Join us for a discussion and strategy session—building on recent victories in Florida and Louisiana—on felony disenfranchisement, jury service, running for political office, and other rights we need restored in California.
Desmond Meade, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC)—spearheaded the campaign to pass Amendment 4 that will restore the rights of 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions on January 8, 2019.
Norris Henderson, Voice of the Experienced—New Orleans (VOTE-NOLA)—campaigned to successfully pass Amendment 2, requiring Louisiana juries to have unanimous verdicts. Currently, Oregon is the only state in the U.S. with Jim Crow non-unanimous jury verdicts.
Taina Vargas-Edmond, Initiate Justice—campaigning to restore voting rights for all Californians, regardless of conviction or incarceration status.
Dauras Cyprian, All of Us or None—leading AOUON’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, currently on parole and thus ineligible to vote.
The discussion will be moderated by Aminah Elster—after spending over 15 years incarcerated in California prisons, Aminah is currently on parole and thus ineligible to vote. Aminah is the 2018 Elder Freeman Policy Fellow and a current student at UC Berkeley.
California Assembly Passes Bill Allowing Judges to Strike Mandatory Sentence Enhancement for Prior Felony Convictions
Bill Now Heads to the Governor’s Desk
Sacramento, CA —The California Assembly voted to pass Senate Bill 1393, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara with a vote of 41 to 31. SB 1393, the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act, restores judicial discretion to the application of the mandatory 5-year sentence enhancement for each prior serious felony on a person’s record at the time when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. The bill is part of Senator Mitchell and Senator Lara’s Equity and Justice Package of 2018, which seeks justice reforms for juveniles and adults. Governor Brown has until September 30th to sign or veto this sentencing reform.
“Mass incarceration is a massive moral failure and policy failure,” said Senator Mitchell. “It’s a moral failure because we now know that it is injurious to families and to the economies of low-income communities, and that its violence has been directed overwhelmingly at Black and Brown communities. The passage of this bill is a victory for families and communities who have faced separation and destabilization for too long as a result of California’s complicated and punitive justice system.”
California has some of the most severe sentence enhancements in the nation. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California has more than 100 separate code sections that enhance sentences based on a person’s current offense and/or record of prior convictions. PPIC states that as of 2016, 79% of people under CDCR custody had some kind of sentence enhancement attached to their base sentence; 25% had three or more enhancements stacked on. One of the most commonly used sentence enhancements is the five year enhancement for serious priors. According to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) as of 2016, there are close to 100,000 years’ worth of the five year sentence enhancement applied to people currently under CDCR custody.
The Fair and Just Sentencing Reform bill will help restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system by allowing judges to decide what is best in the interest of justice.
“We have seen the application of this mandatory enhancement for over 30 years. It is about time the California Legislature says, no more to failed and punitive policies.” said Amber-Rose Howard, Statewide Co-Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “Our coalition is looking forward to seeing the California Legislature advance even more changes around extreme sentencing, including continuing to address sentencing enhancements. California communities are depending on leadership that continues to approach public safety in ways that strengthen safety and keep families together.”
The passage of this bill builds on the growing momentum in California to enact criminal justice reforms that divest from ineffective mass incarceration policies and invest in community-based solutions like mental healthcare, education, and substance-use treatment. This bill also builds on the efforts of the California legislature, who passed SB 180 (The Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements) authored by Senator Mitchell, which repealed the three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions and SB 620 authored by Senator Bradford, allowing judges to strike unwarranted gun sentence enhancements.
Advocates and community members who have lived through extreme sentences laud lawmakers for demonstrating their commitment to address failed policies.
Co-sponsors of the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act include ACLU of California, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Drug Policy Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Pillars of the Community, Tides Advocacy, and Women’s Foundation of California.
AB 2138 (Chiu and Low) and AB 2293 (Reyes): Fair Chance Licensing Bill Package
California has one of the largest prison, parole, and probation populations in the United States where 8 million people have been impacted by the justice system through prior convictions. Access to family sustaining employment is critical to ensuring stability and success for the many women and men coming home, yet far too many people face enormous and unnecessary barriers, including being denied licensure in many occupations despite previous work experience, qualifications, rehabilitation, and successful completion of workforce training.
AB 2138 and AB 2293 remove barriers to occupational licensing for many Californians who have already paid their debt to society and have demonstrated rehabilitation. These bills focus on reforming the overly restrictive licensing policies of the Department of Consumer Affairs-DCA (AB 2138), and gathering relevant data to evaluate the licensing policies of the Emergency Medical Services Authority-EMSA (AB 2293) that allow for the denial, revocation, and/or suspension of licenses because of prior arrests and convictions. Even those who gained job-specific training while incarcerated are still barred from working in their occupational field. This includes serving as a fire fighter while incarcerated, yet being denied an emergency medical technician (EMT) license upon release.
This bill package improves access to licensure by doing the following:
Prohibits DCA, from denying or revoking a license for the following reasons: a non-serious conviction older than seven years, a dismissed conviction, or a non-conviction act that is not directly related to the qualifications or duties of the profession for which the application is made.
Prohibits boards from requiring applicants to self-disclose criminal history information.
Requires boards to collect and publish demographic data about the applicants who are denied a license or whose license has been revoked or suspended based on criminal history.
By improving access to good jobs and careers, and ensuring all Californians have the opportunity to contribute and thrive, we can reduce recidivism, promote community safety, and secure a future of shared prosperity.
