A former inmate who has worked for justice reform even while she was behind bars is calling out President Joe Biden for declaring April “Second Chance Month” and not doing anything for dozens of women like her who want to be able to rejoin society and their families.
Andrea James was an attorney when she says she made a “mistake in judgment” that led to her serving two years in prison after being convicted of wire fraud.
She wrote about her experience in Time Magazine in 2017 and how it inspired her to found organizations to help others in the same circumstance:
What I wasn’t hearing was about the real issues that incarcerated women — the fastest-growing segment of the prison population — face every single day.
So, my sisters inside and I decided that we wanted to do something about the latter. In the prison yard, we created and held the first meeting of Families for Justice as Healing (FJAH), with the goal to raise public awareness of women as the fastest growing incarceration population and to use our voices to create a more accurate portrait of who we are, what we had learned and what we could contribute to this dialogue.
FJAH’s work continues in Boston and has led to our national movement and organization, the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. We work to end incarceration of women and girls and to shift from a criminal legal system focused on punishment, to a system based on human justice.
Now James (pictured) is speaking out again through an interview with the Law 360 website, which it introduced this way: “President Joe Biden declared April ‘Second Chance Month’ acknowledging that incarcerated people deserve second chances, but he hasn’t given second chances to 100 incarcerated women by granting them clemency, according to former criminal defense attorney turned activist Andrea James.”
President Joe Biden declared April "Second Chance Month" acknowledging that incarcerated people deserve second chances, but he hasn't given second chances to 100 incarcerated women by granting them clemency, according to activist Andrea James. https://t.co/opVUsuexyN pic.twitter.com/SachU1Pcac
— Law360's Access to Justice (@Justice_Law360) April 19, 2021
James has called on Biden to grant clemency for 100 incarcerated women in his first 100 days of office — a milestone that happens this month. She calls it the #FreeHer campaign.
“All of these women are either now elderly, terminally ill, victims of interpersonal harm like domestic violence or have served more than 10 years in prison and should be given a second chance, James said. Having women serve more than 10 years in prison for drug offenses like conspiracy is too harsh of a sentence, she said.”
The interview continues, “Has any progress been made on freeing these 100 women?”:
We’re just stuck, really. We have done everything we can do. We have been very forward and outspoken on appeal to President Biden. We have spoken to the Biden clemency team. We have, even prior to President Biden becoming President Biden, reached out to his transition team. Many of those advisers to him were people that we worked with under President Obama’s administration. They know who we are, but we haven’t received one response.
On a regular basis, I’m sending [them] information and articles and op-eds about this issue. We’ve been on mainstream media. We’ve been everywhere, and we stood on the line for President Biden, voted for him, and believed him when he said that racial justice is a priority of his. What we’re saying is clemency is racial justice. We must use [clemency], not as a gift, not as something that is left at the end of whatever your final turn is, but right now, coming out the gate to demonstrate that you do understand that there have been significant harm caused to Black, brown and poor communities in this country as a result of some missteps in criminal legal policy. And that one way that we can correct those missteps is to use your clemency power and to use it unapologetically to correct some of these missteps.
But we have not heard one response from the Biden administration. And we’re asking for something. Give us something. Release somebody. Surely [Biden] must believe that Michelle West deserves a second chance. She’s given 30 years in the federal prison system [for a drug conviction]. She’s a leader in the prison. She is a mother to women. She leads all kinds of programs and projects and teaches classes. These are the women we’re talking about, and others who are sick and terminally ill. Let them come out. There’s no need for this. And it doesn’t make you look any other way than that you have a clear understanding about what second chances really mean as the Biden administration begins to talk about Second Chance Month.
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