Wednesday, January 28, 2004

US Prison system ending love affair with incarceration?

After 25 years of explosive growth in the U.S. prison system, is this country finally ending its love affair with incarceration? Perhaps, but as in any abusive relationship, breaking up will be hard to do.

Since 1980 the U.S. prison and jail population has quadrupled in size to more than 2 million. In the process, prisons have embedded themselves into the nation's economic and social fabric. A powerful lobby has grown up around the prison system that will fight hard to protect the status quo. There are some positive signs, as set forth in Vincent Schiraldi's Nov. 30 article in the Outlook section. Fiscal pressures may indeed slow the growth of the vast U.S. prison system. But reversing the trend of the past quarter-century is another matter.

Major companies such as Wackenhut Corrections Corp. and Corrections Corp. of America employ sophisticated lobbyists to protect and expand their market share. The law enforcement technology industry, which produces high-tech items such as the latest stab-proof vests, helmets, stun guns, shields, batons and chemical agents, does more than a billion dollars a year in business.

With 2.2 million people engaged in catching criminals and putting and keeping them behind bars, "corrections" has become one of the largest sectors of the U.S. economy, employing more people than the combined workforces of General Motors, Ford and Wal-Mart, the three biggest corporate employers in the country.

Correctional officers, [guards], have developed powerful labor unions. And most politicians, whether at the local, state or national level, remain acutely aware that allowing themselves to be portrayed as "soft on crime" is the quickest route to electoral defeat.

[When the focus should be on crime prevention. Why wait until the horse has bolted? That means politicians have to do something about it to get a vote.]

In the past two decades, hundreds of "prison towns" have multiplied -- places that are dependent on prisons for their economic vitality. Take Fremont County, Colo., where the No. 1 employer is the Colorado Department of Corrections, with nine prisons, and No. 2 is the Federal Bureau of Prisons with four. Towns that once might have hesitated about bringing a prison to town now rush to put together incentive packages.

Abilene, Tex., offered the state incentives worth more than $4 million to get a prison. The package included a 316-acre site and 1,100 acres of farmland adjacent to the facility.

Buckeye, 35 miles west of Phoenix, was a sleepy little desert outpost with a population of about 5,000 until it competed successfully for a major state prison. After that the state upgraded the road leading to the town and the population began to explode. A new movie theater and a $2.5 million swimming complex opened. Because Buckeye was sitting on ample supplies of water, it suddenly became prime real estate. Mayor Dusty Hull reckons the town will reach 35,000 in five years.

According to the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, 245 prisons sprouted in 212 rural counties during the 1990s. In West Texas, where oil and farming both collapsed, 11 rural counties acquired prisons in that decade. The Mississippi Delta, one of the poorest regions in the country, got seven new prisons. Appalachian counties of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky built nine, partially replacing the collapsing coal-mining industry. If the prisons closed, these communities would quickly collapse again.

When states try to cut prison budgets, they quickly come up against powerful interests. In Mississippi in 2001, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove vetoed the state's corrections budget so he could spend more money on schools.

The legislature, lobbied by Wackenhut, overrode the veto.

In fiscally distressed California, about 6 percent of the state budget goes to corrections. Yet no senior politician, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has dared challenge the power of the 31,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which pours a third of the $22 million it collects each year in membership dues into political action committees.

Even efforts by some states to speed up the release of nonviolent offenders are unlikely to reduce the total prison population by much.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that two-thirds of those released from prison on parole are re-arrested within three years.

Released prisoners face institutional barriers that make it difficult for them to find a place in society. Welfare, [Social Services], reform legislation in 1996 banned anyone convicted of buying or selling drugs from receiving cash assistance or food stamps for life. Legislation in 1996 and 1998 also excluded ex-felons and their families from federal housing.

Most inmates, [prisoners], leave prison with no money and few prospects. They may get $25 and a bus ticket home if they are lucky. Studies have found that within a year of release, 60 percent of ex-inmates remain unemployed.

