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LOCAL News :: Prisons

1/16/06: Rally for Prisoners Rights at State Capitol

Today, approximately 50 people gathered at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square to draw attention to the plight of VA prisoners and their families. People came from around the state to take part in the rally and educate their elected officials on prisoner justice issues.
Richmond, VA
January 16, 2006

Approximately 50 people gathered at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square today to draw attention to the plight of VA prisoners and their families. The rally titled, “A Cry for Families? was a part of VA Cure’s Annual Advocacy Day at the Virginia General Assembly.

The rally, coinciding with celebrations of the life and memory of Dr. King, included prisoners advocacy groups, ex-prisoners, family and friends of those incarcerated, and others concerned about the pervasive role of the prison system in our lives today. VA- Cure initiated the gathering to show support for responsible legislation currently in front of the General Assembly as well as to educate the public on the real costs of the criminal justice system to our families and communities. In addition to VA Cure, Virginians for an Alternative to the Death Penalty (VADP) and the Gemeinschaft Home played prominent roles in the rally.

VA- Cure kicked off the speakers list with an update on the status of several bills concerning prisoners including legislation on the controversial phone system, visitation rights, housing upon release, parole and good time, and re-entry programs. VA- Cure’s legislative activists repeatedly stressed the importance and effectiveness of contacting our elected officials and educating them on prisoner justice issues.

Next, VADP took the stage calling for a moratorium on the Death Penalty. Peppered throughout the crowd were VADP signs stating “Execution Kills the Dream,? a direct tribute to the legacy of Dr. King. VADP’s director Jack Payden-Travers spoke powerfully, “We have the power to shut down that electric chair!? The death penalty has come under repeated attack nationally for being applied in a racist manner and for being a flawed process.

VADP was followed by Jennie Amison, the executive director of the Gemeinschaft Home in Harrisonburg, VA. The Gemeinschaft Home provides housing for more than 50 ex-prisoners as they transition back into communities. “Re-entry and treatment works!? proclaimed Amison, and to prove her point she was followed by several of the men in her program who spoke directly from their own experiences. Most of the men have been in and out of the prison system a number of times. They cited the stability of the Gemeinschaft Home as breaking their cycle of release and re-arrest. Additionally, Amison called for the restoration of voting rights for felons, an issue that is gaining momentum in African-American communities across the nation. Due to racist profiling and sentencing laws large numbers of African-American males have been permanently stripped of their right to vote.

As the speakers drew to a close the demonstrators lined up into marching formation. Chanting “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!? and “No Justice, No Peace!? the marchers moved out of the Capitol Grounds and onto the sidewalk of 9th street. The chanting got louder and louder as they moved towards the General Assembly building. Pedestrians and traffic momentarily stopped to check out the protest. The energetic march drew to an end as many demonstrators streamed into the General Assembly building to personally carry their demands to VA’s elected officials.

Regardless of what steps, if any, the politicians take to correct the prevailing injustice of the prison system, there can be no question about one thing. As the racist and anti-poor prison industrial complex continues its assault on our communities there will be courageous, dedicated people who stand against the injustice.

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