Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System


AFTER years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn’t we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”

The woman was Susan Burton, who knows a lot about being processed through the criminal justice system.

Her odyssey began when a Los Angeles police cruiser ran over and killed her 5-year-old son. Consumed with grief and without access to therapy or antidepressant medications, Susan became addicted to crack cocaine. She lived in an impoverished black community under siege in the “war on drugs,” and it was but a matter of time before she was arrested and offered the first of many plea deals that left her behind bars for a series of drug-related offenses. Every time she was released, she found herself trapped in an under-caste, subject to legal discrimination in employment and housing. Continue reading

More than 625,000 women and girls in prison around the world, new report shows

More than 625,000 women and girls in prison around the world, new report published by the International Centre for Prison Studies on the occasion of International Women’s Day shows.

Over 625,000 women and girls are held in penal institutions throughout the world according to the second edition of the World Female Imprisonment List, produced by Roy Walmsley and published by the International Centre for Prison Studies, a partner of the University of Essex. The report can be downloaded here.

The study provides information for most countries in the world about the female prison population and the percentage of the total prison population they comprise. It also includes information about trends in female imprisonment. Continue reading

February 20th: Denver action for National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners

Monday February 20th has been designated as a “National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners” by the Occupy Oakland general assembly. In solidarity with the call from Oakland, the Denver Anarchist Black Cross and members of Occupy Denver are calling for a night time of action in Denver on February 20th.

Monday February 20th, 6:30pm
Meet at 30th and Peoria, outside the GEO ICE Detention Center
Bring noisemakers, drums, banners, signs, candles, your friends and families

All across the country, a spirit of liberatory struggle has taken hold of the hearts of people from all walks of life. However, the struggle of the “99%” has up until now excluded a major portion of the most marginalized and oppressed, the over 2.5 million people languishing in prison, jail, and ICE detention centers across the country.

The call from Occupy Oakland puts it this way:

Prisons have become a central institution in American society, integral to our politics, economy and our culture.
Between 1976 and 2000, the United States built on average a new prison each week and the number of imprisoned Americans increased tenfold.
Prison has made the threat of torture part of everyday life for millions of individuals in the United States, especially the 7.3 million people—who are disproportionately people of color—currently incarcerated or under correctional supervision.
Imprisonment itself is a form of torture. The typical American prison, juvenile hall and detainment camp is designed to maximize degradation, brutalization, and dehumanization.
Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow. Between 1970 and 1995, the incarceration of African Americans increased 7 times. Currently African Americans make up 12 % of the population in the U.S. but 53% of the nation’s prison population. There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.
The prison system is the most visible example of policies of punitive containment of the most marginalized and oppressed in our society. Prior to incarceration, 2/3 of all prisoners lived in conditions of economic hardship. While the perpetrators of white-collar crime largely go free.
In addition, the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that in 2008 alone there was a loss in economic input associated with people released from prison equal to $57 billion to $65 billion.
We call on Occupies across the country to support:
1. Abolishing unjust sentences, such as the Death Penalty, Life Without the Possibility of Parole, Three Strikes, Juvenile Life Without Parole, and the practice of trying children as adults.
2. Standing in solidarity with movements initiated by prisoners and taking action to support prisoner demands, including the Georgia Prison Strike and the Pelican Bay/California Prisoners Hunger Strikes.
3. Freeing political prisoners, such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Lynne Stewart, Bradley Manning and Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, a Black Panther Party member incarcerated since 1969.
4. Demanding an end to the repression of activists, specifically the targeting of African Americans and those with histories of incarceration, such as Khali in Occupy Oakland who could now face a life sentence, on trumped-up charges, and many others being falsely charged after only exercising their First Amendment rights.
5. Demanding an end to the brutality of the current system, including the torture of those who have lived for many years in Secured Housing Units (SHUs) or in solitary confinement.
6. Demanding that our tax money spent on isolating, harming and killing prisoners, instead be invested in improving the quality of life for all and be spent on education, housing, health care, mental health care and other human services which contribute to the public good.

