Each time the 100-strong crowd assembled for the national Occupy for Prisoners day roared below the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago on Monday evening, the lights in a couple of windows would flicker on and off - prisoners up above, responding to the chants of "build schools, not prisons" and "we're with you, brothers and sisters."
"I can only imagine how excited they might have been to see that there are people in the free world that are concerned about them." said Christan Bufford, an organizer for juvenile justice with the Southwest Youth Collaborative. "When you are in there [detention], you feel like you are the only person in the world."
Bufford would know - he spent four months in the Illinois Youth Department of Corrected at the age of 16 after an aggravated gun charge and a probation violation. The statistics on mass incarceration for juveniles are bleak. For the more than 93,000 young people in the juvenile justice system in 2008, about 80 percent went on to have contact with the adult criminal justice system, found the MacArthur Foundation.
And the stigma that comes with being part of the juvenile justice system is constant, says Bufford. "Even if it is supposed to go away when you are 17, all you hear is 'this will follow you forever, [you've] messed up your life,'" said Bufford. "The juvenile justice system is not the solution, we really need to be focusing on restorative community based alternatives."
Juvenile justice was one part of the criminal justice system (or injustice system, as some activists call it) that was highlighted in Chicago's Occupy for Prisoners event on Monday, February 20. Eighteen other cities around the country came together as well to bring attention to the plight of a section of the 99 percent - prisoners.
In the United States, more than 2.2 million people sit behind bars, according to the Justice Policy Institute. Some of the most oft-cited statistics are that more people are incarcerated today than in China or Stalin's Russia, giving America the dubious honor of being the largest jailer.
But behind the shocking statistics are harsh sentencing laws and lucrative contracts for private prison firms that continue to drive the mass incarceration system, say the protesters at Occupy for Prisons, and they are calling for a fundamental change to the system.
"Softer sheets and fluffier pillows will not do for change," said Yasmin Nair, an academic and writer in Chicago, with the group Gender Just. "Prison has become a way to increase systemic injustice."
The protests call for an end to a variety of ills that activists see in the system: three strikes bills, which mandate the harshest prison term for anyone with three criminal convictions; solitary confinement; overcrowding; the death penalty; jail time for drug offenses; adult sentencing for children; and for-profit prisons, among other issues.
"In several different places around the country, Occupiers have organically taken up this work," said Brit Schulte, an activists with Occupy Chicago and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
Occupy's movement against injustice in the banking system, and the massive profits of corporations, are exactly what Occupy for Prisoners is pushing for, said Schulte.
Wells Fargo, a target of Occupy events in the past, has heavily invested in the private prison industry and owns 3.5 million shares in the second-largest private prison operator in the country, GEO Group, as Truthout previously reported.
Meanwhile, prisons make "enormous amounts of profit off the backs of black and brown people in our country," said Schulte. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the maximum wage for prisoners working at UNICOR, the federal agency that employs prisoners, is $1.15 an hour. The minimum wage for prisoners is $0.23.
The current prison population falls sharply along racial lines - African-Americans only make up 12 percent of the US population, while they make up about 40 percent of the prison population.
In fact, "there are more African Americans under correctional control today - in prison or jail, on probation or parole - than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began," points out Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness."
"The New Jim Crows" calls out these racial disparities as a modern-day counterpart to the old Jim Crow laws, arguing that the prison system and the difficulty for felons to find jobs or get public aid disenfranchise the black community much the same way that segregation laws did before they were abolished in 1965.
The book itself calls for a human rights movement to end the new Jim Crow, and Schulte says that the Occupy for Prisoners day was only the start of a spike in this movement. "We are in a very special place right now with this movement, because it's just getting going," said Schulte.
The National Prison Divestment Campaign was launched less than a year ago, to pressure corporations to divest from private prisons, and, so far, the United Methodist Church Board of Pension and Health Benefits has withdrawn nearly $1 million in stocks from the two largest private prison companies, GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America.
Occupy for Prisoners itself was sparked by an article Kevin Cooper, a death row prisoner in California, called "Occupy Death Row."
And last summer, prisoners at Pelican Bay State's Secure Housing Unit went on a three-week hunger strike for demands, including that staff stop using food as punishment, "adequate natural sunlight", one photo a year, and brought the plight of prisoners to national attention.
"When we set out to do these demonstrations," said Schulte, "we didn't want to just call for better conditions, but also give voice to the people that have been affected by this system."
Link to original Truthout Report
Economic and Social Justice -
We met Carolina while visiting a “welcome center” for recently-processed immigrants at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas. She emerged from a sweltering relief tent that sheltered a handful of other fatigued travelers, most of whom, like her, had been released by Border Patrol just hours prior. She stood what couldn’t have been more than five feet tall, but her weary eyes hinted at her age. She looked tired, but then, she should: she reportedly had just finished a journey of more than a thousand miles, and still had...
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When a coup removed the democratically-elected leftist president of Honduras in June 2009, receiving tacit support from the U.S. State Department, the American people barely took notice. Then when the United States increased military funding in its little protectorate to reinforce the new right-wing regime installed there, the American public still remained largely unaware and unconcerned. Even after it was reported that Honduras had become “the most dangerous country in the world” a year after the coup (it still is), and that a campaign against drug cartels in Mexico had made...
