"We recognize that any attempt to build progressive alternatives to the current prison system must be directed by the people most affected by it. Therefore, women inside direct our advocacy efforts; we lend prisoners the support they need to organize themselves."
About Justice Now
Cassandra Shaylor and Cynthia Chandler, co-directors of Justice Now, in Oakland, have created the first legal teaching center in the United States that is focused solely on the rights of women prisoners - forging a new community of legal advocates, a network of lawyers, law students, community organizers and women in prison. The program reaches about 1,000 women a year. Justice Now co-sponsored the first legislative hearing on incarcerated women ever held inside a prison. The testimony of prisoners led to the introduction of two bills in the state legislature to improve health care for women prisoners - and the process affirmed women prisoners who had never thought of themselves as leaders, but indeed became leaders.
Shaylor and Chandler believe that empowering others and building new leadership is vital to achieving positive social change. They teach undergraduates and law students how to provide women prisoners with direct legal services. The program also supports peer education in prisons, and partners with prisoners and community organizers to create public education campaigns. Shaylor and Chandler have developed a curriculum for teaching prisoners' family members and supporters how to navigate the state’s Compassionate Release process, which allows dying prisoners to return home to die with dignity.
Chandler and Shaylor build innovative alliances among activists, students, prisoners and prisoners' families. “The legislative hearing we collaborated on brought together prisoners, practitioners, advocates and academics to testify side by side before legislators,” the two leaders report. “As part of this process we helped members of these groups coordinate their testimony so that they could present strong and uniform policy recommendations, increasing their systemic impact.”
To ensure they are meeting the needs of the community they are serving, Justice Now includes women prisoners in its organizational structure and decision-making. “The prisoner organizers with whom we work form an essential part of our communication network. Several of these women are now members of Justice Now's community advisory board,” according to Chandler and Shaylor.
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