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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 Promise/The Peril of This Moment

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 Promise/The Peril of This Moment
by nancy a heitzeg

” Well, I think we have to act as if there is hope. “ Angela Davis, March 2014

In a recent interview with Democracy Now! , the miracle that is Angela Davis reminds us again that there is power in struggle, there is opportunity in the moment, but warns us too of the potential pitfalls of  “criminal justice reform”.

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.

CI has expressed similar concerns here ( See Smoke and Mirrors?, Confidence Men and Prison Reform, Con Artists, Profits, and Community Corrections ) . There are many questions to be asked about the ostensible movement away from mass incarceration   embraced by the right, most notably by Right on Crime. As Kay Whitlock notes, ‘the right reinvented as prison reformers”. If this makes you nervous, it should.  Expanded privatization schemes, profits and deregulation are, per usual, the ultimate end game.

It is easy to be suspicious of the right-wing agendas. But well-meaning Scandinavian model liberals can do their own sort of damage. I was reminded of this again at a  panel hosted by the League of Voters last week, Interrupting the Prison Pipeline: Partnerships, Prevention, Advocacy, Intervention. The panel included a host of well-connected Minneapolis political, non-profit and faith-based “leaders”.  And despite the claims of “interrupting” in the title, the primary focus was in providing services to those already incarcerated or to ex-offenders in the form of increased employment opportunities via Ban the Box legislation, expanded voting rights for probationers, and more Second Chances.

And of course we are for that. But where was discussion about prevention, alternatives to criminal justice, dismantling the school to prison pipeline, the impetus for the first chances?

)

Angela Davis on Prison Abolition, the War on Drugs and Why Social Movements Shouldn’t Wait on Obama (Full Transcript)

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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.

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: Imagination, at the Intersections

January 01, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, 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.

Imagination, at the Intersections
by nancy a heitzeg (h/t Kay Whitlock and Angela Y. Davis)

“This is what we need most in America — truly the entire world — today. Imagination. Religious scholar Walter Brueggemann has called it “Prophetic Imagination.” We need individuals who will not only occupy our streets, but also occupy our future. Brave soldiers of love who are crazy enough to dream of a world with no more war, no more violence, no more oppression based on the way people look, where they are from, or the way they were born.”

~ Charles Howard, Angela Davis: Power to the Imagination

It is 2014. Criminal InJustice is approaching the start of its fourth year of weekly publishing. Much remains unchanged. The US remains the world’s leader in incarceration. Racial disparities in school suspensions/expulsions, stop/frisk, arrest and imprisonment remain. Privatization and profiteering continues apace, with new alliances between old enemies and expansion opportunities in the field of “community corrections” growing. The courts failed us yet again with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, just two examples among many. Perhaps the best overview is just here in the aptly titled 15 Things That We Re-Learned About the Prison Industrial Complex in 2013.

While the past year has brought some slim signs of progress in dismantling the prison industrial complex and its’ feeder – the school to prison pipeline, they are both small and slow. And not enough. Nazgol Ghandnoosh and Marc Mauer, of The Sentencing Project ask this question:

“Can We Wait 88 Years to End Mass Incarceration?”

“We hear less ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric and budget-conscious conservatives are embracing sentencing reforms. The Attorney General has criticized aspects of the criminal justice system and directed federal prosecutors to seek reduced sanctions against lower-level offenders.

In light of this, one would think we should celebrate the new figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing a decline in the U.S. prison population for the third consecutive year. This follows rising prisoner counts for every year between 1973 and 2010. BJS reports that 28 states reduced their prison populations in 2012, contributing to a national reduction of 29,000.Beset by budget constraints and a growing concern for effective approaches to public safety, state policymakers have begun downsizing unsustainable institutional populations. The break in the prison population’s unremitting growth offers an overdue reprieve and a cause for hope for sustained reversal of the nearly four-decade growth pattern.

But the population in federal prisons has yet to decline. And even among the states, the trend is not uniformly or unreservedly positive. Most states that trimmed their prison populations in 2012 did so by small amounts — eight registered declines of less than 1 percent. Further, over half of the 2012 prison count reduction comes from the 10 percent decline in California’s prison population, required by a Supreme Court mandate.

Given recent policy changes, why has there been such a small reduction in the number of people held in prisons? First, many sentencing reforms have understandably focused on low-level offenders.But most significantly, policymakers have neglected the bulk of those who are in state prisons: an aging population convicted of violent crimes or repeat offenses.

Certainly the changing climate, new policies, and recent prisoner counts offer reason for encouragement. But unless we want to wait 88 years to achieve a sensible prison population, we need to accelerate the scale of reform.”

We don’t have time to wait. Throughout our existence, we at CI have tried to illuminate the issue with data, statistics, the cold facts, and yes stories too, to  illustrate, increase the awareness needed as a foundation for change. This is no longer enough either. We know what the issues are. As co-editor Kay Whitlock has long argued, what we need to do is to imagine – dream a bolder vision.

And so we will. At the intersections.

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CI: Towards 2014

December 25, 2013 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.

Towards 2014
by nancy a heitzeg

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~ Arundhati Roy

It is Xmas. Our thoughts are with everyone, everywhere who is impacted by mass incarceration, and the long, insidious reach of the prison industrial complex.

Towards 2014. Towards Abolition.

Another World is on her way…………….