police

The Fight to Control Women

“Recent years have seen a panic over “online red-light districts,” which supposedly seduce vulnerable young women into a life of degradation, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s live tweeting of a Cambodian brothel raid. But rarely do these fearful, salacious dispatches come from sex workers themselves, and rarely do they deviate from the position that sex workers must be rescued from their condition, and the industry simply abolished — a position common among feminists and conservatives alike.

“In Playing the Whore, journalist Melissa Gira Grant turns these pieties on their head, arguing for an overhaul in the way we think about sex work. Based on ten years of writing and reporting on the sex trade, and grounded in her experience as an organizer, advocate, and former sex worker, Playing the Whore dismantles pervasive myths about sex work, criticizes both conditions within the sex industry and its criminalization, and argues that separating sex work from the ‘legitimate’ economy only harms those who perform sexual labor. In Playing the Whore, sex workers’ demands, too long relegated to the margins, take center stage: sex work is work, and sex workers’ rights are human rights.”

– Summary of Playing the Whore from goodreads.com

Debates about prostitution tend to cover many topics, ranging from informal economics to public health, but ultimately comes down to one central element: control. Control of women. Control over women.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant Jacobin/Verso, 136 pp.

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work
by Melissa Gira Grant
Jacobin/Verso, 136 pp.

Those involved in sex work, whether they use the label of prostitute, sex worker or something else, belong to a part of society largely overlooked by society. Like the homeless or the unemployed, society, generally, looks down upon them while rarely offering respect for their human dignity or considering their current state as a temporary one. Leaders in both public and private sectors rarely given them a chance for inclusion into the rest of society.

Grant’s Playing the Whore is a simple yet exhaustive study of all the areas which affect sex workers, including the police, the media and the groups who see themselves as the ‘savior’. Largely excluded from the discussion on criminality, depiction or alternatives are sex workers themselves.

Just as women of colour and lesbians of generations past had to face off against straight white feminists of movements past, sex workers who seek autonomy and respect have to face off against anti-prostitution feminists today who offer neither. Grant documents how feminists in the anti-prostitution movement organize events and talks about sex work while, without seeing the problem, never including sex workers.

Female sex workers, like the many others who preceded them in the women’s liberation movement, continue to counter the conservative values, often shaped by Christian morality, that come to control their daily life. Although those people who buy sex sometimes face arrest, the burden falls predominantly on the woman. Sex workers face widespread violence and harassment by police officers. Sadly, the rest of society does not value sex workers much better.

In the same way that substance abuse is now seen as a health concern and something that shouldn’t be treated with criminalization and imprisonment, prostitution should be seen as an issue of employment needs. Unfortunately, politicians, supposed “advocates” and others refuse to see their place as seeking harm reduction, as is being done for addicts. Similarly, the role for police in both instances is to protect citizens – all citizens – especially those most vulnerable to receiving harm.

The central element of the book, which is signaled by its subtitle, “The Work of Sex Work”, is that of employment. Bringing her own stories as well as other sex workers, Grant describes the informal nature of today’s sex work. The women’s liberation movement has long been about women’s economic liberation. From unpaid care work to the gender pay gap, women have long suffered from an economy tailored not to them but towards men. Sex work is no different. Grant connects the work of sex work to other forms of self-employment within the informal sector, such as hair stylists, and service industries, like retail. Until all women are given the economic opportunities to live a dignified and comfortable life, these forms of informal or part-time employment will have to be used.

The debate on economics applies to countries around the world. As Grant points out, the movement to “rescue” sex workers in Asia and elsewhere does not address the economic, political and social disadvantages sex workers face inside and outside the profession. Even if victimized women are rescued, they receive little more than job training to low-paid labour. A sign in a Cambodia textile shop employing former sex workers point to this realization. It reads:

DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT SEWING MACHINES. TALK TO ME ABOUT WORKERS’ RIGHTS.

Until we begin to see women – all women – as equal members of society, short-term fixes will not have the power to liberate sex workers when they continue to live in poverty. For those women who are left without alternative employment, decriminalization and support should be a first priority, not fear of the police and exclusion from ‘mainstream’ workers.

The debate between a woman’s right to self-determination and conservative traditional values in society is linked to another contentious issue: abortion.

The first feminist wave gave women the right to vote. The second wave gave women the Pill, and control of their reproductive rights.

In the United States, like most countries around the world, abortion was important for family planning but seen as a criminal action. This period, half a century ago, was also marked by near total male representation in politics. In 1973, the US Supreme Court determined that abortion was a constitutionally protected act with Roe v. Wade. Since then, conservative groups have fought to make abortion illegal or impossible to get.

cartoonThe documentary TRAPPED showcases doctors who perform abortions in some states in the United States who have fought against so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. Since 2011, states in the South and Midwest have passed more than 300 abortion restrictions — TRAP laws, admitting privilege requirements, rules for how medication abortions may be performed, bans on abortion after 20 weeks (and sometimes earlier), longer waiting periods, and greater impediments to teenagers seeking abortions without parental approval.

Earlier this year, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the US Supreme Court found that TRAP laws in Texas placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and thus violate the Constitution. This is a major victory for women’s rights and may signal the beginning of TRAP laws being overruled across the nation.

TRAPPED follows in the footsteps of other documentary films shining a light on the battle over a woman’s right to choose. Six years ago, 12th & Delaware revealed the fight on the titular street corner in Fort Pierce, Florida, between a for-profit abortion clinic and a Roman Catholic Church-supported pregnancy clinic whose mission is to prevent women from obtaining abortions. While the abortion clinic takes precautions against threats of violence and fends off protesters, the pregnancy clinic actively spreads misinformation to women about the dangers of abortion.

A decade ago, Lake of Fire depicted the heated abortion debate that was already waging for decades in America. Leaving no stone unturned, it featured graphic footage of actual medical procedures and presented people on both pro-choice and pro-life sides of the issue.

These films add to the lengthy abortion debate in the United States and reveal the tactics of those groups opposed to a women’s right to choose how her pregnancy is managed. Ultra-conservative and Christian groups lie to pregnant women, spreading misinformation and fear. They set up anti-abortion pregnancy centres, which act as red herrings to women who are seeking abortions, while never disclosing their real ideology. These tactics show no respect towards pregnant women who, for whatever reason, have decided that a medically-assisted abortion is the right decision. Instead, they fool pregnant women, delaying their decision beyond what the law allows and, in effect, force vulnerable to follow through with their pregnancy against their will. A shameful game of politics over people.

The abortion debate in the United States has not been peaceful either. Groups like Operation Rescue and others promote violence to achieve their ends. It’s not just psychological violence. Although conservative and Christian groups regularly protest outside clinics and yell at women who enter, they also conduct terrorism. Male opponents to abortion (it’s almost always men who become violent) have repeatedly assassinated doctors and fire-bombed clinics, spreading fear and pressuring providers to close their doors. The entire anti-abortion movement ultimately furthers these horrendous acts of violence through their misinformation and shaming protests. Sadly, this violence in the name of opposing reproductive rights is not limited to only the US.

screen-shot-2014-05-04-at-1-59-26-pmThe concept of rescue is found in the ideologies of both anti-prostitution and anti-abortion. Rescue from what? Rescuing women from themselves, it seems. From decisions about their health, their well-being, their finances, and their work. The debate doesn’t typically expand past what to do once women are “rescued”. They are thrown back into society to fend for themselves without the political, economic or social support they may have wanted in the first place.

It’s difficult to ignore the irony at the center of debates on women’s rights: the loudest voices aren’t women. Men make up the majority of anti-abortion advocates. One of the biggest anti-abortion voices is the Catholic Church, which is built around female subservience to male clergy. Male legislatures pass laws without talking to female voters.

Although women are often found protesting prostitution and abortion, the organisations they represent are, more often than not, led by men. Men who will never be pregnant. Men who have more employment opportunities than women and who can purchase sex from prostitutes without fear of much prosecution or persecution.

Men need to stand aside and listen, rather than stand at the front and dominate the discussion. We need to stop making decisions about those we know little about.

Ultimately, the fight is not over whose morals should dominate because this is not a debate over ideas; it’s a debate over people. People who have the right to determine their own lives. All human beings deserve dignity.

All struggles are connected since, as the organisation Black Women for Wages for Housework said, “When prostitutes win, all women win.” Hookers and housewives unite!

