An investigation by The New York Times of tens of thousands of disciplinary cases against inmates in 2015, hundreds of pages of internal reports and three years of parole decisions found that racial disparities were embedded in the prison experience in New York.
In March of 2011, 12-year-old Cristian Fernandez was taken into an interview room at a Jacksonville, Florida, police station and interrogated by Michelle Soehlig, a ponytailed female officer. Before Soehlig began questioning him, she told the child, “These are your constitutional rights,” and slid over a document listing the Miranda warnings, familiar to anyone who’s seen an episode of Law & Order. [more inside]
This past May on Metafilter, we looked at “Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls”, a wildly popular variety show that was broadcast every Wednesday night in the 1930's and 1940's from the state prison in Huntsville, TX. It featured performances by male and female prisoners. No recordings of the show have ever been found. In the early forties, eight inmates of the Goree State Farm prison unit formed one of the first all-female country and western acts in the country and their performances were broadcast on Thirty Minutes. The Goree All Girl String Band captured the hearts of millions of radio listeners but never cut a record or went on tour and have thus been ignored by music historians. When they were paroled, they nearly all vanished forever. [more inside]
"We as a polity seem to think policing is the solution to every social problem." Political scientist Naomi Murakawa's book The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America tackles assumptions about how we got to today and what needs to change. In an interview at the Marshall Project, Murakawa argues "those being sentenced under punitive sentencing guidelines it doesn’t make a difference to them that Sen. Ted Kennedy was liberal and overall had a good voting record." [more inside]
The Free Alabama Movement is an network of incarcerated men, spanning state prisons across Alabama; this May, many are participating in a labor strike, protesting the inhumane conditions and asking legislators to step in despite the governor's refusal to address the dire issues in Alabama prisons.
For over a year, we asked people in prison to paint or draw people we felt should be in prison–the CEOs of companies destroying our environment, economy, and society. Here are the results. Click on the images to see the crimes committed by both the companies and the artists.
The good news is that the U.S. incarceration rate is dropping. The less-good news is that black men are now only almost six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men, down from more than seven-and-a-half times as likely in 2000; black women are now just twice as likely as white women to be behind bars, where they used to be six times as likely. [more inside]
"Demaryius Thomas has just sent his mother a picture of the most unlikely Super Bowl ticket of all, the one intended for her, and now Katina Smith has a few days to decide whether she's prepared to take it."
In his latest essay for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates (previously) examines "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration." [more inside]
stories.. that expose both the depths of what was taken from them and the challenges of rebuilding the lives they once had
You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What? [New York Times] Carlos and Roby are two ex-convicts with a simple mission: picking up inmates on the day they’re released from prison and guiding them through a changed world. [more inside]
Cruel and All-Too-Usual: A Terrifying Glimpse into Life in Prison—As A Kid A new HuffPo report on juveniles serving time in adult facilities (trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, suicide), this piece features videos showing how juveniles are treated in facilities designed for adults (trigger warning for violence), several pieces of interpretive art based on those videos, and images of documents retrieved from inmates and prison records.
How to Love Your Father When He’s in Prison for Child Porn, an essay by Lindsay Popper. SFW. Some may find the content disturbing.
Supreme Court Ruling Not Enough To Prevent Debtors Prisons Judge Robert Swisher, a Superior Court judge in Benton County, says he'll make judgments based on how people present themselves in court. "They come in wearing expensive jackets," he says referring to defendants who wear NFL football team jackets, "or maybe a thousand dollars' worth of tattoos on their arms. And they say, 'I'm just living on handouts.' " If the jacket or tattoos were a gift, he tells the defendants they should have asked the giver for the cash to pay their court fees instead.[more inside]
What Caused the Crime Decline? [Brennan Center for Justice]
"What Caused the Crime Decline? examines one of the nation’s least understood recent phenomena – the dramatic decline in crime nationwide over the past two decades – and analyzes various theories for why it occurred, by reviewing more than 40 years of data from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities. It concludes that over-harsh criminal justice policies, particularly increased incarceration, which rose even more dramatically over the same period, were not the main drivers of the crime decline. In fact, the report finds that increased incarceration has been declining in its effectiveness as a crime control tactic for more than 30 years. Its effect on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000."A report by Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen, and Julia Bowling, with a foreword by Joseph E. Stiglitz and an executive summary by Inimai Chettiar Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 134 pp. [Foreword] [PDF] [Scribd] [more inside]
Transgender Woman Cites Attacks and Abuse in Men’s Prison (trigger warning: descriptions of sexual assault) [more inside]
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.
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