Kamala Harris Said What??

AGPictoDraftLast Friday, Federal judges *again* ordered California to speed up the releases of people from prison (for those of you keeping score at home, this is the 2nd such order in 11 months)!

And you won’t believe what supposedly progressive Attorney General Kamala Harris argued: if forced to release people, our “prisons would lose an important labor pool.” 

This is disgusting on every level -Tell Attorney General Harris: Don’t Keep Prisoners Locked Up to Keep Prisons Running!

Help us get 1,000 people to take action! This proves again that if we’re going to win anything meaningful, we’re going to have to push and prod and cajole even “progressives” every step of the way.

Kamala Harris needs to hear from us, and quickly.

Click here to send a clear message to the Attorney General: Californians want people coming home from prison. 



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Getting a Finger on the Pulse with Emily Harris

CURB Emily Harris

Interview by Dick Price on Justice Not Jails from November 17th, 2014.

Now that Prop 47 has passed and a new Sheriff will soon be walking the beat in Los Angeles County, we thought we’d engage Emily Harris, the statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, which has been battling so hard to push California and, in particular, Los Angeles County out of its “build more cages” mentality.

Working out of CURB’s Oakland office, Emily brings experience working with women in prison throughroles in Free Battered WomenCalifornia Coalition for Women Prisoners, and the Prison Creative Arts Project. She holds a Master’s of Social Work with a focus on policy and community organizing, and a BA in Psychology and German from the University of Michigan.

At CURB, Emily communicates a bird’s eye view of the coalition’s work and well-being, coordinates workgroup activities, represents the coalition before allies, and ensures overall cohesion and strategic movement within CURB.

This weekend, she took time from her busy schedule to answer a few of our questions.

Dick Price: Now that Proposition 47 has passed, your organization has joined others in expressing at least some reservations about its implementation and chances for success. Can you summarize those concerns?

Emily Harris: If implemented effectively, Prop 47 will significantly reduce the prison population, which we wholeheartedly support. We are grateful both that thousands of people who are currently in jail will be free, and that those who have relevant sentences in the future will spend significantly less time in cages, and some will never go to jail at all. At the same time, we are concerned about where the predicted $150-$250 million in annual savings from this measure will go.

First, the majority of funds (65%) will go to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) for grants to “public agencies providing mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment to reduce recidivism of people in the justice system.” Sounds good, right? Until you realize that the BSCC is the same board that funnels hundreds of millions of dollars to construct new prisons and jails throughout the state, and that in the last few years, many of those jails have been pitched as “mental health treatment facilities.”

The Board is overwhelmingly composed of different types of cops, which should be our first red flag. (It includes Secretary of the California Department of Corrections Jeffery Beard, along with three Sheriffs, two Chief Probation Officers and one Chief of Police.) It’s not shocking when that group of people thinks that the best way to invest in mental health treatment is to build shiny new jails. Sheriff’s aren’t social service providers, and it is dangerous to pretend they are. But unless there is significant community pressure, the Prop 47 funds being directed through this board will likely facilitate the broadening of law enforcement-controlled “diversions.” This wouldn’t shrink the system, but would actually expand it.

CURB wants substance abuse, mental health, and job training programs to be funded in the community. While we believe everyone in prison or jail should get access to programming, we don’t think that requires building more jails—if anything it requires letting more people go. We need to divert many more people and a lot more money away from prisons and jails. Going to jail should not be a prerequisite for getting access to social programs.

Similarly, a quarter of the savings from Prop 47 is directed to the Department of Education to “reduce truancy” and support “at-risk students” or “victims of crime.” Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, the Director of Dignity and Power Now, reminds us that we need to “make sure that the school allocation money will fund counselors and restorative justice practices, not school police, surveillance cameras, or high-power weapons as we’ve seen in the past, especially in L.A.” Following through on the promise of “education not incarceration” means funding smaller class sizes and social workers, so we must watch this money carefully.

Lastly, the public relations campaign for this proposition may have done more damage than good in the long term. The campaign essentially promised that most people would stay in prison, and used fear-mongering about people who are inside on serious charges. If you weren’t listening closely enough, you may have mistaken them for the opposition. We need to stop pretending that prisons solve the violence in our communities, or we’ll never actually end that harm or end mass incarceration. We have to shift the focus towards aggressive parole and sentencing reforms for everyone, while building non law enforcement controlled services and institutions that support healthy, strong communities.

CURB Emily HarrisDick Price: You and CURB have been in the forefront of the battle against building even more prisons in prison-rich California and against expanding LA County’s huge jail system. What’s next for those efforts and what needs to be done?

Emily Harris: The fight against prison and jail expansion is far from over. With the majority of counties looking to expand their jails we will continue to focus a lot of attention on LA. We know what ends up happening with LA’s jails will have a bellweather effect on the rest of the state and the nation. LA groups have been working tirelessly to make sure that people are able to access treatment, housing, and programs in the community, not in jail. DA Jackie Lacey and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas have responded and are committed to reducing the number of people with mental health issues by developing diversion efforts. We are working to make sure that this plan is comprehensive and expanded so that it impacts a larger portion of people, especially people in women’s jails, people of color, and lower income folks.

We know that one of the most effective ways to stop expansion is to turn off the faucet of expansion dollars that is coming from Sacramento! We are anticipating that Governor Brown might get convinced by LA County to help bankroll the $2.3 million dollar jail expansion. Our members and allies who have been doing a great job delegitimizing LA County’s call for new mega jails are gearing up to bring that message to the Legislature, particularly to all of our newly elected Senators and Assembly Members.

Dick Price: You’ve worked tirelessly on prison-reform issues, both at CURB and at organizations before that, for a long time. Oftentimes people who get into this kind of work have some kind of deep personal connection to the issues. Can you say something about this in your case?

Emily Harris: Growing up, I had lots of questions about violence, accountability, safety, and what it meant to be a good neighbor. My childhood best friend grew up in a very abusive home and went to juvie after he started acting out. I remember thinking, “Oh good, when he gets back he’ll be better.” In reality, when he came back he was harder, angrier, more distant. Trying to understand this childhood experience led me to get involved with the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) at the University of Michigan. During my years at PCAP, I had a series of experiences in my personal life while simultaneously facilitating creative workshops in prisons that made me look at violence, systematic oppression, and the role of prisons in a new way.

During this time my younger brother was frequently being targeted by the cops—being pulled over, arrested, and drug-tested all the time. Each week, as I’d enter the grounds at Maxey Boys Training School (a maximum security prison for teenage boys) to facilitate a workshop, I was reminded that if my brother wasn’t white or affluent that his chances of going to prison like the young men I was performing plays with would have been much higher. The reality of who goes to prison and why became more and more clear to me.

My last three and a half years in Michigan, I participated in a weekly poetry workshop called Sisters With Unique Minds at Huron Valley Women’s Prison. It was there that I met some of my life-long mentors. Together we wrote poetry, gossiped, laughed, cried and wrote about our lives. In 2007, my last year in the workshop, we had two powerful poetry readings “Behind these Solitary Walls: A Symphony of Life” and “Echoes of A Million Women.” The writing we did for those performances was exposed and bold. We dug deep to tell stories about addiction, violent men in our lives, disappointment, fear and how members of the group creatively resisted conditions in prison.

CURB Emily HarrisThe more time I spent going inside, the angrier my writing about prisons became. The women in the group began to push me to walk the talk – to move away from writing poems and figure out how to get people back to their children, families and communities. I don’t think the group expected that challenge would take me to California, but later that year I took a job at Free Battered Women/California Coalition for Women Prisoners (a CURB member org) in San Francisco to learn how to get domestic violence survivors out of prison.

Dick Price: Prop 47 passed. A limited Ban the Box passed in LA. More DAs are turning to split sentencing. LA County’s new sheriff has publicly supported more diversion for mental health and substance abuse treatment outside the jail system. Does this trend go deep enough, fast enough for you? Is some more fundamental change in order?

Emily Harris: All of these important gains that are pushing us away from a lock-em up mentality are the result of years and years of organizing. However they are only the tip of the iceberg. The numbers speak for themselves; last week there were 135,890 people locked up in our state prisons. The majority are very, very far from their families and communities, especially the 8,661 who are imprisoned in out-of-state in prisons in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. Over 3,800 people are isolated in long-term solitary confinement; the average time prisoners spend in these security housing units is 7.5 years. This doesn’t even include the nearly 7,000 people who currently spend months in “short-term” administrative segregation.

