Rally to Reduce Prison Population

Dozens of people attended a rally to support reducing the prison population. The rally was outside the Springfield office of governor Charlie Baker. “People need opportunities for jobs, housing, and addiction treatment if we're going to reduce recidivism and incarceration,” Bill Toller told the Valley Post. He is on the board of the group that organized the rally. The group has a web page at:

www.facebook.com/Pioneer-Valley-Project-287298818042052

In Massachusetts, the number of people in prison went up 236 percent since 1980. During that time, the state's population grew by about 15 percent.

Nationally, in 2014 the rate of imprisonment for African Americans was about six times greater than for whites. In Massachusetts, it was about eight times greater. The disparity for Latinos was also greater in Massachusetts than nationally.

The rally was on December 13. Organizers called for increased funding for lawyers who represent people who can't afford to hire a lawyer.

No other nation on earth incarcerates such a high percentage of its people. As of 2008, the USA had about 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. "England's rate is 151; Germany's is 88; and Japan's is 63." That's according to "U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations," an article by Adam Liptak that appeared in the New York Times on April 23, 2008. Those numbers were virtually unchanged as of 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

A victory in California could provide a model for the Massachusetts activists. In December 2014, in Oakland, California, anti-prison activists held a rally outside a meeting of the county legislature. They were asking the Alameda county board of supervisors to invest $17 million a year in programs to keep people out of prison by creating jobs for people just getting out of prison. The board rejected the activists’ request. The activists kept returning to the board’s meetings and speaking out during the public comment period. But the board kept rejecting their request. On March 4, 2015, the activists returned to a county board meeting. This time they were ready to get arrested for non-violent civil disobedience. They interrupted the meeting by singing songs from the civil rights movement. The board quickly ended the meeting. Soon, the activists won. They got the $17 million.

A newspaper and a radio station played a role in this victory. There are two main newspapers in Oakland, the Oakland Tribune and the East Bay Express. The Tribune is owned by a corporation in Colorado that owns dozens of other newspapers around the nation. The East Bay Express is owned by a group of local people in Oakland.

There are several radio and TV stations that cover Oakland news. One of them is KPFA, a non-profit radio station whose board of directors is elected by anyone who donates $35 a year or volunteers four hours a year. KPFA rejects the corporate money that NPR stations rely on.

Darris Young was the main organizer of the protests at the Alameda county board of supervisors meeting. He was a prisoner in California in 2008. While he was in prison, he organized a strike by the prisoners. They refused to do their jobs until they got more recreation time. They won. Now he is out of prison. He works for the Ella Baker Center in Oakland as a community organizer. That group works nationally to reduce the prison population. In September 2015, Young told the Valley Post that the East Bay Express provided coverage that helped turn out people for the protest in March. He said the Tribune did not. KPFA has covered his group’s work better than the commercial radio and TV stations.

A group that is working to reduce the prison population in Vermont has a web site at www.VermontersForCriminalJusticeReform.org.

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