Dear Friends and Supporters,
What a year.
Since our return from the holidays early this year, 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges, both to our work, but also the world as a whole. As we face the racist rollbacks to bail reform and the growing threat of coronavirus to incarcerated populations, I remain convinced that our mission is now more important than ever.
We want to share with you an update on our year so far, and share with you two of our achievements last year:
Since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived here in the country, it has changed the way businesses, states and cities operate, and JustLeadershipUSA was no exception.
With the rising concerns of the virus in New York, we temporarily closed our offices until June, ahead of the citywide shutdown. The safety, health and well-being of the JLUSA family has always been a priority for us, and our staff has been working remotely during this time.
In addition to the remote work, we have pivoted much of our work — including our communications, organizing and leadership training programs — into online platforms, to stay in touch with our supporters, provide much-needed resources and continue to educate, elevate and empower directly-impacted voices. Follow us on social media for updates on our digital organizing work and learn how you can continue to be involved!
JustLeadershipUSA’s Rapid Response Fund
The pandemic has cost tens of thousands of lives, and put many people — including directly-impacted families — out of work. To help that directly-impacted community, we knew we had to act fast. In March, JLUSA launched its COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, to help allocate funds to organizations and individuals hurt by the global pandemic. The goal was to get the funds into the hands of directly-impacted people and families who we know are traditionally the hardest hit in times of crises.
To date, we have distributed more than $80,000 in gift cards to hundreds of families throughout the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Chicago. In a recent survey, we found that nearly 95% indicated that they would use the cash to purchase food, proving the need to support directly-impacted during this virus.
Even before the nation’s correctional facilities showed COVID-19 infection rates more than 150 times higher than the general population, correctional facilities were in a state of crisis. Prisons and jails in the United States have routinely failed to keep people safe and healthy.
The arrival of the COVID-19 coronavirus — as well as other natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods — have only exposed the systemic inequities in this country’s incarceration and detention policies. Advocates, legislators and public health experts have called for the immediate release of thousands of vulnerable people from correctional facilities, but these demands do not go far enough. It is time to #FreeThemNow.
After the success of our local, New York-based campaign, we knew we had to launch a national campaign to give our leaders the power they need to pressure lawmakers into creating comprehensive solutions that address the gross lack of public health and emergency management plans in our nation’s correctional facilities. These solutions must recognize the common humanity and dignity of all people within the criminal justice system, and mandate that jurisdictions have a readiness and preparedness plan to ensure the well-being of those remanded to their care.
We must put an end to the racist and abusive pipeline that continues to lock people up — from the courts to the prosecutors to law enforcement. No one deserves to die behind bars.
This campaign — the first national campaign led by directly-impacted people — will create a toolkit to give our leaders the resources they need to advocate for the release of vulnerable populations throughout the country. Please join us in this movement to collect the stories of those still inside — and help us #FreeThemNow!
Our New Pivot
Early this year, we saw an opportunity to shift away from direct-action campaigns, return to roots, and position ourselves as the premier training institute for directly-impacted people and communities. To that end, beginning September 2020, we will no longer manage campaigns outside of New York State, but will instead create the infrastructure to provide training, capacity-building, campaign and advocacy skills necessary to empower our emerging leaders and partner organizations and help them drive the movement toward decarceration across the country.
These organizational shifts are very much in line with returning to our founding mission of investing in the leadership of directly-impacted individuals to educate, elevate and empower their voices so they can drive policy change.
As we prepare for this pivot, we have begun to shift our current staffing structure. Staff and members associated with our direct-action campaigns are continuing their current work until the end of all current funding cycles. And JLUSA will provide the support necessary to ensure that members and communities have the resources to continue the fight to #halfby2030.
Leading with Conviction Goes Digital
Leading with Conviction Goes Digital: Due to COVID-19 closures, 2020 Leading with Conviction national program will be held online for the rest of 2020 and the Leading with Conviction regional program will be postponed to next year. Applications are currently closed and will re-open in 2021 for the 2022 program. Learn more about our programs!
Our Achievements in 2019
Last April, we achieved a historic victory: Working with our members, partners, and stakeholders to help spearhead bail reform legislation in New York State. In April, three bills passed to eliminate money bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, require prosecutors to turn over all evidence 15 days after first appearance and prior to any plea deal, and address some of the long-standing loopholes that violate our constitutional right to a speedy trial.
In October, three years after we began our campaign to close the abusive, corrupt and inhumane Rikers Island, the City Council voted to close the prison and shrink New York City’s jails system. The vote was a substantial win for our organization, and further proved the power of directly-impacted voices to effect change.Since the launch of the #CLOSErikers campaign, the movement for closure has continued to gain strength and momentum for our demand that Rikers is closed forever and that New York City reinvest resources to #buildCOMMUNITIES.
JustLeadershipUSA remains dedicated to continuing our important work of ensuring that directly-impacted leaders across the country have the tools and resources they need to create the better world we all want to see. We look forward to continuing that work together with you.
President/CEO of JustLeadershipUSA
“I think Alabama is going in the right direction, and I’m excited to be playing a part in making change happen.”
Read Her Story
“I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I’m going to get out of prison and I’m going to get my life back.”
Read His Story
Decarceration During COVID-19: A National Town Hall
- DeAnna joined U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Homer Venters, M.D, former Chief Medical Officer of NYC Jail System and Xavier McElrath-Bey, from Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth for a Town Hall on May 5, to call on Congress to release vulnerable populations from federal prisons because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 600 people registered for our event, which you can watch here.
- In Grist, JLUSA Outreach and Engagement Organizer Vidal Guzman spoke about the danger of rolling back bail reform as coronavirus spreads through jails and prisons, drawing from his first-hand experience of the poor conditions on Rikers.
- In Newsweek, DeAnna wrote about the difficulties formerly incarcerated people face accessing basic needs after their release, which will make reentry into society even more difficult for those released due to COVID-19.
- New York State Organizer Marvin Mayfield was featured in the New York Post in an article about converting the Vernon C. Bain floating jail into a hospital, to care for COVID-19 patients.
Did You Know?
On April 3, the Small Business Administration adopted a rule barring formerly incarcerated business owners from receiving forgivable loans to help small businesses keep employees as part of the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program. This will unjustly impact formerly incarcerated people who often face difficulty in finding employment upon reentry into the workforce and often rely on self-employment or start a small business to access jobs with liveable wages. Listen to our media telebriefing to discuss the impact on formerly incarcerated business owners here.
Spread the word on social media:
- Public health leaders and directly impacted people agree: we need urgent action from @NYGovCuomo and @NYCMayor to #FreeThemNow and prevent devastating health consequences for incarcerated New Yorkers.
- There is no way for people to practice social distancing in facilities like Cook County Jail in Chicago, which houses over 4,000 people and has one of the largest known outbreaks in the country. #FreeThemNow
- Reports of confusion, lack of access to healthcare and cramped conditions behind bars proliferate across the country. In Washington, DC, incarcerated people were forced to take action to protect themselves and sue for access to soap and paper towels. #FreeThemNow
- The spread of COVID-19 has exposed poor conditions in jails and prisons across the country. Many fear that their loved ones with underlying health issues, incarcerated at places like Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio with a 73% infection rate, will not survive. #FreeThemNow
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