Solidarity Rally and March: Protest Ohio’s Prison Industrial Complex – April 7th in Columbus, Ohio

Saturday, April 7th – 1pm – 3pm
Gather at Broad & High (Statehouse sidewalk)

Several organizations and activist groups are uniting for a rally and march to call for an end to the injustices in Ohio’s prison industrial complex. Bob Fitrakis, journalist, author, and professor of political science at Columbus State Community College will speak at the rally.

The rally will be followed by a march west on Broad Street to the Ohio Dept of Rehabilitation and Correction at 770 West Broad Street. We are demanding:

           – End the death penalty
           – Release the framed Lucasville Five
           – Parole for old law prisoners – presumption for parole when eligible
           – Right to a life for released prisoners – remove the barriers to employment and housing

Death Penalty. Execution is a cruel and brutal practice. Further, the arbitrariness in the application of the death penalty violates the principles of fundamental justice. Execution – whether done by a mob or a government – is murder.

Lucasville Five. Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Namir Abdul Mateen, Jason Robb, George Skatzes, Bomani Shakur, all on death row. Within a few hours after the uprising at Southern Ohio Correctional Facility began,
these five men took leadership, seeking to minimize violence. They did save the lives of several men, prisoner and guard alike. But the State of Ohio deliberately framed these five innocent men for murder, on the basis of testimony by prisoners who, in exchange for their testimony, received benefits such as early parole. (See “Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising” by Staughton Lynd at http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1772_reg.html.)

Old Law Prisoners. Old law prisoners are those sentenced before 1996 when Ohio passed a truth-in-sentencing law. There are 3,200 of these old-law prisoners who are eligible for parole. All have been
incarcerated for at least 16 years and some for many more – even decades. At the time these prisoners were sentenced, the judges’ expectation and the Parole Board practice was to grant parole upon eligibility or two or three years later, but over time the Parole Board changed its practice, becoming progressively harsher, and now repeatedly denies parole. Sixteen years is too long – it is time to release these men. (See “Truth in Sentencing: 3200 prisoners stuck in Ohio Prisons”  at http://www.freepress.org/departments/display/18/2012/4537.)

Right to Rebuild a Life Upon Release. It is close to impossible in the year 2012 for a released Ohio prisoner to rebuild a life – because of the multiple barriers to employment and housing. Ohio now has over 800 laws that restrict former prisoners’ access to employment, housing, and education – civil collateral consequences of imprisonment – huge barriers to return to society. With no money, no job, no place to
live, a return to crime becomes more likely. The greatest cost is destruction of lives, but in addition increased recidivism has large financial cost for the State of Ohio.
———————————————————-
Sponsor: Central Ohio Prisoner Advocates:
centralohio.prisoneradvocates@gmail.com
http://centralohioprisoneradvocates.wordpress.com/

Crime and Punishment

By Bomani Shakur

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”
– Dostoyevsky

If what Dostoyevsky says is true (and I believe it is), then America, which boast the largest prison population in the world, is perhaps the most uncivilized country there is. A bold statement, I know, especially coming from someone who has spent the past twenty-three years behind bars. But if what Dostoyevsky says is true, then what happens inside these places is crucial to understanding what kind of society we live in; and who better to speak to the reality of prison life than someone who is living the experience?

But no one wants to learn about the madness that predominates inside these places. People – average, law-abiding citizens- are losing their homes, jobs, and are struggling to survive, and the last thing anyone wants to hear is how hard prison is for a bunch of criminals. “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” is the prevailing sentiment and attitude. It never occurs that the rising incarceration rate is connected to the same economic and political policies that resulted in the home-foreclosure crisis and the rise in unemployment.

When people think of crime, what usually comes to mind is a poor person inflicting pain upon another poor person. Very seldom, if ever, do we stop and allow ourselves to consider the forces that create crime; trapped by the pull of our own necessities and fears, we live reactively, focusing on the effects instead of the causes of what we see and believe—and so we remain divided. And it’s precisely because of this division that we are our own worst enemies—divided, they rule us!

But who are “they”, and what do they have to do with the way in which we see and treat each other?

Howard Zinn, in his book A People’s History of the United States, tells us who they are and how they use us against one another:

“[T]he wealthiest one percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled…”

Hence, in the context of a capitalistic society, crime is the result of an unequal distribution of wealth. As such, a distinction between guilt and responsibility must be made. For instance, a person can be guilty of selling drugs but not at all responsible for creating the conditions wherein selling drugs is the only viable option of survival. Indeed, when one lives in a society where profit takes precedence over human potential, one’s very existence becomes a crime; and whether this takes on the form of selling drugs, stealing food, or joining a gang to fight over turf and limited resources, the goal is to stay alive.

I grew up in poverty, born to a marginally educated black woman who, because of a lack of opportunity, sought to raise me and my three siblings on welfare. In the whole 42 years I’ve been alive, I’ve only seen my father one time. By the age of ten, I was stealing food from the neighborhood grocery store in order to survive. I was thirteen when I took my first joyless joyride in a stolen vehicle, which ultimately led to my being sent away for the first time. By the time I turned seventeen, I had been living on my own for several years and selling drugs in one of the most impoverished, drug-infested neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio. A few months after my nineteenth birthday, in 1988, the year crack cocaine became an epidemic, I was involved in a shoot-out over money and I killed a rival drug dealer. For this, I was sent to prison to serve a life sentence for murder.

In a nutshell, this is the story of my life, and if any of it was unique, the telling of it would be inconsequential, an unnecessary recounting of my own personal troubles. However, what makes my story significant is that it’s the exact same tale told by millions of poor people who grow up in the slums of America, which points to the possibility of there being something larger than one’s personal troubles at work in the process to determine where one ends up in this society.

In his groundbreaking work on The Sociological Imagination, C. Wright Mills, using the example of unemployment, explains the difference between personal troubles and societal issues:

When, in a society of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of society, and not merely the personal situation of a scatter of individuals.

Applying the same logic, it should be considered an issue that black people – in a country wherein they only represent thirteen percent of the population—make up 50 percent of those who are sent to prison. It is likewise an issue that virtually 100 percent of those behind bars are poor and come from economically deprived sections of society.

In addressing this issue, it’s not enough to point the finger at a bunch of so-called criminals and, without first looking at the economic and political institutions of society, claim that they are the sole cause of their predicament.

