Prisons
Alphabetical List of Links by Subject


"In 2004 (the latest year for which fitures are available), there were 771,984 US marijuana arrests. And 88 percent of these were for simple possession--not sale or manufacture. That's more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.

"But why?

"Is it because marijuana is a terribly dangerous substance?

"Well, no.

"Marijuana is indisputably less dangerous than alcohol. Alcohol is more addictive, far more toxic, and exponentially more likely to provoke violent or aggressive behavior.

"Is it because marijuana prohibition is effective at reducing use and keeping marijuana away from kids?

"Again, the answer is no.

"In the Netherlands, where adults have been allowed to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses since the mid-1970s, the rate of marijuana use is at least one-third lower than in the US, for both teens and adults. And because--unlike the United States--the Netherlands has taken marijuana out of the criminal market, thus breaking the "gateway" between marijuana and hard drugs, Americans use cocaine and heroin at three time the rate the Dutch do.

"Thinking people on all sides of the political spectrum, from Dennis Kucinich on the left to Milton Friedman on the right, agree that our present marijuana laws make no sense. Sadly, most elected officials, from both major parties, refuse to listen" (Bruce Mirken, Marijuana Policy Project. "Senseless Drug Laws." The Progressive, August 2006: 6).


"Liberal use of incarceration does not result in a proportional reduction in crime. As current research shows, excessively harsh punishment leads to increases in crime rates, a classic unintended consequence...

"Incarceration of a significant percentage of the population makes the community unstable and perpetuates a destructive cycle...

"Treatment and diversion programs that are proven to reduce crime are underutilized" (Ann Del Llano. "Texas Must Reform Its Incarceration Policies." Dispatch ACLU Texas, Spring 2004: 8).


"...the number of persons incarcerated nationwide topped 2 million... Every year 600,000 convicts are released from prison. There are now 13 million Americans who have served time. That's 7 percent of the adult population...

"Most leave prison with little education or job skills, and many have untreated substance abuse problems. An estimated 16 percent have a serious mental illness. Others will come out of prison with Hepatitis C (which is epidemic in many state prison systems, including Texas), HIV, or even tuberculosis. Increasingly punitive measures on the outside, meant to dissuade would-be offenders, are instead creating a kind of caste from which many ex-cons never escape... Forty percent will re-offend within three years... two-thirds of all ex-cons are black or Hispanic" (Nate Blakeslee. "What Rocky Wrought." Texas Observer, 1/7/05: 8-9, 20).


"Michael Tonry's Thinking About Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture exposes our punishment preoccupation as a series of "moral panics"" (Kate Clinton. "Our Favorite Books 2004." The Progressive, Dec. 2004: 42).


"High-powered tasers are the new fad in law enforcement. They are becoming ever more prevalent even as their safety is increasingly in question. The proliferation of tasers in police departments across the country has led to unconventional uses. Among those hit by tasers are elderly people, children as young as one year old, people apparently suffering diabetic shock and epileptic seizures, people already bound in restraints, and hospital mental patients. Police used tasers against protesters at the 2003 Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas demonstration and against rowdy fans at the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. School systems are employing the weapons, with some officers carrying tasers even in elementary schools.

"But doctors, reporters, and human rights groups have raised questions about the safety of the devices, which shoot two barbs designed to pierce the skin. The barbs are at the end of electrical wires carrying 50,000 volts. Last summer, The New York Times reported that at least fifty people have died within a short time after being hit with a taser. By November, when Amnesty International releasted its report, that number had risen to more than seventy...

"Police like tasers, sometimes for good reason... says the taser "is a tool that is effective in ending what could otherwise be a violent conflict without injuries. We're finding that time and again"...

"In Portland, Oregon, police used a taser to shock a seventy-one-year-old blind woman four times on her back and once on the right breast. They also pepper-sprayed her and beat her...

"Amnesty International... warns it is "not advisable" to use its high-power devices on someone who is pregnant or elderly...

"Many police departments say that use of tasers has reduced injuries and fatalities. The city of Phoenix saw a 54 percent drop in police shootings the year it began to use tasers. In 2003, Seattle, which also uses tasers, for the first time in fifteen years had no shootings that involved officers. That correlation has made tasers popular...

"But Amnesty International says the tasers are making it too easy for the police to use excessive force... "In contrast, taser usage has increased dramatically, becoming the most prevalent force option in some department...

"A number of the stories in the Amnesty report involve police use of tasers on people who were already restrained, including two who were strapped to gurneys and on their way to, or already inside, hospitals...

"Amnesty International wants the devices temporarily banned "pending a rigorous, independent, and impartial inquiry into their use and effects"...

"On December 10, 2004, police in Pembroke Pines, Florida, used a taser on a twelve-year-old boy who tried to stab another child with a pencil and then became combative with police...

"Back in May, a nine-year-old run-away girl in Tucson, who was already handcuffed by police and sitting in a police vehicle, was shocked with a taser when she began to kick at the car and bang her head...

"Even one-year-olds have been shocked, according to records... The company also told the San Jose Mercury News that its taser can be used safely on toddlers...

"A scientist who tested some of the early tasers for the Canadian government recommended that the government ban the devices... his tests showed the devices could cause death...

"...a trend: the increasingly common use of tasers against students. Taser International says that 32 percent of the police departments it interviewed include tasers in local school systems...

"Taser International, which features the slogan "Saving Lives Every Day" on its website, is also hawking tasers directly to consumers... calling them "home self-defense systems"" (Ann-Marie Cusac. "The Trouble With Tasers." The Progressive, April, 2005: 22-27).


"In June 2003... Governor Rick Perry abolished an entire agency with a line-item veto... Perry's action will likely end up costing the state much more than that. For an institution that was unique in the nation, the agency had a rather bland name--the Criminal Justice Policy Council. It had started in 1984 as a council of elected officials tasked with forcing agencies dealing with the criminal justice system to work together...

"Over two decades Fabelo would transform the council into an unbiased source of data and planning for one of the largest prison systems in the world. The council studied everything from prison costs and upkeep to the effectiveness of drug treatment programs. Astoundingly, 1 out of every 20 Texans are under the control of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice either in prison, parole, or on probation. Fabelo created order from chaos...

"...it was Fabelo's appraisal of privatization--grounded in realism and not ideology [which cause Perry to kill his agency]...

"We have about the same prison population as California, [which] has 13 million more people. And that gives you a sense of how high our incarceration rate is...

"Right now with the highest incarceration rate in the country... If we build more prisons... are you going to get dramatic declines in crime? The answer is no...

"The probation system in Texas is not a very effective system... The caseloads [for probation officers] are 100 to 116 for felony probations...

"...if you're a probationer... you don't get a lot of attention that can help you get out of trouble. In particular, attention with employement problems, substance abuse problems, and so forth. On the other hand, if you're doing well on probation, you stay on probation forever because you're paying fees... Half of the funding of the system comes from fees paid by probationers...

Question: What would the ideal caseload for probation officers look like?

"It variees. Some people say seven" (Jake Bernstein. "They Shot More Than a Messenger." Texas Observer, Feb. 18, 2005: 6-7).


"One of the problems with British prisons is that they work as punishment but not as correction. Nearly 60% of inmates re-offend within two years of release and more than half end up behind bars again. Now the governor of the hugely overcrowded Brixton prison in London, John Podmore, has come up with a common-sense idea to cut recidivism.

"He wants more companies to give jobs to ex-prisoners to cut the cost of re-offending, estimated at £11bn a year. Former prisoners, he insists, make loyal workers, provided they are given the right training. And much of that, including basic literacy, can be provided while they are still locked up. Some inmates, Mr. Podmore wryly points out, are natural entrepreneurs: "Some are very intelligent, very street-wise and have serious business acumen. You've got to be fast to sell crack cocaine outside Brixton Tube"" ("Businesses Should Bank on Robbers." Guardian Weekly, July 21, 2005: 13).


"In his latest book, Last Chance in Texas, journalist John Hubner recouts the nine months he spent at the Texas Youth Commission's Giddings State School, where therapists and administrators have come up with a treatment program called "resocialization," a kind of emotional boot camp for young criminals...

"Fundamentally, resocialization offers Giddings' students an on-going lesson in confrontation and reflection. Upon arrival, students are handed a tetxt called Changing Course: A Student Workbook for Resocialization, and are responsible for memorizing nine "thinking errors" (Deceiving, downplaying, avoiding, blaming, making excuses, jumping to conclusions, acting helpless, overreacting, and feeling special), which serve as the day-to-day vocabulary on campus. They're then encouraged to detect the use of errors in their own decision-making processes as well as those of their fellow inmates...

"Just what do they consider improvement? Empathy. The word itself is good as gold on campus, as elusive as it is sought after. "Everything that happens on campus, from the behavior groups to the football team, is designed to foster empathy," Hubner writes. In an interview, Giddings psychologist Dr. Linda Reyes explains the philosophy, telling him that "Having empathy means taking responsibility. It means making a choice: The things a youth has done to others will never happen to someone else because of him...

"Role-playing is meant to heighten this encounter with the self. Dr. Reyes, who's credited with bringing the psychodramatic element into these sessions, explains:

"Listening to their stories, I saw a lack of empathy... They were full of anger, hostility, aggression, resentment, and they refused to accept responsibility. The more stories I heard, the more that empathy seemed to be the critical thing. Empathy keeps you from doing something that might harm someone. We had to find a way to build empathy..."

(Carrie Fountain. "Crash course in empathy." Texas Observer, Oct. 21, 2005: 22-23).


Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS