Prison reformers protest Baker and Walsh-endorsed corrections conference
Activists from 19 grassroots organizations marched through downtown Boston Sunday afternoon to protest the American Correctional Association (ACA), which was holding its annual conference at the Hynes Convention Center.
The ACA is one of the largest accreditation agencies in the United States. It ensures for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities meet federal and local guidelines, and health and safety standards.
The protest was part of a week of actions against the ACA. Last Thursday, activists with Deeper Than Water and Black & Pink hung a large banner on the Green Monster at Fenway Park that read, “No ICE, No Prisons, No More Cages.”
Rachel Bishop, an organizer with Deeper Than Water and SURJ Boston, said the demonstration was held to draw attention to and put public pressure on the ACA and its business practices.
“What’s going on at the border is not an anomaly,” she said. “It is, in fact, a business model. There are corporations that make their money throwing people in cages—whether it’s because they’re poor, or they’re black, or they’re migrants.”
Video by Gino Canella
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh welcomed ACA members to the “149th Congress of Correction,” with letters published in the conference program. Mayor Walsh wrote, in part, “Boston’s thriving institutions provide the perfect backdrop for your members to learn about new, emerging technologies and develop leadership skills in your industry.”
Watertown resident Inbal Alon was among the roughly 200 people who attended the March Against Cages. “Regardless of what people think about immigration, having children in cages and families separated is cruel, and it’s not the country I want to live in,” she said as she marched down Boylston Street with her young son. “I brought my son because I want him to know that we stand up to injustice.”
Dan Joyner of Lexington said he felt compelled to “do something” following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. “Those tragic events really emphasize how we need to stand up and be active for progressive values in a positive way,” he said. “Stand up against evil.”
Martin Henson, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Boston, said the broad coalition of community groups that came together for the rally reflected the scope of the issue.
“There’s an intersection between the prison industrial complex, criminality, and xenophobia and immigration,” he said. “People need to know that, so we’re out here pushing that message.”
Demonstrators shouted through bull horns, held signs, and chanted outside the Convention Center for about three hours on Sunday, while conference attendees watched through windows. Bishop said organizers were demanding the abolition of the carceral system. While that may sound “too radical,” she said, the support in the streets shows that people want alternatives to incarceration, including restorative community justice.
“I really want people to stop thinking about this as a system that is broken, but can be fixed,” she said. “Even a well-appointed cage is still a cage, and it’s not a place where anyone belongs.”
Gino Canella is an assistant professor of journalism at Emerson College. He produces documentary films in collaboration with community groups and researches activist media, social movements, and journalism.