Issues End Mass Criminalization

In America one out of every 100 citizens is behind bars and most of them are minorities. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population but holds one-quarter of the world's prisoners. The prison industrial complex has a vested interest in keeping people locked up. A prison record affects the ability to find employment. In Virginia, Florida, Kentucky and Iowa, a felony conviction results in the permanent loss of voting privileges unless individually restored by the governor.

The End Mass Criminalization Issue Team works on the following related issues:

  • Mass Incarceration
  • Prison Industrial Complex/Privatization of Prisons
  • School to Prison Pipeline
  • Restoration of Voting Rights
  • Voter Suppression by Incarceration
  • Stop and Frisk
  • Harm Reduction
  • Criminalization of Poverty
  • Mandatory Minimum Sentences
  • Criminal Justice System
  • War on Drugs
  • Solitary Confinement

IOT - End Mass Criminalization

Private for Profit Prisons - Articles and Blogs

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5 Shocking Revelations About the Privatization of Juvenile J…

5 Shocking Revelations About the Privatization of Juvenile Jails

In a move to cut costs, states throughout the nation have turned to privatizing their prisons, including their juvenile detention centers. In a newly released investigation titled, " Prisoners of Profit: Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Startling Record of Juvenile Abuse," The Huffington Post’s Chris Kirkham reveals how the growing empire behind this move, Youth Services International (YSI), is continuing...

Alyssa Figueroa | AlterNet 24 Oct 2013 Hits:907 Privatization of Prisons

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Lockup Quotas Help For-Profit Prison Companies Keep Profits …

Lockup Quotas Help For-Profit Prison Companies Keep Profits High and Prisons Full

For-profit prison companies like Corrections Corporation of American and GEO Group are no strangers to controversy. Their business model rests on incarceration, and their profits soared throughout the 1990s and 2000s as harsh sentencing laws, the War on Drugs, and tough immigration enforcement led to a dramatic rise in detention and incarceration. But with crime rates dropping for more than a decade and a new...

Brendan Fischer | PR Watch 26 Sep 2013 Hits:990 Privatization of Prisons

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Private prisons lock in profits with lockup quotas

Private prisons lock in profits with lockup quotas

As state governments seek to reduce their reliance on costly incarceration to meet criminal justice goals, the private prison companies that contract with them are trying to lock in profits through "lockup quotas." According to a new report from In the Public Interest, a nonprofit resource center that studies the privatizing of public functions, prison companies are increasingly striking deals with states that...

Bretin Mock | Facing South 24 Sep 2013 Hits:702 Privatization of Prisons

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America's Corrupt Justice System: Federal Private Prison Pop…

America's Corrupt Justice System: Federal Private Prison Populations Grew by 784% in 10 Year Span

From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population rose 18 percent, an increase largely reflected by the "drug war" and stringent sentencing guidelines, such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences. However, total private prison populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784 percent (as seen in the chart below complied by The...

David Harris-Gershun | AlterNet 28 May 2013 Hits:795 Privatization of Prisons

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Stop Owlcatraz!: Students Push to Stop Prison Corporation fr…

Stop Owlcatraz!: Students Push to Stop Prison Corporation from Naming Stadium

Students at FAU stage sit-in at university president's office over multi-million dollar gift from private prison company GEO Group Students rallying under the banner "Stop Owlcatraz" at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) occupied the university president's office on Monday to protest the naming rights for the football stadium going to the for-profit prison corporation GEO Group, which...

Andrea Germanos | Common Dreams 26 Feb 2013 Hits:1067 Privatization of Prisons

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Big Labor's Lock 'Em Up Mentality

Big Labor's Lock 'Em Up Mentality

How otherwise progressive unions stand in the way of a more humane correctional system. On January 4, the Tamms Correctional Center, a supermax prison in southern Illinois, officially closed its doors. Tamms, where some men had been kept in solitary confinement for more than a decade, was notorious for its brutal treatment of prisoners with mental illness—and for...

James Ridgeway and Jean Casella | Mother Jones 25 Feb 2013 Hits:1152 Privatization of Prisons

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Florida Atlantic's Folly: Why GEO Group Should Not Have Nami…

Florida Atlantic's Folly: Why GEO Group Should Not Have Naming Rights

Sometimes the sports world doesn’t just reflect the real world. It mocks our world with a vicious veracity. Recently, we learned that Florida Atlantic University had sold the naming rights to its football field. This isn’t unusual at all, but the company the school chose amongst many suitors certainly was. The stadium will be known as...

David Zirin | The Progressive 25 Feb 2013 Hits:1465 Privatization of Prisons

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Cover Ups, Corruption and Death: What Private Prison Co. Doe…

Cover Ups, Corruption and Death: What Private Prison Co. Doesn't Want You to Know about Its Stadium Sponsorship

The real story behind how the largest private prison company bought the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University's football stadium. This week, Florida Atlantic University announced a deal to rename its football stadium after GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the world. The deal came with a $6 million dollar price tag, the...

Steven Hsieh | AlterNet 24 Feb 2013 Hits:1172 Privatization of Prisons

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American Justice -- For Profit Prisons or Truth?

American Justice -- For Profit Prisons or Truth?

A moment in time that nobody expected: the marriage of a football stadium and naming rights with for-profit private prison industry the GEO Group. At this writing, a huge wave of utter discontent and amazement that something like this would ever occur is making waves across the internet and was featured recently in the New York...

Molly Rowan Leach | The Huffington Post 24 Feb 2013 Hits:1059 Privatization of Prisons

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Private Prison Corporations Are Modern Day Slave Traders

Private Prison Corporations Are Modern Day Slave Traders

The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, earlier this year sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it...

Glenn Ford | Black Agenda Report 25 Apr 2012 Hits:1179 Privatization of Prisons

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End Mass Criminalization Articles

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Criminal Injustice

Criminal Injustice

For decades, Congress has implemented policies that distort America's criminal justice system and tip the scales of justice in favor of punishment over rehabilitation. As a matter of civil rights and basic justice, our criminal justice system must change. Fortunately, the Obama Administration recognizes the unacceptable status quo, and recently announced an initiative to spur change. This new proposal will...

Rep. John Conyers | Huffington Post 03 Jun 2014 Hits:241 EMC Articles

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Alabama Looked The Other Way As Prison Staff Habitually Rape…

Alabama Looked The Other Way As Prison Staff Habitually Raped Women, Demanded Sexual Favors, DOJ Finds

For the past two decades, female inmates in Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have been subjected to atrocious acts of sexual abuse – and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) did nothing about it. A Department of Justice report has found that the state’s rampant abuse violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and calls on Gov....

Carimah Townes | Think Progress 04 Feb 2014 Hits:538 EMC Articles

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Florida woman who got 20 years for warning shot released pen…

Florida woman who got 20 years for warning shot released pending retrial

A Florida woman who became a cause celebre for civil-rights activists after she received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot has been released on house arrest this week as she awaits another trial. Marissa Alexander's supporters said that she was at home for Thanksgiving with her children Thursday after she was released on $200,000 bond following a judge's ruling on...

Matt Pearce | LA Times 30 Nov 2013 Hits:855 EMC Articles

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Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps You Unemployed For Lif…

Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps You Unemployed For Life

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute. ? Luis Rivera had some peace of mind for about five months, from late fall of 2010 through early spring of the following year. That’s the closest thing he’s seen to financial stability in more than twenty years. ? “I got hired for a wonderful job....

Kai Wright | The Nation 07 Nov 2013 Hits:1899 EMC Articles

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Bernard Kerik on Prison: Americans Wouldn't Stand For What I…

Bernard Kerik on Prison: Americans Wouldn't Stand For What I Saw

As New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik was ultimately responsible for the incarceration of many criminals. Now that he has seen the prison system from the inside, having served three years behind bars, he has a new appraisal of the U.S. penal system: "insane." In his first interview since his release from prison, where he served time for tax evasion and...

Jim Meyers | Newsmax 02 Nov 2013 Hits:851 EMC Articles

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Carl Dix on October 22nd

Carl Dix on October 22nd

Now’s the time to step up the fight TO STOP POLICE BRUTALITY, REPRESSION AND THE CRIMINALIZATION OF A GENERATION Today on October 22 people in more than 30 cities across the country are taking to the streets and acting in other ways on the 18th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation....

