I. READ IT: Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families (The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, Research Action Design, and partners) Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families proves that the costs of locking up millions … Continue reading
Written by Sean Larner Evan Ebel was worried about leaving prison — and reasonably so. His last couple years were spent by himself in a cinderblock cell the size of two queen mattresses. Before his release Ebel wondered, in a … Continue reading
Hello Friends. We’re back with our weekly feature–Pick 6. Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
PS. Don’t forget this week only (July 11th-July 18th), Root & Rebound is running its first-ever online auction to raise money for our work across California, drawing thousands of people from across the country and world to bid on incredible prizes—everything from hotel stays to wine country hot air balloon rides, from photographs and paintings to consultations with wedding and home designers.
Visit the site and bid today!
I. READ IT: Obama to become first sitting president to visit a prison (LA Times)
President Obama will become the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, part of a push he plans next week for reforming the criminal justice system.
On Thursday, the president will visit with inmates and officials at the Federal Correctional Institution El Reno near Oklahoma City, the White House announced Friday, and will be interviewed for the HBO newsmagazine series “Vice” on the issue.
II. HEAR IT: LA Police Unit Intervenes To Get Mentally Ill Treatment, Not Jail Time (NPR)
“The goal is to make sure that people who are mentally ill, who are not a danger to the community, are moved towards getting treatment and services as opposed to getting booked and taken into the jail.”
III. READ IT: Prison Born (The Atlantic)
“The officer who handcuffed Mayer in the motel didn’t seem to care when she told him she was pregnant. Neither did the parole judge, who charged her with fraternizing with another parolee and skipping curfew and ordered her back to prison. As she stripped down at the intake facility and stepped forward to be searched, she faced the question that thousands of American women do each year: What happens to a baby born in detention?”
IV. HEAR IT: Georgia Leads A Push To Help Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs (NPR)
“In Georgia, Jay Neal thinks it won’t be hard to persuade more businesses to take some risk, because here, one in 13 adults is under some kind of state supervision. ‘Just about everybody knows somebody who’s been in the prison system and knows enough about them to know that they’re not a real threat — that they need help more than they need to be locked away,’ he says. And that they’re no longer ex-offenders, but returning citizens.”
V. WATCH IT: Inside the Shadowy Business of Prison Phone Calls (International Business Times)
Over the last decade, the prison phone business has become a scandalous industry, characterized by lawsuits, exorbitant fees, high phone rates and monopolistic relationships between public jails and private companies that openly offer kickbacks to local sheriffs. In May 2015, Foster Campbell, the Louisana Public Service commissioner, described the prison phone business in his state as “worse than any payday loan scheme.”
“Regardless of what they’re using the money for, this is about shifting the cost of the police state onto the backs of the poor people being policed,” says Paul Wright, executive director of Human Rights Defense Center and a longtime advocate for more affordable prison phone rates.
VI. READ IT: Reading Aloud to My Daughter, From Prison (New York Times)
“After my daughter received her books, I learned that the books I sent to her went beyond her in many ways. My entire family was touched and helped through these books. When my son missed me he too would listen to my voice on the tape. When my mom and dad had a rough day taking care of my many responsibilities, they found forgiveness and hope in the sound of my voice.”
Hi friends. Again it is Friday, so again it is time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome any and all thoughts or feedback, so don’t be shy!
From the AP: “John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration. The Grammy-winning singer announced the multiyear initiative, FREE AMERICA, on Monday…”We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “It’s destroying families, it’s destroying communities and we’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration…I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.”
Thus far, Hilary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R), Marco Rubio (R), and Rand Paul (R) have announced their candidacies for President of the United States. Radley Balko, author of the book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” has strung together a “quick and dirty list of [criminal justice related] questions” that he’d like to see 2016 Presidential candidates answer.
