Or, what is wrong with American capitalism?
Or, the greed of the American human is obscene. Humans as commodities.
Or, what is wrong with American capitalism?
Or, the greed of the American human is obscene. Humans as commodities.
Rapes, murders, beatings, stabbings, mutilations and arson are rampant. Pleas for help, scrawled in blood, stain the walls from prisoners held in solitary confinement. Fifteen suicides have been recorded in the last 15 months.
This is not the description of a torture chamber in el-Sisi’s Egypt or Bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia. Nor is it about the abuse of detainees at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay or a CIA black site.
These are the nightmare conditions in the Alabama state-run prison system, described in a Justice Department report released this week. They constitute a gross violation of the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
More than 2,000 photos of abuse in one Alabama prison given to the media by the Southern Poverty Law Center in advance of the report’s release depict the gruesome reality of the conditions detailed in hundreds of interviews with prisoners and their families conducted by federal investigators over more than two years.
While particularly horrific, such conditions are by no means unique. They are repeated in different forms in the prisons of every state, county and city across the United States. More than 2.3 million people are packed like cattle into America’s overflowing system of state and federal prisons, local jails and immigration detention camps. Including those on probation or parole, nearly seven million Americans are caught up in what is absurdly called the “criminal justice system.”
The US accounts for more than one-quarter of the world’s incarcerated population. For every 100,000 residents, there are 698 people in detention. More than 540,000 of those held in jail on any given day have not been convicted of any crime. Many are kept in detention simply because they are too poor pay to pay the median bail of $10,000. Another half a million, one in five inmates, are serving long prison sentences for nonviolent drug convictions.
Researchers estimate that 61,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement on any given day, a form of incarceration that the UN has declared to be tantamount to torture. At least 4,000 of those held in complete isolation from the outside world suffer from severe mental illness. Confinement to these living coffins is known to drive prisoners to suicide.
While debtors’ prisons are officially outlawed, poor workers are routinely held for their debts. A mother in Indiana was detained for three days in February in a squalid jail alongside convicts because of an unpaid ambulance bill, which she had never received in the mail. Such stories are common.
Under the Trump administration, extending the policies developed by Obama, the federal government is waging a war on immigrants, holding thousands of men, women and children in degrading conditions. Some 77,000 people were detained in February for seeking to cross the southern border. Immigrant workers are being hunted down and arrested in their homes and at their work places.
The cruelty of the American government was on full display this week when 280 undocumented workers were detained by federal agents in Allen, Texas. It was the largest such raid in more than a decade.
Then there is the unending wave of police killings, with more than 1,000 people shot, tased or beaten to death every year on the streets of American cities. Criminal charges for police killings are rare and convictions almost unheard of. Cops are given a green light to kill, maim and brutalize with impunity.
With boundless hypocrisy, Democrats and Republicans proclaim their outrage over alleged human rights violations in whatever country the American ruling class is targeting for regime change or invasion. They proclaim one of the most cruel and unequal societies in the world, where the three richest Americans control more wealth than the bottom half of the population, to be a beacon of democracy to the world.
If the conditions that exist in US prisons were exposed in Russia or China, there would be a hue and cry in the press and the halls of Congress for economic sanctions and “humanitarian” military intervention that would resound in the media.
Fifty years ago, a report such as that exposing the conditions in Alabama prisons would have been met, even within sections of the political and media establishment, with shock and demands for action, but today it passes with barely a murmur.
The Democratic Party is silent because it is complicit in the vast retrogression in conditions in US prisons. President Bill Clinton signed the legislation that paved the way for a historic increase in the prison population. The Democrats oversee a prison system in California that was found by the Supreme Court in 2011 to be “cruel and unusual” and in violation of the Constitution.
The upper-middle class, self-obsessed layers in and around the Democratic Party are disinterested. The promoters of the #MeToo campaign in the media and academia have nothing to say about sexual violence in American prisons, nor about the violence inflicted on immigrants fleeing to the United States.
The media has made as little as possible of the report, with no coverage on the major nightly news programs. As with the photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib and the Senate report on CIA torture, there has been an effort to suppress information of what is happening in Alabama. The New York Times and other media outlets have chosen not to publish most of the photos documenting abuse and death.
In the end, this is their state. The conditions of American prisons, and the overall apparatus of violence, is a noxious expression of the reality of American “democracy.” The state apparatus will be utilized in the suppression of social and political opposition to the demands of finance capital. It is the real face of American capitalism.
Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii’s democratic congresswoman and one of many entrants in the crowded 2020 presidential race, is already turning heads.
Feb 12, 2019
Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii’s democratic congresswoman and one of many entrants in the crowded 2020 presidential race, is already turning heads thanks to her anti-interventionist foreign policy approach and progressive stance on a variety of issues, making her an outlier among establishment Democrats.
If her pre-campaign messaging and campaign launch speech are any indicator, the potential presidential contender has no intention of backing down – especially when it comes to her strong advocacy of medical marijuana and harsh criticisms of the criminal justice system and pharmaceutical industry.
Declaring her formal entrance into the Democratic Party presidential primaries, Gabbard issued a rousing call to end the for-profit prison industry, which has seen private corrections corporations rake in profits while shirking prisoners’ and immigrant detainees’ food, health care, and other essential services while exploiting incarcerated people as essentially slave labor.
“We must stand up against private prisons, who are profiting off the backs of those caught up in a broken criminal justice system,” Gabbard said.
Continuing, she added that “a system that puts people in prison for smoking marijuana while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full.”
Purdue Pharma, the company responsible for making the OxyContin narcotic pill, was recently exposed in court filings by the Massachusetts attorney general to have deliberately conspired to mislead doctors and patients about the dangerous and addictive nature of the opioid in hopes of maximizing company profits.
“This so-called criminal justice system, which favors the rich and powerful and punishes the poor, cannot stand.”
Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran and member of Congress since 2013 who previously served as a state legislator in Hawaii and city council member in Honolulu, has long been a supporter of progressive cannabis laws and opponent of federal prohibition laws.
Last year, pro-legalization political advocacy committee National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML PAC) hailed Gabbard as a leader in the fight for criminal justice reform and the decriminalization of marijuana on a federal level.
In their endorsement of the congresswoman from Hawaii, the group laid out her extensive work demanding sensible cannabis policies:
“She is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would take marijuana off the federal controlled substances list. She introduced the Marijuana Data Collection Act, which lays the groundwork for real reform by producing an objective, evidence-based report on current state marijuana laws. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has called for closing the gaps between federal and state law to resolve current contradictions and provide legally abiding marijuana businesses with clear access to financial services. She also co-sponsored the Marijuana Justice Act to reform unjust federal marijuana laws and empower minority communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the failed War on Drugs, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act to allow equal banking access and financial services for marijuana-related businesses, and the RESPECT Resolution to encourage equity in the marijuana industry.”
Gabbard has also drawn a sharp nexus between the demands of Big Pharma lobbyists and continued prohibition laws. Last year, she shredded then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescinding the Obama-era Department of Justice memo, or Cole Memorandum, that instructed federal prosecutors to not enforce federal prohibition laws in states that legalized marijuana, characterizing the move as one which would “exacerbate an inhumane, ineffective system that tears families apart.”
“Sessions’ actions to protect the bottom lines of the for-profit private prison industry, and Big Pharma whose opioids and drugs flourish in part due to the marijuana prohibition, while trampling on states’ rights and turning everyday Americans into criminals is an injustice,” she wrote on Twitter.
And in a 2017 statement calling for an end to federal prohibition, Gabbard demanded that the government “work for people like veterans and healthcare advocates instead of pharmaceutical lobbyists who will continue to push dangerous and addictive painkillers even amidst an opioid epidemic.”
Gabbard isn’t the only contender to call out the pharmaceutical industry’s role in stalling marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform.
Recent entrant and New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillebrand has also blasted Big Pharma, noting:
“To them, it’s competition for chronic pain, and that’s outrageous because we don’t have the crisis in people who take marijuana for chronic pain having overdose issues … It’s not the same thing. It’s not as highly addictive as opioids are.”
This coming Thursday the State of Alabama will execute Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray, and, though all Christian inmates executed in Alabama are afforded a spiritual advisor, one permitted to have physical contact and to minister to them during their final moments, Mr. Ray will not be granted this same measure of human dignity. Why? For one reason, and one reason only: he’s Muslim.
With permission from
February 5, 2019
Over 60 years ago, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “[t]he basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man. While the State has the power to punish, the Amendment stands to assure that this power be exercised within the limits of civilized standards.”
Turning this concept – at the root of how we define “cruel and unusual” punishment in this country – on its head, this coming Thursday the State of Alabama will execute Domineque Hakim Marcelle Ray, and, though all Christian inmates executed in Alabama are afforded a spiritual advisor, one permitted to have physical contact and to minister to them during their final moments, Mr. Ray will not be granted this same measure of human dignity. Why? For one reason, and one reason only: he’s Muslim.
Arguing precisely this point in federal court last week, public defender Spencer Hahn urged United States District Judge W. Keith Watkins, to order, over Alabama’s religiously bigoted objections, that Mr. Ray be allowed to have his own spiritual advisor in the execution chamber – a Muslim imam, one already approved by Alabama’s Department of Corrections (ADOC) for contact visits with Ray; Hahn urged: “Why does Mr. Ray not get the same benefit as a Christian, non-Catholic condemned inmate would? If Mr. Ray were a standard, everyday Protestant Lutheran Christian, he would have a spiritual advisor there who could touch his hand and pray with him in his final moments. But because he happens to be a Muslim – and who knows if the next person is going to be a Catholic or Jewish or a Buddhist – they don’t get that benefit? We would dispute that there is a compelling governmental interest in allowing one type of religious leader into an area and not another.”
But, in a dog-whistle response, ignoring, as I’ve written elsewhere, the state’s “odious tradition of ducking and dodging death penalty accountability” for its manifold patently botched executions – executions that have devolved into excruciating medieval torture sessions because of the medically untrained personnel and unsuitable chemicals Alabama insists on using, and not remotely because of the threatened presence of a non-Christian spiritual advisor – Assistant Attorney General Richard Anderson argued: “[T]here is a very well-established interest in maintaining prison security and the safety and orderliness of prison operations. That is – that’s the main backbone of what our interest is in regulating who goes in and out of, particularly, the execution chamber itself.”
Unsubtly and unscrupulously, Anderson maintained that, in Alabama, only a Christian spiritual advisor can be trusted to maintain proper decorum and discipline during an execution, because “[y]ou know, whether overtly or inadvertently or intentionally, things could go wrong. That is the reason why we restrict access to that room.”
But what about Judge Watkins, you ask? Surely a federal judge would see through this farcical argument, one that makes an end-run around the Constitution while freely, offensively, and unjustifiably casting aspersions on any spiritual advisor not Christian?
Nope. Instead, Watkins, who once attacked the entire medical profession in a judicial opinion over the diminishing access to lethal injection drugs, ate up Anderson’s argument as if it was the most delectable piece of apple pie, served hot and piping fresh on the Fourth of July.
In Furman v. Georgia, the 1972 case in which the Supreme Court briefly struck down the death penalty in the United States, Justice William Brennan wrote in his concurrence: “Death is truly an awesome punishment. The calculated killing of a human being by the State involves, by its very nature, a denial of the person’s humanity”; Brennan complained that the “evolution of [the death penalty] evidences not that it is an inevitable part of the American scene, but that it has proved progressively more troublesome to the national conscience.”
If this is true, it is precisely in such a situation as this one involving Domineque Ray’s execution, that conscientious, justice-loving Americans, especially Alabamians, must speak up! On social media, by telephone, by post, by email, and in the street outside the offices of government, now is the time to make your objections to this pending abomination heard.
Following Justice Brennan’s noble example, we must object to religious bigotry and a lethal injection protocol that treats “members of the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded.” The time to be on record against a process disregarding “that even the vilest criminal remains a human being possessed of common human dignity” is now.
Though I feel the darkness of death entomb my mind, I will not fear the darkness, though I feel my time drip from my mortal life I will not try to save it and although I know I am closer to death than I have ever been before I will not turn from it, it is just a part of every day torture to a child like me.I am just one of the abandoned of society, the lost and the forgotten children, the shame no one wants to see or hear.
I am one of the experiments in child control, my name is Anderson, since it is rare I will ever hear my forenames again in anything but disgust, anger or with malice, we will dispel with the pleasantries, I am Anderson.
I will be Anderson for the next few years, if I can survive that long, you think I jest, yet the truth of a tortured child can rarely be told as a lie, only experience can teach a child the act and fact of torture, only living with real monsters can one truly learn of the monster inside us all.
The uncontrolled lust and hatred, the sexual pleasure of pushing someone to the point of death and pull them back again, does this surprise you, does it enthrall you too the glories and pleasures of stark violence and the suffering of the undefended, whilst you may think you have a morality that will stand you in good stead, the dried blood of the innocent is at your feet, the forgotten souls of your care system.
I was between ten and eleven when I got put into care, with my brother, though a brother he would not be for long, we would both be driven by our personal instinct for self preservation that is in every child, both of us very different kinds of child, both with different ways of dealing with everyday horrors, blood and tears.
Neither of us was what could be called children, we were both breaking into houses and workplaces, running with a gang and had little concern for the consequences of our actions long before we got to the point of going into care.
What I was about to learn was the depravity of our humanity, the truth of the state and those it employs and the consequences of defiance.
The lie of torture is that we face it bravely, the urine rolling down my leg testifies to the lie, I am shaking in terror, I can control my bladder and fortunately for me I have not eaten for two days or I would have excrement to make the full house, terror, blood, sweat, screams, tears piss and shit, the full house of a child being tortured.
An inexperienced tortured will have all of this out of you in less than 2 minutes, a good torturer will make the exercise last as long as it is amusing.
The torture is not to get a confession out of me, its not punishment for genocide, it’s not actually a punishment at all; it’s for the amusement of the staff in the care home.
I am not special, different or any wiser than any other child there, but for some reason I do have something that no one seems to have for more than a split second, I have an immeasurable amount of defiance.
Where I got this I do not know, how it formed in me to be a singularity I could focus on to cope with physical and psychological torture I don’t know or really understand, even now I have no real answer to the strength of my own defiance.
From my shroud of pain and misery I hear the scream of my name, “Anderson, are you fucking listening to me? Answer me you little bastard”……
I have been standing at a 45 degree angle with my forehead against a wall for about 20 minutes, my legs are in agony, my whole head and body is burning in pain, I can smell the urine and taste my own tears rolling down my cheeks, but I will not answer.
I will scream when I am hurting but I will not answer, and scream I do when a knuckle is driven into my exposed rib cage, an impact to the back of my head I feel nothing of but the impact, the pain in me surpassed slaps and punches to my head, its just impact.
Pain and sorrow takes me to the precipice of consciousness, the sight of darkness a welcome sight for me, I know the darkness, I know the nothingness until consciousness.
I know the hatred I will feel for returning to conscious life, I know the darkness of little death, the little death that saves me from feeling the actions of the monsters hurting me.
A second in darkness or an hour matters not, I welcome the darkness.
I welcome the separation between what I know should be physically hurting me and the impact of the blows, the numbness of stark violence, the coldness to act in the same manner.
It would take me a few sessions to master the art of cruelty, the art of slow destruction; it would take time to compete with my torturers.
Taking aim at one of the most exploitative components of America’s broken criminal justice system, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that would end the “destructive and unjust cash bail process” that keeps hundreds of thousands of people locked up at a given moment due to their inability to pay their way out of jail.
“Poverty is not a crime,” Sanders declared in a press release unveiling his legislation, which is formally titled the No Money Bail Act. “In the year 2018, in the United States, we should not continue having a ‘debtor prison’ system.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has introduced a companion bill in the House, added in a statement on Wednesday that America’s “money bail system is irrational and dangerous. People who are not at high risk but are poor remain incarcerated, while people who may be dangerous are set free if they have the funds. It’s maddening to see that those with money can buy their freedom while poor defendants languish behind bars while awaiting trial.”
