A group of current and former prisoners have sued the state of Alabama with the support of two unions who have signed on as co-plaintiffs, the Union of Southern Service Workers, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The lawsuit claims that Alabama’s system of prison labor amounts to a “modern-day form of slavery” that generates massive profits for private businesses and revenues for the state by forcing incarcerated people to work for little or no pay. Jacob Morrison and Adam Keller join Rattling the Bars to discuss the lawsuit and the importance of the fight for prisoners’ rights to the overall labor movement.
Criminal Justice and Prisons
“Those who tell the truth need a fast horse,” says an Armenian proverb. Or they need a society that protects the truth and its messengers. But this protection, which our democracies claim to offer, is in danger. As a journalist, Julian Assange has published hundreds of thousands of files documenting war crimes committed by the USA and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere. The authenticity of the documents is beyond question. However, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice or convicted.
The US has one of the highest prisoner recidivism rates in the world: over 70% of incarcerated people who are released from prison in the US will be rearrested within five years of their release date. That is not an accident. Our system of mass incarceration sets people up to fail as they leave the prison system and try to reintegrate into society. That is why organizations like Hope for Prisoners in Nevada are working to provide returning citizens with the resources and support they need to rebuild their lives and maintain their freedom. In this episode of Rattling the Bars, Mansa Musa speaks with Jon Ponder, founder and CEO of Hope for Prisoners.
Target Corp. pioneered the Community Prosecution Program in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (HCAO) more than two decades ago during the era of mass incarceration. As part of a broad anti-crime campaign that employed new advanced technology and reshaped the criminal justice system in Minneapolis, the program had particularly devastating effects on Black residents. In 2004, a public-private partnership consisting of Target, the Downtown Council, Hennepin County, and the City of Minneapolis launched a sweeping surveillance collaborative in downtown Minneapolis called the SafeZone, as illustrated throughout Unicorn Riot’s years-long investigative series.
The Center for Constitutional Rights stands in solidarity with the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and incarcerated people in Alabama who announced a mass prison strike today. We unequivocally support the organizers’ demands for legislative reforms—including repealing the Habitual Felony Offender Act, abolishing death by incarceration (also known as life without parole), and reversing the near complete abandonment of parole—and their call for an end to the torture and dehumanizing treatment exacted on incarcerated people by the State of Alabama. Our solidarity with Alabama prison organizers dates back to the 1970s with our support for the Atmore-Holman Brothers’ Defense Committee.
“My life is either going to be a testimony or a warning,” said Derek Lee. Lee was speaking on a video chat from behind the walls of SCI Smithfield in central Pennsylvania. Now 35 years old, Lee has been imprisoned since he was 29. If nothing changes, he will grow old and die in prison. In 2016, a Pennsylvania court sentenced Lee to life without parole for a burglary two years earlier that ended with his accomplice fatally shooting the homeowner. Lee was not involved in the killing, but he was convicted of second-degree or felony murder—an unintentional death that happens when the defendant is committing a felony. In Pennsylvania, that means an automatic sentence of life without parole (LWOP).
In Mid-December 2023, Charles Glass, the esteemed writer, journalist, broadcaster, and publisher visited with Julian Assange, an inmate at Belmarsh Prison in the U.K. Assange has been confined there since April, 2019. He is awaiting his final appeal to quash U.S. efforts to extradite him to face some of the same Espionage Act charges I was confronted with. Glass chronicles the visit in a recent piece in The Nation. His account took me right back to prison. Glass’s visit with Assange could have been a visit with me. I fondly remember Charles Glass. He wrote to me while I was in FCI Englewood, the prison I was bound in after being convicted of violating the Espionage Act in 2015.
In the first of a new series of profiles of men held at Guantánamo — specifically, the 16 men (out of the 30 still held) who have long been approved for release by high-level US government review processes — I’m focusing on Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman, a 43-year old Yemeni citizen, who, today, has been held for 1,000 days since the US authorities first decided that they no longer wanted to hold him. Uthman arrived at Guantánamo on January 16, 2002, five days after the prison opened, when he was just 21 years old, and, as a result, he has been held for over half his life at Guantánamo. The photo is from his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and dating from April 2008, meaning that he would have been 27 years old, or younger, when it was taken.
