Tag Archive: opinion & analysis

Bipartisan Unity on Mass Incarceration: Opportunity or Sidetrack for Movement Building?

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From Truth Out / By James Kilgore

Mass incarceration continues to trend. As Heather Thompson, professor of history at the University of Michigan and leading scholar on the Attica prison rebellion, told Truthout, “Three years ago to talk about incarceration was like you were talking Latin.” No more.

The past year has offered us a cavalcade of conferences, webinars, nonprofit startups, media events, potential and actual legislation along with feel-good moments where everyone from Rand Paul to Eric Holder jumped on the bandwagon of criminal “justice” reform. While this has been a process, two events do stand out.

The first was the extravagant Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, DC, in March. The unlikely collection of sponsors included the Koch brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Van Jones’ nonprofit #cut50 (as in reduce the incarcerated population by 50 percent in 10 years). Additional support came from partnering organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance, the Sentencing Project and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The summit, emceed by Jones, brought together an array of superstar speakers from various parts of the political spectrum: Newt Gingrich; conservative Georgia governor Nathan Deal; former prisoner turned writer, entrepreneur and activist Shaka Senghor;Orange Is the New Black author Piper Kerman and singer John Forté, who played his guitar and spoke about his own incarceration. In the audience dozens of state and federal elected officials joined well-known researchers and activists who were fighting mass incarceration long before Charles Koch knew what a mandatory minimum was. Since this summit, the Koch brothers have built the event out into a roadshow, holding smaller versions in Ohio, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. (more…)

Anarchist Perspective on Mass Prisoner Resistance Movements

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From Anarchist News / By Ben Turk

There is a widespread, growing and committed resistance movement happening in US prisons across the nation. This movement is not going away, and with more outside support and national coordination, it could be powerful enough to reshape not only the US prison system, but the entire society.

At the time of this writing thirty prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary, the supermax prison in Ohio are recovering from a hunger strike that has lasted over 30 days. Prisoners in Georgia, accused of leading the largest prison work stoppage in US history in 2010 are on hunger strike demanding relief from torture conditions they’ve been subjected to in solitary confinement as reprisal for their non-violent protest. The Free Alabama Movement (FAM) has been dealing with threats, beatings and lockdowns they’ve been subjected to in reprisal for the mass work stoppages that shut down three Alabama facilities for weeks in January of 2014.

Massive hunger strikes that rocked California’s prison system in recent years are now getting slow results in favorable court decisions for their class action lawsuit. Prisoners in IllinoisGeorgiaVirginiaNorth Carolina and Washington State have all engaged in historically large protests in recent years. In February, thousands of immigrant prisoners in a federal detention facility in Texas refused to work, and protested and sabotaged the facility, rendering it uninhabitable. At around the same time women at an Arizona county jail were on hunger strike refusing to eat the moldy food they’d been served.

The above examples are only the most coordinated and best publicized of these protests. Many prisoners see individual acts of courage and resistance as necessary for their identity and survival. When the country locks up as large a portion of its population as the US does, prisoner protests are inevitable and almost constant. (more…)

Police provocateurs, real and imaginary

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From Libcom / By Scott Jay

There are ongoing efforts by law enforcement agencies to infiltrate, disorganize and destroy social movements. This creates a challenge for anybody who attempts to confront the state’s ability to carry out austerity and repression. To deal with this, we need to develop anti-repression strategies based on actual efforts and tactics by the police and not based on fantasies. It is challenging enough to deal with the efforts of genuine infiltrators, it does us no good to chase after phantoms or, worse, point the finger at somebody who is actually on our side.

Most radicals would agree, and yet for some there is often rampant speculation with no evidence for one type of supposed police provocation. Specifically, this is the occurrence when somebody at a protest throws a rock at the police, or breaks a window, or takes some other provocative action, which leads to uniformed police cracking down. “It must have been an undercover cop who threw that rock,” is the common refrain, even when there is no basis whatsoever for believing this. The idea, apparently, is that only a poorly planned rock-throwing would cause this or, from the liberal perspective, that the perfectly planned peaceful protest was ruined by the efforts of the state to make it look bad.

