New jails are popping up coast to coast. These activists share how to fight back.

Endless expansion of the system of mass incarceration is one of the few guarantees of American politics. Across the country, communities are embroiled in fights to halt the growth of new jails. In a special episode of Rattling the Bars, the Prison Policy Institute convenes activists fighting jail expansion from coast to coast to discuss strategies and methods to fight back.

The resources below were curated and shared by the Prison Policy Initiative and webinar panelists from Building Justice in Berks, Families for Justice as Healing, and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. We hope they will be useful in your follow-up work fighting jail expansion projects in your communities.

Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Mansa Musa:

Welcome to this edition of Rattling the Bars, I’m Mansa Musa, co-host for Eddie Conway. And as I always do, I try to update everyone on Eddie Conway’s progress and Eddie Conway’s condition. We ask that you keep Eddie Conway in your prayers, whatever spiritual medium you identify with, as he go forward in his recovery and getting his health back. Today we have a remarkable program. The Prison Policy Initiative is a organization that’s in the forefront of raising people’s consciousness about all aspects of the criminal injustice system, the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration, the new form of slavery.

Through the Prison Policy Initiative’s research, people are made aware of how these blood sucking institutions are exploiting and oppressing people, but more importantly, how people can organize and advocate to change this exploitation and oppression. The webinar, Fighting Jail Expansion, is such an example. Naila Awan, Director of Advocacy for Prison Policy Initiative, hosted a webinar with five remarkable women who offer strategies and taxes on how they effectively organize to stop the expansion of a jails and prison within their community.

The webinar is a textbook example of advocacy and organizing and can be used to raise people’s conscience on how to be effective in doing both. The Prison Policy Initiative has always did outstanding research, and it’s through their research that this particular webinar has come into existence. The Real News and Rattling the Bars is thankful to the Prison Policy Initiative for allowing us to be able to share this webinar with our audience. We hope that in doing so, it will spark a purifier of consciousness and cause people to become more focused on organizing and advocating against injustice everywhere.

As one of the women said, there’s nothing more powerful than the power of the people, and this reminds me of when the Black Panther Party first came into existence, one of the slogans that we had was, all power to the people. So we say, all power to the people, and thank the Prison Policy Initiative for giving us this opportunity to share this remarkable webinar with our listeners and viewers. In closing, we ask that you continue to support Rattling the Bars and the Real News. It’s because of your support that we’re able to bring this type of information to you. Thank you very much and enjoy.

Naila Awan:

Across the country, counties are proposing to build new, larger jails. Community groups, organizers and activists have successfully pushed back on a number of these proposals. However, they often see the proposals being reinitiated year after year, causing them to focus resources on defensive fights, and having less time to push and explore progressive reforms aimed at reducing the number of people incarcerated. Today we’re going to talk to organizers who’ve successfully pushed back on proposals to build bigger jails and explore an alternative strategy aimed up pausing the year in and year out fights to prevent counties from moving ahead on jail expansion. We’re also hoping to have time to discuss how records request, technical challenges and interventions in jail assessment processes and analysis of such assessments can help in these fights.

I’m just going to double look at the poll results now and share the results with you all. So it looks like a number of folks here are here because of a general interest in the topic, but also a good proportion of you are in counties where a new jail is being proposed or where you’ve actively been involved, or are engaging in a fight to stop a jail from being expanded or constructed.

As we head into our discussion today, I just wanted to do a quick introduction. My name is Naila Awan, and I’m the Director of Advocacy at Prison Policy Initiative. Today I’m excited to have Mallory Hanora, Executive Director of Families for Justices as Healing in Massachusetts, and a proud member of the National Council. And Sashi James, Director of Reimagining Communities at the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. Mallory and Sashi’s organizations are both leading an important legislative effort in Massachusetts to establish a five-year moratorium on jail and prison construction or expansion.

And Crystal Kowalski, founding member of Building Justice in Berks, which is located in Pennsylvania. Building Justice in Berks has been actively and successfully pushing back on the county’s proposal to build a larger jail and aims to monitor the planning and building of the new Berks County Jail. You’ll also likely hear from two additional Prison Policy Initiative staff members, Wendy Sawyer, our Research Director who might be providing some additional information during this discussion, and Emily Widra, our Senior Research Analyst who will be reviewing your questions as they come in and fielding them at the end of today’s webinar.

Now Crystal, I’d like to start with you. Your Pennsylvania County was trying to build a bigger jail based on community action, focused on reducing the jail population. And pushing back against the need for a larger facility, you’ve all gotten the county to change its plans. Can you tell us how you first learned about your county’s plan to build a bigger jail, how your coalition came together, and maybe most importantly, how your group managed to get a seat at the table during the jail assessment phase, when we frequently see that only criminal legal system actors like sheriffs, prosecutors, judges, and jail administrators are being consulted?

Crystal Kowalski:

Thank you, Naila. First, I want to thank you, Naila, for holding this webinar, Prison Policy Initiative, and for having me be a panelist and for also your incredible data and reports. We have used those and they have been really helpful. I want to thank everybody who’s attending the webinar, and it is really an honor to be on this panel with Mallory and Sashi. I’ll start with how we knew we were building a new jail, and that was by attending county commissioner’s board meetings.

I initially went, because I guess I saw in the newspaper, the county was thinking about privatizing the jail. And so I went to a commissioner’s meeting, and then I just stayed attending those meetings. And by attending on a weekly basis and studying agendas and paying really close attention to budget proposals that happened, like presentations happened in November, you can see what’s coming down the pike, and what we saw was that they would be building a new jail and contracting with CGL.

Our core group of Building Justice in Berks, came together also through county commissioner’s meetings. The core group of us knew each other from a previous battle to keep our county owned nursing home in county hands. This was a long and pretty involved fight. It went on for about a year and a half. So during that time we built relationships with each other, and we figured out how the county works, how they make decisions and how we could impact those decisions. So that was a group that had done something previously together, we were the core group. Our first action was to send a private letter to the stakeholders, the prison board, which is the commissioners, the DA, other stakeholders saying, we understand that you’re going to contract with CGL. We are asking you to also get information from agencies that do criminal justice reform and have current data. So we recommended Prison Policy Initiative and we recommended the Vera Institute.

We had this letter signed by community leaders. So we basically tried to gather the most powerful, impactful people we could that looked like broad-based community support, not just activists. So this letter went out to them, that was the initial action. We had a couple responses. Then the core group got together and we expanded by holding a criminal justice film series, and we also, in that, reached out to a bunch of community groups to partner with us. And by holding this series, the audience that gathered was really diverse and amazing, and we invited all the stakeholders in the county to attend, and to our surprise, they did. We had commissioners come, we had people from Saint Berks come. It was a series of four films, so they were week after week. Once we started getting some people coming, I think there was a feeling of expectation maybe that they should attend.

