Prison industrial complex

As the national conversation about criminal justice reform has progressed, a much wider variety of perspectives and voices has been introduced into the mainstream. In contrast to the situation in the “tough on crime” ’80s and ’90s, it’s no longer exclusively the victims — or hypothetical victims — of crime who have a say. Increasingly, it’s the people and communities who must bear the weight of a broken paradigm that are being heard, too.

That said, the dialogue still has its limits. For obvious reasons, it’s especially rare to hear from someone who understands the criminal justice system from the viewpoint of both the outsider and the formerly incarcerated. And this is just one of the reasons why former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith’s new book, “Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis,” is so valuable. With empathy and insight, Smith’s book takes on one of the country’s most complicated and fraught policy issues while also providing a gripping memoir of an experience all of us would prefer to miss.

The criminal justice system wastes an unquantifiable amount of talent, former state Sen. Jeff Smith tells Salon

A Texas man is under arrest after gunning down a SWAT team member as the officer quietly tried to climb in through the apartment’s window during predawn hours.

Police State USAreports  that a resident fatally shot Detective Charles “Chuck” Dinwiddie as the officer climbed in through a ground level window as part of a “no knock” raid. The officers were there due to suspicion that residents were in possession of controlled substances.

Upon hearing a noise, resident Marvin Louis Guy, 50, opened fire on the unidentified officers, shooting three others as well, although only one fatally.

Guy is currently being held on capital murder charges in connection with Dinwiddie’s death, even though it’s unclear how Guy was supposed to know that the men crawling in through the window were police officers since they hadn’t identified themselves.

The evidence sheet lists a laptop, a safe, a pistol, and a glass pipe, but no drugs were found. Given the evidence, why did police deem it necessary to seek a “no knock” warrant and why did a judge sign off on it?

Very little is known about Mr. Guy, but Dinwiddie left behind two children, all because his SWAT team went creeping into a home where the residents didn’t even have any drugs. Is that the best use of law enforcement tax dollars?

Guy’s bond has been set at $3 million dollars.

Source

Thank you lieutenantnorals!

The U.S. is required to keep at least 34,000 immigrants imprisoned every day.

Yes, you read that correctly. Required. The law is called the “bed mandate” and calls for the U.S. to keep 34,000 immigrants incarcerated every day, regardless of whether such a high number makes any policy sense. The rule represents a perfect storm of xenophobia and America’s exceptional fondness for solving all of its problems by throwing someone in a jail cell — and it’s even more problematic than you’re imagining.

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Civil Rights Attorneys Sue Ferguson Over ‘Debtors Prisons’
Joseph Shapiro
In a new challenge to police practices in Ferguson, Mo., a group of civil rights lawyers is suing the city over the way people are jailed when they fail to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor offenses.
The lawsuit, filed Sunday night on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the police shooting of Michael Brown, alleges that the city violates the Constitution by jailing people without adequately considering whether they were indigent and, as a result, unable to pay.
The suit is filed on behalf of 11 plaintiffs who say they were too poor to pay but were then jailed — sometimes for two weeks or more.

NPR got an advance look at the lawsuit, filed by lawyers from Equal Justice Under Law, ArchCity Defenders and the Saint Louis University School of Law. It charges that Ferguson officials “have built a municipal scheme designed to brutalize, to punish, and to profit.”
In 2013, Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees, mainly on traffic violations and other low-level municipal offenses. That was the city’s second-largest source of income, or about 21 percent of its total budget.
The lawsuit challenges the practice of jailing people when they can’t afford to pay those fines. When tickets go unpaid, people are summoned to court and usually offered a new payment plan. If they fail to show up or make the new payments, the city issues an arrest warrant.
In 2013, Ferguson, a city with a population of 21,000, issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants for unpaid traffic violations and other minor offenses. Many of those were for people who lived outside the city.
READ MORE (and prepare to be filled with rage…)

