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Posts Tagged ‘US prisons’

“For nearly two decades, the inmates inside Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Alabama were raped, sodomized, forced to engage in oral sex and fondled by corrections officers as state corrections officials looked the other way.

In 2013, the prison was considered among the 10 worst prisons in the nation. At least one third of its staff was suspected of sexual misconduct, and inmates who dared to report the abuse were punished by being locked in confinement, a more restrictive form of incarceration.

Understaffing, poor medical care, inadequate sanitary supplies, overcrowding and poor security fostered an environment where sexual violence and abuse thrived, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, which began a civil-rights investigation at the prison in 2013.

The Tutwiler investigation in Alabama mirrors what the Justice Department is now doing at Lowell Correctional Institution in Central Florida, where female inmates have complained for years about sexual, physical and mental abuse inflicted by corrections officers.

“It appears that Lowell has a huge problem with sexual abuse of prisoners. Normally, at womens’ prisons, you get one or two bad actors, but it seems that Lowell has a real cultural problem, and the Florida Department of Corrections, in general, has a huge cultural problem in the way they handle sexual abuse,’’ said Julia Abbate, the former deputy chief in charge of corrections in DOJ’s civil rights division.

Abbate, who is now national advocacy director for Just Detention International, a health and human rights organization that works to end sexual abuse in jails and prisons, said Lowell has been on the Justice Department’s radar for several years.

In April, John Gore, acting attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, sent a letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, informing him, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Julie Jones, secretary for the Department of Corrections, that the department had launched a federal probe into conditions at Lowell.

Lowell Correctional, Florida’s largest women’s prison, has been beset by reports of sexual extortion and other systemic abuses

“We are obliged to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution of the United States … focusing on Lowell’s ability to protect prisoners from sexual abuse,’’ Gore wrote.

In July, DOJ’s civil rights division sent a subpoena to Florida’s Department of Corrections, demanding records ranging from policy and training manuals to a listing of staff members who were terminated, transferred, suspended or resigned from the prison as of July 1, 2015.

Abbate said that when DOJ’s Civil Rights Division receives authorization to investigate, it means that there is cause to believe that inmates are being subjected to conditions that deprive them of their constitutional rights — in this case, in violation of the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

Federal investigations follow a standard trajectory that takes anywhere from two to five years. Abbate said it begins when the DOJ sends a notification letter to state officials informing them the department has opened an investigation and outlining what they intend to do.

The procedure calls for the department to visit the prison, inspect conditions and to interview inmates, she said. A letter sent to the FDC in May said the visit would occur July 23-27, although the Herald has been told the tour will happen on the 20th of this month.

“They do a pretty thorough investigation. They examine documents and go on site with a team of experts for typically a week, then they go back to their desk and decide whether the pattern or practice exists and if so, what are they and how do they support those conclusions,’’ she said.

A letter of findings is then drawn up.

“If findings are made of constitutional violations, they don’t pull any punches,’’ Abbate said.

As part of the probe, the DOJ is holding a community meeting on Aug. 19. Investigators are inviting former inmates and family members of current inmates to the meeting at the Marion Baptist Association in Ocala.

The DOJ reached an agreement with the state of Alabama and its corrections department calling for a series of reforms to protect inmates. It concluded that Tutwiler guards had violated prisoners’ rights.

At Tutwiler, DOJ found that inmates lived in an environment of repeated, open and forced sexual behavior by corrections officers. Prison officials were criticized for failing to address the problems despite repeated complaints. The DOJ was especially critical of state corrections officials who “demonstrated a clear deliberate indifference to the harm and substantial risk of harm to women prisoners.’’

The probe found that Alabama had been on notice of the abuse for more than 18 years but had chosen to ignore them.

The Lowell investigation comes after years of complaints by inmates and activists, who organized in the aftermath of a 2015 Miami Herald investigation, “Beyond Punishment.’’ The series included interviews with more than three dozen former and current inmates at Lowell who described being forced to have sex with officers just to obtain basic necessities such as soap, toilet paper and sanitary napkins.”

