Monday, September 16, 2019
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Following up on yesterday's post, one of the many concerns with the US prison system, is the use of private prisons. The profit driven systems have added additional burdens for the incarcerated and their incentive is to incarcerate as many as possible. The latter burden falls mostly on minorities. The first thing that the incarcerated lose is their dignity. Private prisons promote that result with their focus on profits, rather than providing decent living and medical conditions for the men and women (and now children at the border) they house.
According to the Sentencing Project "Since 2000, the number of people in private prisons has increased 47%, compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 9%. In six states, the private prison population has more than doubled during this period. The federal prison system experienced a 120% increase in use of private prisons since 2000, reaching 34,159 people in private facilities in 2016. Among the immigrant detention population, 26,249 people – 73% of the detained population – were confined in privately run facilities in 2017. The private immigrant population grew 442% since 2002."
Change is coming.
New York has been one of the leaders in removing private prisons from state systems. In addition to banning private prisons, New York has divested state pension funds from private prison holdings in CoreCivic and GEO Group and prohibits NY State-chartered banks from financing and investing in private prison corporations.
In June. Nevada banned the use of private prisons for core services, including custody and housing. The bill's primary sponsor said "Outlawing for-profit prisons once and for all will better help us achieve a criminal justice system of equity, integrity, and fairness — a system that views prisoners as people instead of profit margins.” Also in June, Nevada enacted a law prohibiting private prisons from housing detained immigrants.
For those living in states that use private prison systems, this might be a good time to contact legislators to encourage a bill that will prohibit their us.
Monday, July 15, 2019
Religious Freedom has had significant victories over the past few years as Supreme Court cases go. But those cases (beginning with Hobby Lobby v. Burwell), have protected religious freedom arguments from a conservative Christian perspective.
Unsuccessful with SCOTUS this term was a religious freedom issue brought by a Muslim prisoner who requested that an imam be present at his execution. Justice Kagan wrote in dissent "'The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But that is not what happened here. In this case, the 11th Circuit had already stayed the execution in order to hear Mr. Ray's religious freedom argument. But in an unusual measure, SCOTUS removed the case from the 11th Circuit and denied the prisoner's request with, as the dissent says, little briefing and no argument "just so the State can meet its preferred execution date".
The trend to watch in the upcoming term is whether non-Christian religious rights are protected. In addition, those cases that have favored religious freedom have ignored the religious freedom rights of those most impacted by the court's decision. Left unaddressed was whether in protecting the religious rights of the proprietors in Hobby Lobby a religious tyranny was created that oppressed workers who hold quite different religious beliefs?
A case involving competing religious beliefs would be welcome in order to clarify whether non-Christians or atheists will have protection from our highest court.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
By Guest Blogger Prof. Courtney Cross
In 2018, the Alabama legislature reduced the maximum sentence for drug trafficking from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole. While this amendment represents a welcome shift away from imposing life without parole sentences on non-violent defendants, it falls short of enacting large-scale reform for several reasons. First, the new law is not retroactive and there are more than 20 individuals serving life without parole sentences in Alabama for manufacturing or trafficking illegal drugs. Second, defendants may still be sentenced to life without parole if their criminal histories trigger harsher sentencing under the state’s mandatory habitual felony offender sentencing enhancement. Several of the above individuals are serving life without parole because their criminal records mandated this sentence. Lee Carroll Booker, for example, is a 76-year-old army veteran serving life without parole for growing marijuana plants in his backyard: his over 30-year-old robbery convictions mandated this outcome despite recognition from then-Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore that the sentence was excessive. Mr. Booker and others with similar sentences will end up dying in prison for non-violent drug crimes.
Geneva Cooley faced a similar fate after being arrested in 2002 with a gym sock containing heroin and hydromorphone pills. 72-year-old now, she was 55 at the time of her arrest. After a brief trial, she was found guilty of trafficking the heroin and the pills. She was also found guilty of two counts of failing to obtain a tax stamp for the drugs. She was sentenced to life without parole on the heroin charge which, at the time of her sentencing in 2006, was a mandatory sentence. Pursuant to the habitual offender law and the trial court’s finding that Ms. Cooley had two prior felony convictions, her other trafficking charge and the tax stamp charges resulted in concurrent life sentences. Ms. Cooley’s direct appeals and post-conviction petitions had all been denied until 2019 when she and her team of attorneys from the clinical program at the Culverhouse School of Law at the University of Alabama decided to file another post-conviction petition.
