Should a pregnant person ever go to prison?
Quartz by Zoe Schlanger
April 6, 2019
Siwatu-Salama Ra knew it was time to go to the hospital. As the early stages of her labor began on a day in late May 2018, officers placed handcuffs on her wrists and lead her into the transport van. She arrived to the hospital and to a delivery room where, inside, armed guards would wait all day and night and watch her give birth.
It was awful, but not as bad as it could be. Many other women in her position are taken to the hospital with handcuffs, chains across their waists, and shackled to the floor of the transport vehicle. Then they are shackled to the bed by their ankles while they give birth. Ra on the other hand was not cuffed in the delivery room.
The doctors and nurses in the maternity ward at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan, an hour west of Detroit, were used to taking patients from the nearby Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Michigan’s only women’s prison. But Ra’s arrival was a little different; her incarceration a few months earlier was covered by the local news. Hospital staff kept coming into her room to see her, to ask if she needed anything. One nurse said she just wanted to hug her.
There was a trade-off for the lack of restraints, though, she thinks today: increased security once she got to the hospital. Those armed guards—sometimes four, never less than two, always armed and wearing bullet-proof vests—stayed in her delivery room the whole time.
“She was my ultimate punishment.”One of the officers in the hospital room was particularly jumpy. She would clutch her gun every time the doctor or nurse walked in, Ra says. “When she heard the door opening, she would jump up and have her hand on her gun,” Ra remembers. “And I’m sitting in my bed, holding my stomach, you know?” What was the officer worried about, she wondered—that she was going to run away while in labor? It was a bigger insult than the handcuffs in the van, to have that woman with that gun in the room. “She was my ultimate punishment,” Ra says.
Ra, now 27, went to prison on March 1, 2018, when she was six-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child. Her first child, Zala, was two, and up until that day the mother-daughter pair were attached at the hip. Before prison, Ra worked as an organizer for a local environmental non-profit in her hometown of Detroit, where she and her mother, Rhonda Anderson, are both well known in the tight-knit activist community. Detroit is a city where families in majority-black neighborhoods are inundated by a constant mist of industrial pollution and where water shutoffs are so frequent the UN has called it a human rights violation; the circumstances have birthed a vibrant environmental activism community with Ra’s family more or less at the center.
The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes,
by Senior Research Analyst Nazgol Ghandnoosh,
The Sentencing Project
As President Trump and Congress celebrate their criminal justice reform achievement, passage of the First Step Act, a new report from The Sentencing Project points to limits on excessive punishments for violent offenses as the critical next step in ending mass incarceration.
[This report] highlights 15 reforms in 19 states implemented over the past two decades that have produced more effective, fiscally sound, and humane policies for people convicted of violent crimes. These reforms include: shortening excessive prison terms for violent convictions, scaling back collateral consequences, narrowing overly broad definitions of violence, ending long term solitary confinement, and rejecting the death penalty.
Recent reforms in Mississippi and California exemplify this next step in criminal justice reform. Mississippi legislators reformed the state's truth-in-sentencing requirement for violent crimes in 2014, reducing the proportion of a sentence that individuals with certain violent convictions have to serve before becoming eligible for parole from 85% to 50%. In 2018, California expanded specialized parole hearings that account for immature brain development to young adults under age 26.
Nationwide criminal justice reforms have reduced the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes by 22% between 2007 and 2015. But they have yet to meaningfully reduce excessive penalties for violent crimes. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population is now serving time for a violent offense, including assault and robbery. Although the violent crime rate has plummeted to half of its early-1990s level, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense grew until 2009, and has since declined by just 3%.
We hope you will help us spread the word about this new report on social media. You can use the sample social media posts below:
#TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration must focus on reducing excessive penalties for violent crimes. Learn more in the @SentencingProj's new report: sent.pr/2FJoYjt
It is possible to undo excessive penalties for violent crimes while also promoting public safety. 19 states are already taking #TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration. sent.pr/2FJoYjt @SentencingProj
While the First Step Act and other criminal justice reforms have limited the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes, they have yet to meaningfully reduce excessive penalties for violent crimes. The Sentencing Project's new report highlights 15 reforms over the past two decades that have scaled back penalties for violent crimes while also promoting public safety. This is #TheNextStep in ending mass incarceration. sent.pr/2FJoYjt
What happened during my first visit to a prison since being released from one
Washington Post by Jason Razaian
On my latest trip to the Bay Area, I did something a bit different from what I usually do when I visit the area in which I grew up: I went to prison.
I had the opportunity to meet with inmates at San Quentin State Prison, the California penitentiary that sits on the southeastern edge of San Rafael, the city I called home for my first 33 years.
I had driven past San Quentin thousands of times. As a boy at Marin Country Day School, I looked out across the bay to see the prison’s sand-colored walls just across the water. During my childhood, my dad, his sister and a cousin all had retail businesses in an outdoor shopping mall less than a quarter of a mile from the prison.
This, though, was the first time I was going inside. It was my first experience at a prison since being released from Evin in Iran, which was also eerily close to my home in Tehran.
Program allows inmates to see their kids outside prison
CNN by Poppy Harlow
CNN's Poppy Harlow takes you inside the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York to meet the mothers locked up there -- and into an innovative new program through the Children's Museum of Manhattan that allows a select group of female inmates to spend a few precious hours outside of jail with their children.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
Incarcerated people have a lot to teach us about preventing crime and violence. I listened, and you can, too.
NBC News by Jeffrey Wright
The transition from incarceration to reintegration into society is very much at the center of what our story is about in "O.G.": I play a man who's been incarcerated for 24 years, who is in the final weeks of his sentence. As a result, I had many conversations with folks on the inside, since we filmed in a working facility, and largely worked with men who are incarcerated in the roles of the other incarcerated men.
Almost to a man, they described what they feel is a universal period of anxiousness — of confusion — about what lies on the other side of the wall because, in many ways, time has stood still for them while they've been incarcerated, and the world outside has become foreign. But it's also because they've lived within an institution that has made every day-to-day social choice for them, and so their decision-making skills have really atrophied.
That's a real danger to someone who's reintegrating into society after having committed a serious crime, as the men that I worked with have. Reintegrating into society with your social skills having atrophied, but with your survival skills having been honed in a dangerous setting, is not necessarily the best combination for the general public, let alone for them.
Opening Minds Behind Bars
NPR-IL by Dusty Rhodes
Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.
That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.
“My mother was always trying to get me out of the neighborhood I grew up in, so we constantly moved a lot. I was never in a school longer than a year," he says. "So you take me from one neighborhood to another school … to her, the school seems like a better place to go. But there still is a neighborhood around it that I have to operate in. So I continued to get in trouble in school and get kicked out of school.
Cory Booker: It’s time for the next step in criminal justice reform
Edward Douglas woke up on Jan. 10, 2019, in a federal penitentiary in Pekin, Ill., where he had spent every morning of the past 15 years of his life. He was serving a lifetime sentence for selling 140 grams of crack cocaine — an amount about the size of a baseball.
It seemed like any other day until, at 10:30 a.m., a guard came into Douglas’s cell and told him he needed to call his lawyer. A few minutes later, he reached his lawyer, who informed him that, thanks to a new law, he would be a free man in a matter of hours. Douglas started sobbing.
“I don’t know what to say,” Douglas said through tears. “I’ll be glad to see my mom and my kids.”
Reckoning With Violence
The New York Times by Michelle Alexander
March 3, 2019
We must face violent crime honestly and courageously if we are ever to end mass incarceration and provide survivors what they truly want and need to heal.
When Chicago’s police chief, Eddie Johnson, looked out at the sea of journalists to share the breaking news that Jussie Smollett, a well-known and beloved actor, had allegedly staged a violent racist and homophobic attack against himself, he said with great emotion: “Guys, I look out into the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention.”
Chicago is besieged by horrific levels of violence, including thousands of shootings and hundreds of homicides each year. More than 500 people were killed in 2018, down from 664 in 2017. This ongoing tragedy cannot be blamed on any lack of aggressiveness on the part of law enforcement. Indeed, if wars on crime and drugs, militarized policing, “get tough” sentencing policies, torture of suspects, and perpetual monitoring and surveillance of the poorest, most crime-ridden communities actually worked to keep people safe, Chicago would be one of the safest cities in the world.
Despite the abysmal failure of “get tough” strategies to break cycles of violence in cities like Chicago, reformers of our criminal justice system in recent years have largely avoided the subject of violence, instead focusing their energy and resources on overhauling our nation’s drug laws and reducing penalties for nonviolent offenses.
Jay-Z and Meek Mill launch prison reform organization
CNN by Lisa Respers France
Rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill have joined with sports and business leaders to try and reform the criminal justice system.
The pair were on hand Wednesday at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York to announce the formation of the REFORM Alliance, an organization that aims to reduce the number of people serving unjust parole and probation sentences.
In addition to Jay-Z and Mill, the founding partners include Philadelphia 76ers co-owner and Fanatics executive chairman Michael Rubin, Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Brooklyn Nets co-owner and philanthropic investor Clara Wu Tsai, Third Point LLC CEO and founder Daniel S. Loeb, Galaxy Digital CEO and founder Michael E. Novogratz, and Vista Equity Partners founder, chairman and CEO Robert F. Smith.
JHA Special Report: Kewanee The Inaugural IDOC Life Skills Reentry Center Facility Report
John Howard Association of Illinois
The John Howard Association of Illinois (JHA) had our first official visit to the Kewanee Life Skills Reentry Center (LSRC) in April 2018, about a year after it opened in mid-February 2017 with the first 10 men housed within Kewanee LSRC (Kewanee) as an Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility.1 Population at Kewanee on the date of the April 2018 visit was 215, nearly double the population of 130 men housed at the facility a few months earlier at the beginning of 2018.2 The operational, or bed-space, capacity at Kewanee has been reported differently, from 538 to 648.3 Administrators stated that they expected to soon increase population to 280 when a third housing unit is opened. However, the facility capacity remains undecided, as increasing the population to the reported operational capacity is not yet considered feasible while maintaining program integrity.4 Kewanee’s population made up just about .5% of the approximately 41,060 people incarcerated within IDOC; nonetheless, the novel work of this facility merits review.
Kewanee had been an Illinois Youth Center run by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) until the closure of that facility in June 2016. JHA had called for the closure of the facility for youth for several years due to chronic issues and the low population throughout IDJJ.5 However, JHA strongly supported repurposing the facility for adults, in part because it has a much newer and better physical plant than most adult facilities,6 and to provide specialized services sorely lacking throughout IDOC.7 Ultimately, with Kewanee, Illinois chose to try something that had been talked about for years and encouraged by many including JHA, to use the facility to provide intensive programming and reentry preparation for those who were at a higher risk to recidivate.8 As Kewanee administrators explained, they don’t want “the best of the best,” or people who are already at a low level of risk to reoffend, and who are not coming back anyway, because providing intensive reentry programming for that population will not make as much of a difference.
JHA also notes that providing more humane treatment and productive programming undoubtably will benefit both individuals and society.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive