Act now against expanding the New Jersey immigration detention in the Essex County Correctional Facility

“Oppose Expansion of Immigration Detention at a Jail Accused of Inhumane Conditions”

“We are so furious…”

“We are so furious that the Essex County Freeholders have voted to expand the miserable rotten prison there…” – a member of the Peace & Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ridgewood talking about the vote to approve a new contract with ICE. (Take a listen)

As you know, on September 7th, the Essex County Freeholders voted to approve a contract with ICE to expand immigration detention in the Essex County Correctional Facility, and the neighboring privately run Delaney Hall, to 1250 people.

The outrage over that vote has translated into action. As of last night, over 1100 people had signed the petition demanding that the freeholders revoke the contract with ICE and improve conditions in the jail.

The vote may be over, but the campaign to revoke the contract and improve conditions in a jail that has been accused of human rights abuses and sits amid toxic waste sites and active polluters continues.

If you want to get more involved you can:

1. Forward this message and/or the petition link to your friends and family http://www.change.org/petitions/oppose-expansion-of-immigration-detention-at-a-jail-accused-of-inhumane-conditions

2. Contact IRATE & First Friends or AFSC Immigrant Rights Program to learn how you can support their efforts to end immigration detention and provide support to immigrants in detention.

3. Attend an upcoming Essex County Freeholder meeting in person and ask them to explain their vote http://www.essex-countynj.org/freeholders/site/index.php?section=meetings

4. Attend the protest rally and march on in Newark October 9th Redefining Cruel & Unusual Indefinite Immigration Detention for-Profit Amid Toxic Waste in Essex County beginning at 1:30 pm at Peter Francisco Park Newark, NJ (right outside Newark Penn Station)

Marching to and from: Essex County Correctional Facility & Delaney Hall 356 Doremus Ave, Newark, NJ http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=236419679741397

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.

What came first: the Racism or the Profit Motive? On Private Prisons’ push for SB1070

The private prisons’ involvement in passing SB1070 illuminates an aspect of the anti-immigrant tendency that complicates things and is often overlooked.  Often the finger is pointed at racism as the cause of atrocities like SB1070, without looking at the bigger picture.  This is not to say that racism plays no part, even as a basis on which the prison industrial complex functions, but the prejudicial views of Russell Pearce or the minutemen for example are not necessarily the main guiding force here.  This is particularly interesting when we consider the potential of white people to reject racism and see it as manufactured rather than intrinsic.

I’m glad that news is being spread of the role of the private prison industry in the passing of SB1070.  A few months back, Governor Brewer’s connections with the Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the US were exposed, although of course they denied any underhandedness.  Now more information is coming out about the influence of private prisons in the new Arizona law, as NPR’s new report details.  While I don’t think there should be prisons in the first place, private prisons are particularly alarming in that this is the kind of thing that can happen when someone stands to profit (of course let’s not lose sight of the ways the government profits from repression in different ways).

The private prison industry has profited greatly in the past few years despite the economic downturn.  The Detention Watch Network says that “The U.S. government detained approximately 380,000 people in immigration custody in 2009 in… about 350 facilities at an annual cost of more than $1.7 billion.”  And the racists say that immigrants are a burden on the economy- how about the border enforcement?  Keep in mind here that this discussion is only on the detention centers- not on the border security technology and the wall, and other aspects of security which are all making people lots of money, including companies that have already made a shitload of money off the war.

An article that came out a few months ago (Wall Street and the Criminalization of Immigrants)
discussed the lobbying efforts of CCA and the GEO group and how it paid off through more attacks on immigrants, who now fill the private detention centers. 

The lobbying paid off for both companies, in huge revenue increases from government contracts to incarcerate immigrants. From 2005 through 2009, for every dollar that GEO spent lobbying the government, the company received a $662 return in taxpayer-funded contracts, for a total of $996.7 million. CCA received a $34 return in taxpayer-funded contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying the federal government, for a total of $330.4 million… One problem for major investors seeking huge gains from the for-profit prison business was that revenue rates couldn’t keep rising because federal agencies didn’t have enough personnel to arrest and process more immigrants than the expanded number they were now handling. It became apparent that the only way to significantly raise revenue through increasing the numbers of people picked up, detained and incarcerated was to hire more law enforcement personnel.
The private prison industry now needed a new source of low-cost licensed law enforcement personnel. CCA and GEO then turned to state governments as the focus of business expansion. Both companies stepped up efforts to acquire contracts with state and local governments that were entering into lucrative agreements with the Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants in state and local detention and correctional facilities.

