Prisoners are Fighting California's Wildfires on the Front Lines, But Getting Little in Return
Fortune By Nicole Goodkind
Nov 1, 2019
As multiple deadly wildfires in California, stoked by dry weather and 65 MPH winds, threaten to destroy thousands of homes across the state, 2,150 prison inmates are battling on the front lines to tame the flames.
The prisoners earn between $2.90 and $5.12 per day, plus an additional $1 per hour during active emergency for their potentially life-threatening efforts. The firefighters they work alongside earn an average of $91,000 each year before overtime pay and bonuses.
The Conservation Camp Program, officially established in 1945, is estimated to save California taxpayers about $100 million each year. Prisoners work on hand crews, constructing firebreaks by using tools like chainsaws and picks. During active fires, they work for 24-hour periods followed by 24 hours of rest.
Murphy signs law limiting solitary confinement in N.J. prisons
nj.com by S.P. Sullivan
A lengthy and vocal campaign to strictly limit solitary confinement in New Jersey’s prisons came to a close Thursday when Gov. Phil Murphysigned a long-stalled reform measure into law.
“I am proud to stand together with New Jersey’s criminal justice reform advocates and legislators to advance a humane correctional system that allows for the safe operation of facilities and focuses on strengthening reentry initiatives, substance use disorder treatment, and recovery programs,” the Democratic governor said in a signing statement Thursday.
Supporters say the measure is among the most comprehensive controls on the controversial practice of placing prisoners in isolation in the United States.
Private prison stocks fall after Elizabeth Warren says they should be banned
CNN Business by Anneken Tappe
New York (CNN Business)Friday was a bad day for private prisons
Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is calling for private correctional and detention facilities to be banned. Shares of private prison operators dropped following her remarks.
Private prison operator CoreCivic's (CXW) stock was down 5%. Shares of The GEO Group (GEO), a Florida-based private prison and detention company, fell 5.6%. The broader stock market was flat to slightly higher on Friday.
Warren's campaign said it was unfazed by the stocks' slump.
"They shouldn't have a share price because they shouldn't exist," said Kristen Orthman, spokeswoman and director of communications for the Warren campaign.
A spokesperson for the Geo Group said its facilities are "highly rated by independent accreditation entities."
"Senator Warren's announcement is a continuation of politically-motivated attacks based on false narratives," the spokesperson said, adding the company would welcome lawmakers like Warren to come visit.
Judge rules that St. Louis jails can’t hold inmates who can’t pay
St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Robert Patrick
ST. LOUIS — A federal judge on Tuesday barred St. Louis jails from holding inmates simply because they can't pay bail. She granted class action status to inmates who sued.
U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig's ruling gives officials a week to hold new detention hearings for current inmates in the city's two jails and says new arrestees must have a hearing within 48 hours of their arrest. Inmates can still be held, Fleissig wrote, if they are a danger to the community or if there is no other way to ensure they show up for court.
The ruling could affect hundreds of inmates in the city of St. Louis, potentially granting them new hearings, or even releasing them. It comes amid a widespread re-examination of bail practices in Missouri and across the country, and amid local efforts to close the city's workhouse, formally known as the Medium Security Institution.
New York Could Become First State To Be Completely Done With Private Prisons
Forbes by Morgan Simon
With many corporations having capitalizations that make them larger than countries, it can sometimes feel hard to imagine governments effectively being able to set limits on companies — let alone entire industries. We’ve seen this recently in the case of tech monopolies having federal regulatory agencies completely befuddled, or, on a more local level, the difficulty communities have getting corner stores to sell more fresh food and less cigarettes and liquor.
One interesting exception to this rule is the private prison industry; where the government (given they are the largest client) is uniquely positioned to effectively regulate the sector — or, as many would argue, to eliminate private prisons entirely, given their problematic incentive to encourage the criminalization of vulnerable communities. This includes at our southern border, where the vast majority of immigrant detainees seeking refuge are held in for-profit facilities.
New York State has been leading the way in flexing its muscles with respect to the private prison industry, having taken three concrete actions against private prisons: 1. prohibiting private prisons from operating within the state, 2. divesting state pension funds from the largest private prison companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic, and then just last week, 3. passingBill S5433 in the State Senate, which would prohibit NY State-chartered banks from “investing in and providing financing to private prisons.” Let’s take a look at what these three policies in concert mean, and what may come next as Bill S5433 goes to the Assembly and ultimately the Governor for approval as soon as this week.
Peters ends "pay to stay"
State Senator Robert Peters Press Release
SPRINGFIELD – Formerly incarcerated people will no longer be liable to reimburse the Department of Corrections for the cost of their incarceration under a new bill sponsored by State Senator Robert Peters (D-Chicago).
“‘Pay to stay’ is morally wrong,” Peters said. “These folks are already being punished for their crimes by being locked up. It’s unconscionable that we would place them into indentured servitude upon their release.”
House Bill 900 restricts the Department of Corrections from suing formerly incarcerated people for costs associated with their incarceration. This restriction already exists in certain jurisdictions in the state; the bill extends the restriction statewide.
COOK COUNTY CHIEF JUDGE RELEASES NEW REPORT ON BOND REFORM SHOWING OVERWHELMING SUCCESS
Coalition to End Money Bond
Late last week, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans released a new report about bond reform and its impact in Cook County. Notably, the court also released case-level data for the first time, which will allow independent analysis by people outside the court system. The central conclusion from the new report is simple: fewer people are being incarcerated in Cook County Jail and increased pretrial releases “did not increase the threat to public safety in Cook County.”
What this truly means is that releasing more people pretrial in recent years has, in fact, increased public safety. In addition to the fact that reforms have not been shown to increase already low re-arrest rates, jailing fewer people will ultimately reduce crime because pretrial incarceration increases recidivism. The changes have also meant that, on any given day in Cook County, thousands of people who are members of the public are spared the inherent harms—physical, economic, emotional, legal—that necessarily occur in jail.
The report analyzes data about tens of thousands of bond decisions made in Cook County in 2016 and 2018, both before and after the implementation of General Order 18.8A, the local court rule requiring judges to set money bonds only in amounts people can afford to pay. According to the report, the Order has had clear positive effects: money bonds have been used less frequently overall, the median money bond amount has dropped significantly (from $5,000 to $1,000), and the average daily number of people in Cook County Jail has declined from 10,064 in January 2014 to 5,799 in December 2018. Despite the Order’s stated goal of ensuring “no [one] is held in custody prior to trial solely because [they] cannot afford to post bail,” however, approximately 2,000 people were locked up in Cook County Jail for just that reason on the day of the report’s release.
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.
My jail stopped using solitary confinement. Here's why.
The Washington Post by Tom Dart
April 4, 2019
Tom Dart is sheriff of Cook County, Ill.
Recent criminal-justice reform ended the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. Now a group of lawmakers including Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are pushing to limit solitary confinement in federal prisons more broadly.
However, the realities of solitary confinement playing out in other correctional institutions across the country — including county jails, like the one I run — remain unaddressed and misunderstood.
Whether termed solitary confinement, disciplinary segregation or something else, it is almost always the same thing and produces the same disturbing and, too often, grave consequences. Individuals are confined alone in roughly 7-by-11-foot concrete cells for up to 23 hours a day with little human contact and no access to natural light. For as few as 60 minutes a day, they are allowed out of their cells to pace about another concrete area no larger than a dog run. In some cases, it’s outdoors; in others, not. This punishment is meted out for reasons ranging from disobeying an officer’s order to violent assaults on staff, and it can last anywhere from 24 hours to years. Most facilities make no accommodation for detainees suffering from severe mental illness.
And the damage solitary inflicts on people is indisputable. Years of research have demonstrated that the effects include mental illness, anger, despondency and self-harm; psychiatrist Stuart Grassian concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome that includes hallucinations, panic attacks and paranoia.
Of course, some kind of disciplinary mechanism is needed, because jails are inherently volatile. Unlike prisons, jails generally don’t house people who have been convicted and sentenced — the population is overwhelmingly made up of people awaiting trial. At my jail in Cook County, Ill. — one of the nation’s largest, with about 5,500 detainees — we have seen an increasing length of stay for individuals in our custody, for many reasons including a painfully slow-moving criminal-justice system. Several of our current detainees have been here nearly 10 years without adjudication. Add to that frustration, the presence of members of fractious Chicago street gangs and society’s de facto decision to jail the mentally ill, and it’s easy to see how jails can become violent places. However, the solution to that violence is not solitary confinement.
I know there is a better way. I know because we have been doing it differently here in Chicago for nearly three years now. After years of handling violence just like most other jails, we realized that solitary was not solving the problem. It was contributing to it. And so, since May 2016, we have not housed any detainee in a solitary setting, not for even one hour.
Instead, we created a new place in the jail called the Special Management Unit (SMU) to house detainees who resort to violence and/or break the rules. There they can spend time in open rooms or yards with other detainees — as many as six or eight at a time — under direct supervision by staff members trained in conflict deescalation and resolution techniques and with precautions in place to ensure safety. Mental-health professionals provide weekly sessions on anger management, coping skills and conflict resolution. We also changed the disciplinary process for infractions to include other programming including thoughtful hearings and increased classes and activities .
Staffers, though skeptical at first, have been amazing. They have bought into this alternative to using isolation as a cudgel. After all, these new practices have not just benefited our detainees, they have also improved our working conditions. Since we introduced this model to our jail, detainee-on-detainee assaults have dropped significantly and assaults on staff plummeted. Last year we recorded the lowest number of total assaults since the SMU was established.
While the national discussion on criminal-justice reform tends to focus on sentencing, we must also reexamine the conditions of confinement we employ in jails, particularly the use of solitary. No reputable study has ever documented any positive effects from solitary confinement.
Regardless of your position on criminal-justice reform, you should realize that more than 70 percent of our jail detainees do not spend the rest of their days in prison — rather, they are released and return to their communities. This may be because charges against them are dropped, bonds are paid, plea agreements are signed, or they go to trial and are found not guilty. In all those cases, the result is the same — they are released from jail. What are we doing to our communities when we send them people, suddenly unmonitored, who have spent the past few months of their lives in a concrete room, devoid of any human contact?
The results often involve violence, volatility and recidivism. It is time solitary is addressed and eliminated in jails around the country.
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