BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Criminalization’

Thinking of Calling 911? Reconsider.

July 08, 2015 By: Mel Category: Change, Criminalization

Stats on foster careIn 2012, Prison Culture posted a little story.* The author’s friend wrote:

I saw a toddler running down Ashland barefooted and wearing very little clothing. No one was in sight. A month ago, I know that I would have immediately called the police. In light of recent events, I got out of the car and did my own detective work. I was nervous. The child was pre-verbal and I’m not good with small children, plus I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was painfully conscious, however, that calling the police might bring irreversibly negative consequences for someone — a family, the baby, me.

The good news is that I found another passerby. We wrapped the baby in my sweater and together we went door-to-door until we found the mom, who by that point was hysterical because she realized that her child was missing. Between the neighbors confirming the child’s identity and the woman’s expression when we walked up with the baby, we were pretty confident the child was hers.

Now contrast that story with two others from recent history.

You may have heard about Danielle and Alexander Meitiv. They have been fighting protective services for letting their kids go to a playground by themselves. Like a lot of incidents, it all started when someone decided to call the cops. Luckily for the Meitivs, they are suburban, white professionals with the resources for an attorney and a lot of public sympathy. They won’t be losing their kids.

Contrast that with Debra Harrell. Harrell let her child play in a park while she worked her job at McDonalds – a job that doesn’t pay enough to afford day care. When someone in the park discovered that the child was not there with a parent, they called the cops. Harrell was arrested. She lost her job. The state took her kids. She was lucky that her case received national attention. She got her job back and received the resources to fight. Many poor women and children of color are not so lucky. The “child welfare” system disproportionately chews up poor children of color.

Most white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.

Note the stats in that graphic. But a post about the terrifying foster care system is something for another day.

Most of us do not yet have alternate means of dealing with some types of violence. We need to work on that. For now, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for dialing 911 about a murder or a rape. But perhaps we can all agree that calling the cops shouldn’t be the first resort for everything that seems a little off?

Conservatives are supposed to be about personal responsibility. Liberals are supposed to be about social justice. Radicals are supposed to be about creating a better system. So what would be your excuse to call the police instead of taking responsibility, finding out what is going on, and trying to do the right thing? I suspect even some cops must get tired of being called for every bullshit thing. There have to be a few who would rather investigate murders than lock up mothers.

Surely this is one tiny (and yet not so tiny) thing that most people can agree with.

____________________

*Do read that whole Prison Culture post. It is good stuff.

Prison Health Care: Money for Nothing

September 08, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

Antique Human Diagram for BloodlettingAt the beginning of August there was an Alliance for Healthcare forum on Health Care Behind Bars. One of the panelists was Debra Rowe of Returning Citizens United. This isn’t the first time I have heard Debra talk about this. I was lucky enough to be on the Criminal Injustice Committee with her. I’m not sure that the full impact of what she is saying comes through in such a formal talk. So I’ll share what I remember from the talks I heard.

When Debra was incarcerated in the 80s, her and the other women found themselves providing hospice care for people dying of AIDS. There was virtually no health care and they had to fight to get even minimal attention paid to the inmates who were sick. But that’s not all. Prisoners were being tested for HIV. Reports were coming out about HIV infections in prison. But they weren’t telling the prisoners they were sick. The people only found out when they started becoming symptomatic.

Not much has changed. Despite prisoners being blood tested upon entering prisons, they are not being told what the results are. Debra recounts an instance where a man was tested several times by several different prisons and never once told that he had Hepatitis C. The rates of Hepatitis and other infectious diseases are incredibly high in prison. One study estimates that 17.4% of those in prison have Hep C. If they are left untreated, those people could die. 

People who know they have a health issue struggle to get any kind of care in prison. One woman who wrote in for the mother’s day issue of Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison explains:

Betty, one of our Golden Girls, fell on the uneven pavement on Sunday morning, Sept. 8th, while walking back from an Art Therapy class with interns from the Gerontology Department at USC. Luckily she had put in a co-pay the day before, and so would likely be seen in the next day or so. A copay is a prison system alert that some kind of care is needed; it is called a co-pay because the system charges an inmate $5 for every visit. Cheap by free world standards, but enormously expensive for inmates as this reflects about 33% of their monthly average salary at an 8 cents an hour job…

despite many health care visits, the foot is still broken, still untreated, now nineteen days since the fall, but the system will assure you that she is being seen and taken care of.

Suffering with a broken foot for 19 days and having paid for the privilege. That’s the prison health care system.

Though prisons have not figured out how to do even minimal care, they have figured out how to make millions of dollars. At least 20 states have outsourced all or part of their prison health care to private for-profit organizations like Corizon, about whom you can read a damning list of abuses and scandals around the country in this piece on Prison Legal News.

Another corporation getting into the prison medical business is CenteneCentene had 2013 service revenue of $ 10,526,040. Not all of that was for prison health care. In fact, much of it was saving governments money on medicare spending. In other words, they make most of their money off of “the families of low-income single mothers.” You can read all about their famous cost cutting and army of lobbyists here.

It isn’t surprising that they are so good at getting government contracts considering how well-connected they are.  The board includes Former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and former Governor of Wisconsin Tommy G. Thompson. Of course, there are plenty of banks, insurance companies, and the obligatory Microsoft guy on the board as well.

One other thought about the health care forum I linked to above. For a minute I thought that nobody was going to bring up racism or poverty. That it would just hover there unspoken. Luckily, another Criminal Injustice person, popped up during the question and answer session and made sure nobody forgot. Christopher Glenn also brought up the 500 mile rule for DC inmates, which is something I should write about soon.

Worse Than Michael Brown

August 27, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

Little blond angelBy now you have undoubtedly heard how The New York Times is getting a lot of backlash for calling Michael Brown “no angel.” Specifically they wrote

he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

A couple days ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about just how typical Brown’s behavior was. In fact, he wrote, “if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic.” And he goes on to list how much more than shoplifting, drugs, alcohol, and (gasp) rap music there was in his teenage years.

It occurs to me that this might be an exercise for all of us. Half of the adults in this country have smoked pot. The vast majority of teens have tried alcohol, and a fairly significant percentage binge drink on a regular. And whoa, vulgar music and scuffles. Well who has ever been involved with those?

By the time I was 18 years old, I had:

  • Been drinking for 6 years (quite a bit)
  • Regularly raided mine and my friend’s parent’s medicine chests for drugs
  • Smoked pot
  • Did acid and ecstasy
  • Ran away…a lot
  • Quit school
  • Went back to school
  • Got suspended (a lot)
  • Got kicked out of school
  • Got kicked out of my house
  • Got caught shoplifting
  • Stole liquor from a bar after a little illegal entry (after convincing my friends the cameras were fake)
  • Rode in numerous stolen vehicles. (Did you know old Camaros could be started with a screwdriver?)
  • Listened to some really disturbing music (I Saw Your Mommy and Your Mommy is Dead..anyone?)
  • And so much more…

Do you know what happened when I got caught shoplifting in Rite Aid? I didn’t get shot. They called my parents and banned me from the store. Do you know what happened when my friend and I appropriated her mom’s car and got into an accident without either of us having a drivers license? I didn’t get shot. The cop brought us back to her parent’s house. Do you know what happened on the many occasions cops caught me and my friends with booze and weed? I didn’t get shot. They confiscated it for themselves.

I never even got arrested. Not once.

Don’t think I am saying that cops have changed. Seems like almost everyone I knew had some sort of record. Many of my friends ended up face down on a roadside with a cop’s knee in their back over a speeding ticket. I didn’t go through that because I as a girl and white and lived in a middle class suburban house with “good” parents. Despite being “no angel” I have been allowed to grow up, been given the benefit of the doubt, been assumed to be redeemable.

It is the people that obey all the rules and, most especially, the people who get their jollies from enforcing them, that we need to be worried about. I never killed anybody. And neither did Michael Brown. But here I am. And he is dead. For nothing.

But maybe what the NYT meant by “no angel” was that he wasn’t a little blonde girl like the one in that picture.

Police Entrapment in DC

July 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Inequality

DC Metro StationAbout a week ago the Washington Post ran an article about police stings in DC.

The D.C. police department is quietly turning to high-risk sting operations in which undercover officers recruit people they think are likely to commit armed robberies. The scenarios dreamed up by law enforcement officials, some involving the lure of liquor and strip clubs, are designed to put violent offenders in jail and to address one of the District’s most persistent and dangerous crimes.

Of course, we know who the people “likely to commit armed robberies” are going to be.

I would have just tweeted this and maybe put it up on a link post. But, in addition to encouraging you to read the whole article, I wanted to draw your attention to part of it.

In recent years, D.C. police have deployed extra patrol officers and teams of undercover decoys to respond to robberies. Officers have posed as subway commuters to catch would-be thieves of electronic devices, who Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said in 2012 had “clobbered” her department.

Back when I was on the Criminal Injustice Committee, one of the Committee brought these undercover stings to our attention. PD would pose as passed out people with money and cell phones hanging out of their pockets. When some teen came by and went for the goods, they would get arrested.

