Decarcerate CT, a new grass-roots organization that formed in opposition to the transfer of 1,120 incarcerated women from Danbury federal prison to prisons across the country, is rallying faith and community groups to sign on to its four-part resolution calling for an end to mass incarceration in Connecticut.
The community resolution calls for a decrease in the number of non-violent offenders who serve prison time, a reduction in the budget of the criminal justice system, an increase in resources allocated to human services and an improvement in prison conditions.
At one of their biweekly meetings last Monday, members of the group discussed their strategy to “spark a state-wide discussion” on mass incarceration by working with groups to endorse the community resolution and then hold public actions to raise its profile.
“We try not to bind ourselves to specific legislation but rather work to shape legislation based on the community’s needs,” said Gregory Williams DIV ’15 a member of Seminarians for a Democratic Society.
Groups that have endorsed the resolution include ANSWER CT, Dixwell United Church of Christ, Unidad Latina en Accion and the Unitarian Society of New Haven.
The new organization was forged after the Bureau of Prisons announced last summer that Danbury prison, the only women’s federal prison in the Northeast, would become the 27th men’s federal prison on the Northeast. Many of the women would be moved to a newly constructed federal prison in Alabama.
A majority of the women in Danbury have children under 21, and activists say that separating the families risks the children’s well-being as well as the women’s hope for a successful re-entry. Their latest public action was a rally on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January which brought together around 80 people in front of City Hall to protest the human and fiscal costs of mass incarceration and kick off the community resolution. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the cost of mass incarceration in Connecticut is over $929 million.
While approximately 70 percent of Connecticut’s population is white, over two-thirds of its prisoners are of color.
“Faith communities need to come together as one large group in face of such huge discrimination,” said Barbara McCormack of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, which is voting on the resolution. “We need to form a united front with a very loud voice for this. I’m not advocating politics. I’m advocating for justice.”
According to Michelle Alexander’s new book on race and mass incarceration, “The New Jim Crow” — often cited by Decarcerate activists when they discuss or protest incarceration — a black man will be sentenced an average of a 20 to 50 times longer prison term than a white man convicted of the same drug crime.
Barbara Fair, a Decarcerate CT organizer, said more resources must go toward youth services and prisoner re-entry programs that reduce incarceration, as well as alternatives to incarceration such as community mediation and rehabilitation.
After relentless activism on the part of grass-roots organizers and pressure from 11 senators, including both Connecticut senators, the transfer was stalled. A compromise is currently being negotiated.
As it stands, the Bureau of Prisons is offering to allow the women of Danbury to remain as long as they are allowed to build an additional men’s prison in the state.
“We oppose this. If they build it, they’ll find a way to fill it and that is not what we want,” Fair said.
While the transfer has been stalled for the women with families in the region, Fair alleged women on the inside reported that they are being asked to renovate the facility in anticipation of the men’s arrival, and that some have been exposed to asbestos.
The U.S. has the highest proportion of incarcerated people in the world.