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IssaEl21 11:46 AM

Why Are Their More Nubian's Brother's In Jail Then White ?
Legal Scholar Michelle Alexander on “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”

A new book by legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander argues that although Jim Crow laws have been eliminated, the racial caste system it set up was not eradicated. It’s simply been redesigned, and now racial control functions through the criminal justice system. [includes rush transcript]

Filed under Author Interviews

Michelle Alexander, author of the new book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. A former director of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU of Northern California, she now holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Michelle Alexander: "The Age of Obama as a Racial Nightmare"
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Obama’s election a year and a half ago continues to be lauded for ushering in a new era of colorblindness. The very fact of his presidency is regarded by some as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow. Yet, today there are more African Americans under correctional control, whether in prison or jail, on probation or on parole, than there were enslaved in 1850. And more African American men are disenfranchised now because of felon disenfranchisement laws than in 1870.

A new book by legal scholar and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander argues that although Jim Crow laws have been eliminated, the racial caste system it set up was not eradicated. It’s simply been redesigned, and now racial control functions through the criminal justice system.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now from Columbus, Ohio by Michelle Alexander, author of the new book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Her latest article exploring how the war on drugs gave birth to what she calls a permanent American undercaste is available at tomdispatch.com. She’s a former director of the Racial Justice
Project at the ACLU of Northern California. She now holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Michelle Alexander, welcome to Democracy Now! Nearly half of America’s young black men are behind bars or have been labeled felons for life? That’s an astounding figure. Also, what does it mean in terms of their rights for the rest of their lives?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes, thanks largely to the war on drugs, a war that has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies have consistently shown that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. The war on drugs waged in these ghetto communities has managed to brand as felons millions of people of color for relatively minor, nonviolent drug offenses. And once branded a felon, they’re ushered into a permanent second-class status, not unlike the one we supposedly left behind. Those labeled felons may be denied the right to vote, are automatically excluded from juries, and my be legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, public benefits, much like their grandparents or great grandparents may have been discriminated against during the Jim Crow era.

IssaEl21 11:47 AM

Why Are Their More Nubian's Brother's In Jail Then White ?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, you mention that the—in the war on drugs, four out of five people arrested have actually been arrested for use of drugs, not for—or possession or use of drugs, not for the sale of drugs. Could you talk about how the—both political parties joined in this increasing incarceration around drug use?

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: That’s right. The war on drugs, contrary to popular belief, was not declared in response to rising drug crime. Actually, the war on drugs, the current drug war, was declared in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan at a time when drug crime was actually on the decline. A few years later, crack cocaine hit the streets in poor communities of color across America, and the Reagan administration hired staff to publicize crack babies, crack mothers, crack dealers in inner-city communities, in an effort to build public support and more funding, and ensure more funding, for the new war that had been declared. But the drug war had relatively little to do with drug crime, even from the outset.

The drug war was launched in response to racial politics, not drug crime. The drug war was part of the Republican Party’s grand strategy, often referred to as the Southern strategy, an effort to appear—appeal to poor and working-class white voters who were threatened by, felt vulnerable, threatened by the gains of the civil rights movement, particularly desegregation, busing and affirmative action. And the Republican Party found that it could get Democrats—white, you know, working-class poor Democrats—to defect from the Democratic New Deal coalition and join the Republican Party through racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare.

And the strategy worked like a charm. You know, within weeks of the Reagan administration’s publicity campaign around crack cocaine, you know, images of black crack users and crack dealers flooded, you know, our nation’s television sets and forever changed our nation’s conception of who drug users and dealers are. And law enforcement efforts became targeted on poor communities of color in the drug war. And drug law enforcement agencies, state and local law enforcement task forces committed to drug law enforcement, have been rewarded for drastically increasing the volume of drug arrests. Federal funding flows to state and local law enforcement that boost the volume of drug arrests, the sheer numbers.

Many people think the drug war, you know, has been targeted at violent offenders or aimed at rooting out drug kingpins, but nothing could be further from the truth. Local and state law enforcement agencies get rewarded for the sheer numbers of drug arrests. And federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement officials to keep 80 percent of the cash, cars, homes that they seize from suspected drug offenders, granting to law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability and longevity in the drug war.