Several states have barred parolees from working in various professions, including real estate, medicine, nursing, engineering, education and dentistry. The Higher Education Act of 1998 bars people convicted of drug offenses from receiving student loans.

Prisoners are told to reform but they are given few tools to do so. Once they are entangled in the prison system, many belong to it for life. They may spend stretches of time inside prison and periods outside but they are never truly free.

Last year Robert Presley, secretary of California's correctional agency, noted that after several years of decline, crime rates were rising again and his state's prison population had resumed its growth. Maximum-security inmates, [prisoners], made up the fastest-growing segment.

Despite the building boom of the previous 20 years, prisons were at an average of 191 percent of capacity. This hardly sounds like a recipe for a falling prison population.

Alan Elsner is author of the forthcoming book "Gates of Injustice: America's Prison Crisis."

By Alan Elsner posted 28 January 04


CONS COMMIT CRIMES IN HASTE, NOW CAN REPENT AT LAWTEY - -- Gov. Jeb Bush, in a Christmas Eve address to prisoners at the nation's first ''faith-based'' prison, in North Florida.

CURE --- Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants
CURE --- is a nation-wide grass roots organization dedicated to reducing crime through reform of the criminal justice system.[Criminal Law System.]

The Truth About Private Prisons
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest operator of prisons for profit, is celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout this year "at both the company's corporate Nashville office and at all of the more than 60 prisons, jails and detention centers under CCA ownership and/or management."

New National Study of Corrections Corporation of America Warns Investors and Legislators of Risky Investment. Report explores continuing operational and financial problems; questions CCA's long-term viability as states reassess prison policies.

Finally, States Release The Pressure on Prisons?
US: After decades of massive prison growth, America may be ending its love affair with incarceration. Policymakers around the country, some of whom previously supported ratcheting up punishments, have begun to rethink the wisdom of unbridled prison expansion, and are advocating alternatives to simply "locking them up and throwing away the key."

California Parole System Deemed 'Broken'
SACRAMENTO, Calif: California spends $1.5 billion annually on parolees who mostly fail and are sent back behind bars because they are no better prepared for life on the outside than the day they entered prison, according to a report.

People with Mental Retardation in the Criminal Justice System
Based on the 1990 census, an estimated 6.2 to 7.5 million people in the United States have mental retardation. Various studies have suggested between 2 percent to 10 percent of the prison population has mental retardation.

USA: With Cash Tight, States Reassess Long Jail Terms
OLYMPIA, Wash., Nov. 6 - After two decades of passing ever tougher sentencing laws and prompting a prison building boom, state legislatures facing budget crises are beginning to rethink their costly approaches to crime.

After a war waged by the U.S. military against Vietnam which took the lives of more than 3 million Vietnamese people and more than 58,000 GIs, the U.S. finally withdrew in 1975. It had suffered its first official major military defeat by a united people struggle led by the Vietnamese, along with a mass U.S. anti-war movement.

Report on State Prisons Cites Mental Illness
NEW YORK: Nearly one of every four New York State prisoners who are kept in punitive segregation [solitary confinement], confined to a small cell at least 23 hours a day are mentally ill, according to a new report by a nonprofit group that has been critical of state prison policies.

High court keeps alive case of prisoners held in solitary
NEW ORLEANS: The nation's highest court refused Monday to kill a lawsuit brought by two prisoners and an ex-prisoner at the Louisiana State Penitentiary who spent decades in solitary confinement.

US: Mentally Ill Mistreated in Prison More Mentally Ill in Prison Than in Hospitals (New York, October 22, 2003) Mentally ill offenders face mistreatment and neglect in many U.S. prisons, Human Rights Watch. "Prisons have become the nation's primary mental health facilities. But for those with serious illnesses, prison can be the worst place to be."

Shut down the Security Torture Units
San Francisco: October 18 In solidarity with other prison activist organizations, MIM, RAIL, the Barrio Defense Committee (BDC) and the Prison Reform Unity Project held a four hour rally in San Francisco demanding the Security Housing Units (SHUs) in California prisons be shut down.