So they did, and that really helped us to connect. CGL also sent representatives to this film series. We got press coverage and that also helped us broaden our reach. Originally, Naila, we were talking about what the greatest challenges were that we faced, and I think that’s an important thing to bring up. I think, staying ahead of upcoming action items and decision points and getting press releases out prior to decisions being made by the county, so the way that, that’s done, is by covering every single meeting if you can. And that was operations meetings, jail board meetings, commissioners meetings, steering committee for the jail project meetings. An example of why this is important was, I was at a prison board meeting, and at the end of the meeting they were saying, “Oh, something about this meeting on Thursday at 11:15.” And I thought, wait, there’s not meetings on Thursday at 11:15, they’re at 10 and one.

So I contacted the county, I said, “Oh, I heard this in this meeting. What is this meeting?” And they said, “Oh, it’s the visioning session with CGL.” And I said, “Oh.” And they said, “Well, you can come if you want.” And so, that day before, three of us in the core group changed around our schedules, got to that visioning session the next day, and it was a really important meeting to be at. We would not have been notified or known about it had we not been at that other meeting.

All right, now to the, being able to speak with CGL, the people who did the assessment. I thought about this, and I think it happened for a number of reasons. I would say, I’m going to enumerate them. One, our history here in Berks County. Berks County had a bad history in criminal justice.

Berks County had a woman die in our jail in June of 2014, she was in there, serving a 48-hour sentence on an inability to pay truancy fines, $2,000 in truancy fines. The woman who was in the jail cell with her, was in there on parking tickets. She notified them that she was having problems. She died of a heart attack, because she didn’t get medical service, and that got national attention. Losing my place. Sorry. Okay. So that got national attention and it also woken local activists. That’s how I got involved in all of this. I was reading that article and I’m like, everything about it was shocking, literally everything. So that was number one that happened. Then we held other records.

We had the highest constable pay, we had the highest amount of non-traffic cases in one MDJ’s office. We had the highest amounts of incarceration on failure to post collateral. And this is in Pennsylvania, so in all the counties in Pennsylvania, we were twice as high as the second place county, which was York, on incarcerating people for failure to post collateral, that’s bail on very low level summary offenses. On all these things, we had fantastic press coverage and really in depth investigative reporting, and at that time the newspaper was giving a lot of room to this reporting. It connected us together, it connected us with the ACLU, which really helped. Number two, we have at least one commissioner who I believe has a true interest in criminal justice reform, and he happens to be the head commissioner and a Republican. This helps us a lot that he has these feelings.

Number three, the Board of Commissioners saw how we fought to keep Berks Heim, that was the nursing home, in public hands, and they knew we had the drive and the connections to collect the data and to make it public. So from the beginning they emphasized how transparent this jail building project was going to be, and we tried to hold them to it. We attended every meeting, we commented, we placed right-to-know requests, we held a very public film series with broad-based community partners and invited all the stakeholders.

Number four, So CGL also attended our film series, which helped connect us with CGL. On the model of CGL and how they were going about business, we conducted our own stakeholder meetings. We had meetings with the MDJs, Pretrial Services, Parole and Probation, some of the commissioner’s community leaders, the warden and the deputy warden.

And on a regular basis, if we had a question, we just emailed CGL directly, and they would get back to us and they would answer our question. We submitted daily right-to-know requests for the daily jail admission logs. This gave us information about jail population and level of offense. And I mean, the people who were in jail on a introductory level, but it also let, I think the county know and CGL know that we knew all this.

And then last one, number six, we were a constant presence for years, and we always approached every comment using the subject, we, presuming that these decisions will be made with input from the community. This past November, the commissioners announced that they were taking the next year to reduce the jail population to below 700 people, and we plan to help them surpass their goal. I’m open to any questions and talking after this, I know that was a barrage of information. Thank you, Naila.

Naila Awan:

Thanks, Crystal. And Mallory and Sashi, as mentioned at the outset, jail expansion efforts frequently like revive year-after-year in counties, but you all are trying to flip the script in this bite against jail expansion and construction by leading an effort to get the Massachusetts legislature to pass a Jail and Prison Moratorium Bill. Can you describe what that looks like, why you chose this strategy, and the obstacles you’ve faced in advancing that legislation?

Sashi James:

I’ll start. So my name is Sashi, and I’m with Families for Justice As Healing in the National Council. And we started, we wrote the [inaudible 00:17:05] bill following the leadership of formerly incarcerated women. Our organization is a abolitionist organization that’s founded by formerly incarcerated women, so it was founded inside of a prison and we do believe that they have the vision and that we follow their leadership. And so, formerly incarcerated women directly impacted women to wrote a Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill, because one, we tried many angles, which was, write letters to the Board of Directors, two of HDR who actually has the contract in Massachusetts for the women’s prison, but we tried to have conversations with architects. Some were successful, which thank you to the architects that actually pulled out and chose not to move forward with this project.

But some architects, one primarily being HDR, decided not to pull out of this project and also decided to blatantly ignore formerly incarcerated women, directly impacted women and our allies from across Massachusetts and even broader from across the country, because they’re the second largest architectural firm in the country that’s just building prisons and jails everywhere.

And so, we wrote a Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill, because our first attempts were just being ignored. And the Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill is a five-year pause on all construction prisons and jails for five years, which first, we believe that this could be a beautiful model across the country, because one, it’s exhausting to keep fighting prisons and jail construction. We don’t have the capacity as the people. We’re trying to heal people. We’re trying to create what- I’m going to scale back. We’re not trying to create what different looks like, we are creating what different looks like, and that takes a lot of our time and energy and everything in itself. So to continue to fight prisons and jail construction, when we know that if they build a bed, they’re going to fill the bed. It’s exhausting.

And so, the Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill gives communities like mine, which I live in Roxbury, which is primarily a Black and Brown community, it just happens to sit in the most incarcerated court of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. And so, we know that this new prison and jail is only going to impact communities like mine, and it’s just going to cause further harm. And so, five years looks like we’ll be able to just have a breathing period of, look at all the beautiful things that we are creating that $50 million can actually go towards, versus why would we be spending $50 million on a new woman’s prison? And in addition to saying, we want a five-year moratorium, we’re also saying that, because in Massachusetts it’s a plan to spend $200 million on new women’s prisons over the next 10 years. It might even be 500.

I’ve been saying so many millions of dollars that’s not getting funded to us, but to DOC and all these architects to build prisons and jails. So I apologize if that number isn’t completely accurate, but we’re also challenging and saying, the amount of money what you’re planning to spend on prisons and jails over the next five years, you need to give that directly to the communities that are mostly impacted, that would have been impacted once we get this prison and jail infrastructure moratorium in place. The beautiful process of it all is that we know, as movement people, there’s no power greater than the power of the people, and the power of the people in Massachusetts has spoken. We did a 90-mile walk across Massachusetts, which was just a raising awareness walk, where we talked to people that were not impacted by incarceration and actually had yard signs in their community that said, Back the Blue.

