Monday, November 4, 2013

Newest Issue of Captured Words/Free Thoughts

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)


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!!!


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.

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

Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project - Contact Me

Connections to the Community

Monday, September 23, 2013

An Amnesty for the Prisoners of the War on Drugs

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

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 ( 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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Groundbreaking "Crack Baby" Study

One of the most enduring and consequential archetypes of the "war on drugs" of the 1980s and 1990s was the "crack baby." The theory went as follows: Women (predominantly poor and Black) who smoked crack (a drug overwhelmingly associated with poor communities of color) while pregnant effectively condemned their offspring to a lifetime of mental illness and drug addiction. Conventional wisdom claimed these born addicts were lucky to make it to adolescence, let alone adulthood. The crack-head mother, along with the maligned "welfare queen" archetype, helped entrench profoundly nasty stereotypes of poor women of color that, in turn, helped justify policies of austerity and mass incarceration.

Yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a scientific study that shows what many activists have claimed for years: the "crack baby" is largely a myth. To be sure, consuming cocaine while pregnant is not good for one's child (but, of course, neither is smoking, drinking, or any range of behaviors without an overdetermined relationship to Black women). However, the researchers found that poverty was a far stronger predictor of the problems associated with "crack babies" than gestational exposure to cocaine.

This is an awkward conversation to have. I remember vividly how negatively some of my rhetoric and criminal justice students responded to this issue in a class I taught several years back. It is difficult to look at an image like the one above and make the claim that the "crack baby" hysteria of the 1980s and 1990s was, by and large, founded on broader myths about Black femininity and not sound science. Still, it is an important argument to make.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hip-Hop Response to Trayvon Martin Verdict

Obviously, there have been a wide range of responses to last weeks' not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. As I write, protesters in Washington, DC and other cities have come out yet again to register their discontent and plan the next steps toward addressing the complexities of race and criminal justice in the U.S.

Here is a new video from politically active rappers Yasiin Bay/Mos Def (who also recently subjected him self to force feeding to illustrate the plight of hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo Bay), M-1 and Stic Man of dead prez, and Mikeflo. For my money, it's some very powerful and provocative stuff.

Folks interested in the intersection of hip-hop and criminal justice activism should also check out Craig Engstrom and Derrick Williams's contribution to the new PCARE book Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Communication and Activism.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Working for Justice" Makes News in Louisiana


LSU professor featured in volume on prison issues about criminal justice system

The United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its adult population than any other nation. Presently, more than one in 100 Americans over the age of 18 are imprisoned. In Louisiana, the figure is one in 86.

“That’s more than any other state, which makes Louisiana the world’s leading jailer,” explained Bryan McCann, the newest addition to LSU’s Department of Communication Studies.

A scholar, teacher and community organizer, McCann is a member of the Prison Communication, Activism, Research, and Education, or PCARE, collective. A national working group of communication scholars, several of PCARE’s members are included in the new University of Illinois Press book “Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism.”

Edited by Stephen John Hartnett, Eleanor Novek and Jennifer K. Wood, the book showcases efforts “to put democracy into practice by merging prison education and activism.”

“We represent a group of individuals who believe in the ability of communication to change the world,” McCann explains, “and we also share a strong commitment to reversing our nation’s tide of mass incarceration.”

McCann went on to explain that today’s high incarceration rates are the product of a political climate that took off in the 1980s and 1990s.

“Politicians from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton began winning elections by promising to be tough on crime,” said McCann, “In the process, they taught us to fear each other and embrace incredibly harsh sentencing policies.”

However, McCann claims, there is little evidence that imprisoning more people to longer sentences makes us safer. He adds that the poor and ethnic minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than their fellow citizens.

For his contribution to the volume, McCann draws on his experiences as an anti-death penalty organizer while working on his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. He specifically asks whether individuals who want to abolish the death penalty should embrace life without parole as an alternative sentence.

“Capital punishment is obviously a very divisive issue in America,” said McCann, “but it may surprise people to learn that there is actually a good deal of debate within the movement to end it.”

For his part, McCann worries that turning to prisons as an alternative to capital punishment prevents activists from asking challenging questions about the criminal justice system as a whole.

“It’s a death sentence in slow motion,” McCann argued. “And while I understand that it’s tempting and sometimes necessary for folks to embrace life without parole as a sort of middle-ground, I worry it prevents us from criticizing the entire system.”

Other chapters in “Working for Justice” include studies on the experiences of families with incarcerated loved ones, prison theater programs and the role of hip-hop in prison activism.

