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:

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"


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:

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:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Call for Participation: Prison Communication, Activism, Research, and Education (PCARE) after 10 Years; A Retrospective on Evolving Modes of Engagement

At the NCA Convention in Boston in 2005, the founders of PCARE hosted a pre-conference where we discussed the many aspects of the prison-industrial complex, including issues pertaining to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, class and poverty, arrest and sentencing patterns, media representations, educational interventions, activist projects, and others. That 2005 pre-conference led to the first group-authored PCARE journal article, which was published in 2007 in Communication and Critical Cultural Studies. Since then, articles and books and panels and pre-conferences have followed, with the group eventually launching a list-serve and website as well.

Our impression is that PCARE has been successful in creating a support network for colleagues who teach, research, and engage with prisons, crime, and the many social issues that interweave to feed our incarceration nation. We seek now to continue that momentum with three calls to action.

1.     We are seeking renewed energy for the PCARE website, for which we need more regular postings, new syllabi, more links to activist groups, regular news postings, and other forms of information. For those PCARE members who wish to contribute to this project, please direct your correspondence to Bryan McCann at

2.     We are seeking participants for a working group/roundtable discussion to be held at the 2015 NCA convention, tentatively organized under the title that appears above, and tentatively slotted for submission to the NCA’s new Social Justice division. For those PCARE members who wish to contribute to this project, please direct your correspondence to Emily Plec at

3.     We are seeking contributors to another group-authored essay, also working under the title listed above, and ideally drawing from the participants in steps # 1 and 2. For those PCARE members who wish to contribute to this project, please send your ideas and enquiries regarding this call to Stephen J. Hartnett by June 1,

Overall, in all three projects discussed here, we are interested in hearing from members: Do you teach in prison? Do you work with local activists? Are you trying to transform your home educational institution’s curriculum? Are you working in and with various forms of media? Does your work address the death penalty, or the drug war, or local policing issues? What modes of engagement have you pursued, and what avenues of work might PCARE members think about pursuing in their own work? By assembling your answers to these questions, we hope to offer a PCARE retrospective that both chronicles our first decade of work and looks ahead to the work yet to be done.

We envision the panel noted above (#2) serving as a first opportunity to assemble the contributors and topics that will be assembled into the essay discussed above (#3), with the project culminating in a 2017 publication that will stand as the ten-year anniversary piece of our original, 2007 publication. Ideally, these projects will continue PCARE’s decade-long commitment to social justice while also providing new venues and outlets for a new generation of PCARE’s members.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Innocent Man about to be executed in Texas?

Two recent articles, one from The Intercept and the other from My San Antonio highlight the miscarriage of justice about to happen in Texas, a state that seems to have a passion for conducting executions, including executing innocent and rehabilitated prisoners.

The Moratorium Movement: Next Steps

Yesterday, A.G. Eric Holder called for a moratorium on the death penalty. He expressed concern over both the integrity of a system in which innocent people are sentenced to death and the process used by states and medical professionals to carry out death sentences. Unlike Antonin Scalia, Holder believes that innocent people have been and can be executed under our justice system. In an earlier interview with The Marshall Project, Holder highlighted some of the bigger issues related to our culture of incarceration that trouble him. He said: We have 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the people in incarceration. That’s not something that we can sustain. One third of the budget at the Justice Department now goes to the Bureau of Prisons, and if you look out to 2020, it goes up to 40, 45 percent or so. Which squeezes out the other things we want to do with regard to other areas of crime that we want to focus on, other initiatives that we want to support.And then if you look at the impact that mass incarceration has on communities from which these people are extracted, it leads to broken families, it leads to social dysfunction, it tends to breed more crime. 

In my home state of Oregon, outgoing Governor John Kitzhaber failed to follow through with a commutation of death sentences following his moratorium on executions while in office. With the swearing in today of his successor, Kate Brown, Oregonians -- including the 34 men and one woman on death row -- will have to wait to find out if the moratorium will be re-instituted or if their cases will proceed. If the latter, then Gary Haugen, who abandoned his appeals in part to press the Governor and state to address the issue, may find his execution re-scheduled.

So we're sitting here in limbo. In the meantime, though, if states like Oregon follow Holder's call (or if a federal moratorium gains momentum), then we're going to have to find ways to shift the attention and energy of death penalty abolitionists and abolition groups to these larger questions of mass incarceration and to the realities of what it means to spend "life in prison without the possibility of parole."