A prisoners’ rights research organization highlights in its annual report accomplishments and reforms made in the criminal justice system.
The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) published its first annual report November 2013.
“The non-profit, non-partisan PPI produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass incarceration and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society,” according to the report.
The report analyzed these four core issues that have drawn national attention:
• Prison gerrymandering,
• The high cost of phone calls made from prison,
• Proposals to end letters to prisoners,
• Geography-based punishments.
When PPI learned that for years millions of prisoners throughout the U.S. were being counted in the wrong place by the Census Bureau, it exposed the gerrymandering practice. This raised awareness, later creating the impetus for legislation to change this policy at the local, state, and national levels.
“For more than a decade, we’ve been leading the movement to keep the prison system from exerting undue influence on the political process,” PPI reported.
The Census Bureau has now been urged to tabulate incarcerated individuals in the communities from which they come from by the 2020 census, instead of where these inmates are confined, PPI reported.
“The public was unaware that prison gerrymandering was distorting our democracy and impeding criminal justice reform,” PPI reported.
Two reports released by PPI exposed the inherent nature of price gouging by prison telephone companies such as Global Tel Link that provides service to inmates.
The Price To Call Home, and Please Deposit All of Your Money revealed kickbacks to prisons, exorbitant rates, and hidden fees in the prison telephone industry.
The reports “explained how prison systems and private companies collude to charge unconscionable sums to poor families that simply want to stay in touch with an incarcerated loved one,” PPI reported.
“We wrote this report (Please Deposit…) to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prevent companies from creating arbitrary fees out of thin air to negate any caps that the FCC might impose on the cost of a call. It is clear from the FCC’s historic ruling in August that they heard our concerns and took action accordingly,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of PPI.
Recently PPI learned about a progression of sheriffs around the country attempting to ban letters written to inmates. The then impending jail mail policy was to allow postcard only mail communication from family members.
Later, PPI policy analyst, Leah Sakala, released her report Return to Sender. With the help of Sakala’s report, inmate advocates in California were able to halt the implementation of the mail policy in the Santa Clara County Jail, according to the report.
“A growing number of sheriffs are experimenting with a harmful idea: banning letters from loved ones. We are pushing back,” PPI reported. “We wrote the first comprehensive report exposing the harm of letter bans in local jails.”
In its report titled, The Geography of Punishment, PPI details how sentencing enhancement zones do harm to communities while failing to protect children. The zones “miss the mark.”
“Increased penalties in school zone areas worsen racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” PPI reported. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick endorsed PPI’s proposal to reduce enhancement zones to 100 feet. This was done to reduce the state’s prison population, which in turn saved taxpayers money.
PPI’s Wagner testified as an expert witness in a Colorado case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union where the City of Englewood created an ordinance restricting where certain sex offenders and their families may live. The ordinance was subsequently overturned.
“When a legislature decides everywhere is special, nowhere is special. Aside from our main campaigns and ongoing projects, we’ve had several opportunities to support our colleagues’ campaigns in advancing larger discussions about mass incarceration,” PPI reported.
PPI formed in 2001 out of the idea three students had to make public and document how the affects of mass incarceration undermines the national welfare of the United States.