Tuesday, October 3, 2023
The UN Human Rights Committee Will Review the U.S. Next Month. Why Not Engage with the Committee on the Abolition of Immigration Detention of Children? – Part II
Prof. Bartlett writes this second of a two-part post on the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s upcoming review of the United States during the week of October 16th.
For over a decade, international human rights mechanisms have been calling for a complete prohibition on the detention of migrant children, with or without their families, based solely on migration status. There is a consensus in international human rights law that any deprivation of liberty of children based solely on migration status, no matter how brief, is a violation of human rights law and may amount to ill-treatment. In 2012, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the detention of children based on their migration status or their parents’ migration status is a clear human rights violation. In 2015, Juan Mendez, the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment stated that “States should, expeditiously and completely, cease the detention of children, with or without their parents, on the basis of their immigration status.” Both Juan Mendez and his successor, Nils Melzer, agree that the detention of migrant children based solely on migration status is never in the best interests of the child, as it “exceeds the requirement of necessity and proportionality and, even in case of short-term detention, may amount to ill-treatment.” The European Court of Human Rights has noted that the best interests of the child must be determined on an individual basis in assessing the possibility to admit, return, expel, deport, repatriate, reject at the border.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants dedicated his 2020 thematic report to ending the immigration detention of children. In that report he stated that the “human rights of children have neither nationality nor borders.” The child’s right to non-discrimination includes the protection of children against all forms of discrimination and punishment, “including specifically on the basis of the status of the child and his or her parents or family members.” The Special Rapporteur on migrants also stated that the “imperative requirement not to deprive the child of liberty extends to the child’s parents and requires the authorities to provide alternative measures to detention for the entire family.” Clearly U.S. practices of depriving children of their liberty, without access to adequate food, healthcare, or education, separated from their family members, for prolonged periods of time in hieleras, solely based on their migration status, is a violation of international human rights law.
U.S. Should Explore a Path Towards the Abolition of Immigration Detention for Children
The United States is closer than many may think to abolishing the immigration detention of children. The Biden Administration has officially halted the practice of caging children at the border since 2021, instead releasing migrant children and their families into the United States with ankle bracelets or traceable cellphones to keep track of them. The U.S. government has recognized that the harms perpetrated on children are severe and long-lasting, and though the United States has not outlawed the practice, U.S. law already provides for limits on immigration detention of children and minimum standards of detention conditions.
Moreover, and despite American exceptionalism, the United States does regularly avail itself to the expertise and guidance of human rights mechanisms. For example, the United States rejoined the U.N. Human Rights Council, the United States attends and participates in treaty body reviews, the Universal Periodic Review, Inter-American Commission hearings, and official visits from human rights experts.
If President Biden hopes to stick to his commitment of avoiding the detention of migrant children at all costs, he will need help. Instead of making excuses, the U.S. government should take advantage of the expert guidance that can be provided by international human rights mechanisms, including by the U.N. Human Rights Committee during its review of the United States in October 2023. Compliance with recommendations made by international human rights mechanisms is voluntary and relatively little domestic attention is given to U.S. engagement with these mechanisms. The expertise and guidance that international human rights mechanisms can provide on this subject is unparalleled.
Abolition of immigration detention of children is the right thing to do and in line with U.S. international human rights obligations; the United States can start down the path of dismantling its racist, oppressive, and violent immigration system and prevent future long-term harm to the hundreds of thousands of migrant children each year.
Monday, October 2, 2023
The UN Human Rights Committee Will Review the U.S. Next Month. Why Not Engage with the Committee on the Abolition of Immigration Detention of Children? – Part I
Prof. Bartlett writes this two-part post on the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s upcoming review of the United States during the week of October 16th.
The U.S. human rights record will be on full display next month when the U.N. Human Rights Committee finally gets to review the Fifth Periodic Report submitted by the United States during the final days of the Trump administration in January 2021. Some important federal immigration policies have changed for the better under the Biden administration, including a halt, however temporary it might be, on the inhumane practice of detaining migrant children and their families in cages at the border. However, the U.S. report does not reflect those changes despite calls by human rights advocates for updates and it is unlikely that the topic of the abolition of immigration detention of children will be given much play during the review.
If the Biden administration is serious about forging a path towards the abolition of immigration detention of children, it should at the very least engage on the topic with international human rights mechanisms, including during the upcoming review of the United States by the U.N. Human Rights Committee. This is a relatively low stakes step that the U.S. government can take towards abolition.
