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End Mass Incarceration

Social Justice Task Force Against Mass Incarceration

UUPLAN has issued an Advocacy Alert for May 4, 2015.  Join UU’s from around the state to lobby in Harrisburg on  Anti-Mass Incarceration issues.    On this day, we are partnering with DecarceratePA to increase our impact and effectiveness.   Packets will be available to use for talking points and to leave with your legislators.  Suggested best practices for lobby visits are available.  Issues addressed include JLWOP, expungement, civil asset forfeiture, tax credits for hiring returning citizens, and ban the box.  If you are unable to be in Harrisburg on May 4th, consider contacting your state senator and representative for a meeting at their local office.   Go with a friend.  Contact Anita Mentzer at UUPLAN for more information. Check out the UUPLAN website

Community events:

Ending Mass Incarceration: Fixing a Broken and Racially Biased System, a presentation by Ezekial Edwards, Director of ACLU's Criminal Law Reform Project at the Greater Philadelphia ACLU Chapter annual meeting on May 6th, 6:30 pm at 1218 Arch Street.  The event is free and open to the public.  Click on the link above for more info.
Dismantling the New Jim Crow...the Racism of Mass Incarcerationan interactive educational workshop on Saturday May 9th from 10 am to 2 pm presented by the UU Church of Delaware County in Media, PA.  No fee and lunch included. Register at the above site by May 4th.

RELEASE  An art exhibit featuring compeling portraits and audio transcripts of women lifers in Pennyslyvania reviewed in the Phildelphia City Paper through June 30, by appointment, Leeway Foundation, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 832,  Well worth seeing and experiencing.


Volunteer opportunity:  Jondhi Harrell of The Center for Returning Citizens is looking for volunteers to help with an after school program for elementary school children at 3850 Germantown Ave, just a block from the Erie stop on the Broad St line.  Volunteers help with homework and enrichment activities.  The program runs from 3:30 to 7 pm five days a week when school is in session.  The kids are a delight and very much enjoy the individualized attention.  To learn more contact Martha Copithorne.  To volunteer contact Jondhi at 215-791-0645 or

Literacy Project for Returning Citizens:    

We have been researching, interviewing and visiting various sites that would welcome us as tutors for adults.  We have focused on an organization that has an educational program already in place.

Name:  Institute for Community Justice  (ICJ)


Location:  21 South 12th Street, 7th floor

Students:  Returning citizens who are HIV positive, 

Contact Person:  Holly Pester,   215-985-4448 ext 171,

Start date:  ongoing

 Multiple services including medical clinics and case managers are offered by ICJ as part of a larger organization: Philadelphia FIGHT.  Students can take a weekly literacy and a math course that Holly teaches.  The literacy classes are for those reading at grade 3 to 6 (ABE) and those at grade 7 and above (GED).  As a tutor you would be either working with these students or with individuals who are pre 3rd grade.   Most of the students have cell phones so keeping in touch re schedule changes should be manageable.


Additional training is available at the Center for Literacy  or the Mayor's Commission for Literacy

 For more information or to volunteer, please contact 

Martha Copithorne, 315 751 or

Betsy Wice, 267 254

From Martha describing her experience: I am finding the tutoring to be a rewarding experience. To engage my learner requires me to take the time to get to know him, his goals and his interests, and then find the materials that will engage him. We both become learners. He grew up in Puerto Rico, went to school through the third grade, and came to this country in his late teens.  He has had no formal schooling in English. He wants to learn to read the songs at his church that are scrolled on a large video screen.   


We are not alone in addressing the issues of mass incarceration. A few words about other organizations that are also involved: 

  • Decarcerate PA is a dynamic all volunteer grass roots coalition of individuals and organizations dedicated to stopping construction of new prisons, reducing the prison population, and reinvesting money in our communities.  Meetings for new members occur monthly on the third Monday of the month.  DPA is involved in raising awareness through direct action, researching and supporting legislation that would reduce the prison population, and creating voter guides.  Check out their website:
  • The Center for Returning Citizens (TCRC) is dedicated to assisting returning citizens in the transition from incarceration to society.  Jondhi Harrell is the Executive Director of TCRC.
  • Unitarian Society of Germantown.  Our colleagues at the Germantown church have been the primary organizers of the Coalition against Mass Incarceration (CAMI)  with a focus on creating and sponsoring community wide events to raise people’s awareness of the issues and to galvanize action.  
  • UUPLAN  is  the UU Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network.  Anita Mentzer is the part time paid staff person.  Click here for the UUPLAN website
  • The ACLU 


Educating ourselves about the complex issues involved in ending mass incarceration is the first step .

Articles of Interest:
Too Old to Commit Crime  summarizes research by "social scientists that shows that all but the most exceptional criminals, even violent ones, mature out of law breaking before middle age, meaning that long sentences do little to prevent crime."  (NYT 3/20/15)

Good reads:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is a stunning description of the war on drugs and the complexities of the criminal justice system that results in the US having the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world and hugely disparate rates of incarceration for citizens of color. This book was the common read for the UUA in 2012.  

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City by Alice Goffman made the NYTimes list of 100 Notable books for 2014.  It is a fascinating study of the chilling impact of mass incarceration on the lives of African-Americans living in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia. The author began the study as an undergraduate at UPenn and finished it as her doctoral thesis at Princeton. But it reads like a novel. She spent six years living in the neighborhood, building trust with the residents while observing and gathering data.  First U's Women's Book Group pick for 2/2/15.

Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in America by David M Kennedy.  First published 2011 

The author tells the story of developing new techniques and paradigms to end the violence and open drug markets in inner cities.  These techniques have been developed and improved over the past 20 years, initially in Boston beginning in 1995, and then in many other cities and communities through out the country.  

The present system is not working.  The police again and again report they can not arrest their way out of the war on drugs.  The folks in the black communities are terrorized by the violence, keeping their children inside, fearful of going outside.  Gangs often have beefs with other gangs over members being disrespected, which leads to shootings.  The open drug markets in the black communities attract suburban and other people from outside the neighborhood, resulting in turf wars for the corners from which to sell drugs and neighborhoods that are trashed.  Young kids are involved as runners.  The street dealers actually make very little money and are often themselves robbed.  Everyone is afraid, but if you are a young male, it is not cool to say so. And they see no alternative.  Accurate information about the consequences of criminal behavior is often not known, in part because the power structure is seen as lying.  Threats are made by the police, the judges and the parole officers that are not acted upon. The story is told in the community that the government is bringing in the drugs and guns to have a reason to arrest the blacks.  The police conclude that the community likes the chaos and violence; it’s the way these people are.  Trust is destroyed and mutual disrespect runs rampart.  

The model involves bringing the police and the criminal justice system including prosecutors, DA’s, US attorneys, parole and probation officers, DEA, and ATF together with the communities and the perpetrators.  All of these parts of the criminal justice system must act in concert to have the model work.  It takes time and skill to make this part happen. 

The community leaders: ministers, social workers, resource providers, employment agencies, ER doctors, and others who have ties in the community are actively recruited and involved.

The police begin by carefully mapping the neighborhoods and identifying the street drug dealers.  They start with the worst area, going undercover to make drug buys and ideally videotaping the buys.  They build airtight cases against each of the dealers.


Broken on All Sides: Race, Incarceration, & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the U.S. is an excellent DVD showing how the criminal justice system is broken on all sides.  The video includes an interview with Michelle Alexander.

The House I Live In is an award winning documentary that looks at the forty year War on Drugs which has been a major driver of mass incarceration and spectacularly unsuccessful, a finding supported by police chiefs, judges, prison authorities, politicians on both sides of the aisle, and public health experts, as well as family members.  There are parallels between the War on Drugs and this countries failed effort to end the pernicious effects of alcoholism by prohibition.  Roger Ebert said this film “makes a shattering case against the War on Drugs.”   Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, is one of the experts who are interviewed on the film.  Shown at First U on March 15, 2015.  Available through Netflix.

Links to Web sites:

For information on rates of incarceration by country and  by race and gender in the US, look at these graphs from The Sentencing Project:

For an info graphic comparing rates of crime and incarceration by state, check out this graph from the Pew Charitable Trust that shows over the past five years, the majority of states, including NY, NJ, Delaware and Maryland, have reduced both crime and imprisonment rates, but not Pennsylvania.  Although PA’s crime rate has dropped 10%, the rate of imprisonment has increased 10%.  We have work to do.


For information on Life without Parole from the Sentencing Project The Sentencing Project's "Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America" -

Thirty Days of Love, the inspirational social justice campaign created by the UUA, included a message about a group in Minnesota promoting racial equality and working to end mass incarceration in that state. Here's a link to that posting:

To become more involved or for more information, contact Martha Copithorne at or 315-751-2124


Past First U events:


From Inspiration to ActionSunday April, 20141 2:30 pm at First U, 2125 Chestnut St.  A follow up to Jondhi Harrell's inspiring sermon on March 16th, to identify ways we can individually and together take action to end mass incarceration. Jondhi will share more of what is happening at The Center for Returning Citizens.  Additional information on our Literacy Project for Returning Citizens, decarceratePA, the Coalition Against Mass Incarceration (CAMI) and Books through Bars will be available.

