Vera Report about the overuse of jails: Incarceration’s Front Door

On Feb. 11th, the Vera Institute of Justice published their report Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America.

“Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color.

This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier communities.”

Please visit this link to download the full report or the summary.

The "Muhammad Ali of the Criminal Justice System" Passes On

From: Angola3News:
Oct. 4th 2013

-Special thanks to PBS, who is currently honoring Herman by streaming the film Herman’s House. Watch the full movie here.

MEDIA COVERAGE:  NY Times  II  Amnesty International  II  Times-Picayune  II  ABC  II  Melissa Harris-Perry, MSNBC  II  NBC  II  The Independent, UK  II  UPI  II  Common Dreams  II Toronto Sun / Reuters  II  NY Daily News / Associated Press 


This morning we lost without a doubt the biggest, bravest, and brashest personality in the political prisoner world.  It is with great sadness that we write with the news of Herman Wallace’s passing.

Herman never did anything half way.  He embraced his many quests and adventures in life with a tenacious gusto and fearless determination that will absolutely never be rivaled.  He was exceptionally loyal and loving to those he considered friends, and always went out of his way to stand up for those causes and individuals in need of a strong voice or fierce advocate, no matter the consequences.

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time with Herman knows that his indomitable spirit will live on through his work and the example he left behind.  May each of us aspire to be as dedicated to something as Herman was to life, and to justice.

Below is a short obituary/press statement for those who didn’t know him well in case you wish to circulate something.  Tributes from those who were closest to Herman and more information on how to help preserve his legacy by keeping his struggle alive will soon follow.
——————
 On October 4th, 2013, Herman Wallace, an icon of the modern prison reform movement and an innocent man, died a free man after spending an unimaginable 41 years in solitary confinement.

Herman spent the last four decades of his life fighting against all that is unjust in the criminal justice system, making international the inhuman plight that is long term solitary confinement, and struggling to prove that he was an innocent man.  Just 3 days before his passing, he succeeded, his conviction was overturned, and he was released to spend his final hours surrounded by loved ones.  Despite his brief moments of freedom, his case will now forever serve as a tragic example that justice delayed is justice denied.

Herman Wallace’s early life in New Orleans during the heyday of an unforgiving and unjust Jim Crow south often found him on the wrong side of the law and eventually he was sent to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for armed robbery.  While there, he was introduced to the Black Panther’s powerful message of self determination and collective community action and quickly became one of its most persuasive and ardent practitioners.

Not long after he began to organize hunger and work strikes to protest the continued segregation, endemic corruption, and horrific abuse rampant at the prison, he and his fellow panther comrades Albert Woodfox and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown in solitary.  Robert was released in 2001 after 29 years in solitary but Herman remained there for an unprecedented 41 years, and Albert is still in a 6×9 solitary cell.

Herman’s criminal case ended with his passing, but his legacy will live on through a civil lawsuit he filed jointly with Robert and Albert that seeks to define and abolish long term solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and through his comrade Albert Woodfox’s still active and promising bid for freedom from the wrongful conviction they both shared.

Herman was only 9 days shy of 72 years old.

Services will be held in New Orleans. The date and location will be forthcoming.

For more information visit http://www.angola3.org and http://www.angola3news.com.

Herman Wallace in April 2013: All Power to the People!

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

The Report by Jon Gould is readable here: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/241389.pdf

From: EurekAlert

Public release date: 13-Mar-2013

Contact: J. Paul Johnson
jjohnson@american.edu
202-885-5943
American University

Study reveals 10 factors in wrongful conviction cases

Why do innocent people go to jail in the United States every year for violent crimes they did not commit? It’s a serious question representing the ultimate miscarriage of justice—taking away the freedom of a factually innocent person while also allowing the guilty person to remain free. The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) wanted to learn answers to prevent wrongful convictions in the first place.

Jon B. Gould, J.D., Ph.D., a professor and the director of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research at American University and his team of researchers conducted a three year, first of its kind, large-scale empirical study Predicting Erroneous Convictions: A Social Science Approach to Miscarriages of Justice employing social scientific methods.

It was funded by NIJ, and an NIJ video features Gould discussing wrongful convictions. After identifying 460 cases employing sophisticated analytical methods matched with a qualitative review of the cases from a panel of experts, 10 statistically significant factors were identified that distinguish a wrongful conviction from a “near miss” (a case in which an innocent defendant was acquitted or had charges dismissed before trial).