Call your CA State Senator [find yours here] and say, “We strongly urge your ‘AYE’ vote on AB 2138 and AB 2293!”
Join us Saturday, September 1 to celebrate our new home & the grand opening of the Freedom & Movement Center in North Oakland!
Free food! Bike Giveaway! Raffle prizes!
We’re so excited to have a new home of our own, and to open up the Freedom & Movement Center—a community center to train and organize formerly incarcerated & convicted people, family members, & allies.
Hope to see you Sept. 1!
For more info, contact AOUON Lead Organizer Dauras Cyprian: email@example.com / 916.513.8364
AOUON NC Organizers Brian “BDubb” Wiley, Andraé “Muffin” Hudson, and Umar Muhammad tabling at a community event in Durham, N.C.
LSPC Executive Director and AOUON co-founder Dorsey Nunn:
We should have the expectation that we can survive freedom more than we can survive prison.
It’s troubling to me that we lost two organizers in North Carolina in a year. It’s troubling to me to look a picture of people doing tabling for All of Us or None, and two of the three people have died. And both were under the age of 35.
For some people, AOUON is where you can register your objection to how you’ve been treated. An opportunity to turn a bad experience into good. Brian Wiley and Umar Muhammad were trying to make a demand for justice, and they died before we could achieve it for them. Brian died almost a year to the day Umar died.
Sometimes I think God has an odd sense of humor. Us older organizers are training youth leaders to carry on the movement, yet some of youngsters are gone and we’re still getting older. So we might have a plan, but God might have a different one. It’s hard.
All of Us or None contributed towards Brian’s funeral expenses. And we’ll continue to train and support organizers across the country. Because we have to. We have to take up the work left unfinished by those who pass before their time. We have to change the expectation from “We won’t make it past 35” to “We will live beyond 50.” We have heavy hearts, but Brian, Umar, and all who have gone on before had high expectations. And so we must continue the fight for our civil and human rights for ourselves, for our family members, and our communities.
On July 8, 2013, more than 30,000 incarcerated men and women across California began refusing to eat. It was the start of the nation’s largest-ever prison hunger strike, and for some the fasting would last nearly two months. The mass protest made headlines across the country, and compelled the state to seek a federal court’s permission to force-feed participants. After state lawmakers agreed to hold hearings about conditions inside California’s prison system, the strike was finally suspended on September 5, 2013.
What was remarkable about the statewide action was not just its size and duration, but the fact that it had been planned and coordinated by a group of men held in solitary confinement for 22 to 24 hours a day. The men were held in what was known as the Short Corridor of the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the nation’s oldest and most notorious supermax prisons.
The so-called Short Corridor Collective was a racially diverse group of accused prison gang leaders, who were supposed to be mortal enemies. Some had been held in solitary confinement for as long as 23 years—isolated, like hundreds of others, because of their alleged gang activity. But together, from their windowless 11-by-seven-foot cells, via communications shouted down the corridor, they organized a hunger strike with five core demands. They wanted an end to the system of “group punishment.” They also demanded that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) modify its gang-status criteria, which justified placing individuals in indefinite solitary confinement if they were “validated” as gang members. These validations were often based on circumstantial evidence such as tattoos, reading materials, or associations with others. The only way out of the SHU was to “debrief,” or provide information incriminating others—a process that could be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefed and his family on the outside. It also invited false accusations by men desperate to be released from solitary. The other demands included an end to long-term solitary confinement as well as “adequate and nutritious food” and “constructive programming.”
We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit! Because the reality is that collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force, that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners, and thereby, the public as a whole.
CDCR officials had repeatedly stated that, while the SHU is a form of restricted housing, it is not solitary confinement. They initially denounced the hunger strike as being organized by prison gangs. However, the growing attention from sympathetic state legislators as well as supporters across the country made it increasingly impossible to ignore the prisoners’ demands. In 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of all prisoners held in the SHU charging that prolonged solitary confinement violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and that the absence of meaningful review for SHU placement violated constitutional guarantees of due process.
The lawsuit, Ashker v. Governor of California, was settled on September 1, 2015. Soon, the number of individuals held in the SHU began to drop dramatically, as men who had been in solitary confinement for as long as three decades were released into general population or into transitional “step-down” programs.
Among them was Todd Ashker, now 54, the high-profile lead plaintiff in the suit and a driving member of the Short Corridor Collective, who had been in the SHU since 1988 for his alleged ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. “I am still amazed at how big the sky looks,” he wrote shortly after his transfer from Pelican Bay to Kern Valley State Prison. “The sun gets hot! I’ve already gotten burned a few times.”
The changes were widely celebrated, culminating in an October 2017 60 Minutes segment in which Oprah Winfrey sat in a now-empty cell at Pelican Bay. She extracted a mea culpa from CDCR director Scott Kernan for his department’s past excessive use of solitary confinement, and accepted without question his pronouncements about the brighter and more humane future that was coming to pass for incarcerated Californians.
Five years after they refused their first meal, there can be no doubt that the prison hunger strikers and their supporters won a decisive victory. But prisons are notoriously change-resistant institutions, and the truth about solitary confinement in California today is far more complicated than the state-generated PR or upbeat reporting suggests.
Just ask Todd Ashker. After only 13 months of being able to see the sky and talk face to face with other human beings, Ashker is back in isolation. And he’s not the only one.