Soffiyah Elijah knows all about scaling obstacles, which explains why her new organization first campaign takes on of New York’s biggest challenges, closing the Super Max prison called Attica Correctional Facility.
Elijah was the first woman of color to lead the Corrections Association of New York, a historic institution that monitors New York prisons. She has deep insight into the steep challenges facing the criminal justice reform movement. As the tide changes away from decades of indifference, so does hope that America’s era of mass incarceration will end. Reform can also stem the school-to-prison pipeline that has derailed a generation of black men, redirecting it toward pipelines of productivity.
“We need to take resources — not just money, but brain power — and devise solutions to incarceration, especially for young people and the mentally ill, outside of the criminal justice system,” she said.
The Alliance of Families for Justice is Elijah’s next and most ambitious effort in a career full of them. While the fledgling organization has a clear set of goals and objectives, it will publically launch a year-long campaign to shut down Attica and expose and eliminate human rights abuses in New York’s prisons and jails, she said. The campaign will be announced in September 2016, and will include monthly forums in various geographic regions of NYS focused on educating the public on these issues and mobilizing them to take action. The year of activities will culminate in a march from NYC to Albany highlighted by teach-ins along the way and ending with a major press conference in Albany on or about September 13, 2017, which is the anniversary of the worst prison riot in America history that occurred at Attica in 1971.
“There are numerous prisons, jails and colleges located along the Hudson River between NYC and Albany. These provide excellent sites for teach-ins and press conferences,” Elijah said.
Elijah’s organization includes Antonio Yarbough, a former Attica inmate who spent 20 years there before being exonerated in 2014.
Both will join the #InclusiveAmerica National Association of Black Journalists’ Learning Lab, powered by ScaleUp Partners on Aug. 3 to focus the need for reform and improved efforts for inmate re-entry.
INCLUSIVE AMERICA: REACHING BEYOND THE MARGINS
DESCRIPTION: More than 600,000 released inmates flood America’s poorest communities each year. These re-entering citizens desperately seek access to resources of economic empowerment and a pathway to the American Dream. Families and government systems offer the only support and resources for their initial steps along the path. An Inclusive America cannot afford to leave behind millions of Americans who seek survival on the outer edges of society. These are the stories of tens of millions of citizens struggling to find access to opportunity in an Inclusive America.
- Soffiya Elijah, Former Exec. Dir. Correctional Association of NY, and Founder and Exec. Dir. of The Alliance of Families for Justice;
- Antonio Yarbough, Alliance of Families for Justice;
- A. Scot Bolsinger, ScaleUp Partners, and Founder of CriminalU.com