For years now our leadership has been pushing off responsibility for addressing the torture and deadly conditions in our prisons. As people across California were celebrating the passage of Prop 47, the supposedly progressive Attorney General Kamala D. Harris’ office was arguing against reducing sentences for those who participate in rehab or education programs because the California Department of Corrections would “lose an important labor pool.” It is shameful to not release people back to their communities because we need their labor in prison kitchens, janitorial, and groundskeeping crews to keep our prisons running. This example just goes to show how much more work is ahead.

We must claim our victories, while simultaneously being careful not to be satisfied with nibbling around the edges. Our jailers are having a harder time keeping the torture that is prison away from the awareness of the general public. Even though people are locked away far away from the public eye, the images of people living triple bunked in gyms and classrooms, stories of thousands of prisoners going on hunger strike, the photos of men beaten by LA deputies, the tales of women being illegally sterilized in Chowchilla, prisoners dying from Valley Fever—all of these stories are seeping out and adding to the growing consciousness of the general public. Much more fundamental change is in order, and requires that we continue to build momentum and pressure on discussion-makers while expanding the capacity of communities targeted most directly by imprisonment to lead the charge.

Dick Price: It would seem that November 4th’s election put more people in office in states and in Congress who are likely to espouse “Tough on Crime” rhetoric, rather than anything approaching “Smart on Crime.” Do you think the country’s current pissy mood will affect criminal justice reform efforts in the long term?

Emily Harris: The sweeping wins by conservative candidates across the country are alarming and I imagine will be a setback for the real change we need. The growing power of the Republican Party should serve as a reminder for us to be wary of groups like “Right on Crime.”

As the movement against mass incarceration gains momentum, we need to be very cautious of the types of co-optation that we are seeing from conservatives and moderates who want to spend less money on prisons but don’t actually care about people’s freedom and wellbeing—especially when we are talking about poor communities of color.

dick-price-hatWe need dramatic investments in affordable housing, living-wage jobs, and services for healing and recovery, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color. Conservatives primary motivation in reducing prison spending is to shrink government. We are trying to get the government to distribute our resources more equitably and to stop using prison as the primary response to poverty and social harm.

Dick Price, Editor

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Hell in Paradise Tonight at the Omni in Oakland

Pelican Bay State Prison is one of the largest prisons in our state. With close to 3 thousand men, and more than a third kept in solitary confinement, this prison is one of California’s most notorious for its unjust treatment of folks inside.

Join us tonight at the Omni in Oakland, for a performance of Hell in Paradise: My Visit to Pelican Bay State Prison.  A play written and preformed by Charlie Hinton, based off the prison letters of Clyde Jackson.

Hell in Paradise screening & Panel Discussion
The Omni, 4799 Shattuck Ave, Oakland
Friday November, 14, 7pm 

Followed by a panel discussion on Prisons: Budgets, Conditions and Resistance:

  • Danny Murrillo – UC Berkeley student and imprisoned at Pelican Bay SHU
  • Emily Harris – Californians for a Responsible Budget (CURB)
  • Annie Kane – Human Rights Pen Pals

 The event is free and is being hosted by the Bay Area Public School. I am looking forward to joining activists and the greater community in conversations on carceral California.

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In push to keep mentally ill out of jail, county to expand crisis center

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey is heading up a task force focused on diverting mentally ill criminal defendants from jail. She spoke to the county Board of Supervisors Wednesday about her group’s work.

By Abby Sewell


L.A. County to expand crisis teams and psychiatric urgent care centers to divert the mentally ill from jail Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey supports county’s move to beef up psychiatric crisis response teams, centers

At the urging of Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and others lobbying to keep mentally ill people from being locked up in county jails, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Wednesday to fund several programs for people undergoing psychiatric crises.

The supervisors voted to use $40.9 million in state funding for opening three new 24-hour psychiatric urgent care centers, where police can bring people undergoing mental health crises instead of taking them to overcrowded emergency rooms or jail.

The money would also help pay for an estimated 560 new residential treatment beds and to create 14 new crisis response teams that send mental health workers — sometimes in conjunction with law enforcement — to respond to incidents involving people believed to be mentally ill.

