Category Archives: prisons

The South and the Death Penalty

by KurtFF8

The recent execution of Troy Davis has caused many to again discuss the merits of the death penalty in the United States.  (It also sparked a mass march in New York City that was met with a heavy handed police response). According to the Daily Beast, the South has the highest execution rate in the country, as well as the highest murder rate.  On top of that, the incarceration capital of the world is a southern city: New Orleans.

These renewed debates not only bring into question broad topics like the death penalty itself, but they should also let us contextualize them in a regional sense.  We should begin asking why is the South the home to so many problems still (to throw yet another one in there: the South is “bearing the brunt” of the US’s raising poverty rate).  There are plenty of answers to the question of why the South faces these problems.  But one thing should be quite clear, it is something often repeated on this site: the South remains an important part of the country to organize progressive forces.

Amongst the many lessons we learned from the Troy Davis incident (to steal the ANSWER coalition’s article title), we should also add the lesson that the world pays attention to the South, not only to the injustices that happen there but to the folks that organize against those injustices.

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Filed under African Americans, ANSWER Coalition, Atlanta, Georgia, inmates, Leftists in the U.S. South, National Oppression, New Orleans, Prisoners, prisons, racism, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, United States

Troy Davis Rallies

This was originally posted on the ACLU’s website.  Solidarity actions and awareness raising are crucial right now in this important case.  Please find the time to make it to a rally near you or organize one in your own community if you can.

From the ACLU’s post:

The State of Georgia has set the execution of Troy Anthony Davis for midnight on September 21.

Davis has been scheduled to be executed three times before and each time his execution has been stayed amid doubts concerning the impact of numerous witness recantations and new evidence against another suspect. Significant doubts about his guilt have been raised and remain unresolved.

Supporters of Troy Davis are planning rallies in cities across the country in the coming days, to stand in solidarity with him and call on the Georgia Board of Parole and Probation to commute his sentence.  This is a listing of upcoming events.  If you are planning a rally that is not listed, please send details to multimedia@aclu.org and we will include it.

NOTE: These listings are for informational purposes only. Inclusion on this page does not mean that a particular event has been sponsored or endorsed by the ACLU or its local affiliate.

Ann Arbor, MI
Thursday, September 15, 7:00 PM
Demonstration to Save Troy Davis
Northeast corner of Main Street and Huron Street
For more info: http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/demonstration-to-save-troy-davis

Atlanta, GA
Friday, September 16, 6:00 PM
Global Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis: March and Prayer Service
Woodruff Park (Peachtree St./Edgewood Ave.) to Ebenezer Baptist Church
For more info: http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/global-day-of-solidarity-for-troy-davis-march-and-prayer-service

Austin, TX
Friday, September 16, 5:30 – 8:30 PM
Stop the Execution of Troy Davis: Solidarity Rally
Texas State Capitol at 11th and Congress
For more info: http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/events/troy-davis-solidarity-organizing-cedp-chapters

Chicago, IL
Friday, September 16, 5:00 PM
Solidarity Rally for Troy Davis
130 E Randolph St.
For more info: http://icjpe.org/actions/SOLIDARITY-RALLY-FOR-TROY-DAVIS

Denton, TX
Friday, September 16, 7:30 – 9:00 PM
Solidarity for Troy Davis Rally
The Square, 110 West Hickory Street
For more info: http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/events/troy-davis-solidarity-organizing-cedp-chapters

Glassboro, NJ
Friday, September 16, 12:00 – 3:00 PM
Protest to STOP THE EXECUTION of Troy Davis!!
Student Center Patio, Rowan University
For more info: http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/events/troy-davis-solidarity-organizing-cedp-chapters

New York, NY
Emergency Rally to Stop the Execution of Troy Davis
Friday, September 16, 4:30 – 6:30 PM
42nd Street & 7th Avenue, Times Square
For more info: http://www.iacenter.org/actions/troydavis091311/

Oakland, CA
Friday, September 16, 4:00 – 6:00 PM
Global Day of Action for Troy Davis
Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street, near City Center/12th St BART
For more info: http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/events/troy-davis-solidarity-organizing-cedp-chapters

