"If the Risk Is Low, Let Them Go": Efforts to Resolve the Growing Numbers of Aging Behind Bars

Reblogged from: Truth-Out
Article by Victoria Law
Jan. 10, 2014

Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents in shackles or dying behind bars. By 2030, the prison population age 55 and over is predicted to be 4,400 percent more than what it was in 1981. Some state and federal prison systems look at alternatives.

The recent release of 74-year-old Lynne Stewart has made headlines. Stewart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, was granted compassionate release December 31, 2013, after a protracted struggle by Stewart and supporters across the country. Stewart, whose cancer has spread to her lungs, lymph system and bones, will spend her remaining months with her family in Brooklyn.

But what about the aging and infirm people incarcerated nationwide who lack Stewart’s fame and support? The United States has some 125,000 prisoners age 55 and older, quadruple the number in 1995. Various human rights groups, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the Vera Institute of Justice have issued warnings about the increased numbers of aging, elderly and incapacitated behind bars. In response to these increases, several states, such as Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, are in the process of building hospice and geriatric units within their prison systems.

But what other solutions are there?

“If the Risk is Low, Let Them Go”

In New York, advocates – including formerly incarcerated people – have launched the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign. More than 9,200 people (nearly 17 percent) imprisoned in New York are 50 or older. While the state’s prison population dropped this past decade – from 71,466 in 2000 to 56,315 in 2011 – the number of people 50 and older has increased by 64 percent.

Lead organizer Mujahid Farid knows the obstacles facing people seeking parole. Farid was arrested in 1978 and sentenced to 15 years to life for an attempted murder. By the time he was eligible for parole in 1993, he had earned four college degrees as well as certificates for numerous other programs. None of these accomplishments mattered. He was denied parole based on his 1978 conviction. Farid appeared before the parole board ten times over the next 18 years before he was granted parole in 2011.

“I realized it wasn’t personal,” he told Truthout. “They’re not looking at your personal development. They’re simply looking at your conviction.” After his release, Farid met with advocates, including other formerly incarcerated people, to discuss how to overcome the hurdle within the parole system. Out of these discussions came RAPP.  Under the slogan “If the risk is low, let them go,” RAPP mobilizes to change the routine in which parole and compassionate release are denied to those who have spent decades in New York’s state prisons.

Read the rest here.

Advertisements

Women in Solitary Confinement: “The Isolation Degenerates Us Into Madness”

From Victoria Law on Solitarywatch:

A mass prisoner hunger strike rocked California’s prison system this past summer, drawing international attention to the extensive use of solitary confinement in the United States. Increasingly, solitary is finding its way into the mainstream media and onto activist agendas. Nearly all of the attention, however, has focused on solitary confinement in men’s prisons; much less is known about the conditions and experiences inside women’s prisons.
During October’s legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California, lawmakers asked prison officials about women in solitary confinement.  Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stated that 74 women were held in the Security Housing Unit at the California Institution for Women (CIW) and a handful of women were awaiting transfer from the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). CDCR does not separate people in the SHU with mental illness from those without mental illness. CDCR officials did not address the number of people in the Administrative Segregation (or Ad Seg) Unit.
According to CDCR  statistics, as of September 2013, 107 women were held in Ad Seg at CCWF, which has a budgeted capacity of 38. The average stay was 131 days. Twenty women had been there longer than 200 days, two had exceeded 400 days, and another two women had exceeded 800 days. At CIW, 34 women were in Ad Seg with an average stay of 73 days.  Two women have exceeded 200 days.
Lawmakers’ inquiry prompted advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners to send anopen letter to Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner requesting that she investigate conditions of solitary confinement in women’s prisons. The group noted that, with the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a men’s prison and the transfer of several hundred women to California’s other two women’s prisons, the use of solitary confinement has dramatically increased.
To justify the increase, CDCR has cited “enemy concerns” or a documented disagreement between people that may have led to threats or violence. Those designated as having “enemy concerns” are locked in their cells 22 to 24 hours a day and lose all privileges. CDCR reports do not separate the number of people in Ad Seg or the SHU for rules violations versus those confined because of “enemy concerns.” The California Coalition for Women Prisoners has noted that many of these “enemy concerns” are based on incidents that happened years ago and may not be valid today.
Dolores Canales has a son who has spent thirteen years in Pelican Bay’s SHU. Canales has also hadfirsthand experience with solitary confinement. While imprisoned at CIW, she spent nine months in Ad Seg, where she was confined to her cell twenty-two hours a day. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard every day. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she recalled. But the isolation still took its toll: “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in,” she described. Even after being released from segregation, Canales was unable to shake that anxiety. She broke into a sweat and panicked each time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules. “I just can’t forget,” she stated years after her release from prison.
Although the spotlight on solitary has focused largely on California, every women’s prison has a solitary confinement unit. Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution for Women has a Closed Management Special Housing Unit (CM SHU) where women are confined to their cells 23 to 24 hours a day. “There is no free movement or social interaction,” reported one woman. “We just sit locked in a concrete and steel room the size of a small residential bathroom.”
In Indiana, Sarah Jo Pender has spent nearly five years in solitary.  “My cell is approximately 68 square feet of concrete with a heavy steel door at the front and a heavily barred window at the back that does not open,” she described. “Walls are covered in white; the paint chipped off by bored prisoners reveals another layer of primer white. No family photos or art or reminder notes are allowed to be taped to the walls; they must remain bare. Our windowsills would be a great place to display greeting cards and pictures, but those are off-limits, too… There is a concrete platform and thin plastic mat, a fourteen-by-twenty inch shelf and round stool mounted to the floor, and a steel toilet/sink combo unit. We get no boxes to contain our few personal items. Everything must fit on the shelf, bed or end up on the floor.”
Her cell is searched daily by guards although, like everyone else in the prison, she is strip searched any time she leaves the unit for a doctor’s appointment or a no-contact visit. When she is taken to the showers, she is handcuffed, then locked into a 3 foot by 3 foot shower stall with a steel cage door for a 15-minute shower. As is the case across the country, visits are conducted behind glass.
Read the rest here.