3.) Federal Prosecutor Tries a Radical Tactic in the Drug War: Not Throwing People in Prison (Huffington Post)
“[South Carolina’s top] U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles is testing out a novel approach to dealing with drug-related crime, one that aims to clean up the streets by looking beyond mass arrests and incarceration…If the program’s success continues in South Carolina, it could become a model for law enforcement across the country…Nettles’ plan is surprisingly straightforward. First, federal and local prosecutors identify local drug dealers with the help of the police, probation officers and community members. Next, they build criminal cases against them by reviewing records for outstanding warrants and conducting undercover drug buys. In most cases, arresting all the dealers would be the next order of business, but Nettles has a different idea. While high-level dealers are still arrested and prosecuted, some low-level offenders are given another option. For them, Nettles stages something of an intervention. Together with the police, family members, religious leaders and other members of the community, prosecutors present the dealers with the evidence against them and give them a choice: Face the prospect of prison or participate in the pilot project. The program, officially known as the Drug Market Intervention Initiative, helps the dealers find legitimate jobs and offers them help with drug treatment, education and transportation. The hope is that it provides them with the support and the motivation they need to turn their lives around.”
4.) Driver’s License Suspension Create Cycle of Debt (New York Times)
“The last time Kenneth Seay lost his job, at an industrial bakery that offered health insurance and Christmas bonuses, it was because he had been thrown in jail for legal issues stemming from a revoked driver’s license. Same with the three jobs before that. In fact, Mr. Seay said, when it comes to gainful employment, it is not his criminal record that is holding him back — he did time for dealing drugs — but the $4,509.22 in fines, court costs and reinstatement fees he must pay to recover his license. Mr. Seay’s inability to pay those costs has trapped him in a cycle that thousands of other low-income Tennesseans are struggling to escape. Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay. As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. In Tennessee, almost 90,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended since its law was enacted in 2011…Many defendants are forced to choose between paying court debt or essentials like utility bills and child support. Mr. Seay said his tax refund this year went toward child support debt accumulated during his time in prison and periods of unemployment. For even low-level offenders, debt can make a valid license unattainable…In Tennessee, judges have the discretion to waive court fees and fines for indigent defendants, but they do not have to, and some routinely refuse. Judges also have wide discretion over how much time to allow defendants to pay traffic tickets before suspending a license.”
From The Atlantic’s City Lab: “Last Saturday, a Dominican immigrant named Feidin Santana used his phone to record video of North Charleston police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times and killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running away. Slager has been charged with murder. Santana, who is being celebrated as a hero, has since said that he was terrified and thought about erasing the video. He had reason to be afraid. What if police had assaulted or arrested Santana, or destroyed his phone?…[T]he truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly ruled that no right had been “clearly established.” Until a right to record police is in fact clearly established, some officers will continue to act against bystanders who record them with impunity.” (Related: California Senate seeks to clarify right to video police conduct)
6.) D.C. Council rejects Corizon Health contract after lobbying battle (Washington Post)
Last month, R&R Legal Fellow Dominik Taylor blogged about the deadly consequences of for-profit prison healthcare. Dominik specifically mentioned Corizon Health’s failings in Alabama and in Alameda County, California. Our last Pick this week is an update on Corizon Health and the movement to improve healthcare for incarcerated people. From the Washington Post: “The D.C. Council on Tuesday rejected a controversial health-care contract proposed for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents. The council’s 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million proposal by Corizon Health marked a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who had supported the contract….Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. David Grosso (I) said that if getting the best possible care for the city’s inmates is the objective, then “contracting with a for-profit, scandal-prone company is not the way for us to get there.”
Report of the week) Stop and Frisk in Chicago (ACLU of Illinois)
From the executive summary of our report of the week: “Chicago has failed to train, supervise and monitor law enforcement in minority communities for decades, resulting in a failure to ensure that officers’ use of stop and frisk is lawful. This report contains troubling signs that the Chicago Police Department has a current practice of unlawfully using stop and frisk: Although officers are required to write down the reason for stops, in nearly half of the stops we reviewed, officers either gave an unlawful reason for the stop or failed to provide enough information to justify the stop. Stop and frisk is disproportionately concentrated in the black community. Black Chicagoans were subjected to 72% of all stops, yet constitute just 32% of the city’s population. And, even in majority white police districts, minorities were stopped disproportionately to the number of minority people living in those districts. Chicago stops a shocking number of people. Last summer, there were more than 250,000 stops that did not lead to an arrest. Comparing stops to population, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as New Yorkers at the height of New York City’s stop and frisk practice. In the face of a systemic abuse of this law enforcement practice, Chicago refuses to keep adequate data about its officers’ stops…This failure to record data makes it impossible for police supervisors, or the public, to identify bad practices and make policy changes to address them.”