“It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich.”
—No Money Bail Act, summary
“I’m grateful Sen. Sanders is introducing a bill that moves to end our justice system’s reliance on money bail,” Lieu added.
Citing the well-known fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a summary (pdf) of Sanders’ new legislation argued that “what’s even worse is nearly a quarter of all people incarcerated on any given day in the
U.S. are ‘unconvicted’—meaning they are sitting in jail waiting for a trial, or plea bargain, or some sort of conclusion to their case.”
“Pretrial detention is bad for society and bad for our criminal justice system,” the bill’s summary notes. “People held pretrial are missing days of work. They are missing time with their families. Often enough, they run the risk of missing a rent payment and losing their housing.”
But while the cash bail system has a devastating impact on the poor and vulnerable, it is a boon for the for-profit bail industry, which Sanders says rakes in “between $1.4 and $2.4 billion each year.”
“It has always been clear that we have separate criminal justice systems in this country for the poor and for the rich,” the bill’s synopsis notes. “A wealthy person charged with a serious crime may get an ankle monitor and told not to leave the country; a poor person charged with a misdemeanor may sit in a jail cell. And this disproportionately affects minorities—fifty percent of all pretrial detainees are Black or Latinx.”
According to Sanders’ office, the Vermont senator’s new legislation would
formally end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states that wish to implement alternate pretrial systems to reduce their pretrial detention population and withholds grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems. It would also require a study three years after implementation to ensure the new alternate systems are also not leading to disparate detention rates.
Sanders’ legislation has been endorsed by Color of Change and the ACLU. Both groups have been at the forefront of a nationwide grassroots initiative aimed at “bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention.”
“It’s time to end our nation’s current system of cash bail that lets the size of your wallet determine whether you are granted freedom or stay locked up,” Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, declared in a statement launching the effort last year.
It is too easy to convict an innocent person.
The rate of wrongful convictions in the United States is estimated to be somewhere between 2% to 10%. That may sound low, but when applied to a prison population of 2.3 million, the numbers become staggering. Can there really be 46,000 to 230,000 innocent people locked away? Those of us who are involved in exoneration work firmly believe so.
Millions of defendants are processed through our courts each year. It’s nearly impossible to determine how many of them are actually innocent once they’ve been convicted. There are few resources for examining the cases and backgrounds of those claiming to be wrongfully convicted.
Once an innocent person is convicted, it is next to impossible to get them out of prison. Over the past 25 years, the Innocence Project, where I serve on the board of directors, has secured through DNA testing the release of 349 innocent men and women, 20 of whom had been sent to death row. All told, there have been more than 2,000 exonerations, including 200 from death row, in the U.S. during that same period. But we’ve only scratched the surface.
Wrongful convictions happen for several reasons. In no particular order, these causes are:
Most cops are honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide, alter or fabricate evidence, lie on the witness stand, cut deals with snitches in return for bogus testimony, intimidate and threaten witnesses, coerce confessions or manipulate eyewitness identifications.
Most prosecutors are also honest, hard-working professionals. But some have been known to hide exculpatory evidence, encourage witnesses to commit perjury, lie to jurors, judges and defense lawyers, use the testimony of bogus experts or ignore relevant evidence beneficial to the accused.
Most jurors find it impossible to believe that a suspect would confess to a serious crime he didn’t commit. Yet the average citizen, if taken to a basement room and subjected to 10 consecutive hours of abusive interrogation tactics by experienced cops, might be surprised at what they would say. Of the 330 people who were exonerated by DNA evidence between 1989 to 2015, about 25% gave bogus confessions after lengthy interrogations. Almost every one recanted soon after.
More often than not, those who witness violent acts have trouble accurately recalling the facts and identifying those involved. Physical and photo lineups may exacerbate the problem because police manipulate them to focus suspicion on favored suspects.
In every jail there is a career criminal staring at a long sentence. For leniency, he can be persuaded to lie to the jury and describe in great detail the confession overheard from the accused, usually a cellmate. If he performs well enough on the stand, the authorities might allow him to walk free.
The U.S. prison system doesn’t assess psychopathy at intake, so Baskin-Sommers administered a standard test herself to 106 male inmates from the Connecticut prison. Of them, 22 proved to be psychopaths, 28 were not, and the rest fell in a gray zone. Baskin-Sommers did all the interviews in a makeshift psychology lab within the prison itself—a simple room with a desk, computer station, and no barriers.
An estimated 77 million Americans have a debt that has been transferred to a private collection agency. Thousands have ended up in jail over debts as small as $28, with African-Americans and Hispanics the most affected.
The findings come from a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spanning 26 states and Puerto Rico, published on Wednesday. The practice violates many US state and federal laws, which prohibit the jailing of debtors.
In one case cited in the report, a disabled woman who wears a prosthetic leg was shackled by her waist and feet by two armed US marshals before being put in jail overnight.
“They had a warrant for my arrest and I asked them for what, he didn’t say what it was for. He said, ‘He’ll tell you later,’” said Tracie Mozie of Dickinson, Texas.
Law enforcement officials had entered Mozie’s bedroom to arrest her over a $1,500 federal student loan she took out in 1986 to pay for truck-driving school. The loan had mushroomed to $13,000 with interest and fees. Monzie was unable to pay because she is unemployed and lives on disability benefits.
The ACLU examined more than 1,000 cases in which civil court judges issued arrest warrants for debtors. In some instances the amounts were as small as $28. Letters were sent over bounced checks as low as $2, the ACLU found.
The report is the first ever to analyze the cooperation between courts and the private debt collection industry across the US, according to the ACLU. Private debt collectors use the criminal justice system to try to compel repayments, even when the debts are disputed or when the debtor cannot repay. More than 6,000 debt collection firms operate in the United States, collecting billions of dollars each year.
Following their arrest, debtors may remain in jail for several days until they can pay the bail. In some cases, the ACLU found some people were locked up for as long as two weeks.
This practice violates the many state and federal laws as well as international human rights standards that prohibit the jailing of debtors.
The report finds that the long-term consequences of arrests for both courts and people can be profound and scarring. Arrest warrants can be entered into background check databases which mean they can jeopardize future employment, housing applications, education, and access to security clearances.
In one case in Maryland, an elderly couple were jailed because they did not appear at a district court hearing for which they had never been served notice. Isaac, 83, and his wife Doris owed $2,342.76 to their homeowners’ association and $450 in attorney’s fees. They had never been served with notice of the hearing, which had itself been scheduled because they failed to appear at a post-judgment proceeding for which they also had never been served. While in detention, Isaac began vomiting blood and became non-responsive, according to the report.
While debtors’ prisons were outlawed by Congress almost two hundred years ago, in reality the practice seems to live on.
Photo Credit: sakhorn / Shutterstock.com
The extradition case of Lauri Love, the alleged hacker currently in the United Kingdom, is placing a spotlight on the detrimental prison conditions in the United States. On February 5, a British High Court decided in favor of Love in his appeal to remain in the UK, due to concerns over the physical and mental treatment of those incarcerated in American prisons.
In a February 6 appearance on the BBC, Love said he was “thankful that the ruling actually spoke to the conditions in the United States, which leave a lot to be desired, relative to here in the UK.”
According to The Intercept, Love — who has Asperger’s syndrome, depression, and asthma — said along with his family and medical providers that “he would likely kill himself if he were extradited to the U.S.”
An expert report from Simon Baron-Cohen which is cited in the High Court’s ruling, states that Love’s health conditions make him “much more high-risk than prisoners who only suffer from one of these conditions.” Love might face solitary confinement and placement on suicide watch.
As experts cited in the ruling describe, U.S. prisons are ill-equipped to provide mental health services to inmates. Not only do prison services fail to provide necessary support, studies indicate they actually make the problems worse.
A study on solitary confinement and mental illness found that for those in solitary confinement with mental illness “the conditions … can exacerbate their symptoms or provoke recurrence,” according to The Intercept.
The High Court’s ruling addresses the risk of suicide and Love’s mental health, referring to expert opinion and concluding “it would be oppressive to extradite Mr Love.”
While speaking to the BBC, Love highlighted the difference in sentencing length being sought between the U.S. and the UK.
“You don’t have any hope when you’re thinking of spending the rest of your life in prison in less than humane conditions,” Love said.
Prison conditions in the United States were similarly highlighted during the incarceration of Chelsea Manning.
Manning was held in solitary confinement, and underwent an “ongoing pattern of abuses” as her lawyer told Democracy Now!. Manning made multiple suicide attempts and was not given medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, resulting in a lawsuit against the Pentagon. Manning’s sentence was ultimately commuted by President Obama.
Lawsuits relating to prison treatment and mental health have been filed before, as The Intercept noted. Love’s case bears resemblance to that of Gary McKinnon, another suspected hacker who was not extradited from the UK because of mental health reasons, which as The Intercept reported was decided by Theresa May.
Though Love will not be extradited to the United States, the decision goes on to state that “prosecution in this country rather than impunity should then follow.” Love, who has been indicted in New York, New Jersey and Virginia, is accused of hacking and stealing data from U.S. government websites. He lives with his parents after being released on bail following his 2013 arrest.
Mike Papantonio discusses the reasons why the marijuana legalization effort failed in Arizona and speaks with Justin Strekal, Political Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, about what pharmaceutical companies have to gain from keeping marijuana illegal.
Photo Credit: YouTube / NBC
Justice in this country has always been for the privileged. The nation’s criminal courts are particularly punitive toward those who are too poor to afford bail, represented by overworked public defenders or simply not rich enough to mount an “affluenza” defense. From arrest to conviction, wealth and whiteness are precious assets for any defendant in a system that favors both. Numerous jurisdictions profit off fines and fees that nickel and dime the poor into debtors’ prisons. And then there are Southern California’s “pay-to-stay” jails, which offer more monied inmates nicer accommodations in exchange for cash.
The price to stay in one of these city jails can run the gamut from $25 a day in La Verne to just over $250 in Hermosa Beach. A collaborative investigation by the Los Angeles Times and the Marshall Project found that for $100 a night, inmates in Seal Beach’s pay-for-stay program had access to “amenities that included flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds.” The cost also affords inmates “semi-private rooms, single showers and the ability to… make phone calls whenever they want.” In addition to creature comforts, the program lets those with resources buy their way out of serving time in the Los Angeles and Orange County jails, where overcrowding, violence and inhumane conditions are often baked into every jail sentence.
“The benefits are that you are isolated and you don’t have to expose yourself to the traditional county system,” Christine Parker, of Correctional Systems Inc., which runs three pay-to-stay programs, told the New York Times. “You can avoid gang issues. You are restricted in terms of the number of people you are encountering and they are a similar persuasion such as you.”
In other words, if your pockets are deep enough, you can steer clear of the additional consequences—in addition to your jail sentence—that poorer criminals are forced to endure, and serve your time with people of “a similar persuasion.” Considering the links between wealth and race, and the racial disparities in prison sentencing, that undoubtedly means pay-to-stay jails create a class of inmates who are both richer and whiter than the general jail population. (The Times/Marshall Project investigation found incomplete race-based data figures.) Prisons, after all, are nothing if not a reflection of American society’s most prevalent biases and inequities.
“Those who are wealthy are able to upgrade their facilities to stay at nicer jails than those who are poor who may have committed the same exact crime,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen, of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told the Times.
There are currently more than 25 pay-to-stay jails across Los Angeles and Orange counties, and between 2011 and 2015 those city jails raised nearly $7 million. The funds came from an estimated 3,500 inmates serving sentences mostly for nonviolent offenses; a whopping 66 percent of inmates were convicted of DUIs. But 4.5 percent, or just over 160 people, were jailed for “crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.” Several city jail inmates were repeat offenders. Judges sign off on defendant requests to serve time in pay-to-stay programs. Only the wealthier defendants tend to be informed of the programs’ existence, often by their paid counsel.
Some of the collateral consequences of even short jail stays—loss of relationships and jobs—can be avoided by pay-to-stay programs. Unlike the Los Angeles and Orange County jails, many of SoCal’s private jails allow inmates to serve out their time on the weekends, allowing them to live normally during the weekdays. Eight programs include work furloughs, permitting inmates to go to work each day and return to the facility at night. In one case highlighted in the Marshall Project/Times report, a former Los Angeles police officer convicted for stalking his ex-wife worked as a security guard and fitness trainer throughout his one-year incarceration. He didn’t inform his employers, who told researchers “they did not know [he] was serving jail time and that they believed he forged letters from them to secure a judge’s permission to leave jail.” The price for the privilege of coming and going so freely? A daily cost of $120.
Before they head to a city prison, most defendants do a bit of research, comparing programs based on price, reputation and on-premises conveniences. One former financial services CEO caught driving while high on heroin expressed to Marshall Project/Times reporters a clear understanding of the difference $100 a day made in his experience behind bars at Seal Beach city jail. “This is like paradise,” he concluded.
January 5, 2018
“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” ― Nelson Mandela
This is the tale of two Americas, where the rich get richer and the poor go to jail.
Aided and abetted by the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a man who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it smacked him in the face—the American dream has become the American scheme: the rich are getting richer and more powerful, while anyone who doesn’t belong to the power elite gets poorer and more powerless to do anything about the nation’s steady slide towards fascism, authoritarianism and a profit-driven police state.
Not content to merely pander to law enforcement and add to its military largesse with weaponry and equipment designed for war, Sessions has made a concerted effort to expand the police state’s power to search, strip, seize, raid, steal from, arrest and jail Americans for any infraction, no matter how insignificant.
Now Sessions has given state courts the green light to resume their practice of jailing individuals who are unable to pay the hefty fines imposed by the American police state. In doing so, Sessions has once again shown himself to be not only a shill for the Deep State but an enemy of the people.
First, some background on debtors’ prisons, which jail people who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fines imposed on them by courts and other government agencies.
Congress banned debtors’ prisons in 1833.
In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice to be unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.
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“Despite prior attempts on the federal level and across the country to prevent the profound injustice of locking people in cages because they are too poor to pay a debt,” concludes The Atlantic, “the practice persists every day.”
Where things began to change, according to The Marshall Project, was with the rise of “mass incarceration.” As attorney Alec Karakatsanis stated, “In the 1970s and 1980s, we started to imprison more people for lesser crimes. In the process, we were lowering our standards for what constituted an offense deserving of imprisonment, and, more broadly, we were losing our sense of how serious, how truly serious, it is to incarcerate. If we can imprison for possession of marijuana, why can’t we imprison for not paying back a loan?”
By the late 1980s and early 90s, “there was a dramatic increase in the number of statutes listing a prison term as a possible sentence for failure to repay criminal-justice debt.” During the 2000s, the courts started cashing in big-time “by using the threat of jail time – established in those statutes – to squeeze cash out of small-time debtors.”
Fast-forward to the present day which finds us saddled with not only profit-driven private prisons and a prison-industrial complex but also, as investigative reporter Eli Hager notes, “the birth of a new brand of ‘offender-funded’ justice [which] has created a market for private probation companies. Purporting to save taxpayer dollars, these outfits force the offenders themselves to foot the bill for parole, reentry, drug rehab, electronic monitoring, and other services (some of which are not even assigned by a judge). When the offenders can’t pay for all of this, they may be jailed – even if they have already served their time for the offense.”
Follow the money trail. It always points the way.
Whether you’re talking about the government’s war on terrorism, the war on drugs, or some other phantom danger dreamed up by enterprising bureaucrats, there is always a profit-incentive involved.
The same goes for the war on crime.
At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.
Sessions’ latest gambit plays right into the hands of those who make a profit by jailing Americans.
