Obama commutes sentences of 95 prisoners and pardons two

President Obama holds his end of 2015 news conference at the White House, Dec. 18, 2015.    REUTERS

President Barack Obama today announced he has commuted the sentences of 95 federal prisoners, and granted two prisoners pardons. Most of them are nonviolent drug offenders.

This is the most he has done at one time, and more than doubles the number of clemency orders he has granted since taking office. His signature today sets free 40 prisoners who are serving life sentences.

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Multi-generational cruelty: America's prisons shutting down kids' visitations

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The history of American prison visitations are a mix of racism ("black men, denied sex, will riot in jail") and compassion -- especially the late 1960s' ground-breaking, multi-day family visitation programs that allowed prisoners to play and live with their children for a whole weekend a few times every year. Read the rest

Not (just) the War on Drugs: the difficult, complicated truth about American prisons

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U Penn political scientist Marie Gottschalk has a new book out, Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, in which she expands on her prodigious work on the root causes of America's astounding rate of incarceration. Read the rest

The hockey-stick from hell: US incarceration per 100,000 people, 1890-today

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Vox parsed out the Bureau of Justice Statistics' numbers on incarceration in prisons (excluding jails) and produced this ghastly visualization tracking the transformaiton of America into the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the history of the world. Read the rest

Prisoners' debate team trounces national champs from Harvard

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The New York prisoners team is composed of people convicted of violent felonies who have gone on to take continuing education classes in prison through Bard College. They debated the proposition that public schools should be allowed to refuse education to undocumented students, arguing for the proposition. Read the rest

How guards and prosecutors retaliate against solitary confinement prisoners who blow the whistle

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The Dallas Six is a group of prisoners who were beaten, shocked and gassed by prison guards who had previously beaten them in retaliation for complaints about abuse in solitary confinement. Read the rest

America's mass incarceration of black people: the most important essay you'll read today

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Ta-Nehisi Coates's longread in the Atlantic, "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" is a stupendous piece of serious journalism, tracing the long history of system racism in America to the present day condition: America imprisons more people than any other country in the world; it imprisons more people than at any time in its history; and it imprisons black people, especially black men, at a rate that beggars belief. Read the rest

Help crowdfund a relentless tsunami of FOIA requests into America's private prisons

Michael from Muckrock writes, "Investigative news site MuckRock is taking a broad look at how private prisons have rewritten state and local laws to ensure that they profit at the expense of inmates, staff, and taxpayers, even as reports indicate that promised savings are almost non-existent." Read the rest

Homing pigeon caught dropping off drugs at prison

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Guards at the La Reforma jail near San Jose, Costa Rica caught this homing pigeon as it flew into the prison carrying a bag of cocaine and marijuana. Read the rest

Drone drug delivery at prison spurs yard fight

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A drone dropped a package of marijuana, heroin, and tobacco into the recreation yard at Ohio's Mansfield Correctional Institution igniting a big brawl over the contraband. Just wait until drone drug delivery is free with Amazon Prime! Read the rest

The US starves its prisoners

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Schuylkill County Prison in Pennsylvania feeds inmates portions that are “not even enough to fill a 5-year-old child,” according to a group of prisoners who have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. It's not the only US prison starving its inmates. Legislators in some states are proposing that prisoners ought to be fed just twice a day, instead of three, and in Morgan County, Alabama, "federal authorities jailed Sheriff Greg Bartlett in 2009 after he admitted to depositing over $200,000 in state money allocated for prison meals into his personal account (in Alabama, sheriffs can keep excess state funds provided to pay for prisoners’ food)." The Marshall Project has recreated photos of meals in various US prisons. Read the rest

After lying and covering up, Facebook finally changes rules for inmates' pages

After at least four years of lying about its rubberstamp takedown process for prison authorities and omitting prison takedowns from its transparency reports, Facebook is finally bringing a crumb of due process to its treatment of prisoners. Read the rest

America's prison population, by the numbers

Administrative segregation prisoners take part in a group therapy session at San Quentin state prison in San Quentin, California, June 8, 2012. San Quentin prison is California's oldest correctional facility and houses the state's only gas chamber. Picture taken June 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Quinn Norton's "long form data journalism" piece on the American prison system paints a bleak picture of a nation that feasts on its poorest and most vulnerable with a boundless, venomous cruelty.

Commercial prison messaging system's terms of service lands inmate in solitary

Jpay, a service for sending messages to prisoners with a literal captive market, no longer claims copyright in messages sent to and from prisoners. Read the rest

Prisoner escapes by faking an email ordering his release

Neil Moore was locked up in England's notorious Wandsworth Prison when he used a smuggled cellphone to send an email to the prison that appeared to come from a court clerk who was ordering his release on parole. Read the rest

First-hand reports of torture from Homan Square, Chicago PD's "black site"

In the wake of last week's revelations about Homan Square, the off-the-books "black site" where Chicago PD disappear prisoners for violent, aggressive interrogation, four of the site's victims have come forward to describe the highly racialized human rights abuses at the secret site. Read the rest

Use Facebook while in South Carolina jail, go to solitary for 37 years

Prisons have a legitimate interest in controlling contraband, but in South Carolina, using social media from behind bars is a Class I offense, carrying stiffer penalties than murder, escape and hostage-taking. Read the rest

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