I’ve written a lot about the corrupt, inefficient and failing Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP.) Most recently, the mainstream media have lauded the BOP’s new director, Colette Peters, who was brought in to “clean the place up.” Peters is a former successful director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The idea was that, rather than promote somebody from within the BOP to lead it, which has been done time and time again and which has failed time and time again, maybe a fresh face from outside could bring a new perspective and could turn the BOP around. That hasn’t happened. If anything, Peters has been ignored by her subordinates and, in many cases, circumvented.
St. Paul, MN — Five years after losing her son Hardel Sherrell to medical malpractice and improper care while in a Minnesota jail, Del Shea Perry leads another protest against in-custody deaths. At least 15 people have died this year while inside Minnesota jails and at least 65 since 2018, according to Be Their Voices, Perry’s non-profit. A press conference titled No More Jail Deaths! organized by Be Their Voices took place on Oct. 4 at noon central in front of the Minnesota Department of Corrections building in St. Paul. In a media release about the press conference, Perry says: “The Hardel Sherell Act was passed in 2021 to give the MN Department of Corrections greater oversight of county jails, especially over medical care.
Illinois is poised to eliminate the use of cash bail in the state’s carceral system following the passage of the Pretrial Fairness Act by the state legislature on January 13. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, who has said he favors ending cash bail, is expected to sign the bill into law. The policy of conditional pretrial detention — holding accused people in jail until their trial, unless they can afford to pay bail — is currently practiced in all 50 states, although New Jersey did drastically reduce the use of cash bail. It’s a practice that necessarily penalizes poor people and disproportionately affects Black and Brown people, already overrepresented in U.S. jails and prisons.
Prison is always a political tool, and in the case of whistleblowers like Julian Assange, the use of incarceration to suppress, discourage, and silence dissent is self-evident. Since being imprisoned, Assange has married and even started a family—but has been kept apart from his wife and children. In the second part of a two-part conversation, Stella Assange and Chris Hedges discuss the conditions of Julian’s incarceration, and how it offers a glimpse into the overall brutality of the prison system.
Tuesday, September 12th is Leonard Peltier’s 79th birthday. Peltier is the longest serving Indigenous political prisoner in the history of the United States, having served nearly 50 years in federal prison. Please join us in demanding clemency for Leonard Peltier. “The Leonard Peltier Ad Hoc Committee is thrilled to announce the release of this new video about the life of Leonard Peltier, created by a group of his friends and supporters. This video is being released free of charge to all of Mr. Peltier's supporters.” In addition, a separate collaboration between Amnesty International and NDN Collective organized a 4-stop caravan pick-up for Leonard Peltier supporters in Rapid City, Minneapolis, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
With nearly two million people in prison and an incarceration rate five times higher than most countries on the planet, the United States is the world’s only carceral superpower. Our nation has a long tradition of “justice” that is articulated in a cold, calculating and harsh expression of punishment. Despite this history, a counter narrative surrounding imprisonment and punishment in the United States has also existed — one that is based in reform, repentance, restoration and redemption. Quakers in Philadelphia spent decades in the early 19th century protesting harsh prison conditions and ultimately convinced the Pennsylvania Assembly to reform their model of imprisonment.
Last weekend, hundreds of people detained at the Stewart Detention Center announced plans for a hunger strike in response to inedible food and inhumane conditions inside the notorious Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in rural southwest Georgia. Though detainees have continued to eat while they negotiate with the facility’s staff, as many as 800 people are set to refuse food starting this week if their demands are not met. On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 26, roughly 300 people held inside the Stewart Detention Center were brought out of their holding cells for their morning meal.
In spring of 2023, I taught a class on memoir at the California Institution for Women, a medium-security facility, in Chino. The course focused on autobiographical writing. Each week, students were asked to draft narratives focused on their life story and its larger social context. In addition to writers-in-custody at the prison, the class enrolled University of Southern California students. Every week, my colleague and I drove 12 USC undergraduates out to the prison to join their incarcerated peers in class. Both populations received college credit for their work. After the class ended, I received a thank-you note from one of our incarcerated students.
From inside Israeli jails, the Palestinian Prisoners’ Movement has issued a statement demanding the freedom of Palestine Action prisoners held in British jails. Six activists from Palestine Action are currently detained, and over 100 more are facing custodial sentences, for disrupting the British manufacture of Israeli weaponry  . On Wednesday 5th July, nearly 80 public figures including celebrities, activists, academics and lawyers issued a statement of solidarity saying “We demand the charges are dropped against those already incarcerated and at risk of prison over their work to disrupt the criminal production of Israeli weapons on British soil.”
Despite increasing recognition that prison education is a key tool for reducing crime, Washington State prisoners were recently forced to gather in a janitor’s closet to organize and facilitate college education for people incarcerated in several prisons across the state. They took this dramatic step because new official restrictions are jeopardizing a liberating, prisoner-led program known as Taking Education And Creating History, or TEACH. Organized by a handful of incarcerated people — including me — over a decade ago, TEACH’s goal is to democratize education for people with long sentences.
After the escalation of Zionist attacks against the achievements gained by the prisoners’ movement over the years, and the attempts of the fascist Ben Gvir to seize our rights by enacting laws and policies such as the laws for the execution of prisoners, revocation of nationality, and deportation of prisoners and former prisoners, as well as the attacks on the achievements of daily life of the prisoners’ movement, such as cutting access to water, setting brief times for bathing and the imposition of dozens of punitive measures, such as repeated transfer and isolation, led the prisoners’ movement to take action.
Under a sky spitting freezing rain with a cold whipping wind, Kimberly Burks, the mother of Quantez Burks, helped assemble the 150 marchers and stepped us off from the home of Quantez Burks at noon. We marched through the neighborhood and out to well-travelled thoroughfares and around the Beckley Police Station. We then lined a block of the main street through town holding and waving signs, some folks crying, others remembered the two men and the shock of their deaths. Josh Eagle, a friend of Burks, held a sign that read: “What if Quan was your son? Brother? Father? Husband? Friend? Uncle? We want answers. We demand justice.”
Ohio - People incarcerated at the Ohio State Penitentiary began a protest in mid-March and need our support to be successful in getting their demands met. Recently, guards at OSP have been forcing prisoners to stand in the showers for hours on end as a form of retaliation for speaking out. The protest seeks to end this form of punishment, as well as several other injustices inside the prison. Without outside support and attention, protests like this one are much easier for the prison administration to sweep under the rug. It’s imperative that the administration hear from as many people as possible, so that they know we are paying attention to how they respond to this action.
The Supreme Emergency Committee of Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs issued a statement on Monday, February 13, announcing the beginning of a civil disobedience movement by Palestinian prisoners against the Israeli prison authorities. It announced that the actions will begin at the Nafha prison in southern Israel, and will escalate both the scale and scope in the coming months. The announced actions are in response to an increase of repression and brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners since the start of this year due to policies implemented by the new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
All in all, 2022 was a banner year for organized labor. Thousands of workers in a wide variety of industries unionized; they pushed back against union-busting campaigns from oligarchs and corporate hit men; they went on strike and protested unfair treatment, from California to Alabama and everywhere in between. Public support for unions shot up to 71 percent, and the worryingly under-resourced National Labor Relations Board was inundated with more union election petitions than it could handle. Members of Gen Z, the youngest generation of workers, are even more pro-union than their millennial parents, and they aren’t shy about speaking up. All of that combined momentum isn’t slowing, either. The coming year is already poised to be another big moment for the working class.