The total cost of the new programs will be an estimated $109.4 million, to be paid for by the new grant money and other state funding programs.

Lacey, who is leading a task force studying diversion of the mentally ill, called the decision “huge.”

“Up until now, jail has been used to stabilize people,” she said.

consultant report commissioned by Lacey’s task force and released last month called for more crisis response teams and more drop-off centers.

The report found that “it’s often more time-efficient for law enforcement to book an individual into jail on a minor charge … rather than spend many hours waiting in a psychiatric emergency department for the individual to be seen.”

Monterey Park Police Chief Jim Smith, a member of the task force, told  supervisors that the expanded crisis centers will enable officers to “complete the intake process and be back on the street in 15 minutes rather than hours.”

Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell praised Lacey for her “leadership in bringing together county leaders, justice system officials, mental health experts and community voices as we seek to develop a comprehensive plan for how our justice system addresses the challenges and concerns of those suffering from mental illness.”

The task force is expected to come to the board with a comprehensive set of recommendations early next year.

Dozens of advocates spoke in favor of the efforts to increase diversion, although some cautioned that they do not want to see more money going to locked psychiatric facilities or involuntary treatment.

Many of the advocates — as well as Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who retires next month — urged the board to put the brakes on a $2-billion plan to rebuild the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail until they see how many jail beds are freed up by the diversion programs.

Diana Zuniga, representing a coalition of groups opposed to the jail plan, said the number of county jail inmates will also be impacted by the passage of Proposition 47, which will reduce penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes, and the increased use of “split sentencing,” in which inmates are given shorter jail sentences, followed by mandatory probation.

“All of these are not separate from the $2-billion jail plan and will dramatically reduce the amount of people we have incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails,” Zuniga said.

Lacey said she believes the Men’s Central Jail needs to be replaced, but did not take a stance on what the size it should be.

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Art Installation at LA Board of Sups TOMORROW

Dear Supporter,

Let’s re-imagine Los Angeles

Tomorrow, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors will hear an initial report from District Attorney Lacey regarding mental health diversion. This is a really positive step in the right direction and we need to be present to continue to urge our decision- makers to continue to take it a step further.

I think the report exposes tremendous suffering for mentally ill people and is further evidence that the county should abandon plans to spend $2 billion to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail.

We need to continue to make the connections between a comprehensive alternative to incarceration plan and the massive jail construction proposal.

Will you join me me tomorrow?

Dignity and Power Now, LA No More Jails, and so many others are organizing a press event for tomorrow. There will be an art installation hosted outside of the Board of Supervisors meeting. This interactive installation will give participants a window to two different futures for Los Angeles County; one shaped by incarceration and jail construction while the other emphasizing community solutions.

Where: 500 W Temple Street, LA, 90012

When:  Wednesday, November 12th at 9:00 am

Please come and envision a different Los Angeles with us! And check out this piece I was quoted in about the DA’s plan.

Thank you,

Mark-Anthony Johnson

Interim Co-Director for Dignity and Power Now, a member of Californians United for a Responsible Budget 


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3 More Days – RSVP Today!

Dear Supporter,

 RSVP for “A World Without Walls”

Don’t forget to RSVP for our event this Saturday, November 8th from 7-9pm at LACAN, 838 E 6th St. Los Angeles, CA 90021.

“A World Without Walls: Community Conversations on Carceral California” comes out of a project between Californians United for a Responsible Budget and the American Studies Association to create dialogue between scholars and community activists on issues of race, gender, carceral state violence and more.

We have an exciting line-up of distinguished panelists including: Ruthie Wilson Gilmore of CUNY, Kelly Lytle-Hernandez of UCLA, Priscilla Ocen of Loyola Law School, Dylan Rodriguez of UC Riverside, Dennis Childs of UCSD and Damien Sojoyner of Scripps College. We’ll also be joined by community activists from Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Youth Justice Coalition, and Dignity and Power Now. For more information, click here.

Can’t make our event? Join us after for our Anti-Prison Mixer!

Where: Los Angeles Brewery Company, 750 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014

When:  Saturday, November 8th from 9:30 pm – close

Check out our Facebook event for more info. To join us you can take a 10 minute walk from the event, park on the street, or bring $7-10 to park in a parking lot in the back of the venue.

I’ll be there to join other scholars and activists in conversations on carceral California and I hope to see you too!

