A father-daughter dance — in jail

"Everyone is on their best behavior. The fathers pull out their daughters’ chairs and rise when their daughters come back to their seats after being away, manners they learned in their fathering class. Some huddle and share family and schools news. One daughter charms her dad into promising she can have a summer pass to Kings Dominion.

But then “The Wobble” comes on and that gets everyone moving and laughing — for a few minutes, the event turns into a silly, sloppy dance party. “Dad!” Alexis laughs, like any daughter embarrassed by seeing her father busting loose. And then she joins in, jumping forward, leaning to the right and waving her hands in the air. 

 But when it’s time to leave, even the jail guards, some crying, say they feel the ache. The inmates and their daughters all get their photographs in paper frames to keep.”

Photos by Marvin Joseph, story by Emily Wax


Super important video about the US prison system.

Jim Crow for kids: Schools prepare children for life behind bars
March 26, 2013

Gone are the days of children dreading a trip to the principal’s office or spending their lunch time in detention. Instead, children are now facing the possibility of being dragged out of their classrooms in handcuffs for conduct violations, such as a schoolyard brawl or being accused of stealing a student’s lunch money.

Increasingly, children of color and children with learning disabilities are being prepped for a life in the American injustice system as police officers have become as common of a figure at schools as the nurse. After the Newtown massacre in December, police presence in schools across the country jumped leaving the authorities to deal with school children just as they deal with criminals, in an arrangement commonly referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Recent cases of criminalization include a 12-year-old junior high student who was handcuffed and arrested for doodling on her desk in New York City; a 13-year-old Florida boy arrested and charged with disrupting a school function after passing gas; and a 6-year-old child handcuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum in Georgia.

More guns, officers aggravate injustice

In his recent gun control proposal, President Obama slipped in a call to staff schools with police officers, further exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline that unequally marginalizes black and Latino children. According to a study by the Civil Rights Data Collection—one that covered 85 percent of the nation’s students and 72,000 schools—black students are three and a half times more likely to be arrested than their white peers. The study also showed that 70 percent of students arrested were either black or Latino. Running in sync with the National Rifle Association’s call to put armed guards in every school, Obama’s plan will only intensify the school-to-prison pipeline, endangering children of color across the country.

Students with disabilities are also the victims of these harsh policies. Officers already receive very little training on how to handle suspects with mental disabilities, but even less so when it comes to children. Even though 8.6 percent of children in public schools have been found to have some sort of disability, they make up 32 percent of the youth in detention centers.

In a prison system that author Michelle Alexander has called “The New Jim Crow,” mass incarceration has led to one in six Latino men living behind bars, people of color making up 60 percent of the prisoner population and more black people in prison than there were slaves before the Civil War began. These same principles used to lock up people of color for petty “crimes” have found a way into classrooms, preparing these children for the racist injustice system they are statistically likely to encounter later in life by forcing them into the prison system early.

Not only have more security guards and police officers resulted in more bogus misdemeanor arrests, but they drain the already scarce funding for schools. School districts have spent upwards of $51 million on school security, while other much more vital aspects of education go underfunded, especially in poor urban neighborhoods of color.

A child is not a criminal

School-to-prison pipelines have been under fire recently with the expansion of the police state into elementary and middle schools, especially in places notorious for racial discrimination. In October, Meridian, Mississippi was sued for operating a pipeline where students were denied basic constitutional rights once they were arrested and taken to juvenile court. About 86 percent of the students in the Lauderdale Country School District are black, and every single one of the students referred to the court for violations were students of color. Not only were these students arrested, but they were denied legal representation, detained without probable cause, and weren’t advised of their Miranda rights.

Texas isn’t far behind when it comes to criminalizing students for minor infractions, such as disrupting class. According to The Guardian, the state tallied more than 300,000 Class C misdemeanor arrests in 2010 because of zero-tolerance policies and increased police forces on school grounds.

But this extension of the New Jim Crow has been found to have been the worst and the largest in Florida. According to the Orlando Sentinel, 12,000 students were arrested 13,870 times in public schools last year. Black students made up 46 percent of the referrals, even though they make up only 21 percent of the Florida youth.

According to the Center for Behavioral Health Services and Criminal Justice Research, these arrests make for long-lasting psychological damage to the student. Incarcerated youth are more likely to exhibit symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety issues. Detained students are also more likely to lose ground academically from juvenile detention. According to a study done on inner-city Chicago high school students, those arrested in the first two years of high school were six to eight times more likely to drop out than those who hadn’t been arrested.

Instead of focusing on education, school-to-prison pipeline policies are preparing America’s youth for a life in the injustice system. Scare tactics, zero tolerance policies, and police forces are quickly threatening the future of millions of young students. But this criminalization won’t end for them when they graduate high school because, as Alexander states, “mass incarceration in the United States has, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”

- Graciela
The Boston Occupier
Larger graphic here


23 Petty Crimes That Have Landed People in Prison for Life Without Parole | Mother Jones

As of last year, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes. A close examination of these cases by the ACLU reveals just how petty some of these offenses are. People got life for, among other things…

  • Possessing a crack pipe
  • Possessing a bottle cap containing a trace amount of heroin (too minute to be weighed)
  • Having traces of cocaine in clothes pockets that were invisible to the naked eye but detected in lab tests
  • Having a single crack rock at home
  • Possessing 32 grams of marijuana (worth about $380 in California) with intent to distribute
  • Passing out several grams of LSD at a Grateful Dead show
  • Acting as a go-between in the sale of $10 worth of marijuana to an undercover cop
  • Selling a single crack rock
  • Verbally negotiating another man’s sale of two small pieces of fake crack to an undercover cop
  • Having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pillsthat could be used to make methamphetamine
  • Attempting to cash a stolen check
  • Possessing stolen scrap metal (the offender was a junk dealer)—10 valves and one elbow pipe
  • Possessing stolen wrenches
  • Siphoning gasoline from a truck
  • Stealing tools from a shed and a welding machine from a front yard
  • Shoplifting three belts from a department store
  • Shoplifting several digital cameras
  • Shoplifting two jerseys from an athletic store
  • Taking a television, circular saw, and power converter from a vacant house
  • Breaking into a closed liquor store in the middle of the night
  • Making a drunken threat to a police officer while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car
  • Being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm
  • Taking an abusive stepfather’s gun from their shared home

These are not typically first offenses, but nor are they isolated cases. The vast majority (83 percent) of life sentences examined by the ACLU were mandatory, meaning that the presiding judge had no choice but to sentence the defendant to a life behind bars. Mandatory sentences often result from repeat offender laws and draconian sentencing rules such as these federal standards for drug convictions:

The data examined by the ACLU comes from the federal prison system and nine state penal systems that responded to open-records requests. This means the true number of nonviolent offenders serving life without parole is higher. 

What’s clear, based on the ACLU’s data, is that many nonviolent criminals have been caught up in a dramatic spike in life-without-parole sentences.

(Read Full Text)

36 U.S. states have higher prison rates than all of the world’s nations

According to the criminal justice think tank Prison Policy Initiative, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, followed by other southern states such as Mississippi, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas. Thirty-six states, in addition to Washington, D.C., have higher rates of incarceration than the next highest country on the list: Cuba.

Read more | Follow micdotcom


Women Behind Bars by Lauren Zuniga

I was six months pregnant and pushing a Cheerio-munching toddler in the grocery cart. We stopped by the photo lab to pick up our Christmas photos and kept shopping. It was a lot of lentils back in those days. A lot of rice and ramen noodles. We spent $42 on the week’s groceries and left the store. On the way out, the security guard stops me. Asks if he can look in my diaper bag. Pulls out the pictures that I forgot to pay for. I apologise profusely, offer to pay for them. He chuckles his eight-dollar-an-hour chuckle and says, “You had your chance to pay for them, lady.”

No one would deny a diabetic prisoner insulin. No one would sentence a person to a gender change. But because I am transgender, I am denied basic medical care and forced to change gender. Nobody should be sentenced to torture like this.

Ashley Diamond, a black transgender woman who has been denied hormones that she took for nearly two decades before she became a prisoner in Georgia.

The Southern Poverty Law Center warned legal action against the state’s prison officials in violation of the Constitution’s ban against cruel & unusual punishment. If these allegations are true, the officials also breached the department’s own policy, which calls for Georgia’s prisons to provide hormones to all inmates who start taking them before their incarceration.

I’m seeing a lot of Australians say stuff like, “thank god I’m in Australia!” when they talk about the shooting of Michael Brown… As if police brutality and complete misconduct is not rampant here? 

Australia is not a peaceful country where police abide by the law. Around 26% of the nation’s total prison/jail populations are Indigenous (some recent reports are saying that figure has risen to 30% in 2014). The same figure for the Northern Territory is 86%, and 40% for Western Australia. Us Blackfellas are 14.8 times more likely to be arrested than non-Indigenous persons. Ever heard of the Redfern riots? Ever heard of Black Deaths In Custody? They will arrest us and lock us up for trivial offences like swearing, but no way would the same treatment be given to a white person who swears at the police. It’s selective and absolutely racially motivated. Indigenous youth are a major target for the police, also. 

What the community of Ferguson needs right now is solidarity, support and justice. You are not helping by talking about how bad the U.S. treats Black folks but seemingly praising Australia. The police harass, assault and kill us for being Black. Don’t turn a blind eye to that. 