“We’re very proud of this volume and grateful for the editors’ hard work,” McCann said. “Now our goal is to spread the word and use the book to encourage more dialogue and activism surrounding the prison system.” His hope is that this book will encourage dialogue and reform in America’s criminal justice system.

In addition to his chapter in this book, McCann has published numerous articles on the death penalty, prison activism and mass media and the criminal justice system. He is currently finishing a book on “gangsta rap” and the law and order politics of the 1980s and 1990s.

“I’m very excited to be joining the faculty at LSU,” says McCann, “I look forward to working with top-notch faculty and students, and working with members of the community to address incarceration and other important issues facing Louisiana.”

For more information about McCann and his research, visit [1].

To learn more about LSU Communication Studies, visit [2].

Monday, June 24, 2013

Court lets Kitzhaber block execution | Local News | The Register-Guard | Eugene, Oregon

Here is the latest in Oregon's saga to repeal the death penalty. Though few news reporters take the time to say so, Haugen is pursuing execution, in part, to spark the kind of conversation that has led to repeal in other states and to push Oregon to re-examine its capital punishment laws.  

Court lets Kitzhaber block execution | Local News | The Register-Guard | Eugene, Oregon

Monday, June 17, 2013

Encouraging reform in Louisiana

The words "encouraging," "reform," and "Louisiana" rarely appear in the same sentence, but the state legislature, in what was an otherwise nightmarish session, passed and Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a new open files bill that is receiving praise from both prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The law, according to the Baton Rouge Advocaterequires "that law enforcement turn over all of the witness statements that would allow defense attorneys to see what everyone told police investigators."

I do, however, fear that there's a devil in the details. To be sure, prosecutorial misconduct in terms of suppressed information, etc. accounts for a lot of wrongful convictions. But inadequate defense attorneys are also a major cause. All the transparency in the world matters little when one is represented by somebody lacking the wherewithal to know what to do with that information.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

“Solutions That Actually Work”: Teaching Conflict Resolution in Prison


An interview with Jonathan Shailor, Professor of Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside

By Dave Buchanan


In the past month (April 20-May 20), University of Wisconsin-Parkside Communication Professor Jonathan Shailor raised enough money to purchase a complete set of textbooks for a college course that he will teach this fall at Racine Correctional Institution, (RCI) a medium-security state prison for men in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

I asked Jonathan about the course, about his history of teaching in prison, and about his motivation.

Tell me about the Conflict Analysis and Resolution class you’re going to teach at RCI? Is it different in content from the CAR classes you teach here?

The class is Comm 285: Intro to Conflict Analysis & Resolution.  It will be identical to the course that I teach here – it’s an introduction to a “communication perspective” on conflict, with an emphasis on understanding how patterns of conflict develop, from the interpersonal to the international level.  We explore the choices of interpretation and action that people make on a moment-to-moment basis, creating either destructive cycles and chaotic patterns, or opportunities for healing and transformation.

This will be the first course that the university has ever offered as a regular college course in a correctional setting.  Prisoners with a high school diploma or G.E.D. will be able to enroll as special status students at the university and take the course for credit.  I am very grateful to RCI Warden Paul Kemper and Education Director Paula Decker for their support of this initiative.  Both of them have a deep understanding of the value of education in helping to reduce recidivism.

How long have you been teaching conflict analysis and resolution at RCI? Is there a success story you are particularly proud of from this program?

My career teaching at RCI began in 1995, and has developed over four phases. In phase one (1995-2004),  I taught classes in The Theatre Empowerment, where we used storytelling, dialogue and theatre as tools for exploring the men’s conflicts, and for imagining alternative responses to recurring situations.  In phase two (2004-2008), I initiated and directed The Shakespeare Project, which involved prisoners in an annual nine-month journey of study, rehearsal, and performance.  That experience was very much about socialization and the development of problem-solving and conflict resolution skills.  Men of differing races, religions and sexual orientations, who normally would avoid one another on the yard, learned to work closely with one another, to respect one another, and manage their differences constructively.  In phase three (2008-present), I began writing and publishing on this work in earnest, including a book I edited that brought together prison theatre facilitators from across the United States (Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre - Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011).  Phase four begins this year, with the first formal college course in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

There are many success stories…  it’s difficult to choose only one, and even more difficult to convey the nature of that success in only a few sentences.  The clearest indications that this work is making a positive impact are in the letters that I receive from former prisoners and their family members.  The wife of an ex-offender writes to me that her husband is changed - now he listens to her and the children - and he credits this change to his experience in The Theatre of Empowerment course, where he learned the difference between the archetypal male roles of The King (visionary, creative, generous, bestowing blessings), and the Tyrant (controlling, fearful, rigid, self-aggrandizing, punishing).

