As a task force we are motivated by the deep conviction that each being is a beloved child of God. This extends to people who are impacted by the carceral system in New Jersey, including those whose life circumstances place them at risk of being caught up in the system. We also realize, in the words of justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, that “you can’t understand most of the important things from a distance. You have to get close.”
Please join us at our next Mass Incarceration Task Force meeting to be held via Zoom at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 6. To get on the mailing list or if you have any questions, please reach out to Anne Kuhn (email) or Patti Daley (email), the co-chairs of the Mass Incarceration Task Force.
On Sunday, January 29, Liz Beasley offered these words to the congregation:
Two of the things I like best about Nassau Church are our focus on being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world – and the opportunities the church provides for service to others, both in our own community and around the world.
The mission of the Mass Incarceration Taskforce is to educate ourselves about the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States – and to find ways to put our passion and commitment to justice and equity into action. We have three areas of focus:
- Pre-incarceration (volunteering with agencies such as LifeTies to mentor and tutor at-risk young people);
- During incarceration (volunteer opportunities include the Pen Pal Program and tutoring through the Petey Greene Program);
- Post-incarceration (providing tutoring, job skills, and other forms of support for people upon release from prison, in partnership with other nonprofits).
We are excited to introduce two new opportunities to get involved:
WorkWell is a nonprofit designed to equip returning citizens with job skills, dignity and hope. Their program consists of a four-week period of training and counseling, with qualified trainers and advocates to help prepare returning citizens not just for a job, but for sustained employment. Volunteers are needed to participate in two Saturday morning training sessions with these men and women in transition and to cheer them at their graduation from the program.
The second opportunity, Abolishing Prison Slavery, may require a little more explanation. This project grew out of conversations with Bending the Moral Arc, a discussion group between members of the Witherspoon and Nassau churches.
- In the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, slavery was outlawed everywhere BUT prison. Slavery – defined as forcing people to work for free or for extremely low wages – is still allowed in some states, including New Jersey. This system acts as an incentive to incarcerate more people because it provides an ongoing source of revenue for state activities, including those unrelated to the carceral system.
- Members of the Mass Incarceration Taskforce are working to add an amendment to the New Jersey state constitution specifically outlawing the enslavement of incarcerated people. We feel that prisoners should have opportunities for paid employment or to learn a trade – but they should be paid a fair wage for their labors.
- There are a variety of ways to get involved – and we invite you to become part of this effort. At our November meeting, Audi Peal described five initiatives to move this agenda forward:
- Creating a shared repository of information about similar initiatives in other states;
- Drafting a strategy for passing this amendment;
- Creating a Policy Paper for sharing information about this work;
- Engaging allies/partners in this work: faith groups, community groups, community leaders, and justice reform advocates;
- Seeking grants and other funding sources for this initiative.
Can you help? If you would like to know more about any of these volunteer opportunities, please reach out to Anne Kuhn (email) or Patti Daley (email), the co-chairs of the Mass Incarceration Task Force.