And the results have been predictable. Millions of poor people of color have been rounded up for relatively minor nonviolent drug offenses. In fact, in 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession. Only one out of five were for sales. Most people in state prison for drug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity. And during the 1990s, the period of the greatest expansion of the drug war, nearly 80 percent of the increase in drug arrests were for marijuana possession, a drug now widely believed to be less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class and suburban white communities as it is in the ghetto.

IssaEl21 11:50 AM

Why Are Their More Nubian's Brother's In Jail Then White ?
AMY GOODMAN: Michelle Alexander—

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: President Clinton—

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, I just wanted to bring it up to President Obama, because this piece you wrote, very interesting, at tomdispatch.com called “The Age of Obama as Racial Nightmare.” Explain.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: Yes, well, you know, today, people around the globe, people of color in particular, have been celebrating the election of Barack Obama as kind of our nation’s triumph over race and the history of racial caste in America. Yet, the appearance of racial equality, the superficial appearance of racial equality that Barack Obama’s election has afforded, serves to mask a deeply disturbing underlying racial reality, which is that large segments, you know, a majority, of African American men in some urban areas, are either under the control of the criminal justice system or branded felons for life, locked in a permanent second-class status.

This vast new racial undercaste—and I say “caste”, not “class,” because this is a population which is locked into an inferior status by law and by policy—this vast population has been rendered largely invisible through affirmative action and the appearance of success with, you know, a handful of African Americans doing well in universities and corporations. The sprinkling of people of color through elite institutions in the United States, due to affirmative action policies and the limited progress of middle-class and upper-middle-class African Americans, creates the illusion of great progress. It helps to mask the underlying racial reality, which is that a racial caste system has been reborn in the United States. Young men of color, in particular, are labeled as felons, labeled as criminals, at very young ages, often before they even reach voting age, before they turn eighteen. Their backpacks are searched. They’re frisked on the way to school, while standing waiting for the school bus to arrive. Once they learn to drive, their cars are searched, often dismantled in a search for drugs. The drug war waged in these poor communities of color has created generations of black and brown people who have been branded felons and relegated to a permanent second-class status for life.

And the reason for their excommunication from our society, our mainstream society, is for engaging in precisely the same kind of drug activity that is largely ignored in middle-class and upper-middle-class white communities. People often say to me, “Well, if people—if, you know, black and brown men don’t want to be labeled felons, well, then they just shouldn’t commit drug crimes.” But, you know, we have known, as a nation, for a long time now that simply prohibiting drug activity does not lead people to stop using illegal drugs. We learned that lesson with alcohol prohibition. Banning the use of alcohol didn’t discourage many people from using or selling alcohol. And people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. Our stereotype of a drug dealer in the United States is of an African American kid standing on a street corner with his pants hanging down. But the reality is that drug dealing happens everywhere in America. Drug markets in the United States, much like our society generally, is relatively segregated by race. Blacks tend to sell to blacks. Whites tend to sell to whites.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there for the part one of this interview, Michelle Alexander, but we’re going to ask you to stay after for part two, which we’ll play on Democracy Now! Michelle Alexander, her new book is called The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

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IssaEl21 12:01 PM

Top 10 Lies Told By Private Prison
Top 10 Lies Told By Private Prison Corporations at the Arizona Hearings
by cell-out-arizona on Aug. 22, 2011, under Arizona, Arizona Department of Corrections, Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, Immigration, Jail, Management and Training Corporation, private prison, Privatization, Public Hearings

It’s been a hot summer in Arizona, but there were a lot of private prison corporate executives whose pants were on fire over the past two weeks. On the plus side, our crop yields will set records this year due to the amount of b.s. that we just got showered with.

Over the past two weeks, the Arizona Dept. of Corrections (ADC) conducted public hearings on proposed private prisons in 5 Arizona towns: Eloy, Goodyear, Winslow, San Luis/Yuma, and Coolidge. At each hearing, the ADC gave a presentation on the bidding process, the Corporation gave a (sometimes quite lengthy) presentation on how awesome they think they are, and members of the public got 5 minutes apiece to raise concerns, ask questions, or, in many cases, beg them for jobs.