Sharnalle Mitchell was one such victim of a system for whom the plight of the average American is measured in dollars and cents. As the Harvard Law Review recounts:
On January 26, 2014, Sharnalle Mitchell was with her children in Montgomery, Alabama when police showed up at her home to arrest her. Mitchell was not accused of a crime. Instead, the police came to her home because she had not fully paid a traffic ticket from 2010. The single mother was handcuffed in front of her children (aged one and four) and taken to jail. She was ordered to either pay $2,800 or sit her debt out in jail at a rate of fifty dollars a day for fifty-nine days. Unable to pay, Mitchell wrote out the numbers one to fifty-eight on the back of her court documents and began counting days.
This is not justice.
This is yet another example of how greed and profit-incentives have not only perverted policing in America but have corrupted the entire criminal justice system.
As the Harvard Law Review concludes:
[A]s policing becomes a way to generate revenue, police start to “see the people they’re supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights, but as potential sources of revenue, as lawbreakers to be caught.” This approach creates a fugitive underclass on the run from police not to hide illicit activity but to avoid arrest for debt or seizure of their purportedly suspicious assets… In turn, communities … begin to see police not as trusted partners but as an occupying army constantly harassing them to raise money to pay their salaries and buy new weapons. This needs to end.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has been operating as a for-profit enterprise for years now, covertly padding its pockets through penalty-riddled programs aimed at maximizing revenue rather than ensuring public safety.
All of those seemingly hard-working police officers and code-enforcement officers and truancy officers and traffic cops handing out ticket after ticket after ticket: they’re not working to make your communities safer—they’ve got quotas to fill.
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Same goes for the courts, which have come to rely on fines, fees and exorbitant late penalties as a means of increased revenue. The power of these courts, magnified in recent years through the introduction of specialty courts beyond your run-of-the-mill traffic court (drug court, homeless court, veterans court, mental health court, criminal court, teen court, gambling court, prostitution court, community court, domestic violence court, truancy court), is “reshaping the American legal system—with little oversight,” concludes the Boston Globe.
And for those who can’t afford to pay the court fines heaped on top of the penalties ($302 for jaywalking, $531 for an overgrown yard, or $120 for arriving a few minutes late to court), there’s probation (managed by profit-run companies that tack on their own fees, which are often more than double the original fine) or jail time (run by profit-run companies that charge inmates for everything from food and housing to phone calls at outrageous markups), which only adds to the financial burdens of those already unable to navigate a costly carceral state.
“When bail is set unreasonably high, people are behind bars only because they are poor,” stated former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Not because they’re a danger or a flight risk — only because they are poor. They don’t have money to get out of jail, and they certainly don’t have money to flee anywhere. Other people who do have the means can avoid the system, setting inequality in place from the beginning.”
In “Policing and Profit,” the Harvard Law Review documents in chilling detail the criminal justice system’s efforts to turn a profit at the expense of those who can least afford to pay, thereby entrapping them in a cycle of debt that starts with one minor infraction:
In the late 1980s, Missouri became one of the first states to let private companies purchase the probation systems of local governments. In these arrangements, municipalities impose debt on individuals through criminal proceedings and then sell this debt to private businesses, which pad the debt with fees and interest. This debt can stem from fines for offenses as minor as rolling through a stop sign or failing to enroll in the right trash collection service. In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don’t appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can’t pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail. If an arrestee owes fines in more than one of St. Louis County’s eighty-one municipal courts, they are passed from one jail to another to await hearings in each town.
The prison population continues to grow because of a glut of laws that criminalize activities that should certainly not be outlawed, let alone result in jail time. Overcriminalization continues to plague the country because of legislators who work hand-in-hand with corporations to adopt laws that favor the corporate balance sheet. And when it comes to incarceration, the corporate balance sheet weighs heavily in favor of locking up more individuals in government-run and private prisons.
As Time reports, “The companies that build and run private prisons have a financial interest in the continued growth of mass incarceration. That is why the two major players in this game—the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group—invest heavily in lobbying for punitive criminal justice policies and make hefty contributions to political campaigns that will increase reliance on prisons.”
It’s a vicious cycle that grows more vicious by the day.
According to The Atlantic, “America spends $80 billion a year incarcerating 2.4 million people.” But the costs don’t end there. “When someone goes to prison, nearly 65 percent of families are suddenly unable to pay for basic needs such as food and housing… About 70 percent of those families are caring for children under the age of 18.”
Then there are the marked-up costs levied against the inmate by private companies that provide services and products to government prisons. Cereal and soup for five times the market price. $15 for a short phone call.
The Center for Public Integrity found that “prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives… Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.”
Worse, as human rights attorney Jessica Jackson points out, “the fines and fees system has turned local governments into the equivalent of predatory lenders.” For instance, Jackson cites:
Washington state charges a 12% interest rate on all its criminal debt. Florida adds a 40% fee that goes into the pockets of a private collections agency. In California, penalties can raise a $100 fine to $490, or $815 if the initial deadline is missed. A $500 traffic ticket can actually cost $1,953, even if it is paid on time. And so we are left with countless tales of lives ruined—people living paycheck to paycheck who cannot afford a minor fine, and so face ballooning penalties, increasing amounts owed, a suspended license, jail time, and being fired from their jobs or unable to find work.
This isn’t the American Dream I grew up believing in.
This certainly isn’t the American Dream my parents and grandparents and those before them worked and fought and sacrificed to achieve.
Now you can shrug all of this away as a consequence of committing a crime, but that just doesn’t cut it. Especially not when average Americans are being jailed for such so-called crimes as eating SpaghettiOs (police mistook them for methamphetamine), not wearing a seatbelt, littering, jaywalking, having homemade soap (police mistook the soap for cocaine), profanity, spitting on the ground, farting, loitering and twerking.
There is no room in the American police state for self-righteousness. Not when we are all guilty until proven innocent.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is no longer a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
It is fast becoming a government “of the rich, by the elite, for the corporations,” and its rise to power is predicated on shackling the American taxpayer to a debtors’ prison guarded by a phalanx of politicians, bureaucrats and militarized police with no hope of parole and no chance for escape.
1 in 5 Americans have (state) legal access, 1 in 2 have experimented with it, and more than 1 in 10 smoke regularly. Southern California yuppies are publicly winning prizes for growing the same plant that landed Georgia teenagers in prison.
So what’s the hold-up?
The makers and distributors of America’s top-selling beers, wines, and liquors are already facing stiff competition from newly deregulated microbrewers and craft distilleries.
Cannabis prohibition shuts out a zero-calorie competitor with far fewer short- and long-term health risks. The industry donated (read: invested) $19 million to re-election campaigns in 2016, and another $4 million to soft money groups like “Public Safety First” which specifically oppose cannabis legalization efforts.
Cannabis legalization does reduce alcohol sales, and its regular use reduces alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths. Each year 37,000 deaths in the US are attributed to alcohol, compared to zero deaths from cannabis use, ever. Brewers and distillers are eager to point “public health and safety” attention in another direction.
The Boys in Blue:
Local law enforcement has become highly dependent on federal and state money devoted to the War on Drugs. Civil asset forfeiture – a legacy of the 1984 drug war omnibus crime bill – allows local police departments to keep 80 percent of property seized in suspected (not proven) drug activity. Local cops regularly auction off homes and cars connected with small marijuana sales, pocketing the proceeds without convicting anyone of any crime. Drug raids “were no longer just about putting on a good show and terrorizing the counterculture. Now the raids could generate revenue for all of the police agencies involved.” (Randy Balko, Rise Of The Warrior Cop). Property stolen from innocent Americans (the Washington Post found 80 percent of victims of asset forfeiture were never even charged) has paid for military-grade equipment and SWAT teams used in still-more-terrifying drug raids for profit.
National Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and literally dozens of smaller interest groups and political action committees represent the interests of law enforcement officers. Drug testing laboratories, prosecutors, drug court lawyers and judges, rehab centers, counselors, and other unionized social services also depend on marijuana arrests to keep numbers up.
For them, the nation’s outdated marijuana policy means guaranteed revenue, low-risk, peaceful “offenders” to fill arrest quotas, and easy excuses to search or detain citizens.
Big Brother: The Prison Industrial Complex
CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America)
Private prison companies and state institutions alike lobby for longer mandatory sentences; stricter enforcement; younger, healthier, and less violent prisoners. Corrections jobs are a major source of rural employment.
Prisons contract for an occupancy rate, charging taxpayers for unmet quotas. More Americans are arrested for marijuana annually than for all violent crimes combined. More Americans are in prison than ever before, and since 1985 at least half the increase is drug offenders alone.
Increasingly, lobbyists for drug testing centers and addiction treatment providers have sought to have marijuana dependence (for which there is limited medical evidence) perceived – and insured – as a medical condition. Compulsory and court-ordered treatment for this “addiction” is a reliable source of revenue for unscrupulous operators.
What violent crime remains is largely a product of drugs prohibition. Cash-oriented transactions between known lawbreakers (drug deals) don’t make for peaceful business practices.
All smuggled goods and illegal sales share the same vulnerability to violence. Now, Budweiser and Coors might sue to resolve a contract dispute; in 1929, criminal rum runners settled scores with Molotov cocktails and Tommy guns. Violent deaths of police officers peaked during prohibition and fell rapidly after its repeal; the number of officers wouldn’t approach that level again until the year Nixon declared the War on Drugs.
The violence of black markets still unnecessarily mars American neighborhoods, and unprecedented mass incarceration plagues the conscience of the Land of the Free.
Pharmaceutical industry products are expensive, and many have life-altering side effects. Cannabis can be grown by the patient and has far fewer and less severe side effects.
Before President Ford shut down cannabis research at universities, scientists had noticed cannabis’s effectiveness in reducing seizures, relieving pain, even shrinking tumors. Specialized strains are bred to treat depression, anxiety, nausea, Parkinson’s, and dozens of other common conditions for which patients currently take patented pills.
Despite continued denials by the federal government that marijuana has any accepted medical uses, the government’s own researchers have patented a synthetic cannabinoid called Marinol. Patent No. 6,630,507 credits “The United States of America as represented by the Department of Health and Human Services” and lists federal researcher as “inventors” of “cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.” The patent reads “cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.” A dozen other derived chemicals are in development to treat nerve pain, memory loss, traumatic brain injury, arthritis, hypertension, and obesity.
Since this patent was granted in 1999, The Drug Enforcement Administration has twice renewed its stance that cannabis has “no currently accepted medical use.”
Marijuana prohibition is a $20 Billion annual federal jobs project. Departments and agencies will not give up power or budgets voluntarily. The DEA seized $27 Billion in assets in 2014 through its cannabis enforcement program, in excess of its $3 Billion annual budget. 10,000 DEA employees, 63,000 Federal Prison System employees, border guards, and thousands more “interagency” positions funded by the expansive, failed War on Drugs don’t want to see their budget downsized or authority curtailed.
Similarly, the CIA, NSA, State Department, and Department of Defense also rely heavily on public acceptance of the War on Drugs as a pretense for overriding national sovereignty around the world. In their bullying of Latin American leaders and control of opiate fields in the Levant, drug suppression money is often both carrot and stick.
Liberty vs. Lobbyists
Doing battle against big government and corporate cronies like the criminals above is more satisfying than punching Nazis and more practical than protesting. The American people are fed up with prohibition and the failed War on Drugs.
Ending prohibition has something for everyone:
What can possibly unite an impossibly divided America? A serious push to end prohibition.
In a quest to ease pressures on the Brazilian prison system, mental health workers have opted to give prison inmates the psychedelic brew ayahuasca, in the hopes of helping them to work through their deeply-rooted emotional traumas.
It is no secret that the current prison system lies in shambles. Overcrowded holding spaces, abusive staff, unsanitary living conditions — such environments rarely lead to redemption and rehabilitation, but instead almost always seed further violence, aggression, and feelings of alienation from society.
While some prisons are now offering holistic services such as yoga, meditation, and Reiki, prisoners’ rights advocacy group Acuda is taking it one step further, offering Brazilian prisoners a real shot at a new life through the use of the traditional Amazonian brew, ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew that combines a specific Amazonian vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) with a leaf (Psychotria viridis), creating an extremely pungent, orally-active cocktail of DMT, a powerful psychedelic known to induce mystical and life-changing experiences for its user.
At first, Acuda had trouble finding a place where the inmates could drink the ayahuasca, but they were finally accepted by an offshoot of Santo Daime, a Brazilian religion founded in the 1930s that blends Catholicism, African traditions, and the trance communications with spirits popularized in the 19th century by a Frenchman known as Allan Kardec.
“Many people in Brazil believe that inmates must suffer, enduring hunger and depravity,” said Euza Beloti, a psychologist with Acuda, to the New York Times. “This thinking bolsters a system where prisoners return to society more violent than when they entered prison. [At Acuda] we simply see inmates as human beings with the capacity to change.”
Supervisors at Acuda, who obtain a judge’s permission to take about 15 prisoners once a month to the temple ceremony, say they are mindful of the risks of ayahuasca, commonly called Daime in Brazil or referred to as tea. At the same time, Acuda’s therapists consume the brew with the inmates, as well as with the occasional prison guard who volunteers to accompany the group.
“This is how it should be,” said Virgílio Siqueira, 55, a retired police officer who works as a guard at the prison complex that includes Acuda. “It’s gratifying to know that we can sit here in the forest, drink our Daime, sing our hymns, exist in peace.”
Police are deployed to manage a broad spectrum of social issues, from homelessness to school safety. Alex Vitale’s new book lays out a different approach.
“Vitale calls for an ideological reframing of policing as an inherently punitive practice that criminalizes the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the U.S. in order to maintain the status quo for white elites. Instead, he writes, people should be given the programs and resources they need to solve problems within communities in ways that do not involve police, courts, or prisons — a path to materializing justice.”
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Images from the mass protests in St. Louis last month against the acquittal of a white former police officer in the fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith felt like déjà vu: raised fists, Black Lives Matter signs, swarms of police armed in full riot gear. But this time, as police made arrests on the third night of protests, they began to chant “Whose streets, our streets” — a refrain that, stolen from the voices of protesters, mutated into an unsettling declaration of power, entitlement, and impunity.
So far this year, 773 people have been fatally shot by police, according to the Washington Post, while independent databases that include other causes of death by police report tolls above 900. In the three years since the flashpoint of Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, pushes for reform have reverberated through all levels of government, most notably from former President Barack Obama’s policing task force. And yet, much like gun violence itself, police brutality in the United States remains stuck on repeat. A new book published last week goes beyond the rhetoric of reform to interrogate why we need police at all.
In “The End of Policing,” Alex S. Vitale argues that police reforms implemented in the wake of Brown’s death — from diversity initiatives to community policing to body cameras — fail to acknowledge that policing as an institution reinforces race and class inequalities by design.
“The suppression of workers and the tight surveillance and micromanagement of black and brown lives have always been at the center of policing,” writes Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College.
Vitale calls for an ideological reframing of policing as an inherently punitive practice that criminalizes the most vulnerable and marginalized people in the U.S. in order to maintain the status quo for white elites. Instead, he writes, people should be given the programs and resources they need to solve problems within communities in ways that do not involve police, courts, or prisons — a path to materializing justice.Starting with the “original police force,” the London Metropolitan Police, Vitale provides a succinct historical framework to understand how police in the U.S. were created to control poor and nonwhite people and communities. The modern war on drugs can be traced back to “political opportunism and managing ‘suspect populations’” in the 20th century. The increasingly intensified policing of the U.S.-Mexico border today stems from nativist sentiment and economic exploitation of migrant workers starting in the 1800s. Surveillance and suppression of political movements takes root in imperialist Europe, when ruling powers used secret police to infiltrate and eliminate the opposition.
“The End of Policing” maps how law enforcement has become an omnipresent specter in American society over the last four decades. Police are deployed to monitor and manage a sprawling range of issues: drugs, homelessness, mental health, immigration, school safety, sex work, youth violence, and political resistance. Across this spectrum, current liberal reforms are intertwined with upholding the legitimacy of police, courts, and incarceration as conduits to receive access to resources and care. Vitale’s approach goes beyond working within the carceral system to propose non-punitive alternatives that would eventually render policing obsolete. He convincingly argues that a combination of community-based programs, support services, regulation, economic investment, and political representation for poor communities of color can significantly shrink the impact of policing in exchange for justice and community empowerment.
In a time when the president of the United States openly supports and facilitates aggressive policing, and police officers continue to kill black Americans with impunity, “The End of Policing” is an essential primer to unpack the innate brutality of policing and begin to envision an America free from police violence and control.
The Intercept’s interview with Vitale has been condensed and edited for clarity.
There have been a host of reforms proposed in reaction to the shootings of black Americans by police in the last three years. How does your book address the shortcomings of these reforms?
The bad news is that at the national level, any hope of the federal government bringing about some kind of progressive reform has largely evaporated. The reforms that existed under the Obama administration were pretty limited in scope and their effectiveness is open to question. The good news is that the vast majority of decision-making about police reform happens at the local level, and local political pressure can really make a difference. But the bad news about that is that the kinds of reforms most people are advocating for I don’t think are going to make a substantial difference. Some improvements in training, policy, and accountability may lead to a reduction in deaths, but it won’t address the larger question of overpolicing.
In the land of the free, citizens found in possession of a plant — that grows wild on every continent except Antarctica — can and will be kidnapped, caged or killed. In fact, in just the short time it took you to click this article and read this first paragraph, someone was just arrested for cannabis.
An estimated 653,249 American citizens — who harmed no one — had their lives ruined in 2016 for possessing this plant, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Crime In the United States (CIUS) report.
“Arresting and citing over half a million people a year for a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol is a travesty,” said Morgan Fox, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). “Despite a steady shift in public opinion away from marijuana prohibition, and the growing number of states that are regulating marijuana like alcohol, marijuana consumers continue to be treated like criminals throughout the country. This is a shameful waste of resources and can create lifelong consequences for the people arrested.”
Arresting people for cannabis is good for business — police state and big pharma business, that is. If we look at who’s lobbying to keep cops kidnapping people for a plant, we see that it is money, and not morals, that motivates this issue.
The prison-industrial complex makes obscene amounts of money kidnapping otherwise innocent people and throwing them in a cage for possessing a plant. Big pharma is also scared to death of pot because it is a cheaper, safer, and often more effective solution to sicknesses than their chemical alternatives.
According to a report out of US News, lobbyists work hard to secure for police departments millions of dollars in federal grants towards eradicating weed. Pharmaceutical companies compensate leading anti-marijuana researchers in order to keep their customers on painkillers over cannabis, which is cheaper. The prison-industrial complex would like to keep making money on building more prisons to fill with non-violent grass-smokers.
It’s not just cops and big pharma either, legal drug distributors in the alcohol and tobacco industries need to keep cannabis illegal in order maintain their monopoly on ‘taking the edge off.’
According to the report, the alcohol and beer industries have also lobbied for years to keep marijuana illegal because they fear the competition that legalized weed would bring. Howard Wooldridge, an anti-drug war activist and retired cop told the online publication Republic Report: “Marijuana and alcohol compete right today as a product to take the edge off the day at six o’clock.”
Despite the myriad of evidence showing the harmful economic and societal impacts of arresting people for cannabis, cops, prisons, big pharma, and the alcohol and tobacco industries continue to push for illegal weed. As they lie about arresting people for a plant in your best interests, the police state is wreaking havoc on liberty, freedom, and the economy. It is deadly too.
While there’s never been a documented overdose from cannabis, if the CDC calculated the number of deaths inflicted by police while enforcing marijuana laws, that number would certainly be shocking and could even be deemed a risk to public health. Marijuana is, indeed, dangerous, but only because of what can happen to you if the police catch you with it — just ask the 653,249 people who had their lives ruined for it last year.
Nothing highlights the hypocrisy, immorality, and sheer idiocy of the drug war quite like marijuana prohibition. Here we have a medicine that kills cancer cells, saves the lives of countless epileptic children, heals broken bones, relieves pain, treats PTSD, is not dangerous, and exhibits a variety of other incredible benefits – yet the state will kill you over it.
Keeping cannabis illegal also creates more crime.
In the study, titled, “Going to pot? The impact of dispensary closures on crime,” researchers Tom Y. Chang from the USC Marshall School of Business, and Mireille Jacobson from The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, looked at what happens with the government forced medical marijuana dispensaries to close. What they found was immediately following a closure of a dispensary — crime rates went up.
“Contrary to popular wisdom, we found an immediate increase in crime around dispensaries ordered to close relative to those allowed to remain open,” Jacobson told Science Daily.
Also, in 2001, the Portuguese government decriminalized all drugs, and their crime rate dropped. 16 years later, drug use, crime, and overdoses have drastically declined in Portugal exposing the cruel reality of prohibition.
“Regulating marijuana for adults creates jobs, generates tax revenue, protects consumers, and takes money away from criminals,” Fox said on behalf of MPP. “It is time for the federal government and the rest of the states to stop ruining peoples’ lives and enact sensible marijuana policies.”
The good news is that the tide is shifting. As MPP notes, there are currently eight states that regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol for adults, four of which voted to do so in November 2016. Marijuana possession is also legal for adults in the District of Columbia. Twenty-three states and D.C. considered legislation in 2017 to regulate marijuana, including in Vermont where the legislature approved such a measure before the governor vetoed it.
As more and more states refuse to kidnap and cage marijuana users, the drug war will continue to implode. We must be resilient in this fight.
If doing drugs bothers you, don’t do drugs. When you transition from holding an opinion — to using government violence to enforce your personal preference, you become the bad guy. Please, for all that is good, don’t be the bad guy and do your part to stay on the right side of history.
Vijay Das is a Washington-based essayist and policy advocate who writes on social, economic and criminal justice issues.
Today marks one year since the largest prison labour strike in US history. More than
24,000 prisoners across 29 prisons in 12 states protested against inhumane conditions, timing it around the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising, a prisoner strike now 46 years old.
That violent uprising originated from prisoners rebelling against overcrowded cells, unsanitary conditions, medical neglect and abuse. From Attica to the strike led by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee last year, these protests draw attention to an ugly truth: Prisoner abuse runs rampant and it has extended into modern-day versions of slavery. Last year’s strike organisers described slavery-like conditions in prisons in the nationwide call to action.
Slavery persists by another name today. Young men and women of colour toil away in 21st-century fields, sow in hand. And Corporate America is cracking the whip.
Influenced by enormous corporate lobbying, the United States Congress enacted the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program in 1979 which permitted US companies to use prison labour. Coupled with the drastic increase in the prison population during this period, profits for participating companies and revenue for the government and its private contractors soared. The Federal Bureau of Prisons now runs a programme called Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) that pays inmates under one dollar an hour. The programme generated $500m in sales in 2016 with little of that cash being passed down to prison workers. Stateside, where much of the US addiction to mass incarceration lies, is no different. California’s prison labour programme is expected to produce some $232m in sales in 2017.
These exploited labourers are disproportionately African American and Latino – a demographic status quo resulting from the draconian sentencing and other criminal justice policies ransacking minority communities across the United States. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate five times higher than that of whites. In states like Virginia and Oklahoma, one in every 14 or 15 African American men are put in prison.
We lock people of colour up at alarming rates. We put them to work. Corporations gain. This story is an age-old American tradition. Throughout history, our nation has successfully pulled back corporate greed, but private corporations have always found new ways to reap enormous wealth from cheap labour.
The historical circumstances following the abolition of slavery provide the necessary context to understand how corporations function in a de facto replacement for slavery. Although the US Constitution’s Thirteenth Amendment prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, it made an exception – a loophole for “punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”, which made prison labour possible.
|Workers flipping burgers and frying french fries for minimum wage at McDonald’s wear uniforms that were manufactured by prison labourers.|
Following the Civil War, the Southern economy was in shambles and the slaves were emancipated. A cheap labour source was needed, and the convict lease system was invented. States leased out their convicts to industrialists and planters to work in locations such as railroads, coal mines and plantations, and entrepreneurs bought and sold these leases.
With little capital investment required and no need to care for the health of the prisoners, the system of economic exploitation became highly profitable for businesses and states and even cheaper than slavery. For example, in 1883 convict leasing provided Alabama with 10 percent of its revenue, 73 percent in 1898. Leased convicts were treated abysmally, with death rates 10 times higher than prisoners in states that did not employ leased convict labour. Secret graveyards contained the bodies of prisoners who had been tortured and beaten to death.
The viability of the convict lease system required that black people be returned to their former status as a source of labour. Hence, the Black Codes were enacted to suppress the rights of the recently emancipated African Americans, and criminalise them for minor offences such as vagrancy. Under the vagrancy laws, any black person under the protection of a white person could be swept up by the system for simply loitering, as black people were rounded up in this manner to provide a source of nearly free labour.
Today, prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, and the corporate beneficiaries of this new slavery include some of the largest corporations and most widely known brands. For example, Walmart has purchased produce from farms, where women prisoners face bad working conditions, inadequate medical care and very low pay.
Workers flipping burgers and frying french fries for minimum wage at McDonald’s wear uniforms that were manufactured by prison labourers.
Further, UNICOR manages 83 factories and more than 12,000 prison labourers who earn as little as 23 cents an hour working at call centres, manufacturing items such as military body armour, and in past years, defective combat helmets. In 2013, federal inmates made $100m worth of military uniforms.
UNICOR has also provided prison labour in the past to produce Patriot missile parts for defence contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and parts for others such as Boeing and General Dynamics.
Some critics oppose the characterisation of the US prison system as a slave labour camp. For example, James Kilgore argues that prison labour is infrequently used, and identifying multinational corporations that profit from it loses sight of the key issues behind mass incarceration.
Kilgore is correct in his analysis that a lack of economic opportunity coupled with draconian laws results in a perverse private incentive to drive up mass incarceration. We should enhance employment options for former inmates to reduce recidivism and integrate returning citizens back into society. However, this does not mean that corporations do not profit from prisons and prison labour today and it is obscene that this still happens.
The Trump administration reversing the Obama-era order to phase out private prisons and enacting new law-and-order policies to increase arrests and fill these prisons will only increase opportunities for profit for Trump’s corporate donors and their many investments in mass incarceration. Exploiting prison labour is consistent with this troubling trend.
Over a century and a half since the abolition of slavery, the dreaded institution still lives on in another, dressed up form. Taking advantage of a constitutional loophole, corporate profiteers continue the modern-day version of the convict lease system. In the land of the free, the dollar still takes precedence over human rights, and that which can be monetised and exploited for profit will be, regardless of ethical or moral considerations.
Once again, race, criminal justice and capitalism have joined forces to deprive captive black and brown bodies of their human rights. In the age of President Donald Trump and hardliner Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the return to “law and order” and a war on drugs signals a reversal of progress the US was making untethering itself from the expansive grip of a carceral state.
The anniversary of last year’s prison strike is a chilling reminder that one need not point to authoritarian regimes in distant countries to find examples of blatant labour rights violations. If you want to find slavery in the US, look no further than its penitentiaries, jails and detention centres where the consequences of being locked-up extend much farther than doing time.
Vijay Das is a Washington-based essayist and policy advocate who writes on social, economic and criminal justice issues.
David A Love is a Philadelphia-based freelance journalist and commentator, and adjunct instructor at the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information.
The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
“These are not hardened criminals being sentenced to indentured servitude. Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes and it is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. This is not by accident but by design.”
With permission from
These people are, in the parlance of our times, spineless and servile little worms who are hideously, grotesquely wrong.
The bootlickers among us, those disgusting and shriveled souls who can idly watch execution after execution, might differ from my opinion. To them there is no problem, and if there was it could never, ever be the institutions themselves. It’s a given that rough men breaking skulls are needed to keep dangerous people away from the good; that large amounts of humans are required to be kept in cages where they will be raped, beaten, and humiliated on a daily basis to preserve society’s serenity.
Some of these people even dare call us “comrade.”
The radical breed of these poor deluded souls, clouded from years of competing with liberals, attempt to dress the same institutions in new language. They assure converts the people’s prisons will be filled not with criminals but “class enemies,” promise that the difference between a cop and a comrade is a matter of pages read by Murray Bookchin or a degree in intersectional theory. The most despicable of these repugnant creatures will even bubble the wretched idea that “cops are workers too.”
Nothing can be further from the truth and nothing can transform these institutions. Prison and Police reform are impossible because they are the epitome of exploitation, the crowning jewel of a modern-day slave empire. We do not need cops and we do not need prisons. We cling to these institutions not because they are necessary but because we can’t imagine a world without them, even if such a world has existed and continues to today.
But before we can see that world we must first cleanse our vision, douse our selves in hyssop and break free from the unclean spirits that litter our mind. We must first come to terms with what the police and prisons really are instead of what the police and prisons say they are.
Police were never created to protect anybody. Police instead have their roots in the rise of modern property relations 200 years ago and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. This, coupled with their long history as slave catchers, highlight the fact the police only “serve” to steal value from the workers and “protect” the property of the powerful.
When the police admit they must arrest a certain amount of people, they are admitting they operate to intimidate and steal from workers. Witness the effects of a two-day work stoppage by the NYPD: citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, summons for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination plunged by 94 percent, parking violations dropped by 92 percent, and drug arrests fell by 84 percent.
This wasn’t some noble decision to get back to “protecting and serving,” but a calculated economic attack, and shows arrests mostly function as a way to generate revenue. Cops are nothing more than engines of profit, profit taken by force from the workers and deposited into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Court, criminal, and administrative fines contribute some $800 million to the New York City’s annual budget, according to its Office of Management and Budget’s projections, and that’s money mostly taken from the working poor.
To put that in perspective, the cigarette tax will bring in about $52 million a year, hotel taxes generate roughly $547 million, and commercial rent tax will supply $720 million. Don’t think this is some kind of New York oddity either, like mole people living in subways or a disproportionate pride in the fact you were born in a shithole. According to The Washington Post, some communities in Missouri draw as much as 30 percent of their revenue from these sources, and across the board they always seem to fall disproportionately on poor, non-white people.
The people are being fleeced, like sheep, by shepherds who have no qualms about killing the livestock. But these pastoral pigs don’t merely beat up the poor and shake them down for money.
You can only make so much money off a worker, but you can make a hell of a lot more off a slave.
When we think of police we often think of half-evolved werewolves that “patrol” our neighborhoods, noses sniffing for easy prey as they roll by in race cars, but there’s much more to policing then that. A cop implies law, laws imply courts, and courts imply cages where those deemed troublesome can be left to rot. A cop’s job is to enforce the law, whether it is wrong or right, and especially if it means keeping prison beds full.
Prison and jail aren’t about rehabilitation, and they aren’t about justice. They are about money through slavery, and the significant 1871 court ruling from Ruffin v. Commonwealth puts it all in black and white. This landmark Virginia case set the precedent for state control of inmate bodies and labor, one still used today, and cuts no corners in laying out what the State hopes to gain from an individual’s imprisonment:
“For the time, during his term of service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the State. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords to him. He is for the time being a slave of the State. He is civiliter mortus; and his estate, if he has any, is administered like that of a dead man.”
Slavery never ended. It just became legal. In privately run prisons inmates will receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they deem “highly skilled positions.” Federal prisons are a little better, offering $1.25 an hour. Both will make everything from blue jeans to body armor and hire their captive labor out to the highest bidder.
These are not hardened criminals being sentenced to indentured servitude. Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes and it is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. This is not by accident but by design.
Just look at who is being arrested…