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:934 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:1012 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:731 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:813 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:1089 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:1178 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:1487 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:1191 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:1086 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:1204 Privatization of Prisons

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End Mass Criminalization Articles

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The Government Program That's Equipping Police

The Government Program That's Equipping Police

Year in which Congress initially authorized the Defense Department to give excess arms and ammunition to law enforcement agencies for counter-drug activities, leading to the creation of what's come to be known as the 1033 program: 1990 Number of law enforcement agencies the program has given equipment to: more than 17,000 Percent of U.S. states with agencies participating in the program: 100 Value...

The Institute Index 17 Aug 2014 Hits:171 EMC Articles

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Black Men Show Little Signs of Progress in 40 Years

Black Men Show Little Signs of Progress in 40 Years

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — Black men are no better off than they were more than 40 years ago, due to mass incarceration and job losses suffered during the Great Recession, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Chicago. Derek Neal and Armin Rick, the co-authors of the study, found that reforms in the criminal justice system at the...

Freddie Allen | The Louisiana Weekly 10 Aug 2014 Hits:176 EMC Articles

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The Horrific State of Alabama's Prisons

The Horrific State of Alabama's Prisons

On June 3, Jodey Waldrop, a 36-year-old inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in rural Springville, Alabama, was lying in his bed when somebody entered his cell and stabbed him in the neck with a shank. Prison officials say they got Waldrop, who was bleeding profusely, to a hospital 19 miles away within minutes, but nothing could be done....

Ray Downs | Vice 03 Aug 2014 Hits:296 EMC 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:320 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:623 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:899 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:1983 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:891 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:539 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:721 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:936 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:1012 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:464 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:1726 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:1611 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:1471 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:1381 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:1271 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:1196 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:745 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:1377 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:1797 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:884 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:1194 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:1014 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:1151 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:1084 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:1532 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:1970 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:385 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:704 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:687 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:675 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:804 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:913 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:954 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:875 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:1051 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:666 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:872 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:793 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:899 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:845 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:1024 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:836 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:968 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:1236 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:983 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:1104 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:894 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:1092 War on Drugs - Criminal Injustice

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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

MilitaryPolice

Year in which Congress initially authorized the Defense Department to give excess arms and ammunition to law enforcement agencies for counter-drug activities, leading to the creation of what's come to be known as the 1033 program: 1990

Number of law enforcement agencies the program has given equipment to: more than 17,000

Percent of U.S. states with agencies participating in the program: 100

Value of military equipment the program has transferred to police departments to date: $4.3 billion

Value of military equipment the program transferred to police departments last year alone: nearly $500 million

Estimated number of law enforcement agencies that have gotten military vehicles built for use in Iraq and Afghanistan to withstand armor-piercing roadside bombs: 500

Length in pages of the paperwork a law enforcement agency is required to fill out in order to get such a vehicle: 1

Minimum number of military rifles and pistols received by law enforcement agencies in St. Louis County, Missouri, where shocking scenes of police violence unfolded this week following the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown: 18

Number of military vehicles obtained by Ferguson (pop. 21,203) in the most recent equipment transfer through the program: 2

Number of police agencies in the state of Georgia alone that are participating in the 1033 program: about 600

According to an inventory by the Georgia Department of Public Safety, value of surplus military equipment and weapons now in the hands of the state's law enforcement agencies: $200 million

Number of military-style rifles the police in Cartersville, Georgia (pop. 19,731) have acquired through the 1033 program: 17

Number of arrests police in North Carolina have reportedly made using vehicles obtained through the 1033 program: more than 3,000

Month in which the firearms manager for North Carolina's 1033 program pleaded guilty to stealing military rifles and other weapons from the program and selling some on eBay: 4/2013

Year in which the police department in Columbia, South Carolina got a military vehicle through the program that can be outfitted with a 50-caliber machine gun: 2013

Value of gear obtained through the program by the police department in Oxford, Alabama (pop. 21,384): $10.4 million

Value of property the police chief in Rising Star, Texas (pop. 835) obtained through the program over a 14-month period before he was fired last year for an unrelated matter: $3.2 million

Frequency in years that the Defense Department is supposed to conduct compliance reviews of each state's program: 2

Number of years that Mississippi's program went without a compliance review: 6

Month in which the U.S. House of Representatives voted on an amendment from Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) that would have partially defunded the 1033 program: 6/2014

Bipartisan vote by which Grayson's amendment failed: 62-355

Percent more that the representatives who voted to continue funding the program received from the defense industry on average than the lawmakers who voted to defund it: 73

 

BlackManSuit

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — Black men are no better off than they were more than 40 years ago, due to mass incarceration and job losses suffered during the Great Recession, according to a new report by researchers at the University of Chicago.

