Collage of photos of Members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People's Movement

FICPM on the vanguard of ending mass incarceration

SCSJ Criminal Justice Reform attorney Daryl Atkinson is a steering committee member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM). In the following radio piece from PRX, Daryl and his colleagues speak truth to power on issues relating to ending mass incarceration in the United States.

A half-century since the apex of the Civil Rights Movement, the quest for racial and economic justice continues unabated in the United States. Arguably the most powerful expression of that struggle today is the growing movement to end the racialized system of mass incarceration. At the forefront of leadership in the struggle to dismantle the US prison-industrial complex, and to alleviate its negative consequences, stands the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM). The FICPM is a nationwide coalition of formerly incarcerated men and women who are holding forth a radical vision for justice and transformation, and who are putting that vision to work in towns and cities across the nation. This 29-minute radio documentary highlights the voices of nine members of the FICPM steering committee, men and women who have experienced the workings of the US criminal justice system from the inside out, and who have dedicated themselves to the work of building a new and better future, not only for presently and formerly incarcerated people, but for the entire nation. The show includes a description of the FICPM’s critical analysis, closely mirroring the arguments of Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow), and it features candid dialogue about race and racism in the contemporary US. Also highlighted are the 14 points of the FICPM’s national platform, a blueprint for nationwide grassroots community organizing designed to bring about major structural transformation in the US criminal justice system, and in the US culture itself.

Just as the movement for justice and equality drew vision and leadership from key organizations during the 1950s and 60s, such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, today the movement to end mass incarceration finds the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement at the vanguard of the struggle. These are men and women of legacy re-enunciating a powerful message of freedom and equality during this newest phase of the continuing struggle to bring the United States’ practices into alignment with its core principles.

“The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement: The Struggle for Freedom and Transformation Continues” is the newest installment of the radio documentary series titled Bringing Down the New Jim Crow. Inspired by Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, this series explores the intersection of the drug war, mass incarceration, and race in the contemporary U.S. It is produced by Chris Moore-Backman and features the music of Stray Theories.

People attending SCSJ's End Mass Incarceration Week event

What did we learn during End Mass Incarceration Week?

From April 5-13, 2014, SCSJ joined other groups across the nation in observing End Mass Incarceration Week (EMI Week). SCSJ produced daily blog posts on various issues relating to mass incarceration in America (the complete blog series is available at the bottom of this post). Blog posts were submitted by SCSJ interns including Meredith McMonigle, Oprah Keyes, Adé Oni, and Nadiah Porter, as well as SCSJ staff members Daryl Atkinson and Shoshannah Sayers. The week culminated in a community event designed to discuss existing problems with mass incarceration and get community feedback about possible solutions.

Held at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, the EMI Week event was coordinated by SCSJ Troan Intern Nadiah Porter, a paralegal student and poet. Nadiah designed an event that combined poetry on the issue of mass incarceration, a panel discussion with experts in the criminal justice system – from both outside and inside the system – and a community dialogue. In addition to the poetry read at the EMI Week event, currently incarcerated individuals were also asked to submit poetry, which SCSJ will post in the coming days. While currently incarcerated individuals were not able to attend the event, we wanted them to know that they are not alone and we need their perspective to help fix our broken system.

One poet spoke of his experience as a substitute teacher in a North Carolina middle school, and his first-hand observations of the school-to-prision pipeline in action. Watch Kai Christopher’s spoken word performance below.

Another poet spoke of his personal experience in jail, and how it motivated him to become a better person. Now over 20 years after his conviction, he is still haunted by the collateral consequences of incarceration. He spoke about the importance of programs like SCSJ’s Clean Slate clinics, which provide people with tools to overcome their criminal records and find stable employment and housing. Watch Tim Jackson perform one of his poems below.

The panel discussion was led by Dr. Jason Moldoff of Durham Technical Community College, who was joined by panelists Larry Bumgardner, George O’Briant, Oprah Keyes, and James Price. Bringing perspectives as diverse as a prison volunteer, a formerly incarcerated person, and a social work student studying juvenile justice issues, the panelists had an open and frank discussion of how people become justice involved, and how that involvement creates new challenges to living a productive life. Several themes ran through both the poetry and panel discussion, and were further brought out during the community dialogue.

  • From a very young age, our children are labeled. If they are labeled as “good,” the system treats them as such. If they are labeled as “bad,” the system finds every opportunity to document their shortcomings and steer them into increasingly high levels of supervision, often culminating in a jail or prison sentence.
  • There is a huge racial bias in all of our systems, from schools to law enforcement to public housing. In each of these systems, people of color are assumed to be suspicious, and thus more likely to be targeted for extra scrutiny.
  • Today’s system of mass incarceration in the U.S. bears some striking similarities to slavery and Jim Crow policies. For example, as one community member brought up, slaves were not allowed to read and in today’s prisons, law libraries have been removed – in essence denying incarcerated people access to reading the very information that they might need to exonerate themselves. Another similarity is the second-class citizenship status of people with a criminal record, which is reminiscent of Jim Crow-era policies toward African Americans.

