Monday, May 16, 2011

In the news...

The struggle against the prison-industrial complex is often fraught with ambivalent avenues toward social change. Two recent articles speak to such tensions:

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (check out Megan Bernard's recent review on this blog), offers this powerful and challenging editorial on what she calls the "human rights nightmare" of mass incarceration. She argues that recent pushes toward reform, while encouraging in some ways, are also problematic because "the changing tide is best explained by perceived white interests." Drawing on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Alexander insists that such pragmatic paths toward reform too often come at the expense of broader, more principled movements for social change.

Meanwhile, in Texas, the State Senate has approved a bill that gives the Texas Forensic Science Commission broader investigative powers. This commission has carried special importance in recent years following several credible studies claiming that the conviction and 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham for murdering his three children was founded on junk forensic science. Critics of this new legislation fear that it will allow Governor Rick Perry to block public scrutiny into this and other cases. While the bill grants greater powers to the commission, it also gives Perry complete control over appointments and closes public access to open investigations. In light of claims that the Governor has made many attempts to undermine inquiries that might exonerate Willingham, who was executed on Perry's watch, there is strong reason to believe that this silver lining contains a very dark cloud.