CI: Conservative Criminal Justice Reform, A Look Through the Distorted Fun House Mirror

April 23, 2014 at 6:31 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Conservative Criminal Justice Reform, A Look Through the Distorted Fun House Mirror
by nancy a heitzeg, occasionally aided and abetted by Kay Whitlock

This week was awash in news of “criminal justice reform”. Some of these news items sparked real hope: efforts on the part of NY Governor Cuomo to budget for college classes for inmates, escalated calls for an end to mandatory minimums and solitary confinement, and news that President Obama is planning  to extend pardons to “hundreds, if not thousands” of non-violent offenders before he leaves office.

Occasionally billed as a “bipartisan” issue, the main thrust of most coverage, however, was on “conservative calls for criminal justice reform”. The Conservative Political Action Conference with Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Grover Norquist, highlighted the issue, Chris Christie weighs in, and now even the Koch Brothers get in on the action with a panel billed as  “uniting left and right” and the “GOP’s best hope to reach minority voters”.

funhouseWhat has long been an under-current of right-wing policy advocacy is now emerging as a centerpiece of the upcoming 2014 and 2016 election seasons. The immediate image is of a kinder gentler non-obstructionist GOP who will continue to combat big government, reduce mass incarceration, and save taxpayers even $$$. A “reasonable” approach that capitalizes on a public opinion that increasingly rejects the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent offenders. An approach that presents Red States as the leaders in a reform movement that is “smart on crime”.

Look again.  It is a view from a distorting Fun House Mirror, another carnival sideshow that masks the reality of the “Right on Crime” agenda, which is most simply, more privatization. Privatization ensures that any possibility for public accountability vanishes. Further privatization of criminal justice serves to pave the way for expanded privatization of other public programs such  as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, food and nutrition assistance, and so on. Expect more of this in the upcoming months and years ahead.

Criminal InJustice has been exposing the under-lying agenda of the conservative calls for “reform” for quite some time.  We will continue to do so in more detail. For now, please, if you can, revisit:

We hope you will continue to ask the hard questions with us as calls for conservative criminal justice reform intensify.

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Every Day Is Earth Day

April 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Eco-Justice, Spirituality

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”  ~ Gary Snyder

Revelations: Witness

April 20, 2014 at 9:02 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, Spirituality

stonehengeCrow Keepers of Stonehenge, 2009

from Easter, 1916

William Butler Yeats

“Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.”

stonehenge 2PNGGuardians of the Stone, 2009

CI: What We Are Capable Of

April 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

What We Are Capable Of
by nancy a heitzeg

“…Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of Death—
(Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?) “
~ General William Booth Enters Into Heaven, Vachel Lindsay, 1913

This week, the judeo-christian tradition celebrates a passing over made possible via the slaughter of innocents, and marks the state-sponsored execution of one jesus of nazareth as sacrifice in service of redemption. Thousands of years on,  and we are not saved. It is worth a brief glimpse – just this week, from just one publication – of what we still are capable of…

Torturing Children At School, New York Times

“Federal investigators have opened an inquiry into the tragic case of a high school student in Bastrop County, Tex., who suffered severe brain damage and nearly died last fall after a deputy sheriff shocked him with a Taser, a high voltage electronic weapon.

In North Carolina, civil rights lawyers have filed a complaint with the Justice Department, charging the Wake County school system with violating the constitutional rights of minority children by subjecting them to discriminatory arrest practices and brutality by police officers assigned to schools. In one nightmarish case described in the complaint, a disabled 15-year-old was shocked with a Taser three times during an interrogation at school, resulting in punctured lungs. And in New York, civil rights lawyers have sued the city of Syracuse on behalf of two students. One was shocked three times, not for threatening behavior but for lying on the floor and crying, they say, and another was shocked while trying to break up a fight.

Complaints about dangerous disciplinary practices involving shock weapons are cropping up all over the country. The problem has its roots in the 1990s, when school districts began ceding even routine disciplinary duties to police and security officers, who were utterly unprepared to deal with children. Many districts need to overhaul practices that criminalize far too many young people and that are applied in ways that discriminate against minority children. In the meantime, elected officials need to ban shock weapons in schools…”

Secret Drugs, Agonizing Deaths by Megan McKracken and Jennifer Moreno

“For more than 30 years, every state carrying out executions by lethal injection used the anesthetic thiopental, in combination with other drugs. In 2011, the American pharmaceutical firm Hospira stopped making thiopental. Departments of corrections at first responded by importing it from abroad, but the federal courts ruled that the Food and Drug Administration was prohibited from allowing in the unapproved drugs.