– Julie K. Brown, “Amid reports of sexual extortion, other horrors, feds subpoena records, tour women’s prison.” Miami Herald, August 10, 2018.

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“Here is a glimpse of a cell in the new state prison under construction at Attica, N.Y. The prison will be quite modern.”

– from Toronto Star, July 24, 1931. Page 19.

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“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” – Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”

Diverse forms of forced labor have been found in many societies, under many conditions. Slavery and penal labor both existed in the ancient world. Serfdom shaped much of the character of premodern European social relations, and persisted well into the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe and Russia. As European societies shook off the last vestiges of feudalism, forced labor was carried to the New World, in a vast arc encompassing both the highlands and plantations of the Americas. In colonial Africa as well, European domination brought with it forms of coercive labor new to a continent that had long known indigenous slavery; and labor relations in industrialized South Africa under apartheid were clearly shaped by colonial strategies of labor extraction up until yesterday. Finally, Stalin’s Gulag, and the Nazi labor and extermination camps, stand as horrific examples of forced labor in the modern world.

Bound labor has not always been associated with the fully developed chattel slavery oriented toward market production that gave the antebellum American South, for example, a distinctive character. In various guises this form of labor has both preceded and followed in the wake of chattel slavery. Forced labor has even developed in societies where the New World’s peculiar form of ownership of one person by another, rationalized by bourgeois property relations, was unknown. Consistent features of this form of labor have included the collusion of the state, penal servitude as an enforcer of work, and intensification and expansion during periods of rapid economic development or transformation.

Coercive labor relations frequently aim to control a population reluctant to enter wage labor relations freely, and encourage the consequent proletarianization of these recalcitrant recruits to the “free” labor market. The beneficiaries of this process often justify its harshness as necessary and efficacious discipline for this emergent working class. In advanced societies such labor coercion has even been legitimized by resort to the ultimate expression of capitalist free labor relations, the contract. And when not controlled by individuals, forced labor has frequently been concentrated by the state on public works — pyramids, waterworks, and roadways.

Involuntary servitude has also been reserved as the fate for conquered combatants in war, for indigenous peoples in the New World and Africa, and for races deemed "inferior” by Europeans (and those of European descent) or Aryans. Its victims include both “enemies of the people,” and those declared "criminal” by a judicial rationale derived from enlightenment principles and bourgeois social relations. Everywhere, as the criminologist Thorsten Sellin has argued, slavery and punishment have been an inseparable dyad, in advanced as well as primitive societies. Indeed, as the “right” for individuals freely to dispose of their labor power as they saw fit (within the dictates of the market) increasingly came to define capitalist social relations, as it began to in the New South, the revocation of that right became the ultimate sanction. In putatively “modern” societies, where citizens value the rule of law, that right can only be limited by legal procedures restrained by, for example, constitutional legality. The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution expresses this bargain succinctly. But wherever the historical legacy of racialism has been conjoined to the identification of penal sanction with enslavement, as it was in the postbellum South, and really in the United States as a whole, the results for a society’s vision of equality and labor have been profoundly destructive. This has been true even — perhaps especially — when forced labor contributed to economic development.

One of the persistent themes of American history has been an abiding faith in progress and development; and one of the persistent themes of southern history has been the necessity for federal intervention to extend the benefits of progress to the nation’s less "developed” region. Whether carried out by the Union Army, carpetbaggers, northern capital, technocratic "experts,” the judiciary, or, today, the forces of postindustrial economic change, this process has frequently revolved around the inseparable issues of labor and race. Free labor triumphed over slavery in the Civil War, but in their effort to reshape the South it was the original prophets of a New South, the Reconstructionists, who fastened the convict-lease upon the region’s former bondspeople, as Hoke Smith took pains to remind the legislature when his administration finally abolished the system in Georgia. And it was those ersatz defenders of southern tradition, the Redeemers, who invited northern capital to help them reap the benefits of forced labor, as they developed the South’s extractive sector. Finally, as a wave of Progressive reform brought an end to the convict lease, it was the federal agents of progress, the civil engineers of the US Office of Public Roads, who helped articulate and exploit the enormous contribution of the South’s black forced labor pool to yet another vision of a New South.

This continual correspondence between the forces of modernization and the perpetuation of bound labor was no anomaly. Even chattel slavery in the Americas was a crucial component in the historical development of capitalism. The various extreme forms of labor coercion and control that supplanted slavery in the modern world continued to demonstrate a "progressive” quality; rather than constituting an “archaic” obstacle to capitalist development, destined to be swept away by modernity, unfree labor has frequently been an essential element in the accumulation process that made that development possible.

– 

Alex Lichtenstein, Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South. New York: Verso, 1996. pp. 186-188.  

[The photographs are actually from New York State prison road gangs circa 1912-1913. There is much more of a connection between the use of road gangs in the North and the chain gang of the South than is generally admitted.]

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“Yes, the biblical stories are to be taken in a figurative sense; they stand as symbols for spiritual actions in the nature of man; though that is not to say that the events narrated did not actually take place as recorded. But Joshua had faith; and faith in the hearts of the champions of right begets fear in the hearts of supporters of wrong, and the defenses they have so laboriously built up tumble distractedly about their ears when the trumpets of the Lord blow and the people who believe in Him utter a mighty shout. Our jails are our Jericho; the evils which they encompass and protect are greater than the sins of that strong city; but a breath may shatter them into irretrievable ruin. Not compromises ; not gradual and circumspect approaches; not prudent considerations of political economy, nor sound sociological principles; but simple faith in God and a blast on the ram’s horn.

My business in this book was to show that penal imprisonment is an evil, and its perpetuation a crime; that it does not reform the criminal but destroys him body and soul; that it does not protect the community but exposes it to incalculable perils; and that the assumption that a criminal class exists among us separate and distinct from any and the best of the rest of us is Pharisaical, false and wicked. The “Subterranean Brotherhood ” are our brothers, they are ourselves, unjustly and vainly condemned to serve as scapegoats for the rest. What the criminal instinct or propensity in a man needs is not seclusion, misery, pain and despotic control, but free air and sunlight, free and cheerful human companionship, free opportunity to play his part in human service, and the stimulus, on all sides of him, of the example of such service. Men enfeebled by crime are not cured by punishment, or by homilies and precepts, but by taking off our coats and showing them personally how honest and useful things’ are done. And let every lapse and failure on their part to follow the example, be counted not against them, but against ourselves who failed to convince them of the truth, and hold them up to the doing of good. Had we been sincere and hearty enough, we would have prevailed.

I do not underrate the difficulties; they are immeasurable; the hope seems as forlorn as that of the Israelites against the walls of Jericho. But they are forlorn and immeasurable only because, and so long as, we let our selfish personal interests govern and mold our public and social action. Altruism will not heal the inward sore, but at best only put on its surface a plausible plaster which leaves the inward still corrupt; for altruism is a policy and not an impulse, proceeding not from the heart but from the intelligence the policy of enlightened selfishness. It has already been tried thoroughly, and proved thoroughly inefficient; it is the motive power behind charitable organization; it breeds a cold, impersonal, economic spirit in charity workers, and coldness, ingratitude and resentment in those who are worked upon. It will not do to speak of Tom, Dick and Harry as cases Nos. 1, 2 and 3. You must call them by name and think of them as flesh of your flesh and blood of your blood, to whom you owe more than they owe you, or than you can repay. Put a heart into them by giving them your own heart; do not look down on them and advise them, but at and into them and take counsel with them; or even up to them, and learn from them. They know and feel much that you have never felt or known.”

