Tag Archives | jails

Have Prisons Become The Mass Housing Of Our Time?

Via Creative Time Reports, aerial photographer Christoph Gielen on prisons as the new housing boom:

Since 1980, when the U.S. prison population began to increase dramatically, Americans have been living in an era of mass incarceration, which Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has called one of the “greatest social experiments of our time.” The Spatial Information Design Lab, a think- and action-tank at Columbia University, goes so far as asking, “have prisons and jails become the mass housing of our time?”

I want to illustrate how prison design and architecture do in fact reflect political discourse, economic priorities, cultural sentiments and social insecurities, and how, in turn, these constructed environments also become statements about a society.

The opportunity to visually examine these restricted locations is significant; while some (low-resolution) satellite images of prison complexes are available in the public domain, the public cannot inspect Supermax facilities on the ground.

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Blocking Prison Construction With A Makeshift Schoolhouse

Decarcerate PA creates a surreal scene in its effort to impede the construction of a new state correctional facility:
Early morning November 19, seven members of Decarcerate PA set up school desks, banners, and a little red schoolhouse to block the entrance to the prison construction site in Montgomery County. They then sat at the desks, linking arms and refusing to move or allow construction vehicles onto the sight. Construction was delayed for over an hour before all seven protesters were arrested and taken away. The new prisons are being built on the grounds of SCI Graterford in Montgomery County. If completed, they will cost $400 million and house 4,100 people. We believe these prisons must be stopped, and that the money should be reinvested in our schools and communities.
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Letter from North County Jail

Picture: Dylan Oliphant (CC)

From Divided Core:

A writer friend of mine is serving some time in a Northern California jail and wrote an insightful letter which sheds some light on his experience behind bars.   With his permission, I’ve transcribed his letter to share with others.  For those who are interested, here’s what he wrote:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for the reading material – the books made it in, but the pornographic magazines, I am told, did not get past screening and were confiscated by the guards (I suspect they’ll be making paper mache of those pages forthwith).  Good show though; The Thought Gang will suffice for now.

Here at the North County Detention Facility there is an extensive library for the inmates in our compound: Building 101, which houses around 200 people.  We share a large “day-room” with tables, games, and televisions.  There are ten dorms that sleep roughly twelve people each, and we are generally free to move from our bunks to and from the day-room, or into the sunny courtyard as we please.  “The Farm,” as some here call it, is summer camp compared to where I was confined three days ago.

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New York To Use Jails As Homes For Those Displaced By Hurricane Sandy

If your home had no heat or electricity with winter approaching, would you consider being herded into jail? Russia Today reports:

With nowhere else to go, New Yorkers displaced by Hurricane Sandy may have no choice but to sleep in jails. The Arthur Kill Correction Facility on Staten Island may serve as a temporary home for up to 900 displaced victims of the storm. The medium-security prison was closed last December and with some fixing up, it could once again be fully functional.

As many as 40,000 New Yorkers are in need of shelter from extreme weather and rapidly decreasing temperatures, the city estimates, as the winter months approach. About 434,140 homes are currently still without power in the region that was in Hurricane Sandy’s path – mostly in New York and New Jersey. ­About 100,000 homes and businesses will remain without power for the next several months, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday in a news conference.

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A New Panopticon For The Age Of Prison Labor

Post London riots last year, conservative commentators worried that England’s jails resembled a “holiday camp” with too much leisure and not enough unpaid work. Architect Alexis Kalli’s HMPark Life is a set of blueprints and renderings for a hypothetical, fantastical new prison complex, based in part on Dante’s Inferno, to fulfill the needs of today’s society:

With a Government forcing inmates to work a full week for virtually no pay in order to earn their keep, ‘HMPark Life’ is a new prison located in Brockwell Park, South London. It questions this drive to turn a prison population into a cheap labour force, one that works not just to provide skills in the name of ‘rehabilitation’ but forces offenders to be visibly productive and punished to quench the public’s ever present blood thirst for justice.

A public viewing platform perched on the prison’s main circulation core provides an ideal point from which to survey the throng of productive inmates, leaving the public with that sense of satisfaction.

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Man Forced To Do Prison Labor While Awaiting Trial Sues For ‘Slavery’

It’s always good to see someone pushing back against the grotesqueries of the prison-industrial complex. Via Boing Boing:

In 2008, Finbar McGarry, a grad student at the University of Vermont, was arrested on gun charges. McGarry’s charges were ultimately dropped, and he was released. But while he was awaiting trial, his jailers ordered him to work for $0.25 in the jail laundry or be condemned to solitary confinement. He’s now suing, saying that this amounted to slavery.  If he wins, it will have huge repercussions for America’s jails, where pre-trial prisoners who have not been convicted of any charge are forced into hard labor.

During the course of his work, McGarry says he contracted a serious MRSA lesion on his neck—a potentially deadly bacterial infection. In 2009, he pressed a suit in federal court for $11 million—claiming he was made a slave in violation of his 13th Amendment rights. The judge ruled that McGarry’s constitutional rights had not been violated, but that finding was overturned on appeal last week.

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The American Geography Of Incarceration

We may peruse neighborhoods on Google Maps, read about suburban sprawl and new city developments, but millions of Americans exist in a different, ignored geography. Via the The Funambulist:

Prison Map is a project developed by Josh Begley, a graduate student at NYU. Let’s recall that 2.5 millions people are living in prison in this country. Such a project illustrates therefore a sort of hidden urbanism in which 0.8% of the American population live for a given time.

They illustrate a geography of exclusion [and] often ironically appear similar to European palaces with well-ordered classical plans.

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Private Prison Corporation Offers To Buy 48 States’ Prisons

3557791151_885f645d7eThis snippet bears repeating: “The company is asking for an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full.” Via Huffington Post:

A Wall Street giant, Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

Corrections Corporation has been a swiftly growing business, with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s. The company capitalized on the expansion of state prison systems in the ’80s and ’90s at the height of the so-called ‘war on drugs’. During the past 10 years, it has found new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants, as the federal government has contracted with private companies in an aggressive immigrant-detention campaign.

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‘Kids For Cash’ Judge Gets 28-Year Prison Sentence

ap_Mark_Ciavarella_nt_110818_wgPennsylvania Judge Mark Ciavarella jailed teenagers for minor offenses (e.g. satirizing a teacher on Myspace) in return for over $1 million in kickbacks from the area's for-profit youth prison. Mother Sandy Fonzo alleges that Judge Ciavarella is only "the tip of the iceberg" in a practice that is occurring across the country. Fonzo's star-wrestler son, whom Ciavarella sentenced, committed suicide after spending six months imprisoned among violent offenders as punishment for being caught with a marijuana pipe. In her words, "Judge Ciavarella is proof that for-profit incarceration cannot happen." The Kids For Cash scandal involved more than 30 state and local government officials and contractors, says ABC News.
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