A Project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Over 13 million people are walking around in this country with felony convictions. Several million of us have served prison time, and it is estimated that 3 million more people will be released from prison over the next five years. Most groups in society have found ways to organize themselves so their collective voice could be heard, their political reality could be assessed and their common interest identified and pursued. We are determined to build a movement of formerly-incarcerated people to organize to fight the discrimination we face and to regain our civil and human rights.
The criminal justice system is cruelly devastating and disrupting our communities, especially communities of color. Over 2 million people in the U.S. are currently locked up in prisons and jails. Today over 2 million children have a parent behind bars, and 10 million children have had a parent in prison at some time in their lives. Society’s reliance on prisons and punishment does not make our communities safer. The warehousing of human beings, mostly people of color, is an unacceptable substitute for the social programs our communities need. Prisons are not a substitute for mental health care, and jails are not housing for the homeless. We want an end to racial profiling and the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color. We want political power and healthy communities.
African-Americans are admitted to state prisons at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than whites, a disparity driven largely by the grossly racial targeting of drug laws, and the huge disparity in sentencing for powder vs. crack cocaine possession. The existing laws point to a systematic genocidal plot against communities of poor people and people of color. Women represent the fastest growing segment of the prison and jail population. African-American women are more than three times as likely as Latino women and six times more likely than white women to face imprisonment. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Justice, August, 2001). We oppose the institutionalized racism of the prison system and are working for prisoners’ rights inside, and for alternatives to incarceration.
Formerly-incarcerated people, people with felony convictions, prisoners, and our families have human rights that are currently being abused by the criminal justice system. We believe that imprisonment or conviction on a felony charge should not result in a lifelong violation of our basic rights as human beings, either while we are in prison or as we make the transition from prison back into our communities.
The first goal of changing the criminal justice system should be to find alternatives to incarceration, working toward a society where prisons do not exist.We believe the prison-industrial complex should be dismantled. Profiteering from putting people in prison should end, including the profiteering of private prison corporations and agencies providing goods and services to prisons, like telephone companies. The purpose of the criminal justice system is punishment and social control. The public safety of our communities demands programs of healing and rehabilitation, alternatives to prison, and the guaranteed fulfillment of basic human needs. Our Demands:
Establish more community-based alternatives, particularly for mothers and children, including teenage mothers. Establish and expand pre-plea drug treatment diversion programs.
Close down the California Youth Authority. Create more diversion programs that will prevent juvenile detention. Stop adjudicating young people as adults, and remove all young people under 21 from adult jails and prisons.
Abolish the police database of “gang members,” which institutionalizes the permanent criminalization of youth. Eliminate the use of gang databases inside youth and adult prisons.
As the prison population decreases, permanently close down prisons. Do not open Delano II.
Release people who committed crimes in response to domestic violence or battering.
Release aging prisoners.
Ensure adequate financing for legal services for indigent defendants.
Prisoners have the right to be treated humanely, which includes quality health care, decent housing, nutritious food, and access to medical and religious diets. Prisoners and our families have the right to accountability by the CDC regarding its internal practices. Prisoners’ families have the right to know the status of loved ones who are in custody.
Establish an independent, transparent, and accountable Community Oversight Board that would monitor prison conditions, sexual assault and violence by guards, and general prison policies.
Humane and competent medical care and mental health care provided by licensed physicians. including special diets, pre- and post-natal care, and treatment for chronic illnesses like AIDS, Hepatitis C, diabetes, and cancer. End the provision of medical care by MTA’s. End the shackling of women giving birth while in custody.
Release people with chronic illnesses, streamline and expand the numbers of people granted compassionate release.
Abolish the death penalty.
Abolish California’s Three Strikes law.
End the media ban that prohibits the public from knowledge about CDC practices
Stop cross-gender pat searches. Remove male guards from women’s housing units.
Stop the exploitation of prisoners’ labor. Prisoners should be paid a living wage.
Prisoners have the right to continuing contact with family, friends, and community. We have the right to be housed close to our families in order to facilitate visiting. Imprisonment or a felony conviction often result in our children being stolen from us. Teenage mothers in juvenile hall are often afraid to disclose that they are parents, and may be denied visits with their children. We have the right to maintain contact with and custody of our children, including contact visits. We have the right to regular phone contact without our families being charged inflated phone rates. Our families have the right to get emergency information (such as notice of illness or a death in the family) from our families without delay.
Our children have human rights:
To be kept safe and informed at the time of their parents’ arrest.
To be heard when decisions are made about them
To be considered when decisions are made about their parents
To be supported as they struggle with their parents’ incarceration
Not to be judged, blamed, or labeled because of their parents’ incarceration
To maintain a lifelong relationship with their parent.
The state of California, counties, and cities should adopt the Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents (sponsored by the San Francisco Partnership for Incarcerated Parents).
End fast-track adoptions. Repeal the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which requires termination of parental rights after a parent has been separated from their children for 15 of any 22 consecutive months.
Implement policies promoting re-unification of families after prison. Reduce the number of foster care placements and parental rights terminations by providing alternatives to incarceration for parents.
End the requirement that parents pay child support during the time they are incarcerated.
Provide financial and health care support for family members caring for children of incarcerated parents. Support mentoring programs for these children.
Ensure that if a prisoner is seriously ill or hospitalized, or should die in prison, their family is notified in a sensitive manner and given enough time to claim the body and make funeral arrangements. Prisoners should be allowed to attend funerals for their family members.
End restrictions on family visiting. End discrimination against families headed by gay or lesbian partners.
End the profiteering of prison telephone systems that operate a monopoly over phone services for prisoners.
Prisoners have the right to a fair parole system that doesn’t discriminate against people with life sentences, a parole system with a goal of early release for prisoners ready to live lawfully in society.
Re-constitute the Board of Prison Terms based on community involvement rather than political patronage. The focus should be on helping people successfully return to their families and communities instead of on surveillance and punishment.
End technical parole violations for infractions such as address changes or missing a parole appointment. The Board of Prison Terms should end its bias against lifers and follow its own guidelines regarding parole for people with life sentences.
Implement the changes in parole policy mandated by Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger
Establish pre-release services and transition planning for prisoners prior to their release. Pre-release needs assessment surveys should be contracted out to community-based organizations or at least to an entity that prisoners can trust with the truth, without fear of further punishment.
Pass AB 505, which will limit all state parole terms to 12 months.
Restore voting rights to prisoners and people on parole.
People who have been in youth and adult prisons have a right to return to the community without facing discrimination. When our prison sentence has been completed, we should no longer face life-long punishment as a result of our felony conviction or time in prison. Significant resources should be allocated to community-based services to facilitate the reintegration of people coming out of prison back into the community. We need:
Vouchers for community-based services. $200 gate money is inadequate to start a new life.
More affordable housing for people released from prison, not limited to residential treatment facilities. Increase affordable housing available for mothers and their children, including teen mothers.
Community-based sanctions instead of prison for parole revocation.
Immediate access to identification documents.
The State of California should:
Prohibit all forms of discrimination in housing, employment, education, public benefits and services against people who have past criminal records.
Opt out of the federal welfare ban directed against people with drug felony convictions
Reverse one-strike eviction policies in public housing. Repeal local discriminatory legislation like Oakland’s nuisance eviction ordinance, which will force private landlords to evict anyone accused of a crime. Ban the box requiring disclosure of past criminal records on applications for publicly-subsidized and private housing.
End all statutory barriers to employment for people with felony convictions, including denial of professional licenses because of past criminal convictions. Ban the box requiring disclosure of past criminal records on applications for all public employment, and on employment applications of companies sub-contracting with city and county governments.
Establish a centralized and state-wide process for expunging criminal records and sealing juvenile records that is free of charge for indigent and low-income applicants. Guarantee that expunged and sealed offenses are unavailable for public disclosure. Certificates of rehabilitation and a full pardon should be granted automatically after parole is completed; these certificates should be modified so they do not disclose a person’s criminal background.
Stop the use of RAP sheets for background checks, since they disclose information that should not be considered for employment, housing, or services eligibility according to state law. RAP sheets should not be available over the Internet.
Repeal provisions of the federal Higher Education Act that deny or delay financial aid for people with drug convictions. Increase access to student loans and educational programs as part of the re-entry process.
Allow prisoners being released to exchange prison identification for state identification cards free-of-charge.
All of Us or None is a national, grassroots civil rights movement dedicated to building political power for people in communities devastated by mass imprisonment. We are all people who have been in prison, prisoners, and our families, mobilizing to get our civil and human rights back.
For more information, please contact:
All of Us or None
A project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children