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There are tens of millions of people in the United States suffering the collateral consequences of a felony conviction. We are people who have been charged, convicted and branded with an arrest and conviction history. Millions of us have served prison time, and it is estimated that 600,000 people will be released from prison per year for the next five years while millions more will be placed on probation and face the extremely low standards of guilt for a probation violation.
I. We Demand an End to Mass Incarceration
The first goal of changing the criminal justice system is to create and implement alternatives to incarceration, working toward a society where prisons do not exist. We demand the end of mass incarceration and commit ourselves to fighting the notion and the practice of building new prisons, juvenile detention facilities and immigration detention centers.
Mass incarceration does not add to public safety, and diverts real resources from other social needs. We are cognizant that the Prison Industrial Complex is so expensive that it denies society the opportunity to provide basic structure such as children’s education, medical care, mental health care, and support for our elders. We commit ourselves to pursuing a new direction, one that insures genuine safety for our community and transforms “hoods” back into neighborhoods.
II. We Demand Equality and Opportunity for All People
We demand an end to all forms of structural and permanent discrimination based on arrest or conviction records.
This discrimination is everywhere, like race-based laws once were, and it is not confined to one area of the nation. It is nearly impossible for people with conviction histories to survive and access opportunities for a better life. It is structural discrimination that is embodied in the question appearing on applications for jobs, public benefits, housing, insurance, student loans, and more: “Have you ever been convicted by a court?” The obvious effects of this structural discrimination are extremely high unemployment rates, homelessness, lack of medical insurance and the inability of formerly incarcerated or convicted people to adequately support families and contribute to our communities.
We commit ourselves to “Ban the Box” throughout the United States – to eliminate that question that appears on countless applications (public and private) asking about our conviction history.
III. We Demand the Right to Vote
We demand the right to full democratic participation, inside and outside of prisons and jails. We demand the right to vote while we are incarcerated and after our release, regardless of probation or parole.
The disenfranchisement of people in prison, and people with conviction histories, strips rightful political power from communities of color. We should not be subject to having our rights taken because we simply move from one state to another.
For purposes of political representation and the Census, incarcerated people should be counted in the communities where they lived prior to incarceration: this is where their families live, and where voices of representation should be heard.
IV. We Demand Respect and Dignity for our Children
We acknowledge that as the result of mass incarceration our children have been rendered vulnerable. Parents are often disappeared into the prison system without any real explanation or particular care of our children.
The practice of fast-track adoptions must end. Imprisonment or felony conviction can result in our children being stolen from us; incarcerated parents should not automatically forfeit their parental rights, and should have the right to be present at all custody-related court proceedings.
Contact visits and overnight family visiting should be universally available, and people should be incarcerated close to their families to facilitate visiting.Teenage mothers in juvenile facilities are often afraid to disclose that they are parents, and thus denied visits with their children.
Parents of U.S. citizens should not be deported, and children should not be deported away from their parents.
We call on the federal and state governments to adopt and implement the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents: protocols that empower our young to have a voice in their own future, and to have a relationship with their incarcerated parent(s).
We demand the right to be involved with our children’s schooling, and should not be systematically excluded from being a school volunteer or field trip chaperon.
V. We Demand Community Development, Not Prison Profit
We state clearly that our pain should not be used for economic gain. Prisons have been considered as “economic development projects” for the communities where they are built, typically in rural areas far from where masses of people are arrested.
We oppose the construction of additional prisons, jails, juvenile, or immigrant detention centers, including those disguised as medical, geriatric, or mental health facilities. Privately-owned prisons should be declared illegal. Corporations have been selling shares in prisons and contracting billions of dollars from public funds, and then use a portion of these profits to lobby legislators to ensure the growth of imprisonment.
Price-gouging in prisons must end. Our families have been subjected to ransom and extortion through exorbitant fees imposed by telephone companies, or the online stores we are forced to utilize to send goods into prison and to our loved ones.
Healthy and sustainable economic development will be possible only when the billions of dollars spent on prisons are re-invested into job creation, educational opportunities, and stable housing for all, regardless of conviction histories.
VI. End Immigration Detention and Deportation
Our immigrant neighbors, friends, and family are being deported at an alarming rate in all our communities. During the last 3 years, over 1 million people have been deported, tearing apart families and disrupting our communities. “Crimmigration” is the merging of the criminal justice and immigration systems and it’s having devastating results for migrants of color.
Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is actively organizing law enforcement all over the U.S. to participate in an “ethnic cleansing” program by deporting non-citizens who have minor arrest or conviction histories. “Secure Communities” and the 287(g) program are two of the collaborations between ICE and local police and sheriffs. They require local police to verify immigration status and conviction history, and detain anyone with past convictions of any type for deportation.
Arizona, Georgia and other states have legalized racial profiling and targeting through new antiimmigrant laws. We oppose these racial profiling programs as discriminatory and cruel. Deportation should not be a “collateral consequence” in addition to the sentence imposed for a crime.
VII. End Racial Profiling Inside Prison and In Our Communities
Racism permeates every aspect of the criminal justice system, jails, and prisons. We believe all human beings are created equal, and oppose every effort to divide our community by race. We oppose the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement and the courts in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing, and prison designation.
Racial profiling is closely tied to the increasing use of “gang injunctions” and “gang databases” which target young men of color. The use of the “gang” label is one way that young Black and Brown men have been criminalized. Once labeled a “gang member” and entered into a statewide gang database, a young person is subject to increased police harassment, searches, arrests, imprisonment, and sentencing enhancements.
In prison, this label often results in false gang validations by prison administrations, harassment, pressure to turn informant, and torture if one resists.
