Advocates Speak Out for Youth and Women

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The Coalition for Women Prisoners, coordinated by the CA’s Women in Prison Project, held its 11th Annual Advocacy Day on March 8th–International Women’s Day. Despite a blizzard, the event was a terrific success: over 200 formerly incarcerated women and other advocates met with 100 state legislators and their staff to advocate for the Coalition’s 2005 priority issues.

Assemblymember Jeffrion L. Aubry, Chair of the Committee on Correction and sponsor of the Coalition’s Advocacy Day, started off the day’s program at Westminster Presbyterian Church by encouraging participants to share their concerns and personal experiences with legislators. Yolanda Johnson-Peterkin, a program director at the Women’s Prison Association, was chosen as the speaker for the lunchtime program, in recognition of her exemplary work as an advocate and her dedication to improving the lives of formerly incarcerated women.

Each of the 30 lobby teams gave legislators information about the Coalition’s legislative priorities, a set of fact sheets about women incarcerated in New York State prisons, and the February issue of the national publication, Women, Girls and Criminal Justice, which was devoted almost entirely to the Coalition’s work.

Three weeks later, the Juvenile Justice Coalition, coordinated by the CA’s Juvenile Justice Project, traveled to Albany for its Advocacy Day on March 29. Over 200 young people, parents and other advocates met with 75 state legislators and their staff.

The advocates highlighted the need for far-reaching juvenile justice reforms in New York. Formerly incarcerated youth had the rare chance to speak directly with legislators about the abusive and damaging treatment they received while in state custody.

“Instead of locking up youth who are charged with low-level offenses or who have been sexually exploited, New York must create more effective alternatives to jail,” said Mishi Faruqee, Juvenile Justice Project Director and one of the organizers of the event. “Furthermore, the state must adopt measures to protect incarcerated youth from abuse and discrimination.”

Advocacy Days are an impressive way to demonstrate the commitment of our coalitions, but they would mean little without concerted follow-up. In the months following our lobbying efforts, project staff compiled information gathered by advocacy teams and followed up with letters to and meetings with key State Assemblymembers and Senators.

These efforts have brought about positive results. For example, the Coalition for Women Prisoners’ bill to allow merit time for survivors of abuse convicted of defending themselves against their batterers was introduced in both the Assembly and Senate.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who participated in these Advocacy Days–you have truly made a difference.