Among those groups are The Sentencing Project and Initiate Justice. Recently, The Sentencing Project published its State Advocacy Update highlighting some of the work being done to that end.
"Challenging life imprisonment started with persons sentenced to extreme prison terms and their loved ones," reads the update. "Raising awareness about the realities of lifelong prison terms has surfaced new activism in dismantling mass incarceration. This awareness can build on years of advocacy that aligns the lived experiences of those sentenced to life prison terms to activists on the outside."
According to the advocacy group, a Michigan chapter of National Lifers of America recently rallied at the state capitol to call for the elimination of life sentences in the state. The rally piggy-backed off the efforts of the Good Neighbor Project, which facilitates a partnership between incarcerated individuals and community partners. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania also had similar pushes by protesters to change life-long sentencing, the group noted in its report.
Initiate Justice Looks to the Constitution in Justice System Reform Efforts
Additionally, Initiate Justice, in California, uses member-led "peer advocacy" campaigns in state prisons to drive reforms. One of their chief legislative priorities is the “Free the Vote Act,” which would restore voting rights for all of the state's parolees. According to Initiate Justice, both an Assembly Constitutional Amendment and Assembly Bill would need to pass in order to put the measure on the 2020 ballot.
"Nearly 50,000 people on parole in California are working, paying taxes, and positively contributing to their communities, yet they are unable to vote at any level of government," according to a statement from the group. "This system operates as 'taxation without representation,' which is antithetical to the founding of this country."
Prison Policy Init. @PrisonPolicy
231,000 women in the U.S. are behind bars, more than any other country. Where are they locked up and why? See the most recent national data: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019women.html
According to The Sentencing Project, there were a number of other criminal justice reform updates from around the country:
- California: Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 136, "which removes a 1-year enhancement added at sentencing for each prior felony jail or prison term served."
- Colorado: Legislation was introduced phasing out "for profit prison contracts" by 2025.
- Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds created a task force to "examine reentry policies and racial bias in the criminal justice system."
- Florida: Lawmakers pre-filed SB 486, which if passed, would "allow judges to depart from the mandatory minimums in cases where the defendant did not engage in a continuing criminal enterprise, used a weapon, and the crime did not result in death or bodily injury."
- Michigan: Senate approved House bills to ‘Raise the Age’ and categorize 17-year-olds as minors, instead of automatically trying them as adults.
- New York: Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is planning to propose legislation allowing prosecutors to reduce extreme sentences for those convicted of felony offenses.