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Here you will find all archived articles and posts under the selected category. Thank you for visiting and supporting the movement.

CI: Off Track, The Myth of American Justice

September 24, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, 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.

 

Off Track, The Myth of American Justice
by nancy a heitzeg

He could have said it anywhere, in Ferguson or Florida, in Los Angeles or the Bronx, in any Southern town from Emmett Till up till now. The song remains the same. But how many times has he said this to a room, during a moment, at what appears to be a turning point? Shouting in the wilderness is one thing. What must it be like to shout where everyone can hear you, to room after room full of people, to have everyone  nod their heads and the newspapers back you and millions rally to your cause and still nothing changes? How many times can you repeat the truth? ~ Emmett Rensin, After the Train Leaves Town: A Report from Ferguson

The swirl of headlines and response is dizzying. Drip, drip, drip.

Justice for Mike Brown, for Ezell Ford, for Eric Garner, John CrawfordRekia Boyd, Marissa Alexander, Jordan Davis (again) !  More. Fire Ray Rice, fire Adrian Peterson, fire Roger Goodell, Don Lemon too! More. Arrest Darren Wilson! Convict Michael Dunn! More.  One by one by one.

Send $$$, send water, send gas masks. More. #Hashtag it. Facebook it. Petition it.  Mobilize. March. Send Selfies with Signs.  More. Then Do It Again. Click, click, click.

train_tracks_and_approaching_train_by_ffelkat-d5cw2lsThe need to react to immediate injustice is understandable. So too, the desire to have systems that supposedly dispense ” justice” to do so equally, and to hold all perpetrators – be they police or pro athletes – accountable. It is easy to understand the lull of specific debates and focused actions. But as both a participant in and scholar/observer of social movements – particularly those directed towards the criminal “justice” system, i have many questions.

These have come to the fore again in the midst of the seeming national escalation of police violence, the wave of family violence cases involving NFL players, and finally, in a local event that revealing in microcosm a political landscape always marred by personal agendas and political in-fighting, non-profits protecting their money, a projecting power structure that appeals to fear, and  a media eager to report the small details, the specific skirmish, but in total avoidance of the systemic and structural issues which ultimately provide the frame.

Is this case by case approach enough? Can it be sustained? Are there more tools — questions to be asked, cautions to be raised about their most effective use? Are these the right questions to ask or demands to make ? What are the possibilities for proactive engagement rather than the endless hydraulic of reaction and retrenchment? Can we define the terms of debate on our own new terrain? Can we go bigger?

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CI: Liberals Take the Bait and Switch ~ the Myth of “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform”

May 28, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

Liberals Take the Bait and Switch ~ the Myth of “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform”

by nancy a heitzeg

We agree with the New York Times: End Mass Incarceration Now. Increasingly, many do, as there are widening calls for “criminal justice reform.” But what does that look like?

We at CI have always advocated for Abolition, and that is certainly not the mainstay of what is being proposed. As we have written before, many calls for “bipartisan criminal justice reform” are thinly masked appeals to right-wing driven policies that seem “reasonable” in the short-run, but in the end make the prison industrial complex even more entrenched with new avenues for profiteering, and new color-blind policies that magnify racial disparity.

The reality of the “Right on Crime” agenda, 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. As we recently warned: expect more of this in the upcoming months and years ahead.

Case in point:

On the surface, this may seem reasonable, but pay careful attention to the rhetoric. Notice that the two problem states singled are are the Deep Blue states of New York and California – no accident. Notice too that Gingrich misleads by suggesting the $ is spent to keep inmates “hired” ( it isn’t – it is the per capita cost of incarceration) as if we are paying them $168,000 per yer. He certainly isn’t proposing that we use any money saved to send inmates to Yale, or seek meaningful efforts to reduce the structural conditions that contribute to incarceration, or in the specific example of Rikers Island where 40% of the population faces mental health issues, address the lack of funding for meaningful mental health services. No, he is complaining about money “wasted on prisoners”. In fact, his primary concern – as well as that of his colleagues on the right –  is ” wasteful government spending” and so-called “public safety”. No surprises here.

