The act of pen-palling mirrors the mindset shift that will be necessary to rethink how our society "does justice" on a much larger scale. My conversations, correspondences, and relationships with prison-torn families have taught me that separation breeds more separation, that the coldness and isolation of prison breed the coldness and isolation of violence. And I think about how the one-on-one relationship, in which the prisoner emerges as a person (with thoughts, a personality, a history, hopes, dreams, nightmares), might serve as a model for the beginnings of a person-based, connection-based justice system.The Radical Power of a Prison Pen Pal, a longform essay by Maya Schenwar, Editor-in-Chief of Truthout and author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. [more inside]
About half of the people fighting wildland fires on the ground for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) are incarcerated: over 4,400 prisoners, housed at 42 inmate fire camps, including three for women. Together, says Capt. Jorge Santana, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) liaison who supervises the camps, they save the state over $1 billion a year. This year, California has had over 5,300 wildfires, which is about 700 more than had occurred by this time in 2013, and a thousand more than the five-year average. Now, as the West is coming to the end of one of the driest, hottest years in recorded history, the work of inmate firefighters has become essential to California’s financial and environmental health. (SLBuzzfeedNews)
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]
The Economist 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.
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]
Today, a decade after Martha Wright-Reed, now 87, became the lead signatory in a class-action protest petition that asked the Federal Communications Commission to regulate usurious prison telecommunications systems, that body has issued an order to lower prison phone rates immediately, "basing them on actual costs and cap[ping] them at 25 cents per minute while the Commission collects more data." A fifteen-minute call will now cost no more than $3.25, down from figures as high as $20. Martha Wright's grandson, imprisoned for manslaughter in 1994, was paroled in June 2012.
Ho-hum, it's another music download service and MP3 player - but this one's been created with the needs of correctional facilities in mind and is already in use in a dozen states and some federal prisons.
Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration is a bilingual initiative to help children cope with an incarcerated parent. [more inside]
"'If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.' So goes the old saying. Yet conditions in some American facilities are so obscene that they amount to a form of extrajudicial punishment." Mother Jones is profiling "America's 10 Worst Prisons." Facilities were chosen for the list based on "...three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with reform advocates." [more inside]
Richmond City Jail hosts a father-daughter dance, bringing fathers and daughters together beyond the visitors booth (photos). “I just gotta break this cycle I’m in. I’m just tired of it,” Andre Morman says, adding that he can’t wait to see his youngest daughter. “I haven’t been able to pick her up in nine months.” [more inside]
William Blake has been held in solitary confinement at Elmira Correctional Facility in New York State for nearly 26 years, after he murdered a Sheriff's Deputy and wounded another in a failed escape attempt back in 1987. Sentenced to 77 years to life, he will be eligible for parole in 2064. But Blake has no chance of ever leaving prison alive, and almost no chance of ever leaving solitary — a fate he considers "a sentence worse than death." (Via) [more inside]
After decades of increases, the number of adults in the U.S. who are in prison, jail, on parole, or on probation has declined over the last few years. The pdf of the report from the U.S. Department of Justice is here. Comments from Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution, Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, and Keith Humphreys.
"The Justice Department estimates that more than 209,400 people are sexually abused in US detention every year… A great deal has been learned about this over the past few years. The [Prison Rape Elimination Act] legislation, which charged the [Bureau of Justice Statistics] with undertaking annual statistical analyses of the problem that have proved indispensable, also created a body called the Review Panel on Prison Rape.… A commission charged with issuing recommendations didn’t do so until six years after the bill’s passage; then Attorney General Eric Holder missed by nearly two years the statutory deadline for promulgating them. But the standards that Holder’s Department of Justice finally did issue are very strong."
There is a critical shortage of acute mental health services throughout the nation that is making it increasingly difficult for people who don't meet standards for "imminent danger" to receive adequate care. Barring a dramatic change in the systems that provide care, what alternatives are there for seriously mentally ill people? Incarceration has often become a form of care provision, but behavioral courts are an emerging alternative. (Previously.) [more inside]
"Louisiana is the world's prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's. The hidden engine behind the state's well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash." Louisiana Incarcerated is a tour de force eight-part series on the Louisiana prison system. [more inside]
Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System. Michelle Alexander argues that ubiquitous plea bargains have allowed America's politicians and judicial system to short-circuit constitutional due process and ignore the mechanics of mass incarceration. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation.
Dewey Bozella landed a hard right cross on his opponent's jaw at the final bell, and the 52-year-old boxer raised his arms in victory. After 26 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, Bozella triumphantly realized a dream deferred in his first and only professional fight. [more inside]
Photographs of the Prison Chess series were taken in 2008 and 2009 in a maximum security facility of the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. [more inside]
The Brain on Trial. Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order.
"We may someday find that many types of bad behavior have a basic biological explanation—as has happened with schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, and mania."[more inside]
Flogging as an alternative to incarceration? A thoughtful essay that considers flogging as an alternative to incarceration; the author uses this as a rhetorical device to point out the inefficiencies of incarceration, and get a conversation going. Some of the comments in the forum are priceless.
Walking While Black is still more of a problem to the NYPD than Biking While White. [SLYT] This recent incident, caught on video, demonstrates in real time the ways that law enforcement frequently ignores enforcing the law in favor of teaching a lesson to the law-abiding smart aleck. [more inside]
Within the realm of criminal justice policy, drug courts have received growing attention and widespread adoption in the United States as a solution to cycles of addiction and incarceration. Their effectiveness has again been questioned, however, in recent reports released by the Justice Policy Institute and the Drug Policy Alliance: Addicted to Courts: How a Growing Dependent on Drug Courts Impacts People and Communities and Drug Courts Are Not the Answer. The National Association of Drug Court Professionals issued a lengthy initial response, pointing to past research touting the success of the drug court model. [more inside]
"Between the Bars is a weblog platform for prisoners, through which the 1% of America which is behind bars can tell their stories. Since prisoners are routinely denied access to the Internet, we enable them to blog by scanning letters. We aim to provide a positive outlet for creativity, a tool to assist in the maintenance of social safety nets, an opportunity to forge connections between prisoners and non-prisoners, and a means to promote non-criminal identities and personal expression. We hope to improve prisoner's lives, and help to reduce recidivism." [more inside]
Too many laws, too many prisoners - Never in the civilised world have so many been locked up for so little. [previously] (via nc)
The High Budgetary Cost of Incaceration (Full pdf) "The United States currently incarcerates a higher share of its population than any other country in the world. We calculate that a reduction in incarceration rates just to the level we had in 1993 (which was already high by historical standards) would lower correctional expenditures by $16.9 billion per year, with the large majority of these savings accruing to financially squeezed state and local governments. As a group, state governments could save $7.6 billion, while local governments could save $7.2 billion."
1) “But there are other lives to be saved, of people who haven’t done horrible things, who haven’t actually hurt anyone.” 2) "Fix it or lose it."
Arguing Three Strikes. A defense lawyer (and co-founder of Stanford's unique Criminal Defense Clinic), and a tough-on-crime Republican D.A. make for unusual allies in the move to reform California's Three Strikes law. [more inside]
Everything you never wanted to know about the American prison-industrial complex. Part 2: Prison Nation.
Wesleyan, a liberal arts college in Middletown, CT, has started a program that allows inmates in a nearby high-security prison to take classes. The students are selected competitively - with only a 16% acceptance rate - and receive the same rigorous education provided to Wesleyan undergrads. Here you can read some of their work. The Bard Prison Initiative [Previously on Metafilter] features a similar program. [more inside]
Peter Guo was held by Chinese police for 16 days, but managed to get himself released. Peter's Twitter profile, blog.
But what lesson can be learned from my experience? I think the most important factor is strong command of the use of Internet, especially Twitter and modern tools for communications.
A Prison Nightmare. On June 23, 2009, the National Prison Rape Commission released its final Report and proposed Standards to prevent, detect, respond to and monitor sexual abuse of incarcerated or detained individuals throughout the United States. More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners.
The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs. The Sentencing Project has just released a report (pdf) finding that, for the first time in 20 years, the number of Black Americans in state prison for drug offenses has fallen. Between 1999 and 2005, the number of White drug offenders in state prisons rose about 43 percent, while the number of Black offenders declined by 22 percent. One cause may be a rise in the use of drug courts, which are locally administered programs that divert offenders into treatment rather than incarceration. The Sentencing Project has a recent report (pdf) on this issue as well.