Philadelphia, PA
Friday, September 16, 4:30 – 6:00 PM
Protest the Execution of Troy Davis
Philadelphia City Hall, West Side
For more info: http://phillysolidarity.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/377/

San Diego, CA
Stop the Execution of Troy Davis: Solidarity Rally
Friday, September 16, 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Hall of Justice, 220 W. Broadway
For more info: http://activistsandiego.org/node/3167

San Francisco, CA
Support Troy Davis on Union Square
Friday, September 16, 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Union Square
For more info: http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/support-troy-davis-on-union-square

Santa Cruz, CA
Rally in solidarity with Troy Davis
Friday, September 16, 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Downtown at the Clocktower
For more info: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/09/13/18690214.php

Washington, DC
Rally to Save Troy Davis
Friday, September 16, 6:00 PM
Tivoli Square
For more info: http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/rally-to-save-troy-davis

(A typo appeared in the original posting of this article and has been corrected)

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Filed under Prisoners, prisons, Race, racism, Southern United States

Strike is over, but Georgia prisoners’ struggle continues

By: Eugene Puryear

Download the new poster in support of the strike!

Originally published on www.PSLweb.org.

Georgia inmates’ eight-day strike in December to improve prison conditions was a historic and powerful example that struggle is possible, even in the most unfavorable conditions.

Georgia prisoners strike
Click here to download and distribute the poster

The strike drew in six separate prisons, making it the largest such action in U.S. history. It will undoubtedly have a large impact on the consciousness and organization of the thousands of inmates who participated.

Beyond the direct participants, the news of the strike could have a profound effect on prisoners elsewhere. If history is any guide, prison actions tend to come in waves, as inmate struggles in one facility lend confidence to those elsewhere. This is precisely why the state and corporate media attempted to keep the strike quiet.

While the strike has ended, the inmates clearly got their point across. The newly formed Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoners Rights was able to enter at least one prison on Dec. 20 and is currently preparing a report on prison conditions and on retaliatory measures taken against striking prisoners.

The very fact that advocates for the striking prisoners were allowed to enter even one prison to investigate conditions is a reflection of the inmates’ determination. The Georgia Correctional authorities had attempted to create a media blockade, giving out vague information, or none at all.

They also attempted to engage in a disinformation campaign against the strike, declaring they had “locked-down” the striking prisons, when those who were striking, were already refusing to leave their cells. The statements about lock-downs were meant to imply control, and minimize the impression on the outside that the strike was having an impact.

In fact, the striking inmates put the prison on “lock-down” themselves, and the prison officials had lost a significant amount, if not all, of their control for extended periods, across a number of facilities.

The striking prisoners broke through two of the biggest obstacles to political action faced by those in prison systems: the repressive control of armed guards, and vicious race and gang-based factionalism.

Anyone familiar with the U.S. penal system knows that violent division between various nationalities is a fact of prison life, creating a multi-tiered system of segregation amongst prisoners. Despite the message they attempt to send in cable news channel documentaries, prison officials prefer this state of affairs. Over and above anything else, it keeps cliques focused on hating each other, as opposed to focusing their hatred on the prison authorities and their oppressive practices.

Concomitantly with division, prisoners have very little control over their own persons. Forced to work for a pittance—or, in the case of Georgia, for no pay whatsoever—told when to wake up, sleep, eat, exercise, with whom they can communicate and when; prisoners are even further deprived of basic freedoms that aid the type of association crucial to building political movements.

The significance of this action by prisoners is that it even happened. The last 30 years have been characterized mostly by setbacks and defeats for the poor and working peopple—to the point that very few have ever witnessed, let alone experienced, collective action.

The prison strike in Georgia is one sign, however, that this can change, and quickly. Even under the most difficult conditions it is possible for human beings to connect based on their common oppressions, to invent ways to communicate and organize. As with the undocumented workers’ struggle, which exploded in 2006, apparent passivity one day can tranform into mass resistance the next.

For the Georgia prisoners’ struggle to move forward, solidarity and support is crucial from those on the outside. Progressives and revolutionaries should popularize their demands, and spread the word of their action, including to inmates elsewhere.

