Huffington Post - In recent years, local governments throughout the United States have locked up growing numbers of people for failing to pay their legal debts. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice released a pair of wide-ranging reports on the practice in 2010. Now, a new report takes a closer look at the emergence of modern-day "debtors' prisons in Washington state, specifically.
People throughout the state are often sent to jail because they cant afford to pay the heavy fines and legal fees issued by county courts, says the report by the ACLU of Washington and Columbia Legal Services.
In Benton County, the problem is particularly severe; about 20 percent of the jail population is there because of unpaid legal charges. The county's District Court fines people for misdemeanors like driving without a license, and the Superior Court orders defendants who are convicted of violent crimes and property offenses to pay restitution to their victims. In both courts, defendants are often ordered to pay for the cost of their trials.
Throughout the state, defendants frequently must pay fines, fees and other charges exceeding several thousand dollars per conviction, accruing interest at the rate of 12 percent per year. Those who dont have the money ultimately face what the report describes as a demoralizing cycle of court hearings, contempt charges, and arrest warrants. This system punishes people simply for being poor and brings little to no benefit to the government or the general public, the report argues. It even results in some poor people being locked up in jail because they cannot afford to pay debts -- a modern version of the despised debtors prisons.
...Under the U.S. Constitution, Americans cant be jailed for failing to pay their debts when the reason for their failure to pay is poverty. But in Washington and other states, county governments get around that by insisting poor defendants could find a way to pay if they simply tried hard enough. You hear judges say, Oh, you have a tattoo, you can pay, said Vanessa Hernandez, a co-author of the report. Or, Why dont you just mow some lawns? Theres not a specific enough standard for whether they have the ability to pay.
Truth Out There are now over 2 million people living behind bars in the United States. Thats half a million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S.
The worst part is that once captured by the prison industry, inmates are forced to work for pennies an hour, providing cheap labor for some of the most profitable enterprises in the world, including the U.S. Military.
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100 percent of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 percent of stove assembly; 46 percent of body armor; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21 percent of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
America has more people in prison than it has engineers or high school teachers
30 years, we had about 300,000 incarcerated people in this country. Now we have 2.4 million.
@Harpers - Number of years in prison to which a Texas man was sentenced in May for stealing a $35 rack of pork ribs: 50
schools, prisons, what's the dif?
From 1999-2010, the total U.S. prison population rose 18 percent, an increase largely reflected by the "drug war" and stringent sentencing guidelines, such as three strikes laws and mandatory minimum sentences. However, total private prison populations exploded fivefold during this same time period, with federal private prison populations rising by 784 percent
Video of inmate being tortured
by Maine prison guards
For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high nearly 40 percent nationwide that theyre more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.
The U.S. federal prison population has increased almost 790 percent since 1980 from about 25,000 inmates to 219,000 in 2012,
ART FROM SOLITARY
@Harpers - Estimated portion of prison suicides that are committed by inmates in solitary: 1/2
In America, thanks to our prisons, more men than women are raped
Above from Wikipedia. In addition, according to Michelle Alexander, the United States "imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid"
THE ATTICA THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN One year after Attica, there was a prisoner revolt at the Washington, DC Jail during which the director of DC Corrections and a number of guards were taken hostage. But, unlike Attica, no one was killed. Perhaps this is why so few remember what happened on a night when judges, politicians, U.S. Marshals, prisoners, and hostages all gathered in Courtroom 16 to see what could be done - brought together by a single judge who wasn't afraid to talk when others wanted to shoot. The peaceful resolution of the DC Jail uprising was one of the most extraordinary stories I ever covered - Sam Smith
UNLOCKING AMERICA: THE DAMAGE OUR PRISON POLICY HAS DONE
BUSH REGIME BUILDING CONCENTRATION CAMPS BACKED BY DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS' APPROVAL OF MARTIAL LAW
LEWIS SEILER & DAN HAMBURG, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - Since 9/11, and seemingly without the notice of most Americans, the federal government has assumed the authority to institute martial law, arrest a wide swath of dissidents (citizen and non-citizen alike), and detain people without legal or constitutional recourse in the event of "an emergency influx of immigrants in the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."
Beginning in 1999, the government has entered into a series of single-bid contracts with Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root to build detention camps at undisclosed locations within the United States. The government has also contracted with several companies to build thousands of railcars, some reportedly equipped with shackles, ostensibly to transport detainees.
According to diplomat and author Peter Dale Scott, the KBR contract is part of a Homeland Security plan titled ENDGAME, which sets as its goal the removal of "all removable aliens" and "potential terrorists."
Fraud-busters such as Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, have complained about these contracts, saying that more taxpayer dollars should not go to taxpayer-gouging Halliburton. But the real question is: What kind of "new programs" require the construction and refurbishment of detention facilities in nearly every state of the union with the capacity to house perhaps millions of people?
Sect. 1042 of the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, "Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies," gives the executive the power to invoke martial law. For the first time in more than a century, the president is now authorized to use the military in response to "a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, a terrorist attack or any other condition in which the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order."
The Military Commissions Act of 2006, rammed through Congress just before the 2006 midterm elections, allows for the indefinite imprisonment of anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on a list of "terrorist" organizations, or who speaks out against the government's policies. The law calls for secret trials for citizens and non-citizens alike.
Also in 2007, the White House quietly issued National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), to ensure "continuity of government" in the event of what the document vaguely calls a "catastrophic emergency." Should the president determine that such an emergency has occurred, he and he alone is empowered to do whatever he deems necessary to ensure "continuity of government." This could include everything from canceling elections to suspending the Constitution to launching a nuclear attack. Congress has yet to hold a single hearing on NSPD-51.
U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, D-Venice has come up with a new way to expand the domestic "war on terror." Her Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR1955), which passed the House by the lopsided vote of 404-6, would set up a commission to "examine and report upon the facts and causes" of so-called violent radicalism and extremist ideology, then make legislative recommendations on combating it. . . investigative power to combat it.
A clue as to where Harman's commission might be aiming is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a law that labels those who "engage in sit-ins, civil disobedience, trespass, or any other crime in the name of animal rights" as terrorists. Other groups in the crosshairs could be anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, environmentalists, peace demonstrators, Second Amendment rights supporters ... the list goes on and on. According to author Naomi Wolf, the National Counterterrorism Center holds the names of roughly 775,000 "terror suspects" with the number increasing by 20,000 per month.
What could the government be contemplating that leads it to make contingency plans to detain without recourse millions of its own citizens?
The Constitution does not allow the executive to have unchecked power under any circumstances. The people must not allow the president to use the war on terrorism to rule by fear instead of by law.
UNLOCKING AMERICA: THE DAMAGE OUR PRISON POLICIES DO
RICK MOORE A major report entitled "Unlocking America," coauthored by nine leading criminology and penal experts--including the University of Minnesota's Joshua Page--explores the causes of the exploding prison population and offers suggestions for reversing the numbers. Among the report's recommendations are eliminating prison as a sanction for technical parole and probation violations, reducing the length of some prison sentences, and reducing the number of people incarcerated for "victimless" crimes, including many drug offenses.
"We need to reduce the number of people that are going to prison and be methodical about reserving prison beds and allocating resources for the most serious and violent offenders, and figure out alternative sanctions for other offenders," Page says.
According to Page, the number of people incarcerated grew for various reasons. More people have been given prison sentences instead of alternative sanctions such as probation, particularly for drug offenses. In addition, sentences have become longer, with mandatory minimum sentences and the implementation of "truth-in-sentencing"--which reduces the amount of time that can be deducted from a sentence for good behavior (making it more "true" to the original sentence).
Last year, roughly 32 percent of new admissions to Minnesota prisons were for people who violated the terms of their probation or parole, known as "technical violators," [Joshua Page, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota] says. (This could be for reasons like failing a drug test or not finding work.) "And then if you add the 21.6 percent that are for drug offenses, more than half of Minnesota's prison population are for [technical] violators and drugs." Page and the other authors [of a new report] recommend de-criminalizing victimless crimes, meaning people would not receive any criminal punishment for drug use, prostitution, and the like. They also suggest that states use alternative sanctions for some offenders who currently serve prison sentences--for instance, selective property offenders. Options might include paying restitution or performing community service, whether it's picking up trash on the side of the road or serving food at a homeless shelter.
UNLOCKING AMERICA President Bush was right. A prison sentence for Lewis "Scooter" Libby was excessive- so too was the long three year probation term. But while he was at it, President Bush should have commuted the sentences of hundreds of thousands of Americans who each year have also received prison sentences for crimes that pose little if any danger or harm to our society. In the United States, every year since 1970, when only 196,429 persons were in state and federal prisons, the prison population has grown. Today there are over 1.5 million in state and federal prisons. Another 750,000 are in the nation's jails. The growth has been constant- in years of rising crime and falling crime, in good economic times and bad, during wartime and while we were at peace. A generation of growth has produced prison populations that are now eight times what they were in 1970. And there is no end to the growth under current policies.
