Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘poverty & incarceration

Upcoming Event: January 27-28 Symposium on Women and Incarceration at UCLA

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The UCLA Law Review’s upcoming symposium may be of interest to readers in Southern California, and it’s free and open to the public — you just need to pre-register here. Here’s the full description:

Overpoliced and Underprotected: Women, Race, and Criminalization

Recently, mass incarceration has been theorized as a system of racialized social control. This frame, however, often relies on long-standing gender reductionism that posits the primary subject of punishment and criminalization as male. At the same time, the unprecedented growth of female incarceration has spawned a host of gender-sensitive interventions, yet the discourses that are gender-sensitive often marginalize if not entirely erase the distinctive racial dimensions of the punitive turn in public policy. This Symposium will interrogate how criminalization is mediated through various intersections of race, gender and class and will shed light on the dimensions of racialized criminalization that are gendered differently.

Moreover, this symposium will investigate the parallel and reinforcing nature of institutions that prepare certain populations for incarceration and function to exclude them upon their release. In examining various logics of punishment, the discussion will not be limited to formal boundaries of the criminal justice system, nor the processes that govern adjudications of innocence or guilt. Instead, this symposium will interrogate the processes of control that parallel and intersect with the prison system such as the public health, welfare, foster care and education systems. Examining these overlaps reveals the way that systems which are seen as policing race have gender dimensions and those which are seen as embodying gender norms police them along racial lines. Lastly, we will examine the ways in which formalistic examinations of the criminal justice systems and constitutional limitations on state action can obscure these race and gender dynamics. 

The full lineup of panels and panelists is at this link.


Written by sara

January 10, 2012 at 8:55 am

L.A. Arts Group Dramatizes California Prison Crowding Litigation

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The judges who wrote the 184-page court order in Coleman/Plata may have hoped they were writing history, but it turns out they were contributing to art, too! The Los Angeles Poverty Department, an arts and activism collective made up largely of homeless people, recently completed an innovative project combining public education, performance art, film, and theatre:

Project events started with a panel discussion about the effects of California’s parole reform on parolees. As we build the performance, State of Incarceration, we performed it in Skid Row, in parolee re-entry programs in the San Fernando Valley and LA and in 5 performance events at the BOX gallery that took place within a wall-to-wall prison bunk-bed installation. In the BOX’s basement we showed images charting the expansion of the prison population and new prison construction in California over the past 3 decades and the 21 year and counting history of the lawsuit challenging the quality of the health services in the state’s over-crowded prisons.

We invited our audience to read one page of the 184-page lawsuit. We’ll continue doing this until all pages are filmed. The resulting 5+ hour film will be part of the project.

The finished performance piece opened in late January at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. Unfortunately I didn’t find out about it in time to alert readers — it closed Feb. 5 — but here’s one reviewer’s summary of the experience:

In some shows, one may feel like one is in prison; in this one, that intent is deliberately visceral: Metal bunk beds line the walls and center of the theater and audience members are crammed into the room, often sharing bunk beds with the actors playing the inmates. The directors interspersed disturbing silences between a series of monologues and starkly delivered poems that illustrate the despair and hopelessness of prison life. In one such silence, convicts recline on their beds, and the guards patrol every inch of the room. During this sequence, the charged quiet belies the undercurrents of seething rage, and the piece approaches the claustrophobia, sorrow, and anger of being in prison.

Is It Time to Retire the Phrase “Mass Incarceration”?

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Loic Wacquant:

Mass incarceration is a mischaracterization of what is better termed hyperincarceration. … Mass incarceration suggests that confinement concerns large swaths of the citizenry (as with the mass media, mass culture, and mass unemployment), implying that the penal net has been flung far and wide across social space. This is triply inaccurate. First, the prevalence of penal confinement in the United States, while extreme by international standards, can hardly be said to concern the masses. Indeed, a rate of 0.75 percent compares quite favorably with the incidence of such woes as latent tuberculosis infection (estimated at 4.2 percent) and severe alcohol dependency (3.81 percent), ailments which no one would seriously contend have reached mass proportions in the United States. Next, the expansion and intensification of the activities of the police, courts, and prison over the past quarter-century have been anything but broad and indiscriminate. They have been finely targeted, first by class, second by that disguised brand of ethnicity called race, and third by place. This cumulative targeting has led to the hyperincarceration of one particular category, lower-class African American men trapped in the crumbling ghetto, while leaving the rest of society — including, most remarkably, middle- and upper-class African Americans — practically untouched. Third, and more important still, this triple selectivity is a constitutive property of the phenomenon: had the penal state been rolled out indiscriminately by policies resulting in the capture of vast numbers of whites and well-to-do citizens, capsizing their families and decimating their neighborhoods as it has for inner-city African Americans, its growth would have been speedily derailed and eventually stopped by political counteraction.

