At the Ella Baker Center, we win policies that reduce sentences, remove barriers, and restore opportunities. That means curbing unjust and extreme sentences, supporting people’s successful re-entry, keeping families connected while their loved ones are locked up, and reducing the financial burdens faced by incarcerated people and their families.
Throughout our twenty year history, we have worked with allies to win policy changes that have made a real impact on people’s lives.
Among those victories we:
- Passed the Racial Justice Act: allied with the CA League of Women Voters, United Domestic Workers Union, NextGen Policy, the American Friends Service Committee, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the CURB coalition, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, we carried a first of it’s kind piece of legislation to confront racist discrimination happening in the court room. The law asserts civil rights in the courtroom: explicitly prohibiting the state from discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin to seek or obtain a conviction or sentence.
- Put Families Over Fees, helped pass bills that eliminate 21 administrative fees imposed by the criminal legal system to reduce the suffering caused by court debt. Fees eliminated include those for home detention, cost of counsel, work furloughs, and electronic monitoring.
- Helped pass the RISE Acts, which brought about major sentence reforms. The first repeals California’s three-year sentence enhancement for prior drug convictions, and helps restore balance in the judicial process, address extreme sentences, and reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The Rise Act 2019 narrows the application of the 1-yr sentence enhancement, overwhelmingly impacting Black and Brown people.
- Helped eliminate Copays in Prisons and Jails, with AB 45, people in custody no longer have to pay a copay before they can see a doctor. They can also access durable medical equipment, like diabetic shoes, glasses, and dentures.
- Ended the long-term isolation of youth in California, helping to pass a bill that banned the isolation of youth for the purposes of punishment, coercion, convenience, or retaliation.
- Supported the passage of Propositions 47 and 57, landmark criminal justice reforms in California that shrink the prison system and redirect resources towards communities:
- Proposition 47 requires that certain low-level offenses such as shoplifting or simple drug possession be charged as misdemeanors, and directs the millions in annual savings from reduced rates of incarceration towards mental health and drug treatment, school programs and victim services.
- Proposition 57 allows parole consideration for people with nonviolent felonies, changes policies on juvenile prosecution (ending direct file), and authoritizes the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to expand credits for good behavior and participation in education and rehabilitative programming.
- Partnered with the California Teachers Association and led a campaign resulting in 70% of voters saying “no” to Proposition 6, a “dumb on crime, tough on the budget” ballot measure
- Sponsored and enacted multiple bills to help families stay connected with their children while they are locked up in youth prisons
- Eliminated the practice of “time adds”, a policy that allowed guards to extend parole consideration hearing dates without due process in the youth prisons (a primary reason why California youths served the longest average sentences in the nation)
In 2015, we released Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families, a national, community-driven report that we led with Forward Together, Research Action Design, and 20 other organizations across the country. The report revealed that families with incarcerated loved ones face overwhelming debts, a range of health challenges, and severed family ties. It additionally identified a better approach to criminal justice, outlining critical and achievable family-centered reforms:
- Restructure and Reinvest: All states need to restructure their policies to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons and the sentences they serve. The money saved from reducing incarceration rates should be used instead to reinvest in resources for communities.
- Remove Barriers: Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face significant barriers accessing critical resources like housing and employment that they need to survive and move forward. These barriers must be removed in order to help individuals have a chance at success.
- Restore Opportunities: Focusing energy on investing and supporting formerly incarcerated individuals, their families, and the communities from which they come can restore their opportunities for a brighter future and the ability to participate in society at large.
Our goal is to implement policies that build on these recommendations. Become a member of the Ella Baker Center today and help us win.