More information can be found at http://occupy4prisoners.org/

Business is Booming for the Prison Profiteers

by JAMES KILGORE, Counter Punch

Private corrections company The GEO Group celebrated the holiday season by opening a new 1,500 bed prison in Milledgeville, Georgia on December 12th. The $80 million facility is expected to generate approximately $28.0 million in annual revenues.

Though GEO (formerly Wackenhut) is hardly a household name, they are a major player in the private corrections sector, combining a self righteous amorality in profiting from human misery with a ruthless sense of just how to make a buck in this business. The GEO Group is so notorious that they were the target of an Occupy Washington D.C. action in early December. In addition,  the United Methodist Church sold off more than $200,000 in stock in GEO Group over the holiday season, judging that holding these shares was “incompatible with Bible teaching.”

While such actions may irritate a few within the company’s rank, the GEO Group is thick-skinned.  Over the years journalists have exposed a long history of violence, abuse and corruption in the company’s facilities.  Such scandals would have driven most firms out of business, but GEO has always managed to find the way back to prosperity. While the U.S. economy has plummeted in the past eighteen months, GEO has been positioning itself for the future.  In addition to opening the Georgia facility, during this period the company has: Continue reading

Locked Up and Left Behind: Hurricane Irene and the Prisoners on New York’s Rikers Island

From Solitary Watch:

Aug. 26, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

“We are not evacuating Rikers Island,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference this afternoon. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter’s question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with more than a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city’s evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

According to the New York City Department of Corrections’ own website, more than three-quarters of Rikers Island’s 400 acres are built on landfill–which is generally thought to be more vulnerable to natural disasters. Its ten jails have a capacity of close to 17,000 inmates, and normally house at least 12,000, including juveniles and large numbers of prisoners with mental illness–not to mention pre-trial detainees who have yet to be convicted of any crime. There are also hundreds of corrections officers at work on the island.

We were not able to reach anyone at the NYC DOC for comment–but the New York Times‘s City Room blog reported: “According to the city’s Department of Correction, no hypothetical evacuation plan for the roughly 12,000 inmates that the facility may house on a given day even exists. Contingencies do exist for smaller-scale relocations from one facility to another.”

For a warning of what can happen to prisoners in a hurricane we need only look back at Katrina, and the horrific conditions endured by inmates at Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans. According to a report produced by the ACLU:

[A] culture of neglect was evident in the days before Katrina, when the sheriff declared that the prisoners would remain “where they belong,” despite the mayor’s decision to declare the city’s first-ever mandatory evacuation. OPP even accepted prisoners, including juveniles as young as 10, from other facilities to ride out the storm.

As floodwaters rose in the OPP buildings, power was lost, and entire buildings were plunged into darkness. Deputies left their posts wholesale, leaving behind prisoners in locked cells, some standing in sewage-tainted water up to their chests …

Prisoners went days without food, water and ventilation, and deputies admit that they received no emergency training and were entirely unaware of any evacuation plan. Even some prison guards were left locked in at their posts to fend for themselves, unable to provide assistance to prisoners in need.

UPDATE (Saturday midnight): In his final news conference of the day, Mayor Bloomberg defended his decision not to evacuate Rikers Island, stating: “It is higher than the Zone A areas and it’s perfectly safe.” Representatives of the mayor have made further statements to New York Magazine (see update at end) and the Wall Street Journal, also specifying that no part of Rikers Island is in Zone A. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson went on Twitter to say the same thing. To our knowledge, the mayor’s office still has not clarified what zone, if any, Rikers Island is in, and has not responded to questions regarding the lack of any evacuation plan for the jail.