This time, the attorneys alleged that Ms. Cooley’s sentence violated the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and pointed to the recent removal of life without parole from the drug trafficking scheme as well as efforts in other states and at the federal level to limit the use of life without parole for non-violent crimes. Ms. Cooley sought to be resentenced to life with the possibility of parole—the sentence she would receive if convicted today. The newly-elected district attorney in Jefferson County did not oppose the resentencing and filed a response that echoed Ms. Cooley’s arguments. After an evidentiary hearing in which both Ms. Cooley and the executive director of Alabama’s Sentencing Commission testified, Judge Stephen Wallace—who did not preside over Ms. Cooley’s original trial—ordered that she be resentenced to life with the possibility of parole pursuant to his own analysis of the 8th Amendment.
Ms. Cooley, who is currently awaiting her parole hearing, was fortunate in obtaining this outcome: not only had a reform-minded district attorney recently been elected, her sentencing judge had been replaced by a former criminal and civil rights attorney. Moreover, her life without parole sentence had stemmed from the outdated drug trafficking sentencing scheme and not from the habitual offender statute, which has proven nearly impossible to challenge.
While Ms. Cooley’s resentencing will have no direct impact on other prisoners’ sentences, it is another example of the admittedly slow shift away from inflicting the harshest of punishments on nonviolent drug offenders. While the case sets no legal precedents, DA Carr has stated that he hopes other prosecutors and judges will be exercise similar discretion and compassion. Until they do—or the
legislature takes action—nonviolent drug offenders sentenced to life without parole will continue to live out their days and take their last breaths in Alabama’s unforgiving prisons.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
The New York Times headline read Alabama's Gruesome Prisons: Report Finds Rape and Murder at All Hours. The investigation into Alabama's male prison system began under the Obama administration with the bulk of the investigation continuing under the present administration. As the Times article notes, Alabama is not alone in deplorable conditions, but Alabama incarcerates in numbers greater than other jurisdictions and its conditions are "severe" with antiquated prisons housing nearly twice the number of individuals they were built to house. Photographs of the deplorable conditions may be found here. Reportedly, the Southern Poverty Law Center received a thumb drive containing over 2,000 photographs of gruesome prison conditions.
Most of Alabama's prisoners are not housed in safe conditions. Sleeping dorms contain no protections from violence and solitary confinement is used to house the most vulnerable prisoners.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said that her administration will work to address "mutual concerns" and to make certain that the Alabama problem has an "Alabama solution". Interpretation - the concerns were never mutual. The need for an Alabama solution tells her constituents that once again, Alabama will resist acknowledging the authority and will resent the interference of the federal government.
Example: according to one report, a proposed Alabama solution would have the state build much larger prisons. This is not exactly a solution that prisoner's lawyers are seeking. One representative of Southern Poverty Law Center responded: “You don’t need to build mega prisons, you need to increase the number of correctional officers that are working in your prison. You need to deal with issues of violence and sexual assault. You need to engage in more sentencing reform to further drive down the population, so that you’re not at 160 percent capacity. But, instead, the answer that we got was: build, build, build.”
Administrative self-reflection appears to be the missing link.
Thursday, March 14, 2019
The newly elected governor of California suspended use of the death penalty in that state. By executive action the Governor will look to end the death penalty in its entirety. Having executed 13 people since the death penalty was approved by voters in 1978, no one has been executed since 2006 while over 900 were sentenced to death. One judge ruled that forcing prisoners to live on death row for such an extended period is cruel and abusive treatment. Currently 24 inmates reside on California's death row.
Currently there are 937 people on death row. The Governor, Gavin Newsome, said that he could not morally allow executions to proceed in the state. The electrocution equipment is already being dismantled and the Governor is withdrawing the state's lethal objection protocols.
Not all agree with the decision. Some are preparing a referendum for 2020 while others have quite vocally condemned the move.
