Beyond Guilt: Reducing mass incarceration by reducing excessively long sentences
Cincinnati Enquirer By Mark Curnutte
If the country is ever going to get serious about reducing mass incarceration, David Singleton says criminal justice reform must begin to address the issue of people in prison who've been over-punished and are serving excessively long sentences. To that end, Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice and Policy Center law firm, where Singleton is executive director, will introduce its Beyond Guilt program on Tuesday. "Beyond Guilt is our answer to criminal legal system reform that focuses narrowly on the lowest-hanging fruit of the reform movement – freeing innocent prisoners and people convicted of low-level non-violent offenses," Singleton says.
County Board limits landlords’ inquiries into tenants’ criminal histories
Chicago Sun Times
The Cook County Board on Thursday passed limits on the practice of asking potential tenants about their criminal histories, despite pleas to hold off until landlords and property owners had a chance to air their concerns.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle hailed the measure as balancing “the need for inclusion with the need for safety,” but one landlord shared war stories about renting to ex-offenders who stole from her other tenants and nearly set up “a meth lab in my house.”
Dubbed the “Just Housing” ordinance, the measure is actually an amendment to the county’s housing ordinance. It is designed to end housing discrimination against people trying to turn their lives around. The amendment adds language that prohibits potential landlords or property owners from asking about, considering or requiring the disclosure of “covered criminal history,” meaning arrest records, charges, juvenile records and conviction histories will be off limits to landlords.
The Feminist in Cellblock Y
Richard Edmond Vargas, also known as "Richie Reseda" is a convicted felon who has been serving time in an all-male prison in Soledad, California, for armed robbery since he was a teen. "The Feminist on Cellblock Y," a documentary produced by filmmaker Contessa Gayles, follows the now 25-year-old Reseda and his fellow prison mates as they participate in an inmate rehabilitation program centered around feminist literature.
It's said in the documentary, "a lot of them come out even worse than they were before," referring to the inmates. In order to counter that particular manifestation, these men spend their days learning about the patriarchy, discovering the power of vulnerability, and personally combating toxic masculinity. Additionally, the program encourages the men to confront all of the areas where these toxic ideals of masculinity have prevailed in their lives. "We cannot challenge our harmful behavior without challenging patriarchy," Reseda says in the film.
UU Prison Ministry - New Self Led Learning Pages
The following are collections of articles, videos, and books that are the first step in seeing beyond the reality that the dominant culture believes is the only reality. Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place where all are free to thrive.
New pages include article, Books and multi media entries to help us all learn more about this egregious system and the call to reform.
Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for the same crime: Study
ABC News by Erica Y. King
African-American men serve longer sentences than white men for the same crime, a new study by the U.S Sentencing Commission shows.
The commission's analysis of demographic prison data from 2012 to 2016 found that black men serve sentences that are on average 19.1 percent longer than those for white men for similar crimes.
The racial disparity in sentencing can't be accounted for by whether an offender has a history of violence, according to the study by the commission, an independent bipartisan agency that is part of the U.S. federal judiciary branch.
Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind
The New York Times by Rachel Kushner
April 17, 2019
There’s an anecdote that Ruth Wilson Gilmore likes to share about being at an environmental-justice conference in Fresno in 2003. People from all over California’s Central Valley had gathered to talk about the serious environmental hazards their communities faced, mostly as a result of decades of industrial farming, conditions that still have not changed. (The air quality in the Central Valley is the worst in the nation, and one million of its residents drink tap water more poisoned than the water in Flint, Mich.) There was a “youth track” at the conference, in which children were meant to talk about their worries and then decide as a group what was most important to be done in the name of environmental justice. Gilmore, a renowned geography professor (then at University of California, Berkeley, now at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan) and an influential figure in the prison-abolition movement, was a keynote speaker.
She was preparing her talk when someone told her that the kids wanted to speak with her. She went into the room where they were gathered. The children were primarily Latino, many of them the sons and daughters of farmworkers or other people in the agriculture industry. They ranged in age, but most were middle schoolers: old enough to have strong opinions and to distrust adults. They were frowning at her with their shoulders up and their arms crossed. She didn’t know these kids, but she understood that they were against her.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“We hear you’re a prison abolitionist,” one said. “You want to closeprisons?”
Gilmore said that was right; she did want to close prisons.
But why, they asked. And before she could answer, one said, “But what about the people who do something seriously wrong?” Others chimed in. “What about people who hurt other people?” “What about if someone kills someone?”
Whether from tiny farm towns or from public housing around Fresno and Bakersfield, these children, it was obvious to Gilmore, understood innately the harshness of the world and were not going to be easily persuaded.
“I get where you’re coming from,” she said. “But how about this: Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place?” She was asking them to consider why, as a society, we would choose to model cruelty and vengeance.
Lawsuit: Conditions horrific for women at south Fulton County jail
Atlanta Journal - Constitution by Bill Rankin
Mentally ill women are being held in isolation at a jail in south Fulton County under horrific conditions that increase their risk of serious psychological harm and strip away their human dignity, a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.