Every morning, Mary Frances Barbee wakes up and experiences a “microsecond of happiness before the terror sets in.” Barbee had a heart attack, transient ischemic attack and then a stroke after her sons were incarcerated. She puts on a brave front when they call. “I wonder what they are going through, will they be able to call today, and how long until they are out of lockdown again,” Barbee, 71, says as she chokes back tears. “Will it be for just three hours after many days or weeks locked inside? They have no exercise. Four, six or 12 days without a shower. It is inhumane treatment on a daily basis.” What Barbee is living through is something that millions of people inside and outside razor wire are also experiencing: The purgatory of endless prison “lockdowns” where prisoners are forced to live in isolation that typically exceeds punitive segregation conditions.
More than 800 government officials in the United States and Europe released a letter Friday criticizing their countries’ leaders for providing unconditional military and diplomatic support to Israel as it inflicts disaster on Gaza’s population. The authors of the letter, who remain anonymous, wrote that their attempts to voice concerns internally about their governments’ support for Israel’s assault on Gaza “were overruled by political and ideological considerations.” “We are obliged to do everything in our power on behalf of our countries and ourselves to not be complicit in one of the worst human catastrophes of this century,” the letter reads.
Angola, LA - A hidden path to America’s dinner tables begins here, at an unlikely source – a former Southern slave plantation that is now the country’s largest maximum-security prison. Unmarked trucks packed with prison-raised cattle roll out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, where men are sentenced to hard labor and forced to work, for pennies an hour or sometimes nothing at all. After rumbling down a country road to an auction house, the cows are bought by a local rancher and then followed by The Associated Press another 600 miles to a Texas slaughterhouse that feeds into the supply chains of giants like McDonald’s, Walmart and Cargill.
Four Just Stop Oil supporters were acquitted of willful obstruction of the highway on Monday 8 January, as the Judge declared they had a lawful excuse for their actions. Meanwhile, another case against Just Stop Oil supporters has been cancelled due to a lack of a primary witness. Miranda Forward, Dave Boden, Chris Hardy, and Annotony Cottam appeared before District Judge Lloyd at Stratford Magistrates court. The four Just Stop Oil supporters peacefully blocked roads into Parliament Square with 60 others on the 4 October 2022. Their actions were part of a month of continuous action to ‘Occupy Westminster’ in order to demand that the government call a halt to all new fossil fuel licenses and consents.
Out the front windows of our bus, we could see acres of sun-dried grasses during a hot and arid Northern California summer. On either side of the road stood barbed-wire fences, like the ones many of our family members spent years behind, surrounded by armed guards and guard towers, living in crowded tar-paper barracks with little to no privacy. “How many of you have been here before or were here during World War II?” our tour guide asked. A few Japanese Americans—in their 70s and 80s, or even older—raised their hands. Many of us were stunned by what the tour guide said next, almost in passing: “Welcome back.”
The new year has just begun and already there have been five victories against wrongful conviction within the first week, with the release of Montana Innocence Project (MIP) client Bernard Pease Jr. and the exonerations of William Williams and Renay Lynch in the U.S., and Robert Mailman and Walter Gillespie in Canada. Each of them had served decades in prison – a total of 191 years — for crimes they did not commit. They all received the help of innocence organizations, which are nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to innocent people in prison and prevent wrongful convictions through legal education and reform.
January 11 marks the 22nd anniversary of the founding of the prison component of the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Cuba. The U.S. military has been at Guantánamo for decades, of course, but the idea to use the isolated base as a prison where men — and in some cases boys — who had never been formally accused of a crime could be held forever, came from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney in 2002. In the intervening years, presidents and members of Congress of both parties have ignored civil rights, civil liberties and human rights to keep this abomination open. It’s up to the rest of us to demand its destruction.