Prison Reformer Larry Meachum Dies at 79

Meachum oversaw prison systems in Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Connecticut and directed federal corrections programs in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs in the 1990s. He won a Supreme Court case on prisoners’ rights.

Larry Meachum, a prison reformer who as a habitual runaway as a youth might well have wound up in jails instead of running them, died last month in Florida, the New York Times reports. He was 79. Meachum oversaw the prison systems in Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Connecticut and directed federal corrections programs in the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs in the 1990s. At the time, the criminal justice system was struggling to cope with record crime rates, mandatory sentences and so-called broken windows neighborhood policing, all of which led to a rising number of arrests and mass incarceration.

While he was later criticized for coddling inmates, Meachum started one of the first prison boot camps — a version of shock therapy that he later disavowed — and his name was on a prisoners’ rights lawsuit, Meachum v. Fano, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The court ruled 6-3 in 1976 that Meachum had not violated an inmate’s right to due process when, as a Massachusetts warden, he transferred the man to a more inhospitable prison without a hearing. During his career, he worked to improve drug treatment and other medical services for inmates, curb gang violence, reduce recidivism by offering education and occupational training, provide facilities for recreation to reduce idle time, and start supervised release programs. Mike Lawlor, Connecticut under secretary for criminal justice policy and planning, described Meachum as a man who surrounded himself with “people who understood the concept of redemption and who appreciated the basic humanity of prisoners.” At DOJ, Meachum developed and oversaw drug abuse testing and treatment and post-prison programs for inmates. He retired in 2003.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trapped: How Fee-Based GPS Monitoring Puts a ‘Price Tag on Freedom’

William Edwards, released from jail with a GPS tracking device that he has to pay for, is one of thousands of poor defendants left at the mercy of an ‘E-carceration” system increasingly run by for-profit services, writes an attorney who is leading a class action lawsuit combating the practice.

William Edwards was giving a lift to a friend in Oakland, Ca., in November 2016 when he was stopped by police. After searching his car without a warrant, the officers found drugs in the friend’s bag.

Edwards was arrested, charged with possession for sale of drugs, and held on a bond he could not afford, although he didn’t know anything about the drugs. A cancer survivor, he requires daily treatment that he could not get in jail. Eventually, his health deteriorated to the point that the court agreed to release him if he wore a GPS tracking device.

He was remanded to the custody of Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA), an Oakland-based for-profit company with a privatized supervision contract with Alameda County.

Once assigned to LCA, Edwards found himself in a financial trap.

LCA charged him $25.50 per day for the GPS tracking “services.” It demanded $532.50 just to enroll in the program and pay for the first two weeks. With an income barely over the poverty line for the Bay Area, Williams couldn’t afford to pay the fee. Although California law provides that people on monitors cannot be charged more than they can pay, LCA threatened to return him to jail if he did not pay their exorbitant fees.

This month, Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that fights to end the criminalization of poverty (I am Executive Director), filed a federal class action lawsuit against LCA, alleging that its business model amounts to racketeering based on testimony that LCA threatens to jail people if they do not pay LCA’s fees.

While GPS tracking — sometimes called “e-carceration” — is controversial, its problems are multiplied when the process is privatized instead of being run as part of a county’s public supervision agencies. Thousands of California residents have borne the brunt of LCA’s business model that generates profits by demanding $25.50 per day from individuals ordered to wear GPS tracking devices.

In July 2013, authorities in Alameda County, which includes the city of Oakland, contracted with LCA to take charge of the county’s electronic monitoring system for individuals released from custody and awaiting trial. LCA, a subsidiary of SuperCom, made Alameda an offer it couldn’t refuse: It would run the entire system of GPS tracking of individuals, and it wouldn’t charge the county a dime.

Instead, LCA would earn revenue by charging individuals a daily fee for wearing the electronic bracelets.

Not only did Alameda County put a price tag on freedom, but it also turned a blind eye when LCA set that amount at an unaffordable number. In doing so, it violated California law, constitutional principles, and common sense.

In a case from 1983 called Bearden v. Georgia, the Supreme Court proclaimed that a defendant could not be jailed for failing to pay restitution if he didn’t have the money. In other words, no one can be punished simply for being poor. That is why California law requires that people on ankle monitors only be charged what they can afford.

But LCA puts no meaningful effort into assessing whether its “clients” can afford hundreds of dollars per month. The majority cannot afford the onerous fees LCA requires. And many of those individuals have not been convicted of any crime at all: they are pending trial while ordered to endure to 24-hour per day surveillance by LCA.