Migrant Children Detained at the U.S. Border
Detaining children in cages even for short periods of time is traumatic and has negative long-lasting impacts on child health and well-being. While some countries around the globe have outlawed the detention of children based solely on migration status, U.S. law allows officials to put children in cages at the border for up to twenty days and that time limit is rarely enforced.
Until just a year and a half ago, the United States detained hundreds of thousands of migrant children in cages each year. Out of nearly 2 million people detained by the United States at the border from February 2017 through June 2021, more than 650,000 were children. Children detained at the border were held in cages that were built decades ago, at a time when most detained migrants were adult men who were held briefly and rapidly deported. Migrant children were detained in wire cages or tents and then were later moved to larger cinder block cells. The children reported that the food was spoiled and made them sick. Kids with injuries, fevers, coughs or stomachaches could not get basic medical care. Children were held for weeks in the same wet and filthy clothes after journeying thousands of miles and crossing the Rio Grande river. Children also reported bone-chilling cold from the air-conditioned cinder block cells, which are known across the border as hieleras, meaning iceboxes in Spanish.
There are many excuses used by the U.S. government for putting migrant children in cages. These excuses include security and terrorism, deterrence, risk of absconding, public health, and ensuring the child’s well-being. However, detention is never in a child’s best interest and the ill-treatment endured by child migrants means these excuses fall short of justifying these practices. Moreover, many of the detained migrant children, up to forty-six percent or more, had valid asylum claims and require protection as refugees under international law.
At least for the time being, the U.S. government no longer puts migrant children in cages. Today, migrant children with their families at the border must wait near the border for their turn to use the mobile app called CBP One. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is allowing roughly 40,000 migrants per month to make appointments through the CPB one app, with more than 100,000 migrants waiting to use the app at any given time. If a family receives an appointment and their asylum claims are processed by the Border Patrol, they are supposed to be briefly processed by the Border Patrol and then released into the United States with their movements tracked through a GPS monitoring device, such as ankle bracelets or traceable cellphone.
Unaccompanied children at the border detained by Border Patrol are now supposed to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The ORR places unaccompanied children in shelters and then with sponsors, usually family members, as they await immigration proceedings. Though the ORR has used large temporary facilities to detain unaccompanied children at the border in the past, which resemble the Border Patrol cages and hieleras, no migrant children have been held in such a temporary facility since 2022 according to the ORR’s website.
While current practices regarding migrant children at the border do not officially involve cages, there are ongoing worries about conditions in the CBP and ORR facilities. In addition, there is a strong argument that GPS monitoring is just another form of oppressive and racialized violence perpetuated against migrants. The bottom line is that no inhumane, cruel or tortuous practices should be perpetuated by the U.S. government against migrant children.
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
New Article: Professional Indifference?: How One Case Improves Protection for Immigrant Children in United States Detention Centers
Caitlin Fernandez Zamora, Professional Indifference?: How One Case Improves Protection for Immigrant Children in United States Detention Centers, 20 Nw. J. Hum. Rts. 239 (2022). Abstract below.
This Article discusses the case Doe 4 ex rel. Lopez v. Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission. This case was a class action brought by unaccompanied immigrant children against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center Commission under § 1983 protection for adequate medical care. The plaintiff class alleged that, among other things, the Commission failed to (i) provide adequate mental health care due to punitive practices; and (ii) implement trauma-informed care. The plaintiffs were immigrant children who fled their native countries due to harrowing circumstances, many of whom struggled with severe mental illness. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment regarding the mental health care claim, which the plaintiffs appealed. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered which standard should be applied to analyzing a claim regarding the detention center’s level of mental health care. This Article explores the approach and impact of Doe 4, as a case of first impression for the Fourth Circuit and effectively for all circuits with regard to this class of immigrant children. Specifically, this Article discusses whether the majority opinion followed precedent or broke away from it in a way that properly embodies federal law and Constitutional guarantees. This Article also discusses the role of international law in United States courts, particularly related to protections for migrants and children. The Article ultimately concludes that the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Doe 4 was correct and explains why and how it should be further adopted and adapted by other federal courts, to promote an end to the professional indifference that the United States judicial system has normalized with regard to care for juveniles in detention centers.
