In recent years, the All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach team has changed its scope and mission. When the group started, we hosted volunteer opportunities for church members to provide help inside the walls of Tulsa County’s David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center—classes, ministry, letter-writing, and providing care packages for those just released from the jail.
Caring Unitarians seeking Criminal Justice Reform
With the hiring of David Parker as the jail administrator for David L. Moss, visitation policies at the jail changed, and these avenues to provide services were cut off. Without the time and volunteer resources to keep up with these changes, we had to do our own soul-searching to figure out how we could be the most effective as a caring group of Unitarians, seeking criminal justice reforms, using our skills in the best way possible.
In 2017, at the same time we were going through this soul-searching and transition phase, Reveal News reported that Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is the highest in the nation—twice the national average—and is particularly punitive against women.
What could we do to change this trajectory of Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System?
What policies could we help support that would result in positive criminal justice reform?
Seeking systemic change, addressing all who are affected by overcriminalization and Adverse Childhood Experiences. Advocating for the future to be stigma-free.
The All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach Team seeks to educate how we are all impacted by incarceration, to educate the community about criminal justice issues, and to cultivate equitable reforms in Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System. This is a public health issue and a mental health issue.
And over the past two years, we’ve been advocating primarily in three policy areas:
1. 780 Retroactivity and Record Expungement
2. Harm Reduction & Needle Exchange legislation
3. Ending Money Bail.
You can read about some of our efforts on the All Souls CJO web page (http://allsoulschurch.org/serve/criminal-justice-outreach-program/).
One victory in last year’s legislative session was the passage of Senate Bill 1098. This law created the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council — a group of 22 stakeholders from groups across the state with an interest in reforming Oklahoma’s outdated criminal code. It is a step in the right direction, but much more work needs to be done if we are to reduce the state’s incarceration rate. There were issues we advocated for, which never made it out of committee or never got a chance to be heard and voted on during the legislative session.
Stopping the Reactive Cycle
Often in the legislative cycle, we’re reactive—we only find out about bills after it’s too late to have any public comment on them or talk to our elected officials about policy issues we would like to see changed.
This year we got to thinking: What if we could help our congregation understand these issues and speak directly with legislators about the policies we would like to see changed? What if we could do this before February, and prepare ourselves so that we could be proactive instead of reactive?
Policy in Action this Wednesday!
So this coming Wednesday, Oct. 23rd, at 7pm at All Souls, we’re doing exactly that. We have invited:
State Senator Gary Stanislawski
State Representative Regina Goodwin
State Representative Carol Bush
State Representative Melissa Provenzano
To speak to us about criminal justice issues that they would like to see on the table in the 2020 legislative session, and we would like you to come and hear from them, speak to them about what your concerns are, learn more about the legislative process, and find out what might be possible in terms of criminal justice reforms such as Record Expungement, Harm Reduction, and Ending Money Bail.
We will also hear from Christian Threadgill, who leads Tulsa’s office for the Bail Project, which works in high-need jurisdictions with the goal of paying bail for tens of thousands of low-income Americans, all while collecting stories and data that prove money bail is not necessary to ensure people return to court. Learn more about the Bail project by watching this TED Talk by its founder Robin Steinberg.
We hope this will be a positive and educational event. We also hope that with a diversity of political views represented that we can talk about these issues in a bipartisan context.
The All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach team CJO seeks to care for those impacted by incarceration, to educate the community about criminal justice issues, and cultivate equitable reforms in Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System. Please reach out via email or join our Facebook group if you’d like to join CJO or have questions.
Carlos Moreno is the co-chair of All Souls Criminal Justice Outreach and is an advocate for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. Read more from him about CJO’s work in Poetic Justice and Prison and The Biology of Toxic Stress on beyondbelief.online.