As We Close Rikers, Setting Our Sights On Essential State-Level Reforms

Gov. Cuomo at an update prison (Governor's Office)

By Glenn E. Martin for Gotham Gazette – Anyone following New York City politics knows about JustLeadershipUSA’s mission to close the jails at Rikers Island. In less than a year, the #CLOSErikers campaign successfully pressured Mayor Bill de Blasio to commit to shuttering the jail complex. It is no longer a question of if Rikers will close, but when. But the campaign has always known that closing Rikers would require reforms at the state level as well. An overhaul of our statewide bail, speedy trial, and discovery statutes is necessary to reduce the population at Rikers so that it can finally and expeditiously close its doors. Even if Rikers was closed tomorrow, these reforms would still be necessary. While New York City has successfully reduced its jail population over the past few years, county jail populations across the state are growing. Today, 63% of people held in jail in New York State are held in jails outside New York City. Of those 25,000 husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, and loved ones who are sitting in jails across our state, 70% have not been convicted but remain unjustifiably caged while they await the outcome of their cases. This reality is a consequence of punitive and discriminatory criminal justice policies that have decimated communities, primarily poor communities and communities of color, for decades.

Jails Replace In-Person Visitation With Video Screens

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By Mike Ludwig for Truthout. The rash of suicides alarmed mental health experts and local watchdogs, and Arce’s death has advocates calling out the lack of equal access to services for disabled people in prison. Despite concerns about the mental health of its prisoners and alleged discrimination against disabled people, the local sheriff’s office no longer allows in-person visitation at the jail, which serves major suburbs of New Orleans. Critics say changing the visitation policy could take a heavy toll on people who are already in an emotionally challenging position.

While Prison Activists March For Humane Treatment, Florida Shuts Off Visits This Weekend

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones visits the Wakulla Correctional Institution in Crawfordville, Fl. March 1, 2016.
Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

By Julie K. Brown for Miami Herald – Visitation to all Florida state prisons has been canceled this weekend after evidence surfaced that inmates are planning possible uprisings to coincide with Saturday’s march for prisoners’ human rights in Washington, D.C. Julie Jones, Secretary for the Florida Department of Corrections, announced the move as a precaution, given the agency’s staff shortage and “credible intelligence’’ that groups of inmates at several institutions were planning disturbances. “There’s no reason to be alarmed. We are just being proactive,’’ said Michelle Glady, a spokeswoman for the department. The agency is taking preemptive steps to secure facilities so that staff and inmates will be secure, she said. Social media has been advertising a “Millions for Prisoners’ Human Rights” rally on Saturday in Washington, but it’s not clear who is spearheading the movement. Postings advertise the effort as a way to raise awareness about the problem of mass incarceration and human rights violations in prisons across the country.

As Sessions Promises Drug War Escalation, Listen To Drug War Prisoners

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By Doran Larson for The Conversation – Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced a return to a pre-Obama policy of seeking maximum penalties for all drug crimes, including low-level, nonviolent offenses. Criticism from politicians, criminologists, lawyers and others was swift and unambiguous. Based on a discredited belief in a zero-sum relationship between crime and incarceration rates, the thinking behind this policy was called “one-dimensional,” “archaic,” “misguided” and “dumb.” America’s unprecedented attempt to jail its way out of crime long ago passed the point of diminishing returns. Drug trafficking in particular sees a replacement effect: Removing one drug seller simply makes room for another (often accompanied by a violent reshuffling of territories). Excessive incarceration can also damage communities and can actually make an individual more, not less, likely to reoffend. I have been facilitating a writing workshop inside Attica Correctional Facility since 2006. For the past eight years, I have solicited, collected, helped publish and digitally disseminated the first-person writing of incarcerated Americans. Those on the receiving end of the attorney general’s misguided policy will naturally feel his words more deeply than others. The writers among them will be burdened with responsibility to make those feelings known.