I do not want to see anymore posts that praise Australia for its apparent lack of police brutality. Please.

"How large is America’s prison problem? More than 2.4 million people are behind bars in the United States today, either awaiting trial or serving a sentence. That’s more than the combined population of 15 states, all but three U.S. cities, and the U.S. armed forces. They’re scattered throughout a constellation of 102 federal prisons, 1,719 state prisons, 2,259 juvenile facilities, 3,283 local jails, and many more military, immigration, territorial, and Indian Countryfacilities.”

— The Leader of the Unfree World | The Atlantic 

On Ferguson: To be relevant is to be powerful
September 2, 2014

The murder of Michael Brown by the Ferguson Police creates an opportunity for millions of people to confront the tragic and mundane daily realities of White Supremacy and Anti-Blackness, which are part of everyday public and private life for so many people in this country. It is imperative to rethink the spectacle that has been created out of Ferguson, and to contextualize it within as many structural realities of racism that we can comprehend. 

In the past three decades, we’ve seen patterns of racist violence continue in America. Less than 25 years ago, we saw L.A. Police excessively chase and beat Rodney King, and the racially charged riots that followed. Now, we see Ferguson. Less than ten years ago, we heard “I am Oscar Grant” (after Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by BART police in Oakland). Now, we hear Ferguson. Less than 5 years ago, we saw the largest police department in the U.S.A employ racist Stop and Frisk Policing tactics, and the enormous campaigns that rallied against those tactics. Now, we rally around Ferguson. Less than 3 years ago, we saw millions of Black and Brown youth wearing hoodies declaring, “my skin color is not a crime,” in honor of Trayvon Martin. Now, we honor the memory of Michael Brown. And Ferguson. 

Less than a week after we saw protests in Ferguson, we saw the police killing Kajieme Powell just blocks away. 

This is not to compare the lives of our fallen brothers and sisters. May they rest in peace in a heaven of liberation. May their families know that their pain is important. It’s just as important as analyzing why local police departments get millions of dollars to purchase military weapons from the equivalent of the U.S. Military’s Goodwill Store, and analyzing why we don’t see the police kill White young people in the same way. These are two different ways of recognizing the trauma inflicted on those directly affected by White Supremacy; they are equally necessary in resisting the cruel and unusual force being used against People of Color by the U.S.A. 

We must look at Ferguson as another battle of resistance to make People of Color relevant to the redistribution of power in the United States. The 13th Amendment was a work in progress from when the first person was abducted from Africa and deposited as property, and not as a person, in the eyes of the United States of America. The implementation of the 13th amendment to end slavery is still in process. We need to recognize the difference between a true end to slavery and the mutations of slavery that we currently live in. 

The creation of capital through the killing of the Black body became slavery. During Reconstruction, a sense of solidarity grew between “freed” Black people and poor White people. Jim Crow made segregation laws to enforce that even the poorest White person was still not Black in the eyes of the U.S.A. 

The rise of mass incarceration has been driven by the same mechanism that drove slavery — the creation of capital through racism. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, and non-White people are incarcerated at rates much higher than White people for all crimes, especially non-violent and petty crimes. This all only took approximately 400 years to create in this country. Dismantling this reality is not only going to take a long time but will also require numerous acts of resistance. 

Public education likes to declare that the Civil Rights movement was a victory. In fact, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, Black men are nearly right where they started economically, but with a very high incarceration rate. 

A person does not just end up in prison as an exchange for an alleged crime. Our incarceration rates start with police forces. 

Cops (Constables on Patrol), originated in the U.S.A. as brigades of (White) people who surveilled both public and private property and searched for “runaway slaves.” Slaves were considered property of a slave owner, and if they fled for freedom they were “runaway property.” Eventually, there was too much work for these private slave brigades so every level of government in this country began to fund these patrols. These patrols became police departments. 

The police were not established as a response to public safety. The police were not established to help people in bad relationships, or to solve problems between groups of people. The police were created as a response in order to protect property that was already stolen through the process of slavery, and keep it safe for self-declared slave owners. When a country is founded by slave owners and founded to declare their capital independent of Great Britain — when a country is built on slavery and colonialism — what else would be the plight of this country’s public institutions? 

Full article

Research by criminologist Professor Eileen Baldry shows the national imprisonment rate for Australian women has doubled in the decade to 2013 - and indigenous women account for almost the entire increase. Professor Baldry says this is appalling, and that the majority of women sent to prison are sentenced for only brief periods. The first indigenous magistrate in New South Wales, Pat O’Shane, says handing out repeat short sentences mean prison rehabilitation programs are useless.

Can we please remember to talk about Indigenous women when talking about Black deaths in custody and Indigenous incarceration rates?!