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CI: The Universal Pains of Prison

April 22, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: 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.

 

The Universal Pains of Prison
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

The following is an excerpt of an Honors Project, completed by a graduating Senior at St. Catherine University. It has been my privilege to serve as adviser to this project, which offers a comparative look at two dramatically different prison systems and philosophies, that of Denmark and the U. S.

Despite the stark contrasts documented throughout the project, this excerpt notes the common barriers faced in in re-integration, even when one has been incarcerated in a rehabilitative system. Yes, conditions are better, imprisonment more rare, but the stigma consistent, and the social barriers universal.

There are better models that we can look to for “reform”, but, in the end, we are always called – in every possible way – towards Abolition.

 

Difference in Prison Philosophies: The Danish Prison System vs. the U.S. Prison System

by Bridget Ferrell

“To present my honors project, I created a 30 minute podcast. This podcast is a recording  of the interviews I conducted in Denmark and the US for my honors project. The goals for my  podcast were to:

  • First, allow the voices of my interviews be heard by the community.
  • Second, to  understand the prison experience and how that influences inmates experience back into society.
  • Third, to propose recommendations for how the system can better help law-breaking citizens become law-abiding citizens.

In my podcast I present my findings. I found that although Danish inmates have the same rights as everyone else in the Danish society, the formal and informal punishments were similar to the US. There was social stigmatization that caused an incredible issue for inmates reintegrating back into society. My podcast also presents my interviewers recommendations. The Sister who volunteers at the Waseca Federal Prison recommended shorter prison sentences. The Danish prison guard recommended more effort between the government and society to socialize inmates. The Danish ex-inmate proposed more education, more teachers in the prison and for offenders to meet their victims.”

CI: Commodified and Caged, Still

April 15, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

Commodified and Caged, Still
by nancy a heitzeg

Authors Note: This piece is an old one, whose time is always now.  It was originally published elsewhere, under a different name, for my anti-capitalist comrades. The goal, as you will see, was to illustrate the deep connections between speciesism, commodification and social inequalities. And yes, it was a call to Open the Cages.

So why not for Criminal InJustice? Certainly, “criminals” are routinely “de-humanized” — described as mere “animals”, “monsters”, and “brutes”. And treated as such then — caged, penned, crated, occasionally exhibited, brutalized, slaughtered. Commodified too — a ready source of profit from neo-slave labor, privatized contracts, and sometimes, even for “acres of skin”.

And why not again now? In a time of endless death on video loop, where victims, they say,  are “shot down like dogs in the street” by those that some call “pigs”, foundational  specieism is revealed in theory and practice. Our conceptions of both victims and villains rest on the assumptions that humans are better, deserve better. This leaves unquestioned and in fact perpetuates the very paradigm of domination – of dogs, of pigs, of the planet – that is the model for our treatment of dehumanized others.

As i have written elsewhere:

It is a hard and unpopular truth to say that all oppressions are connected, to say that our treatment of other species and the Earth herself has served as the template for our oppression of peoples. But it has.

It is a harder and even more unpopular truth to say that all oppressions must be undone and undone together. The lust for the false power derived from relations of domination – directed anywhere – is at the root.

What if the prison industrial complex and the social inequality which under girds it were somehow undone? What would prevent the lingering desire to crate the sow, cage the bird, chain the dog, beat the horse, gore the ox from erupting – again towards us – in some newly imagined and monstrous application?

The Answer is Nothing.

In this time of endless death on video loop, the inclination is to hunker down, narrow the focus, save our own, save who we can. But what if,  instead, now is the time to explode the vision, broaden the scope, fight for every and all breathes?

The fate of The Last Rhino is not marginal to or disconnected from the blood in the streets and the slaughterhouses, from the personal violence of our homes and that perpetrated by our social structures.

It is at the Center; it is of the very Essence.

Open the Cages and Open Them All.

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CI: A Tale of Two Prisons

April 01, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Government for Good, 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.

A Tale of Two Prisons
Editors Note by nancy a heitzeg

Recently, the New York Times has published two extensive features on prisons: one on the U.S. Supermax ADX at Florence Colorado, the other on Halden Fengsel in Norway.  While they stand singularly as institutional exposés, the power of the pieces is in the contrasts of the philosophies, the conditions, the results.

Of What Is and What Could Be.