Carl Dix 24 Oct 2013 Hits:501 EMC Articles

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Freeing Marissa Alexander

Freeing Marissa Alexander

Three years ago, a single warning shot sent Marissa Alexander to prison. Last month, an appeals court overturned her conviction, ruling that the jury received flawed instructions on self-defense. Supporters are calling for the prosecutor to drop all charges rather than subject Alexander to a new trial. As reported earlier on Truthout, Marissa Alexander, a mother of three and a survivor...

16 Oct 2013 Hits:636 EMC Articles

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California lawmakers hold hearing on prison solitary confine…

California lawmakers hold hearing on prison solitary confinement policy

California lawmakers concerned about solitary confinement in the state's troubled prison system promised at a hearing on Wednesday to seek to reform the state's practice of keeping inmates in near-isolation for decades. The hearing took place amid increasing attention to California's prison policies by human rights organizations, which say solitary confinement for such long periods of time is torture. "An 8-by-10 foot...

Sharon Bernstein | Reuters 10 Oct 2013 Hits:647 EMC Articles

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Herman Wallace, Free at Last

Herman Wallace, Free at Last

After close to 42 years in solitary confinement, Herman Wallace is free. Wallace is dying of liver cancer, with days if not hours to live at the time of this writing. In a stunning legal ruling, Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ordered Wallace’s release by overturning his 1974 murder conviction....

Amy Goodman | Truthdig 03 Oct 2013 Hits:721 EMC Articles

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Restoration of Voting Rights Articles

McDonnell eases voting rights restoration process for nonviolent felons

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Wednesday that he will automatically restore the voting rights of nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences on an individual basis by doing away with the "subjective" application process. McDonnell streamlined the process of rights restoration when he took office in 2010, and has restored the rights of more than 4,800 felons – the most of any governor. In January he threw his support behind a measure to put a constitutional amendment to the voters that would have automatically restored voting rights to nonviolent felons, which failed in...

Todd Allen Wilson | Newport News Daily Press 29 May 2013 Hits:705 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Florida No. 1 in barring ex-prisoners from voting

Florida No. 1 in barring ex-prisoners from voting

Florida leads the nation by a wide margin in the number of felons who have served their sentences but cannot vote. One of only 11 states in the U.S. that does not automatically return civil rights to former inmates, Florida had not restored the rights of 1.3 million former inmates as of 2010, according to the Sentencing Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that favors alternatives to incarceration. The next closest state was Virginia at 351,943. A policy introduced by Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi makes most former convicts wait...

John Lantigua | Palm Beach Post 24 May 2013 Hits:913 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Voter rights will be expanded for felons in Delaware

Voter rights will be expanded for felons in Delaware

Shortly after one chamber of the General Assembly voted today to enact a constitutional amendment expanding voting rights for convicted felons, the other chose to reject a proposed amendment that would have allowed more citizens to vote absentee. Non-violent felons will now be able to vote immediately after discharging their criminal sentences according to an amendment passed by the Senate removing a constitutional provision barring felons from voting for five years after the fulfillment of their punishments. In the House, a Democratic bill to change constitutional limitations on absentee balloting failed by...

Doug Denison | The News Journal 20 Apr 2013 Hits:988 Restoration of Voting Rights

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DeRoche: Restoration of voting rights represents justice

DeRoche: Restoration of voting rights represents justice

Gov. Bob McDonnell got it right in his State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 9 when he strongly supported legislation to automatically restore civil rights for felons who have served their sentences and paid their fines and restitution. This is not a new position for the governor. He has restored more rights for Virginians than any other administration in state history. Many will react by questioning whether the governor’s position and actions represent fairness. This is a natural reaction for us all to...

Craig DeRoche | Richmond Times Dispatch 16 Jan 2013 Hits:449 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Editorial - Ex-felons' Voting Rights

Editorial - Ex-felons' Voting Rights

In a list found on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, state after state after state is on the books as restoring the voting rights of felons upon the completion of their sentence, probation and/or parole. Kentucky is not — but it is time for the Bluegrass State to join the ranks of the fair and enlightened.  House Bill 70 proposes to amend the Kentucky state constitution “to allow persons convicted of a felony other than treason, intentional killing, a sex...

Editorial 02 Feb 2012 Hits:1697 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Why Punish Ex-Offenders with a Voting Ban?

Why Punish Ex-Offenders with a Voting Ban?

In a heated presidential campaign, politicians have, like clockwork, started hitting each other over who is soft on crime. And here I thought we’d outgrown the Willie Horton era of playing political football with people’s lives. In Florida, a political action committee supporting Mitt Romney ran an ad last week criticizing Rick Santorum for voting to restore voting rights to ex-offenders who have finished their sentences. The issue popped up again during Monday’s heated Republican debate. I have never endorsed a candidate, but I...

Charles W. Colson | Washington Post 21 Jan 2012 Hits:1590 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Congress Must Pass Law that Allows Former Prisoners to Vote

Congress Must Pass Law that Allows Former Prisoners to Vote

As the leader of a prison ministry, I strongly support the Democracy Restoration Act because I know that people can be redeemed. Yet for redemption to impact the nation, people must be restored to their communities, and restoration requires an opportunity – like voting. A tussle between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in Monday’s GOP primary debate highlighted one issue that too often gets overlooked – restoring the right to vote in federal elections for those with past criminal convictions. As Congress reconvenes this week, lawmakers must...

H. David Schuringa | Christian Science Monitor 19 Jan 2012 Hits:1452 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Restore the Right to Vote

Restore the Right to Vote

More than five million Americans are barred from voting as an automatic consequence of criminal convictions. Getting that essential right restored is, for far too many Americans, not much more than a theoretical possibility. All Americans who live in and participate in their communities should have a political voice; the health of our democracy depends on it. But the road to restoration is made unduly difficult, if not impossible, by a complicated and convoluted morass of rules that vary from state to state. The impact of criminal disfranchisement is not borne...

Deborah Vagins | ACLU 04 Dec 2011 Hits:1354 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Parramore residents start campaign to restore ex-felons' voting rights

Parramore residents start campaign to restore ex-felons' voting rights

Pastor Eddie Walker got on his knees in a baby-blue suit to sign his name to a very personal promise. It called on residents of Parramore to campaign to restore voting rights to ex-felons. Walker, who spent 1996 to 2001 in prison for cocaine trafficking, already has been waiting more than five years for the state to restore his voting rights. A change in clemency rules, passed by Gov. Rick Scott's administration in March, can make it "almost impossible" for ex-felons to get their voting...

Lauren Roth | Orlando Sentinel 18 Jul 2011 Hits:1242 Restoration of Voting Rights

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Letter: Revise Voting Laws for Felons

Letter: Revise Voting Laws for Felons

The process in Tennessee to restore voting rights for felons is tangled, daunting and prohibitive. According to Tennessee law, a model resident of 28 years might not be eligible to vote based on a crime committed thirtysomething years ago. Strangely, if their conviction occurred sometime between 1973 and 1981, then nothing would disqualify them. The lucky few who may actually be eligible to vote must first face a staggering eight-step process involving three separate agencies, paper mail transmission to and from Nashville, and...

Stephen Burke 10 Jul 2011 Hits:1171 Restoration of Voting Rights

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School to Prison Pipeline Articles

The Police State Mindset in Our Public Schools

The Police State Mindset in Our Public Schools

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” – Michel Foucault Once upon a time in America, parents breathed a sigh of relief when their kids went back to school after a summer’s hiatus, content in the knowledge that for a good portion of the day their kids would be gainfully occupied, out of harm’s way and out of trouble. Those were the good old days, before school shootings became...

John W. Whitehead | The Rutherford Institute 13 Aug 2013 Hits:723 School to Prison Pipeline

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Texas Students Thrown in Jail for Days ... as Punishment for Missing School…

Texas Students Thrown in Jail for Days ... as Punishment for Missing School?

Texas's solution to truancy appears to be making kids miss even more school as they sit in jail. June 12, 2013: This story has been updated with Judge Clay Jenkins's comment and full statement, as well as the Mesquite school districtstatement on its website. School tardiness and absences come at a high cost in Dallas, Texas. Gone are the days of detention and writing lines on the chalkboard; now students are fined, even jailed. The enforcement of the...

Joaquin Sapien | ProPublica 14 Jun 2013 Hits:1344 School to Prison Pipeline

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Arresting a Teen Girl for Dozing Off in Class? Why Normal Kid Behavior Is T…

Arresting a Teen Girl for Dozing Off in Class? Why Normal Kid Behavior Is Treated As a Crime or Psychiatric Disorder

Brianna Pena, a 5-year-old, was told she could not return to her kindergarten classroom at her Bronx, NY, charter school until she was “psychiatrically cleared” to return by a medical professional.  It was her first day at a new school.  She didn’t know anyone and repeatedly cried, “Nobody cares about me!” School officials insist that Brianna kept “yelling and throwing chairs” during the incident.  Administrators placed her on a list of so-called “psychiatric suspensions.” In Bartow, FL, Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old student...

David Rosen | AlterNet 18 May 2013 Hits:1768 School to Prison Pipeline

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The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for scie…

The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for science experiment

When we talk about the criminalization of communities and people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos in America, we often talk about the criminal justice system in America that disproportionately targets those communities.Schools are often the major accomplices in making this system run with the school to prison pipeline. Nothing exemplifies this more than what is happening to 16 year old Kiera Wilmot in Florida. According to the Miami New Times,  ”7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed...

Sesali Bowen | Feministing 03 May 2013 Hits:849 School to Prison Pipeline

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In Texas, Police in Schools Criminalize 300,000 Students Each Year

In Texas, Police in Schools Criminalize 300,000 Students Each Year

The "good guy with a gun" seems to do a lot more policing than protecting. In Texas, hundreds of thousands of students are winding up in court for committing  very serious offenses such as cursing or farting in class. Some of these so-called dangerous criminals (also known as teenagers) will face arrest and even incarceration, like the honors student who  spent a night in jail for skipping class, or the 12-year-old who was arrested for  spraying perfume...

Steven Hsieh | AlterNet 12 Apr 2013 Hits:1177 School to Prison Pipeline

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Handcuffing 7-Year-Olds Won't Make Schools Safer

Handcuffing 7-Year-Olds Won't Make Schools Safer

Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts. You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when...

Chase Madar | TomDispatch 26 Feb 2013 Hits:992 School to Prison Pipeline

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Full-Body Pat-Downs in America's Schools: How the War on Drugs Is a War on …

Full-Body Pat-Downs in America's Schools: How the War on Drugs Is a War on Children

Criminalizing children will have constitutional implications for generations to come. On a warm spring afternoon at American colleges, the intoxicating aroma of surely medicinal marijuana will be floating like a soft caress in the breeze, and hard-working students will be stocking up on amphetamine cocktails to sharpen their overstressed young minds for the coming exams. On a warm spring afternoon at the nation’s poorer public schools, children (and I mean...

Patricia J. Williams | The Nation 24 Feb 2013 Hits:1131 School to Prison Pipeline

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The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline

The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline

Cedrico Green can’t exactly remember how many times he went back and forth to juvenile. When asked to venture a guess he says, “Maybe 30.” He was put on probation by a youth court judge for getting into a fight when he was in eighth grade. Thereafter, any of Green’s school-based infractions, from being a few minutes late for class to breaking the school dress code by wearing the wrong...

Julianne Hing | Colorlines 28 Nov 2012 Hits:1063 School to Prison Pipeline

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Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline

Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline

“Every man in my family has been locked up. Most days I feel like it doesn’t matter what I do, how hard I try - that’s my fate, too.” -11th-grade African American student, Berkeley, California This young man isn’t being cynical or melodramatic; he’s articulating a terrifying reality for many of the children and youth sitting in our classrooms—a reality that is often invisible or misunderstood. Some have seen the growing numbers...

Staff, Rethinking Schools | News Analysis 16 Jan 2012 Hits:1507 School to Prison Pipeline

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The School to Prison Pipeline: Education Under Arrest

The School to Prison Pipeline: Education Under Arrest

Metal detectors. Teams of drug-sniffing dogs. Armed guards and riot police. Forbiddingly high walls topped with barbed wire.Such descriptions befit a prison or perhaps a high-security checkpoint in a war zone. But in the U.S., these scenes of surveillance and control are most visible in public schools, where in some areas, education is becoming increasingly synonymous with incarceration. The United Nations, along with various human rights bodies and international courts, have...

Kanya D'Almedia | InterPress Service 19 Nov 2011 Hits:1897 School to Prison Pipeline

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War on Drugs Articles

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A Small Step in the Right Direction A Treatise on Cannabis and Its Medical Use

A Small Step in the Right Direction A Treatise on Cannabis and Its Medical Use

On behalf of the thousands of Minnesotans who will hopefully benefit from the compromise medical marijuana bill recently signed by Governor Dayton, I offer my humble thanks. Though I am grateful these days for any small step in the right direction, I am saddened that the public has once again been served up the semblance of government and journalism, instead of the real thing. And while I’m doling out criticism, I should take my own dose as representing the lack of citizen involvement in our government and public issues; I could...

Gerald Ganann 29 May 2014 Hits:298 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Pot Push in D.C. May Spur Congress to Weigh Legalizing

Pot Push in D.C. May Spur Congress to Weigh Legalizing

A proposal backed by most District of Columbia council members to decriminalize small amounts of pot may spur federal lawmakers to consider marijuana regulation for the first time since two states legalized recreational sales. Congress has the power to block legislation approved by the Washington council. U.S. lawmakers can also stop local initiatives in the nation’s capital through the federal budget, which authorizes the city’s spending, as they did to stall the use of medical marijuana there for a decade. The push to loosen local pot penalties, which few expect Congress to...

Michael C. Bender | Bloomberg 08 Nov 2013 Hits:670 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Marijuana Legalization Wins Big in Elections, Is Federal Decriminalization Next?

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. On November 5, voters in four U.S. cities decided to legalize recreational marijuana use. In the Michigan cities of Lansing, Jackson, and Ferndale, it will now be legal for anyone 21 years or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana on private property. In Portland, Maine, it will be legal to possess up to 2.5 ounces. And, of course, in the Centennial State of Colorado, where recreational marijuana use has been legal for a...

Jessica Desvarieux | The Real News Network 08 Nov 2013 Hits:660 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Let's Stop Starving Drug Offenders Back to Prison

With another cruel cutback in food stamps approaching November 1, we're reminded that many states ban stamps for ex-prisoners, who face a 50 percent unemployment rate, making prison the only sure place they won't starve. As the debate rages over whether poor people deserve to eat, it's an apt time to acknowledge that in some states, the right to food stamps has long been denied to a large group of poor people: those with felony drug convictions. The current national conversation around food rights is an exercise in heartlessness. Regardless of congressional...

Maya Schenwar | Truthout Op-Ed 08 Oct 2013 Hits:642 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Has California Joined the Hemp Revolution?

Has California Joined the Hemp Revolution?

With all of the attention focused on the legalization of cannabis’ psychoactive variety we call marijuana, it’s no surprise much of the public is unaware of the developments regarding cannabis’ non-drug variety we call industrial hemp. The more you dig in to the issue of hemp, the more you’ll find it is far wackier than the wacky tobaccy. California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed Senate Bill 566 which legalized industrial hemp… sort of. The law requires the state to regulate the farming, processing, and sales of hemp for oilseed and fiber,...

Russ Bellville | AlterNet 04 Oct 2013 Hits:777 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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The Biggest Threat to the Black Vote

The Biggest Threat to the Black Vote

The best way to defend African-American voting rights is to end the War on Drugs. Suppression of the black vote has been a flashpoint since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The decision opened the door for historically racist regions (mostly in the South) to pass anti-voter laws such as ID requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino and poor people—who happen to overwhelmingly vote Democratic. The GOP is happily charging ahead. But a robust counteroffensive is underway, buoyed by the 50th...

James Thindwa | In These Times 28 Sep 2013 Hits:886 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Prison Shocker: U.S. Imprisons Three Times as Many Black People as South Africa During Apa…

Prison Shocker: U.S. Imprisons Three Times as Many Black People as South Africa During Apartheid

The United States imprisons almost three times as many Black people than were jailed in South Africa during Apartheid, Rep. Spencer Bachus said Thursday during a subcommittee oversight hearing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons. While games of comparison are rarely productive, the American prison industrial complex has seen cries of racism for years now. And for once, both Democrats and Republicans are up in arms over the shocking state of affairs and say they are in favor of overhauling a system that many say is broken and biased.  Bachus reported that the...

By Rod Bastanmehr | AlterNet 23 Sep 2013 Hits:927 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Reefer Madness Continues: Half Ounce of Pot Gets Louisiana Man Twenty Years in Prison

Reefer Madness Continues: Half Ounce of Pot Gets Louisiana Man Twenty Years in Prison

While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana. Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”  Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory...

Bill Quigley | Common Dreams 23 Sep 2013 Hits:843 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Pot Next

These States Are Most Likely To Legalize Pot Next

Attorney General Eric Holder gave a green light on Thursday to two states whose efforts to legalize marijuana had been locked in by legal uncertainty for more than nine months. With that announcement, Colorado and Washington -- both of which passed pro-pot initiatives at the polls last November -- can now proceed with establishing a framework for the taxation and regulation of legal weed for adults. The administration's decision holds clear and immediate implications for the two states, both of which had been hesitant to act too quickly over concerns that the government...

Nick Wing | The Huffington Post 31 Aug 2013 Hits:1023 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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New York City Comptroller Releases Report Detailing the Financial and Human Costs of Marij…

New York City Comptroller Releases Report Detailing the Financial and Human Costs of Marijuana Prohibition

Report Calls for the Taxation and Regulation of Marijuana for Adults August 14 - Today, New York City Comptroller John Liu released his report calling for a system to tax and regulate marijuana for adult recreational use.  The report comes just two days after Federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin condemned the city’s police department’s use of stop and frisk – which has resulted in 600,000 unlawful arrests for marijuana possession since 1997 – as racially-biased. That same day, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called for Americans to rethink the “unintended consequences”...

Drug Policy Alliance 14 Aug 2013 Hits:634 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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I Went From Selling Drugs to Studying Them -- And Found That Most of What We Assume About …

I Went From Selling Drugs to Studying Them -- And Found That Most of What We Assume About Drugs Is Wrong

A scientist with a rough past explains how he used his life experiences to blow the lid off modern drug research. This is the prologue to Columbia University researcher Dr. Carl Hart's explosive new book, " High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journal of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Psychology." Read a Q&A with the author here. The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. —James Baldwin The straight glass pipe filled with ethereal white...

Carl Hart | Harper Publishing 20 Jun 2013 Hits:850 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Racially Biased Arrests for Pot

Racially Biased Arrests for Pot

Researchers have long known that African-Americans are more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though studies have repeatedly shown that the two groups use the drug at similar rates. New federal data, included in a study by the American Civil Liberties Union, now shows that the problem of racially biased arrests is far more extensive that was previously known — and is getting worse. The costly, ill-advised “war on marijuana” might fairly be described as a tool of racial oppression. The study, based on law enforcement data from...

Editorial Board | The New York Times 17 Jun 2013 Hits:767 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Why the OAS Report on Alternatives to Drug Prohibition is Such A Big Deal

Why the OAS Report on Alternatives to Drug Prohibition is Such A Big Deal

It’s the first time that any multilateral institution anywhere in the world has critically analyzed the war on drugs, and considered new approaches. The Organization of American States (OAS) released an  unprecedented report last Friday that presents the most high-level discussion of alternatives to drug prohibition in history. This report is a big deal. It’s the first time that any multilateral institution anywhere in the world has critically analyzed the war on drugs and considered new approaches for the future – giving equal weight to options like decriminalization and legalization in the process. The OAS report doesn’t make...

Daniel Robelo | AlterNet 24 May 2013 Hits:877 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Rally in New York Demands End to Bogus Marijuana Arrests

Rally in New York Demands End to Bogus Marijuana Arrests

Will Governor Cuomo and NY legislature finally fix unfair laws, uphold justice and reflect the will of the people? In January of this year, during his 2013 State of the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo made a bold call to stop discrimination in New York. “We are one New York, and as one New York we will not tolerate discrimination,” he said. He noted the “challenge posed by the ‘stop and frisk’ police policies,” and he cited the related marijuana arrest problem in New York. Approximately 45,000 people were arrested in New...

22 May 2013 Hits:822 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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The Other IRS Scandal: Outright War Against Marijuana Dispensaries

The Other IRS Scandal: Outright War Against Marijuana Dispensaries

Dispensaries providing marijuana to doctor-approved patients operate in a number of states, but they are under assault by the federal government. SWAT-style raids by the DEA and finger-wagging press conferences by grim-faced federal prosecutors may garner greater attention, but the assault on medical marijuana providers extends to other branches of the government as well, and moves by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to eliminate dispensaries' ability to take standard business deduction are another very painful arrow in the federal quiver. The IRS employs Section 280E, a 1982 addition to the tax...

Clarence Walker | Drug War Chronicle 20 May 2013 Hits:998 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Is Hemp Legalization on the Horizon? Current Congresspeople Think the Answer Is Yes

Is Hemp Legalization on the Horizon? Current Congresspeople Think the Answer Is Yes

It's still a fairly bold prediction, considering lawmakers' track record on the issue. I attended a  forum on marijuana legalization at The Brookings Institution Monday, where Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of  a handful of Congressional champions of marijuana law reform, was one of the speakers. Along with his general optimism for where the issue is going, Blumenauer predicted that the current Congress -- #113, in office this year and next -- will legalize hemp growing. That may be a less bold prediction than in the past -- with the highest-ranking Republican senator supporting...

David Borden | Drug War Chronicle 19 Apr 2013 Hits:809 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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"Send 'Em To Jail That Day!” The Newest Frontier in the Drug War and the People Who Make M…

The shady people and companies behind the push to expand drug testing. The annual Drug & Alcohol Testing Industry Association (DATIA) conference, held in 2012 in San Antonio, Texas, looks like any other industry gathering. The 600 or so attendees sip their complimentary Starbucks coffee, munch on small plates of muffins and fresh fruit, and backslap old acquaintances as they file into a sprawling Marriott hotel conference hall. They will hear a keynote address by Robert DuPont, who served as drug policy director under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Nothing odd...

Isabel Macdonald | The Nation 12 Apr 2013 Hits:928 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Follow the Money: How Former Anti-Drug Officials Ridiculously Still Say Pot Is Dangerous i…

Follow the Money: How Former Anti-Drug Officials Ridiculously Still Say Pot Is Dangerous in Order to Make a Lot of Cash

Former DEA agents and cops are lobbying for tougher drug laws that make them rich. When eight former DEA chiefs signed a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this month, demanding that the feds crack down on Washington and Colorado, the states which voted last November to legalize marijuana, there was more than just drug-war ideology at stake. There was money. Two of the elder drug warriors, Peter Bensinger (DEA chief, 1976–1981) and Robert DuPont (White House drug chief, 1973–1977), run a corporate drug-testing business. Their employee-assistance company, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, the...

Kevin Gray | The Fix 26 Mar 2013 Hits:1219 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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The Growing War on the War on Drugs

The Growing War on the War on Drugs

If you take a close look at the sorry state of crime and justice in America three interwoven themes quickly become apparent. First, there are far too many people in prison or otherwise impacted by the reach of the criminal justice system. In America today, 2.3 million people are in jail or prison. The figure rises to six million if you count everyone in prison, on probation or out on parole. The vast majority of these people committed non-violent crimes. Over a quarter of our nation’s population — 65 million...

Andrew Cohen | Brennan Center for Justice 25 Mar 2013 Hits:956 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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NYPD Spent One Million Hours, 440,000 Arrests on 'Marijuana Crusade'

NYPD Spent One Million Hours, 440,000 Arrests on 'Marijuana Crusade'

NYPD marijuana arrests the 'frontline civil rights issue' of the 21st century According to a shocking new report released Tuesday by the Drug Policy Alliance, in just over a decade the NYPD has used approximately 1,000,000 hours of police officer time to make 440,000 arrests for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession, in what critics are calling "a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century." The report titled One Million Police Hours and authored by Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at Queens College, estimates that those detained...