The result of this shift in business focus is exemplified by CCA’s role in Arizona’s SB 1070 and both CCA’s and GEO’s roles in other legislative efforts aimed at dramatically increased numbers arrests of undocumented immigrants in over 20 states. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer, who received substantial campaign financing from top CCA executives in Tennessee and employs two former CCA lobbyists Chuck Coughlin and Paul Sensman, as top aides, signed SB 1070 into law on April 23.

On Friday, July 30, 2010 the Republican Governors Association, which so far this year has received over $160,000 in contributions from CCA and GEO, and their respective lobbyists, sent out a nationwide solicitation written by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer requesting contributions to fund an appeal of the partial injunction issued by a judge against SB 1070. (Read on).

The NPR report that just came out explains that CCA (and GEO group) also has some of their people in an organization called American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that Russell Pearce is also part of (described as a conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group), and that this group developed SB1070 (limited government, my ass).  What is confusing is where Kris Kobach, the lawyer who works for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) comes into it, since he is said elsewhere to have authored the bill, although I know i’m not the only one wondering this.  I imagine FAIR has connections to private prisons, although I am not doubting FAIR’s genuine (not profit-driven) white supremacist views, even if many of their participants and funders are driven by profit and desire for law and order.

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…
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 goes on,

Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.
By April, the bill was on Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

In some ways, personal racism is convenient for exploitation for more profit: scare people into thinking immigrants are a threat (is Lou Dobbs and Fox news paid by CCA?), put them in private prisons, thereby creating profits for the private prison industry.  Yet, this implies that white supremacy existed before profit motives, which isn’t quite accurate.  Although colonialism and accompanying attitudes about non-Europeans existed, these prejudices and such weren’t so hardened along these imaginary race lines (just look at how the Irish were treated before being gradually included as white).  The concept of race was created on top of existing hierarchies, in the interest of maintaining order and capitalism.  Since i’m not feeling very articulate right now, I will leave you with a long quote from a friend’s blog giving more insight into how white supremacy developed (see below).  This was written in response to the National Socialist Movement’s efforts last year to organize here, and incidentally they will be back in a couple weeks to rally.  While I believe there should be visible opposition, I don’t believe that it is any more important to protest the nazis than it is to protest the police, or the prison industrial complex.  Like Peggy wrote, “The NAZIS putting all my people in prison are the ones I want to run out of town.”  I think most people who show up to these protests, at least the anarchists, tend to agree, although in practice it may not appear so.  Groups like Anti-Racist Action (ARA) have been long criticized nationally for focusing on white supremacists while institutional racism is the larger threat.  In fact if you think about it, if everyone is focusing on the 20-30 neo-nazis or the occasional hate crimes happening more and more across the country, we’re not focusing on the state-sanctioned murders that happen everyday (and what if we include the deaths caused by border security as well?) 

In this description of the origins of white supremacy, you can see that the private prison industry is a prime example of the ways that white supremacy benefits capitalism.

The system of white supremacy is a cross-class alliance between rich whites and working class whites, the objective of which is the maintenance of the exploitative system of capitalism. White supremacy, by providing some meaningful, but in the grand scheme of things, petty privileges to whites, seeks to undermine class unity. These privileges are petty not because they aren’t real and sometimes meaningful, but because those that accrue to the white working class are much closer to the ones that non-white people get than they are to the ones that adhere to rich whites. That is, Bill Gates gets to exercise way more benefits of whiteness than the lowliest Nazi scumbag.

In exchange for accepting these privileges, however, whites agree to police the rest of the non-white population. That’s the reason white supremacy was created. Originating as an English imperial ideology for the conquest of Ireland and the rest of what we now call Britain, it moved to North America after the rich English elites had trouble with what we would now call a tri-racial alliance against them. Natives, English indentured servants (most of them transported here for petty crimes against the emerging capitalist system in England) and African slaves had a tendency to realize quite quickly in the so-called “New World” that they had much more in common with each other than with the pale-skinned, blue-blooded ruling class that lorded over them. So, they kept getting together and trying to overthrow those titled bastards. Again and again.

This was naturally a problem for the elite, so a hierarchical racialized system was created to divide this class, and to empower the wealthy. It was encoded in law. Whites were given several important privileges. Firstly, they were entitled to a limit on their servitude, while that of Africans was made permanent. Likewise, whites were given access to cleared Indian lands. The new role for whites demanded they act as police and, in relation to the native population, as soldiers. Therefore, a white man was obligated to serve in slave patrols and had the right to demand papers from any Black person he encountered. Likewise, no Native had any rights a white person was required to respect. Here in Arizona, Mexicans were repeatedly disenfranchised and expropriated of their land by white militias, vigilantes, soldiers and early police formations (Arizona Rangers were notorious). All this was backed up by the rich white elite who wanted to exploit Arizona’s resources. (Source).