How does your involvement in this program benefit our students?

I have great stories to tell!  I learn a great deal from the prisoners I work with, and I share that learning with our students.  I have also involved students directly in some of my classes at Racine Correctional Institution, bringing them in to work and learn alongside the inmates.  It is always a profound experience for the students.  They are deeply moved by the humanity of the prisoners, and the potential that they see in them. 

What is the Prison Outreach Fund? Who created it and what is the fund money used for?

I created the UW-Parkside Prison Outreach Fund as a resource to support university-related educational programs in Wisconsin correctional facilities.  The immediate need was 15 textbooks for this class in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  The cost of one textbook is $146, and RCI rules prohibit inmates from buying any book that costs more than $75.  These books will be loaned to the prisoners, and will remain the property of the university. 

I have always taught at RCI on a voluntary basis (no compensation 90% of the time – the exceptions being a couple of semesters when stipends were paid).  I am teaching this fall for no compensation. 

My intention is to continue to grow the Prison Outreach Fund, so that a reservoir of support for university outreach will exist.  There will always be expenses – mostly, books and other educational materials.  If the fund grows to be large enough, we might be able to offer modest stipends, as encouragement for other faculty who are interested in teaching behind bars.  I would love to see a cohort of faculty and teaching staff who are dedicated to this work on an ongoing basis.

What textbook will you be using and why was it selected for this class? Is this the same volume you use for classes here?

The textbook is Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot’s Interpersonal Conflict (9th edition).  I like the book because it provides a broad overview of conflict resolution concepts, and shows clearly the practical value of those concepts.  I complement this material with my own training and experience as a mediator and facilitator, and with case studies from a range of cultural and historical settings.

You mentioned people you never even met contributing to the Prison Outreach Fund. Without naming names, were there contributors who surprised you and, if so, why?

First, I want to say that I am deeply appreciative of the many generous contributions that came in from my friends and colleagues on campus.  I was also surprised, and encouraged, by contributions from a local veteran’s organization, from two children, and from an acquaintance who is worried that his own brother may soon end up in prison.  One couple, who lost their son a year ago (he was attempting to save his roommates from a fire), donated a large amount in his name.  They happened to hear my appeal for donations on his birthday, and I guess they took it for a sign.  He was a passionate advocate of getting books to prisoners.

What is your ultimate goal in teaching at RCI?

The Prison Studies Project at Harvard University notes that “studies conducted over the last two decades almost unanimously indicate that higher education in prison programs reduces recidivism and translates into reductions in crime, savings to taxpayers, and long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities to which formerly incarcerated people return” (see “Why Prison Education?” at   My ultimate goal is a saner, safer society, where we respond to patterns of addiction, hopelessness and aggression with solutions that actually work.

To contribute to the UW-Parkside Prison Outreach Fund, write your check to “UW-Parkside,” and mail to

Dr. Jonathan Shailor
UW-Parkside Prison Outreach
University of Wisconsin-Parkside
900 Wood Road
Kenosha, WI  53141-2000

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Prison Pedagogy Study

Hi folks! PCARE's very own Susannah Bannon of Texas State University-San Marcos is currently collecting data for a project on the experiences of college educators who have taught in a correctional setting. If you fit that bill, please consider completing her online survey:

Greetings, fellow educator!

You are invited to participate in a 10-minute online research study examining teachers’ experiences working with students in correctional institutions, and students on college campuses.

I hope to recruit 100 teachers who at some point during their careers have been (paid) instructors of record for at least one class at a correctional facility, and one class on a college campus.  You do not need to be currently working in both settings to participate

Participants are asked to complete a short online survey; no identifying information is requested so responses will be totally anonymous.  The survey items are all strictly related to general teaching experiences, and do not ask about any specific location, company, or school.

Findings from this study will contribute to the understanding of correctional education, and the factors contributing to job satisfaction and motivation of those who work in that field. 

To participate in the anonymous and confidential survey just copy and paste this link to your browser’s address bar: 

This survey is a study by Susannah Bannon from the Texas State University Department of Communication Studies and is supervised by Melinda Villagran, PhD.  For more information, please contact Susannah by email:  The Texas State University-San Marcos Institutional Review Board (EXP2013Z2155) has approved this study.

Your participation is greatly appreciated!!


