Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Prison System Fails Women, Study Says

Chowchilla Prison
State policies designed for violent men make female offenders' rehabilitation difficult, an oversight panel finds. "If we fail to intervene effectively in the lives of these women and their children now, California will pay the cost for generations to come," said Commissioner Teddie Ray, chairwoman of the subcommittee that produced the report.

Photos of US Prisons
Places you do not want to go!

Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, CA US: SACRAMENTO - California's one-size-fits-all correctional system is failing one group of offenders more dramatically than any other: the 22,000 female convicts and parolees, whose crimes are overwhelmingly nonviolent, according to a study released Wednesday by a government oversight panel.

Continuing its critical reporting on the state's $6-billion-a-year penal system, the bipartisan Little Hoover Commission said the number of women in California prisons has increased fivefold during the last two decades. Despite that surge, the state continues to run a system with policies, practices, programs and facilities designed mostly for violent men, the report said.

Few women leaving prison receive help finding a job, housing or counseling for the drug addictions that typically landed them behind bars. Compounding their struggle, women convicted of drug crimes -- about one in three offenders -- are barred by federal rules from receiving most welfare benefits and, in many cases, do not qualify for public housing.

Not surprisingly, nearly half of all female ex-convicts violate their parole and wind up back in prison, almost always for non-violent behavior, the report said.

The costs of such failures are steep -- for women and their families, the report said. About 64% of women offenders are mothers of minors, and of those, nearly half are single parents.

As a result, their incarceration and re-incarceration take a heavy toll on their children and on the state's child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Research shows that children of imprisoned parents are five to six times more likely than their peers to end up behind bars, and 10% are in foster care.

"If we fail to intervene effectively in the lives of these women and their children now, California will pay the cost for generations to come," said Commissioner Teddie Ray, chairwoman of the subcommittee that produced the report.

The Little Hoover Commission is composed of five public members appointed by the governor, four members appointed by the Legislature, two senators and two Assembly members. Created in 1962, the panel provides oversight of government agencies in hopes of improving their efficiency and service to the public.

Its reports are submitted to the governor and lawmakers, often leading to legislation. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman, Terry Thornton, said prison officials agreed with the report's conclusions. She said that over the last two months, the department had begun investigating ways to tailor programs, housing and other aspects of its operations to the needs of women.

In addition, prison officials have applied for a federal grant to identify initiatives in other states that have improved the odds of success for women inmates.

Jeanine Tobias, 36, said the report's findings mirror her experience. Tobias, released in mid-November after serving 10 months on a parole violation, has been in and out of prison since a drug conviction in the 1980s.

"There's nothing in that environment that helps them with addiction or job skills or any of that," said Tobias, who is living with her newborn baby boy at the New Way of Life transitional home for parolees in Los Angeles. "Most people get out and they don't have anywhere to go, they don't have any funds, and they're back out on the streets and back in jail. It's a blessing for me to be here."

The report comes during a year of intense scrutiny for the Department of Corrections, which operates 32 prisons with about 165,000 inmates, an all-time high. Officer misconduct, costoverruns, shoddy medical care, the scarcity of rehabilitative programs and the use of lockdowns to manage gang violence are among the issues investigated by the Legislature, the independent Office of the Inspector General and others in recent months.

Because their numbers are comparatively small, women offenders have received less attention from prison reformers. The average female convict in California is in her late 30s and was probably a victim of physical or sexual abuse early in life. She is addicted to drugs, has mental health needs and most likely was sent to prison for using narcotics or stealing to support a habit, according to the Little Hoover Commission.

Despite these and other special characteristics of women convicts, California "has remained focused, almost singularly, on a policy of punishment and incapacitation designed for male offenders," said the 72-page report.

While male offenders are scattered at prisons throughout the state, most women inmates -- 75% -- are housed at two large lockups in Chowchilla, a remote San Joaquin Valley town far from the urban centers where most of the convicts previously lived.

That isolated location, the report notes, strains family ties -- considered a crucial factor in whether a parolee succeeds or fails. More than half of the children of female prisoners never visit their mothers during their incarceration, in part because of transportation difficulties.