 “Surprisingly unlike airplane crashes or near midair collisions where the National Transportation Safety Board moves in to investigate and reconstruct events in an effort to prevent future catastrophes, wrongful convictions have rarely been investigated beyond a specific case study,” says Gould. “This is especially troubling since our criminal legal system is predicated on finding defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before imprisoning them.”

10 Factors Identified in Wrongful Convictions

  • State death penalty culture/state punitiveness
  • Strength of prosecution’s case
  • Prosecution withheld evidence (Brady violation)
  • Forensic evidence errors
  • Strength of defendant’s case
  • Age of defendant
  • Criminal history of defendant
  • Intentional misidentification
  • Lying by non-eyewitness
  • Family witness testified on behalf of defendant

The resulting 10 factor model applied by Gould and his team can be used to accurately predict an erroneous conviction versus a “near miss” nearly 91 percent of the time and is a useful tool for jurisdictions around the country to adopt remedies to address the 10 weaknesses with little cost according to Gould. The biggest investment is time, training and the acknowledgement that there is room for improvement from police, prosecutors and defense interests. A key to the model’s development was the unprecedented cooperation of an expert panel composed of stakeholders from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Police Foundation, National Innocence Project and National District Attorneys Association.

From the quantitative and qualitative analysis, Gould and his team determined that prevention begins at the police station starting with the interrogation and investigation of alibis. This is followed by several opportunities along the way to identify the innocent before they are wrongfully convicted. For example, if forensic testing was conducted earlier and the results became available sooner to investigators innocent suspects could be freed. But faulty identifications, absence of early forensic test results, and inadequate investigation of alibis leads to what Gould characterizes as a “perfect storm” of errors made worse by collective tunnel vision. It should be noted much of this is unintentional.

The 10 factors in various combinations create this tunnel vision where a prosecutor with a weak case focuses on an accused even more intently rather than considering alternative suspects precisely because tunnel vision has set in – in other words the case seems to add up from the investigation but is sufficiently weak relying on perhaps a misidentification.

For Gould this was the most surprising result of his research because he and his team expected strong prosecutorial cases to result in wrongful convictions since the evidence was compelling for the prosecutor to seek conviction but instead the study revealed the contrary. This led the team to look at weak defense counsel, poor explanation/presentation of forensic evidence, and police practices that could trigger the course of events spiraling out of control to a wrongful conviction because the weak prosecution case in turn is not adequately challenged by the defense attorney and the prosecution for one reason or the other may fail to disclose exculpatory evidence- a Brady violation.

Finally, the wrongfully convicted skew toward young suspects as well as those who have a prior criminal record. In other words, the defendants are not in a strong position to demand more from prosecutors or even their own defense counsel because they do not have the wherewithal to challenge the charges.

The study concludes that the social science approach is valid and effective in studying miscarriages of justice and should continue. Gould especially is interested in more research on the “near miss” cases to better learn how the criminal justice system can “get it right” when confronted with an innocent defendant. In the coming weeks, Gould will present his research in Seattle, Miami, New York City, Albany, NY, and North Carolina.

###

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

A direct call for a statewide work strike supporting the hunger strike to abolish SHU policies

This was posted on a Facebook Event page for the Prison Hunger Strike:

July 13-14th 2011
URGENT REPOST!!! print and mail to prisoners!!!!
A direct call for a statewide work strike supporting the hunger strike to abolish SHU policies

An indefinite hunger strike began on 1st July by the prisoners held in the Pelican Bay Security Housing unit (SHU). They have been joined by
prisoners in the Corcoran and Folsom SHUs. Huge amounts of domestic and foreign support has been organized for these prisoners.

In order to win this struggle, however, every available resource must be brought into play. We are at a historical juncture in which prisoners can take control of their lives, to have some say in the conditions in which they are expected to exist, or else they will continue to be mere pawns acted upon by external forces and watch things get even worse.

Starting IMMEDIATELY, defendants/prisoners can start the process of improving their conditions of existence by implementing a peaceful work
strike in every prison in the state. Defendants may draft demands as each facility sees fit, however, the first demand on the list must be to
implement the core demands of the prisons held in the SHU’s.

The longest prison work strike in US history was at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla in 1978 which lasted for 47 days. It
resulted in the release of the Walla Walla Brothers from the SHU, the Director of Corrections, Harold Bradley, being fired, the warden removed and the associate warden of custody transferred to a youth facility. Work strikes can and do result in positive change!

In the recent Georgia strike, prisoners in every prison went on a statewide peaceful work strike. The prisoners were supported by their families and friends, who helped spread the word of the planned strike to other prisons and found supportive groups in a wide variety of communities to bring information about the prisoners’ conditions and bring attention to their demands.

