Bargeloads of art and exhibit materials have been going out to the former prison island of Alcatraz recently, all for an imprisonment- and human rights- and freedom of expression-themed exhibit
by Chinese activist dissident artist Ai Weiwei, who designed and directed the installation while remaining under detention in Beijing
. The barged materials include over a million Lego blocks
, assembled in San Francisco.
On Friday, 32 guards who were employees of the Florida Department of Corrections were fired
; all were accused of being associated with the deaths of inmates at four state prisons. [more inside]
Prison gangs are becoming the custodians of order behind bars and on the streets
Books such as Christian Parenti's, Lockdown America
, and David Skarbek's,The Social Order of the Underworld
posit the idea that prison gangs such as the Aryan Nation
, The Mexican Mafia
, The Black Guerrilla Family
, and others serve a useful function. Prison gangs in an effort to keep their business interests going want order. Multiple gangs keep the other gangs in check. With the US having one of, if not the highest rate of incarceration it may be impossible to maintain any semblance of order without the gangs.
Last week, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project
uploaded a YouTube video of Laverne Cox reading a letter written by a New York State inmate named Synthia China Blast, who described living in solitary confinement for the last decade
. However, that video has since, at Cox's request
, been taken down. (TW: descriptions of murder, sexual violence) [more inside]
GQ: The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit
. "For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend - or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest." [more inside]
"These probationers aren’t just paying a court-ordered fine; they’re typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule—a consolidated weekly or monthly set of charges divided between the court and the company. The system is known as 'offender-funded' justice. But legal challenges to it are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all."
Get Out of Jail, Inc.
First world war – a century on, time to hail the peacemakers
"On the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, we should remember those who tried to stop a catastrophe" [more inside]
The Center for Investigative Reporting conducted a year-long investigation into the problem of teens held in solitary confinement and chronicles what it found in the short documentary “Alone
.” [more inside]
The one thing that drives me nuts about this show is all the snappy banter. I understand that they have to make the show interesting, but if a guard came in and saw that you had smeared food on the wall, they would have thrown a bucket and scrubber in and not fed you again until you cleaned that shit up. They certainly wouldn’t have allowed you to talk about the food on the wall, or wait for you to give this quirky explanation. This is like a scene from Blossom or something, where the guard is playing the exasperated Dad character. It’s like, “Oh, Piper! What wacky antics have you gotten into now?”
One ex-con reviews Orange is the New Black
. Part II
Simpson is in Lovelock because he was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery in Nevada in 2008; he's serving a sentence of up to 33 years, with the possibility of parole in 2017. He will turn 67 next month, but the O.J. personage who remains a cultural touchstone is much younger. That one was born 20 years ago this week, on June 17, 1994, a day that spawned a series of events that are as ingrained in Americana as anything that happened at Valley Forge or in Dealey Plaza. Sports Illustrated tackles Orenthal James Simpson.
65 to 70 million U.S. adults, 3 or 4 of every 10, have an arrest or conviction record, greatly reducing their chances of getting a job, if they even get an interview
, as many job applications ask applicants to check a box if they have a criminal record. "Ban the Box
" is the slogan used by groups who are trying to counter this practice. The ban is spreading with cities and states around the country "banning the box" from government job applications, and some jurisdictions are forcing private employers to ban the question, too
. A few major companies have removed such questions from their applications ahead of the local and state requirements, with Target following Wal-Mart's decision
In 1994, The Shawshank Redemption
made just $18 million at the box office. It got seven Academy Award nominations, but won zero. And yet, it has become one of the most consistently profitable movies there is
, including providing some of its actors with what Bob Gunton (the evil Warden Norton) calls "a very substantial income" in residuals. [more inside]
Prison of Oz: Staying Human in an Ohio Prison Dorothy, something of a diva, let the laughter subside. Then she started to sing with a voice of resounding beauty about a land she once heard of in a lullaby, about chimney tops and lemon drops and wanting to fly away. "Why oh, why, can't I?" [more inside]
In a story first broken by the AP
(heads up: link does not conform to guidelines
about how to refer to trans people), Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has given approval for the Army to transfer Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a federal prison in order to allow her to access treatment for her gender dysphoria. [more inside]
Lifting weights in an American prison means joining a culture unlike any seen in a free-world gym, full of crudely welded pig iron and rust. Men forsake masturbation to improve their bench-press stats and consume cans of Jack Mack, the cheapest tinned fish in the world, along with the filthy broth it's packed in for every one of the 72.5 grams of protein promised on the label. It's a manly, aggressive universe with rules and customs of its own. I lived it for 10 years. An Ex-Con's Guide to Prison Weightlifting
Inside the Kafkaesque World of the US’s "Little Guantánamos"
We sat together on her couch, her small, eight-year-old hands clutching a photo of her father, Yassin Aref. “My daddy only held me twice before I was five,” Dilnia told me. For the first five years of her life, she only knew him as the man on the other side of a plexiglass window in a communication management unit in an Indiana federal penitentiary.
Prisoners describe the communication management units, or CMUs, as “Little Guantánamos.” In 2006, the Bureau of Prisons created two of these units to isolate and segregate specific prisoners, the majority of them convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The bureau secretly opened these units without informing the public and without allowing anyone an opportunity to comment on their creation, as required by law.
Cao Shunli died while incarcerated
recently for advocating the right of ordinary Chinese citizens to have input into China's entry in the UN's Universal Periodic Review
, a new set of human rights reports for every UN member state. She died because she was denied medical care. Her family has not been allowed to see the body. [more inside]
Twilight in the Box.
"The suicide statistics, the squalor and the recidivism haven’t ended solitary confinement
. Maybe the brain studies will." [Via]
What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now?
"With all eyes on Russia, two members of the country’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers are free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock-star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art-school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed."
Artist Amy Elkinsbegan corresponding in 2009 with prisoners on death row in California. Of the seven men with whom Elkins made contact in June 2009, she remains in touch with only one, Freddy, who has been held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay since 1995, when he was 16 years of age. Freddy has been incarcerated since he was 13. Parting Words
is "a visual archive of the 500+ prisoners to date executed in the state of Texas."
Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration?
So begins a critique by Paolo Pedercini, developer of "games addressing issues of social and environmental justice," of Introversion Software's upcoming game Prison Architect
, currently in still in development but available as an early access beta. Prison Architect's producer, Mark Morris, and its designer, Chris Delay, respond in a lengthy youtube video
. [more inside]
When CeCe McDonald was incarcerated in a mens' prison after defending herself from a racist, transphobic attack
, she drew support
not only through her misfortune but also through her insightful, valuable commentary on subjects ranging from how men react to having their masculinity questioned by "outside speculators"
and violence against women
to pansexuality on Sex and The City
Now released from prison after 19 months,
, the 25 year old African American transgender activist isn't content just to finally listen to the new Beyonce album
. She appeared on Melissa-Harris Perry
discussing her experience with the prison-industrial complex, and will be the subject of a new documentary
by Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox (previously
). [more inside]
"I was startled and encouraged to see that under current policies, we are at a two decade-year low in the prison admission rate. To provide historical perspective, peg the change to Presidential terms: When President Obama was elected, the rate of prison admission was just 3% below its 2006 level, which was very probably the highest it has ever been in U.S. history. But by the end of Obama’s first term, it had dropped to a level not seen since President Clinton’s first year in office." -- Good news everybody, prison admissions in the US are at a two decade low
, with total prison population decling for the fourth year in a row
, leading Keith Humphreys to wonder why this hasn't been reported more widely
The Atlantic cities reports:
"Criminologists call it the 'special sensitivity hypothesis.' Defense attorneys often cite it as a mitigating circumstance when asking for lighter sentences for white collar clients. But according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Missouri, "special sensitivity" may not actually exist. In the forthcoming December 2013 issue of Justice Quarterly, UC's Michael Benson and his co-researchers argue that white collar offenders adapt to prison just as well as other types of offenders, and in some categories, do even better.... 'Prisons are bureaucracies that have rules and regulations,' Benson says. 'People from middle class and white collar backgrounds understand rules and bureaucracies. I did an interview for my dissertations where I talked to a small number of white collar offenders. Before they went they were scared to death. They imagined all these bad things happening. Once they get there, after the initial shock passed, they realized it’s just a big organization. Follow the rules, be polite to people, don’t go outside your space, and you’ll be fine.'"
"My friend Nick and I planned another prank. We thought it would be funny to scare a couple of friends while they were hanging out with some girls. We drove over to their house and crept up to the living room window with ski masks pulled down over our faces and realistic-looking water guns in our hands...
Participants in We Are All Criminals
tell stories of crimes they got away with
. via [more inside]
Charles Manson Today: The Final Confessions of a Psychopath. He made for terrific TV. But after a booming, almost sexually aggressive chat with Diane Sawyer in 1994, the state of California banned the use of recording devices during prisoner interviews. This upsets Manson greatly. It's the reason why you haven't heard from him lately. He tends to sulk about it.
takes aim at the American criminal justice system in three articles from their latest edition: An opinion piece
on mandatory life sentences without parole, a more in-depth view
of some specific instances and of the data, and a look at the practice of charging fees
to those convicted, or even just accused.
A LIVING DEATH
: Sentenced to die behind bars for what?
For 3,278 people, it was nonviolent offenses like stealing a $159 jacket or serving as a middleman in the sale of $10 of marijuana. An estimated 65% of them are Black. Many of them were struggling with mental illness, drug dependency or financial desperation when they committed their crimes. None of them will ever come home to their parents and children. And taxpayers are spending billions to keep them behind bars.
A LIVING DEATH: Life without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses
Smart on Crime
I argue that (blue-collar) crime—theft and assault, in all their varieties—is still a real and major problem; that its economic and social costs are vastly under-appreciated; that its primary victims are disadvantaged minorities and poor people; that the current criminal-justice system wrongs them by under-enforcing the law against those who victimize them (who are, of course, mostly people like them in racial and class terms); that better criminal-justice policy could give us less crime and less incarceration; and that better and more equal law enforcement ought therefore to be as central a progressive political goal as better and more equal education or health care. [more inside]
Everyone's favorite prison simulator Prison Architect
wins Halloween with an awesome Easter egg
Target Bans the Box.
Target Corp., one of the nation's largest employers, joins the growing number of cities and states
to Ban the Box
. Most Ban the Box legislation has been targeted towards public employers and contractors, but there has been a growing trend to enact legislation applicable to private employers
, including in Target's home-state Minnesota
. Target is one of the few private employers to take the step
, and as far as I can tell, the largest yet. [more inside]
Three months ago, Psychology Today blogger Susan Krauss Whitbourne posted an essay entitled The Rarely Told Story of Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment. I eagerly read it in the hope that it would reveal some heretofore relatively unknown truth about this famous experiment. But, in fact, the essay is simply a summary--a well written one--of the experiment that takes at face value Phillip Zimbardo’s and his colleagues’ conclusions. In the introduction to the essay, Whitbourne states that the experiment is “Depicted in movies, television and of course all introductory psych textbooks…” It’s true that Zimbardo’s experiment is one of the two or three most famous experiments in the history of psychology. But it’s not true that it’s depicted in all introductory psychology textbooks. I’m the author of one such textbook (which is now in it’s 6th edition and is used in many colleges and universities). One of the questions I’m frequently asked about the book by professors who teach from it is, “Why don’t you include Zimbardo’s prison experiment, like all other textbook authors do?”Here’s why, the results of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment have a trivial explanation.
See also, The lie of the Stanford Prison Experiment [more inside]
From prison to pro football (~soccer) but hampered by a dark past: how Ilombe Mboyo's rise destroyed the scheme that saved him. Can football help rehabilitate a criminal?
The Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, CT (famous for once housing Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black) is converting from a women’s prison to a men’s prison
. Where will the inmates go? Aliceville, AL; a location more than 1,000 miles away, nowhere near a major airport, and 45 miles away from a train station
Eleven United States senators sent an open letter
to the director of the Bureau of Prisons
last month, and the transition remains in a state of delay. Piper Kerman wrote a NYT op-ed
with her perspective.
On Monday, August 19 - day 43 of the strike a federal judge approved a request by state and federal prison authorities to engage the controversial practice of force-feed striking prisoners. [more inside]
Sentencing reform for drug offences is expected be announced by the US Attorney General. Eric Holder
will announce Monday
that he is mandating the Justice Department modify its policies so that certain non-violent drug offenders will no longer endure “draconian mandatory minimum sentences,” according to excerpts of his remarks to American Bar Association. [more inside]
- starring Adam Faith
. The complete series one and two is available on YouTube [you may well need your cockney rhyming slang dictionary]
. [more inside]
New Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black"
, based on a memoir by Piper Kerman
about her year in a women's prison, and created by Jenji Kohan of Weeds, has been garnering heaps of critical praise
Plus, it's super gay
Of the show's "naïve yuppie" lead character, Jenji Kohan says "I don't think I could have sold a show about black and Latina and old women in prison, you know?
But if I had the girl-next-door coming in as my fish out of water, I can draw a certain audience in through her that can identify with her, and then I can tell all of these stories once she's in, once we've signed onto this journey. She's just a great entry point for a lot of people."
The American Institute of Architects’ Code of Ethics
[pdf] states that “Members should uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors." Raphael Sperry, president of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), wants to amend the code further so it reads "Members shall not design spaces intended for execution or for torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including prolonged solitary confinement." From Architect Magazine
: “Should Architects Design Prisons?” [more inside]