Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month by Working to End Mass Incarceration

05/30/2015 11:49 am ET | Updated May 30, 2016

The month of May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), a time for the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to celebrate our heritage and the communities we have formed in the United States. Yet, far too many of our brothers and sisters remain behind bars.

The prison population for AAPIs has been increasing steadily. From 1999 to 2004, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population rate increased by 30 percent while the white prison population rose by 2.5 percent. The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) has made addressing mass incarceration and moving criminal justice reform a priority. We understand the connection incarceration has to mass deportations, conditions in detention centers and our fight for education justice -- this is the mass criminalization of communities of color.

In 2013, the labor movement made a welcome shift and the AFL-CIO passed a resolution recognizing that mass incarceration has become about big business whose product is low wages and ruined lives, and decided that it's time for labor to join forces with allies in the criminal justice community and fight back. Together, we are working toward achieving a reformed criminal justice system that offers formerly imprisoned people an economic path forward and restores voting rights -- and we are already winning battles.

Last year, led by our friends at Californians for Safety and Justice, California passed Prop 47, a ballot measure that reduced the classification of some low-level nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The crimes covered by the proposal include things like minor drug possession and petty theft, minor offenses that should not define or destroy an individual's life. With AAPI ethnic groups representing 3.4 percent of the total California prison population, Prop 47 marks a second chance at life for hundreds of incarcerated Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The labor movement is a movement of first chances, second chances and firmly believes our criminal justice system needs to offer people another chance to contribute to our society. That's why APALA, in partnership with the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice -- Los Angeles, National Education Association and Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, is proud to be hosting the first ever Mass Incarceration Convening: AAPIs Behind Bars-Exposing the School to Prison to Deportation Pipeline to elevate AAPI voices in the national conversation on mass incarceration, over-criminalization, and the collateral consequence of deportation. From June 26th-27th, members of the AAPI community will convene at San Quentin State Prison and Alameda Labor Council to highlight the experiences of AAPIs in the criminal justice system.

This may be the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, but our work is just beginning. We will continue to fight until every member of our society is given equal access to good jobs and a better life.