And it was so funny, because in our community is the total opposite. You know what I mean? Here’s a community where you see grass, trees and happiness. And then you go into our community where it’s just a gloom, and you can see we’re like, “Keep the police out.” And then they’re like, “No, we want the police.” And well, obviously we can see where resources are lacking, and why shouldn’t we be creating what different looks like? But out of the 90-mile walk, we were able to shift the conversation from, yes, to building new prisons or even Backing the Blue, to saying, you know what? We need to be giving communities what they need, and a jail and prison is only going to cause more harm. And it’s also setting us back generations and decades and just beyond, because when you talk about building a new prison, you are not talking about my generation, although my generation is impacted, but you’re also talking about my daughter, my daughter’s daughter, my daughter’s daughter’s daughter.

Because that building is not going to just get destroyed out of nowhere. And so, that’s where we’re headed, and we have a beautiful infrastructure which we call Reimagining Communities. And so, I love the fact that when we talk about creating what different looks like, everybody’s like, “Oh, well, why should we have a Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill? Because why don’t you want to build a new prison and jail, and what should we be doing instead?” And the answer is that we should be investing in communities. If you see a problem, invest in it. Figure out how we can respond to the harm, and create healing. So that way we know that if you create a healthy, thriving person, then they can go off and create healthy, thriving communities, and that should be our only focus. I’m going to kick it to Mall, in case you would like to add something.

Mallory Hanora:

Sure. I think I can, I don’t know if we’re out of time, I can definitely answer the next question.

Naila Awan:

I was going to say, if you want to take a few minutes, please go ahead and take a minute.

Mallory Hanora:

Okay, awesome. I mean, Sasha, you said it beautifully. I think the only thing I would add is, we have the dubious distinction of MCI-Framingham being the only, I mean to say, the oldest operating women’s prison in the United States of America. So what we are saying in our organizing is, MCI-Framingham, close it forever and never rebuild or replace it. And so, when we talk about conditions of confinement, we’re led by women who have lived in some of the oldest, most decrepit, most disgusting prisons in the United States. They survived that. And they know that any building anywhere is going to become that same level of devolved and disgusting.

And the harm that happens is both physical in the environment, as well as cultural. Everything that women go through when they’re separated from their children, all of the sexual violence, all of the abuse that our incarcerated community experiences. So for us, as Sashi mentioned, it’s really talking about what else is possible, what different looks like. So the Prison and Jail Construction Moratorium does leave room to make needed essential repairs for the quality of incarcerated people’s lives. What it prevents is massive construction projects for the purposes of doing exactly what Sashi said, which is extending the capability of that building to incarcerate people for 150 more years. And Massachusetts and your states probably have unique histories as well. We have a record of county leaders meeting in the 1870s, talking about what they should do for incarcerating women, because it’s not safe to incarcerate women with men.

And the best thing that they could come up with, was building MCI-Framingham the women’s prison. So part of our organizing has been 150 years later. Shame on you if the best thing you can think of is another version of MCI-Framingham. We refuse to accept that, we won’t go along with that. But what we’re absolutely not saying is let women sit in there. So all of our organizing on the ground, our participatory defense work, our campaign work to free the mothers, free individual women, we’re doing everything possible and exploring every single pathway to release and talking with people about how that’s possible as we’re organizing for this pause. And just to emphasize, that’s what that five years is for, to focus on doing that work, instead of digging holes in the ground where we’re going to bury women for another four generations.

Sashi James:

Naila, if you don’t mind, I just wanted to just add one more thing. I’m really sorry, this question gets us going. But I also wanted to put it out there that we’ve done a listening tour. That was a two and a half year listening tour where we asked women across the country, women and girls, what people needed, and what caused them to end up on a prison bunk? How could we have supported? Even a question of, what made you happy so that way you would never end up in a prison bunk, which is something that even as a young black girl in the community, I have never been really asked. Except for my mom, who’s Andrea James, she’s always like, but she’s a little bit different. But what makes you happy? And so, we the research to show what our people need, so that way we’re not spending $167,000 in Massachusetts on incarcerating a woman.

And the most important thing that I always lead with, is that when we did our listening tour in Massachusetts, one of the things that came out of the listening tour, which as a mother, it hits me so hard, is that the number one reason why women ended up incarcerated in Massachusetts, is because of lack of access to affordable housing. And so, I like to always emphasize that 82% of those women are mothers. And so, when you say that a mother doesn’t have access to affordable housing, we’re also talking about children. And then we’re also thinking about the most vulnerable thing you would do as a mother to be able to ensure that your child has access to housing or food or just basic needs that most communities have, that hours does not.

And so, when you talk about spending $167,000 a year to keep a woman incarcerated, and then you think, for me, I pay about maybe $28,000 a year for housing, the numbers are not adding up. And that’s literally four or five women that we could provide housing for if we actually focused on what the people needed, versus not keep allowing a business to keep oppressing a certain group of people. I just wanted to uplift that.

Naila Awan:

No, I really appreciate that, because I think it really points to how we need to be looking at different strategies that will in fact reduce the number of people coming into contact with the criminal legal system in the first place, and reducing the number of people who ever experience incarceration. I want to take us a little bit to talk about some other strategies next. So besides public awareness campaigns and legislative strategies, I’m interested in hearing about other kinds of tactics you’ve all tried to pause, delay, obstruct jail construction and expansion. And Mallory and Sashi specifically, I’d be interested in hearing about the technical challenge you all brought using the Massachusetts RFP process. Maybe explain what an RFP is. And then Crystal, if you could discuss how you all have used public records in Berks County, I think that, that would be helpful for folks.

Mallory Hanora:

Sure. We’re organizing to stop the new women’s prison by any means yet necessary, so we’re using all the tools in the toolbox. And we found out that they were going to build the new women’s prison, because overnight in a move of crisis and chaos that was incredibly harmful to women’s lives, they shipped out about 200 women from the state prison. These are county sentence women and women being held before their trial, they had been at the state prison. They moved those women to South Bay, which is a county jail. We immediately raised the red flag about that and said, why is this happening? Women weren’t notified, their families weren’t notified, the community was not engaged at all. What else is possible besides trapping women in yet another jail, a jail that’s locked down for even longer, and also terrible conditions. And through that, that’s how it got exposed that just months later, an RFP came out, a Request for Proposal.

It’s the bidding process for companies to win the contract to do the first phase of the work. So I think that’s another thing that I would say is, anytime you can intervene, even if it’s already in process, you should do it. And if there’s shovels in the ground, get your people together for some civil disobedience. But in any case, in every phase of the process, there’s hopefully an intervention that you can find. The first phase in Massachusetts is a study and design phase. It’s still incredibly expensive, $550,000. And like Sashi mentioned, what grassroots groups can do on the ground without money, is far different than what these multi-billion dollar, sometimes global companies can do just business as usual. So we’re talking about HDR that was awarded this contract, built 270 jails and prisons in the United States, absolutely directly affected. People are trying to hold them accountable for profiting off our people’s suffering and bondage.

And so, that’s ongoing. But in any case, in Massachusetts, and I’m sure where you are, there’s some laws and statutes that govern how you have to advertise these projects. And they very often don’t follow them, because this is a old boys network where they’re trying to give whoever they want to give the money to, where they’re trying to do it as quickly and as expeditiously as possible and cut out the public from any feedback. So we did some research on what the state statutes are, and in fact, there’s this old part of it where you have to list the request for proposals, you have to publish that the job was announced in multiple newspapers. And so, we have a crew of allies and supporters to help us do this type of research. We did the legal research, we had folks look in all the newspapers when it was supposed to be published.

They didn’t follow the law. And so, the way that you file a complaint about that in Massachusetts, is with the attorney general’s office. We had no idea. We know that the attorney general’s a top cop, we know she does some consumer stuff. We’re like, “Okay, whatever.” But as it turns out, there’s something called a bid unit office that is responsible for oversight for how these contracts are distributed and awarded. And it’s actually super important, and some of you might already be engaged in this work, because it’s also a massive racial justice issue. So in Massachusetts, the overwhelming majority of all state contracts go to white-owned companies. So there’s tons of issues in this area, no matter which way you look at it. And so anyways, part of the reason why we want to pass the Jail and Prison Construction Moratorium is because this takes months of energy and effort to figure out how this works.

So formerly incarcerated women, women with incarcerated loved ones, community members, are sitting at a table in our office with our computers open, literally teaching ourselves how the process works in local government to get from, here’s their vision, their plan. And by the way, you should read it anyways, because reading the state’s language about what they want to do with our people, really grounds you in why we have to be on point about our resistance every step of the way. They’re trying to build this as a trauma informed prison. All these disgusting words that we know is just synonyms for suffering and harm. It’s just business as usual in a different building. So in any case, we learned a lot about what they were planning to do and we had to teach ourselves the process.

But what we were able to do, we were right. It was as plain as day that they did not follow the law. And so, interestingly enough, what they did in order to not have the ruling that, and again, I’m sorry, I should say that in Massachusetts, the agency that governs, that manages these projects, basically has a project manager role. It’s called the Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance. So you and your team can figure out which of your state or local agencies actually does the day-to-day work of pushing these contracts. It’s likely not your Department of Correction or your Sheriff’s Department. There’s another agency that’s managing the land and managing the water issues, et cetera, all points of where you can push. But they very clearly didn’t follow the law. And so, in order to not get a ruling from the attorney general’s office that they were out of compliance, they actually withdrew the bid.

And that bought us months and months and months more time. Then we challenged them again, because they knew that we were now looking, they knew we were mobilizing, they knew we were making noise, and they tried to bury this project inside of another contract called a House Doctor contract, which is basically an architect on retainer. I don’t need to go on all those details, but they tried a shady way to hide it from public scrutiny within an existing contract, so there wasn’t a public bid process. That actually got leaked by a staff person of DCAMP.

And so, we filed yet another administrative challenge, and there’s no arguing that they were clearly wrong about this as well. And so again, we were prepared for a hearing at the attorney general’s office. We had submitted pages and pages of documents. The 11th hour or the night before the hearing, they yet again withdrew the proposal, which again bought us months and months more time, and they had to refile it a third time. And so every time, that meant that we got to show up to more hearings, we got to talk to more leaders, we got to build more power, and we got to delay the process so that we could keep organizing. And Sashi, do you want to add anything?

Sashi James:

No, I know we are at time, but the most beautiful process is that we also got to learn more and more. That’s why we can give all our knowledge to the people in the movement, so that way everybody else doesn’t have to go through this draining process.

Crystal Kowalski:

That was amazing. I was so involved with what Mallory and Sashi was saying that I forgot the question. So right-to-know requests and how they impacted the fight, was that it? Okay.

Mallory Hanora:

Yeah, [inaudible 00:34:58] right-to-know requests.

Crystal Kowalski:

Yeah, I went along first, so I did touch on this. We do a daily right-to-know request for the jail logs. I think basically it just shows that we know what’s going on. So recently, a little example would be, well, a couple examples. During the pandemic, our county was putting people in jail, weekenders in jail during the pandemic. So when you saw that and you’re thinking, what’s this stop the spread? You’re taking people in and out. And we’re seeing people going in for non-support now, which we had not for years, and that’s happening, low level offenses. And Sashi mentioned, it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting work to have to just every single day put this in. But you know if you don’t do it, and they don’t feel you watching, that it’s going to go back to the way it was.

Naila Awan:

Right. And Wendy, I think maybe you have something you can briefly add about how we saw one other partner organization in Michigan used public records request.

Wendy Sawyer:

Yeah, that’s right. Some folks from Utica County in Michigan reached out to us for the umpteenth time. The county was trying to push this new jail, and they reached out just for some outside perspective. But it was very similar to, Crystal, the way you described your coalition. It was just folks who were very new to the issue and were just going to meetings and trying to figure it out. But they had an attorney amongst their numbers who realized that they could do a public records request, because they had this argument they were using to try and justify or rationalize having a bigger jail, which was, “Oh, we’ve got 1,100 outstanding warrants”, as if all these people are roaming the streets and are so dangerous. So they actually did a public records request to see what those outstanding warrants were for.

And a ton of them were just bench warrants that were a million years old that were for, oh, someone missed a court appearance, so there’s a bench warrant out, but very, very little of it was anything that would actually be jailable, especially because this jail was being proposed after the state had just passed all of these pretrial reform. So a lot of these offenses that folks were getting arrested for, were not jailable offenses anymore. So we were able to break down that list of outstanding warrants and go, okay, well only this many actually look like they’d even be jailable, so this is no way to rationalize a bigger jail. And I think that was pretty persuasive for folks, because that was a key part of their communication strategy in that county.

Naila Awan:

Yeah, and I think what all of this underscores, is just the importance of understanding the rules and the laws and your county and your state, and knowing what different levers there are to pull, because folks have sometimes been able to stop construction by forcing something onto the ballot. One other person we talked to actually got communication between the county and the jail assessment authors where they basically were like, “Oh, the sheriff wants us to actually propose a larger jail, so we should include that in the assessment.” And that was used to publicize it and defeat the jail.

So I mean, really understanding what these different mechanisms are, I think are important, because you never know which ones are going to be the strategies that can help you win in your county. Now again, a slight shift in topic, Mallory and Sashi, when you all were talking earlier, you were talking about what the alternatives might look like to incarceration. And I know you’ve worked to redirect the conversation in that way, away from incarceration and one that’s directed towards alternatives. Can you talk a little bit more about the alternatives to incarceration people should be thinking about and advancing and how shifting the conversation in that way fits in with your strategy?

Sashi James:

Well, I like to think of it, and this is just from a visionary perspective and a person that is on the ground and directly impacted, I like to think of it not as an alternative, but as preventatives. And so, what can we be exploring that does not include incarceration? So for an example, we’re actually working on the ground, and I’m not going to say that it’s only us, because we have a beautiful infrastructure that is called, Reimagining Communities, that was created through a listening tour from across the country. So it’s not only the National Council’s work, it’s not Families for Justice as Healing’s work, it’s the people’s work, because we really got on the ground and listened to what the people said that they wanted, and then we created an infrastructure that really addressed the root issues of what even had people land on a prison bunk.

And so for an example, there are crisis response teams where we know that in Massachusetts we’re working to create, every four blocks, we’re going to have a crisis response crew, that if there’s any mental health breakdown, mental health issues or anything in beyond that are just day-to-day issues that need to be addressed, the crisis response team will be able to provide that resource to the people. But in addition to that, they’re not going to be people that come from other communities, they’re going to be people that are from that community. And we know that if we have people that are from the community responding to people that are in the community, you’ll get a better outcome immediately. You have a better chance of deescalating situations, you have a better chance of just preventing situations. You have just a better conversation with people that you know and you can trust.

And then even beyond, we have the basic income, we have basic housing. We mentioned earlier that the number one reason in Massachusetts that even ends up to have women have any interaction with incarceration, is because they don’t have access to affordable housing. We have a basic housing program where we are providing housing for women that have children that just need a place to stay, and they can feel safe, though they don’t feel like they have to take from Peter to pay… What is it? Pay Paul, or whatever. You can actually pay your rent, feed your children, and survive. Speaking of surviving, the community that I live in, we have been in survival mode forever. And this is what is leading us directly to incarceration, because of the pain, the suffering, the oppression, the unheard visions that people don’t want to believe in.

And so, while we’re creating all of those things, we’re really allowing women to just live in the community. And I mean, how beautiful is that to actually see women that have been directly impacted, oppressed, struggling to take care of their kids, fighting to keep their kids, rebuilding their relationship with their kids, because they were incarcerated on a prison bunk and were separated from their children, and now they’re reestablishing their children. But now they don’t have to worry about all the things that would have landed them into prison, because all they need to worry about, is focusing on healing. And so, we’re giving communities the tools that they need. We have three hydroponic farms. One is in Pittsburgh, one is in Roxbury, which got landed a couple of weeks ago, which we’ll be able to teach people how to grow vegetables. And then we’ll be also giving the vegetables away for free, that’s responding to food justice.

I mean, we have so many infrastructures, and it’s not only us, its other states across the country that are also doing these things, so that way they can stop the transgressions in communities from communities causing harm, just because they need specific things and they don’t have the things that they need. So communities are actually working, community members are working to provide the tools that people need. And I was on a call the other day, and we were just talking about what communities need and the different infrastructures or whatever, what people need. One of the things that came out was welfare versus basic income. I just really wanted to emphasize and show that, yes, they have systems that provide welfare and food stamps and Section 8 and all of these things, but we have to also understand that a lot of the city implemented structures only cause further harm, and literally keep people oppressed.

And I know, one of our basic income recipients had said to me, when she got a student loan because she’s in college, when she got a student loan, the housing authority threatened to take away her housing because she got a student loan. So now we’re telling people who are on housing, who are trying to get more education, that they can’t get education. So you just have to understand the barriers and the difference between what basic income looks like. We’re seeing is, sometimes people need a extra push. Sometimes people need to just be given $500 a month just because they need to pay their phone bill, they need to buy extra food. I always love when I’m like, “Oh, I got a stipend.” Sometimes I get paid to do a call and I’m like, “I got a stipend”, which is very rare, but I’m very appreciative of it as a single mother, and the struggle. And so many other people are appreciative of that.

And that is very different from you asking a person for their social security number, you having all of the restrictions on the way people should and should not spend their money, or you just having restrictions on how much education they should get. And so, we’re really just trying to figure out and we are figuring out what we can do to support the people, build the people, empower the people, and just be all about the people, and not create systems that cause further harm. And that means that we have to dismantle the current system that we have and build a system that is for all people and not a specific class of people. Is this a perfect time for me to just jump right in with my FreeHer Institute, because I’m really proud of that. And speaking of creating what different looks like, the National Council, Families for Justices as Healing, the women in the community, we are really working to create a space where women can work on policy research.

They can go to a space where we can cook breakfast together, we can train each other, we can just exist. I always use this as an example, but I want to say this. In Massachusetts, I learned that there is a retreat area for police officers. It’s called Police Academy or something like that, maybe I’m mixing the name up with Chicago, but the Police Academy that they had built in Chicago, HDR also built that. But anyway, they have a center where if they witness maybe an aggressive situation or they go through a traumatic experience or mental health, they can go to a home and they can be around animals and milk cows and get males cook for them, and just woo off for three or four days.

It’s covered by their insurance. You can go whenever you want. It’s a small grant that just covers them. They cook, they get separated from their family, they just take a deep breath. Communities witness all of this and above, we actually live in it all day long, community members. And we still have to go inside the house, especially women, mothers still go inside the house and cook meals for our family, still provide, most of our households are single family households. Now we’ve been at a 700% increase of incarcerated women. Sometimes our grandmothers are taking care of the family, because our mothers are now incarcerated as well. But the point is that our people need the same resources and beyond, so that way we can heal. As I mentioned earlier, healthy, thriving people create healthy, thriving communities. And so, we have an inherited land on Martha’s Vineyard on Oak Bluffs, which is a historical landmark for Black people.

And we’re working to build a retreat center that is $1.5 million, because we did the land survey and everything to build the most beautiful street retreat center that will support the people. And so, we are selling FreeHer T-shirts. They’re called the FreeHer Institute T-shirts. This is really going to be a groundbreaking retreat center, because it’s going to allow women to come and learn research, think and do all of the work that Mallory and I talked about around the Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill. I mean, that was work that we just were head banging on walls to just try to get, but being that, we literally created an infrastructure, we can now go to the retreat center and show women the blueprint of what we have, so that way women are not spending wills in their community and doing the same thing that we had to do and beyond.

What does Reimagining Communities look like? What does it look like to create basic income? What does it look like to create a housing program? What does it look like to bring a hydroponic farm to your neighborhood? Just all of these beautiful processes. And then also, what does it look like to just sit there and relax, or maybe go read a book on the beach, or maybe go see some greenery. I told you already, I’m not into the greenery, but some people may be into the greenery. I know Andrea is, but that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to build a center that is for the women, and we need people to buy T-shirts to support all the processes.

All the fees from the T-shirts go directly to building this retreat center, and it’s for the people, and I’m really excited. This is what we need when we say, we need to create and build what different looks like. And of course, like I said, there’s no power stronger than the power of the people, because this is one of the most beautifulest centers that will probably be built in my lifetime for me. That’s because of the power in the people, not because of the government or anybody else. It’s because we are believing in the power of the people, which has directly impacted women and girls or the most vulnerable population.

Naila Awan:

Thank you so much, Sashi. We’re going to just jump into sharing some of the different resources PPI has that folks might find helpful in some of these fights. We’re then going to be going into the question and answer, and we’ll be giving each of the panelists a few minutes to make a brief closing remark. So just to shift over to that very quickly, let’s see. Before turning to the question and answer segment, like I said, we want to quickly share a few resources PPI has been made available for folks fighting jail expansion.

The first two slides I’m going to go over just provide information on materials, ranging from reports to briefing to training documents that Progressive Policy Initiative has created that you might find helpful when a jail proposal is being advanced. Does our county really need a bigger jail? Outlines mechanisms for decarceration, the county should take into account before a new jail is even proposed or any progress is made, like a proposal. Smoke and mirrors provides an in-depth look as a jail assessment report completed by a private group asserting that a Michigan County needed a new jail. Arguments against jail expansion provides findings about jail overcrowding, counter-arguments against jail expansion, endpoints of intervention in jail fights. And our how-to guide for critically reviewing jail assessments provides questions that should be asked and considerations that should be taken into account when examining a jail assessment.

I’m going to quickly outline some of what’s provided in this final guide, given the jail assessment analysis are really one of the things we receive the most questions from groups that are fighting jail expansion about. To start jail assessments, which may be referred to by several names, are analysis often conducted by private companies who have been hired by a county to analyze the operations of the current jail, and make recommendations for building a new jail or expanding an existing one. These assessments are done before any final decisions are made and often are filled with faulty assumptions, misleading data, and are rife with other problems. So we put this guide together to help folks spot some common problems that exist in jail assessments. Problematic assumptions are often made. It’s often important to consider what those assumptions are. For example, most assessments assume no change in the status quo.

That means that if reforms are moving, there’s no analysis of what the impact of those reforms might be. And even when reforms have passed that will directly reduce the number of people being incarcerated, the assessments may entirely ignore the impact in realities of those already enacted reforms. Oftentimes, only individuals whose opinions are taken into account in assessments, are those who work within the current criminal legal system, like the police, the sheriffs, jail administrators and district attorneys. The voices of community members, people directly impacted by the criminal legal system, mental health and substance use disorder providers, are not even part of the process in most instances.

The numbers, the data, the graphs and the trend lines themselves can be highly misleading. For example, if the image on the top had started with any year after 2012, it would’ve shown a decline, rather than an increase in the number of cases pending, or the trend line on the image furthest to the right of the screen shows an upward trend, despite the final year, 2017s numbers being below those of 2008, and there have been a significant downward shift in the final few years on that graph. Also, keep in mind that the data provided in the assessments themselves can be used to identify reforms that, if implemented, could immediately reduce the jail population. For example, what would the jail population numbers look like if the county were to end reincarceration for technical or noncriminal violations of probation or parole, or enact bail reform and reduce its pretrial population?

These assessments are also often advocating for jails that place what should be community provided services available to people with substance use disorders, mental illness, and sometimes even chronic or terminal conditions into the jail. Questions helpful to ask as well as common themes or problems to look for, are provided throughout our training guide. We’re now going to move to the question and answer portions of the webinar. And as we do that, I’m putting up a slide with all of our panelists, as well as Wendy and my contact information. That information’s also going to be being shared in the chat. So don’t worry if you don’t get this down right now, it will be in the chat of the webinar. And Emily, would you mind getting us started with the questions?

Emily Widra:

Sure. I think the first question we can start with, I’m just going to go a little bit out of order how they were coming in, but one question we got is, what is the best way for larger organizations to help support more localized movements like you folks have been taking part in, in pushing back against jail expansion? I think that’s for everybody or whoever chooses to answer. It’s not specific.

Sashi James:

I think one of the most important things that we follow our own, just from the National Council’s perspective, is that we never go into communities without getting to know the community, the organizations that are on the ground that are doing the work. And so, we have ecosystem check-ins, and we are like, “Hey, how can we be supportive of you?” Versus a lot of organizations would just jump in and say, “This is what you need to do.” But what is important as a national organization, is to whatever state you’re trying to work with, go in there and figure out what is the problem, pay homage to the land, and also get to know the people that are on the ground that are doing the work. And they will be able to tell you, you got to listen to the land. They’ll tell you what needs to be done and how you can plug in and what support you can give as a national organization. That’s my perspective.

Naila Awan:

And I guess, I’ll just briefly answer as a rep from another national organization. And I think it’s really about capacity building. The folks that are on the ground, like Sashi was saying, they know what needs to happen. They know what reforms will be most impactful in their community. They know what other alternatives should be being designed, what preventive measures should be being put in place. What we’ve found is that we tend to get asked for things unsurprisingly, like data that groups might find helpful, like reviewing jail assessments. And we really do just try to help groups in whatever ways are additive to their campaigns without imposing any ideas on how things should be moving forward.

Emily Widra:

Great. Thank you. Oh, sorry, go ahead, Crystal.

Crystal Kowalski:

No, I would just say that you do in fact do that, and that’s been our experience as a local group, is that the groups that have helped us Prison Policy Initiative in the ACLU, have really been respectful of our knowledge and have supported us.

Emily Widra:

Okay, great. So another question that’s come in is about, if anybody has been able to partner with local public defender offices on these efforts, because they often have access to data to support these movements or other information, like insider information, have any of you utilized that or do we know of anybody who has?

Mallory Hanora:

I’ll speak to this in a more broad way. I think, individual defense work of our people, either to stop our people from going in or to bring our people home, is incredibly important. So we are a participatory defense hub here in Boston. So Participatory Defense is the movement strategy developed by Silicon Valley De-Bug in California, and then the National Council also helped to increase the reach of this and increase the number of hubs across the country with our Director of Participatory Defense, Justine Moore, training. So many of us across the country to use this strategy, and it’s just building on what people and families have done forever, which is fight for our people, instead of just stopping outside the courtroom. I can picture Raj in my head doing this part of the training. We have the free so-and-so signs outside, and we would just stand there and look in the court.

But really, it’s about going into the court and shifting the power dynamic, so many of you might already be practicing this. There might be a local hub that you work with, so public defenders can be brought into that process, with a people-led strategy, a community-led strategy to fight for our people, to represent our people as whole and needed and valued to offer our own crafted alternative sentencing, or diversion from conviction in the first place. And really bringing public defenders in to be part of process, as opposed to just another person in the system that’s there for business as usual, asking you to accept a plea deal that you don’t want, or facilitating incarceration as the norm.

