Wednesday, May 29, 2013

American Prison Torture -- A Short Reading List

Located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, the Uptown People's Law Center is a neighborhood non-profit legal services organization specializing in prisoners' rights, Social Security disability and public benefits, and tenants' rights and eviction defense.

This emotional revealing letter was published a few days ago, written by the Law Center’s prisoner rights program coordinator, Brian Nelson, describing how even though he was released from prison over 2 years ago, he continues to be tortured by the system.
Today a client came into the Uptown People’s Law Center seeking advice about problems with the Illinois’ Murder registry. I looked up the client on the Illinois State Police murder registry and it listed him as being non-compliant. As I was talking to the client I looked up my own name in the registry and it also listed me as being non-compliant. This shocked me because I went in on January 3, 2013 and registered. The fear that I felt in my stomach that there could be a warrant out for me or that I could be arrested and charged for not registering when I did register sent me into a shaking, nervous panic.
As soon as the client left the office, I called the Illinois State Police to find out what was going on with my own registry. I was informed that they did in fact have me listed as not compliant. I then called the local police department where I registered and explained the problem. After numerous minutes of being on hold, I spoke to a detective who found all of my paper work and tried to calm me. He called the Illinois State Police and advised me that everything was being cleared up. I called the State Police to follow up and I was told it was being cleared up. 
Sadly, I sit here right now shaking as I write this. I am so scared that I can’t calm down. I immediately notified everyone at work and created several files with copies of the updated registry forms I filed out with local police on January 3, 2013. I can not explain to someone the fear that is in me as I sit here crying because someone else’s mistake could have put me back into that gray box, that prison cell. Someone didn’t file the paperwork correctly and all I can see right now is a cell and feel all the years I spent in solitary confinement beating me down right now. If I would have been pulled over for a minor traffic ticket I would have been arrested and charged with failing to register. They would have put hand cuffs on me and put me back in a box. 
What scares me is this can happen again! I was lucky I caught this and I was able to correct it. If I didn’t, there would of been a warrant placed on me. And for what? For following the law because I HAVE registered! What about the other men that have sat in a cage for days before this is corrected? This makes no sense at all. 
The most terrible part is the torture I am enduring as I write this, I see that gray box and I feel the affects of solitary confinement. I am crying and can’t stop shaking.
What happened to this man should not happen anywhere. But as a citizen I am ashamed that it not only happened in America but it happens far more often than most people imagine. I'm tired of repeating the same messages so here is a list of readings for anyone who is interested. 

►The Rise of Prison-Industrial Complex  (This link is fifteen years old. The situation has only gotten worse.)
  • In the last 3 decades - prison industrial complex had been developed in the US-- confluence of special interests that has given prison construction in the United States a seemingly unstoppable momentum.
  • Since 1991 the rate of violent crime in the United States has fallen by about 20 percent, while the number of people in prison or jail has risen by 50 percent. 
  • Increase because of imprisonment of people who have committed nonviolent offenses. Instead of community service, fines, or drug treatment - to a prison term, by far the most expensive form of punishment.
  • politicians, both liberal and conservative, who have used the fear of crime to gain votes; 
  • impoverished rural areas where prisons have become a cornerstone of economic development; 
  • private companies tap into $35 billion a year spending on prisons.
  • Spending on corrections since 1980s increased 5 times; there are more than 1000 vendors that sell corrections paraphernalia;
  • The growth projected 5-10% annually;
  • Private prisons keep 90,000 prisoners from 27 states
  • "Bed brokers," rent a cell facilities ($20 to $60 a day with $2.50-5.50 commission per man-day); trucking prisoners hundreds of miles through the country - threat to public order; escapes;
  • Wackenhut Corrections, second largest private-prison company has ravenous $1 billion a year;
  • U.S. Corrections Corporation - the largest private-prison company wants to buy and run all state of Taxes’ prisons; globalization of the private-prison business: British private-prison company, Securicor, operates two facilities in Florida; 
  • Wackenhut Corrections is now under contract to operate prison in England; three prisons in Australia; and a prison in Scotland. It is actively seeking prison contracts in South Africa.
  • 1 pay phone in prison generates $15,000 a year; MCI installs phones for free;
  • Government officials whose fiefdoms have expanded along with the inmate population.

The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?  By Atul Gawande
Prolonged isolation was used sparingly, if at all, by most American prisons for almost a century. Our first supermax—our first institution specifically designed for mass solitary confinement—was not established until 1983, in Marion, Illinois. In 1995, a federal court reviewing California’s first supermax admitted that the conditions “hover on the edge of what is humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience.” But it did not rule them to be unconstitutionally cruel or unusual, except in cases of mental illness. The prison’s supermax conditions, the court stated, did not pose “a sufficiently high risk to all inmates of incurring a serious mental illness.” In other words, there could be no legal objection to its routine use, given that the isolation didn’t make everyone crazy. The ruling seemed to fit the public mood. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, some sixty supermax institutions had opened across the country. And new solitary-confinement units were established within nearly all of our ordinary maximum-security prisons. 
The number of prisoners in these facilities has since risen to extraordinary levels. America now holds at least twenty-five thousand inmates in isolation in supermax prisons. An additional fifty to eighty thousand are kept in restrictive segregation units, many of them in isolation, too, although the government does not release these figures. By 1999, the practice had grown to the point that Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Virginia kept between five and eight per cent of their prison population in isolation, and, by 2003, New York had joined them as well. Mississippi alone held eighteen hundred prisoners in supermax—twelve per cent of its prisoners over all. At the same time, other states had just a tiny fraction of their inmates in solitary confinement. In 1999, for example, Indiana had eighty-five supermax beds; Georgia had only ten. Neither of these two states can be described as being soft on crime.


This graph was published a few hours after I put this post together. 
Very timely. 

From the Article:
Is there hope? I think so. Drug policy has improved during the Obama years. The president and his key drug policy advisers have largely abandoned the harsh war-on-drugs rhetoric of previous administrations. The number of incarcerated drug offenders has declined for the first time in decades. On the demand side, health reform will greatly expand access to substance abuse treatment. Drug markets are less violent than they used to be, too, which creates greater political space for less punitive policies.

I’m especially heartened that conservative groups such as “Right on Crime” are asking anew whether we really need to incarcerate so many people, for such long periods,because they participated on the supply-side of the drug economy. There is interest, across the political spectrum, in violence-reduction policing strategies, such as those promoted by David Kennedy and Mark Kleiman, that offer more discriminating approaches to police illicit drug markets.

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