Jacob Chamberlain | Common Dreams 23 Mar 2013 Hits:1080 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Lawmakers re-examine mandatory minimums

Lawmakers re-examine mandatory minimums

For those caught with illegal prescription drugs, a trafficking conviction may no longer mean jail time, if a bill moving through the Legislature becomes law. The bill (HB 159), which expands judges’ sentencing discretion in these cases, narrowly passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on an 8-5 vote Tuesday. It would allow judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences, many of which carry long prison sentences. For example, a conviction for carrying seven hydrocodone pills can mean a three-year prison stay and a $50,000...

Matthew Beaton | The News Herald 14 Mar 2013 Hits:863 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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Sen. Warren: Drug Offenders Go to Jail, Big Banks Working for Drug Cartels Go Free

Sen. Warren: Drug Offenders Go to Jail, Big Banks Working for Drug Cartels Go Free

Regulators let HSBC, which admitted to laundering billions for drug cartels, off with slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, petty criminals and drug offenders face long jail sentences. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took bank regulators to task once again during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Thursday—pressing U.S. officials over a blatant lack of prosecution for banks such as HSBC, who have been caught laundering billions of dollars for international "drug cartels". Adding to her "too big for trial" criticism of the American banking regulation system, Warren...

Jacob Chamberlain | Common Dreams 11 Mar 2013 Hits:1076 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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School to Prison Pipeline Articles

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School to Prison Pipeline Articles

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The Police State Mindset in Our Public Schools

The Police State Mindset in Our Public Schools

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” – Michel Foucault Once upon a time in America, parents breathed a sigh of relief when...

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Texas Students Thrown in Jail for Days ... as Punishment for Missing School?

Texas Students Thrown in Jail for Days ... as Punishment for Missing School?

Texas's solution to truancy appears to be making kids miss even more school as they sit in jail. June 12, 2013: This story has been updated with Judge Clay Jenkins's comment and Read More...

Arresting a Teen Girl for Dozing Off in Class? Why Normal Kid Behavior Is Treated As a Crime or Psychiatric Disorder

Arresting a Teen Girl for Dozing Off in Class? Why Normal Kid Behavior Is Treated As a Crime or Psychiatric Disorder

Brianna Pena, a 5-year-old, was told she could not return to her kindergarten classroom at her Bronx, NY, charter school until she was “psychiatrically cleared” to return by a medical...

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The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for science experiment

The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for science experiment

When we talk about the criminalization of communities and people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos in America, we often talk about the criminal justice system in America...

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In Texas, Police in Schools Criminalize 300,000 Students Each Year

In Texas, Police in Schools Criminalize 300,000 Students Each Year

The "good guy with a gun" seems to do a lot more policing than protecting. In Texas, hundreds of thousands of students are winding up in court for committing  very serious offenses such as cursing...

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Mass Incarceration

Jail timeFor decades, Congress has implemented policies that distort America's criminal justice system and tip the scales of justice in favor of punishment over rehabilitation. As a matter of civil rights and basic justice, our criminal justice system must change. Fortunately, the Obama Administration recognizes the unacceptable status quo, and recently announced an initiative to spur change. This new proposal will expedite the clemency process for thousands of non-violent offenders serving lengthy sentences behind bars -- sentences they would not have received had they been sentenced today due to changes in the law.

Regrettably, this initiative has come under fire, with the vitriol taking the form of executive fiat and the worthiness of the clemency candidates. But this criticism is based on rhetoric, not reality.

Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution provides that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States." The Constitution bestows pardon power without restriction or equivocation. For critics to suggest otherwise betrays both a fundamental misreading of the Constitution and a misremembered history of prior Presidents using that power.

As a textual matter, the pardon power is one of the broadest grants of authority in the Constitution. The only two limits that the Constitution imposes on that plenary power are its applicability to offenses against the United States (i.e., not civil or state cases) and the prohibition on its use in an impeachment process.

Borrowing from English law, our founding fathers understood that the executive served an important role to counterbalance the possible tyranny of the legislature and the courts. They understood that in the laudable quest for justice, injustice could result from rush to judgment, underdeveloped factual records, and emotion glorified over reason. They understood that pardons and clemency were necessary adjuncts to mitigate harsh penalties.

In The Federalist No. 74, Alexander Hamilton explained it succinctly when he wrote, "[H]umanity and good policy conspire to dictate, that the benign prerogative of pardoning should be as little as possible fettered or embarrassed. The criminal code of every country partakes so much of necessary severity, that without an easy access to exceptions in favor of unfortunate guilt, justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel." Hamilton argued that the executive's use of the pardon power could be essential in the restoration of peace in the union during times of domestic crisis.

Building on the text and history of the pardon power -- and paraphrasing Hamilton -- the question presented to us now is this: Has our federal criminal code, in its gluttony for mandatory minimums, partaken so much of that sanguine, severe and cruel injustice that humanity and good policy now dictate access to an exception in favor of those unfortunate enough to be sentenced under them?

The Obama Administration has answered with a resounding "yes," the same answer many of us would give. The nonviolent, low-level inmates with records of good behavior during the 10 years or more that they have already served for sentences that would not be imposed today due to changes in the law are precisely the individuals for whom this relief was intended. These potential clemency recipients have experienced severe, cruel, and unjust mandatory sentences.

For purposes of comparison, Lewis Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction in connection with the investigation into who had revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative. For these actions, Mr. Libby received a two-and-a-half-year sentence, and did not serve a day in prison because his sentence was commuted merely two months afterward.

Who then is more deserving of a second chance?

To myself -- and an increasing number of reform-minded lawmakers -- there is no question that contributing members of our society with a minor transgression are worthy of a second chance under President Obama's clemency initiative. Relief to them gives form to our Founding Father's prescience that the executive clemency power and the independence of the judiciary are necessary bulwarks against the severity and tyranny that the majority could exact against a powerless minority.

While clemency attempts to fix our broken system of mandatory sentencing solely on the back end, clemency is not a guarantee in any circumstance, certainly not when it depends on the discretion of the President. Clemency provides relief to a few lucky individuals plucked from the stack of petitions, but does not repair the inherently broken system that put thousands of individuals behind bars in the first place. Clemency is therefore not a viable or intended permanent solution.

But Congressional action is. By writing laws with logical, proportional and effective penalties, Congress can put a stop to existing and continuing injustice.

To achieve this, Congress first needs to stop passing laws that contain mandatory sentencing provisions. Mandatory sentences do not work: they discriminate racially, treat low-level offenders identically to kingpins for whom these laws were intended; and they undermine any chance of rehabilitation. Prosecutors too often wield enhancements to pressure defendants to plead rather than exercise their constitutional right to go to trial -- or to punish those that do. These mandatory weapons rob people of their freedom and families of their loved ones.

Second, Congress needs to eliminate, or greatly reduce, existing mandatory minimums and grant retroactive relief to those sentenced before current changes to sentencing policies took effect. Further, Congress needs to return discretion to judges, empowering them to impose sentences that truly fit the crime and the person before them, rather than being conscripted to impose mandatory minimums they may oppose.

Finally, Congress has a moral obligation to achieve a 1:1 ratio in sentencing for crack cocaine cases compared to powder cocaine cases. At the height of the so-called "War on Drugs," Congress passed laws that created 100:1 crack cocaine to powder cocaine disparity at the time of sentencing. Not only was that ratio not based on sound scientific or empirical evidence, but it perpetrated existing prejudices in how defendants of color were targeted, charged, and sentenced. Four years ago, during my tenure as Chairman, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee worked to reduce this arbitrary and discriminatory disparity to 18:1 by passing the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 into law. To restore a semblance of justice in our drug laws, Congress must achieve a 1:1 parity.

Clemency is a first step, but Congress has duty -- regardless of political affiliation -- to reintroduce a sense of justice to a dated, disastrous and discriminatory regime.

Link to original article at Huffington Post

jailFor the past two decades, female inmates in Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have been subjected to atrocious acts of sexual abuse – and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) did nothing about it.

A Department of Justice report has found that the state’s rampant abuse violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and calls on Gov. Robert Bentley (R) to make immediate changes or face a lawsuit.

“Tutwiler has a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse and harassment,” the report said. “The women at Tutwiler universally fear for their safety. They live in a sexualized environment with repeated and open sexual behavior…”

After interviewing “administrative staff, security staff, medical and mental health staff, facilities” and reviewing internal policies and instructional content, the DOJ concluded that the maximum-security facility grossly violates prisoners’ rights, by inflicting physical and mental harm. Staff members habitually rape and sodomize inmates, women are called derogatory names, and are often watched while they shower or dress. In many cases, women provide sexual favors in order to escape punishment. Staff members also withhold privileges and personal items, including clothing and hygiene products, unless the inmates perform sexual acts. For instance:

…Officer B solicits and receives oral sex from prisoners in exchange for gifts or new uniforms and underwear. He has a reputation for being aggressive and threatening, and one prisoner described him as a “sexual predator.” In 2012 and 2013, several women reported that he touches prisoners inappropriately, licks his lips at them, and watches them shower at the Tutwiler Annex.

Altogether, 36 percent of all staff members were involved in some form of sexual abuse, creating a “toxic environment.” Of 223 letters from prisoners, 25 percent of them described sexual misconduct, and 55 percent mentioned “vile and degrading language directed at prisoners.” Nevertheless inmates are hesitant to report the systemic abuse because of backlash for filing complaints. In cases when women did speak up, they “were placed in segregation with limited or no access to a telephone, visitors, or programs for an extended time period,” forced to undergo polygraph tests to determine if they were lying, and “verbally harassed” by staff members.

Given these findings, the DOJ confirmed that there was a lack of protocol for reprimanding staff members – which ultimately allowed for “substantial risk of harm” to thrive in Tutwiler. It also discovered that ADOC turned a blind eye to claims of abuse and harassment, enabling systemic mistreatment to continue. Last August, Prison Commissioner Kim Thomas argued that conditions at Tutwiler were improving, listing 58 strategies to remedy ongoing problems – including the construction of a 24-hour infirmary, the installation of surveillance cameras, and the recruitment of female staffers. He ultimately declared Tutwiler “a safer and healthier facility,” which was later contradicted by the DOJ report.

In light of its discoveries, the DOJ plans to expand its investigation of the prison. In the future it will explore additional rights violations, such as “inadequate conditions of confinement, constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care, and discriminatory treatment on the basis of national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender nonconformity,” all of which may be the basis for a lawsuit if the state does not cooperate with DOJ on recommended reforms.

Unfortunately, these transgressions are not unique to Tutwiler. Inmates in three other Alabama prison are protesting against ADOC, in response to “not being paid for prison jobs, unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, sentencing and parole policies and other issues.” Another DOJ report found that sexual abuse in prisons nationwide rose 11 percent, between 2009 and 2011. Prisoners across the country are also denied health care and subjected to excessive force.

Link to original article at Think Progress

MarissaAlexander

A Florida woman who became a cause celebre for civil-rights activists after she received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot has been released on house arrest this week as she awaits another trial.

Marissa Alexander's supporters said that she was at home for Thanksgiving with her children Thursday after she was released on $200,000 bond following a judge's ruling on Wednesday.

Alexander's sentence, which she received after she unsuccessfully invoked Florida's "stand your ground" law, came to prominence after the nation was gripped by the Trayvon Martin case, in which George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder after shooting the unarmed 17-year-old.

Alexander, like Martin, is black, and advocates like the Rev. Jesse Jackson have argued for her release, calling Florida's self-defense laws unfair and unevenly applied to people of color.

During an argument, the mother of three had fired the warning shot in the direction of her estranged husband, against whom she had a protective order and who had twice been arrested on suspicion of attacking her.

However, she was denied a "stand your ground" immunity hearing and was convicted of aggravated assault in 2012. Given that she used a gun, Florida's "10-20-Life" minimum sentencing laws required that she be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Alexander's holiday release comes after her conviction was thrown out in September by a Florida appellate court that said her trial judge had improperly instructed the jury about how to handle her self-defense claim.

On Wednesday, a Duval County circuit court judge granted her request to be released on bond as she awaits retrial -- but not without restrictions. Alexander is subject to electronic monitoring and is not allowed to leave home unless to go to court or to handle a medical emergency.

Alexander's request for bond was hampered by the misdemeanor conviction she received the previous time she was out on bond in 2011 and awaiting trial for the gunshot incident.

In that instance, prosecutors said she violated her bond conditions by meeting up with her husband and trying to sway his trial testimony -- an encounter that resulted in another fight with her husband that left his "left eye swollen and bloodied." Alexander's bond was revoked and she was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading no contest.

In Wednesday's ruling, circuit Judge James H. Daniel cited the incident as a reason for making Alexander's bond terms more stringent but said the incident was offset by the fact that enough time had passed and that Alexander had served her misdemeanor sentence.

Supporters celebrated the decision.

“I am so pleased and happy that Marissa can spend this holiday and hopefully many more to come with her family and children,” U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) told the Florida Times-Union.

Link to original article from the LA Times

Callback

This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
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Luis Rivera had some peace of mind for about five months, from late fall of 2010 through early spring of the following year. That’s the closest thing he’s seen to financial stability in more than twenty years.
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“I got hired for a wonderful job. It was a clerk/porter/doorman position at a high-rise classical building in the East Village,” he recalls wistfully. Rivera, 44, has a wife of twenty-five years and three teenage daughters. They live up in East Harlem, where the Puerto Rican–born New Yorker grew up and has spent much of his life. He’s ferociously proud of his marriage and children; his back straightens and his tone turns serious when he talks about his family, like a man who’s managed to achieve something he’s been told he can’t accomplish. Yet looking back on those five months as a jack-of-all-services for wealthy downtown hipsters, Rivera still gets excited about an opportunity that tore him away from home at all hours.

“When they needed somebody, they would call me in the middle of the night and I would say, ‘Yes!’ Because I needed a job. And the pay was excellent,” he brags, pointing to his $17 hourly wage for part-time work. “I was next to be hired in a position there permanently.” 

The new position held promise that Rivera could finally work just one legit job—on the books, with steady hours and a steady paycheck—rather than hustling to piece together part-time informal work, as he’s done his entire adult life. But that promise hadn’t yet been realized. He was still at the mercy of his employer’s whims. If they called, he worked; if not, he didn’t. So when the superintendent of a building across the street mentioned that his crew was looking for part-time help as well, Rivera put in his name. While applying, he was honest to a fault.

“I made the mistake of trusting,” Rivera says now, shrugging. “I explained to this guy that I have a record from 1990-something. But I explained that I paid the price. I’m clean—gimme a chance. He gave me his word of honor that he would not tell.” But word travels fast when you’re an ex-con. Suddenly, the upscale building at which Rivera hoped to build a future stopped giving him shifts at all.

“So I made a phone call and asked to speak to them,” he explains. He says his boss told him, “We found out you have a record. And you can’t work here, due to the fact that this is a fancy place—anything could happen.” 

At age 22, Rivera says, he committed a burglary in the Bronx. He was a lousy criminal and soon got caught. The judge didn’t make him serve any time, just released him to his parents’ custody and gave him five years of probation. Within two years, he’d earned release from probation as well. But the conviction has nonetheless stalked him ever since. “Twenty years later, it’s still there.”

Rivera is part of an uncounted population of formerly convicted or incarcerated people trying to find work in a hostile economy. They are failing, by and large, thanks to the illegal but still widespread practice of employers rejecting applicants or firing workers solely because they have criminal records. A growing movement is pushing states to “ban the box,” or more closely regulate when and how employers can ask about criminal records on job applications. The movement has logged some victories: in October, Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer, announced that it would stop asking the question of prospective employees. The move comes after Target’s home state of Minnesota passed “ban the box” legislation—one of ten states to do so, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). But the way that many companies screen for criminal records is already barred by federal law. 