One thing that we’re thinking about is, what does it look like to have individualized case review for those folks that have smaller jail or prison populations? Every single person getting an exit strategy, every single person getting a plan A, a plan B, a plan C about how they could come home. And that could look like engaging with law students to help with that review, that could look like engaging with folks that are in other type of law practices to come in and support in other ways. Or that could be really pushing your local defender’s office to join you in the resistance to the project, and to show how many people are in on certain types of charges or how they could come home anyway. Defense work is an incredibly important part of both stopping people from going in, and bringing people home, so definitely a strategy that we’re using.

Emily Widra:

Great. Thank you, everybody. All right, another question that’s come in is, do we have any advice for how to work against the alternatives to jail that include things like other types of carceral techniques, like home incarceration, surveillance, other things that aren’t technically jail, but might sound good to folks who aren’t totally involved, but these are still punishment and still take up resources.

Sashi James:

I think that participatory defense is a really good tool to help fight against those, especially if you’re talking about case-by-case situations. But also, I think that it’s also important that we start, why shifting the public opinion and changing the conversation is important, because a lot of people are advocating for ankle shackles. A lot of people are advocating for air incarceration. And then after we spend 10 years saying, oh, everybody needs an ankle shackle, and then when everybody gets an ankle shackle, they realize that it’s another form of incarceration, and they’re upset about the ankle shackle. And so this is why we need to listen to directly impacted people and the people that are leading the ground. And this is what we say, this is what we are talking about when we say dismantling the system and not just putting a bandaid on there or turning it to the left or turning it to the right, because it’s only causing further harm we know we’re in.

I mean, on my corner right now, they just installed another camera that I’m like, they’re just going to watch us go to the corner store. Meanwhile, there’s the police cruiser on the corner as well. These are all forms of that system of open air prisons and it only causes more harm. So that’s why we have to watch the bills that we pass. This is why we have to watch the organizations that we support, especially the national organizations that are not really connected to the ground, but think they’re connected to the ground but want to speak to the ground. And so, it’s important and that’s all.

Mallory Hanora:

Yeah, that’s such an excellent answer and a massively important question. And I just want to affirm what Sasha said, it’s just like all of us holding the line that those are not alternatives. So when we say, we do try to answer proactively the question, what else besides a jail or prison? And we are very clear that those are not alternatives that we’re trying to build systemically. In the immediate, do we recognize that on individual freedom campaigns, that people are going to take certain arrangements on an individual level for their own freedom toward the goal of liberation? Yes. But systemically, are we ever advocating for the expansion of incarceration either in the open air or in the jail or prison? Absolutely not. And we talk about why that’s not. So some of it is offering, what’s working on the ground in your community?

What we always say is, that doesn’t have to be a program that specifically says we are an alternative to incarceration. Free housing is an alternative to incarceration. It is not a jail or a prison. Giving money directly to women, is an alternative. It is giving people what they need to live so that they’re not entrapped in the system, so we broaden the idea of what’s possible. And then I think the other thing that’s even more insidious and something that we’ve had to really push around allies, is also just shifting the responsibility of incarcerating people to a different agency, for example, the Department of Mental Health. We know that women have unmet mental health needs who are incarcerated, and just shifting the owner of the building who locks the doors at night, to being DMH rather than DOC, the Department of Mental Health. First of all, our members are like, “Absolutely, we do not trust DMH.”

They’re very clear about their relationships with the Department of Mental Health, so we don’t have any question about that. But for people outside that are like, but what about this? But what about this? That’s also part of it, is that we’re not just changing owners of the building. We’re really, really exploring what else is possible and what does different look like in pathways out of the system. It’s a really big challenge, but we’re in it together, and we’re developing what those things look like, so we have offerings to show that other things are possible. And also just frankly, it’s made up. I know I’m going on, but there’s so many loved ones of us, close members of ours that come to our women’s circle every Thursday that their parole officers insist on shackling them. They are in their 60s. It is just outrageous.

Literally, one of our members who we brought home, who the state said she was supposed to die in prison, miss Angie Jefferson, and her family and community led her fight for liberation. She is home after 31 years to be a mom and a grandmother. She has arthritis and significant… I’m not going to share her health business, but her ankle shackle is hurting her. Physically, it’s hurting her. And so, it’s made up that people have to be on their shackle when they come home on parole. That is something that does not have to exist. We should fight about it. We should get people’s lawyers engaged in fighting these restrictive conditions of release.

We should show up and say, as a community, we don’t accept this and we want our people home, and this is how we want our people to live, and just continue to fight those battles too, because it’s shameful. It’s shameful, like Sasha is saying, at this point it’s become so normalized that even people who have perfect records of compliance with every other condition, are still forced to be shackled, and just people go along with it because they don’t have the support or resources to challenge it, so we should absolutely be doing that as well.

Emily Widra:

All right. I think we have time for probably one more of the questions that have come in, but definitely feel free to reach out to the panelists, to everybody here, where everybody’s willing to tackle any other questions that don’t get answered live in the webinar. I think for the last question, we’ll go with this one, which is about, what to do if the decision has already been made to expand a jail or to begin construction on a new jail. Is there anything left to do? What can people do? Where should they be looking for next steps? It sounds like there’s a specific situation in California where there’s not a lot of opposition to the jail, and so the folks here are obviously in opposition and trying to figure it out. I don’t know whoever wants to answer that one, please go ahead.

Sashi James:

I wanted just say one thing, because we know that the system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. And so, they might still build a new woman’s jail. And it’s just, when we talked about the Prison and Jail Moratorium Bill, one thing that we didn’t mention, Mallory, is that through all of our hard work and public awareness, we actually got the Moratorium Bill passed, and the governor vetoed the bill. So the people spoke, but the governor just was like, “I don’t really care what people said, it’s what I want.” So that shows that the system is going to do what they want to do regardless.

And one of the beautiful things that our founder, Andrea James said, also my mom, she said that if Reimagining Communities is so important and giving people the tools that they need, so that way we can create healthy, thriving people, so they can create healthy, thriving communities, is so important because, yes, if they go build all these new prisons and jails, then imagine a world where like in the Planet of the Apes, we have given our people all the tools of success that they have needed that they won’t even have any interactions with the police in jails and prisons, because they have what they need to be successful.

And so, the prisons and jails will be just, she had a vision of these green trees just growing over it and just being all rotten, because nobody’s in there, because we’ve given the people what they needed. So this is why we are on the ground, creating the tools and giving people the tools and the infrastructure that people need so we don’t even have any interactions with jails and prisons. So I’m really sorry in California, that y’all at a space where it feels like y’all have nowhere to turn, but the best place to turn is to the people, and figure out what can we give to the people so that way they’re not even going into the prison and jail.