Derek Neal and Armin Rick, the co-authors of the study, found that reforms in the criminal justice system at the state-level largely contributed to disparities in arrests and incarceration rates that ultimately stifled educational and economic progress for Black men.

“The growth of incarceration rates among Black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in Black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most Black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965,” the co-authors wrote.

The report cites research conducted by James Smith and Finis Welch published in 1989 that showed, “the Black-white gap in completed years of schooling among males ages 26-35 fell from 3.9 years of schooling in 1940 to 1.4 years in 1980.”

Blacks also experienced “dramatic economic and social progress” during that time period. That progress slowed for Black men during the 1990s, and in some cases, reversed course entirely.

“Today, Black-white gaps in math and reading scores among youth and Black-white gaps in overall educational attainment among young adults are quite similar to the corresponding gaps observed around 1990,” stated the report which also suggested that “relative to whites, labor market outcomes among Black men are no better now and possibly worse than they were in 1970.”

Neal, an economics professor, said that he was surprised that the rise in our nation’s prison population, which correlated with the fall in employment rates for Black men, really was a policy choice and that the war on drugs was just a small part of a much bigger story.

Beginning in the 1980s, in an effort to get tough on crime, states eliminated discretionary parole, established independent sentencing commissions, and crafted “Three Strikes and You’re Out” enhanced sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders.

Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) Incentive Grants Program gave states money to build prisons and indirectly encouraged state officials to adopt policies “requiring sentenced offenders to serve large portions of their sentences.”

Neal said that it wasn’t one or two types of crimes that we got tougher on, it was across the board.

“We started to lock people up for a really long time relative to what we had done in the past,” said Neal.

The report said that changes in criminal justice policies accounted for more than 70 percent of the growth in the prison population between 1986 and 2006.

The United States leads the world when it comes to locking people up “with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years” according to The Sen­tenc­ing Project.

The report said that “on any given day in 2010, almost one in ten Black men ages 20-39 were institutionalized” and “because turnover among prison populations is quite high, these results suggest that far more than ten percent of prime age Black men will serve some time in prison or jail during a given calendar year.”

Neal explained that the change in how we punish people in the state criminal justice system and adopted harsher penalties for all types of crimes was across the board that affected people that were arrested in roughly the same ways regardless of whether you were Black or white.

“However, as a fraction of the population, Blacks have always been more likely to be arrested than whites, which is not surprising given the historical patterns of discrimination, lower earnings and labor market opportunities,” said Neal.

Black men over 20 years-old still face a double-digit unemployment rate, the highest rate among all adult worker groups. According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate for Black men was 10.9 percent compared to 4.9 percent for white men, 4.8 percent for white women and nine percent for Black women.

The same economic crisis that crippled many Black families and robbed nearly half of all wealth from the Black community, also forced cash-strapped states to cut spending in the billion-dollar prison industry. The prison boom was just an unlikely casualty of the Great Recession, according to Neal.

Neal also said that the “Smart on Crime” initiative proposed by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013, that will ultimately affect the lives of thousands of nonviolent, drug offenders, was just “a drop in the bucket,” because those policies will mostly affect people doing time in federal prisons. Most offenders are locked up in local jails and state prisons.

Local jails, state and federal prisons combined house close to a million Black men.

“I’m not saying it’s a trivial thing, but when you’ve got a million people behind bars, a reduction of [less than 50,000] is a good start, but it’s nothing to write home about,” said Neal.

Neal said that if you’re a Black man 25 to 35 years old without a high school diploma, you’re about as likely to have a job as you are to be in prison; under 25 without a high school diploma, you’re more likely to be in prison.

“You have to get to the 35 and above age group, before you’re more likely to have a job than be in prison, said Neal. “I don’t think the typical person on the street or the typical congressman knows how messed up things are.”

Neal added: “It’s important to know the truth.”

Link to the original article from The Louisiana Weekly.

 

Alabama PrisonOn June 3, Jodey Waldrop, a 36-year-old inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in rural Springville, Alabama, was lying in his bed when somebody entered his cell and stabbed him in the neck with a shank. Prison officials say they got Waldrop, who was bleeding profusely, to a hospital 19 miles away within minutes, but nothing could be done. He was pronounced dead approximately an hour after the attack.

Waldrop's death marked the third time a prisoner has been murdered in St. Clair’s walls during the past ten months (the other two victims were also stabbed to death with shanks), and the fifth time in the last 30 months. To put that in perspective, state prisons nationwide—which are home to 1.35 million inmates—saw an average of 52 homicides between 2001 and 2010, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics. St. Clair, meanwhile, has fewer than 1,500 inmates but has seen three killings in under a year.

So how does a small prison in northeast Alabama become one of the dangerous lockups in the country?

According to Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a prison reform nonprofit in Alabama, St. Clair’s problems stem from a toxic mix of factors: overcrowding, a warden who doesn't care what prisoners do to one another, and drug-dealing guards who sometimes order hits on inmates.

“There is a lot of illegal activity by correctional staff—they’re smuggling in drugs, cell phones, and other contraband,” Stevenson told me. “These officers bring the stuff in and have inmates collect the money. And when people refuse to pay, oftentimes violence is ordered by the officers to make sure that they recover what they’re supposed to get.”

Inmates are vulnerable to attacks, Stevenson claims, because the cells are far too easy to break into.

“There are a lot of cells where prisoners are high-risk and are supposed to be locked in—but most of these cell doors don’t work,” Stevenson said. “Any inmate can ‘trick’ a cell door and let themselves out or in. And as a result of that, a lot of these [attacks] are taking place while prisoners are sleeping at night. That’s what happened to Mr. Waldrop two weeks ago. He was stabbed while sleeping on his cot. We’ve had other instances like that, where people trick the doors and get in or out.”

Melvin Ray, a prisoner at St. Clair who leads the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a group of inmates that works to bring awareness to the problems in the state's prisons, told me that the violence escalated after St. Clair’s warden, Carter Davenport, began eliminating programs, including Conflicts Against Violence, that used mediation to seek peaceful resolutions between inmates.

"It takes a pretty brave person to get in between two convicts having a problem," Ray said. "But we would do that, sit them down, talk it out, and sometimes get them into programs that would help change their thought process." 

Ray added that resources for those sorts of programs have been cut drastically and that prisoners lack a chance to get rehabilitated.

"Many people in here come from the streets, where violence is how problems are dealt with because the cops don't care," he said. "The programs could help change that thought process."

Another reason for the increase in violence is segregation. "Almost all the assaults and rapes and every one of the murders have happened in cell blocks L, M, P, Q, and lockup," Ray told me. These cell blocks house mostly black prisoners and are devoid of any books, newspapers, televisions, or other entertainment options. Other blocks—where there are more white prisoners—have more amenities, according to Ray.

No one at the Alabama Department of Corrections would talk to me for this story, but according to Stevenson, Davenport is aware of these problems—he just doesn't care very much.

“The warden knows these doors don’t function properly but has taken no action to secure the locks on these cell doors,” Stevenson said. “[Guards] allow prisoners to sleep in areas where they’re not authorized, and oftentimes that’s a precondition to some acts of violence being carried out. You get somebody with a knife or shank or weapon to sleep in your bed, close to the intended victim, and then carry out the incident. You come back and you can legitimately say you didn’t do it.”

The omnipresent threat of getting attacked has created a sense of tension at St. Clair that begets more violence. If you're always worried about getting shanked, you're going to be a bit on edge.

“It’s a pretty miserable place—the level of anxiety is very high,” Stevenson said. “People are being brought to the infirmary each day from some kind of stabbing injury, sometimes life-threatening. That keeps tension high. When there’s a lot of violence like that, everybody feels that they have to arm themselves, so then you do more than get a knife or a shank or some type of weapon. People don’t interact in a way that allows for conflicts to be resolved amicably, because you fear that somebody is gonna come back after you, so it just creates a very, very bad environment.”

The drug trade and faulty locks aren’t the only institutional problems in the prison. For one thing, the correction officers and the inmates aren't from the same world: Prisoners are mostly sent to St. Clair from cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile, while the guards are from the rural area surrounding Springville (population 2,521). This can cause misunderstandings and hostility, Stevenson said, because the corrections officers are “culturally unprepared for dealing with this population.”