Despite what those in power would have us believe, no one starts out with the goal of becoming a criminal and spending the bulk of their lives behind bars, and in and out of prison. As individuals, we make choices based on what we perceive our options to be; and those options, be they good or bad, are a product of the society we live in.

“When a society is industrialized,” explains C. Wright Mills, “a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or becomes a businessman. When classes rise and fall, a man is employed or unemployed; when the rate of investment goes up or down, a man takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance salesman becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.”

Similarly, when a society is deindustrialized, a steel worker becomes a corrections officer; a would-be college student, a drug dealer. When communities are decimated and hemmed in by poverty, families take new heart or fall apart. When a fictitious “War on drugs” is declared on the inner-city, penitentiaries are built in rural areas and filled with criminals; a wife lives alone; a child grows up without a father.

Contrary to what we have been told, this is how life (under the system of capitalism) unfolds – not in a picnic basket of unlimited opportunity, but in a crucible of socioeconomic forces that force us to assume positions of survival. Thus, a steel worker becomes a corrections officer, not in pursuit of a lifelong dream but in order to feed his family. A boy growing up in the ghetto becomes a criminal/gang banger, not to glorify crime but in order to survive. And what C. Wright Mills would have us understand is that the various permutations that we as individuals undergo are directly connected to the economic and political permutations of the system.

When corporations, through Congress, lobby for the enactment of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), removing obstacles for corporate capital and goods to move back and forth between Mexico and the United States, they do so with full knowledge and understanding of the economic consequences. Cheaper labor means greater profits; but it also means the closing of factories, a lower standard of living, a subpar educational system, and an increase in crime, as normal, everyday citizens scramble to survive. And what do those in power do in order to address the ramifications of their decisions? They build more prisons.

With the advent of deindustrialization in the 1980s, the prison population in the United States more than quadrupled, peaking at 2.5 million and surpassing both South Africa and Russia in per capita prison populations. During the same period (1980-2007) – while 30 million people languished below the poverty line – the United States produced 1,000 billionaires, and 227,000 millionaires with the combined worth of $30 trillion, more than the GDP’s of China, Brazil, Japan, Russia, and the EU put together. This is how the system of capitalism works: the rich get richer, and the poor get screwed – i.e., fucked in the anus sans grease!

In his book Understanding Power, Noam Chomsky talks about what he refers to as “superfluous populations,” which is a very intellectual way of calling people “trash.” From the perspective of the rich, whose main objective is to accumulate wealth, human beings are useless when they no longer contribute to profit-making, so as a result, explains Noam Chomsky, they want to get rid of them—and the criminal justice system is one of the best ways of doing it.

So prisons—it must be understood—aren’t about controlling crime and punishing those who commit it; they’re about controlling the poor. Looked at correctly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that what is going on now is very similar to what was going on in the 1940s when Hitler was exterminating the Jews. The only real difference is that those who are now being thrown away are considered “criminals” which, let’s face it, makes it a whole lot easier to accept. But just as Hitler created the justification for the mass extermination of the Jews, so, too, have those in power created the justification for the mass incarceration of the poor.
When Ronald Reagan declared the so-called War on Drugs in the 1980s, a finely honed strategy of imposing mandatory sentences for particular kinds of drugs (read: crack cocaine) was used to lock up those from predominantly Black and Hispanic communities. For instance, a young man in the ghetto gets caught with a kilo of cocaine or twenty thousand dollars in cash, and he is sent to prison for twenty years. In the meantime, nothing is said about the chemical corporations who make billions of dollars from sending the necessary chemicals to Latin America in order to manufacture the very drugs that are destroying inner-cities throughout the United States.
And what about the bankers who launder billions of dollars in drug money through American banks? According to the O.E.C.D. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), it’s estimated that a half-trillion dollars in drug money gets laundered internationally each year—more than half of it ($260 billion) through American banks. But are any of these people in prison? The answer is NO! And the reason why none of these people are in prison is because those in power determine what constitutes a crime and, more importantly, who gets categorized as criminals. A white man laundering billions of dollars in drug money is a businessman. A black man selling drugs in the ghetto is a criminal; and for his “crimes,” he is sent to prison.

And what happens to that Black—poor White or Hispanic—man when he enters America’s prisons? If he makes it through orientation without being raped, he’s lucky. It’s a brutal world in here, and unless one is totally devoid of common sense, one very quickly learns that there is safety in numbers. In other words, the picture repeats and expands, and it’s the ghetto streets all over again. But in here the police operate without restraint, and the old adage about “absolute power corrupting absolutely” is on full display, Not a day goes by without someone being sprayed in the face with mace, shot with a pellet gun, or thrown down a flight of stairs.

A few weeks ago, while watching the news, I witnessed a group of college students in California being sprayed in the face with mace because they had the audacity to protest against the rising cost of college tuition, student-loan debt, and the uncertainty surrounding future employment. In New York City (and around the country), I witnessed members of Occupy Wall Street being forcibly evicted from their camps, some (as in Oakland California) being shot with pellet guns, thrown atop automobiles, and kicked and shoved about like cattle. Watching these things, it occurred to me that this is what Dostoyevsky must have meant when he said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Indeed, what many Americans witnessed and experienced for the first time is something that those of us in prison witness and experience on a daily basis.

So why are normal, everyday citizens being treated as criminals, and for what crimes are they being punished? From the perspective of those who own society, it’s considered a lack of appreciation when slaves rise up to question their masters; and of course when people come together and begin to talk earnestly about the inequity of the system, they automatically represent a threat to the status quo and must go. Then we learn how thin the veneer of civilization really is, and how fragile our so-called freedoms are.

When eyes are burning with mace, when blood is dripping down the face, it all becomes frighteningly clear: capitalism is a sham; and whether in or out (of prison), as long as we live under a system that views everything and everybody as a commodity, we’re all doing time. And that, at the end of the day, is the real crime—not that some of us are locked up, but that none of us are free!

————-
Bomani Shakur (Keith LaMar) #317117
O.S.P.
P.O. Box 1436,
Youngstown, OH 44501
Dec. 2011

No New Prisons! Aug 17th rally

August 17th Rally
Join Decarcerate PA to demand:

NO NEW PRISONS!
While budgets for education and human resources are being slashed left and right, Pennsylvania is spending $685 million in new funds for prison expansion.

These cuts will continue to devastate already struggling communities throughout Philadelphia. Public money is better spent on education, job training and placement, treatment programs, and non-punitive programs that address the root causes of violence in our communities.

The multinational corporation Hill International has been chosen to manage the construction of a new Graterford prison in Montgomery County.

