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Center for Human Rights - Celebrating 15 Years! Students • Partners • Research

Ashleen Advocates for Incarcerated and Formerly-Incarcerated Individuals

Ashleen O'Brien, Osheroff-Clark Fellow, outside of Clallam Bay Corrections Center
Ashleen O'Brien (2020 Osheroff-Clark fellow) and another NNWP member at a rally outside Clallam Bay Corrections Center. The rally was for the national day of freedom and justice on August 22, and was organized by families of incarcerated folks at Clallam Bay.

November 30, 2020

I applied for and received a grant through the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Human Rights Fund for Students on behalf of No New Washington Prisons (NNWP). NNWP is a statewide collective of individuals working together to stop all prison expansion in Washington state. My role in the collective is as a member of our Inside/Outside team, which works to ensure that our members inside Washington prisons are supported and fully integrated into our collective’s work.

Our collective’s focus has changed somewhat since I applied for funding from the Abe Osheroff fellowship in the Spring of 2020. When I applied for funding, our work was entirely focused on stopping the expansion of one specific facility, Maple Lane, from a closed-down juvenile detention center into a minimum-security women’s prison. In April, our group had early and unexpected success; in response to community pressure, the Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted against beginning the process of rezoning the Maple Lane area, thereby preventing DOC from moving forward with the project. While we initially were worried that DOC would immediately make another attempt to expand the prisons, around this same time, the state of Washington suspended all capital projects, which temporarily has taken the construction of a new women’s prison off the table.

As a result of the shifting urgencies related to COVID-19 and its impact on incarcerated communities, NNWP made the decision to expand our focus. We changed our name from No New Women’s Prison to No New Washington Prisons. Instead of focusing on the Maple Lane project and women’s prisons in particular, we committed to building our capacity as a formation that will organize against all prison expansion in the state, including the expansion of Men’s prisons, carceral mental health institutions, and electronic home monitoring. Our research team has been working in partnership with legal organizations and community organizing formations to make this change. Over the summer, our group did extensive research on the state budget’s implications for prison expansion, led several Budget Advocacy workshops, did internal political education discussions around the expansion of Electronic Home Monitoring in the state, increased our membership both inside and outside of prisons, and began organizing for a statewide Strategy session on abolitionist reforms that will be taking place this month.

All of the grant money I received on behalf of the collective was used or will be used to support incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals who are part of our collective efforts to dismantle prisons from the inside out. We have been working with folks in facilities state wide, including but not limited to Monroe Correctional Complex (WSR and TRU), Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Stafford Creek, Washington Correction Center for Women (Purdy), Clallam Bay Corrections, and Airway Heights.

So far, our collective has used nearly $1300 of the grant money I received from the Abe Osheroff fund. Some of this money has gone towards paying for the costs of communicating with many individuals who are incarcerated, including phone calls and video visitation. Another portion of the money was spent on printing and postage costs to cover the packets we have been mailing to folks in prisons. These packets have been to solicit feedback and involvement from incarcerated individuals, and they have included letters, information about our campaign, requests for feedback and direction in our work, and information about COVID-19 in Washington prisons. The vast majority of the money, though, has gone to directly support the material needs of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals who are involved in our work but need material support in order to continue communicating us. For example, we were able to assist one incarcerated member of our campaign with paying for medical treatment that the prison refused to cover. This practice of mutual aid is important to us in building trust, and we view it as a form of radical direct action. We are so grateful to have had the support from the Abe Osheroff fund.

We intend to use the remainder of the grant money to pay for the printing and distribution of a Zine that we are co-creating with individuals inside Washington prisons. The Zine is broad in scope but is focusing on the experiences of folks inside during the COVID-19 pandemic and will include creative works and essays. We have already begun receiving submissions but are not yet at the point of being ready to publish.