Activists rally at RI State House to end mass criminalization“A small amount of [prison] time can change your life,” said Trent Manning, and organizer with Behind the Walls. “They’re holding individuals for two weeks, ten days, two months, six months… and when you come home, there is a list of charges attached to your name until the day you die.”
Published on June 8, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist
Community members and leaders of from grassroots criminal justice reform organizations came together on Tuesday to demand legislative action before the end of the Rhode Island General Assembly session to reduce the mass criminalization of low-income communities and communities of color, and to address abusive conditions at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI).
Organizers called for the passage of court debt reform (H7695); probation reform (H7887); an end to longterm solitary confinement (H7760); defelonization of simple drug possession (H8009); checks on housing discrimination towards people with records (H8221); and release of people charged with misdemeanors without requirement of bail (H7353).
The action was also in response to an April 7th Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, where community members and organizers were met with racist microaggressions and dismissiveness by committee members where Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) President Richard Ferrucio was permitted to personally attack and violate the privacy rights of directly impacted community members; as well as an April 13th House Judiciary Committee hearing, where many community leaders were prevented from testifying in support of these bills because they were not called until after midnight.
The action was organized by formerly incarcerated and family impacted organizers with Direct Action for Rights and Equality’s Behind the Walls Committee and the Stop Torture RI Coalition.
“I want today to be a great day. A day that we understand and learn from each other and network,” said Tarah Dorsey of Project Weber/Renew, who acted as emcee for the event.
“The racial inequalities in America are worse in our justice system,” said Reverend Chontell Nelson Washington, Interim Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. “People of color have an inescapable dilemma, that is, not getting enough change fast enough.”
“We have to do this together to end this mass criminalization and this war on poverty in Rhode Island,” said Cherie Cruz, one of the co-founders of the Formerly Incarcerated Union. “We know there’re barriers to employment and barriers to housing when people have past drug related convictions.”
“Why would the Department of Corrections not want our brothers and sisters to get rehabilitation while in segregation or high security?” asked Brandon Robinson, Campaign Organizer for the Stop Torture Rhode Island Campaign. “The answer is: Their own job security.”
“If it wasn’t for the advocacy and support that I got from many organizations in the community – including Behind the Walls – my son would have died in the ACI,” said Jennifer Munoz from the Behind the Walls Committee at DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality). “These people are not disposable. My son is not disposable.”
Raquel Baker led the crowd in a moment of silence for Charlene Liberty, who passed away this April at the age of 38, after being tortured in solitary confinement at the ACI.
“The bills that we are supporting today are opportunities for us to fight the ways the system keeps us trapped in cycles of incarceration, trauma and poverty,” said Alexis Morales from Project Weber/Renew and Behind the Walls Committee.
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“A small amount of [prison] time can change your life,” said Trent Manning, and organizer with Behind the Walls. “They’re holding individuals for two weeks, ten days, two months, six months… and when you come home, there is a list of charges attached to your name until the day you die.”
After the speaking program, community members marched inside and outside the State House holding signs reading “Reimagine Public Safety,” “Poverty is Not a Crime,” and “Invest in Communities Not Police and Prisons.”