The expansion will double the current size of Graterford prison at a projected cost of $400 million.

Join us to demand that Hill build communities, not prisons.
Join us to demand that Corbett fund education, not incarceration.
August 17 2011
5pm at Hill International * 15th and Chestnut
For more information, contact DecarceratePA@gmail.com

Angola 3 News: The Real Cost of Prisons — An interview with Lois Ahrens

By Angola 3 News

Lois Ahrens is the Founder/Director of The Real Cost of Prisons Project (RCPP) and has been an activist/organizer for more than 40 years. First started in 2001, RCPP brings together justice activists, artists, justice policy researchers and people directly experiencing the impact of mass incarceration to work together to end the U.S. prison nation. RCPP created workshops, a website that includes sections of writing and ‘comix’ by prisoners, a daily news blog focused on mass incarceration and three comic books that were first created in 2005: Prisoners Town: Paying the Price, by artist Kevin Pyle and writer Craig Gilmore; Prisoners of the War on Drugs, by artist Sabrina Jones and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens; and Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children by artist Susan Willmarth and writers Ellen Miller-Mack and Lois Ahrens.

Hundreds of organizations around the country use the comix in workshops, outreach and organizing. 135,000 have been printed, while over 115,000 have been sent, free of charge, to organizations and thousands of people held in prisons and jails. Due to lack of funding, Prison Town is now out of print and Prisoners of A Hard Life will soon be as well. Prisoners of the War on Drugs is still available. Print-ready versions of all three are available to view and download here.

In 2008, the three comix were published in an anthology, edited by Ahrens, entitled The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, (PM Press, 2008). Through the RCPP, Ahrens has been fortunate to have built an extensive correspondence with prisoners, which has grown into working relationships and friendships. In Massachusetts where she lives, Ahrens is involved in working to stop the state from charging $5/day jail fees to convicted prisoners and those held “pretrial.” She is also working to stop new “3 Strikes” legislation from being passed.

Angola 3 News: Who is your target audience and what is the message that you are communicating with the comix?

Lois Ahrens: The comic books were created to communicate complex ideas in language that could be easily understood despite the fact that they are filled with information, research, analysis and a glossary. We wanted them to look and feel like comic books since people are not intimidated by comic books.

Initially, my goal was to create useful materials for organizers working to challenge and change punitive and destructive drug policies, activists opposing the building of new prisons and jails, as well as educators, and health workers. After publishing the comic books, we realized that prisoners were extremely interested. Comic books have been sent to prisoners every day since April 2005, with many requesting that comics be sent to family members and other prisoners.

The comic books place an individual’s experience in a political context by describing how the prison system is built on racism, sexism, and economic inequality. They include alternatives to the current reality so that readers can strategize and act to make change no matter where they are. The goal of the comic books is to politicize.

A3N: Have you ever had problems from prison authorities when sending comic books to prisoners?

LA: Yes. I think of this as the “tyranny of the mail room.” Often an individual working in a mail room sends the comic books back. Generally, I have found county jails are the worst in turning back comic books. For prisoners who are in “administrative segregation” there are often rules against receiving materials. Because the Real Cost of Prisons is the publisher of the comic books, usually, after a phone call, or an appeal letter, comic books do get in. Since comic books have been sent to prisoners in every state, I always cite many examples of other prisons within that system where they have been accepted. I appeal every refusal.

Interestingly, women’s prisons are more apt to return comic books; however, once I write and say that a prison for men in that state has accepted them, they do get in.

A3N: In your 2008 book The Real Cost of Prisons Comix you wrote that “every year from 1947 through the beginning of the 1970s, approximately 200,000 people were incarcerated in the US. Today, there are more than 2.3 million men and women incarcerated [now 2.4 million], with more than 5 million more on parole and probation.” Subsequently, the US has become the world’s #1 jailer. According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London, only China, with 1,620,000 prisoners, and the Russian Federation, with 819,200 prisoners, have a total prison population that is remotely close to the US.

Furthermore, with 751 out of 100,000 people, and one out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, the US also has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The Russian Federation is second with 577 per 100,000 and China is 116th with 120 per 100,000. How do you explain this astonishing level of mass imprisonment in the US during the last 40 years? What are the forces behind this and why have they employed this particular strategy?

LA: In the workshops we first developed, in our trainings, and in the comic books, we wanted to create a bigger picture about how we came to this place. To do this, I think we need to understand how Ronald Reagan and the neo-liberal agenda came to power in 1980 by using covert and overt racist messages fabricating the myth of the welfare queen, capitalizing on fears of affirmative action, tearing away at the gains made in civil rights movement—specifically voting rights—while fostering alarm about rampant crime.

The racist sub-text of the neo-liberal political agenda succeeded in creating acceptance of mass incarceration while simultaneously creating the laws and industries to police, prosecute, cage and control millions of people—almost all poor people and people of color.

Neo-liberal policies have been in place for more than thirty years. As a result many people are not aware that our current political and economic situation is not the result of a natural course of events, but rather, of a systemically created ideology that has pervaded every aspect of our daily lives. Deregulation and globalization have caused: the loss of U.S. manufacturing by outsourcing; corporate agriculture and the disappearance of the family farm; reduction of protections for workers; huge decreases in number of unionized workers; privatization of hospitals, water, education, prisons, and the military; drastic cuts in public spending for welfare, public schools, public transportation, housing, and job training. These policies have created huge disparities in wealth.

Democrats and Republicans capitalized on this “perfect storm”. They ran and won on “tough on crime” platforms and passed legislation that has resulted in one in 31 people now under the thumb of the criminal justice system.

A3N: The corporate media’s support for the prison system has ranged from stoking public fears by over-reporting crime, to portraying prisoners as pampered and over-privileged. The comic books, therefore, provide an important counter-narrative. A major focus of the comic books has been the so-called “war on drugs.” Why do you feel that this issue is so important?

LA: Of the more than 2.4 million people imprisoned, more than one million are African Americans. Almost 5 million men and women are on probation and parole, a disproportionate number due to the “war on drugs.” (According to a Pew Report in March 2009, “One in 11 African-Americans are under correctional control, one in 27 Latinos, and one in 45 white people are in prison, jail, or under correctional supervision.”)

The war on drugs includes aggressive policing, centralized data bases for people stopped and frisked for no cause, surveillance cameras in streets and buildings, police or security in schools, and SWAT teams for communities as small as 25,000, and long and punitive mandatory sentences.

