Saturday, December 15, 2012

New Urban Institute Report on Federal Prisons

From the abstract:
The federal prison population exceeds 218,000, a tenfold increase since 1980. This massive growth is projected to continue and is accompanied by increasing costs, which account for 25% of the Department of Justice's budget and edge out other important public safety priorities. This brief describes the main drivers of the federal prison population, half of whom are drug offenders. Front-end decisions about who goes to prison and for how long have the greatest impact, suggesting that reductions in sentence lengths -particularly for drug offenders - can most directly contain future growth. "Back-end" changes, such as increasing earned credits for early release, can also help alleviate the pressure. The federal system can learn much from state efforts to contain prison populations and costs; doing so will require the cooperation and support of numerous players across all branches of the federal system.
Access the report here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Publication Announcement


Thanks to PCARE's own Eleanor Novek for passing this along!

"Torture in United States Prisons - Evidence of Human Rights Violations," 2nd edition.

Published by the American Friends Service Committee, Northeast Region Healing Justice Program. Edited by Bonnie Kerness, MSW, Coordinator, a longtime prison activist. The book can be ordered via e-mail at or by telephone at 973-643-3192.

It is free for prisoners and $3.00 for others.

This 93-page pamphlet includes testimonies of torture being committed in US prisons as well as relevant and graphic prisoner art and photographs. The testimonies are prefaced by the United Nations Covenants and Treaties which are violated by the treatment described. The book can be used by educators, lawyers, advocates and other practitioners who want to hear the direct voices of courageous people in prison speaking out about the practice of "no touch" torture, and the abuse of chemical and physical restraints in US prisons domestically and overseas.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New PCARE Book is Almost Here!

Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism is almost here!

This volume contains a wide range of work from leading prison activist-scholars who share a common vision of a society that does not depend on mass incarceration to solve its problems.

It'll officially drop in the spring, but it's never too soon to pre-order and/or request that your campus library acquire a copy. 
Also, keep your eyes open for public events and forums in your area with featured authors and local activists.

Kudos and thanks to Stephen Hartnett, Eleanor Novek, and Jennifer Wood for their editorial leadership!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New Release from the Against Equality Collective

Readers of this blog will likely find the most recent release from the Against Equality Collective of interest. Entitled Prisons Will Not Protect You, the volume advances a queer critique of hate crime legislation, passionately making the argument that strengthening the prison-industrial complex is not the right way to address social inequality. To the contrary, the editors argue, the higher incarceration rates that result from such laws only exacerbate social stratification.

This appears to be a powerful, provocative intervention into critical prison studies and queer theory.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

National Council on Crime and Delinquency Announces Media Awards Call for Entries

This may be of interest to PCARE members and fellow travelers:

"The Media for a Just Society (MJS) Awards program is the only national recognition of print, web, and broadcast journalists; TV news and feature reporters, producers, and writers; and creators of films and literature whose work furthers public understanding of criminal justice, juvenile justice, child welfare, and adult protection issues."

DL Hughley on the PIC

In case you missed it on last night's Daily Show, comedian DL Hughley offered some hilarious and spot-on commentary on private prisons and other institutional forces that render black men an "endangered species."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Norway: A Model for Prison Reform

With an eye toward prison reform, it's often beneficial to look to successful programs to see what they are doing right...and what we can do better.

Norwegian prisons have been in the news a lot over the past year. Most of the stories focus on Norway's alternate approach to incarceration, or, as one story puts it, "Norway's controversial cushy prison experiment."'  The media often seems to "scoff" at  the "perks" that Norwegian inmates enjoy. Yet, those on the inside (of the country that is) think differently about incarceration.

 Nils Christie, professor emeritus at the University of Oslo, has written several books about the stark contrast between the Scandinavian and American prison systems. Christie offers both thoughtful critiques and suggestions for improvement in several of his works.

A Suitable Amount of Crime
Crime Control as Industry

In addition, a Finnish television station has recently joined the conversation. The TV station has been working on a documentary that highlights the unique attributes of the prison systems in Scandinavia. A recent story posted in a Norwegian newspaper, loosely translated "Is this a Prison?", describes the shock that Attica correctional officer James Conway experienced while touring several Scandinavian prisons as part of the documentary project. Conway is quoted in the article as saying "I had to blink to make sure that I was still in prison." The article goes on to highlight the contrasts between the prisoner experience in the two countries in relation to inmate-correctional officer relationships, privacy, activities, and access. In all, this news story offers one example of a more humane view on incarceration. And while a complete transfer of all of Norway's facilities and policies is unlikely, there is much to be learned from a system that is so far removed from our own.

Christie's (2004) words are particularly fitting here:
"We should not always start with offences and offenders, and then ask what ought to be done. We should turn the whole thing upside down. We should start with the system of sanctions and here take basic values as our point of departure. We should ask: What sort of pain and what sort of distribution of pain do we find acceptable for our type of society?...We cannot say, not concretely and exactly, when enough is enough. But we can say that punishment is an activity low in the rank of values. Punishment should therefore be the last alternative, not the first one" (p. 108).

Christie, N. (2004). A suitable amount of crime. New York: Routledge. 

You can find the "Is this a prison" story~ in Norwegian ~ here.
Copy the text and past it into google translate for the full translation.
It's truly worth the read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Breaking Down "Stop & Frisk"

Check out this powerful and illuminating info-graphic from the Center for Constitutional Rights regarding New York's controversial "stop and frisk." policy.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Prison Justice Blog by Jean Trounstine

Justice with Jean

Jean Trounstine is an activist, author and professor at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Massachusetts who worked at Framingham Women’s Prison for ten years where she directed eight plays with prisoners. Her highly-praised book about that work, Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women’s Prison has been featured on NPR, The Connection, Here and Now, and in numerous print publications here and abroad. In addition, she has spoken around the world on women in prison, co-founded the women’s branch of Changing Lives Through Literature, an award-winning alternative sentencing program featured in The New York Times and on The Today Show, and co-authored two books about the program. She published a book of poetry, Almost Home Free, and co-edited the New England best-seller, Why I’m Still Married: Women Write Their Hearts Out On Love, Loss, Sex, and Who Does the Dishes. Jean is on the steering committee of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety in Massachusetts and is currently working on a new book about the tragedy of sentencing juveniles to adult prisons.

Friday, October 5, 2012

California Ends LWOP for Children

Just as voters in the Golden State consider a referendum that would abolish the death penalty (something, interestingly, that not all death row inmates support), Governor Jerry Brown has just signed a law ending life without parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Public Safety and the Correction Population

The Sentencing Project has released yet another detailed report. The report focuses on the lack of healthcare before being locked up and after. The real question here is do institutions provide a healthy living environment? And is a healthy environment something granted to a person locked up? You be the judge. The link to the .PDF is over on the Prison Justice Project website linked here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Passing the Time: Expanding Opportunities for Self-Enhancement in Prison

The opportunities available for self-enhancement in prison organizations vary dramatically across federal and state institutions as well as public and private facilities.

I've spent time in four separate prisons in Texas. Some of the prisons offered college classes and gang renounciation/disassociation programs. Others only offered "life skills" type classes. Still others offered anger management, behavior modification, yoga, and meditation classes. All of the incarcerated individuals I spoke to in these facilities (both public and private) desired more. More opportunities for self-improvement, for growth, and for skill development that would benefit them as they transitioned back into "the world" as they called it.

In recent months, two such programs have perked my interest.
These programs are different than your traditional "life skills" training. They offer inmates both a "temporary" escape from their current situation and also encourage them to learn skills that might help them succeed outside the prison walls.

Sing Sing: Musical Connections Program
This program is part of the Carnegie Hall Outreach Program. Incarcerated individuals are paired with renowned artists for the purposes of composing and playing music together.  The music helps facilitate a transformation process in those who are lucky enough to take part in the program.
As one incarcerated individual explained:  "It gave me a way to say things that perhaps I couldn't articulate in words." You can watch the full story here.

Prison Seminary Project
World Impact Inc and Prison Fellowship have partnered together in this unique Christian based program. The goal of this program is to offer a "college-level seminary course that trains inmates to plant churches and evangelize in poor communities upon their release" (Flaccus, 2012). The courses are designed to be taken over the course of 3.5 years, and the program is now being offered in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, and California. You can find the full story here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rhetoric in the Prison Writing Network

Check out Christopher Hazlett, he is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Florida, studying Rhetoric and Composition in the English Department. His scholarly interests include writing studies, Critical Discourse Analysis, critical pedagogies, and writing that occurs in and around correctional institutions.

Christopher is writing his dissertation, which explores writing in prison as a complex network of written and circulated texts. This network includes writing by inmates and correctional staff, and allows certain conditions and actions unique to prison to occur; writing is the road upon which prisons create meanings, identities, and struggle. This dissertation examines the writing of inmates and correctional staff writing to explore how these two bodies of writing interact through social genre theory, public/counterpublic theories, theories of writing as resistance, and pedagogy in prison-based education. The goal of this dissertation is to explain the complexity of the prison writing network as a functioning, dynamic site of writing. By understanding writing in the marginalized social space of prison, we can also see how descriptions of the production and circulation in other complex settings do not fully explain the effects of writing.

His website linked here is focused on similar ideas as PCARE. His website highlights scholarships on prisons, different essays and editorials, prison journals and blogs, as well a page dedicated to prison conferences and organizations.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Growth Sector for Private Prison Companies

"A new report by The Sentencing Project shows that people being detained for violating immigration laws are a major growth sector for for-profit prison companies. Budget crises and policy changes have led some states to reduce prison populations and private prison contracts in recent years. The losses for private prison companies have been more than offset by expansion of their management of federal detainees under the jurisdiction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Marshals Service. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of detainees in for-profit facilities increased by about 3,300 people while the number of prisoners held in for-profit facilities decreased by only about 1,300."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

For the first time, Wisconsin now spends more on prisons than on the University of Wisconsin System

As priorities shift, corrections funding passes UW System
  by Alison Bauter of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (8-16-12)

Madison - In 2011, Wisconsin state spending quietly hit a milestone: For the first time, the state budgeted more taxpayer dollars for prisons and correctional facilities than for the University of Wisconsin System.
For 2011-'13, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers allotted just under $2.1 billion to the state's public universities and $2.25 billion to the Department of Corrections. It's a gap that is unlikely to close any time soon.
It's also not the work of a single budget and not the decision of a single party. Rather, the gap is the culmination of years of policy changes and shifting priorities, spanning Democratic and Republican governors, crisscrossing political lines and reflecting national trends, a Journal Sentinel analysis of more than 20 years of state budgets shows.
The UW System has long been among the top three recipients of state funds, alongside state aid to K-12 schools and local governments, and medical assistance programs such as Medicaid. In the 2011 biennial budget passed in June 2011, corrections surpassed UW, making the state's prisons and correctional system the No. 3 taxpayer priority.
These days, the growth in corrections spending has slowed; the department surpassed universities in the current budget not because of increasing correctional spending, but because of continued cuts to the UW System.
UW often takes the brunt of the state's cuts, if only because it can. Other big-spending programs - such as medical assistance for the low-income and K-12 education - rely more on state and federal dollars and are more affected by mandates from the federal government. These programs also cannot make up the cuts through increases in tuition, fundraising and fees available to universities.
What this means in the long-term is a continued decline in universities' state taxpayer revenue and a continued increase in reliance on other funding sources. For students and their families, that means bigger loans and more out-of-pocket spending.
Eventually, that becomes untenable, said UW System President Kevin P. Reilly.
"We're kind of coming up against a wall," Reilly said. "That trend can't continue if we're going to meet, as a people, our obligations to educate ourselves for the workforce."
As the UW System's place in the state funding hierarchy drops, Reilly warns that Wisconsin employers will soon need more workers with postsecondary education. Without realigning budget priorities and stabilizing tuition increases, Reilly said, the UW System cannot meet those needs.
"Elected officials . . . are going to have to make a decision on what's the priority of higher education," he said.

20-year trend

The trend is shared by many states. Nationwide, public universities are seeing cuts while prison spending, sparked by sentencing changes put in motion in the 1980s, has gone up.
In 1990, the Department of Corrections claimed barely a quarter of the funds apportioned to the UW System, receiving $178.6 million to the universities' $698.2 million. Even then, the state prison population was growing.
In the 1990s, Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and the Legislature made moves to crack down on crime and instituted "truth in sentencing." In that decade, Wisconsin used its budget surplus to build additional prisons. Between 1990 and 2012, the amount spent on prisons grew by 620%, not accounting for inflation.
In 2003, Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, pledged to end Wisconsin's prison-building boom, but corrections spending didn't immediately slow. Late in his second term, Doyle's proposed early-release programs took effect, only to be repealed one year later.
Prison costs kept climbing throughout the decade, markedly slowing in the middle of the decade , but still topping $1 billion before Doyle was out of office - largely because prison spending is hard to cut once a facility is built and filled with inmates who must be guarded, fed and given medical attention.
"You have to pay prison guard salary and benefits; you can't do much in the way of laying them off, as it is a function of prison population," said Todd Berry, executive director for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
In 1990, the prison population was just under 7,000. Now, it tops 22,000.
Today, state spending on corrections isn't rising. Recent cuts to prison workers' benefits and changes to rules governing overtime and sick leave - stemming from Walker's bill eliminating most union bargaining for most public workers - have held prison budgets largely static. But significantly cutting prison costs will be difficult without decreasing the prison population.
For comparison, UW System enrollment has grown about 10% over the past decade, topping 181,000 as the system receives an increasingly smaller portion of its funding from state taxpayers . UW's Board of Regents responded to this budget's cuts by increasing systemwide tuition by 5.5% - that meant an annual tuition hike of $422 at UW-Milwaukee and $681 at UW-Madison for the coming academic year.

Limited options

A straight comparison between corrections and the UW System is an incomplete picture at best. After all, higher education spending comprises the UW System and technical colleges, as well as the state-funded Higher Educational Aids Board.
Competition between the state's biggest budgets mean "everyone gets less," said state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
Vos, co-chairman of the state's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said the budget's future is "hard to predict," but for him drastically cutting corrections is off the table, simply as a matter of safety.
Walker's press secretary, Cullen Werwie, said the governor supports other cost-saving options, such as incarceration alternatives that limit the number of juvenile offenders who go straight to correctional facilities.
Finance Committee co-chairwoman Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) suggests investing in vocational training that helps prisoners keep a job after being released, with the idea of reducing recidivism rates and, thus, long-term costs.
"We need to rethink correctional reform," Taylor said. "When it's eating up so much, there isn't anything left."
A recent study from Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute suggests that in six years, 64% of Wisconsin employers will need workers with at least some postsecondary education. To Reilly, it makes sound financial sense for the state to anticipate that need and reinvest in the university system.
Reilly said the universities are working to reduce costs by lowering administrative overhead and graduating students in four years or less. But, he said, increasing internal efficiency alone won't be enough.
"We've got a pretty good track record of stepping up," Reilly said. "The state needs to step up itself with some reinvestment."
As the 2013-'15 budget discussion begins, legislators say they'll explore options for the UW System, and many say that there will be bipartisan movement to address corrections costs.
But budget-watchers such as Berry caution that lawmakers must still tackle the high cost of Medicaid, a joint state-federal program providing health care to low-income, disabled and elderly individuals that annually runs state taxpayers more than $1 billion.
With Medicaid spending expected to keep growing, Berry said, it's unlikely that any new revenue the state generates will return to the UW System.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prison Poetry by Austin Lott

Ucdenver student Austin Lott creates a vivid image of the life from inside prison. Austin used a conversation with one of his pen pals to create these two poems. Take a listen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Powerful Graphic on Police Brutality

From the folks at Thanks to Angelina Matson for passing this along!

Created by:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Powerful Student Work on the PIC

This poem was written by University of Colorado at Denver Communication majors Ben Swales and Brendon Lenzi. Both are enrolled in PCARE founding member Stephen Hartnett's class Communication, Prison & Social Justice. Here's some of their reflections on their work:

"This piece was inspired by the daily rituals and corruption that exists in modern prison. We hoped to use our voice and our education to create a voice for prisoners.

