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CPMM minute on mass incarceration

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Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting to act on Mass Incarceration

On May 14, 2017, CPMM approved the following minute on mass incarceration:

As Quakers, we are proud of our abolitionist forebears.  To continue to claim that legacy with integrity we cannot be silent in the face of the 21st century face of slavery:  mass incarceration.  Silence is complicity. 

Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting goes on public record in opposition to mass incarceration, as one step in taking it as seriously as we would have taken slavery.  We are clear as a body that this is a violent, unjust, racist system, one that runs contrary to our most deeply held beliefs, and one that must be challenged with all the resources we can bring to bear. 

Having committed ourselves to such a public declaration, we commit to supporting each other to discern the variety of actions that we are called to – individually, in our Quaker meeting, and as a wider community.

Mass incarceration is a monster with many tentacles.  There are many places to engage:  all the injustices that lead up to prison, including the school-to-prison pipeline; the prison experience itself; the challenges of reentry.  There are many levels, ranging from responding to the immediate needs of individuals and their families, to challenging systems – from sentencing guidelines to the prison for profit industry, to challenging the clause in the 13th Amendment that permitted the continuation of slave conditions in prison as punishment for crime.

Each one of us needs encouragement to find our own voice and our own contribution to unraveling the fabric of this evil.  And we must raise a common voice, saying that we as a people will not be silent in the face of such evil. 

This minute is available on our website at:

 At our morning meeting for business on 1/14/18, we had a follow-up session on mass incarceration.  We reviewed the minute we passed in May of 2017, reviewed actions that have been suggested by the Peace and Social Concerns Committee since then, and heard from community members about other responses they are involved with or aware of.  These ways of engaging include:

Experiential contact, i.e.,

Write to prisoners on death row

Participate in a workshop on Alternatives to Violence [email protected]

Attend court sessions to witness how the criminal justice system plays out and how bail is set 

In-kind contributions, i.e.,

Contribute supplies to and volunteer with Redemption Housing

Contribute to Books through Bars

Support MenzFit to provide interview clothing and other services 

Targeted purchasing, i.e.,

Patronize caterers that hire returning citizens.

Patronize local black businesses.

Buy and share Becky Birtha’s book for children with family members in jail

Self-education, i.e.,

Attend educational events

Listen to the WURD morning show on the radio (90.0 AM).

Follow The Center for Returning Citizens and Jondhi Harrell on Facebook

The Center for Returning Citizens - TCRC in Philly

Learn about issues and organizations that are working against mass incarceration, i.e.,

 #No215JailSankofa Community Empowerment and Frontline Dads 

Educating others, i.e.,

Share our minute with Quarterly Meeting

Share our minute with elected officials

Speak up about the clause in the 13th Amendment that permits the continuation of slave conditions in prison as punishment for crime.

Advocacy, i.e.,

Support a community bail fund 

Sign Decarcerate PA's petition to end cash bail in Philadelphia

Support organizations that are working against mass incarceration, such as POWER Live Free

We agreed that the array of possible responses that have been offered make it possible for everybody to be involved in some way.  Several people expressed a wish to move beyond mitigating harm to working for change in the system.

We reflected in small groups on what it would mean to live out this minute more fully, as individuals and as a meeting, then tested in the whole group whether we are moving toward a corporate response to mass incarceration. There was significant interest in joining the growing effort to end cash bail in Philadelphia.  This is a system akin to debtors’ prison that keeps poor people in jail before trial, often for months or years, because they can’t afford bail.   

We came to unity in a proposal to test whether the meeting was ready to explore ways of acting corporately to end cash bail. This was formally presented and approved in the afternoon business session.  As short-term follow-up, the meeting clerk will forward our minute to Quarterly Meeting and write a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer on mass incarceration and cash bail.  She and the clerk of Peace and Social Concerns are working together to identify additional steps that the meeting can take.