Families and friends of prisoners in Florida are joining forces with advocacy groups to create a stronger voice to protect their loved ones’ rights against the state’s correctional institutions, according the Florida Times Union/ Jacksonville.com.
Two groups representing prisoner’s rights have focused on two main issues, sentencing reform and administrative policy. The groups have fostered a relationship with families of the incarcerated, getting families organized to participate in the process, to ensure their legacies will include the ability to lead the fight of the incarcerated.
“Visitation is one of those issues that is uniquely understood by the families of the people who are incarcerated. You almost have to be in that position to understand its importance.” said Greg Newburn, state policy director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
That group partnered with Florida Cares, a nonprofit inmate advocacy group that has compiled a vast network of people who never envisioned getting involved with the issues of prison. This network, which includes lawyers, nurses, doctors, teachers, EMTs, firefighters and politicians, enables family members of the incarcerated to have one unified voice.
Denise Rock, who has led Florida Cares for two years, has created that voice for incarcerated people and their families, which now positions them as a group with political power.
Rock, a former paralegal and criminal defense investigator stated, “The people who had loved ones who are incarcerated, they want to help and they want to get in there and do something, but they don’t know what to do.”
Rock’s group has successfully challenged proposed rule changes by giving the loved ones a platform to voice their objections.
Concurrently, FAMM, a foundational criminal justice reform group that brings years of political experience to influence state capitals, such as Tallahassee, Fla., took notice of Florida Cares.
Newburn recognized the need to meld the two political activist groups together to ad- dress current issues of reform and to organize a long-term strategy. “What we’ve come to understand is those two issues are not separate…They are two sides of the same coin.”
An example of the partnership’s strength was seen last year. The groups represented families who objected to the proposed elimination of visits in Florida prisons. The effort prompted the prison system to abandon the change.
Denise Caffo, a board member of Florida Cares, said “Change is going to happen one way or another…The mindset is changing. We just can’t give up.”