This year, approximately 95,000 prisoners - about half of the entire prison population in the U.S. - will be spending Christmas behind bars, away from their families, for a non-violent drug offense. And for the 12th year in a row, activists in Seattle will spend Christmas outside of a local jail to hold a “Christmas Day Vigil for Prisoners of the Drug War.”
Several Seattle-area groups involved in anti-drug war activism will be participating in the event, which has been held annually since 2000. Some of the groups include the November Coalition, an educational foundation that works to “end drug war injustice,” according to its website, and Hempfest, a group working for “cannabis reform” that has been holding an annual arts and music festival for over 20 years.
Hempfest executive director Vivian McPeak told the Seattle Weekly that having a vigil on Christmas Day helps highlight the issue of families affected by drug laws.
"The original reason we did it on Christmas day is we were working with so many people who had family members incarcerated," McPeak said. "It seemed like a good day to mark drug war orphans and widows who have family members in prison with sentences disproportionate to their crime. And it just seems a little more symbolic to take time out of a day that's very important to many Americans to show we're serious about it."
The U.S., which contains only 5 percent of the world's population, holds 25 percent of the world's prison population, according to a study the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).
The war on drugs has helped rapidly increase the amount of people put in prison. Since 1980, when the federal government began increasing drug war policies, the number of prisoners in the U.S. has increased by 458 percent, JPI found.
Nora Callahan, president of the November Coalition, told The Christian Post that the aim of the protest-vigil is to bring more attention to the high numbers of prisoners in the U.S.
“It's to bring awareness about the imprisonment problem in America and Christmas is a pertinent day to do that,” Callahan said. “It's also a morale-booster that encourages the prisoners, who are mostly drug offenders, when they see it on Christmas Day.”