Dignity in Pennsylvania: Dream.Org Justice December Updates
National Justice Director, Lauren Johnson (right), at a community event to raise awareness on heat conditions in Texas Prison System cells.
Happy 2024! My name is Lauren Johnson and I am the new National Director for Dream.Org Justice. I am excited to be writing to you for the first time. I have worked alongside Dream.Org for several years in my previous role at the ACLU of Texas.
I am excited to lend my personal experience as a formerly incarcerated person and my extensive professional advocacy experience to dismantling the mass incarceration system across the United States. My previous experience includes passing the first Fair Chance Hiring ordinance for private employers in the Southern U.S. and removing the lifetime ban that prevented people with felony convictions from receiving food assistance. I am a founding member of the Texas Coalition for Incarcerated Women and the Reentry Advocacy Project, and currently serve as an advisory board member for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in their efforts to end solitary confinement.
I am excited that my very first time writing to you is to celebrate a huge state win that we accomplished at the end of 2023. In December, we finally secured a win for incarcerated Pennsylvania women that has been five years in the making, with the passage of the Pennsylvania Dignity for Incarcerated Women (HB 900)! Dream.Org has worked tirelessly alongside various lawmakers, advocacy groups, and formerly incarcerated individuals to secure this win. The bill writes the fair and humane treatment of women into Pennsylvania law, prohibiting shackling and solitary confinement for pregnant individuals and providing trauma-informed training for corrections officers who interact with pregnant people, among other measures including:
- Restricting the use of restraints and restrictive housing throughout a pregnancy, including labor;
- Providing free feminine hygiene products;
- Requiring trauma-informed training for correctional staff who come in contact with pregnant and postpartum people;
- Allowing 3 days of post-delivery bonding between newborns and their birthing parents.
You can read more about this significant win here. With this win in Pennsylvania, Dream.Org has officially passed 16 Dignity bills in 15 states across the country.
Dream.Org Empathy Network Leader Tonie Williams (center) with Dignity bill sponsor PA Representative Mike Jones, community leaders, and other Pennsylvania House members.
Please reach out to me if you would like to learn more about how to bring Dignity for Incarcerated Women to your state or to learn about our other work nationwide or in individual states. Here’s a summary of our state activities in December:
- The Arizona team has engaged stakeholders from all sides of the table and refined the Home Arrest bill improving the processes and implementation details. These changes have earned the sign-on of a Republican member of leadership and a key Republican Committee Chairman as sponsors of the Home Arrest bill. The Arizona team is also finalizing discussions with sponsors of the Independent Prison Oversight bill and are looking to file the bill in both the House and the Senate simultaneously. The AZ team has assembled a coalition of support for both bills from organizations across the political spectrum who are actively participating in the success of the campaign. The Arizona legislative session began on January 8, 2024.
- Day of Empathy - February 3, 2024.
- Our team continued to monitor the rollout of the policy passed in 2023 to suspend payment of Fines and Fees for 120 days after release from incarceration. The team is busy preparing for the 2024 Day of Empathy and our Empathy Leader Gem Jones’ campaign for the 2025 season, which will focus on Adult Parole.
- Day of Empathy - February 26, 2024.
- Our work in Kentucky continued to focus on the strategy for a response to the Safer Kentucky Act. This new omnibus is a list of 18 regressive policies, including new "Three Strikes" laws and drug-induced homicide laws for fentanyl. The Kentucky team also continues to build momentum for Clean Slate in the new legislative session which began on January 2, 2024.
- Day of Empathy - March 5, 2024.
- In Mississippi, we are developing a strategy to tackle the issue of expungement in the legislative session which began on January 2, 2024.
- Day of Empathy - March 5, 2024.
- In 2024, the Missouri team will be working on Confidential Informant reform which is likely to be a part of a package of bills that address additional issues such as prison oversight. The Missouri legislative session began on January 3, 2024.
- Day of Empathy - March 6, 2024.
- Pennsylvania Dignity Bill, HB 900 passed in December and was signed by the governor! See press on the win from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette here.
- Day of Empathy - TBD.
- The focus in South Carolina for 2024 will be an initiative to Bridge South Carolina Communities with Resiliency. This is not a legislative campaign, but instead to build a foundation for legislative campaigns in 2025.
- Day of Empathy - March 20, 2024.
- The legislative focus for Tennessee in 2024 will be on Victims Compensation for Juvenile Offenders. The Tennessee legislative session began on January 10, 2024.
- Day of Empathy - March 13, 2024
- Both Washington priority bills for 2024 have been introduced. This year we are focusing on Retroactivity for Juvenile points HB2065/SB5971 and Emerging Adults HB1325/SB5451. The Washington legislative session began on January 9, 2024. Day of Empathy planning is in full swing, with lobby meetings planned with legislators in the morning followed by a rally on the Capitol steps.
- Day of Empathy - January 24, 2024
- The Wisconsin legislative session began on January 2, 2024 and our team will be focusing on expungement and supervision issues.
- In December, Dream.Org kicked off our project to work with a local Wisconsin organization to expand harm reduction in the state. We are excited to see this work grow and the outcomes that will come from expanding harm reduction.
- Day of Empathy - March 7, 2024.
The Dream.Org Justice team and our incredible Empathy Leaders continue to fight to positively transform the criminal justice system in our country. None of this work would be possible without your partnership. We look forward to sharing additional updates with you in 2024!