MSWSA Student Justice Initiative (SJI) in support of Justice 4 All
Making an Impact: MSW Student Justice Initiative (SJI)
By: Wendy Lorenz-Walraven, SJI leadership committee
The MSW Student Justice Initiative (SJI) has been busy collaborating with Take Action MN on Justice 4 All's Restore the Vote Initiative! SJI members were among the 200 volunteers who made phone calls to over 12,000 Minnesotan residents to educate voters on the bill. During one sitting, 284 voice mails were left for Republican Representatives in support of restoring the voting rights for thousands of contributing Minnesotans currently without a democratic voice. SJI members spoke to all of our MSW Social Policy classes, reaching over 300 students with our efforts. We created a Facebook page to help aid in communication and spread information, which is slowly but surely receiving more and more "likes" as we become more visible (Please check out our FB page: UST/SCU Student Justice Initiative and invite your friends and family to "like" us literally and figuratively). We send out email blasts to all MSW and BSW students, including faculty, providing updates and strategic calls to action for constituents.
While our persistence and “man-power” has moved decision-makers in the right direction, the bill is currently stalled in the House. The bill does have bi-partisan support and is now officially a part of NASW-MN legislative agenda, which is promising for continued progress. SJI members joined Justice 4 All at the State Capitol on Thursday, April 16, for a rally to be present, engaged and actively advocating for civil rights. Voting rights empower individuals to take part in active citizenship. For many of us, voting became the gift we were granted on our 18th birthday that became an integral way of understanding our political voice. Imagine being stripped of your voice for making a 15-minute mistake that then takes up to 10 years to earn back...10 years is a lot of time to be silenced. Please join SJI in the pursuit of giving citizens back their voices; together we can make decisions that improve life in Minnesota for us all. Learn more at: www.takeactionminnesota.org/work/criminal-justice-reform
Support SJI this Spring
The SJI is an MSW student group at St. Kate’s - St. Thomas that joins with local nonprofits to advocate for pertinent social justice issues. This year, we have joined forces with Take Action Minnesota’s Justice for All (J4A) initiative to support criminal justice reform in Minnesota (#Justice4All). And with your help, we have the chance to make a big difference this spring! The Restore the Vote bill has been introduced in the Minnesota state legislature and has strong bipartisan support. This bill would restore the right to vote to persons with a criminal record who are serving probation and parole in MN. These individuals—disproportionately young people of color—represent at least 57,000 Minnesotans who are living in the community, working jobs, and paying taxes, and who deserve to have a political voice. So what can you do to help get the bill passed?
- "Like" the SJI facebook page to stay updated on events and find ways to get involved: UST SCU MSW Student Justice Initiative
- Come to the Justice for All phone bank on Tuesday, Feb 24 from 6 to 9pm at the Take Action MN office in St. Paul to increase citizen support for the restore the vote bill. Find details and registration info on the SJI facebook page HERE.
- Contact your legislators to express your support of the Restore the Vote bill. Find out who represents you at http://www.gis.leg.mn/OpenLayers/districts/, and call them, or better yet, meet with them in person!
- Follow the status of the Restore the Vote bill in the MN State Legislature HERE and restorethevotemn.org.
Raise your voices and take action to change the current discriminatory and undemocratic voting laws in Minnesota. We hope to see you at an event soon!
SJI Committee: (from left) Prof. Lisa Kiesel, Lyndsay Gomos, Ellie Jones, Wendy Lorenz-Walraven (holding Austin), Cady Nielsen and Prof. Jessica Toft
MSWSA chooses Justice 4 All as Annual Student Justice Initiative
Ellie Jones, MSW Student, SJI member
As printed in the Winter 2015 Perspectives Newsletter
During its first meeting in September of 2014, members of the newly-formed Student Justice Initiative (SJI) voted to join forces with Take Action MN, a Twin Cities-based non-profit organization that works to “realize racial and economic equality across Minnesota” (borrowed from their mission statement). Specifically, SJI will participate in Take Action MN’s Justice 4 All campaign, which seeks to restore justice to Minnesota’s discriminatory criminal justice system by eliminating the barriers that prevent persons with a criminal record from finding employment and by re-enfranchising previously incarcerated people who have been denied the right to vote.
One of the most challenging barriers that formerly incarcerated people face in re-integrating into society is finding employment due to hiring practices that immediately turn down anyone with a criminal record. This practice contributes to Minnesota having the nation’s worst racial disparity in hiring: the African American unemployment rate is 27%, which is 5 times higher than the rate for white Americans¹. Additionally, Minnesota currently denies individuals convicted of a felony the democratic right to vote until they have served their full prison sentence terms, which includes probation and parole. This means that over 70,000 people living in the community, working, and paying taxes are legally denied a political voice in Minnesota. This policy contributes to racial injustice that plays out on a local and national scale: In Minnesota, 8% of African Americans are denied the right to vote, while nationally, 1 in 13 African Americans are disenfranchised.²
By advocating to change corporate hiring policies and Minnesota’s voting laws, the Justice 4 All campaign seeks to restore full citizenship rights—and human rights—to persons with a criminal record. The group has already successfully supported Minnesota’s "Ban the Box" legislation, making it illegal to ask if an applicant has a criminal record on the job application.
If Minnesota’s discriminatory criminal justice policies stir your passion to fight for social justice, as it did for us, please join our Student Justice Initiative! For more information about how you can get involved, contact Cady Nielson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about this year’s campaign issue, go to restorethevotemn.org.
Justin Terrell, Justice 4 All Program Manager