Plaintiffs and prisoners want to do the same thing here in California.
It is up to YOU to get this message to everyone you trust at your prison and to spread the word across all yards. You are being asked to tell
other prisoners that, STARTING IMMEDIATELY, no work will be performed.
NO WORK means no kitchen, no hospital, no anything, NO EXCEPTIONS.

Anyone advocating violence is a provocateur and listening to such people will on result in defeat. The struggle must be solid and protracted.
Plaintiffs on the outside will provide support by amplifying your choice. If you are not the person to get this done, then please give this document to someone you think is.

Let’s recap …
· Effective IMMEDIATELY—prisoners initiate a peaceful work stoppage at all prisons.
· Nobody works—no exceptions.
· The Walla Walla record is 47 days (it will take time to change public consciousness).
· There must be NO VIOLENCE of any nature.
· The first demand to be amended is “debriefing”, as it is known in SHU prison policy, will no longer be tolerated or permitted and considered a
crime committed by the institutions that seek it as a means of control.

The strike is over when the prisoners win or are defeated.
If local demands are not met, then the strike may continue at that individual facility.

The first step of becoming part of prisoner history is to communicate the essence of this document to others on the inside. This message is
going into prisons across the state by this and other means.

This is NOW a nationwide effort so please repost, repost, repost on all social networking sites.

Send this to everyone in every prison by every means possible.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT
##

Urgent Medical Alerts about the ongoing Hungerstrike in and because of the SHU

Source: http://moorbey.wordpress.com
Also: www.Freedomarchives.org (we could not find it on there though). Received via Cleveland ABC facebook group:

A Brief Update From the Front Lines of the Struggle:
Corcoran-SHU 4B 1L C-section Isolation Unit Hunger Strike

Date 7/3/11 0917 Hours

Greetings to all who support freedom, justice, and equality, and oppose torture. We are 3 days into the hunger strike here in 4B 1L C-section (Corcoran SHU’s version of the short corridor), and I want to report that our first brother has gone down.

Last night (7/2/11) at approximately 22:55 hours (10:55 p.m.) our beloved brother Kambui Nantambu Robinson, a Type 1 Diabetic who’s commitment, resolve, and strength are an inspiration to us all, went into severe diabetic shock (hypoglycemia [acute low blood sugar]), after our efforts to render assistant to enable him to overcome the subsequent ketoacidosis which accompanied the attack failed.

We called “Man Down” and ultimately got the tower’s attention. We are only 3 cells from one another so I was able to observe the medical response directly (I am a former U.S. Naval Hospital Corpsman attached to Spec-war PAC-Fleet Command), which was panicky, bumbling, and slow . . . far too slow. The comrade did suffer a mild seizure, loss of consciousness, and stopped breathing for a brief period. The nurse administered what I believe was glycogen and epinephrine. After our prompts to staff, he was finally secured to the gurney and transported via ambulance to the hospital, where he was admitted and remains. This stalwart new Afrikan soldier of the people is to be honored, revered, and admired for his unwavering stance in support of our collective basic human rights and dignity.

He remains with us in spirit, as our love, spirit, and dedication to purpose remain with him. We ask for your prayers, your phone calls, and letters – spread the word on Facebook, twitter, and other social media of our stance here, in Pelican Bay D corridor, and across the CDC. Kambui’s spirit endures!! Uhuru Sasa!! Si se puede!!

Currently, here and 4B 1L C-section the new Afrikan collective and southern Mexican collective are in full participation, while our white and northern Mexican brothers are lending their moral support.

On 7/1/11 they came around on 3rd watch and checked ourselves to catalog what food we had, if any. The following today they’ll start weighing us. There are some here with serious medical conditions such as cancer survivors and we anticipate we may well see more hospitalizations, or death, as our collective resolve to see this peaceful protest through to a successful conclusion is adamant. We have documented at least one instance of institutional gang investigators attempting to foment racial divisions here in the torture unit in an attempt to derail or fracture the hunger strike for its solidarity. It, and any other counterintelligence assaults of its kind, will fail.

We again call on everyone who reads these words to support the five point court demands of this peaceful protest as outlined by the Pelican Bay D corridor collective (see: Turning This Tide, July Issue; California Prison Focus, July Issue; or go to “www.barnonearcata.wordpress.com – Archives – PBSP – SHU D-corridor Hunger Strike”). Call or email your local TV station; blog about it on the web; organize support at your local church, mosque, temple, synagogue, or community center; contact your Congressman, Alderman, or local legislature; write and call the governor. Oppose the continued use, expansion and broadening of those psychological torture units in your nation.

