By Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann
David Harvey, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York, writes that “capitalism never resolves its problems; it simply rearranges them geographically.” The same can be said of California’s almost three-year-old Public Safety Realignment initiative – legislation designed to reduce the Golden State’s prison population, in part, by transferring thousands of prisoners from state facilities to county jails.
Sadly, Realignment has merely shifted the very forms of human suffering it was originally intended to relieve. This – the paradox of modern penal reform – adds a crucial dimension to discussions about who, why and how we punish offenders. Clearly, shifting a criminal justice crisis isn’t the same as solving one.
The Realignment Initiative
Since at least 2011, the State of California has been the epicenter of contemporary prison reform in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has noted that 70% of the total decrease in state prison populations from 2010 to 2011 was a direct result of California’s Public Safety Realignment initiative.
On May 23, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order by a three-judge federal court requiring the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years to alleviate overcrowding that resulted in unconstitutional medical and mental health care. [See: PLN, June 2011, p.1]. California Governor Jerry Brown had called the court’s order “a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed.”Read More
This installment of Prison News in Brief concerns news from France through Mexico and is brought to us by our friends at Prison Legal News.
France Prison News
Members of the UFAP-UNSA prison guard union gathered to protest in front of more than 100 jails on June 18, 2013. The action by the union, whose members are banned from striking, was to bring attention to overcrowding and safety concerns in French prisons. Protestors set fire to wooden pallets, tires, and other objects, and blocked deliveries to the facilities. “This is a shot across the bows, to make the powers be aware of the urgency of the situation,” said Union Secretary General Ste’phane Barraut.
Hawaii Prison News
John Joseph Kalei Hall was sentenced to thirteen months in prison on June 27, 2013 after receiving an estimated $10,000 to $30,000 in one year for smuggling cartons of cigarettes into Halawa Correctional Facility. Federal prosecutors said Hall sold the tobacco to the United Samoan Organization, a prison gang, and tipped them off to contraband searches. U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gillmor said Hall deserved prison time because he promoted criminal activity he was hired to prevent.
Honduras Prison News
On August 2, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a report stating that control at the nation’s 24 prisons had “been ceded into the hands of the prisoners themselves.” The next day, Honduras President Porfirio Lobo ordered military troops to take control over the National Penitentiary following a violent disturbance that resulted in three deaths and 15 injuries. Prisons in Honduras are extremely overcrowded and have been cited for poor conditions.
Illinois Prison News
Timothy Ware, a 20-year-old veteran guard at the Decatur Correctional Center, was suspended without pay in June 2013 and charged with eight felony counts of official misconduct. Ware allegedly solicited phone numbers from two female parolees, called them repeatedly to pursue personal or social relationships, and then lied to investigators about obtaining the women’s numbers and the nature of the calls. DOC regulations prohibit employees from socializing with parolees. Ware was released from custody after posting a $2,500 cash bond.Read More