Tag: prison

Private prison system explodes

May 28, 2013 | By | Reply More

Now we have a powerful new industry, full of wealth, ready to buy politicians, in order to convince them to keep the prisons filled with non-violent drug offenders. The numbers presented by AlterNet are shocking:

From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population rose 18 percent, an increase largely reflected by the “drug war” and stringent sentencing guidelines, such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences.

However, total private prison populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784 percent (as seen in the chart below complied by The Sentencing Project).

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End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

February 22, 2012 | By | 3 Replies More
End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

Hey all. I haven’t been posting since last summer, mostly because I’ve been drowning in graduate school duties. One of these duties has been interning at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. There, I sit in on group therapy sessions for inmates with drug-related offenses. I’ve been consistently touched by the philosophical and psychological depth of these men, their gentleness and the span of their regrets. These are men who will sit down and opine for hours on topics you wouldn’t expect low-SES drug dealers and addicts to have much knowledge of: gender identity is a big topic, for example (these guys live firsthand the consequences of masculinity). And when it comes to living with shame or regret, these guys are almost the best resource you can find.

The only place where you can find more affecting people, I think, is at prisons. I’ve been volunteering for a Chicago-based group called Tamms Year Ten, which advocates for prisoners housed in long-term solitary confinement. I write and read inmates’ letters, respond to their requests for photos and magazines, and read their countless reports of abuse– from medical staff, from Corrections Officers, from mail room staff, and from the state itself.

Let’s be clear on what “long-term” solitary confinement means. These men at Tamms are housed alone for 23-hours a day, with zero human contact, for decades. Some have been locked up alone for 23-28 years.

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Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

July 19, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Debtors’ Prison Still A Reality?

According to a recent article by Chris Serres at the Minnesota Star Tribune, courts still order debtors to go to jail when they can’t afford to pay a judgment.

Not only are the national media largely unaware of this phenomenon, but The New Yorker published an article last April that characterizes debtors’ prisons as a pre-20th Century institution, and describes the America as a refuge for debtors.

As many as two out of every three Europeans who came to the American colonies were debtors on arrival. Some colonies were, basically, debtors’ asylums. By the seventeen-sixties, sympathy for debtors had attached itself to the patriot cause.

Jill Lepore of The New Yorker goes on to describe how American treatment of debt has evolved to allow bankruptcy and why this is a good thing.

Debtors’ prison was abolished, and bankruptcy law was liberalized, because Americans came to see that most people who fall into debt are victims of the business cycle, and not of fate or divine retribution.

Even Wikipedia describes debtors’ prisons as a thing of the past, or at least an unconstitutional one, according to this 2009 New York Times editorial, “The New Debtors’ Prisons.”

20th Century Debtors’ Prison

Times have changed. To be sure, most Americans who are deep in credit card debt do not have bench warrants issued for their arrest. However, in Illinois, Indiana and other states, a person who’s gotten a judgment entered against them can miss a court date and find themselves being hounded by the police.

What about the argument that defendants may owe the money they are being sued for, and should have gone to court? Perhaps the threat of jail is the only way to make them appear in court.

Reporters from The New York Times and The Federal Trade Commission have found that the collection industry is in dire need of repair, and cited numerous, ubiquitous problems. Some of these problems are startling. To wit:

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Meditation Mitigation Incarceration

May 3, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Meditation Mitigation Incarceration

February 1, 2010 issue of Missouri Lawyers Weekly (available only to subscribers online) reports on a new “Enlightened Sentencing Program” sponsored by a nonprofit meditation organization. The MLW article advises that several St. Louis area judges have been impressed with the program. For example, Judge David Mason

Ordered more than 200 people through the program. Of those offenders, he said that he has had to revoke probation only four times, a 2% rate. Mason’s definition of recidivism is if the probationer commits a new crime in the first three years. Missouri Department of Corrections statistics show a statewide average of 28% of prisoners are locked up again within three years after either violating parole or committing another crime.

Presumably, Judge Mason’s statistics are not compiled in a double-blind way–he might be unconsciously skewing the sample by choosing a select sub-group of convicts for the program. On the other hand, this stark difference in statistics does sound promising; it seems like this is the kind of approach that might make more sense than throwing people in expensive prisons where they are subjected to constant humiliation and violence. I think I know what would make me less likely to cope on the outside, and it’s not having someone slam my head against the metal bars of a prison cell.

Judge Mason suggests that Missouri should invest in a pilot meditation program, and then it could see the results among probationers and potential tax savings. “People tend to be afraid to go out in front on the issue,” the judge said. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than a lot of stuff we waste money on.”

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Yet more prisoners

March 10, 2010 | By | Reply More
Yet more prisoners

In the February 8, 2010 issue of National Law Journal, it is reported that the United States currently has 380,000 people in custody, even though they haven’t been charged with crimes.