Monday, June 28, 2021
From July 23-25, 2021, a multi-faceted virtual conference will be held to bring together advocates, community organizers, academics, practicing lawyers, community leaders, and others to discuss the policing and criminalization of neighborhoods. The Conveners of the conference include =the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association, Pillars of the Community, Community Advocates for Just and Moral Governance (MoGo), The UC Irvine Law School Criminal Justice Clinic, and Detours Mentoring Group, Inc., San Diegans for Justice, and the Peace and Justice Law Center.
Scheduled presenters include:
- Alex S. Vitale, Policing and Social Justice Project, Brooklyn College
- Alex Scott, University of California, Riverside
- Babe Howell, CUNY School of Law
- Blinky Rodriguez, Communities in Schools
- Dave Smith
- David Brotherton, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- David Pyrooz, University of Colorado Boulder
- Fareed Hayat, CUNY School of Law
- Francisco Romero, CORE
- Gaby Hernandez, Chicanxs Unidxs
- James Nelson, Dignity and Power Now
- James Spady, Soka University of America
- Jose Valle, Silicon Valley De-Bug
- Kevin “Twin” Orange, Advocates for Peace & Urban Unity
- Kimberly Howard
- Lex Stepling, Dignity and Power Now
- Melvyn Hayward, Chicago CRED
- Meredith Manchester Esq.
- Michael Saavedra, Youth Justice Coalition
- MK Kaishian, Brooklyn Defender Services
- Nalya Rodriguez, University of California, Irvine
- Robert Weide, Cal State Univ. Los Angeles
- Sean Garcia-Leys, Peace and Justice Law Center
- Skipp Townsend, 2nd Call
- Taylonn Murphy Sr., Tashana Chicken Murphy Foundation
- Tina Padilla, Breaking Through Barriers to Success
- Urban Peace Institute
For more information and to register for this conference, visit https://decriminalizingneighborhoods.org/
The early bird conference pricing ends July 5th.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
On February 11, 2021, the US Supreme Court let stand a ruling that stayed the execution of a man in prison in Alabama. William B. Smith III requested that his Christian Pastor be present at his execution. Mr. Smith's lawyers argued that their client needed his pastor present to provide him comfort “including by holding his hand, praying with him in his final moments and easing the transition between the worlds of the living and the dead.” Barrett, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor voted to uphold the bar on Smith's execution. Justice Kagan wrote: "I concur in the Court’s decision to leave that order in place, and I write to explain why. Alabama has not carried its burden of showing that the exclusion of all clergy
members from the execution chamber is necessary to ensure prison security. So the State cannot now execute Smith without his pastor present..."
One year earlier the Court refused to stay another Alabama execution where a Muslim inmate requested the presence of his Imam at the execution. In that case, the Court lifted a stay of execution that the appeals court had entered saying that Mr. Ray, the individual awaiting execution, waited too long to make his request known. (But aren't many requests for Supreme Court stays brought in the last hours?) Justice Kagan dissented. "The clearest command of the Establishment Clause, this Court has held, is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another. Larson v. Valente, 456 U. S. 228, 244 (1982). But the State’s policy does just that. Under that policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion—whether Islam, Judaism, or any other—he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality."
Expecting rational thinking and attention to details in pre-planning one's own violent death is particularly harsh and unempathetic. A belated request for religious comfort is not unreasonable and should not be unexpected. The perspective on last-minute requests appears to change, however, when the clergy requested by the condemned is Christian. In such a case, the law reveals its more sympathetic side.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
The latest stimulus bill includes a provision restoring Pell Grant eligibility to those who are incarcerated. The Obama administration began a pilot program awarding Pell grants to 12,000 incarcerated individuals. The educational program was a success and its restoration for availability for all prisoners had bipartisan support. Even Betsey DeVos supported the bill. Education is a critical way for those who are incarcerated to obtain jobs upon their transition back into civil society. Access to Pell grants is important but is only one of the necessary steps to improving the lives of both the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated.
Recently PBS aired a series of reports on the difficulties faced by formerly incarcerated people. Often those returning to civil society face substantial barriers to improving their lives. The barriers placed by our bureaucracies who impose unreasonable costs and other demands on the formerly incarcerated. These restrictions prevent these formerly incarcerated humans from achieving financial success and independence. These are only some of the obstacles and indignities formerly incarcerated people encounter. To read the stories of those interviewed for the PBS series, click here.
Wednesday, December 2, 2020
The Trump Administration has stepped up its efforts to inflict as much inhumanity as possible before its demise. As of now, five people who ae incarcerated in the federal prison system are scheduled to be executed before January 20th.
The President removed the suspension of capital punishment that had been in place for well over a decade. The last prior federal execution was 17 years ago. Among those scheduled for execution is Lisa Montgomery. She would be the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years. While Ms. Montgomery's crime was shocking, she committed the crime while suffering from PTSD from being sexually trafficked during her childhood. According to a Washington Post report on Ms. Montgomery " Cases in which women are sentenced to death often involve prosecutors portraying the defendant as straying from gender norms by, for example, being sexually deviant or an inattentive mother, Dunham said. He said many women who receive the death penalty were not in their right mind at the time of the crime."
Recently Ms. Montgomery's two lawyers became ill with COVID-19. A federal district court recently denied their quest for a delay in the scheduled December 8th execution. Ms. Montgomery is represented by clinicians and students of the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic. An appeals ordered a stay of execution until December 31st to provide Ms. Montgomery's lawyers an opportunity to recover and continue advocating for their client. The federal government promptly rescheduled the execution for January 12th. Wishing the clinic Godspeed in finding a way to extend the execution date for at least an additional nine days so the Biden administration may take action to prevent Ms. Montgomery's execution as well as other future executions.
You may sign a petition to assist Ms. Montgomery here.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
Despite advocacy asking states to release incarcerated individuals early, the US has released relatively few people in comparison with other countries. Prisons and jails are not safe for the incarcerated or for staff. Only a few days ago Governor Cuomo announced that pregnant women women would be released. But the group of women to be released is narrow. Only women with convictions for non-violent crimes will be released and only then if their remaining sentence is under six months.
Release wouldn't be as critical if jails and prisons were otherwise safe spaces. But those inside report horrid conditions. There is not effective or even enhanced sanitation. Women who are suspected of having symptoms are often isolated in deplorable conditions. At one prison, women were moved to a prion wing that had been closed in years. The cells are filthy with walls filled with mold. Others report a shortage of food, and and disinfecting supplies. No efforts are made at physical differences.
Human Rights Watch issued a report. While it is NY specific, the report is worth a read. The frightening conditions described are prevalent in most jails and prisons across the country.
Monday, December 23, 2019
In an amazing bi-partisan collaboration, last week Congress passed Ban The Box legislation. Under The Fair Chance To Compete For Jobs Act of 2019, the federal government and private employers contracting with the federal government will be unable to ask about a candidate's conviction history on a job application. These employers will be unable to inquire regarding criminal records until after a conditional offer has been made. Hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated people will have a chance of being hired under the new act.
Downside: The law will not take effect until two years from when the law takes effect, presumably the day when the President signs the bill into law.
Monday, May 13, 2019
Rejecting The Wisdom Of The Rome Statute: US Life Sentences Without Parole for First Time Non-Violent Offenders
The ACLU recently published a powerful report on individuals incarcerated for life for non-violent crimes. The investigators uncovered 3,248 individuals who are incarcerated for life for minor offenses. The report, A Living Death: Life Without Parole For Non-Violent Offenses, documents cases where minor crimes were committed by those who were mentally ill, addicted or financially desperate at the time of the offense. The offenses were petty. One stole a $159.00 jacket. Another participated in a $10.00 drug deal. More than half of the offenders are black. Even in the era of mass incarceration, these sentences are extreme. Many of those sentenced to life without parole for non-violent offenses were first-time offenders caught up in drug deals.
The women, many of whom were involved in crime because of their partner's drug operations, received life sentences but had no prior convictions. Many were sentenced under mandatory sentencing. Some judges commented on the unfairness of the sentences. One man was sentenced to life without parole when he was a juvenile. One woman was sentenced under conspiracy laws for drug conspiracy when she never saw nor touched drugs.
The report makes several recommendations, primarily legislative, that would eliminate life without parole for non-violent offenses and to make the change retroactive.
The report contains a section on comparative law citing that the "US is virtually alone in its willingness to sentence people to die behind bars for non-violent crimes." The report notes that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court requires a review of all life sentences after 25 years. Yet the US has not mandatory review. Indeed, the per capita rate of US offenders serving sentences of life without parole is 51 times greater than Australia and 173 times greater than the United Kingdom. By its terms, life without parole prohibits review in the US.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
Whatever Joe Biden is, he is not a feminist. Despite his original co-sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act and his ongoing 20+ years support of the act, Mr. Biden does not understand what the #MeToo movement is about.
