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If RI Redistricting fails to act within 8 days, racist prison gerrymandering will persist for 10 more years

Almost very meeting of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s Redistricting Commission has touched on the topic of prison gerrymandering. And the latest meeting held in Providence at the PCTA (Providence Career and Technical Academy) the issue blew up in a big way.

Prison gerrymandering is the process by which incarcerated people, who cannot vote, are counted for purposes of drawing districts. Under the law, each district should have roughly the same number of people, but by including prison populations in some districts, the number of voters a candidate must convince to vote for them drops appreciably. As noted by Providence College Political Science Professor Adam Myers at the September 23rd Redistricting Commission hearing, this causes the political strength of communities surrounding prisons to be “unfairly inflated,”, while the political strength of the communities from which these prisoners come are “unfairly diminished.” Given the racial makeup of our prison population, it’s plain to see that Black and brown neighborhoods in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls are the most negatively impacted, making this form of gerrymandering textbook systemic racism.

Under our present system of prison gerrymandering, Senate Districts 27 and 31 and House Districts 15 and 20, located in Warwick and Cranston, are the beneficiaries of a system that syphons political power from BIPOC communities. Moreover, every vote in these districts counts a little more than every other voter in the state, while “unfairly diminished” communities have votes that count a little bit less than every other voter in the state.

Under Rhode Island’s present system of prison gerrymandering, the concept of “one person, one vote” does not stand.

At the first hearing of the RI Redistricting Commission, Kimball Brace, Rhode Island’s outside expert on redistricting, called prison gerrymandering a “next decade” issue and said that since the General Assembly never dealt with the issue legislatively, there is nothing to be done but to redraw the maps as best we can to minimize the impact.

But commission member and [former] State Senator Harold Metts pushed back against this. While in office Metts had attempted to deal with this issue legislatively only to have the bill scuttled by [former] House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who, being from House District 15, was a direct beneficiary of racist gerrymandering. [Note that a majority of Democrats in the House fully supported Mattiello, electing him to the position of Speaker term after term despite this.]

However, despite pushing back verbally, Metts has made no motions while on the redistricting commission to deal with this issue.

Kimball Brace, and his firm Election Data Services, was hired by the Joint Committee on Legislative Services, which Mattiello chaired, to the tune of $615,000. Brace met routinely with Mattiello aid Leo Skenyon on the topic of redistricting, according to the Providence Journal.

At the commission meeting where Kimball Brace called prison gerrymandering a “next decade” issue, John Marion, from Common Cause Rhode Island, noted that the Pennsylvania redistricting commission addressed prison gerrymandering without legislative action.

Brace has also told the Redistricting Commission that ending prison gerrymandering will be difficult, because getting the records of where the currently incarcerated were living before their arrest and making the necessary changes to the census data will be time consuming, even if such data is made available. Never mind that the State of Pennsylvania was able to do so with a much larger prison population and Rhode Island maintains one facility, the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston. (The Wyatt, a private prison in Central Falls would also need to be reconciled.)

All of which bring us back to Monday’s hearing in Providence. [Former] State Senator Harold Metts told Ryan Taylor (subbing for Kimball Brace) that he wants more information on the impact of prison gerrymandering. Taylor said that the ACI does not provide home addresses for incarcerated people, but this is not exactly true.

The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) has an online, searchable database that lists the home city of every incarcerated person in the Rhode Island system. Though it does not provide a street address, to respect the privacy of the incarcerated, the RIDOC surely has this information and could provide it.

Many people spoke out about prison gerrymandering at Monday night’s commission hearing, including [former] State Representative Joseph Almeida, Andrew Poyant, Susan Feeley, UpriseRI and Joseph P Buchanon. Several commission members seem to be on board with the idea.

Ending prison gerrymandering will also bring our newly drawn district maps into compliance with state law. Under Rhode Island General Laws § 17-1-3.1. “A person’s residence for voting purposes is his or her fixed and established domicile… A person can have only one domicile, and the domicile shall not be considered lost solely by reason of absence for any of the following reasons: … Confinement in a correctional facility….”

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on March 6, 2018 on a bill to end prison gerrymandering, The Prison Policy Initiative writes, “The concentration of all Rhode Island’s state prisons into just one location in the state makes the problem of prison gerrymandering in the state’s legislative districts more significant than in almost any other state. In most states, prison gerrymandering affords a small number of districts with prisons 1%–5% more political influence than the residential populations of those districts actually warrant. Even in those states with this modest impact, prison gerrymandering is considered a serious ill that is to be avoided.

“By contrast,” continues the Prison Police Initiative, p”rison gerrymandering is a far larger problem in Rhode Island, where almost 15% of House District 20 is made up of incarcerated people from other parts of this state. This gives every group of 85 residents in this district the same influence as 100 residents in any other district.”

This testimony is well worth a read for those interested in the issue of prison gerrymandering.

If the RI Redistricting Commission doesn’t direct Election Data Services to do the necessary work, and doesn’t direct the RIDOC (and the Wyatt) to provide the information on the addresses of incarcerated people, ending prison gerrymandering before the year 2030 will not happen.

The RI Redistricting Commission is on a time crunch. There are only two more hearings – this Thursday (October 21) in Warwick and one more meeting on Monday (October 25) – before these preliminary hearings end and Election Data Services takes a few weeks off to draw maps for commission approval. Once the maps are drawn, some changes can be made, but a major overhaul, such as ending prison gerrymandering, will be all but impossible.

As I testified before the Commission on Monday, doing nothing now means sliding into ten more years of prison gerrymandering – racism by inaction.

So what can be done?

This Thursday (or Monday at the latest) a member of the commission must make a motion to direct Kimball Brace and Ryan Taylor of Election Data Services to correct the data and locate incarcerated people at their home addresses, not at the prison.

After the motion is made, a second member of the commission must second it.

The commission can then begin to debate the motion. All members of the commission would be free to voice their opinions for or against continuing prison gerrymandering in Rhode Island. The advantage of this to voters is that we will hear the issue openly debated, and we will know where the commission members stand. Knowing where the elected members of the commission stand on the issue of one person one vote and democracy in general is an important data point for voters.

The position of Election Data Services, that correcting prison gerrymandering now is too hard or impractical, must be disregarded. They are being paid $615,000 to assist Rhode Island in this process, not direct it. If Election Data Services cannot perform this task, the commission should find someone who can. Again, Pennsylvania did it. Other states are doing it. Of course Rhode Island can do it. It’s a matter of political will and moral bravery.

Rhode Island can end prison gerrymandering, but only if our Redistricting Commission takes immediate action. We have just eight days to act to prevent ten more years of racist prison gerrymandering.

Do the commission members care, and are they brave enough?

Here’s the video:

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Hawaii Prisons Are Finally Moving Forward With An ID Program For Inmates

More than four years after the state Legislature passed a law requiring the prison system to issue outgoing inmates with identification cards, corrections officials say they have worked out a system to do so and have ordered the equipment needed to produce the cards.

Members of the Hawaii Correctional Systems Oversight Commission were briefed Thursday on efforts to provide outgoing inmates with IDs, which can be an essential tool as convicts travel, job hunt, seek housing or apply for government benefits.

Lawmakers passed Act 56 in 2017, which supporters hoped would finally end the practice of paroling or releasing prisoners at the end of their sentences with no money, and no identification.

“Obtaining employment and housing are difficult with a criminal record, and those releasing from a period of incarceration need support with their efforts in order to have a realistic opportunity of success,” the Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice argued at the time.

The state has begun the process of setting up a system for providing state ID cards to inmates upon release. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But the program to provide ID’s stalled for years, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii cited state data from 2019 that showed more than half of all inmates were still being released without identification.

The ACLU points out that about 95% of all inmates will be released at some point, and contends that IDs and other programs to support a successful reentry into society makes communities safer.

Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Tommy Johnson has acknowledged about half of all prisoners who were released last year still did not have ID cards but said he made the issue a priority when he was appointed to his current job in the fall of 2020.

Johnson told the commission on Thursday that agreements have been reached with the state Department of Transportation and the city’s Department of Customer Service to set up a process for screening information on the inmates.

The department also ordered a “mobile unit” that will take pictures of the prisoners whose information “checks out,” according to department spokeswoman Toni Schwartz. It will then transmit the picture and other documents to the city, which will generate state ID cards for the inmates.

The mobile unit was ordered in February, but the worldwide shortage of computer chips delayed its arrival so the department is unsure when the machine will arrive, he said.

“We’ve taken care of all of the connectivity issues, so when the machine does arrive, we’re ready to go,” Johnson said.

The spokeswoman explained that the ID system will be tested out as a pilot project at the Halawa Correctional Facility — the state’s largest prison — and expanded to other facilities if it works.

The commission also received an update on an initiative to use portable metal containers that have been modified to function as temporary quarantine cells for inmates who have Covid-19. Prisoners are still not being housed in the containers, commissioners were told.

Properly isolating inmates who are infected or have been exposed to the coronavirus has been a challenge at times in the state’s crowded correctional facilities, and the new temporary housing was supposed to help solve that problem.

The department ordered 11 containers that cost $124,000 each, and are equipped with air-conditioning and toilets. Each container has four housing units that are eight-feet long and 10-feet wide.

Two of the units were delivered to the Oahu Community Correctional Center in December, and one each was delivered to Maui Community Correctional Center, Hawaii Community Correctional Center and Kauai Community Correctional Center later in the year, according to the department.

The department eventually plans to deploy four containers at OCCC, two more at Halawa, and one each at the Women’s Community Correctional Center and Waiawa Correctional Facility.

The plan hit a snag because the electric system at the aging OCCC cannot handle the additional load of the containers, and the containers lacked correctional-grade locking systems. Those issues have prevented the facilities from using the containers thus far, according to the department.

Max Otani, director of the department, said MCCC is the facility that is closest to actually putting a container into service, but Johnson said the department is still awaiting installation of locks, and completion of the water and sewer hookups.

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Private Prisons – Top 3 Pros and Cons

1. Andrew G. Coyle, “Prison,” britannica.com, Mar. 9, 2021 2. Maurice Chammah, “Prison Plantations,” themarshallproject.org, May 1, 2015 3. David Love, “America’s Private Prison Industry Was Born from the Exploitation of the Slave Trade,” atlantablackstar.com, Sep. 3, 2016 4. Annys Shin, “Back to the Big House,” washingtoncitypaper.com, Apr. 14, 2000 5. Evan Taparata, “The Slave-Trade Roots of US Private Prisons,” pri.org, Aug. 26, 2016 6. Businesswire, “The GEO Group Announces Decision by Federal Bureau of Prisons to Not Rebid Its Contract for Rivers Correctional Facility,” businesswire.com, Nov. 23, 2020 7. The Innocence Project Staff, “The Lasting Legacy of Parchman Farm, the Prison Modeled after a Slave Plantation,” innocenceproject.org, May 29, 2020 8. Amy Tikkanen, “San Quentin State Prison,” britannica.com, Aug. 4, 2017 9. Equal Justice Initiative, “Convict Leasing,” eji.org, Nov. 1, 2013 10. Whitney Benns, “American Slavery, Reinvented,” theatlantic.com, Sep. 21, 2015 11. The Sentencing Project, “Private Prisons in the United States,” sentencingproject.org, Mar. 3, 2021 12. The Week Staff, “The Private Prison Industry, Explained,” the week.com, Aug. 6, 2018 13. Madison Pauly, “A Brief History of America’s Private Prison Industry,” motherjones.com, July/Aug. 2016 14. Equal Justice Initiative, “President Biden Phases out Federal Use of Private Prisons,” eji.org, Jan. 27, 2021 15. Emily Widra, “Since You Asked: Just How Overcrowded Were Prisons Before the Pandemic, and at This Time of Social Distancing, How Overcrowded Are They Now?,” prisonpolicy.org, Dec. 21, 2020 16. Austin Stuart, “Private Prisons are Helping California and Can Be Used to Reduce Prison Population,” reason.org, Mar. 31, 2017 17. Mia Armstrong, “Here’s Why Abolishing Private Prisons Isn’t a Silver Bullet,” themarshallproject.org, Sep. 12, 2019 18. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, “How to Create More Humane Private Prisons,” brennancenter.org, Nov. 14, 2018 19. Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University, “Designing a Public-Private Partnership to Deliver Social Outcomes,” beeckcenter.georgetown.edu, 2019 20. GEO Group, Inc., “GEO Reentry Services,” geogroup.com (accessed Sep. 29, 2021) 21. Serco, “Auckland South Corrections Facility (Kohuora),” serco.com (accessed Sep. 29, 2021) 22. Curtis R. Blakely and Vic W. Bumphus, “Private and Public Sector Prisons—A Comparison of Select Characteristics,” uscourts.gov, June 2004 23. Bella Davis, “Push to end private prisons stymied by concerns for local economies,” nmindepth.com, Feb. 26, 2021 24. Ivette Feliciano, “Private Prisons Help with Overcrowding, but at What Cost?,” pbs.org, June 24, 2017 25. Scott Weybright, “Privatized prisons lead to more inmates, longer sentences, study finds,” news.wsu.edu, Sep. 15, 2020 26. Shankar Vedantam, “How Private Prisons Affect Sentencing,” npr.org, June 28, 2019 27. Nicole Lewis and Beatrix Lockwood, “The Hidden Cost of Incarceration,” themarshallproject.org Dec. 17, 2019 28. AP, “Audit: Private Prisons Cost More Than State-Run Prisons,” apnews.com, Jan. 1, 2019 29. Andrea Cipriano, “Private Prisons Drive Up Cost of Incarceration: Study,” thecrimereport.org, Aug. 1, 2020 30. Richard A. Oppel, Jr., “Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings,” nytimes.com, May 18, 2011 31. Travis C. Pratt and Jeff Maahs, “Are Private Prisons More Cost-Effective Than Public Prisons? A Meta-Analysis of Evaluation Research Studies,” journals.sagepub.com, July 1, 1999 32. Alex Friedmann, “Apples-to-Fish: Public and Private Prison Cost Comparisons,” prisonlegalnews.org, Oct. 2016 33. Rachel Kushner, “Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind,” nytimes.com, Apr. 17, 2019 34. Holly Genovese, “Private Prisons Should Be Abolished — But They Aren’t the Real Problem,” jacobinmag.com, June 1, 2020 35. Gabriella Paiella, “How Would Prison Abolition Actually Work?,” gq.com, June 11, 2020
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Local Startup Offers Second Chance for Inmates

By Ashley Benkarski 

NASHVILLE, TN — Underguard Teleservices is a fairly new private business with an interesting pitch: their call center outsourcing employees are inmates.

Sibling duo Kyle and Kelly Hannah are continuing their father Casey’s business venture after his passing a few years ago.

As a prison minister Casey empathized with those society had forgotten and, recognizing the importance of second chances, worked with Kyle to merge his son’s business venture with his faith-based values by hiring incarcerated workers. 

When people think of inmate occupations, manual labor often comes to mind. While these jobs are a majority of those performed by the incarcerated population, the Prison Policy Initiative’s (PPI) website explains that a major problem faced by incarcerated laborers is that the jobs they’re performing aren’t giving them skills relevant to the current job market.

Operating through the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) program, the call center allows a more social occupation that provides its own set of skills in professional and casual interactions.

Poverty isn’t just a contributor to criminal activity but a major reason people become repeat offenders. For many, meager earnings are further diminished by fees and deductions, and necessary items sold to inmates are egregiously expensive.