Wal-Mart, Martori Farms and Women in Prison Labor: "I Ain’t Gonna Work On Martori’s Farm No More"

Note: This is the contact email for Wal-Mart’s “ethics” office. Please take a  minute and write them about the horrific labor conditions for the women at Perryville. Wal-Mart’s Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

“I Ain’t Gonna Work On Martori’s Farm No More”
Posted: 06/29/11
By Al Norman, Founder, Sprawl-Busters
in: Huffington Post

For the past 20 years, Wal-Mart has fed its stores with agricultural produce from a company called Martori Farms. According to Hoover’s profile of the company, Martori is “a fruit and vegetable grower, packer, shipper, and wholesaler and is the largest commercial agricultural company in Arizona.

The agra business was “hand-picked” by Wal-Mart, and in 2007, the giant retailer showcased Martori Farms as part of its “Salute To America’s Farmers” program. The Martori farm operations took seed in the 1930s Arizona soil, later specializing in melons and broccoli. The company today has 3 major locations in Arizona, and one site in California. One of its holdings contains more than 15,000 arcres of farmland.

Wal-Mart has described its relationship with Martori Farms as an example of “fruitful collaboration.” The retailer’s first 35 superstores were stocked with organic cantaloupes from Martori Farms. “Our relationship with Martori Farms is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration we strive for with our suppliers,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said four years ago. “Wal-Mart buys more United States agricultural products than any other retailer in the world and we’re proud to salute American farmers like Martori Farms.”

But new allegations about the use of prison labor at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Martori Farms could blight the fruitful relationship between the retailer and the farmer.

For almost 20 years, Wal-Mart has had a clear policy forbidding the use of prison labor by its vendors. “Since 1992 Wal-Mart has required its supplier-partners to comply with a stringent code of conduct,” Wal-Mart said in a 1997 press statement. “This code requires factories producing merchandise for Wal-Mart to be automatically denied manufacturing certification if inspections reveal…evidence of forced or prison labor.”

The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has supplied prisoner labor for private agricultural businesses for almost 20 years. For at least the last four years, the state of Arizona has fined employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Farmers responded by calling up the ADC for workers. “We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor,” the manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) told the Christian Science Monitor in 2007. “Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don’t want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative.

One of those businesses that turned to prison labor was Wal-Mart’s vendor, Martori Farms. According to a disturbing story published June 24th by Truth-Out.org,(http://www.truth-out.org/abusive-conditions-martori-farms/1308844017) Martori Farms “pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm.” Women from the Arizona state prison complex at Perryville Unit are assigned to work at Martori Farms.” Arizona law requires that all able bodied inmates work.

One of the women prisoners at Martori Farms told Truth-Out: “We work eight hours regardless of conditions …. We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants … Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don’t check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our ‘good time’!!! We are told we get ‘two’ 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it’s more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that’s not acceptable… In addition, the prison has sent women to work on the farms regardless of their medical conditions.”

Wal-Mart’s focus on labor conditions has basically been in Third World producer nations, not on domestic shores. In 1997, Wal-Mart wrote: “The issue of global sourcing and factory conditions is very important to Wal-Mart and to our suppliers. Since 1992, we have spent enormous amounts of time and money to assure compliance with our standards and there has been much improvement.”

Yet here in America, prisoners are working under intolerable conditions picking produce for Wal-Mart superstores. In its Standards for Suppliers, Wal-Mart acknowledges that “the conduct of Wal-Mart’s suppliers can be attributed to Wal-Mart and its reputation.” If for no other reason than to protect its reputation, Wal-Mart should take immediate action against Martori Farms. Such actions should include:

1. an unannounced inspection of working conditions at Martori Farms by an independent auditor

2. enforcement of the Wal-Mart’s own Conditions for Employment, including fair compensation of wages and benefits which are in compliance with the local and national laws, reasonable employee work hours in compliance with local standards, with employees not working in excess of the statutory requirements without proper compensation as required by applicable law.

As long as Wal-Mart allows Martori Farms to exploit its prison workers, Wal-Mart is complicit in the scheme. This arrangement violates the company’s ethical sourcing standards. Such working conditions are not right in Sri Lanka, not right in Bangladesh, and they are not right in Scottsdale Arizona either.

The next time you squeeze a melon at Wal-Mart, think about the prison farmworkers who got squeezed to produce it.

Wal-Mart’s Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and is the author of organizer’s classic big box story, Slam-DunkingWal-Mart.

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/i-aint-gonna-work-on-mart_b_886596.html

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