Sunday, March 10, 2019
Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights hero. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was one of the early activists in the civil rights movement and shared jail cells with Dr. Martin Luther King. Rev. Shuttlesworth was widely respected as a civil rights leader in a city and state where activism could have severe consequences. Indeed Rev. Shuttlesworth was the recipient of many beatings and the target of bombings. His 2011 funeral brought admirers from across the state of Alabama and the nation. Representative John Lewis was among the eulogizers and Peter Yarrow, who sang along with Paul and Mary at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, sang "Blowing in the Wind".
The Institute, along with the City of Birmingham, has done a good job of owning its past. The Institute does not shy away from the civil rights history and the city's response. Among its many exhibits is one replicating the jail cell where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". The setting provides a powerful place to read the letter, which is part of the exhibit. Across from the Institute is Kelly Park, where demonstrators were hosed by firemen and attacked by police dogs. Again, the city does not shy from its history. Bronze exhibits in the park replicate attacking dogs and firemen with hoses.
So it was not surprising when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that Dr. Angela Davis would be the recipient of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.
Angela Davis hails from Birmingham. The civil and human rights leader is remembered for her activism against racist practices during the 1970s. During that era, she was a member of an African American chapter of the Communist Party and supported the Black Panthers and a target of the FBI. She spent 18 months in prison on accomplice to murder charges involving the death of a judge, a charge from which she was acquitted. A Ph.D. whose activism has sometimes made her academic life difficult, she teaches at the University of California at Santa Clara where she continues to write and work on human rights issues. One of her recent works is Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement. She is known as a respected human rights activist who carried on her activism to ensure fundamental human rights.
Then the Institute rescinded the award, stating that Dr. Davis did not meet the criteria. The Institute had received a letter from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center asking for reconsideration of the award based upon Dr. Davis' support of Palestinians. Jewish Voice for Peace published an open letter to the Institute, signed by over 350 academics, calling on them to cancel the rescission.
The counter-pressure was intense. Three Institute board members resigned. The Mayor joined in criticizing the recission decision and the City Council swiftly passed a resolution supporting Dr. Davis. The Institute acknowledged receiving criticism from several community groups. In the meantime, community leaders, including clergy and business people, arranged an alternative Birmingham event at which Dr. Davis spoke to an overflowing crowd.
The Institute re-extended the award to Dr. Davis and published a letter stating that no decision should have been made regarding rescission before a discussion with diverse groups. Also, it said that it was keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes. Unknown is whether Dr. Davis accepted or will accept the Shuttlesworth Award.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
As always, the most vulnerable among us bear the brunt of unreasonable and insensitive government policy. The government shutdown is no different. No surprise that when the President decided to shutdown government agencies as political leverage, he gave no thought to the impact on America's working class and those even more vulnerable economically.
The Indian Health Service has stopped receiving federal funds. Indigenous women have the highest rate of uninsured in this country and over 1 million Indian women and Alaska native women rely upon IHS for care. While not having an immediate fiscal impact, the Violence Against Women Act was left unauthorized and unfunded due to the shutdown. Those who provide services to those who have experienced abuse may have sufficient funds from prior grants to operate in the near future, funding in the long term is not likely if the government continues to be closed. SNAP (special nutritional assistance program) and WIC (the supplemental nutritional program for women, infants and children) programs are currently providing benefits through state and local sources, but those funding sources cannot be relied upon in the long term.
Those who are federally incarcerated have seen immediate impacts on their well-being. In total, half of the 36,000 Bureau of Prison employees have been furloughed. The Marshall Project reports that in at least one prison family visits have been canceled. Those providing therapeutic services have been furloughed as "non-essential". Those awaiting compassionate release must wait longer because there is no one to review their applications. Prisoner commissaries are running low and not being re-stocked. And parts of the recently passed First Step Act will likely be postponed because those charged with implementing it are furloughed. Some prisoners may begin missing release dates.
Families of employees will suffer from the impact of sudden loss of income. Eviction and creditor lawsuits are likely to follow rapidly.