This assumption is made so often, with so little evidence, that it keeps being made because so many people are led to believe that it must happen all the time, because so many people say that it does, even though it probably never occurs the way many people claim that it does. (more…)

A Statement from a Comrade and Baltimore Native About the Uprising There

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From SIC

Im heading home in two days.

There is something very important happening not only in Baltimore, but across black America. As of now there have been no reported deaths at the hands of protesters in a city where 250 people are killed a year, nearly all of those homicide victims being black. In spite of the fires and the looting, the young people of Baltimore are still showing a greater restraint in their conflicts with police and store-owners than they have shown in their conflicts amongst each other. I say this because for years it has been my family too that has done some of the killing and much of the dying.

Why is it that the current uprising has, in spite of its violence, not tilted toward a shooting war between whites and blacks, cops and kids, landlords and tenants, bosses and workers, given the fact that the shooting war between young black men across the region is invariant? Because young black people still value the lives of their structural enemies more than they value their own. The engineering of what is possibly the most efficient self-cannibalizing social organism in history – the nightly shootouts, the stabbings, the overdoses – is a project that has been centuries in the making.

The black youth of Baltimore have been conditioned to view themselves as the problem. Every socio-economic issue that arises is somehow the result of their behavior. They hear this not only from the white cops, the filipina teachers, the korean liquor store owners, but also from too many of the blacks who attended Coppin or Morgan and secured decent jobs and decided that the reason the police still profile them, or their home values dont rise, or they didnt get that pay raise, is because “the niggas” moved out the county, or they are still robbing each other, or they make “the rest of us” look bad. (more…)

Why Americans Don’t Care About Prison Rape

alcatraz_prison_block_cc_imgFrom The Nation

In June of 2012, the New York Times “Room for Debate” feature considered whether or not convicted youth offenders should be treated differently than adult convicts in the penal system. Those in favor of trying some youth offenders in adult courts included a victims’ advocate, and an attorney from the conservative Heritage Foundation; those against included an inmate at California’s San Quentin prison, and a human rights activist. The victims’ advocate and the attorney from the Heritage Foundation talked about extreme cases of violence and the benefits of stern consequences. The inmate and the human rights activist talked about rape.

“The suicide and sexual abuse rates of younger prisoners are higher than those of the physically mature,” Gary Scott, the inmate, noted: “how can rehabilitation be possible in such a dangerous environment?” Scott was incarcerated at age sixteen.

T.J. Parsell, the human rights advocate, put it like this: “In early 2003, I testified on Capitol Hill with Linda Bruntmyer, a mother from Texas whose 17-year-old son was incarcerated after setting a trash bin on fire. In prison, he was raped repeatedly. He later hanged himself inside his cell. I felt a special bond with Linda, because I too had been raped in prison at 17.”

Taken together, the accounts of the carceral system featured in the Times’s roundtable on youth offenders span the entire American conception of prison itself. On one hand, prisons are understood as the terminus at the end of a long line of injustices adjudicated by a cold bureaucracy. On the other hand, American prisons are infamous for their brutality, especially when it comes to sexual violence. Being sent to prison is, in this sense, not the conclusion of the criminal justice process but the beginning of long-term torture.

That prisons routinely house thousands upon thousands of instances of sexual exploitation and rape is at the very least tolerated, and at most subtly appreciated as part of their punitive purpose. Our collective meh at the bracing reality of prison rape may be partially premised on the fact that the problem seems contained; but like most severe sicknesses, it only appears that way, and not for long. (more…)

Connecticut Accused of Lying Over Transgender Teen Held in Solitary Confinement

solitary_confinement_cell_auschwitz_1-300x300From Vice

A transgender teen with a horrific history as a victim of rape, abuse, and trafficking is being held in solitary confinement at an adult prison in Connecticut, yet has still not been formally charged. Still, the state not only failed to protect her, but may have even lied about its mistakes.

VICE News has obtained court documents that show Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) Commissioner Joette Katz may have intentionally mislead the public last month.

In November, the 16-year-old transgender girl known as Jane Doe was deemed a delinquent because of her history of violently fighting with other girls and staff at the facilities where she’d been housed since being taken into DCF custody at the age of 12. In April, after an alleged assault on a staff member, she was transferred at the request of DCF to York Correctional Institution, the adult women’s prison in Niantic. (more…)