At the Quaker Welcome Center, we regularly see how the stories and connections of Friends are helping to make change on Capitol Hill.
A few weeks ago, your stories and advocacy helped reform our criminal justice system. Congress passed, and the president signed it into law, a bill known as The FIRST STEP Act (PL 115-391). It is a positive step towards addressing mass incarceration and bringing more fairness to our criminal justice system by reducing mandatory minimum sentences.
FCNL’s Quaker Welcome Center was a part of this successful process—from the businessman who attended a Witness Wednesday lobby training to the early morning breakfast video conference with Senator Chuck Grassley (IA), the lead sponsor of the bill, and eight Quakers in Iowa.
Scott Breeze, a Friend and businessman, recently participated Witness Wednesday lobby training. While he has lobbied local legislatures, he had not done it with Congress. Breeze began seriously thinking about how he can engage Congress.
Breeze is the owner of a business that solely employs returned citizens. As someone who was formerly incarcerated himself, he has experiences that are important to the discussion about criminal justice reform. The two-hour Witness Wednesday lobby training that Breeze attended gave him the tools he needed to share his story with his elected officials and their staff.
Breeze was the last of the Quakers briefed at the Quaker Welcome Center in 2018 who lobbied Congress to pass criminal justice reform legislation. He was encouraged by the passage of The FIRST STEP Act; he has committed to lobby Congress again.
FCNL has advocated for sentencing reform as a part of its criminal justice program for many years. In 2016, this was the legislative ask of the Advocacy Teams and the Quaker Public Policy Institute. However, each time the bill got close to passage, it was delayed by objections from members of Congress, or the Justice Department.
The faithful advocacy of Friends and others came at critical moments for the legislation. When support for Sen. Grassley’s bill wavered, our witness as Quakers and people of faith shored it up.
Carole Winkleblack, one of the Iowans on videoconference with Senator Grassley attests to the long-term effectiveness of our witness.
“Years ago, Senator Grassley was opposed to, or at least dubious about, getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. But he read the research. And he talked with his constituents. We changed his mind,” she said.
Winkleblack said that the power of speaking to our legislative representatives is just amazing. “I remember hearing Senator Grassley and realizing that he is a human being and that he can change, and adapt his thinking, and can learn…he is just like me,” she added.