No doubt this shutdown will have long-term adverse economic impacts not only on unpaid workers, but systemically as well as those who turn to other employment take their skills and expertise with them.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Much rejoicing is happening following the Senate passage of The First Step Act, which is likely to be passed by the House as well this week. The bill is being touted as a criminal justice reform act. Not only is there bi-partisan support for the bill, there is also support from diverse individuals and groups outside of Congress. The Koch Brothers and the ACLU. Wait - The Kochs and the ACLU? OK- the ACLU is predictable in that the organization is likely to support any bill that provides relief for a class of those incarcerated no matter how limited the group. But why would the Koch brothers support the bill? Simple answers: money for one. Also, the proposed relief will be applied primarily to whites. And passage of the bill will give the president favorable coverage of the new "policies" at a time when favorable headlines for the president are rare.
In a New Yorker article, counsel for Koch Brothers claimed that Koch Industries is much more sensitive to over-reaching prosecutors since the company was prosecuted in 2000 for hiding emissions of toxins at a Texas facility. That matter settled and there is a long time between 2000 and 2018 for a shift in their attitude on criminal justice "reform". A more likely draw for Koch support is the money to be made from the bill. Those same individuals who administer "private" prisons are looking for a slice of the pie for re-entry programs to be established under the bill. Private prisons are known for their poor quality food, the harsh policies toward prisoners and failure to administer necessary medicines, among other criticisms. These are not actors who entertain a human rights approach to "reform". In addition, some legislators attempted to include a term that would require prosecutors to prove intent for corporate crimes. To date those efforts have been resisted.
And who else benefits from the bill? Roughly 4,000 mostly white individuals. And they will be chosen by algorithm. The bill applies "reforms" to those inmates considered to be minimum security risks and those convicted of "non-violent" crimes. Roughly, only 20% of those who will benefit are of color. African Americans are far more likely to be considered higher security risks. African Americans are far more likely to be designated violent.
As noted in Intercept article, Natasha Leonard comments that The First Step Act functions as a compromise because it is not a challenge to the carceral state. Ms. Leonard notes that the only thing notable is its compromise. She notes that this compromise in effect was relinquishment of true change in how criminal justice is administered.
While the bill contains some positive terms, such as more judicial flexibility in sentencing, the bill is far from reformative. If only the commitment to more steps was from Congress. That is unlikely. Proponents are already touting the bill as "sweeping" when in fact the bill benefits only those who are low risk, typically white and a very small fraction of the total inmate population nationally. Congress' revisiting criminal justice "reform" anytime soon is unlikely.
Sunday, December 2, 2018
In what is a practice suspected to be widespread, men incarcerated at a Kansas prison were secretly recorded when speaking with their attorneys. The prison was the Leavenworth Detention Center, which is privately run. Defense attorneys uncovered the scheme and a court-appointed investigator was assigned.
The public defenders requested the release of 67 inmates whose attorney-client conversations are known to have been recorded and they plan to ask for the release of approximately 150 more.
As early as 2008, attorneys complained of recordings o their calls to incarcerated clients. Complaints were lodged in two counties in California where eavesdropping on calls between the incarcerated and their lawyers, as well as psychiatrists, clergy and doctors is a felony. Other states where recording complaints have been made include Florida, Michigan and Texas. This year an inmate of a Wisconsin prison filed suit because his calls with his attorney were recorded, to his detriment.
The jailers' defenses include the inability to terminate digital recordings. Some say that phone numbers from the lawyers directory are keyed into the system so that calls will not be recorded. But that system ignores cell phone and other numbers not found into the directory. Yet one company was found to record attorney-prisoner phone calls even when the lawyers' telephone numbers were in the system.
Prosecutors routinely listen to prisoner recordings searching for any illegal activity. But when listening to prisoner/lawyer conversations learn trial strategy and other privileged information that make a fair trial unlikely.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
A new report issued by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch addresses the harm done to families when mothers are jailed pretrial. While the research and report focuses on Oklahoma (the state with the highest number of incarcerated women) but is applicable wherever mothers are incarcerated.
The press release reports that " ailing mothers, even for short periods oaf time can result in overwhelming debt and loss of child custody." Among the findings are:
- Mothers often plead guilty in exchange for probation in order to return to their children. Then the mothers find that the local child protective service has taken custody of the children without any input from the mother.
-Jail visitation policies often prohibit in person visits replacing visitation with phone or video visits which are often cost prohibitive.
