“Our role is not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence: they have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us,” says Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service.
The United States prison system is widely regarded as broken. Prisons were supposed to “rehabilitate” offenders who have wronged society by punishing them with a prison sentence. Unfortunately, the United States prison system has failed to rehabilitate thus producing high recidivism rates and overall crime. In Sweden, they are testing a new approach to crime. Oberg, the director-general, believes in addressing the inmate’s needs in order for he or she to correct the behavior that led them to prison in the first place. Sweden’s prison rates are significantly lower after they implemented this approach. They’ve also been fortunate enough to actually close prisons because of the lowered crime rate.
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.
Mark Olmsted vowed to never forget his fellow inmates that he would leave behind after his release from a nine month prison stint, and he certainly did not. When he got out he continued to keep in contact with his former cellmates, sending them money here and there or just a friendly letter to let them know they haven’t been forgotten by the outside world. As he continued to campaign for prison reform, he received surprising, and seemingly impossible, tweets from an inmate in an Alabama prison. Turns out that some inmates in southern area prisons are networking via contraband cell phones to inform us, the outside world, of their lives and prison conditions. This network has come to be known as the Free Alabama Movement. A part of it’s statement purpose reads, “And this Movement isn’t about getting ‘some outside support,’ or having our family ‘call the politicians or mayor’s office,’ ‘call the news station’ and on and on and on. The reason for this is simple: we can’t form a movement conditioned on ‘outside’ people without first unifying the ‘inside people.'” So, take a moment out of your day to hear the truth about prisons and prison life from the best experts there could possibly be: the inmates themselves.
Free Alabama Movement Official Website– Here you can listen to the prisoners who have been forgotten, silenced and ignored. Listen to them, let their voices be heard, and spread their message further along in the outside world.
AND the Free Alabama Movement is ALL over youtube, recording their lives on the inside and exposing the hard truths to the outside.
Not only are there youtube videos being posted by FAM, but one inmate actually hosts a talk show from inside the prison, allowing for other inmates with contraband cell phones to call in and speak on his online radio station.
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.
Above, Bridgewater State Hospital
Bridgewater State Hospital has been under fire after a patient died by the hands of several correctional officers while they were attempting to place him in restraints. The death, ruled a homicide, sparked an investigation into the hospital and the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. As a result, Deval Patrick has written up a plan that consists of decreasing the use of restraints and isolation of patients and hiring more properly trained clinicians that can effectively and appropriately handle mentally ill individuals. Many mental health advocates are in favor of this overhaul, grateful that patients will be able to get the help they truly need from a licensed clinician, instead of relying on correctional officers to do the job. Click here to read the full article.
New York City has agreed to make a large payment to settle a lawsuit claiming violence against a city inmate. Learn more here.
For those of you following the current controversy over Massachusetts sentencing bills, Families Against Mandatory Minimums has this update:
- As of last month, the conference committee that was trying to negotiate a compromise between the Senate and House sentencing bills had not made progress. As you know, the Senate bill included mandatory minimum reforms (along with many other issues) while the House bill only addressed habitual offenders.
- The House leadership then announced that the House of Representatives would be debating and voting on a second sentencing bill that covered some of the other issues from the Senate bill.
- But by early February, the House leadership said that the House members of the conference committee could negotiate a final bill after all, without the need for the House to take up a second sentencing bill. FAMM members did a terrific job of writing to their representatives in the House, urging them to include drug sentencing reforms.
- Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of concern about changes to the habitual offender law (also called the “three strikes” law) that both the House and Senate passed. FAMM has joined community leaders, clergy and activists in speaking out against mandatory maximum sentences. Click here for our fact sheet. (Lowell area members, we hope to see you at tonight’s community forum.)
- Opposition to the habitual offender parts of the bills has slowed down the conference committee’s work – and rightly so. This is a critical criminal justice issue that needs to be fully considered.
Brandon Kennedy, who went to jail for 28 months on drug charges when he was 17.
Massachusetts is one of only 13 states where criminal cases involving 17-year-olds are handled in the adult justice system rather than juvenile justice system. Fortunately, though, this may change; the state legislature is considering a bill that would increase the age of criminal responsibility in Massachusetts to 18. This follows on the heels of a recent Citizens for Juvenile Justice Report showing that there is a 47 percent greater likelihood of a teen being arrested again if the adolescent is charged in the adult system versus the juvenile system. The report also said younger inmates are more likely to be sexually victimized.
Currently, 500 17-year-olds are sent to adult jails or prisons in Massachusetts every year.
Click here to read more and hear WBUR’s radio coverage.
This article‘s discussion of mandatory sentencing guidelines versus discretion shows how stuck the debate is and conveys how depressingly racism will shape both approaches, quite aside from aspirations to create uniformity in sentencing or to reserve a place for consideration of particular contexts.
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.