Sunday, September 22, 2013

Life Behind Bars!

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Why the US locks up prisoners for life
By Kate Dailey, BBC News Magazine
15 June 2013
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Life sentences that truly mean a lifetime in prison are rare in the UK but common in the US. Why is this punishment so prevalent in the US?
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Last week, an English court handed a whole-life sentence to Dale Cregan for murdering four people, including two policewomen.
That penalty means he will never be eligible for release, and it puts him in rare company, making him one of about 50 people in the UK serving such a sentence.
Had he been in the US, he would have been less of an anomaly.
In the US, at least 40,000 people are imprisoned without hope for parole, including 2,500 under the age of 18.
That is just a fraction of those who have been given a life sentence but yet may one day win release. The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation that studies sentencing and criminal justice in America, estimated in 2009 that at least 140,000 prisoners in the US now serve a life sentence.
This does not include convicts given extremely long sentences with a fixed term, like the Alabama man sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

Most of them will have the opportunity for parole - though Sentencing Project Director Marc Mauer says few will receive it.
David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, says several factors underlie the high number of American convicts imprisoned for life.
"In large part it reflects the overly punitive nature of the American criminal justice system," says Mauer.
"Not only do we use life sentences much more extensively than other industrial nations, but even in the lower level of event severity, the average burglar or car thief will do more time than they will in Canada or Wales."
The harsh sentences reveal a type of "sentencing inflation" that began in the 1980s and 1990s.
"It was almost a competition among legislatures of both parties to show how tough they could be on crime," says Mauer.
At the same time, the sentence is thought to send a message.
"In states like Michigan where they don't have a death penalty, this is what they have as its moral equivalent," says Franklin Zimring, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley.
In states that do have the death penalty, long sentences underscore distaste for crimes that do not meet the threshold for capital punishment.
"This is a way of putting a denunciatory exclamation point in the punishment," he says.
Politicians and other state officials are loath to be seen as soft on crime, let alone to release an offender on parole only to have him commit another crime.
The 1993 death of Polly Klaas, a young girl killed by a recently paroled man with a long criminal history, led California to pass a "three strikes" rule mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for anyone found guilty of three felonies.
But now, in both the US and the UK the sentence of life without parole is coming into question.
In England, these sentences are currently being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, after a lawsuit brought by three men serving whole life sentences - "a double murderer, a man who wiped out his entire family to inherit money, and a serial killer," says Wilson.
These men, at least one of whom proclaims his innocence, argue that the denial of a parole option does not allow them to claim they have changed. They further argue that the assignment of these sentences is arbitrary - some convicted killers get them, others do not.
In the US, budget cuts have forced states to reconsider whether the practice of locking criminals up for long periods of time is cost-effective.
"Lawmakers in Illinois have made the decision to shut down a few prisons and let people out early in order to save money," says Dan Bernhardt, professor of economics at the University of Illinois.
"There's nothing like state budget problems to get people to see what the costs are."
In 2012, the US Supreme Court also established that for minors, a sentence of life without parole violates the Constitution's safeguards against "cruel and unusual" punishment.
The court also ruled that prison overcrowding in California - due in part to severe sentencing and the three strikes programme - violates the same safeguards. It ordered the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners.
But action after these verdicts has been slow, as state officials continue to fight in court.
In the US, once someone has been sent to prison on a life sentence, it's hard for him or her to get out.
Life in jail: Safer streets?
Does locking away criminals for life make society safer for everyone else?
"At some level the answer is obviously yes," says Dan Bernhardt. "There's no threat to safety if the prisoner is not at risk of re-offending, and a clear benefit if he is."
But Bernhardt's research shows that long prison sentences may impede rehabilitation. "It can be grossly counterproductive. It can discourage someone from trying to rehabilitate themselves."
In the UK, "it is rare but not unheard of for someone on a life licence to commit serious offenses," says David Wilson. Checks are in place to keep tabs on those who are released.
California lawmakers cite the three strikes policy as the reason for the state's declining crime rate. But University of California, Riverside sociologist Robert Nash Parker says other factors are responsible, like the national decline in alcohol consumption.
"The drop in crime occurred all over the country, in every state. It dropped at the same time, magnitude, direction. It can't possibly be due to a policy in just one state."
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The Incarceration Business: America’s Private Prisons
Global Research, November 12, 2011
12 November 2011



The latest report by the American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU) is not likely to inspire politicians to shut down our private prisons when prison operators are pouring millions of dollars into their campaign coffers.
Jobbing out the incarceration business, said lawyer David Shapiro of the ACLU Prison Project “has been a bonanza for the private prison industry, which rakes in billions of dollars a year and dishes out multi-million dollar compensation packages to its top executives.”

And those top executives, in turn, between 1998 and 2000, for example, wrote over $1.2-million in checks to political candidates and political parties. And why not, when their firms have received such huge public subsidies as $68 billion in tax-free bonds to help them build?
Since the 1980s Reagan era shift to privatization, more than 150 private facilities—detention centers, jails, and prisons—-with a capacity of about 120,000 have been opened, and 7% of all U.S. adults inmateshave been dumped in them.
“Abuse of prisoners, escapes, prison violence including prisoner-on-prisoner, prisoner-on-guard and vice versa, restricted and malfeasant health care, providing rotten food, and other prison management problems are characteristic of the private prison industry,” writes sociologist Margaret Rosenthal in “The Long Term View,” a journal published by the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover. Rosenthal is Professor Emerita, School of Social Work, Salem State College, Mass.
“One study found 49% more prisoner-on-staff and 65% higher prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in private medium and minimum security prisons than in public ones,” Rosenthal writes. Example: at the Northeast Ohio Correction Center in Youngstown, operated by industry leader Corrections Corporation of America(CCA), in a period of just 14 months there were 13 stabbings, two murders and six escapes that ended in violence. Rosenthal said other sociologists have documented “many other examples of brutality and incompetence perpetrated in CCA-run facilities.”

Since private prisons prosper in proportion to the number of prisoners they house, “the suspicion remains that they may hold on to prisoners, particularly ones who are not troublesome as a means to earn extra money,” Rosenthal writes. Even when operators do not directly control discharge decisions, she notes, “by controlling record-keeping about prisoners’ behavior they can have a determining role in establishing when a prisoner is to be released or paroled.”
The ACLU report, titled, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarcerations,” was released Nov. 2 and traces the rise of the for-profit prison companies that have “capitalized on the nation’s addiction to incarceration (2.4-million behind bars) to achieve gigantic profits.”
“Spurred by criminal laws that impose needlessly steep sentences—especially for low-level, non-violent offenders—and curtail rehabilitation opportunities, the United States today imprisons more people than any other nation in the world,” an ACLU news release states.
“The crippling cost of incarcerating increasing numbers of Americans has saddled government budgets with rising debt and exacerbated the current fiscal crisis confronting states across the nation. Yet the two largest private prison companies alone obtained nearly $3 billion in revenue in 2010,” the ACLU statement said.
It noted that Arizona is seeking to add 5,000 more private beds despite its own Auditor General’s finding that for-profit imprisonment may cost more than jailing them in public facilities.
The ACLU report asserts that mass incarceration “wreaks havoc on communities by depriving individuals of their liberty, draining government resources and bringing little or no benefit to public safety.” The biggest losers in the privatization fiasco, apart from the taxpayers, are members of the Afro-American and Hispanic communities whose harsh sentences for minor crimes are filling many prison beds. Many marijuana prisoners are doing harder time than white collar criminals.
“It is imperative that we halt the expansion of for-profit incarceration,” Shapiro said, as “The private prison industry helped create, and continues to feed off, the social ill of mass incarceration.” He concludes, “Private prisons cannot be part of the solution—economic or ethical—to our nation’s addiction to incarceration.”
To “halt the expansion” of private prisons is an urgent first step—as long as it is quickly followed up by closing every one of them now in operation. This would be a fine project for church groups and civic associations. And one way to find beds for private inmates would be to set free the hundreds of thousands of prisoners doing time for victimless crimes such as marijuana possession and to transfer others who rightfully belong in mental institutions, not behind bars.
Sherwood Ross is a Miami-based public relations consultant who writes on political and military topics. He formerly reported for the Chicago Daily News and contributed regular news columns to wire services. Reach him at sherwoodross10@gmail.com
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The Prison Industry in the United States: Big Business or a New Form of Slavery?
Global Research, January 31, 2013
El Diario-La Prensa, New York and Global Research 10 March 2008


Human rights organizations, as well as political and social ones, are condemning what they are calling a new form of inhumane exploitation in the United States, where they say a prison population of up to 2 million – mostly Black and Hispanic – are working for various industries for a pittance. For the tycoons who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold. They don’t have to worry about strikes or paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late or are absent because of family problems; moreover, if they don’t like the pay of 25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
There are approximately 2 million inmates in state, federal and private prisons throughout the country. According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people. From less than 300,000 inmates in 1972, the jail population grew to 2 million by the year 2000. In 1990 it was one million. Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.
What has happened over the last 10 years? Why are there so many prisoners?
“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party, which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

The prison industry complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors.”
According to the Left Business Observer, the federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens. Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
CRIME GOES DOWN, JAIL POPULATION GOES UP
According to reports by human rights organizations, these are the factors that increase the profit potential for those who invest in the prison industry complex:
Jailing persons convicted of non-violent crimes, and long prison sentences for possession of microscopic quantities of illegal drugs. Federal law stipulates five years’ imprisonment without possibility of parole for possession of 5 grams of crack or 3.5 ounces of heroin, and 10 years for possession of less than 2 ounces of rock-cocaine or crack. A sentence of 5 years for cocaine powder requires possession of 500 grams – 100 times more than the quantity of rock cocaine for the same sentence. Most of those who use cocaine powder are white, middle-class or rich people, while mostly Blacks and Latinos use rock cocaine. In Texas, a person may be sentenced for up to two years’ imprisonment for possessing 4 ounces of marijuana. Here in New York, the 1973 Nelson Rockefeller anti-drug law provides for a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years to life for possession of 4 ounces of any illegal drug.
The passage in 13 states of the “three strikes” laws (life in prison after being convicted of three felonies), made it necessary to build 20 new federal prisons. One of the most disturbing cases resulting from this measure was that of a prisoner who for stealing a car and two bicycles received three 25-year sentences.
. Longer sentences.
. The passage of laws that require minimum sentencing, without regard for circumstances.
. A large expansion of work by prisoners creating profits that motivate the incarceration of more people for longer periods of time.
. More punishment of prisoners, so as to lengthen their sentences.
HISTORY OF PRISON LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES
Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of “hiring out prisoners” was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then “hired out” for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.
During the post-Civil War period, Jim Crow racial segregation laws were imposed on every state, with legal segregation in schools, housing, marriages and many other aspects of daily life. “Today, a new set of markedly racist laws is imposing slave labor and sweatshops on the criminal justice system, now known as the prison industry complex,” comments the Left Business Observer.
Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.
[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that “there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here).”
PRIVATE PRISONS
The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr., but reached its height in 1990 under William Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. Clinton’s program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Departments contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates.
Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, “the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners.” The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for “good behavior,” but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost “good behavior time” at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.
IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INMATES
Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state’s governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.
After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 – ending court supervision and decisions – caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering “rent-a-cell” services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.
STATISTICS
Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. It is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness.
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