If you think Ferguson is the only city this kind of injustice is occurring in, think again. It’s probably happening in your own city, if you live State-side. The criminal justice system has been increasingly criminalizing poverty over the last 3 decades, and with the boom of the private prison system, it’s only going to get worse. The time for action is now. More than just protesting, we have to start attacking the laws and policy that allows these miscarriages of justice to occur. #staywoke #farfromover

The police can go to downtown Harlem and pick up a kid with a joint in the streets. But they can’t go into the elegant apartments and get a stockbroker who’s sniffing cocaine.
— 

Noam Chomsky

I’ve seen more drugs behind the brick walls of my private college than I have ever even heard of back home in my hood.

rollingout.com
What?!? Private prisons suing states for millions if they don't stay full
Low crime rates bad for business for white-owned private prisons; they demand states keep them full

The prison-industrial complex is so out of control that private prisons have the sheer audacity to order states to keep beds full or face their wrath with stiff financial penalties, according to reports. Private prisons in some states have language in their contracts that state if they fall below a certain percentage of capacity that the states must pay the private prisons millions of dollars, lest they face a lawsuit for millions more.

And guess what? The private prisons, which are holding cash-starved states hostage, are getting away with it, says advocacy group, In the Public Interest.

In the Public Interest has reviewed more than 60 contracts between private prison companies and state and local governments across the country, and found language mentioning “quotas” for prisoners in nearly two-thirds of those contracts reviewed. Those quotas can range from a mandatory occupancy of, for example, 70 percent occupancy in California to up to 100 percent in some prisons in Arizona.

Last Sunday, 17 trans women were arrested in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia were arrested at a local wedding simply for being trans. 16 of them were fined RM950 (296.55 USD) and sentenced to prison for 7 days. If they do not pay up the fine after 7 days they will be sentenced to prison for 6 months. One of the 17 was underage so she was let go, but she is now required to report to the Religious Department once a month for a year.

Justice for Sisters, a support and advocacy group for the rights of trans women in Malaysia, managed to secure a syariah-court lawyer to held these women appeal their sentences. The lawyer advised them to prepare RM1,500 (468.24 USD) per person as it is apparently a common practice for the court to ask for more money from detainees who appeal their sentences.

As their Malaysian ICs all say “male”, if imprisoned, they will be sent to men’s prison and treated as male prisoners - including shaved heads and lack of access to hormones.

Justice for Sisters is currently fundraising RM24,000 (7491.81 USD) and needs the money immediately. They are accepting PayPal donations at pp.justiceforsisters@gmail.com(I created the PayPal link - if that doesn’t work just manually put in pp.justiceforsisters@gmail.com in the PayPal Send To address. Note the “PP.”!)

For more information, email them at justiceforsisters@gmail.com (note the lack of “pp.”).

Context: Trans women in Malaysia recently filed a groundbreaking court case asserting their civil rights.

From I AM YOU: Be A Trans Ally, a Malaysian social media campaign for trans* people and their supporters. Please pass the word!

EDIT: The first version of this had a typo - the original fine is actually RM950 not RM960 as I had written. The converted amount in USD is correct.

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An ex-police commander who oversaw the torture of more than 100 black men in Chicago police custody walked out of federal prison Thursday, after serving just three and a half years of his sentence.

Jon Burge left the minimum-security prison in North Carolina to report to a halfway house in Florida until his sentence officially runs out in February of 2015, the Chicago Tribune reports.

After the 66-year-old was convicted in 2011 of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying about police torture, several members of the Chicago City Council called for a reparations fund of $20 million – roughly the amount Burge and his “midnight crew” of detectives have cost Chicago taxpayers over the years in legal defense fees and settlements alone. Aldermen renewed those calls on Thursday, saying it’s time for the city to “make amends.”

Anthony Holmes was one of the victims Burge personally tortured – with methods including electric shock – into giving a confession to a murder he says he didn’t commit. Holmes, who is now pushing 70, spent 30 years behind bars as a result and has yet to see any compensation because the statute of limitations on the torture has run out.