– Julian Hawthorne, The Subterranean Brotherhood. New York: McBride, Nast & Company, 1914. pp. xvi-xix

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“Crime in New York City is at historic lows. The overall number of people in the city’s jails recently dipped below 9,000 for the first time since 1982. Yet the number of people locked up for violating the terms of their probation or parole is on the rise.

That is the conclusion of Less is More in New York City, a new report from Columbia University’s Justice Lab about the impact of parole violations on prison and jail populations. Since 2014, the number of people in New York City’s jails, including Rikers Island, has dropped 21 percent. But the population locked up for technical parole violations, such as missing an appointment with a parole officer, associating with people with felony records or failing a drug test, has increased 15 percent.

The report takes a snapshot of a single day to illustrate its point: On November 16, 2017, state parole violations made up 16 percent (or 1,460) of people in the city’s jails. Indeed, parole violators are the only part of the New York City jail population that has increased over the past four years.

“In New York, people released on parole are more likely to return to incarceration not for new convictions, but for violating the conditions of their parole,” the report notes.

At the state level, the report reveals, the number of people returned to prison for parole violations increased 21 percent between 2015 and 2016. For every 10 people who successfully completed their parole in New York State, nine were reincarcerated for parole violations. In 2016, those people made up 29 percent of the state’s prison population. But their violations were not necessarily new crimes; instead, nearly half were technical parole violations.”

– Victoria Law, “As New York Decarcerates, The Number of People Under Supervision of Probation and Parole Rises.” In Justice Today. February 1, 2018.

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““The past decade marks a revolution in the attitude of the state toward its offending children,” proclaimed a 1909 Harvard Law Review article by Julian W. Mack. Until then, Mack wrote, “our common criminal law did not differentiate between the adult and the minor who had reached the age of criminal responsibility,” leaving child offenders “huddled together” with adults in jails and workhouses. Before the juvenile justice “revolution” he described, the age of criminal responsibility in U.S. states ranged from 7 to 12.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, reformers pushed for the creation of juvenile court systems that would seek to rehabilitate child offenders.

This harshness toward children derived from traditional English common law, which convicted and punished 7- to 14-year-old children as long as they appeared to understand the difference between right and wrong. There are records of children as young as 10 put to death in eighteenth century England.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, U.S. reformers pushed for the creation of juvenile court systems that would seek to rehabilitate—not just punish—child offenders. As the legal scholars David S. Tanenhaus and Steven A. Drizin outline in a 2002 paper in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, the first juvenile court opened in 1899 in Cook County, IL (home of Chicago), thanks to reformers Lucy Flower and Julia Lathrop. By 1909, more than 30 American jurisdictions adopted similar legislation, as did Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, and Australia.

Writing in 1909, Mack captured the prevailing view toward reform over punishment: “the child who has begun to go wrong, who is incorrigible, who has broken a law or an ordinance, is to be taken in hand by the state, not as an enemy but as a protector, as the ultimate guardian.” Ideally, he wrote, convicted children should be placed on probation, assigned a guardian, and allowed to remain in their own homes and communities. In cases where removal from the home was deemed necessary, the Supreme Court of Illinois ordered that “a real school, not a prison in disguise, must be provided.”

“What they need, more than anything else, is kindly assistance,” wrote Mack. “The aim of the court in appointing a probation officer for the child, is to have the child and the parents feel, not so much the power, as the friendly interest of the state.” He quoted a Supreme Court of Utah decision, which declared that a juvenile judge must be “a man of broad mind, of almost infinite patience, and one who is the possessor of great faith in humanity.”

As the movement toward mercy and reduced culpability for children swept the nation, in 1920 criminal law journal article, Arthur Towne, the superintendent of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, considered whether New York State should follow other states in increasing its age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, asking:

Does he go to bed the night before his sixteenth birthday, a tender boy in need of the state’s solicitude, and awaken the next morning a bearded man, full-fledged in experience and self-control, and in ability to fulfill his obligations as a citizen? Upon donning his long trousers does he forthwith become a man; or in spite of his somewhat lengthened years and clothes, may he still be in his short “pants” mentally and morally?

