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.

Heat Levels on LSP Angola’s Death Row Ruled Unconstitutional

December 21, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Judge rules heat levels on Angola death row subject inmates to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’,


Death row inmates incarcerated in unventilated cells and without access to cool water at Angola prison are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge in Baton Rouge ruled Thursday (Dec. 19).

In a 102-page ruling handed down six months after the suit was filed, Judge Brian A. Jackson said the high heat levels on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary, known as Angola, violated the 8th Amendment rights of the inmates housed there.

The suit was filed on behalf of three offenders who said the extreme temperatures exposed them to a heightened risk of irreparable harm or death because of specific health issues, like high blood pressure. But Jackson said his ruling would apply to all inmates on Angola’s death row, because prison officials could “move any death row inmate to a different tier and/or cell at any time.”

“Accordingly, the court finds that a remedy aimed at ameliorating the heat conditions throughout the death row facility is necessary to adequately vindicate plaintiffs’ rights,” the ruling read. As of February 2013, there were 82 inmates housed on Angola’s death row tiers.

Louisiana Middle District Court – Angola Heat Case Ruling 12/19/2013

CI: Militarization, Surveillance, and the Police State, Part 2

August 28, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, 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.

Militarization, Surveillance, and the Police State, Part 2
by nancy a heitzeg

“It is white power that makes the laws, and it is violent white power in the form of armed white cops that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks.”  Stokely Carmichael, Towards Black Liberation 1966

Or maybe with tanks and drones. Add a few officers of color too.

Carmichael’s central premise remains unchanged, but the technology, and perhaps too the scope of the dragnet has changed.

In recent posts – Tagging, Tasers, and the Police State, Part 1 and Unpacking “Chiraq”: Repression, RICO, and War on Terror TacticsCI has explored the deepening connections between policing and war, the alignment of those two deadlyindustrial complexes  of our time – prison and military. The connections are both literal in terms of the use of military technology, but conceptual as well. The citizenry as “enemy” to be  battled and defeated.

No questions. No quarter.

Of course, this has been the experience of communities of color since colonial days, but the rapid expansion of the technology of mass surveillance and the tactics of war have spilled out into the populace at large, threatening even those they were once designed to protect.


Judge to serve 28 years after making $2 million for sending black children to jail #karma

August 02, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Prison Industrial Complex, White Privilege

Mark A. Ciavarella

From Rolling Out:

Judge Mark A. Ciavarella, 63, serves as an example of why the private prison industry can do more harm than good. Ciavarella worked alongside owners of private juvenile facilities to ensure that the prison remained occupied. The more prisoners equated to more profits for the owners of the prison.

As a result, Ciavarella would sentence offenders with small offenses to months and, at times, years behind bars. He once sentenced a teen to three months in jail for creating a MySpace page that mocked her school’s assistant principal. Ciavarella also sentenced another teen to 90 days in jail after a simple schoolyard fight.

But after a federal investigation, it was discovered that Ciavarella and his colleague, Judge Michael Conahan, received more than $2.6 million from privately run youth centers owned by PA Child Care. In 2011, Ciavarella was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to 28 years in prison. He was also forced to pay $1 million in restitution.

Once Ciavarella was convicted, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed out 4,000 convictions issued by the judge.

Ciavarella appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to have his 28-year sentence overturned. On July 25, the court denied his request.

Ciavarella’s attorneys may attempt to appeal the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

CI: An interview with author and former prisoner Shawn Griffith ~ Angola 3 News

May 29, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, 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.

Abusing Prisoners Decreases Public Safety — An interview with author and former prisoner Shawn Griffith

 By Angola 3 News

 If given the attention it deserves, an important new book is certain to make significant contributions to the public discussions of US prison policy. The author, Shawn Griffith, was released last year from Florida’s prison system at the age of 41, after spending most of his life, almost 24 years, behind bars, including seven in solitary confinement. Facing the US PrisonProblem 2.3 Million Strong: An Ex-Con’s View of the Mistakes and the Solution was self-published just months after Griffith was released from what is the third largest state prison system in the US, after California and Texas.

This new book’s thoughtful analysis and chilling reflections on what author Shawn Griffith experienced while incarcerated is a remarkable illustration of why the US public must listen to the voices of current and former prisoners who have stories that only they can tell. Griffith writes that “by integrating my own personal experiences with statistics and examples from different corrections systems around the nation, I am attempting to discredit the general perception that the system is designed to enforce and protect justice for everyone. The U.S. criminal justice system is an economically and politically profitable enterprise for special interest groups in this country. The general taxpayer needs to understand how the abusive policies fostered by these groups worsen the U.S. prison problem and the debt crisis through wasted corrections expenditures.”

Florida’s state prisons are the book’s main focus because “the majority of prisoners are incarcerated in state institutions. As of 2010, the US incarcerated 1,404,053 prisoners in state correctional institutions. For that reason, and based on my own twenty years of experience… Florida serves as an especially relevant test case for the changes needed in the US correctional system for two reasons. First is the size of Florida’s prison population and some of the political causes of its growth… Second, Florida has enacted some of the toughest sentencing laws of any state, causing correctional budgets to soar while educational budgets have been cut repeatedly,” writes Griffith.

griffith-bookAfter reading about the many different ways prisoners are abused, the very notion that US prisons are designed to rehabilitate or improve public safety, can only be viewed as a sick joke. Griffith writes that:

“hidden behind the walls, huge numbers of human beings have their spirits broken daily. Secretly, many suffer false disciplinary reports, illegitimate confiscation or destruction of personal property, physical beatings, rape, and sometimes fraudulent criminal penalties. Substandard nutrition, indifference to serious medical needs, and policies that encourage laziness have also become common. These practices help to sustain rates of recidivism, which is defined as a return to prison within three years of release.”

“Indeed, the strongest factor in reducing the rate of criminal recidivism is education, especially higher education, the one correctional expenditure that federal and state politicians have slashed.”

This course must be reversed,’ writes Griffith, himself an example of the healing power of educational programs for prisoners. While incarcerated he began his long journey to full rehabilitation, gaining his GED and then taking over 40 accredited college correspondence courses with an emphasis on criminal justice, psychology, and marketing. He has a 3.5 GPA from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. As a teacher in prison, he helped hundreds of inmates gain their GEDs.

Since his release in 2012, Griffith has lived in Sarasota, Florida where he founded Speak Out Publishing to publish other works of non-fiction that focus on tackling some of societies’ most pressing issues. Copies of Facing the US Prison Problem 2.3 Million Strong can be purchased directly from Griffith, through his website:, by mail: Speak Out Publishing, LLC at P.O. Box 50484 Sarasota, Florida 34232, or by phone: 941-330-5979.


Wrongfully Convicted Often Find Their Record, Unexpunged, Haunts Them

May 07, 2013 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Intersectionality, Poverty, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, Workers' Rights

From The NYT:

Across much of the country, sealing or clearing a criminal record after a wrongful conviction is a tangled and expensive process, advocates and former prisoners say. It can take years of appeals to courts and pleas to governors to wipe the slate clean. Even then, many felony convictions remain on federal databases and pop up during background checks or at traffic stops.

Aside from the practical challenges — a criminal record can impede big things like finding housing and employment, and smaller things like getting a hunting license — people who have been exonerated say they feel unfairly marked, branded with a scarlet letter from a justice system that should not have locked them up in the first place.

“It was destroying my life,” said Sabrina Butler, who was sentenced to die in Mississippi for the 1989 death of her infant son, then exonerated in 1995. “It’s always there.”

Clearing a criminal record can take years and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees, and differs widely state to state. Many require that defendants return to court to prove their innocence, a higher hurdle than showing that charges were dismissed or a conviction was overturned. In some states, a governor’s pardon is needed. It can be a complex process, which advocates say is made even more difficult by a lack of support services for the exonerated.

Ms. Butler said she realized her arrest was still on the books after she failed a criminal-background check while trying to buy a shotgun. She said she applied for jobs at restaurants and retailers, and was turned down every time. After she petitioned the state, her record was expunged last July — 17 years after she was released.

Voter Suppression Never Sleeps…

March 29, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Voting Rights


Obama forms commission on long lines to vote

(CNN) – Taking steps to make good on a pledge from his State of the Union Address, President Obama signed an executive order Thursday that establishes a bipartisan panel to address long lines at polling stations and other voter irregularities…
The panel only has the power to make recommendations. State and local authorities are tasked with administering elections and ultimately have the final say on resource allocations. Moreover, only Congress has the power to create national standards around early voting, voter ID laws and means of registration.

New Voter Suppression Efforts Prove the Voting Rights Act Is Still Needed

(The Nation) By my count, 235 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-four states over the past three years.

Here’s the breakdown of where such laws have been introduced in 2013.

• Mandating a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot: Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Washington, Wyoming

• Restricting voter registration drives: Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, Virginia

• Banning election-day voter registration: California, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska

• Requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote: Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia

• Purging the voter rolls: Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia

• Reducing early voting: Arizona, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin

• Disenfranchising ex-felons: Virginia.

(On the plus side, thirty states have also introduced measures to make voting easier by adopting online voter registration, election-day registration, expanded early voting and the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.)….
The continued push to restrict the right to vote reveals the extent to which conservative power remains deeply embedded in the states, thanks to the 2010 election and subsequent aggressive gerrymandering by GOP state legislatures to protect their majorities. To combat this imbalance, Howard Dean’s group Democracy For America is launching a new effort to flip state legislatures from red to blue. The group will start, fittingly, in Virginia this year, and then expand to Iowa, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2014. DFA plans to spend $750,000 targeting five seats in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2013.

CI: For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen

March 27, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, 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.

For Intervening Variables, Not Yet Seen
by nancy a heitzeg

“…while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Eugene V.  Debs, Statement to the Court Upon Being Convicted of Violating the Sedition Act, 1918

This was going to be a rant. Certainly, there is no shortage of stress-inducing topics to choose from:

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Roberts Gang seems about ready, with one hand, to throw a crumb of marriage recognition to gays and lesbians. As usual, the outcome and scope of the rulings will hang on the whims of one Anthony Kennedy. How tired are we of worrying about his moods? With the other hand, the SCTOUS may well undo any last remnant of Affirmative Action and gut the Voting Rights Act, rendering the the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause completely color-blind. And of course, turning back the clock oh 50 to 100+ years depending on how you want to do the math. Derrick Bell is still right – And We Are Not Saved.

NYPD Stop and Frisk

Yes, the odious racist practice is finally on trial, with gripping testimony and audio evidence that verifies what those subject to it have always known — said plain here in this exchange between Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack and Police Officer Pedro Serrano:

“Mott Haven is full of black people, so who are the right people?” Serrano asks.

MacCormack: “The problem was male blacks, 14 to 20, 21.”

Of course, we are pleased that this racist, ineffective and unconstitutional practice is on trial, but how many times do we really have to do this? How many times must white supremacist policing be framed as the result of a few bad policies enacted by a few “bad apples” in a few big cities? However many well-intentioned individuals choose to sign up for “protect and serve”, the damn system has been built from the start on “racial profiling” or any name you want to give it. Somebody say so.

The Toxic Gun Debate: Fear, Loathing, and Criminalization

No winners here. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg goes full hypocrite; Democrats go “Law and Order” with calls for more police in school and increased mandatory minimums for unlawful gun possession; the President goes Moynihan in Chicago; the NRA goes even more race-baiting crazy;  and  nice white liberals, inconsolable over dead white children killed btw by young white men,  call for more more more laws and  harsher penalties that will, as always, be enforced against “urban” communities of color. And Nobody will be  “safer” for it.

More “Smoke and Mirrors”

We are still facing a barrage of numbers claiming decarceration and a new era of “prison reform”. More long-standing “liberal’ non-profits team up with  ‘unexpected” conservative partners -aka white supremacist capitalist patriarchs- to garner funding. From the beginning of this year, Criminal InJustice has offered critical questions about the reality of both policy claims and the legitimacy of so-called reforms. Please see Smoke and Mirrors?Con Artists, Profit and Community Corrections and Confidence Men & “Prison Reform”. Eyes Wide Open. Keep asking the questions. Trojan Horses are at the gate.

But let me stop..

Because as usual, at that critical juncture where hope meets despair, I saw this:


Back on the right track, i then read Resilience, Love, and Refusing to Give Up in Chicago… And you should too..

At times like these, when there are many unanswered questions, when there is no clear light to shine the way, we are reminded. We persist, and that is enough.

Howard Zinn, in The Optimism of Uncertainty ( 2004) puts it like this:

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, in people’s consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of women demanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness that gays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surges of military madness. It is that long-term change that I think we must see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society.

And because I am a sociologist, always weighing the relative contributions of any number of factors, i like to put it like this: Waiting for Intervening Variables that Are Not Yet Seen.

So let them come. As they always do.

And we will be ready…