>From its inception, African-Americans and their communities were the primary target of the war on drugs. In terms of drug use: African Americans constitute 13% of the nation’s monthly drug users, 37% of drug possession arrests, 56% of drug possession convictions, and 74% of those sentenced to prison for drug possession.

There are mandatory sentences for drug convictions and disproportionate sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine. After years of organizing against this, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine has changed from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, with no retroactivity for those already convicted under the old law. 80% of people sentenced to crack cocaine charges are African American.

A3N: What have been the consequences of this mass incarceration, fueled by the war on drugs?

LA: The consequences for individuals, families and communities are huge, cumulative, and long-lasting. According to Dina Rose and Todd Clear, in African American communities where 15 to 20% of adults are incarcerated community stability is undermined, resulting in more crime instead of less crime, especially when aggressive policing is added. In addition to less safety, what are the effects of removing the earning and spending power of so many who are incarcerated? What are the long term costs of the disruption of the family as both an economic and emotional unit?

There are other costs and consequences of the punitive legislation especially directed at people with felony drug convictions—read African Americans—that prevent them from creating a sustainable life once they leave prison. These include, for some, a ban on higher education and vocational training, as well as a ban on receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) if convicted of possessing or selling drugs, although some states have opted out. Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also prevented people with felony drug convictions and their families from federally subsidized housing, serving to increase homelessness and make family reunification much more difficult—for women especially. For women who are incarcerated, there is always the possibility of losing custody of their children.

A3N: How has the corporate media presented the war on drugs? Strategically speaking, how do you think activists can best confront this and work to publicly discredit the war on drugs?

LA: The media has portrayed the war on drugs as a fantasy of good vs. evil. There is little or no acknowledgement of the truth about who is targeted and why, of the system’s cruelty and destructiveness, nor of its lasting consequences to people’s lives, the evisceration of communities, and the bankrupting of governments. Only now, with huge state budget deficits, have some states begun to look at what 40 years of these policies have created; not because they think they are unconscionable, but because they are no longer financial sustainable. If they could find a way to continue to finance the bloated prisons and jails, I don’t think they would be looking for alternatives.

Despite this, I do think there is a small opening now to look at the catastrophic “war on drugs.” Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, details how in many ways, the war on drugs has created a more potent, strangulating and oppressive system than the old Jim Crow.

I agree with her and think this framework can re-energize people who took part in the Civil Rights and Black Empowerment movements of the 1960’s and millions who did not. I believe that what is important about her book is that she articulates the convergence of economic, legal, legislative, governmental policies and political forces which led to the mass incarceration of African Americans.

To overturn these policies and the beliefs on which they were built, we must understand the complexities of why and how they have been put in place. Then we can build the new and strong movement we need now.

A3N: Alongside the printed comic books, how do you use the RCPP?

LA: Early on, we developed a website and a little after that a news blog. Together, every day they receive a minimum of 2000 unique visitors. The website is filled with new research, links to hundreds of organizations, and the comic books. A few years ago I began adding political writing and comix by prisoners. This is now a big part of the website. People inside and outside the country are now using the comix and essays in other publications, which is how I had hoped it would work.

As the website has developed, so has a list-serve that keeps me connected to hundreds of organizers, as well as the media and family members of prisoners.

A3N: Of the many news stories featured on the website in the last couple years, could you tell us about a few important stories that you think were the most under-reported and/or misreported by the corporate media?

LA: There are thousands of stories because the true story about prisons is almost completely missing from not only the corporate media, but the left media as well.

First, there is almost no coverage at all about the growth of solitary confinement in the U.S. The best website for this is Solitary Watch and the RCPP website and blog publishes writing and comix from prisoners in solitary.

Second, there are a number of stories involving prisoners organizing, notably the Georgia Prisoners strike and the hunger strike in Lucasville, Ohio. There are a number of stories posted on the RCPP blog. The Human Rights Coalition (PA) is working to bridge the divide between outside and inside organizing (see The Movement).

Third includes “How prisons and jails are becoming debtors prisons,” “Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry” by the Brennan Center, and “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons” by the ACLU .

Finally, the excellent work by The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, whose groundbreaking work brings together issues of women, reproductive rights, criminal justice, and racism.

A3N: Besides the website, how else has the RCPP evolved since the first comic book was published?

LA: The RCPP has evolved greatly since its beginning in 2000. When I started, I barely knew anyone in prison. That began to change once we started conducting our workshops and created a Train the Trainers program which involved many people who had been incarcerated.

Then, the comic books started flying out the door and the daily stacks of letters began arriving. Reading thousands of letters and beginning long-lasting correspondence-relationships with many prisoners, my focus shifted to their efforts to connect and remain a part of the world outside of prison. I saw how the longer someone’s sentence is, the more difficult it becomes to maintain connections—especially after a loved one has passed away.

Because of my daily connections with prisoners, I have become much more involved in conditions of confinement, sentences of life without the possibility of parole, the lengthening of sentences, the parole process or lack of it, and the non-use of compassionate release—even in states where it is policy.

I am constantly aware of the daily cruelties and indignities that men and women endure at the hands of others. I witness how so many people (against circumstances designed to dehumanize and crush their body and mind) manage to overcome and create lives of meaning to themselves and others.

A3N: What do you focus most of your energy on these days?

LA: In addition to sending out comic books, answering mail, and updating the website, I spend some part of everyday attempting to track down research, contacts, and other information for a large number of prisoners who are writers, researchers and activists/organizers.

In Massachusetts, where I am located, I have led an effort to stop the jails from charging fees to prisoners who are convicted and “pre-sentenced.” We are now waiting for a report that will hopefully recommend against these outrageous fees. I am engaged in various efforts to stop “three strikes” legislation from being law in MA. I regularly write and speak to classes and organizations about what is going on all around them, if they will allow themselves to look.

A3N: In your opinion, what are the best forms of practical action that those of us living outside the prison walls can do to help to improve present conditions for those incarcerated, and to challenge the broader criminal “justice” system, with abolition as the long-term goal?

LA: As abolitionists we must find smaller and larger steps along the way to stay engaged and connected to activists inside and out. There’s a lot of work to do:

–Connect to prisoners via books through bars projects and pen pal programs.

–Create true community-based alternatives programs that are not affiliated with sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement, for people with non-violent convictions to stay at home, connected to family and communities, and not go to jail.