The prison population is overwhelmingly working-class, drawn largely from areas left destitute by de-industrialization, systematic discrimination and the drug epidemic. The time-honored slogan of the labor movement is needed for these brothers and sisters behind bars: An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

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Filed under class struggle, Georgia, Human Rights, National Oppression, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, prisons, Solidarity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, strike, Uncategorized

The American Prison System

by KurtFF8 (Mike C)

There have been various stories relating the the conditions of the prison system in the United States in the news recently.  From the under reported (yet perhaps most significant) recent Georgia Prisoner’s strike to the high profile solitary confinement of Bradley Manning who gained notoriety for his involvement in leaking a video to Wikileaks.  This attention should be seen as an opportunity to open up space for debate on the very structure of our prisons.

There is also the case of Cornelius Dupree, Jr.who was just freed in Texas after 30 years of being in prison when DNA evidence showed that he was actually innocent.  According to his attorney, Texas has had the most DNA exonerations of any state, and Dallas the most within Texas.  This is of course a disturbing trend that may certainly be seen as yet another case of institutional racism that has a strong tradition (especially in the South, but of course not limited to the South) and seems to be rather obvious in these cases as according to the Innocence Project, almost 60% of those exonerated post-conviction via DNA are African American.

Bradley Manning’s conditions have been highlighted in the international press recently, with an emphasis on his mental health as a result of being in solitary confinement for a long period of time.  The interesting thing about the Manning case is that it is being portrayed in the media as a sort of political imprisonment by the United States, while the majority of cases that activists consider to be clear cases of political imprisonment tend to be portrayed as seen that way only by a small fringe.  Thus the case offers yet another example for the Left to call into question this system.

The most bizarre incident is the Georgia Prisoner’s strike.  I say bizarre because of the relative silence (or at least not much emphasis) by the “mainstream media” on what has been labeled the largest prisoner’s strike in the history of the United States.  For example, if you compare two New York Times articles that came out within a day of each other, you’ll find one long article about the new “problem” of smart phones in prisons (and it does detail the strike).  The NAACP recently claimed that there was violent retaliation against striking prisoners which was certainly anticipated by prisoner rights activists, yet this story got one paragraph in the NYT.

Taking these various stories together, and how they were covered by the media makes for an interesting trend that reveals a small bit of ideology that dominates our conversations here.  The cases of Cornelius Dupree, Jr. and Bradley Manning received more attention than the Georgia prisoner’s strike.  Why is this the case?  One part of the answer can certainly be traced to ideology: when an individual is treated poorly by the system, this is a miscarriage of justice that simply needs to be corrected.  When prisoners from across an entire state come together and challenge the system itself, this calls into question the system itself.  The strike also defied stereotypes of prisons divided along racial lines, when all prisoners of different races worked together to demand better conditions.  This ideological reasoning can at least help us understand why events like the Georgia strike are not emphasized by the media.

There are many problems about the American prison system.  The United States has the largest prison population on Earth (in terms of raw numbers and as a percentage of our population); the United States has increasingly allow private corporations to run prisons for profit, which includes free labor from their inmates (which some people rightfully equate to modern day slavery); Racism continues to play an important roll .  And the biggest problem of all: There is not a national debate about this, these issues are not constantly being discussed on CNN every night, we’re not having town hall meetings about it.

This is an important issues, especially in the US South where prison populations seem to be particularly large (For example, New Orleans having the biggest incarceration rate in the World).  It’s time we start reframing these issues and start organizing.

Further reading:

U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations

YouTube Clip – Angela Davis discusses Prison Industrial Complex

YouTube Clip – Prison Industrial Complex (clip from documentary)

 

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Georgia, Gulf States, Human Rights, inmates, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, prisons, Race, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, strike, Texas, United States, Wikileaks

Georgia prisoners strike for end to cruel and unusual punishment

[Originally posted to pslweb.org on Wednesday, December 15, 2010]

By: Eugene Puryear

 

Black, white, Latino: united for justice!

On Dec. 9, prisoners in Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair state prisons in Georgia went on strike. Prisoners are demanding to be paid for the work they do, to receive adequate healthcare and nutritious food and to have access to educational opportunities. They are calling for and end to “cruel and unusual” punishment.

