Organizational Spotlight: the Human Rights Coalition

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The Human Rights Coalition (HRC) was founded in 2001 based on the radical notion that there was a vital segment of the population missing from the organizing work against prisons: the families and loved ones of the over two million prisoners in the United States. Incarcerated brothers took this idea and asked their family members and supporters to take the lead in building such an organization, and HRC was born.

Our ultimate goal is to abolish prisons. The prison system is based on a foundation of exploitation, punishment and corruption. Most of the people in prisons are poor, brown, urban, functionally illiterate, unemployed or underemployed before they were locked down, and are there for nonviolent crimes. The prison system reflects all the inequalities present in our society and it does not work.

We seek to empower prisoners' families to be leaders in prison organizing while at the same time seeking to reduce the shame of having a loved one who is in prison or formerly incarcerated. We want to make visible to the public the injustice and abuse that are common practice throughout our judicial and prison systems across the country, and eventually end those abuses.

We also work to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners. HRC understands that prisoners are human beings with problems that need to be addressed. Many prisoners have led lives of drug abuse, child abuse, or neglect, in addition to the impacts of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. We should demand that the prison system focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners so that they can return to society as productive citizens with the skills needed to take care of their families.

HRC has hosted film showings, book readings, panel discussions, poetry slams, and concerts. We have answered hundreds of letters from folks locked down and have provided resources, referrals, and assistance wherever we could. We send out a quarterly newsletter filled with writings by prisoners and their family members and supporters on the outside. The newsletter, The Movement, is mailed to over 700 people inside and outside of prisons.

HRC Fed Up!, the Pittsburgh chapter of HRC, is starting a campaign, called “Fed Up With Phone Rates”, to demand reductions to the phone rates in Pennsylvania’s prisons. After years of delays and grassroots pressure, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently capped the interstate rates that phone companies can charge prisoners and their loved ones. However, intrastate rates in Pennsylvania are not limited by this ruling and a portion of the fees generated by these calls goes directly to the PA DOC. The goals of the phone campaign are to end the kickbacks to the DOC and to prioritize the lowest rate possible for consumers--prisoners and their family and friends.

There are many fronts to fight the prison system on, and many issues to address, but the voices of those most affected - prisoners' families, ex-prisoners and the prisoners themselves - have to be at the forefront of any movement to change and, sometime in the future, to abolish the prison system entirely, because we are the ones who know the intimate pain this system causes. There are HRC chapters in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chester. You can find out more information at or can write to us at 4134 Lancaster Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19104.