We oppose the criminalization of our young people through “gang validation” tactics by law enforcement, whether in the courts through “gang injunctions,” in the statewide databases, or by police on the streets and in the prisons. We call for unity in our communities, inside the prison system and on the streets.
VIII. End Extortion and Slavery in Prisons
A person becomes captive to the conditions determined by the guards and administrations when sentenced to prison. One example is the criminal monopoly that runs prison telephone systems. These phone systems are the lifeline of prisoners and families, but the systems charge far more than in the community. The charges include huge profits as well as kickbacks to funds that benefit prison guards. We oppose the extortion that is built into the prison system – telephone charges and restrictions, exorbitant commissary markup rates, the monopoly system for sending prison packages.
Many prison systems now charge prisoners a co-pay for medical visits, which often prevents prisoners from accessing necessary medical care. We oppose these medical co-pays as a barrier to the health and wellbeing of our prisoners, and reject the “poverty defense” of a system that continues to force more people into custody, with no regard for their care.
The use of prison labor since 1865 is no more than an extension of slavery. Whether it is working on behalf of federal military contractors, state governments, prison farms, or private corporations, people working in prison should receive just compensation and on-the-job protections. We oppose the exploitation of the labor of people in prison.
IX. End Sexual Harassment of People in Prison
Men, women, LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people, and children inside the prison system are vulnerable to sexual exploitation by guards as well as other prisoners. We oppose the sexual harassment of prisoners by guards, including the extortion of sex, rape, or profiteering from prostitution. Pat searches of women prisoners by male guards is dehumanizing, oppressive, and exacerbates the many traumas a person has experienced prior to incarceration. Furthermore, these practices constitute sexual harassment – we oppose cross-gender pat searches.
Transgender prisoners are subject to particular exploitation, and should be assigned to prison and housing based on their own gender identification and choice.
X. Human Contact is a Human Right
Maintaining connections and contact with our families is crucial to surviving prison, and to rejoining our communities as whole people. We place great value on the ability to visit as a means of maintaining our families, friendships, and a genuine relationship with our community.
We oppose out-of-state transfers without consent or concern for maintaining family relationships. Limiting contact visits should not be used as a form of punishment – contact visiting and overnight family visiting are the most effective ways to maintain our relationships with our families and community. Human touch, kindness, and love are a human right.
Recidivism, re-entry and survival are greatly dependent on a strong positive relationship with families and communities, and we should not be banned from living with our families.
XI. End Cruel and Unusual Punishment
We oppose the adjudication of young people as adults, and the designation of young people to adult prisons.
Long-term segregation and sensory deprivation are torture. We demand an end to all indeterminate administrative segregation or SHU sentences. All prisons within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government should conform to international standards prohibiting torture. Enhanced sentencing structures (such as California’s Three Strikes law) should be abolished – they increase sentences beyond the punishment legislated for the crime.
Guards who abuse prisoners become criminals themselves. Such abuse is systemic, not isolated cases, rooted in the power imbalances and personal prejudices that are reinforced by the prison structure.
The criminal justice system wrongfully convicts extremely high numbers of people, and forces thousands into bogus plea agreements because they have inadequate legal representation. People who have been exonerated due to DNA evidence represent a mere fraction of the innocent people in prison. The average case takes years, even decades, to overturn, which shows that the criminal justice system cannot adequately review itself.
We oppose the death penalty absolutely, as the ultimate human rights violation.
XII. We Demand Proper Medical Treatment
Our government should seek to save money by stopping mass incarceration rather than failing to maintain legal and moral standards for those it has chosen to take over full custody and control. The standards of medical treatment for prisoners should not fall below levels of care available in the community, including laws on medical confidentiality, and prisoners should not be charged to access medical care.
All prisoners should have access to adequate and nutritious food, including medical and religious diets. Access to natural light, fresh air, and outdoor exercise are fundamental to health, and should be provided in every detention setting.
Prisons should provide medical treatment by licensed professionals for pre-existing as well as emerging medical issues, including degenerative diseases, chronic and communicable diseases, and gender-specific medical care. Those with specific diseases should not be subjected to discrimination, punishment, or violence.
Women prisoners should not be shackled during the course of pregnancy, and should not be shackled while giving birth.
Prisoners over 55 should be guaranteed retirement from forced labor, and considered for early release. Eligibility for medical parole and compassionate release should be expanded.
All prisoners, including transgender, should be provided necessary ongoing medications. Withholding medications should not be allowed as a disciplinary practice or pressure tactic.
XIII. End the Incarceration of Children
This nation currently incarcerates a million children, half of whom are in for-profit penal institutions. This high number of children in prison exposes the inhumanity of our system’s approach to human and community development. The damage done by imprisoning children at this stage of life, particularly for petty crimes and misdemeanors, is irreparable, and continues the direction toward intergenerational poverty and dysfunction.
Sentences of life without parole should be abolished for juveniles and minors.
XIV. Free Our Political Prisoners
Over the past fifty years, liberation struggles and resistance to repression, both in domestic and international relations, have produced a great deal of turmoil. Individuals and groups took actions, or affiliated with others, in ways that were deemed criminal in the U.S. courts of law. This nation was born out of similar opposition to the oppression of their era.
Some of our political prisoners have been incarcerated for over thirty years in response to their acts of resistance – we demand they be released. Many other prisoners have taken action inside prisons to assert their humanity and resist oppression, resulting in new “criminal” cases and prison sentences. We call for a repeal of these retaliatory sentences and for the release of these organizers. The rights to peacefully organize, free speech, and self-determination are universally recognized human rights.
Furthermore, we recognize that certain religious beliefs and spiritual practices face both discriminatory treatment and outright bans, and we re-assert the need for religious freedom within prisons. Religious faith should not be used as evidence of criminal activity, nor as grounds for additional punishment within prisons.