Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Release of Political Prisoner Marshall "Eddie" Conway

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Read about the recent release of former Black Panther Eddie Conway in this article from Truthout and in this interview with Democracy Now

In case the embedded links don't work, here they are:
Story: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22260-political-prisoner-marshall-eddie-conway-released-from-prison-after-44-years
Interview: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22271

Monday, November 4, 2013

Newest Issue of Captured Words/Free Thoughts

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Working under the assumption that reducing crime and reclaiming our neighborhoods depends in part on enabling a generation of abandoned Americans to experience different modes of citizenship, self-reflection, and personal expression, Captured Words/Free Thoughts aspires to empower its contributors and enlighten its readers. To fulfill these goals, Captured Words/Free Thoughts offers testimony from America’s prisons and prison-impacted communities. This issue includes poems, stories, letters, essays, and art made by men and women incarcerated or formerly incarcerated in Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, and Texas. To expand the scope of our project, we also include works made by folks on the “free” side of the prison walls (in Colorado, Florida, Oregon, and Texas) who have been impacted by crime, violence, and the prison industrial-complex.

Check it out!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Freeing Marissa Alexander (re-post)

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Victoria Law, author of "Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women" (PM Press 2009), details the Marissa Alexander "Stand your ground" retrial and the movement to provide support to women incarcerated for using violence in self-defense.

Truthout: Freeing Marissa Alexander

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marc Mauer of Sentencing Project at NCA 2013!!!

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The Sentencing Project, PCARE, and “Communication Activism” for Social Justice

Sponsor: Connections to the Community
Fri, 11/22: 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
Marriott Wardman Park
Room: Marriott Salon 3 - Lobby Level

Since its founding in 1986, The Sentencing Project has become one of the nation's most successful social justice advocacy groups. Directed by Marc Mauer, the Sentencing Project has produced a world-class website, dozens of books, annual reports, and hundreds of topical brochures touching upon crime rates, arrest patterns, the Drug War, prison conditions, and a kaleidoscopic range of other topics addressing what scholars call the prison-industrial complex. The Sentencing Project has become so respected that when the U.S. Congress holds hearings on these issues, Mauer is the person they ask to speak; when the New York Times writes stories on such issues, Mauer is the expert they call; when CNN and MSNBC do features on prison-related concerns, Mauer is the leading voice they turn to. As the Director of The Sentencing Project, Marc Mauer therefore enacts many of the best practices of what Communication scholars call "communication activism."

Since its founding in 2005, PCARE-the Prison Communication, Activism, Research, and Education collective-has gathered together NCA-based scholars, teachers, artists, and activists in an effort to bring critical teaching and analyses of the prison-industrial complex into the heart of our discipline. PCARE has collectively authored two peer-reviewed journal articles and one book, PCARE's members have written dozens of articles and a handful of books, and PCARE supporters have hosted dozens of conference sessions, launched two websites, and offered undergraduate and graduate classes on different aspects of the prison-industrial complex.

This "Connections" panel will therefore bring together the NCA's PCARE group and The Sentencing Project for a working session wherein Mauer will talk with the members of PCARE about how to incorporate better communication strategies into their activism and advocacy. This session will hopefully be the first step in forming a PCARE/Sentencing Project partnership that can help push teaching, scholarship, and advocacy about prison issues in new directions.

Chair
Stephen J. Hartnett, University of Colorado, Denver - Contact Me

Presenter
Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project - Contact Me

Sponsor/Co-Sponsors
Connections to the Community

Monday, September 23, 2013

An Amnesty for the Prisoners of the War on Drugs

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by Ernest Drucker and Mike Trace

HUFFINGTON POST/THE BLOG Posted: 09/22/2013 6:55 pm

Atty. General Eric Holder's long overdue realization that "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason" was an important step toward a national recognition that our decades long war on drugs has been ineffective, expensive, and cruel. As bipartisan support grows in Congress for overhauling U.S. drug laws, Holder has just ordered Federal prosecutors to remove any reference to quantities of illicit drugs that trigger mandatory minimums and to apply this provision to pending drug cases, where the defendant has not yet been sentenced.

But reducing the length and frequency of drug-related incarceration going forward for new cases, however welcome, doesn't do anything about the large population of drug users already stuck in our prisons. Many non violent drug offenders are still serving out long terms under the now discredited mandatory sentencing policies. Most of these are young minority men with children, drawn from our poorest urban communities.

To date little has been said about how we can both dispense justice and save money by reducing the size of this key population. As of Jan 1, 2012 there were over 1.8 million drug law offenders under the control of the U.S. criminal justice system; 320,000 behind bars (in State and Federal prisons) and an additional 1.5 million under community supervision on parole and probation programs -- where administrative violations, missed appointments, and failed drug tests send hundreds of thousands of drug offenders back to prison. The total annual cost of keeping these millions in our criminal justice system is now over $12 billion per year.

The U.S. is not the only country in the world that has filled its prisons with low-level drug users and dealers -- countries as diverse as Brazil, Thailand and Russia have followed the U.S. drug war example -- but the scale of the U.S. prison population is unique.

Now that the White House has acknowledged the fundamental wrong-headedness of its own mass incarceration of drug users, what should be done about the failed war's victims who are still in prison?
One proposal immediately leaps to mind: declare a blanket amnesty or pardon for all drug war prisoners currently serving time in prison or on parole for non-violent drug offenses.