According to many subjected to LCA’s practices, the company threatens jail for those who cannot pay.

If someone threatened to lock you up if you didn’t pay them $25 every day, you’d call that extortion, and you’d probably call the police. Many who have been subjected to LCA’s practices complain that LCA is committing exactly this kind of extortion: demanding payment on threat of jail. It will be up to a jury to decide if LCA should be liable for racketeering and whether Alameda County should be liable for not protecting basic constitutional rights.

Edwards is a client of Equal Justice Under Law. But he’s not alone. Stories like his abound across the country.

According to a Pew study, the number of active monitoring devices increased 140 percent from 2005 to 2015, largely due to the rapid advancement of GPS technology, an advance that has coincided with the expansion of privatization. LCA is a relatively small player in the electronic monitoring industry.

Well-known names in the prison industrial complex such as Geo Group and Sentinel Offender Services engage in this practice for profit.

We all should ask ourselves whether we want a criminal justice system that allows private companies to profit from people within it — many of whom are indigent and all of whom are already struggling with the consequences of being accused or convicted of a crime.

Alameda County’s adoption of a “user-funded model” allows a private company to enrich its shareholders by placing a coercive burden upon indigent individuals. Privatization of our criminal justice system benefits no one except the companies exploiting people for profit.

We deserve a justice system that puts justice before profits, and too many counties like Alameda are privatizing justice at the expense of all of us.

Phil Telfeyan

Phil Telfeyan. Photo by Simon Edelman, Syncro Studios.

Editor’s Note: For another perspective on this topic, see Lawsuit Confronts Extortion of Prisoners by Electronic Monitoring Firm.

Phil Telfeyan is an attorney and the Executive Director of Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit civil rights organization leading the litigation in Edwards v. LCA, a class action lawsuit pending in federal court. William Edwards is one of Equal Justice Under Law’s clients and the lead plaintiff in the case against LCA. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest?

Background Pew offers data (below) showing a decrease in returns to prison. It uses US Department of Justice research. While we have no reason to dispute the findings, the question is why? Are fewer returns (revocations) to prison in our best interest? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning […]

The post Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest? appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

Background Pew offers data (below) showing a decrease in returns to prison. It uses US Department of Justice research. While we have no reason to dispute the findings, the question is why? Are fewer returns (revocations) to prison in our best interest? Author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning […]

The post Are Fewer Returns to Prison in Society’s Best Interest? appeared first on Crime in America.Net.

from https://www.crimeinamerica.net

A Solitary Prisoner’s Nightmare

Life in prison is a little easier when you can find a good book to absorb your waking hours. But when you’re in solitary, reading can become an unsettling experience, writes a Washington State inmate.

Last year, I underwent a private forensic psychological evaluation in preparation for a parole hearing that could have set me free. Having served 25 years in confinement at that time of the evaluation, the results did not surprise me.

According to the psychologist:

Results indicate that the respondent does not currently appear to satisfy DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for PTSD [Posttraumatic Stress Disorder] or ASD [Acute Stress Disorder], despite reporting a significant trauma history. Nonetheless, he does report significant levels of posttraumatic re-experiencing and avoidance, which is suggestive of posttraumatic stress that falls short of a diagnosable disorder. Individuals with such clinical presentations, although not meeting the full criteria for PTSD/ASD, may suffer considerable distress and often benefit from psychological treatment and/or pharmacotherapy.

Indeed, I often do experience “considerable distress” as recognized by the psychologist. The most recent incident during which I had to suffer through “post-traumatic re-experiencing” occurred while I was reading the prologue to Zek: An American Prison Story.

The author, Arthur Longworth—who has spent the last 34 years confined in the State of Washington for a murder that he committed at the age of 18—managed to make me nauseous with a four-page scene that most people would not have found to be anxiety-inducing.

Here is how the scene unfolds.

A prisoner is in long-term solitary confinement. For six months, he has been on isolation status, and has been allowed nothing other than some hygiene products and clothing. Down the cellblock, another prisoner has just been forcibly removed from his cell after being sprayed with mace, tazed and wrestled down into submission, trussed up with his ankles and wrists cuffed together, then carried off to another cell where he will remain naked for an indeterminate period.

Cell extraction complete, the prisoner notices a book amidst the other prisoner’s blood and pepper spray-smeared bedding, which was thrown out on the tier when guards removed the former occupant’s belongings.

