Soffiyah Elijah: How You Can Help With US Prison Reform

Soffiyah Elijah: How You Can Help With US Prison Reform

Why you should care

Dr. Christina Greer chats with the head of the Alliance of Families for Justice about fixing America’s jails.

Welcome to The Counter, a new video series hosted by Dr. Christina Greer, featuring the most pressing issues of the day and how they inform, reflect and affect African-Americans. To launch the series, Greer, a professor of American politics at Fordham University, sat down with The Daily Show’s Roy Wood Jr. to look at the role of comedy in the Trump political era. This week she’s talking to lawyer and activist Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Alliance of Families for Justice.

Elijah was spurred into action as a community activist by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1968 when she staged a walkout of her eighth-grade class to honor the slain civil rights movement leader. Recognizing even then that the Black community in America didn’t have enough lawyers fighting in its corner, she was determined at a young age to pursue a career in fighting injustice.

It’s going to take a whole collective of people … to bring about fundamental change.

Soffiyah Elijah

Today, the United States is home to the world’s largest prison population — with the African-American community disproportionately impacted — and while the U.S. only has 4 percent of the world’s female population, it has 33 percent of the incarcerated global female population.

Elijah boldly calls American prisons “weapons of mass destruction,” noting their destructive impact on communities. She attributes this label to the destructive nature of putting profits before people, a trait she associates with the U.S. corrections system. The narrative is about money, she says, and not about the lives or communities impacted by those who are jailed.

One needs to look no further than the cash bail system for an example of inequality. After all, the well-heeled can afford to post bail while poorer members of society remain stuck behind bars while awaiting trial. Mix in privatization, profit-making measures and overall inconsistencies, and you begin to see just a few of the problems Elijah is fighting to see changed.

But Elijah also believes that all Americans can do something to help foster change. “It’s going to take a whole collective of people … to bring about fundamental change,” she says. Her advice? Just get involved with any community organization. “Just focus on something.”

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