When Andrea James was sentenced to prison for 24 months she was shocked at what she found. She was used to viewing the criminal justice system from an attorney’s perspective. As a criminal defense lawyer she knew the system was flawed, but she never realized how much so until she was enmeshed within it. A long time community activist, James did not let her incarceration stop her from continuing to work toward helping the women who were now part of her new community at the Danbury Connecticut Federal Prison Camp.
While incarcerated James, and other women who were serving time with her, formed a group that sought to provide solutions to end the over-incarceration of women. Upon her release from prison James continued leading that group which evolved into Families for Justice as Healing.
James went on to win the prestigious 2015 Soros Justice Fellowship and is working to bring the voices of formerly incarcerated women to the table when criminal justice policies are being created. (Full disclosure, Reentry Central Managing Editor Beatrice Codianni and James were speakers at several events related to women who are incarcerated. Codianni serves as an advisor to Families for Justice as Healing.)
One of the issues that concerns James is the draconian sentences some women sentenced to federal received. When the Million Man March celebrated its twentieth anniversary in Washington, D.C. on October 10, James led a group of formerly incarcerated women to the podium to speak on behalf of women who are currently locked up, some for life. Her plea before the crowd was to join her in fighting for clemency for women who have been locked up for decades, although they are not a threat to society. After the rally, James created a petition campaign to implore President Obama to grant clemency for several women.
James announced the petition on October 23 stating to the public via Facebook and Twitter:
“I wanted to let you know about a new petition I created on We the People, a new feature on WhiteHouse.gov, and ask for your support. Will you add your name to mine? If this petition gets 99,999 signatures by November 23, 2015, the White House will review it and respond!
We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.”
The petition reads as follows:
"To the President of the United States, Barack Obama, we beseech you to commute the life sentences of the following women
Alice Johnson 14873-076
Josephine Ledezma 94938-012
Minnie Thomas 89378-020
Teresa Griffin 11633-064
Ramona Brant 11205-058
Sharanda Jones 33177-077
Michelle West 17809-039
Carol Richardson 16753-179
Patricia Clarke 29436-004
These women have already served well over 10 years and many are first offenders or only had minor priors. We believe everyone on this list has suffered dearly for any law they may have broken and that keeping them in prison is tantamount to cruel and (should be) unusual punishment.
This is NOT a blanket petition that requires an all or none approach to the aforementioned names, nor does it tie any one individual to another, nor should any one person on this list impact any decision to grant or not grant clemency to another individual listed.”
The petition does not guarantee that the women on whose behalf it is circulated will be freed. But, it is hoped that the President will read it and look into their cases and see for himself that clemency should be considered.
To read the petition or to sign it click here.