How a prisoner's amazing drawings of golf courses set him free

“Creating golf holes with pencils is how I pass the time. Maybe one day I'll get to play the game I've only imagined.”

A man who was serving 39 years to life in prison decided to started drawing golf courses. His art was really cool. One thing led to another, and his drawings made their way to Golf Digest, which then wrote about him, realized his conviction sounded dubious, investigated, and guess what.

Valentino Dixon is now free. Read the rest

Japan is turning this 1908 prison into three hotels

Yosuke Kurosawa takes a tour of Nara Juvenile Prison, which was in use until 2017 and will soon be turned into hotels for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It's like a really clean Shawshank Prison. Read the rest

Laramie County, Wyoming Sheriffs' department blocks public records requests for their prison phone monopoly deal

Every crappy thing in the world is beta-tested on people who have little or no power, perfected, and brought to the rest of us -- CCTV starts with prisoners, moves to mental institutions, then to schools, then to blue-collar workplaces, then airports, then white-collar workplaces, then everywhere. Read the rest

Illinois votes to eliminate inmates' doctor visit co-pays, equivalent to one month's wages

Illinois lawmakers have want to end inmates' co-payments of $5 for each prison doctor visit -- the equivalent of a month's wages in the prison's $0.05/hour and under workshops; in Oregon, they're contemplating creating a $3-5/visit co-pay. Read the rest

Moving documentary on prisoners who break wild horses

The Wild Inside follows Arizona prisoners in a program where they work to break wild horses rounded up from the desert. Read the rest

Bill Cosby explains why people go to prison

"Somewhere along the way, they did something wrong, something dumb... Maybe they even got away with it first and thought they'd never get caught."

Hey, hey, hey? Read the rest

Forced prison labor put downward pressure on wages at American companies, worsening inequality

In Economic Consequences of the U.S. Convict Labor System, UCLA economist Michael Poyker uses data on prisons and their surrounding areas from 1850 to 1950 to examine the role that free/extremely low-waged forced convict labor had on wages. Read the rest

Let me tell you a story about Herman Wallace, who spent 41 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit

I read a lot. It's part of my job as a writer. Sadly, most of what I read these days is kind of terrible. We do awful things to one another. We've been doing it for a long time. Here's something terrible that I learned today.

In 1972, Herman Wallace was in the Louisiana State Penitentiary doing a stretch for armed robbery. While he was inside, one of the prison's guards was murdered. Wallace and two other black men--Robert King and Albert Woodfox--were convicted for the murder.

There was just one problem: they weren't guilty.

To say that Wallace, King and Woodfox, known members of the militant Black Panther Party, were unpopular with the penitentiary's staff was an understatement. Back then the trio insisted that the crime was being hung on them because of the color of their skin and their political beliefs. Their declaration of innocence wasn't enough to save them from being punished for the guard's murder. The trio was declared guilty. Wallace spent the next 41 years of his life in solitary confinement.

In 2013, a United States Federal Court Judge overturned Wallace's sentence, stating in no uncertain terms that Wallace's trial had been "unconstitutional" and ordered his immediate release. The Department of Corrections complied with the order.

A few days later, Wallace died of liver cancer. The only moments of freedom he had known in over four decades were also his last. King and Woodfox were a little more lucky--both managed to stay alive for more than a few days after leaving prison. Read the rest

Canada struggle to end solitary confinement is "justice deferred"

Until recently, under Canadian law, prison administrators could confine their charges to an indefinite period in solitary confinement. Thanks to a pair of high profile court rulings, this could change in a big way, provided the Federal government can get its shit together.

Last month, the Supreme Court in the Canadian province of British Columbia struck down a law that allowed prisoners to be kept indefinitely in solitary confinement. It was a huge win for prison inmates and society: long-term solitary confinement does nothing to rehabilitate or condition an individual to become a more productive member of society. Worse, as humans are social animals, being locked away from our peers for long periods of time can cause psychological trauma--that's not something you want to do to someone who'll eventually be released back into society. Human rights activists in BC applauded the court's decision. Unfortunately, a similar case, heard in a different region of Canada, is keeping the verdict from changing the country's confinement laws.

This past December, a Superior Court Judge in the province of Ontario handed down a verdict that found that solitary confinement lasting any longer than five days is absolute bullshit, according to the Canadian constitution. But, as the CBC details, the practice of doing so does not violate the constitutional rights of the individual being thrown into solitary.

Both verdicts have merit, but which has more weight?

It's a question that the Canadian government has decided can only be answered by another run through the legal system. Read the rest

Arizona may end draconian feminine hygiene rationing for prisoners

Right now, if prisoners use up their 12 allotted pads for the month, they have to work 27 hours to afford a $4 box of tampons. Read the rest

How to make potentially lethal prison wine

The recent deadly outbreak of nacho botulism reminded me of another big botulism outbreak caused by pruno, aka prison wine. Brian and Jason from Modern Rogue show how to make pruno, showing why it could easily contain botulism. Read the rest

Film examines the brutal long-term effects of solitary confinement

The vast majority of prisoners like Kenneth Moore held in solitary confinement for extended periods get released with almost no rehabilitation or coping skills. Frontline spent three years inside and outside Maine State Prison documenting the effects on prisoners as they try to return to society after solitary. Be warned, it is as bloody and terrifying as any horror movie. Read the rest

Why are 2.3 million people in the US locked up? This infographic explains everything you need to know

This pie chart, by Prison Policy Initiative, breaks down where and why 2.3 million people in the US are behind bars. One in five of them are imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses. "For the last 20 years, the number of arrests for drug sales have remained flat, while the number of arrests for possession have grown."

While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities and the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. Every year, 641,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail over 11 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days, and others are too poor to make bail and must remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (187,000 on any given day) have been convicted, generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.

Read the rest

Orange County's Seal Beach jail offers posh, $100/day accommodations to rich crooks

If you're convicted of a crime in Orange County, you can shell out thousands of dollars to be housed in Seal Beach's fancy "pay to stay" jail, which made $365,000 in the last fiscal year by aggressively marketing its "work release, flat screen TVs, computer/media room, clean facility, new beds" to deep-pocketed criminals, who pay $100 a night to stay there rather than one of Orange County's notoriously violent, dirty jails. Read the rest

A grim documentary examines solitary confinement

Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison aired last night after a successful festival run. The film is an unflinching look at life in solitary confinement at Red Onion supermax, where prisoners spend 23 hours a day or more in solitary confinement. Read the rest

Tomorrow: largest prison strike in US history

America imprisons more people than any other country in history, in both absolute and relative terms. American prisoners -- disproportionately racialized and poor people -- are held in inhumane conditions that include long periods of solitary confinement, in violation of international protocols against torture. Read the rest

In prison, "punitive frugality" causes ramen to beat cigarettes as currency

According to a new University of Arizona study, instant ramen is the most valuable currency at one US prison. For example, a two .59 packets of ramen could be traded for one $10 sweatshirt while one ramen packet was worth "five tailor-made cigarettes." Why did the noodles overtake cigarettes as the most valuable currency? Because the cafeteria food is terrible and it's getting worse. Sociologist Michael Gibson-Light calls it "punitive frugality." From The Guardian:

The study paints a bleak picture of the state of food available at the prison. Gibson-Light found that black-market food became more valuable after control over food preparation switched from one private firm to another in the early 2000s.

“That change was part of a cost-cutting measure,” Gibson-Light said. “With that change that resulted in a reduction in the quantity of the food the inmates were receiving.”

Inmates at the prison Gibson-Light studied went from receiving three hot meals a day to two hot meals and one cold lunch during the week, and only two meals for the whole day on the weekend...

“[Money] doesn’t change unless there’s some drastic change to the value in people using it,” he said. The shift from tobacco to ramen highlights how dire the nutritional standards at prisons has become, he added.

Read the rest

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