Honoring the Legacy of MLK: Putting an End to Mass Supervision – Gamaliel

By The Gamaliel Network

Equal Voice network ally Gamaliel is a grassroots network of non-partisan faith-based organizations that seeks to empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their livesThis year, as part of the network’s efforts to advance criminal justice reform, Gamaliel affiliates across the country declared their commitment to ending Mass Supervision, which refers to the huge increase in the number of people around the country who are on probation, parole, or “extended supervision.” To learn more, read the following overview from Gamaliel, click through for more resources on their fight against Mass Supervision, and stay tuned for updates and action opportunities on this important Equal Voice issue.

Exactly one year before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Riverside Church warned, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” While the context for the speech was “breaking the silence on the Vietnam War,” the subtext predicted a future of increasing wealth and income disparity, racial bias, and structural racism, making it possible for the imprisonment of mass supervision not just to replace but also to augment the brick and mortar prisons and flourish.

For years, Gamaliel affiliates across the country have organized to end the oppression of mass incarceration, and in June 2018 leaders from those affiliates gathered together and committed to tackling its twin: mass supervision. Mass Supervision refers to the huge increase in the number of people around the country who are on probation, parole or “extended supervision.” These are people who are not in a jail or prison, but who are under the control of the Corrections system. People on Supervision are deprived of some basic rights, such as the right to vote and the right to due process before being punished. In 1980, the number of people on Supervision in the US was about 1.25 million. By 2016, that number was about 5 million.

Pastor Marilyn Miller of WISDOM, the statewide Gamaliel affiliate of Wisconsin, calls for criminal justice reform

On January 23, 2019, in conjunction with the MLK holiday, many of those same affiliates openly declared their collective commitment to ending mass supervision by holding public actions in their communities. From Pittsburgh, PA, to Springfield and Chicago, IL, from Oakland, CA, to St. Louis, MO, from Baltimore, MD, to Kansas City, KS, affiliates took action to address the individual criminal justice issues that impact their local communities. Press conferences at state capitols and DA’s offices, meetings with editorial boards, prayer vigils, restorative justice roundtables, and advocacy trainings were some of the actions taken that day.

During these actions, clergy and leaders not only denounced mass supervision but also laid out the theological underpinnings—developed by Gamaliel’s National Religious Leaders’ Caucus—for their opposition to mass supervision. Theological assertions reflecting a diverse set of faith traditions include:

  • Freedom is a high priority for persons from Abrahamic and other faiths, based upon God’s call to each of us. The sacred texts of the Quran, the Jewish scriptures, the Christian New Testament, and the Unitarian Universalist core principles all share the intrinsic value and right of each person to make decisions, take actions, and shape their future. These faiths recognize that all persons are capable of making mistakes and must be held accountable for their mistakes. But forgiveness and second chances are also integral to these faith traditions. Opportunities for those who have been convicted to restart their lives in responsible and healthy directions should be emphasized over punishment.
  • Exploitation of the most vulnerable in society by those with wealth and power is condemned in all of our faith traditions. Methods of supervision that reap benefits for private corporations at the expense of those under supervised control represent a further assault upon our faith values and upon the individuals and families that suffer these abuses.

The theological statement and actions culminated with a collective call to action: “We therefore join with the ancient prophets, with Jesus, and with contemporary prophets in proclaiming freedom for prisoners who have paid their debt to society and need advocates to support them as they re-enter society in liberating yet responsible ways.”

On that April day at Riverside Church, King continued his prophetic remarks:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

And so it is with criminal justice as a whole and mass supervision in particular . . . “an edifice that needs restructuring.”

A Look at Some of the Actions Taken by Gamaliel Affiliates

Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2) in the Kansas City, MO/KS region. Clergy and leaders held a press conference with Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree to celebrate the implementation of a Conviction Integrity Unit as a major step forward on the journey for criminal justice reform in the Kansas City region. Rev. Dr. Bobby Love, Sr., who serves as chairman of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, called the Conviction Integrity Unit, “vitally important to the African American community, so that a high degree of transparency and integrity be maintained and to assure the Criminal Justice system is fair and equitable for all persons.”

Faith Coalition for the Common Good (FCCG) in Springfield, IL. Rev. David Anderson, as a member of FCCG’s Restorative Justice Task Force, published an article in the February edition of Pure News educating the community about mass supervision and calling for action to end it use.

Gamaliel affiliate Genesis convenes a Restorative Justice Roundtable with allies in the Oakland community

Genesis in Oakland, CA. After a year of dialogue with public officials, Genesis convened a Restorative Justice Roundtable with allies—Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, Impact Justice, and Community Works. Forty community leaders participated in a restorative justice circle experience. Elected officials were called on to end punitive practices in the juvenile justice system and institute restorative practices.

Bridge Maryland, Inc. (BMI) in Baltimore, MD and surrounding counties.  On Sunday, February 1, thirteen congregations included one of two litanies composed by Rev. Dr. Hoffman  F. Brown, pastor of Wayland Baptist Church and one of the founding members of Bridge, in their worship services that proclaimed a unified position on the devastating impact of mass supervision on individuals, families, and communities and called for an end to the practice.

Litany I: https://1drv.ms/w/s!ArKod0b5-6cRyD-W_NF_zx2uFI1A

Litany II: https://1drv.ms/w/s!ArKod0b5-6cRyEAOyR8JlFQmpSej

Gamaliel of Metro Chicago (GMC) in Chicago, IL. Clergy and leaders from the region held a prayer vigil calling for the end to mass supervision. Earlier in the week they addressed the King Day Celebration held at Cathedral of Joy in Olympia Fields, IL about the evils of mass supervision.

WISDOM, the statewide Gamaliel affiliate in Wisconsin, comprised of 11 affiliates across the state, hosted events in Madison, Milwaukee, and Eau Claire introducing their newly-released Justice Lab report, “The Wisconsin Corrections Story.”

Panelists highlighted key findings of the report (i.e., the growing prison population, the high cost of the current incarceration and supervision model, racial and gender disparities) and called for a focus on community-centered justice. Then leaders were trained to engage legislators on key issues in preparation for their upcoming Madison Day at the Capitol.

For additional information, view the following resources from Gamaliel:

Mass Supervision: A Focus for Gamaliel Work to Reform the Penal System

Theological Statement on Mass Supervision and Call to Action

Gamaliel is a grassroots network of non-partisan, faith-based organizations in 16 states and 45 regions that has, for more than 35 years, trained ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social and economic decisions affecting their lives.

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