Let’s take a moment to reflect on what we have achieved together.
Prison Fellowship’s staff, grassroots network, and Justice Ambassadors are working alongside lawmakers to raise up a voice for justice that restores.
Each year, our nation’s lawmakers assemble to craft legislation, and Prison Fellowship® is there as well, lending our voice to champion justice that restores around our country.
In a challenging climate for criminal justice, Prison Fellowship staff, grassroots volunteers, and faith partners are making the values-based, biblical case for justice policies that protect communities and restore lives.
In the Volunteer State this past session, Prison Fellowship staff and volunteers engaged in compelling meetings with lawmakers, mobilized grassroots voices, and provided public testimony to the General Assembly.
Grace Period on Fines and Fees
Thanks to Prison Fellowship’s efforts, a bill was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly to enable individuals being released from prison to ask for a six-month grace period before repaying fines and fees. By giving individuals a head start before being required to pay back their court debt, the bill (SB13 | HB26) can set up more Tennesseans for success in their efforts to pursue productive, law-abiding lives.
Prison Fellowship spoke up against legislation (HB1030/SB1193) that would create a new structure of mandatory sentences that require individuals to automatically receive a life sentence without parole. The bill would have prevented judges from imposing appropriate penalties based on the specific case and risked adding to existing staffing and programming challenges in Tennessee prisons.
Prison Fellowship widely shared its opposition to the proposal across the legislature, including through lawmaker visits by its President and CEO James Ackerman and an in-person Day of Action with Tennessee Justice Ambassadors. Grassroots Program Director Sammy Perez and Justice Ambassador Lindsay Holloway shared about the importance of fair sentencing at critical hearings in the Tennessee House of Representatives and Senate.
Lawmakers chose to delay further consideration of this legislation until 2024 due in part to concerns expressed by Prison Fellowship and our partners.
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, Prison Fellowship advocated on behalf of incarcerated men and women for a fair opportunity to advance their futures upon release. We engaged lawmakers through educational materials, visits to Prison Fellowship programming, television and press placements, constituent outreach, and collaboration with partners.
Constructive Prison Culture
Prison Fellowship made strides towards allowing certain otherwise eligible incarcerated students to access one of the largest state financial aid programs for higher education—a proven tool for reducing recidivism and improving reentry outcomes. While this bill (SB11) did pass through the Senate and two House committees, it has not gone through the full legislature. Our hope is that it will have the momentum to move ahead in 2024.
A bill (HB2490) that allows probation termination when qualifying men and women demonstrate meaningful progress in rehabilitation was signed into law by Gov. Stitt. Prison Fellowship was proud to support this effort to move toward a community supervision system that better sets up formerly incarcerated Oklahomans for success.
Second Chance Hiring
Prison Fellowship supported two bills to increase employment opportunities for men and women with a criminal record in Oklahoma. These bills incentivized employers to hire people with a criminal record through a tax deduction (HB2475) and liability protections (HB2481). Although the bills did not ultimately advance, Prison Fellowship continues to advocate for greater second chance employment opportunities.
Prison Fellowship advocated in the Old Dominion, offering public testimony for many values-based criminal justice reforms, meeting with lawmakers, and mobilizing grassroots advocates in Virginia.
Prison Fellowship championed a bill advocating parole transparency and accountability (SB1361) that was ultimately passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Youngkin. This law calls for greater clarity in the parole hearing process, requiring a final public meeting before parole is granted or denied, enhancing data reporting requirements, and expecting more specific reasoning from parole board members for their votes. Prison Fellowship was critical to passing this law by drafting bill text, preparing educational materials, and active collaboration with lawmakers and partners.
Access to Work
Prison Fellowship contributed to the successful passage of a bill (HB1525) that removes “barrier crime” restrictions on the ability of Virginians with certain drug convictions to pursue work as peer recovery specialists. This law enables Virginians who proactively seek sobriety and redemptive leadership to assist in Virginia’s fight against substance abuse.
We advocated for legislation (SB888) to allow judges more flexibility in imposing either consecutive or concurrent penalties to Virginians who have been convicted of an offense requiring a mandatory minimum sentence. Despite Senate passage, the bill did not proceed through the House of Representatives, but Prison Fellowship will continue to support punishment that better fits the crime in this state.
Prison Fellowship made a difference in the Texas legislature through support letters, meetings with legislators, and public testimony from our grassroots leaders. We made our voices heard, and the Lone Star State is seeing positive change.
Helping to meet the basic nutritional needs of men and women newly released from prison, Texas lawmakers passed HB1743, which expedites enrollment in food assistance for otherwise eligible Texans.
Access to Work
Prison Fellowship championed two bills (HB1747 and HB1215) to safely expand access to meaningful work opportunities for men and women who have paid their debt to society. These bills both passed the state House of Representatives with strong support from a diverse coalition of advocates.
Prison Fellowship pressed these reforms forward through a Grassroots Day of Action, sharing of Justice Ambassador stories, and close coordination with legislative and advocacy partners. These bills did not yet progress through the Senate, but they are in a strong position to move forward in the 2025 session.
Supporting more effective, ethical policing in Texas, we advocated for several bills including HB410, requiring officers to use citations instead of incarceration for low-level traffic misdemeanor offenses; HB504, calling for improved due diligence for the use of no-knock warrants; and HB4966, which addresses problematic “wandering officers” moving between police departments for jobs despite a record of misconduct.
These three bills did not advance through the Senate following passage in the House, but Prison Fellowship will continue to advocate for better approaches to policing and public safety in Texas.
In this ongoing legislative session, Prison Fellowship has strived to build momentum for bill packages that would improve pretrial decision making (HB4655-4662), incentivize life change behind bars (HB4450-4453), and strengthen effective and ethical policing.
Through film screenings and panel discussions in both Wayne County and Muskegon, Prison Fellowship is fostering discussions on how to equip Michigan law enforcement officers to better serve their neighbors in crisis.
Prison Fellowship believes that greater proximity to our criminal justice system equips and inspires lawmakers to engage with these important issues. In partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections, we hosted a dozen lawmakers and legislative staff for a tour of Muskegon Correctional Facility. During this visit, lawmakers engaged directly with incarcerated men and saw the transformative impact of the Prison Fellowship Academy® and other rehabilitative opportunities.
In this ongoing legislative session, Prison Fellowship is mobilizing support for bills that would expand access to housing for Ohioans leaving incarceration behind (HB50) and reduce overuse of driver’s license suspensions for non-driving related offenses (SB37).
Our Second Chance Month Prayer Walk in Columbus raised awareness about the challenges facing men and women who have paid their debt to society.
In June, Prison Fellowship and The Buckeye Institute hosted a widely attended event at the Ohio State Capitol highlighting the importance of unlocking opportunities and second chances for Ohioans with a criminal record.
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