Thank you,

 Sarah Haley, 

Assistant Professor of African-American Studies and Gender Studies,  University of California, Los Angeles

P.S. Bring your kids! Child care will be provided on site from 7-9pm.

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Sentencing reform Proposition 47 passes, Advocates raise concerns about where the funding will go

For Immediate Release – Nov 5th, 2014

MEDIA CONTACT: Diana Zuñiga, Californians United for a Responsible Budget diana@curbprisonspending.org or 213-864-8931

California – Tonight, California voters passed criminal justice reform measure Proposition 47. The proposition changes the lowest level drug possession and petty theft crimes from felonies to simple misdemeanors for some people. Although re-sentencing is not guaranteed, up to 10,000 people in California’s prisons and jails will be eligible for resentencing, and newly sentenced individuals who meet the requirements will be under county jurisdiction. The measure predicted to save $150-250 million a year to be channeled into prevention programs and recidivism reduction, but advocates have raised concerns about exactly where that money will go.

“The passage of prop 47 is yet another clear signal that the majority of Californians want an end to mass incarceration and an increase in spending on social programs” says Emily Harris, Statewide Coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. “The passage of this proposition verifies that all planned prison and jail expansion should be halted immediately before any more public funds are squandered.”

Currently, the state is building new prison beds at Mule Creek prison in Ione and Donovan prison in San Diego, costing taxpayers $810 million, and is converting two former juvenile prisons into adult facilities. In recent years, California has pushed forward $2.2 billion of jail construction money, propelling over 41 counties to make jail expansion plans.The majority of savings from this measure–65%–will go directly to the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), the body responsible for directing billions of dollars of construction money to prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers. The Board is composed of majority law enforcement officials.

“The intent of this measure is to reduce the prison population and channel savings into mental health and substance abuse services that have been drastically underfunded in California–that’s why Californians voted for it,” says Pete Woiwode of the California Partnership, a statewide coalition of anti-poverty organizations. “The battle now is to make sure that those services stay in the community and are not just another excuse to build more jails. If the BSCC allows these resources to end up in the hands of the Sheriffs, they’ll be violating the will of the voters, and pushing poor people towards jail, instead of the services they need.”

Advocates have also raised concerns about the 25% of funding that will go to the Department of Education to reduce truancy and support at-risk students or victims of crime. “We need everyone who voted for this measure to show up November 5th and make sure that the school allocation money will fund counselors, restorative justice practices, and social workers and not school police, surveillance cameras, or high power weapons as we’ve seen here in the past especially here in L.A,” says Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, Director of Dignity and Power Now.

A 2014 report by the Legislative Analysts’ Office from February 19, 2014 recommends that proposals for new jail construction funding be put on hold until the state conducts an analysis of what space is needed and whether counties have maximized alternatives to creating jail space.

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A World Without Walls: An Event You Don’t Want to Miss

Dear Supporter,

 RSVP for “A World Without Walls”

I am so excited to let you know about a new project with Californians United for a Responsible Budget and the American Studies Association dedicated to creating dialogue between scholars and community activists.

The kickoff event, “A World Without Walls: Community Conversations on Carceral California” will include leading scholars and activists engaging in a series of dialogues on violence, gender and sexuality, capitalism, youth criminalization, and race within the context of incarceration.

Can we count on you to be there?

What: A World Without Walls: Community Conversations on Carceral California

Where: LA CAN, 838 E 6th St. Los Angeles, CA 90021

When: Saturday, November 8th from 7-9 PM 

Click here to RSVP 

I am looking forward to joining other scholars and activists in conversations on carceral California and I hope that you will participate in what will be an extraordinary night!

Thank you,

Dayvon Williams
Youth Justice Coalition and a member of Californians United for a Responsible Budget

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Getting a Finger on the Pulse With Diana Zuñiga

Interviewing Diana ZunigaCatching up with Diana Zuñiga isn’t easy these days. If she’s not testifying before the LA County Board of Supervisors against the construction of an unneeded Mira Loma women’s jail, she’s helping to organize the recent Justice On Trial Film Festival at Cal State Long Beach. Or organizing a Custody Town Hall with jail officials and the Sheriff Department’s inspector general. Or just generally fomenting outrage and focusing attention on California’s woefully inadequate approach to criminal justice.