–Create bail reform programs so that jails are not debtors prisons- examples include unsecured appearance bonds, setting lower amounts of bail and lowering bail based on the circumstances of someone’s life. For example, do they have children they are taking care of? Do they have a job that will be jeopardized? Many people plead guilty and then end up jail because they know they can’t make bail.

–Create affirmative action campaigns for people with criminal records, based on models of other affirmative action categories, to begin a conversation with employers about the need for second chances. Expand the campaign to housing fairness.

–Talk about the growth of solitary confinement in the U.S. People will be disbelieving but Solitary Watch is a great resource for information and activism.

–Work to expand parole, rather than restricting it! Attend parole hearings and write letters in behalf of people seeking parole

–Communicate with your governor to reinstate commutation. Most governors no longer commute sentences, although this used to be standard practice. Actively support people seeing commutation through letter writing campaigns and public events.

–Work to end the unnecessary and costly systems designed to send parolees back to prison based on minor violations. Strategically speaking, right now with state budget deficits, is a good time to focus attention on this.

–Challenge the drug laws that criminalize addiction and work with “harm reductionists” to provide needle exchange, safe injection sites, community education.

–Decriminalize sex work by joining forces with organizations of sex workers and make public the harassment from the police suffered by sex workers.

–Work with organizations such as Families Against Mandatory Minimums nationally and in your state to end mandatory minimum drug sentences.

–Begin a conversation with state legislators on the extreme length of sentences, not only for people convicted of non-violent offenses, but for those convicted of violent offenses as well. The new report by the Justice Policy Institute, “Finding Direction: Expanding Criminal Justice Options by Considering Policies of Other Nations,” provides models of what other countries are doing.

–Model the successful organizing strategies and legislation in NY State to end the shackling of women in labor and childbirth.

–Join with family groups and others organizing to end “life without the possibility of parole.” Introduce parole review for everyone beginning at 15 years.

–Make compassionate release real for states where it is already a law. Work with faith-based groups and involve faith-based communities in organizing for compassionate release.

–Work with Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) and other organizations to end three strikes and habitual offender sentences.

–Join forces with community-based mental health and addiction treatment centers to advocate for money needed for treatment in communities, rather than jails and prisons filled with people suffering from untreated mental illness and no drug treatment. Drug addiction is a mental illness.

–Question the propaganda about who is criminal and the unchanging nature of people who have committed crimes and how they are portrayed in the media.

–Finally, each of us must fight racism wherever we find it. Fighting racism is a blow to mass incarceration.

A3N: How can our readers support your work?

LA: Your readers can support the work of the RCPP by becoming actively engaged in any areas I suggest in the previous answer. People need to know that they can spend a few hours a week and it can have political meaning.

They can financially support effective grassroots organizations that receive no funding or little funding, including of course, the Real Cost of Prisons Project. Our total yearly budget is approximately $4,000 which provides postage, envelopes and maintaining the website. You can make a donation here.

Mostly, I believe people need to wake-up and get engaged wherever they live in whatever they find most compelling. The fact that there is so much to do is not a reason to do nothing.

–Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is http://www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture.

http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2011/05/real-cost-of-prisons-interview-with.html

Real Cost of Prisons website
Real Cost of Prisons weblog

Get-tough stance not helping Ohio prison population

From: Toledo Blade, Feb 10th 2011

Ohio’s prisons house nearly 51,000 inmates – one-third more than they were built to handle. If current trends in state corrections policy continue, that population will grow by another 3,000 prisoners within four years.

But these trends will not continue indefinitely. Either the state will face costly penalties for its overcrowded prisons, or it will have to spend an estimated $500 million it doesn’t have to build and run new ones.

So it is time for Gov. John Kasich’s administration and the General Assembly to move from a wasteful and ineffective get-tough stance on corrections policy to a get-smart approach. …

Read the rest here.

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex an Interview with Victoria Law

Thursday, November 11, 2010
Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
–An interview with Victoria Law
By Angola 3 News

Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the 2009 book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press). Law’s essay “Sick of the Abuse: Feminist Responses to Sexual Assault, Battering, and Self Defense,” is featured in the new book, entitled The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Dan Berger.

In this interview, Law discusses her new article, which provides a history of radical feminist resistance to the criminalization of women who have defended themselves from gender violence. Furthermore, Law presents a prison abolitionist critique of how the mainstream women’s movement has embraced the US criminal justice system as a solution for combating violence against women.

Previously interviewed by Angola 3 News about the torture of women in US prisons, Law is now on the road with the Community and Resistance Tour.

Angola 3 News: In your essay “Sick of the Abuse,” you write that “a woman’s right to defend herself (and her children) from assault became a feminist rallying point throughout the 1970s.” You focus on the four separate stories of Yvonne Wanrow, Inez Garcia, Joan Little, and Dessie Woods. All four women were arrested for self-defense and their cases received national attention with the support of the radical women’s movement. Can you briefly explain their cases and why they were so important for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s?

Victoria Law: Yvonne Wanrow was an American Indian mother of two living in Washington State in the 1970s. In 1972, her 11-year-old son was grabbed from his bike by William Wesler, a known child molester. He escaped and fled to the house of a family friend named Shirley Hooper, whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped by Wesler earlier that year. When Hooper called the police, they refused to arrest Wesler.

Understandably shaken, Hooper called Yvonne Wanrow and asked her to spend the night. Wanrow, who was 5 foot, 4 inches, and had recently broken her leg, brought her gun. At five in the morning, Wesler came to their house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow went to the front door to yell for help. She turned around to find Wesler, who, at 6 foot 2, was towering over her. She shot and killed him.

At her first trial, the judge instructed the jury only to consider what had happened at or immediately before the killing. This omitted (1) Wesler’s record as a sex offender; (2) Wesler’s assault on Hooper’s 7 year old; (3) His attempted assault on Yvonne’s son

Wanrow was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years.

However, various groups and people involved in the women’s movement and the American Indian movement had taken up her cause. They recognized that a woman had the right to defend herself and her family from assault. They held events that raised awareness, educated people, and tied her case into issues of violence against women and the systemic violence against Native people in the US. They also raised funds for her legal defense, which enabled her to have a better defense than she might have been afforded otherwise.

As a result, in 1977, the Washington State Supreme Court granted her a new trial, partially on the basis that the jury should have considered ALL relevant facts when considering self-defense. At her new trial in 1979, Wanrow pled guilty to reduced charges & received a suspended sentence, 5 years’ probation and 1 year of community service. The court decision also established that that women’s lack of access to self-defense training and to the “skills necessary to effectively repel a male assailant without resorting to the use of deadly weapons” made their circumstances different from those of men.