Naturally, the reports were coming only from poorer and blacker neighborhoods. I believe the Anacostia metro was one main target. Sadly, the Committee was chin deep in the Wells Fargo campaign. So the proposal to work the S.E. metro stations to warn people wasn’t followed up on.

The poverty rate in DC is (when cost of living is taken into account) 23%. We have some of the worst income inequality in the country. Ward 8 still has almost 18% unemployment. And we all know that unemployment stats are low-balled. But DCs response is to set those people up and shovel them into the prison industrial complex.

The Compartmentalization of Injustice

May 09, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

Cecily McMillanIt is all over the news that 9 out of 10 jurors who voted to send Cecily McMillan to prison have written the judge asking for a lenient sentence

The letter follows initial reactions of shock and regret from some who served on the jury—which was not informed of the verdict’s severe sentencing guidelines during the trial—once they learned McMillan could be incarcerated for years. One juror expressed “remorse” to theGuardian on Tuesday, stating, “Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I’m hearing is seven years in jail? That’s ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous.” Martin Stolar, criminal defense attorney affiliated with the National Lawyers Guild and co-counsel for McMillan’s case, said two other jurors had contacted him with similar expressions of regret, according to the Huffington Post.

During McMillan’s trial, the jury was not informed of the severe sentencing guidelines for the verdict, as is the standard in the United States, except for death penalty cases.

When I was on grand jury duty we were told again and again that we were not to think about the consequences. When people asked what the possible punishment could be – because they clearly did not think the person should go to prison – the prosecutors would refuse to answer. When people had questions about the legality of searches, the prosecutors would tell us that the defense attorney would worry about that. When people asked questions about the flimsy evidence, the prosecutors told them that those matters would get settled at trial – knowing full well the case would never go to trial.

I tried to muster up some sympathy for the other jurors. I reminded myself that they had not spent the last decade learning about the torture in our prisons. But try as I might I could not find it in me to let go of the rage. It isn’t just that I was in a room full of people who remained willfully ignorant about a system that affects tens of thousands of their neighbors in this city. It was that there has never been a time in my entire life when someone would have told me not to think about what might happen at the end of the line and I would have just saluted and gone along.

What kind of person does that?

Clearly the cop in the room does it. He was the most vocal about us needing to follow the law. He was the one who reminded people that they weren’t supposed to think. He was the poster child for the banality of evil. It was someone just like him who stamped the transport papers for train rides to Auschwitz. But what about the rest? So much obedience ending in so much disaster. What creates that? More importantly, what uncreates it?

On my better days I tried to focus on just how hard the system works to keep us compartmentalized. Without compartmentalization, the whole system would fail. As obedient as the people in that grand jury room were, had they had the opportunity to determine the actual consequences, I believe many of them would have refused to send people to prison. And I say that knowing that they were almost completely unaware of what happens in those places.

Our lives are entirely compartmentalized. We are pressured to limit our thinking all the time. We study in silos of academic disciplines. We work in factories or offices where we have little idea where our tasks fit into the whole. We draw lines through our work and personal lives so that the filth we do to earn a living might not dirty the rest of our lives. We allow ourselves to be cogs in oppression machines.

We have to stop compartmentalizing. We have to stop taking the easy road of choosing to follow orders because resisting is hard. It isn’t o.k. to just go along.

Is It A Death Sentence if You Were Never Convicted?

April 24, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

A follow-up to my last post about people sitting in jail without having been convicted of a crime.

Just in case you had not heard the full details about the homeless veteran who baked to death in a cell at Rikers last month. He was there because he was too poor to make bail.

Homeless and looking for a warm place to sleep on a cold night in February, Murdough was arrested for trespassing on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem. He was presented with two options: (1) either pay the city $2,500 in order to be released — a cost-prohibitive sum for someone without a job or a home, or (2) be detained on Rikers Island and wait for his case to be adjudicated, a process that can take months or even years.

You can read the rest on the Pretrial Justice Institute blog here.

You’ll also read about Kalief Browder who was arrested at 16 and held for almost three years without ever having been convicted of anything.

Who is the criminal here?

 

Incarcerated Until Proven Innocent

April 22, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

Infographic on bail in America

http://www.pretrial.org/the-problem/

I am officially finished with grand jury duty. Which means I now get to start the process of unloading on you all of the frustrations of watching our injustice system in action. And I think I’ll start with an article I came across just an hour after leaving the prosecutors’ offices.

Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 for the stabbing death of Christopher Joiner and yet his case has not yet gone to trial. Hinds County Judge Bill Gowan denied bail for Simmons, saying he wanted to hear more evidence of Simmons’ mental problems, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

Similarly, Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in jail without trial since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother, Michael Palmer. Knight, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, had previously been committed to the state hospital. Gowan ordered Knight committed to the state hospital in 2013, but there have been no beds available there.

