JustLeadershipUSA joins with National Partner Organizations
In Opposing Revised First Step Act Legislation –
Veteran Criminal Justice Advocates Recognize Benefits, and Warn Against Harm
November 20, 2018
JustLeadershipUSA would first like to acknowledge the leadership and intellectual and emotional labor of a group of determined women, namely our sisters from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the architects of the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, who stepped forward and fought for several good provisions in the First Step Act. When advocacy for this bill began, these determined women stepped forward to speak up for and represent the masses of people left behind as the initial bill included no sentencing reform; they also advocated for full transparency of the potential perils that may lay ahead for our communities. Thanks to their efforts, 2600 people that were left behind by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 will be coming home. These sisters also fought for the unshackling of pregnant women, compassionate release, and good days implementation.
Despite recent revisions, many of them good, JLUSA remains in qualified opposition to the First Step Act. Our mission is to cut the U.S. correctional population in #halfby2030. While First Step Act brings home many of our loved ones, and contains good policies including unshackling of pregnant women, earned credits, and sentencing reform – the bill does not address or seek to undo structural racism; instead it re-entrenches it and sets a precedent in creating more harm by the implementation of risk assessment tools that demonstrate biases toward Black and brown defendants. This bill, supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, directs funding to Law Enforcement instead of community reinvestment, allowing for cost savings accrued from the bill to be used by law enforcement for innovative technologies and information sharing capabilities. In addition, the Trump administration has already defunded schooling for people in prison, which is not a good sign for funding of the programs promised in the bill. JLUSA’s policy brief on the FSA can be found at this link: bit.ly/FSAbrief.
Together as directly impacted people, at the local and state levels, we must continue to demand the type of BOLD change that can truly decarcerate the correctional system without turning our communities into digital prisons. We must avoid further situations like the First Step Act and any type of incremental reform that helps the few and sets up harm for the many. We could not endorse this bill because it contains what Michelle Alexander has aptly termed the Newest Jim Crow – harmful technology and an expansion of the carceral state that will disproportionately impact Black and brown people’s freedom. A truth we must contend with is that risk assessment technology, electronic shackles and limited sentencing reform will translate more favorably for a small number of white people than for a large number of Black and Brown people including immigrants.
Moving forward we must not allow situations in which questionable agendas force binary choices between the status quo and bills that start on unethical foundations, like the FIRST STEP Act. To the contrary, the very real possibility of decarceration and wholly transforming our justice system exists. JustLeadershipUSA’s #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns in New York, #CLOSEmsdf campaign in Wisconsin, and the #CLOSEthecreek campaign in Philadelphia, reject this Newest Jim Crow; we’ve also worked with partners and movement leaders in California to reject SB 10 which seemed to end money bail, but in fact created other ways to keep people incarcerated with the introduction of harmful racially biased pretrial risk assessments which promise to provide undue far-reaching power to judges. The directly impacted leaders in our entire ecosystem, and those who lead our campaigns with grassroots communities on the ground don’t just want support for re-entry – but for no entry. We want decarceration and harm reduction at all levels of the system, and we rightly seek justice reinvestment.
JustLeadershipUSA was created because we will do things differently, simply because we are impacted by the system of incarceration and we are accountable to impacted leaders and communities across the country. We will not start out with the types of concessions the First Step Act began with as a nod to private industry. There is no justification for racially biased risk assessments and electronic monitoring surveillance technology that will trigger a return to prison, or make our family members wardens. In addition, none of the sentencing provisions except the revision to the Fair Sentencing Act concerning crack and cocaine sentencing disparities are retroactive. Failure to apply retroactivity to all sentencing reforms will exclude thousands of men and women who could otherwise return home and creates unfair carve outs given the millions of Black and brown people impacted by the drug war and decades of disinvestment.
JLUSA President and CEO and Key Movement Partners on the First Step Act:
“The FSA’s carve-outs of vulnerable populations, the ushering in at the federal level of risk assessment technology and the growth of electronic monitoring must not become the norm, especially now that there is so much momentum for decriminalization and decarceration locally, at the state level, and given that formerly incarcerated women have lobbied for the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act without harmful concessions. The fact that this bill could move us a few inches forward is not nearly enough to mitigate the reality that the FIRST STEP Act opens the door for more intrusive and equally harmful policies in the future. We will not allow regressive legislation to turn us back from #halfby2030!” – DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO, JustLeadershipUSA
“In our fight for just reform, we must consider the long-term impact of policy. It’s tempting to support this bill on the merits of its effort to improve conditions of confinement. But these improvements mean little if they come at the expense of freedom for this and future generations. The FIRST STEP Act threatens our fight for justice by presenting e-incarceration approaches as progressive; in reality, this is an insidious move toward expanded control and surveillance in our homes and communities. Only by addressing the root causes of mass incarceration, based in racially biased policies and procedures, can we make lasting change. Real reform means investing in people and communities, not in for-profit prisons and surveillance.” – Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship (CCF)
“Despite new revisions to the First Step Act, it does not go far enough to meet the demands of our communities to decarcerate. In fact, we continue to legitimize punishment when communities of color are forced to decide between electronic monitoring and a cage—always in exchange for their freedom. This presentation of digital prisons as a progressive alternative to incarceration is misguided. Meanwhile, the reliance on biased risk assessments will only keep more Black and brown people incarcerated. Ultimately we must continue to be critical of any so-called bipartisan criminal justice reform when dealing with an openly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic administration which we know does not have our liberation in mind” – Myaisha Hayes, National Organizer on Criminal Justice and Technology, No Digital Prisons Campaign, Center for Media Justice
“I feel gratitude to those who fought to add sentencing reform and oversight to a bill that was positioned to do such harm, and now only hope the thoughtless tactics and lack of foresight that put so many in the criminal justice reform movement in such a difficult position to work to try and simply mitigate the potential harm set forth by such a poorly thought out bill will be remembered and can represent an opportunity for learning and growth. Those of us with incarcerated loved ones are often manipulated by these efforts, but we would have expected at least a modicum of sensitivity while living under an administration that openly calls for the dehumanization of our communities, which happen to be the very same communities targeted by the system of mass incarceration. For Van Jones to try and cap off this crudely carried out campaign with an unnecessary and profoundly insensitive lauding of President Trump, who has yet to sign anything, was not only shocking, but embarrassing.” – Patrisse Cullors, Cofounder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Dignity and Power Now