Writing in 1920, Towne said adolescence continues through age 25, and that treating 14- or 16-year olds as functioning adults “simply flies in the face of present-day psychology and the hard facts.”

***

Despite Towne’s advocacy, New York State did not stop automatically charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults until April 2017. Juvenile courts faced decades of backlash, as prosecutors argued for discretion over whether individual cases should be heard in juvenile or criminal court. In a series of decisions, the Illinois Supreme Court stripped power from the juvenile courts, granting the state’s attorney the authority to decide in which court a child would be tried.

Beginning in the 1930s, prosecutors pushed for more power, claiming that the nation faced a dangerous new class of child murderers. In 1935, the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court declared that juvenile courts were intended for “bad boys and girls who have committed no serious crime,” but were being used to protect “highly dangerous gunmen and thieves, or even murderers.” But even as juvenile courts were being undermined, they were simultaneously legitimized. In the 1960s, U.S. Supreme Court decisions guaranteed due process protections in juvenile court, including the right to counsel.

In 1978, the “automatic transfer law” was born. A 15-year-old New Yorker named Willie Bosket was convicted of killing two men on the subway. He was tried in juvenile court and received the maximum juvenile sentence of five years. Two days later, New York Governor Hugh Carey (in the middle of a tight re-election battle) called a special session of the legislature to produce the Juvenile Offender Act. This “automatic transfer law” required children as young as 13 to be tried as adults for murder.

Attacks on the power of the juvenile court intensified in the 1980s and 90s. “These cries grew to a fever pitch with the birth of the ‘superpredator’ myth in late 1995,” wrote Tanenhaus and Drizin. Academics, prosecutors, and lawmakers criticized juvenile courts, using “the sound bite ‘adult time for adult crime’ as their mantra.”

Between 1990 and 1996, forty states passed laws making it easier for juveniles to be prosecuted as adults, often by transferring power from juvenile judges to prosecutors. Other new laws prevented the sealing of juvenile records, set mandatory minimum sentences, or removed phrases like “rehabilitation” and “the best interests of the child” from statutes, replacing them with “punishment” and “the protection of the public.”

While attorneys and politicians panicked about the rise of the “superpredator,” juvenile crime actually declined between 1994 and 2000.

The new laws kept coming, with 43 states passing similar changes between 1996 and 1999. A 1999 report found that when juveniles were transferred to adult court and convicted of murder, they received, on average, longer sentences than adults convicted of the same crime. In 1998, close to 200,000 kids were tried as adults and 18,000 were housed in adult prisons.

“Teenagers account for the largest portion of all violent crime in America,” declared then-Florida representative Bill McCollum in 1996. “They’re the most violent criminals on the face of the earth.” He was arguing in support of an ultimately failed federal bill that would have required some 13-year-olds to be tried as adults.

As children were increasingly tried as adults, racial minorities suffered the most. In 1997, white children made up 57 percent of juvenile cases involving offenses against others, but just 45 percent of the cases transferred to adult court. And while white youth constituted 59 percent of juvenile drug cases, they made up just 35 percent of the cases transferred to adult court.

Clinging to the “superpredator” myth, prosecutors parroted colorful claims about the nineteenth century mischief-makers that juvenile courts had been created for. According to various District Attorney’s offices, the courts were created “when kids were throwing spitballs,” “when kids were knocking over outhouses,” and “at a time of more ‘Leave it to Beaver’ type crimes.”

***

While attorneys and politicians panicked about the rise of the “superpredator,” juvenile crime actually declined between 1994 and 2000. A 2001 U.S. Surgeon General’s report found that “there is not evidence that the young people involved in violence during the peak years of the early 1990s were more frequent or more vicious offenders than youth in earlier years.”