Pelican Bay: 2-3 week deadline given by prisoner committee before hunger strike will be resumed

From Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity:

Dear Friends,

We received an important update from the hunger strike leaders at Pelican Bay, dated July 24th. Hunger Strike leader Todd Ashker says the strikers are giving the CDCR of 2-3 weeks from July 20th to come up with some substantive changes in response to their five core demands. If the CDCR does not follow through, prisoners at Pelican Bay plan to go back on hunger strike. Todd writes:

“It’s very important that our supporters know where we stand, and that CDCR knows that we’re not going to go for any B.S. We remain as serious about our stand now as we were at the start, and mean what we said regarding an indefinite hunger strike peaceful protest until our demands are met. I repeat-we’re simply giving CDCR a brief grace period in response to their request for the opportunity to get [it] right in a timely fashion! We’ll see where things stand soon enough!”

Supporters are urged to keep up pressure on the CDCR and CA state legislators to meet the Hunger Striker’s demands.

Please join us and support a statewide mobilization to Sacramento on August 23rd for an informational legislative hearing held by the CA State Assembly’s Public Safety Committee!

Support Statewide Mobilization to Sacramento August 23rd!

If you’re in California or on the West Coast:

Join the Statewide Mobilization to Sacramento! Come to Sacramento on August 23rd for a day of action to support the hunger strike! If you need a ride, contact prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com as soon as possible.

Pressure your Legislators! Call and/or visit your legislators and urge them to attend the hearing on August 23rd, as well as visit the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisons

Make Some Noise! Organize demonstrations, events, rallies in a city near you targeting your legislators’ local offices leading up to the hearing or during (if you’re legislators are not attending)!

Support Transportation for supporters across the state!

Contact prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com if you can drive a car from where ever you are in CA to Sacramento and have room for more passengers.

You can also donate funds to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity so that families and community members across CA can get to Sacramento on August 23rd. Donate by going to California Prison Focus’ website, on the left-hand side there’s a donate button that will link you to CPF’s paypal account. Or, write a check and mail it to California Prison Focus/ 1904 Franklin Suit 507/ Oakland CA 94612. Make sure to put a note on your check or paypal transaction “hunger strike” or “coalition.”

If you’re outside of California:

Support transportation for supporters across the state! Donate funds to Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity so that families and communities members across CA can get to Sacramento on August 23rd. Donate by going to California Prison Focus’ website, on the left-hand side there’s a donate button that will link you to CPF’s paypal account. Or, write a check and mail it to California Prison Focus/ 1904 Franklin Suit 507/ Oakland CA 94612. Make sure to put a note on your check or paypal transaction “hunger strike” or “coalition”

Pressure your Legislators! Contact your state legislators and urge them to get every CA state legislator they know to attend the Legislative Hearing on the 23rd, as well as visit hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisons.

Make some Noise! Organize local rallies, demonstrations and events in solidarity with the hunger strike near or on August 23rd to help spread awareness about the strike, the hearing, and local struggles against imprisonment.

**For Supporters Everywhere: We encourage all supporters to continue spreading the word about the strike and the upcoming hearing, through emails, facebook, text-messages, twitter–all tools of social media and communication. We also encourage supports to continue writing prisoners and sharing words of support, encouragement, and updates on the strike and statewide mobilization to Sacramento for the hearing. Click here for more info to write to the hunger strike leaders.

For regular updates on the hunger strike and efforts to support it, visit prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com.

In Solidarity,

Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity

Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers Reject Proposal: The Strike Continues!

from Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity:

This afternoon leaders of the Pelican Bay hunger strike unanimously rejected a proposal from the CDCR to end the strike. In response to the prisoners’ five, straightforward demands, the CDCR distributed a vaguely worded document stating that it would “effect a comprehensive assessment of its existing policy and  procedure” about the secure housing units (SHUs). The document gave no indication if any changes would be made at all.

While the CDCR has claimed that there is no medical crisis, mediators report that the principal hunger strikers have lost 25-35 pounds each and have underlying medical conditions of concern. Despite the promises from the federal Receiver overseeing the CDCR, no one has received salt tablets or vitamins.

