The COVID-19 pandemic has drilled into us a standard set of precautionary measures: Wash your hands, maintain distance from other people, and avoid groups. But there is a population within our society that is unable to take the precautions that we take for granted: incarcerated people.
In its 2019 session, the California State Legislature banned the state from entering into contracts with for-profit prisons, including for immigrant detention. As a Quaker organization, FCNL applauds this initiative. Private business interests have no place in the justice system. For-profit corporations exacerbate the horrific effects of detention felt by millions of people and families.
Between the escalation with Iran and the impeachment hearings, Congress has been abuzz with activity so far this year—and advocates have been hard at work, too. The president’s State of the Union address, set for Feb. 4, will serve as an important point of reflection for FCNL and all those working to create change in Congress.
The 1994 crime bill, formally known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, reframed the U.S. attitude towards criminal justice. Instead of compassion and rehabilitation, the focus shifted towards being “tough on crime.” Through numerous cuts and changes, the 1994 crime bill extended this “toughness” to the treatment of our incarcerated population. One target of the bill was education: After 1994, incarcerated individuals could no longer access Pell Grants.
Recently, I joined Illinois Rep Danny Davis to talk about lifting the Pell Grant ban and giving people more access to education. Congress has introduced a bill - the bipartisan REAL Act (H.R.2168 /S.1074) - which would restore access to Pell Grants. But it is not moving as fast as planned and needs some helpful pressure for final passage.
This fall Congress has a chance do do something life-changing: restore access to Pell Grans for incarcerated students. On September 10, 2019, FCNL hosted a special briefing with Rep. Danny Davis (IL-07) and José Woss, FCNL’s legislative manager for criminal justice.
The REAL Act is a bipartisan bill that seeks to restore access to Pell Grants for incarcerated individuals. Ending this ban would help to unlock the potential of incarcerated individuals across the nation and help them to achieve personal and career success, while simultaneously lowering the societal costs of recidivism. Below are quotes of support from lawmakers, the secretary of education, and activists from across the political spectrum as well as individuals who benefited from Pell Grants while incarcerated.
On July 25, Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government will start carrying out death sentences for the first time in nearly two decades by ordering the executions of five inmates. FCNL opposes this action and believes the death penalty should be abolished in all jurisdictions.
In the 1990’s leaders in Washington, D.C. sought to increase punitive sentences and address crime through harsh punishment. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (P.L. 103-322) increased prison sentences, created incentives for states to build new prisons, and strengthened laws that made the incarcerated serve more of their sentence before their release. The law also eliminated Pell Grants in prisons.
FCNL's multi-issue advocacy connects Quaker testimonies with legislation in the U.S. Congress and the administration.
FCNL has moved to telework!
The FCNL offices are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. We are lobbying online and by phone for the world we seek. Your engagement with Congress at this time is essential! Join us and become a monthly donor.