Two years later, in 1974, Inez Garcia shot and killed the man who had blocked her escape from rape. She was arrested and charged with 1st degree (or premeditated) murder. Like Wanrow, her cause was taken up by the women’s movement, which organized teach-ins and fundraisers and galvanized popular support with the recognition that women had the right to defend themselves against rape.

During her first trial, the judge did not allow testimony about the rape as part of the evidence. After her conviction, the women’s movement continued to rally on her behalf and hired feminist attorney Susan Jordan to take over her defense.

Two years later, an appeals court reversed her conviction because the trial judge had instructed the jury not to consider the rape

During the re-trial, Susan Jordan challenged potential jurors about their preconceptions of rape, making the assault an integral part of the case from the beginning. Garcia was acquitted. The entire jury agreed that the rape and threat of further harm were adequate provocation for Garcia’s action.

That same year, Joan Little, a black woman and the only female prisoner in North Carolina’s Beaufort County Jail, killed Clarence Alligood, a sixty-two-year-old white male guard, after he had entered her cell, threatened her with an ice pick and forced her to perform oral sex. Little was charged with first-degree murder which, in North Carolina, carried a mandatory death sentence.

Again, there was a HUGE outpouring of support from various movements, including people and groups in the women’s liberation and Black Liberation movements as well as more mainstream groups. During her trial, Little’s defense exposed the chronic sexual abuse and harassment endured by women in the jail and prison system. Countering the prosecution’s argument that Little had enticed Alligood into her cell with promises of sex, the defense team called on women who had previously been held at the jail. They testified that Alligood had a history of sexually abusing women in his custody.

Little herself testified about Alligood’s assault.

After seventy-eight minutes of deliberation, a jury acquitted Little, establishing a precedent for killing as a justified self-defense against rape.

Dessie Woods was a Black woman in Georgia who shot and killed a man who tried to rape her and her friend while they were hitchhiking. She was sentenced to 22 years. Black nationalist women took up the case of Dessie Woods, framing it as a case of colonial violence. Radical (White) feminists also took up her cause and used it as a way to challenge white feminists to examine not only sexism and patriarchy but also racism and colonialism.

However, unlike the cases of Little, Wanrow and Garcia, the larger White feminist movement(s) did not rally to her cause.

Even though she did not have the massive outpouring of support as the other three women, the prolonged support that she did have eventually won Woods her freedom in July 1981. A lawyer from the People’s Law Center challenged the use of circumstantial evidence and the use of a special prosecutor (hired by the dead man’s family). The U.S. Court of Appeals determined that there had been insufficient evidence to convict and imprison her.

The first three cases were groundbreaking in that they established legal precedents stating that women had a right to defend themselves (and their children) from sexual assault. In the case of Inez Garcia, her lawyer Susan Jordan extended the legal interpretation of “imminent danger” beyond the immediate time period, thus laying the groundwork for battered women’s defense—that a woman who kills her abuser is acting in self-defense even if she is not under attack at that time.

A3N: What impact did activism have in these four cases?

VL: The activism and organizing around those four cases enabled the women to have better legal defenses than they would have otherwise been afforded. For example, $250,000 was raised for Joan Little’s defense. Almost $39,000 was spent on social scientists who devised an “attitude profile survey:” designed to detect patterns of (racial) prejudice. The defense used their findings to win a change of venue from conservative/racist Beaufort County to Raleigh, which was key in her acquittal. Without the money garnered by supporters, Joan Little, a poor Black woman, would never have been able to have that kind of legal support. Instead, she would have been convicted and executed.

A3N: How are things different today, in 2010?

VL: We don’t see the same outpouring of support for women arrested for self-defense today. We can look at the case of the New Jersey Four, who are four Black lesbians arrested and incarcerated for defending themselves against a homophobic attack on the street. Their case has garnered support from groups working around incarcerated women’s issues and queer issues, but it hasn’t been taken up as widely as, say, the case of Joan Little or even Dessie Woods. Women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against partner violence receive even less public attention and support.

A3N: Shifting our focus to the issue of domestic violence, you write that the early women’s shelters formed by the radical women’s movement in the 1970s “utilized the self-help methods, egalitarian philosophies, and collective structures that had developed within the women’s liberation movement, striving to be democratic alternatives in which women had the space to safely communicate, share experiences, examine the root causes of the violence against them, and begin to articulate a response. However, these efforts received nowhere near the amount of attention, publicity, and support that the women’s movement paid to Wanrow, Garcia, Little, and Woods.”

Why do you think these projects, as well as court cases where women defended themselves from intimates, did not receive the attention they deserved?

VL: Then (and now), people saw battering as a “personal” issue and were reluctant to get involved. Some felt that marriage (or partnership) somehow condoned abuse. Others felt that this was not an issue that a movement could be built on. Perhaps it was also recognized that the issue could divide a movement. After all, when reading histories of revolutionary groups during the 1960s and 1970s, we see that abuse and misogyny often went unaddressed.

A3N: What did these radical activists identify as the “root causes” of violence against women were? What is your personal opinion regarding these root causes?

VL: Radical activists identified society’s misogyny and patriarchy as root causes of violence against women. They pointed out that women are most often the ones who are attacked and abused because they are often the ones with less power (both physically and in terms of resources).

I strongly agree with this analysis and feel that only when we radically transform societal attitudes around gender and power will we be able to have a world without gendered violence.

A3N: The number of battered women’s shelters grew (by 1982, there were an estimated 300-700 shelters nationally), but you write that “the increased interest in the issue by those who did not identify with the women’s liberation movement resulted in a watering down of the radical feminist analyses that led to the first refuges for battered women. These emerging institutions emphasized providing services without analyzing the political context in which abuse occurred. There was a shift from calling for broad social transformation to focusing on individual problems and demanding greater state intervention.”

How do you think this watering down and shift towards greater state intervention has since played out in later decades, leading up to today?

VL: Today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.

For example, 29 states have some form of mandatory arrest policy in a DV call. There is also the possibility of dual arrests (in which both parties are arrested). In addition, many states now have “no-drop prosecution” in which the District Attorney subpoenas the battered spouse to testify with threats of prosecution if she recants or refuses.

The shift towards greater state intervention has also resulted in resources such as battered women’s shelters mirroring some of these same abusive practices (such as isolating the survivor). It also ignores ways in which the state inflicts violence upon women. I would greatly recommend the INCITE! anthology, entitled The Color of Violence, which explores various aspects of violence against women.

A3N: If you were dialoguing with those sectors of today’s anti-violence movement that embrace the criminalization approach, what are the key points you would make in arguing that prisons are not the answer? What do you think is the best way to reduce and prevent violence against women both inside and outside prisons?

VL: The threat of imprisonment does not deter abuse; it simply drives it further underground. Remember that there are many forms of abuse and violence and not all are illegal. It also sets up a false dichotomy in which the survivor has to choose between personal safety and criminalizing/imprisoning a loved one.

Arrest/imprisonment does not reduce, let alone prevent, violence. Building structures and networks to address the lack of options and resources available to women is more effective. Challenging patriarchy and male supremacy is a much more effective solution (although not one that funders and the state want to see).

A3N: Can you please tell us about recent cases of women who are facing charges or have been wrongly convicted for defending themselves?

VL: There’s the case of the New Jersey Four, whom I mentioned above.
http://www.amyewinter.net/nj4/

There’s also Sara Kruzan,(http://www.freesarakruzan.org/) a 31-year-old woman incarcerated at the California Institution for Women. When Sara was 11, she met a 31-year-old man named G.G. who molested her and began grooming her to become a prostitute. By the age 13, she began working as a child prostitute for G.G. and was repeatedly molested by him. At age 16, Sara was convicted of killing him. She was sentenced to prison for the rest of her life despite her background and a finding by the California Youth Authority that she was amendable to treatment offered in the juvenile system.

There’s been a letter-writing campaign to the governor urging clemency. Sara is also up for resentencing and needs letters of support. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) are working on publicizing and garnering support for her case. However, we’re not seeing a fraction of the support from women’s or other non-prison groups that the cases of Wanrow, Garcia and Little received in the 1970s even though you would think that her story would provoke widespread outrage and calls for release.

I recently received an e-mail from CCWP about Mary Shields, a domestic violence survivor incarcerated for nineteen years on a seven-to-life sentence for attempted murder. This past September, Mary was found suitable for release by the Board of Parole Hearings. In 2006, the Parole Board had also found Mary “suitable for release” but rescinded its decision after Governor Schwarzenegger recommended against release. This time around, the governor has until January (when his term will be up) to either let the Board’s decision stand or recommend that it be reversed and so CCWP is calling for people to send letters supporting Mary’s release.

A3N: Anything else to add?

VL: I want to remind readers that if we’re not coming up with solutions to gender violence, then the fall-back becomes relying on prisons and policing to keep women (and other vulnerable people) safe. It is also imperative to support women incarcerated for killing their abusers as well as to support battered women on the outside and to remember that abuse isolates people.

We should be working to end violence against women without strengthening government control over women’s lives or promoting incarceration as a solution to social problems.

–Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is http://www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2010/11/resisting-male-violence-and-prison.html

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.

Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law

NPR
by Laura Sullivan for NPR
October 28, 2010

Picture: Glenn Nichols, city manager of Benson, Ariz., last year two men came to the city “talking about building a facility to hold women and children that were illegals.”

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

“The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger,” Nichols said. “He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman.”

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

“They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

“They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

Behind-The-Scenes Effort To Draft, Pass The Law

The law is being challenged in the courts. But if it’s upheld, it requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally.

When it was passed in April, it ignited a fire storm. Protesters chanted about racial profiling. Businesses threatened to boycott the state.

Supporters were equally passionate, calling it a bold positive step to curb illegal immigration.

But while the debate raged, few people were aware of how the law came about.

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

(photo: Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce)
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, pictured here at Tea Party rally on Oct. 22, was instrumental in drafting the state’s immigration law. He also sits on a American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a group that helped shape the law.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it’s not about prisons. It’s about what’s best for the country.

“Enough is enough,” Pearce said in his office, sitting under a banner reading “Let Freedom Reign.” “People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation.”

But instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.

It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

It was there that Pearce’s idea took shape.

“I did a presentation,” Pearce said. “I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, ‘Yeah.'”

Drafting The Bill

The 50 or so people in the room included officials of the Corrections Corporation of America, according to two sources who were there.

Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America have been coming to these meetings for years. Both have seats on one of several of ALEC’s boards.

Key Players That Helped Draft Arizona’s Immigration Law

Source: NPR News Investigations

Credit: Stephanie D’Otreppe/NPR

And this bill was an important one for the company. According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market. Last year, they wrote that they expect to bring in “a significant portion of our revenues” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that detains illegal immigrants.

In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it.

“There were no ‘no’ votes,” Pearce said. “I never had one person speak up in objection to this model legislation.”

Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law.

They even named it. They called it the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.”

“ALEC is the conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group,” said Michael Hough, who was staff director of the meeting.

Hough works for ALEC, but he’s also running for state delegate in Maryland, and if elected says he plans to support a similar bill to Arizona’s law.

Asked if the private companies usually get to write model bills for the legislators, Hough said, “Yeah, that’s the way it’s set up. It’s a public-private partnership. We believe both sides, businesses and lawmakers should be at the same table, together.”

Nothing about this is illegal. Pearce’s immigration plan became a prospective bill and Pearce took it home to Arizona.

Campaign Donations

Pearce said he is not concerned that it could appear private prison companies have an opportunity to lobby for legislation at the ALEC meetings.

“I don’t go there to meet with them,” he said. “I go there to meet with other legislators.”

Pearce may go there to meet with other legislators, but 200 private companies pay tens of thousands of dollars to meet with legislators like him.

As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol. According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.

That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol.

The prison company declined requests for an interview. In a statement, a spokesman said the Corrections Corporation of America, “unequivocally has not at any time lobbied — nor have we had any outside consultants lobby – on immigration law.”

Read more here

Listen to the Story [7 min 47 sec]

Produced by NPR’s Anne Hawke.

Copyright 2010 NPR

Political Prisoner Eddie Conway Speaks to Ujaama about Prisons and Race: The Impact On Our Community

The Cornell Daily Sun
October 25, 2010
By Lawrence Lan

Political prisoner and former Black Panther Marshall “Eddie” Conway spoke via telephone to an attentive crowd of students, staff, and faculty to spark Sunday evening’s Ujamaa Unity Hour discussion on prisons and their impact on the African-American community.

Conway, who is currently serving the 40th year of his life sentence at Jessup Correctional Insitution in Maryland, touched on the prison-industrial complex as it manifests in Maryland, where the majority of prisons are located in rural areas characterized by predominantly white populations. He also discussed his work in creating a mentoring program that emphasizes the need for positive role models in the Maryland prison system’s youth population.