-Bail is excessive for most mothers virtually eliminating their chance for release pre-trial. Even if they raise needed bail the financial cost often impoverishes the family.
Because of Oklahoma's record of incarcerating women at high rates, the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women is holding its conference "Free Her" in Tulsa this weekend.
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.
Thursday, August 23, 2018
Florida's Lowell Correctional Institution for Women is infamous for human rights abuses. Recently a convening was held in Florida giving formerly incarcerated women and their families an opportunity to tell Justice Department investigators of the brutalities they experienced at the prison at the hands of the guards. They described rape, assault and drug smuggling by officer as routine.
The investigation into possible constitutional violations began in July . Lowell has the second largest women's population in the country. One family reports that their daughter is verbally and physically attacked by corrections officers. The Miami Herald helped expose the human rights violations in a report Beyond Punishment. The paper followed up reporting on the meeting that occurred with Federal Investigators.
"DOJ representatives said they are focusing on whether the Florida Department of Corrections has ignored, covered up or dismissed widespread complaints of sexual misconduct by officers, administrators and staff." One woman reported being in isolation for 65 days following a report of sexual assault by a corrections officer. This punishment for reporting assault is common in many women's prisons.
Laura Cowell, an attorney with the Justice Department, said that the inquiry was not a criminal one. She said that should violations be found DOJ would work with prison officials to address "deficiencies". Leaving unanswered why the investigation is not criminal and what power will DOJ have in stopping the abuses without the power of arrest. Attorney Cowell tried to assure the audience "that retaliation would not be tolerated by the Department of Justice, pointing out that it is against the law for anyone to impede a federal investigation." So is sexual assault, drug distribution and other horrors going on inside Lowell.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
"Sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of girls’ entry into the juvenile justice system...Once inside, girls encounter a system that is often ill-equipped to identify and treat the violence and trauma that lie at the root of victimized girls’ arrests. More harmful still is the significant risk that the punitive environment will re-trigger girls’ trauma and even subject them to new incidents of sexual victimization, which can exponentially compound the profound harms inflicted by the original abuse."
So informs the introduction to a new report highlighting the victimization of young girls who are ferried through the maze of the juvenile justice system when the crime was not theirs but that of the predators who sexually abused them. The report is a collaboration between Human Rights Project for Girls, Georgetown's Center on Poverty and Inequality, and The Ms. Foundation for Women,
"Once inside, girls encounter a system that is often ill-equipped to identify and treat the violence and trauma that lie at the root of victimized girls’ arrests.
The report exposes various ways in which various systems criminalize girls, particularly girls of color. Trauma based treatment, which is the needed response is typically overlooked. The report addresses the over representation of sexually non-conforming juveniles and is generally a good source of statistics supporting the research that is the basis of the report.
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Families for Freedom announced last week that ICE detainees had begun a hunger strike to protest inhuman conditions. Conditions include "nearly nonexistent medical care, inedible food, abuse from facility employees, and exorbitant commissary prices." At least 60 detainees in the Dartmouth, MA facility went on strike with Sheriff Thomas Hodgson minimizing the number of strikers and the length of the strike. Hodgson's office confirmed that they had disciplined the organizer, or as his office called him, the "ringleader" of the strike. This strike follows one held a year ago at an Oregon facility holding ICE detainees. Deplorable conditions were the focus of that strike as well.
The Bristol County MA Sheriff defended high commissary prices calling the purchases "luxury items" and defended what are increasingly high telephone charges. In the meantime, New York City has eliminated telephone charges for domestic calls for incarcerated individuals.
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.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
The Public Welfare Foundation will hold a day-long forum: A Conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration. The forum will be held on March 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
The invitation states "We will dive into candid conversations about: advancing racial justice, particularly within the youth and criminal justice field, the steep barriers to opportunities facing individuals who transition back to communities from the justice system; and necessary strategies to restore communities experiencing crime, violence, and lingering impacts of the criminal justice system. "
While the conference is by invitation only, it may possible to secure admission by contacting the Foundation directly to explore availability.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
A study done by the Vera Institute found that women in jails are one of the fastest growing segments of the prison population. And nearly 80% of women are mothers. Women are an afterthought in the discussion of mass incarceration. Little attention is given to the impact on families when a mother goes to jail. And little is done to help families stay connected when mothers are incarcerated. In a nationwide move, sheriffs and other jailers are replacing live child-mother visits with Skype visits. Nothing replaces touch between parents and children. Particularly young children are less likely to bond with a virtual parent. And the incarcerated women are expected to pay for the Skype visits, making even virtual contact out of reach for many.