Extra of the week) Letter from Birmingham Jail (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
52 years ago this week (4/16/1963) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.The letter defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. King declares that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws, and to take direct action rather than waiting potentially forever for justice to come through the courts. King famously wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Related: What if MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” Had Been a Facebook Post?)
Hello friends. Friday=time for our weekly Pick 6! Our Pick 6 consists of 6 informative, insightful reentry & criminal justice-related news articles and commentaries that we’ve been following throughout the week. We welcome your thoughts and feedback, so don’t be shy!
1.) The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’ (The Guardian)
In an exclusive, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian describes the horrific treatment of detainees at a secretive, off-the-books interrogation”black site” known as Homan Square. Homan Square is a “nondescript warehouse,” but it isn’t located at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib . . . it’s located on the west side of Chicago and is operated by the Chicago Police Department (CPD). Among the alleged atrocities committed by CPD are: keeping arrestees out of official booking databases, shackling and beating arrestees for extended periods of time, denying attorneys access to the “secure facility,” and holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours. At least one man was found unresponsive in a Homan Square “interview room” and later pronounced dead.
2.) Free state ID cards proposed for newly released prisoners (Seattle Times)
Not having proper identification can be a major hurdle for newly released prisoners. Identification is required to get housing, to get a job, to cash a check, and even to get a library card. In Washington, getting a new driver’s license or state identification card usually costs between $45-$54 (not to mention, the time and cost of transportation required to get to a Department of Licensing office). Unfortunately, many Washington prisoners are only released with as little as $40. But a new bill, proposed by state legislator, Cyrus Habib, would issue free temporary identification to all reentering individuals as they are released from jail or prison.
3.) Want to visit an inmate? Increasingly, you’ll have to log on (San Fransisco Chronicle)
Hamed Aleaziz reports that several California counties, notably; Napa, Solano, and San Mateo are moving away from allowing prisoners to have in-person visits, and are instead replacing them with Skype-like digital video-chats. Supporters argue that using video-chat technology saves money and strengthens security. Supporters are quick to note that families can now video-chat with their incarcerated loved ones from home, without having to make a trip to jail. But as Bernadette Rabuy of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative notes, “Inmates and their families find video visits to be more impersonal.They talk about being able to hold their hand on the piece of glass and the other incarcerated person holding their hand up. Moments like that feel impossible with video visits.” A 2011 Minnesota Department of Corrections study concluded in-person prison visits “establish a continuum of social support,” and that visited inmates were 13% less likely to be convicted of a new felony after release. According to Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor of criminology at UC Irvine, “The data is pretty good. The more in-person visits prisoners have, the better off they are likely to be when they get out.” Also problematic is the fact that the video-chats are expensive. The companies providing video-chat technologies for prisons and jails charge families up to $20 for as little as 20 minutes of talk time. These companies then split profits with the county (Napa receives 20% of fees obtained from video chats to its inmates).
4.) Santa Clara County increases oversight of cases of youths being charged as adults (Santa Cruz Sentinel)
California prosecutors have wide discretion in deciding whether to charge juvenile suspects as juveniles or as adults. A 2013 internal review by Santa Clara County’s District Attorney’s Office revealed that a higher percentage of Latino kids face adult charges than other ethnicities. In response to this finding, Santa Clara’s DA has teamed up with Santa Clara’s Public Defender’s office and several Bay Area youth advocacy groups to examine these cases more stringently. Specifically, the DA has asked youth advocates who favor rehabilitation over prison to review and critique the DA’s decision to charge juveniles as adults. The committee of advocates is currently reviewing every 2014 Santa Clara case where a juvenile was charged as an adult.
Last Saturday (2/21) marked the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination. In a recent exit interview, Politico asked outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder what book he would recommend to a young person coming to Washington, D.C. Holder’s answer–“The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”Holder also stated that before leaves office, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes (see # 6, below). “I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something I am going to be talking about before I leave office.” Holder’s remarks come days after the Department of Justice announced that it has closed its investigation in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager Trayvon Martin. DOJ will not be filing federal hate-crime charges against Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman.
6.) Why Is It So Hard to Prove a Civil Rights Crime? (The New Republic)
Cristian Farias discusses the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision not file federal hate-crime charges against George Zimmerman and the limits of federal hate crimes laws. Farias writes, “Willfulness, in civil rights cases or otherwise, is by far the most difficult thing to prove in criminal law. And absent a damning confession from Zimmerman or a mountain of circumstantial evidence showing that he harbors resentment toward black teenagers, making that showing is hard—so hard, DOJ determined, it couldn’t risk pressing charges and losing later.”
Bonus: Tomorrow, 2/28, marks the end of Black History Month. If you have some spare time this weekend, cozy up with your loved ones and take 2 hours to watch “Freedom Riders,” the beautifully directed, 2010 documentary by Stanley Nelson Jr. “Freedom Riders” is the powerful, harrowing, and inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Jim Crow South. The Freedom Riders challenged the status quo by riding interstate buses and trains in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced illegal segregation in seating. They called national attention to the blatant disregard for federal laws and the local mob violence used to enforce segregation in the South. You can watch Freedom Riders for free online courtesy of PBS. Here’s a link to the film.
Dear Readers, Today we want to share with you an insightful interview conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, with Jody Lewen, Executive Director of the Prison University Project.The interview is part of The Unlocking Potential: Perspectives on Education in Prison blog series, within Vera’s Pathways from Prison to Postsecondary Education Project.
Jody Lewen is the executive director of the Prison University Project, an inspiring nonprofit organization that operates the College Program at California’s San Quentin State Prison. The program offers a college preparatory program and courses leading to an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts. We are so pleased to showcase Jody’s interview as a valuable Board member for Root & Rebound. Also, the Prison University Project is an inspiring community partner who not only made it possible for Root & Rebound to raise funds over the last 6 months, but one who we continue to turn to and collaborate with in improving the lives of those returning to the community from prison and jail.
We hope the interview will impact you – feel free to share with your friends and networks!
Beyond academic achievement, how do students benefit from taking college courses while in prison?
Even after taking just a few classes, their written and verbal communication skills are much stronger. They become more confident. Their self-esteem is strengthened. They have a broader sense of what their professional opportunities might be. They are more able to negotiate complex systems and institutions, both for themselves and for their families—even from prison. They are more likely to be active in their communities and involved in various types of advocacy work. They are more engaged with their children’s education. To me, these are success stories: if the person is healthy and happy and living a productive life.
In what ways is teaching college courses inside prison rewarding for teachers?
For teachers, prison college programs offer an opportunity to serve communities that are, almost by definition, radically excluded from quality education in the United States. It’s also incredibly satisfying to have students who are highly motivated and deeply grateful for the opportunity to go to college! The educational climate is very serious, rich, and satisfying, for both students and teachers.
What challenges do educators and colleges face when trying to implement college programs in prison?
There are massive logistical issues: getting the students to class, getting teachers into the institution, the lack of technology, the simple fact that the institution has completely different priorities and values. You have all kinds of constantly changing constraints on what equipment and materials may be allowed inside. Pedagogically speaking, teachers who’ve taught only in conventional settings are often not prepared to serve students with such diverse learning styles; they may also not be prepared for the range of psychological obstacles that students might grapple with, particularly at the beginning—for example, self-doubt, anxiety, or shame.
Why do you think some people are against access to a college education for people in prison?