They are immigrants, confined to a sprawling network of more than 270 jails and prisons for weeks or months while proceedings to determine whether they’ll be allowed to remain in the country are pending.

The article indicates that concerns are being raised that many of these facilities are substandard, that medical care is lacking and that the prisoners have limited access to legal counsel.

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Burning American tax dollars to incarcerate Canadian seed sellers

September 29, 2009 | By | Reply More
Burning American tax dollars to incarcerate Canadian seed sellers

We’re about to spend hundreds of thousands of American dollars incarcerating a Canadian who was busted for selling marijuana seeds. He never set foot in the United States, but he’s being extradited. Who did he hurt?

“There isn’t a single victim in my case, no one who can stand up and say, ‘I was hurt by Marc Emery.’ No one.”

Here’s the conclusion of an article by Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun:

Emery is facing more jail time than corporate criminals who defraud widows and orphans and longer incarceration than violent offenders who leave their victims dead or in wheelchairs. Whatever else you may think of him — and I know he rankles many — what is happening to him today mocks our independence and our ideal of justice.

Emery’s crime is so incredibly serious that he would have spent an entire month in a Canadian prison for his crime. But, apparently, we have nothing better to do with American tax dollars than incarcerating people who sell marijuana seeds to people who want to buy them.

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Hard work and drugs in America

June 29, 2009 | By | Reply More
Hard work and drugs in America

Ryan Grim has just published This is Your Country on Drugs, and he has presented some of his main ideas at Huffpo.

[O]ur nation diverges sharply from the rest of the world in a few crucial ways. Americans work hard: 135 hours a year more than the average Briton, 240 hours more than the typical French worker, and 370 hours–that’s nine weeks–more than the average German. We also play hard. A global survey released in 2008 found that Americans are more than twice as likely to smoke pot as Europeans. Forty-two percent of Americans had puffed at one point; percentages for citizens of various European nations were all under 20. We’re also four times as likely to have done coke as Spaniards and roughly ten times more likely than the rest of Europe.

What is driving law enforcement regarding drug use. Grim’s answer focuses on our ambivalence toward pleasure:

When pleasure is suspected, American drug use gets tricky, particularly when that high might do some real good, as in the case of medical marijuana.

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Conservative Judge: the most harmful thing about marijuana is jail.

April 5, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Conservative Judge: the most harmful thing about marijuana is jail.

Judge James P. Gray is a trial Judge in Orange County, California, a former attorney in the Navy JAG corps, a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles; he has also been a civil litigation attorney for a private law firm. In these two videos, he talks about marijuana and our “failed and hopeless drug policy” in America.

According to Gray, it’s easier for kids to get marijuana than alcohol because alcohol is regulated by the government and marijuana is regulated by drug dealers on the street.

These are excellent videos, caused by a thoughtful judge who is in a position to know.

If we started treating marijuana as we do alcohol, we would see five immediate benefits:

California would save $1 Billion in state expenses currently used to prosecute marijuana offenses.

California would generate $1.3B in take revenue per year in California (marijuana is currently the number one cash crop in California, with grapes being #2).

We’d make marijuana less available than it is now, and the quality of marijuana would be better regulated than it is now.

The entire medical marijuana controversy would go away–the Federal government is currently acting like a “bully” harassing sick people.

The hemp industry is a viable industrial crop, more valuable than cotton. You can get more paper from an acre of hemp than an acre of trees, and it’s much more environmentally friendly. The diesel engine was originally designed to run on hemp. The sails of the ship “Old Ironsides,” The U.S. Constitution were made of hemp fibers. The original copy of the founding document, the U.S. Constitution was made of hemp. It is an extremely valuable crop that we fail to exploit.

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Why don’t we treat marijuana like alcohol, even though the majority of people are willing to do this? Why does the federal government care? Here’s Judge Gray’s belief: At least 75% of everyone in the U.S. who uses any illicit substance uses only marijuana. By legalizing and regulating marijuana, the federal government would no longer justify our “colossal prison-industrial complex.” Many government jobs depend on the “war on drugs.” Two Congressmen have admitted to Judge Gray that “the war on drugs is not winnable, but it’s imminently fund-able.” He concludes that the federal government is “addicted to the drug war funding.”

For more on the harmlessness of marijuana, see this earlier DI post.

These videos were produced by Lee Stranahan, a writer, photographer and independent filmmaker. He also blogs for The Huffington Post .

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Prison reform on the radar

March 26, 2009 | By | 2 Replies More
Prison reform on the radar

New story from The Raw Story:

“America’s criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace,” [Senator Jim] Webb said, noting that the United States has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

According to a document released by Sen. Webb’s office, “Its task will be to propose concrete, wide-ranging reforms to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate; improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence; restructure our approach to drug policy; improve the treatment of mental illness; improve prison administration, and establish a system for reintegrating ex-offenders.”

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