The negative stigma faced by formerly incarcerated workers keeps them from finding a job with wages to survive.

Further, those with felony convictions are often barred from receiving government benefit programs, PPI reported.

All this leaves the question of how someone recently released from prison can afford to live or support their family with no savings, no income and very limited access to social safety nets, if at all.

When delving into this topic, one of the first solutions would be to pay incarcerated workers more while they serve their time. And while Kyle would like to do that, the state regulates how much these laborers can make. 

In six states, PPI reported, some workers make nothing. If this injustice is to be remedied, it will take a push from the public to lobby on behalf of higher wages for the imprisoned.

Last year Underguard launched their work-from-home division allowing employees to continue working after their release and also provides the necessary equipment to perform their job.

PPI’s 2021 report noted Tennessee’s incarceration rate of 838 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities) means it imprisons a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth.

Over 250 women, formerly and currently incarcerated, have been employed through Hannah’s business. He wants other companies to consider the path he’s taken.

Cynthia Gilliam, one of the first former inmates to participate in Underguard’s remote work program, underscored the significance of the human perspective when Kyle interviewed her for his Prosperity After Prison podcast. Casey, she said, was dedicated to helping the employees every step of the way. “He touched a whole lot of lives in a really dark place,” she told Kyle. 

 “Nobody wants to give offenders a second chance, but we’re human … We have families to feed, we have bills like everyone else,” Gilliam stated.

You can listen to the Prosperity After Prison podcast on Spotify. 

To learn more about TRICOR visit www.tn.gov/tricor/. For information on Underguard Teleservices visit ugteleservices.com.

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The Financial Exploitation Of Black People Goes Far Beyond Investments In Private Prisons

If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, create an account here and check out our how-to post to learn more.

Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity’s.

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The tumultuous events of last summer brought centuries of racial justice reckoning and awareness to the forefront of conversation across America. Suddenly, the polarity of the Americans’ understanding of and commitment to racial justice was on full display. We were left in a space where everyone was focused on solutions, for better or worse. People offered up a multitude of answers, including ending qualified immunity for police and tearing down confederate statues. Others continued to question if racism existed at all. (Spoiler alert: it does.)

I’ve long said that any meaningful conversation about racial equality must address mass incarceration and the far reach of the prison industrial complex, a system that disproportionately impacts and targets Black people. So it wasn’t surprising earlier this year when President Joe Biden issued an executive order to phase out private prison contracts. It’s a noteworthy move and certainly a step in the right direction, but history tells us that we, collectively, must be the catalyst for lasting change.

In 2019, I founded FreeCap Financial with the intent to provide clarity on where we actually spend and invest our money. Why does that matter? Quite simply, our financial decisions have the ability to dismantle the prison industrial complex. Investors have a personal responsibility to live their values financially — and most people want to. FreeCap Financial is one of the only ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance investing) data providers with a social justice lens, which allows investors to put their money where their values are. By supporting companies who are not only against the prison industrial complex but also implement fair chance hiring practices after incarceration, your average investor can work to shift the narrative surrounding racial inequity.

The prison industrial complex expands far beyond the business of private prisons. More than 4,000 companies have financial ties to prison labor programs, food suppliers, commissary and phone providers, bail bonds and other prison contractors. It’s quite literally a multi-billion dollar industry made on the backs of incarcerated people, disproportionately exploiting Black and brown communities. In order to make it not profitable to profit off of people, we have to mobilize the investment community behind it.

If you think your own portfolio is off the hook, I urge you to dig deeper. Popular firms, including The Vanguard Group, BlackRock and Fidelity Investments, have stakes in several companies that have practices and investments supporting mass incarceration. But the financial exploitation of Black people goes far beyond investments in private prisons and for-profit prison labor. For example, most portfolios, including public energy monopoly stocks, benefit companies that continually ignore calls for environmental justice while building pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure in predominantly Black communities. There are a growing number of socially responsible investing (SRI), Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and impact investing funds that have the potential to reduce racial injustice.