Notice too the obfuscation created by our Token Democrat Van Jones. While Jones is justified in his condemnation of the exploding California prison system and Governor Brown’s “doubling down” on mass incarceration (see The PIC – Old School/New School 2 The Golden Gulag and Prison Privatization Part 1: Another Cautionary Tale from California), he is sadly mistaken if he thinks Mississippi’s “prison reform” is to be lauded or held up as an example of a leader in efforts to reduce mass incarceration. “Forward -leaning and progressive”? “Smarter”?

To the contrary.

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CI: The Time Has Come

May 21, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Education, Housing, Intersectionality, Poverty, 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.

The Time Has Come
Editor’s Note from nancy a heitzeg

It is a week where there is too much to say, so instead we will say very little. We stand in the shadows of the anniversaries of the never-implemented Brown decision, and the day Philadelphia Police Department said “Let the Fire Burn!”We note the occasion of the birthday’s of Malcolm X, Lorraine Hansbury, and Ho Chi Minh, as we still demand an end to mass youth incarceration, brace ourselves for a “debate” about reparations,  and await word as to whether a Black Woman has any Ground to Stand.

Let us reflect on this recent history, not on what has been won, but what is left to be done. A History, that is neither some disregarded dustbin, nor a mausoleum/museum filled with past relics of partial victories.

History is Alive. And History is A Weapon.

Use it.

Eyes on the Prize: The Time Has Come (1964-66)
After a decade-long cry for justice, a new sound is heard in the civil rights movement: the insistent call for power. Malcolm X takes an eloquent nationalism to urban streets as a younger generation of black leaders listens. In the South, Stokely Carmichael and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) move from “Freedom Now!” to “Black Power!” as the fabric of the traditional movement changes.

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CI: Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

May 07, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, 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.

Albert Woodfox Speaks to the Experts

Editors Note: The essay featured below, Albert Woodfox Speaks to theExperts, from the Why Am I Not Suprised? blog is reprinted in full with permission of the author and Angola 3 News. Now 42 years since Albert was first put in solitary, Amnesty International has renewed its call for Albert’s immediate release (view Amnesty’s recent statement and essay). If you have not yet done so, please sign the Amnesty petition today.

BBoard Newsletter (more…)

CI: What We Are Capable Of

April 16, 2014 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.”

CI: Stand Against Solitary

February 26, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Military Industrial Complex, 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.

Stand Against Solitary
by nancy a heitzeg

For Roses in Concrete

prison-hungerstrike-poster

“Prison policy is usually shaped out of public view, but the duration and visibility of the hunger strike has helped make the subject politically urgent. Last week, New York State agreed to extensive new restrictions on whom it could confine to its SHU. This week, in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing titled “Reassessing Solitary Confinement.” Other states have also curtailed the use of isolation recently—Indiana, where change was compelled by a federal judge’s ruling, and Maine, Mississippi, and Colorado, which had faced pressure from prisoners’-rights groups. These changes are too few to constitute a total rejection of the practice. But for the first time, it has begun to seem plausible that the American attachment to this special kind of imprisonment is not a national peculiarity so much as a generational one, and that a 25-year experiment may be ending.”  ~ “The Plot from Solitary”, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

The struggle to end the tortuous use of solitary confinement is a grim one. Like the movement to abolish the death penalty, it forces us to grapple with horrifying details of life in box, buried alive, slow motion death – the gradual, state-sponsored decay of both body and mind. Worse still even,  victory in the abolition of these practices will never be enough. They are mere symptoms of the pathology of mass incarceration, mere branches never the root, that end up afflicting a numerical minority of those 2.3 million persons who languish, one way or another, in the context of the prison industrial complex. Yet resist we must.