The unsanitary and degrading conditions “can result in dramatic worsening of symptoms, decompensation, psychosis, self-mutilation and suicide,” the suit said. The women are being denied necessary health care and are kept in “an environment that deprives them of meaningful social interaction and therapeutic activities.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Georgia Advocacy Office, which protects the legal and human rights of people with disabilities, and two women being held at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail in Union City. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of all mentally ill women being held under similar conditions.
Neil Gorsuch: Eighth Amendment “Does Not Guarantee a Prisoner a Painless Death”
Intelligencer by Matt Steib
On Monday, the conservative judges of the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the state of Missouri may execute a death-row inmate whose rare medical condition would cause “excruciating pain” during lethal injection.
Russell Bucklew — convicted for kidnapping and raping his former girlfriend in 1996, and for killing the man who was seeing her — has a condition called cavernous hemangioma, in which tumors grow on his head, neck, and throat. In his request to seek an alternative method to lethal injection by pentobarbital, Bucklew provided medical evidence that the tumors in his throat would rupture during the execution, and cause him to choke on his own blood for minutes before his death. Bucklew argued that his execution would violate the Eighth Amendment, which bars “cruel and unusual punishments,” citing two Supreme Court precedents involving inmates allowed to provide an “available alternative” that would cause less pain. Bucklew proposed nitrogen gas, a form of execution authorized for use in three states, arguing that his death from hypoxia, a lack of oxygen, would be faster and less painful for him than death by lethal injection.
However, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority disagreed with Bucklew, as well as the decision by the Eighth Circuit Court to allow him to present an “available alternative” method of execution. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, determined that “the Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes.” Justice Gorsuch justified the position by arguing that Bucklew did not submit his request to avoid “needless suffering” in a timely manner. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Eighth Amendment bars the deliberate infliction of pain; because there was no evidence that the state of Missouri intended to cause Bucklew to choke on his own blood during his execution, the amendment does not apply.
Who Belongs In Prison?
New Yorker by Adam Gopnik
April 8, 2019
Nothing has changed more in the past couple of decades than attitudes toward the crisis of incarceration in America. What was largely an invisible civilization of confinement—millions of men and women locked up for, cumulatively, millions of years—is now a commonplace concern. Everyone running for the Democratic nomination pays lip service to the need to address mass incarceration, and what were once essential political instincts—to side with the police and the prosecutors in every instance, to “get tough on crime”—have become, at the very least, negotiable. We have gone from “Lock ’em up!” to “Lock ’em up?” to “Set ’em loose!,” all in a relatively short time.
One reason for these changed attitudes is the great crime decline, a falling arc that meant that, for the first time in decades, ordinary citizens could care more about the consequences of imprisonment than they did about the threat of violent crime. Circles of compassion can grow in the absence of everyday fear: safer subways make for an expanded conscience. But there has been an ongoing argument about what, exactly, is responsible for the surge in incarceration. For a long time, the consensus blamed three-strike laws, mandatory minimum sentences, stop-and-frisk, and the rest of the oppressive apparatus of panicked anti-crime policy. Then, just two years ago, the law professor John Pfaff made the argument, persuasively, that the key factor was simply prosecutorial overreach.
There were too many prosecutors who had the astounding freedom to indict anyone more or less as they chose, and who could so overcharge the indicted that plea bargains were forced upon good and bad alike, as confessions were once forced by the Inquisition. By handing enormous discretion to prosecutors—some of them, by the standards of the rest of the world, properly described as politicians, elected to their office and sensitive to voters’ needs, including a metric of success linked to putting people in jail—we had given them the freedom to imprison whomever they wished for as long as they liked. All but about five per cent of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargains, and never go to trial. In the vast majority of cases, Pfaff observed, in his book “Locked In,” inmates ended up behind bars “by signing a piece of paper in a dingy conference room in a county office building.” After 1990, as the crime rate began to fall, the number of line prosecutors soared, and so did the number of the incarcerated. Fewer offenses, more designated offenders.
The Study Group Bringing bell hooks to Prisons
Next City by Emily Nonko
In a bare, brightly lit classroom inside the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California, Richie ‘Reseda’ Edmond-Vargas taught one of his last lessons on patriarchy and toxic masculinity to a group of men who, like him, were incarcerated there. Several years after developing this curriculum, Edmond-Vargas was preparing to transfer to one last facility before ultimately returning to society.
On long sheets of brown paper he broke down tenets of toxic masculinity, asking men to consider the payoffs and costs of buying into values like violence, objectifying women and having money. Men threw out suggestions relating to the costs: bad relationships, loneliness, life in prison.
“We’re all pretty clear on the problem,” Edmond-Vargas says, “What’s the solution?” In response, a facilitator with the group, also incarcerated, stood up to read a passage from bell hooks’ book on toxic masculinity, The Will to Change.
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Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive