Tag Archive: prison industrial complex

Why Innocent People Take Plea Bargains

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From ANTIMEDIA /By P.M. Beers

A plea bargain (also plea agreement, plea deal or copping a plea) is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor.

Most criminal cases never end in a trial because a great majority of people accused of crimes take plea deals. This makes sense when someone is sure they have broken the law and there is abundant evidence to prove that fact. What about people who know they are innocent? Between two and eight percent of convicted felons are innocent people who took plea deals and “ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the results of guilty pleas,according to Judge John L. Kane.  Taking a criminal case to trial is the exception and not the rule.

You may be aware that I was recently on trial for failure to disperse [409 PC] from the Kelly Thomas murder verdict protest. I wasn’t sure if I had broken the law or not, but I was certain that I had done nothing unethical. The first plea deal we were offered was three years unsupervised probation, a fine, and community service. That was a ridiculous offer as I personally know people convicted of the same crime in Los Angeles who were found guilty in a court of law by a jury of 12 people and given a 50 dollar fine. I know of other people who were given the option of taking a class on the first amendment in exchange for the DA not filing charges.

patti-beers

Me livestreaming in Fullerton, CA prior to my arrest.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan’s Law School,  many innocent people take plea bargains. Sometimes people take plea deals out of fear of the worst possible outcome. Given the reality of the current injustice system, it’s not hard to believe that innocent people can get found guilty in a court of law. We’ve seen death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence many years after their convictions.

Many criminal cases take over a year to resolve involving many days in court, delays and postponements. If a person has a job or is a student, this could lead to the loss of their job or failing of their classes. If I had a job where I had to be present to clock-in, I certainly wouldn’t be free to take so many days off whenever I was required to appear in court, let alone more than a week off for my trail by iteself. My co-defendant, AJ, was lucky to have such an awesome employment situation which let him have the days off he needed. If given a choice between loosing one’s job and taking a plea deal, most of us would not be privileged enough to face a jury trial due the state of our economy. (more…)

Sixty-Eight Organizations Urge Federal Consumer Agency to Protect Former Prisoners from Excessive Release Debit Card Fees

JPayCardWashington, DC – Yesterday, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a comment with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent federal agency, urging the CFPB to add language related to protecting the finances of released prisoners to a proposed rule regarding regulation of prepaid debit cards. Sixty-eight criminal justice reform groups, civil rights organizations and public interest law clinics joined in the comment.

 The comment requests that the CFPB exercise its authority under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) to add language to a proposed rule regarding regulation of prepaid accounts under EFTA and the Truth in Lending Act that extends the ban on compulsory use to prepaid debit cards given to released prisoners that contain the funds remaining in their prison accounts, bans all fees associated with such cards and provides other protections as needed.

 The use of third-party release debit cards is a growing trend in U.S. prisons and jails, where companies see an opportunity to profit off people who have no choice on whether or not to use release debit cards with associated fees. Around 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year, while approximately 11.6 million cycle through local jails.

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Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life

bluefistFrom Gawker/ By David Graeber

The Department of Justice’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department has scandalized the nation, and justly so. But the department’s institutional racism, while shocking, isn’t the report’s most striking revelation.

More damning is this: in a major American city, the criminal justice system perceives a large part of that city’s population not as citizens to be protected, but as potential targets for what can only be described as a shake-down operation designed to wring money out of the poorest and most vulnerable by any means they could, and that as a result, the overwhelming majority of Ferguson’s citizens had outstanding warrants.

Many will try to write off this pattern of economic exploitation as some kind of strange anomaly. In fact, it’s anything but. What the racism of Ferguson’s criminal justice system produced is simply a nightmarish caricature of something that is beginning to happen on every level of American life; something which is beginning to transform our most basic sense of who we are, and how we—or most of us, anyway—relate to the central institutions of our society, in ways that are genuinely disastrous.

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Pardons Elude Men Freed After Decades in North Carolina Prison

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Henry L. McCollum awaiting word on a rental home in Fayetteville, N.C.

From The New York Times

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In the days leading up to the one last summer when Henry L. McCollum left North Carolina’s death row, it seemed that inmates and staff members could not stop talking about what awaited him beyond Central Prison.

The man who had spent almost his entire adult life awaiting execution would be able to go out for fried chicken, his favorite. Maybe he could strike a movie deal. At the very least, Mr. McCollum remembers, people told him that he would be a man of considerable wealth once the state paid him the $750,000 he could seek under North Carolina law because he had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned for decades.