The PEW Charitable Trust reports that under current sentencing policies the state and federal prison populations will grow by another 192,000 prisoners over the next five years. The incarceration rate will increase from 491 to 562 per 100,000 population. And the nation will have to spend an additional $27.5 billion in operational and construction costs over this fi ve-year period on top of the over $60 billion now being spent on corrections each year.
This generation-long growth of imprisonment has occurred not because of growing crime rates, but because of changes in sentencing policy that resulted in dramatic increases in the proportion of felony convictions resulting in prison sentences and in the length-of-stay in prison that those sentences required. . . .
Prisons are self-fueling systems. About two-thirds of the 650,000 prison admissions are persons who have failed probation or parole - approximately half of these people have been sent to prison for technical violations. Having served their sentences, roughly 650,000 people are released each year having served an average of 2-3 years. About 40% will ultimately be sent back to prison as "recidivists"- in many states, for petty drug and property crimes or violations of parole requirements that do not even constitute crimes. This high rate of recidivism is, in part, a result of a range of policies that increase surveillance over people released from prison, impose obstacles to their reentry into society, and eliminate support systems that ease their transition from prison to the streets.
Prison policy has exacerbated the festering national problem of social and racial inequality. Incarceration rates for blacks and Latinos are now more than six times higher than for whites; 60% of America's prison population is either African-American or Latino. A shocking eight percent of black men of working age are now behind bars, and 21% of those between the ages of 25 and 44 have served a sentence at some point in their lives. At current rates, one-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives. Incarceration rates this high are a national tragedy.2 Women now represent the fastest growing group of incarcerated persons. In 2001, they were more than three times as likely to end up in prison as in 1974, largely due to their low-level involvement in drug-related activity and the deeply punitive sentencing policies aimed at drugs. The massive incarceration of young males from mostly poor- and working-class neighborhoods- and the taking of women from their families and jobs- has crippled their potential for forming healthy families and achieving economic gains. The authors of this report have spent their careers studying crime and punishment. We are convinced that we need a different strategy. Our contemporary laws. . .
By far the major reason for the increase in prison populations at least since 1990 has been longer lengths of imprisonment. The adoption of truth in sentencing provisions that require prisoners to serve most of their sentences in prison, a wide variety of mandatory minimum sentencing provisions that prevent judges from placing defendants on probation even when their involvement in the conduct that led to the conviction was minor, reductions in the amount of good time a prisoner can receive while imprisoned, and more conservative parole boards have significantly impacted the length of stay. For example, in a special study by the U.S. Department of Justice on truth in sentencing, between 1990 and 1997, the numbers of prison admissions increased by only 17% (from 460,739 to 540,748), while the prison population increased by 60% (from 689,577 to 1,100,850). . . .
Proponents of prison expansion have heralded this growth as a smashing success. But a large number of studies contradict that claim. Most scientific evidence suggests that there is little if any relationship between fluctuations in crime rates and incarceration rates. In many cases, crime rates have risen or declined independent of imprisonment rates. New York City, for example, has produced one of the nation's largest declines in crime in the nation while significantly reducing its jail and prison populations.Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, and Massachusetts have also reduced their prison populations during the same time that crime rates were declining. A study of crime and incarceration rates from 1980 to 1991 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia shows that incarceration rates exploded during this period. The states that increased incarceration rates the least were just as likely to experience decreases in crime as those that increased them the most. . . Other studies reach similar conclusions, finding "no consistent relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates" and "no support for the âmore prisoners, less crime' thesis." . . .
Incarceration may not have had much impact on crime, but it has had numerous unintended consequences, ranging from racial injustice and damage to families and children to worsening public health, civic disengagement, and even increases in crime. Bruce Western demonstrates the extraordinarily disparate impact of imprisonment on young black males compared to any other subgroup of society. For example, he shows that nearly one-half of all young black males who have not finished high school are behind bars, an incarceration rate that is six times higher than for white male dropouts. He then shows how incarceration damages the lifetime earnings, labor market participation, and marriage prospects for those who have been to prison and concludes that the U.S. prison system exacerbates and sustains racial inequality. British penologists Joseph Murray and David Farrington have analyzed data sets about child development from three nations and found that parental incarceration contributes to higher rates of delinquency, mental illness, and drug abuse, and reduces levels of school success and later employment among their children. . .
The failure of efforts to develop methods of accurately identifying the small number of offenders who do commit particularly horrendous crimes after serving their sentences fueled demands for longer sentences across the board. The logic of this argument was that if we can't single out the truly dangerous, we will assume that anyone with two or three convictions for a relatively wide range of offenses is a dangerous habitual criminal, and keep them all in prison for an extremely long time. On the basis of this reasoning, a number of states adopted mandatory sentencing, truth in sentencing and in some states "three strikes" laws, all of which extend prison sentences. These laws have done little to reduce crime. Few convicted persons have the requisite number of previous felony convictions to qualify for the enhanced sentences. This is because rates of return to serious crime on the part of those released from prison are not high. Just 1.2% of those who served time for homicide and were released in 1994 were rearrested for a new homicide within three years of release, and just 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape. Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex-offenders to be rearrested for any offense. . . .
The U.S. Department of Justice conducted a major study of criminal involvement of prisoners who had been released in 1994. It found that only 5% of the 3 million arrests made in seven states between 1994 and 1997 were of recently released prisoners.47 California's "three strikes" law has had a number of evaluations; almost all found that it failed to reduce crime. These studies make clear that, while many people who are released from prison end up back behind bars, they are but a fraction of the overall crime problem. Lengthening their sentences, as a means of dealing with crime will at best have only marginal impact. . .
At the turn of the 19th century reformers realized that brutal prisons embitter prisoners rather than reform them. Yet this persistent faith that prisoners can be discouraged from returning to crime by subjecting them to harsh penalties, or that the population at large can be deterred more effectively with severe penalties than with milder ones, has never had empirical support. Decades of research on capital punishment have failed to produce compelling evidence that it prevents homicide more effectively than long prison sentences. Community penalties, it has been shown, are at least as effective in discouraging return to crime as institutional penalties. Rigorous prison conditions substantially increase recidivism. Evaluations show that boot camps and "scared straight" programs either have no effect on recidivism or increase it.
INDENTURED SERVITUDE IN FULL SWING IN U.S. PRISONS
EZEKIEL EDWARDS, DRUM MAJOR INSTITUTE - J. Tony Serra, a well-known California attorney, has brought a suit in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of inmates against a federal prison camp in Santa Barbara County challenging its prison pay system which compensates inmates for their labor at between 5 cents and $1.65 an hour. Serra knows what its like to labor for so little: he just spent 10 months in the prison for tax evasion and made 19 cents an hour.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Serra described a "nationwide network of prison camps churning out products made by low-paid inmates for contractors and federal agencies that might ... otherwise buy the same goods from unionized private plants.". . .
The federal government's prison industries program, also known as UNICOR, by 2003 operated 100 factories generating over $665 million in sales using 20,274 prisoners. The prisoners are paid far below minimum wage and often work in unsafe environments, since FPI is not bound by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In addition to taking advantage of cheap labor, both government-run and private prisons also provide employment for thousands of people outside the prisons, from wardens to guards to construction workers to businessmen. Corrections Corporation of America, the world's largest private prison corporation, operates 59 facilities in 20 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and Australia, despite being plagued by mismanagement and scandals, including inadequate health care and mental, emotional, and physical abuse of inmates within its prison walls (some of which resulted in death). . .
As Grassroots Leadership has observed, "the existence of an industry based on incarceration for profit creates a commercial incentive in favor of government policies that keep more people behind bars for longer periods of time."
Any discussion about reducing our prison population, pulling out of the war on drugs, or otherwise reforming the criminal justice system, faces a huge obstacle: the prison industry. From politicians who rely on prisons for their senate seats to counties that rely on federal funds because of the inflated size of its unemployed "residents", from correction guards and their powerful unions to entire towns employed by prisons, from the police narcotics units to narcotics prosecutors, all have a keen financial interest in keeping the prison industry alive and kicking, if not constantly growing, even if at the expense of the liberty of fellow citizens.
It seems that, after money itself, prisons have become this country's primary domestic drug of choice, a drug which is destroying this nation from within and a habit we need desperately to kick.
WHY EXCESSIVE INCARCERATION DOESN'T WORK
EZEKIEL EDWARDS, DMI BLOG - The number of inmates incarcerated for drug possession between 1980 and 2005 grew by more than 1000% and now cost $8.3 billion dollars every year. As a result, between 1985 and 2004, states increased spending on corrections by 202%, while spending on public assistance decreased by more than 60%, and spending on higher education, Medicaid, and secondary/elementary education grew by just 3%, 47 %, and 55% respectively.
With an eye towards our prison epidemic, the Vera Institute of Justice released a report recently on imprisonment in America titled "Reconsidering Incarceration: New Directions for Reducing Crime". Here is a summary of its findings:
- Research shows that while the U.S. experienced a dramatic drop in crime between 1992 and 1997, imprisonment was responsible for just 25% of that reduction.
- The remaining 75% was caused by other factors, including lower unemployment, higher wages, more education, more high school graduates, fewer young persons in the population, increase in the number of police officers (provided that the number of police did not necessarily translate into more arrests), and decreases in crack cocaine markets.
- The impact of incarceration on crime is inconsistent from one study to the next (research suggests that a 10% increase in incarceration could lead to no difference in the crime rate, or a 22% decrease, or a decrease only in property crime). The most consistent figure is that a 10% increase in imprisonment results in a 2% to 4% drop in crime rates.
- Researchers focusing on specific neighborhoods found that more incarceration can actually increase crime rates, arguing that "high rates of imprisonment break down the social and family bonds that guide individuals away from crime, remove adults who would otherwise nurture children, deprive communities of income, reduce future income potential, and engender a deep resentment toward the legal system. As a result, as communities become less capable of maintaining social order through families or social groups, crime rates go up."
-Increases in prison populations in states which already have large prison populations have less impact on crime (and eventually begin to increase crime rates) than in states with smaller prison populations.
- Analysts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that continued growth in incarceration will prevent considerably fewer, if any, crimes, and at substantially greater costs to taxpayers.
- The more employment, the less crime. Imprisonment reduces employment, and hence can foster more crime. "Incarceration creates problems of low earnings and irregular employment for individuals after release from prison by dissuading employers from hiring them, disqualifying them from certain professions, eroding job skills, limiting acquisition from work experience, creating behaviors inconsistent with work routines outside prison, and undermining social connections to good job opportunities." Moreover, employers may shun neighborhoods with high incarceration rates, and prison can generate connections to illegal rather than legal employment. . .
- Research showed that a 10% increase in real wages produced significant decreases in both real property and violent crime.
- An increase in citizens' education levels were associated with lower crime rates . . . Researchers argued that a 1% increase in male high school graduation rates would save the country $1.4 billion through crime reduction. Moreover, prison-based education programs were found to dramatically reduce recidivism rates. . .
PRISON LABOR: THE NEW SLAVERY
CHRIS LEVISTER, NEW AMERICA MEDIA - As a child Ayana Cole dreamed of becoming a world class fashion designer. Today she is among hundreds of inmates crowded in an Oregon prison factory cranking out designer jeans. For her labor she is paid 45 cents an hour. At a chic Beverly Hills boutique some of the beaded creations carry a $350 price tag. In fact the jeans labeled "Prison Blues" -- proved so popular last year that prison factories couldn't keep up with demand. At a San Diego private-run prison factory Donovan Thomas earns 21 cents an hour manufacturing office equipment used in some of LA's plushest office towers. In Chino Gary's prison sewn T- shirts are a fashion hit.
Hundreds of prison generated products end up attached to trendy and nationally known labels like No Fear, Lee Jeans, Trinidad Tees, and other well known U.S. companies. After deductions, many prisoners like Cole and Thomas earn about $60 for an entire month of nine-hour days. In short, hiring out prisoners has become big business. And it's booming. . .
For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don't have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment, health or worker's comp insurance, vacation or comp time. All of their workers are full time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if prisoners refuse to work, they are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges. Most importantly, they lose "good time" credit that reduces their sentence. . .
Critics argue that inmate labor is both a potential human rights abuse and a threat to workers outside prison walls claiming, inmates have no bargaining power, are easily exploited and once released are frequently barred from gainful employment because of a felony conviction.
In one California lawsuit, for example, two prisoners have sued both their employer and the prison, saying they were put in solitary confinement after refusing to labor in unsafe working conditions. In a nutshell John Fleckner of Operation Prison Reform labels the growing trend "capitalist punishment -- slavery re-envisioned."