Do not allow the prison industrial complex in California Correctional Peace Officers Association (guards union) to continue using us as scape goats to fleece you for billions of your tax dollars to line their pockets, and deny our communities and children greater prosperity and a future brighter tomorrows. Join us in opposing conditions so psychologically torturous that they would compel men to embrace self immolation – even death – as a viable tool of struggle to alter that existence. Dare with us; dare to struggle, dare to win . . . Our love and solidarity to all those who champion freedom, justice, and equality, and fear only failure.

Alucoa continua,
J. Heshima Denhayn

For more information on this N.C.T.T. – Corcoran SHU, or the CAL-SHU Hunger Strike Contact:

Zaharibu Dorrough D-83611 Heshima Denham J-38283 Kambuit Robinson C-82830
CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #53 CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #46 CSP-COR-SHU 4B 1L #49
PO Box 3481 PO Box 3481 PO Box 3481
Corcoran, CA 93212 Corcoran, CA 93212 Corcoran, CA 93212

***********************************************************************8
Update: 7/3/11 18:45 Hours

There has been an unfortunate development here, and though we knew the probability of this occurring was high, we didn’t know it would come this sudden.

At approximately 1845 hrs. (6:45 pm) for picking up trash and trays from our white and northern Mexican brothers, one of the CEOs here began to call our staunch a beloved brother Haribu Mugabi Soriono’s name repeatedly. He did not respond. She notified the tower “Soriono’s unresponsive, called EMT and notify the watch commander.” Then the alarm was triggered. Multiple custody and medical staff responded, but because Haribu was unconscious he could not comply with their directions to come to the door and cuff-up.

A tactile team was assembled and they entered his cell. As they were putting him in mechanical restraints he regained consciousness briefly, and quickly lost it again. EMTs arrived, he was secured to the gurney and rushed by ambulance to A.C.H. (Hosptial) where he remains. Comrade Haribu is a 57-year-old veteran prisoner and human rights activist who just waged and won a protracted battle with cancer (Leukemia) and suffers from multiple chronic medical conditions, yet he started fasting two days before the hunger strike started, in solidarity with our Afrikan brothers and sisters in the Horn of Afrika suffering famine and death with no food or water because of a 2-year drought.

A beloved brother went five days without eating, knowing his body was already severely damaged to uphold our collective pursuit of basic human rights and dignity. This brother brave death to free us all from torture without end, and to make you all aware that it’s being carried out – right here in the borders of your nation; not halfway around the world in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, or some CIA blacksite – No – Right Here in Pelican Bay, Corcoran, and Tehachapi SHUs; human experimentation torture units are being ran and expanded. Haribu is an inspiration to us all, a hero of the people, and his undaunted fighting spirit abides with us all. Pray for our beloved brother and comrade – pray for us all.

********************************************************
Update: 7/5/11 15:20 Hours

We were again weighed today and her vitals taken an average of 8 to 20 pounds has been lost by those participating (I’ve personally gone from 208 to 188 in 5 days). The Associate Warden and Captain held a sit down with representatives of the population – noting the hunger strike has been taken up SHU wide and on the Main line (3B Yard as well).

Our Brother Zaharibu Dorrough and representatives from the southern Mexican, white, and northern Mexican collectives expressed our collective concerns as outlined in the Pelican Bay collectives five point court demands and our local 602. It appeared to be more of a feeling out session and nothing of substance will be addressed until after a meeting to be held in Sacramento Friday, July 8 at 1300 hrs. (1:00 pm). It is our hope that reason, principal, and humanity prevail as a result continues unwavering. Stand with us. Until we win or don’t lose, we remain firm.

In struggle,
J. Heshima Denham
N.C.T.T. Corcoran SHU

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 863-9977
www.Freedomarchives.org
—-

URGENT: Hunger Striker’s Health Rapidly Deteriorates
Posted on July 12, 2011
From: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

URGENT SUPPORT NEEDED IMMEDIATELY

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition received an urgent update from medical staff at Pelican Bay State Prison that the health of at least 200 hunger strikers in the SHU is rapidly worsening. A source with access to the current medical conditions who prefers to be unnamed reported:

“The prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated.“

SHU prisoners at Pelican Bay have said they are willing to risk their lives and will continue to strike until their demands are met. The CDCR continues to refuse to negotiate.