Mr. McCollum, 50, was released from prison last September after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. But since then, he and his half brother, Leon Brown, who was also exonerated and freed in the same case, have led anything but glamorous post-prison lives. Instead, because of legal decisions made to help accelerate their release, as well as Gov. Pat McCrory’s deliberate approach to granting what is known here as a pardon of innocence, both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society. (more…)

Identity Theft, Tax Fraud Snares Prisoners

The Internal Revenue Service has said identity theft of prisoners is rampant.

The Internal Revenue Service has said identity theft of prisoners is rampant.

Corrections employees in several states face federal prosecutions

 

From The Wall Street Journal

A raft of federal prosecutions has uncovered tax-fraud schemes involving the theft of Social Security numbers of U.S. prisoners, in many cases by corrections employees.

Last year alone, federal courts meted out prison sentences to an Alabama bail bondsman, two former Alabama corrections employees, a Florida corrections officer and a Georgia man, who were convicted separately of stealing the identities of more than 1,200 prisoners and claiming more than $6.5 million in tax refunds under the inmates’ names.

In January, a Kentucky judge sentenced a local corrections officer to three years in prison for filching prisoner information to open up credit-card accounts with Capital One, Barclays Bank and Victoria’s Secret.

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Panel Explores Prisons, Ecology And Police

pielc.jpgFrom Eugene Weekly

When a society uses mass incarceration as a means of control, we know it has social impacts, but a panel on “The Ecology of a Police State” at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) March 6 explored how prisons also impact the environment.

Panelists presented to a packed audience at the UO School of Law how prisons are linked not only to oppression, but how these “often-overpopulated human warehouses” are also tied to direct and indirect environmental degradation and environmental racism, and are now being rebranded as part of a “green economy.”

Paul Wright, editor and executive director of Prison Legal News and Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) and a prisoner until his release in 2003, gave the example of Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Washington, when speaking of how prisons are often built in areas that have been exploited by logging and mining. “The trees are gone, the jobs are gone but, hey, we will build a prison,” Wright said.

He pointed to the example of California’s Kern Valley State Prison, where arsenic was discovered in the water weeks after its 2005 opening, and yet six years later, men incarcerated there were still forced to drink the unhealthy water.

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Why prisons need prison gangs

liberalprisonFrom Quartz

It may seem counterintuitive that gangs can exist in what is perhaps the ultimate tightly-regulated environment. Gangs, however, have been thriving in American prisons since the 1950s, and are now ubiquitous. Why is it that the corrections system has been unable to eradicate gang activity from the facilities they run?

A recent article in Behavioral Economics by M. Garrett Roth and David Skarbek makes the case that gangs have actually become necessary elements within the prison system, allowing inmates to create and sustain an internal economy centered on contraband, eliminating much of the violence and disorder that would be present without them.

Through their examination of the California state prison system—the birthplace of the country’s most notorious prison gangs, including the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, and the Aryan Brotherhood—Skarbek and Roth discovered that correctional officers and prison authorities actually benefit from the existence of prison gangs, and have come to rely on gang hierarchies to maintain order, saving money in the process.

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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…)

2 Former Mississippi Officials Plead Guilty in a Graft Case Involving Private Prisons

Christopher B. Epps, the former head of Mississippi’s prison system, in Jackson on Wednesday.

Christopher B. Epps, the former head of Mississippi’s prison system, in Jackson on Wednesday.

From New York Times

Two former Mississippi officials, including the head of the prison system, pleaded guilty to corruption charges on Wednesday amid a federal inquiry that rattled the state’s government and raised new questions about its use of private prisons.

The guilty pleas, entered in Federal District Court in Jackson, came nearly four months after the authorities announced a 49-count indictment that named Christopher B. Epps, the former commissioner of the Department of Corrections, and Cecil McCrory, a onetime state lawmaker who had become involved with the private prisons industry.

In the indictment, which formed the basis of Wednesday’s pleas, federal prosecutors accused the men of a scheme in which Mr. McCrory directed more than $1 million to Mr. Epps, including cash and mortgage payments, in exchange for lucrative state contracts.

Mr. Epps pleaded guilty on Wednesday to money laundering conspiracy and filing a false tax return. Mr. McCrory pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy. (more…)

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

 ‘They were held incommunicado for much longer than I think should be permitted in this country – anywhere – but particularly given the strong constitutional rights afforded to people who are being charged with crimes,” said Sarah Gelsomino, the lawyer for Brian Jacob Church.

‘They were held incommunicado for much longer than I think should be permitted in this country – anywhere – but particularly given the strong constitutional rights afforded to people who are being charged with crimes,” said Sarah Gelsomino, the lawyer for Brian Jacob Church.

From The Guardian

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead. (more…)