Sunday March 16, 2014:  Jondhi Harrell was in the pulpit, sharing his inspirational story, for our Sunday service. He read his poem, I am Love. You can also find the poem at: Jondhi also delivered this sermon at the Unitarian Society of Germantown which can be viewed at:


Vignettes from the Criminal Justice System in Philadelphia: February 2, 2014 

Karen Wolfe, our First U board president and a supervising attorney with the Philadelphia Defender Association, graphically presented the chilling disparate treatment of African-Americans and whites by the Philadelphia police.  She explained how pretext stops by police, the erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights by the courts, and the war on drugs all contribute to an abusive and too often terrifying situation for African-American citizens here in Philadelphia.


Past Community events:

DecarceratePA:  Decarcerate PA (DPA) is a diverse, dynamic coalition of individuals and organizations based here in Philly that is dedicated to ending mass incarceration in Pennsylvania.  The next open meeting welcoming newcomers is Monday April 28th, from 6 to 8 pm at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street.  Their website:
State Legislative Action:  Pending before the State House Judiciary Committee is a bill to "allow individuals who have served their punishment and remained free of arrest or prosecution for seven to ten years, for nonviolent third and second degree misdemeanors, to petition the court for their record to be expunged. For more information about why this bill is important and what you can do, see the info from UUPLAN

Breaking Down the Walls: Mass Incarceration Meets the Academy  on Saturday, March 29th at the Penn Museum.  This free day-long event aims to foster dialogue and galvanize change by uniting community members, academics, advocates, service providers, and people impacted by the criminal justice system in discussion and resource sharing.  The program will include three presentations highlighting criminal justice research by academics alongside personal narratives by people who were previously incarcerated to inform and personalize that research.  A panel discussion will examine the relationship between research and practice as it relates to social service agencies, activists, religious organizations, city government, and the Philadelphia Prison System.

Dr. Cornel West will deliver the keynote address and Dr. Heather Ann Thompson will provide the opening remarks.  Photographs from Richard Ross’s Juvenile In Justice exhibit will be displayed at the event. To register and for details, see the GRI

DecarceratePA:  Decarcerate PA (DPA) is a diverse, dynamic coalition of individuals and organizations based here in Philly that is dedicated to ending mass incarceration in Pennsylvania.  The next open meeting welcoming newcomers is Monday March 24th, from 6 to 8 pm at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street.  Their website:

Saturday, March 15, 2014: Conference on the Mass Incarceration of African Americans - Keynote speaker: Michael Coard; Workshops include "Mass Incarceration and Its Implications on Our Community"  with the chief public defender and a judge from Montgomery County; "Kindergarten to Prison Pipeline"; and "The Psychological Effects of Prison" with Jondhi Harrell.  The conference will be from 5 to 8 pm at Brubaker Hall at Arcadia University. For more info, visit: A Day of Social Justice Tickets, Glenside or check out the Flyer.

Friday, March 14, 2014: Time to Bring Them Home Symposium on Friday March 14, 2014, 7 to 9 pm at the Friends Center at 1501 Cherry Street.  A symposium on life sentencing in PA, organizing families and implementing practical solutions sponsored by The Center for Returning Citizens, The Coalition to End Mass Incarceration,  Decarcerate PA, and allied organizations.

March 12, 2014: Take a stand for Immigration Justice - Unitarian Universalists have been called to stand in solidarity with those struggling for immigration justice.  Because of the current policy of close collaboration between the Philadelphia Police and the federal Immigration Control and Enforcement department (ICE),  literally hundreds of immigrant families living in Philadelphia are broken up each year as deportation procedures move very rapidly. We are needed on Wednesday,  March 12th,  at 10:30,  at a City Council Hearing where there will be testimony calling for an end to Philadelphia Police-ICE collaboration.  Our statewide UU advocacy network,  UUPLAN,  has endorsed this action and encourages as many UUs as possible to attend.  For more information and to confirm your attendance,  email Yvonne Marlier,  UUPLAN Immigration Justice Team Leader,  at  or call 215-884-4868. For more info, check out the Flyer and Talking Points.

Friday, February 21, 2014: Organizing for Action Meeting - This meeting is to bring together dedicated individuals, organizations and church groups from across the city to build a cohesive movement which will truly challenge mass incarceration while empowering those in the struggle...  7 to 9 pm at The Yarnell Auditorium, Germantown Friends Meeting House, 47 West Coulter St, Philadelphia.

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