In just two years as California statewide field organizer for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), Diana has made a significant impact. Working out of Los Angeles, she provides leadership and support to county-level struggles around realignment, while developing a deeper base for CURB in Southern California. Diana holds a BA in Political Science and Chicano/a Studies with a minor in Psychology from Loyola Marrymount University.

Diana recently found time to share her thoughts with Justice Not Jails’ Peter Laarman.

Peter Laarman: We know that for you, as for many others in the movement, doing this work is personal–it’s partly rooted in the experience of a family member or someone else they know. Can you say something about this in your case?

Diana Zuñiga: This has always been a hard thing for me to talk about, but I think with a growing community of folks that I know have experienced similar things I have been more confident in my vulnerability. I also think that it has led me to think about my space while articulating the stories of my loved ones that are or have been incarcerated.

Their stories are theirs. My experience as a result of their stories is what initially drew me to the work of dismantling the criminal injustice system. Through my journey in discovering that I wanted to focus my energy on this work, I delved through the stories of each of my loved ones who had been directly impacted by the system.

Stories of trauma, abandonment, physical and emotional violence, racism, mental health diagnosis, unfair sentences and substance use. Stories of love, resilience, growth, hope, community and shifts in perceptions. The more I got in touch with these stories, the more I got in touch with myself and I realized that these are not isolated incidents.

The stories of my family are the stories of millions of people who are or have been incarcerated in a prison, jail or detention center. I felt like I needed to do something in some capacity to start breaking away at the system. I began by direct service work with at-risk youth where I saw the continued cycles of incarceration, poverty, and lack of resources that impacted each of them in unique ways.

I then realized that I wanted to do something on a macro level by working on propositions through the Latino Voters League, and policy through the Drug Policy Alliance. But it’s also true that my first experience challenging this system’s impact on my family was as an 11-year-old at a Families to Amend California Three Strikes Law Rally. This first familial experience is what called me to this work and I think the connection I heard and felt in my community and work experience is what has kept me going.

Peter Laarman: CURB is well known for its ferocity and for its determination to change the system fundamentally, not just tinker around the edges. Where does that uncompromising spirit come from?

Diana Zuñiga: The founding members of CURB, member organizations, and people that are most directly impacted make up our vast network. All these people are the essence of the uncompromising and transparent presence we hold in this movement.

I believe some of that spirit comes from the founding members of the coalition who continue to guide us and teach us to understand the lessons from the past in the present decisions we are making. Much of what we are fighting now—like gender responsive jails and mental health jails—are duplicated narratives that are pieces of the expansion of the carceral state we live in.

These narratives and the continued lack of transparency in the bureaucratic process we have to navigate can be used to fragment us into tiny subcategories of fights. However, I think as a coalition of diverse members we carry the basic principles that open us up to fighting the prison industrial complex through many different lenses, while still holding the same goals of dismantling a system that has hurt our families and intricately worked to push us out of the process.

Interviewing Diana ZunigaI know that with the historical knowledge and the commitment of our member organizations we intentionally work towards amplifying the real life experiences of the community we advocate for. The strength and change that CURB envisions is truly a collective effort that works for a sustainable world for everyone because everyone deserves that.

Peter Laarman: People say that it’s not enough to end the mass incarceration of (mainly) people of color, that you also have to change the brutal economic system within which mass incarceration functions. What’s your response to that?

Diana Zuñiga: I agree. I believe CURB was created and functions to push back against carceral expansion and generate a vision of an economic system that helps people when they need the help, and enables people to flourish.

I was recently on a panel that focused on the challenging economic environment that we are all currently living through. Being that I always talk about policy and changes in the prison and jail system, I was a bit nervous. I reached out to a mentor from one of our member organizations, David Stein, who has done extensive work in this area and is really brilliant in connecting all the dots.

After our conversation I realized even more how connected these two issues are. The statistics continue to show that black and brown people are the majority of the folks incarcerated. And historically what we know is that deinsititutionilzation, deindustrialization, and social disparities have been used to push people of color and low-income people out of opportunities.

We know that after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington one of the basic demands promoting a federal demand to guarantee meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages for all workers has not even been met. Let’s imagine that we were able to get this demand met 50 years ago or even today. How many people would this impact? How many people would we be able to add to the economic development of California and our nation?