The hunger strike is now in its third week and shows no signs of weakening. In fact, the settlement document distributed last night to all hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison, resulted in some people who have gone off the strike to resume refusing food. Hundreds of prisoners at Pelican Bay remain on strike, with thousands more participating throughout the CA’s 33 prisons. Advocates and strike leaders dismiss the false claims that the strike is being orchestrate by prison gangs. (Click here for a clip from a legal visit with hunger strikers, explaining why prisoners are doing this hunger strike)

International solidarity with the striking prisoners also continue to mount with demonstrations and messages emerging from the US, Canada, Turkey and Australia. According to mediation team Laura Magnani, “From day one. the CDCR has demonstrated it’s inability to resolve this situation. We call on Gov. Brown to step in and negotiate in good faith to bring this situation to a just resolution.” Strike supporters plan to flood the Governor’s office with phone calls and emails, echoing the striker’s demands.

Given how basic the strikers’ demands are, it is immoral that the CDCR would insult these men with such poor faith proposal,” state mediator Dorsey Nunn.

The challenge for supporters outside of prison is to match the courage of the hunger strikers, and to effectively pressure the CDCR to immediately negotiate on the standards any negotiation should follow: with the prisoners in good faith, addressing all of the demands, and with the prisoner-approved outside mediation team.

It is still important to continue calling in and writing letters to Sec. Cate. We also need to intensify pressure on all elected officials, from Governor Brown to local state representatives, to get involved in this struggle–urge them to make sure the CDCR negotiates with the prisoners, urge them to visit Pelican Bay and demand to see the prisoners. We can also be targeting press and media to do the same.

MOBILIZE to SACRAMENTO:  MON, July 18th from 1-4pm. Demonstration outside CDCR Headquarters. 1515 S. St. 


Join a conference call to hear direct updates, and to strategize effective ways to support the strike and the prisoners in winning their demands!


Monday, July 18th: 6 pm EDT/ 5 pm CDT/ 4pm MDT/ 3 pm PDT

Toll-Free Call In Number: 1(800) 920-7487

Participant Code: 62435226

Private Prisons in a Wider Context: Video

Recent momentum has been building against the private prison industry, including here in Denver, and is exciting and is already making progress. Over at the blog Chaparral Respects No Borders (CRNB), an excellent two part video series has been put together on the ways in which the criminal justice system intersects with capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, and other forms of oppression to maintain themselves.

These are great videos to watch to remember the bigger picture of imprisonment and criminalization in this country so as we put the heat on corporations such as Wells Fargo, GEO, and CCA that we avoid what CRNB warns of

“An anti-private prison campaign can easily fall into the same traps as the “go after the real criminals” message, as though there’s nothing wrong with the “criminal” “justice” system.”

California: Hunger strikes spread across state prison system

From Libcom:

Since yesterday, prisoners in at least 11 of California’s 33 prisons are refusing meals in solidarity with a hunger strike staged by prisoners in one of the system’s special maximum-security units: the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Another interesting news item taken from the dominant media:

The strike began Friday when inmates in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating meals in protest of conditions that they contend are cruel and inhumane.

“There are inmates in at least a third of our prisons who are refusing state-issued meals,” said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The number of declared strikers at Pelican Bay — reported Saturday as fewer than two dozen — has grown but is changing daily, she said. The same is true at other prisons.

Some inmates are refusing all meals, while others are rejecting only some, Thornton said. Some were eating in visitation rooms and refusing state-issued meals in their cells, she said.

Assessing the number of actual strikers “is very challenging,” Thornton said.

Prison medical staff are “making checks of every single inmate who is refusing meals,” she said.

More than 400 prisoners at Pelican Bay are believed to be refusing meals, including inmates on the prison’s general-population yard, said Molly Poizig, spokeswoman for the Bay Area-based group Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity.
Continue reading

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