Push the Pen: How to Unpack Legislation

Legislation will often be the topic of conversation with you and your incarcerated partner. Did it pass? What are they voting on today? Your pen will need to be pushed in support, objection, and all too often because a bill is being completely ignored.

Legislation is a part of the time you two are serving. It will help to be informed, even when the uglier side of politics arises. “Legislating morality grows big government immensely, and helps fashion the noose the government will use to ultimately hang you by.”― A.E. Samaan 

The best way to combat or cheer on a bill is to use your voice or, as we like to say, the pen. Follow what the state assemblies are working on each new term and send a letter or email to let your legislator that you both are trying and need the help.

Many prison librarians, advocates, and concerned citizens often use the National Conference of State Legislatures website to follow state legislation. 

There is a large amount of information to unpack on this website, so we are providing some actions to take to make it easier to navigate. 

Start at the Bottom

You will see some categories in the gray footer on the bottom of the page. In the Policy & Research Services section there is a link called Legislative Websites. Select that link and from the next page, choose your state and the topic that interests you, which in most cases is Bills. 

After you select the Search button, the state assembly website result will populate below the search options (state and content area). If you select the state assembly link you will leave the National Conference of State Legislatures website and go directly to the state website. From there, search keywords or categories for the Bills that will interest you.

Search Works

If you already know the Bill number you are looking for (your partner will often know the number because it is something everyone in their prison is talking about) then enter the bill number, state, and the year in the search box in the upper-right corner of the National Conference of State Legislatures website. 

For example, the search SB1005 Maryland 2016 will return the Bill and any pertinent updates. Keep in mind your partner hears things from what many call “inmate dot com.” This is often second-hand information mixed with a good dose of previous legislation and state and federal bills. Your research and updates will be welcomed and add clarity to the confusion. 

Serving Time Together

It is important to do this kind of research as you serve time together because you want to be updated to write to your representatives and tell them how you feel and how to vote. When it comes to legislation involving sentencing, reentry, programs, and treatment, the assembly wants to hear from those that are actually in the system. 

Remember to push the pen to use your voice and let others know what can or can’t help and why. It makes a difference, and it is another way to let your partner know they aren’t alone. “To the wrongs that need resistance, To the right that needs assistance, To the future in the distance, Give yourselves.” — Carrie Chapman Catt