The prisoner finds the sight uplifting, for he has not been allowed any books during the six months that he has been on isolation status.

So, he makes an improvised grappling device with thread from his underwear, a plastic comb, and several staples that he had secreted in a crack between the floor and wall; and, after numerous attempts at snagging the book as if he is fly fishing, he manages to reel in his catch and happily begins to read.

This is when my stomach got queasy, as the narrative continued with the following:

Several hours later, he let the book’s cover close but continued to stare at it for some time. Any other book he would have rationed—reading a page or two at a time, holding himself to only enough per day to keep his mind from eroding, yet still have more to read for the next day—that was the way he had learned to do it in that place. He had found that it wasn’t possible with this book, though. (Longworth:11).

Reading this really disturbed me.

It had been a long time since I had been in long-term solitary confinement. Given this reprieve, I had apparently suppressed these seemingly mundane experiences from my mind—and the memories came flooding back to me when reading this all-too-real work of fiction.

To find a book that is so good that you cannot resist the temptation to continue reading it—as if you are in the free world or the general prison population, and rationing your reading material is unnecessary to protect your sanity—is an absolute disaster when locked away in long-term solitary confinement.

Long ago, I too learned the necessity of book rationing.

From the age of 15 to 24, I spent a total of six years in isolation, confined 23 hours each day in my cell, and was only provided with two books every week.

Every time that I submitted my books to be exchanged I spent the interim worrying that I would receive books in return that I had already read, given that there were no more than 500 books available and approximately 75 prisoners clamoring to get their hands on them.

With so few books, the longer a prisoner stayed in segregation the higher the probability that he was going to be disappointed when those books slid under the door.

Yet even when I received books that I still had not read, my feelings would soon cycle between irritation and fury because of the surprises that awaited me. Without fail, there would be random messages scrawled on the pages declaring, for instance:

Mo Money, Moe Bitches.

 White Power.

 Fuck the Police.

A page (or all of them) might also have every instance of the letter “b” or “c” crossed out by a gang member who decided that the inside of a book was an appropriate place to start pseudo set tripping.

Any page might also harbor dried, bloody mucus smeared from one end to the other or a collection of crusty buggers reminiscent of a popcorn ceiling. This biohazard, I can only assume, comes courtesy of one of the countless mentally ill prisoners stuck in segregation for being a threat to themselves or others or to the orderly operation of the facility.

However, there are worse things than having to see ignorant declarations written throughout a book by imprisoned scribes and having to avoid contamination while reading.

When one finds several pages missing from a book it is truly infuriating. Usually, I would come across a gap in the story when two characters were embraced, kissing and undressing, then…I realize some freak has ripped out the sexual encounter that I was expecting.

I used to wish all kinds of calamities would befall prisoners whose prurient interests drove them to butcher the books to obtain material for fantasizing. Yet a missing erotic scene is nothing compared to a missing ending.

Imagine reading several hundred pages of a story, engrossed in the plot, only to find that the last chapter of the book is nowhere to be seen.

This happened to me time and again.

Once, a malicious malcontent (who was probably the culprit) got a kick out of writing a message where the last chapter should have been that said, “Bet you want to know the ending. Ha Ha! Eat a dick.”

There was nothing that I could do. I just put the book down, closed my eyes, laid back on the thin mattress, and had to endure the sounds of someone raging at the officers every hour that they passed by his cell.

With nothing to read, I would pace the floor hearing guys converse through the interconnected vents about their past exploits and future misdeeds.

With no book to occupy my mind, I would try to meditate as guys yelled back and forth arguing about something meaningless and threatening one another with violence if ever they got the opportunity for vengeance.

The constant yelling.

The rhythmic beating on a desk as someone raps to a made-up beat. Trying to sleep as someone kicks their door all night and into the morning.

It is a cacophony of madness and misery.

Then there is the fear that used to haunt me.

The fear that I would sleep too heavily and not make it to the yellow line at the front of the cell where I had to be standing to receive a meal to eat; and, consequently, I often awoke in a panic when I heard sounds that were similar to the food cart passing by, because I thought I had missed my meal and would have to go hungry.

The fear that made me refuse to go to recreation or shower sometimes because I had hidden some of my food in order to have something to eat during the 14 hours from dinner to breakfast—food that would be thrown away by officers as contraband if they conducted a cell search when I was getting fresh air or bathing.

There is no doubt that years of experiencing such things—on a daily basis—had a profound effect on my psyche, and exacerbated the damage being done from being imprisoned in my teens.

It is manifest when I live in my head for hours on end, find entertainment in my imaginings, and even laugh out loud at something that amuses me.

It is illustrated when prisoners and staff members come to see that I do not need the company of others to feel complete: I can be quiet, solitary, and not bothered in the least.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

It is evidenced in that I could not continue reading Zek after the scene that troubled me, which is testament to the fact that I have been scarred by “long-term solitary confinement, a practice that most liberal democracies and human rights organizations identify as torture.”

Unfortunately, given the nature of imprisonment and my history, I have no doubt that if I remain confined there will eventually come a time when I am once again in solitary confinement. Rest assured, if that day arrives there is one thing that I will pray for.

A good book.

A book that I have not read before.

A book that is mucus and bugger free, and that is complete from the beginning to the ending.

Amen.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: Republicans in the Senate (Corrected)

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: Republicans in the Senate (Corrected)After Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court in January 2017, attention turned to whether Senate Democrats would use the filibuster, a maneuver to block final action on an issue until a 60-vote majority can force a vote. If they did, would Republicans enact the “nuclear option,” a rule change to eliminate the filibuster […]

The post Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: Republicans in the Senate (Corrected) appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: Republicans in the Senate (Corrected)

After Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court in January 2017, attention turned to whether Senate Democrats would use the filibuster, a maneuver to block final action on an issue until a 60-vote majority can force a vote. If they did, would Republicans enact the “nuclear option,” a rule change to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations?

“Please, don’t do it this time,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, speaking last year about the filibuster, beseeched Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, as Carl Hulse reported in the New York Times.

Last year Collins and Bennet, among other senators from each party, hoped to reach a deal to prevent a filibuster and avoid the nuclear option. They were unsuccessful – Democrats filibustered, Republicans changed existing Senate rules, and Gorsuch was confirmed on April 7, 2017.

Consistent with last year’s rule change, Republicans need 50 votes to confirm current nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over Roy Moore in the Alabama special election last fall brought the Republican majority from 52 to 51. In addition, Republican Sen. John McCain remains home in Arizona while undergoing treatment for brain cancer, with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer dismissing the notion that McCain might resign so current Gov. Doug Ducey can appoint a replacement. With only 50 voting senators, Republicans may not be able to afford a single “no” vote, and the recent failed nomination of Ryan Bounds to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit gives some on the left hope that confirmation is not inevitable. (In another post, Jon Levitan will address the possibility that one or more Democrats may choose to vote “yes” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which would give Republicans some leeway.)

According to SCOTUS Watch, which “tracks the public statements made by United States senators about how they plan to vote,” 31 Republicans are “likely yes” and 16 (including McCain) are “definitely yes” on the confirmation. This leaves four “unknown” – Collins, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas. All four of these senators voted to confirm Gorsuch. Collins, Murkowski and Roberts also voted in 2006 to confirm Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; Paul was not in the Senate at that time.

As Li Zhou wrote for Vox the night of Kavanaugh’s nomination, “all eyes are on” Collins and Murkowski. This week Zhou reported that the two women are “taking their time evaluating the nominee,” with whom neither has yet scheduled an appointment.

On Tuesday, Collins told reporters that she would schedule a meeting with Kavanaugh after further reviewing his record, saying that “it’s not going to be any time immediately because I still have a ton of work to do on his decisions, his law review articles, a lot of others.”

As Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported in the New York Times before Kavanaugh’s nomination, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was “concerned about the volume of documents that Judge Kavanaugh has created” in his career, which, Haberman and Martin wrote, “McConnell fears could hand Senate Democrats an opportunity to delay the confirmation vote.” And although at least two Democratic senators – Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana – have scheduled meetings with Kavanaugh, other Democrats have refused to provide him customary “courtesy visits” in a dispute over the release of documents. Some Democrats are pushing for access to all communications from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House, but Collins on Tuesday said only, “I want to see documents that he himself wrote. … It does not make sense to ask for those documents just because he touched them, initialed them,” as Jordain Carney reported for The Hill.

In a CNN interview after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, Collins told Jake Tapper that she “would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade.”

Asked by Tapper about President Donald Trump’s campaign promise that opposition to abortion would be a “litmus test” for his selection of Supreme Court justices, Collins said that “the president told me in our meeting that he would not ask that question, and that’s what he has most recently said on the advice of his attorney. So, I think what he said as a candidate may not have been informed by the legal advice that he now has that it would be inappropriate for him to ask a nominee how he or she would rule on a specific issue.”

Collins emphasized for Tapper the importance she places on a nominee’s respect for precedent, which she called a “fundamental tenet of our judicial system.” She said she did not think that Gorsuch would overturn Roe, saying “someone who devotes that much time to writing a book on precedent [“The Law of Judicial Precedent”], I think, understands how important a principle that is in our judicial system.”

A co-author of the same book on precedent: Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Collins has said that she would not ask Kavanaugh about his “personal views” on Roe, but called “very interesting” a speech he gave last year about the work of former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who dissented in Roe. In her analysis for this blog of this speech and a past opinion in an abortion case for the D.C. Circuit, Amy Howe suggested that even if Kavanaugh is not a fifth vote to overturn Roe, he could become the fifth sitting justice “to believe that various restrictions on abortion do not rise to the level of an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.”

“You’re going to get a lot of pressure from groups and individuals who support abortion rights,” Tapper predicted in his interview with Collins. Indeed, commentary to this effect has come from Richard Chen in the Portland Press Herald and Brianne Gorod in the Bangor Daily News, among others.

According to Zhou, Murkowski “has held her cards a bit closer to the chest,” although her initial press release, like Collins’, “didn’t seem to suggest an inclination toward blocking him,” Zhou concludes. In an interview with C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this week, Murkowski said that “trying to identify or distill out that there is one issue that for me will guide my determination on this nomination … that’s not how I operate. I have been looking at Judge Kavanaugh and his record holistically.”

Laura Bassett for the Huffington Post reports that a survey by a Democratic polling firm indicates that 68 percent of Maine voters and 63 percent of Alaska voters do not want Roe overturned.

However, Collins, who is up for re-election in 2020, faces a closed primary, which means that only registered Republicans are able to vote. The reported polling indicates that just 46 percent of Maine Republicans want Roe upheld.

Murkowski is not up for re-election until 2022. In Alaska, the parties set the rules for whether the primaries are open or closed. As of August 2017, the Republican primary in Alaska is limited to registered members. And the reported polling indicates that just 32 percent of Alaska Republicans want Roe upheld.

What these polling results reveal for how Collins and Murkowski may assess the political implications of their votes on Kavanaugh is unclear. But one factor for them may be the need to survive closed primaries in states where only a minority of Republican voters do not want to see Roe overturned.

In more recent days, Paul, the third “unknown” Republican vote according to SCOTUS Watch, has attracted attention. As Burgess Everett reported for Politico, Paul in an interview called himself “honestly undecided” on Kavanaugh’s nomination because Kavanaugh has “very strongly and explicitly” expressed the position that “national security trumps privacy.”

Yet in this same piece, Everett quoted Paul as asking, rhetorically, “Wouldn’t you rather have Kavanaugh than Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” Everett writes that “Republican leaders are laying off Paul for the most part, figuring a heavy hand won’t work,” with some confident that Paul “ultimately will fall in line, since opposing Kavanaugh could wreck the senator’s relationship with the president.” Kavanaugh and Paul met on Tuesday, but what they discussed and whether it moved Paul remain unclear.

It does not appear that Roberts, SCOTUS Watch’s fourth “unknown” Republican, has commented on the pending nomination except for a press release congratulating Kavanaugh and saying that he looks forward to meeting him.

An earlier version of this post identified Brewer as the current governor of Arizona.

The post Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: Republicans in the Senate (Corrected) appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

from http://www.scotusblog.com

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inside Prison, Racial Pride Often Looks Like Hypocrisy

Many incarcerated individuals develop a cultural or racial consciousness they ignored when they were free—and prison authorities encourage it as a healthy way to build character. But there’s a dark underside, says a Washington State inmate.

Prior to being confined, I had never heard of Kwanzaa.

I knew nothing about Juneteenth.

During my short time in the free world, I met nobody who celebrated such things.

Then, following my arrival at Washington State Penitentiary, a prisoner that I lived on the cellblock with offered me a “Happy Kwanzaa” card during the holiday season. I looked it over and could not hide my bemusement, and I said to him “Why the f—k would I send this to my family? We never celebrated no shit like this.”

He looked at me with scorn and faux sadness, and, after letting a few seconds elapse to add emphasis to his words, replied to me by saying, “It’s so pitiful that so many brothas don’t know about their own heritage.”