"Despite the relatively low security risk of female inmates," the report said, "the primary considerations in the design and operation of these facilities are preventing escapes and minimizing violence behind bars."

The commission also faulted the department for its gender-blind programs. With the exception of two small programs -- 140 beds in all -- for pregnant offenders or those with short sentences and children under 6, the vast majority of programs in the four women's prisons are identical to the offerings in male lockups, the report said. Less than one-third of female convicts are enrolled in academic, vocational or job training classes.

The report includes a series of recommendations to improve conditions, such as using halfway houses and other community programs as alternatives to prison for some inmates, shifting responsibility for parolees to local governments, and appointing a director of women's programs to guide reforms.

Among those applauding the commission's work was Barbara Bloom, a professor of criminal justice at Sonoma State University and one of the few scholars who study women offenders.

Bloom endorsed the report's recommendations and stressed that although prison officials could certainly improve their performance, "this is a problem that goes way beyond corrections and won't get fixed without strong involvement from the community."

Most female offenders, she said, come from communities that lack the sort of safety net that might have helped them avoid a criminal conviction in the first place. When they return to those communities, Bloom said, those difficult conditions remain, so it's no wonder many parolees run afoul of the law again. "Somehow, we as a state have to acknowledge that this is a systemic problem, and encourage communities to get involved with these women," Bloom said. "Otherwise, this cycle of incarceration will just continue, generation after generation."

By Jenifer Warren and Just Us posted 21 December 04

Crime Rates Are Falling But Prison Numbers Are Rising !

The following selection of prison population rates per 100,000 of the national population are drawn from an Amnesty International source. They capture the situation as at January 11, 2004.

Australia had 115 prisoners per 100,000 people, China was similar, with 117.Many European countries were lower. Germany had 98, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland all had 72. Norway had 64. Many Asian countries have relatively low prisoner rates.

In the Amnesty International study Japan had 53, and India and Indonesia both had 29 prisoners per 100,000 people. England and Wales had a higher rate of 140, while Brazil had 160, and Cuba had 297 prisoners per 100,000 people.

The incarceration rates in the US dwarfed those of all other nations. At the date mentioned above there were 701 prisoners per 100,000 people in that country. Only the Russian Federation came close, at 606 prisoners per 100,000 people.

The levels of imprisonment are rising in both the US and Australia, and this is happening at a time when many serious crimes, such as break-ins and armed robbery are falling. Here are some excerpts from the Australian Coalition Against The Death Penalty web site.

It uses the above Amnesty International study. * In the US: "Almost 6.6 million men and women made up the correctional population at the end of 2000. One in every 32 U.S. residents were on probation or parole or were held in a prison or jail.

More than ten million people (1 in 148 people) are incarcerated each year in the U.S. - the incarnation rate being 704 per 100,000 people. Besides executing prisoners on almost a weekly basis, the U.S. also has some of the toughest prison sentences in the world which include life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Each year, there are approximately 3,000 deaths in custody in the U.S."

* "The prison boom has exacted a tremendous social cost.

Since 1985, the increase in money spent on U.S. prisons nationwide topped $20 billion. That is almost twice the increase in dollars spent on colleges and universities, according to a recent report titled, 'Cellblocks or Classrooms."

* "Prisons have not expanded because more crimes are being committed, but because more people are now being arrested for minor offences - more people prosecuted and more people given lengthy sentences, as lawmakers consistently compete with each other to re-introduce ever-harsher penalties. It is not that crime has increased; it is the punishment."

The above point is also borne out in prison statistics for Australia.

The following excerpt from an article by Cheryl McDermid titled "A precipitous increase in Australia's prison population" (November 2000) makes this clear.

* "In 1982 the incarceration rate was 89.9 per 100,000; by 1998 this had climbed to 139.2 per 100,000 - a 55 percent increase. The rate is over 30 percent higher than Britain's at 94 per 100,000 and almost seven times higher than Indonesia with 22 per 100,000.

