asked: “Will you direct the Public Health Commissioner and Council Members to oppose and stop any mergers or other market transactions that are found by the HPC to increase costs for consumers?” Both Massie and Gonzalez answered Yes.
 
The two candidates also agreed to increase funding for home ownership by at least $10 million per year for at least 5 years, for a total of $50 million and (if elected Governor) to attend a 2000 person action in the fall. Jay Gonzalez won the primary and will face off against Governor Charlie Baker in November. 
 
GBIO leaders also engaged candidates for District Attorney from Suffolk and Middlesex counties in a series of questions about Bail Reform, Sentencing Reform with a focus on mandatory minimums, and Data Transparency, securing public commitments of Yes on all questions from both candidates vying for Suffolk County DA in November. 
 
7 candidates for DA attended the GBIO event, including Evandro Carvalho, Linda Champion, Mike Maloney, Shannon McAuliffe, and Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County (in the first contested race in decades) and Donna Patalano and incumbent Marian Ryan of Middlesex County. The candidates were asked to provide yes/no answers to a series of questions and were also given time to present their views in an open format. 
 
Greg Henning, the frontrunner in the race, had committed to attend the event in April, but changed his mind just days before the event, objecting to the “yes/no” format. On September 4th, Henning lost the race 20,719 to 35,188 to Rachael Rollins, who answered YES to all of GBIO’s questions. 
 
GBIO’s questions included:
 
Bail
Will you institute a policy prohibiting every prosecutor from seeking bail unless it carries the possibility of a state prison sentence?
 
Mandatory Minimums
  1. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor in your office NOT to charge Mandatory Minimum sentences for any drug offense, and instead to seek charges that can be overseen by a judge?
  2. Will you institute a policy requiring every prosecutor to seek diversion, including restorative justice practices, before arraignment, when a diversion alternative exists?
  3. Will you publicly support elimination of ALL mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses?
  4. Will you institute a policy mandating racial bias training within the first six months, and within the first six months of every subsequent Asst. DA and lawyer hire, as a step to eliminating racial disparities?
 
Data Transparency
  1. Will you institute a policy mandating the collection and recording of race and ethnicity data for all offenders in your existing and future database systems?
  2. Will you institute a policy to report, and make publicly available, data showing:
    • Disposition (diversion, plea deal, trial, dismissal, CWOF, sentence imposed)
    • Plea bargain deals offered
    • Initial charging offense
    • Length of time defendants are held pretrial
    • Age, Gender, and Race and Ethnicity of offender
  3. Will you commit to holding public forums each year where you present this data to the public?
 
Earlier that same day, at Mayor Marty Walsh’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $73 million Dearborn School, which GBIO fought to create, nearly 200 GBIO leaders demanded full funding for the STEM school’s staffing.
 
GBIO had hoped that the Dearborn ribbon-cutting ceremony would be an opportunity to celebrate the school’s opening, the culmination of an almost decade long effort. GBIO leaders, including then-President Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, fought to replace the Dearborn’s deteriorating middle school building with a state-of-the-art grade 6-12 STEM Academy that could provide a top-notch education to students in its under-served Roxbury neighborhood.
 
Rev. Hamilton returned to Boston from California to attend the ceremony, but the celebration became a demand for action when, just a few days prior to the school’s Sept opening, many key staff positions remained unfunded. “It’s really an abomination to have this amazing STEM building and not have adequate staffing,” said the Rev. Burns Stanfield, current president of GBIO. “It really sets kids up in this neighborhood for failure.”



GBIO Fights for Criminal Justice Reforms – and Wins – as Governor Baker Signs Historic Massachusetts Bill


GBIO Criminal Justice Reform team co-chairs Beverly Williams and Alan Epstein at the end of the day, but on to another chapter. 
 
 “When We Fight, We Win!”
 
Leaders from the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and allies, chanted in victory at the Massachusetts Statehouse on April 13th as Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping criminal justice bill into law – the first of its kind in decades. Since 2015, GBIO has fought for strong reforms by targeting four issues designed to reduce barriers to a fair criminal justice system that have disproportionately affected poor people and people of color. All four of GBIO’s priority issues were included in the recent law.
 
GBIO’s priority issues include:
  • Reduction in the use of Mandatory Minimums for drug sentencing
  • Reduction of fines and fees for probation and parole
  • Changing bail requirements for those unable to pay
  • Regulation and reduction in the use of Solitary Confinement
 
Beverly Williams, co-chair of GBIO’s Criminal Justice Team said, “The new law is not perfect, but it is meaningful legislation for Massachusetts. Reform leaders worked tirelessly for 3 years to make this happen.”  Through legislator meetings, relationship building, and a series of large actions, GBIO helped shape comprehensive Criminal Justice reform bills that, despite early resistance, passed the House and Senate by veto-proof majorities in late 2017. A reconciliation bill proceeded behind closed doors for 4 months. 
 
The ultimate bill still included GBIO’s four issues, as well as many other issues of interest to GBIO and other allies including: CORI reform, raising the felony threshold from $250 to $1200, decriminalizing youth below 12 years of age, allowing juvenile records to be expunged after a period of time, medical release, and most importantly, data collection and reporting for more transparency. The final bill passed unanimously in the Senate (37-0) and nearly unanimously in the House (148-5) and was signed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. 
 
Co-Chair Alan Epstein said, “It is a huge step forward for the state in our efforts to reduce mass incarceration, eliminate racial disparities, reduce costs and introduce fairness, compassion and intelligence into our criminal legal system. Everyone in Massachusetts will benefit from what we did.”
 
 



Lake County United Builds Strong Support to Win Approval of 146-bed behavioral hospital in Waukegan


Vista Medical Center West in Waukegan, IL will be transformed into a 146-bed psychiatric hospital

Lake County United continues the fight to prevent those who are mentally ill from unjustly entering the criminal justice system and instead, helping those individuals get the treatment they need. Towards that effort, LCU has established a relationship with the CEO of U.S. HealthVest to continue to work together on broader mental health needs such as affordable housing and long-term treatment. In January, U.S. HealthVest was given unanimous approval to purchase a Waukegan, IL medical center and transform it into a state-of-the-art 146-bed psychiatric hospital that will provide services ranging from children to seniors as well as substance abuse treatment. Having all the elements of a crisis stabilization unit, this hospital is a key component to diverting mentally ill from jail.



FRVI’s Work on Crisis Intervention Leads to First Countywide Police Officers Crisis Intervention Training in Kane County


Kane County State's Attorney completed its first Crisis Intervention Team training for police officers.
 
For the past three years the Fox River Valley Initiative (FRVI) in Kane County, Illinois has been working with the Sheriff and State's Attorney to create a countywide Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program. In the summer of 2017, the States Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department submitted a proposed curriculum for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training to the state agency responsible for certifying law enforcement training. 
 
The County-developed curriculum allows CIT classes to be scheduled as needed in the county and in closer proximity for the officers participating. In October 2017, 26 officers from a variety of County law enforcement agencies completed their 40-hour training experience. Another class was scheduled for November and six classes are planned for 2018.
 
These 8 classes represent training for approximately 20% of the law enforcement personnel in the county, and it’s possible that nearly all of the 1,200 police officers in the Kane County jurisdictions will receive CIT training within the next five years. This victory is part of IL Metro IAF’s 3-part strategy for criminal justice reform in Illinois by overhauling CIT training, creating Crisis Stabilization Units, and expanding affordable permanent supportive housing.



United Power Wins Commitment from Evanston Chief of Police, Department of Health & Human Services to Help Move Forward on Creation of a Crisis Stabilization Center


Leaders of United Power join to announce results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments.
 
156 leaders from five United Power member organizations in the northern Cook County region gathered to announce the results of the annual Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) review of four local police departments and to align key allies to advance a crisis stabilization site in the northern Cook County region. 
 
As a result, The Evanston Department of Health & Human Services committed to co-convene a strategy with key players to create a crisis stabilization center, especially engaging the two major hospitals in the region. The Chief of Police in Evanston and Glenview agreed to participate in strategy sessions and announced their support for a crisis center. Turning Point, a local community mental health center, also announced their willingness to help establish a demonstration project to get the crisis center started. These commitments were made to United Power members and two key people from the two area hospitals who have yet to commit to advance the crisis stabilization ahead.
 
This effort is part of United Power and IL Metro IAF's overall fight to reduce incarceration for people with mental illness by seeking to increase CIT training of local police departments, improve access to crisis stabilization and increase affordable and supportive housing for long-term stability.



A Win for GBIO: Expanded Massachusetts Senate Bill Includes All of GBIO Criminal Justice Reform Priorities


On May 18th, GBIO celebrates the leaders of the Criminal Justice Team’s
In-District Meeting campaign

The Senate bill, introduced September 29 by State Senator William Brownsberger, addresses all four of GBIO’s issues: repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, pretrial and bail reform, reducing/eliminating fees and fines, and shortening length of time spent in solitary confinement — the result of 9 in-district meetings with 23 State Representatives and Senators by over 60 GBIO Leaders. GBIO wants to see the Senate bill do more on mandatory minimums, and will continue to fight for deeper reforms.



In Boston, GBIO Leaders Secure New Ally on Criminal Justice Reform

Mardi Fuller, of GBIO, leads Dorchester and South Boston district meeting with State Senator Forry at 4th Presbyterian Church

On June 28th, GBIO leaders completed a city-wide In-District Meeting with State Senator Linda Doreen Forry, securing her commitment to support reform around solitary confinement, an issue she did not formerly support.

When Forry argued that local county sheriffs think the reform would threaten the safety of inmates, constituents won Forry’s support by countering that, in fact, the use of solitary confinement itself represented a threat to inmates’ safety and mental health, by keeping inmates locked up 23 hours a day for extended periods, in cells the size of a parking spot.

The meeting with Senator Forry was the 8th of 9 In-District meetings organized since May 2017 as part of GBIO’s Criminal Justice Reform Campaign. The campaign builds support for 4 legislative priorities: Repeal of Mandatory Minimums for Drug Offenses, Pretrial and Bail Reform, Reduction/Elimination of Excessive Fees and Fines for Returning Citizens, and Elimination of Excessive Use of Solitary Confinement without Oversight and Data Collection.

Since May, GBIO has trained 60 congregational leaders, who have planned and organized meetings with over 15 legislators. Following the success of these In-District meetings, 30 leaders have been trained to extend GBIO’s efforts outside of Boston districts.

Representative Russell Holmes (far left) at 4th Presbyterian Church In-District Meeting lead by GBIO team

In-District Meeting at 4th Presbyterian Church with Representative Russell Holmes and the staff of Representative Dan Cullinane

In the News


Metro IAF Statement on Police Killing of George Floyd

Friday, June 5, 2020
Metro IAF

June 5, 2020

The last minutes of George Floyd’s life evoke the 22nd Psalm:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And are so far from my cry
And from the words of my distress?
O my God, I cry in the daytime but you do not answer;
By night as well, but I find no rest.

 

So, too, do our thoughts go to our own memories of Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray--sons of our cities: New York, Cleveland, and Baltimore--black men murdered by police brutally, callously. Our anger and rage rise again.

The white officers’ knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while he pleads for his mother evokes 400 years of kidnappings, lynchings, rapes, family separations, slavery and forced labor, share cropping, equity stripping, unjust imprisonment, medical experiments, job discrimination that denies the humanity and full citizenship of black Americans.

As we watch protesters in Minneapolis and other cities across the country, we know their lamentations must be shouted, must be heard, must not be silenced. For it is only in giving voice to the pain and suffering of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the thousands of other black people killed in our cities and millions scarred by racism that we might ever begin to imagine a new future.

The shouts must be louder, broader and much longer before this can come to pass though. And we must listen; we must take account. We must relate to the many people who are suffering. In so doing, we must ask: How is God speaking in the streets? What new message, what good news do we hear?