Prisoners across CA continue to refuse food in solidarity with the Pelican Bay SHU hunger strikers.

This past weekend, families and friends sent encouragement and support to their loved ones during weekend visits at prisons across the state, witnessing the toll the hunger strike is taking on their bodies. Families have said their loved ones are extremely pale, shaking and have already lost 20-30 pounds. Some families of prisoners who have only been drinking water for 12 days now witnessed their loved ones faint or go into diabetic shock in visiting rooms over the weekend.

People locked up across the state have been telling their friends and families about the tactics prison officials have been using to break the strike.

Many prisoners have said that medications are being denied to prisoners on hunger strike.

Prisoners have reported that guards in at least Pelican Bay General Population and Calipatria State Prison have been calling throughout blocks and units: “The Hunger Strike is over! The 5 demands have been met!” which is not true. According to family members of prisoners at Calipatria, participation at Calipatria was huge–at least 1,500 prisoners throughout that prison alone joined the hunger strike– until the guards spread rumors of the strike ending. Some prisoners at Calipatria remain on hunger strike, however.

While the CDCR released it’s estimate of 6,600 prisoners participating in the hunger strike during the 4th of July weekend and declared the numbers dropping to over 2,100 in the following days, of course the CDCR failed to mentioned how and why that happened. The decline in numbers in no way demonstrates a lack of support or dedication to this struggle from the prisoners, rather how eager the CDCR is to make this issue go away quickly and quietly.

Families and community organizations like Prison Moratorium Project continue to rally support outside of striking prisons like Corcoran, sharing information and trying to visit their loved ones as regularly as possible. Families and community members are also supporting the strike outside Pelican Bay.

Support for this hunger strike is at a crucial point, where we need to pressure the CDCR to negotiate with the prisoners immediately. Call the CDCR and urge them to negotiate NOW. Also call your legislators and urge them to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners in good faith. Click here for more info, including a sample script and phone numbers.

***The coalition also needs help getting updates and information to prisoners throughout CA. If you know people who are locked up in CA, please either send us their information or send them updates of the strike, including how people are supporting outside. The Hunger Strikers need our support, and need to know how much support is growing for them outside prison. ***

***An emergency press conference will be held Wed July 13th at 11 am outside the California State Building in San Francisco (Van Ness & McAllister)***
##

AZ: Suicide/homicide rates skyrocket at AZ Department of Corrections

From Arizona Prison Watch

I obtained prisoner death records last week from the AZ Department of Corrections, and the stats on suicides and homicides since Brewer took office are mind-boggling: they’re twice the rate as they were when Janet was governor; this fiscal year (beginning July 2010) the suicides are on track for being three times the annual rate.

In no instance of the recent suicides has there been documentation that ADC staff had any culpability – though I’ve had more than one family member tell me that their mentally ill loved one had been taken off of their psychiatric medications in prisons before their suicide or homicide. That sounds to me like a pattern of institutional neglect.

Anthony Lester‘s death remains a mystery to me, by the way – the ADC record detailing his death lists his injuries as self-inflicted (his jugular, his right wrist, and his leg were all cut with a razor) , but a document compiling the deaths for the year calls it a homicide. Tony’s family was told it was a suicide – a “highly preventable” one, which they tried to warn the ADC he was at risk for. They have other information suggesting that he believed he was in imminent danger from a gang, though. Until I get confirmation to the contrary, I’m leaving him in the suicide category.

Tony suffered from schizophrenia, and was sentenced to more than a decade in prison due to two women being slightly injured trying to prevent him from cutting his throat (both required band-aids at the scene) during a psychotic episode. He had to be restored to sanity before he could go on trial, of course. That’s par for Maricopa County’s treatment of people with mental illness who needed psychiatric hospitalization before or at the time of their “crime”. If I could sick the DOJ on every responsible judge and prosecuting attorney, I would, because that’s a violation of the Olmstead Decision, as far as I’m concerned. The Olmstead Decision was a Supreme Court verdict that determined that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires states to deinstitutionalize and place people with disabilities in the least restrictive setting possible.

Arizona, after 20 years of Arnold v. Sarn litigation, is still underserving the seriously mentally ill in the community. Here they’re just criminally prosecuted for the symptoms of their illness and thrown into the most restrictive setting possible – state prison (often maximum security) – largely because the state lacks adequate outpatient and inpatient alternatives for individuals at risk of harming themselves or others (we spend it all on corrections instead. If ADC Director Ryan had any courage, he’d call that what it is and tell the state where to put their money and the courts where to stuff their convictions).