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Black Power and the Black Panthers

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Writing for Jacobin Magazine, Robert Greene II discusses the lasting relevance of the Black Panthers and their antiracist, anticapitalist vision:

The work of the Black Panthers remains important for several reasons. First, they remind us that the problem of police brutality has long been with us (Martin Luther King, Jr even mentioned it in his oft-cited, but often misinterpreted, “I Have A Dream” speech). Indeed, protests following the death of Denzil Dowell in North Richmond, a community near Oakland, in April 1967 played a major role in the growth of the BPP from a small cadre to a major political and social force.

Second, the BPP offers a good model of grassroots activism and ideology in practice. While the group was torn apart by conflicts between Newton and Cleaver by the 1970s, the Panthers continued to do important work on the ground in Oakland. Their “survival programs” appealed to African Americans living in poverty who were unable to depend on local government for any help. And crucially, they tied their free breakfast and education programs to a larger political project. An ingenious mix of the practical and the visionary, the BPP’s community work was the most revolutionary work they carried out.

The Black Panther Party also proved an important training ground for African-American women activists, such as Kathleen Cleaver and Elaine Brown. As with the Civil Rights Movement, women members did a great deal of the nuts-and-bolts work in the BPP.

Finally, the legacy of the Black Panther Party can be seen in the current Black Lives Matter movement. The Movement for Black Lives’ demands for economic justice, community power, and reparations recall the Black Panther Party’s ten-point platform. And, like the Black Power and Civil Rights movements, the Black Lives Matter movement has had to deal time and again with negative media coverage and a “go-slow” critique from many American liberals.

Today, fifty years after its founding, the Panthers should be remembered for more than their black berets and shotguns. Despite their flaws, they melded the immediate and the transformative into a potent political vision, advocating a multiracial alliance against racism, capitalism, and imperialism that delivered tangible gains to the most exploited. That vision is equally as stirring today.

Charles Bursey hands a plate of food to a child seated at a Free Breakfast Program.

Charles Bursey hands a plate of food to a child seated at a Free Breakfast Program. (source)

Like Greene’s article, the documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (click here to watch online) traces the roots of the Black Panther movement and the impact of its rise and fall on society.

The Black Panther Party put itself at the vanguard for social change. Their community social programs, including free breakfast for school kids and community health clinics, and acts of civil disobedience lead the FBI to call the movement “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and start an extensive government program called COINTELPRO to surveil, infiltrate, perjure, harass, discredit, destabilise and disintegrate the movement. The U.S. government did everything it could to destroy this grassroots movement for racial advancement, including the assassination of its leaders.

Other movements can learn from the example of Black Panthers and their community-based action for social change. No matter what the powerful do to stop them, the people will continue to fight for what’s right.

20160210_195555_116682_pbs_blackpanthers_socialskins_google

All power to the people.

The American Injustice System: Manufacturing Criminals

Earlier this year, Netflix released Making a Murderer, a 10-episode series that examines the life of Steven Avery. Avery spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Avery was exonerated with the aid of the Innocence Project and the actual perpetrator was found. To date, the work of the Innocence Project has led to the freeing of 343 wrongfully convicted people based on DNA, including 20 who spent time on death row and the finding of 147 Making_a_Murderer_titlecardreal perpetrators. The TV series then goes on to follow the prosecution of Avery for a second major crime – murder. I would like to focus on this first arrest and later exoneration.

Making a Murderer follows a long line of documentaries that question the results of the criminal justice system in the United States. From The Thin Blue Line to The Central Park Five, American police and prosecutors have been shown to get things wrong. These are not isolated mistakes but, rather, a trend. A trend of innocent people – mainly young, impoverished, African American males – arrested for crimes they didn’t commit and send to prison for long lengths of time. This trend has a long history. It dates back to the American civil war through the Jim Crow era and into modern day drug policy. The two books The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson document this history well. The result is staggering:

  • The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
  • In 1972, there were 300,000 people in jails and prisons. By 2012, there was 2.3 million.
  • Seven million people are on probation and parole.
  • One out of three black men, between the age of 18 and 30, are in jail, prison, probation or parole.
  • The United States imprisoned a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.

Racism and poverty are at the heart of this system. Poor communities and communities of colour receive different punishments than those found in rich, white neighborhoods. This inequality is mixed with a desire for maximum punishment. If there’s any hope at solving the massive problems within the American criminal justice system, the root causes need to be brought to light. The System attempts to do so.

The System is a series of eight documentaries, produced by Joe Berlinger on Al Jazeera English. Each episode examines a single element of the American criminal justice system and can be watched below.

Four of the films explain why so many men and women are imprisoned. The reason is that they’re innocent. An in the other documentaries noted above, if an innocent person goes to prison, a guilty person does not. This means that they can continue committing crimes while innocent parties take the fall. There are four films in The System that explain this and the connection to racial and class inequalities.

An additional four films discuss the harsh punishments that face people (again, many of whom are innocent) once they are locked up in prison and even after they are released. In this era of ‘War on Drugs’ and ‘Law and Order’, the U.S. has passed several extremely harsh punishments. Punishments that also affect children – the U.S. is the only country in the world that has allows sentencing of 13-year-old children to life imprisonment without parole (sentenced to die in prison). These are some of the reasons that America has become the world leader in jailing its own citizens.

The System-Tiles

Locking Up Innocent People

Of the first 250 cases of DNA exoneration in the U.S., 76 percent had eyewitness mis-identification and 36 percent had more than one witness. One reason for these errors, described by Jennifer E. Dysart of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is relative judgement – people narrow down their options and pick the one that seems the best. Relative to the others, you choose the one that’s the best.

Try it for yourself. Look at the 12 U.S. pennies below and select the one that you think is correct. (Continue reading for the correct answer.)

penny-test

The Penny Test: Which one is correct?

This simple test simulates a police lineup, where images of suspects are given to a witness for identification. Because memories are reconstructed, they are easily subject to contamination by post-event information, says Dysart whose research is profile in the episode ‘Eyewitness Identification’. There are many factors that cloud ones memory including uncontrollable factors (short exposure, lighting, distance) and controllable factors by police and investigators (911 call, crime scene control, witness interviews).

One of the interesting uncontrollable factors is the cross-race effect. In this episode, two innocent black men were misidentified by white witnesses. Even though the witnesses selected individuals who had inconsistent height and did not have the correct physical identifiers, the men were still convicted. In general, people are not very good at noticing differences among other ethnicity. A cross-age effect has also been found in eyewitness identification.

A controllable factor of note is identification procedures. And relates to the penny test above. Law enforcement are supposed to tell the witness: “The real perpetrator (or penny) may or may not be there.” None of the pennies above are correct. If you picked one, you picked the wrong one. The same is true with police lineups. The police pull together images of “suspects” and witnesses select one, whether or not the criminal is actually shown. Dysart and other researchers are working to improve the procedures of law enforcement so that miscarriages of justice like this stop.

Like an eyewitness identification, a confession of a crime is often taken by law enforcement and courts as absolute truth. However, in 27 percent of cases with DNA exoneration, the defendant gave a false confession. In two cases profiled in the episode ‘False Confessions’, convictions were reached largely on the defendant’s confession. One of these cases involve a Las Vegas woman who experienced a sexual assault, an attempted rape. When investigators came to her home to talk, she thought they were saw her as a victim. Instead, they saw her as a criminal. One month after her ordeal, a murder occurred on the opposite side of the city from where she was attacked. Police didn’t believe her story and instead pinned the murder on her.

Beyond disbelief of victims, law enforcement use all sorts of tactics to gain confessions. Police interrogations can be hours long and use lie detector machines, which are unscientific but great at inducing stress. In many documented cases, police have gained confessions from young people, some who do not understand what they are agreeing to. This is exactly what happened to Jeffrey Deskovic, the second case documented in this episode. After 16 years of imprisonment, post-conviction DNA testing both proved Deskovic’s innocence and identified the real perpetrator of a 1989 murder and rape. As a former FBI investigator notes, “confessions are useless without corroboration.”

In ‘Flawed Forensics’, Berlinger examines the recent history of the FBI Laboratory. According to the Washington Post, the Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000. Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project. The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison. This now discredited area of criminal forensics adds to the list of ways prosecutors and courts imprison innocent people in the U.S.

‘Prosecutorial Misconduct’ explores the culture of prosecutors whose goal is to gain convictions at any cost. In a two-part series (part 1 / part 2), ProPublica found several state and federal court rulings in New York in which judges explicitly concluded that city prosecutors had committed harmful misconduct. In each instance, these abuses were sufficient to prompt courts to throw out convictions. In one such example, a prosecutor was later found, in one case, to have withheld critical evidence from a defendant’s attorney and, in another case, to have manipulated evidence. It wasn’t until a third case was overturned because the same prosecutor lied to a trial judge about the whereabouts of a key defense witness did they lose their job. In most cases, prosecutors who engaged in misconduct are rarely investigated or reprimanded. Disturbingly, several received promotions and raises soon after courts cited them for abuses. As Marvin Schechter, a defense attorney and chairman of the criminal justice section of the New York State Bar Association summarizes: “Prosecutors engage in misconduct because they know they can get away with it.”

These prosecutors were helped by police officers who cut corners and played by their own rules. Police officers have been found forcing witnesses to lie in order for them to make an arrest, often threatening charges in other crimes if they didn’t follow police instructions to lie. In other cases, police investigators pick and choose the evidence that fits their theory while ignoring defendant’s alibis or other evidence of their innocence. Together, prosecutors and police have left behind a long history of wrongful convictions in America. Men and women who have decades behind bars for crimes they didn’t commit, while actual criminals aren’t held accountable and, worse, are allowed to remain free.

Wider Injustice Issues

The episode ‘Geography of Punishment’ explores the intersection of wider social problems and criminal justice. In just one year, 50,000 people in New York were arrested under practices known as “stop and frisk”. Civil liberty groups have raise serious concerns over racial profiling since the vast majority of people stopped are black and Latino. There are also concerns over privacy rights. The Bronx Defenders Officer, after surveying six months of misdemeanor marijuana possession cases from a single court, found that in a huge number of instances, police were manufacturing crime. Police were conducting “improper stops, illegal searches [and making] false arrests”. To fight this misconduct by New York Police Department (NYPD), defendants would have to go to court. But their cases, which should have taken 60 days, were stretching to two years due to backlogs in the court system. Many become tired of fighting and having their lives disrupted by court dates, so they are forced to plead guilty. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.

The city of New Haven, Connecticut is featured. It embraced “stop and frisk” as well as the idea of drug-free zones. Drug-free zones meant that anyone arrested within certain areas of the city would receive an enhanced penalty: one year for using drug paraphernalia, two years for possession and three for drug sales. Because both policies worked to increase arrests, government official decided to increase the area of these zones. Drug-free school zones increased from 1,000 to 1,500 feet. They then added day care centers and all public housing. The maps below show the result in different communities of Connecticut.

drugfreezones

Drug-free zones in Hartford and Canaan: Schools (blue), day care centers (green) and public housing (red)

In New Haven, virtually all (around 95%) of the city is covered by drug-free zones; the one exception is the golf course at Yale University. Because of this enhanced penalty system, many innocent people feel pressured to plead guilty rather than risk such a harsh punishment. The system disproportionately affected minority population and impoverished people, who live in the inner city. In Connecticut, white people account for 70 percent of the population, but just 28 percent of arrests in drug-free zones. As seen above, suburbs, like Canaan, have far fewer drug-free zones than urban centers. They are also whiter and wealthier than urban centers. This is the unequal geography of punishment.

Worst of all, these zones effectively do nothing to prevent drug dealers from selling near schools, as all areas of the city are labeled “drug-free zones”. Reformers in New Haven are seeking to reduce the area of these zones from 1,500 to 200 feet so that they can actual act as a deterrent, rather than unnecessary additional punishment, as they do today. The problem is bigger than just New Haven, though. Over the past few decades, a report by Mic and Fractl shows, “drug-free zones” have taken over entire cities.

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Once arrested, many people face the additional burden of ‘Mandatory Sentencing’. This episode looks at the issue of mandatory minimum sentences related to gun crimes. In one case, an elderly Florida father fired a warning shot in self defense of his daughter’s boyfriend. Even though this was his first criminal charge, he was sent to prison for 20 years – a mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated assault with a firearm. This episode shines a light on the challenge of create fair sentencing. Law enforcement and legislators pushing these types of laws say they are protecting families and preventing future victims. However, this isn’t always the case as shown by the father protecting himself in his own home.