If you are counting, that means those men have been in jail awaiting trial for six or seven years. Let me just let that sink in for a moment. They have been locked up for years without having been convicted. Their cases are some of the most egregious that I have heard, but they are not alone.

As I was listening to one of the cases presented before my grand jury, It dawned on me that the accused had been in DC jail for a very long time. In fact, he will likely be in jail for about two years before he goes to trial. I confirmed with the prosecutor that he was indeed being held waiting for trial and not on some other charges. I asked her if that was typical. It is. She estimated a year and a half wait for trial. She didn’t say how many of those people are waiting in jail.

But as you can see from the Pretrial Justice Institute infographic posted here, 60% of the people in jail nationwide are waiting for trial. And just in case the loss of freedom for months or years is not enough of an injustice for you, how about this.

Research shows that among defendants facing the same charge and who have the same criminal history, those who are kept in jail before trial receive worse plea offers, are sentenced to prison more often if they are found guilty, and receive harsher prison sentences than those who are released under court-ordered supervision.

Studies also find that just two to three days in jail pending trial can have a significant and lasting impact on a defendant’s family, such as the loss of permanent employment or, for single parent households, a child being placed in state custody.

If they were rich, they would be waiting for their trial at home. We have a system where Bernie Madoff gets to walk around while he waits to be tried for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, but the poor and homeless and mentally ill will spend months or years in jail without having been found guilty of anything.  Many of them will eventually be acquitted of the often petty crimes they are accused of.

And meanwhile the bail bonds people are raking it in. There are “15,000 bail bond agents work in the U.S., who write bonds for approximately $14 billion every year. Those companies are backed by multibillion-dollar “insurance giants.” 

Amazing how much money people make off of the poor.

According to this Christian Science Monitor article, DC is one of the better places when it comes to holding poor people for minor things on bail they cannot afford. But even those accused of murder are still only accused. What is all that nonsense we are told about our rights to a speedy trial and innocent until proven guilty?

 

Total Information. Who Can You Trust?

April 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Politics

Uncle Sam is Watching YouMy roommate texted me the other night that she needed my social security number. She was doing her taxes via TurboTax and they wouldn’t let her file without it. In DC, there is a housing credit for which it is obvious that neither me nor my roommate are eligible. But TurboTax made us go through a whole bunch of questions that were supposedly necessary to assess our eligibility. The program asked for all household members and their social security numbers. I ditched TurboTax and went with H&R Block who didn’t ask me to share my roommates personal information with them.  

Just as I’m thinking about how infuriatingly accustomed we all are to giving information to government and/or private companies,  I get an email from the DC government informing me that it is time to get my REAL ID. Apparently, back in 2005, a national ID was snuck onto a piece of military spending legislation. I’m told that there was a bit of a stink when it happened. Many states, in fact, said they would refuse to participate. But it is slowly rolling out anyway.

So what is this REAL ID?

The federal government no longer wants the states to be able to determine their own rules for issuing drivers licenses. And while the feds cannot exactly force the states, they can make certain state IDs not usable for federal identification purposes. That means, for example, that your state ID could not be used to board a flight within the U.S. They say these new regulations are about anti-terrorism. But they are more about anti-immigration and about cataloging all of us for ease of future harassment and control.

What I and every other license holding resident of DC will need to do is go down to our local DMV with at least four pieces of identification that meet their standards. In my case, for example, I’ll have to go down there with my passport, social security number, apartment lease, and a bank statement. All of these items will be scanned and held in their system. I will also have my picture retaken and added to their facial recognition database. The ID that I will be issued must have a machine readable zone. Here is what the NYCLU had to say about that in this report they issued (p. 14).

Similar to a bar code, the machine-readable zone must contain minimum information to allow any entity with a reader to capture the data on a driver’s license. The Real ID Act mandates the following minimum information be included in the machine-readable zone: license expiration date, issuance date, state or territory of issuance, holder’s legal name, date of birth, gender, address, unique identification number, and inventory control number for the physical documents maintained by the state.

DHS has granted states the authority to add information to be contained in the machine readable zone, including biometric information, such as iris scans or fingerprints. DHS has decided that the personal information contained in the machine readable zone will not be encrypted, which means that it will be easily accessible to government agents and the private sector. Moreover, there is no prohibition on third party access to information contained in the machine-readable zone.

