"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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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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.
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
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
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:
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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.
U.S. military officials are preventing imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning from having contact with her legal team or her friends, following unconfirmed reports that she was hospitalized after a health crisis. Read the rest
A new documentary, "(In)Securus Technologies: An Assault on Prisoner Rights", tracks the rise of for-profit video "visitation" programs, which are being rolled out across America's unimaginably huge prison system, replacing the in-person visits that have been shown to be vital for prisoners' successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Read the rest
Jeff Greenspan and Andrew Tider are two artists who spent more than a year working with prisoners to identify CEOs who presided over terrible crimes without any personal penalties, and paired convicts with CEOs, commissioning portraits of the rich people whose impunity protected them from the inmates' fate. Read the rest
Chelsea Manning's helpers write, "Citing potential copyright infringement, the Army censored materials on prison censorship from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that were sent to Chelsea by one of her volunteers." Read the rest