In a move almost unprecedented inside prisons, convicts have reached across the often violent divide between nationalities. Based on contact with the striking prisoners a supporter and press spokesperson told Liberation: “Blacks, whites, Mexicans, Rastafarians, Muslims, Christians, you name it, they are united.”

Additionally, the prisoners have overcome oppressive communication restrictions, using various means including texting via contraband cell phones in order to continue to keep facilities connected.

According to a press release issued by strike supporters, prisoners refused to work, stopped all other activities and remained in their cells. What originally began as a one day protest has continued. As of Dec. 14 prisoners continue to fight for their rights, and have turned their strike into an open ended action. The spokesperson related a message from one prisoner: “We’re not going to break.”

Despite attempts by the Georgia Department of Corrections to create a media blockade, reports have leaked out describing retaliatory treatment in some of the prisons. In Telfair state prison it was reported that guards and prison officials beat inmates, destroyed their personal effects and turned off the heat in 30-degree weather.

In Macon State Prison, authorities are said to have cut off hot water for inmates. Inmates have told their contacts on the outside of threats to use dogs as well.

Despite the violence and repression at other prisons, inmates at Rogers State Prison have now also joined the strike.

Georgia state inmates are subject to inhumane treatment, with cruel punishments and sub-standard medical care. They are not able to pursue any meaningful educational opportunities, and if released are equipped only to become part of the low wage work force if they can get any job at all. Prison families also face additional hardship when they try to support their loved ones which charge exorbitant rates for their “services.” Prisoners in the Georgia prison system do not receive any pay for the work they do.

High rates of incarceration are a fact of life in Black communities around the country. De-industrialization and skyrocketing unemployment hit the Black working class harder than any other sector. Combined with the over 30-year assault on working-class living standards in general, poverty and destitution also skyrocketed.

As a result, millions of members of the “reserve army of the unemployed” have been thrown in prison on non-violent drug charges, and those incarcerated are treated like unredeemable monsters, forced to work for free or for a pittance, and denied educational opportunities almost universally.

Dealing with the root cause of this “prison population explosion,” would reveal that it is of the capitalists’ own making. Their anti-working class policies created the social context for crime, and their racist drug laws have created a demonized “criminal” population of millions of working class, Black and Latino youth to whom they have already denied any option for a decent standard of living.

The Georgia prisoners have issued a set of demands to improve the onerous and oppressive living conditions in which they are forced to exist, demands that speak to all thoses trapped in the so-called criminal justice system. According to the press release issued by supporters, Georgia prisoners are demanding:

“A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

“EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

“DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

“AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

“DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

“NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

“VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

“ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

“JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility. Prisoner leaders issued the following call: ‘No more slavery. Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!’”

All revolutionary and progressive people should support the Georgia prisoners’ demands for just treatment.

Victory to the Georgia prisoners’ strike!

Down with the racist, anti-worker prison system!

Please call the prison authorities and demand no reprisals or punishments for striking prisoners!

Macon State Prison is 978-472-3900.

Telfair State Prison is 229-868-7721

Valdosta State Prison is 229-333-7900

Hays State Prison is at (706) 857-0400

Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218

Smith State Prison is at (912) 654-5000

 

 

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Georgia, Human Rights, inmates, National Oppression, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, prisons, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, strike, Uncategorized, United States

GA Prisoner Strike Continues a Second Day, Corporate Media Mostly Ignores Them, Corrections Officials Decline Comment

[Originally posted to blackagendareport.com, Saturday, September 11, 2010]

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The peaceful strike begun by inmates of several Georgia state prisons continued for a second day on Friday, according to family members of some of the participants. Copyrighted news stories by AP, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and local TV stations in Macon and Atlanta quote state corrections who say several institutions were placed on lockdown beginning Thursday in anticipation of the inmate protest, on the initiative of wardens of those prisons.

GA Prisoner Strike Continues a Second Day, Corporate Media Mostly Ignores Them, Corrections Officials Decline Comment

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Offices of the wardens at Hay’s, Macon State, Telfair, and Augusta state all referred our inquiries to the Department of Corrections public affairs officer, who so far has declined to return our repeated calls.