The annual growth rate in prison numbers is twice that of England and Wales, although only half that of the United States. Such figures indicate profound changes in society and demand an analysis. But their publication has been met with virtual silence in the media and official circles. There have been no headlines, no debates. Nor has the AIC [Australian Institute of Criminology] attempted to explain the roots of the phenomenon, despite issuing a series of related reports from August 1999 to April 2000.

The perception created by governments, the police, the judiciary and the media is that society is under siege by crime, and everyday life proceeds under a cloud of fear. Yet the figures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that between 1993 and 1998 there was no statistically significant increase in the main crime categories - household break-ins, attempted break-ins, motor vehicle theft and sexual assault."

In her article Cheryl McDermid quotes from a submission that Justice Action, a prison reform group, made to the New South Wales (NSW) Select Committee on the Increase in Prison Population. It said:

"Murder is perhaps the offence most likely to be reported, least amenable to statistical manipulation and most indicative of the likely level of violent crime in society. The murder rate in NSW remains essentially unchanged since the 1970s and is around the same rate as it was at the time of federation (1901)."

Anybody who has studied the European Renaissance should not be surprised by the rise in prison populations now, at a time of similar technological and social transformation. Five or six hundred years ago the crime that put many unfortunate people in jails and torture chambers across Europe was heresy - having an opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine. Because the Roman Church had no capacity nor willingness to deal with a flood of new knowledge and scientific ideas, it simply locked up those it feared and it also made examples of them.

Victims, for that is what they were, were publicly put to death - disembowelled, torn apart by horses, burnt alive, and so on. This happened not only to males but to whole families, women and children alike. Nevertheless, in the end, nothing could stop the transformation of Europe and the loss of the secular power that had been wielded by the church. All those people suffered for nothing.

The old guard lost anyway; defeated by new knowledge and ideas.

One of the major changes in society that authorities do not fear is the burgeoning substance abuse industry. Illegal drugs are big business and governments and their agencies are used to 'regulating' such interests, be they from the underworld or the overworld.

Governments promise new programs to fix the drugs problem while blaming drug addicts for 'rising crime rates'. New government programs never seem to work and the drugs problem continues unabated. Moreover law enforcement and court systems are encouraged to 'crack down' on relatively minor offences, while leaving the main causes unaddressed.

It is the drugs industry that is the root cause of many of the convictions that are leading to increased incarceration rates and expansion of the prisons system.

US statistics show that the proportion of prison inmates serving time for drug offences has risen dramatically during the past three decades. In 1970 the percentage of drug offenders in the US prison population was 16.3, by 2002 it had risen to an astonishing 54.7 percent. And the proportion of drug offenders in US prisons continues to rise, there seems to be no stopping it.

More prisons, larger prisons, are being built to accommodate the flood of offenders sentenced by the courts; construction costs average US$100,000 per cell and the cost of accommodating each inmate is about US$20,000 pa. In 2002 prisoner accommodation and related services cost governments in the US some US$40 billion; that's big business and it is attracting private sector corporations.

The Next Big Thing - Prison Labour As A Competitive Advantage

The following excerpts are taken from an article by Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness, its title is Privatising Hell, and it draws on stories from an online edition of India's national newspaper, The Hindu, and from Business Week's online editions.

* "In the U.S., a number of states have passed laws that allow commercial organisations to use convict labour. Prisoners get much less than the minimum wage. Retrenchments are not a problem, there is no sick leave, vacation or overtime, and unions are non-existent. The result, says noted journalist P. Sainath, is that American corporations are on to a good thing."

* "Welcome to the new slavery. Privatised prisons in the united States run by for-profit corporations. And Federal or State-run prisons that allow - often invite - private enterprises to use that labour. Quality control made easy. Unions non-existent. And workers don't get more disciplined than this. Even if the prisons are not private, the State can hold down prison labour for private gain and its own benefit."

* "These days (says Business Week online) prison labour is as close as your cell phone. Jail-based customer service centres have fielded 800-line requests for airline reservations. According to news reports, prisoners have also wrapped software for Microsoft, produced electronic menu boards for McDonald's, and stitched clingy lingerie for a manufacturer."

