Who, What, When, Where, and Why
What: A rally at the Washington State Capital to oppose mass incarceration in Washington
Who: Sponsoring organizations include:
- Prison Voice Washington
- ACLU of Washington
- Disability Rights Washington
- The Concerned Lifers Organization (at WSR Monroe)
- The Black Prisoners Caucus (at WSR Monroe)
- Project, Projects for a Civil Society–Alternatives to Violence Project
- Justice Involved Student Group at Evergreen
- Poverty Action Network
- Community Passageways
- Quaker Voice
- Civil Survival
- Prison Policy Initiative
- Latino Development Organization
- The Alliance
- Faith Action Network
When Monday, January 20, 2020. This is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Start time: 5:00 p.m. End time: 8 pm at the latest, but probably earlier, about 6:30.
Where do we meet? On the north steps of the legislative building on the capitol campus in Olympia.
Where can we park? Along the street on the capitol campus, in one of the nearby streets, or in one of the public parking lots.
What is the program? The program will include music, speakers from a variety of perspectives, such as former prisoners, prisoners’ friends and family members, legislators, and advocates. We will also create a picture of Washington’s mass incarceration in 1,300 candles, representing the 1,300 men and women currently sentenced to die in our prison because their sentences are so long they can’t live to complete them, their victims and the survivors of their crimes, and for all of us affected by mass incarceration.
Do I need to bring a candle? No. We will provide the candles.
Can I get help with transportation? Yes. Sign up here (prisonvoicewa.org) with your location info. We will do our best to coordinate buses and rides for those who need them, at no cost to you. A bus holds 56 people. If you can fill a bus with supporters, we may be able to pay for it or at least help pay for it! Call us for further information. 206-276-9128
Will there be restrooms available? Yes, port-a-potties. The capitol buildings will close at 5:00.
What if the weather is awful? In light rain, the rally will go forward. If we get a snowstorm or weather that makes the roads dangerous, we will cancel. Check this website, prisonvoicewa.org the day of the demonstration to be sure.
Is there a number I can call for further information? Yes. 206-276-9128.
Mass Incarceration in Washington?
Do we really have mass incarceration in Washington State? Our legislators often assure us that we don’t have mass incarceration here–that we’re not one of the “bad” states. True, we’re not the worst state in the U.S., but comparing ourselves to other U.S. states sets a low bar, because the United States itself is worst the world in the percentage of its people behind bars — far worse than any other country. But even our own blue state is startlingly bad compared to other countries.
If Washington were a country, we would be fifth out of the more than 220+ countries in the world in the percentage of our population locked up. We are rallying on January 20 to make lawmakers aware that we DO have mass incarceration in our state, and that it harms all of us, not just those in prison. We want it changed NOW!
What do we mean by mass incarceration? The term describes the historically unprecedented levels of imprisonment in the United States since the 1980s, the lengthening of sentences, the creation of life without parole sentences, “Three Strikes” sentences, and a level of racial disproportionality in our sentencing. In our state, population has increased 70% since 1984. During the same period, the prison population has increased by 220%. We are now at 104% of capacity in Washington prisons.
Why do we refer to mass victimization as well? The most obvious group hurt by mass incarceration is the people in prisons. But we all pay a surprisingly high price, because the tax money we waste keeping people in prison who don’t need to be there could be paying for services for crime victims, better schools and social services, addressing homelessness and poverty, and improving mental health.
But what about the victims of crime? We don’t want to see any more crime victims. That’s one of the most important reasons we’re rallying against this expensive and ineffective system. After decades in prison with nothing to do, people often leave prison worse off than when they arrived, with few resources for success in the community. If we spent less money incarcerating people who no longer need to be in prison–we could spend our money on programs that actually reduce crime and victimization.
What’s wrong with the current criminal sentencing system?
- We have no system of parole for the vast majority of prisoners. (Only sex offenders and people sentenced more than 35 years ago have parole). So for most prisoners and their families, prison is a place without hope.
- African Americans in Washington State are sentenced to prison at 6 times the rate of whites, and the disproportionality in longer sentences is much worse.
- Our sentences are too long, even though long sentences have been proven ineffective. Since 1984, when we adopted our current sentencing system, the legislature has lengthened sentences every year. It also added the sentence of Life Without Parole to our sentencing arsenal along with the “Three Strikes” law, which mandates Life Without Parole sentences for repeat offenders of relatively minor crimes. Currently about 1,300 men and women, out of 19,000 prisoners in our state, will probably not live long enough to complete their sentences.
- Long sentences are commonly made even longer with “sentence enhancements,” which often result in a sentence a decade or more longer than the sentence for the actual crime. About 700 people are serving sentences like these–virtual life sentences.
- Washington prisons are overcrowded–104% of capacity. Discretion for judges has been limited in the name of uniformity, and effectively handed over to prosecutors.