Solitary Confinement: Mental illness in prisons
As noted earlier, inmates [prisoners] with mental illness are over represented in our toughest prison settings. Symptoms of mental illness (i.e., delays in response time, paranoia, difficulty interpreting the actions of others, command hallucinations, and so on) can make complying with prison rules difficult.

Post-Incarceration Sentences
Pat: "The 1990s brought a new front in the war on drugs, featuring a new layer of the Prison Industrial Complex, which has the effect of ensuring that people coming in contact with the criminal punishment system remain within the grasp of the Prison Industrial Complex even beyond prison walls."

Inside Prison, Outside the Law
Every year, tens of thousands of prisoners in state and federal custody are attacked. The exact number who die is difficult to determine: According to the nonprofit Criminal Justice Institute, in 2000, the most recent year for which figures have been compiled, 55 prisoners were murdered, 39 died "accidentally," and 118 died for unknown reasons.

Day Seven of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health:
PASADENA, CALIF: On the seventh day of a hunger strike by six psychiatric survivors to oppose human rights violations in the mental health system, the American Psychiatric Association faces a direct and unprecedented challenge from a Scientific Panel of 14 academics and clinicians.

Supreme Court Justice Criticises Sentencing Guidelines
San Francisco, August 9, 2003, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said today that prison terms are too long and that he favours scrapping the practice of setting mandatory minimum sentences for some federal crimes.

US prison population 2.1 million
The US prison population grew more than twice as fast last year as in 2001, bringing the total number of people held behind bars in the United States to more than 2.1 million, a record, according to a government report.

McKean Federal Prison: An Alleged Model
McKean, a federal correctional institution [? prison], does everything that "make 'em bust rocks" politicians decry--imagine, educating inmates [prisoners]! And it works. [Allegedly works.]

Prisoners Justice Day Press Release (Montreal)
On August 10th, 1974, Eddie Nalon bled to death in a solitary confinement unit at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison near Kingston,Ontario when the emergency call button in his cell failed to work. An inquest later found that the call buttons in that unit had been deactivated by the guards.

Notebook of a Prison Abolitionist
In his autobiography, Frederick Douglass recalls how as a slave he would occasionally hear of the "abolitionists." He did not know the full meaning of the word at first, but he heard it used in ways that he found appealing.

Study Warns of Rising Tide of Released Prisoners
Washington: More than 625,000 former prisoners will be coming back into U.S. society this year, part of a record flow of prisoners who will face crushing obstacles in finding work and housing and repairing long-fractured family ties, according to a newly released study.

Incite Statement Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
We call social justice movements to develop strategies and analysis that address both state AND interpersonal violence, particularly violence against women.

Second International Conference on Human Rights & Prison Reform
**This second gathering will be much smaller and more in depth in participation. A report on the human rights violation of discrimination in regard to prisoners will be produced. This report will be given to the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights which will be having its annual meeting near our conference and is the"think tank" for the human rights agenda of the United Nations.

Judged Forever- The Orange County Register
US: California's largest job-placement program for parolees will be shut down May 31 after an Orange County Register investigation found that ex-convicts were sent to questionable jobs [?] and that the state was charged for placements that did not occur. [? According to the ruling-class]

California Family Visiting Case
US: CALIFORNIA: Today (5/03/08) in Superior Court around twenty friends and family members of inmates from CSP Solano showed up to show their support in the Gordon vs. CA Department of Corrections (Case #322862) which deals with the subject of bringing back Family Visits to all inmates.

Prison Rates Among Blacks Reach a Peak, Report Finds
An estimated 12 percent of African-American men ages 20 to 34 are in jail or prison, according to a report released yesterday by the Justice Department.

Justices question prison visitation policies
WASHINGTON: In a case that could affect the visitation rights of millions of prisoners, Supreme Court justices on Wednesday struggled with the question of whether inmates have a constitutional right to visits with friends and family.