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CI: Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition

March 18, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

Low-level Offenses and Racial Profiling, Minneapolis Edition
by nancy a heitzeg

The historical connection between low-level offenses ( e.g. lurking, loitering, vagrancy) and racialized policing is well-established. These laws emerge as Slave Codes become Black Codes; from the very outset they were “intended to circumscribe the lives of African Americans.” Low-level and “liveability” crimes were a central features of the Old Jim Crow, and remain so today, in the New Jim Crow era as pretextual police tools in racial profiling

Recent reports from the Minnesota ACLU released on October 28 verified yet again, using the Minneapolis Police Department’s own data, that Blacks are targeted for low-level arrests. (The results were replicated by a new report from the Minneapolis Police Department, which further revealed that when victims/witnesses are involved in reporting, they are overwhelmingly white). These practices persist in lieu of an official name such as ‘stop and frisk’ or or ‘broken windows” yet the net effect is the same. The data revealed “that between 2004 and 2012, an African American individual was, on average::

  • 11.5 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for marijuana possession;
  • 8.86 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for disorderly conduct;
  • 7.54 times more likely to be arrested than a white individual for vagrancy; and
  • 16.39 times more likely to be arrested than a white juvenile for curfew/loitering”

In light of these persistent racial gaps, City Council Members Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang have announced their intent to introduce the repeal of the city ordinances on lurking and spitting. They noted that lurking

profiling“..is one of several low-level offenses police use to target specific neighborhoods and racial groups. Over that six-year period, 59 percent of the people arrested for lurking were black, while 24 percent were white. Meanwhile, 69 percent of the people who called in to report lurking offenses, listed on reports as either victims or witnesses, were white. Just 12 percent were black.”

This repeal is supported by Coalition for Critical Change, #Blacklivesmatter Mpls, & Community Justice Project, who recently launched a petition as well calling for the repeal of all low-level ordinances in the city. These include;

  • Loitering
  • Lurking
  • Spitting, depositing tobacco
  • Congregating on the Street or Sidewalk
  • Juvenile Curfew

Please join us in combating racial profiling. Click and sign below.

Petitioning Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges

Repeal Low-Level Ordinances in Minneapolis

CI: The Attorney General of the United States

March 11, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Government for Good, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Prison Industrial Complex, Voting 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 Attorney General of the United States
Editors note from nancy a heitzeg

“While my time in the Department of Justice will soon draw to a close, I want you to know that, no matter what I do or where my own journey takes me, I will never leave this work.  I will never abandon this mission. Nor can you.  If we are to honor those who came before us, and those still among us, we must match their sacrifice, their effort, with our own.  The times change, the issues seem different, but the solutions are timeless and tested: question authority and the old ways. Work.  Struggle.  Challenge entrenched power.  Persevere.  Overcome.”

~ Attorney General Holder Reaffirms Commitment to Voting Rights in Speech to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches, Selma, Alabama, United States, Sunday, March 8, 2015

It is possible, in complexity, to say that the criminal legal system is flawed at the foundations – to argue for abolition- and to also say, in the very same moment, that every inch of breathing room matters. To say that it matters who is the President, who sits on the Supreme Court, and who is the Attorney General of the United States. To say that an imperfect system can be made slightly better (or much worse) by the party and people who occupy positions of power.

In that spirit, CI would to acknowledge the work of Attorney General Eric Holder – for his willingness to plainly confront systemic racism in multiple arenas and to use the power of his office to combat its’ persistent and impermissible stain on voting rights, school discipline, and policing. His Department of Justice sought to enforce the Voting Rights Act even after it had been gutted, guided the Department of Education away from zero tolerance and racialized suspensions/expulsions for the first time in more than 20 years, and indicted, in  perhaps the last DOJ Report that will bear his name, the unconstitutional cesspool that is the Ferguson Police Department and Courts.

Given the constraints of the Title and the Office, that, Sir, is Enough.

CI: A Glimpse…

March 04, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Immigration, Intersectionality, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

 
A Glimpse...
Editors’ note by nancy a heitzeg

“The Constitution has always demanded less within the prison walls”. ~ Clarence Thomas, Dissenting in Garrison S. Johnson, Petitioner v. California et al. 2005

It has been true. Even as we catch a fleeting glimpse – here in recent headlines – the Constitution has been rendered largely silent.