This episode also touches on the problem of plea deals and bargaining, which are becoming more frequent in U.S. criminal cases, rising from 84% of federal cases in 1984 to 94% by 2001. Because of mandatory sentencing, where judges are not given the option of leniency, prosecutors can persuade defendants, including those that are innocent, to plead guilty and receive a sentence less than the mandatory minimum sentence. Plea bargaining incentivizes innocent people to plead guilty and is another reason for the swell of incarcerated Americans.

In the 2012 decision of Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. Sentences of life imprisonment with no parole also violate international law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia. However, there are still more than 2,000 juveniles imprisoned with mandatory life sentences. ‘Juvenile Justice’ follows the case of two young men: one arrested before the Supreme Court ruling, and one arrested after. Both cases involved juvenile males of colour connected to murder cases. Neither actually committed the act but were in the presence or connected to the individuals involved. In one of the cases, the prosecutor said that “he did an adult crime, he’s got to face an adult sentence”.

The notion of treating children like adults in criminal matters runs counter to research by social psychologists. In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson discusses how young children are developmentally incapable of exercising the judgment, maturity, and knowledge necessary to competently defend themselves against criminal prosecution in adult court. Courts could not give any consideration to the child’s age or life history. Many kids are then subjected to further victimization and abuse in the adult prisons.

Mandatory sentencing, especially against children, do not allow for rehabilitation or a second chance. Instead, they are death sentences which are cruel and inhumane.

Only five percent of prisoners will remain behind bars for life. For the majority who will be released, some will be let out early on parole. Parolees fulfill the remainder of their sentence in the community under parole supervision. ‘Parole: High Risks, High Stakes’ steps inside parole board hearings. The politics of appearing ‘tough on crime’ have meant that parole is granted less often than before – meaning prisoners stay in prisons longer. Parole boards have to evaluate the “threat” a person poses to a community if they were released. With the privatization of prisons and budget cuts, many prisoners are not given the chance to improve themselves. Other will have their past actions brought up again and again, despite any changes they made. For some, parole will be granted. But even this does not guarantee freedom.

After serving 19 years inside prison for burglary, Donald Perry was granted parole. He then spent the next 11 years forging a new life for himself by gaining a college degree and bettering the community by working as an advocate for the homeless. One day, while helping a homeless man, he was arrested due to the other man’s goods. The police claimed that the clothes and electronics were stolen. But the court found Perry not guilty. Unfortunately, the state parole board found that this series of events violated his earlier parole and sent him back to prison. After 30 years of not committing any crimes, Perry would have to fight again to be free. After months of appeals, he eventually was released. However, he was released on parole, again.

Parole is not a free pass. Millions of Americans are living with the fear of being sent back to prison. Even, as in the case of Donald Perry, when they are trying to do the right thing.

How to Solve All of This

The United States was founded on slavery. That economic model of oppression, especially against people of colour, continues to live on today. It lives on through all segments of society, including racial and class inequality within the American criminal justice system. Until the U.S. recognizes this history fully and the modern consequences, it will be difficult to change. Campaign Zero and other movements are proposing comprehensive solutions. But beyond police reforms and and other issues described above, people in the U.S. needs to see each other as equal human beings.

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Policy solutions by Campaign Zero

Today, many prisoners and parolees do not have the right to vote. Because this segment of the population is largely young black men, racial justice through political means is out of their reach. The move by President Obama to visit a prison – the first time in American history – was a brave start but needs to be matched with real reform. Giving prisoners and parolees the right to vote would help start the process of ending disenfranchisement.

Outside prisons, another social problem that must be addressed is mass poverty in the U.S. resulting from income inequality. Lack of jobs leads to financial insecurity. The lack of employment opportunities for prisoners after they are released leads to a vicious circle of recidivism. Three-quarters of released prisoners were rearrested within five years of release. Of those prisoners who were rearrested, more than half were arrested by the end of the first year. These statistics are even more shocking in light of the countless innocent men and women who go to prison under wrongful convictions.

It’s time for America to change.