Other states replaced thiopental with pentobarbital, which eventually became the new norm. But Lundbeck, a Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, did not want its name or its product (Nembutal) associated with executions. Changing its distribution system, it made sodium pentobarbital unobtainable for executions….

Even as states adopted riskier and untested drugs, they argued that the identities of the suppliers must remain secret to insulate them from criticism. But that consideration can hardly trump the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishments.

These are not academic concerns. Both compounded pentobarbital and the mixture of midazolam and hydromorphone have resulted in executions that went very wrong.

After receiving an execution dose of pentobarbital, an inmate should quickly lose consciousness and be without awareness until death occurs. But according to The Associated Press, after the drug was administered to Eric Robert in South Dakota in October 2012, he “appeared to be clearing his throat and then began gasping heavily,” and “his eyes remained opened throughout.” His heart beat for 10 minutes after he stopped breathing, suggesting the drug was not fully effective.

When compounded pentobarbital was administered to Michael Lee Wilson on Jan. 9, in Oklahoma, he cried out, “I feel my whole body burning.” Seven days later, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire with midazolam and hydromorphone. A witness reported: “His body strained against the restraints around his body, and he repeatedly gasped for air, making snorting and choking sounds for about 10 minutes. His chest and stomach heaved; his left hand, which he had used minutes earlier to wave goodbye to his family, clenched in a fist.” Mr. McGuire took more than 20 minutes to die…”

Echoes of the Superpredator, New York Times

“In a 2012 case, Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled that juveniles may not receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, because it prevents judges from considering the “hallmark features” of youth — including “immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Recognizing that younger offenders have a greater capacity for change, the court required that judges give them “individualized” sentencing decisions and, except in extremely rare cases, a “meaningful opportunity” for release “based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Some states have taken the court’s rulings, and its reasoning, to heart. Since the ruling in Miller, five states have abolished juvenile life without parole in all cases. In March, West Virginia lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill that provides parole review for any juvenile who serves at least 15 years in adult prisons. Similar legislation is pending in Connecticut and Hawaii.

But other states keep fighting to prevent their juvenile offenders from ever having the chance to see the light of day. Michigan now gives judges the “choice” of imposing a minimum sentence of 25 to 60 years instead of life without parole. Courts in other states have refused to apply the Supreme Court’s ruling retroactively, stranding many of the more than 2,000 inmates who were sentenced before the Miller decision.”

Revelations: The Joy Of Cows

April 13, 2014 at 8:37 am by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Eco-Justice, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

CowsKuhrettung Rhein-Berg

“Ganze Weltalter von Liebe werden notwendig sein,
um den Tieren ihre Dienste und Verdienste an uns zu vergelten.”
~  Christian Morgenstern

The Secret Lives Of Cows: Jumping For Joy

(h/t Domino14)

CI: Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An Angola 3 News interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle

April 09, 2014 at 6:43 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Razor Wire, Prison Cells, and Black Panther Robert H. King’s Life of Resistance –An interview with filmmaker Ron Harpelle
by Angola 3 News

A new 40-minute documentary film by Canadian History Professor Ron Harpelle, entitled Hard Time, focuses on the life of Robert Hillary King, who spent 29 years in continuous solitary confinement until his conviction was overturned and he was released from Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison in 2001.

 Along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, Robert King is one of three Black Panther political prisoners known as the Angola 3. Last October, Herman Wallace died from liver cancer just days after being released from prison. Albert Woodfox remains in solitary confinement to do this day, with the upcoming date of April 17, 2014 marking 42 years since he was first placed there.

Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here

Robert King and Ron Harpelle w/ Kathleen Cleaver at the Montreal Black Film Festival. View more photos here

When Albert Woodfox’s conviction was overturned for a third time in February 2013, his release was halted because the Louisiana Attorney General immediately appealed to the US Fifth Circuit Court, despite an Amnesty International campaign calling on the AG to respect US District Court Judge James Brady’s ruling and not appeal. The Amnesty campaign (take action here) is now calling for Woodfox’s immediate release.

