Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Razing Jails, Raising Hope


The following statement was submitted by Brent J. Cohen, Interim Chief Executive Officer & Vice President of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA). 

The #CLOSErikers campaign continues to serve as an inspiration to directly impacted leaders across the country who seek to shut down outdated, irredeemable, and inhumane jails in their community.

In April, JLUSA launched its #CLOSEthecreek campaign in Philadelphia to shut down the 19th century-era House of Correction. On April 25th, #CLOSEthecreek Campaign Coordinator and 2017 Leading with Conviction Alumni Reuben Jones led a rally and press conference outside Philadelphia City Hall and delivered a letter to Mayor Kenney calling on him to #CLOSEthecreek—for good. “Shutter it, raze it, and make it disappear…and reinvest savings in locally-run community-based services for returning community members.”

Also in April, JLUSA and its partner organizations held a #CLOSErikers NOW rally at New York’s City Hall to demand that Mayor de Blasio take REAL action to reduce the jail population and shutter the horrific Rikers Island jail complex immediately. JLUSA NYC Community Organizer Vidal Guzman, who first went to Rikers at the age of 16, spoke to a large crowd of supporters about how Rikers has stolen fathers, sons and brothers from communities of color. “There’s no way you should send any individual that’s 16 or 17 years old to jail or think that that is the way to solve a problem,” he said.

Additionally, on April 21, JLUSA held our second Emerging Leaders training of the year, this one in Milwaukee, WI. Home to that #CLOSEmsdf campaign that is being led by another 2017 LwC Alumni and now JLUSA Campaign Coordinator, Mark Rice. Milwaukee offered a great backdrop to an intense day of leadership development training, and we’re looking forward to seeing what this EL Cohort is able to achieve in the weeks and months ahead.

Because JLUSA’s work is led and informed by directly impacted men and women, our demands push the envelope and go beyond just seeking the closure of dilapidated facilities. Our campaigns are calling for systemic changes that will lead to an end to mass incarceration and mass criminalization. We want the resources saved by shrinking the footprint of the criminal justice system to be reinvested in communities to repair harm and expand access to decent housing, employment, education, and healthcare.

Our organizing for #CLOSEthecreek and #CLOSErikers will intensify throughout the spring, and I invite you to keep up with rapidly developing events on social media via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In all of this work, your continuing support is vital and much appreciated, and I look forward to offering more updates next month!

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