Thursday, June 26, 2014

Free Her Rally--Orange is the New Black!

‘Free Her Rally’ Draws Determined Crowd to National Mall
Group protests racially disparate sentencing

By Glynn A. Hill

(—Gray clouds and occasional drizzle didn’t stop several hundred people from gathering on the National Mall Saturday to protest and demand an end to the alarming incarceration rate of women – disparately African-American.

Some came from as far as New Haven, Conn. for the rally, which featured speakers, singers, and a spoken word performance aimed at continuing to raise awareness of criminal justice disparities.

“Our focus is on the women and bringing them home,” said Andrea James, executive director of Families for Justice as Healing, a Boston, Mass.-based criminal justice reform group. She was also the organizer of the Free Her Rally. “It’s important to help the rest of the country understand how very wrong this slippery slope we’ve gone down is in terms of incarcerating women, particularly those who are African-American; and the impact it’s had on our children and our communities,” she said.
There are currently more than 200,000 women in prison or jail in the United States. That figure represents an increase of over 800 percent in the past three decades according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
Of those women in state prisons, more than half have been sentenced for drug or property crimes, which are non-violent offenses. In 2005, just 35 percent of women in prison were convicted of violent offenses, according to the BJS.
The rate of incarceration for African-American women has declined over the last 15 years, dropping 30.7 percent between 2000 and 2009. Yet, they are still imprisoned at nearly three times the rate of White women and have a higher incarceration rate than Hispanic women, according to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, pressing for reform.
Most of the speakers had friends and relatives who had been incarcerated or were imprisoned at some point themselves. They spoke about their personal experiences with a criminal justice system that they feel punishes communities just as much as individuals. For them, when mothers go behind bars, there are wide-ranging repercussions that intimately affect those around them.
“It’s destroying our communities,” said Patricia Allard, an attorney from New York who spoke at the rally.
“When you take a mother away from her child for a non-violent offense, you are essentially sentencing the child as well,” she said. “People talk about harm reduction around drug use. Instead I’d like to talk about reducing the harm that the prison industrial complex does to families.”
In 2007, approximately 65,600 women in federal and state custody reported being the mothers of 147,400 minor children, according to a BJS special report. It said that 77 percent of incarcerated mothers reported providing most of the daily care for their children before incarceration. Eleven percent of incarcerated mothers reported that their children were being placed in foster care, compared to only two percent of fathers.
For advocates, this is also an issue of human rights.
“These are women who couldn’t even attend their own child’s funeral,” said Dorothy Johnson Speight, the founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge, which works toward violence prevention, education and intervention for youth, young adults, families and community organizations.
Speight says events like the Free Her Rally are important for raising awareness to ultimately bring about change.

If the change in lifestyle isn’t evident when incarcerated women are sentenced, it becomes clear after they are released.

Women face significant obstacles in effectively reentering society and providing for themselves and their children as they find themselves restricted from governmental assistance programs. Some states even impose bans on people with certain convictions working in certain industries such as nursing, child care, and home health care.

In light of this, there has been some progress on incarceration disparities.
The 2010 Fair Sentencing Act narrowed the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses. In 2013, President Obama granted clemency to 21 individuals (eight commutations and thirteen pardons).
Despite those successes, advocates are looking for more. They say that the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help, but more must be done to heal the cultural scars that harsh or unfair sentences have done to communities.

James is the final speaker. When she is done talking, the crowd bursts out with chants of “Free Her! Free Her!”

James says this is only the beginning and that the next step is building off of their momentum.
“We’re working hard to get commutation for the women we support,” she said. “We’ve been around the country twice with the Free Her Rally, coming together and coalition-building. We want to push the legislation from state to state to make change, and ultimately bring the women in the federal system home too.”