Susannah Bannon
Graduate Instructional Assistant
Texas State University – San Marcos
Office:  CENT 314

Thursday, February 7, 2013

From Eleanor Novek


Dear Friends,
On February 4, 2013, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has agreed to a first-ever comprehensive and independent assessment of its use of solitary confinement in U.S. federal prisons.  The review is to be conducted through the National Institute of Corrections. Such a review is something for which we’ve been fighting and is a critical step in eventually ending the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.

We should take this opportunity to intensify our campaign to end prolonged solitary confinement. First, if you haven’t done so, we invite you to join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture's national campaign to gather endorsements from people of faith for a statement calling for government officials all across the country to take steps to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement.  Most of the maximum security prisons dedicated to solitary confinement are owned and operated by the states.  When we reach 500 endorsers from a particular state, we will send the statement, along with the list of those endorsers, to that state’s governor and top corrections official, along with every member of that state’s legislature. Most recently, we delivered 1,000 signatures to the Commissioner of Corrections in New York. Will your state be next? Please join us.

NRCAT has also produced a 20-minute film, Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard, designed to be shown in congregations or religious organizations with a discussion guide.  Now is a good time to share the film with your congregation and invite others to view it, sign the statement, and take action.

This week’s announcement follows the unprecedented Congressional hearing on solitary confinement held June 19, 2012.  Before the hearing, hundreds of people of faith across the nation participated in a 23-hour fast organized by NRCAT, symbolizing the 23 hours prisoners spend in solitary confinement cells per day.

We hope you will join us in this moment to learn, share and take action.  The new Director of U.S. Prisons Policy and Program for NRCAT, Laura Markle Downton, looks forward to working alongside you in this effort to end torture, without exception. She can be reached at


Linda Gustitus, President
Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director

For news coverage: “U.S. Bureau of Prisons to review solitary confinement

Video from the June hearing on solitary confinement can be found at:
You have received this message because you signed a statement or participated in an activity of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
If you no longer wish to receive emails from us, please click here to unsubscribe from this mailing list.
Questions? Please email
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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Children Leading the Way in Chicago

The horrifying levels of gun violence in Chicago continue to be a major national news story and source of intense debate both in the Windy City and nationally. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's response has been characteristic of many big-city mayors: Respond to growing violence with more police officers on the streets. In other words, expand the reach of the criminal justice system in poor communities of color already disproportionately targeted for surveillance and incarceration.

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune offers a powerful, humbling example of how communities most directly impacted by such violence are capable of developing their own visions for reversing the tide of violence. On Monday, approximately three dozen teenagers walked out of their schools and led a march honoring 15-year-old Hadiya Pendelton, who recently died in a shooting.

In addition to mourning the loss of a fellow teenager and registering outrage about ever-increasing levels of violence on Chicago's streets, these wise youth challenged Emmanuel and the rest of the city to embrace holistic measures that would make south side communities safer for children:

"According to their plan, the girls and their supporters want Mayor Rahm Emanuel to create 2,000 part-time jobs and another 2,000 summer jobs specifically for youth. They want extended hours at their schools with an emphasis on social and recreational programs and they want parental involvement to become a mandatory condition of certain school programs."

This is a powerful testament to the ability of communities with the most direct relationship to social problems to generate solutions rooted in their daily experiences. Furthermore, it represents a forceful rebuke to those who would pose a false alternative between anarchy on the streets and the enhanced militarization thereof. 

Cities everywhere would be wise to listen to such wisdom.

Education v.s. Incarceration

The troubling connection between mass incarceration and public education has been well documented by authors including Ruth Gilmore, Erica Meiners, and Michelle Alexander. Here, Washington State University sociologist Gregory Hooks provides some accessible empirical insight into the ways mass incarceration is a) utterly unjustifiable in relation to actual crime rates and b) directly redirects state resources from our schools.

Thanks to Stephen Hartnett for passing this along.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Blogging Poetry from Behind Bars | Boston Daily

Blogging Poetry from Behind Bars | Boston Daily

by Jean Trounstine
Prisoners have long written poetry from inside the prison walls. For incarcerated men and women—as for all who have the urge to write poetry—Robert Frost’s words ring true: the poem “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” Poetry is the need to express what’s locked up inside, and for the prisoner, the bars are real.

Sending a poem into the blogosphere is, however, a relatively new way for prisoners to find their voice. Boston University’s Robert Pinsky, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, says in an interview on Big Think that prisoners serving a life sentence often write the best poetry since they have a lot of time to reflect and read. While many poems by prisoners wouldn’t make it past your high school English teacher, some talented jailed New England poets are emerging online.

(follow the link above to read the full entry)