Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019
Prison Policy Initiative By Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner
March 19, 2019
Can it really be true that most people in jail are being held before trial? And how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs? These questions are harder to answer than you might think, because our country’s systems of confinement are so fragmented. The various government agencies involved in the justice system collect a lot of critical data, but it is not designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build, however, it’s more important than ever that we get the facts straight and understand the big picture.
This report offers some much needed clarity by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement. The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. This report provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration.
The Real Difference Between Jail and Prison
Reader's Digest by Lauren Cahn
We tend to use the terms "jail" and "prison" interchangeably. And while both are legally sanctioned confinement facilities, they're not the same thing.
Both “jail” and “prison” refer to secure facilities that are legally permitted to deprive people within the criminal justice system of certain constitutional rights (such as the right to go where they want when they want). But under the law, they’re not the same thing. So what is the difference between jail vs. prison?
Jails are confinement facilities for people awaiting trial or sentencing. They’re usually run by local law enforcement and maintain only one level of security.
Prisons are confinement facilities for those who’ve already been convicted of crimes. Usually, prisons are run by the state or federal government (or a private company under contract with the government). Prison facilities are segregated by, and their physical design reflects, their security level (minimum, medium, or maximum); prisoners are assigned to a security level based on the crimes for which they’re convicted as well as other factors. And it’s not always effective—consider these
New Report Names Nearly 4,000 Companies Profiting Off of Private Prison Industry
Common Dreams by Eoin Higgins
A new report provides information on which corporations are profiting from the private prison industry.
The report (pdf), which was released by criminal justice advocacy group Worth Rises, is based on a database run by the organization that lists a total 3,900 companies in 12 sectors that make money off of the prison industrial complex.
The scope of the income taken in by these companies, the report says, is in the tens of billions.
"Today, more than half of the $80 billion spent annually on incarceration by government agencies is used to pay the thousands of vendors that serve the criminal legal system. They are healthcare providers, food suppliers, and commissary merchants, among others. And many have devised strategies to extract billions more from the directly impacted communities supporting their incarcerated loved ones."
United States Still Has Highest Incarceration Rate in the World
Equal Justice Initiative
New prison and jail population data released this week by the United States Department of Justice shows the United States still incarcerates its citizens at a rate 5 to 10 times higher than other industrialized countries. Some 2.27 million people were incarcerated in jails and prisons across the country in 2017 —a 500% increase over the last 40 years.
The Sentencing Project analyzed the data, which is current through the end of 2017. It shows that the prison population nationwide declined by 7.3 percent since its highest level in 2009, but the decrease is primarily attributable to reforms in six states that have reduced their prison populations by at least 30 percent in the past 20 years: Alaska, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 1,489,363 people were incarcerated in state or federal prisons at year-end 2017. At the current rate of decline, it will take 75 years to cut the prison population by half, the Sentencing Project reports.
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.
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.
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.
In US Prisons, Women Disciplined More than Men for Minor Offenses
WTTW by Evan Garcia
March 28, 2019
Women in prison are disciplined more frequently for minor offenses than their male counterparts in some state prison systems, including those in Illinois, according to an investigation published by NPR and the Chicago Reporter.
The yearlong investigation by Jessica Pupovac, a digital content producer at WTTW who served as lead reporter, and Kari Lydersen of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, included interviews with formerly incarcerated women, past and present corrections officials, experts and academics. The reporting team also analyzed data from prison systems in 15 states.
Pupovac said they found “overwhelming” evidence that “women are disproportionately disciplined for lower-level offenses” such as “talking back or having attitude, being disruptive or disrespectful.”
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