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Guest Column: The Hidden, Growing Side of Mass Incarceration
A unique power and possibility is unleashed when space is created for women to gather and speak truth – when the voices of women set the agenda and the experiences of women shape the dialogue. Such a sacred space was made possible this week at the Free Her Justice Advocacy Conference 2015 at Harvard Law School, organized by Andrea James of Families for Justice as Healing, a criminal justice restructuring organization with a goal of reducing the incarceration population of women. The convening was a call to fight for the freedom of women of color facing draconian prison sentences, an invitation to connect to the vast and gifted network of currently and formerly incarcerated women whose expertise will make change possible, and a challenge to bring the fullness of ourselves to the work of confronting structural racism, white supremacy, and financial incentives driving the mass criminalization of people of color.

We learned that one-third of the women who are incarcerated globally are incarcerated in the United States. According to The Sentencing Project, the number of women in prison is increasing at nearly double the rate for men, and a third of women are incarcerated for drug offenses. Mandatory minimums have driven draconian sentences for women, robbing years and decades
from families whose mothers are locked away. A new report, The Sexual Abuse to Prison Pipeline: The Girls' Story, outlines the ways in which girls, disproportionately girls of color, who are survivors of sexual violence, are more likely to be criminalized, funneled into punitive environments that only increase experiences of trauma.

The human toll of incarcerating women is immeasurable. Women are most often primary care givers and when a primary care giver is incarcerated, children suffer. Mothers are denied the ability touch, to bond, to connect with their children, and in the prison environment, are faced with the constant threat of sexual assault, solitary confinement, strip searches, and shackling when giving birth. The rupture has profound ripple effects. In response, young people are leading with resiliency, like film producer Jasmine Barclay, who have experienced the trauma of having a parent incarcerated, are sharing their stories through film in projects like Echoes of Incarceration.

In our work as people of faith who are called to end mass incarceration, to end torture, to end the criminalization of communities of color, we must ask ourselves – who is missing from the table? How are the voices of the women with first hand experience at the center, shaping our collective work for a justice system that is restorative? How are we supporting the policy proposals of those who have and will be most impacted, how are we advancing their calls for justice? How are we resisting meager reforms and refusing to settle for relief for those with non-violent offenses at the expense of all the others? We must commit to leave no one behind. In a moment when ending mass incarceration has become a mainstream conversation, as people of faith, we must commit ourselves to the work of listening to and being led by the women whose lives have been most profoundly impacted by criminalizing policies. Through projects like Can Do Clemency, they are calling for her to be free. How are we advancing that call? 

Laura Markle Downton is the Director of U.S. Prisons Policy & Program for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a National Council of Churches partner.

On August 6, 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This landmark legislation came at a great cost. Equal voting rights for all was a major issue of concern during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. In the years leading up to the Act's passage many people suffered from vicious acts of violence and terrorism, and some even died. The law ended voter intimidation and suppression that disenfranchised racial minorities from fully participating in the democratic process. It prohibited literacy tests or poll taxes as a prerequisite for voting. Additionally the Act contained strict enforcement provisions that ensured that changes could not be made that would undermine the intent of the law.

In the 2013 Supreme Court opinion, Shelby County V. Holder rendered the protection of the enforcement provisions inoperable. Since then several states have proposed and or passed voting restriction laws that disenfranchise minorities, young adults and the elderly. Commemorate the anniversary of this history piece of legislation by calling congress and supporting the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (VRA 2015). The VRA restores the damage done by the 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

Call your members of Congress (202-224-3121) today, 
Make 3 calls to connect with both of your senators and your representative
Here is a sample script: 

“ I am calling to let Representative/Senator (NAME) know that I believe
 that voting is a core American value and in commemoration of the 
Voting Rights Act of 1965 I support and urge congress to pass 
the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015.”

Keep up the pressure on social media: Find your legislative representatives’ Twitter or Facebook information at and and send a message urging them to “support the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015”

WCC pilgrims remember atom bomb’s deadly destruction 70 years ago in Hiroshima

Seventy years after nuclear fireballs exploded over two Japanese cities, an ecumenical group of pilgrims has come to listen to those who survived and renew the struggle against their own countries’ continued reliance on nuclear weapons.

“We come to remember and to acknowledge the devastation of the past and to say, ‘Never again,’” said United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson in a sermon during an 5 August ecumenical prayer service in the Catholic Memorial Cathedral for World Peace in Hiroshima.

Swenson, who is from the United States, and church leaders from Germany, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Pakistan and the Netherlands – all countries possessing nuclear weapons or living under the United States nuclear umbrella, have come to Japan for a five-day “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.” They began their work in Tokyo, where they met with Japanese Christian leaders before sharing their concerns with a Japanese foreign ministry official in charge of arms control and disarmament.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee Unveils Legislation to Address Law Enforcement and Youth Incarceration

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations unveiled a package of measures to provide young people in the criminal and juvenile justice systems much needed relief and protection.

Last week, Congresswoman Jackson Lee held a Congressional Briefing entitled "Conditions of Youth Confinement-From Entry to Release: What Happens to Youth Behind Bars?"

The Congresswoman was joined by the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), NAACP, the UNCF, the National Council of Churches, EXODUS, National Association of Evangelicals and the mother and brother of Kalief Browder.

Pastor greeted with bombing on first day in N.M. church

One of two churches bombed in Las Cruces, N.M., on Sunday included one with a brand new pastor from a Baptist congregation in Missouri.

Kevin Glenn also is an expert and author on the subject of restoring civility in society.

Glenn told Baptist News Global in a brief text message exchange that Sunday morning was to be his first day at Calvary Baptist Church in Las Cruces. It and a nearby Catholic parish were the targets of what authorities described as improvised explosive devices that detonated Sunday morning. No injuries were reported in either blast.

“These devices were intended to do harm, I believe, and could have done harm to people,” New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told KRQE in Las Cruces.

Ecumenical Opportunities:

The Jesuit Conference is seeks a Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice.  The Conference coordinates the ministries of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Canada and the United States and facilitates relations with the Jesuit international headquarters in Rome. Located in Washington, DC, the Jesuit Conference also maintains an advocacy office which aims to educate and inform legislators, public officials, and multinational corporations on issues of importance which affect the Jesuits’ mission of social justice and faith. The office is nonpartisan and seeks to express how Catholic values such as human dignity and the common good are at stake in policy decisions. The office adopts its advocacy priorities in conjunction Jesuit works throughout the United States and Canada, and in partnership with Jesuit institutions abroad.

The Jesuit Conference seeks a full-time employee to fill this position. Salary is commensurate with experience and compensation includes an excellent benefits package.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate – Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Office is seeking a full-time Communications Coordinator. The Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation coordinates social justice ministry and advocacy efforts in the United States of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on behalf of the interests of the poor and abandoned in the U.S. and 65 countries where the Oblates are in mission.

The Communications Coordinator assists in developing and implements the organization’s communications and outreach strategy. The communications coordinator will ensure that all Oblates JPIC communications; website, print, social media, event resources reflect and support the Missionary Oblates JPIC strategic mission and goals. Communications Coordinator will report to the JPIC Director and the Associate Director.

World Student Christian Federation seeks a creative, innovative, dynamic and energetic person to fill the position of Communication Campaign Coordinator for eight months starting in September 2015. Work location: Anywhere in Canada and the US, with a preference for New York City. Click here to apply.

Justice Fellowship (JF), part of Prison Fellowship Ministries, advocates for the reform of the justice system so communities are safer, victims are respected and lives are transformed. Our growing team is seeking an Advocacy Volunteer Coordinator in our Lansdowne, VA office. For more information, click here.
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