"When someone is arrested we are read our Miranda rights, the first one is 'You have the right to remain silent.' They understand and warn us before we commit crime that our voice will be lost. We cannot forget how powerful a voice is. We also cannot forget how loud a voice is. We cannot forget behind every prisoner is a voice, this poem is supposed to prompt the audience to hear that voice."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

McCleskey v. Kemp turns 25

The ACLU reports that April 22 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most important, yet least recognized, Supreme Court decisions of the past 30 years. In McCleskey v. Kemp, the court conceded the presence of systemic racial discrimination in Georgia's death penalty system, but refused to intervene. Instead, they erected an impossibly high standard of proof for discrimination and plainly admitted that they feared any other decision would shake the system to its very foundations.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The War on Drugs & Rising Incarceration Rates

CNN's Fareed Zakaria & religious right's Pat Robertson on the same page on something... their view on the rise of incarceration in the US.

In in a recent CNN segment, Zakaria talks about how the "war on drugs" that was birthed in the 1980s seems to correlate with the striking increase in the US prison population. The comparative statistics in this clip are startling:

"In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education. Since 1980, California has built one college campus; it's built 21 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate per year."

You can watch/read the whole story here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Prisons Abroad

Courtesy of Stephen Hartnett:

For those of you thinking globally, check out Randal C. Archibold’s expose, “Inmate’s Lament: Rather Be Dead Than Here,” NYT (3.14.2012, p. 1), where he chronicles the devastating over-crowding of prisons in Latin America.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Crashing the System

Here's a provocative meditation by legal scholar Michelle Alexander on the potentially insurrectionary implications of people exercising their constitutional rights. It's well worth the read.

Alexander's newest book, The New Jim Crow, is proving to be a hugely influential contribution to the corpus of prison activist literature. Our very own Megan Bernard reviewed it a few months back.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Corrections Corp. of America offers to buy and privatize state prisons

Last week's revelation that Corrections Corp. of America is offering to buy and privatize the prisons of fiscally struggling states fills me with foreboding. In order for private prison corporations to be profitable, they must remain full (CCA reportedly told shareholders in 2010 that profits could be adversely affected by sentencing leniency...). Privatization not only provides state governments with an incentive to keep the prisons full; it also reduces accountability, putting the fates of the incarcerated behind an information firewall even more resistant to monitoring or oversight than the state apparatus, if that is possible. And despite claims that privatization will reduce costs, in many states it has been shown to increase the cost of incarceration.

Sarcastic spoof page from Thousand Kites Project

Sad but true...Commenting on the recent news that CCA is offering cash-hungry states money to buy their prisons and then house their prisoners within.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Michigan Prisons & the Mentally Ill

This is the second in an ongoing series of articles in the Detroit Free Press regarding state mental health services--or the lack thereof. Nationally, prisons have replaced mental institutions amid major budget cuts in the latter. Individuals requiring serious treatment and medication are, instead, subject to harsh punishments, administrative segregation, and, generally, are absorbed into the daily routines of the penitentiary.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Republican Presidential Candidates on Voting Rights for "Felons"

During Monday night's republican presidential debate two of the candidates faced off on the issue of (former) prisoners voting rights.

Romney & Santorum clashed over whether or not those who have served their time are entitled to regain their voting privileges. While Santorum was for the restoration of voting rights, Romney, when pressed, stated that he did not believe past felons should be allowed to vote.

Romney was quoted as saying " "I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote."

You can read the rest of the story and see the clip from the debate here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More New Work

This new chapter from Jennifer Asenas, PCARE member McCann, Kathleen Feyh, and Dana Cloud appeared in the most recent volume of the Communication Activism series. It details the authors' experience in Summer 2007 during a successful campaign to stop the execution of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Foster, Jr.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Work from PCARE!

Two exciting pieces of work from PCARE members are out as of a few weeks ago:

Please read and share these pieces. Working with the incarcerated to share their stories and intervening in our own fields of study are crucial steps in challenging the prison-industrial complex.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Random Horror of the Death Penalty

The powerful title of this excellent New York Times editorial foreshadows what I believe is one of the best, most important articles about capital punishment I've read in some time:

The Supreme Court has not banned capital punishment, as it should, but it has long held that the death penalty is unconstitutional if randomly imposed on a handful of people. An important new study based on capital cases in Connecticut provides powerful evidence that death sentences are haphazardly meted out, with virtually no connection to the heinousness of the crime.