Tuesday, August 23, 2016

 A prison arts initiative I just learned about:

THE INSIDE SINGERS follows the Oakdale Community choir, a group of 27 inmates and 27 outside volunteers at a medium security prison in Iowa. The film tells the transformational story of a group of inmates (or Inside Singers), as they heal through music, moving past their crimes and troubled pasts. The film is produced and directed by Dan Kolen, whose perception of prison was changed by the group after seeing his mother sing as a volunteer singer in 2012.

The filmmaker is fundraising on Indiegogo:

The link goes into great detail about the value of such programs and is worth a read, whether or not you want to donate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


Great story about efforts being undertaken to help dads stay connected to their kids, while improving literacy skills and education along the way.

Monday, January 25, 2016

It starts here...

If we are committed to criminal justice reform or the abolition of prisons, then obviously we need to problematize the practice of calling the police. This is a thoughtful exploration of the step that starts the whole chain leading to incarceration:


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Judge Rules Against Prisoners In 'Little Guantanamo' Lawsuit


In March 2015 a federal judge ruled against prisoners challenging the practices of “Communication Management Units”  (CMUs). Nicknamed a "Little Gunatanamo," a CMU severely restricts prisoner communication, including information access and human contact. They require no federal oversight, and no explanation for sentencing. All appeals against CMU transfers have been unsuccessful. CMU's are currently located in Indiana and Illinois. 

See 2015 article at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/16/prisoners-little-guantanamo_n_6881774.html

In 2013 an environmental activist published an exposé on the conditions of the CMUs in the Huffington Post and was re-incarcerated for this publication. His own lawsuits against the CMUs were thrown out, because of a law that limits the rights of federal prisoners to challenge “cruel and unusual punishment.” He is continuing to pursue a lawsuit that questions the legality of his jailing after writing out against CMUs, but the loss of this larger lawsuit is a blow to the challenge of CMUs. 

See 2013 article "Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-mcgowan/communication-management-units_b_2944580.html


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

VERA report: "Incarceration's front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America" and Macarthur's Jail Reduction Competition


The whole VERA report is here:

Read a buzzfeed summary of the VERA report here (great for use with classes) :
11 Facts That Will Change the Way you Think about Jails
And an editorial about jails, following the VERA report (also great for students)

The Macarthur Foundation is partnering with VERA to launch a $75M initiative to reduce American's use of jails. Information (perhaps for your city?) on the Safety and Justice Challenge is here:  http://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/2015/02/press-release/

Chicago, IL – The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced an initial five-year, $75 million investment that seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The Safety and Justice Challenge will support cities and counties across the country seeking to create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and lead to better social outcomes. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have cumulative expenditures related to building and running them.
“For too long America has incarcerated too many people unnecessarily, spending too much money without improving public safety,” said Julia Stasch, MacArthur’s interim president. “Jails are where our nation’s incarceration problem begins; there are nearly 12 million jail admissions every year, and jails too often serve as warehouses for those too poor to post bail, nonviolent offenders, or people with mental illness. With this substantial, long-term commitment and investment, MacArthur hopes to support and demonstrate alternatives to incarceration as usual, and to create demand and momentum for change across the country.”
The Challenge will support jurisdictions across the country working to safely reduce over-reliance on jails, with a particular focus on addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities of color. Core to the initiative is a competition through which the Foundation will fund up to 20 jurisdictions to design and implement plans for creating fairer, more effective local justice systems using innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions. The Foundation released a request for proposals for the competition today.
Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins.
According to a report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice, “Incarceration’s Front Door:
The Misuse of Jails in America”:
  • There are nearly 12 million local jail admissions every year – almost 20 times the number of prison admissions, and equivalent to the populations of Los Angeles and New York City combined.
  • Nearly 75 percent of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses like traffic, property, drug, or public order violations.
  • From 1982 to 2011, cumulative expenditures related to building and running jails increased nearly 235 percent. Local jurisdictions now spend $22.2 billion annually on correctional institutions.
The Challenge will engage a diverse range of organizations and individuals – law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, defenders, policymakers, academia, advocates, and funders – to lend their insights and participation to this effort. Four of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to Safety and Justice Challenge jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, and the Vera Institute of Justice.
The MacArthur Foundation has been active in the justice field for more than 20 years. Through its Models for Change juvenile justice reform initiative, the Foundation has supported reform in more than 35 states in an effort to create a more rational, fair, effective, and developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. MacArthur has supported seminal research on the effects of modern neuroscience on criminal law and has a rich history in international justice, including helping to establish the International Criminal Court. The Foundation has for several years supported work related to criminal justice reform as part of an exploration of a strategy for reform in the field. This work included support for the National Academies of Sciences 2014 report The Growth of Incarceration in the United States.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cutting the Prison Population by 50% / The smart way to keep people out of prison

A pertinent article that gets us thinking about the criminal justice reform organizations that aim to decrease incarceration by 1/2 within the next 10-15 years.  To halve the prison population, sentencing would have to change not only for the so-called “non, non, nons” — non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender criminals — but also for some offenders convicted of violent crimes


This might be interesting to put in dialogue with a recent editorial that also challenges contemporary de-incarceration movements to think beyond releasing folks who are incarcerated primarily for possession.  It engages the 1970's de-incarceration movement and the 1980/1990 backlash (that grew the PIC). This history might be a critical consideration as we make our way forward . . . 


Monday, March 9, 2015

Article: "There's So Much Life Here"

Check out this troubling, moving and powerful story about Keith LeMar's life in solitary on Death Row: