Conversations with Palestinians both young and old almost always end with them saying to me, “you [a Jewish Israeli] can say these things, but if we were to say them we would be excluded from all spaces and we would be called anti-semitic.” A young Palestinian interning in Washington, D.C. told me she felt that she needed an Israeli beside her to give her legitimacy. Not in her own eyes, but in the eyes of the D.C. establishment. Sadly, she is probably correct; in the anti-Arab, and particularly anti-Palestinian atmosphere in Washington, this is very likely true.
By law, people in prison have a right to get the health care they need. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Estelle v Gamble set the standard for medical rights of prisoners. But prison authorities are being criminally negligent in not providing adequate health care to incarcerated people. As the jailed population ages, 40% have chronic health conditions. The cost of providing health care has skyrocketed and local, state and federal governments have contracted with for-profit prison health care companies as a way of tightening their budgets. Private companies give a per diem rate for basic and specialty care – which would be lower if services were publicly provided. The negotiated per diem rate creates a huge profit incentive.
A court in the city of Manzini granted bail to Colani Maseko, the president of Swaziland National Union of Students (SNUS) on Friday, February 4. The student leader had been arrested on January 31 and charged with sedition. His bail came a day after the SNUS marched to the Manzini regional police headquarters and held a demonstration on February 3. A cross section of Swaziland’s pro-democracy forces, including the banned political parties, trade unions, and youth organizations, attended the action. Outside the police headquarters, protesters at the demonstration openly threatened to render the kingdom “ungovernable” until the release of Maseko and all other political prisoners of Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
Never mind that he shouldn’t be in a federal prison at all. Leonard Peltier, the Native American rights activist whom the FBI put behind bars decades ago without any evidence that he committed a crime, tells HuffPost that his facility’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns and failure to provide at least some inmates with booster shots has left him ― and likely others ― unbearably isolated and preparing for death. “I’m in hell,” Peltier said in a Friday statement, “and there is no way to deal with it but to take it as long as you can.” Peltier, who is 77 and has serious health problems including diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm, said “fear and stress” from the prison’s intense coronavirus lockdowns are taking a toll on everyone, including staff.
Michael Carvajal, director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons (BOP), resigned in disgrace last week after being overwhelmed by scandals, none of which were necessarily of his doing so much as they were a result of his unwillingness or inability to make changes to the Justice Department’s largest and best-funded bureau. The scandals—and his resignation—reinforce the conventional wisdom that the BOP is broken and must be overhauled dramatically. The Associated Press reported that Carvajal, a Trump appointee, was forced to resign after more than 100 BOP employees had been arrested for or convicted of crimes during his short two-year tenure. The employees were prosecuted for crimes ranging from smuggling drugs and cell phones into prisons to sell to prisoners, to theft, to a warden raping a prisoner.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has released a lot of new data over the past few weeks that help us finally see — both nationally and state-by-state — how policy choices made in the first year of the pandemic impacted correctional populations. Unsurprisingly, the numbers document the tragedy of thousands of lives lost behind bars, and evidence of some of the policy decisions that contributed to the death toll. Drilling down, we also see a (very) few reasons to be hopeful and, for those of us paying close attention, a few notable improvements in what the BJS is able to collect and how they report it. Above all, we see how quickly things can change — for better or for worse — when under pressure, and discuss some of the issues and policy choices these data tell us to watch out for.
Israel agreed on Thursday to release a hunger-striking prisoner in four months after lengthy negotiations. Miqdad Qawasmeh suspended his hunger strike on Thursday after refusing food for 113 days to protest his detention without charge or trial after Israel agreed to release him in February 2022. His victory came after lengthy and arduous negotiations between the leadership of the Hamas prisoners’ group and Israeli authorities. The 24-year-old was the youngest of six Palestinian men who have been refusing food for weeks and months in protest of Israel’s detention of them without charge or trial. Five others are still fighting for their freedom on empty stomachs.