Prof. Margaret Washington, history, contributed scholarly analysis to Conway’s lived experience, citing large increases in the incarceration rates of African American males in the United States since 1980. She also stressed the fact that the notion of economic labor cannot be divorced from that of incarceration.

“With the current [economic] situation being what it is, African Americans are no longer needed as laborers. When a huge population that has always served as labor no longer serves that function, what do you do with the surplus labor?” Washington said. “From an economic perspective, prison is a form of slavery, or you can say it’s a form of concentration camp.”

The historical context provided the framework for Prof. Mary Katzenstein, government, to contest the notion that prisons offer local benefits to their surrounding communities in the form of employment opportunities. She cited the example of Five Points Correctional Facility, saying that high-paying prison jobs discourage the predominantly white local population from pursuing higher education.

Speaking to the perception that prison successfully rehabilitates inmates, Katzenstein pointed out that people who spend long periods of time in prison exhibit the lowest rates of recidivism, while those who spend brief periods of time in prison most commonly become repeat offenders.

Jim Schechter, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program, added to the discussion, noting the strides that the program has made at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correction Facility since its inception, especiallly for the prisoners. The program provides a pathway to an Associate of Arts degree for men incarcerated at the Auburn and Cayuga Correctional Facilities.

“[The Cornell Prison Education Program] contributes to people’s self-esteem in what we all recognize is an otherwise dehumanizing environment,” he said, adding that the classroom functions as a “sanctuary” from the rest of the prison experience.Cornell faculty who participate in the program report a higher level of engagement from the inmates than from Cornell students, according to Schechter.

“There’s no sense of entitlement, no Blackberries, no laptops,” Schechter said. “The students at Auburn come to class having done the readings two, maybe three, times.”

Janet Nwaukoni ’12, president of Project Lansing, and Adam Baratz ’11, president of Art Beyond Cornell, explained the work their organizations do on campus to immediately address the needs of prisons near Ithaca.

Members of Project Lansing interact weekly with young females at Lansing Residential Center to build mentorships and friendships that foster intellectual and personal growth. Members of Art Beyond Cornell bring weekly art lessons to Lansing Residential Center and MacCormick Secure Center to offer a means of expression and growth for the institutionalized youth.

“We want these young women [at Lansing Residential Center] to know that there are African American females who come from similar backgrounds and that it’s possible to succeed,” Nwaukoni said.

“These facilities are extraordinarily understaffed, and Cornell has such a vast array of resources to help fill that void,” Baratz said. “The work we do is really important because the youth there really look forward to it each week.”

Ken Glover, residence hall director of Schuyler House and former residence hall director of Ujamaa, identified flaws with the prison system.

“If you wanted to change the rates of recidivism, you’d require [inmates] to get a GED,” Glover said, referring to a statistic mentioned by Schechter that approximately 250 out of 1,800 inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility have GEDs or high school diplomas. “How can you support your kids [when you get out of prison] if you can’t get a GED and you can’t get a job?”

He also brought the discussion back to Conway and the issue of political prisoners.

“The question of political prisoners goes beyond the context of the United States,” Glover said, citing notable political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Patrice Lumumba. “Whenever there’s been a movement for social change, people who speak out [for change] are imprisoned.”

“The discussion revealed how prevalent the incarceration system is just in upstate New York,” Khamila Alebiosu ’13 said. “While we like to stay within the Cornell bubble, there’s so much we can do to reach out and change this system that has dehumanized and degraded people that have come largely from the African American community.”

Theoria Cason, the residence hall director of Ujamaa, found the discussion informative and saw hope in the various Cornell programs that try to address needs of institutionalized people in local facilities.

“This discussion helped me recognize the dissonance that exists between Ithaca and the facilities that lie just 20 minutes down the road,” she said. “I really appreciate the work that is being done in the immediate areas around Ithaca.”

The discussion, entitled “Prisons and Race: The Impact On Our Community,” was organized by Black Students United.

Spartacus Project reflects on Keep the Struggle Up by Coyote

Reflecting on Keep the Struggle Up

NPW:

I think you’ve got the point. That was me years ago. The prison disgust never goes away. However, it only reflects the face of our government. They are one in the same. They represent the rich, and only make laws to protect themselves. Unfortunately, too many of us buy into their philosophy believing it works for us, too. It does not and we stay fractured and without leadership for true freedom for the good life.

I am no bleeding heart liberal. Prisons were built to keep the dangerous people out of circulation until such time as they learned to played by the rules of fairness. Upon reaching American Prisons, almost all reasonable thoughts are eliminated by gross and harsh treatment by arrogant & mindless prison administrators–thinking of only how to increase their pay envelope and retirement. All the while using the selfish and stupid peons/guards in green and blue uniforms, to do there dirty work–all in the name of justice. You know how the story goes from there. More courts to feed the filthy system, more police to feed the courts, more prisons to feed the corrupt government agencies, and the complete farce that any public defender is capable of avoiding the wishes of his government paid boss. Why do we buy into this bullshit? We all know better–don’t we?

One of these days, and I’m hoping it doesn’t happen, because I don’t want to be in one of the meetings that this may take place, a ex-prisoner may walk into a room of government abusers and leave a package and walk out. I am totally surprised it hasn’t as of yet. I am told almost everyday of the instilled hatred beaten into the men & women of American Prisons, by foolish job security seeking administrators and guards, by prisoners currently serving their sentences in America.

Maybe I could understand it better if the “spin” wasn’t laid on so heavy by our press and government about how “fair & good” we treat our citizens–as a nation of free thinkers and doers. I can’t help but recognize the billions & billions of American dollars being sent to other countries to help enslave their citizens, and only the dictators becoming richer and richer by our hard earned tax money, yet we have veterans and past tax-payer–homeless, and without medical care. In America we should take care of our own FIRST.

But as Americans, we have the responsibility of treating our neighbors with dignity and respect. That doesn’t happen too often in America and the abuse must stop. Murdering our young over wearing a color, or walking down a certain street, or just thinking a different way–is not the way of a true American. I don’t like it, nor do I buy into it. I think you have the right idea. Education is our way out of prison and a better life once released. I encourage you to continue your studies and the educational help you are trying to bring to your fellow prisoners.

What can I do to help better your life and others´?

Good luck.

Donald Hinton, Sr.
Spartacus Project