Press Release

Contact: Don Rojas, Tel: 410-8441031; email:

Institute of the Black World, Black Family Summit Organizations Strongly Support “Free Her” Rally
DC Protest Will Highlight Rising Incarceration of Women

Washington DC, June 12, 2014—Thousands of concerned citizens and dozens of national organizations from across the country will converge on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 21st to demand an end to the mass incarceration of women. The FREE HER Rally will assemble at the Sylvan Theater on the National Mall, Independence Avenue & 15th, from 10:00 am-2:00 pm.
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), a leading research, policy and advocacy organization, along with its sister grouping, The Black Family Summit and their 24 national organizational affiliates (list of affiliates below) are strongly supporting the “Free Her” rally.
“This protest in the nation’s capital will serve to shine a light on the alarming growth rates in the incarceration of women of color, most for minor offenses related to the so-called War on Drugs,” said Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the Institute. “This mass incarceration of our sisters and mothers is tearing apart the fabric of family life in black and brown communities across the country. We call on the Obama Administration to immediately intervene and put an end to this horrible situation.”
The objectives of the rally are:
1. To raise awareness of the alarming increase in the rate of incarceration of women in the United States and its impact on our children and communities.
2. To demand an end to voter disenfranchisement for people with felony convictions and to encourage the passing of the Smarter Sentencing Act.
3. To ask President Obama to commute the sentences of women and men in the federal system who have applied for commutations.
“On April 23, 2014, the Justice Department announced President Obama’s intention to commute the sentences of eligible people serving federal non-violent sentences,” says Andrea James, founder and director of Families for Justice as Healing, the principal organizer of the rally. “Now is more important than ever to stand together and join our voices as one to encourage the President to commute the sentences of women serving non-violent sentences. Allow them to return to their children and communities.”
Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased by 646% overall, with a disproportionate impact on women of color. Black women are incarcerated at nearly 3 times the rate of white women, and Hispanic women are incarcerated at 1.6 times the rate of white women. Most incarcerated women are imprisoned for non-violent drug and property crimes, with many women charged and convicted of conspiracy and other related counts, even though they had minimal or no involvement in the offenses that led to their arrests.
Incarcerated women have unique health and safety issues, which prisons are often unprepared to address appropriately, according to Families for Justice as Healing. Women swept into the prison system disproportionately suffer from abuse and sexual violence. They are particularly vulnerable to being re-traumatized by strip searches, solitary confinement, and staff sexual misconduct. Prisons and jails also often fail to handle reproductive needs appropriately, providing inadequate prenatal and abortion care. Pregnant women are often subjected to dangerous, demeaning, and unnecessary shackling during labor and delivery.
Locally hosted by the D.C. Office of Returning Citizen Affairs, the rally will include organizations, speakers, and individual participants from around the country. In addition to the Black Family Summit organizations, other participating groups include Alpha Kappa Alpha, ACLU of Washington, D.C., Boston Feminists for Liberation, Free Marissa Alexander Movement, the Fully Informed Jury Association, , Mommie Activist, Mothers in Charge, Pittsburgh Northside Residents Coalition, and Women Who Never Give Up.
After the June rally, the FREE HER campaign will continue, with participants calling, emailing and sending postcards to encourage the President and the attorney general to do the right thing and to raise awareness among everyday people of the need to end the war on drugs and the mass incarceration of women.
About Families for Justice as Healing:
Families for Justice as Healing is a criminal justice reform, legislative advocacy organization. At Families for Justice as Healing, we organize formerly incarcerated women to join the movement toward creating community wellness alternatives to incarceration, to heal and rebuild families and communities.  Our membership advocates a shift away from expansion of the prison system and toward creation of community wellness alternatives to incarceration. We seek public health alternatives to current U.S. drug policies and legislation that focus on
criminalization, the war on drugs and mass incarceration.
About IBW:
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century is a leading research, policy and public advocacy organization committed to building the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. to work for social, political, economic and cultural upliftment, the development of the global Black community and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people. IBW focuses much of its work on ending the War on Drugs, reforming drug policies and advocating for reforms in racially-biased criminal justice policies.
Black Family Summit Member Organizations:
National Association of Black Social Workers, Inc.
National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
National Association of Black Psychologists
Black Psychiatrists of America
National Dental Association
National Medical Association
National Black United Front
National Black Law Enforcement of America
International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters
International Black Women’s Congress
National Baptist Convention USA Disaster Preparedness Project
All Healers Mental Health Alliance
The Royal Circle Foundation
Center for Nu Leadership on Urban Solutions
National Black Leadership Commission on Aids DC/Vicinity
National Conference of Black Lawyers
National Voting Rights Museum
Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
Nigerian Association of Social Workers
Fathers Incorporated
Mothers for Peace
Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association
Blacks in Law Enforcement of America.
Families For Justice As Healing

No comments:

Post a Comment