Bob Weisberg & Joan Petersilia: Read the rest of this entry »

The Mental Health Crisis in America’s Jails, Part II

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If you have any doubt about the inverse relationship between the availability of mental health treatment and the population of our county jails, check out this heartbreaking Sacramento Bee article about a woman who, quite literally, wound up in jail because of budget cuts to her local mental health treatment providers. In light of this news, and following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d note this excellent post over at Grits for Breakfast detailing a recent tour of the massive Harris County Jail in Houston. The Harris County Sheriff is seeking funding to build a new 1,200-bed mental health ward. The need for some sort of mental health treatment is there — to give just one statistic, of the Harris County jail population of about 8,800 inmates, some 2,500 are on some form of psychotropic meds. But Grits is skeptical of the expansion plan:

There are just a few thousand people cycling in and out of the jail – many of them mentally ill, homeless, addicted, or with other major barriers to successful rehabilitation – who are primarily responsible for the demand for increased capacity. These folks generate high per-person costs over time but as a matter of policy (a de facto if not an intentional one), Harris County is spending money on them at the jail instead of seeking community-based alternatives.

How much cheaper would it be to focus on reducing the number of visits and lengths of stay by frequent flyers than to simply build more capacity to accommodate a dysfunctional system?

These insightful comments reminded me of a New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell from a few years back about the problem of chronic homelessness. The article’s title, “Million-Dollar Murray,” refers to a homeless gentleman who — between jail visits and emergency room stays — cost the city of Reno and the state of Nevada about a million dollars over a ten-year period. Unfortunately, the full text is behind a paywall, but here’s a snippet: Read the rest of this entry »

Illinois Study: Prison Education Programs Are Withering Away

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The above video features interviews not just with former Illinois inmates, but also with corrections officials on the value of prison education programs, in light of the fact that 90% of inmates are eventually released. The John Howard Association recently released a study showing that Illinois has allowed its prison vocational and educational programs to wither away over the past decade, despite research showing that men and women who participate in such programs are less likely to commit new crimes after release. Also check out the recently redesigned JHA website. Founded in 1901, JHA is the oldest prison reform group in Illinois.

Written by sara

June 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Protestors Rally at Massachusetts State House against Bill to Charge Jail Inmates Room & Board

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From the Boston Globe:

Prisoner advocates rallied in front of the State House yesterday, urging lawmakers to reject amendments to the state budget that would require inmates of county jails or state prisons to pay a raft of new fees, including $5 a day to subsidize the cost of their confinement. …

Proponents of the legislation said they are acting following a decision by the state’s highest court this year that rejected similar fees imposed on inmates by Bristol County. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that only the Legislature can set such fees. …

Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a Boston-based civil rights group for prisoners, said the legislation could end up costing the state more money than it raises. …

Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, said the administration opposes the proposed fees.

I posted yesterday on this proposal, but have edited my earlier post to reflect that this budget amendment, although it has passed in the House, still needs to pass in the state Senate to become law. So, readers in Massachusetts, there’s still time to contact your state senators and express your thoughts on this proposal!

Massachusetts May Start Charging Jail Inmates Room and Board

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When a Massachusetts sheriff started charging his jail inmates room and board — $5 a day — the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down the practice, saying that it was the province of the legislature, not individual sheriffs, to provide for such a policy. Well, now the legislature may do just that, in a last-minute amendment to next year’s state budget that passed in the House 93-62, and now goes to the Senate [note: my original post suggested the amendment had passed in the full legislature; edited to reflect that it still needs to pass in the state Senate]. The Valley Advocate, in an exemplary work of local journalism, has the story (well worth reading in full):

The amendment allows sheriffs to charge inmates fees, including a daily room-and-board fee of no more than $5, plus $5 fees for medical and dental visits, $3 for prescriptions and $5 for eyeglasses. Exemptions are made for medical exams upon admission, emergency care, hospitalization, prenatal care for pregnant women, and treatment for contagious or chronic diseases. Inmates could not be denied medical care for lack of funds.

As in the system [Sheriff Thomas] Hodgson had established in Bristol, prisoners who owe money upon their release would carry a debt that would be forgiven if they are not reincarcerated for two years after release. The law also calls for a process that would allow inmates to appeal fees. In addition, sheriffs who want to institute a fee system would need to prepare a report, to be approved by the Secretary of Public Safety, demonstrating its “financial feasibility.” … Read the rest of this entry »

The Judge’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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“What is the oppressor of the poor? I am convinced that is it drug and alcohol addiction and it is in part the criminal justice system that does not help the poor, but instead sets them up for failure,” Cobb said. “Do poor people have money for the best legal counsel? No they do not. Do poor people have insurance so they can get money to pay for drug treatment? No, they do not. Do poor people have transportation so they can go to community service work, so they can go to court, so they can go to drug testing, so they can go get a job like the court has asked them to do? No, they cannot.”

Sue Bell Cobb, Chief Justice, Alabama Supreme Court.

Written by sara

May 18, 2010 at 2:12 pm

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