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CI: We Join Forces with Truthout to Separate “Criminal Justice Reform” Fact from Fiction

November 05, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Smoke and Mirrors, 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.

 

We Join Forces with Truthout to Separate “Criminal Justice Reform” Fact from Fiction

 By Kay Whitlock and Nancy A. Heitzeg

For several years, the weekly Criminal Injustice series here at Critical Mass Progress has focused on policing and punishment at the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, age, and disability. Week after week, we examine and help to expose racist myths concerning “crime,” “criminals,” the criminal legal system, and expansion of the prison industrial complex (PIC). We help connect readers to organizing resources – groups, analysis, information – in order to help people better understand the far reach and unholy, brutal influence of the PIC.

And we will continue doing that, right here. Week after week. Why is it so important? Because, as Prison Culture points out, the prison industrial complex “structures our world.” That’s no exaggeration: surveillance, criminalization, and coercive/violent control of peoples and communities regarded as “less than,” even as disposable, is the paradigm for too much of U.S. civic life. As abolitionists, we oppose this death-dealing paradigm and, in concert with so many others, imagine and organize for different, more life-affirming ways of creating new structures of justice.

As part of this effort, we’ve also been among the first to critically examine the feel-good phrases – sentencing reform, community corrections, reducing prison expenditures – used more recently to galvanize support for “bipartisan criminal justice/prison reform.” The art of the sound byte currently dominates the discussion. But these phrases don’t always have unambiguous meaning, and some “reforms” may actually make things worse, especially in the long run.

So many justice advocates and organizations are embracing generic promises of “reform” without asking what’s really embedded in the initiatives. And without recognizing that because prisons, policing, and punishment structure so much of our society, meaningful structural transformation requires a vision that is interdependent, that sees how this connects to that. “Criminal justice” was never a standalone issue.  Some reform measures deserve our support; others deserve consignment to oblivion. But how do we tell the difference, clearly and usefully?

Criminal Injustice & Truthout

In order to support that effort, and in addition to continuing with the Criminal Injustice Series, we’re joining with Truthout.org to examine what really is – and is not – embedded in emerging proposals for criminal justice and prison reform. The new series is called Smoke and Mirrors: Inside the New “Bipartisan Prison Reform” Agenda.

smoke and mirrors

“Smoke and Mirrors is a new series that dives into the details of “bipartisan prison reform” to reveal the right-wing, neoliberal carceral sleight of hand that’s really at work. By asking hard questions about the content and consequences of various proposals and exploring ways in which commitments to unregulated free markets, privatization and states’ rights drive the agenda, Smoke and Mirrors shows how this new generation of reforms will reinforce structural racism, intensify economic violence and contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society.”

CI: #Ferguson/#Everywhere

October 29, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Copyleft/Free Culture, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Prison Industrial Complex, 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.

 

#Ferguson/#Everywhere
by nancy a heitzeg

As the world continues to watch events unfold in Ferguson and awaits word on what will most likely be the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, some thoughts. It is crucial to honor the specifics of the Ferguson Struggle and the names of the fallen, Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell and VonDerrit Myers. It is essential to support the activists on the ground there.

But remember too, that Ferguson is Everywhere.  The City of Ferguson, surrounding St. Louis, the State of Missouri and all elected /appointed officials aren’t particularly  exceptional with extra “bad apples”, more perverse laws, or more corrupt political figures. They operate under a national umbrella that routinizes racialized police violence. The names and details may change, but the structural white supremacy that allows for unchecked police/state violence permeate the U. S. legal system – no, it is foundational.

It is normative. it is the bedrock. Everywhere.

What We Know (And Have Known Forever).

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Wellstone! (July 21, 1944 – October 25, 2002)

October 25, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Education, Government for Good, Military Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

20101025_wellstonegreenbus_33

On this day in 2002,  Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia and five others died in that fateful plane crash. His legacy and his words speak for themselves, and remind us, always, of what government for good can do.  He was The Conscience of the Senate, the First and Last of a kind. Thank you Paul.

If there is history left to be written, it will noted that his death changed the trajectory of U.S. politics in tragic and perhaps irreparable ways. The people are left without a stanch and fearless defender; we are on our own.

And We Will Never Park the Bus.

Steve Heitzeg has put together a bench memorial to Paul Wellstone. On the bench is a photograph of a smiling Wellstone, along with a Wellstone quote about social justice. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)

Steve Heitzeg has put together a bench memorial to Paul Wellstone. On the bench is a photograph of a smiling Wellstone, along with a Wellstone quote about social justice. (MPR Photo/ Mark Zdechlik)

Wellstone’s Revenge: How Minnesota Democrats Took Their State Back

MPR, Memorials Keep Paul Wellstone’s Memory Alive

Al Franken, Paul Wellstone’s Legacy, 10 Years Later

Wellstone Action

Wellstone!

wellstone 2

“Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives.”

~ Senator Paul Wellstone ((July 21, 1944 – October 25, 2002)

wellstone 2

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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Revelations: “Our Best Weapon is Sunlight…”

June 15, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Consumer Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Education, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

CI: Justice As Theft

June 11, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Education, Housing, Immigration, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Voting Rights, Workers' 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.

Justice As Theft: Into the Twilight Zone
by Kay Whitlock

In 2011, Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was charged with first degree (felony) larceny  and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her 6-year-old son in Brookside Elementary School in the community of Norwalk.  Because McDowell and her son did not legally reside in Norwalk, the rationale for the charges was theft of $15,686 in educational costs from the Norwalk public school system. She faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Moreover, McDowell’s babysitter was evicted from public housing because she apparently assisted by providing  false documents necessary for enrolling the young boy.

McDowell and her son are black; the Norwalk public school system is predominantly white – and therefore better funded than the Bridgeport system, in which people of color predominate. Essentially, she was charged with “stealing” a good public education for her son, who is entitled to public education, but not, presumably, a good one.

This prosecution was outrageous, right?  Yes – by any reasonable standard of human decency, anyway. But we live in a societal Twilight Zone in which the often-subterranean currents of the dominant U.S. public imagination respond to virtually all claims to social and economic justice as some form of theft, with all of the dissonance, danger, anxiety, emotional vulnerability, defensiveness, and fury associated with its evocation.

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The Myth of “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform”: Mississippi Close-up

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.

The Myth of “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform”: Mississippi Close-up

by Nancy A. Heitzeg

“The American experiment in mass incarceration has been a moral, legal, social, and economic disaster. It cannot end soon enough.” “End Mass Incarceration Now”, The Editorial Board, New York Times, May 24, 2014

Yes. Agreed. The numbers are staggering, The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. We hold, according to Prison Policy Initiative, the U.S. holds ” more than 2.4 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,259 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories.”  The racial gulfs are glaring; “Blacks are incarcerated five times more than Whites are, and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to be incarcerated as Whites.” The economic costs – astronomical, more than $80 billion on direct correctional expenditures alone, with total costs (including police, legal and court services) approaching a quarter of a trillion dollars. The social costs? Immeasurable. As Maya Schenwar observes, “prison inflicts mass violence.”

“The American Experiment in mass incarceration… cannot end soon enough.”

Increasingly, many also agree, as there are widening calls for “criminal justice reform.” Often, as in the aforementioned New York Times Op-Ed, these reforms are described as “bipartisan.” But are they? And what does this “reform” really  look like?

As noted in this series, many calls for “bipartisan criminal justice reform” are thinly masked appeals for 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, a rejection of federal Civil Rights protections via an extreme states’ rights agenda, and new color-blind policies that magnify the structural racism that lies at the root.

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, coupled with a rejection of federal oversight, serves to pave the way for expanded privatization of other public programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, education, food and nutrition assistance, and more. Expect more of this in the upcoming months and years ahead.

Case in point: Let’s consider this CNN segment that aired immediately following the Right on Crime Leadership Summit of May 2014.

Joint Outrage: Prison system failing America Newt Gingrich and Van Jones, CNN, May 21, 2014

On the surface, all this “joint outrage” may seem “reasonable” and warranted.  But pay careful attention to the rhetoric, which at once both obfuscates and reveals.

Notice that the two problem states singled by Gingrich are the Deep Blue states of New York and California – and that is no accident. While their particular incarceration challenges, especially with regard to overcrowding, have been in the news, both states actually incarcerate at a rate below the U.S. average of 716 people for every 100,000 residents. The U. S. leaders — in fact, world leaders in imprisonment – are overwhelmingly Deep Red States such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas who imprison at a rate of over 1,100 per 100, 000 residents. (See Prison Policy Initiatives’ Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity for a detailed look at all 50 states). Ironically as we shall see, these states are often touted by Right on Crime as models of smart on crime reform. This, despite having barely dented their exceedingly high incarceration rates.

Notice too that Gingrich misleads by suggesting the money is spent to keep inmates “hired,” as if we are paying prisoners $168,000 per yer. But the money isn’t spent this way – this figure is the per capita cost of incarceration for jails in New York City. The choice of this exorbitant outlier as the talking point is also misleading. Yes, the costs of incarceration are too high, but on average, the annual average taxpayer cost is $31,286 per inmate. New York State is the most expensive, with an average cost of $60,000 per prison inmate. The high costs of New York City’s jail system – yes, $168,000 per year –  is an anomaly, with expenditures driven by long delays for inmates awaiting court appearances and/or trials, a wait time that averages 90 days and can extend for years.

Gingrich 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.  Nor in the specific example of Rikers Island, where 40% of the population faces mental health issues, is he addressing 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.

Additional obfuscation is created by Democrat Du Jour™ Van Jones. Jones is justified in his condemnation of the exploding California prison system and Governor Brown’s “doubling down” in his refusal to follow U.S. Supreme Court orders to decarcerate. (Since this interview aired, California voters have passed Proposition 47: The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act of 2014, which reclassifies several drug and property crimes as misdemeanors and promises to reduce the state prison populations. Questions remain about implementation, the role of private contractors, and exactly what the educational funds will be spent on. More on this to come in future editions of Smoke and Mirrors). Despite the warranted outrage over the state of affairs in the “Golden Gulag,” Jones is sadly mistaken if he thinks Mississippi’s “prison reform” is to be lauded as an example of a leader in efforts to reduce mass incarceration. Instead of doing his homework, he bought wholesale the Right on Crime talking points.

“Forward -leaning and progressive”? “Smarter”?

To the contrary. “Reform” no longer means what we might hope it does.

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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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