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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-hungerstrike-poster

“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

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CI: Prison Privatization Part 1, Another Cautionary Tale from California

October 30, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, 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.

Prison Privatization Part 1, Another Cautionary Tale from California
by nancy a heitzeg

For some time now,  we at Criminal InJustice have been asking what the real end game of the “bi-partisan” prison reform was going to be. Was the “Right on Crime” Right really interested in reducing mass incarceration? Are “Law and Order” Democrats ready to turn their backs on the harsh Drug War mandatory minimums that were promoted a nd passed on their watch? Given the opportunity to really reduce the size and scope of the prison industrial complex would either side take it? Would they reject th elkong lingering influence of ALEC inspired legislation? Or would this be just another shell game, where the public costs of mass incarceration are funneled instead towards private sector profit, with little concern for remedying the inherent race, class, gender, and sexual biases of the criminal legal system?

We suspected the latter, and early evidence out of California suggests that this is the case. As, and as with all aspects of the contemporary prison industrial complex, the path California takes may be the bell weather.

It is California - the Golden Gulag – that brings us the expansion of the modern pic – driven by a draconian three strikes law ( just recently revised), the proliferation of gang legislation, correctional spending that far outstrips educational investments, excessive use of solitary confinement and SuperMax conditions, and a powerful police officer and prison guard union that stands in the way of any meaningful efforts to reduce mass incarceration. (See The PIC Old School/New School 2 for a complete discussion of these issues and their impact on the California “correctional sysem”).

brownCalifornia engineered a prison-building and filling project that is “”biggest in the history of the world”,  which until recently imprisoned in sheers numbers more than any state. More prisoners than Louisiana, than Florida, probably still more than Texas even if we count those transferred to county jails — nearly a quarter million locked away. Numbers so excessive they made the SCOTUS blink and declare that the extreme over-crowding must be reduced by as many as 30,000 inmates. This over-crowding is especially egregious at the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla, the world’s largest prison for women, which is currently housing nearly double capacity. And although California has not conducted an execution in 7 years, it still retains – by far – the largest death row in the nation.

Almost three years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the California system was so over-crowded that it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case, Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants v. Marciano Plata et al., centered on shortage of health care and the resultant de facto denial of mental and physical treatment. An average of one inmate per week died as a result of malpractice or neglect. (Please see Prison Health Care as Punishment for an overview and Shumate v. Wilson for a specific look at health care issues for women in California’s prisons).

The Court affirmed a federal decree requiring state officials to reduce the prison population to 110,000, which is 137.5 percent of the system’s capacity (At the peak of over-crowding, the system was at 200% capacity, even with some 9000 prisoners housed out of state. Inmates were housed in bunks in gyms, hallways and any extra nook and cranny). California is required to reduce the population by 30,000 inmate< by July of 2013.

An opportunity, right?? A chance to reduce the prison population with relatively little political fall-out — just following SCOTUS orders – with the support of a Democratically controlled State Assembly.

Did Governor Jerry Brown take this opening and put action to the rhetoric of “criminal justice reform”?

To the contrary,  Brown tripled down on incarceration with a dangerous new twist. Since the  Supreme Court order, Governor Brown has resisted in every way possible and engaged in an elaborate shell game designed to maintain or increase actual incarceration rates.

Some low-lights follow.

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CI: Torture at Home

September 11, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Judiciary, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, 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.

Torture at Home
by nancy a heitzeg

As the nation notes another passing of 9/11 and now debates what “line” is too far, as the California Prisoners end their third hunger in as many years, as i reflect back on the most recent CI diaries — stories of tasing and trauma, police excess and solitary, the anniversary of the Attica Uprising – one word emerges as a unifying thread.

Torture.

In the post-9/11 era, much attention has been paid to the torture tactics endorsed by the Bush regime in the so-called “War on Terror”. The use of torture  in clear violation of a number of international agreements and accords.

The United Nations, in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, defines torture as follows:

unArticle 1
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

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Torture Chamber USA: Day 40

August 16, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Torture Chamber USA ~ The Prison Industrial Complex by Emory Douglas

Torture Chamber USA ~ The Prison Industrial Complex by Emory Douglas

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CI: Tagging, Tasers, and the Police State, Part 1

August 14, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, 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.

 

Tagging, Tasers, and the Police State, Part 1
by nancy a heitzeg

On Tuesday, August 6, 5:14 a.m, 18 year old Israel Hernández-Llach was doing his thing – about to tag his moniker “ReeFa” on the wall of an abandoned McDonalds. Seeing the arrival of the police, Hernández-Llach and his two friends fled. Israel was confronted by Miami PD Officer Jorge Mercado, who tased  and arrested him. Shortly thereafter, Israel experienced  “medical duress”, and died at a local hospital.

This is a story of “crimes of style”, the increased criminalization and heavy public order policing of minor expressive infractions ranging from graffiti to “‘sagging pants”.

This is a story of another youth of color,  executed in one of the more than 600 extrajudicial police killings of civilians each year. It will not be recorded in any national national database on such violence, but instead documented by citizen watch groups.

This is a story too of police use of “less than lethal force”, and its’ sometimes lethal results. In particular, it is a story that raises again the issue of Tasers, their safety, effectiveness and appropriate use.

And it ultimately is a story about the increased militarization of the police, and the extent to which the citizenry is regarded and treated as enemy combatants in an endless, escalating war.

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CI: A Voice from the Tombs

July 31, 2013 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.

Editors Note: Many thanks to Victoria Law for forwarding this letter from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512, who writes from a High Security Control Unit in North Carolina. The letter is reprinted in full below. It more than speaks for itself.

Mr. Muhammad’s story is a sadly familiar tale, one shared by more than 80,000 inmates kept in restricted housing in our nations prisons and jails. This includes the California Prison Hunger Strikers, who numbered more than 30,000 on the first day. This is the second major California strike, as prisoners continue to seek basic human treatment via their 5 Core Demands. The strike is now on Day 24, and has already resulted in one death, that of Billy “Guero” Sell, whose art may be found here.

The torturous details of life in solitary are difficult to read, but please do. And then Act – please support Mr. Muhammad, the California Hunger Strikers, and inmates everywhere  however you can..

Thank you..

Voices from the Tombs of HCON!
from Saiyd Muhammad #0295512

If prison is considered the “Belly of the Beast”, then surely the prison’s solitary confinement units are its bowels.  I am one of approximately 96 inmates currently being held in North Carolina’s Super-maximum Security Units.  These units may also be known as High Security Control Unit (HCON), solitary confinement segregation, “the hole”, and others.  I however, as a result of  enduring mistreatment  and cruelty from certain prison personnel, choose to refer to North  Carolina’s super-maximum security units as the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety TORTURE CHAMBERS!  Yes!  State sanctioned torture!!

shackles2Torture: “…the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment  or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.” This is the only word that I can find to accurately express the horrific inhumane treatment I endure here on a regular basis in HCON.  Unlike NC’s death row unit in Raleigh where men and women wait for a possible execution by whatever means the state and federal courts declare humane, here on HCON at the Polk Correctional facility in Butner, NC, we are executed psychologically every moment of everyday.  The 96 men are confined in what can only be described as a concrete box much like a mausoleum tomb.   It is like being in a tomb, a stone building for en-tomb-ment of the dead above ground!  Yes!  A mausoleum best describes the 96 concrete boxes they call cells to house its inmates.

Concrete vaults! They hold us locked in 24 hours a day; only unlike an actual mausoleum that houses the dead, these concrete vaults house the living!

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Herman’s House: Resisting the Cage

July 08, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Defense, Criminal Injustice Series, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

beyond-large

Herman Wallace may be the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the United States—he’s spent more than 40 years in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Louisiana. Imprisoned in 1967 for a robbery he admits, he was subsequently sentenced to life for a killing he vehemently denies. Herman’s House is a moving account of the remarkable expression his struggle found in an unusual project proposed by artist Jackie Sumell. Imagining Wallace’s “dream home” began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo’s unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art. Premiering on PBS’s POV July 8, 2013.

CI: Still Starving for Justice

May 01, 2013 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, International Law, Intersectionality, 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.

Still Starving for Justice
by nancy a heitzeg

In the face of unrelenting repression and no sign of relief, refusal becomes the last refuge of prisoners. Prisoner hunger strikes proliferate again, at Guantanamo, Pelican Bay and Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia.

Defying the Tomb.

The Green Diamond Eat The Red Diamond Die, Robert Indiana, 1962

The Green Diamond Eat The Red Diamond Die,
Robert Indiana, 1962

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