Mass Incarceration

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How You Can Resist
How You Can Resist
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  • Call your Member of Congress by dialing tel:844-6-RESIST and tell them to support legislation that reduces mass incarceration and improves prison conditions.
  • Find out when your Senators and US Representative are holding Upcoming Events/Opportunities. Show up and tell them to support proposed laws that reduce mass incarceration and improve prison conditions.
  • Click here to find an organization looking for volunteers.

Updates
Recent Updates
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  • 5/14/2017: National Mama's Bailout Day, created by various organizations around the United States to let jailed mothers spend Mother’s Day with their families. Also holds events that highlight the impact of inhumane and destructive bail practices on our communities.
  • 5/12/17: Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a “charging and sentencing policy” memorandum encouraging prosecutors to "charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense." Federal sentencing guidelines are advisory—not mandatory—but this approach of pursuing the most serious charges has been criticized as a cause of mass incarceration.[1]
  • 5/9/17: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to toughen rules on prosecuting drug crimes. Under the Obama Administration, then-Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to scrutinize each case on an individual basis to determine which criminal charges apply. He argues that a “one-size-fits-all” punishment leads to more taxpayer money being spent on prisoners and deepened inequality in the justice system. Sessions, who believes this approach has led to an increase in crime, may be more in line with George Bush Jr.’s Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who ordered that the nation’s prosecutors bring the most serious charges possible in the majority of cases [2].

Actions Taken by the Federal Government
Laws Proposed by Congress
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Proposed Laws that Support Equity and Justice


  • H.R. 799: Shift Back to Society Act allows a pilot program to make grants to historically Black colleges and universities. These grants offer educational programs to people who have recently been, or will soon be, released from prison.[4]
    Billtracker.png


  • S. 573 / H.R. 1886: National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2017 creates a commission that will review the nation's criminal justice system. [5]
    link=https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/s573/ S. 573][https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr1886


  • H.R. 1146: Equal Opportunity for Residential Representation Act requires the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to establish a pilot program. The program would make grants to give legal help to low-income families with housing disputes. [6]
    Billtracker.png



See also the State and Local Pages for state-by-state legislative tracking.

Federal Law Enforcement[edit]

In Trump’s proposed budget, funding for the Department of Justice is cut by 20% overall [8], but funding for the FBI goes up by 3%. [9] This includes more funding for:

  • fighting terrorism
  • fighting foreign intelligence
  • fighting cyberthreats
  • finding better ways to identify suspects (biometrics)
  • background checks on people buying guns
  • violent crime data
  • fighting organized crime and drug traffic[10]

Sessions Memo[edit]

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is telling federal prosecutors across the US to make the nation’s drug war a bigger priority. This is part of a Department of Justice (DOJ) focus on fighting violent crime.[11]

Sessions' focus on violent crime could shift resources away from other Justice Department projects, such as prosecuting cybercrime and business frauds. This could also hurt environmental and civil rights enforcement, though such cases are usually handled mostly by the DOJ.[12] A push for tougher handling of cases means defendants could be looking at more serious charges and longer prison terms in the coming years.[13]

Sessions will end a DOJ partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.[14] He would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers started under President Obama in 2013.[15]

Use of Private Prisons[edit]

The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO[16] and CoreCivic[17] (previously Corrections Corporation of America) have given more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying. [18] Sentencing policies, such as mandatory minimums and three-strikes laws, resulted in the largest prison population in the world. By 2014, the top two companies had revenues of $3.3 billion, nearly double what they made in 2006.[19]

GEO announced it has been awarded a contract by ICE for a new $110 million, private 1,000-bed Detention Facility to be located in Conroe, Texas. Completion is expected in late 2018, and the facility is estimated to make about $44 million a year.[20]

The Prison Policy Initiative's rough estimate, based on poor data, is that the private prison industry costs $3.9 billion and sees profits of $374 million. Other big expenses in the prison system are:

  • utilities ($1.7 billion)
  • food ($2.1 billion)
  • construction ($3.3 billion)
  • and health care ($12.3 billion)

These items are usually contracted out.[21]

The Justice Department’s inspector general found that private prisons were more dangerous[22] than those run by the Bureau Of Prisons (BOP).[23] Private prisons had “higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff."[24]

The Commission on Civil Rights found that for-profit prisons, when compared to other prisons, failed to follow standards in the following areas:

  • health care
  • protecting LGBT people from abuse
  • providing enough good food
  • and access to legal services[25]

Only three states - Illinois, Iowa and New York - have banned the use of private prisons. This doesn’t stop federal agencies from putting their facilities in these states.[26]

PrivatePrisons.png

Immigration[edit]

About 72% of more than 325,000 immigrant detainees were held in centers run by many of the same private companies that run federal prisons.[27] Private companies provide immigrant detention at a lower cost: about $144 per inmate per day. Federally run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities cost $184 per inmate per day.[28]

A Center for American Progress analysis of detention placement decisions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, immigrants found that ICE’s automated system gave release as an option in 70% of LGBT intakes because of LGBT people's vulnerability in detention. Still, ICE officers chose to detain LGBT people in 68% of those instances, to meet bed quotas.[29]

ICE requires immigration bonds be paid in full by someone with legal status in the United States. If an undocumented person tries to pay someone’s bond, then they, too, will be detained. As a result, many undocumented immigrants turn to bail bond agencies.[30] In exchange for their freedom, immigrants sign contracts promising to pay Libre[31], a national bailbondsmen system by Nexus, $420 per month while wearing the company’s GPS devices. However, these contracts are increasingly the subject of lawsuits, and immigrants claim they are being cheated by Libre.[32]

CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement) [33] found there were at least 33,126 complaints of sexual and physical abuse against agencies under the Department of Homeland Security between January 2010 and July 2016. Of those, officials investigated just 225 of the complaints, or 0.07%, according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The OIG did conduct 570 total investigations of sexual and physical abuse, but only 225 arose from a complaint.[34][35]

Trump/GOP agenda[edit]

  • The Justice Department has re-opened the door to private prison companies[36], taking back an Obama policy to gradually reduce their role in federal prisons.[37]
  • One of the major cuts in Trump's proposed budget for the Justice Department is a cut of $1 billion for federal prison construction, which is possible because of the 14% decrease in the prison population during Obama’s presidency.[38]
  • In order to enforce "Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest" and expand detention for immigrants, given that America's detention system for immigrants has been running at full capacity for some time now,[39] it would require the creation of new detention centers at an estimated cost of $2 billion dollars per year [40] to run and maintain. Individuals detained in immigrant detention centers are low custody priorities and are not security risks. In 2014, Center for American Progress found that 18 percent are housed in for-profit prisons under contract with ICE, 24 percent are located in facilities owned by state and local governments that exclusively house immigrants for ICE.[41] Civic Core stated financial performance in the fourth quarter of 2016 was well above initial forecast due, in large part, to heightened utilization by ICE across the portfolio [42]

Prison Conditions[edit]

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set caps on the costs phone providers could charge inmates for phone calls—the majority of which are to family, which studies have shown decrease the likelihood of reoffending. Providers challenged the caps in court, which the FCC was defending under the previous administration. In January 2017, two of the sitting members of the FCC respectively retired and stepped down from the commission, leaving two Republicans and one Democrat. Trump has named Ajit Pai, a Republican, to the commission, and on January 31, the FCC notified the DC circuit court that it would no longer defend two key elements of the regulations: the caps on intrastate call rates, and the methodology for setting the caps. Intrastate calls make up approximately 80 percent of all calls. While the case has moved forward, with prisoner-rights groups taking up the FCC's former case, the two open spots to be filled on the FCC by Trump will likely oppose the caps, and the regulations are currently on hold. Should the regulations be removed entirely, phone providers will be able to charge any rate to prisoners, increasing the costs of their incarceration. [43]

As of April 20, 2017, the total number of federal inmates is 188,722.[44]

Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
Vulnerabilities in Their Strategy
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Drug Prosecution/Sentencing

An Obamacare repeal would cut funding for mental health and drug rehabilitation programs at a time when the opioid epidemic is severe and media coverage is high.[45] Even before Trump was elected, this was emboldening some local prosecutors to take extremist positions on how to deal with the problem. For example, Prosecuting Attorney Joe Deters in Cincinnati, Ohio, is working with Ohio's attorney general to try to make a drug sale that then results in death eligible for a first-degree-murder charge,[46] which would incarcerate someone for life for what is in almost all cases an accidental death.[47]

However, local elected prosecutors' decisions to warehouse people for small amounts of drugs are now potential political liabilities, since public opinion is shifting away from an overpunitive approach to drugs. [48] When faced with strong opposition with the appropriate funding, head prosecutors who practice aggressive prosecution for even marijuana and possession-quantity levels of drugs are starting to lose their reelection bids.[49]

Bipartisan Agreement Against Civil Asset Forfeiture

On Mar. 29, 2017, Washington Post published a piece on how the U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General published a report finding that the Drug Enforcement Administration has confiscated 3.2 billion dollars from people convicted of no crime since 2007.[50] In Jan. 2017, a Forbes contributor spoke out on how Jeff Sessions "is among that small minority of Americans who reflexively support civil asset forfeiture because it supposedly helps fight crime."[51]