“At least he’s got a pension,” Holmes said of Burge, according to DNAinfo Chicago. “We came out of there with nothing.”

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan tried to strip Burge of his $4,000-a-month police pension, but couldn’t overrule a police pension board vote.

As Burge prepares to start his life again as a free man, In These Times took a look at how much the disgraced commander has cost taxpayers through the years

Source

Academics have developed complicated theories and obscure jargon in an effort to describe what is now referred to as structural racism, yet the concept is fairly straightforward. One theorist, Iris Marion Young, relying on a famous “birdcage” metaphor, explains it this way: If one thinks about racism by examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected with one another, serve to enclose the bird and ensure it cannot escape.

What is particularly important to keep in mind is that any given wire of the cage may or may not be specifically developed for the purpose of trapping the bird, yet it still operates (together with other wires) to restrict its freedom.

—  Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

1: Poverty, and the cycle of poverty.

This is the big one. Poverty is a social issue. The cycle of poverty — the ways that poverty itself makes it harder to get out of poverty, the ways that poverty can be a permanent trap lasting for generations — is a social issue, and a human rights issue.

2: Domestic violence, workplace harassment, and other abuse. 

See above, re: cycle of poverty. If someone is being beaten by their partner, harassed or assaulted at work, abused by their parents — and if they’re poor, and if there’s fuck-all for a social safety net — it’s a hell of a lot harder for them to leave. What’s more, the stress of poverty itself — especially inescapable, entrapped poverty – contributes to violence and abuse.

3: Disenfranchisement. 

There’s a cycle that in some ways is even uglier than the cycle of poverty — because it blocks people from changing the policies that keep the cycle of poverty going. I’m talking about the cycle of disenfranchisement.

4: Racist policing.

There’s a whole lot going on with racist policing in the United States. Obviously. But a non-trivial chunk of it is fiscal policy. Ferguson shone a spotlight on this, but it isn’t just in Ferguson — it’s all over the country. In cities and counties and towns across the United States, the government is funded, in large part, by tickets and fines for municipal violations – and by the meta-system of interest, penalties, surcharges, and fees on those tickets and fines, which commonly turn into a never-ending debt amounting to many, many times the original fine itself.

5: Drug policy and prison policy.

Four words: The new Jim Crow. Drug war policies in the United States – including sentencing policies, probation policies, which drugs are criminalized and how severely, laws banning felons convicted on drug charges from voting, and more — have pretty much zero effect on reducing the harm that can be done by drug abuse. They don’t reduce drug use, they don’t reduce drug addiction, they don’t reduce overdoses, they don’t reduce accidents or violence that can be triggered by drug abuse. If anything, these policies make all of this worse.

6: Deregulation. 

This one is really straightforward. Deregulation of business is a conservative fiscal policy. And it has a devastating effect on marginalized people. Do I need to remind anyone of what happened when the banking and financial industries were deregulated?

7: “Free” trade.

This one is really straightforward. So-called “free” trade policies have a horrible effect on human rights, both in the United States and overseas. They let corporations hire labor in countries where labor laws — laws about minimum wage, workplace safety, working hours, child labor — are weak to nonexistent. They let corporations hire labor in countries where they can pay children as young as five years old less than a dollar a day, to work 12 or even 16 hours a day, in grossly unsafe workplaces and grueling working conditions that make Dickensian London look like a socialist Utopia.

[Read the full article]

Every year, we spend $80 billion to keeps folks incarcerated. $80 billion. Now just to put that in perspective, for $80 billion, we could have universal preschool for every 3 year old and 4 year old in America. That’s what $80 billion buys. For $80 billion, we could double the salary for every high school teacher in America. […] For what we spend to keep everyone locked up for one year, we could eliminate tuition at every single one of our public colleges and universities.
—  President Obama, speaking at the NAACP’s 106th National Convention
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Man cooked to death in scalding shower as punishment by prison guards | Police State USA

A torturous “punishment” session turned fatal for a mentally-ill prisoner, when prison guards forced him to stand in a tiny shower stall while being blasted by scalding hot water until his skin began to shrivel away from his body and he died.  Fellow inmates say he begged for his life before collapsing in the shower.