Let’s also imagine that people that were coming out of incarceration were not pushed out of meaningful work because of their history. How many people would that keep from cycling into the system again? And finally let’s imagine if our country focused on the meaningful impacts that our immigrant community brings to our economic development instead of creating laws to push them out. What would our world look like?

In essence I agree that an end to mass incarceration needs to be met with an economic environment that meets people where they are at and guides them towards a more sustainable life with meaningful opportunities.

Peter Laarman: You and CURB are at the center of the fight to block construction of a huge new jail in LA County. It’s so odd that County officials will say one minute that it’s time to divert more people away from jail (the mentally ill, for example) but then in the very next minute they are moving to advance the jail plan. Is it possible that there are powerful pro-jail forces at work behind the curtain, so to speak–especially when there’s really no credible public rationale for spending all that money on a new jail?

Diana Zuñiga: Yes, there are several powerful pro-jail forces at work. Expansion is not a new thing and the form of expansion that is marketing law enforcement as social service providers has been present for a long time.

Los Angeles in particular has been the hub of an increasing presence of law enforcement, surveillance, racial profiling, and violence that has continued to influence this trend, statewide and nationally. Los Angeles has had a strong and powerful law-enforcement presence, and this is the framework the city and county governments have worked through for so long that they’ve had a hard time looking at anything different.

I also think that it doesn’t help that the state of California is sending down billions of dollars to Los Angeles and other counties for nothing more than to build jails. Why we are not building permanent and affordable housing when LA needs about 5,000 units to modestly decrease the amount of people that are homeless is the question that I believe we already have the answers to.

During the past 35 years in California we have seen the great prison boom that resulted in 25 prisons and only 3 public universities being built. And now we see these same pro-incarceration forces work to lobby our state and local officials to create a jail boom resulting in 41 out of 58 counties attempting to build new jails.

As much as these things seem hopeless, I’m hopeful that the tide is shifting in our favor. We’ve been doing things wrong for too long. With the approval of $20 million for diversion, possible federal oversight, and the community activation that stopped the transfer of 512 people to another county I think our movement is strong in Los Angeles County. I remain hopeful that something is bound to change especially due to the work of organizations like Youth Justice Coalition, Critical Resistance, LACAN, Dignity and Power Now, and so many others.

Peter Laarman: You are one of the movement leaders who never seems to rest. You carry huge responsibilities not just here in LA but also in Sacramento. You are also constantly uncovering new official shenanigans that you then have to raise hell about and combat. How do you sustain yourself at that huge level of output? How do you keep from burning out? Is there a spiritual discipline that helps keep you going?

Diana Zuñiga: That is still a huge process. Burnout in our line of work happens to everyone, but for me I have really relied on listening to my body. My body knows when I need to rest and when I am pushing too hard that will result in low quality output.

peter laarmanbask in the community moments we have and in the small victories that we experience collectively in Sacramento and in LA. I spend time with loved ones whenever possible and with the people that I believe bring positivity to my life. I know that constantly being in contact with my family members who are still in the system continues to inform my work and brings hope that one day we will change things so that another person’s dad, mother, or other loved one will not have to live through these stories.

I am still figuring out my spiritual discipline, but it consists of lots of dreaming, visioning, meditating, and dancing that I believe brings me balance in a world and movement that experiences such chaos.

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman is volunteer project coordinator for Justice Not Jails. Until the end of last year he was the executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting, a network of activist individuals and congregations headquartered in Los Angeles. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.

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Letter to the Editor: Behind Bars

Behind bars

Printed in the SF Chronicle on Oct. 7th, 2014

I agree with “Jails are jammed with those who can’t afford bail” (Open Forum, Oct. 3). San Francisco needs bail reform and not a new jail. The piece brings up important concerns about the racial impact of making bail too expensive, especially for poor people.

I’d like to add that the people locked up in San Francisco’s jail are 56 percent African American, an appalling statistic given that black people only make up approximately 6 percent of the total population after the startling increase of gentrification and displacement of poor people and people of color.

This should be a huge concern to the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and everyone in San Francisco. This is just one more reason for the county to cancel this unnecessary and expensive jail plan all together!

Emily Harris, Oakland

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