There are a myriad of discriminatory problems faced by women and girls in prison. One other is the failure to provide menstrual products to them. Some states charge for the products, and those who do not often distribute an average of 2.5 pads per month.
The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls works to address the particular barriers that females face during and after incarceration. From disparities in sentencing, to assisting with re-entry and healing, the National Council provides tremendous community based resources for the recently incarcerated and those currently incarcerated. I recommend a visit to the Council's website for an introduction to the wide variety of work the Council does, as well as their sister organizations.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
No doubt many of you read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Today I completed this powerful book authored by a remarkable man. Mr. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative located in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson and his colleagues at EJI represent incarcerated men and women who have been mistreated by the justice system in horrific ways. Many of the Initiative's clients live on death row. The stories of the incarcerated men and women were sad, outrageous and inspiring. But the lawyering work is painful and heartbreaking.
I will not be a spoiler and give details, but in one instance Mr. Stevenson describes a personal and professional crisis moment that followed a conversation with one of his death row clients. A reflective man, Mr. Stevenson wondered if he could continue the work. He describes the moment when he realizes that not only are his clients, the legal system and its players broken, but he is as well. How does one continue the work after realizing that "We've submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible." Mr. Stevenson realizes that we are all broken. Maybe we were broken in different ways, but we are all broken.
Not only did these passages bring me to tears, but they made me feel for all of us who engage in human rights work. I admire all of you. While we celebrate our victories and support each other's work, rarely do we stop to discuss the pain that accompanies our work.
Bryan Stevenson ultimately, and rather quickly, found strength in recognizing this shared vulnerability. He recognized that "When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in all of us." He imagines what the world would be like if we all acknowledged our fear, our weaknesses and our brokenness.
Dr. Brian Williams, who treated the shot Dallas police officers has begun that conversation by acknowledging his fear. In one interview Dr. Williams, who is black, said that when he sees a police officer he often thanks them for their work so that his daughter will learn not to be afraid of police. Because, he said, "I am afraid". Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper addressed the way in which police officers are trained to be afraid and to view their community members as enemy.
What is missing are police officers willing to discuss their vulnerabilities that are at the heart of their biases and overreactions to perceived threats.
I think of how vital this acknowledgment is to resolving our race crisis. Both sides are filled with fear, but one side cannot engage that conversation. Until that happens, change will remain out of reach.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
In 2009, several companies that provided drugs used in executions began refusing delivery of those drugs to US prisons. One by one, primarily European drug companies have refused to market drugs used in executions to penal institutions. On May 7th, Pfizer announced that it would no longer make drugs used in executions available for that purpose. Pfizer was the last company manufacturing the drugs that made them available to prisons. Pfizer also announced that when selling the drugs for other purposes, buyers will be obligated to agree that the drugs will not be resold for purposes of lethal injection. According to the NY Times, Pfizer was the last remaining open source of the drugs, leading executioners to revert to other means of obtaining them.
States employing the death penalty refuse to disclose the source of the drugs and in at least one case, an investigation is underway to determine how prison officials obtained drugs to be used for an execution, only to discover they had purchased the wrong drug. In other cases, states ordering the drugs from India saw the drugs seized by the FDA.
Pfizer explained that its prohibition on prison sales of the lethal injection drugs was motivated by business and medical factors and not political ones. The company explained that their drugs are intended to save lives. The Heritage Foundation, however, accused the company of conceding to political pressure.
No matter what the motivation, US executions have dropped from 98 in 1999 to 28 in 2015. For more information, the Death Penalty Information Center details efforts to curtail executions as well as state efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs and other efforts to revive previously defunct methods of execution, including firing squads. The Center's website contains information on the ACLU's efforts to force states to disclose their source of lethal injection drugs now that the major corporations are refusing sale of their drugs for that purpose. In addition, the Center is a resource on other concerns surrounding the use of capital punishment.