Back in 1987, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission declared that blanket bans on hiring people with criminal records were a Civil Rights Act violation. The EEOC noted that the law bars not only overt bias based on protected categories like race, but also seemingly neutral policies that have the effect of reinforcing racial disparities So it told employers that they can consider criminal records only as one factor in hiring, and then only when the conviction is directly related to the work. But Congress is most responsible for undermining this guidance. Following 9/11, lawmakers issued blanket bans on former felons working in a broad range of transportation jobs. States followed suit, and the list of banned occupations grew exponentially: private security guards, nursing home aides, just about any job involving kids. Former felons are now categorically barred from working in more than 800 occupations because of laws and licensing rules, one study estimates. 

Partly in reaction to this growing list, and partly in response to the simultaneous explosion of the background check industry, the EEOC issued an updated guidance in 2012. The new guidance didn’t change the core idea—that blanket hiring bans based on criminal records have a disproportionate impact on black and Latino workers and thus violate the Civil Rights Act; instead, it offered employers updated details on how to stay on the right side of the law. In sum: if you conduct background checks, your hiring systems must include a granular method of confirming their accuracy and considering the specifics of a person’s case. The experience Rivera describes is just the sort that would not pass muster.

This summer, the EEOC showed its willingness to enforce those rules. In June, the watchdog filed separate suits against BMW and Dollar General. BMW’s subcontracted hiring firm had imposed a blanket ban that not only affected new hires but led to the firing of many longtime employees. In Dollar General’s case, one of the plaintiffs had been denied work because of a six-year-old conviction, which drew the EEOC’s scrutiny not only because the practice is illegal, but also because the woman had previously worked for a different retailer in the same type of job without incident. “That’s huge,” says Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project. “The guidance is one thing, but all this activity surrounding the guidance—that shows they’re enforcing it.”

If so, the EEOC has got its work cut out for it. There’s no firm number on the population of workers with criminal records, but the NELP estimates that there were 65 million in 2010—a stunning 28 percent of the adult population. In 2006, the Justice Department spitballed the number at 30 percent of working-age adults. A great many of these people have faced background checks. In explaining its updated guidance last year, the EEOC cited a 2010 study showing that 92 percent of large employers run background checks.

The millions of people who likely get locked out of the job market as a result of their records aren’t just sitting around. They’re churning through formal and informal part-time work, fueling a shadow economy akin to the one that often exploits undocumented workers. In this case, the problem isn’t the papers that workers lack, but those they can’t shed. The impact is similar nonetheless: billions of dollars in lost productivity, forfeited tax revenue for cities, rampant exploitation by employers, and a cascading series of bans and exclusions from civic life that make it almost impossible for these workers to achieve a stable economic existence. And all of these problems are concentrated in already struggling black and Latino neighborhoods.

Much has been said about the dramatic rise in the US incarceration rate over the past three decades. But it’s difficult to overstate either its scope or the intensity of its racial disparity. After decades of maintaining a largely steady level, in 1973, in the wake of the civil rights movement’s tumult, the incarceration rate began rising sharply. By 2000, 3 percent of the US population was either locked up, on probation or on parole—a rate unparalleled worldwide. As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has demonstrated, this trend disproportionately affects people of color—the Justice Department has estimated that a third of black men and nearly a fifth of Latino men born in 2001 will go to prison in their lifetime—and now underpins the stark racial inequity found throughout US society.

Marijuana has become the engine driving that inequity. This past summer, the ACLU reported that black Americans are four times as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite reams of research showing no racial disparity in marijuana use. In New York City, this year’s Democratic mayoral primary was dominated by outrage over the New York Police Department’s practice of “stop-and-frisk,” a program by which the NYPD has indiscriminately detained and searched huge numbers of black and Latino men under the guise of hunting for illegal guns. The NYPD’s arrest records suggest that the primary outcome has been to generate marijuana possession busts; in 2012, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis, the program produced a six-to-one ratio of weed arrests to guns recovered. 

Shapriece Townsend found out what this can mean for a young man’s work life while walking home in Brooklyn one night last year, just before his twenty-first birthday. He says two plainclothes officers stopped him and found a baggie of weed in his pocket. Townsend spent the next four nights—including his birthday—locked up and waiting to see a judge. This fact is controversial in itself, since the New York state legislature decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana decades ago, so long as it’s not in plain view. But stop-and-frisk data suggest that Townsend’s experience is typical: his weed wasn’t a crime until cops stopped him and fished it out of his pockets. “I lost a job because I missed a day at work,” Townsend explains, still frustrated by the experience. “I told my boss what happened, and he said, ‘Well, you should’ve called me.’ I couldn’t—I was locked up!”

Albert Martinez, however, is the type of guy the NYPD says it is actually hunting with these searches. He’s a 22-year-old black New Yorker raised in East Harlem’s public housing projects. He split his time between his mom’s apartment, where he slept in the living room to allow his two sisters a bedroom, and his grandma’s apartment, where he found some breathing room. They had food and shelter, he says, but not much else. It’s the seemingly little things that stick in his emotional memory: the fact that he could never have white clothes because they wore out too visibly, or that his mom constantly rearranged the furniture to give herself the impression of having something new. “It just irked me,” he says of her ritual. “I never understood that, until after I got locked up.”

As a teen, Martinez took a vow to avoid poverty. By 17, he was working more than thirty-five hours a week as a grocery clerk while still going to school. He was a month away from getting into the union at his store when he got fired, thanks to a beef with another employee. “After that, I started hustling,” he says. “I was selling weed—nothing major. I was still going to school, never dropped out. And I got arrested for carrying a firearm.”

Martinez is baby-faced, with short braids and wisps of fuzz on his dark chin, but he’s a hulking presence at over six-foot-three and with a linebacker’s build. He considers this heft a liability on the street; it made him a target for people with something to prove. So he started carrying a gun. “It was just a precaution,” he says now, “being prepared for the worst—and a pessimist, kinda.” In December 2010, the cops stopped and arrested him after finding it on his person. Martinez fought the case just long enough to graduate from high school, then accepted the prosecutor’s deal of two years in prison followed by a year and a half on parole.

He came home this past April, hoping to go straight to work. First he had to find a place to live, a challenge immediately complicated by his conviction. The knock-on effects of a criminal record are far broader than just job bans. A drug conviction will keep you from getting federal student loans, grants or work study. Several states also bar people with drug-related felonies from food stamps and welfare. And cities have passed a proliferating number of ordinances banning people convicted of certain crimes from a range of public spaces, including parks. But among the more striking bans is in public housing.

In New York City, the housing authority can reject a family’s rental application or evict them if any person in the home is convicted of one of several crimes. Families can appeal the decision to a board and ask it to consider the particular circumstances, but the process is daunting. “The housing authority doesn’t have a particularly transparent track record on treating people fairly in these decisions,” complains Legal Aid chief attorney Steven Banks, “and certainly doesn’t have a transparent record without a lawyer.”

So Martinez couldn’t go home—not that he wanted to anyway. His girlfriend had given birth while he was locked up. Their daughter was born premature, weighing just one pound, two ounces, and she required oxygen and a tracheotomy tube to live. They had survived by piling into Martinez’s mom’s apartment with his sisters. But Martinez was dead set on his disabled daughter not sleeping on the same couch that he’d surfed his whole life, even if the city had allowed it. It took some doing, but they convinced the city that they were homeless in order to be placed together in a shelter apartment.

Martinez is young and, despite all this, optimistic. With the help of the Osborne Association, he applied and got into nursing school. He’s working part time as a janitor for Osborne while looking for something long-term, and he’s determined to make his industriousness pay off. “If you holding me accountable for something I paid for, then shame on you,” he says, confident that it will all be ancient history by the time he graduates. “They’re not supposed to deny me employment for a felony I caught five years ago.”

But advocates minding the larger landscape say that if Martinez’s record does fade into the past, his will be an exceptional story. Luis Rivera’s is more typical.

PeoplewithCriminalRecord

The longest job Rivera has held was for three years at a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. The owner didn’t care about his record because, Rivera says, the place was packed with security cameras. But the opportunity may have also come because Rivera accepted that he had little choice but to work long, hard hours for minimum wage. He worked fourteen-hour shifts routinely and once even worked twenty-four hours straight, he says.

