Thousands of activists and bipartisan lawmakers support criminal justice reform initiative #cut50, which is fighting on behalf of female inmates
Thousands of activists nationwide on Tuesday told lawmakers it’s time to #cut50.
On its Day of Empathy, criminal justice reform organization #cut50 — co-founded in 2014 by CNN contributor Van Jones and Democratic ex-mayor of Mill Valley, Calif., Jessica Jackson Sloan — organized events and rallies in 40 states across the country to bring lawmakers and ex-inmates together. Fifteen events focused specifically on women in the prison system.
The goal: Slash the number of crimes and prisoners in America by 50%.
“We’re sending people to prison where they’re being traumatized and abused and not getting the help they need, and coming out and committing new crimes,” Sloan told Moneyish. “Seventy-four percent of people get out and they’re convicted and go back again. We’re failing 74% of the time.”
Neither the Federal Bureau of Prisons nor the American Correctional Association immediately responded to Moneyish requests for comment about these claims. But Sloan isn’t off base: Recidivism, or a relapse into criminal behavior, occurred among 74% of public order offenders and 71% of violent offenders, per 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics data.
Proud my #AB1940 passed out of #CaLeg Public Safety cmte today.#AB1940 would reduce recidivism in California prisons and jails by incentivizing parolees to complete educational goals, community service and job training beyond parole requirements. pic.twitter.com/2ss10hqlok
— Asm. Kevin McCarty (@AsmKevinMcCarty) March 6, 2018
#cut50 is, in large part, fighting for women — better healthcare, better treatment, and the end of subjecting pregnant prisoners to shackling during childbirth, to name a few objectives. After all, 219,000 women are imprisoned in the U.S., and an additional million remain under probation or parole.
Eight in ten who are in jail are also moms — and prison reform activists say that locking up mothers puts a particular strain on the entire family. “It’s no denying that a woman plays a special role in her family,” Sloan said. “All mothers care about what’s happening with their children, and want to know that they’re children are safe, want to be able to see their children.”
That’s why one mission of activists is to see the Federal Bureau of Prisons consider the geographic proximity of kids when determining where to imprison their parents.
#cut50 is largely relying on activism to achieve its goals, pushing legislators nationwide to introduce bills on criminal justice reform in 20 states by 2020. States like Arizona, California, Georgia, Kentucky and Maryland already have bills in play, among them efforts to reclassify drug possession crimes, reduce punishments for low-level offenders, ban the shackling of women in childbirth and distribute more tampons and pads.
And it’s a rare issue that unites both Democrats and Republicans: The American Conservatives Union, which puts on the annual CPAC conference, has allied itself with #cut50.
“Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, whether you are a liberal or a conservative, our core values as human beings require us to advance human dignity,” said David Safavian, deputy director of the ACU Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform. “I don’t believe … that prison should be some medieval place where you’re thrown in a dark (cellar) and not released.”
— Incorrigibles (@Incorrigibles0) March 6, 2018
Other Republican supporters include former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and political commentator S.E. Cupp. Separately, the conservative Koch brothers are investing millions into criminal rehabilitation programs in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and elsewhere.
Although criminal justice reform has garnered some bipartisan consensus, deep-rooted differences persist over how to address it. Last year, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a template for state legislators nationwide that calls for unlimited free tampons; parenting classes for new moms; outlawing the shackling or solitary confinement of pregnant women; and free inmate phone calls to friends and family. The bill hasn’t received widespread support from conservatives.
The proposed Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, however, is inspiring state lawmakers to create their own versions. Democratic Arizona Rep. Athena Salman, for instance, introduced a bill into the Arizona House of Representatives in January to give female prisoners unlimited tampons and pads.
“The Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment,” Salman told Moneyish, “and for women who have experienced menstrual cycles, whether or not you’ve been incarcerated, to be denied adequate feminine hygiene products so that you can have a safe and healthy period — it violates human dignity.”
— Jessica J. Sloan (@JessyMichele) March 6, 2018
Salman’s bill has been blocked by the Republican chair of the House Rules committee, Rep. Ted Shope, but it did trigger a statewide Twitter movement under the hashtag #LetItFlow, which indirectly pushed the Arizona Department of Corrections to raise the limit on feminine hygiene products from 12 per inmate each month up to 36, plus additional items upon request.
Shope, in a statement to Moneyish, said he pushed for the Department of Corrections to implement the change in lieu of passing Salman’s bill, because a rules change would take effect quicker than a statute revision would. He previously said he intends to continue blocking the bill, calling it “redundant.”
For her part, Sloan hoped the chance for lawmakers to hear directly from ex-inmates on the Day of Empathy would lead to improvements.
Ex-inmates “can’t get jobs, they can’t get housing… We have an entire tent city up in northern California of people who have been released and can’t find housing,” she said. “Nothing is as powerful as hearing from the mouths of these women who have experienced this themselves.”
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