During the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings, Mr. Biden left Anita Hill isolated and vilified by men analyzing her credibility. At the time, then-Senator Biden had control of whether to abandon the witness or permit other women to testify to the sexual harassment they endured from now Justice Thomas. Mr. Biden chose to stand with the boys. Now he refuses to apologize to Anita Hill. Politically there are advantages to his apologizing. Women of all colors would appreciate the acknowledgment of his role in further entrenching and institutionalizing the stereotype of women as liars. Professor Hill suffered. She was a target of controversy for years. Eventually, she left the University of Oklahoma after being shunned by the University President. The same President was previously a US senator and had voted for Thomas' confirmation. There was also a movement to defund Hill's endowed chair and to revoke her tenure. Biden's actions further entrenched the stereotype that women lie, and that what black women say can be further discounted.
Mr. Biden may believe that supporting the Violence Against Women's Act, originally passed three years following the Thomas hearings, was sufficient penance and that women would forgive him any perceived misogyny. Well, that might have been the case if Biden hadn't refused to apologize to Professor Hill. Not a feminist, and not self-reflective, Biden is refusing to take responsibility for his significant role in postponing for decades the restoration of women's credibility.
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018 reviews recent legislative efforts to ease the lives of those US residents whose criminal records interfere with their participating in basic human rights. The report was issued by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The Center "The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction, the legal restrictions and social stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their court-imposed sentence has been served."
Significant progress was made this year as activists succeeded in obtaining the support of legislators across the nation. Restoration of voting rights, as well as criminal record sealing reform where among the most significant changes of 2018. Florida was the most reported and significant state to restore voting rights after all incarceration, probation, parole periods have expired and all related fines have been paid. The law excludes those convicted of murder and sex offenses. The new law, which went into effect on January 8th, impacts approximately 1.6 million voters. Those votes are significant in a swing state. Disenfranchisement was promoted in the Jim Crow era and again during the 1960s. As back voters exercised their voting rights, legislators looked for new ways to block their voting. Combined with aggressive drug enforcement policies directed primarily against African Americans disenfranchisement proved to be an effective tool.
The Reducing Barriers report's executive summary includes the following:
In 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia produced 56 separate laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and elsewhere. Many of these new laws enacted more than one type of reform. This prolific legislative “fair chance” track record, the high point of a six-year trend, reflects the lively on-going national conversation about how best to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with a criminal record.
As in past years, approaches to restoring rights varied widely from state to state, both with respect to the type of relief, as well as the specifics of who is eligible, how relief is delivered, and the effect of relief. Despite a growing consensus about the need for policy change to alleviate collateral consequences, little empirical research has been done to establish best practices, or what works best to promote reintegration.
The most promising legislative development recognizes the key role occupational licensing plays in the process of reintegration, and it was this area that showed the greatest uniformity of approach. Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.
The most consequential single new law was a Florida ballot initiative to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction, which captured headlines across the country when it passed with nearly 65% of voters in favor. Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.
The largest number of new laws—27 statutes in 19 states—expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures. A significant number of states addressed record-clearing for non-conviction records (including diversions), for marijuana or other decriminalized offenses, for juveniles, and for human trafficking victims.
The reporters state: "The legal landscape at the end of 2018 suggests that states are experimenting with a more nuanced blending of philosophical approaches to dealing with the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction. These approaches include forgiving people’s past crimes (through pardon or judicial dispensation), forgetting them (through record-sealing or expungement), or forgoing creating a record in the first place (through diversionary dispositions). While sealing and expungement remain the most popular forms of remedy, there seems to be both popular and institutional resistance to limiting what the public may see respecting the record of serious offenses, and a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms that limit what the public may do with such a record, along with standards to guide administrative decision-making."
Sunday, October 21, 2018
Joining a minority of US jurisdictions, the Supreme Court of Washington ruled last week that sentencing of youthful offenders to life sentences without parole violates the US Constitution. 21 jurisdictions including states and the District of Columbia having ruled similarly and the present minority of states demanding that juveniles not have a minimum sentence of "life" look is growing.
The man in question murdered three members of his family when he was 15. The victims were his parents and 5 year old brother. He obtained his GED and took courses through a community college while incarcerated. But as a psychologist testified, the youthful brain fails to consider long term consequences of actions.
In 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to automatic life sentences was unconstitutional. The Washington State legislature then passed a statute allowing youthful offenders to have their sentencing reviewed, but provided that life in prison was still an option. That option is now struck by the Supreme Court.