The biggest issue is that in the U.S., higher education is considered a luxury. A lot of people are legitimately resentful that they have not had the opportunity to get a college education, and it makes them uncomfortable—or even furious—to imagine that people in prison might. It seems unfair. There’s also the whole ideology of “deservingness.” People imagine that if you are a good person, you deserve good things and if you are a bad person, you deserve bad things. What frustrates me about this perspective is not just that it’s simplistic and moralistic, but that it essentially ignores the question of what’s in the best interest of the society as a whole. Also, Americans who have not been exposed to the prison system directly—people who haven’t been incarcerated, and have not had a friend or family member who’s been incarcerated—often have their own ideas of who is in prison and what they are like. Our culture is very invested in its global, generalized hatred of people who are in prison, and very invested in the thought of their suffering. People think of education as a stepping stone to economic opportunity and as a source of pleasure, and a lot of people don’t want anybody in prison to have either.
What will it take to change their minds?
People need to see firsthand the transformative power of higher education in prison. They need to be exposed to the real live faces, voices, conversations, and stories that will allow them to recognize people in prison as actual human beings. They need to hear not just statistical accounts of what happens when people in prison have the opportunity to go to school. They need to become emotionally invested in the good that it does for the individual’s community, family, and the climate of the prison.
How has the Prison University Project been successful in sharing and changing public discourse around higher education in prison?
Above all, through publications like our journal of student writing (OpenLine), newsletters, and various special events. Strong communications materials are a way to carry the message of the humanity of the people inside to a much larger audience. If you can bring people into a prison through these kinds of materials, in my experience it’s pretty rare that they hold on to their hostility.
What kind of reentry services and resources do students need to be successful once they leave prison?
Affordable housing! People with substance abuse and other special issues need supportive housing. And everyone needs some sort of community—they need people they can really talk to, and ask questions, and ask for help. Also, a lot of people get out and want to continue school but they don’t have the money. We need to start creating robust scholarship opportunities for people coming out.
What are the key takeaways that you think any state/prison looking to create a college program in prison needs to consider?
Prison higher education is an educational intervention and not simply a criminal justice intervention. We do this work not simply to make the public safer. We do it because we are committed to educational excellence, and to supporting the personal, professional, and intellectual development of the individual. What you see a lot in this field are people who want to avoid saying or doing anything that might be politically controversial. They say, “The public will never go for that.” For example, they want to exclude sex offenders, or people serving long sentences, for fear of public outrage. The fact is that a high quality educational program that is open to the whole prison community has the capacity to change the entire culture of that institution. Conversely, programs that exclude academically eligible people for political reasons just build resentment, weaken the pro-social fabric of the prison, and waste precious resources. If we really want to create high quality programs that generate the greatest public benefit, we need to be unapologetically committed to inclusiveness, and we need to hold our ground. We need to keep reminding everyone: we are building a healthier democracy. We are improving public health. Our students’ lives matter. They are human beings.
– The R&R Team
Michael Scott, one of the plaintiffs in the case, Michael Scott et al. v. Debra Bowen. Photo from the ACLU website.
This week we blogged about an important case challenging the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of voters in California. Today we have some exciting news regarding the case – an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen illegally stripped people on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and Mandatory Supervision under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act of their voting rights two years ago, saying they are in fact eligible to vote.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”
”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”
We at Root & Rebound applaud all the individuals and organizations that brought this lawsuit: the League of Women Voters of California, All of Us or None, The ACLU of California and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. This is an amazing victory for returning citizens in the state. It is also an encouraging sign for all of us who work to protect the rights of people in reentry – as a state and a nation, we are moving in the right direction – away from legal barriers and exclusion – to upholding the worth, dignity and contributions of all of our citizens.
– The R & R Team
Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
On February 14, 2014, The ACLU of California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) filed a lawsuit charging the state of California with unconstitutionally stripping tens of thousands of people of their right to vote.
Since 1974, when California voters approved Proposition 10, state law has been clear that the only people ineligible to vote in California are those who are in state prison or on parole. However, in December of 2011, the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These two categories of supervision were created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes. Are these really people that we want to strip the right to vote from? And who makes the decision to do so?
The problem here was that this decision was made unilaterally by the secretary of state through a directive, without the input of millions of California voters. Since December 2011, more than 58,000 have been in local post-release programs according to Michael Risher at the ACLU – this decision will affect each and every one of them. This is something that all California voters should be up in arms about, “The law [in California] clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.
Executive Director of All of Us or None, Dorsey Nunn said, “Society is much more secure when all people feel they are fully part of it. If we want formerly incarcerated Californians to be good citizens, we need to convince them that they are a part of society too. I have never met a graffiti artist who spray paints his own home or business.” We agree: if the goal of the realignment law is to reintegrate people back into the community, then disenfranchising those individuals is not only unconstitutional, but goes against the spirit of realignment.
We applaud the efforts of these groups and will be following this case closely on the blog. For those of you who want to read more about the case, a copy of the complaint is available here.
Solitary confinement, a prison-based practice in which an incarcerated person is locked in a cell alone for hours, days, months, and even years or decades, is more prevalent in the U.S. than any other country. The new director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Rick Raemisch, under a mandate to reform solitary confinement in Colorado prisons, decided earlier this month to spend a night in solitary confinement and write about his experience in an op-ed for the New York Times.* In his op-ed, Raemisch wrote about feeling “twitchy and paranoid” in solitary. Yet he called his 20-hour stay “practically a blink,” compared to incarcerated people sent to solitary confinement in Colorado for an average of 23 months, with some spending “20 years.”
As Raemisch wrote, American prisons have “become a dumping ground for the mentally ill”—and this is exaggerated in solitary confinement. Craig Haney, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been studying isolated prisoners and estimates that about one-third are “mentally ill, and a disproportionate number are minorities, partly because alleged gang membership is grounds for placing a prisoner in solitary indefinitely.” His work, discussed in Smithsonian Magazine, is part of a building movement to research the effects of solitary confinement and understand the science behind isolating people for long stretches of time.
Activism to eliminate solitary confinement continues to swell. The ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other nonprofits are leading campaigns to end the practice and create public awareness about the serious damaging effects of segregating and isolating people in prison. In our home state of California, prisoners organized hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013 to protest the inhumane conditions and long-term solitary confinement of people (some sent there indefinitely!) in the Security Housing Unit (“SHU”) at Pelican Bay State Prison and others around CA. You can read more on the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity blog and learn more about the organizations supporting their efforts here.
These organizing efforts combined with voices of reformers from within corrections, like Raemisch, are helping to increase public awareness about how solitary confinement is abusive to people in prison and can have dire implications when an isolated person is then released back into the community. Raemisch wrote that in Colorado, “in 2012, 140 people were released into the public from Ad Seg [solitary confinement]; last year, 70; [and] so far in 2014, two.” When people under these circumstances are returned to their communities, they are often psychologically and physically more ill and abused than when they first entered prison. In the field of reentry, this creates a huge barrier for people to reconnect with the outside world. As a reentry advocacy center, Root & Rebound feels passionately that the way people are treated inside has direct consequences for their ability to rebuild and rejoin the community on the outside, and we hope to see an end to the abuse and overuse of solitary confinement.
If you would like to continue to follow this issue and urge our government officials to speak out against solitary confinement, we suggest signing the ACLU’s petition and following the CA movement’s Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity’s Take Action! page. We applaud Mr. Raemisch of Colorado for speaking out on this issue and also see that there is a long road ahead to reduce abuse against incarcerated people in the U.S.
— The R & R Team
* For a response to Mr. Raemisch’s op-ed, see The Atlantic‘s article, “Colorado’s Prison Director Spent 20 Hours in Solitary—but That’s Not Enough,” urging the release of two individuals currently held in solitary confinement in Colorado’s prisons.
Today, there sure are lots of ways to keep people updated on our work, and slowly but surely, we are developing our social media presence… (we still have yet to tweet and ‘gram, but we promise it will all be forthcoming!). We are excited to introduce our brand new FACEBOOK PAGE to you all. This is just one more way for you to get updates of our work and progress, and to share your ideas, suggestions, and feedback with us. Please “LIKE” us today to show your support for our work. Today, you can go to the Facebook page to see the unveiling of our brand new logo (fun colored version to come)!
Thanks for joining us on this journey!
—The R & R Team