Horrific deaths, brutal treatment: Mental illness in America's jails
The Virginian-Pilot by Gary Harki
August 23 (27), 2019
How America’s jails came to warehouse the people with mental illness is no secret.
Deinstitutionalization, the release of patients from large institutions, began when Thorazine started being widely used in the 1950s. The medication was the first effective antipsychotic drug, calming and sedating people with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses.
By then, the horrific conditions inside America’s mental hospitals were well-known.
“It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world,” Nellie Bly wrote in “Ten Days in a Madhouse,” her 1887 book on Blackwell's Island Asylum in New York, America’s first municipal mental hospital.
Since the start of deinstitutionalization, jail populations have increased exponentially. In 1950, American jails held about 86,500 people. By 1983 there were more than 223,500 inmates. In 2016, the last year for which data is available, the Bureau of Justice Statistics counted more than 740,700, slightly down from the peak of 785,500 in 2008.
The bureau estimates that 44 percent of jail inmates have been told by a mental health professional that they have a mental disorder. More than a quarter of the jail population – roughly 186,000 people – are believed to be in serious psychological distress.
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All the ways being white helped me avoid prison
The Marshall Project by Jennifer Jordan
September 13, 2018
As a young, educated white girl, I confused everyone I encountered in law enforcement. Before I exited the courtroom, Judge James told me that, despite my felony convictions, he felt I would best serve my community from outside a prison cell. After so many chances already, I was given one more, and yes, I felt very lucky. Nearly 14 years later, luck is no longer the first word that comes to mind, however. When I consider how I avoided nine years in prison—instead getting three years in probation—the word I think of now is privilege.
The national prison strike is over. Now is the time prisoners are most in danger. : The Conversation
The national prison strike is over. Now is the time prisoners are most in danger.
The Conversation by Heather Ann Thompson
Sept 15, 2018
Over the last few weeks men and women across the United States – and even as far away as Nova Scotia, Canada – have protested to demand humane treatment for the incarcerated.
In 2016, when prisoners engaged in similar hunger strikes, sit-ins, and work stoppages, their actions barely registered with the national media. As someone who regularly writes about the history of prisoner protests and prison conditions today, this lack of interest was striking.
This time around, though, prisoner demands to improve the conditions of confinement have captured the attention of reporters everywhere. Coverage can be found in such major newspapers as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Popular magazines such as GQ and Teen Vogue have also published pieces.
All seem to sense that American prisons may well be descending into crisis, so perhaps it is time to start paying attention.
Nationwide strike by prisoners set to end on Sunday after weeks of protests
USA Today by Dalvin Brown
Sept 8, 2018
A nationwide strike by prison inmates is set to end Sunday, 19 days after it began.
Since Aug. 21, some prisoners have chosen to forgo meals, organize peaceful sit-in protests, refuse to work and halt commissary spending. Meanwhile, allies on the outside stood in solidarity with the protest by marching, chanting and pressuring government officials to take action against what rally organizers call “modern-day slavery.”
Second chances: Employers more open to hiring people with criminal backgrounds
Chicago Tribune by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Lisa Schencker
September 11, 2018
...Doors long closed to people with criminal records have begun to crack open in industries ranging from health care to banking as employers seek new sources of talent and as lawmakers bet that gainful employment will reduce the risk that people will return to prison.
In Illinois, lawmakers have changed licensing laws to make 100-plus occupations more accessible to people with criminal records, including in real estate and accounting. The state also has expanded the types of convictions that can be sealed and therefore invisible to most employers. Meanwhile, tweaks to federal banking policies make it easier for banks to hire people convicted of minor crimes. ...
US Prisoners' Strike is a Reminder How Common Inmate Labor Is
CBS News by Ruben Garcia
September 3, 2018
Prisoners in 17 U.S. states went on strike on Aug. 21 by refusing to eat or work to call attention to a number of troubling issues, including dilapidated facilities, harsh sentences and other aspects of mass incarceration in America.
As we approach Labor Day, the strike places a spotlight on the questionable practice of putting prisoners to work for very low or no wages. Examples of whatincarcerated people do or have done include answering customer service phone calls, fighting wildfires, packaging Starbucks coffee and producing consumer goods such as lingerie.
But this practice may run afoul of several U.S. legal commitments – including the 13th Amendment ending slavery – and even violates voluntary codes of conduct of some of the companies involved.
The economics behind the prison strike: An inmate’s guide to earning 24 cents per hour
Salon by Michael Fischer
August 31, 2018
When I first heard about the incarcerated workers strike last week, I went to my closet and dug out some old paperwork. I still have my payroll receipts from Livingston Correctional Facility, a medium-security state prison where I served time for a nonviolent crime. When I was released from there in 2015, I left almost everything behind. I gave away my plastic bowl and my blanket, a couple cans of black beans. But I took my payroll receipts with me. They serve as a reminder of what New York State thinks I’m worth.
... It’s strange how deeply mere numbers can cut. I did my best to hold my head up when the state took away my name and replaced it with six numbers and a letter. I often stare at the dates on the calendar and tell myself I can make it to the end of each month. But the paltry amounts trickling into my commissary account settle on my shoulders in a way I can’t shake off. Of all the ways prison seeks to diminish my self-respect — strip searches, supervised urine tests — this is the one that sticks. ...
The Viral Success of a Strike No One Can See
The Atlantic by Vauhini Vara
August 30, 2018
Months ago, inmates across the U.S. began planning a strike over prison conditions, including low or nonexistent wages. To start getting the word out, they didn’t target big news organizations. Instead, organizers posted about the imminent strikes to their own social-media followers. And they contacted publications with an activist bent, like Shadowproof, a press organization focused on marginalized communities, and the San Francisco Bay View, a black-liberation newspaper.
They worried, based on past experience, that mainstream outlets would emphasize that prisoners’ often anonymous accounts of the strike couldn’t be verified and the fact that the impact of the strike was hard to predict. But more radical publications, they believed, would focus on the strikers’ message, about unjust prison conditions and what should be done about them. That message could be amplified online, and picked up by bigger publications. “We intentionally went from the bottom up,” Brooke Terpstra, an organizer in Oakland with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a group that has been supporting the strike, told me.
Serving Time Should Not Mean ‘Prison Slavery’
Opinion New York Times by Erik Loomis
August 30, 2018
A national strike by prisoners is the latest iteration of demands for freedom from forced labor.
Since Aug. 21, prisoners across the United States have been on one of the largest prison strikes the nation has seen in years. They have several demands, but at the top is the end of the forced labor the state coerces out of them. Up to 800,000 prisoners a day are put out for work without their choice, usually for extremely paltry compensation that in Louisiana is as low as 4 cents per hour.
The Other Side of "Broken Windows"
The New Yorker by Eric Klinenberg
August 23, 2018
In the nineteenth century, British researchers began studying the variation in crime rates between and within cities. Some of these studies offered relatively simple accounts of the variance, in which concentrated poverty led to higher crime. Others went further, asking what explained the disparities in crime rates among poor neighborhoods. Most of this work “offered theories,” the University of Pennsylvania criminologist John MacDonald wrote in a recent paper, “but did not attempt to provide guidance on how to curb crime.”
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive