Changing the Conversation: Families for Justice as Healing

Why is Mass Incarceration an Issue We Care About?
See Mass Incarceration of Women: More Than Orange is the New Black below. 
Changing the Conversation: Families for Justice as Healing 


In the state house, on the National Mall, in academia, behind prison walls and on the streets of Boston, Families for Justice at Healing (FFJAH)  is working to promote community wellness alternatives to counter the mass incarceration of women. For Executive Director, Andrea James, these issues are personal.
In 2009, Andrea began serving her own sentence when her baby was just 6 months old. She left her child in her husband's arms and entered Danbury Federal Correctional Institute -- now made famous by the often comedic show, Orange Is the New Black. But for Andrea and the thousand other women at FCI Danbury, the conditions and hardship they endured are no laughing matter.
Incensed by the stories she heard, Andrea and her fellow inmates vowed to create a movementfocused on creating "a more accurate portrait of who are incarcerated women and what are the issues they are facing."
FFJAH does this in several ways:

  • Creating the Free Her Conference at the The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race Justice at Harvard University to explore alternatives to incarceration and community wellness programs.
  • Creating legislation for a sentencing alternative forprimary caretakers of children under 18 years and whose conviction was for a nonviolent offense. 
  • Supporting adolescent daughters of incarcerated women through a summer program, Coding for Justice. This summer program reaches out to adolescent daughters whose mothers are incarcerated with the aim of supporting this particularly vulnerable population. 
  • Facilitating and participating in the organization of the Free Her Rally on the National Mall in D.C., to raise awareness of the mass incarceration of women.

FFJAH seeks to empower people to create community change. Last year, the young Coding for Justice participants received a standing ovation when they spoke at the State House, sharing their unique stories. Andrea shared that it was "so wonderful to see them become empowered, going from the stigma of being embarrassed and afraid of people knowing [their mothers were incarcerated] to embracing that and using their voice, not form a place of shame but a place of power".
While FFJAH has moved the needle, there is still so much work to be done. Andrea states that"until more people understand the injustice [in the disproportionate mass incarceration] ...we're not going to really be able to make change".
To find out more information and to continue the conversation, check out the following resources: Families for Justice as Healing's website, the Prison Policy Initiative, Wellesley Centers for Women's Moving Beyond Incarceration for Women white paper [pdf], The Brennan Center for JusticeThe New Jim Crow, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the New York Review of BooksThe New Yorker, and The Sentencing Project's fact sheet [pdf] on incarcerated 
Mass Incarceration: More Than Orange is the New Black
The issue of mass incarceration is frequently in the headlines, Michelle Alexander's best selling book, The New Jim Crow, brought focus to this problem and just this week it is featured in both the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. While mass incarceration may primarily effect men, we need to ask how does mass incarceration uniquely effect women and their families?  The lives of incarcerated women have entered popular culture through Orange Is the New Black; but there is more than that to this story. This newsletter explores the incarceration of women, the rippling effect on their families, and what LZF grant recipient, Families for Justice as Healing, is doing to make a difference.
According to the ACLU, 25% of the world's incarcerated are in American prisons, despite our country making up only 5% of the world's population. Cleary, this is a growing national problem. 
The Sentencing Project reports that although the likelihood of imprisonment for women is 1:56, the number changes drastically if the woman is black (1:19), Hispanic (1:45), or white (1:118). 
Since the 1980's, the incarceration rate for women has increased 518%. Mass incarceration primarily effects low, income, low education minority women; women who are often sentenced for non-violent crimes because of mandatory minimum sentences created by the war on drugs. Prisons and the prison system that historically served men, are now housing record numbers of women -- often ignoring the unique health, family, and programmatic, and re-entry needs of female prisoners.

This issue effects more than the woman who is incarcerated. Only recently in Massachusetts, have prisons stopped shackling incarcerated women who are in childbirth. Children, in particular, suffer greatly when their primary caretaker is imprisoned. One study found that 29% of eleven- to fourteen-year old children with mothers in prison subsequently were arrested and/or incarcerated. 

The Lenny Zakim Fund supports reform and the civil rights of these women through our grantee, Families for Justice as Healing. Read above learn more about their effective and important work.