This opinion moves human rights forward in Washington State and comes shortly after the state's Supreme Court determined the state's death penalty was unconstitutional.
Thursday, October 18, 2018
The Constitution's failure to acknowledge full voting rights in black men and all women, has had long lasting repercussions. The founders ignoring the fundamental rights of more than half of the population produced devastating results that extend into this decade. Active voter suppression efforts are taken to prevent people of color from voting. Threats of arrest for voter fraud, and other acts of intimidation are not only common but are effective. One of the most insidious deprivations of voting rights is denying the right to vote to those who are incarcerated for felonies and for newly returning citizens. Maine and Vermont do not deprive those convicted of felonies of the right to vote, even while incarcerated. This is not so in other states..
In 2016, Crystal Mason of Texas voted in the presidential election. She had no idea that she was not permitted to vote while on probation. And certainly no one from the state, including her probation officer, ever told her she could not vote while still doing community service. Ms. Mason, who is African-American, was recently sentenced to five years in prison. Being both female and a woman of color, Ms. Mason is just the sort of individual that the founders never intended to enfranchise. The resulting avoidance by the drafters connects to present voting disruptions in a direct line.
A majority of states permit returning citizens to vote. Before someone you know who was formerly incarcerated participates in voting, it would be helpful for them to check and learn who is permitted to vote and when voting may resume in the jurisdiction of residence. One helpful resource may be found here.
Sunday, September 9, 2018
Between August 21 and today, a nationwide prison strike has been in progress. Incarcerated individuals across the nation have protested in various ways. Some stopped working their often grueling jobs that pay two to three dollars a day, sometimes less. Others have engaged in hunger strikes while many refused to purchase items from the prison commissaries. Commissaries charge hugely inflated prices. Strikers are particularly courageous as prison retaliation can be fierce, including solitary confinement.
One of the major issues that prompted the protests is the poor quality and often dangerous food served to the prisons. A Center for Disease Control study found that incarcerated people are more than six times more likely to get a food borne illness than other individuals. Many states' prison food does not meet the state's own minimal nutritional standards. The privatization of prisons, and prison food delivery has made conditions even worse as the quality of food deteriorates to make prisons and private corporations more profitable.
Other concerns include ending forced labor, creating humane prison living conditions and developing prison policies that prioritize the humanity of the incarcerated.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
If you had an opportunity to design housing for those who have been convicted of a crime, what would it look like? Would there be any need for solitary units, or even bars? An opportunity to eliminate cages? Spaces for recreation and education?
More than one prior post on this blog has described the horrors of Rikers Island.
For those of you living in New York, an important meeting will be held in the Bronx as a part of the Close Riker’s Island Campaign. The meeting organizers will challenge attendees to consider what a new detention facility would look like if designed by community members. The announcement reads:
Please join us to have a discussion about the Close Riker's Campaign and what it means to the Bronx Community. We would like to hear your thoughts and ideas about the creation of a Bronx borough-based jail. The Bronx is the only borough where a new facility will be built while the other detention centers in the various boroughs (except for Staten Island) will be expanded. What is your vision? What do you feel the Bronx community needs? What are your suggestions for bringing more people together to be part of the decision-making process of what affects our communities? What would a detention center look like if its vision was inspired by the community?
LOCATION 360 E 161ST ST BETWEEN COURTLANDT AND MELROSE AVE BRONX, NY 10451
For more information contact Carmen at 718-508-3440
Other communities are challenged to convene gatherings to discuss better systems of detention and demand humane conditions.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Last week President Trump commuted the sentence of a 63 year old woman who has been imprisoned for over twenty years, having been given a life sentence for drug trafficking. Alice Johnson had been convicted in 1996 for conspiracy to possess cocaine and for attempted possession of cocaine. Her crimes were non-violent but her sentence was considered by many to be disproportional to the offenses. Ms. Johnson became involved with drug trafficking during a desperate time in her life. She had lost her job, was divorced and experienced the death of her son.
Advocates have been working hard for years to secure Ms. Johnson's release from an Alabama prison. How was Ms. Johnson able to obtain success? Kim Kardashian took up her cause after reading a tweet about the case. Ms. Kardashian began advocating for Ms. Johnson, first by contacting Ivanka Trump and then Jared Kushner. Finally, Ms. Kardashian secured a meeting with President Trump. Ms. Johnson had been denied commutation under the Obama administration. President Trump noted that Ms. Johnson was a model prisoner and executed the documents necessary to release the great-grandmother.
