Tag Archive: prison industrial complex

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

reform

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…)

The Uncomfortable, Taboo Reality Facing Many Female Prisoners

Female inmates interact in their cell at the Timpanogos Women's Correctional Unit during a media tour Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Draper, Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that he's opposed to the idea of allowing a state commission to pick a location to build a new prison instead of leaving the decision with the Legislature. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

From ATTN/ By Laura Donovan

Earlier this year, ATTN: reported on an overlooked issue for homeless women: lack of accessibility to feminine products on the streets. Some of the women interviewed said they had stopped menstruating, which can be caused by extreme stress and poor nutrition, among other things. Female inmates also have trouble accessing these personal hygiene products, and the prison guards are often not much help.

Chandra Bozelko, who spent more than six years at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Connecticut, writes that she experienced this problem firsthand while serving time, and the experience posed sanitary risks to her and the other prisoners. According to Bozelko, she and her fellow inmates were given about 10 menstrual pads each per week. This might seem sufficient for a four to seven day cycle, but it is important to remember that many women outside prison go through several pads a day, especially on heavier menstruation days, so the limited number of pads distributed to prisoners can result in female inmates using one pad far longer than they should.

“[The situation allowed] for only one change a day in an average five-day monthly cycle,” she writes. “The lack of sanitary supplies is so bad in women’s prisons that I have seen pads fly right out of an inmate’s pants: prison maxi pads don’t have wings and they have only average adhesive so, when a woman wears the same pad for several days because she can’t find a fresh one, that pad often fails to stick to her underwear and the pad falls out. It’s disgusting but it’s true.” (more…)

Understanding the Human Cost of Imprisonment

cost

The problem is not just that “prison conditions” are abusive, but that the cumulative effects of imprisonment itself constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

From Truth Out/ By Lacino Hamilton

No one who spends time in prison leaves unscathed. I have been incarcerated for more than 20 years in Michigan state prisons, where I remain today. I know from experience that prison is so much more than confinement to a cell.

Prison disposes of and makes invisible a growing underclass, prison’s majority clientele. It also incapacitates those who have shown – through their imagination, audacity and defiance – that they possess what it takes to push and pull something bigger than themselves, such as a social justice movement. Prison functions to expel self-determination, exacerbate weaknesses, exhaust strength and suppress expressions of intelligence, in an aim to produce a robot-like mass that will follow the rules of prison.

It is a tragedy of the first magnitude that millions of people have been subordinated to the will of others; reduced to dependence on these authorities for the most basic services; isolated from the rest of the world’s population; confined to a fixed habitat; coerced to work for little or no compensation; and subjected to a prison culture that breeds a profound sense of psychological depression, personal worthlessness and social despair – all in the name of justice, law and order, or whatever justification is fashionable at the time. (more…)

The Death Penalty Is Cruel. But So Is Life Without Parole.

death_penalty

From The New Republic / By Stephen Lurie

Prison cells don’t attract many spectators, but executions have always drawn crowds. Paradoxically, the names and identities of death row inmates only come to matter when their execution had been scheduled: from impending death we take a sudden interest in life.

Despite the incongruity, this isn’t all that surprising. Twenty-first century America is still susceptible to the time-honored spectacle of state-sanctioned death, even if much of the attention now scrutinizes, rather than cheers, the practice. Recently, there have been many stories typical of the current fascination with American capital punishment, most notably Ben Crair’s piece in this magazine and Jeffrey Stern’s in The Atlantic. Like other recent examinations of the death penalty, both accounts focus specifically on the act of execution by lethal injection; each covers botched executions and the question of cruel and unusual punishment in the death chamber itself. Stern’s story centers on the act and ramifications of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett’s execution: A paramedic—and later, a physician—fail to find a vein in a dozen stabs into Lockett’s flesh so the execution can proceed. (Which it does, equally gruesomely.) Crair’s investigation deals with the national execution drug shortage—including Lockett’s experience along with many others—and highlights Ohio prisoner Joseph Wood’s story; his execution was so mishandled that he “gasped and snorted for one hour and 57 minutes… the longest execution in modern history.”

For Stern and Crair, as well as many human rights-minded activists and advocates, the death chamber is a potent and useful example of inhumanity. Other, newer abolitionists—like the legislators in Nebraska that voted to abolish the death penalty there last month—focus on the act of execution as well. While the death chamber is itself horrific, abolitionists would be remiss to ignore the more common punishment: the immense cruelty of a prisoner’s long wait for execution. The “death row phenomenon” and associated prison conditions cause significant psychological and physical harm; a so-called “death before dying” is both internationally condemned and domestically pervasive. If the end to capital punishment in the U.S. is based on concern for human beings—whether in a religious or moral sense—the reform movement must be concerned with the prison conditions left when death is not on the table. (more…)