It’s rare that a mailed appeal from an organization brings me to tears, but a recent one from Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) did just that. Here’s how FCNL Executive Director Diane Randall began the letter:
I have some great news to share with you. We just had our biggest Spring Lobby Weekend ever with a fantastic turnout, infectious energy, and intensive lobbying on criminal justice sentencing reform. It was tremendously encouraging to see the passion for social justice that young adults brought to Washington!
I reached for the Kleenex box and continued to read about the 400+ young advocates from 36 states who went to Washington to DC March 12-15 to lobby Congress. Over four days, students and young adults learned about mass incarceration, sentencing reform, and lobbying. Then, they met with their senators and representatives to add their voices to the thousands of others who, with the help of FCNL, have contacted Congress to call for a more just criminal justice system.
I confess my voice hadn’t been among those urging sentencing reform legislation. I’d succumbed to feelings of hopelessness over these sobering statistics about mass incarceration:
- The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails. Most of this increase is due to changes in state and federal sentencing laws, not increases in crime.
- These laws, as applied, unequally burden people of color. Black men are still disproportionately arrested, convicted and sentenced; one in three will be incarcerated at some point in his life.
- Five decades after the Civil Rights movement, more black men are imprisoned in the U.S. than were enslaved in 1850.
But, as I read Diane’s letter and looked at photographs from Spring Lobby Weekend, I realized my tears were of hope, rather than despair. Amelia Kegan, an FCNL Legislative Director, believes that the voices of those young adults and others who have spoken up have helped turn the tide on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Introduced by Senator Grassley (IA) and eleven bi-partisan co-sponsors, this bill will help restore judging authority to judges, reduce mandatory minimum sentences, and lower federal prisons population.
Amelia reports that right now, members of Congress seem particularly open to changes in federal sentencing laws. Some see it as a way to cut costs, others as a moral imperative. She reminds me, though, that we’re not there yet – and the window to change sentencing laws this year is closing fast.
So. I crumpled my damp tissue and went to the FCNL action alert page to ask my senators and representative to send sentencing reform to the President’s desk.
You can do it, too. It just might bring you to tears—of hope.
FCNL gets to the root of problems by
changing the systems and policies that drive them.
“We believe that Congress has immense power to effect positive change.
It’s our job to make sure they use it.
The world we seek is a prophetic vision of hope and renewal for our democracy.
Our work is concrete and pragmatic, moving Congress to action in that direction.