At the urging of Sylvester Stallone, President Trump earlier issued a full pardon for now deceased heavy weight champion John "Jack" Jackson.
Other pardons were less well received publicly, but involved the famous or notorious. Dinesh D'Souza and Lewis "Scooter" Libby are among those who received Trump presidential pardons. So be a celeb or find yourself one should you seek a presidential pardon during this administration.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
With the focus on elimination of mass incarceration and ending inhumane prison practices, the Pew Charitable Trusts have examined what works. With its motto of "Using Data to Make a Difference", their research has shifted from finding methods of changing attitudes for those incarcerated or at risk of incarceration to shifting criminal practice and policy to prevent incarceration in the first instance.
South Carolina, for instance, has seen a 14% reduction in numbers of incarcerated individuals since providing options for both sentencing and release. The enacted legislative reforms reduced penalties for minor drug and property crimes, while release options expanded with community supervision expanded. During the six year period covered by the study (2010-2012) six prisons closed, the crime rate decreased and the existing prison population is largely more violent criminals.
Since 2010, 35 states have raised felony theft thresholds but experienced no increase in crime. Generally, all US states have experienced a decrease in crime.
"Experts attribute the nation’s sustained drop in violent and property crime rates to a host of factors, including better policing; the increased incarceration of certain repeat offenders; an expansion in private security personnel; an aging population that is less prone to criminal behavior; and technological advances, such as the widespread use of surveillance cameras, car- and home-alarm systems, and digital transactions that have reduced the need for cash."
The US prison population is still the largest in the world. But what is apparent is that shifts in state policy make significant differences. Both federal and state prisons remain the sites of gross human rights violations, with the states incarcerating the clear majority of those engaged with the criminal justice system. Even seemingly small legislative changes can make significant differences. A good reminder that local human rights advocacy can create important change.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Having just completed my first Inside Out program with our local women's jail, I witnessed first hand the transformation that occurs when those who have been deprived of adequate education begin their journey to learning. A 2013 RAND Corporation study affirmed what most suspected. Education is key to reducing recidivism. "Our meta-analytic findings provide additional support for the premise that receiving correctional education while incarcerated reduces an individual’s risk of recidivating after release." The promotion of Inside-Out programs was one topic discussed recently by Pulitzer Prize winning Prof. James Forman at the AALS Clinical Section Conference. Forman is the author of Locking Up Our Own, which looks at the roots of mass incarceration. Forman advocated for more college education classes in prisons and jails.
Receipt of books by those who are incarcerated is essential for continuation of "inside" self-education. But educational programs are not a priority, particularly for privatized prisons. Everything from phone calls to Skype visits with children are available only to prisoners who pay. Shortsighted is the most generous description I can attach to a recently announced policy that prisoners would no longer be able to receive books directly from distributors, except for one approved by the prison. And those books would come with a 30% mark up.
Family and friends of incarcerated men and women responded, as well as those inside, as well. Coleman federal prison in Sumterville, FL was one that announced the new policy and that facility was the topic of advocacy efforts through national listserves and individual inquiry. Then the policy was rescinded.
To the extent that the policy was a "test", the national grassroots response was sufficient to at least postpone its implementation.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
This past Friday I was privileged to participate in a conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation of Washington, D.C. The conversation brought together a nationwide group of those working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. I was humbled to be in a room filled with the formerly incarcerated and those who support them. As a white woman, I was there to learn. And I dd. The discussions gave me a broader perspective on the historical background of mass incarceration, which has been effective through a combination of voter suppression strategies, "war on drugs" and other tactics to enhance black oppression and the suppression of everyone of color.
The conversation was honest and magnificent. Many in communities are doing amazing work to support the formerly incarcerated, including working to change laws and policies that aid unjust arrests and sentencing; developing housing, and creating communities that foster dignity. Future posts will focus on some of the organizations providing innovative and effective supports.
I wish I could better capture the conversation's tone, as well as the caring and brilliance of the day. But for now let me restate part of the discussion and something that is obvious. The most effective action that a white person can take is to inform and influence other whites. Tempering the resistance to creating racial equity is something that whites are particularly well poised to do. How to transform racist views is something whites must learn. The oppressed carry enough burdens. Building white empathy is insufficient because creating empathy alone does not result in change. White people have to figure this out and carry the burden of the conversation. It is not up to the oppressed to teach others how to change.