Sunday, September 9, 2018

Prison Break?

Were you aware of the prison strike across the country?  I guess no as the ## of the week was about Nike, Trump, Anonymous,  the Supreme Court and some side notes about Burt Reynolds.  I saw little to no reporting on national news and it was mentioned in the op-ed pieces of The New York Times, so that was the coverage that I noted.  Then I searched and found this which was during my holiday and it was during that period I was on a media blackout so I felt relieved that I was not that out of touch.

Prison Strike Organizers Aim to Improve Conditions and Pay

By Mitch Smith

Aug. 26, 2018

The inmates at North Carolina’s Hyde Correctional Institution hung three banners from the prison fence last week as supporters gathered outside. One sign asked for better food; another requested parole; the third said, “In solidarity.”

The protest came in support of a nationwide prisoner strike to call attention to the low inmate wages, decrepit facilities and harsh sentences that organizers say plague prison populations across the country. Though it is unclear how widespread such demonstrations have been, activists said they had shown a new ability to reach inmates across state lines at a time when prison unrest and in-custody deaths are frequently in the news.

“Prisoners aren’t oblivious to their reality,” said Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and a longtime critic of prison conditions. “They see people dying around them. They see the financial exploitation. They see the injustice.”

Inmate protests have been happening for generations, but it is only in the last few years that organizers have had success coordinating from penitentiary to penitentiary and state to state. In 2010, Georgia inmates used contraband cellphones to coordinate protests across at least six prisons. And in 2016, prisoners in several states stopped reporting for work to protest their wages.

Much of the recent activism has focused on inmate pay, which can range from nothing at all in states like South Carolina and Texas to, at best, a few dollars for a day of hard labor in other places. Prisoners frequently refer to it as “slave labor,” and organizers of this year’s strike have called for inmates to be paid the prevailing wage for the cleaning, cooking and other work they perform behind bars.

“People are starting to realize how disgusting it is how human beings can be paid pennies,” said Amani Sawari, a spokeswoman for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group organizing the strike.

The current pay leaves many prisoners struggling to afford phone calls to family members or toothpaste and deodorant from the commissary, experts said. Even after years of hard work inside, they frequently have little or nothing saved to help with rent or other necessities when they are released.

“If they were being paid — even something less than minimum wage, but some reasonable amount of money — they could get out and have at least a little bit of money to get started again,” said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin who once served as a court-appointed monitor of that state’s prison system.

Ms. Sawari said inmates in several states planned to participate in the strike, which started last week and is scheduled to run through Sept. 9. In addition to increased pay and better living conditions, strikers were calling for changes to sentencing laws and expanded access to rehabilitation and educational opportunities for inmates, among other requests.

Ms. Sawari’s group has suggested that inmates could stop reporting for work, stop eating or perform subtler protests, such as no longer buying supplies from the prison commissary. She said word of the protests has spread through the news media, word of mouth and outreach to different prisons.

“Prisoners have heard on the radio, they’ve seen on TV,” said Ms. Sawari, whose group has also supported demonstrations in recent days outside of prisons. “We know that this is widespread. We just don’t know what specific actions and what specific prisoners.”

Prison officials in several states downplayed the impact of the protests and, in many cases, denied that they were occurring.

Knowing what is happening in prisons in real time is notoriously difficult. When strikes played out across the country in 2016, activists said it often took weeks or months to fully understand the scope of the protests. Members of the public cannot witness what is going on inside a prison, inmates are limited in their ability to relay their accounts and corrections departments have little incentive to publicize discord.

In California last week, activists circulated video that appeared to show an inmate turning down a burrito and saying he was on a hunger strike. State officials said they could not confirm that the footage was real.

“I’m aware of the video but I have no way of identifying the inmate in the video or verifying where it was recorded,” Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in an email. “I can tell you we have had no reported incidents or activities from inmates related to the national prison strike.”

Activists said detainees at a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Washington State were on a hunger strike. A department spokeswoman, Lori K. Haley, said Sunday that those were “false rumors.”

Officials in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, New York and South Carolina, where protest activity had either been reported or rumored, all denied on Sunday that anything was amiss at their facilities. Officials in Ohio, New Mexico and at the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not respond to requests for comment.

“There are no strikes occurring in Georgia,” wrote Joan Heath, a corrections spokeswoman there, in a message that was typical of the other states. “We have been, and will continue to monitor the situation.”

Advocates working on behalf of inmates say there is an urgency in this year’s strike, which they are convinced is gaining momentum despite the lack of corroboration. In April, seven inmates died in a riot in a South Carolina prison, and already in August, at least 10 Mississippi inmates have died, most in cases that officials believe were from natural causes.

By inmates stopping work and calling attention to the problems, their supporters said, there is a hope that conditions might eventually improve.

“Do we expect that, hey, there’s a prison strike and all of a sudden tomorrow prisoners are going to be paid the minimum wage and get adequate health care?” asked Mr. Wright, of the Human Rights Defense Center. “Probably not,” he said, “but it’s a process.”

I have written about the problems in prisons as they are largely becoming mental health facilities; the issues surround Immigrant detention which  has been in the forefront regarding the detaining of children in isolated facilities and given little to no education, services or communication with legal services, families or medical care. And then charging them for said services.   If you believe that is the exception that is the rule.  So why did we not hear about the adult facilities? Well it is clear that prisons are often the sole money makers in dying communities, the way they are run as they are often managed and operated by private facilities so they are not obligated to report or open doors to reporters, officials or others on demand.  

One of the issues is not just wages and treatment but restoration of voting rights. In fact the sole case of voter fraud concerns a former felon who did not realize her voting rights had been removed.   Folks in our incarceration nation that created three strikes you're out turned what ostensibly misdemeanors into felony's as a result and imprisoned people for absurd reasons for decades.  And of course the hundreds of cases coming to light about innocent people charged and in turn plead guilty to those crimes they did not commit or were in turn falsely imprisoned due to Prosecutorial Misconduct that set them up for a Kangaroo Court.  To restore one's rights is a process and again you leave prison even when it was wrong with nothing so to understand the process I am sure that is low on the priority list. 

I can't stress enough that once you are in the system it is next to near to impossible to get out.  There are few and far between "not guilty" verdicts as the way the Court is run, the ways the laws are written it makes it impossible to walk out of any trial being found fully "innocent."  And regardless that trial, those charges are still on your record and even if found guilty, go to Superior Court, your state Supreme Court and found innocent on appeal, that guilty verdict stands so then another process to seal and purge the records is another process and back to the same courts that found you guilty in the first place.   I have never heard of one successful case where records were sealed and again that too seems to be a flag that only further draws attention to you.   You can never win ever regardless.

So the strike is settled or is it?

US inmates mark end of prison strike with push to regain voting rights

After 19 days of protest in prisons across the US, organisers see restoring the right to vote as a means of forwarding prison reform

Ed Pilkington
The Guardian
Sun 9 Sep 2018 05.00 EDT

Inmates within America’s overflowing prisons are marking the end of a 19-day national prison strike on Sunday with a new push to regain the vote for up to 6 million Americans who have been stripped of their democratic rights.

The strike was formally brought to a close on the anniversary of the 1971 uprising at Attica prison in upstate New York. Though details of the protest have been sketchy since it was launched on 21 August, hunger strikes, boycotts of facilities and refusal to carry out work duties have been reported in many states, from Florida and South Carolina to Washington.

Now that the strike has ended, organisers hope its momentum can be sustained as they attempt to fulfill their demands including the restoration of the vote. Not only does the US have the world’s largest incarcerated population – 2.3 million are behind bars – it also harbors at state level some of the harshest felony disenfranchisement laws in the world.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34 states bar citizens from voting based on past convictions. Kentucky, Florida and Iowa cast anyone with a felony out of the democratic process for life.

Prisoners are beginning to coalesce around the push to regain the vote as a means of forwarding the cause of prison reform. The effort is led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a loose network of imprisoned women and men who were at the forefront of the national prison strike.

When the strike was launched, its organisers put out 10 demands. The 10th was that “voting rights of all confined citizens … must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.”

Eddie, a prisoner who has served 13 years of an 18-year sentence for armed robbery in South Carolina, said that when he is released in 2023 he will be effectively ostracized.

“I will pay taxes but I won’t be able to vote,” he said.

Speaking on a clandestine phone from his prison cell, Eddie, who asked not to give his proper name to avoid reprisals from authorities, said disenfranchisement condemned prisoners to the status of second-class citizenship.

“It lets me know that I’m not truly a citizen,” he said. “I will have no say in the political process or the direction of the nation.”

Eddie is one of the organisers of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak involved in coordinating strike action. He said that in his prison most activity had focused on boycotting facilities that generate cash for the prison service, such as commissaries and vending machines in the visitors’ room.

There had also been widespread refusal to work in his and other South Carolina penal institutions. The striking inmates see the obligation of performing prison work for minimal or no pay as a 21st century form of slavery.

In response, Eddie said, South Carolina maximum security prisons had been held in a state of lockdown throughout the strike.

They have suspended all recreation so that we are in our cells literally 24/7
Eddie, inmate and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak organiser

“They have suspended all recreation so that we are in our cells literally 24/7,” he said. “They turn back our mail, threaten anyone found to be associated with the strike with solitary, and they’ve painted windows in our cells black so we have no idea whether it’s night or day.”

Such intimidation failed, he said, to dampen spirits or dissuade inmates as they plan future actions. Of those, one of the key efforts he said will now be around voting rights.

Other retaliatory moves have been reported against prominent prisoner activists and strike organisers. Kevin Rashid Johnson, who wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian at the beginning of the prison strike, has been summoned to appear on Monday in front of the authorities in Sussex state prison in Waverly, Virginia, where he is currently being held in solitary confinement.
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Johnson has been told that he faces transfer to a different penitentiary, following a pattern in which he has been moved around the country from prison to prison, from Virginia to Oregan, Texas, Florida and back to Virginia. “This is a form of retaliation,” his attorney, Dustin McDaniel, said. “The authorities object to the way he exposes injustices inside the system and that he does political education work with other prisoners, and so they move him around to try to neutralise him.”

While strike leaders are primed for further retaliatory measures, they are also developing the campaign to restore voting rights. Janos Marton of the American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice, which aims to cut the US jail and prison population in half, said a renewed focus on felony disenfranchisement was one of the main achievements likely to flow from the past 19 days of actions.

“Organising across states for the strike has mobilized prisoners as a unified voice to an extent we have never seen before,” he said.

Marton added: “The most tangible impact of that amplified voice after the strike ends is a specific effort over voting rights.”

The issue of the removal of the vote from millions of prisoners is likely to be a hot button issue during the midterm elections in November. In Florida, voters will be asked as a constitutional amendment whether they want voting rights to be restored to people with felony convictions who have fully served their sentences and completed parole or probation.

Florida is traditionally one of the most finely balanced and important swing states, with the potential to decide presidential elections. Donald Trump won there in 2016 with a majority over Hillary Clinton of just 113,000 votes. If voting rights were restored, some 1.5 million Floridians would be brought back on the voting rolls.

In other states, Republican officials have been aggressively applying disenfranchisement laws to the extent of sending former inmates back to prison simply for trying to vote.

In Texas, Crystal Mason faces returning to federal penitentiary on 13 September for 10 months after she cast a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election. She was not aware at the time that as a former felon, she was prohibited from voting.

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