Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘poverty

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.

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 »

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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