For the 2013-2014 congregational year, the Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee has been focusing its energies on addressing the problem of mass incarceration. We are working on two projects and hope you’ll want to get involved.
ADVOCACY: Supporting efforts to pass Senate Bill 259 to reduce the size of drug free zones from 1500 to 200 feet
If you live in a small city or town and are caught selling even a small amount of drugs to anyone at all – friend, relative, or complete stranger – you will get a much lighter sentence than you would if you live in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, or any other of Connecticut’s larger cities. How come? Because of the Drug Free Zone law. This law says that 1500 feet surrounding a school, daycare center, or public housing must be designated a drug free zone. Makes sense, right? We don’t want drug dealing going on in the vicinity of children anywhere in our cities.
But this law, which sounds as if it’s necessary to keep drug dealers away from children, actually has the effect of keeping urban people in prison longer than rural people guilty of exactly the same crime. In Rev. Josh’s March 30th sermon on this topic, he quoted a report of the Prison Policy Initiative entitled “Reaching Too Far: How Connecticut’s Large Sentencing Enhancement Zones Miss the Mark.” The report states: “Connecticut’s [drug free] zone law … arbitrarily increases the time people convicted of drug offenses must spend in prison without any evidence that their underlying offense actually endangered children. In fact, the Legislative Program Review & Investigations Committee looked at a sample of 300 [drug free] zone cases, and found only three cases that involved students, none of which involved adults dealing drugs to children…. Except for those three cases in which students were arrested, all arrests occurring in ‘drug-free’ zones were not linked in any way by the police to the school, a school activity, or students. The arrests simply occurred within ‘drug-free’ school zones.’
Because of the prevalence of schools, daycare centers, and public housing in cities, in effect the whole city becomes a drug-free zone so any deal anywhere will automatically command a longer sentence than exactly the same deal in a small town with many fewer schools, daycare centers, and public housing. The solution? Change the extent of the drug-free zones from 1500 feet to 200 feet. This would be just as effective in keeping dealers away from children and would provide fairer sentencing for urban people who are doing exactly what suburban and rural people are doing but are spending longer times in prison for their offense.
On Friday morning, March 30, Rev. Josh, Kristal Kallenberg, Kate Kimmerle, Polly Painter, Nancy Parker, and Lisa Sementilli attended a breakfast at the Legislative Office Building where we saw maps showing drug-free zones covering almost all the area in the larger cities and taking up very little space in the smaller cities and towns. So guess who spends longer in prison? Urban youth, of course. Also in attendance were members of the Judiciary Committee and/or their aides. The purpose of the breakfast was to urge the committee to vote SB 259 out of committee in order for it to be voted into law by the entire legislature. If enacted, SB 259 would reducee the size of the drug free zones from 1500 feet to 200 feet.
On April 2, SB 259 passed out of the Judiciary Committee by 2 votes with about 15 min to spare. However, the bill did not win passage. We expect this bill–or some version of it–to be raised next year. We expect to be part of the coalition that will organize to win successful passage!
For more information, contact Committee leaders Kate Kimmerle and Lisa Sementilli or Rev. Josh Pawelek at (860) 646-5151.
All are welcome to attend the planning meetings of the Social Justice/Anti-Oppression Committee (SJAO) which take place on the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm in Rev. Josh’s office. Contact our office at 860-646-5151 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Goals of the UUS:E Social Justice Committee:
One of our primary Social Justice Committee goals is to achieve a better balance between our advocacy and service work within the Greater Hartford community and our connective work within our own Unitarian Universalist Society: East community. We are accordingly working harder to listen and to respond to stories of our own members and friends. As a starting point, representative members of our Rainbow Alliance and Social Justice committees have been meeting together to determine how Unitarian Universalist Society: East can be an “additionally welcoming” place for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) members and friends. Rainbow Alliance and Social Justice will accordingly cosponsor an appropriate range of educational, legislative advocacy and relationship oriented activities. Some suggestions have been forums,movie nights and direct discussion opportunities (e.g., getting together in members’ homes). During our last meeting, we also discussed”radical communication” as a possible metaphor (e.g., more openly sharing our individual journeys and our resulting hopes and dreams).
“When people come together to work on social justice projects, they break the bonds of individualism and isolation that fragment communities. They make sacred space for one another. Together they explore the issues that tear at their hearts, and cause them concern for the future. The issue and the passion can only come from them. And, together, they partner with others to understand their place in the community, the gifts they bring to the community, and the hopes and dreams of others. Too many people think that spirituality and social justice are at opposite ends of the continuum, even polarized from one another. In truth, neither can be fulfilled without the other.” Rev. Jeanne Lloyd
The Social Justice Committee (SJC) fosters and focuses the passion for social justice among the members and friends of Unitarian Universalist Society: East by undertaking certain activities itself, and by providing an umbrella forum for the initiation, coordination and lifting up of social justice activities in other groups at Unitarian Universalist Society: East. In doing so, we cover the full spectrum of social justice work, including service (S), education (E), witness (W), advocacy (A), community organizing (CO) and transformation (T).