By Christopher Zoukis A new analysis released by the nonprofit Sentencing Project is a classic case of good news and bad news. On one hand, it finds a widespread trend toward lower incarceration levels: the combined state and federal total number of inmates has declined by 4.9% since hitting its peak in 2009, and the…

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By Christopher Zoukis The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit focused on racial and economic policy, in conjunction with Forward Together and a dozen other community and civil rights organizations recently released a study which surveyed hardships experienced by former prisoners and their families. The study examined the experiences of over 1,080 current…

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The past several years have seen a growing awareness among Americans that our criminal justice policies are flawed and need to be reformed. The premise has included the system being harsher on minorities than non-minorities, too severe on non-violent drug offenders, and just plain old inefficient and ineffective. All of this appears to be true,…

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  Not only has our country earned the reputation for incarcerating more adults than any other country, but our criminal justice system has managed to win the world’s record for developed countries at 60,000 juveniles behind bars. Worldwide, The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that at any given time an astronomical one million individuals under…

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By Dianne Frazee-Walker Debbie Baigrie was a stay-at-home mother of two. Ian Manuel was a lost 13-year-old boy raised in a dysfunctional environment, who had already been arrested 16 times. Baigrie is white and Manuel is black. Today Bairgie and Manuel share an unlikely close relationship with each other. July 27, 1990, Tampa, Florida, Baigrie…

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By Prison Legal News

On February 5, 2014, Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright interviewed Noam Chomsky, 85, at his home in Lexington, Massachusetts. Professor Chomsky is the foremost dissident intellectual in the United States, and for decades has been a prominent critic of U.S. foreign policy, human rights abuses, imperialism and the media’s facilitation of same. He is also one of the world’s eminent linguists and has been a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 1955. He was arrested and jailed for anti-war activism in the 1960s.

The author of dozens of books on politics, media analysis, foreign policy and other issues, Professor Chomsky was also one of PLN’s earliest subscribers and has corresponded with Paul on various topics since the early 1990s. However, in his books, essays and interviews, Professor Chomsky has rarely addressed human rights abuses in the United States with respect to policing and prisons – until now.

While Professor Chomsky agreed to be interviewed by PLN, scheduling was difficult due to his extensive travel and speaking schedule. It turned out that the day of the interview was also the day a massive snowstorm hit Boston, and he did not come into work. He graciously agreed to conduct the interview at his home, and Paul and PLN advertising director Susan Schwartzkopf made an adventurous cab ride through the snowstorm to his house.

We extend our thanks to Professor Chomsky for this interview and to his assistant, Beverly Stohl, for making the necessary arrangements.

• • •

PAUL WRIGHT: I think one of the things that’s interesting is I’ve been reading your work since I was in high school, and I would say that for at least 30 years now, 30-plus years, I’ve been reading your work and all the interviews that you’ve done, and very few people ever ask you about domestic issues.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Really?

PW: Yes. About domestic stuff, in terms of … you know, they ask you about human rights in other countries, but not about human rights in this country. I think you did one interview in the mid-90s which we reprinted in Prison Legal News.

NC: There are many. I don’t know what happens to them. There are so many, I can’t keep track. There’s several a day.

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By Christopher Zoukis

There is a plague in the prisoners’ rights community that will destroy us all, from the inside out, if we don’t find a cure.  Slowly it creeps into our minds, then our interactions and advocacy, and finally our organizational policies.  It’s like institutional racism, just of a different breed.  This is the disease of selectivity, of triaging the freedom of various groups of prisoners, and it is very prevalent.

As I sit to write this, I’m coming off an intense few days.  Someone I trust and respect shared their thoughts concerning prisoners — more specifically, prisoners convicted of violent and sex related offenses.  In her mind, there was perhaps no punishment strong enough or complete enough to adequately fulfill retribution for these sorts; to say nothing about the social stigmatization of having contact with these sorts.  While I was saddened to hear this, I was heartened that she isn’t a prisoners’ rights warrior, but more of someone who works in this field due to circumstances — a reliable and dedicated helper, but not a true believer.  In any prisoners’ rights organization, there are bound to be a few of these non-true believers who are incredibly hard workers but do not share our zeal for reform.  She is one of them.

While my personal interactions concerning this were unfortunate — after all, I am a true believer in the power of education and rehabilitation to reform even the most damaged of characters — what is alarming is that there are actual organizations in the national spotlight that do the exact same thing.  In fact, there are several name brand prisoners’ rights organizations which plainly refuse to advocate for all prisoners, and instead focus on very targeted groups.  While this is their prerogative, it’s more harmful than many believe.

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Dianne Frazee-Walker

Oklahoma has a women problem, but not the kind of problem one may contemplate. The problem is more women in Oklahoma are incarcerated than any other state in the country. In fact, the number of women incarcerated in Oklahoma is almost double the national average. For a state that as an overflowing correctional system, 2,700 women is quite an exorbitant figure, especially when 67% of these Oklahoma women are locked-up for nonviolent crimes. Only about 16% of these women committed violent crimes. Regardless of the offenses for which Oklahoma women are spending time in prison, these dire statistics are costing the state $26,000,000 a year.

Oklahoma also has a children problem. Three percent of Oklahoma children have at least one parent incarcerated. The problem with that is children with at least one parent in prison are five times more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and end up in prison as an adult.

Even though most of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women are serving excessive sentences for non-violet crimes, they are branded into one group of degenerates by society. Local community members are ignorant about the circumstances that led up to these women ending up in prison and believe they should be locked away from the rest of civilization. Regarded as a different species. Isolate them. They did the crime, so we don’t care about them. The attitude of local Oklahomans concerning the reason for the high rate of female incarceration is: “Oklahoma has mean women.” 

The goal is to get people to view them as real people with feelings. They want to see their families. 

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By Joseph Dole 

Many are aware of the dire fiscal state that Illinois currently finds itself in. One of the main causes of this has been years of passing laws without any consideration of the financial burdens of their enactment, and one of the most egregious examples concerns Illinois’ Truth-in-Sentencing law.

Truth-in-Sentencing in Illinois requires that nearly all violent offenders serve 85 to 100 percent of their criminal sentences.  Prior to the current Truth-in-Sentencing law’s 1998 enactment, offenders served, on average, 44 percent of their sentences.  For more than a decade Illinois resisted enacting a Truth-in-Sentencing law when other states rushed to do so.  Instead, Illinois increased sentencing ranges for violent crimes.  The State didn’t pass its Truth-in-Sentencing law until after the federal government monetarily incentivized Truth-in-Sentencing legislation.  Although this legislation was enacted in Illinois over a decade-and-a-half ago, not a single comprehensive cost/benefit analysis has been undertaken to determine what monetary effect enactment has had on the State.

Other states that enacted Truth-in-Sentencing legislation adjusted for it by reducing sentences so the average imposed sentence was about half of what it was before enactment.  That way prisoners ended up serving around the same amount of time in prison and didn’t cost the state additional money.  Illinois, on the other hand, failed to make such an adjustment.  Instead, Illinois judges actually increased average sentences imposed or continued issuing similar criminal sentences, which resulted in longer terms of incarceration due to the newly mandated Truth-in-Sentencing good conduct time provisions.  With the sentencing ranges having already been increased, Illinois taxpayers have continued to be hit twice as hard: once for the existing sentencing scheme and effectively again due to the Truth-in-Sentencing legislation.

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