In the past 20 years, more than 30 states have passed laws that allow commercial outfits to use convict labour. Such programmes now exist in 36 of the 50 American states.

* "The corporations that use prison labour at far less than minimum wages include Fortune 500 giants and other famous 'brands'. Starbucks and Nintendo Game Boy systems are just two of the big names that have done so. ... It allows you to massively undercut any rivals who have qualms about human rights and the treatment of prisoners. And it helps push down wages across the industry."

* "Honda has paid inmates $2 an hour for doing the same work an auto worker would get paid $20 to $30 an hour to do. Konica has used prisoners to repair copiers for less than 50 cents an hour. Toys RUs used prisoners to restock shelves and Microsoft to pack and ship software. Clothing made in California and Oregon prisons competes so successfully with apparel made in Latin America and Asia that it is exported to other countries."

* "Stan Saunders of the Colombia Theological Seminary writes that 'prisons for profit now generate $30-40 billion of revenue annually. The corrections segment of our economy today employs over half a million full time workers.'

That's more than any Fortune 500 company except General Motors. ...And in some towns across the U.S., the prison is now the mainstay of the local economy. Crime rates have dropped in the U.S,.

Violent crime is down by one-fifth in the last three decades. But incarceration rates, Saunders points out, have quadrupled. Creating a state of siege mindset in the public has helped. Both media and lawmakers have done that."

* "The result? As Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker write in an analysis for the World Socialist Web Site: "thousands of public sector jobs have been lost to convict labour. And thousands of private sector jobs have been lost as a result of firms that now utilise prison labour.

" * "It's the new slavery," says Randall Robinson. "It's destroying the younger generation of Black people," he told us at Trinity College in Connecticut earlier this year. This leading African- American thinker points to "the built-in bias and discrimination of the system. It ensures this huge pool of labour. In our democracy, we have private prisons. When as private corporations you own prisons, the only way you can get your stocks to go up is to get more prisoners."

Another article, The Celling of America, is quoted from the Covert Action Quarterly.

* "Some of the country's largest and most profitable corporations have quietly begun to use prison labour forces, at wages up to 80% below the national minimum wage. Among those reportedly contracting to employ prisoners, either directly of through their subsidiaries: AT&T, Bank of America, Boeing, Chevron, Costco, Dell Computers, Eddie Bauer, IBM, Konica Business Machines, Microsoft, Starbucks, Texas Instruments, TWA and US West."

The next excerpts are from an article titled When Corporations Rule the World, by David C. Korten.

* "Corporations profit not only from committing and facilitating crime, they also profit from punishing street criminals. Prison operators such as Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, and Sodexho SA aggressively promote prison privatisation globally.

J.C. Penny, Victoria's Secret, IBM, Toys R Us, and TWA are among the U.S. corporations that have augmented their profits by employing prisoners who reportedly earn as little as 11 cents an hour with no benefits - a rate competitive with the worst of China's sweatshops.

Under a new law that took effect in July 2000, Kentucky prisons began billing prisoners up to $50 a day for room and board. Other states are expected to follow.

Combine long mandatory sentences for minor drug offences, a strong racial bias, prisons run by corporations for profit, the sale of convict labour to corporations at sweatshop rates, and a charge for prison room and board and you have a modern system of bonded labour, a social condition otherwise known as slavery."

2nd Renaissance -37...

The crimes people are being sent to prison for are often minor. The three strikes rule is exacerbating the problem and filling the jails with factory fodder for global corporations to employ for a few cents an hour. The following excerpt tells the sad tale of one woman who was sentenced to do time in Chowchilla and never made it out - back to her family. It is from the web site of the prisons activist group U.N.I.O.N.

2nd Renaissance -38...

* "Women prisoners were recently slapped in the face. The court appointed assessor in the _ _ _ suit (a class action suit filed by _ _ _ and other women prisoners at Chowchilla against medical malpractice and lack of treatment) is prepared to announce that the DOC has complied with the court's order to provide adequate medical care. This is in a prison where the head doctor told Ted Koppel on Nightline that the reason for unneeded pelvic exams instead of other medical treatment was that women are sexually-deprived and like them ! "

2nd Renaissance -39...

