MI Weekly Wrap-Up

Project MI gets so much AMAZING content by our AWESOME Facebook group members, We want to begin sharing the week in review with our members everywhere!

One FB user posted a great CBS News article titled, Unequal Justice Under the Law,” which ponders the question of Does our criminal justice system truly guarantee JUSTICE FOR ALL? 

The State of Arkansas announced that it will be privatizing several Youth Centers.  More on this later…

This LA Times article revealed the sticker price on housing inmates in California costs more than a Harvard education (?!?!)–and prompted this blogpost.

The Bureau of Prisons is moving in the right direction, finally requiring that federal facilities provide free tampons to female inmates (thank you Senator Kamala Harris)!  As noted in the article, “[t]he policy reform will only apply to the 12,600 women in federal prisons, however, and not to inmates in state prisons or jails.”

This week, it was all about Charlottesville, of course.  Several members posted videos of vigils and other events protesting and/or memorializing the Charlottesville events.  One member posted an interesting visual plotting overt and covert White Supremacy, and I hope you caught our Blog Posts on Racism, White Supremacy & Mass Incarceration and Vigilance in the Face of Hate.

Also, don’t miss this heart touching NPR snippet As A Boy In An Adult Prison, His Mother’s Letters ‘Were Everything’.

Finally, don’t forget about our upcoming Monday, August 21st MI Institute-Justice League Meeting at the Benjamin J. Hooks Public Library.

Have a great weekend MI, be vigilant!


Vigilance in the Face of Hate

White Supremacy is real, it is certainly out of the shadows, and the backlash of Obama’s presidency is much more problematic than anyone anticipated.  According to this report by the Southern Poverty Law Center,, there are 917 hate groups currently operating across the U.S..  However, even facing an unprecedented amount of hate crime across the country, Progressives must remain vigilant in our cause, and remember what Fredrick Douglas told us long ago, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Accordingly, we must continue to DEMAND that our lawmakers disavow White Supremacy–in all of its forms–not just in addressing the #Charlottesville events and removing confederate monuments.  Removal of these disgusting figures is a necessary starting point.  But we must also DEMAND, with vigilance, reform of laws and policies derivative of a once White Supremacist ruled justice regime.

Thanks Devin for posting this article to our Project MI Facebook Group!

Hate groups
Note that these 917 active hate groups are NOT exclusive to the South.


Housing a Prisoner in CA Costs More than a Harvard Education

Check out this LA Times article posted by one of our members explaining how it costs more to house a prisoner in California annually than tuition at Harvard.    As the article notes, California Governor Jerry Brown’s spending plan for the fiscal year “includes a record $11.4 billion for the corrections department while also predicting that there will be 11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved earlier releases for many inmates.”CDCR Prisoners

The enormous cost is following the 2011 Supreme Court ruling in  Brown v. Plata requiring the state to reduce its prison population by 137.5%.  Since, although the state has reduce prison population by one-quarter since 2005, costs still continue to skyrocket.  This illustrates that if you don’t figure out ways to CLOSE prisons, and to reform the justice system in a comprehensive manner, you don’t save much money.  Providing adequate facilities and personnel to house the many many prisons we built during the boom in use of prisons as a means of crime control is extremely expensive–and only lucrative to the prison industrial complex.

Racism, White Supremacy & Mass Incarceration

The horrible events in Charlottesville this past weekend should serve as a reminder that addressing racism and White Supremacy is essential to unpacking the incredibly complicated and powerful systemic structure of mass incarceration.   The two are deeply intertwined and inseparable, especially considering one in three Black men will go to prison in their lifetime as compared to one in seventeen White men.  With the United States as a supposed World leader, to accept that the plight of one-third of all Black men is prison, is also acceptance of the premise that Black lives matter less in the United States.

Not only does the way we massly incarcerate Black men have historical roots in slavery and Jim Crow, but many current justice policies serve as perpetual reminders of our horrid past of White Supremacy.

Especially in the South, past lawmakers and law enforcement were almost all White Supremacists at one time, and the DNA of those resulting laws and policies are manifestations of that White Supremacy with contemporary disparate consequences.   The way we police communities, the way law enforcement interacts with communities of color and legally may use race as a means of profiling for criminal activity, and the way that we literally cage people even before they have been convicted of doing anything wrong, are all remnants of slavery and Jim Crow just to name a few.   These practices are all okay today because Americans largely accept the parts of American culture heavily derived from White Supremacy.   45’s failure to immediately and swiftly disavow the Charlottesville events and murder are merely a very prominent example.   The push-back of political leaders on dismantling monuments honoring members of the confederacy are another (in 2013 Tennessee passed the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act and it was amended to make removal even harder in 2016).

Not only is White Supremacy a truth in federal and state laws and law enforcement, but it is also a truth in current thinking, even for many that do not believe they are racist.   Implicit bias research has illuminated that the racialized way that Americans have been conditioned to see crime is very much rooted in White supremacist ideology, and has serious implications for both law enforcement and American penal philosophy generally.    It’s why we have to “analyze” whether victims of police shootings have criminal histories or whether an officer was rationally “fearful” in unnecessarily taking the life of an unarmed civilian.

While I would love this group to simply move forward with bright-eyed proposals for criminal justice reform solely focused on pushing those critical changes forward, ignoring the issue of race is impractical and impossible in this work.  How do you push such policies forward when American thinking is deeply entrenched in a racist, sexist and violent past that has only lightly recognized its transgressions against People of Color?

That White life is supreme, that it is privileged, is an unfortunate truth for non-White Americans. It can also be infectious and terroristic when that privileged is boldly embraced and hurled into mainstream culture as demonstrated in recent months and this past weekend.

Accordingly, we should proceed with an abundance of caution with ANY criminal justice reform that does not address racism, bias, and racial disparity.   The mass incarceration reform movement has only gotten some (weak) wind now that an economic case can be made to incentivize reform and the U.S. is spending Billions of dollars a year on corrections federally and locally.  Although this economic reality has been one of the greatest sources of bi-partisan support, ignoring the highly racialized aspects of mass incarceration, or failing to address these issues at the forefront is a mistake.

Further, it is hard to imagine how reforms can be addressed in a bi-partisan way when many on the Right refuse to acknowledge the critical role that White Supremacy plays in the current criminal justice climate.  The inability of this country to face the lie of White Supremacy seriously constrains the thought possibilities of meaningful justice reform.   It is a mistake that Conservatives make often–the willingness to ignore how race has permeated the very fiber of every important system in this country–and it has recently caused the pirating of the GOP by 45.

Addressing by speaking truth to power is not enough.  We must have people power to make the difference.  It takes coalition work by those people who are brave enough to address it in the face of difficult times–often thankless and unfulfilling coalition work. Coalition work requires thinking about the interdependencies of oppression.  Such theories about how to challenge White Supremacy through coalition work can be used in transformative ways in our quest for justice.   As noted by Professor Mari Matsuda, work in coalitions is essential to challenging systemic oppression because oppressive structures are so interdependent that unless they are eradicated, others will grow back in new places.   Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, as well as other scholars, have detailed how we are currently reaping the atrocities of the previously sowed systemic structures of slavery and Jim Crow.

We are a diverse group, so addressing race is not easy, but we simply cannot do one without the other.    Doing what is comfortable, and ignoring racism and White Supremacy, will not protect the beneficiaries of our mission from oppression.  Our “colorblind” ideology of the past fifty years illustrates that it never has.


Please  join us for our 8/21 MI Institute-Justice League meeting, where we will discuss how the consequences of Americans’ strong association of crime with Blacks and Latinos extend far beyond policing.  For more info, click here.


MI Institute-Justice League Meeting on Mon., 8/21

MI Institute Graphic

On Monday, August 21 at 6pm we will hold our August Justice League meeting discussing bias in the criminal justice system and how to confront it in our work.   Hope to see you there!

All are welcome to attend!

For more info on coverage click here.  For the Facebook invite click here.

Tennessee is 10th Worse in the WORLD in Mass Incarceration & Blacks are Grossly Overrepresented

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, Blacks are grossly overrepresented in Tennessee prisons, while Whites are underrepresented.
Also, check out this super interesting graph plotting how all the states match up on mass incarceration when compared to one another and other countries.   Spoiler alert: Tennessee is the 10th worse in the WORLD per capita every 100,000 residents, District of Columbia is #1 with Louisiana right behind.  
Over 57,000 people are locked up in various facilities in Tennessee.

Carver High School Partnership

Project MI is excited to announce that our Youth Advocacy Committee will be working in partnership with Carver Alternative High School this Fall! If you are interested in mentoring, or providing instruction or other resources to our students, please drop your name and information in the comments or email pjmimemphis@gmail.com. Each of our students have had contact with the Shelby County juvenile justice court–some of them with pending cases–our goal is to resource and support our students in ways that help avoid future contact with the criminal justice system.
We will serve 26-30 young men and are most interested in providing instruction, mentorship and discussions in the following areas: leadership, justice system, advocacy/self-advocacy, public speaking, social responsibility, financial and economic literacy, democracy/activism, and self governance. Our subject areas are flexible but will largely be guided by student input and need.
We are also researching possibilities for community projects (no clean-up please) and student workshops–please drop a comment with any suggestions.
Thanks to my Youth Advocacy Committee Co-Chair, Jaques Hamilton, for making the Carver partnership happen! With your support, we CAN assist our young men in becoming leaders of the future!