This was my first up-close encounter with someone suffering from a malady that I have since labeled “contradictory racial consciousness.”

It is a mental illness that hopefully will be included in a future edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Its symptoms include the constant display of affinity for one’s culture once deprived of one’s liberty.

It is prevalent amongst men who spent their time in society killing, robbing and selling drugs in their communities; then, upon being confined, begin to spend their time trumpeting the culture of the peoples they exploited while free.

Having lived benighted lives and accomplished nothing worthwhile through individual means, they seem to gain self-esteem by reimagining themselves as a faithful member of a culture that is worth celebrating.

It readily takes hold of the minds of prisoners who subconsciously need to feel vainglorious by proxy.

African-American prisoners are not unique when it comes to this contradictory racial consciousness. Remaking oneself as a culture warrior is a popular pastime among those with different races and ethnicities; and, here too, there is a bit of irony.

For instance, Native Americans come to prison and grow out their hair, burn sage and don medicine bags, and take up beadingwhile on the streets, many were members of the Bloods and Crips or, alternatively, practiced ways no different than The White Man.

Mexican Americans start to espouse Brown Pride, read books on Cesar Chavez, and study the Chicano Movement; all the while engaging in gang warfare throughout the prison system with those who share their culture and resemble them—so much for La Raza.

Not to be left out, White prisoners will become experts on European history to add grist to their ethnocentric concepts, seemingly oblivious that their swastika tattoos would be utterly repulsive to their European kinsman.

There are exceptions. However, these are representative examples of many prisoners that I have seen embark on cultural quests during my 26 years of confinement. Strange as all of this seems, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) allows prisoners such as these to hold annual events aimed at fostering cultural awareness.

Several times a year, prisoners can go to the visiting room and eat ethnic dishes with their family and friends, and watch their imprisoned brethren perform tribal dances.

I am quite serious. Allow me to regale you with a tale of one such event.

 A Requiem for Kunta Kinte

Years ago, as sort of an anthropological study, I attended the annual Juneteenth celebration at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. The food was delicious; but frankly, the entertainment made me nauseous.

There was spoken-word poetry about how we need to cherish our sistas; never mind the fact that most of the brothas in attendance were in relationships with white women.

There were rappers whose lyrics on any other day of the year promoted getting money, buying kilos of cocaine, and exploiting women; but for this special occasion, they heaped praise on Malcom X, Marcus Garvey and Angela Davis.

The grand finale was the worst of it: I had to bear witness to a dozen gang members in Afrocentric garb (from where it came is a mystery) dancing to West African drumming from a sound system. These men had been allowed by some administrator to study dancers from Senegal on DVD, and they decided to mimic them as if they had arrived at Stafford Creek live and direct from the Motherland.

It was the damndest thing I had seen in a very long time.

Of course, there were prison staff watching the performance, and I studied their faces, wondering what was going through the minds of those who were crypto racists. I doubt the fake African dancers would have found it very funny.

As for the honorees in attendance, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. These African- American women, who were respected community activists, were enthralled as they watched these men gyrate and prance to the music.

“Look at our handsome brothas,” I could hear them thinking. I could not stop sneaking glances at them as I steadily ate pieces of chicken.

Finally, the show ended: The Africans morphed back into convicts; and, when all the prisoners returned to their units, many of the brothas who had been extolled to cherish sistas got into the phone line to call up the white women they were in a relationship with (myself included).

Behind the Billing of Cultural Diversity

Were you to ask a senior WDOC administrator about the purpose behind allowing such events, the answer would likely be that they further prisoners’ understanding and appreciation for different cultures, and thereby reduce racial tension and conflict within WDOC facilities.

But this is fantasy, not reality.

In truth, the events testify to the fact that correctional systems across the nation operate in a state of de facto segregation, and prisoners remain the force behind maintaining this separate and equal stasis.

Consequently, you will not see Latinos eating gumbo with the brothas celebrating Juneteenth; whites will not be attending Hispanic cultural events listening to Mariachi; and blacks will not be going to any pow wows to share fry bread with Native Americans.

As for the European Day event that occurred at Stafford Creek, there might as well have been a Whites Only sign hanging above the visiting room entrance.

Quite simply, segregated activities are exactly how most prisoners want them to be.

When viewed through the lens of social psychology, such prejudice does however make sense.

