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Seven Ways to Revolutionize Childcare and Build All-Ages Movements

February 23, 2015
Childcare at the 2009 City from Below conference in Baltimore.

Childcare at the 2009 City from Below conference in Baltimore.

From Waging Nonviolence/ By Victoria Law

Last week I was part of Queering Abolition, a panel discussion on queer and trans prison advocacy and abolition. One of my co-panelists was Susan Rosenberg, a former political prisoner who spent 16 years in prison before her sentence was commuted by outgoing President Bill Clinton. The panel was in the auditorium of the City University of New York Graduate Center. Being on the panel was exciting — not just because I was part of a dialogue around prison advocacy and abolition that centered on trans people, but also because it reminded me of how far I’d come and how much community and movement support have enabled me.

I first saw Susan Rosenberg in that same auditorium about 12 years ago. She had been released from prison the year before and was part of a day-long conference on incarceration. My daughter was not quite two years old and, like many political events — both then and now — there was no child care. The organizers told me that I was welcome to bring my child and so I did.

She had a fantastic time. My daughter, after nursing for a bit and sitting in my lap for an even shorter bit, wriggled out of my arms and explored the back rows of the auditorium. The seats were like those in the movie theater, springing up when no weight was applied. She was entranced with these seats, pulling them down and letting them flip back up with a clatter. She did this again and again, much to the amusement of the handful of 20-somethings around us. I kept one eye on her and one eye on the stage where, far below, Susan Rosenberg, Laura Whitehorn and two other important people in the prison movement talked about women and incarceration.

When the audience erupted into applause, my daughter stopped and applauded along. “Yaaaay!” she cheered, as she clapped her tiny hands together over and over.

Read more…

Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For

February 20, 2015

susanseredFrom Susan Sered

As awareness is growing of the financial and human costs associated with mass incarceration, we’re hearing talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle (and, believe it or not, even from the Koch Brothers) about the need for “alternatives to incarceration” (ATIs).

The term “alternatives to incarceration” takes for granted that we are talking about ways to handle criminals who otherwise would need to be incarcerated — that incarceration is a reasonable baseline against which to measure “alternatives.” In light of the over-representation of Americans of color and low-income Americans in jails and prisons, however, it’s necessary to be careful about any sort of presumption of correlation between criminality and incarceration. In fact, about a third of people locked up in the US are awaiting trial; that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Another third are locked up because they violated the terms of probation or parole; that is; the “criminal” act was not sufficiently egregious to require imprisonment but a subsequent action – often simply not showing up for a meeting with a parole or probation officer, or failing to keep up restitution payments or money owed in court fees – was the reason for incarceration. And 97% of federal and state criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain – often accepted by defendants out of fear that if they don’t accept the deal they will be locked up even longer — rather than by trial.

Given these numbers, it’s easier to make a case for abolition than for “alternatives to incarceration.” But that is not the direction in which public discourse seems to be moving. To the contrary, the increasingly popular sentiment goes something like this: A whole lot of people sitting in jails and prisons are mentally ill; they are drug users who need treatment more than they need punishment. Echoing this sentiment, Los Angeles County – the US county with the largest number of incarcerated people – recently approved a $1.9 billion proposal to tear down Men’s Central Jail and construct a 4,885-bed “Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility”. And while “treatment” certainly sounds beneficial, the content of that treatment has yet to be spelled out.

Read more…

Jail Video Visits Are No Substitute for the Real Thing

February 19, 2015
A video visit does not replace an in-person visit, in any universe.

A video visit does not replace an in-person visit, in any universe.

From Truth Out/By Maya Schenwar

As the word “reform” swirls around current conversations about the criminal legal system, many proposed ideas involve new technologies. The techier, the assumption goes, the better! Data-driven “predictive policing” is branded as a route to figuring out where crime is going to happen. (In reality, such tactics involve using previous arrest data to increasingly target neighborhoods of color.) “Risk assessment tools” are sold as key to determining who can safely be paroled – but depending on how they’re used, they may deepen the racist disparities they supposedly counter. Electronic monitoring is advertised as a path toward reducing incarceration, but monitors are actually enlarging the bounds of who is caught inside the carceral system.

All the while, these technological “solutions” are padding the pockets of private companies – at the expense of people of color and the poor.

Video visitation is one such shiny-yet-insidious technology, which has rapidly spread over the past couple of years: More than 500 jails and prisons around the country are now experimenting with it. On the one hand, for people incarcerated far away from their loved ones, video visits could be a welcome channel of communication, allowing them to “meet” face-to-face without requiring long, expensive journeys. The “visits” also offer young children, the elderly and people with disabilities – who might be less able to travel – the opportunity for some face time.

