In October 2004, Rima Vesely-Flad founded the Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment (ICARE) to organize a religious response to the crisis of recidivism in New York State. ICARE is rooted in the Restorative Justice tradition of believing in the capacity of each individual to restore relationships that have been harmed. We expanded the traditional definition of “Restorative Justice” to include systemic analyses of the extra-penalogical function of the penal system as an instrument used to oppress impoverished communities of color and simultaneously maximize political and economic gain. We sought to expand the civil rights of formerly incarcerated people while we embarked on a grassroots education campaign.
From 2005-2008, ICARE’s policy committee proposed and helped pass several agenda items on our “Restoration of Rights” platform. We proposed several bills expanding employment and education rights, and also supported several campaigns run by partner organizations.
Our grassroots activities consisted of traveling throughout the state of New York and educating communities of faith about the political economy of imprisonment, and how people of faith could collectively add a vital voice to the movement to expand support and civil rights for people with criminal convictions. Seven of the bills we proposed or actively supported were signed into law.
We also initiated a pilot “Circles of Care” ministry program to engage members of spiritual communities in actively supporting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
ICARE became incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2008. The founding board members comprised of people of faith, some of whom were formerly incarcerated, and representatives of the policy committee. From 2009-2012, the volunteer board oversaw ICARE’s legislative efforts. During these years, ICARE advanced two “Restoration of Rights” agenda items:
- A “Certificate of Restoration” to take the place of a “Certificate of Relief from Disabilities” and a “Certificate of Good Conduct.”
- A bill to “ban the box” requiring formerly incarcerated people to disclose that they have convicted of a felony prior to receiving a job interview.
ICARE also supported two bills led by other statewide coalitions:
- A bill to end prison-based gerrymandering, a practice in which incarcerated people are counted as members of the districts in which they are imprisoned. Led by Citizen Action and a coalition of statewide organizations, this bill was signed into law in 2010. http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/newyork.html
- The Safe and Fair Evaluations (S.A.F.E.) Parole Act, NYS Bill S5374/A7939. Led by Prison Action Network and the Coalition for Fair Criminal Justice Policies, this bill insists that parole denials must provide, in detail, the specific requirements for actions to be taken in order to qualify for parole release; it further stipulates that a new hearing be scheduled and release granted if prerequisites have been met and good behavior maintained. http://www.kitescampaigns.org/campaign/blog/565/safe-parole-act-is-now-a-bill-in-both-houses-of-the-legislature/
In its current stage as an online resource, ICARE continues to support grassroots activism and legislative advocacy efforts in the state of New York. We contribute to and distribute “Building Bridges,” the newsletter of Prison Action Network, on a monthly basis. We also send out action alerts. Although we are no longer a 501(c)(3) organization, we are committed to providing resources to communities of faith that challenge mass incarceration.