So basically the states can include iris scans, fingerprints, or pretty much any creepy thing they want and they cannot encrypt the information. Even if you are one of those people who trusts the government to compile limitless data on you, are you really o.k. with anyone you need to show your ID to having that information? There are already bars that scan people when they walk through the door. Do you trust every bar and gym and restaurant with your iris scan?

I’m not even going to entertain the arguments about needing this for our security. Nothing the government does is for our security. It is for their security at the cost of ours. If you want to read some of the arguments, then feel free to click through to the congressional testimony or this article from Bruce Schneier.

What I will do is ask people to imagine the kinds of abuses that could occur with a system that collects that much data about all of us in one place. Think of the number of people who will have access to my name, face, gender, dob, social, passport number, bank account, and address. In Ohio, they freaked out because they found out that 30,000 cops plus had unfettered access to DMV info with facial recognition. Multiply that times the fifty states. Police routinely abuse their access to information to harass, stalk, or murder citizens. Now we are just making it easier.

Do we really need to write yet again about the kind of files that the federal government has been collecting on activists from the beginning of time? Here is a handy summary of some of the more well known acts against us by our government.

What is it going to take for people to stop rolling over and start asking why it is o.k. for us to be cataloged by a cooperating cabal of government and private agencies?

 

Is Applying PREA to Immigrant Detention a Good Thing?

March 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

The Department of Homeland Security announced “that it has finalized regulations to prevent sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers.” Their announcement follows the 2012 Obama administration directive that the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) apply to those in immigration detention and not just Department of Justice Facilities.

PREA was passed in 2003 in response to public campaigns against prison rape. You might think that a bill requiring increased reporting and a “zero tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse would have helped. But reports of sexual abuse are actually rising. Prison officials claim this is due to an increase in reporting, not in incidents. Not a surprising claim if you consider that about half of the sexual assaults reported are guard on prisoner.

It so happens that I have been reading some back issues of Tenacious: art & writings by women in prison. In the mother’s day 2013 issue, Dawn describes how little the PREA has helped women prisoners. In fact, she says “the only people who suffer because of PREA are the same ones who were supposed to benefit from it.” According to Dawn, what “zero tolerance” has actually meant is that women are forbidden any physical contact. She was once admonished for giving another prisoner a high five.

A few abusive guards were removed and charged with crimes since PREA passed. But the Department of Corrections (DOC) also implemented their own new rule. The new rule makes it a serious infraction for a prisoner to falsely report to authorities.  Dawn says that, since they added the new rule, many women won’t make reports because

history has proven that any kind of reports true or false are found to be false. When it was found to be false the people were immediately found guilty and sent to administrative segregation (ad. seg.). One lady was only having a conversation with an officer, not ‘reporting’ anything, just telling him a rumor she’d heard about a guard putting money on an offenders account for ‘favors’. This officer went and reported their conversation and she was cuffed, taken to the hole and subsequently written up for Class 1 False Reporting and placed in Ad. Seg.

Does it sound to you like a few new policies are going to make a difference when people still accept the mass dehumanization and incarceration that creates such an ideal environment for abuse without consequences?

P.S. If you click the above link for Tenacious, it will tell you how you can subscribe. Get your information about prison straight from the imprisoned.

Occupy DC Targets Wells Fargo and the Prison Industrial Complex

December 03, 2011 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Seeking

Yesterday, the criminal justice committee of Occupy DC organized on action targeting Wells Fargo’s involvement in private prisons through their investments in the GEO Group. Pics of the march and pre-march are below.

I loved this action for a whole lot of reasons:

  • The injustice system is one of the most hideous manifestations of the racist, exploitative, militarized state. It needs to be central.
  • Focusing on Wells Fargo’s participation highlighted how the prison system is central to economic exploitation.
  • The action focused on the local effect of a national problem. They highlighted GEOs involvement in Rivers Correctional Institution, a place that locks up thousands of DC residents for mostly parole violations.  In a city where 3 out of 4 black men will end up in prison this is an issue the local community has a real personal stake in.
  • Related to the above, the march was not focused on congress or the Whitehouse.
  • Most of the slogans were radical. There was a bit of “money for education not incarceration” and some stuff about private prisons (as though state prisons are great). But most of the chants and comments were along the lines of
Wells Fargo, Tear it Down. The Whole Damn System, Tear it Down.
This is not a protest. This is a boycott.
Get your money out of Wells Fargo. Stop Funding your own incarceration.
We don’t want to reform Wells Fargo. We want to shut it down.
They get bailed out. We get locked up.
Incarceration is the new Jim Crow.

P.S. I also attended the general assembly. Since I criticized them a bit the other day for the lack of women speaking at the GA, I have to give some props for that not being the case at all last night.


Wells Fargo Action – Images by Pinorrow Photography