What You Can Do to Reform the Criminal Justice System

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What You Can Do to Reform the Criminal Justice System

Post  Yoke on Sat Apr 04, 2009 11:00 am

Our prisons and jails are home to 1 in 100 Americans.
In our courts, in police interrogations rooms, in prison cells and in halfway houses, the human rights of our fellow citizens are often compromised - and it's rare to hear about a helping hand extended after release from prison.
Below are some actions you can take today to humanize our criminal justice system.

1. Donate books to prison libraries. Educational offerings in many prisons are sparse, and the library shelves are bare, so even inmates with the motivation to improve themselves are denied access to educational materials. Dozens of organizations around the country provide books on request to prisoners and help to fill prison libraries with important resources. Most only accept paperbacks, and they especially need ‘how to' guides, dictionaries and books about African-American and Latin American history. Find a program near you.

2. Visit a prisoner. Long-term inmates often refer to friends and family on the outside as their lifeline, saying they wouldn't have made it decades without their visits and correspondence. Prisoner Visitation connects volunteers with federal prisoners who don't have visitors, helping isolated prisoners socialize and grow through their connection with the outside world.
Visit Prisoner Visitation's website to volunteer as a visitor today.

3. Make a donation. Non-profit organizations need your financial support to fight the drug war, support prisoner rehabilitation and overturn wrongful convictions. Even $5 makes a difference.

A few organizations that need your help:

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund - promotes racial justice across the U.S., seeking to ensure that African Americans are treated fairly in the criminal justice system.

ACLU Prisoners Rights Project - defends fairness and civil rights for American prisoners.

Amnesty International - works to end human rights abuses around the world. Does a great deal of work on international prison and detention conditions.

Drug Policy Alliance - worksworking to end the U.S. War on Drugs through decriminalization of marijuana and alternatives to incarceration for other non-violent drug crimes.

The Innocence Project - works to overturn wrongful convictions through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system based on lessons learned from exonerations. (full disclosure: I work as the Innocence Project's Online Communications Manager.)

4. Overturn a wrongful conviction. Advocates and inmates seeking to overturn wrongful convictions often need volunteers to raise awareness, conduct letter-writing campaigns and donate their professional skills. Learn about several cases that need your help and get involved today.

5. Spread the word. Tell your friends that you care about reforming the criminal justice system. Post a comment on this blog or other criminal justice blogs. Host a community event to raise awareness of a case or to raise money for an organization.

6. Teach or mentor in a local prison or jail. Prisons across the country are seeking volunteers of all kinds, and we all have something to teach. Nearly 20% of U.S. prisoners are completely illiterate. By teaching an inmate to read and write, you are providing them with a world of new opportunity. Contact a prison or jail in your area and offer to share your expertise - whether it's in reading, writing, knitting or plumbing.
Search for your state department of corrections for contact information here.

7. Help to abolish the death penalty. Do you oppose the death penalty? The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's action center invites you to send letters to elected representatives and help build momentum to end the death penalty in the U.S.

8. Support the arts in prison. Art study and practice is popular among prisoners, but most don't have access to this luxury. You can help by donating art supplies, buying prisoner artwork, or volunteering to share your expertise in theater, writing, drawing or painting. Get involved here.

9. Give a helping hand; hire a formerly incarcerated person. Give an individual with a criminal record another chance. Thousands of Americans are released from prison each year, most of them convicted of non-violent crimes. These formerly incarcerated individuals face the toughest job market imaginable, because so few employers will hire them. Employ someone with a criminal record - you're giving them a hand and you'll qualify for federal tax credits.
The Hire Network
America Works

10. Write to your elected representatives about the War on Drugs. If you support decriminalization of drugs or simply lesser sentences for non-violent offenses, tell your representatives. The momentum is building for a more humane drug policy in the U.S. and you can help make the difference. Get talking points and contact info on your elected representatives here.

Yoke
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