A New Way of Life: VIsions of Abolition

This woman rocks. Check out Susan Burton and A New Way of Life on the new Critical Resistance video: Visions of Abolition. Here’s a preview:

————via the Real Cost of Prisons’ listserve——————–

Women’s prisons closures good fiscal, social policy
Timothy P. Silard, Jean Ross
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
San Fransisco Chronicle

After the death of her 5-year-old son, Susan Burton turned to drugs and ended up in California’s criminal justice system.

Over the course of two decades, Burton’s addiction caused her to cycle through California’s prison system six times for drug offenses. She finally got help and turned her life around at a local rehabilitation center, not in prison. Today, Burton helps other formerly incarcerated women to permanently exit the system through A New Way of Life, a nonprofit in South Central Los Angles that she founded.

Burton and the women she works with are among the key groups that could be helped by the impending “realignment” of the corrections system, a groundbreaking effort to give counties – rather than the state – responsibility for managing low-level, nonviolent offenders. If implemented effectively, restructuring could result in one significant yet often overlooked solution to California’s economic woes: closing one or more of the prisons used to house women.

California warehouses one of the largest populations of female prisoners in the world and also has the dubious distinction of being home to two of the world’s largest women’s prisons. Both in Chowchilla, these prisons cost our cash-strapped state $278 million a year. This reform presents an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly reduce the number of women sent to state prison and to shutter one or both of the women’s institutions in Chowchilla.

More than half of the state’s 9,500 female prisoners are classified as low risk, locked up for nonviolent and non-serious offenses. Under AB109, signed into law this year to implement the governor’s plan for restructuring corrections as part of the budget agreement, these women would not be sentenced to state prison, but would instead be placed in county jail, drug-treatment programs, community service or other alternatives to state custody.

California desperately needs the savings that would be realized by closing down these facilities. For instance, saving a significant portion of that $278 million could offset a sizable share of the $650 million in budget cuts made to the California State University system in the recently passed state budget.

Reducing the state’s population of female prisoners and closing down the facilities used to house them is not only fiscally prudent, it is also good public policy. These are women who often do not belong in state prison in the first place. Research shows that they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, and 4 out of every 10 women behind bars have histories of being physically or sexually abused. Most of the women in California state prison are mothers, and many are single parents. Without the support these women need to successfully re-enter their communities and get off drugs, nearly 60 percent of them end up back in prison within three years. It’s a frustrating revolving door that comes at an enormous cost to our budgets and to the lives of tens of thousands of women and children. The restructuring of corrections lays the groundwork for counties to pursue treatment, education, home detention and other alternatives to incarceration.

Now is the time for California to make a novel and bold move. A recent survey shows that a large majority of Californians are tired of bearing the burden of the “lock ’em up” approach to public safety that has driven criminal justice policy in California for years. And, after a nearly 40-year prison boom, 13 states – including Texas – have closed or are planning to shutter such facilities.

Let’s commit now to full and effective implementation of realigning public-safety programs by providing treatment-based solutions for female offenders. Let’s start planning to close state prisons that are no longer needed.

Timothy P. Silard is a former prosecutor and president of the Rosenberg Foundation, a statewide grant-making foundation based in San Francisco. Jean Ross is executive director of the Sacramento-based California Budget Project.

This article appeared on page A – 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Davis: The Challenges of Prison Abolition

Celebrate the International Observation of the Anniversary
of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade:

ABOLISH THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!!

——————–

this is a great article from a few years back, posted in History is a Weapon, with Angela Davis making the connections between the institution of slavery and the prison industrial complex of today.

————–

The Challenge of Prison Abolition:

A conversation between Angela Y. Davis and Dylan Rodriguez

2004

History is a weapon

Angela Y. Davis teaches in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California (215 Oakes College, Santa Cruz, CA 95060), and has been actively involved in prison-related campaigns since the events that led to her own incarceration in 1970. Dylan Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor at University of California – Riverside and was involved in the formation of Critical Resistance. Rodriguez’s first book, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the Formation of the U.S. Prison Regime will be published in 2005 by the University of Minnesota Press.

Dylan: Your emergence as a radical prison activist was deeply influenced by your experience as a prisoner. Could you talk a bit about how imprisonment affected your political formation, and the impact that it had on your eventual identification as prison abolitionists?

Angela: The time I spent in jail was both an outcome of my work on prison issues and a profound influence on my subsequent trajectory as a prison activist. When I was arrested in the summer of 1970 in connection with my involvement in the campaign to free George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, I was one of many activists who had been previously active in defense movements. In editing the anthology, If They Come in the Morning (1971) while I was in jail, Bettina Aptheker and I attempted to draw upon the organizing and legal experiences associated with a vast number of contemporary campaigns to free political prisoners. The most important lessons emanating from those campaigns, we thought, demonstrated the need to examine the overall role of the prison system, especially its class and racial character.

There was a relationship, as George Jackson had insisted, between the rising numbers of political prisoners and the imprisonment of increasing numbers of poor people of color. If prison was the state-sanctioned destination for activists such as myself, it was also used as a surrogate solution to social problems associated with poverty and racism. Although imprisonment was equated with rehabilitation in the dominant discourse at that time, it was obvious to us that its primary purpose was repression.


Along with other radical activists of that era, we thus began to explore what it might mean to combine our call for the freedom of political prisoners with an embryonic call for the abolition of prisons. Of course we had not yet thought through all of the implications of such a position, but today it seems that what was viewed at that time as political naivete, the un-theorized and utopian impulses of young people trying to be revolutionary, foreshadowed what was to become, at the turn of the century, the important project of critically examining the political economy of a prison system, whose unrestrained growth urgently needs to be reversed.

Dylan: What interests me is the manner in which your trial — and the rather widespread social movement that enveloped it, along with other political trials — enabled a wide variety of activists to articulate a radical critique of U.S. jurisprudence and imprisonment. The strategic framing of yours and others’ individual political biographies within a broader set of social and historical forces — state violence, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, the growth and transformation of U.S. capitalism — disrupted the logic of the criminal justice apparatus in a fundamental way. Turning attention away from conventional notions of “crime” as isolated, individual instances of misbehavior necessitated a basic questioning of the conditions that cast “criminality” as a convenient political rationale for the warehousing of large numbers of poor, disenfranchised, and displaced black people and other people of color.

Many activists are now referring to imprisonment as a new form of slavery, refocusing attention on the historical function of the 13th Amendment in reconstructing enslavement as a punishment reserved for those “duly convicted.” Yet, when we look more closely at the emergence of the prison-industrial complex, the language of enslavement fails to the extent that it relies on the category of forced labor as its basic premise. People frequently forget that the majority of imprisoned people are not workers, and that work is itself made available only as a “privilege” for the most favored prisoners.

The logic of the prison-industrial complex is closer to what you, George Jackson, and others were forecasting back then as mass containment, the effective elimination of large numbers of (poor, black) people from the realm of civil society. Yet, the current social impact of the prison-industrial complex must have been virtually unfathomable 30 years ago. One could make the argument that the growth of this massive structure has met or exceeded the most ominous forecasts of people who, at that time, could barely have imagined that at the turn of the century two million people would be encased in a prison regime that is far more sophisticated and repressive than it was at the onset of Nixon’s presidency, when about 150,000 people were imprisoned nationally in decrepit, overcrowded buildings.


So in a sense, your response to the first question echoes the essential truth of what was being dismissed, in your words, as the paranoid “political naivete” of young radical activists in the early 1970s. I think we might even consider the formation of prison abolitionism as a logical response to this new human warehousing strategy. In this vein, could you give a basic summary of the fundamental principles underlying the contemporary prison abolitionist movement?

Angela: First of all, I must say that I would hesitate to characterize the contemporary prison abolition movement as a homogeneous and united international effort to displace the institution of the prison. For example, the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), which periodically brings scholars and activists together from Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, and North America, reveals the varied nature of this movement. Dorsey Nunn, former prisoner and longtime activist, has a longer history of involvement with ICOPA than I do since he attended the conference in New Zealand three years ago. My first direct contact with ICOPA was this past May, when I attended the Toronto gathering.

Dylan: Was there anything about ICOPA that particularly impressed you?

Angela: The ICOPA conference in Toronto revealed some of the major strengths and weaknesses of the abolitionist movement. First of all, despite the rather homogenous character of their circle, they have managed to keep the notion of abolitionism alive precisely at a time when developing radical alternatives to the prison-industrial complex is becoming a necessity. That is to say, abolitionism should not now be considered an unrealizable utopian dream, but rather the only possible way to halt the further transnational development of prison industries.


That ICOPA claims supporters in Europe and Latin America is an indication of what is possible. However, the racial homogeneity of ICOPA, and the related failure to incorporate an analysis of race into the theoretical framework of their version of abolitionism, is a major weakness. The conference demonstrated that while faith-based approaches to the abolition of penal systems can be quite powerful, organizing strategies must go much further. We need to develop and popularize the kinds of analyses that explain why people of color predominate in prison populations throughout the world and how this structural racism is linked to the globalization of capital.

Dylan: Yes, I found that the political vision of ICOPA was extraordinarily limited, especially considering its professed commitment to a more radical abolitionist analysis and program. This undoubtedly had a lot to do with the underlying racism of the organization itself, which was reflected in the language of some of the conference resolutions: “We support all transformative measures which enable us to live better in community with those we as a society find most difficult, and most consistently marginalize or exclude” (emphasis added)1.


A major figure in ICOPA even accused a small group of people of color in attendance of being “racist” when they attempted to constructively criticize the overwhelming white homogeneity of the conference and the need for creative strategies to engage communities of color in such an important political discussion. Several black student-activists I met at ICOPA told me how alienated they felt at the conference, especially when they realized that the ICOPA organizers had never attempted to contact the Toronto-based organizations with which these student-activists were working: a major black anti-police-brutality coalition, a black prisoner support organization, etc.


So I certainly share your frustrations with ICOPA. At the same time, I find myself wondering how a new political formation of prison abolitionism can form in such a reactionary national and global climate. You have been involved with a variety of prison movements for the last 30 years, so maybe you can help me out. How do you think about this new political challenge within a broader historical perspective?

Angela: There are multiple histories of prison abolition. The Scandinavian scholar/activist Thomas Mathieson first published his germinal text, The Politics of Abolition, in 1974, when activist movements were calling for the disestablishment of prisons — in the aftermath of the Attica Rebellion and prison uprisings throughout Europe. He was concerned with transforming prison reform movements into more radical movements to abolish prisons as the major institutions of punishment.


There was a pattern of decarceration in the Netherlands until the mid-1980s, which seemed to establish the Dutch system as a model prison system, and the later rise in prison construction and the expansion of the incarcerated population has served to stimulate abolitionist ideas. Criminologist Willem de Haan published a book in 1990 entitled The Politics of Redress: Crime, Punishment, and Penal Abolition.



One of the most interesting texts, from the point of view of U.S. activist history is Fay Honey Knopp’s volume Instead of Prison: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, which was published in 1976, with funding from the American Friends. This handbook points out the contradictory relationship between imprisonment and an “enlightened, free society.” Prison abolition, like the abolition of slavery, is a long-range goal and the handbook argues that an abolitionist approach requires an analysis of “crime” that links it with social structures, as opposed to individual pathology, as well as “anticrime” strategies that focus on the provision of social resources.


Of course, there are many versions of prison abolitionism — including those that propose to abolish punishment altogether and replace it with reconciliatory responses to criminal acts. In my opinion, the most powerful relevance of abolitionist theory and practice today resides in the fact that without a radical position vis-a-vis the rapidly expanding prison system, prison architecture, prison surveillance, and prison system corporatization, prison culture, with all its racist and totalitarian implications, will continue not only to claim ever increasing numbers of people of color, but also to shape social relations more generally in our society.


Prison needs to be abolished as the dominant mode of addressing social problems that are better solved by other institutions and other means. The call for prison abolition urges us to imagine and strive for a very different social landscape.

Dylan: I think you make a subtle but important point here: prison and penal abolition imply an analysis of society that illuminates the repressive logic, as well as the fascistic historical trajectory, of the prison’s growth as a social and industrial institution. Theoretically and politically, this “radical position,” as you call it, introduces a new set of questions that does not necessarily advocate a pragmatic “alternative” or a concrete and immediate “solution” to what currently exists. In fact, I think this is an entirely appropriate position to assume when dealing with a policing and jurisprudence system that inherently disallows the asking of such fundamental questions as: Why are some lives considered more disposable than others under the weight of police policy and criminal law?


How have we arrived at a place where killing is valorized and defended when it is organized by the state — I’m thinking about the street lynchings of Diallo and Dorismond in New York City, the bombing of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in 1985, the ongoing bombing of Iraqi civilians by the United States — yet viciously avenged (by the state) when committed by isolated individuals? Why have we come to associate community safety and personal security with the degree to which the state exercises violence through policing and criminal justice?


You’ve written elsewhere that the primary challenge for penal abolitionists in the United States is to construct a political language and theoretical discourse that disarticulates crime from punishment. In a sense, this implies a principled refusal to pander to the typically pragmatist impulse to demand absolute answers and solutions right now to a problem that has deep roots in the social formation of the United States since the 1960s. I think your open-ended conception of prison abolition also allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the prison-industrial complex as a set of institutional and political relationships that extend well beyond the walls of the prison proper.


So in a sense, prison abolition is itself a broader critique of society. This brings me to the next question: What are the most crucial distinctions between the political commitments and agendas of prison reformists and those of prison abolitionists?

Angela: The seemingly unbreakable link between prison reform and prison development — referred to by Foucault in his analysis of prison history — has created a situation in which progress in prison reform has tended to render the prison more impermeable to change and has resulted in bigger, and what are considered “better,” prisons.


The most difficult question for advocates of prison abolition is how to establish a balance between reforms that are clearly necessary to safeguard the lives of prisoners and those strategies designed to promote the eventual abolition of prisons as the dominant mode of punishment. In other words, I do not think that there is a strict dividing line between reform and abolition.


For example, it would be utterly absurd for a radical prison activist to refuse to support the demand for better health care inside Valley State, California’s largest women’s prison, under the pretext that such reforms would make the prison a more viable institution. Demands for improved health care, including protection from sexual abuse and challenges to the myriad ways in which prisons violate prisoners’ human rights, can be integrated into an abolitionist context that elaborates specific decarceration strategies and helps to develop a popular discourse on the need to shift resources from punishment to education, housing, health care, and other public resources and services.


Dylan: Speaking of developing a popular discourse, the Critical Resistance gathering in September 1998 seemed to pull together an incredibly wide array of prison activists — cultural workers, prisoner support and legal advocates, former prisoners, radical teachers, all kinds of researchers, progressive policy scholars and criminologists, and many others.


Although you were quite clear in the conference’s opening plenary session that the purpose of Critical Resistance was to encourage people to imagine radical strategies for a sustained prison abolition campaign, it was clear to me that only a few people took this dimension of the conference seriously. That is, it seemed convenient for people to rejoice at the unprecedented level of participation in this presumably “radical” prison activist gathering, but the level of analysis and political discussion generally failed to embrace the creative challenge of formulating new ways to link existing activism to a larger abolitionist agenda. People were generally more interested in developing an analysis of the prison-industrial complex that incorporated the local work that they were involved in, which I think is an important practical connection to make.


At the same time, I think there is an inherent danger in conflating militant reform and human rights strategies with the underlying logic of anti-prison radicalism, which conceives of the ultimate eradication of the prison as a site of state violence and social repression. What is required, at least in part, is a new vernacular that enables this kind of political dream. How does prison abolition necessitate new political language, teachings, and organizing strategies? How could these strategies help to educate and organize people inside and outside the prison for abolition?

Angela: In order to imagine a world without prisons — or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison — a new popular vocabulary will have to replace the current language, which articulates crime and punishment in such a way that we cannot think about a society without crime except as a society in which all the criminals are imprisoned.


Thus, one of the first challenges is to be able to talk about the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance. In the university, the emergence of the interdisciplinary field of prison studies can help to trouble the prevailing criminology discourses that shape public policy as well as popular ideas about the permanence of prisons. At the high school level, new curricula can also be developed that encourage critical thinking about the role of punishment. Community organizations can also play a role in urging people to link their demands for better schools, for example, to a reduction of prison spending.

Dylan: Your last comment suggests that we need to rupture the ideological structures embodied by the rise of the prison-industrial complex. How does prison abolition force us to rethink common assumptions about jurisprudence, in particular “criminal justice?”

Angela: Since the invention of the prison as punishment in Western society during the late 1700s, criminal justice systems have so thoroughly depended on imprisonment that we have lost the ability to imagine other ways to solve the problem of “crime.” One of the interesting contributions of prison abolitionists has been to propose other paradigms of punishment or to suggest that we need to extricate ourselves from the assumption that punishment must be a necessary response to all violations of the law.


Reconciliatory or restorative justice, for example, is presented by some abolitionists as an approach that has proved successful in non-Western societies — Native American societies, for example — and that can be tailored for use in urban contexts in cases that involve property and other offenses. The underlying idea is that in many cases, the reconciliation of offender and victim (including monetary compensation to the victim) is a much more progressive vision of justice than the social exile of the offender. This is only one example — the point is that we will not be free to imagine other ways of addressing crime as long as we see the prison as a permanent fixture for dealing with all or most violations of the law.

http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/davisinterview.html

Davis: The Challenges of Prison Abolition

Celebrate the International Observation of the Anniversary
of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade:

ABOLISH THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!!

——————–

this is a great article from a few years back, posted in History is a Weapon, with Angela Davis making the connections between the institution of slavery and the prison industrial complex of today.

————–

The Challenge of Prison Abolition:

A conversation between Angela Y. Davis and Dylan Rodriguez

2004

History is a weapon

Angela Y. Davis teaches in the History of Consciousness program at the University of California (215 Oakes College, Santa Cruz, CA 95060), and has been actively involved in prison-related campaigns since the events that led to her own incarceration in 1970. Dylan Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor at University of California – Riverside and was involved in the formation of Critical Resistance. Rodriguez’s first book, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the Formation of the U.S. Prison Regime will be published in 2005 by the University of Minnesota Press.

Dylan: Your emergence as a radical prison activist was deeply influenced by your experience as a prisoner. Could you talk a bit about how imprisonment affected your political formation, and the impact that it had on your eventual identification as prison abolitionists?

Angela: The time I spent in jail was both an outcome of my work on prison issues and a profound influence on my subsequent trajectory as a prison activist. When I was arrested in the summer of 1970 in connection with my involvement in the campaign to free George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, I was one of many activists who had been previously active in defense movements. In editing the anthology, If They Come in the Morning (1971) while I was in jail, Bettina Aptheker and I attempted to draw upon the organizing and legal experiences associated with a vast number of contemporary campaigns to free political prisoners. The most important lessons emanating from those campaigns, we thought, demonstrated the need to examine the overall role of the prison system, especially its class and racial character.

There was a relationship, as George Jackson had insisted, between the rising numbers of political prisoners and the imprisonment of increasing numbers of poor people of color. If prison was the state-sanctioned destination for activists such as myself, it was also used as a surrogate solution to social problems associated with poverty and racism. Although imprisonment was equated with rehabilitation in the dominant discourse at that time, it was obvious to us that its primary purpose was repression.


Along with other radical activists of that era, we thus began to explore what it might mean to combine our call for the freedom of political prisoners with an embryonic call for the abolition of prisons. Of course we had not yet thought through all of the implications of such a position, but today it seems that what was viewed at that time as political naivete, the un-theorized and utopian impulses of young people trying to be revolutionary, foreshadowed what was to become, at the turn of the century, the important project of critically examining the political economy of a prison system, whose unrestrained growth urgently needs to be reversed.

Dylan: What interests me is the manner in which your trial — and the rather widespread social movement that enveloped it, along with other political trials — enabled a wide variety of activists to articulate a radical critique of U.S. jurisprudence and imprisonment. The strategic framing of yours and others’ individual political biographies within a broader set of social and historical forces — state violence, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, the growth and transformation of U.S. capitalism — disrupted the logic of the criminal justice apparatus in a fundamental way. Turning attention away from conventional notions of “crime” as isolated, individual instances of misbehavior necessitated a basic questioning of the conditions that cast “criminality” as a convenient political rationale for the warehousing of large numbers of poor, disenfranchised, and displaced black people and other people of color.

Many activists are now referring to imprisonment as a new form of slavery, refocusing attention on the historical function of the 13th Amendment in reconstructing enslavement as a punishment reserved for those “duly convicted.” Yet, when we look more closely at the emergence of the prison-industrial complex, the language of enslavement fails to the extent that it relies on the category of forced labor as its basic premise. People frequently forget that the majority of imprisoned people are not workers, and that work is itself made available only as a “privilege” for the most favored prisoners.

The logic of the prison-industrial complex is closer to what you, George Jackson, and others were forecasting back then as mass containment, the effective elimination of large numbers of (poor, black) people from the realm of civil society. Yet, the current social impact of the prison-industrial complex must have been virtually unfathomable 30 years ago. One could make the argument that the growth of this massive structure has met or exceeded the most ominous forecasts of people who, at that time, could barely have imagined that at the turn of the century two million people would be encased in a prison regime that is far more sophisticated and repressive than it was at the onset of Nixon’s presidency, when about 150,000 people were imprisoned nationally in decrepit, overcrowded buildings.


So in a sense, your response to the first question echoes the essential truth of what was being dismissed, in your words, as the paranoid “political naivete” of young radical activists in the early 1970s. I think we might even consider the formation of prison abolitionism as a logical response to this new human warehousing strategy. In this vein, could you give a basic summary of the fundamental principles underlying the contemporary prison abolitionist movement?

Angela: First of all, I must say that I would hesitate to characterize the contemporary prison abolition movement as a homogeneous and united international effort to displace the institution of the prison. For example, the International Conference on Penal Abolition (ICOPA), which periodically brings scholars and activists together from Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, and North America, reveals the varied nature of this movement. Dorsey Nunn, former prisoner and longtime activist, has a longer history of involvement with ICOPA than I do since he attended the conference in New Zealand three years ago. My first direct contact with ICOPA was this past May, when I attended the Toronto gathering.

Dylan: Was there anything about ICOPA that particularly impressed you?

Angela: The ICOPA conference in Toronto revealed some of the major strengths and weaknesses of the abolitionist movement. First of all, despite the rather homogenous character of their circle, they have managed to keep the notion of abolitionism alive precisely at a time when developing radical alternatives to the prison-industrial complex is becoming a necessity. That is to say, abolitionism should not now be considered an unrealizable utopian dream, but rather the only possible way to halt the further transnational development of prison industries.


That ICOPA claims supporters in Europe and Latin America is an indication of what is possible. However, the racial homogeneity of ICOPA, and the related failure to incorporate an analysis of race into the theoretical framework of their version of abolitionism, is a major weakness. The conference demonstrated that while faith-based approaches to the abolition of penal systems can be quite powerful, organizing strategies must go much further. We need to develop and popularize the kinds of analyses that explain why people of color predominate in prison populations throughout the world and how this structural racism is linked to the globalization of capital.

Dylan: Yes, I found that the political vision of ICOPA was extraordinarily limited, especially considering its professed commitment to a more radical abolitionist analysis and program. This undoubtedly had a lot to do with the underlying racism of the organization itself, which was reflected in the language of some of the conference resolutions: “We support all transformative measures which enable us to live better in community with those we as a society find most difficult, and most consistently marginalize or exclude” (emphasis added)1.


A major figure in ICOPA even accused a small group of people of color in attendance of being “racist” when they attempted to constructively criticize the overwhelming white homogeneity of the conference and the need for creative strategies to engage communities of color in such an important political discussion. Several black student-activists I met at ICOPA told me how alienated they felt at the conference, especially when they realized that the ICOPA organizers had never attempted to contact the Toronto-based organizations with which these student-activists were working: a major black anti-police-brutality coalition, a black prisoner support organization, etc.


So I certainly share your frustrations with ICOPA. At the same time, I find myself wondering how a new political formation of prison abolitionism can form in such a reactionary national and global climate. You have been involved with a variety of prison movements for the last 30 years, so maybe you can help me out. How do you think about this new political challenge within a broader historical perspective?

Angela: There are multiple histories of prison abolition. The Scandinavian scholar/activist Thomas Mathieson first published his germinal text, The Politics of Abolition, in 1974, when activist movements were calling for the disestablishment of prisons — in the aftermath of the Attica Rebellion and prison uprisings throughout Europe. He was concerned with transforming prison reform movements into more radical movements to abolish prisons as the major institutions of punishment.