We hear the anger at a criminal justice system that is racist, unfair and out of control especially in relationship to the African American community. It's Floyd today but who tomorrow? It was Christian Cooper one week, who will it be next week? We hear young people fed up with what they see as the inaction of the generations just ahead of them. We hear young people gripped by despair, filled with anger and not seeing any way to take that pain public except by going to the streets.

What we hear is political leaders, law enforcement leaders, religious leaders, and corporate leaders have failed on so many levels to stop police officers from killing black people. Police killings of black people, police intimidation of black people while driving, when shopping, while living must end, now. The next generation in the streets is demanding systemic change in police accountability and policing.

As our cities are in turmoil, we pray for peace. We want to channel ours’ and others’ rage and anger to make these and other changes, to create new realities. In a moment that appears hopeless and despairing to many, we renew our call to organize for justice---as we did in Cleveland to win a US Department of Justice consent decree to reform the Cleveland police in the aftermath of the Tamir Rice murder, and as we are doing in Baltimore to win living wage jobs for 850 returning citizens at John Hopkins Health System and other anchor institution employers, and as we have done to win statewide criminal justice reform in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Virginia. The job is not done. We are dedicated to building more power to purge injustice from the system from the ground-up no matter how long it takes.
 

In this dark hour, we are propelled to this call to which we invite all to join us.


The stink, the mice, the yelling. My time in solitary was the 'most savage moment of my life,’ Rutgers grad recalls.

Monday, February 10, 2020
Metro IAF

Stephon Whitley, who served time at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton and is now a Metro IAF organizer, says solitary confinement had a lasting impact on him.

The 8th amendment bans cruel and unusual punishment.  However, here in America we don't have to look far to find examples of such. Unfortunately, some forms are hidden, such as what happens behind prison walls. As organizers we aim to gain power to make changes against injustices. In my op ed I shared my experience in solitary confinement, which helped towards forcing changes in the use and conditions of solitary confinement in New Jersey. This is just an example of power that can be gained from storytelling.

Read Stephon's Opinion Piece HERE.


EBC working to tackle the Criminal Justice System

Monday, February 10, 2020
EBC


More than 100 East Brooklyn Congregations leaders packed the basement of Mt. Lebanon church to discuss the problems with the criminal justice system, especially for formerly incarcerated individuals. We heard testimonials about the difficulty finding affordable housing and living-wage work; and lack of access to mental health care services; legal representation; and how individuals leave prison with no state identification making the aforementioned problems especially difficult.  Outreach continues, as the leaders of EBC work to find more representation from individuals who have served time in jail or prison.


GCC’s Action on Criminal Justice Yields Recognition and Continued Commitment from County Prosecutor and Presiding Judge to Fight for Reforms

Monday, May 21, 2018
Greater Cleveland Congregations

GCC packs leaders at St. John AME Church in fight for additional criminal justice reforms.
 
On April 24th Greater Cleveland Congregations held an action with 435 of its members at the historic St. John AME Church in Cleveland.  Present at the action were Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley and Administrative and Presiding Judge John Russo, who reiterated their plans and commitments to fight for additional criminal justice reforms that address mass incarceration, such as expanding opportunities for drug court for those suffering from addiction, new second chance diversion initiatives, and policies to end the practice of over-charging.  GCC leaders also heard compelling testimony from a member of our community who was victimized by over-charging and served a 10-year prison sentence for stealing 10 packs of batteries.
 
Prosecutor O’Malley also highlighted two major policy initiatives that GCC fought for over the past two years.  First, his office's policy of utilizing agencies outside of the prosecutors office to investigate police use of lethal force cases in our county.  Second, the establishment of the county's first ever Civil Rights Unit, run out of the prosecutors office. This is one of only three such Civil Rights Units in the nation, and it has already been responsible for reviews of cases that have resulted in the overturning of three wrongful convictions and counting. 
 
An article summarizing the action may be found HERE.

GBIO leader Beverly Williams Receives JALSA’s Community Champion Award for her Work on Criminal Justice Reform

Thursday, March 29, 2018
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
In January 2018, Beverly Williams was honored as a recipient of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action’s Community Champion Award. Beverly, along with Alan Epstein, Co-Chairs the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization's Criminal Justice Reform team has led the organization's 40+ congregations in the pursuit of meaningful criminal justice reform legislation.
 
After GBIO committed to a four point Criminal Justice Reform platform in 2016, Beverly and her team began bringing these issues directly to legislators.  GBIO’s platform included (1) Repealing Mandatory minimums for drug offenses, (2) pretrial and bail reform, (3) eliminating excessive post-release fees and fines, and (4) eliminating excessive time in solitary confinement. GBIO leaders held face-to-face in-district actions with State Senators and Representatives throughout Greater Boston, then built networks of allies, including Reform Jewish Congregations and African Methodist Episcopal leaders throughout Massachusetts, who could meet with legislators in vital swing-districts.
 
As a result, all four of GBIO’s issues were addressed in October’s ground-breaking Senate Bill, as well as the House’s slightly more conservative November bill, described by the Boston Globe as the house’s  "most sweeping criminal justice bill in years.” Details are now being worked out in conference committee.
 
Beverly is most proud of GBIO’s success on mandatory minimums. “Nothing had moved on this issue for 18 years,” says Beverly. “When the Council of State Government did a study of our MA criminal justice system, back in 2016, mandatory minimums were not even under review. For us to have pushed it, and now it’s in conference, that’s a big deal!”
 
Beverly’s passion for this issue is deeply personal.  “In my community, the reality is most young men between 18 and 25 are locked up. I could see that locking people up and punishing them, especially in low-level crimes, was not the answer.” She was determined to change a system that left many low-income people and people of color locked in a cycle of incarceration and poverty.
 
As Beverly became more involved in the fight for justice, she realized, “It wasn’t just about investing in the issue but about investing in myself. For me to have an impact, I had to develop my own leadership skills.” She attended an IAF regional training and built new skills by diving into the work, taking on new roles, even when she wasn’t sure she was ready. “I had to build relationships with powerful people, with people in the streets,with people I hadn’t had relationships with before. In having these relationships, in listening to other peoples’ stories and impressions and thoughts, I learned more about myself. I learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
 
Although she is honored to receive the Community Champion Award, Beverly is clear that there is “still much more work to be done.” Of the House and Senate bills, she says, “if we get a major win out of this, there are going to be more people out of prisons and we need to keep fighting for them. We need to make sure they get much-needed services. We need to get them into jobs.”
 

LCU’s Fight for Crisis Intervention Leads to Invitation to Present Mental Health Strategy to Waukegan Police Officers

Tuesday, December 26, 2017
Lake County United


LCU leaders, Sheriff, County Board member, Mayor of Waukegan and Waukegan School District Superintendent

As a result of hundreds of Lake County United leaders gathering to meet with the Sheriff, Mayor of Waukegan, County Board Members, and Waukegan Superintendent of Schools, LCU was invited to present their mental health strategy to Waukegan Police Officers during a training on December 15th. The action with Waukegan officials that prompted the invitation to present the strategy pressed for the need to increase training for police to deescalate in a crisis and divert from jail, support affordable housing, and improve and expand college and career counseling.


GBIO Clergy Show Up in Force Hours Before Massachusetts State House Vote on Criminal Justice Bill

Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization


GBIO clergy leaders push for criminal justice reform at the Massachusetts State House

GBIO clergy showed up in force in a rally pushing for changes in Massachusetts criminal justice laws. In the final hours before a House vote on criminal justice reform, close to 200 clergy stood together with Retired Judge Nancy Gertner and several House representatives, calling for a criminal justice system that addresses racial and income disparities in sentencing, removing fees and penalties that keep people trapped in the prison system, and urging the state to spend tax dollars on treating, rather than punishing low level drug offenders with addictions and/or mental health issues.