The going down of the old Level 3 Civilization should not be regretted. It has been an age of hypocrisy, inequality, and double standards within the rule of law and its associated justice and corrections systems. If you consider this statement to be incorrect examine the following contrasts between the justice that murderesses like Karla Faye Tucker and Jean Lee received and the treatment accorded to victorious, and powerful, war criminals. There just isn't any balance whatsoever. There is one justice for the ruling elites and another for women like Karla Faye Tucker and Jean Lee.

2nd Renaissance -36...

In a recent case in Sydney, Australia, a judge sentenced a woman, who had killed her 10-year-old autistic son, to a 5 year good behaviour bond. The judge said, as he delivered the non-custodial sentence, that he considered that "This offender has suffered enough .... All the evidence leads to the inevitable conclusion that this offender will punish herself significantly for the rest of her life [for] taking the life of her beloved son." The woman was reported to have told a psychiatrist that:

Given the importance that prisons and punishment have in maintaining control of increasingly restless populations, the task of achieving the release of the people in the jails and the closure of those institutions, seems daunting. But it is so vital to the 2nd Renaissance that we must find ways to do it.


Despite Drop in Crime, an Increase in Inmates
US: The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday.

Child Offenders on Death Row
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon address the constitutionality of the death penalty for 17-year-old offenders based on scientific research that shows the human brain, particularly for males, continues to evolve in adolescence, reaching biological maturity at 21 or 22. The last regions to develop govern the mental ability to control impulses, planning, consideration of consequences, abstract reasoning and most probably moral judgement.

Race-Based Prison Policy Is Under Justices' Scrutiny
US: WASHINGTON, A California prison policy of temporarily segregating all new and newly transferred inmates by race came under attack at the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a case that pits the justices' tradition of deferring to prison administrators against their dislike of government policies that classify people by race.

A Death in the Box
By the time Jessica Lee Roger was discovered on the floor of her prison cell on Aug. 17, 2002, it was too late. In the 24 minutes since guards had last checked her, she had tied a bed sheet around her neck and, after many attempts over three years in prison, finally strangled herself.

How Denying the Vote to Ex-Offenders Undermines Democracy
For starters, hundreds of thousands of people who are still eligible to vote will not do so this year because they will be locked up in local jails, awaiting processing or trials for minor offenses.

DNA Evidence of Bipartisanship
Last week the U.S. Congress passed the Justice for All Act, which includes provisions of the Innocence Protection Act. As of this posting, the legislation has not yet been signed by President Bush. Attached is an analysis of the legislation prepared by the Justice Project.

Restorative Justice and the Law
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."-- Marilyn vos Savant.

The Long Trail to Apology
Native America: All manner of unusual things can happen in Washington in an election year, but few seem so refreshing as a proposed official apology from the federal government to American Indians - the first ever - for the "violence, maltreatment and neglect" inflicted upon the tribes for centuries.

Restorative Justice Practices
Restorative Justice Practices of Native American, First Nation and Other Indigenous People of North America. This is part one in a series of articles about restorative justice practices of Native American, First Nation and other indigenous people of North America. The series is not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather a broad thematic overview. A related eForum article, "The Wet'suwet'en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program: Restorative Practices in British Columbia, Canada," can be read at:


Where the Norm is Not the Norm: HARM-U
In the absence of public policy, this paper is an attempt to shine a light through the rhetoric and test for coherency in the policy and function of NSW’s only supermax prison, the High Risk Management Unit. Its present use will be compared with the ‘vision’ flogged by the Premier and the Department of Corrective Services (the Department) at its inception in 2001.

Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

That the forms of restorative justice and mentoring that are so successful in reducing social unrest be adopted immediately, running parallel to imprisonment until the public feels safe without prisons.

