Posted by: Gordon on 4/25/2016

“The poor and people of color are being imprisoned in this country at a rate that is not compared to any other country on this planet,” Rev. Willie Brisco, chair of the African-American Leadership Commission, told nearly 100 leaders of the AALC and Gamaliel national clergy caucus at an April gathering.

Brisco along with Pastor Michael Brooks of MORE2 helped lead the charge for the network to take its work to end mass incarceration to a new level.

Opening the event with a look at how we arrived at this moment, Brooks said that after the victories of the Civil Rights Movement, "the faith community went to sleep. It was almost as if we had won enough battles, now everybody can relax. While we were sleeping this verbiage came about, called the War on Drugs.... The reality was it became a war on black and brown communities."

Over the several days convening, participants heard an expert overview on the state of policy advocacy nationally from a Sentencing Project expert. As they shared successes and ongoing work from around Gamaliel, five main approaches to criminal justice work emerged amongst the more than 20 groups from 14 states who were at the AALC gathering:

Education  & School Discipline

Groups like Metropolitan Congregations United are working to address the school to prison pipeline, including a major revision of the St. Louis Public Schools discipline code.


A half dozen or more organizations are looking at diversity on their police force and rebuilding trust in law enforcement. For many this includes advancing policies to insure officers use body cameras such as Roc-ACTS in Rochester. In Pittsburgh, PIIN leaders have been working with law enforcement for more than a year on a number of issues including cameras, which they are now addressing at the state level, for example.

Courts, sentencing, and treatment instead of prison

Father Joe Ellwanger presented a timeline of WISDOM’s organizing starting more than 20 years ago that led more than 15 years ago to millions of dollars for Wisconsin’s “Treatment Alternatives diversion” program (named by a state legislator) to keep people with mental illness out of prison. Terry Lorenz of WISDOM’s Ex Prisoner Organizing, or EXPO group, shared with the group how she benefited from the unique Alternatives to Incarceration for Mothers, AIM, Court, in Eau Claire. The Ezekiel Project helped create a Drug Court in Saginaw, MI, and Quad Communities Interfaith is working to win a Mental Health Court in Davenport. Other important issues related to courts and sentencing include crimeless revocation of probation.

In prison

A number of groups are also working to reform how people are treated in prison, such as ending solitary confinement for juveniles, advocated by ACT-Syracuse.

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