Smarter on Crime, Not Tougher

Progressives getting in the right spaces and VOTING accordingly is a big part of the criminal justice answer.  Check out this great story about a young Texas attorney locally reforming criminal justice as a District Attorney.   There are folks that want to hear what true Progressives have to say and who believe smarter, not tougher, criminal justice policies are the way to go.


Republicans AND Democrats should both be challenged and checked on the crux of their policies by enthusiastic forward-thinkers.  This is happening in Philly and other cities as well.


ICE Post
Immigration is the new wave of mass incarceration and we have to begin more consistently recognizing this in our work.  Although the current “Free MI Kids” Campaign focus is kids in the justice system, this should fit into our broader vision for justice reform.  Personally, I need to do a better job of this. Although it is apparent to focus on the disparate impact of the justice system on Blacks, especially in Memphis, the current violations of civil and human rights in Latino communities is a violation of human rights to all people whether they are American citizens, or not.
In many groups I’ve been in, the feeling among some folks when the idea of collectively addressing causes comes up is, “there goes yet another group putting their rights before us when we haven’t been recognized, when we haven’t gotten our due, when our communities hurt and when our blood/sweat/tears have paved the way for everyone else’s rights.” But the reality is, so many of our problems are the same.
Additionally, people of color and other diverse groups are in a battle for very fundamental rights at every level. NATIONALLY, statements of blatant disregard for human rights, health and all that illustrates any semblance of empathy are now hurled at at people as insults. The sobering thought of how far we have NOT come is literally painful.
Not to mention, so many of our problems REALLY are the same. Blacks AND Latinos are…
…over-policed communities…
…disproportionately targeted by police
…more likely to be arrested
…more likely to be arrested on a non-violent drug crime although all races tend to use and distribute drugs in similar percentages
…more likely to be racially profiled in police stops, searches, arrests, and convictions
….more likely to enter the foster care system, (kids entering the foster care system enter the justice system at higher rates)
…more likely to have incarcerated parents
…more likely to be perceived by Americans as violent, and more deserving of stiff penalties, including death
…less likely to graduate from HS
We really could go on, but this could get depressing and just damn embarrassing.
So I post this ad nauseam rant in part from a place of conviction but also to reach out to see if someone would like to serve as a liaison to make immigration a part of our agenda? I think I speak for all in our group when I say we would like to support local  Memphis efforts of our Latino brothers and sisters, but we also have to somehow know what’s going on, where our missions align.  With the issue of immigration at the forefront nationally, we need someone consistently highlighting the importance of immigration policy in our discussions and raising when our causes should align.  I worry that without the representation/view in the room, immigration issues won’t get the through consideration in our programming that they deserve.
If you know someone that might be interested in serving as out Immigration-Latino liaison, please pass this request along or drop a comment.  A local story on the Memphis ICE raids appears here.
As Project MI’s Prison Outreach Coordinator Bridget Bowman Riley has noted, we must STAND with and for our Latino brothers and sisters in these turbulent times!
Please pass along these three instructive handouts on protecting families from ICE raids to anyone that might need them:

“Fed Up” Will Fail

Today’s press conference on Mayor Strickland’s “Fed Up” initiative–this is very problematic and disappointing. There is no data supporting that longer sentences reduce crime, better rehabilitate incarcerated individuals or anything of the sort.  Offenders subject to mandatory minimums typically spend twice as much time in prison as individuals who were not for the same offense. It is truly infuriating that most jurisdictions are winding back the terrible criminal justice policies that contribute to mass incarceration, or at a minimum are attempting to fix them, while Memphis leaders and the state of Tennessee insist on taking us right back to the failed policies of the War on Drugs by promoting crap like mandatory minimums and truth in sentencing provisions.
 Fed Up
This announcements means that the City will spend $600,000 over the next few months, in a poor-resourced city, to tell potential offenders that they will be locked up longer if they commit gun crimes.  As a tribute to this terrible policy, I’m listing a few things we should truly be “fed up” with, please feel free to add to the list…
•False media and political narratives about people of color and crime
•The denial of the importance of considering individualized situations of alleged offenders in sentencing, parole and charging decisions
•Policies that are not driven by data or proven to be effective at anything but locking folks up
•Failure to recognize the connections between education, job opportunity and crime
•Lack of meaningful rehabilitative services in detention centers contributing to high rates of recidivism
•Education as low in priority nationally, statewide and locally
•The justice system’s systemic dehumanization of people of color and the incarcerated LGBTQ community
•Separate justice systems based on race and income
•Criminalizing poverty and mental disability
Like all initiatives that refuse to focus on the socio-economic causes of mass incarceration, this “Fed Up” initiative will fail and only succeed in wasting $300,000 and rallying up “tough on crimers.”