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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.”

Government for Good: Tony Benn (1925-2014)

March 22, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Poverty, What People are Doing to Change the World

“If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.”

Tony Benn, veteran Labour Leader, has died at 88, The Guardian

Ten of the Best Tony Benn Quotes, The Guardian

Remembering Tony Benn and His Five Little Questions, Bill Moyers:

“In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person — Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates — ask them five questions: ‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

black line Capture

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 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


House Votes to Raise Debt Ceiling, Without Conditions

February 11, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Economic Terrorism

From NYT:

Ending three years of brinkmanship in which the threat of a devastating default was used to wring conservative concessions from President Obama, the House on Tuesday voted to raise the government’s borrowing limit until March 2015 – without any conditions.

The vote – 221-201 – relied primarily on Democrats to carry the legislation, the first debt ceiling increase since 2009 that was not attached to other measures. Only 28 Republicans voted yes. But it effectively ended a three-year, Tea Party-fueled era when a series of budget showdowns raised the threat of debt defaults and government shutdowns, rattled economic confidence and brought serious scrutiny from an international community questioning Washington’s ability to govern.

Such tactics came crashing down after last October’s government shutdown, and House Speaker John A. Boehner, emboldened by failure, appeared content to pass legislation with Democrats, daring the most conservative wing of his conference to make good on their grumbles that he should fail.

Watch the 2014 State of the Union Address Live Online (9PM EST)

January 28, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature

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.



Justices Voice Doubts on Obama Recess Appointments

January 14, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2016 Election, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature

From NYT:

The Senate recently overhauled its filibuster rules, which had frustrated the Obama administration and prompted its recess appointments. The Senate also confirmed a different slate of nominees to the labor board. But the question of whether the board’s ruling against the company should stand remains alive.

There were three questions before the justices on Monday, and the administration had to prevail on all of them to win. But it ran into significant headwinds on at least two.

The narrowest question was whether the Senate could be said to be in recess when it insisted it was not. Justice Kagan said “it really is the Senate’s job to determine whether they’re in recess.” On this point, she told Mr. Verrilli, “history is entirely on the Senate’s side, not on your side.”

A broader question was whether the vacancy had to have arisen during a recess. Several justices said that was the natural meaning on the phrase “all vacancies that may happen during the recess.”

When Mr. Verrilli countered that the phrase was at least ambiguous, Justice Scalia responded that very few people thought so. “It’s been assumed to be by ambiguous self-interested presidents,” he said.

The third question was whether the appointment had to be made during the recess between formal sessions. Those recesses used to be long. These days, Justice Ginsburg said, “the intersession recess might be momentary.”

Noel J. Francisco, a lawyer for the bottling company, said his client should prevail under all three arguments.

But Justice Ginsburg said that position has far-reaching implications. “Your argument would destroy the recess clause,” she said. “Under your argument, it is totally within the hands of the Senate to abolish any and all recess appointments.”

CI: Poverty as a Prison

January 08, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, 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.

Poverty as a Prison
by nancy a heitzeg

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
                                                                            ~Anatole France, The Red Lily, 1894

Before the War on Drugs became our national fixation, there was a short-lived, halfheartedly implemented War on Poverty. Would that the same amount of resources and political will been expended here. But hyper-individualism, rampant capitalism, and a political discourse that persistently racializes poverty and stigmatizes governmental assistance continue to stand in the way.

We are left instead with the War on the Poor.

The gaps between rich and poor grow, while Congress slashes $ 1 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), refuses to extend meager Unemployment Insurance (UI) to millions out of work, and an increase in the minimum wage ( which would still fall far short of Living Wage) remains contentious.

Our national failure to provide any meaningful economic opportunities for tens of millions of Americans is doubly bitter when poverty and homelessness — a realm of little to no choice – is then reframed as exactly choice, the result of some failure of “personal responsibility”.

The reality of course is that over-whelming majority of the 47 million officially poor are there because of structure and policy — low wages, lack of affordable housing, a shrinking social safety net, a decimated public education system, a host of conservative and neo-liberal “reforms – not because of flawed personal choices.

The reality is that poverty per se is a sort of prison, where choice is heavily constrained, surveillance is endless, ”social services” are characterized by red-tape, condescension and increased overlap with the criminal justice system, where survival shapes daily life, and Right Now is the key consideration.

If this were not challenge enough, poverty itself is additionally criminalized via a host of federal, state and local laws, Not that this is new – but the cumulative effect of these laws in the context of the prison industrial complex, a collapsed job market, and a government bent on “privatization” is a particularly toxic mix at this moment.