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The just-released results of a six-month initiative by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) suggest that the dark cloud cast over public sector unionism by a recent Supreme Court decision may not be so threatening after all.
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Forget Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow union-bashing governors. Forget the partisan Republican attacks on organized labor. The gravest threat today to public-employee unions—which represent cops, firefighters, prison guards, teachers, nurses, and other city and state workers—is a Supreme Court case named Harris v. Quinn, which could be decided as early as this Tuesday. And, strangely enough, it is the court's most sharp-tongued conservative, Justice Antonin Scalia, who could ride to organized labor's rescue.
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SSA Bargaining Unit Employees:
SSA is now seeking your ideas for a Vision 2025 plan. What SSA is not telling you is that they already have a draft plan that is a product of the Academy with the framework of that plan given to the Academy by SSA leadership.
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The unseen hand of antigovernment ideology can be found everywhere nowadays – even in your mailbox. The proof is in what you won’t find there, like your annual statement of earned Social Security benefits.
The government stopped mailing those out in 2011.
It’s also getting a lot harder to find Social Security field offices, or to find someone to pick up the phone, as the Social Security Administration enters into yet more rounds of steep budget cuts.
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The Charlotte economy is improving, but a number of residents pleaded with the Charlotte City Council on Monday, asking that the city not forget those without jobs and low-wage city workers.
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Student loan debt in the U.S. currently totals more than $1 trillion, with some predicting it will only get worse as tuition increases continue to outpace inflation. Recently launched federal student loan forgiveness programs were intended to provide relief to some of these borrowers, but the plans’ unexpected popularity has created a new set of concerns.
With tuition costs rising by an average of 6% each year over the last decade and students graduating with an average of $29,000 in student loan debt, which can prevent consumers from making big purchases...
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Last year, America placed next to last in a ranking of child well-being in 35 developed countries, barely beating out Romania. A recent report by the Children's Defense Fund helps explain how the US earned that distinction. According to the report, 1-in-5 American children live in relative poverty. Close to half of poverty-stricken kids live in extreme poverty, which means their families earn less than half the poverty level of $11, 746 per year for a family of four.
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All eyes are on Chattanooga, Tenn. as 1,500 Volkswagen workers file into voting booths this week to determine whether they will be represented by the United Auto Workers.
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You'd think debate on the merits of raising the minimum wage would have been settled long ago. After all, it's been around for 75 years in the United States, and it's been examined in countless academic and professional studies.
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Where have all the Democrats gone?
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Dana Millbank | The Washington Post 07 Jan 2014 Hits:757 ESJ Articles
In yet another constitutional rejection of mandatory drug testing, a federal judge this week struck down Florida’s program to require drug testing of all applicants for public assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The ruling makes permanent an earlier ruling that blocked the program, and reinforces many other court rulings that drug tests targeting particular populations are unconstitutional if they are not specifically tailored to protect public safety or another state interest.
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Nicole Flatow | ThinkProgress 07 Jan 2014 Hits:566 ESJ Articles
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Robert Creamer | Huffington Post 09 Dec 2013 Hits:682 ESJ Articles
Barbie Izquierdo, a low-income mother of two small children, is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a Philadelphia group of moms dedicated to ending hunger and poverty for their children and for families nationwide. About a month ago while she was waiting in line at a supermarket, she overheard two families trying to make purchases with their food stamps debit card. A computer glitch had temporarily shut down the system; these families and their children of all ages had to leave the store empty-handed. Barbie had to be a witness...
Deborah Weinstein | Huffington Post 26 Nov 2013 Hits:632 ESJ Articles
Authors of new report warn food donations not enough as six million threatened with worsened hunger
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Sarah Lazare | Common Dreams 26 Nov 2013 Hits:739 ESJ Articles
A key dispute in the TPP negotiations is the patents on pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures. Long patents inflate the profits of the pharmaceutical industry by not allowing less expensive generic drugs on the market. This means that people around the world will not be able to afford critical, often life-saving, drugs and medical procedures. It also means that countries like Japan, Australia and New Zealand that have national health care systems will see the cost of healthcare rise to a breaking point, undermining some of the best health systems...
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This piece is a follow-up to Linda's first post, "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense":
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PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.
Listen in this month to guest David Schwartzman, who discusses the job creating potential of confronting climate change and the issue of how the transition to a solar power system can be achieved without economic disruption.
Listen to this month's call to hear about plans to decimate Social Security, what the American Federation of Government Employees is doing about it, and what PDA can do to help save Social Security.
Listen in as we speak with Student Debt Crisis' Director and Co-Founder, Natalia Abrams. Find out what Student Debt Crisis is doing at the forefront of this issue, and about the legislation they endorse (HR 1330: The Student Loan Fairness Act,...
Listen to this call as we discuss the need for a government-subsidized jobs program, in order to create an economy where there is a job for everyone who needs one. Melissa Young, Director of the Heartland Alliance National Initiatives on Poverty...
Listen to our coalition partners at National Nurses United (NNU) speak on the Robin Hood Tax campaign. Bill Gallagher, the Robin Hood Tax Campaign Coordinator for NNU, and Sheilah Garland Political Organizer for Illinois and Missouri with NNOC/NNU,...
Listen to Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works and PDA coalition partner, discuss the upcoming battle to protect our Social Security and how we are putting the attackers on the defensive.