As it turns out, there have always been murders by children. Using the Chicago Homicide Database, Tanenhaus and Drizin located the cases of 24 children tried for homicide by juvenile courts in the early 1900s. They wrote that these cases “reveal that the juvenile court was created at a time when kids were not only throwing spitballs and knocking over outhouses, but they were also killing people.” These cases show how children were protected from the adult criminal system, thanks to multiple checks on the power of prosecutors.

In one 1910 case, a 12- or 14-year-old girl (accounts differ) was accused of beating an 8-year-old girl to death with a baseball. A “coroner’s jury” was summoned: a group of citizens convened to determine cause of death. “Owing to the extreme youth of the accused,” declared the coroner’s jury, “the Jury recommend that she be permitted to remain in the custody of her parents for the present until the case is taken up by the Juvenile Court.” The authors note that coroner’s juries were rife with corruption and graft. Yet in this case and others, they did serve as a check on prosecutors, helping keep children out of adult court.

In a 1908 case, twin 13-year-old boys were tried for stabbing a schoolmate to death with a letter opener. Although the coroner’s jury recommended the boys go before an adult court, they were protected by other checks on the system: The grand jury ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute one twin, and the state officially declined to prosecute the other.

In a third case, in 1926, four 15- and 16-year-old boys were arrested in a shooting death. They took various paths through the court system, with some starting in the adult criminal system and some in the juvenile—yet ultimately, none were prosecuted as adults.

The 24 cases studied by Tanenhaus and Drizin are a small sample, but demonstrate that murders by children were far from new in the 1980s and 90s. What was new was the state’s harsh punishments.”

– Katie Rose Quandt, “WHY DOES THE U.S. SENTENCE CHILDREN TO LIFE IN PRISON?JSTOR Daily. January 31, 2018.

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“The system of incarceration sucks up the most disadvantaged in society, disproportionately recruited from amongst foster kids, or kids with parents with a history of incarceration or drug abuse. 36 percent were in receipt of public assistance. 11 percent were homeless. 58 percent have mental health issues. Research compiled by the White House report shows that the individuals in question were on the whole marginalized from the labour market “even prior to conviction. Estimates from different data sources suggest that as little as 10 percent of this group have positive preincarceration earnings and that real pre-incarceration yearly earnings range from $3,000 to $28,000.” If the prison population has one thing in common, it is that they were poor on the outside.

“These disparities continue when we turn to the broader felony criterion. Nationwide, about 8 percent of all adults have had a felony conviction, but about 24 percent of African American adults share the same distinction. When parsed by gender, a staggering 33 percent of African American adult males have a felony conviction history (as compared to 13 percent of all men).”

This is a gigantic machine for destroying life chances. And the bitter irony, of course, is that it is immensely expensive. A prison bed costs between $ 14,000 and $ 60,000, varying by state and federal institutions. The cost of a single inmate in one of the higher-cost institutions is comparable to the cost of the police officer who puts them there. It is also, needless to say, comparable to the cost of the College education which virtually none of the inmates have enjoyed. Through the US criminal justice, the American state is spending more money on the inmates than it ever spent on them on the outside.

The impact of this machinery on education, employability and the possibility of forming stable family and social ties are obvious. The vast majority of employers conduct criminal background checks on potential recruits. Thousands of jobs require licenses and certification from which felons are excluded from the get-go. Not surprisingly, therefore, non-participation in the workforce for prime age men who have been incarcerated is three times higher than for those who have never been arrested. For white prime working-age men with a prison record, the non-participation rate in the labour force is 17 %. For black men with a prison record it is 27 percent. The non-participation rate for prime age men untouched by the criminal justice system is 6 percent. Once we include the multiply-disadvantaged groups who have been stigmatized by it, that percentage rises to 9 percent. i.e. by 50 percent.” 

– Adam Tooze, “America’s Political Economy: Lost Generations – cumulative impact of mass incarceration.” October 28, 2017.

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