There was a pattern of decarceration in the Netherlands until the mid-1980s, which seemed to establish the Dutch system as a model prison system, and the later rise in prison construction and the expansion of the incarcerated population has served to stimulate abolitionist ideas. Criminologist Willem de Haan published a book in 1990 entitled The Politics of Redress: Crime, Punishment, and Penal Abolition.



One of the most interesting texts, from the point of view of U.S. activist history is Fay Honey Knopp’s volume Instead of Prison: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, which was published in 1976, with funding from the American Friends. This handbook points out the contradictory relationship between imprisonment and an “enlightened, free society.” Prison abolition, like the abolition of slavery, is a long-range goal and the handbook argues that an abolitionist approach requires an analysis of “crime” that links it with social structures, as opposed to individual pathology, as well as “anticrime” strategies that focus on the provision of social resources.


Of course, there are many versions of prison abolitionism — including those that propose to abolish punishment altogether and replace it with reconciliatory responses to criminal acts. In my opinion, the most powerful relevance of abolitionist theory and practice today resides in the fact that without a radical position vis-a-vis the rapidly expanding prison system, prison architecture, prison surveillance, and prison system corporatization, prison culture, with all its racist and totalitarian implications, will continue not only to claim ever increasing numbers of people of color, but also to shape social relations more generally in our society.


Prison needs to be abolished as the dominant mode of addressing social problems that are better solved by other institutions and other means. The call for prison abolition urges us to imagine and strive for a very different social landscape.

Dylan: I think you make a subtle but important point here: prison and penal abolition imply an analysis of society that illuminates the repressive logic, as well as the fascistic historical trajectory, of the prison’s growth as a social and industrial institution. Theoretically and politically, this “radical position,” as you call it, introduces a new set of questions that does not necessarily advocate a pragmatic “alternative” or a concrete and immediate “solution” to what currently exists. In fact, I think this is an entirely appropriate position to assume when dealing with a policing and jurisprudence system that inherently disallows the asking of such fundamental questions as: Why are some lives considered more disposable than others under the weight of police policy and criminal law?


How have we arrived at a place where killing is valorized and defended when it is organized by the state — I’m thinking about the street lynchings of Diallo and Dorismond in New York City, the bombing of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in 1985, the ongoing bombing of Iraqi civilians by the United States — yet viciously avenged (by the state) when committed by isolated individuals? Why have we come to associate community safety and personal security with the degree to which the state exercises violence through policing and criminal justice?


You’ve written elsewhere that the primary challenge for penal abolitionists in the United States is to construct a political language and theoretical discourse that disarticulates crime from punishment. In a sense, this implies a principled refusal to pander to the typically pragmatist impulse to demand absolute answers and solutions right now to a problem that has deep roots in the social formation of the United States since the 1960s. I think your open-ended conception of prison abolition also allows for a more comprehensive understanding of the prison-industrial complex as a set of institutional and political relationships that extend well beyond the walls of the prison proper.


So in a sense, prison abolition is itself a broader critique of society. This brings me to the next question: What are the most crucial distinctions between the political commitments and agendas of prison reformists and those of prison abolitionists?

Angela: The seemingly unbreakable link between prison reform and prison development — referred to by Foucault in his analysis of prison history — has created a situation in which progress in prison reform has tended to render the prison more impermeable to change and has resulted in bigger, and what are considered “better,” prisons.


The most difficult question for advocates of prison abolition is how to establish a balance between reforms that are clearly necessary to safeguard the lives of prisoners and those strategies designed to promote the eventual abolition of prisons as the dominant mode of punishment. In other words, I do not think that there is a strict dividing line between reform and abolition.


For example, it would be utterly absurd for a radical prison activist to refuse to support the demand for better health care inside Valley State, California’s largest women’s prison, under the pretext that such reforms would make the prison a more viable institution. Demands for improved health care, including protection from sexual abuse and challenges to the myriad ways in which prisons violate prisoners’ human rights, can be integrated into an abolitionist context that elaborates specific decarceration strategies and helps to develop a popular discourse on the need to shift resources from punishment to education, housing, health care, and other public resources and services.


Dylan: Speaking of developing a popular discourse, the Critical Resistance gathering in September 1998 seemed to pull together an incredibly wide array of prison activists — cultural workers, prisoner support and legal advocates, former prisoners, radical teachers, all kinds of researchers, progressive policy scholars and criminologists, and many others.


Although you were quite clear in the conference’s opening plenary session that the purpose of Critical Resistance was to encourage people to imagine radical strategies for a sustained prison abolition campaign, it was clear to me that only a few people took this dimension of the conference seriously. That is, it seemed convenient for people to rejoice at the unprecedented level of participation in this presumably “radical” prison activist gathering, but the level of analysis and political discussion generally failed to embrace the creative challenge of formulating new ways to link existing activism to a larger abolitionist agenda. People were generally more interested in developing an analysis of the prison-industrial complex that incorporated the local work that they were involved in, which I think is an important practical connection to make.


At the same time, I think there is an inherent danger in conflating militant reform and human rights strategies with the underlying logic of anti-prison radicalism, which conceives of the ultimate eradication of the prison as a site of state violence and social repression. What is required, at least in part, is a new vernacular that enables this kind of political dream. How does prison abolition necessitate new political language, teachings, and organizing strategies? How could these strategies help to educate and organize people inside and outside the prison for abolition?

Angela: In order to imagine a world without prisons — or at least a social landscape no longer dominated by the prison — a new popular vocabulary will have to replace the current language, which articulates crime and punishment in such a way that we cannot think about a society without crime except as a society in which all the criminals are imprisoned.


Thus, one of the first challenges is to be able to talk about the many ways in which punishment is linked to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other modes of dominance. In the university, the emergence of the interdisciplinary field of prison studies can help to trouble the prevailing criminology discourses that shape public policy as well as popular ideas about the permanence of prisons. At the high school level, new curricula can also be developed that encourage critical thinking about the role of punishment. Community organizations can also play a role in urging people to link their demands for better schools, for example, to a reduction of prison spending.

Dylan: Your last comment suggests that we need to rupture the ideological structures embodied by the rise of the prison-industrial complex. How does prison abolition force us to rethink common assumptions about jurisprudence, in particular “criminal justice?”

Angela: Since the invention of the prison as punishment in Western society during the late 1700s, criminal justice systems have so thoroughly depended on imprisonment that we have lost the ability to imagine other ways to solve the problem of “crime.” One of the interesting contributions of prison abolitionists has been to propose other paradigms of punishment or to suggest that we need to extricate ourselves from the assumption that punishment must be a necessary response to all violations of the law.


Reconciliatory or restorative justice, for example, is presented by some abolitionists as an approach that has proved successful in non-Western societies — Native American societies, for example — and that can be tailored for use in urban contexts in cases that involve property and other offenses. The underlying idea is that in many cases, the reconciliation of offender and victim (including monetary compensation to the victim) is a much more progressive vision of justice than the social exile of the offender. This is only one example — the point is that we will not be free to imagine other ways of addressing crime as long as we see the prison as a permanent fixture for dealing with all or most violations of the law.

Wisconsin Prison Watch – November 2008 Newsletter

Friends,

By the time you receive this newsletter we will have elected a new president. The important word in the last sentence is ‘we’, because the right to vote is not available to thousands of Wisconsin citizens. About 70,000 Wisconsinites are under some sort of oppressive state authority. Not all of those 70,000 are precluded from voting, but most are. Many of those denied the right to vote are working and paying taxes which makes us wonder about the taxation without representation issue. Who is representing us?

Aside from the voting problem, census figures show the 53rd state assembly district claims about 5,000 prisoners as “constituents” of that district even though their legal residences are elsewhere – mostly from Milwaukee Co. These census figures are important in proportioning seats in the legislature and funds (Federal and others) to those communities.
*****************
As a note of clarification, our WPW legal team is engaged in research and the evaluation of general legal questions about the criminal (in)justice and prison system. The team is not a legal resource for specific legal questions about pending litigation or procedures. Any opinions given will address general topics of legal process. We cannot offer legal assistance to prisoners.
*****************
Have you been getting the proper and prescribed treatment for your Hep-C? Prisoners in Illinois won a huge class action suit due to lack of treatment. It appears that the Illinois and Wisconsin policies are identical and the same goes for the lack of treatment administered. We are in conversation with the attorney who won the Illinois suit. He is studying the possibility of bringing the same class action against the WIDOC. Stay tuned, we’ll keep you informed.
******************
Speaking of class action suits, has anyone heard from the folks in Frisco, TX and the Parole class action suit? We haven’t. We became concerned a couple of months ago when communication ended and the primary architect of this suit filed a parole related suit on his own behalf. Of course he claimed that, if he wins, it will help all similarly situated prisoners. We’ve heard that before and it appears that his appeal for “class members” was a way to bolster his own case and argument. That’s how we see it; let’s hope we’re wrong.
********************
The rally in front of DOC headquarters turned out pretty well considering how the effort was undermined by the “leader” of PAM who actually sent out an email to around 150 prison activists, legislators and press that the “rally has been canceled”. We’ll not speculate on the motivations but suffice it to say that the PAM leadership has developed a cozy relationship with Alfonzo Graham. I’m going to be generous here and attribute this stupid behavior to naiveté and a belief that “working with the system” will get something accomplished.

Hence the split and new organization called Prison Action Wisconsin. This split has been another frustrating setback in the organizing effort, but it was essential. Aside from the above described foolishness PAM was also heading down the “post release assistance” path intent on becoming another toothless organization looking to feel good about itself by “helping” returning prisoners. The mission of addressing conditions of confinement and parole abuse were becoming secondary to the mission.

PAW will remain focussed on the criminality of the DOC in their abusive treatment of prisoners; on the degrading and inhuman warehousing of our loved ones; on the utter failure of the DOC to complete its stated mission; on the merry-go-round of needed programs – parole consideration – early release – carrot dangling manipulation.

One of our comrades, 15 years in on an excessive 30 sentence just came up for parole. He had over 100 letters of support, letters from State Representatives, a letter from one of the jury members who was shocked at the original sentence. No conduct reports in over 10 years, a job waiting, family waiting, lots of support. He got a 36 defer. Just another example of the ideologically driven parole commission.
*******************
The ten year Critical Resistance anniversary conference in Oakland, CA was a great gathering of prison abolitionists and activists. Former Panthers, community organizers and young anarchists all came together for a weekend of networking and workshops. The primary message coming out of all the talks and workshops was ORGANIZE!!! Organize in the communities, organize in the prisons, organize, organize, organize.

Attending the CR10 conference reinforced the truth that PRISONS DO NOT SOLVE SOCIETAL PROBLEMS – THEY MAKE THEM WORSE. If you think prisons are about rehabilitation and punishment, you’re looking at it the wrong way, prisons are about controlling populations, poor populations. As our economies collapse and jobs become even scarcer, we can expect desperation and crime to increase. As state budgets tighten we will see a tug of war for funds; social programs will be slashed as repressive systems get funding, speeding up the regressive spiral. The next few years will be very interesting and if we prepare, if we organize, we will be able to resist the oppressive machine. We can either hang together or separately hang.

in solidarity, WPW & PAW

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Employment Discrimination Based Upon Arrest and Conviction Record
by Dujuan Walker

In my last piece I discussed the John Doe Statute and how this statute may be used by prisoners to help enforce their rights. In this issue I will address a legal problem which seems to plague almost every prisoner upon their release to the community: Illegal employment discrimination based on arrest and conviction record. Many former prisoners are finding that employers are basing their decision not to hire strictly upon the former prisoner’s past criminal background. In many situations, as I will discuss below, this practice is illegal and in violation of Wisconsin State Statutes s.. 111.335 et. seq. If you are discriminated against based upon your arrest and conviction record, you may be able to recover damages in civil court AND get the employer to hire you at that place of employment. The following information is quoted directly from a fact sheet published by the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, Equal Rights Division (ERD-7609-P).

How does the law define (Wisconsin Fair Employment law, Wisconsin Statutes. 111.31-111.395) arrest record?
Arrest record is defined as information that a person has been questioned, apprehended, taken into custody or detention, held for investigation, arrested, charged with, indicted or tried for any felony, misdemeanor or other offense by any law enforcement or military authority.

How does the law define conviction record?
Conviction record is defined as information indicating that a person has been convicted of any felony, misdemeanor or other offense, has been judged delinquent, has been less than honorably discharged, or has been placed on probation, fined, imprisoned or paroled by any law enforcement or military authority.

Can an employer discharge a current employee because of a pending criminal charge?
No. An employer may, however, suspend an employee, if the offense-giving rise to the pending criminal charge is substantially related to the circumstances of the particular job or licensed activity.

Can an employer refuse to hire a person because or a record of arrests that did not lead to conviction?
No. An employer is not allowed to ask about arrests, other than pending charges.

What can an employer ask regarding arrest and conviction records?
An employer may ask whether an applicant has any pending charges or convictions, as long as the employer makes it clear that these will only be given consideration if the offenses are substantially related to the particular job. An employer cannot, legally, make a rule that no persons with conviction records will be employed. Each job and record must be considered individually.

Can an employer refuse to hire an applicant because of a lengthy record of convictions or conviction for a crime the employer finds upsetting?
An employer may only refuse to hire a qualified applicant because of a conviction record for an offense that is substantially related to the circumstances of a particular job. Whether the crime is an upsetting one may have nothing to do with whether it is substantially related to a particular job.

What is meant by substantially related?
The law does not specifically define it. The “substantially related” test looks at the circumstances of an offense, where it happened, when, etc. – compared to the circumstances of a job – where is this job typically done, when, etc. The more similar the circumstances, the more likely it is that a substantial relationship will be found. The legislature has determined that certain convictions are substantially related to employment in child and adult caregiving programs regulated by the Department of Health and Family Services.

What if an employer believes a pending charge or conviction is substantially related but the employee or applicant believes it is not?
In this situation, the employee or applicant may file a complaint and the Equal Rights Division will make a determination as to whether there is a substantial relationship, with either party having the right to appeal the decision.

Can an employer refuse to hire or discharge a person with a pending charge or conviction because other workers or customers don’t want the person with a conviction there?
No. The law makes no provision for this type of problem. The employer must show that the conviction record is substantially related to the particular job. Co-worker or customer preference is not a consideration.

Is it a violation of the law if the applicant’s conviction record is a part of the reason “for not being hired, but not the who!e reason?
Yes. A conviction record that is not substantially related to the particular job should be given no consideration in the hiring process.

How should an applicant answer questions on an application regarding conviction record?
It is best to answer all questions on an application as honestly and fully as possible, and to offer to explain the circumstances of the conviction to the employer.

Should an employer ask about the circumstances of a conviction during an interview?
Yes. An employer must obtain enough information to determine if the conviction record is substantially related to the job. If the employer decides there is a substantial! relationship, employment may be refused but the employer must be prepared to defend the decision if the applicant believes there is not a substantial
relationship and files a complaint.

What should a person do if refused employment or discharged because of an arrest or conviction record (that is not substantially related)?
Complaints about violations of the law protecting persons from discrimination because or arrest and/or conviction may be filed with:

State of Wisconsin Department Of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division
201 E Washington Ave. Room A300
P.O. Box 8928
Madison, WI 53708
Telephone: (608) 266-6860

819 N. 6th Street
Room 255
Milwaukee, WI 53203
Telephone: (414) 227-4384

For more information on this issue see, for example, County of Milwaukee v. LIRC, 139 Wis. 2d. 805, 407 N.W. 2d. 908 (1987). Keep in mind that the filing of a complaint with the Equal Rights Division is a prerequisite to filing any court action against the employer for refusing to hire you based upon arrest or conviction record or firing you because of arrest and conviction record. You have 300 days from the date of the incident to file a complaint with the ERD or else your issue is time-barred. In many cases, the issue is resolved without litigation ever being necessary. Many employers would rather just hire a former prison than deal with litigation by the former prisoner or his/her attorney. Also, the ERD may find during their investigation that the employer did in fact discriminate against you because of your past. Many employers try to cover it up by listing some false reason for refusing to employ people but still many employers will admit that they “Do not hire felons” or “Will not consider non-competitive (felon)” applicants. Either way, we need to make sure that these employers are held responsible for their violations of the law and crimes against the public.

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Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners in wrong place; access to state and county government distorted
Prison Policy Initiative

The federal Census counts state and federal prisoners as part of the local population, and that creates big problems for state and local government, charges a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative.

“Governments rely on the Census to count the population so they can update legislative districts,” said Prison Policy Initiative Executive Director and report co-author Peter Wagner. The Supreme Court’s “One Person One Vote” rule requires that legislative districts each contain the same number of people, so that each person has the same access to government. “Unfortunately, the Census Bureau has counted 20,000 prisoners in the wrong place,” said Wagner.

Historically, Wisconsin’s state legislative districts are drawn by federal judges and far more equal in population than in most states. “Only 4 states drew more perfect districts” said report co-author John Hejduk. “But we found a district where 10% of the population is prisoners; that’s a problem 5 times larger than what the federal judges who drew the districts were trying to avoid.”

“The problem is even larger in some rural areas,” said Wagner. The report, Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin, finds rural county and city government districts that are as much as 79% prisoners. “This allows the real residents of a district with a prison to unfairly dominate their local government.”

The report calls on Wisconsin to lobby the Census Bureau to change how prisoners are counted; and urges counties and cities with prisons to follow the lead of Michigan’s counties and draw legislative districts that are not based on flawed Census counts of prisoners.

Counting incarcerated people as residents of prison towns skews demographic data

Counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of prison towns leads to misleading portrayals of such communities.

Wisconsin has the second highest Black incarceration rate in the country,[4] and the fifth highest racial disparity in incarceration,[5] with Blacks 10.6 times as likely to be in prison as Whites. Counties with large prisons, though, tend to be disproportionately White: 87% of the state and federal prison cells are located in counties that are have a larger White population than the state as a whole. In Dodge County, 89% and in Marquette County, 91%, of the Black population reported in the Census is not residents, but prisoners.[6]

The prison communities also tend to be small enough that incarcerated populations are a significant portion of the total “residents” counted by the Census. Twenty-four percent of the population reported in the Census for Waupun City (in Dodge and Fond du Lac Counties) is actually prisoners at the Waupun, Dodge and John C. Burke Correctional Facilities. About 5% of the “residents” counted in Dodge and Jackson Counties are actually prisoners. In Marquette County, more than 8% of “residents” are incarcerated.[8]

There is also a geographic disparity in who goes to prison in Wisconsin. The residents of Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Rock counties are much more likely to be incarcerated than the residents of other counties. The residents of Milwaukee County are more than twice as likely to be in prison than the average resident of the state, and more than 7 times as likely as the residents of prison-hosting Dodge County. Milwaukee County contains 18% of the state population and is home for 42% of its prisoners.[7]

The Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of the prison location complicates using the Census for demographic analysis of rural communities, but this problem is overshadowed by the serious damage the prisoner miscount does to state and local democracy.

Redistricting and “One Person, One Vote”

The basic principle of American representative democracy is that every vote must be of equal weight. When governments draw districts with equal populations, they ensure that each resident has equal access to government, no matter where she or he lives. When districts are of substantially different sizes, the weight of each vote starts to differ: in underpopulated districts, each vote is worth more, and in overpopulated districts, a vote is worth less.

The U.S. Supreme Court first declared that the “One Person, One Vote” principle applied to state legislative redistricting in the 1963 landmark case Reynolds v. Sims.[9] The Court struck down an apportionment scheme for the Alabama state legislature that was based on counties and not population. In 1960 Alabama, Lowndes County, with 15,417 people, had the same number of state senators as Jefferson County, with 634,864 people, giving the residents of sparsely-populated Lowndes County 41 times as much political power as the residents of densely-populated Jefferson County. The Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause required that districts be drawn to be substantially equal in population.

Subsequent U.S. Supreme Court cases defined the limits of “substantially equal.” In White v. Regester, the Court ruled that the State of Texas was not required to justify how it drew lines resulting in an average district deviation of less than 2% and a maximum deviation of 9.9%.[10] Today, most states draw their districts so that the smallest district is no more than 5% smaller, and the largest no more than 5% larger, than the average district. This keeps the difference between the largest and smallest district within 10%.

Wisconsin has historically applied a much higher standard, drawing districts with a maximum deviation of less than 2%. Only four states currently have districts that are more equal in population than Wisconsin’s.[11] For three decades, federal judges have drawn the state Assembly and Senate legislative district maps. In 1982, at the first redistricting since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas to have a population deviation of 10%, the federal judges who drew Wisconsin’s districts set a higher standard, explaining that “We believe that a constitutionally acceptable plan should not deviate as high as 10%, and should, if possible, be kept below 2%.”[12] The plan they drafted met even that high standard: “The deviation in our plan is a scant 1.74%.”[13]

In 1992, the court drew a plan with an even smaller total deviation from exact population equality: 0.52%.[14] In 2002, the court drew a plan with a deviation of only 1.48%, still within the 2% threshold established in 1982.[15]

Wisconsin rightly prioritizes population equality when drawing districts, but the Census Bureau has undermined these efforts by crediting thousands of prisoners to the wrong place.

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Freedom
by Phillip Torsrud
WCI, Waupun, WI

Many entities like taking credit for the freedom that the American people have. Politicians, the military, even the media at times use the mantra, “fighting for our freedom”. It’s a surprise that the scientists and engineers who develop our weapons don’t feel the need to explain that if they didn’t invent the atom bomb, stealth bomber, M-16, etc…, we would not be the “leader of the free world”. Perhaps the billions of dollars we spend on our weapons industries keeps them from wasting time explaining how much we need them to maintain our freedom.

The problem is that a free country cannot remain so if people believe that it is someone else’s responsibility to provide them with their freedom as though it were a service. The justification for personal freedom is that people have a conscience that makes them aware of the significance of being free and the faculties to exercise that freedom responsibly. When people lack a conscience or are irresponsible, they are sanctioned through a loss of freedom. This can range from taking away someone’s driver’s license to putting them in prison.

While sanctions have always existed, the current trend of legislating away personal freedom is a reaction to a tremendous number of irresponsible people who abuse their freedoms. Rather than do the real work needed to develop’ a society of educated, fully developed adults who can function in a free society, people are satisfied with simply reiterating the sanctions we’ve always had by passing a new law. This is an offered service, which only results in empowering the government. Does this address the dysfunctional nature of the people who abused their freedom? Empowering the individual to take responsibility for their community and self is the only workable solution in a free society.

Freedom is a revolutionary idea, and only in recent history became a social norm. As societies constantly organize and reorganize, whatever party takes on the power of the establishment in our ever shifting political landscape will try to control people, markets, ideas, etc… to serve their agenda. Therefore, the individual is always faced with the dilemma of conforming, or staking out their values against the herd of sheep who will trample over their own freedoms in pursuit of a leader who promises to do their work for them. Free societies depend on individuals with the backbone to reject these false promises and thereby manifest their identity and maintain their culture.

Today, Americans have a false sense of freedom that is manifested in style, not substance. Through the clothes they wear, the way they talk, tattoos, body piercing, or even riding a motorcycle, Americans like to present a facade~ of having a rebel mentality, implying how deeply they value freedom. Yet when a problem arises, the first institution they call on to solve it, is the government. No matter what the cost in freedom or money, only the government is thought of as having any problem solving ability.

In France, there are 63,000 inmates in prison, and 1,100 are for terrorist related activity. That works out to almost 1,000 inmates for every million people. Wisconsin would have around 5,000 inmates at those rates, but instead has over 23,000 inmates, and zero for terrorist related activities. Paris itself has more people that all of Wisconsin, and has more visitors per year than any place on earth, some of whom commit crimes.

After liberating France from the Germans, the French now value freedom more than Americans. In France, incarceration is only used when absolutely necessary. Why is it the last option? So that the government can invest in an educational system that is far better than ours, national health care, and an infrastructure that makes people want to go there to live or travel. It’s called having your priorities straight. Since the French are educated, they would never allow their politicians to use fear to turn their nation into a police state. Only people with a slave mentality would sacrifice their future by wasting so many precious resources on institutions that only offer the illusion of safety.

Freedom starts in the mind. it is an idea that once embraced becomes an attitude. When a sufficient number of people adopt that attitude it becomes a movement. When that movement is successful, a society begins to have institutions that reflect that attitude in their policies. The reason that America’s national anthem ends with, “in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” is because freedom and bravery go hand in hand. The freedom to live a worthwhile life will never be risk free. America will never be a free country until it stops living in fear.

**********

The Day My Mother Was Sent Away
by Wenona Thompson

The day my Mother was sent away

The day my mother was arrested was the beginning of my life’s destruction.

No one will ever actually understand me until their mother is legally separated from them.

I know what my mother did was wrong, or against the law, but I already don’t have a father now they done took away my mother.

I can’t seem to understand this, for where is my mandatory love, attention, discipline, understanding, and home education gonna come from?

A lot of people assume that my mother is the cause of these changes. But regardless of who cause such problems, the consequence are not solving them.

For so long I tried to make sense out of these state rules and regulations, but for some reason I can’t understand why there isn’t any alternative punishment for crime-convicted mothers with babies.

I know this may not be true, but is the state trying to rectify the problem, prolong it, or maybe just create something totally new? Hmm, I truly don’t know.

I’m now an older lady with children of my own, facing many issues not only within myself, but also the issues of my mother, who I impatiently await to re-meet.

I sometimes ask myself if this punishment my mother and I are receiving is accurate. In all honesty I say it is not, for this was my mother’s first offense and the crime was not violent.

But still, the state changed my life goals and also the goals of my mother, my children, and my sisters and brothers the day my Mother was sent away.

This story is one of many wonderful, heartbreaking stories excerpted from the zine:

WRITERS BLOCK: The voices of women inside

available from:
Women and Prison Program
c/o Beyondmedia Education
4001 N. Ravenswood Ave. #204C
Chicago, IL 60613

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Gil Scott-Heron -1975

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

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Et Cetera

Secondhand Hearsay

The editor of WPW was with a lawyer supporting a lawsuit initiated by an ex-prisoner. The lawyer mentioned an interesting story, as follows: He was at a dinner party with some muckymucks (judges, DAs, lawyers, etc.) including a high ranking member of the DOJ. The DOJ official told him that he knows the DOC is corrupt and they (the DOJ) were silently pleased that a few good lawyers and prisoners were bringing some of the abuses to light so the corruption can be weeded out. This story should be a shout out to all jail-house lawyers – give yourself a pat on the back! The work you are doing does matter! There is an understanding, throughout the system, that the DOC is out of control. Keep up the good work!

********

Institutional Inertia or, On the Job Training

A prisoner at WSPF created a disturbance at his cell door when he knocked his meal tray off the door trap, into the hall. Two guards were at the scene, a new guy and a long timer. After some words, the long timer kicked the trap shut. A day or two later the CR arrived indicating how the prisoner had misbehaved. Later, the prisoner asked the new guard why there was no mention of how the other guard had kicked the trap shut. The new guard said, “I included that in my report but the white shirt had me rewrite it, leaving that part out.” Lesson learned.

********

For Some, Rules Apply

Our friend Matlock sends us word from KMCI that Deputy Warden Beck went on a foul mouthed abusive tirade directed at a group of prisoners. This kind of behavior is specifically NOT ALLOWED and is unprofessional, so Matlock went looking for an Inmate Complaint form and discovered that retribution and cover-up are swift and sure. He received 4 CRs – inciting a riot, group resistance, failure to obey an order and, disruptive conduct. He was thrown in the hole and kicked out of his required program with only two weeks to go. After sending letters to the press and legislators and outside supporters, the two major tickets were dropped and he was offered a chance to start his programming over next month. The two tickets that remain are being contested and if we know Matlock, a lawsuit against Beck is smoking in the typewriter.

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PRISON ACTION WISCONSIN
P.O.Box 05669
Milwaukee, WI 53205
prisonactionwisconsin@gmail.com

Parole Commission Chair Alfonzo Graham
Wisconsin Parole Commission
3099 E. Washington
Madison, WI 53707

Dear Chairman Graham,

Our group has developed the following five points to express our deep frustration with the policies of your office. A clear response to these points would help us begin to understand how the Commission functions. Many of these concerns were expressed with our signs and chants in front of your office on September 22nd but we wanted to more clearly articulate these concerns and offer you an opportunity to respond.

Thank you
PAW steering committee

What we Believe, What we Want

1. We believe the Parole Commission is keeping prisoners longer than the intent of the legislature and sentencing judges. We believe the Parole Commission is keeping prisoners longer than is good for them, their families, and the community.

We want serious and realistic parole consideration at the legislatively mandated parole eligibility date.

2. We believe the Parole Commission is ideologically driven and making parole decisions based on politics.

We want the “tough-on-crime” mentality within the Parole Commission to end and parole decisions to be made on the basis of what is good for the community and good for the prisoner.

3. We believe the Parole Commission operates in a capricious and irregular manner.

We want consistency, predictability and transparency of process. We want prisoners and prisoner families to know and understand exactly what needs to be accomplished by prisoners for a meaningful parole consideration.

4. We believe the parole criteria, “has not served enough time for punishment”, is too subjective, arbitrary and beyond the scope of the Commission.

We want that criteria eliminated, as the punishment time was determined by the sentencing judge who was aware of all the facts of the case and who was guided by legislative intent.

5. We believe the criteria for meaningful parole consideration are ambiguous and the commission has no “standard” for measuring a prisoner’s success.

We want the Parole Commission to develop a standard model of criteria that gives guidance to parole commissioners, prisoners and DOC staff on the “parolability” of individual prisoners.

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Hunger Strike Continues
by Warren Lilly #447655
New Lisbon Correctional

A friend of mine, upon hearing that I’d been maced and tazered by the guards at New Lisbon prison, urged me to “make them earn their pay” by continuing my hunger strike. I appreciate the support. I’ve refused prison food and authority for over four years and will not bow down, even to escalating violence.

However, something bothered me about my friend’s statement of support. That something was his unwillingness to “make them earn their pay.” During my four years of hunger striking I’ve met hundreds of prisoners who’ve stood behind my strike, way, way behind it. So far behind that they actually became invisible. I could still hear their distant and muffled shouts of “Go for it!”, but I just couldn’t see who was shouting it.

Such distant support makes it impossible t fight anything but a very lopsided war. One where the enemy, the Justice system, freely and purposely destroys our lives while we, the prisoners, just as freely give up our lives and freedoms.

We cower in the face of the imagined indestructibility of our enemy. We make it easy for our enemy to scorn, despise, and abuse us. We believe their propaganda that says we we are worthless and powerless, and that they have the right to control and waste our lives.

We fear to take even the riskless chances to fight for freedom and life or to assert our personhood. Less than a hundred of the twenty-two thousand prisoners answered my call to fast with me on Sundays then to send our moralless governor a letter demanding change.

To those who fasted I send my heartfelt thanks and ask you to continue fasting and recruit others. Hold a “fast-in” after the skipped meals to gather and write letters of support for the cause and protest of imprisonment to the governor.

To those who fear to fast, I ask what risk is there in forsaking a meal in support of a stand, or writing a letter of protest? We have let our fears conquer our personhood and rule our reason, and by doing so have abandoned life and liberty in favor of the false safety of cowardice.

I’m reminded of the time in my youth when people would say “when the revolution comes I’m gonna…” Well, the revolution never came because no one brought it forth. Now, like then, people sit and wait for others to blaze the trail so that they can travel it without sacrifice, without difficulty, without personal strife.

I waited forty years for the revolution to come. I let the world go from bad to worse, and now at nearly sixty years of age, the truth has dawned on me, a very simple truth: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.

“If it’s to be, it’s up to me”. So powerful a revelation in such a simple and yet painfully obvious truth. A god is not coming to save me or make right the wrongs of others, good is not about to spring from bad nor virtue from evil, and the only thing that will happen to those who treat me cruelly is that they will prosper upon my misery. Those are the lessons of life. Another lesson, a hope filled one, is that those who strive for justice and peace and freedom achieve it.

The revolution is here, the revolution is now, do something to sustain it, stand up for something. Begin by reading the letter to the governor and understanding this protest, then hold a “fast-in” and get those letters mailed. Find a non-violent way to “make them earn their pay”.

Stop buying the propaganda that your life is worthless, that you are powerless, and that they have the right to control and waste your life. Stop cowering before the paper tigers and giant shadows cast by imperious runts. Abandon your fears, be driven by the simple truth, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me”.

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REVOCATION: The Life Blood of Corrections
by Mike Weston #000155
RCI, Sturtevant, WI

Late in his tenure as secretary of the Department of Corrections (DOC), Michael Sullivan said on television that men would “No longer be sent back to prison for rule violations”. The sole exception to this radical mandate would be failing a urinalysis test, implying possession and use of forbidden head candy.

Given that the never-ending flow of humans returned to the doc as rule violators never ended, it is eminently logical to hold that king Tommy Thompson promptly called Sullivan and demanded of him a reply to “ What the hell are you doing!?” The new policy was silently rescinded…..

The king was erecting his prison empire and here one of his lap dogs was attempting to abort the birth by terminating the death march from liberty to the slow death chambers of the DOC.

Since some 54% of the prison population is comprised of probation and parole (P+P) violators, it is uniquely self-evident that the system would collapse were the DOC’s division of community corrections (DCC), under whose egis exist the apparatchiks of P+P, the agents, indeed ordered to cease revocating all those who have not violated a statute (and releasing now all those returned for violations).

When one rationally presumed sanity might crawl out from ‘neath the detritus of the king’s reign with the ascension to the throne of Jim Doyle, an alleged democrat who, erroneously it appears, was touted as left-to-moderate on social issues, all that really eventuated is that Doyle is the mirror-image of his supposed arch enemy and nemesis, King Tommy.

When it comes to “corrections”, both willingly sacrifice lives and untold wealth from the pockets of citizens. So as to maintain the prison empire at its artificially inflated state of over 22,000 prisoners.

Tommy did it deliberately, Doyle is too afraid to end the farce which has the DOC at least twice the size it should be by all rational and realistic determinants. For example, Minnesota’s prison population is 7,000. Wisconsin and the Gopher state are virtual clones in that all of the relevant demographics are mirror-images of one another.

The populations are the same, numerically, racially, economic status, education and the like; crime rates and offenses categories match well as do arrests and convictions. And yet, Minnesota knowingly incarcerates two-thirds less people than “wonderful WIsconsin”. Why here?

Indeed, on a per capita basis, Wisconsin is a “leader” in locking way human beings, despite the fact that our crooks, as a rule, are virtual “pussycats” compared to criminals in most other states! For instance, which Wisconsin warden would “trade” his prisoners one-for-one with the warden of San Quentin? Again, why here?

In the December 2007 issue, in their article on parole and politics in WIsconsin, the authors provided the answer by quoting U.W. Law professor Walter Dickey’s public statement; “men are being kept in prison because of money and politics”. Obviously, they cannot be kept there if not first sent there…. and remember, Professor Dickey was the first DOC secretary, he knows of what he speaks – while Doyle and State and Federal Justice personnel ignore the criminal activity implicit in Dickey’s charge.

The criminal justice” and “corrections” systems are growth industries and are subsidized by Wisconsin and federal funds flooding law enforcement and corrections like hurricane rains. No other industry has the stability, money and growth potential of the DOC – the fat sow at the public trough gulping down more tax dollars than any other element of Wisconsin government.

The plethora of “correctional” facilities planted throughout the kingdom by Tommy are the cash cows for the locales in which they fester. Tommy gained power and support from weed beds as well as “rewards” from the Federal government for locking up everyone in sight, i.e., the poor and minorities, and bribes from construction companies and others building and equipping the prison empire: they donated millions to Tommy’s campaign, to his puppet successor, McCallum, and to our “enlightened” current governor, remember “money and politics” rule in sending people to and keeping them in prison…

There is a distinct racial factor in all of this: Milwaukee and Racine, more than other counties, deny legitimate opportunities to minorities and then jail them at record rates when they rebel at being suppressed and denied their humanity.
It is fully documented that WIsconsin owns the nation’s highest incarceration rate of minorities: further, over two-thirds of Wisconsin prisoners are African American. Another effect of racism is that many lack educational levels commensurate with their ages. This debilitation is both aggravated and reinforced by the deficient, nickel and dime DOC education system which is little more than a mill grinding out “graduates” now blessed with a GED certificate signifying nothing of merit.
These “programs”, completely devoid of substance and depth, are offered under the guise of “rehabilitation”, but are either debilitating or serve simply to reinforce the criminality they purport to treat.

The manifest and cumulative results of incarceration, ever demonstrable, are in fact the stated reinforcement of criminality leading to the DOC’s egregious failure to redirect the lives of prisoners. The goal of the DOC (it is clear), its very raison d’etre (reason for existence), is infact to ensure recidivism.

The methodology is simple: The economic and political systems create criminals, their “criminal justice” system sends the felons to the DOC which later sends those people to the DCC who then seek out petty, trivial or false “reason” to revocate one’s liberty. The DCC files revocation papers with the third leg of this eternal triangle, the department of administration’s division of hearings and appeals who send the violators back to the DOC!

Once the revocation process begins, fughetdaboutdit! administrator David Schwarz rarely reverses a verdict to revoke liberty: he and his boss, DOA secretary Mike Morgan, are also Doyle lap dogs ordered to revocate as many probationers and parolees as possible to maintain the inflated prison population.

The system is clear: send people to the DOC, reinforce their problems, send them to the DCC, find “reasons” to revoke, send them to DOA’s hearings and appeals who then ship them back to the DOC – round and round she goes, where she stops is the permanent count of 22,000 humans in prison on a daily basis.

Doyle prides himself on adopting two African American boys and on his support for Senator Obama, while he oversees a racial disaster in the state and in the DOC – his DOC.

Doyle and his crew fear that if the river to nowhere ended, half to DOC would shut down: that is not true. Every facility is overcrowded, if all rule violators were released each facility would still have all their beds filled when they go from the current four, three or two in a room to single man rooms.

This would free up the people, time and resources to truly attempt to help those in prisons sent by the courts, not DCC and DOA for a rule violations.

Governor, implement Sullivan’s aborted policy to not revocate for rules violations…

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WANTED – ARTWORK BY PRISONERS

Wisconsin Books to Prisoners was the recipient of a powerful set of posters created by 20 printmakers from the JUSTSEEDS Visual Resistance art collective. These posters were created in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of Critical Resistance, a prison abolitionist movement, and call attention to the human rights catastrophe in U.S. jails and prisons, and the use of policing, prisons and punishment as a “solution” to social, political and economic problems.

The posters and artwork by prisoners will be displayed at a gallery in Madison –mostly likely in February of 2009. Art that addresses the condition of prisons and the daily drudgery and cruelties of prison life would be particularly appreciated.

Please do not send anything that you want returned or is not copyright free. Also, please let us know how you wish to be (or not be) identified. Many thanks in advance to those who make contributions to this event.

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Inmates Bring Civil Rights Class Action Against Becker County

Becker County, Minnesota and several of its law enforcement officials are facing a civil rights class action lawsuit. The suit, brought by inmates at the county jail, alleges that the county illegally monitored and possibly recorded confidential and privileged telephone calls between inmates at the jail and their attorneys.

According to the suit, the inmates of the jail and their attorneys are informed in writing that attorney/client telephone calls are confidential and consequently not subject to monitoring or recording. However, the suit alleges that illegal monitoring of telephone calls to discuss inmates’ cases has taken place, and the information gained has been used against the inmates during prosecution.

Editor’s note – This article caught our eye because we heard from a comrade at WSPF who discovered that a privileged phone call made to his attorney had been recorded. We called the warden who confirmed that “all day room phones are monitored and prisoners calling their attorneys from those phones should not expect privacy”. He also said that “we are going to post this information at those phones.” The signs were not yet posted a week after our conversation with the warden.

page 6.

Wisconsin Prison Watch – July 2008 Newsletter

Friends,

Finally, the bogus censorship of our newsletter has been exposed. Finally, a prisoner went all the way through the process and into Federal Court. Finally, claims of “Threat to Security” and “Item Contains Contraband” and “Item suggests behavior that would violate the law…,” have been given their proper response from the courts – Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Judge Crabb said that the reasons Dan Westfield gave for censoring our newsletter were “not valid”, his response was “exaggerated”, and his “censorship is not logically connected to penological interests.”

Lorenzo Johnson sued the DOC Security Director Dan Westfield for his censoring of our March 2007 newsletter. Our May 2008 issue was at first denied but later delivered to all subscribers after the May 28th ruling by Judge Crabb. Trial for damages is scheduled for July 21 and Mr. Johnson is now represented by attorney Jeff Scott Olson.
To read the Court’s Opinion look up 07-cv-390-bbc.

We’ve received some comment from prisoners. SP at WSPF says, “we don’t need the newsletter to foster disrespect of staff; they do that themselves.”

One major “problem” Security Chief Westfield had with our newsletter (and he mentioned this to me over the phone once) is that the newsletter “offered no hope.” I can well understand, from Westfield’s perspective, how hope might play an integral part in keeping order in the institutions. The hope that Dan Westfield wants a prisoner to hang onto is that the institution will provide training and (re)programming and prepare him/her for release, that the institution will act fairly and listen to complaints, or provide adequate health care or give an honest evaluation at parole These are false hopes and, if accepted, lead to complacency (order in Westfield’s view) and inaction (security in institution speak). REAL hope and REAL solutions are not offered by the institutions, REAL hope comes with action taken on your own behalf for your own dignity and for the collective well being.

This brings me to PAM. Get your people involved. The group is growing and on the verge of becoming a serious movement. They are planning a demonstration at DOC headquarters this fall. They are strategizing on how to lobby our legislators in the next session. They are a legitimate focus for your hopes, REAL hopes, not false hopes. They can become a REAL counter balance to the DOCs arrogance of power.

Remember the “merry-go-round” article in the May newsletter? Well, Judge Richard O. Wright was convinced by Attorney Erik Johnson (case # 98-CF-14) that the Parole Commission is usurping judicial intent. He’s convinced that prisoner Drew is being kept longer than he intended when sentenced. The judge granted a sentence modification and in effect knocked eight years off of Drew’s sentence.

Judge Wright is convinced and any fair minded judge would agree, prisoners are being held longer than the sentencing judges intended. The claim of parole commissioners that a prisoner has not served enough time for punishment is completely bogus and exceeds the authority of the Commission. Who made them God?

We have documents that show how the Federal Government gave the State millions dollars as long as they kept “violent” criminals behind bars for longer periods of time. You can thank Bill Clinton for that mess. These Federal incentives to incarcerate and hold prisoners longer was set in place in the 1990’s. Graham and the current commissioners are not the designers of these plots but, they are chosen for the ideology they embrace – “tough on crime”.

The entire DOC is run by and filled with former cops, prosecutors, DAs and cop wanna-be’s. Penology, education, rehabilitation, training and preparation are foreign to their ideology. They believe in punishment as a solution to social ills, drug addiction and mental illness. The programs they administer are eye wash and halfhearted attempts at doing something they don’t want to do. Until the public becomes weary of spending money to warehouse “criminals” and the legislature feels the pressure, the DOC will never fill its mandated mission to protect the public.

How the “blue wall” closes ranks when one of it’s own is accused is clearly shown by our comrade Dujuan Walker in his piece titled “Legal Terrorism”. Dujuan has remained committed to the struggle – after release. He will never forget what he suffered behind those walls and he is determined to expose the rot. His voice is critical to our struggle. We need more released prisoners to join the fight.

If you fell for the hype and signed up to go to Supermax, don’t worry, in 2010 they say they’re going to start building outdoor recreation and a visiting center. You’ll still be stuck in a tiny cell with no storage, no real work opportunities, no classrooms and one step away from the dungeons, but hey, your folks can drive three hours from Milwaukee for a short visit; what more do you want?

We’re still struggling along for funding and we have enclosed a subscription form on the last page. We will accept cash, checks, postage stamps, income tax rebates, sincere promises, and portions of any awards won from litigating against the DOC. If you think it’s important that you have a voice reaching out to the public; a voice sending a message of truth and real hope, send us a little change. Now that our message is more likely to get through the censors; now that PAM is on the move, now is the time to step up.

Whether or not we answer every letter or print every submission, rest assured, we read every report from the dark side. Without your letters we can’t know what’s happening behind the concrete and razor wire. We are a conduit from you to the public, the legislature, the press and legal community. Keep the information coming. We will protect your identity if you ask us to.

in the struggle,
WPW

Federal Judge James Doyle: “I am persuaded that the institution of prison must end. In many respects it is as intolerable within the United States as was the institution of slavery, equally brutalizing to all involved, equally toxic to the social system, equally subversive to the brotherhood of man, even more costly by some standards, and probably less rational.”
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page 2,

Supermax: Psychiatrist alleges Dept. of Corrections retaliation
Narinder K. Saini says refusal to change inmate’s diagnosis cost him his job
Bill Lueders 5/22/08

A veteran state psychiatrist testified in court last year that he was asked to change the diagnosis of a state prison inmate and fired because he refused.

Narinder K. Saini, a state employee since 1990, dropped this bombshell in a Dodge County courtroom last July at the sentencing hearing of former Lodi resident Brian Locke. He stated that in mid-2004, he was asked by his boss, Dr. Kevin Kallas, to agree that Locke did not have a bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness, “so he could be sent successfully to Boscobel.”

At the time, Saini was in his 10th year of employment with the state Department of Corrections, then under a court order not to use the supermaximum security prison at Boscobel for patients with serious mental illness.

“[Kallas] asked me to change the diagnosis because they knew if I will not change the diagnosis, [Locke] cannot go to Supermax,” Saini testified. “I refused to do that.”

Saini knew Locke from previous contacts and felt he had been correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He said Kallas was “not happy with my clinical diagnosis” and overruled him, sending Locke to Boscobel, but that another doctor who also knew Locke’s medical history ordered his return. Shortly thereafter, “I was terminated by the DOC…for mishandling the case, not cooperating with them.”

The DOC, Saini added, cut Locke off medications that had proved effective in the past. Why would it do this? he was asked. “Save money,” he replied.

Saini said he tried restoring these medications but “was not allowed to.”

The DOC wanted to send Locke to Boscobel because he had assaulted a guard, the incident for which he was being sentenced. At the hearing, Saini suggested the assault owed at least in part to Locke being taken off his medication.

Dodge County Judge Andrew Bissonette, in sentencing Locke to an additional five years in prison, noted that he had, prior to this incident, been “complaining to staff that he was being deprived of the meds he needed.” The judge called Saini’s testimony “kind of damning to the DOC,” adding that the agency “has a responsibility to provide care to all of its inmates so we don’t have incidents like this where staff are injured.”

DOC spokesman John Dipko calls Saini’s testimony “inaccurate on nearly every count. The Department of Corrections does not withhold necessary medication from inmates because of cost, and the department does not fabricate documentation to send inmates to [Boscobel].”

Brian Locke, now 50 and incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, could be a poster boy for the dangers of using prisons to deal with people with serious mental illness.

His attack on the guard after his medications were yanked was his first felony conviction. His prior convictions were all misdemeanors, although he did draw a multi-year sentence in 2002 on multiple misdemeanor counts.

In a letter to Isthmus, Locke says this incident — an attack on medical personnel transporting him to a hospital — owed to a mix-up involving medications: “I was still responsible for my actions, but not the intent.”

Locke later sued his Madison defense attorney, David Stokes, for malpractice; the case was dismissed last fall but is now being appealed. Armed with records he obtained through discovery, Locke has also alleged that Stokes defrauded the State Public Defender’s Office through overbilling. He initiated a John Doe proceeding against Stokes in Dane County court.

Sounds nuts, right? But this February, around the time when the Legislature nearly passed a bill to bar inmates from bringing such actions, Dane County Judge Sarah O’Brien found probable cause that Stokes repeatedly submitted “false and fraudulent” records. David Feiss, an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County, has been named special prosecutor. He says no charges have yet been filed and Stokes is presumed innocent.

In 2000, inmates at the Boscobel prison filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that conditions there constituted cruel and unusual punishment. A settlement agreement reached in 2002 mandated some policy changes and prohibited the DOC from using the prison for mentally ill inmates.
Carlos Pabellon, an attorney with the office of Ed Garvey, which represented the inmates, came to suspect the DOC was “manipulating” diagnoses to sidestep this ban.

“What we discovered,” says Pabellon, “is that a number of these inmates had on one day an MH-2 classification” [meaning they could not be sent to Boscobel] and after the next visit an MH-1 classification [meaning they could be and were].” He believes the DOC was under pressure to “fill the empty beds at Boscobel, and, unfortunately, it appeared to us that they were doing it at the expense of the mental health of these inmates.”

Federal Judge Barbara Crabb tapped a Medical College psychiatrist to monitor whether seriously mentally ill inmates were going to Boscobel. This appointment ended earlier this month, as did the court order against using Boscobel for seriously mentally ill inmates.

DOC spokesman Dipko says “the screening process” that was developed in response to the lawsuit remains in place. But others say the Locke case underscores that the DOC cannot be trusted.

“They’re still putting mentally ill pris-oners into [Boscobel],” says Frank Van den Bosch, an inmate rights activist who lives near the prison. “They’re really not concerned with the prison-ers. They’re concerned about keeping the prison full. It makes a mockery of what the courts have decided.”

Dr. Kallas, in a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, admitted he sometimes overrules diagnoses made by colleagues. But he claimed it is on the other end of the spectrum.

“While the psychologist may be technically correct in saying there’s not serious mental illness, I err on the side of caution and say, ‘Let’s not send this person,'” Kallas maintained. “I’ve just taken a more conservative stance and in many cases have decided that I don’t want certain inmates there even though they may technically under the court criteria qualify.”

The transcript of the July 2007 hearing was not completed until late October. In January of this year, Locke filed a complaint against Dr. Kallas with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing, arguing that he committed “medical malpractice” and violated Judge Crabb’s order. That complaint is pending. (cont. page 4)
Supermax Psychiatrist (cont.)

Locke has also asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene, saying, “It is time to put the DOC in check and punish them for this behavior.” This is also pending.

Dr. Saini himself briefly agitated against his termination. His Madison attorney, Richard Bolton, sent a letter dated Dec. 30, 2004, to Matthew Frank, then DOC secretary. It says Saini worked at the agency for 10 years “without serious criticism of his performance” and occasional commendations, only to be fired in August 2004, shortly after “failing to cooperate” with the DOC’s attempt to “manipulate” Locke’s diagnosis so he could be sent to Boscobel.

Saini, who is now working at the Mendota Mental Health Institute, declined opportunities to comment. Bolton says the DOC denied there was any connection between Saini’s termination and the Locke matter. Saini did not pursue legal action.

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Ruling Favors Michigan Inmates Serving Life

By DAVID EGGERT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The constitutional rights of more than 1,000 inmates serving life sentences in Michigan prisons have been violated ever since parole policies were toughened in the 1990s, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani said the cumulative effect of the parole changes violates the Constitution’s ban on laws being applied retroactively.

She released her decision this week but has yet to decide what her ruling means for 1,000 to 1,200 Michigan prisoners sentenced before 1992 to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Since the early 1990s, the Michigan Parole Board has been less willing to release prisoners sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, adopting a “life means life” policy.

Some Michigan judges have said they never intended that some criminals remain in prison for life. Before the parole board stiffened its policy, those serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole could be released sooner than those give a fixed sentence such as 25 years.

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What Prison Really Is
by Malik Ellington
Partners from Prison
P.O. Box 900, Portage, WI 53901

Prison is a place where lives are cut short and hopes and dreams die. To glance into the future yields nothing but the negative. It’s a place that turns the young, the inexperienced and the weak into criminals, the criminals into better criminals and the better criminals into still better criminals A place where the law as it is written, becomes bent, twisted, and adulterated to suit the purposes of those in power to enforce it.

It’s a place that does not exist to the outside world for they cannot find it on a map, drive to it in a car, connect to it by telephone, or reach it by mail. A place where outgoing letters fall into a “black hole”, never to be heard from again. A place where you receive divorce papers and death notices and learn the true meaning of “till death do us part”.

It’s a place where the average working person, the poor, the under-privileged, and the unwanted serve years and years for minor crimes, while the rich, the politicians, the prison administrators, and the hired lackeys steal millions, seemingly with the blessing of the state.

For once inside these walls, you become dead to the outside world. It’s a place where parents and grand parents pass away, wives and girlfriends move on and your children begin to call someone else Daddy. A place where cousins, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles all forget that you’re even part of the family. A place where you find out who your real friends are. A place where all the good things you’ve ever done are forgotten and the bad remembered.

It’s a place filled with thieves, whores, crackheads, drug dealers, snitches and other assorted crooks, some of which wear blue. A place that fosters anger, hate, racism, and hopelessness. A place politicians want more of.

It’s a place where men and women are warehoused like so many cattle. A place where positive actions and even positive thoughts are discouraged and rehabilitation is nonexistent. A place where you are sent away worse off than when you arrived, with a $25 check, a bus ticket and a suit of cheap state made clothes, with no hope and no future. And that folks is what prison really is.

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Transportation to the Prisons

Servicing Wisconsin State Prisons and Oxford Federal Prison.
Week day and weekend bus service, weather permitting.
Fees vary per institution.
Children $10.

For travel schedules, seat reservations and prices, call 414-687-9828
or write to:
Voices to the Prisons Inc.
P.O. Box 16587
Milwaukee, WI 56216

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We Wear the Mask
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

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page 3,

Legal Terrorism
By Dujuan M. Walker

“If the definition of a terrorist is anyone who wishes to create terror in a specific category of victim, with the purpose of altering the behavior of the members of that category, does this mean that anyone who supports imprisonment and especially the death penalty as deterrents to crime is by definition a terrorist? Clearly the stated purpose is to terrify a specific group of people into changing their behavior. That’s what deterrence is. And given the rates at which Blacks, Latinos and American Indians, are imprisoned (and on death row) it could be argued that a good part of the judicial and penal systems in the United States constitutes a giant racist, terrorist organization. Simply looking at the numbers it becomes clear that the judicial and penal systems have achieved the segregation of black males- into prisons- on a scale of which the kkk and their puny brethren could only dream.” Derrick Jensen, Culture of Make Believe”, p.7 (2004).

We are all familiar with the language set forth in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and the guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We are all familiar with the language set forth in the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits slavery EXCEPT as punishment for a crime. We are well acquainted with the dogmatic phrases of circuit court judges who have stated that, “It is in the best interest of society” to lock up millions of people of color for rather trivial crimes (such as several years imprisonment for extremely small amounts of crack cocaine) while they continue to let law enforcement officials walk away scot free after beating, maiming, sexually assaulting, and harassing people of color without legal justification.

If you have read the Mission Statement of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections then you know how lofty their ideas of “serving the public by rehabilitating prisoners” and “maintaining a safe and productive correctional environment” are. Wisconsin Administrative Code Ch. DOC s. 303.01(3) provides in pertinent part: “ The objectives of the following disciplinary rules under this chapter are the following:
(a) The maintenance of order in the correctional institutions.
(b) The maintenance of a safe setting in which inmates can participate in constructive programs.
(c) The rehabilitation of inmates through the development of their ability to live with others, within rules.
(d) Fairness in the treatment of inmates
(e) The development and maintenance of respect for the correctional system and for our system of government through fair treatment of inmates.
(f) Punishment of inmates for misbehavior.
(g) Deterrence of misbehavior.”

On October 15, 2007 I filed a writ of certiorari while I was a prisoner at Waupun “Correctional” Institution. In this writ of certiorari I alleged that the prison disciplinary hearing for conduct report #1911804 was held illegally, arbitrarily, and capriciously in a conspired attempt to cover up an illegal hate crime committed against me by a Correctional Officer there. In over 90 pages of documentation, including but not limited to, sworn declarations, affidavits, photographs, and hearing testimony I explained the numerous ways staff and administrators conspired to falsify documents and reports to cover up the fact that I had been jumped on by a Correctional Officer while I was handcuffed and shackled in retaliation against me for defending myself against the verbal attacks of two racist inmates. I explained how this CO wrote an obviously false conduct report to cover it up, charging me with battery and stating that I resisted him. Waupun Correctional even went so far as to use the Dodge County Sherriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office to further cover it up, falsely charging me with battery and disorderly conduct based upon the bogus conduct report. (Charges were found to be void of probable cause, thus the malicious prosecution was ended on August 31, 2007).

Yet, my charges against the CO were found to carry probable cause, as Judge Bissonnette of Dodge County Circuit Court, Branch Three, found that there exists a reasonable probability that I was abused and he charged my attacker with a Class I felony pursuant to Wis Stats., s. 940.29. Immediately, the powers that be swung into action, gathering support from several republican assemblyman (such as Jeff Fitzgerald) and the State Employee’s Union, who all came out strong in defense of their own, despite the obvious evidence that still exists against him and cannot be covered up!, going to the media and calling for John Doe Reform, claiming that my situation shows an abuse of the statute… You know the drill. In sum, politics became involved- in its worst fashion- and the concepts of the Law took a back seat. Without even sending to me a letter or a copy of his motion, the “Special Prosecutor” (a defense attorney from Watertown) moved to dismiss the State’s case against the CO, claiming that he didn’t believe that he could prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt. I’ll let all of you people with intelligent and discerning minds ponder now: Why did the case against this CO really not get prosecuted and taken before a jury????? I’ll give you a head start: whatever the reason, I can guarantee that it’s not consistent with the Constitutions of this Country and State.

Now my writ of certiorari has been dismissed due to mootness since I am no longer incarcerated and according to the court the effects of the illegal disciplinary hearing can not cause me any further harm. But what about the harm that has already been done to me by the perpetrators, who seem to be immune due to their status as state employees, and my status as a formerly incarcerated African-American man? Is there any justice for me and my family or are we not protected by the Constitutions? Are we not human-beings? If we are animals then can we at least seek advocacy from some animal rights organizations? Had the CO beat a stray dog or cat because of its color and falsely stated that the dog “bit” him he would be locked up right now. But no, God forbid holding a white correctional officer and state employee responsible for beating a black prisoner (or in the words of Congressman Jeff Fitzgerald on Wisconsin Public Radio, “Dirtbags in a cage”).

So Mr. Derrick Jensen points out something very valuable to the understanding of this system. Do the powers that be really practice what they write, or do they practice what they preach when the public isn’t listening and paying attention? We know from history that the most powerful and corrupted nation sand empires have always operated under false doctrines which they really don’t believe in. These doctrines are eye-wash and propaganda designed to brain wash and confuse the masses – which in turn leads to dependency and eventually control. Moving surreptitiously, this system is misleading the public while stocking their prisons with victims, and secretly promoting terror while immunizing law enforcement agents for violating human and civil rights of defenseless, uneducated citizens. Mr. Jensen said it best when he stated:
“How exactly would you define a hate group? The obvious answer is slippery. For example, most people would agree that the Ku Klux Klan is a hate group, the granddaddy of American racist organizations. But literature from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan states explicitly that the KKK ‘is not a hate group but we are a LOVE group. We are a love group because we LOVE our people.’ The literature continues, ‘We don’t want those who are only looking for an outlet for their hatred. Hatred never accomplishes anything. We feel terrible for those who have been victims of non-white crime and anti-white discrimination, but turning your life over to hatred isn’t the answer.’” So I ask you now, are we to judge this government by what they say, or what they do?

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Justice in Black and White
by Lisa Kaiser
Shepherd Express

Three recently released studies confirm what many Milwaukeeans already believe: The state’s justice system treats black and white drug offenders differently.

– The Sentencing Project found that the rate of arrests of white Milwaukeeans for drug offenses decreased 63% from 1980 to 2003. Yet the rate of arrests of black Milwaukeeans increased 206% during those same years. The authors found no corresponding increase of drug use among African Americans to explain the changes in arrest rates. Instead, they conclude that the policies of the national War on Drugs have disproportionately targeted African Americans.

– Human Rights Watch found that African Americans in Wisconsin are 42.4 times more likely than whites to be incarcerated for drug offenses—the most disparate ratio in the nation.

– Gov. Jim Doyle’s Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System noted that “African Americans comprise 6% of the overall population of Wisconsin, but also represent 45% of the population in the adult [Department of Corrections] facilities.”

The state commission’s report suggested that this didn’t happen by accident, nor does it serve to reduce drug use or crime levels. “Serious concerns were expressed that enforcement strategies that target particular neighborhoods or that target open-air drug trafficking are not productive in that many whose primary need is treatment end up confined in jail or prison and, unless having received treatment, are more likely to commit new crimes upon release,” it stated.

Gov. Doyle has called for all state agencies to track and analyze racial disparities in the justice system, and plans to assist the Office of Justice Assistance, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Corrections in their efforts to become more race-neutral.

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines has asked for the newly formed Community Justice Council to look at the findings and prepare recommendations.
“The disparities raise concerns and eyebrows,” he said in an interview last week.