The event concluded with a commitment that this is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. SCSJ will host future community events and listening sessions in the future to continue the dialogue on concrete ways to end the U.S. system of mass incarceration.

End Mas Incarceration Week Blog Posts

What is End Mass Incarceration Week?

Immigrant Detention and Mass Incarceration

Roundup of Recent Development in Mass Incarcertion

Solitary Confinement

Mass Incarceration of Juveniles

Mass Incarceration & People of Color

Collateral Consequences of Mass Incarceration

Women and Mass Incarceration

From the Daughter of a Prisoner

Want to help SCSJ’s work providing second chances for people with crimianl convictions? Please participate in our Second Chances Fundraiser!

picture of African American men in prison

Mass Incarceration & People of Color

Mass Incarceration & People of Color

 One in every 31 Americans is on probation, on parole, in jail or in prison. Distressingly, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three African-American men can expect to be incarcerated at some point. These statistics reflect systemic problems in the U.S. justice system and the punitive nature of our society. Every day, boys, girls, men and women are funneled into the criminal justice system due to systemic racial bias, the school-to-prison pipeline, lack of access to mental health treatment, co-occurring disorders, domestic violence and poverty, among others. And for communities of color, this is occurring at an exceptionally high rate. This over-incarceration of people of color is sometimes referred to as the New Jim Crow, harkening back to one of the most racist periods in U.S. history.

Data snapshot:

  • While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned[1].
  • As the number of women incarcerated has increased by 800 percent over the last three decades, women of color have been disproportionately represented. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated[2].
  • The “war on drugs” has been waged primarily in communities of color. According to Human Rights Watch, people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites, but they have higher rate of arrests. African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses. From 1980 to 2007 about one in three of the 25.4 million adults arrested for drugs was African American[3].
  • Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison[4].
  • Before the recent sentencing reform for crack-cocaine, the racial disparity in crack-cocaine sentencing was 100:1; disproportionately affecting people of color charged with crack-related offenses[5].
  • 80% of defendants sentenced to death in federal courts are people of color.[6]

This is known as Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC). While you look at the data, remember that this represents people: parents, siblings, children, neighbors, students, professionals, and community members. Due to the collateral consequences that justice-involved people experience, which impacts minorities more severely, we as a society, are essentially systematically disenfranchising racial minorities in the United States by taking away their right to vote, by denying them access to public benefits, by dramatically increasing their barriers to obtaining employment, and by separating parents, from their children at exceptionally high rates with all intended consequences of such actions.

  • Among Black children, 1 in 9 have a parent in jail (2012 data)[7]
  • Among Hispanic children, 1 in 28 have a parent in jail (2012 data)
  • Among White children, 1 in 57 have a parent in jail (2012 data)

These are the effects of mass incarceration. It is because of these people that we need to not only dismantle the current system of criminal justice, penalization and mass incarceration, but also seek best practices to improve the status quo. If one in three African-American men born after 2000 can expect to go to prison at some point in their lifetime, the system is broken, but besides acknowledging the system’s deficiencies, we need to initiate viable alternatives.

black men shackled and led by a white prison guard

This affects everyone. Minorities currently represent one-third of the US population. Almost everyone knows someone who has been impacted by the American criminal justice system and can share an anecdote of how mass incarceration has compromised futures, devastated lives and annihilated entire ethnic communities. Please feel free to share yours with us!

I have over 2.3 million reasons to dedicate my time and energy into this human rights issue. And by the time I have children, I hope that my African-American son will no longer face a 1 in 3 likelihood of going to prison.

Post by SCSJ Macro Social Work Intern Oprah Keyes

Crime does pay, but for whom?

Private Prison Industry

There are 2.3 million people living behind bars in the United States
● The US prison system costs the federal government $55 billion every year

Prison VS. Jail

● Jails are locally-operated facilities that hold inmates for a short period of time
● Prisons are long-term facilities run by the state or federal government

Prison: A Growing Industry

Between 1990 and 2010, the number of privately operated prisons in the US increased 1600%
● Private prisons bring in roughly $3 billion in revenue every year
○ Over half of this comes from holding facilities for undocumented immigrants
■ Private prisons run over 50% of detainment facilities for immigrants

Big Business

Two of the biggest private prison companies in the country, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, made $3.3 billion in annual revenue in 2012.
● These two companies make up 75% of the private prison industry
○ CCA operates 67 prisons in the US
○ GEO Group operates 95 prisons in the U.S. and abroad