Excessive and extensive use of long term solitary confinement is amongst the most egregious of the many human rights violations in US prisons and jails. The practice is now so pervasive that, according to Solitary Watch: “Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons.” These stints are no longer the “proverbial “30 days in the hole” but regular conditions of confinement that last for decades, sometimes, as in the cases of Hugo Pinell and Albert Woodfox  ranging up to 40 years. There is widespread agreement that this is tantamount to torture.

The routinization and expansion of long term solitary confinement in the late 20th century is intended to control – not just individual inmates, but the general population as well. Indefinite and ambiguously administered solitary confinement looms as a threat to all. It is no accident that the proliferation of control units and SuperMax prisons emerges in the aftermath of successful inmate organizing and a growing connection between “imprisoned intellectuals “ and the community outside. ( See Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement –An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan ) Control units serve decidedly political functions – they are meant to quell dissent and stymy inmate organizing.

Despite some particular and short-lived successes, even here the Carceral State has failed. The legal victories noted below all emanate from inmates themselves who have managed to be heard, to reach out, to organize and mobilize, even from 6 feet under. Roses that grew in concrete. More power to them.

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

Melanie Cervantes and Dignidad Rebelde

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CI: Collective Non-Cooperation

January 22, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, 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.

Collective Non-Cooperation
by nancy a heitzeg

One of the least discussed realities of criminal injustice is this: the entire endeavor rests on the cooperation of everyday citizens. Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data primarily depends on citizens to call and report crimes to the police. Gaps in UCR data (i.e. unaccounted for crimes that are neither detected by police nor reported by citizens) are estimated by administering the National Crime Victimization Survey to a random subset of the population. The over-whelming majority of everything that is known about crime, especially the Index Offenses, comes from us.

Further, Arrest Rates or Clearance Rates rely heavily – not on super-tech CSI techniques – but on victim and/or bystander descriptions. Prosecutors depend on a snitch system of informants to further investigations especially in so-called “victimless” crimes such as drug deals. The courts count on 90% of all those charged to accept a “negotiated guilty plea” otherwise known as plea-bargaining.

Professor Alexandra Natapoff on Snitching

The Criminal InJustice System is Nothing without our Cooperation.

As it becomes increasingly clear that reporting crime does little to protect us and that state violence often further victimizes those that seek help, what if we stopped calling ? What if some of us already have?

As police become increasingly violent in their responses to even 911 calls for help, what if we stopped calling them?

As the Drug War system of mass incarceration becomes ever more dependent on confidential informants, what if we stopped snitching?

As we are increasingly asked to give up our constitutional rights, what if, as Michelle Alexander wonders,  we went “to trial and crashed the system”?

What would that look like? How could that be collectively organized? What alternatives would need to be in place?

Think about it..

In the meantime, Know Your Rights.

 

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CI: The Year in State-Sponsored Homicide

December 18, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, International Law, 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.

The Year in State-Sponsored Homicide
by nancy a heitzeg

As 2013 comes to a close, both Amnesty International  and the Death Penalty Information Center offer us a final look at the year in Killing States, both in the USA and around the world. While the overall trend is towards abolition, capital punishment remains an both option and a grim reality in the 31 countries that carried out executions in 2013.

Without further adieu, the numbers. These include only judicially mandated executions and not extrajudicial killings  by police, security guards and vigilantes. Those numbers would add untold thousands more.

And the only word I have left: Abolition.

Executions Worldwide

While more than two-thirds of the world’s nations are now abolitionist in law or in practice, thousands are executed around the world each year.  China keeps its’ execution numbers a secret, so a complete accounting is not available. Concern has been expressed recently over the increase in secret executions in Japan, and the high rate of executions in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, the United States is ranked in the top five of countries carrying out executions.

Methods of execution included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and various kinds of shooting (by firing squad, and at close range to the heart or the head). Public executions were known to have been carried out in Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. In Saudi Arabia, executions are usually beheadings with a sword. In one case recorded by Amnesty, a Sudanese man’s head was sewn back onto his body and hung from a pole in a public place.

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