Hines said he’s not in favor of softer penalties for drug crimes, but wants to ensure that African Americans are being treated fairly. He added that the perception of unfairness throughout the criminal justice system affects residents’ interactions with police officers in their neighborhoods.

“If it’s the same offense, the courts should prosecute equally,” Hines said. “We need to examine the data and come up with tools, but we also need to hold individuals accountable and restore and protect the integrity of the court system.”

The Sentencing Project noted that the War on Drugs, initiated by President Richard Nixon and intensified during the Reagan administration, made the number of arrests and prosecutions for drug crimes a measure of success, and the money for local law enforcement flowed accordingly.

“It’s something that feeds on itself,” said Milwaukee defense attorney Alex Flynn. “Reagan created a drug czar and this tremendous bureaucracy and funding. But, cynically, it’s a self-sustaining system that needs people to prosecute.”

But the money isn’t being applied equally to all communities, nor is it being granted in large sums for drug treatment.

“If you’re a community with no drug arrests, you don’t get any money,” Flynn said.

The Sentencing Project reported that police presence tends to be higher in low-income African-American neighborhoods, and that drug sales in many African-American communities are more likely to occur in public spaces among strangers, making arrests easier. Conversely, white drug users—especially in the suburbs—are more likely to know their dealers and purchase or use their drugs in private, at work, in taverns or in athletic leagues.

Defense attorney Nick Kostich—who spent the early part of his career in the Milwaukee District Attorney’s Office—said that it’s simply easier for law enforcement to find low-level drug users and dealers when they’re out in public. He added that abuse of pharmaceuticals is growing, especially among white users, but these cases are difficult to identify and prosecute.

“I think there’s trafficking going on at a higher level, in so-called ‘good’ neighborhoods,” Kostich said. “But it’s sometimes more difficult to infiltrate these groups. You have to invest the time.”

Kostich noted that he felt that reforms implemented by District Attorney John Chisholm, who succeeded longtime DA Michael McCann in 2006, would help to reduce racial disparities in local drug cases. Chisholm is more likely to send low-level drug offenders to treatment before prosecuting them.

“Locally, in the past 12 months, I think we’re beginning to appreciate this disparity, particularly in state court,” Kostich said.

Federal court, however, is a different story. Both Kostich and Flynn said that issuing broad, multi-count indictments involving dozens of suspects in drug cases is a new strategy, and low-level, first-time offenders are getting swept up in them.

“The federal court system used to only prosecute high-level traffickers,” Kostich said. “But the scary part is that with these large indictments, your case can be combined with others even if it’s your first offense.”

Kostich said that federal judges are less likely to divert drug offenders into treatment and they are likely to give longer sentences to violations involving crack, which is more likely to be used by African Americans, than marijuana, powder cocaine or pharmaceuticals, which are more likely to be used by whites.

“I believe that the racial disparity is still there,” Kostich said.

Flynn cautioned against throwing the book at drug offenders, even if it may seem politically popular.

“We can’t look to the criminal code to solve all of our problems,” Flynn said.

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“The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion”
– Walter Lippman

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US: Prison Numbers Hit New High
Human Rights Watch

Blacks Hardest Hit by Incarceration Policy

(Washington, DC, June 6, 2008) – New figures showing that US incarceration rates are climbing even higher, with racial minorities greatly over represented in prisons and jails, highlight the need to adopt alternative criminal justice policies, Human Rights Watch said today.
Statistics released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the US Department of Justice, show that as of June 30, 2007, approximately 2.3 million persons were incarcerated in US prisons and jails, an all-time high. This represents an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 US residents, the highest such rate in the world. By contrast, the United Kingdom’s incarceration rate is 152 per 100,000 residents; the rate in Canada is 108; and in France it is 91.

“The new incarceration figures confirm the United States as the world’s leading jailer,” said David Fathi, US program director at Human Rights Watch. “Americans should ask why the US locks up so many more people than do Canada, Britain, and other democracies.”

The new statistics also show large racial disparities, with black males incarcerated at a per capita rate six times that of white males. Nearly 11 percent of all black men ages 30 to 34 were behind bars as of June 30, 2007.

In May 2008, Human Rights Watch released its report, “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States,” in which it documented racial disparities in US drug law enforcement, with black men 11.8 times more likely than white men to enter prison on drug charges, despite the fact that blacks and whites use illegal drugs at similar rates. Although whites, being more numerous, constitute the large majority of drug users, blacks constitute 54 percent of all persons entering state prisons with a new drug offense conviction.

“Decisions about drug law enforcement play a major role in creating the staggering racial disparities we see in US prisons,” said Fathi. “The ‘war on drugs’ has become a war on black Americans.”

The US has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a treaty that requires the US to guarantee, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, “[t]he right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice.” In May 2008, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitors compliance with ICERD, expressed its “concern with regard to the persistent racial disparities in the criminal justice system of [the United States], including the disproportionate number of persons belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities in the prison population.” The committee called on the United States to undertake “further studies to determine the nature and scope of the problem, and the implementation of national strategies or plans of action aimed at the elimination of structural racial discrimination.”

Human Rights Watch urges public officials in the United States to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses and to adopt community-based sanctions and other alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug offenders. Human Rights Watch further calls on the United States to enact legislation that, in accordance with ICERD, prohibits policies or practices in the criminal justice system that have the purpose or effect of restricting the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

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Death by Neglect

On the morning of May 19, 2008, Bradley Pitman passed away in his cell. Mr. Pitman was 27 years old.

Mr. Pitman failed to stand for 7 am count. CO xxxxx pounded on his bunk and said, “I’ll write you a conduct report for not standing count.” Health Services were not called even though Mr. Pitman had complained of not feeling well the night before.

At 10 am. a call came to the cell house that Pitman was not in school. CO xxxxxxx found Mr. Pitman dead in his bed. He had expired some time between 7 am and 10 am.

WPW has received six letters from concerned prisoners. We were able to locate Mr. Pitman’s family in NC. We forwarded the letters of concern and notified the press and attorneys here in Wisconsin.

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Support Hunger Striker

Every Sunday, Warren Lilly, a Wisconsin prisoner, who’s been hunger striking for more than four years, is allowed to forego nasal-gastro forced feeding. In what has been one of the most bizarre rulings ever to come out of a court, Judge Andrew Bissonnette of Dodge County Circuit Court (case no. 2007-cv-00392), ruled Warren could be force fed every day except Sunday.

Bissonnette wrote, “the Court would like Mr. Lilly and the prison staff to have a break, one day each week, from the habitual three times a day, seven days a week [365 days a year] forced feeding of Mr. Lilly. The Court will therefore provide a break for everyone on Sundays.”

The truth behind the ruling is Warren’s hunger strike is costing the Wisconsin DOC thousands of dollars a month in overtime and medical services. Unofficially, the cost of force feeding Warren tops $200,000 per year. Bissonnette’s ruling cut the DOC’s expenses by at least, one seventh. There was no altruism in Bissonnette’s unwarranted foray into the medical management of a hunger strike, his motivation was simple cost cutting.

Despite Bissonnette’s hypocrisy, Warren is taking advantage of this situation by asking prisoners and free persons to join him each Sunday in fasting, and after fasting, write or email Governor Doyle. A sample letter is on page 6.

Though Warren is imprisoned in Wisconsin, his hunger strike is aimed at reducing the prison population nation wide. He asks that you send him a copy of your letter or email written to the Governor. He’ll use them to convince the U.S. Congress of the strength of his movement, and the desire of Americans for prison population reduction and reform.

Send your letters of support to:

Warren G. Lilly, Jr.
DOC #447655
New Lisbon Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 4000
New Lisbon, WI 53590
email: wihungerstrike@tds.net

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“A people that wants to be free must arm itself with a free press.” – George Seldes

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Judge: Wisconsin inmates must be allowed to read newsletter
By RYAN J. FOLEY
Associated Press Writer

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Prison inmates have a First Amendment right to read commentary critical of their captors, a federal judge has ruled in a free speech case.

Wisconsin prison officials were wrong to stop inmates from receiving a newsletter that criticized their policies and the state parole board, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled.

The newsletter in question, “The New Abolitionist,” was produced by the Prisoners’ Action Coalition, a now-defunct group which advocated for prisoners rights. It contained news and commentary related to Wisconsin prisons and was once distributed to 1,100 inmates, publisher Frank Van den Bosch said.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections blocked delivery of the March 2007 newsletter. Its security officials said the document contained some inflammatory material that would cause inmates to distrust prison guards and grow hopeless.

In particular, they claimed the newsletter contained inaccurate information about conditions at the prison formerly known as Supermax, unfair criticism of state parole policies and false characterizations of prison disciplinary procedures.

One of the inmates, Lorenzo Johnson of the Waupun Correctional Institution, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the action violated his First Amendment rights. He acted as his own lawyer.

Judge Crabb agreed with Johnson in a May 23 decision, ordering prison officials to immediately deliver him a copy of the publication. She ordered a trial on his request for $35,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

Crabb said prison officials had no legitimate justification for stopping delivery of the publication, which she said followed a long and proud history of dissent in the U.S. Most of the statements to which the department objected were critical of the state’s treatment of prisoners, she said.

“Each of those statements is made in the context of asking prisoners’ friends and family to take nonviolent action to bring about change, such as writing letters, blogging, electing sympathetic politicians and attending rallies,” she wrote. “Defendants may prefer that such activities not take place, but they have no legitimate basis for preventing them.”

If prison officials blocked the newsletter out of security concerns, that was an overreaction, she wrote.

Van den Bosch said he changed the newsletter’s name to “Wisconsin Prison Watch” and continues to publish every two months. Prisons have routinely stopped his 300 inmate subscribers from receiving that newsletter, too, he said, including one distributed last month before Crabb’s ruling. He hopes that stance will now change.

“It does point out how the administration just can’t tolerate criticism,” he said. “All the newsletter presented was criticism of the DOC, and it was barred for that. All the excuses they gave were pretty much just laughed out of court.”

Corrections spokesman Alec Loftus said Johnson has been given a copy of the newsletter. The department will consider whether to appeal after the case is finished, he said.

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Fed. judge rules for state inmate in free speech case
Steven Elbow
June 4, 2008

A federal judge ordered state corrections officials to deliver a prisoner advocacy newsletter it had withheld from an inmate.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said prison officials were denying Waupun Correctional Institution inmate Lorenzo Johnson of his First Amendment rights to free speech by keeping him from receiving The New Abolitionist newsletter, published by the Prisoners’ Action Coalition.

The group has recently disbanded and regrouped under the name Wisconsin Prison Watch.

Crabb called the corrections officials’ actions “simply censorship of a view that is critical of the Department of Corrections.”

“It really showed the DOC was not very friendly to criticism,” said Frank Vanden Bosch, a former Wisconsin inmate who publishes the newsletter. “They had no legitimate reason to block the newsletter.”

Johnson sued state Department of Corrections Secretary Rick Raemisch, Waupun Correctional Warden Mike Thurmer and Corrections Security Chief Dan Westfield after he didn’t receive an issue of the newsletter in March of 2007.

Prison officials later allowed some of the publications to be delivered to Johnson, but withheld others.

Corrections officials said they withheld the publication because it contained “inflammatory” passages and would “encourage disrespect” and “hopelessness.”

In her ruling, Crabb said, “Even if the defendants’ concerns were genuine, their justifications amount to nothing more than ‘because we said so,’ which is not enough to pass constitutional muster.”

She dismissed corrections officials’ concerns about ill effects of reading the newsletter.

“Although it contains many discussions of perceived unfairness, the recurring theme of the newsletter is one of empowerment, telling prisoners to work with their families and friends to make change,” she wrote.

Crabb said the court will address damages in the case at a future date.

editor’s note: The author of this piece made one mistake, Frank Van den Bosch is not a former inmate – he may be a future inmate but so far has eluded the clutches of the state.

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“Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear”: Albert Camus

“It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable”: Eric Hoffer

“You see what power is — holding someone else’s fear in your hand and showing it to them!”: Amy Tan

“No man survives when freedom fails, The best men rot in filthy jails, And those who cry ‘appease, appease’ Are hanged by those they tried to please.”: Hiram Mann

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STAY TUNED
OFF YOUR SEATS AND ON YOUR FEETS
PROTEST AT DOC HQ IN MADISON IS PLANNED FOR SEPTEMBER.
INTERESTED IN PLANNING AND ORGANIZING? COME TO THE JULY MEETING.