See also this older article: How the Jailing of Migrants Drives Prison Profits.

Oklahoma’s prison system at a glance

A very short bit of information:

From NewsOK (The Oklahoman)

Published: September 12, 2010

Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of women put in prison, per capita. It is fourth in the nation in the number of men incarcerated, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Read more: http://newsok.com/at-a-glance/article/3494056#ixzz0zcfy7KOJ

Prison Reform on Life Support

 ACLU

The effort to reform Pennsylvania’s sentencing structures and alleviate its overcrowded prisons hangs on by a thread.

As a recap, Pennsylvania is in the process of building four new prisons by 2013. The construction costs alone will be more than $800 million, and the annual costs to maintain them will be $50 million each.

To relieve the current situation, the commonwealth has sent 2,000 prisoners to Michigan and Virginia, where they have beds available. The secretary of the Department of Corrections here says that the new prisons will be filled soon after they open, based on current projections.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a package of three bills sponsored by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery County) that would reform sentencing guidelines (SB 1145), make it possible for certain non-violent offenders to leave prison early, based on certain conditions (SB 1161), and create alternatives for technical parole violators, parolees who violate parole but don’t commit a new crime (SB 1275).

In the last few years, 20 states have reduced their prison populations by setting up similar structures, and those states, by and large, have not seen an increase in crime. Why not Pennsylvania?

The House Judiciary Committee scheduled SB 1161 for a vote on June 23, as Chairman Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks County) has been a vocal supporter of reform and relief to the corrections system. The plan was to amend the bill to add pieces of the other two bills into it. However, an error in drafting the amendment forced the committee to hold the bill.

SB 1161 was rescheduled for June 29. At that meeting, Dauphin County District Attorney Edward Marsico, who is president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and a lobbyist for the Attorney General’s office were given 40 minutes to address the committee and lay out their concerns with the bill. The concerns of the DAs and the AG lit a fuse under some reps, who piled on and offered their own problems with the bill. Lobbyists for the Department of Corrections and for the Board of Probation and Parole were also given a few minutes to speak. (DOC supports the reform, saying it could save us at least $60 million per year, and P&P is conditionally unopposed, with some minor changes.)

As a result of that ruckus, SB 1161 was held over again. Later that week, the legislature finished the 10-11 state budget, and legislators beat feet out of town.

The next opportunity for the House Judiciary Committee to consider this legislation will be after Labor Day, when both chambers return for a few weeks of session before Election Day. If the bill is amended, as expected, passes out of committee, and finds its way through the House, it will still have to go back to the Senate to vote on what’s known as concurrence, when a chamber takes up a bill that it already passed but was altered by the other chamber.

I’m worried that prison reform may be dead for this year and maybe the next four years. This legislative session officially ends in November, and there will be only a few more weeks of session. A House staffer who is close to the action is convinced they can get it done. I hope he’s right, and I’m wrong.

Andy in Harrisburg

CA Visits Suspended June 26 & 27, 2010 due to fiscal crisis

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced today that it will suspend most inmate visitation the last weekend of June due to the state’s fiscal crisis.

Cancellation of visiting at each of California’s 33 adult prisons for a single weekend – June 26 and 27 – will save $400,000 in overtime to help resolve budget concerns as the fiscal year comes to an end. Legally mandated visiting, such as attorney visits, will continue uninterrupted.

CDCR also is implementing other cost saving measures to address the state’s fiscal crisis including: redirecting custody posts to essential positions when employees call in sick or there are other vacancies; a departmental hiring freeze; reducing costs and staffing at headquarters; delaying or canceling purchases and contracts unless to do so would create a health or security risk; and canceling all non-critical travel and training.

The department plans to return to a full visiting program beginning July 1, which is the beginning of the new fiscal year.

“Due to the state’s fiscal crisis, we have to make difficult choices to reduce operational costs this fiscal year in a number of areas, including the last weekend of visitation statewide,” said Terri McDonald, CDCR Chief Deputy Secretary of Adult Operations. “Because visitation impacts families directly, I have directed CDCR staff at the institutional level to ensure that inmate families and staff are notified of this decision.”

