Inequities related to the criminal justice system will be the focus of a presentation called Prisons for Profit, When Freedom Isn’t Free, on Sunday, Oct. 21.
The event, set for 3 p.m. at the Land Trust Building, will feature Nick Allen, directing attorney of the Institutions Project at Columbia Legal Services in Seattle. Allen will address a range of issues, including the continuing burden of Legal Financial Obligations(LFOs), youth incarceration and the overall context of racism inherent in the system.
Additionally, members of the Numbers to Names advocacy group from Tacoma, whose members help people transitioning out of prison, will join the conversation and offer their stories about advocating for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Vashon SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) is hosting the event. SURJ member Barbara Dennard said she met Allen at a hearing in Olympia, where Allen testified about LFOs and sat next to her during the proceedings. She decided to invite him to Vashon after the encounter.
“He is very knowledgeable about incarceration and post-incarceration issues,” Dennard said.
This year, Vashon SURJ has been active regarding LFOs, which are fines, court costs and other fees imposed on people convicted of crimes. In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that intended to reduce their harsh effects.
In a press release at that time, Allen stated that Washington was known as having a particularly harsh LFO system, especially for those without the ability to pay.
“This bill moves Washington in the right direction on criminal debt reform by addressing some of those harsh consequences and will hopefully improve the lives and reintegration efforts of poor persons with LFO,” Allens said in a press release at that time.
Despite the new legislation, advocates say there is still work to be done regarding LFOs, and a range of other criminal justice issues.
Dennard said that she became involved with SURJ and its work because she grew up in a segregated community in the South and left that region wanting to take action on racial injustice, which includes incarceration issues.
She noted that one in four African-American is incarcerated at some point.
“I was horrified when I heard that, and I wondered what can I do as a person to change that,” she said.
A suggested donation of $10 is requested for the event, but all people will be welcome regardless of ability to pay.
— Susan Riemer