Help Lady Liberty Out and Read the Full Article Here.
It seems as if criminal justice reform has been a mainstream topic since the 1970’s, but continuously we see prison reforms being halted or ignored by congress. The “tough on crime” approach was of major attention when New York City promised to harshly tackle the issue, but now that talk of reforming has taken place, the actual chance to take action on it seems to be absent from campaigns and ballots. Why? Well, most people pay attention to the problem of crime and then demand change, not the problems affecting criminals. However, as the article points out, America wears a scarlet letter of mass incarceration, which is an embarrassment for our country. And with so many people being affected by prison sentences, more people should be demanding change for the current system. Just because the crimes are happening behind prison walls doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye. In fact, the author suggests, by reforming the criminal justice system, we will see a positive change in other areas, most notably, the economic inequality gap.
New documetary film “The Throwaways” follows Ira McKinley, a filmmaker and ex-convcit, as he guides viewers through nearly empty city of Albany, New York while shedding light on the prison and police problems that have plagued marginalized populations for years. Ira McKinley describes his life before prison, explaining that his father was shot and killed by cops when he was just 14 and he quickly became “addicted to the life.” To support his new lifestyle, including a crack habit, he began robbing stores which ultimately landed him in prison until 2002. After he was released, he describes how hard it was for him to re-enter society as an ex convict, deeming himself a “marked” citizen. Ira McKinley bravely takes viewers into a world of racial profiling, which he refers to as “The New Jim Crow,” based on the book by Michelle Alexander, mass incarceration, and the slow death of once heavily populated, black communities.
Click here to watch the interview or read the full article.
Click here to learn more about Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
Click here for “The Throwaways” documenary website.
If you’ve been reading the PLAP blog regularly, then you’ll remember the post titled “Mothering Between a Rock and a Hard Place” that told the story of Shanesha Taylor and her struggle as a poor, single mother. Well, today I learned that Shanesha Taylor has been awarded custody of her children again! Shanesha’s children were taken by Child Protective Services following the charges of child abuse for leaving her two youngest children in a car while she went for a job interview. Fortunately, the incredible support Shanesha received from the public was enough to influence the courts. It’s about time poverty stricken single mothers are given a voice, a chance, and a change.
Change starts on the ground level! Stand up for justice!
Click here for the original article
The Atlantic advises us about a disturbingly striking project to document prison geography. See more for yourself here.
A June 2005 file photo of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio, which the state sold to Corrections Corporation of America last year.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons; it is a “Wall Street giant” that has grown more than five-fold during the last fifteen years. After 9/11, it capitalized on anxieties about national security and anti-immigrant sentiment to contract with the government to build private detention facilities; by 2009, almost half of all immigrants detained by the government were in facilities managed by private contractors (read more here). Between 2001 and 2005, CCA’s increased its lobbying expenditures more than sevenfold, from $470,000 to nearly $3.4 million. The Huffington Post observes that “[i]n recent years, Corrections Corporation of America has made it clear that it sees opportunity in the new era of state budget crises.”
CCA recently sent this letter to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons. Like “cash for keys” offers to foreclosure victims, the long-term costs of this exchange for states will be far greater than the cash states could take away in hand now. If the reasons that harnessing the private profit goal to and giving up public management of the prison system will be costly aren’t obvious, consider that to keep generating profits from the prison system, it will have to continue to grow, which means that the nation’s prison population will have to continue to rise, while incentives to invest in conditions that could decrease recidivism– shorter sentences, less crowded conditions, educational opportunities, reentry programs, even adequate food, healthcare and staffing, just to name a few– disappear. This would not only mean an exacerbation of the worst tendencies we have described in prior posts, but also, given the increasing power of CCA’s lobbying arm, a diminished likelihood of legislative prison reform.
Read more about this utterly depressing and horrifying prospect here.
The Vera Institute of Justice has released a report entitled “The Price of Prisons,” outlining a new methodology to calculate the real cost of prisons for taxpayers. The Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit studied 40 states, finding significant costs not included in the corrections budgets but directly affecting taxpayers nonetheless. For more, see their report and state fact sheets here.
The editors of the Boston Phoenix weigh in on what Three-Strikes legislation would mean for Massachusetts, in a way consonant with the article discussed in this earlier post.
In this article in Metrowest, Leslie Walker and Jean Trounstine warn about the possible consequences of two Three-Strikes bills recently passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate for the already overcrowded Massachusetts prison system. With the prison population average at 143% over capacity and reaching levels of over 330% the intended capacity, these bills will further increase overcrowding and state spending on prisons by increasing both the number of sentences of life without parole and the likelihood of prisoners reoffending by making resources shown to decrease recidivism more scarce. The authors point out that by contrast, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas are reducing crime, prison populations and state corrections spending all at once with smart prison reform reducing sentences for non-violent offenders.
California, distinguished among other ways by having the country’s most “indiscriminately punitive” three-strikes law, has allowed a ballot initiative to go forward that would modify it to exempt non-violent criminals. This welcome change is largely financially motivated: the state’s economy is a well-acknowledged growing disaster and the state auditor estimates the cost of imprisoning nonviolent three-strikes offenders for 25 years is $4.8 billion; further, California must reduce its prison population from roughly 135,000 inmates to 110,000 two years from now to comply with the Court order on overcrowding after Brown v. Plata (see prior posts, here and here). Nonetheless, the editors of Bloomberg news warn us here that this effort will face powerful opposition from the correction-officers union, many California prosecutors, and politicians fearful of the political consequences of supporting it.
Here is a little context from the article that makes the fact that we can expect controversy over this initiative seem truly remarkable: the state has imposed sentences of 25 years to life for third strikes such as shoplifting a pair of socks and prying open the door to a church food pantry; further, “California will spend roughly $10 billion on prisons this year — more than it spends on its once-renowned higher education system” (ouch).
As a result of the high suicide rate and the growing problem of the treatment of the mentally ill in Massachusetts prisons, especially the consequences of placing this vulnerable population in solitary confinement, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections has entered into a settlement agreement with the Disability Law Center. The agreement, which is pending court approval and remains under seal, requires the Department of Corrections to maintain the number of beds in secure treatment units, limits the amount of time that prisoners with severe mental illness can be housed in department disciplinary units or in special management units to 3o days, provide expanded mental health services and out-of-cell time, among other things; these improvements may cost the Department of Corrections $5.6 million a year.