The U.S. Supreme Court notes that prisons are filled with countless men “who have repeatedly employed illegal and often violent means to attain their ends. They may have little regard for the safety of others or their property or for the rules designed to provide an orderly and reasonably safe prison life.

In light of the dangerous company in a prison setting, prejudice seems inevitable. As psychologist Michael Lovaglia observes, “We are prejudiced to the extent we feel threatened or fearful.”

The Final Act

In the end, cultural celebrations in WDOC are a win-win situation for all parties. Prisoners extract events that they can participate in with their families and friends outside the presence of the others.

As for WDOC, it can bill itself as an agency that is open and accepting of the cultures of those whom society has rejected.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, and contradictory racial consciousness aside, there is one thing that I can guarantee.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Jeremiah Bourgeois

No matter if these events were multicultural and the skin tones of those in attendance encompassed the color spectrum, and all the prisoners were sincere in their quests to gain cultural enlightenment, it would be a cold day in hell when you would ever see me dancing like a Zulu in the midst of this misery or applauding a spectacle endorsed by those who imprison me.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate in Washington State, where he has been serving a life sentence since the age of 14. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Allegations of Sex Abuse Behind Bars Have Tripled: Report

Correctional administrators reported 24,661 allegations of sexual victimization in 2015, nearly triple the number recorded in 2011, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Allegations of sexual abuse behind bars nearly tripled between 2011 and 2015, according to a study released Wednesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Correctional administrators recorded 24,661 allegations in 2015 compared to 8,768 allegations four years prior.

The increase coincided with the implementation of the National Standards to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Prison Rape in 2012. The standards, instituted by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, require BJS to collect data and report on the incidence and effects of sexual victimization in correctional facilities.

“We consider these findings a clear sign that prisoners are starting to trust the system [and report abuse], rather than an indication that sexual abuse in detention is skyrocketing. That’s a good thing,” Lovisa Stannow, the Executive Director of Just Detention International (JDI), an organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in detention settings, said in a press release yesterday.

“At the same time, today’s report exposes an appalling failure of corrections investigators to protect survivors and hold perpetrators of prisoner rape accountable.”

Of the nearly 25,000 total allegations, 41.8 percent were unsubstantiated, meaning that investigations to determine whether or not abuse occurred were inconclusive. Only about 6 percent of all reports were substantiated – 1,473 in total – though this still marks a 63 percent since 2011.

The rest of the allegations were unfounded, meaning an investigation concluded that no abuse occurred, or still under investigation.

JDI claims that the high number of unsubstantiated or unfounded reports is due in large part to investigative failures on the part of corrections staff, such as handling reports themselves rather than bringing in trained sexual abuse investigators and interviewing those alleging abuse with other prison staff in the room. These practices, JDI says, prevent people from speaking openly about their accusations.

“Corrections officials must uphold their responsibility to keep the people in their custody safe, and they must be diligent in investigating all sexual abuse allegations,” said Stannow. “Today’s report shows clearly that we have a long way to go before such reports are taken seriously.”

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Elena Schwartz. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Parent in Prison Affects Children’s Health for Life: Study

A study published in Pediatrics found that young adults who had a parent incarcerated during their childhood are more likely to skip needed healthcare, smoke cigarettes, engage in risky sexual behaviors, and abuse alcohol and prescription and illicit drugs.

A parent’s incarceration has long-lasting effects on children’s health, according to researchers from Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

A  study published in Pediatrics this month demonstrates that young adults who had a parent incarcerated during their childhood are more likely to skip needed healthcare, smoke cigarettes, engage in risky sexual behaviors, and abuse alcohol and prescription and illicit drugs.

Researchers observed different effects depending on the sex of the incarcerated parent. Children whose mothers were incarcerated were twice as likely to receive medical care from the emergency department rather than a primary care setting. A mother’s incarceration also doubled the likelihood that young adults would engage in prostitution.

Children whose fathers were incarcerated, meanwhile, were 2.5 times more likely to use intravenous drugs.

The Lurie Children’s study builds on previous research showing that individuals with a history of parental incarceration have higher rates of asthma, HIV/AIDS, learning delays, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s possible that because these young adults are more likely to forgo medical care and engage in unhealthy behaviors, they are at higher risk to develop these physical and mental health conditions,” says lead author Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, MSc, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital and Instructor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement announcing the study’s findings.

The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and more than five million children in this country have had a parent in jail or prison. In the study, 10 percent of the 13,000 young adults surveyed had a parent incarcerated during their childhood. Participants were 10 years old, on average, the first time their parent was incarcerated.

The study’s findings have particular implications for black children, who experience parental incarceration at a significantly higher rate than other populations. While less than 15 percent of the young adults surveyed were black, they accounted for roughly 34 percent of those with history of an incarcerated mother, and 23 percent of those with history of an incarcerated father.

“With the climbing number of parents, especially mothers, who are incarcerated, our study calls attention to the invisible victims – their children,” says Dr. Heard-Garris. “We shed light on how much the incarceration of a mother versus father influences the health behaviors of children into adulthood.”

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Elena Schwartz. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

What Alternatives to Incarceration Mean for Moms

It’s not just moms and kids who benefit when mothers involved in the justice system are provided with opportunities to serve their sentences under community supervision.  Public safety does too, according to a researcher at the R Street Institute, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

A little over a week ago, a tweet from Serena Williams about her daughter went viral, gathering over 112,000 likes and over 3,000 comments as parents across the world related to her words: “She took her first steps…I was training and missed it. I cried.”

While the American public heralds Williams as the queen of tennis, her emotional response reminds us of a different truth: When you’re a mom, being there matters regardless of your title.

For mothers such as Lavette Mayes, Williams’ tweet is painfully relatable.

Mayes missed multiple dance recitals and birthdays while incarcerated in a local jail for over a year in Cook County, Il. She shared the pain of her experience with Chicago Tribune reporters: “It was like birthing them again. I had never been away from them for that amount of time.”

Although Mayes has finally been reunited with her two children, routine departures from home still cause her children to become anxious and worry that she might not return. Both she and her children bear the pain of her prior absence.

Her story is not uncommon. The most recent estimates from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that over 147,000 children had a mother incarcerated in a state or federal prison in 2007 – a 231 percent increase from 1991. When you include children with mothers incarcerated in local jails, such as in Mayes’ case, this number increases substantially. The latest counts show that over 99,000 women were incarcerated in local jails at the end of 2015, and almost 80 percent of these women are thought to be mothers.

Alternatives to incarceration ensure that moms don’t miss the monumental or mundane moments that are so important to both mom and child.

Thankfully, Washington state has acknowledged this problem and has made an effort to change these mothers’ situations. In 2010, the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) worked with other state agencies and the state legislature to formulate and pass two Parenting Sentencing Alternatives (PSAs); the Family and Offender Sentencing Alternative (FOSA) and the Community Parenting Alternative (CPA).

Similar in purpose to other programs such as drug or mental health courts, Washington’s PSAs were crafted with the specific needs of justice-involved mothers and fathers in mind—as well as their children.

Washington’s FOSA allows judges to sentence eligible parents to a year of intensive community supervision in place of their sentencing. Meanwhile, the Community Parenting Alternative allows eligible parents currently incarcerated to serve the last 12 months of their sentence at home under electronic monitoring and supervision. Both hold parents accountable for their actions while ensuring that the moments missed between parent and child are minimized.

Program results show that it’s not just moms and kids who benefit when a mom is home to see her baby take his or her first steps. Public safety does, too.

According to a fact sheet shared by Washington Department of Corrections staff, over 540 parents have successfully completed one of these programs, with only five percent of those who completed the FOSA program and 12 percent of those who completed the CPA program having since returned to prison on a new felony charge as of December 2017.

The average “return to prison” rate among those who completed the PSA program is a surprisingly low nine percent. While these statistics are not directly comparable to those regarding the general correctional population due to a different measure and timeline of recidivism, this data suggests extraordinary benefits for public safety.

Washington taxpayers are benefiting too. A year-long community-based alternative costs less than multiple years in a jail or prison. And when parents remain at home with their kids instead of returning to a cell, the savings only increase. Moreover, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that approximately 11 percent of incarcerated mothers have a child in the foster care system.

When mothers remain in the community, their kids do too, saving both taxpayer money and children from the additional collateral consequences of being a child in the foster care system.

These mothers may not be an Olympic medalist who missed a precious moment because of intense training. But these mothers are still missing important memories, and their children need them just as much.

Emily Mooney

Emily Mooney

Our criminal justice system must aim to hold people accountable in the most effective manner possible. This means remembering that many of the individual confined behind bars in our justice system are parents too, and reminding incarcerated mothers and fathers that a life without crime allows them to be around to see those precious first steps.

Emily Mooney (@emilymmooney) is a justice policy associate at R Street Institute. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org