Government justice not personal justice
Mr Brett Collins of Justice Action said, "Victims should be looked after properly by implementing restorative justice measures and victims should be compensated for their pain and suffering. " However prisoners are entitled to serve their sentences in peace and privacy as well."

Sentencing: Violent crime and practical outcomes
In addition introducing restorative justice programs giving the offender a chance to interact with the offended person if they wish and visa-versa. People are not "dogmatic" therefore should be given a second chance opposed to Life means Life!

Sentencing reform
Beyond Bars is making a submission (with a focus on alternatives to custody) to the sentencing council. "We should consider the alternatives which take into account victims' interests and involvement. Restorative justice. Also mentoring as a positive form of social support, coupled up to restorative justice (as the punishment) to satisfy those who demand it."

Australian prisons are fast becoming the new asylums of the third millennium. The prison industry is booming, while Australia spends far less on mental health services than similar countries.

Community Challenges in Justice
Professor of criminology at Victoria University, Philip Stenning, recently visited the Napier Public Library to view the Robson Collection, which is a special collection on criminal, restorative and social justice based on the philosophy of "developing communities not prisons".

New Zealand

More jails will create more crime says expert
NZ: Once a world leader in restorative justice, New Zealand is regressing by locking more people up for longer, visiting expert Sir Charles Pollard says.

United Kingdom

UK solitary confinement
UK: Segregation units are prisons within prisons - the places where the most unchecked brutality is meted out to prisoners. In recent years conditions in high security segregation units have deteriorated, and the use of long-term segregation as a control mechanism has increased.

Offenders to be fed vitamins to improve behaviour
UK: offenders are to be given vitamin supplements in an unusual attempt to reduce anti-social behaviour which will test the effect of diet on the brain. The move is controversial, with many in the prison service sceptical that healthy food could make much difference to abused prisoners.

Mentally ill face 'Asbo' measures
UK: People with mental health problems living in the community could be banned from leaving their homes under proposals to reform mental health law, a legal expert has warned.

Inquiry must root out prison racists
UK: It is difficult to imagine a more brutal murder than that of Zahid Mubarek. The 19-year-old was clubbed to death by his cellmate at Feltham Young Offender Institution in the early hours of 21 March 2000. He was due to be released just a few hours later.

Prison suicides soar as jails hire 'babysitters'
UK: Prison officers are being taken off suicide watch and replaced by unqualified 'babysitters' because the system is overwhelmed by an epidemic of self-harm.

Plan to sell off juvenile jails as job lot
UK: The government is to put out to tender all its dedicated juvenile jails that hold children under 18 in a departure in Whitehall's privatisation programme.

Failure to sack 'racist' prison staff condemned
UK: Two prison officers suspended for racism are still on full pay three years after a stash of Nazi memorabilia, neo-fascist literature and Ku Klux Klan-inspired 'nigger-hunting licences' was found in a police raid on their home.

Report slams 'unjust' jailing of women on remand
UK: Six out of 10 women sent to jail while they await trial are acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence, a report published today reveals. Introducing the report, Lady Kennedy QC calls for a complete review of the use of remand and bail for women saying it is "inhumane and unjust".

Concern as UK prison suicides hit record level
UK: More prisoners took their own lives in English jails in August than in any other month since records began, prison reformers said today.

End of years of despair as Holloway closes its doors
But now Holloway prison in north London - where Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, was hanged in 1955 - has been earmarked for closure, along with several other women's prisons, which have been hit by a spate of suicides.

How detox and self-help brought suicide jail back from the brink
UK: Six suicides in 12 months made Styal jail notorious and the Prisons Ombudsman criticised the prison and its staff for serious failures. But things are changing.

Belmarsh detainees consider suicide, says freed man
UK: The first of the Muslim detainees released from Belmarsh high security prison after being held on suspicion of terrorism has told the Guardian his fellow prisoners are suffering such severe mental problems that they constantly consider suicide.

Suicides and unrest have soared, admits Home Office
UK:The already overcrowded prison population is set to go on rising and will top 80,000 within the next three years, a senior Home Office civil servant warned yesterday.