All across the United States, city and state governments have increasingly turned to fines and fees to make up for budget shortfalls. This has required a corresponding explosion in police department budgets, creating a perverse cycle where local governments must consistently expand policing in order to continue to pay for policing. Rural America has not escaped this trend, and a new Vera Institute report has found that small and rural counties are now the main drivers of growth in the prison industrial complex. According Vera’s research, the boom in county jails appears to be driven by an increased amount of people who are either held pretrial or warehoused for federal, state, or other municipal authorities.
Several human rights organizations submitted a 31-page complaint to United Nations experts today, alleging that the United States is committing torture and violating the prohibition against racial discrimination by condemning people to death by incarceration through extreme sentences including life and life without possibility of parole (LWOP). The groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Drop LWOP Coalition and the Abolitionist Law Center, are urging the UN to call for the abolition of all death by incarceration sentences. “Death by incarceration is the devastating consequence of a cruel and racially discriminatory criminal legal system that is designed not to address harm, violence, and its root causes, but to satisfy the political pressure to be tough on crime,” the complaint states.
Last March, the California Supreme Court ruled that low-income individuals were not to be subject to cash bail, stating that “conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional.” This came four months after a widely scrutinized bail reform law subject to a referendum was defeated by California voters in 2020. Other states have moved even further to eliminate cash bail, part of the growing national concern with how a de facto for-profit element of the criminal justice system jails and immiserates people by the millions, the vast majority of whom have not been convicted of a crime. An Illinois bill from 2021 eliminates cash bail starting in 2023.
Los Angeles, California - In the late spring and summer of 2020, protests for racial justice erupted in response to the police murder of George Floyd. Mobilizations spread throughout the country and continued for months, producing what scholars identified as arguably the largest wave of mass protest in U.S. history. However, as with other surges of popular uprising, the actions died down over time. At that point, critics claimed that protesters made a lot of noise and drew public attention but were unable to translate their discontent into concrete policy gains. When the moment of peak protest passed, these detractors held, the movement disappeared with little to show for its efforts.
This fact sheet examines the criminalization and over-incarceration of LGBTQ+ adults and youth. The LGBTQ+ population is comprised of people with non-heterosexual identities—those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and others—and people with non-cisgender identities—those who are trans and gender non-conforming. LGBTQ+ adults are incarcerated at three times the rate of the total adult population. LGBTQ+ youth’s representation among the incarcerated population is double their share of the general population. Approximately 124,000 adults self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in U.S. prisons and jails, and over 6,000 adults self-identify as trans in state and federal prisons. LGBTQ+ youth’s representation among the incarcerated population—at 7,300 youth—is double their share of the general population.
The United States has 25% of the world’s prison population, some 2.3 million people, most of whom are poor, although it represents less than 5% of the global population. Its prisons are notorious for their violence, overcrowding, and human rights abuses, including the widespread use of solitary confinement. But what is often not examined is what happens to those released from prisons into a society where they face legalized discrimination imposed by numerous laws, rules, and policies that result in permanent marginalization, thrust into a criminal caste system. These former prisoners are often denied the right to vote, can lose their passports, are barred from receiving public assistance, including housing, and are blocked from a variety of jobs.
The internal violence in the United States, militarized police, and the largest prison system in the world, along with America’s endemic racism, are mirrored in the foreign wars that have been fought almost continuously by the United States since the end of the 19th century. These inner and outer wars, argues historian Nikhil Pal Singh, are intimately connected. The gunning down of unarmed black people in American cities is expressed outside our borders in the gunning down of unarmed Muslims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, often by militarized drones. The prison-industrial-complex at home is given form in the myriad of overseas black sites where victims, kidnapped and transported to other countries by the CIA, are held in secret, tortured, and killed.
The term “black on black crime” is a particularly pernicious trope. It is a ruse used to absolve the systemic racism which kills Black people in a plethora of ways. It invalidates Black people’s suffering and gives license to law enforcement and its many acts of brutality. Ironically, it also describes what is happening among a group of Black officials in New York City. The new mayor and his police commissioner committed a brazen political mugging of the Manhattan District Attorney. New York City mayor Eric Adams personifies the political imperative to perpetuate an unjust system. Adams was a police officer himself before he went into politics. He has promised to give the police everything they want, including those things that Black people do not want.
