Tag Archive: prison industrial complex

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…)

Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For

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.

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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…)

Hundreds of South Carolina Inmates Sent to Solitary Confinement Over Facebook

 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.

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Conjugal Visits

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. (more…)

For Shame! Public Shaming Sentences on the Rise

dunce_capFrom Prison Legal News/ by David M. Reutter

Punishments intended to shame offenders for wrongdoing, popular throughout history, are once again on the rise – particularly as penalties imposed by judges who enjoy seeing their names in the newspaper or on television due to their “creative” sentencing practices.

Whether judges hand down sentences that humiliate defendants for the purpose of entertainment, self-aggrandizement or as a unique way of deterring crime with a “punishment that fits” is subject to debate. The only certainty is that most sanctions designed to shame offenders are legal, so long as judges do not go too far.

Shaming criminals has long been an integral part of America’s criminal justice system, and public whipping and the stocks were commonly used in Puritan and colonial times. During that era, imprisonment was reserved for debtors and those awaiting trial; upon conviction, a judge could order an offender to be executed, flogged, banished or shamed. (more…)