Tag Archive: predictive policing

Jail Video Visits Are No Substitute for the Real Thing

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. (more…)

Your Home Is Your Prison

homeprisonFrom Truth Out/By Maya Schenwar

On January 27th, domestic violence survivor Marissa Alexander will walk out of Florida’s Duval County jail — but she won’t be free.

Alexander, whose case has gained some notoriety, endured three years of jail time and a year of house arrest while fighting off a prison sentence that would have seen her incarcerated for the rest of her life — all for firing a warning shot that injured no one to fend off her abusive husband. Like many black women before her, Alexander was framed as a perpetrator in a clear case of self-defense. In November, as her trial date drew close, Alexander accepted a plea deal that will likely give her credit for time served, requiring her to spend “just” 65 more days in jail. Media coverage of the development suggested that Alexander would soon have her “freedom,” that she would be “coming home.”

Many accounts of the plea deal, however, missed what Alexander will be coming home to: she’ll return to “home detention” — house arrest — for two years.

In other words, an electronic monitor, secured around her ankle at all times, will track her every movement. Alexander will also be paying $105 per week to the state in monitoring fees, as is the custom in Florida and more than a dozen other states.

Such a situation is certainly preferable to being caged in a prison cell. However, does Alexander’s release — and that of others in her shoes — mean freedom? In reality, an ever-growing number of cages are proliferating around us, even if they assume forms that look nothing like our standard idea of a cage.

As mass incarceration is falling out of fashion — it’s been denounced by figures across the political spectrum from Eric Holder to Newt Gingrich — a whole slate of “alternatives to incarceration” has arisen. From electronic monitoring and debilitating forms of probation to mandatory drug testing and the sort of “predictive policing” that turns communities of color into open-air prisons, these alternatives are regularly presented as necessary “reforms” for a broken system.

It’s worth remembering, however, that when the modern prison emerged in the late eighteenth century, it, too, was promoted as a “reform,” a positive replacement for corporal or capital punishment. Early prison reformers — many of them Quakers bent on repentance and redemption — suggested that cutting people off from the rest of the world would bring them closer to God. (The word “penitentiary” comes, of course, from “penitence.”)

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