Five Links from a Criminal Justice System

Five Links from a Criminal Justice System October 19, 2015

These are fairly random, a grab-bag of the things that caught my attention from the huge heap of powerful writing on cops, prisons etc being done today. So I urge you all to follow PrisonCulture and the Marshall Project on twitter. After this post I’ll only post links I’m pretty sure I didn’t find through them. Okay, let’s go. The theme for this post is, “Like love, original sin and structural racism will find a way,” or, Things That Aren’t Solutions.

“Chain Gang 2.0: If You Can’t Afford This Ankle Bracelet, You Get Thrown in Jail”:

On a recent broiling August day, Antonio Green, an out-of-work construction worker, sat in his living room, a folder full of receipts open across his legs. He explained how an electronic monitor, strapped to his left ankle for a period of 275 days beginning last fall, sent him into debt and nearly wrecked his life.

It’s widely known that an increasingly privatized criminal justice system makes money off poor people. But Green found himself in the latest for-profit craze: GPS tracking.

It all started with a traffic violation.

more–this is a really good in-depth piece, and it includes the perversely fascinating origin story of ankle bracelets–Spider-Man and the LA riots. The dreams our stuff is made of.

“Take a Valium, Lose Your Kids, Go to Jail”:

Casey Shehi’s son James was born in August 2014, remarkably robust even though he was four weeks premature. But the maternity nurse at Gadsden Regional Medical Center seemed almost embarrassed, and as she took the baby from his exhausted mother’s arms, Shehi felt a prick of dread.

“She said they were going to have to take him back to the nursery to produce some urine, because I had a positive drug screen for benzodiazepines,” Shehi, 37, recalled one evening a few months ago at a café near her mother’s home. She hadn’t been sleeping well; her brown hair hung lank past her shoulders, and her eyes were rimmed with worry. “I said: ‘That can’t be true. Can you please check it again? Run the screen again.’ ” …

Stop at almost any gas station or minimart in rural Alabama and you will find, stocked amid the racks of energy drinks and chips, copies of a weekly tabloid called “Just Busted.” Garish and crude, the paper consists of hundreds of police mug shots organized by county and alleged crime (“Sex Offenders,” “Drunk Tank”), interspersed with ads for bondsmen and defense lawyers. In a recent issue, three-quarters of the suspects were men, but three-quarters of those singled out on the cover were women.

Mug shots from the Etowah sheriff’s office take up an entire page. They end up on Birmingham TV and all over the Internet. Casey Shehi’s was particularly unflattering, her eyes puffy from crying, her mouth a thin grimace of disbelief. Gadsden, population 36,500, is a decent-size town by Alabama standards, but to Shehi, it has always felt like “a tiny fishbowl.” After her arrest, old acquaintances would pretend they didn’t see her at the grocery store or turn away in embarrassment. Her baby was in the same day care as the sheriff’s investigator overseeing her case. “I feel like everywhere I go, people just kind of look at me and shame me like I’m a monster, like, ‘How could you do that to your baby?’ ”

[and, later:]

“Their attitude is, ‘Oh, well, you did this, and this is what you get,” Word said. “People around here are always talking about ‘protecting the unborn child,’ ” she said. “Well, that’s exactly was Katie was trying to do.”

more (and there’s always so much stuff like this, from a different woman’s story in this same piece: “Next, she wrote asking for permission to enter a well-regarded substance-abuse program near her home. The judge denied her again, saying any request needed to come from her public defender, whom the woman hadn’t been able to reach”)–and see also the fourth section (“A Child’s Story”) of this piece I did last year

“We Don’t Even Know How Best to Use Body Cameras–Let Alone How to Regulate Them”:

Business is booming for body-camera manufacturers, with the value of shares seeming to rise in proportion to the number of publicized police shootings. “The body-camera industry is ‘feeling phenomenal’ after Ferguson,” read a December Washington Post headline, apparently without irony. TASER International, which makes body cameras in addition to stun guns, saw sales grow by 154 percent this past year, with projections for continued growth; its competitor Vievu broke all of its revenue records in September, following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And Obama’s push for a nationwide body-camera program translates into the possibility of billions of dollars in hardware and storage revenue for TASER and other manufacturers worldwide.

more–the privacy issues with releasing footage are imo more serious and harder to address than this piece makes them sound, but there’s a lot of careful thinking here–and creative thinking, which is the kind people will use as they try to get around accountability. The sidebar has two more good articles on filming police interactions.

“Black Lives Matter Shouldn’t Settle for Democratic Candidates’ Promises to End Private Prisons”:

…It’s easy to see why the candidates are gravitating toward “end private prisons”: Most criminal justice issues require them (both as Democrats in general, and as individual politicians) to acknowledge that the “tough-on-crime” policies they’ve supported in the past were a bad idea, but this one just allows them to add the Corrections Corporation of America to their existing stump speech attacks on the Koch brothers. But if ending private prisons turns out to be the main promise that Democrats make to Black Lives Matter, it will be a much bigger victory for a lot of other people than it will be for the movement itself.

more–a reminder that money is one kind of power that corrupts but so is, you know, government power. Still, this is closer to a solution than some other stuff in this post, so hey.

And as long as we’re finding silver linings, let’s end on this note:

“Thousands of Drug War Prisoners Are Going Home Early Thanks to Years of Organizing”:

On October 6, the Justice Department announced that nearly 6,000 people in federal prisons will be going home early. The move, U.S. officials told the Washington Post, is an effort to both reduce overcrowding and to provide relief to people who received harsh drug war sentences over the past three decades.


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