Tag Archives | Prison-Industrial Complex

ACLU Uncovers Illegal Debtors’ Prisons Across Ohio

debtors' prison

Despite being blatantly unconstitutional, citizens are commonly being jailed for their inability to pay tickets and fines, wreaking havoc on people’s lives (and costing the state far greater sums than the unpaid tickets), ACLU Ohio reveals:

The resurgence of contemporary debtors’ prisons sits squarely at this intersection of poverty and criminal justice. In towns across the state, thousands of people face the looming specter of incarceration every day, simply because they are poor.

For Ohio’s poor and working poor, an unaffordable traffic ticket or fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.

The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay.

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The National Disgrace Of Marijuana Possession Arrests

marijuana arrestsThe New Inquiry, sociologist Harry Levine explains the terrible mechanics propelling apartheid-style law enforcement in America:

Police arrest mostly young and low-income men for marijuana possession, disproportionately blacks and Latinos. In the last 15 years, police and sheriff ’s departments in every major U.S. city and county have made over 10 million of these possession arrests. Most people arrested were not smoking. They were carrying tiny amounts.

Police make so many because they are relatively safe and easy arrests. All police have arrest quotas and often they can earn overtime pay by making a marijuana arrest toward the end of a shift. The arrests show productivity. Making many low-level arrests of all kinds is very good for training rookie police who gain experience doing many stops and searches of teenagers.

There is also a push nationally, to states, counties, and city police departments, to get as many new people as possible into the criminal databases.

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How A Man Was Sentenced To Life In Prison For Stealing A Pair Of Socks

Via Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi on crime and punishment under California’s Three Strikes law:

Suddenly, a pair of socks caught his eye. He grabbed them and slipped them into a shopping bag. “No, they were ordinary white socks,” he says, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. “Didn’t even have any stripes.”

Wilkerson never made it out of the store. At the exit, he was, shall we say, over­enthusiastically apprehended by two security officers. Thanks to a brand-new, get-tough-on-crime state law, Wilkerson would soon be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50. Because Wilkerson had two prior convictions, both dating back to 1981, the shoplifting charge counted as a third strike against him. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, meaning that his first chance for a parole hearing would be in 25 years.

Wilkerson is unlucky, but he’s hardly alone.

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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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California Reconsiders Draconian Three-Strikes Prison Sentences

American justice: 17 years behind bars for stealing cigarettes. The Los Angeles Times writes:

A Los Angeles County judge responsible for reconsidering the life prison terms of more than 1,000 offenders sentenced under the state’s three-strikes law began the process at a hearing Monday, reducing the punishments for five inmates convicted of relatively minor crimes.

Among those given shorter sentences was a 74-year-old who has served more than 15 years for possessing $10 worth of drugs and an 81-year-old behind bars for more than 17 years for stealing dozens of packs of cigarettes.

The hearing came three months after voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which softened California’s tough three-strikes law and allowed many inmates sentenced for non-serious and nonviolent offenses to ask for shorter prison terms. In Los Angeles County, the hearings are expected to continue through at least much of this year.

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The Likely Effect Of Obama’s Move To Put Armed Officers In Schools

The tragedy of American mass shootings inspires terrible choices. Regarding the president’s move to encourage the further policification of schools, Unprison writes:

The 18th Executive Order signed by President Obama is to provide incentives (and funding) for schools to have police oversee the children. This will create results.

School police, known as “Resource Officers” (perhaps for easier digestion) have been key builders of the School to Prison Pipeline. The fistfights and the joint in the bathroom do not result in detention or suspension anymore: now they are imprisonment, expulsion, and an often insurmountable mountain to climb towards any “normal” adult lifestyle.

A 2011 report by Justice Police Institute [suggests] that the overall damage to a community is not justified by the vague possibility that the school is safer. In fact, there are indications that the police actually lead to increased violence in schools.

Children have been the fastest growing segment in the industry of prisoners.

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Notorious For-Profit Prison Company Doing ‘Drug Sweeps’ Of Arizona Public School Students

Corrections Corporation of America, recently sued over its collaborating with violent gangs, is now partnering with police to conduct “lock down sweeps” in which high schoolers are locked in their classrooms while canine units search their possessions for illegal contraband. Via PR Watch:

An unsettling trend appears to be underway in Arizona: the use of private prison employees in law enforcement operations.

The state has graced national headlines in recent years as the result of its cozy relationship with the for-profit prison industry. Such controversies have included the role of private prison corporations in SB 1070 and similar anti-immigrant legislation disseminated in other states; a 2010 private prison escape that resulted in two murders and a nationwide manhunt; and a failed bid to privatize nearly the entire Arizona prison system.

And now, recent events in the central Arizona town of Casa Grande show the hand of private corrections corporations reaching into the classroom, assisting local law enforcement agencies in drug raids at public schools.

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Rare 13th Amendment Lawsuit Takes On Prison-Industrial Complex

Picture: Jacob Lawrence (PD)

As previously reported, a Vermont man is currently suing in Federal Court claiming that his forced labor as a pretrial detainee was in violation of the 13th Amendment. From Yahoo via Boing-Boing

The year was December 2008, and University of Vermont graduate student Finbar McGarry faced a dilemma. An inmate in a Vermont county jail, McGarry was required by correctional authorities to work in the jail laundromat for 25 cents per hour. If he refused to work, McGarry would have been thrown in solitary confinement—otherwise known as “the hole.” Not a pleasant alternative.
. . .
McGarry’s charges were ultimately dropped, and he was released. In 2009, he pressed a suit against his former captors in Brattleboro, Vermont, federal court for $11 million—claiming he was made a slave in violation of his 13th Amendment rights. The Brattleboro judge ruled that McGarry’s constitutional rights had not been violated, but that finding was overturned on appeal last week.

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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 Drug War’s Effect On Bodies And Minds

brokenglassfaceVia Brooklyn Rail, Jason Flores-Williams, a defense lawyer whose father spent sixteen years in prison on drug charges, on the influence of the War on Drugs on how we think:

There are two kinds of power and the drug war’s got them both in spades. The first is we’ll-kick-your-ass power. If you don’t go along with our vision of things, then we’re going to throw you in jail and try to ruin you. It’s the kind of power we think of when we think of China, except that when it comes to the prison-industrial complex we’re actually more repressive than they are.

The second power is foundational to all other forms of power: the power to make people doubt and dislike themselves. All we have to do is look in the mirror to know that the drug war has been an absurdity. Have you ever used drugs? Are you a felon who deserves to go to state prison for it?

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