Attorney General Eric Holder today announced an Obama Administration policy change on mandatory sentences as they relate to drugs. The new policy includes the “compassionate release” of some prisoners and expanding “at-risk” programs for teens.
“Prisons are operating at 40% above capacity,” he told the audience at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco, which was broadcast on C-SPAN.
“Incarceration rates have increased 800% since 1980,” he added, putting over 200,000 people in federal prisons this year. Half of those inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, he said, costing $80 billion a year.
“Play faster!” he cried, wildly, over and over. “Play faster!”
The dame who was tickling the ivories complied, out of control herself. The music revved to a dangerous velocity — oh, too fast for decent, sober, well-behaved Americans to bear — and . . . well, you just knew, violence, madness, laughter were just around the corner. The year was 1936 and, oh my God, they were high on marijuana, public enemy number one.
The scene is from Reefer Madness, arguably the dumbest movie ever made — but smugly at the emotional and ideological core of American drug policy for the last three-quarters of a century. The policy, which morphed in 1970 into an all-out “war” on drugs, has filled our prisons to bursting, created powerful criminal enterprises, launched a real war in Mexico and presided over the skyrocketing of recreational drug use in the United States. The war on drugs just may be a bigger disaster than the war on terror.
Is there such a thing as a relaxed nation — one that isn’t, you know, obsessed with its borders and sense of identity?
We can easily see how absurd it all is when we read about the hikers recently released from prison in Iran, where they were held in cruelly restricted confinement for more than two years because they had inadvertently strayed across the border, out of U.S.-occupied Iraq. The inhuman nature of Iran’s response — the trumped up charges of espionage against the two young men, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, and their companion, Sarah Shourd, who was imprisoned for over a year — were gleefully obvious to the American media . . . because they were Americans, and Iran is part of the Axis of Evil.
However, the hikers, upon their release last week, strayed across another border as well, and in so doing belied the concept of good nations and bad ones.
“There’s something about creating beauty that reaches people and that in the end gives us hope that things can change. . . . It shifts the consciousness of a neighborhood.”
Sometimes people really mean what they say.
An extraordinary documentary, “Concrete, Steel and Paint,” takes us on a journey of transformation — and it goes the long way, the honest way, through the shoals of anger and mistrust that separate social opposites. The film is about prisoners in a maximum security facility outside Philadelphia. It’s also about crime victims, women and men damaged — driven, in some cases, to the edge of “why go on living?” — by the murder of a loved one, by sexual assault, by some deep violation.
In an action which is unprecedented on several levels, black, brown and white inmates of Georgia’s notorious state prison system are standing together for a historic one day peaceful strike today, during which they are remaining in their cells, refusing work and other assignments and activities. This is a groundbreaking event not only because inmates are standing up for themselves and their own human rights, but because prisoners are setting an example by reaching across racial boundaries which, in prisons, have historically been used to pit oppressed communities against each other. (Image: Elaine Brown, prison activist and songster)
“I have nowhere to talk about this except here in a prison setting,” Peg said. “You are my community.”
The circle grew close, intimate — sacred — as the three women spoke.
There were about 35 of us in all, sitting on hard plastic chairs. Twenty wore green: the inmates. The building was wrapped in razor wire. It was a maximum security prison called Columbia Correctional Institution, in Portage, Wis. Built for 450 prisoners, it houses, two decades after it opened, about 900. The setting was old justice, but something new was happening.
Not all that new, maybe. Restorative Justice — a multifaceted system of criminal justice and conflict resolution that puts healing and truth-telling at its core, not punishment, revenge or the culling out of humanity’s undesirables — has been around and evolving for about 20 years now. Continue reading →
In recent months, Communist China has handed down an 11-year prison sentence for Liu Xiaobo, and a 9-year prison sentence for Zhou Yongjun. This signals that–more than 20 years after the Tiananmen Square crackdown began–the Chinese Communist Party (ostensible rulers of China) fully intend a “third decade” of Tiananmen-related persecution.
For each of these men, it is their third time as a political prisoner. And one of them sits in jail thinking of a COTO writer, yours truly. Continue reading →
[Although the prison population has risen dramatically during the Bush administration] Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants – such as, say, Bill Clinton, who once created 50 brand-new federal offenses in a single draconian measure, and expanded the federal death penalty to 60 new offenses during his term. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of ordinary human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment – someone else’s punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue…
“The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” – Winston Churchill, Nov. 21, 1943
Since 9/11, and seemingly without the notice of most Americans, the federal government has assumed the authority to institute martial law, arrest a wide swath of dissidents (citizen and noncitizen alike), and detain people without legal or constitutional recourse in the event of “an emergency influx of immigrants in the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs.” What new programs?