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CI: There Are No Children Here

August 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, 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.

 

There Are No Children Here
by nancy a heitzeg

“Racially differential treatment of children is an important yet under-explored arena within social psychology. The present findings suggest how urgently field and laboratory work are needed to fill in this research gap. In addition, they suggest that if, as Alice Walker says, “The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying’?” then, for Black children, the most important answer may be that they cry because they are not allowed to be children at all.

~ Goff, P. A., Jackson, M. C., Di Leone, B. A. L., Culotta, C. M., & DiTomasso, N. A. (2014, February 24). The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The title of this piece is of course stolen from Alex Kotolowitz whose 1987 book (and then Oprah TV movie) chronicled the lives of two boys growing up in the Henry Horner Homes.  The title is meant to convey how concentrated poverty and its’ attendant social ills deprive children of the joy of innocence and the opportunity to be carefree. But as the introductory quote from this recent study reveals, there is another meaning too. Racism, particularly anti-Blackness, and deeply held implicit biases also disfigure “innocence”, denying Black children both humanity and childhood, defining them as miniature “adults” to be feared and then controlled.

This has profound implications for everyday interaction with adult caretakers, teachers, and police. Those who are expected to protect childhood innocence are now inclined to deny it, and these singular reactions by adults in charge serve to replicate and reinforce institutional racism. This denial of innocence shapes the racial contours of the school to prison pipeline , and , as we have seen again this week, underlies decisions to charge and incarcerate juveniles as adults, and then brutalize them once they are in custody.

Because There Are No Children Here.

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CI: Follow the Money

July 09, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, Military Industrial Complex, 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.

Follow the Money: Private Prison Industry Funds Skewed Research
by nancy a heitzeg

This is an on-going story that isn’t new, probably isn’t unique, but which certainly serves as a case study in collusion. It offers a road map for what surely lies ahead. In April of 2013, Temple University Economics Professors Simon Hakim and Erwin Blackstone released  “a working study” (please note, this study has yet to be peer-reviewed or published) touting cost savings of “12- 58%” when states use private prisons. The study was widely touted as “independent research” by Correctional Corporations of America (CCA) and further published on the GEO Group website, which ties the study to The Independent Institute, a free market/free for all “think” tank. GEO also links to glowing op-eds published across the nation:

Buried in the fine print ( sometimes omitted altogether) was this:

The study received funding by members of the private corrections industry.

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CI: The Mugshot and the Money

June 25, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Consumer Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Media Conglomeration, 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 Mugshot and the Money
by nancy a heitzeg

There it was – the explosion/exposure of the cultural morass of our collective criminalizing presumptions, assumptions, exploitations, objectifications, commodifications – conjured by the gaze of one Jeremy Meeks*. One picture literally unleashing 10 trillion revelatory words.

Meeks is now an international media sensation, because of his face not his case. His model good looks have made him the object of both desire  and derision, the subject now of newscasts “wagging the finger of shame”, sensationalistic headlines and labels such as “hottie thug”,  photo shop memes,  castigation over his prior criminal history and his (maybe past?) gang affiliations, and gave rise to a troubling Twitter hashtag #FelonCrushFriday moved beyond Meeks to include the mugshots of nameless others (mostly women of color), every known misconception about the criminal injustice system/”criminals”/”gang members”, the “white gaze”, colorism, rampant misogyny and homophobia, ridicule, scorn, calls for prison rape and impossibly harsh punishments.

In a word – Dehumanization. As Mariame Kaba notes in No, Mugshots Do Not “Humanize” Anyone…:

The mugshot then is a tool used by the state to flatten individuals and turn them into rationalized, bureaucratized ‘things.’ This process is so successful that many observers never consider the pain and suffering (too often) etched on the faces of those being photographed. These images of the accused (usually never convicted) are made public for all to consume as they like. Indeed in the age of the internet, police departments regularly post mugshots on social media. Look at this ‘thing,’ the gatekeepers of the state tell us. And millions of people oblige.

Because we live in the midst of the profit-driven, privatizing epicenter of the now globalizing prison industrial complex, there is another word too. Capitalize. It is no longer enough to dehumanize – to leave stigmatized, banished, branded, marked in a degraded status as “criminal”.  Dehumanization is the prerequisite of commodification, and yes that abounded too. Immediately internet entrepreneurs were creating T-shirts and phone cases, while high end coat-tail riders like the Warhol Museum and Orange is the New Black (see The Reign of Whitey Is Never Over by Yasmin Nair) were using the hash tag to pimp art exhibits and television shows.

Par for the course. Profit — that is the often under-estimated essence of the prison industrial complex. We are aware of the pic as a source of cheap labor, private/public supply and construction contracts, job creation, continued media profits from exaggerated crime reporting and crime/punishment as entertainment and of the newly emerging “markets” in privatized community corrections. Even this is the tip of the iceberg as we start to include the immense reliance on privatized background check companies and on-line repositories of criminal records. We are still uncovering the manifold ways – both actualized and imagined — in which there is money to be made.

On Mugshots and More.

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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.”

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 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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CI: The Perils of Criminal Justice “Reform”/The Promise of Abolition

March 12, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, 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.

The Perils of Criminal Justice “Reform”/The Promise of Abolition
by Nancy A. Heitzeg

In an interview with Democracy Now! in early 2014,  Angela Davis reminded us again that there is power in struggle, there is opportunity in the moment, but warned us too of the potential pitfalls of “criminal justice reform.” Given all that has transpired this year, her words are well worth revisiting now as 2014 grinds to a close.

Well, yes. I think that this is a pivotal moment. There are openings. And I think it’s very important to point out that people have been struggling over these issues for years and for decades. This is also a problematic moment. And those of us who identify as prison abolitionists, as opposed to prison reformers, make the point that oftentimes reforms create situations where mass incarceration becomes even more entrenched; and so, therefore, we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully, eventually, in the future, the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm, where social problems, such as illiteracy and poverty, do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison.

Prescient words. 2014 was a year of much Smoke and Mirrors. It was a year filled with Right on Crime and Justice Reinvestment Leadership Summits, Koch Brothers funded panels where right-wing criminal justice “reform” was touted as a bipartisan “uniting of left and right,” and a flurry of proposed Federal legislation (right-wing in origin but billed as bipartisan) that would purportedly tackle mandatory minimums for drug crimes, decriminalization  of marijuana, federal prison recidivism, and the militarization of the police.  With “criminal justice reform” now on the national radar, careful examination of the details of these proposals becomes more important than ever.  As James Kilgore observes in Prop 47, Immigration Reform and More: The Contradictory Road of “Reforming” Mass Incarceration:

Mass incarceration has landed on the political agenda at both the national and local levels. But sometimes separating real change from rhetoric and contradictory processes, depicted as “much-needed reforms,” poses major challenges. Moreover, at times, liberal observers and certain nonprofits may have an emotional or financial stake in presenting a picture far rosier – or more dismal – than reality.

The complexities of … policy changes remind us that to advance the struggle against mass incarceration further, the growth of a social movement capable of unpacking those complexities and mobilizing people into action remains the key to transformation of the criminal justice system.

Unpacking these complexities requires a look behind the veneer of buzzwords – sentencing reform! decriminalization! evidence-based! cost effective! community safety! – into the devilish details of proposed legislation. It requires too, the demand that the structural racism, classism and hetero-patriarchy at the heart of the mass incarceration machine be centered in all proposals for reform, hitherto ignored in the reformist agenda. Ultimately, it requires an interrogation of the “logic” of reform itself, and an eternal vigilance with regard to the question of whether the proposed reforms actually decrease those under correctional supervision, or instead, widen the net in both expected and unanticipated ways.

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Huey P. Newton (2/17/42 – 8/22/89)

February 17, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, What People are Doing to Change the World

A Huey P. Newton Story

“Originally born in a small town in Louisiana and later moving with his family to Oakland, California as an infant, HueyO P. Newton became the co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for over 2 decades.

Director Spike Lee and Roger Guenveur Smith collaborate for the 7th time to bring Newton’s thoughts, philosophies, history and flavour to life in A Huey P. Newton Story.

Produced by Luna Ray Films, A Huey P. Newton Story is the film adaptation of Smith’s Obie Award-winning, off-Broadway solo performance of the same name. It was filmed before a live audience and Spike Lee directs the film with his signature mix of film and archival footage to capture the thoughts of this revolutionary political leader.

This website explores many of the subjects only briefly touched on in the film, bringing them into greater focus and creates opportunities for further investigation into the truth behind the man and the movement he founded.

He was a modern day American revolutionary.”

The Black Panther Party, Ten Point Platform

huey_p_newton_revolutionary

 

Washington state governor declares death penalty moratorium

February 12, 2014 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, White Privilege

From Reuters:

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee declared a moratorium on Tuesday on carrying out the death penalty in his Pacific Northwest state, citing concerns about unequal application of justice in determining who is executed.

The action marked a victory for opponents of capital punishment who have seen a growing number of U.S. states take steps in recent years to end executions, either by legislation or through suspensions issued by governors or the courts.

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility,” Inslee, a first-term Democrat, told a news conference announcing the suspension of capital punishment. “And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served.”

But Inslee stopped short of commuting to life in prison the sentences of the nine inmates currently on death row in Washington state, leaving open the possibility they could still be executed should a future governor lift the moratorium. The next election for governor will be held in 2016.

Eighteen U.S. states have already legally ended executions, with Maryland last year becoming the sixth state in six years to abolish capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. A number of others have temporary execution bans in place.