24 Jul 2009

Prison Reform: Isolation Leads to Isolation, Leads to Isolation, Leads to Isolation, Leads to Isolation…

Following up on my post equating our isolation of domestic prisoners to our torture of prisoners abroad, prisoners in New York are suing the city Department of Corrections :

A group of inmates who claim they were locked in their cells for their own protection for as many as 23 hours a day have sued the city Department of Correction to stop the practice, saying the isolation is cruel and violates jail regulations.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Marcy Friedman heard oral arguments in the case Thursday and said she would issue a decision in the next few weeks. Correctional experts say 23-hour isolation is common throughout the country, but research shows it can be psychologically harmful. Solitary confinement is often used as punishment to segregate troublemakers, but it’s also used to protect certain inmates.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing to do to these people,” said Michael Mushlin, a law professor at Pace Law School and a national expert on prisoners’ rights. “It shouldn’t be done even to bad people. It shouldn’t be done as punishment.”

Mushlin said research has demonstrated the mental health consequences. “If they are being held this way for any amount of time — even for a day or so — you’re going to see a lot of mental pain,” he said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Martin F. Horn said he instituted the policy in 2005 to safeguard inmates who needed protection — such as a gang member who was a witness in a case or a detainee accused of attempting to kidnap a child, he said.

“Protective custody should be the safest place in the department,” Horn said. The request by plaintiffs to end the policy would “make it the unsafest place,” he added.

I can only assume the pop culture term for solitary – the hole – is a reference to black holes; once you get in you can never get out. As this New Yorker article points out, isolation is a self-perpetuating tactic: successful re-entry into the general prison population becomes increasingly unlikely after one has endured the psychological and social stress of isolation. All that’s left, then, is to persist in confinement and suffer the concomitant mental deterioration, which then requires more confinement and the concomitant mental deterioration, which then requires more confinement and the concomitant deterioration, which then requires more confinement…

The savvy no doubt notice that this action ad infinitum exemplifies the prison-industrial system’s underlying motivation — ensuring its self-preservation.

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23 Jul 2009

We Torture Abroad, We Torture at Home

Robert McCartney, writing for the Post, speaks sensibly: it’s no help if prison doesn’t help them adjust to society but rather makes them more hostile toward it.

This fact is so common sense it seems almost banal to say, but the reality of the US attitude towards incarceration flouts common sense, embraces vindictiveness.

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21 Jul 2009

Lugar’s War on Venezuela

Back in 2008, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) look into our counter-narcotics expenses to Venezuela – part of a larger effort “to ensure that funding for United States Government policies designed to interdict narcotics being trafficked through Venezuela…are being used effectively.”

Forget that between fiscal years 2003 and 2008 those totaled a mere $35 million; the report was more political kabuki than a sober analysis of our tax dollars’ efficacy in fighting narco-trafficking. Heaven forbid our GAO shine a spotlight on the inner workings of our own government. Best to busy it in the jungles of South America, where it can repeat the work of others, and report back on the obvious:

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17 Jul 2009

US and Cuba in “Fruitful” Immigration Talks

Continuing the thaw in US-Cuba relations, representatives from each government met in New York, New York. “The two sides used the one-day meeting on Monday to reaffirm their commitment to promote ‘safe, orderly and legal migration’, according to statements by the US state department and the Cuban foreign ministry.”

Though the Cuban rep called the meeting “fruitful,” one suspects the waters between Havana and Miami will be populated with makeshift rafts for some time to come. Cubans still require explicit government permission to leave the country, and the highly selective granting of such permission is all that prevents an exodus to the US; those not digging the austerity implied in revolutionary solidarity are legion.

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15 Jul 2009

Prison Reform Will Outlast the Economic Crisis

As I wrote yesterday, states from California to New York are mitigating effects of the crisis by closing prisons and experimenting with alternative corrections programs. Though the principal motivation – financial – implies that this is a patchwork remedy for a temporary ill, early signs of a shifting attitude towards incarceration surfaced years before the crisis.

Policies seemingly compelled by a temporary economic situation were, in fact, merely expedited, and the boost given them by fiscal necessity may be a pivotal factor in their long-term institutionalization.

Michigan is one example. Its plan to close eight prisons this year continues a trend that began in 2005, with 11 prison and work-camp closings in the interim:

Where did all the work-camp inmates go? They’re on parole, part of a sea change in corrections philosophy. With 21,000 parolees, a record-high number, Michigan is four years into a reform centered on community supervision rather than incarceration. The state says it’s working.

Despite push-back from corrections officers, their unions, and state legislators – including a warning from a union leader that “the public better lock their doors” – the program is earning praise. It’s also contributing to the right sort of police statistics; crime is down, the recidivism rate is down, and it’s saving the state between $25 and $30 million a year.

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15 Jul 2009

Prison Reform Will Outlast the Economic Crisis

As I wrote yesterday, states from California to New York are mitigating effects of the crisis by closing prisons and experimenting with alternative corrections programs. Though the principal motivation – financial – implies that this is a patchwork remedy for a temporary ill, early signs of a shifting attitude towards incarceration surfaced years before the crisis.

Policies seemingly compelled by a temporary economic situation were, in fact, merely expedited, and the boost given them by fiscal necessity may be a pivotal factor in their long-term institutionalization.

Michigan is one example. Its plan to close eight prisons this year continues a trend that began in 2005, with 11 prison and work-camp closings in the interim:

Where did all the work-camp inmates go? They’re on parole, part of a sea change in corrections philosophy. With 21,000 parolees, a record-high number, Michigan is four years into a reform centered on community supervision rather than incarceration. The state says it’s working.

Despite push-back from corrections officers, their unions, and state legislators – including a warning from a union leader that “the public better lock their doors” – the program is earning praise. It’s also contributing to the right sort of police statistics; crime is down, the recidivism rate is down, and it’s saving the state between $25 and $30 million a year.

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14 Jul 2009

The Economic Crisis As Catalyst for Prison Reform

One of the silver linings in this economic crisis: a long-overdue reevaluation of incarceration and corrections-programs in the US is taking place.

In Michigan:

“Three state prisons and five prison camps will be closed to save $120 million as budget-conscious Michigan moves toward incarcerating its lowest number of inmates in a decade, Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration said Friday.

The Democratic governor wants to reduce the prison population of 47,550 to below 45,000 by Oct. 1, the lowest head count since 1999.”

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13 Jul 2009

Portrayal of Mexican Violence in the Press

There are two Mexicos.

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause.

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09 Jul 2009

The Seminal on FDL

I’d first like to thank the communities at FireDogLake and Oxdown Gazette for welcoming The Seminal in this, our new home. It’s a pleasure to become part of this broader family, and we are earnestly working to make this site a better experience for everyone involved. With that in mind, I believe the most productive means of introduction is for me to lay out both my intention and my hope for

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