Barriers To Changing Legal Names And Gender Markers In Prison

California's SB 310 could ease some of the challenges facing trans people in prison, such as a legal name change. (Photo: steinphoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

By Victoria Law for Truthout – During her 30 years in California’s prison system, Cookie Bivens has seen numerous trans women attempt to change their name and gender marker while incarcerated. Not a single woman ever succeeded. In California, people seeking to legally change their name or gender marker must file an application with the county court and pay a filing fee of nearly $500. (A person earning less than $2,127 per month can file for a fee waiver.) Once the paperwork is filed, the court sets a hearing date within six to 12 weeks. If the court receives no objections to the proposed name and gender marker change, the petition is granted. Incarcerated trans people face an extra hurdle: obtaining approval from the prison’s superintendent and other administrators. Without that approval, they cannot begin the court process.

With Less Crime, Closed Dutch Prisons Are Instead Being Used To House Refugees

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By Brianna Acuesta for True Activist – It might be hard to imagine a world where prisons actually close because of a reduction in prisoners if you live in the U.S., but in many countries abroad this is not such a rare occasion. In the United States, the existence of private prisons that churn out a profit means that the prison-industrial complex focuses less on helping inmates stay out of trouble and more on how the inmates can benefit prison owners. In the Netherlands, however, crime has been rapidly decreasing for the last decade and 19 of the nearly 60 prisons have since closed. Some prisons even took in inmates from Belgium and Norway just to keep up their locations. While this may have resulted in a loss of jobs, it means that less people are being incarcerated, which is always a positive in any country. On top of fewer prisoners and less crime, the government in the Netherlands found a way to repurpose the closed prisons: they now house refugees in there.

Slave Labor: Prisoners Work In State Buildings For Under .24 Cents An Hour

Prisons from the Oklahoma Observer

By Celisa Calacal for AlterNet – When activist Sam Sinyangwe was awaiting a meeting with the governor’s office at the Louisiana state capitol building in Baton Rouge, he noticed something odd. A black man in a dark-blue jumpsuit was printing papers while a correctional guard—with a badge and gun—stood watching over him. The pair stood out against the white, middle-aged legislators populating the building. Sinyangwe said he did not know exactly what he was looking at, until he saw another black man in the same dark-blue outfit serving food at the capitol building’s cafeteria. This time, Sinyangwe noticed that the man had a patch on his chest labeling him a prisoner of the Louisiana State Department of Corrections, complete with an identification number. Sinyangwe realized that the server, the man printing papers and the other people working in the lunch line were all prisoners. Inmates working at the capitol building in Baton Rouge is a common sight. Prisoners work in the Louisiana governor’s mansion and inmates clean up after Louisiana State University football games as well. But the labor practice of having inmates work in state government buildings extends beyond Louisiana; at least six other states in the U.S. allow for this practice: Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Georgia.

At $75,560, Housing A Prisoner In California Now Costs More Than A Year At Harvard

Inmates walk in file at San Quentin State Prison. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

By Staff of Associated Press -The price for each inmate has doubled since 2005, even as court orders related to overcrowding have reduced the population by about one-quarter. Salaries and benefits for prison guards and medical providers drove much of the increase. The result is a per-inmate cost that is the nation’s highest — and $2,000 above tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses to attend Harvard. Since 2015, California’s per-inmate costs have surged nearly $10,000, or about 13%. New York is a distant second in overall costs at about $69,000. Critics say with fewer inmates, the costs should be falling. “Now that we’re incarcerating less, we haven’t ramped the system back down,” said Chris Hoene, executive director of the left-leaning California Budget & Policy Center. For example, the corrections department has one employee for every two inmates, compared with one employee for roughly every four inmates in 1994.

Folsom Prisoners Declare Hunger Strike, Mainstream Media Silent

From liberationnews.org

By Staff of PSL – Folsom State Prison, also known as Old Folsom, is the second oldest state prison in California, behind San Quentin, and is highly recognized as one of the first maximum security prisons. Folsom State Prison is also known for the executions of over 90 inmates over the course of 20 years in addition to being where former Black Panther, Eldridge Cleaver, was held for a short period. The decades of oppression behind bars has never failed to produce resistance by those most affected. This most recent hunger strike was declared in response to the harsh conditions that prisoners in Administrative Segregation Units are facing. Prisoners are given food without plates or bowls and they’re not given any cups to drink water from thus being forced to eat from plastic bags and drink from old milk cartons. Mail is withheld from prisoners for months without any explanation. The prison refuses to provide them with basic rehabilitation programs or even cleaning supplies for their cells. Prisoners have reached out to multiple people and have received no response or help for the conditions that they are forced to live with on a day to day basis.

Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike

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By James J. Zogby for Lobe Log – One thousand five hundred Palestinian prisoners have been on a hunger strike for almost a week now. They are refusing sustenance in an effort to improve the deplorable conditions faced by the nearly 6,500 Palestinians who are currently imprisoned in Israel. On the day before the strike began, the action’s leader, Marwan Barghouti, published an op-ed in the International New York Times. It was an elegantly written piece in which Barghouti laid out the conditions in Israel’s prisons and the demands of the strikers. These demands include: more regular family visits, better health care, an end to solitary confinement, and end to administrative detention (a practice in which Israel jails Palestinians for prolonged periods without charges or trial—there are currently 500 such detainees), and installing public telephones enabling prisoners to have monitored calls with their families. Barghouti began his article noting that he has been in prison for 15 years during which time “I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arrests and the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners.”

Why We Are On Hunger Strike In Israel’s Prisons

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By Marwan Barghouti for The New York Times – HADARIM PRISON, Israel — Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike. Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells. Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Two States Consider Bills To Keep Parents Out Of Jail

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By Victoria Law for Truthout – Ayana Aubourg has one childhood memory of her father that does not involve a jail or prison visiting room. “The only thing I can remember is him making spaghetti,” said Aubourg, whose father was sentenced to 10 years in prison when she was seven years old. She saw him once a year in a visiting room that she remembers as being “cold and controlled.” Later, a playroom was added for the children visiting their fathers, but the presence of a few toys did little to make the atmosphere warmer or cheerier. “It’s still a very traumatic experience,” she told Truthout. Spaghetti remains her favorite dish. Aubourg is now 22; her father was released from prison five years ago. But the prison visiting room lingers in her mind, and she is now working to change the laws that rip so many families apart.

Infamous Phoenix Tent Prison Closed After 23 Years

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By Megan Cassidy and Laura Gómez for The Republic – Penzone made the announcement Tuesday based on the recommendation of an advisory committee that he appointed after taking office in January. The tents served as a prominent symbol of Penzone’s predecessor, Joe Arpaio, who erected the facility in 1993, his first year in office, and held it up as an inexpensive solution to overcrowded jails. Penzone defeated Arpaio in last year’s general election, ending his 24-year span as sheriff. At an afternoon press conference Tuesday, Penzone said Tent City has become the preferred location for inmates and a liability for understaffed detention officers. Shuttering the facility will save the county approximately $4.5 million a year, he said.

Mumia To Finally Receive Hep C Treatment

Mumia two shots combined

By Staff for the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home. On March 31, 2017, Mumia Abu-Jamal received a cruel mix of bad and good news from a prison doctor. The doctor shared the results of his recent lab test, which showed clear signs of cirrhosis, an irreversible scarring of the liver caused by his untreated Hep C. The doctor also informed Mumia that he would be treated with the Hep C cure within a week. The impending victory was bittersweet. Mumia shared his feelings with those he called that morning. His rare expression of emotion was also captured in an interview that evening in which he stated: “My first reaction was really shock, anger, disbelief. If I had been treated in 2015, if I had been treated in 2012 when they say they first diagnosed it, I wouldn’t be this far advanced.…For a lot of guys and a lot of gals inside the Pennsylvania prisons, I think it is a step forward and a great day, but I assure you I don’t feel that way right now.”

These For-Profit Schools Are ‘Like A Prison’

From propublica.org

By Sarah Carr, Francesca Berardi, Zoë Kirsch and Stephen Smiley for Pro Publica and Slate – An alternative school for sixth- through 12th-graders with behavioral or academic problems, Paramount occupied a low-slung, brick and concrete building on a dead-end road in hard-luck Reading, Pennsylvania, a city whose streets are littered with signs advertising bail bondsmen, pay-day lenders, and pawn shops. Camelot Education, the for-profit company that ran Paramount under a contract with the Reading school district, maintained a set of strict protocols: No jewelry, book bags, or using the water fountain or bathroom without permission. Just as it still does at dozens of schools, the company deployed a small platoon of “behavioral specialists” and “team leaders”…