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 -
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is the latest plan of conglomerates to strengthen their grip over the planet.
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a large increase in jobs in February as compared to January. At the same time the January jobs data was revised lower, which gave a boost to the February number. Let’s look at what happened to the people behind the numbers.
This graph shows two sets of data: the Employment to Population ratio and the Labor Force Participation rate. These are updated with February data.
They show that the percent of the population employed has not changed in February....
Randy Shannon | PDA Pennsylvania 10 Mar 2013 Hits:199 ESJ Articles
AFT President: "This is not about how to fix public schools, but to close them."
Philadelphia is going to shutter 23 public schools following a vote Thursday night by the School Reform Commission, despite an emotional protest and numerous arrests, exemplifying the city's continued embrace of privatized school reform at the mercy of the public school system.
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Lauren McCauley | Common Dreams 08 Mar 2013 Hits:559 ESJ Articles
In 1996, I signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Although that was only 17 years ago, it was a very different time. In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction. Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian. As a bipartisan group of former senators stated in their March 1 amicus brief to the Supreme Court, many supporters of the bill known as DOMA believed that its...
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Today the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 14,270 – completely erasing its 54 percent loss between 2007 and 2009.
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ROBERT B. REICH | ROBERT REICH 06 Mar 2013 Hits:383 ESJ Articles
When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law almost 23 years ago, the idea of inclusion for people with disabilities was legally born. Ramps were built, infrastructure was redesigned and, for the first time, the law backed people with disabilities who demanded their right not to be blocked from physical access to facilities.
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Reid Davenport | Open Secrets Blog 06 Mar 2013 Hits:339 ESJ Articles
California Teamsters are paying to lose their jobs because of a scheme called the California Twilight Enterprise Zone Program.The program allows businesses to receive tax breaks of $37,500 for each new employee they hire in one of California's 40 Enterprise Zones. The program encouraged two Teamster employers to dump their union workers, move to an Enterprise Zone, hire cheaper workers and get tax breaks in the bargain.One employer, Atlanta-based Blue Linx, is a building products distributor. And get this: it lists "safety, respect and learning" as its values for "People." VWR is...
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Thank you for being among the over 400 organizations, representing more than 15 million Americans, that co-signed the letter to Congress expressing deep concerns about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and opposition to the outdated "Fast Track" trade negotiating and approval process.
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During the Great Recession, the wealth gap between whites and African-Americans nearly doubled, leaving white with nearly 22 times as much in household wealth. According to a new study from Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy, this merely exacerbated a much longer trend during which the wealth of whites exploded while that of African-Americans stagnated:
In 2009, a representative survey of American households revealed that the median wealth of white families was $113,149 compared with $6,325 for Latino families and $5,677 for black families.
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One spring afternoon, O. Perry Walker High School Principal Mary Laurie made her way to the school's courtyard, where a lone student sat at a picnic table with a large stack of papers in front of him and a frustrated look on his face. Laurie recognized the student as a shy senior with one of the highest GPAs in his class.
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SARAH CARR | The Atlantic 02 Mar 2013 Hits:381 ESJ Articles
On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court will hear a case that has the potential to give big corporations free rein to write contracts that prevent consumers from ever holding them accountable for fraud, antitrust violations, or any other abuses of consumer and worker protection laws now on the books. It's a case that hasn't gotten much attention, but should.
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Stephanie Mencimer | Mother Jones 02 Mar 2013 Hits:617 ESJ Articles
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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.
Our special guest this month is Marc Armstrong, the Executive Director of the Public Banking Institute in California. Marc will be discussing the problems with our banking system and the possibility of public state-owned banks as a potential...
Monthly call with special guest, Cathy L. Hurwit, Chief of Staff for US Representative Jan Schakowsky (IL-09). Cathy will be discussing Rep. Schakowsky's Emergency Jobs Act, the CPC 'Back to Work Budget,' and other jobs legislation.
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CALL AGENDA: Lori Wallach provided background on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)--who's involved with it, who's opposing it--with special focus on Trade Unions. She'll also identify the key issues and timeline, and finally discuss next steps...
Logan Martinez, member of the National Jobs for All Coalition Executive Committee
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