A new report by the Pew Center of the States finds that 1 in 31 U.S. Adults is currently under Community Supervision. (Full report pdf). Georgia currently tops the charts, with 1 in 13 adults under correctional control. [more inside]
Deadly Symbiosis: Rethinking race and imprisonment in twenty-first-century America.
1 in 99.1 American adults are now incarcerated according to a new Pew Center study (pdf). Some interesting numbers from a NYT article on the report: 1 in 36 Hispanic adults are incarcerated, 1 in 15 blacks, 1 in 9 black men aged 20-34, 1 in 355 white women aged 35-39. Some context from the World Prison Population List (pdf).
California Where the Rich do Fine While the Poor are Doing Time "Hell, you got to live with it, there's nothing else to live with except mendacity, is there?" Big Daddy, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof
Despite a sharp national decline in crime, American criminal justice has become crueler and less caring than it has been at any other time in our modern history. Why? Former conservative economist Glenn C. Loury on incarceration in America. [via]
Throw Away The Key dot org seeks to lengthen the sentences of criminals on the premise of their mission statement: "Incarceration Works!" From their site: "If you believe a girl should be able to walk down the street in broad daylight without being abducted and murdered by a convicted felon, then it is time for you to get involved."
The Prison Policy Initiative conducts research and advocacy on incarceration policy. Some interesting data include the proliferation of prisons in the US over the last century, disenfranchisement of potential black voters, global incarceration rates and percentage of US population under control of the criminal justice system.
After 35 years behind bars and 25 failed requests for parole, Junior Allen will be set free.
Iraq's Child Prisoners It’s not certain exactly how many children are being held by coalition forces in Iraq, but a Sunday Herald investigation suggests there are up to 107. Their names are not known, nor is where they are being kept, how long they will be held or what has happened to them during their detention. Proof of the widespread arrest and detention of children in Iraq by US and UK forces is contained in an internal Unicef report written in June. The report has – surprisingly – not been made public. A key section on child protection, headed Children in Conflict with the Law or with Coalition Forces, reads: ''In July and August 2003, several meetings were conducted with CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) … and Ministry of Justice to address issues related to juvenile justice and the situation of children detained by the coalition forces … Unicef is working through a variety of channels to try and learn more about conditions for children who are imprisoned or detained, and to ensure that their rights are respected.'' Another section reads: ''Information on the number, age, gender and conditions of incarceration is limited. In Basra and Karbala children arrested for alleged activities targeting the occupying forces are reported to be routinely transferred to an internee facility in Um Qasr. The categorisation of these children as 'internees' is worrying since it implies indefinite holding without contact with family, expectation of trial or due process.''
We're number one! We're number one! From a source quoted in the article: "We have the wealthiest society in human history, and we maintain the highest level of imprisonment. It's striking what that says about our approach to social problems and inequality." (apologies for the usual US-centrism)
Study Finds 2.6% Increase in U.S. Prison Population The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department. The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002. It also came when a growing number of states facing large budget deficits have begun trying to reduce prison costs by easing tough sentencing laws passed in the 1990's, thereby decreasing the number of inmates. The key finding in the report is this growth, which is somewhat surprising in its size after several years of relative stability in the prison population, said Allen J. Beck, an author of the report. U.S. Prison Population Grew 2.6% in 2002. The country's prisons, jails and juvenile facilities held 2,166,260 persons at the end of last year, the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) said in a report released today. Prisoners in 2002 Abstract
Bread and Circuses The Texas Prison Museum as an odd mix of entertainment and education. If someone gives it $100 million will the prison museum unenroll from the Kroger Share Card Program and lose the value of 1% of participants' grocery purchases? A veritable treasure trove of the absurd and frightening. What's your favorite? Mine are the pavers. We could get up a collection for one from Metafilter. Who's with me?
Perp Nation? By the end of 2001, according to a government report, one in every 32 adults in the United States was in jail, on probation or on parole. That works out to 470 out of every 100,000 U.S. residents behind bars, including disproportionate numbers of minorities (scroll down) and over 4.7 million adults on probation or parole. Texas leads the way.
Prison riot imminent. Film at 11. "Many inmates are heavily invested emotionally in the routine availability of certain types of food," wrote Jovero, a member of the state Food Task Force for prisons. "Prominent among these foods is peanut butter and jelly for religious and vegetarian inmates."
Pass gas, go to jail. Well, not really, but I had to find something to keep this idea going.
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