In addition, many of St. Clair's prisoners are serving long sentences, and many of them committed violent crimes; the three men killed in the past ten months, including Waldrop, were convicted of murder. But many are doing long sentences for drug and property crimes, like Robert Earl Phillips, who was given 70 years in prison for an armed robbery he committed when he was 16 because he had a gun.

Prison populations consisting predominantly of people serving drastic sentences can be difficult to manage because inmates have a sense of hopelessness that can lead to reckless behavior. One way to mitigate that is through programs that offer incentives to those who participate, whether that means extra privileges or just activities that give a sense of accomplishment. Louisiana's Angola prison—once known for being one of the worst detention facilities in the country—is now seen as a model for inmates doing life sentences in part thanks to such programs.

“Angola used to be a horrific place,” Stevenson said. “Things changed, and now it's dramatically less violent. And that's a prison where almost everybody is serving life with no chance of parole. But you see probably the best prison-run newspaper in the country. They have a prison-run radio station; they have a prison-run TV station; they have horticulture. And because of this sort of different approach to facilitating people with very long sentences, you have dramatically less violence in a prison that is still four times the size of St. Clair.”

Ray agrees with Stevenson that more programs would help the St. Clair inmates. "These people have no activities to engage in and nothing to stimulate them," he said. "It's like a black hole—there's no outlet for the violence."

Stevenson has called for Davenport's removal as warden, and the local media has looked into his spotty record, in the process uncovering a 2012 incident in which he punched a handcuffed prisoner in the head for mouthing off. But in Alabama prisons, unlike many other places, hitting a handcuffed man isn’t a crime; Davenport merely got a two-day suspension, reported AL.com.

In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections for not providing inmates with adequate health care, with St. Clair prisoners among the plaintiffs.

In a press release, the SPLC claimed that “prisoners, including those with disabilities and serious physical and mental illnesses, are confined to prisons where discrimination and dangerous—sometimes life-threatening—conditions are the norm.” And a report the organization released this month described a situation at St. Clair where an inmate was repeatedly slashing his own arms. But instead of getting mental health treatment, he was ignored—and on one occasion, the guards even beat him.

“Why don't you just go ahead and kill yourself?” a corrections officer reportedly told the self-harming prisoner.

The problems in Alabama's prisons got some nationwide media exposure in April, when members of FAM went on strike to get wages for the work they do. (The state uses unpaid prison labor for everything from making license plates to assembling furniture.) According to Alabama Prison Watch, Ray was then placed in solitary for his activities, which have included bringing attention to unjust sentences [...]

“In Alabama, they take every opportunity they can to take your life as a young black man and sterilize you—not by castrating you, but by separating you from society,” Ray says in the video.

So far, the concerted efforts of the FAM, the SPLC, and advocates like Stevenson haven't resulted in systemic change. Although improving Alabama prisons has been a topic of concern in the state since the Department of Justice investigated the chronic sexual-abuse problem at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women earlier this year, reforming the state’s lockups has been an uphill battle. There are few votes to be had in making conditions less horrible for the state’s inmates, so there’s no reason for Alabaman politicians to campaign on the issue. The state Department of Corrections could institute some changes on its own—but if prison authorities aren’t interested in fixing St. Clair's locks or penalizing a warden for punching a handcuffed inmate in the head, it’s hard to imagine they’ll make reducing violence in their facilities a priority.

Ray doesn't believe the problems can be changed by the current leadership.

"They don't care. They think this is how prison is supposed to be," he told me. "Us prisoners will have to do it ourselves."

Link to original article at VICE

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

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    Listen to this informative call complete with legislative updates (New Cosponsors), the organization of letter drops, outreach to faith based community, plus strong state reports.

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    Listen as the team discusses their legislative update, plans for outreach to the faith based community, and state reports.

  • 10-14-2013 End Mass Criminalization

    Topics on this call include the Stop Mass Incarceration Network October 22nd Day of Action, DEA and the Government Shutdown Petition, California hearings on Solitary Confinement, Sept. legislative hearings on federal mandatory minimums (the...

  • 09-09-2013 End Mass Criminalization

    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...

  • 06-10-2013 End Mass Criminalization

    Discussion of Restoration of Voting Rights in Virginia, Host a Screening - American Drug War 2: Cannabis Destiny, Legislation Being Considered - HR 499 Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana (Jared Polis - CO-02), HR 1523 Respect State Marijuana...

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