This is the 3rd in a series of 5 posts discussing mass incarceration.
Thanks to the complex, multi-faceted nature of mass incarceration, there are many different ways that different groups can be involved with engaging with and working on the issue. This blog post will cover 5 examples of organizations that are engaging the issue in some form. Some of the work that these groups do is similar, and some is different, but none of them cover every piece of mass incarceration.
Community Renewal Society
Community Renewal Society (CRS) is an organization based in Chicago, IL. Founded in 1882, CRS works for social and economic justice, as well as working to make sure that racism does not limit a person’s participation in society. I had the privilege of speaking with the Executive Director of CRS, Rev. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, who told me that CRS’s work with mass incarceration is currently being manifested in large part through working for reform in Chicago and Cook County, IL. Some of this work is being done in conjunction with the Reclaim Campaign, which is working to reduce the jail population and to free funds for restorative justice programs.[i]
CRS also partners with several dozen churches from different denominations on different issues. In fact, much of the work done by CRS is determined and drawn from these congregations. Rev. DeYoung said that CRS has seen more engagement of mass incarceration issues by more churches in and around Chicago as the issue has grown larger in public consciousness in the city.[ii]
This is just a brief overview of the work being done by CRS. To learn more about the Community Renewal Society, and to see the other work they are doing with mass incarceration and other justice issues, visit their website at www.communityrenewalsociety.org.
Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is an organization based in Montgomery, AL. Founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson, this nonprofit organization provides legal representation to “indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.”[iii] The four main issues covered by EJI are children in adult prisons, death penalty cases, prisons and sentencing reform, and race and poverty.[iv] EJI represents people nationwide, and has won several Supreme Court cases related to death penalty cases and to keeping children out of adult prisons and from receiving life sentences. More information about EJI can be found at their website, www.eji.org, and in one of the resources that will be presented in tomorrow’s post.
The aptly named Denver Works is a nonprofit organization based in Denver, CO. The mission of Denver Works is to empower people through employment. One of the groups helped by Denver Works is people with criminal records coming out of prison. Marcus Weaver, a social worker and outreach manager for Denver Works, said that this is important because a felony conviction has a major limiting effect on people coming out of the prison system. People often come out of prison having done manual labor jobs for well below minimum wage (sometimes to the tune of 50 cents an hour) and re-enter the job market without job training or experience. The felony conviction is also often a reason that employers will not hire a person, an issue that is cited as a legal form of discrimination.[v]
Denver Works provides job training programs, mentoring relationships, and assistance with finding jobs for people over the age of 17 with different barriers to employment. Services are provided for free to clients.[vi] More information about Denver Works can be found at their website, www.denverworks.org.
The Sentencing Project
The Sentencing Project was founded in 1986 with the goal of both providing training defense lawyers in advocacy for sentencing change and working to reduce the reliance on incarceration. Their work has expanded to include advocating for sentencing policy reforms, combating racial disparities, advocating for alternatives to incarceration, and overall working to change the way Americans think about and view crime and punishment.[vii]
The website for The Sentencing Project (www.sentencingproject.org) is an online resource that provides a large amount of information about mass incarceration in one space. News articles can be found, issues within mass incarceration (from race to juveniles to women to drug and sentencing policy) can be explored, and a search through an online database can provide more books and articles that discuss mass incarceration. I have personally found much of this information to be helpful in learning about mass incarceration.
A question that came up throughout the research for this series was how someone without connections to work on mass incarceration could find a group to partner with near where they live. The Sentencing Project may be helpful on this front. On their website is a contact page with a list of contacts in all 50 states. I have found that people working with mass incarceration are often connected to other groups, so people should be able to find a person or group to work with if they so desire.
Prison Policy Initiative
The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) is an organization that does work similar to the work done by the Sentencing Project. The main focus of PPI is on research, with some work being done on advocacy and organizing.[viii] PPI also offers access to different publications and news article about mass incarceration. A large database of different graphics provides succinct presentations of the research done by PPI, information that covers state and national data on many different topics and issues. The information and research provided by PPI does seem to be their primary source of interaction with the general public, with “volunteer” opportunities seemingly limited to students or professionals in law fields.
For more information about the Prison Policy Initiative, visit their website at www.prisonpolicy.org.
[i] Personal Interview with Rev. Curtiss Paul DeYoung, April 23, 2015.
[v] Personal Interview with Marcus Weaver, May 13, 2015.