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.
A few weeks ago I covered the mind-blowing facts about American prisons that should make anyone and everyone rethink/detest/abhor the entire institution. Now, I want to examine the reasons people find themselves locked up in the largest prison state in the world (the Land of the Free) and see if we can’t decrease the number of inmates to something more reasonable …like, zero. Or one. …One guy who’s a real grade-A asshole. I’m well aware that many of you are already yelling, “But what about murderers and rapists?!” We’ll get to them in a minute. Keep your pantaloons fastened. Besides, “What about murderers and rapists?!” is a really abnormal thing to yell at something you’re reading. Come to think of it, maybe you’re not fit for society. Maybe we should lock you up.
In a few minutes time you’ll want to abolish prisons. If you’re not ready for that intellectual and emotional transformation, then please stop reading now. Or put on your thunder shirt. If you grew up in the United States, like I did, then you probably think prisons are a fact of life. We just go through our day-to-day assuming that a huge chunk our population must be hardened criminals (which is very different from hard criminals: scalawags involved in burgling while aroused) and that without prisons these delinquents would be running everywhere, breaking things, kicking squirrels in the face, and urinating in your car window while you’re at a stoplight. We just assume prisons have been around forever — as if back in caveman times they had one of the caves walled off with sticks and vines where they kept Blartho because he was a real a-hole.
Santa Fe, NM – With the New Mexico Legislature approving social justice-centered cannabis legalization during the special session today, Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director for Resident States and New Mexico for the Drug Policy Alliance, released the following statement: “New Mexicans are finally able to exhale. After many years of hard work, another whirlwind legislative session, and input from stakeholders throughout the state, social justice-centered cannabis legalization is on its way to the Governor’s desk, where she has already agreed to sign. We thank the Governor and our legislative allies for not taking ‘no’ for an answer and stopping at nothing until we were able to get justice for New Mexico communities—particularly Hispanic/Latinx, Black, Native and Indigenous—that have been immensely harmed by cannabis prohibition.
This month, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released two reports with updates on city and county jail populations nationwide: Jail Inmates in 2019 and Impact of COVID-19 on the Local Jail Population, January-June 2020. After a year of upheaval due to the pandemic, the first report is already out-of-date and mainly useful as a historical document. The second report, however, answers some important questions about the decisions local officials made when the high stakes of jail incarceration – for individual and public health – were put into stark relief by the pandemic. Their decisions, and the resulting jail population changes in the first half of 2020, hold important lessons for ongoing and future decarceration efforts; here we outline some of those lessons – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Eager to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit, Texas' most populous county over the past two years has stopped requiring most people accused of low-level crimes from putting up cash to get out of jail on bond. Tens of thousands of people accused of misdemeanors not involving some specific circumstances, like domestic abuse or previous bond violations, have been freed without cost while awaiting trial. Letting them out does not appear to increase the chances they will be arrested for new crimes, according to researchers who have been tracking changes made to the Harris County misdemeanor bail system. In fact, the percentage of defendants arrested for new crimes within a year of their original arrest went down after the county changed its bail practices.
Until recently, the horrifyingly unjust reality of America’s mass incarceration system has not been a central concern in popular political discourse. In the past few years, however, more people have learned about the brutality and inhumanity of mass incarceration as artists, activists, documentarians, and elected officials have called attention to the broken U.S. criminal justice system—and its disproportionate harm to Black and Brown people. But is this increased awareness of the problem translating to increased efforts to address it? While officials like Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan say they’re reducing incarceration rates and improving prison conditions, the data tells a different story. For instance, the Justice Policy Institute’s report “Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland” shows that Maryland incarcerates Black people at more than twice the national rate and leads the country in incarcerating young Black men.