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Formerly Incarcerated Leaders Create Change In Their Home States

May 11, 2023

State Campaign Wins header photo

At Dream.Org, we work to pass criminal justice reform policy across the country with the Empathy Network, our community of justice-impacted activists. This group works tirelessly to affect change, locally and nationally.

Since January, nine Empathy Network leaders have worked alongside the Dream Justice campaign team on policies designed to improve the lives of people touched by the prison system.

They campaigned for an astounding 20 pieces of legislation- many of which are still in progress. Three of these bills were recently signed into law- signaling a massive victory for the Empathy Network and justice-impacted people across the country.

In an era of deep division, this remarkable group was able to make meaningful change happen in both Red and Blue states.

Second Chances In Mississippi

As a formerly incarcerated Mississippian, Cynetra noticed the lack of resources available to justice-impacted people in her home state and wanted to make a change.

Incarcerated people who work earn, at most, $1.30/hour. Meanwhile, average child support payments are $430 a month. Making people in prison pay when they make little to nothing in wages forces them into a cycle of poverty that keeps them from having a second chance.

Until this year, Mississippi was among the minority of states that contradicted Federal guidelines on this.

In partnership with Dream.Org, Cynetra advocated for the passage of SB 2082, legislation that will help incarcerated parents on the path toward a thriving family. Cynetra celebrated a huge win for her community when the bill was signed into law on April 17th.

Empathy Across The Nation

Cynetra is one of many formerly incarcerated advocates who work in lock step with the Dream Justice Campaign team to advocate for second chances across the US. Here is a map of our impact and reach across the US.

As of December 2023, our Empathy Network has secured the following wins across the US:

  • Financial Fairness for Families in Mississippi (SB 2082): This bill will give justice impacted parents in Mississippi a second chance toward a thriving family.
  • Public Health & Safety in Kentucky (HB 353): By decriminalizing Fentanyl testing strips in Kentucky, HB 353 allows individuals to detect the presence of fentanyl in drugs, helping them make more informed decisions and potentially saving lives.
  • Juvenile Sentencing Reform in Washington (HB 1324): The Juvenile Points Sentencing Reform bill will stop juvenile records from automatically increasing a person’s sentence, bringing it into better alignment with modern brain science research.
  • Second Chances in Arkansas: Campaign Coordinator Ruby Welch and her team passed a policy in Arkansas that gives formerly incarcerated persons a grace period before paying any fines & fees owed to help them create a fresh start.
  • Rights for Incarcerated People (HB 2535): This bill in Oregon creates a doula program for pregnant and postpartum adults, requires the development of policies involving directly impacted mothers that promote their dignity and well-being. Outside of the bill, funding was secured for programs that serve directly impacted families in the state.
  • Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (HB 900): The bill writes the fair and human 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.

How To Get Involved

  • Donate to Dream.Org: Your donation will help leaders like Cynetra advocate for second chances across the country.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up to date with local and national news, and continue to follow Dream.Org for the latest information on state and federal criminal justice reform efforts.
  • Join the Empathy Network: A group of passionate advocates impacted by the criminal justice system and allies who are working together to make change across the country.

The future starts with a dream.
The future starts with us.
Black woman standing in front of protestors.