Still, a video visit is no real substitute for an in-person visit, in any universe. However, as a recent report by Prison Policy Initiative documents, the introduction of video visitation often forcibly replaces in-person visits, in order to maximize profits for the private companies that provide the technology. Family and friends, most of whom don’t have much money, are then compelled to pay for the (heftily priced) video calls if they want to see their loved ones’ faces. Add to this the fact that many poor families don’t have access to the equipment necessary to receive a video call – and so, for some, video visitation simply spells the end of visits. Read more…

Prison Architecture and the Question of Ethics

February 17, 2015
A death-row jail cell in Huntsville, Tex. The design of such quarters has raised questions.

A death-row jail cell in Huntsville, Tex. The design of such quarters has raised questions.

From The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Faced with lawsuits and a growing mountain of damning research, New York City officials decided last month to ban solitary confinement for prison inmates 21 and younger. Just a few weeks earlier, the American Institute of Architects rejected a petition to censure members who design solitary-confinement cells and death chambers.

“It’s just not something we want to determine as a collective,” Helene Combs Dreiling, the institute’s former president, told me. She said she put together a special panel that reviewed the plea. “Members with deeply embedded beliefs will avoid designing those building types and leave it to their colleagues,” Ms. Dreiling elaborated. “Architects self-select, depending on where they feel they can contribute best.”

What are the ethical boundaries for architecture? Architecture is one of the learned professions, like medicine or law. It requires a license, giving architects a monopoly over their practices, in return for a minimal promise that buildings won’t fall down. Raphael Sperry, the Bay Area architect who spearheaded the petition to the institute, thinks the public deserves more in return for that monopoly. Read more…

Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook

February 15, 2015
facebook-head-bigFrom Electronic Frontier Foundation

In the South Carolina prison system, accessing Facebook is an offense on par with murder, rape, rioting, escape and hostage-taking.

Back in 2012, the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) made “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site” a Level 1 offense [PDF], a category reserved for the most violent violations of prison conduct policies. It’s one of the most common Level 1 offense charges brought against inmates, many of whom, like most social network users, want to remain in contact with friends and family in the outside world and keep up on current events. Some inmates ask their families to access their online accounts for them, while many access the Internet themselves through a contraband cell phone (possession of which is yet another Level 1 offense).

Through a request under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, EFF found that, over the last three years, prison officials have brought more than 400 disciplinary cases for “social networking”—almost always for using Facebook. The offenses come with heavy penalties, such as years in solitary confinement and deprivation of virtually all privileges, including visitation and telephone access. In 16 cases, inmates were sentenced to more than a decade in what’s called disciplinary detention, with at least one inmate receiving more than 37 years in isolation.

Read more…

Conjugal Visits

February 14, 2015

teardownFrom The Marshall Project

Why they’re disappearing, which states still use them, and what really happens during those overnight visits.

Although conjugal, or “extended,” visits play a huge role in prison lore, in reality, very few inmates have access to them. Twenty years ago, 17 states offered these programs. Today, just four do: California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. No federal prison offers extended, private visitation.

Last April, New Mexico became the latest state to cancel conjugal visits for prisoners after a local television station revealed that a convicted killer, Michael Guzman, had fathered four children with several different wives while in prison. Mississippi had made a similar decision in January 2014. Read more…

Action Alert –Prison Officials Denying Russell Maroon Shoatz Treatment for Prostate Cancer

February 11, 2015

maroonUPDATE: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) medical contacted the Shoatz family on the morning of February 12th and informed them of the course and schedule of the treatments that Maroon is going to be receiving for his prostate cancer. The treatment is set to begin this week. The quick response by PADOC is due to the overwhelming number of phone calls they received from YOU.

THANK YOU to all who answered the call and advocated for Maroon. At this time we are asking supporters to hold off on further phone calls and letters. Maroon’s family and legal counsel will be in communication with him to ensure that he begins receiving the treatment without any further delay.
We cannot thank everybody enough. Hold off for now on further advocacy, but remain vigilant in the event that further action is required in the future

From Free Russell Maroon Shoats

Action Alert –Prison Officials Denying Russell Maroon Shoatz Treatment for Prostate Cancer – Call Prison Today

Political prisoner and former Black Panther Russell Maroon Shoatz #AF3855 was informed that he had prostate cancer on December 9, 2014. Prison medical staff has not provided any treatment to date. Cancer does not wait for the prison bureaucracy. Maroon’s health, his life, and his rights are being violated every moment he is denied necessary cancer treatment.

Call SCI Graterford and PADOC Secretary Wetzel today and demand that Maroon be provided immediate, necessary medical care for his prostate cancer.

Call:

SCI Graterford Superintendent Michael Wenerowicz: 610-489-4151

SCI Graterford Chief Health Care Administrator Joseph Korszniak: 610-489-4151

PADOC Secretary John Wetzel: 717-728-4109

Please be firm and respectful when talking to prison staff.

Talking Points: Read more…

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