And then we start to talk about clemency, so that way we can bring our long timers home. I want to uplift Miss Angie, because Miss Angie was incarcerated to die in prison, but she’s home right now, and she was just on participatory defense with us last week, and she’s probably going to be on with us this weekend. We have beautiful conversations. So don’t ever think that if your family member or loved one is sentenced to die in prison, that there is no avenue for them to come home, because there is always a space for them to come home. You just have to fight and you have to just keep chucking along and have faith, and that’s it. And just remember, the system is going to do what it is designed to do. And that’s why, until we dismantle it, we have to create our own system.

Mallory Hanora:

Yeah, absolutely. I would say, just keep on building the resistance, like the beautiful organizers on this call that are resisting, like Sasha said, turn to the community, door knock, canvas, let people know about it, because so often our people would be against it, but we’re busy working, we’re busy parenting, we’re drowning in our own stuff, and the states and the cities try to hide this from our people.

So educating to prevent any further, or engaging people in ongoing resistance, like what could creatively be done at or near the site to raise an awareness that there are community members that don’t want this, there are people that are loved and cared about that they’re planning to move into this building, and that they should be moved home and come home instead. So yeah, keep going. Keep going, for sure.

Sashi James:

Yeah, and one thing that I was taught is that we don’t fail, but if they do build a prison jail in that state, and we keep going and shifting public awareness and having people move towards what different is, we have to remember that the organizing we’re doing is impacting generations, seven generations forward and seven generations behind us. So yes, this year they built a new jail, but if we keep going and keep fighting, next year they won’t build no new jail, and the year after that and the year after that or the generation after that, that might be the last jail that they might ever build in the history of jail building. So we have to have faith.

Crystal Kowalski:

I love that, having faith. The other thing that here in Berks County, people are like, “Well, why do you think the commissioners changed their mind a bit?” And I was thinking about it, and I’m thinking, I think it might be inflation and the recession. So if you’re in a community, the question asker, and they haven’t started building yet, and you probably already done this, but know how much every little bit of it costs, because in one of the meetings, they said, “Oh yeah, we’re going to not have work release anymore, and that’ll bring down a pod and that’ll be $8 million in building costs for one pod.” And then that pod has to be staffed 24/7, the amount of money. So if you can say, “Hey, in a time of record expense for construction, you’re going to build this?” I feel like that’s what impacted some of the decision in our county.

Naila Awan:

Thank you, everyone. And I’d also just refer folks back to the RFP technical challenges Mallory was mentioning too. Sometimes there still haven’t been decisions on the number of beds. There might be certain interventions that are-

Mallory Hanora:

I’m so sorry, I just put in the chat. I don’t know where my… Don’t forget about the architecture firms that probably have an office in your state, and the construction companies. And so, our union siblings could be a source of power, the union member to union member. How do we communicate about actually the people that are building the walls and pouring the concrete? Individuals are choosing to advance the project, and it’s always an opportunity to talk to people about what else is possible, build something else instead. We don’t want to take money out of our community member’s pockets, and we want to create a vision of what we could be building instead. And so, lots of opportunities to talk to all types of decision makers, even decision makers that are showing up to their job site for the day.

Naila Awan:

Absolutely. And I realize we’re hitting the time we told folks we’d be wrapping up at, so I just want to give each of the panelists, maybe if you could keep it to one, one and a half minutes, just share some advice for folks who are getting started or actively involved in fights to stop jail expansion, or any challenges you faced that were anticipated that folks might find useful.

Crystal Kowalski:

I could go first. This is basically what we did. Attend every meeting, take notes, collect data, question their assumptions, broaden your community connections, get press coverage, attend the budget proposal presentations, make the fiscal arguments, know who is in your jail and make it public. Make sure everybody knows who’s in your jail, and presume that you have a place at the decision-making table.

Mallory Hanora:

I’ll go and then pass it to Sashi. I just saw a couple questions about conditions of confinement really being heavy on our hearts. We know people by name. We love people in these jails and prisons. They’re our siblings, they’re our friends, they’re our cousins, they’re our children. And at the end of the day, there is no such thing as a safe prison for women or for people. All of our people who survive, tell us that. And then also, the politicians conveniently wants to improve these conditions only when it’s good or right for them or there’s a benefit for them. For years, people languish and try to raise issues and they fall on deaf ears. And it’s only when it’s profitable or beneficial to the people in power that, that ever gets addressed.

So I would say, as coming from a state with the oldest women’s prison in the United States, that DOC is going to DOC, and any building we put women in with them. So we’re fighting for our women’s freedom and we’re fighting for what else is possible and that we’re really holding a line around that, to bring our people home and showing that we can do it with individual cases and continuing to do it. And then, supporting each other across the country by echoing what we’re saying. So FreeHer, and good luck to y’all, and hopefully we can come right, and I’ll pass it to you, Sashi.

Sashi James:

No, I really feel like I’m really happy to have this platform, and then also have the solidarity, and I hope that this conversation that we had today reaches people to, one, think about the alternatives that we can think about, or not the alternatives, like I said, the preventative methods that we can take to not have anybody incarcerated. And then also, to begin to listen to the blueprint that formally incarcerated women are giving you. So that is grounded in abolition, that is grounded in the people, and that is really creating what different looks like, so that way we can finally get out into the world that this is not an imaginary world, this is really happening on the ground. People are really creating a crisis response team. People are really creating housing programs. All these things are really happening, and I would love to connect with more people.

So if you reach out to the National Council, Families for Justice as Healing, like I said, I know that there are people in the community that are doing the same type of work, but maybe in a different shape and form that works best for their city or state or wherever their community. And we would love to figure out what does that look like, because we’re all student teachers and we all have a lot to learn, and then we all have a lot to teach. And so, I’m excited and cheers to a future with no jails, prisons or police, and cheers to a future that is grounded in the healing and wellbeing and support of all people.

Wendy Sawyer:

I just want to quickly make a pitch. I mean, there’s no way to follow all that, but to just question any information that’s put forward by the architects or the construction, whoever’s doing these assessments, I have yet to see an assessment where we didn’t find some hole in it that we could push back on. So yeah, don’t assume that those are written by people more expert than you. And feel free to reach out to other folks, folks here at PPI, or folks wherever people, and have them help you read that with a critical eye, and try and find some opportunities to push back, because that’s very persuasive for folks when they start to see, oh, the experts messed something up, or they’re trying to put one over on us, or something. So I think that’s a pretty successful strategy that I’ve seen folks use. Obviously, it’s only one of very many, but it’s something that we here at PPI can also help with. That’s my pitch.

Naila Awan:

Amazing. Thank you everyone, and thank you everyone who attended, for your time. I know we didn’t get to all the questions. We had a lot come in. Again, if you have a question that wasn’t answered, don’t hesitate to reach out to any of today’s panelists. Everyone’s information was shared in the chat. We hope that this webinar is helpful and will be helpful to your future efforts. Materials shared by our presenters are at the link in the chat and will be shared with you along with the video of this presentation when it is online.

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