Amani Sawari advocates for release of Michigan prisoners amidst COVID-19

repeal Truth In Sentencing gathering

IAS alum Amani Sawari (’16) is the statewide campaign coordinator for the Michigan Prisoner Rehabilitation Credit Act (MPRCA), an initiative for the November 2020 ballot that would restore "good time" credits to the prison system, which were eliminated in the state's 1998 Truth In Sentencing law. Michigan is one of three states in the U.S. that does not make earned credits available to incarcerated people.  

For several years Sawari has collaborated with incarcerated and grassroots organizers across the county to amplify the prison resistance movement. Alarmed by the spread of COVID-19 among incarcerated populations, Sawari and a coalition of activists wrote a letter to Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington on April 6. 

"There is no doubt in our minds that the best way to manage the Covid-19 challenge in Michigan’s prison system is to release as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We believe that can be done without compromising public safety, and in the best interest of public health, but it will require the system to consider different rules," the four-page letter urged

A lack of response from state leadership led Sawari and the coalition to organize a Twitter storm on April 14 from 1:00-3:00 pm, under the hashtag, #LetMiPeopleGo, urging Gov. Whitmer to speed the release of prison inmates during the coronavirus outbreak. Within the first hour of the event, #LetMiPeopleGo trended at #1 in the state of Michigan, and by the end, thousands of tweets reached Whitmer and Washington. 

On April 15 MPRCA, in partnership with graduate students at University of Michigan's School of Social Work, hosted a virtual town hall on truth-in-sentencing that featured Michigan state senators Sylvia Santana and Jeff Irwin.

Sawari writes, “It was a wonderful success with 89 attendees and no hackers. It was incredible encouragement for suffering families with loved ones on the inside during this time to see that they do have reps who are advocating on their behalf and to hear an update on our people's initiative, MPRCA, that we hope to get onto the November ballot even in the midst of this chaos.

Finally we asked both Gov. Whitmer's office and the Secretary of State for a remedy to the situation of our inability to canvass during the lockdown with either an extension to the deadline, reduction in the amount of signatures required or the ability to collect online; none of those requests were approved. We plan on sending her a third request in the form of a final letter next week (one month from our deadline).”

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