Frustration and Reward

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Given the nature of our work, frustration is an enduring reality at the CA. In fact, one’s ability to deal with the inevitable disappointments that come with the territory here—to recognize them and get past them—is a critical test. Score well on it and you have taken an important step to becoming an effective advocate for criminal justice reform.

Some of our recent frustrations have involved our Drop the Rock effort to repeal New York’s harsh Rockefeller Drug Laws—in terms of both the relatively little movement in Albany and our inability to raise money to fund and staff the work. But a welcome change is upon us. A modest grant has enabled us to hire a part-time staffer, Simone Levine, a talented and energetic Legal Aid lawyer on sabbatical, to breathe new life into Drop the Rock.

We are undertaking the kinds of activities needed to build a single-issue organizing campaign: preparing a new petition and getting as many signatures as possible, developing new public education materials like colorful hand-outs and buttons, tabling street fairs and other public events, arranging presentations to community groups around the city, preparing voter education guides outlining candidates’ positions on drug law reform, and updating the Drop the Rock website.

Our goal is to draw attention to the issue again and to build momentum for enacting meaningful reform in next year’s legislative session. 2006 is an election year for all state office holders and is viewed as an opportune time for successfully pressing political figures who now want to be on the right side of this issue. (To maintain this effort, however, we do need to raise additional funds to support a full-time advocate who can work with us at least through June of 2006.)

Re?ecting our diverse yet integrated set of activities, we have other important items on the CA’s legislative agenda for next year. We will advocate for a range of substantive bills, from ending the prosecution of sexually exploited young people (Juvenile Justice Project), to closing gaps in medical and mental health care when incarcerated individuals are released (Women in Prison Project), to prohibiting the isolation of incarcerated individuals with mental illness in segregated housing units (Prison Visiting Project)—and several more of similar importance.

Partly due to our coalition-building and related advocacy efforts, all these bills made significant advances in the 2005 legislative session. They gained influential sponsors in one or both legislative houses, and three passed in the Assembly. We are determined to intensify the pressure and see to the enactment of these bills.

Each bill passed represents a step made toward the CA’s vision, shared by many, of a more fair, efficient, and humane criminal justice system. Each bill passed corrects an injustice and/or improves a policy: incarcerated individuals will receive better treatment, former incarcerated individuals will have more of a chance to succeed on the outside, urban communities of color will have more support for their efforts to break free of the cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration. The frustrations we regularly encounter at the CA pale in their effect when placed alongside those possible rewards.