Cheap Labor
The prison industry makes money by contracting prison labor to private companies
● This includes
○ Starbucks
○ Boeing
○ Victoria’s Secret
○ McDonald’s
○ Prisoners work in apparel, document conversion, call centers, printing and clean energy
● A single prisoner’s labor is worth between 93 cents and $4 a day

The Government Paycheck
● “Lockup Quotas”: Contracts guarantee that prison occupancy rates will stay at or above a specified level
● “Low-Crime Taxes”: If occupancy rates are not fulfilled, the government must pay for the empty beds
● In contracts with the government, some private prison companies demand minimum occupancy levels of more than 0%

Price Per Prisoner
Average annual cost for correction expenses per inmate

● The national average for correction expenses per inmate was $28,323/year in 2010
● Harvard’s full-time tuition cost per year is $40,016
● In 2012, New York City spent almost $168,000 per inmate in food, housing and security
○ of that comes from taxpayer money

Crime Does Pay. But for Whom?


Facts and figures on incarceration in America

Facts and Figures on Incarceration in America (via Moyers & Company)

Over the last four decades, America’s prison population has increased dramatically. This tremendous growth disproportionately affects minorities, and has been exacerbated by the war on drugs. Mass incarceration has become a form of legalized discrimination…

Read more

Time to End the War on Drugs

Post by SCSJ Staff Attorney Daryl Atkinson

Time to End the War on Drugs

In a speech to the American Bar Association on August 12, 2013 Attorney General Eric Holder stressed the need to end mass incarceration, alleviate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and reduce mandatory minimum sentences for many people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. As the most prominent prosecutor in the country Attorney General Holder criticized the wisdom of policies that have led to America becoming the world’s leading jailer. “It’s clear—as we come together today—that too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” Although incarceration has a significant role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. It imposes a significant economic burden—totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone—and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

 Promising changes                                                                                                                                                        

Attorney General Holder, like President Obama, has expressed a willingness to address the stark racial disparities in the criminal system.  “Right now, unwarranted disparities are far too common. As President Obama said last month, it’s time to ask tough questions about how we can strengthen our communities, support young people, and address the fact that young black and Latino men are disproportionately likely to become involved in our criminal justice system—as victims as well as perpetrators. We also must confront the reality that-once they’re in that system—people of color often face harsher punishments than their peers. One deeply troubling report, released in February, indicates that—in recent years—black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. This isn’t just unacceptable—it is shameful.”

Attorney General Holder went on to announce a modification in Justice Department’s charging policies for non-violent drug crimes, which is meant to avoid triggering mandatory minimums, because he realizes these draconian sanctions are counter-productive. “We will start by fundamentally rethinking the notion of mandatory minimums sentences for drug-related crimes. Because they often generate unfairly long sentences, they breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They—and some of the enforcement priorities we have set—have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color. ” A major motivation for Attorney General Holder’s new “smart on crime” approach is the fact that although the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has almost 25 percent of its prisoners. Another incentive may be the potential for increased bipartisan support of drug policy reform.

But What Can We Do at the Local Level?                                                

While Attorney General Holder’s comments come as good news, this is all happening at the highest levels of government and will take a long time to trickle down to those of us working on the ground with people who are the victims of America’s “War on Drugs.” Here at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, we work with individuals facing the lifelong collateral consequences of drug convictions. We know that federal policies have real-life consequences for the communities we love and support. So how do we make Attorney General Holder’s statements make a difference here and now for the people and communities where we live and work?

  • Make marijuana possession a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority (LLEP) –Local police departments have limited resources which forces them to prioritize which crimes they pursue, and which they do not. The Durham  police department  should make low-level drug crimes, such as possession of marijuana, a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority, which will allow the department to re-allocate resources currently spent on apprehension of low-level drug offenders toward the apprehension of serious violent criminals.
  • End racial profiling and selective drug enforcement— America is a country that champions equal protection and application of the law but currently in North Carolina this is not happening in many areas of the state. For example, in Durham, NC blacks are 162% percent more likely to be searched incident to a routine traffic violation than whites, and blacks are 400% more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than whites even though usage rates of the drug are roughly the same. Concerned citizens in Durham should demand that our elected officials reform and strengthen the Durham Civilian Review Board so law enforcement can  be held accountable by an independent body that truly represents the interest of Durham citizens.
  • Local prosecutors should adopt pre-charge diversion policies for young people who commit non-violent crimes–North Carolina is one of only two states in the country that prosecutes 16 and 17 year olds as adults. Studies have shown that criminalizing young people at an early age hurts their future employment, housing, and educational opportunities. Diverting more young people away from ever getting involved with the criminal justice system is good public policy that will make our communities stronger and safer.

Want to do more in your local community? Contact us about ways to get involved! Email us at, call us at (919) 323-3380, or Click here to support SCSJ’s work. You make it possible for us to advocate for criminal justice reform in North Carolina and throughout the South – thank you for all that you do!