Dream Corps JUSTICE is launching the nation’s largest campaign to shrink the size of the federal prison system.

The campaign will work to reverse current budgetary trends: despite the lowest federal prison population in decades, the Bureau of Prisons is budgeted to spend more than $7 billion in 2021.

Closing 20 federal prisons could save more than $1 billion a year, according to Dream Corps, a non-profit organization.

The Dream Corps JUSTICE Federal Prison Closure Campaign plans to collaborate with Democratic and Republican leaders to push the Biden administration to close outdated and unneeded federal prisons, reevaluate the role of prisons in the criminal justice system and restore “freedom” to thousands of families, according to a press release.

Formerly incarcerated leaders and justice reform advocates are leading the campaign. Named leaders include National Director Janos Marton, who initiated the #CLOSErikers campaign and ran for Manhattan District Attorney; Campaign Director Amanda Hall, a formerly incarcerated leader who helped influence the Kentucky legislature to pass criminal justice reform bills; and Policy Director Kandia Milton, a formerly incarcerated leader and Chief of Staff for the city of Detroit.

Hall said the campaign is particularly timely.

“While COVID-19 exposed life-threatening mistreatment within the federal prison system, dangerous conditions extend far beyond the pandemic,” Hall said. “Many facilities are in decrepit condition, exposing people behind bars to unsanitary facilities, mold, regularly spoiled food and unsafe drinking water, poor air quality, extreme temperatures, and rampant human rights abuses.

“In addition, 20 of the more than 120 federal prisons in the U.S. were built before World War II and are more than 75 years old. It’s time to shrink the size of the federal prison system, redirect funding to community based programming and reentry support, and bring people home.”

The campaign has two primary goals: push the Biden Administration to take executive action to close federal prisons, and initiate a congressional commission to reevaluate the role of prisons. Dream Corps JUSTICE will also press for federal criminal justice reform bills similar to the EQUAL Act, First Step Implementation Act and Smarter Sentencing Act.

The First Step Implementation Act, which Dream Corps played a part in passing, retroactively applies drug sentencing reforms first approved in the First Step Act of 2018. Since Van Jones and Jessica Jackson founded Dream Corps in 2014, the non-profit’s legislative efforts have helped bring more than 17,000 people home from prison and improved conditions for more than 32,000 incarcerated women.

The current campaign — to shrink the size of the prison system — builds on years of advocacy and outreach. A Dream Corps report identifies broad steps to close the federal prison system, including organizing directly impacted communities, educating the public about federal prisons and maintaining pressure on federal criminal justice legislation.

The same report also argues against incarceration, citing a recent study by the Vera Institute that found “the increase of incarceration accounted for nearly zero percent of the overall reduction in crime” since 2000. Additionally, nearly 3 in 5 people in federal prison are parents to children under 17, the authors write.

Candance Wesson, a Federal Prison Closure Advisory Board member and founder of The Help Kansas City, said closing prisons would save money — and lives.

“The federal prison system is a very expensive system,” Wesson said. “Almost half of the federal prison population are those convicted of non-violent crimes with drugs being the primary conviction. Warehousing people and collecting bodies in prison — especially those convicted of non-violent, victimless offenses — has not made our communities any safer.

“The time is now to reshape and reform our federal prison system, including closing federal institutions, reallocating the billions of dollars that are poured into these systems, and instead investing those dollars into treatment and reentry services.” 

To learn more about the project, click here.

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