Darren Rainey, 50, died while incarcerated a the Dade Correctional Institution.  He was serving a 2-year sentence for a victimless crime; possession of cocaine.  At the time of his death, he had only one month to go before his release.

Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, was accused of defecating in his cell without cleaning it up.   The Florida’s Department of Corrections often comes up with cruel and imaginative punishments for prisoners — allegedly ranging from starvation diets to forcing prisoners to fight so the guards could place bets.

Rainey’s punishment was to stand confined in a narrow chamber, being blasted with hot water and steam, and left to suffer there for over one hour.

“I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,’’ Rainey screamed over and over, the Miami Herald discovered from a fellow inmate’s grievance complaint.

The Miami Herald reports that it was DOC Officer Roland Clarke who was on video placing Rainey in the shower at 7:38 p.m on June 23, 2012.  He was found dead at 9:30 p.m.

When Rainey’s body was found, his skin was cooked to the point where it was coming loose from his body, a condition known as slippage.

The facility then did its best to cover up the death.  Sources say that it was alleged that Rainey had a heart attack, yet DOC refused to perform an autopsy. The official cause of death has never been announced.

Conveniently, the camera outside the shower “malfunctioned” right after Rainey was forced in.

The Rainey investigation has remained open since 2012, with no explanation about why it has taken so long.  No one has been charged with the death of Darren Rainey.

“Two years is a very long time to wait to find out why your brother was found dead in a shower,” said Rainey’s brother, Andre Chapman.

When a fellow inmate tried to provide information to police and the media about the Rainey case, he was threatened with punishments of his own.  Numerous other inmate complaints paint a disturbing picture of what justice looks like in Florida’s prisons.

Justice seems to be a fleeting concept in a society where people are imprisoned for non-violent, victimless offenses, and housed by sadistic torturers who themselves belong in a cage.

(Photo Credit: istock/Dan Bannister)

Texas Sends Poor Teens To Adult Jail For Skipping School

(by Kendall Taggart and  Alex Campbell)

The 11th-grader in the courtroom wore braces, loved Harry Potter movies, and posted Katy Perry lyrics on Facebook. She also had a bad habit of cutting school, and now, a judge informed her, she owed $2,700 in truancy-related fines. But Serena Vela, who lived in a trailer with her unemployed mother, couldn’t afford to pay.

Serena was offered “jail credit” at a rate of $300 per day. She was patted down, touched “everywhere,” and dispatched to adult lockup, where she would stay for nine days, missing a week and a half of classes. The first school day after she was released, administrators kicked her out.

While in jail, students told BuzzFeed News, they witnessed adult inmates beating each other and soliciting sex. 

Odin: This is a perfect example of the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison-industrial-complex, but this is only one part of a much broader trend championed by “free-market” conservatives: outsourcing previously public functions to for-profit, private corporations. (Another example is giving public water utilities to private businesses or, in this case, dealing with truancy) As this story very clearly illustrates, such outsourcing tends to have more disparate impacts on those living in poverty who are unable to “pay up” new fees for what was once very affordable or free.  

More than a thousand Texas teenagers have been ordered to lockup on charges that stem from missing school, often because they have unpaid court fines. The costs to their education are high. Some, like Serena Vela, never go back.

Read the full BuzzFeed article here

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If you thought slavery was outlawed in America, you would be wrong. The 13th amendment to the Constitution states that ”neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In plain language, that means slavery in America can still exist for those who are in prison, where you basically lose all of your rights.  (You don’t gain a lot of your rights back when you get out of prison, either, but that is a different story.) So, given the country’s penchant for rapacious capitalism, it may not come as a surprise that there is much of the American prison system that exploits American prisoners much like slaves.

In skyrocketing prison populations, corporations and the government have a pool of powerless, exploitable workers