Keeping the elderly locked up?

The Washington Post just released “The Painful Price of Aging in Prison,” a powerful piece on the financial and human harm caused by holding elderly people in prison on the public dime.

“But until more elderly prisoners are discharged — either through compassionate release programs or the clemency initiative started by then-attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. last year — the government will be forced to spend more to serve the population. Among other expenditures, that means hiring additional nurses and redesigning prisons — installing showers that can be used by the elderly, for instance, or ensuring that entryways are wheelchair-accessible.”

Read the important reporting here.

Baltimore and Prison Reform

Prison reform expert Bruce Western has a great piece on the connection between the Baltimore riots and the allegedly “Tough on Crime” policies of the 80’s and 90’s: The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore.

“These trends in the economy and justice policy bring us to the events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and now Baltimore in which unarmed black men have died at the hands of police. We must now ask if there is something systemic—backed by this long history of unquestioning support for ever-tougher anti-crime policies—in how the police have come to use extreme force. Has police violence become a normal way of doing business? Has the punitive turn in criminal justice policy, playing out in our poorest minority communities, turned police into the adversaries of the citizens they are meant to protect?”

Read the full piece here.


Last week, the New York Times had a shocking feature on how many black men are “missing” due to the criminal justice system:
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As the article explains:

“Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap. Of the 1.5 million missing black men from 25 to 54 — which demographers call the prime-age years — higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost 1 in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars, compared with 1 in 60 nonblack men in the age group, 1 in 200 black women and 1 in 500 nonblack women.”

The whole piece is worth a read here: 1.5 Million Missing Black Men


The other death sentence

Nearly 50,000 Americans are serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, a punishment that has been called “the other death sentence.” It is a punishment unknown in Europe: the International Criminal Court stipulates that those convicted of the very gravest crimes should serve 25 years before having their status reviewed. The great journalist James Ridgeway pulls back the curtain on life as “a lifer” in this important Intercept piece: American Outcasts: US Prisons and Modern Day Banishment

A century ago, America purported to open its arms to the “wretched refuse” of other societies. Now we have “disappeared” our own underclass into permanent exile right in our own backyards. The philosopher Lisa Guentherhas called all of these perpetual prisoners “stateless persons,” who have been “cast out of the common world and condemned to a kind of civil death.” Patty Prewitt describes them as having “been heaved into the landfill of incarceration to rot, not worth the time or trouble to recycle.”

Read the full piece here.

The return of debtors’ prisons?

On our trip throughout the South, we have meet various people who returned to prison after being released not because they actively committed another crime, but only because they could not afford child support or court fines. This week, the New York Times has a story on this phenomenon of the new debtors’ prisons: Skip Child Support. Go to Jail. Lose Job. Repeat.

“While every parent has a responsibility to support their kids to the best of their ability, the tools developed in the 1990s are designed for people who have money,” said Vicki Turetsky, the commissioner of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. “Jail is appropriate for someone who is actively hiding assets, not appropriate for someone who couldn’t pay the order in the first place.”

Read the full story here.