Donna Scott Davenport, the juvenile court judge at the center of a controversy over the arrest and detention of children in Rutherford County, Tennessee, has announced that she will step down this year rather than run for reelection. Earlier on Tuesday, ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio published a story about a move by some Tennessee lawmakers to remove Davenport from her post. About an hour after that story was published on ProPublica’s website, Davenport, in an email sent by the county’s spokesperson, announced that she will not be running for reelection this year. Instead, she plans to retire when her current eight-year term expires this summer. Davenport, in announcing her retirement, said: “After prayerful thought and talking with my family, I have decided not to run for re-election after serving more than twenty-two years on the bench.
For a supposedly developed, democratic nation, the United States locks up an extraordinary number of its citizens. Close to one quarter of the world’s prison population is in the United States. Even on a per capita basis, only El Salvador and Turkmenistan come close to America’s preponderance for incarceration. In a country with a rising population and a falling demand for labor, the government decided to solve this problem by simply locking up millions of its poorest citizens, in the process allowing corporate America to make billions from their suffering. The prison industry is booming: between 1990 and 2005, the U.S. built, on average, a new prison every ten days.
Chesa Boudin has been serving San Franciscans as their district attorney for nearly two years. He is a leading progressive in what has been called the progressive prosecutors’ movement. Other progressive district attorneys in that small cohort are George Gascon in Los Angeles and Larry Krasner in Philadelphia. In Berger v. United States https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/295/78/, the Supreme Court said that the duty of a prosecutor “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.” Yet all too many prosecutors are more concerned with winning cases than with doing justice, which includes the protection of constitutional rights. Boudin campaigned by proposing solutions to the disaster of mass incarceration, one of the leading civil rights issues of our time.
Russell “Maroon” Shoatz has been granted compassionate release after 50 years in prison. The length of his sentence is outrageous but it is hardly unique. The United States not only has the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of incarcerated people, but it also has political prisoners held longer than anywhere else in the world. Shoatz is now 78-years old and suffering from cancer. To be blunt, he is being released so that he can die outside of prison walls. Of course there is deeply felt happiness that Shoatz will be freed for whatever time remains in his life, but no one should forget the tortures he suffered, including 22 years in solitary confinement. No one should forget the other prisoners such as Mumia Abu Jamal, Ruchell Magee, Sundiata Acoli, and Dr. Mutulu Shakur.
For her 65th birthday, Diana Marquez was grateful to be out of prison and celebrating with her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. They feasted on a smorgasbord of brisket, sushi and Mexican food. She was not allowed to leave the house, but she still felt blessed to celebrate the day surrounded by family rather than confined in a prison cell. Marquez is one of over 4,000 people who were released from federal prison to home confinement under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to stem the spread of COVID-19 behind bars. The CARES Act prioritizes the release of people whose age or health makes them vulnerable to COVID, whose “risk assessment” is low and whose convictions are for federal crimes classified as nonviolent.
The pandemic, in the midst of its many horrors, has temporarily slowed the number of arrests across some U.S. cities. With pressure from advocates and incarcerated organizers, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg in Seattle, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in Cook County, Illinois, and City State Attorney Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore pledged to curb or stop prosecuting “low level” crimes in attempts to minimize the spread of COVID-19. By 2018, newly reelected Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner had already directed his office to stop prosecuting sex work, marijuana possession and marijuana drug paraphernalia. Most of these prosecutors have strictly tied their commitments to the duration of the pandemic.
It wasn’t long after Matthew Reed shoplifted a $63 set of sheets from a Target in upstate New York that the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill. Instead of serving a jail sentence, he stayed at home, his case deferred more than a year, as courts closed and jails nationwide dramatically reduced their populations to stop the spread of COVID-19. But the numbers have begun creeping up again as courts are back in session and the world begins returning to a modified version of normal. It’s worrying criminal justice reformers who argue that the past year proved there is no need to keep so many people locked up in the U.S. By the middle of last year, the number of people in jails nationwide was at its lowest point in more than two decades, according to a new report published Monday by the Vera Institute of Justice , whose researchers collected population numbers from about half of the nation’s 3,300 jails to make national estimates.