Every other gig he’s worked has lasted a few months here, maybe a year there, typically part time and often off the books. Rivera has made deliveries for a Broadway ticket broker. He’s answered phones for a production company. He’s filled in at Bloomingdale’s and managed inventory for a local company that manufactured boxer shorts. “Whatever… you name it. I worked for the city! I volunteered to clean snow at the time of the blizzard we had a couple years ago,” he brags. “Right now, I’m blessed that I have two jobs.” He cleans office buildings at night, off the books, and has a temporary kitchen job at a Turkish restaurant for $10 an hour—though he hasn’t told them yet about his record.

“They’re not living-wage jobs,” frets JoAnne Page, president and CEO of Fortune Society, which helps formerly incarcerated people find work and housing, among other things. “They’re not stable; they’re here today, gone tomorrow. Some of them are borderline illegal,” she says of the hustles so many of her clients must juggle. “These are high-casualty, low-security ways of surviving.”

FelonyConvictionsAnd they are likely widespread. There’s no telling how many people are in the shadow economy created by criminal records, but a Center for Economic Policy and Research study looked at just the data for 2008 and calculated that the population of people with felony convictions lowered the official employment rate among all men by as much as 1.7 percentage points. 

“What we used to have was almost every male between the ages of 18 and 34 in the workforce, and what you’re seeing is a diminishing of that,” Page says. “The more you look at the big picture, the more frightening it gets.”

More so if you look at the job numbers by race. The official jobless rate among black Americans remains above 13 percent—roughly double that of white workers, and on a par with the national rate during the Depression—while hovering just below 10 percent for Latinos. But the numbers grow particularly stark when you drill down on places like New York City, where the aggressive policing practices of the past two mayoral administrations have swelled the ranks of those who have been in some form of state supervision.

There are no good data on how many of those people don’t find work on release. But a 2010 study by the Community Service Society of New York, which charted the recession’s impact on joblessness, found that a shocking 18 percent of black men in the city were unemployed by 2009, doubling the 2006 rate and standing well above all other groups. And that’s just the official unemployed, a figure that excludes those who have given up looking for on-the-books work. Among Albert Martinez’s peers, the figures are numbing: the same study found that only one in four black men under the age of 25 held a job in 2010. A federal study last year found that more than half of all black New Yorkers are not in the formal workforce at all.

“For me, the connections are in thinking about the criminal justice system as an increasingly important mechanism for generating racial inequality in the labor market,” says sociologist Devah Pager, whose 2003 study was the first to add criminal records to the mix when testing hiring discrimination. Previous research had established that black applicants with the same qualifications as white applicants receive far fewer callbacks from potential employers. Pager had pairs of black and white test applicants respond to job ads in New York City and Milwaukee with matching résumés and presentations, while alternately assigning one of them a criminal record. 

Among Pager’s white testers, declaring a criminal record cut the rate of callbacks by half. But the black testers with criminal records faced what she calls a “double whammy.” Notably, the white applicant with a criminal record was still more likely to get called back than the black applicant with none. But the black tester who’d been locked up was at the bottom of the pile—only a third as likely as even his black peer to get called back. “In the post-recession environment, these dynamics play out with more intensity,” Pager says, “because employers are looking for really easy ways to screen out applicants.” 

* * *

The shrinking space for ex-offenders in the labor market has coincided with a rapid growth in the criminal background check industry. In the decade between 1996 and 2006, according to the NELP’s Emsellem, background checks conducted both by private agencies and through requests to the FBI exploded. Civil requests for FBI checks doubled, such that by 2006 the agency conducted more fingerprint reviews for civil purposes than for criminal ones. 

The problems with these checks are manifold, including the fact that they’re often wildly inaccurate. In the EEOC’s 2012 guidance, the commissioners emphasize the haphazard nature of many of the databases now determining workers’ fates. They point to studies showing state and local databases with incomplete information that stops at the point of arrest, ignoring whether there was ever a conviction. In 2006, only half the records in the FBI’s database were complete. They’re also rife with clerical errors, like misspelled names. And the databases amassed by private companies often haven’t been updated, including to correct erroneous information. One of the plaintiffs in the EEOC’s suit against Dollar General was fired for a conviction that never existed.

All of this is why the EEOC has for twenty-five years been issuing guidances demanding that employers use careful scrutiny when considering criminal records. But Emsellem’s 2010 study found widespread disregard for that guidance. He and his team reviewed thousands of Craigslist ads for low-wage jobs in five major cities. They found more than 2,500 ads with requirements that appeared to violate the EEOC’s policy, and at least 300 that did so overtly, including ones from large national employers like Domino’s Pizza, Omni Hotels and several staffing firms. 

Meanwhile, the gap between employers’ perceptions and the risk in hiring ex-offenders is as striking as the rate at which these background checks are growing. Within a couple of years after committing a burglary at age 22, Rivera’s statistical likelihood of committing another crime began plummeting. By his late 20s, he was no more likely to commit burglary than someone who had no record at all.

This type of bias has had massive consequences in an era of record poverty. The United States lost between $57 billion and $65 billion in GDP in 2008, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, as a result of the reduction in male workers. Of course, that lost productivity is concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods where it is most desperately needed. A 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts study found that having been incarcerated knocks 11 percent off average hourly wages and 40 percent off annual earnings. 

So Rivera considers himself lucky that he’s got work at all. “I try to think as positive as I can,” he says, counting as blessings his faith, his family, and the fact that he can get food stamps and public assistance in New York City. “I’m not telling you I don’t feel stress. Right now, I’m sitting here, I’m kinda stressed out.” That’s because he’s waiting to hear back from the Turkish restaurant about getting more money and more hours. The restaurant’s managers are talking about bringing him on salary, at $575 a week. The friend who got him the temp job there knows about his record, but not the higher-ups. “I’m not stupid. They’re gonna check me. They always check everybody’s record,” Rivera says, adding hopefully: “But they know that I work. They know how I work.” But if that proud new record doesn’t trump his past, it’s on to the next gig.

In “Locking Down an American Workforce” (April 19, 2012) Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman examined prison labor as the past—and future—of American “free-market” capitalism (originally on TomDispatch.com).

Link to original article from The Nation

* * *

BernardKerik

As New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik was ultimately responsible for the incarceration of many criminals.

Now that he has seen the prison system from the inside, having served three years behind bars, he has a new appraisal of the U.S. penal system: "insane."

In his first interview since his release from prison, where he served time for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, Kerik told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the Today show Friday: "No one in the history of our country has ever been in the system with my background.

"You have to be on the other side of the bars. You have to see what it's like to be a victim of the system. There's no way to do that from the other side.

"If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it."

Kerik's main beef is with mandatory minimum sentences. He served his time with non-violent inmates, many of them first-time offenders who received disproportionate sentences for their crimes.

Kerik handed Lauer a nickel during his interview to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to jail.

"I was with men sentenced to 10 years in prison for five grams of cocaine," he said. "That's insane. That's insane."

He went on to say: "Anybody that thinks you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a 10-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they're going to return to society a better person 10 years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation? That is not benefitting society."

Mandatory sentences do not discourage criminal behavior, but rather sets up inmates for failure, Kerik maintained.

"The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them," he said.

Commissioner Kerik rose to national prominence following the 9/11 attacks in New York, and in 2004, President George W. Bush nominated him to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Kerik soon withdrew his name from consideration, citing the past employment of an illegal immigrant as a nanny. He later admitted accepting $165,000 worth of free renovations to his apartment from a construction company. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion and lying to the White House, and was sentenced to four years in jail.

Kerik was released after three years at a federal prison in Cumberland, Md., and served the remainder of his term under home confinement, which ended last month.

He will continue his interview with Lauer on Monday’s Today show.

Link to original article from Newsmax

 

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    Special guest d'Andre Teeter of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network joins us for an amazing discussion. d'Andre gives us a report on the California prison hunger strike and next steps, plus more. Also, a report on the August Educate Congress...

  • 07-08-2013 End Mass Criminalization

    Listen to the call as they discuss the federal government's position in a recently decided 6th Circuit case ruling that the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is retroactive, meaning that people sentenced in federal court to the old crack cocaine mandatory...

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