Why else would a judge give a man with schizophrenia three years for climbing a utility tower in a thunderstorm to be closer to God? Why would he even be prosecuted for that in the first place? I think they actually believed they were protecting him from himself. Sadly, Shannon Palmer ended up being murdered by his cellmate two years in.

The deaths by “natural causes” are also extremely young – go to the ADC’s website, under ADC in the News, for death notices. There’s an archive on that page, too. I suspect that it’s complications from the effects of the Hep C virus that’s killing people so young inside. I’ll be analyzing the documents I obtained further to confirm that, and post it when I compile it all.

Here are the links for the APW posts about the more recent suicides:

Special Management Unit: Prisoner suicide at ASPC Eyman (11/4) – James Galloway

Prison suicide and gangs at Florence Central (10/01) – Duron Cunningham, Rosario Rodriguez-Bojorquez

Additionally, I missed a couple of suicides in my compilation that I didn’t have info on until now:

Douglas Nunn 33 (8/29/09) – ASPC-Florence/Central

Patricia Velez 25 (4/28/10) – ASPC-Perryville/Lumley

All 3 of the women who have killed themselves in the past year and a half hung themselves and were housed in Lumley, where the maximum security yard is. All three were in their 20s. I don’t know if Patricia had a mental illness or not: a psychological report was sealed by the court when she was sentenced to 7.5 years for aggravated assault and fleeing a law enforcement vehicle. Geshell and Sasha, the other two women from Lumley who killed themselves, did have evidence of a serious mental illness when sentenced.

Two of the men who killed themselves recently were both from ASPC-Florence/Central. The largest number of male suicides in any one prison have occurred at ASPC-Eyman, however.

Sometime in the next couple of days I’ll break down the suicides and homicides by race and age, and tell you how they compare to stats for the overall prison population, as well as to rates in the general population. It seems to me that if all the violence boiled down to a gang war, the Aryan Brotherhood is winning.

The U.S. System of Punishment: an expanding balloon of wealth, racism and greed

by Jenny Truax on October 28, 2010
From: Jesus Radicals

A few years ago at a Karen House community meeting, Tony brought a reading for discussion. He had just finished the book “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Davis, and read some quotes, asking us to consider the question: are prisons, in fact, obsolete?

To be honest, I was shocked by the question. I considered the prison, while probably unjust, to be as ingrained an institution as churches, schools, and apple pie. I understood the Catholic Worker Aims and Means, but had never applied them to the U.S. system of punishment. As anarchists and pacifists, we in the Catholic Worker try to reflect on the root causes of violence, where resources are allocated, and how systems (like the prison system) affect the poor. We believe that a decentralized society might better serve people’s needs better. At Karen House, we see that the majority of the women who stay with us have either been in jail before, or have a family member who has been in jail. Many of their offenses were drug-related, and many of their lives have been uprooted by long incarcerations. At Karen House, we read in the papers about white-collar criminals (who may have stolen millions) and even peers receiving very light penalties, and we live with women who have received years-long sentences for drug and poverty/property related offenses.

Most of us have a general sense that laws in the U.S. overly-penalize people who happen to be poor, and who happen to not be white. But we also have a deeply-held belief that the system, though flawed, is basically just, and that wrong-doers deserve the punishment they receive. We like the neat package of “3 strikes you’re out” and automatic sentencing. In the words of Angela Davis: “Prison frees us from considering the complex problems of racism and poverty (and increasingly, global capitalism,) by creating an abstract place in which to put evil-doers.”1

Beginnings..

Around the time of the American Revolution, new forms of punishment for criminals were adopted in the United States. Before this time, criminals awaited death or physical punishment while in a prison. Later, the penitentiary itself became the consequence. Inmates would become rehabilitated, or penitent, with manual labor and solitude to reflect upon wrong-doings. This change was seen as a progressive, more humane method of dealing with criminals.

The prison system in the U.S. remained generally unaltered until the Civil War ended. Following the Civil War, slavery was abolished as a private institution, but the cleverly worded 13th Amendment provided a very large exception, stating: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime…shall exist within the United States.” In the ensuing months and years, states revised the Slave Codes into new “Black Codes,” imprisoning former slaves for acts such as missing work, handling money carelessly, and performing “insulting gestures.” A massive influx of former slaves into the penitentiary resulted, a new form of slavery was born, and the racialization of the U.S. punishment system took root. The unpaid labor of the newly created, mostly black, convict lease system helped the South achieve industrialization.

Read more here on the Jesus Radicals site.