Contributed by Shara Durkee, Cynthia Jahn and Deb Kline.
Sign up NOW! Springboard Meeting on Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice Reform – Sunday, April 7, 2019
Imagine you’re on death row for a crime you never committed. That is the plight once faced by those who have been exonerated and now speak out through Witness to Innocence (WTI). WTI is the nation’s only organization dedicated to helping end the death penalty by giving voice to death row survivors.
WTI presenter, Shujaa Graham, knows the experience all too well. Graham was exonerated from San Quentin’s death row in 1979 and finally released in 1981. Graham will be joined by Patrick Hall, co-chair of the Princeton/Trenton Chapter of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (CENJC). Patrick is an advocate for an end to the mass incarceration that is decimating whole communities; the banishment of cruel punishments, particularly solitary confinement; and exposure of the ways that big business exploits prison labor.
The U.S. has the most prisoners per capita of any country in the world. With just 4.4 percent of the global population, the country houses 22 percent of the world’s prisoners, the wide majority of which are African-American. That number is only growing with the advent of harsher sentencing and the rapid expansion of for-profit prisons, which did not exist before Reagan’s “War on Drugs” in the 1980s. In 2016, the Justice Department announced that it would end private prisons, based on issues of safety and effectiveness. But, the Trump administration reversed this plan.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there are pressing issues that compel greater awareness about the experiences of people accused of crimes, before, during and after adjudication:
In Pennsylvania, if you’re poor, you’re on your own. Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that fails to provide funding for poor defendants, who comprise over 80% of those accused of crimes in the Commonwealth. For prisoners on death row, lack of an adequate defense has led to reversals of one-third of the convictions. In February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a friend-of-the court brief, asking the state Supreme Court to hold the state’s capital punishment system in violation of the Pennsylvania constitution.
In NJ, cruel, long-term solitary confinement may be outlawed. The statehouse is considering legislation to end the torturous conditions that pen some 1,500 inmates in isolated, windowless cells for years and even decades. The current aim is to limit this extremely punitive treatment to 15 days and to bar its use on young and older inmates, as well as pregnant women.
The two-hour session will include time for Q&A with the speakers, call to action takeaways, and multiple ways to get involved.
Registration for the event: indivisiblelnh.com
Location: Phillip L. Pittore Justice Center, 25 S. Union Street, Lambertville, NJ
Date/Time: Sunday, April 7, 2019 2:00 to 4:00 pm.