Wardens statewide also have been directed to cut costs by increasing the number of vacant posted peace officer positions from an existing three percent to five percent of all positions at each institution. This will result in staffing changes, including some exercise yards being temporarily closed. Inmates at yards that are closed will be allowed access to other yards at different times to ensure access to outdoor activities.

CDCR is making efforts to inform families about the canceled visitation. Visitation phone lines will be updated with the new information.

Posters in both English and Spanish are planned to be posted at each institution. Notices will be placed on the closed circuit inmate television as well as postings throughout each institution. The institutional management team will discuss the planned closure with the inmate family councils and inmate population to ensure awareness.

The visitation cancellation on June 26 and June 27 does not include Division of Juvenile Justice facilities, terminally ill inmate visits and Community Correctional Facilities.

For more information on CDCR visiting policies go to: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Visitors/index.html

Read more: http://bulletins.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=bulletin.read&authorID=372759027&messageID=6671711749#ixzz0rFG302me

Prison-Based Gerrymandering Dilutes Blacks’ Voting Power

A new report concludes some majority-black legislative districts are penalized because of the way the census bureau counts their imprisoned residents.
By Emily Badger

Sixty-six percent of the inmates in the state of New York come from New York City. But 91 percent of them are incarcerated upstate, in communities where they have long been counted by the U.S. census.

On paper, this means prisoners belong not to the communities from which they’ve come (and to which they eventually will return), but to places where they can neither vote, check out a library book or attend a local school.

The counting quirk sounds like a quandary for demographers. But it also means, come gerrymandering time, that many urban black communities look smaller than they actually are, a disproportionate number of their residents having been counted in the rural areas that are home to penitentiaries.

Most states redraw political districts every 10 years using census data, and so this counting practice has the effect of increasing the political power of anyone who lives near a prison, while decreasing the power of the communities where prisoners legally reside.

Critics disdainfully call the practice “prison-based gerrymandering.”

During the 2000 census, 43,000 New York City residents were counted upstate in this way. Remove them, and seven state senate districts would not have met minimum population requirements and would have had to be redrawn, setting off a chain reaction throughout the state, according to a report released this week by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

This counting method “artificially inflates the population count — and thus, the political influence — of the districts where prisons and jails are located,” wrote the authors of the report, “Captive Constituents: Prison-Based Gerrymandering & The Distortion of Our Democracy.” “At the same time,” they add, “this practice reduces the political power of everyone else. The viability of our communities, integrity of our democracy and basic principles of equality suffer as a result.”

African-Americans comprise 12.7 percent of the U.S. population. But because they make up 41.3 percent of the federal and state prison population, this type of gerrymandering disproportionately affects black communities. Prisons are also often located in rural areas — non-metropolitan America houses 20 percent of the national population, but 60 percent of new prison construction, according to the report — further distorting political muscle.

“It is all too reminiscent,” the report says, “of the infamous ‘three-fifths compromise,’ whereby enslaved and disfranchised African Americans were counted to inflate the number of constituents – and thus, the political influence – of Southern states before the Civil War.”

The report also cites the Iowa town of Anamosa, which was divided in 2002 into four city council wards of about 1,370 people each. One ward, however, was home to a state penitentiary with 1,320 inmates. In effect, the district held only about 50 true constituents who had the same political representation as wards 45 times as large — a violation of the spirit of the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” apportionment principle.

The census counts some other groups similarly: College students are recorded in their dorm rooms, not their parents’ homes, and military personnel are counted on base, not at their permanent residence. But both are integrated into the community — and can use its public services – in a way prisoners are not.

In total, about 2 million prisoners in the country are counted this way — enough people, according to the NAACP, to qualify by themselves for five votes in the Electoral College. And in 173 counties nationwide, the report adds, “half of the purported African-American population are not true residents, but are actually prisoners imported from elsewhere.”

The problem has grown with the rate of incarceration (the NAACP partly blames the “war on drugs”), and the Census Bureau for the first time this year is becoming attuned to it. The bureau will provide prisoner data to states following this spring’s decennial census in time for officials to use it in their 2010 redistricting. And this April, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation requiring redistricting officials to count inmates at their actual homes, using the new census data to identify them. Delaware is poised to follow next.

Some argue it doesn’t matter where we count inmates, because most states don’t let them vote. But the census counts everyone — including non-voting illegal immigrants and children — and we apportion political districts by total population, not just voting residents.

The NAACP points to the two states that do permit inmates to vote: Maine and Vermont. Both send prisoners absentee ballots from their home communities, a common-sense sign of where their political muscle would most logically be exercised.