It is important, though, when speaking to your financial advisor or in your own research, to determine what your financial institution means when they use these terms, so that you can find investment funds that truly align with your values. Utilization of ESG strategies and green investing has made significant progress over the past decade, but they still have a long way to go to fully adopt a racial justice lens into their approaches.

Socially responsible investing that aligns with our values can motivate companies to do better when compared to traditional investing models. Consider a company’s workforce. Our scorecard shows that formerly incarcerated people make better employees, though almost 75% of those individuals remain unemployed a year after their release. It’s not uncommon for companies to use prison labor in their supply chain and refuse to employ those people upon release.

Hiring formerly incarcerated people not only makes good business sense but also reduces the biggest factor driving recidivism: unemployment. This, paired with proper diversity and inclusion training, can lead to a more diverse, better-equipped workforce. In a world where we only invested in companies who were leaders in diversity, equity and inclusion, companies would have to compete to be the best in this area to get our money as investors. That’s a win-win for our communities and our pocketbooks.

There are companies leading the way on DEI to hire formerly incarcerated people. The Second Chance Business Coalition is a growing group of businesses that have committed to expanding employment opportunities at their companies for people with criminal records. Tech companies and trades have a unique opportunity to develop workers’ skills as part of their training in prison. Slack Technologies, for example, collaborated with The Last Mile to create The Next Chapter — an initiative that teaches coding in prisons with the goal of transitioning students to full-time employment opportunities when returning home. More initiatives that create a pipeline to living-wage jobs are needed.

Investors should also care about how companies manage their supply chains. Supply chains are not static; they shift with market fluctuations, weather conditions and the “occasional” freak accident. It can be difficult to track where products are being made, let alone where they will be made in six months. There’s a significant reputational risk for companies that fail to monitor their supply chains.

People were outraged when they learned last year that hundreds of thousands of cloth facial masks were sewn by incarcerated people for pennies on the dollar in states like CaliforniaNew York, Arizona and Florida, despite not having access to their own PPE. It’s only logical for investors to be concerned with PR nightmares caused by poor supply chain risk management. Again, ignoring supply chain risk when making investment decisions is bad for our communities and our investments.

Socially responsible investing is one of the best ways investors can live out their values while seeing a positive return on investment. Investors genuinely committed to dismantling the prison industrial complex can tap into this opportunity. It’s up to us to lay the groundwork to dismantle the prison industrial complex through conscious, intentional and values-based investing.

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Tanay Tatum-Edwards is the founder of FreeCap Financial, the only ESG data provider with a criminal justice lens.

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Daily updates on Jensen v. Shinn

The landmark trial Jensen v. Shinn began Nov. 1 in Phoenix, the latest chapter in an almost decade-long struggle to determine whether Arizona’s prisoners are getting the basic health care they are entitled to under the law.

The federal trial pits Arizona against the people held in its prisons, who argue in a class-action lawsuit that the medical services they receive are so poor, they constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

The state’s health care contractor, Centurion, is the latest in a string of companies that have failed to pass muster with the courts.

Here’s the latest:

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Prison Reform Club – The Merciad

Prison reform is a hot topic today with the United States having the highest rates of incarceration in the world. More light has been shed on the poor conditions in prisons, with the environment hardly being livable. In addition to the poor conditions, prison reform holds the belief that the entire system of incarceration must be rethought.

Questions of the effectiveness of incarceration have been brought up in recent years, especially as human rights activists have begun to think about the inherent rights that people have despite the actions that might have gotten them locked up. The goals listed on the website of The Sentencing Project are as follows: Eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and cutting back on excessively lengthy sentences; for example, by imposing a 20-year maximum on prison terms. Shifting resources to community-based prevention and treatment for substance abuse. Investing in interventions to promote strong youth development and respond to delinquency in age-appropriate and evidence-based ways. Examining and addressing the policies and practices, conscious or not, that contribute to racial inequity at every stage of the justice system. Removing barriers that make it harder for individuals with criminal records to turn their lives around.

The Sisters of Mercy, who founded Mercyhurst University, have nonviolence listed as one of their five critical concerns. This deals with issues like the end to the death penalty and any mistreatment of humans. This mission, combined with Mercyhurst’s criminal justice program, prompted the creation of the Student Alliance for Prison Reform Club.

Mercyhurst’s website has a brief summary of the club that encapsulates its goals and mission: “The purpose of The Student Alliance for Prison Reform is to create and support student initiatives to bring about change in the U.S. Criminal Justice System. In the same way, the Mercyhurst student chapter bears the same objectives. The stated objectives shall be fostering new student initiatives by connecting students with a criminal justice community, advocating for justice reforms that support education, health, safety and rehabilitation, educating campuses and communities on criminal justice, sentencing policy and the effects of mass incarceration.

”Students in this club learn about the various elements of prison reform, which draws in many people who are Criminal Justice majors, but also those who are interested in social justice initiatives and human rights issues, since both of these passions drive the prison reform movement. It is important to have this club for college students because we are people who will eventually be guiding future generations, and future generations should know the importance of the dignity of human life, and the different opinions surrounding capital punishment and incarceration.”

Elizabeth Marino, a senior Criminal Justice major, explained her viewpoint on the importance of prison reform. “After learning so much about the corruption and ineffectiveness of prisons over the years, particularly private prisons, prison reform is a topic that I am very passionate about. It’s heartbreaking to learn about the great struggles people have when they get out of prison, and their inability to get back on track in life due to all the walls and stigmas put up around them,” said Marino.

If you are passionate about prison reform and learning more about the prison system, you should consider joining the Student Alliance for Prison Reform Club. It offers great knowledge and experience for anyone of interest!

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NAACP calls for end of Trousdale Turner Correctional Center | News

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) –  The NAACP announced on Thursday that they want one of Tennessee’s private prisons to be closed.

The organization said they received several complaints from African American men in Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. The complaints range from beatings in the facility, to refusing to give the men medical treatment.

Sen. Brenda Gilmore in Nashville called for change.

“They deserve to be treated in a humane way, it’s not happening,” Gilmore said. “I would say classify Trousdale as a slave camp.”

Gilmore said she’s asking her fellow senators to request a federal investigation. 

Private prisons have been a controversial topic in recent years. Just last year, Core Civic and Metro Council ended a 30-year relationship, and the Nashville facility was taken over by the sheriff’s office.

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – There was a changing of the guard at the Metro Detention Facility on Sunday morning.

 

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Activists say the U.S. must halt solitary confinement

Activists and at least one representative from the United Nations on Thursday said the United States has long been responsible for a dangerous export: The use of solitary confinement for incarcerated individuals. 

It’s hardly the first time the U.S. has been held up as a poor example of prisoner treatment.


What You Need To Know

  • Activists are urging the United States and other nations to end the practice of solitary confinement for incarcerated individuals 
  • The practice of punishment through confinement largely originated in the United States in the 18th century, spurred by Quaker beliefs
  • The U.N. says solitary confinement is when an individual is isolated in a closed cell, with little to no human contact for 22-24 hours
  • Numerous studies have long revealed the mental and physical harm that can be attributed to prolonged time in solitary confinement

It’s true that the practice of punishment through confinement largely originated in the United States in the 18th century, spurred by Quaker beliefs that people facing prolonged periods of solitude would use the time to pray and offer penance for their sins. (Quakers later moved away from the use of solitary confinement.)

In the centuries since, both the prison population and the amount of individuals in solitary confinement grew exponentially across the United States.

But the U.S. did not limit the practice to its own borders, activists said during a virtual roundtable discussion on Thursday. Instead, the use of solitary confinement was spread to other countries through diplomatic or other means.

One such “exportation” of the practice came during the early-2000 “Plan Colombia,” when agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons were sent to South America to, in part, help the country “modernize” its prison system. 

The U.S. repeated the same pattern in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Dr. Baz Dreisinger, a professor of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and executive director of the Incarceration Nations Network.

“Some of those prisons went to waste and, and I should say that all of these practices are grounded in ideas around this supermax model, the U.S. invention that was hoisted on the world,” she added.

Solitary confinement comes in many forms and under numerous names, and it is used for a variety of reasons. Some inmates are moved to solitary confinement as punishment for poor behavior; other inmates who may be in danger are put in “protective custody,” which essentially amounts to the same thing. 

The common definition of solitary confinement, as put forward by the United Nations, is when an incarcerated individual is isolated in a closed cell, with little to no human contact for 22-24 hours in any given day. 

In 2015, the U.N. adopted what is now known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules,” which define the minimum standard treatment of prisoners in every party nation, which includes the U.S. The updated guidelines say solitary confinement should be used only in exceptional circumstances, and never for more than 15 consecutive days or for the punishment of mentally ill individuals or minors.

While not legally binding, the rules “represent the minimum conditions which are accepted as suitable by the United Nations.” 

“In terms of U.N. response, we have been noticing that despite these clear international norms and standards, in [the] vast majority of the cases in countries that we work with, we still see a lot of use of solitary confinement,” said Miwa Kato, director of operations for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The United States has far and away the highest prison population of any developed country. While estimates on the number of inmates housed in such conditions varies, most experts agree that around 80,000 people are in solitary confinement in the U.S. 

Activists say it is far past time to address the high human cost of solitary incarceration. Numerous studies, from both the United States and abroad, have long revealed the mental and physical harm that can be attributed to prolonged time in solitary confinement. 

A 2010 study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, found that solitary confinement is particularly harmful to individuals who have severe pre-existing mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder. 

“The stress, lack of meaningful social contact, and unstructured days can exacerbate symptoms of illness or provoke recurrence,” the report read in part. “Suicides occur disproportionately more often in segregation units than elsewhere in prison. All too frequently, mentally ill prisoners decompensate in isolation, requiring crisis care or psychiatric hospitalization. Many simply will not get better as long as they are isolated.”

But solitary confinement remains a controversial topic within the United States, particularly as it pertains to juvenile offenders and the mentally ill. 

There has been some movement on the issue in recent years: In 2016, then-President Barack Obama banned federal prisons from putting juveniles in solitary confinement. But the president also said there are “circumstances when solitary is a necessary tool, such as when certain prisoners must be isolated for their own protection or in order to protect staff and other inmates.” 

The law does not apply to state-run or private prisons, and some states still allow the practice. 

Others, like Virginia and New York City, have moved to either loosen restrictions on prisoners in solitary confinement, or to ban the practice altogether. 

In June, the New York City Board of Correction voted unanimously to end solitary confinement across all jails, with Mayor Bill DeBlasio saying the city was “going further than any jail system in America to ban solitary confinement once and for all.” 

Also this summer, Virginia’s Department of Corrections issued a news release last week saying it had “completed the removal of restrictive housing” in the state’s prisons by offering at least four hours of out-of-cell time for those inmates.

But the ACLU of Virginia and Interfaith Action for Human Rights told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the claim was not true. Both groups said they have gotten complaints about conditions that don’t meet the standards the state described.

Regardless, activists do not think the efforts are widespread enough, and urge Americans to pressure Congress and the Biden administration to end the practice altogether. 

It’s a pledge Joe Biden made during his campaign, saying he would end “the practice of solitary confinement, with very limited exceptions such as protecting the life of an imprisoned person.”  

While Biden did issue a number of executive orders addressing the federal prison population at the outset of his presidency, none pertained to the use of solitary confinement. 

Some say Biden overlooked a key agency responsible for the treatment of prisoners: The federal Bureau of Prisons.

While most criminal justice overhauls require action from local officials or legislation, reforming the federal prison system is something Biden and his Justice Department control. And there are crying needs there for improvement.

The administration can’t control the laws that get someone sent to prison. But it can control staffing, transparency, health care, the use of solitary confinement and, most of all, agency leadership.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.