 In March, Amnesty released a new interview with Teenie Rogers, the widow of correctional officer Brent Miller, the man who Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were wrongfully convicted of murdering. “This needs to stop, for me and my family to get closure,” Rogers says. She expresses sadness that she tried but was unable to see Herman before he passed and explains: “I am speaking out now because I don’t want another innocent man to die in prison.”

In an email message sent out by Amnesty, Robert King said: “Teenie believes me. She believes that the Angola 3 had nothing to do with her husband’s murder. She believes that Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and I suffered years of cruel solitary confinement as innocent men…The state hasn’t done justice by her, either. She’s angry. We both are. Louisiana authorities are hell bent on blaming the wrong person. Well, I’m hell bent on setting him free.”

 Hard Timewas recently shown in Canada at both the Toronto and Montreal Black Film Festivals, following Robert King’s testimony in Chicago about solitary confinement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Scienceearlier that month. On April 20, Hard Time will be shown in Paris, with French subtitles, at the Ethnografilm Festival.

 The full, 40-minute version of Hard Time can now be viewed online, along with Ron Harpelle’s previous film, entitled In Security. Our interview with him is featured below.

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Obama’s FY 2015 Budget Proposal Unsettling for Student Loan Borrowers

April 07, 2014 at 6:19 pm by: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Civil Rights, Consumer Rights, Economic Terrorism, Education, Student loan crisis

From Heather Jarvis:

On the one hand, the administration proposes to extend PAYE to all student borrowers starting in 2015, regardless of when they borrowed. That would be nice.

But the administration proposes sharply reducing the loan forgiveness available to high-debt student loan borrowers (except they refer to these cuts as “reform[ing] the PAYE terms to ensure that program benefits are targeted to the neediest borrowers.” The proposed “reforms” are a response to criticism arguing that existing forgiveness provisions permit already expensive schools to continue raising tuition with impunity.

Proposed changes include:

  • Eliminating the standard payment cap under PAYE;
  • Calculating payments for married borrowers filing separately on the combined household Adjusted Gross Income;
  • Capping Public Sector Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) at the aggregate loan limit for independent undergraduate students (currently $57,500);
  • Establishing a 25-year forgiveness period for borrowers with balances above the aggregate loan limit for independent undergraduate students;
  • Preventing payments made under non-income driven repayment plans from being applied toward PSLF;
  • and

  • Capping the amount of interest that can accrue when a borrower’s monthly payment is insufficient to cover the interest.

Find out more here.

Will proposed cuts to PSLF affect current borrowers?

NYC, Largest City in Nation to Ensure Paid Sick Leave

April 06, 2014 at 1:13 pm by: seeta Category: Workers' Rights

New Law Effective April 1

From NYT:

The law went into effect on April 1. And despite the naysayers and the critics, the skies didn’t fall. Instead, without hoopla or hullabaloo, the city quietly became the largest in the nation to ensure that the vast majority of workers wouldn’t lose their jobs or a portion of their paychecks if they or their close relatives got sick.

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, who significantly expanded the law’s reach when he took office in January, it is a notable and welcome victory. He has been battered and bruised as his efforts to raise the city’s minimum wage and to tax the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten foundered in Albany.

But with the paid sick leave law, the mayor has clearly succeeded in making good on his promise “to lift up working families and raise the wage and benefit floor for all New Yorkers.”

As a result of the new law, about 1.2 million workers will have paid sick leave for the first time, according to Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy research at the Community Service Society of New York, a group that works on behalf of low-income New Yorkers. That’s about 240,000 more people than would have received the benefit if the mayor hadn’t expanded the scope of the policy.

Under the new law, companies with five or more employees will have to provide up to five paid days off to workers if they, or their close relatives, fall ill. (Employees accrue leave based on their hours worked.) A weaker version of the law, which passed last year, would have affected businesses with 15 or more workers and did not include the manufacturing sector.

In corporate conference rooms, such changes might be greeted with a yawn. After all, we professionals typically take paid sick leave for granted. But in today’s economy, where the fastest growing sectors are creating low-wage jobs, this change could not be more critical.

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