Students Against Mass Incarceration General Interest Meeting Generates Little Interest

Andrew Rose, Scarlet Staff

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Clark University’s Students Against Mass Incarceration club enters the new semester facing considerable challenges, the first and most notable of which is their lack of official club status. Indeed, a missed filing deadline has deprived Clark’s leading prison reform advocacy group of formal recognition by the University, not to mention all of the funding and privileges that come with said recognition.

Nonetheless, a small but eager contingent of Clarkies assembled in the Lurie Conference Center last Thursday to discuss the failings of the incumbent system of criminal justice and the finer points of prison abolition proposals. Someone observing the meeting from afar could not be faulted for assuming that it was simply a casual discussion between three close friends. Small as the gathering was, the attendees quickly proved that they were both well-informed and passionate about changing the American penal system.

Criminal justice reform is an increasingly popular topic of discussion these days. With the United States’ incarceration rate sitting at the highest level of any country in the world, many people, particularly those on the political left, have questioned whether our current criminal justice system is broken. The Clarkies who constitute the prospective executive board of Students Against Mass Incarceration agree that it is, and they look forward to leading an advocacy group dedicated to changing it.

“It’s about taking vulnerable people and making them more vulnerable,” argued Emma Fonner (‘20). Fonner also stated that the United States’ high incarceration rate reflects the country’s failure to care for its own citizens, as well as the inadequacy of current efforts to deal with the problem of homelessness. The “war on drugs” was mentioned as another contributing factor.

The rest of the group evidently agreed. There was a similar consensus around the eventual goal of the movement they belong to. Indeed, Students Against Mass Incarceration has, as its eventual goal, the abolition of prisons. In their view, prison reform is utterly insufficient.

“Prison reform supports the system,” explained Emma Nagler (‘20), the club’s prospective president. The meeting’s third attendee, Helena Haase (‘20), said she agrees.

But first, the club has to make a bit of a comeback. Their task will be made significantly easier next semester when Students Against Mass Incarceration will be able to reapply for official club status. Until then, its members will have to figure out how to best run the club without any source of funding. The e-board thinks that this will be easier than it might appear at first glance. For example, the club has always maintained a relatively small membership, and has generally eschewed expensive projects and events.

Helena Haase says that last year’s meetings featured “a lot of good discussions and events” in a close-knit setting. As for larger-scale activities, Students Against Mass Incarceration hosted a number of speaker panels where formerly incarcerated individuals talked to Clarkies about their experiences and the long-term effects of imprisonment. Haase, Nagler, and Fonner hope to replicate the success of such activities.

In the meantime, they hope to use social media to recruit new members. Moreover, there is no shortage of ideas for the next semester. An open e-board? Increased collaboration with other, similarly-inclined groups on campus? Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: this little club is not backing down from its big mission.