Majority Whip Byron Rushing thanked GBIO for the work they’ve done so far, and urged GBIO to keep the pressure on during the last hours of debate. The bill passed by a vote of 144-9 on November 14th and now sets up a potential compromise between the state House and Senate to iron out differences in their two respective criminal justice reform bills before sending a bill to the desk of Governor Charlie Baker. Massachusetts Senate President Stanley Rosenberg fulfilled his February 2017 commitment to push through GBIO’s platform on criminal justice, and if the House and Senate find a compromise, it could be the first major effort to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in many years.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KwJ1aK3JYg&sns=em


Hudson County, NJ Prosecutor Commits to Two-day On-Site Warrant Reconciliation Event with Jersey City Together

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Jersey City Together


Rev. Willie Keaton Jr. of Claremont-Lafayette United Presbyterian Church and Hudson County
Prosecutor Esther Suarez

At Jersey City Together's Fall action, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez committed to a two-day warrant reconciliation event that would help individuals with low-level offenses reconcile warrants. This event has come after months of working with the prosecutor and is modeled after Metro IAF sister affiliate East Brooklyn Congregation's work with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson on a similar event at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church. Press coverage can be found here & here


Metro IAF NY Convenes Mental Health and Criminal Justice Experts, Hosts Forum to End Mis-Incarceration of People with Mental Illness

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Metro IAF NYC

On October 3rd, over 250 leaders from SBC, EBC, MT, and LICAN gathered at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan to learn more about steps taken across the country to end the mis-incarceration of people with mental illness who require treatment. Speakers included: Judge Matthew D'Emic, Brooklyn Administrative and Mental Health Court, Judge Steven Leifman, Miami-Dade Mental Health Court, and Leon Evans, behavioral health expert from San Antonio. As New York City embarks on a path to close Rikers prison and reform its criminal justice system, this forum worked to highlight innovative and successful criminal justice diversion programs in Brooklyn, New York, Miami-Dade, Florida, and San Antonio, Texas. This was an internal action to build a team of Metro IAF leaders capable of engaging with local District Attorneys and other key power players to begin making change in this area.


In Massachusetts, Jewish Leaders Call for Criminal Justice Reform

Friday, September 22, 2017
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization

42 rabbis and 6 cantors called on top Massachusetts leaders to support criminal justice reforms including: repeal of mandatory minimums, bail reform, reduction in fines and fees, and limits on solitary confinement. The religious leaders sent a September letter to Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, calling for a “criminal justice system that reflects the dignity of every human being.”

The Jewish leaders are backing bills on: bail reform by Rep. Dave Rogers (H 3120) and late Sen. Ken Donnelly (S 834); repeal of mandatory minimums by Sen. Cynthia Creem (S 819) and Rep. Evandro Carvalho (H 741); reduction in fines and fees by Rep. Mary Keefe (H 3077) and Sen. Michael Barrett  (S 755); limits on solitary confinement by Creem (S 1296) and Rep. Ruth Balser (H 2248), and collecting/reporting data on use of solitary confinement by Rep. Chris Markey (H 3092) and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (S 1286). 


GCC Gets Encouraging Updates on Reform from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor

Thursday, August 31, 2017
Greater Cleveland Congregations

 

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley provided written updates to Greater Cleveland Congregations about commitments made during the 2016 prosecutors election to reform the county's criminal justice system.  

Highlights of the report include:

1. Police Use of Deadly Force Policy - in all cases of police use of deadly force against civilians, Mr. O'Malley will request an independent prosecutor and investigation team to handle such cases.  This will minimize the chances of conflict of interest with the County Prosecutor attempting to investigate officers with whom his office has regular contact. 

2. Civil Rights Unit - in recent years, Ohio has seen a steep rise in the number of hate crimes.  The Civil Rights Unit, the first in the County's history, was established to review allegations of civil rights violations, including allegations of hate crimes and acts by public employees.  The Unit, which was set up in March, has already handled several cases.  One case involved the prosecution of an East Cleveland Police Officer for violating two women's civil rights during a traffic stop.  Another case involved the prosecution of a man for targeting another racial group.     

3. Drug Court/Diversion - Mr. O'Malley has submitted proposed changes to the courts that would significantly change eligibility requirements for Drug Courts and establish a new diversion program that would allow hundreds of new people to benefit from these programs, which upon completion vacate felony convictions, giving them a second chance at life.