And so have we.

Even as Many Eyes Watch, Brutality at Rikers Island Persists

The brutal confrontations were among 62 cases identified by The New York Times in which inmates were seriously injured by correction officers between last August and January, a period when city and federal officials had become increasingly focused on reining in violence at Rikers…

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMAccording to Correction Department data, guards used physical force against inmates 4,074 times in 2014, the highest total in more than a decade. The increase came even as the jail’s average daily population continued to decline, falling to 10,000 this year from 14,000 a decade ago.

Seventy percent of the 62 beatings examined by The Times resulted in head injuries, even though department policies direct guards to avoid blows to the head unless absolutely necessary. And more than half the inmates sustained broken bones.

In October, a typical month, one inmate had his jaw shattered by a guard after being handcuffed and led into an elevator; another had his arm broken while handcuffed; and a third had three teeth knocked out.

The Times also identified 30 episodes from August to January in which officers suffered serious injuries in altercations with inmates. While most of the inmates involved sustained head injuries, nearly half the guards fractured bones in their hands and fingers, often after striking inmates in the head.

“Predictable” Riot at Texas Prison Followed Years of Complaints

The riots that broke out this weekend at a Texas prison featured in a 2011 FRONTLINE investigation erupted after years of complaints from inmates about poor conditions and abuse at the facility, and at least one previous protest.

Prisoners at the Willacy County Correctional Institution, most of them convicted for immigration or nonviolent drug offenses, set fire to the Kevlar tents where they are housed in a protest over medical care, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)….

Screen-Shot-2013-06-10-at-12.30.27-PMIn 2011, FRONTLINE uncovered more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse by guards at the facility in Lost in Detention, as well as physical and racial abuse. At the time, Willacy was run by MTC for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility housed people who had not yet been convicted, but were awaiting immigration hearings. Guards were accused of harassing women for sexual favors, and in some cases sexually assaulting them. Other detainees were beaten by guards who cursed them with racial epithets…

New allegations later surfaced. In June 2014, the ACLU issued a report on Willacy and four other privately run prisons in Texas, and found the inmates there are subject to abuse and mistreatment, and prevented from connecting with their families.

At Willacy, inmates are crammed 200 at a time into squalid Kevlar tents, with no private space, the report found. Insects crawl through holes in the tents. The open toilets regularly overflow with sewage, and in 2013 several inmates camped out in the yard in protest. “They treat us like animals,” one person told the the civil-rights group.

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Criminal InJustice: Abolition X

February 25, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Police Brutality, Police State, 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.

Abolition X
Editors note by nancy a heitzeg

It is impossible to note the 50th Anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination without noting too the even more urgent need for prison abolition and for a coalition between what Mumia calls “organic and radical intellectuals.”  The ubiquity of prison, in a nation ostensibly built on freedom, is a contradiction none of us can any longer bear. Voices from the inside and  out must unite. Again.

As Dan Berger notes in “Malcolm X’s challenge to mass incarceration”:

“Malcolm X spent his political life resisting the kind of criminalization of black communities that has catalyzed protests around the country over the last six months. He was an outspoken critic of a system that has justified the arrest, imprisonment and death of so many people long before it reached the kind of crisis proportions that see a black person being killed by law enforcement or vigilantes every 28 hours, on average…

Shortly before his death, Malcolm X praised civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama, for pursuing “a version of freedom larger than America’s prepared to accept.” Fifty years later, inside the world’s biggest jailer, Malcolm X still beckons us to work for an America that may one day be described as something other than a vast prison. “

Hear him now.

 

Free Albert Woodfox!

February 18, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

Free Albert Woodfox!
by Angola 3 News

Editors note: The State of Louisiana, unparalleled in the scope of mass incarceration – is unparalleled too in unrelenting cruelty and venase form Angola 3 News. Please read shsre and offer ss on the latest in Woodfox’s cgeance towards many of itsases.  prisoners, but especially the Angola 3.  Of the three, Albert Woodfox remains imprisoned. ( Robert King was freed in 2001; Herman Wallace was released shortly before his death in 2013.)  Below are updates and action requests from Angola 3 news — to whom we are eternally grateful for championing these cases. Please sign too Amnesty Internationals Petition of Support.

2014Free Albert Woodfox

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