In Megiddo prison, Ramon prison, and the Negev desert prison, Palestinian political prisoners burned their rooms in resistance to the prison administration’s attempt to transfer the prisoners affiliated with Islamic Jihad. The Handala Center for Prisoners and Former Prisoners in occupied Palestine reported that 7 rooms in Megiddo prison, 4 rooms in the Negev prison and 4 rooms in sections 4 and 5 of Ramon prison have been burned, and that the prisoners’ movement leadership has affirmed that any section that is invaded to transfer detainees will be met with fire. Palestinians throughout occupied Palestine are rallying in support of the six self-liberated prisoners, whose “Freedom Tunnel,” dug through lengthy months of perseverance with only kitchen utensils for tools, has become a symbol of hope for freedom as well as an example that the technological and military might of the Israeli colonial power has been unable to suppress Palestinian resistance.
The story of Marshall “Eddie” Conway, a military veteran and former Black Panther who was imprisoned for 43 years for a crime he didn’t commit, is one that gets to the heart of systemic racism in the United States. Despite grueling conditions, in prison Conway pursued three college degrees, and was considered an “exemplary” prisoner for starting a prison literacy program and organizing the prison library. On the other hand, his efforts to organize a union among his fellow convict laborers was crushed by the authorities. After being released in 2014 following an appellate court judgment that his jury had been given improper instructions, Conway has become executive producer of The Real News Network (TRNN), a progressive media organization based in Baltimore, MD, with his own show, “Rattling the Bars” that focuses on the many social justice issues that intersect with mass incarceration in the U.S.
Marshood explained that the arrests were not confined to those demonstrating, but also to those who were aiming to document the repression: Mass waves of arrests were done, either in protests or even to people who were just passing by, people were arrested from their cars. People were arrested from their homes. Even those who were documenting arrests got arrested.[These arrests] included very brutal and violent physical and mental assaults on the detainees. Whether inside the police cars or inside the police station. A report released in June by Israeli human rights organisation Adalah documented the use of torture against Palestinian-Israelis who were arrested after the uprising.
While the 13th Amendment abolished chattel slavery, an often ignored clause still allows for slavery and involuntary servitude as “punishment for a crime.” This “slavery clause” is now the target of #EndTheException, a new campaign launched this year on Juneteenth weekend. #EndTheException is pushing for the passage of the Abolition Amendment, a joint resolution cosponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Nikema Williams, which would strike the slavery clause from the 13th Amendment making it so that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude may be imposed as a punishment for a crime.” On Saturday, June 19, as communities across the country celebrated Juneteenth—a long celebrated holiday by Black Americans, particularly Black Texans—Merkley and Williams joined advocates from groups including WorthRises, LatinoJustice PRLDF, JustLeadershipUSA, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition for an online discussion about the #EndTheException campaign and to explain how the promise of freedom has yet to be unfulfilled.
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.
For more than half a century, 441 Bauchet Street has been the address where Los Angeles’ most stark social and environmental inequalities converge. It’s the location of L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail, the largest facility in the most populated county jail system in the country. On any given day, about 5,000 people are incarcerated there. A block south from the jail is the 101 freeway, one of the most traveled highways in America, which generates dangerous levels of air pollution linked to a slew of birth defects. A block east is the L.A. River, home to at least 20 different pollutants, from feces to oil, at levels that violate federal standards. Another 100 yards east is the SP Railyard and Union Pacific Transportation Center, which operate at all hours, receiving big rig diesel trucks that spew an estimated 40 tons of particulate matter into the air annually.
The Vietnam War is one of many heinous stains on American history that to this day often is told through a revisionist lens or outright ignored. Yet the truth remains beneath the layers of whitewashing that the U.S. government sent thousands of Americans to slaughter and be slaughtered over a conflict that had everything to do with Cold War ideologies and nothing to do with justice or freedom. The death tolls are still shocking to read: it is estimated that 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed during the war, along with 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters and 58,220 American soldiers. The conflict also inspired an anti-war movement described as “one of the largest and most successful youth-led resistance movements in American history” in the 2020 film “The Boys Who Said NO!”
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.