The procedures by which a large scale amnesty or pardon could be achieved will be complex, and would differ from state to state. At the federal level, where the largest proportion of prisoners are drug offenders, President Obama could issue pardons or use his executive release powers for minor drug law offenders -- actions that would serve justice and save money -- while of course ensuring that those with violent histories who may pose a risk to the community, are adjudicated separately. NY State has been cutting back its mandatory sentences for drugs for several years, reducing its prison population by 24 percent since 1996, and has successfully employed a re-sentencing process for over 1,000 non-violent drug offenders imprisoned under the old laws.

While amnesty would be a huge step in the right direction, we will need to do more -- most crucially, to re-invest the savings from reduced incarceration into effective re-entry processes that are not part of current parole processes, which now put so many back in prison. These funds should be directed into local support for re-entry and new community-based support programs that help drug offenders make amends and become welcome in their home communities again. Such restorative justice strategies have been proven to be effective and cost far less than the high rates of relapse and recidivism of drug users that we have now.

We also must systematically remove the many legal restrictions that make it so difficult for former drug felons to establish a home, get an education or a decent job, and to become productive citizens again. For example, we could offer to expunge their drug offense records when they succeed at these positive steps, thus meeting the true intent of the U.S. "second chance" act.

With this new approach we can also productively involve the very communities most affected by the mass incarceration of drug users -- in New York City, for instance, six communities account for over 85 percent of all city residents in State prisons. By investing in these same communities we can enable them to move from being "collateral damage" of the drug wars, to becoming the source of help for reconstituting a meaningful life for its once -- imprisoned members. These are the very communities which have the greatest motivation, deep personal experience, and (often) underutilized talent to help deal with their own members facing chronic drug and mental health problems -- many of them worsened by the brutalization of the prison system. A general amnesty for incarcerated non-violent drug offenders would open the way to a new approach based on truth and reconciliation principals and restorative justice methods, instead of retribution and punishment.

Legislators, officials and advocates are now, quite rightly, looking at drug law sentencing reforms that consign the war on drugs to history. We call on these same groups to also take action to bring some delayed justice and a chance for those caught up in that war over the last 30 years to have their lives back.

Ernest Drucker is the author of A Plague of Prisons and teaches at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY.
Mike Trace was formerly the UK Drug Czar.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fear of a Black Planet: From Stop and Frisk to Grant and Martin

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This summer I’ve been engaged in a Facebook debate with an old friend.  He lives in Brooklyn and he’s been posting pictures of innocent victims of gun violence in NYC.  His point?  Not that we need real gun control but that he would gladly accept being stopped and frisked by the NYPD in order to save future victims.

I’ve been challenging him on the logical flaw in the cause and effect argument he is making and I’ve pointed out that there is no evidence that Stop and Frisk makes anyone safer. 

This NYCLU document (http://www.nyclu.org/files/Mythbusters_08.30.12.pdf) provides compelling evidence of the falsity of the Stop and Frisk = Safety equation.

Beyond this, however, there is another problem I have with my friend’s position.  I’ve objected to the way he seems to want to let fear dictate social policy.  What type of society is created by fear, I ask.  His response:  Easy for me to say from the bucolic perspective of my suburban home.

But I can’t stop asking these questions:  What happens when fear takes over?  Especially the focused racial fear embodied by Stop and Frisk?  This is the fear that the rap group Public Enemy dubbed “Fear of a Black Planet.”

What happens when fear of a black planet takes over? What type of society do we get?  The film Fruitvale Station offers one answer to that question. I dragged my girlfriend and daughter to this movie recently. It’s not a fun night out.  But I had to see it as I have been talking about the police slaying of Oscar Grant in my classes for the past few years.

After the film ended all three of us sat in silence for several long minutes, tears rolling down.  No surprise endings here—we already knew how this one would turn out—but that didn’t diminish the power of the film for us.

It’s not a perfect film, just as Oscar Grant was not a perfect man. Some critics have complained that it goes too far in trying to sanctify him. I actually thought the filmmakers tried to avoid doing this for most of the film.  A couple of scenes did seem to try too hard to make him sympathetic but they also showed the other side: his temper, his previous arrests, his drug dealing, his infidelity.  I thought the point came through:  Whatever his vices he didn’t deserve a bullet to the back.

Trayvon Martin was also imperfect.  Trayvon Martin also did not deserve a death sentence.  You don’t have to be a paragon of virtue to be allowed to live your life. Martin, Grant, and the many, many, many other young black men that we never hear about, are all victims of the Stop and Frisk mentality. Innocent until proven Black.  Victims of fear of a black planet.

The officer who shot Grant claims he thought he was using his Taser not his gun. Who knows?  I think this is actually possible. I think it’s possible that he was so driven by fear that he was in full panic mode.  Perceiving himself surrounded by angry young blacks (albeit angry at being detained and harassed by the police) even an unarmed young man, lying face down, may have seemed like an existential threat to this white cop. George Zimmerman said the unarmed Trayvon Martin attacked him and he was only acting in self defense.  His jury accepted that this was indeed plausible.

Men with guns so afraid of men without guns.

And what do we know for sure about these two cases? Grant was murdered. Martin was murdered. Grant’s killer served 11 months. Martin’s killer was never convicted of any crime. After the trial a juror said she felt sorry for Zimmerman. After all, he too must have been so very, very, afraid.

This is where the stop and frisk mentality leads. This is what fear of a black planet creates. This is the society we get.