“You have the right to remain silent”, but in doing so, you contribute to the very system that imposes unnecessary punitive and enduring consequences for justice-involved persons. This Wednesday, March 22, 2023, you can lift your voice as our community of formerly incarcerated, organizers, supporters, and allies, rally in Maryland’s state capital. As we step off buses, vans, and vehicles from around the state, we will band together in community partnership for this year’s United For Justice Advocacy Day. The goal is clear: to eliminate barriers, increase access, and ensure equity for all Marylanders who have been impacted by the criminal legal system.
What is United For Justice Advocacy Day?
United For Justice Advocacy Day is an annual opportunity for a coalition of organizations and allies that advocate for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals to unite around shared interest by hosting an Advocacy Day in Annapolis, Maryland. This notable event is co-led by Out For Justice as part of our strategy to advocate for policies that lead to communities in which individuals impacted by the criminal legal system are able to thrive. “We’re frustrated with the way Maryland continues to punish people with a criminal record even after we’re done our time. So we’re coming to Annapolis to ensure lawmakers are clear that we are united in the pursuit of justice,” said Nicole Hanson-Mundell, Executive Director of Out For Justice.
Past Advocacy Days have contributed to major wins. This video from the 2020 Advocacy Day (courtesy of Kenneth Clark) encapsulates the energy and power of the event as Caryn York, Out For Justice Board President, current President & CEO of the Women's Prison Association and former Executive Director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, rallies the crowd to advocate for women’s prerelease equity and expungement reform. That same year, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring the state to build a women’s prerelease center.
Advocacy Days empower those who attend to be advocates for themselves and their communities. Take Antoin Quarles, a long time Out For Justice member, and Executive Director of Helping Oppressed People Excel (H.O.P.E.) who attends Advocacy Day every year. For Antoin, it’s about community members, politicians, and advocates collaborating in an energy-packed environment. He’s inspired by leaders who create excitement and set the stage for transformation. Antoin encourages everyone to join the movement, saying, “Think about what’s your interest, what you want to be different. Your voice today can make the process begin…it’s a dynamic experience.”
Who will be going?
Individuals impacted by the criminal legal system - It’s critical for this population to be at the forefront of policy reform that impacts our families, communities, and ourselves. These folks utilize their voices and lived experiences to enact change through legislative advocacy.
Supporters - Allies who support the goal of eliminating barriers and increasing access to justice for Marylanders impacted by the criminal legal system play an important role. Allies can volunteer to assist with logistics or show up to tell their legislators that these issues matter.
What are we advocating for?
This year, the coalition will be advocating for legislation that addresses equity, reentry, individuals behind the walls, and women’s prerelease. You can view details here. Below are some of bills:
Maryland REDEEM Act: “Record Expungement Designed to Enhance the Employability for the 1.5 million Marylanders” (REDEEM) who are shut out of the workforce due to a criminal record. This bill would allow eligible misdemeanors and nonviolent felony convictions to be eligible for expungement within three and five years, respectively, after the completion of the sentence, possible drug treatment, and any mandatory supervision.
Prevention of Forced Infant Separation Act: Women who give birth in Maryland’s prison have their babies taken away shortly after the baby is born and are quickly returned to the general population. This bill would establish a nursery program at the upcoming women’s prerelease facility, allowing incarcerated mothers and their newborns to remain together for up to one year.
Ensure the Public Has Remote Access to Courts: Maryland courts started livestreaming proceedings during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing for greater transparency and accountability, increased civic engagement, and accessibility for equitable public participation. This bill would ensure that remote access remains in place moving forward.
What’s on the agenda?
The group will gather together at 9:30am before being recognized at the State House Gallery and rallying at Lawyer’s Mall. Then, attendees will team up to meet with legislators, phone bank, participate in justice dialogues, and attend committee hearings. Lunch will be provided. Attendees will be able to choose which activities they would like to participate in.
How can I participate or learn more?
CLICK HERE to learn more, including information about free buses departing from Baltimore City and Prince George’s County as well as driving directions. We look forward to seeing you there!