The prisoner strike in Georgia is unique, sources among inmates and their families say, because it includes not just black prisoners, but Latinos and whites too, a departure from the usual sharp racial divisions that exist behind prison walls. Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

As of Friday, inmates at several prisons say they are committed to continuing the strike. “We are going to ride it,” the inmate press release quotes one, “till the wheels fall off. We want our human rights.”

The peaceful inmate strike is being led from within the prison. Some of those thought to be its leaders have been placed under close confinement.

The nine specific demands made by Georgia’s striking prisoners in two press releases pointedly reflect many of the systemic failures of the U.S. regime of mass incarceration, and the utter disconnection of U.S. prisons from any notions of protecting or serving the public interest. Prisoners are demanding, in their own words, decent living conditions, adequate medical care and nutrition, educational and self-improvement opportunities, just parole decisions, just parole decisions, an end to cruel and unusual punishments, and better access to their families.

It’s a fact that Georgia prisons skimp on medical care and nutrition behind the walls, and that in Georgia’s prisons recreational facilities are non-existent, and there are no educational programs available beyond GED, with the exception of a single program that trains inmates to be Baptist ministers. Inmates know that upon their release they will have no more education than they did when they went in, and will be legally excluded from Pell Grants and most kinds of educational assistance, they and their families potentially locked into a disadvantaged economic status for life.

Despite the single biggest predictor of successful reintegration into society being sustained contact with family and community, Georgia’s prison

authorities make visits and family contact needlessly difficult and expensive. Georgia no longer allows families to send funds via US postal money orders to inmates. It requires families to send money through J-Pay, a private company that rakes off nearly ten percent of all transfers. Telephone conversations between Georgia prisoners and their families are also a profit centers for another prison contractor, Global Tel-Link which extracts about $55 a month for a weekly 15 minute phone call from cash-strapped families. It’s hard to imagine why the state cannot operate reliable payment and phone systems for inmates and their families with public employees at lower cost, except that this would put contractors, who probably make hefty contributions to local politicians out of business.

Besides being big business, prisons are public policy. The U.S. has less than five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for almost a quarter of its prisoners. African Americans are one eighth this nation’s population, but make up almost half the locked down. The nation’s prison population increased more than 450% in a generation beginning about 1981. It wasn’t about crime rates, because those went up, and then back down. It wasn’t about rates of drug use, since African Americans have the same rates of drug use as whites and Latinos. Since the 1980s, the nation has undertaken a well-documented policy of mass incarceration, focused primarily though not exclusively on African Americans. The good news is that public policies are ultimately the responsibility of the public to alter, to change or do do away with. America’s policy of mass incarceration is overdue for real and sustained public scrutiny. A movement has to be built on both sides of the walls that will demand an end to the prison industry and to the American policy of mass incarceration. That movement will have to be outside the Republican and Democratic parties. Both are responsible for building this system, and both rely on it to sustain their careers. The best Democrats could do on the 100 to 1 crack to powder cocaine disparity this year, with a black president in the White House and thumping majorities in the House and Senate was to reduce it to 18 to 1, and then only by lengthening the sentences for powder cocaine. On this issue, Democrats and Republicans are part of the problem, not the solution.

As this article goes to print Saturday morning, it’s not known whether the strike will continue a third day. With prison officials not talking, and corporate media ignoring prisoners not just this week but every day, outlets like Black Agenda Report and the web site upon which you’re reading this are among the chief means inmates and their families have of communicating with the public. The prisoners are asking the public to continue to call the Georgia Department of Corrections, and the individual prisons listed below to express concern for the welfare of the prisoners.

Prison is about corruption, power and isolation. You can help break the isolation by calling the wardens’ offices at the following prisons. Prisons, naturally , are open Saturdays and Sundays too.

Macon State Prison is 478-472-3900.   Hays State Prison is at (706) 857-0400
Telfair State prison is 229-868-7721 Baldwin State Prison is at (478) 445- 5218
Valdosta State Prison is 229-333-7900 Smith State Prison is at (912) 654-5000
The Georgia Department of Corrections is at http://www.dcor.state.ga.us and their phone number is 478-992-5246

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Georgia, Gulf States, Human Rights, National Oppression, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoners, prisons, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, strike, Uncategorized, United States