In their efforts to win a multi-million dollar contract, the corporations—CCA, GEO Group, MTC, and LaSalle—told some real whoppers. Here are our favorites, plus the truth that they are trying to hide.

Lie # 10: “No immigrant prisoners have died in CCA’s Eloy Detention Center.”

When asked about an ACLU investigation that revealed the Eloy Detention Center had the most inmate deaths of any detention center in the US, CCA’s talking head said it just never happened.

But records from the US Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement prove that nine immigrants have died while in custody at Eloy since 2003, two more than reported at any other facility. The deaths were only discovered because of an ACLU lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act asking for a comprehensive list of deaths in 2007. In April, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of 90 individuals who died while in custody.

Just because CCA tried to cover the deaths up doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

IssaEl21 12:02 PM

Lie # 9: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Lie # 9: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”

At all the hearings, the sales pitch was the same: This prison will create umpteen construction jobs and kazillions of guard jobs. The corporations are manipulating the financial distress of rural Arizona towns to get themselves a multi-million dollar contract. So, what will the people of the next Arizona Prison Town get?

Well, they’ll get a few jobs, but not nearly the number they were promised. Here’s why:

Private prison corporations are based in other states. They are huge companies and bring in their own architects and construction companies. They usually have relationships with distributors, and because buying in bulk is cheaper, they will go with those companies over local ones. They will tell you that they will “try” to use as many local vendors “as possible,” but then they will determine that those local vendors are not competitive in their pricing or cannot handle the volume and they will go with the ones that they usually use.
These towns are tapped out. Every one of them already has at least one prison or a prison nearby. Eloy has several. Pinal County, where Eloy and Coolidge are located, has 6 CCA prisons, two entire state prison complexes (with about 5 units each), a few federal detention centers, and a county jail that also rents out space to CCA.
The private prisons can’t keep people in the jobs they have now. The Arizona Republic has reported that, “This year, through the end of June, the state has withheld about $844,000 from Kingman, $54,000 from Marana (also operated by MTC) and about $6,000 from Geo Group’s Phoenix West and Florence West prisons for failing to fill vacant positions quickly enough.”
Obviously, working in a prison isn’t for everyone. These are difficult jobs, with long hours, and stressful conditions. One corrections officer described it as “long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” Not every unemployed person in this town is going to want to work in the prison. Or they will get a job there and quit shortly after.

Oh, and here’s another interesting twist: The Yuma Sun recently reported that Bullhead City has reached a deal with the Arizona Department of Corrections and Management and Training Corporation for inmates from the Arizona State Prison in Kingman to perform park and street maintenance work in the city. That’s right: Instead of creating jobs, they are tossing Bullhead City residents out of these low wage jobs and replacing them with prison labor. How many jobs will be lost there? How many other towns will follow suit?

IssaEl21 12:04 PM

Lie #8: “The prison will bring economic development to your town.”
Lie #8: “The prison will bring economic development to your town.”

Decades worth of research proves that prisons are not good economic growth for towns.

In states with at least one private prison as of 1990, prisons have been shown to reduce the number of jobs overall in a community. You might get prison jobs, but you won’t get other kinds of jobs that pay better.
Private prisons pay less, which means that state prisons have to compete, driving wages down for everyone.
As mentioned previously, relatively few corrections officers live in the same town as the prison where they work, which means they spend their money somewhere else. One study estimates that up to two-thirds of potential tax revenues and other economic benefits leave the host community in this way.
Having a prison nearby is not a draw for other kinds of businesses, and in many cases will scare them away. Who wants to build a housing development or school near a prison? Many Arizona towns are cultivating tourism due to historic landmarks and buildings, natural beauty, or scenery—what happens when you plop a huge prison with hundreds of feet of razor wire down in the middle of a historic area or pristine natural landscape?
One need go no further than Florence, AZ to see the true economic impacts of being a prison town. You can bet they heard the exact same sales pitch when those prisons were proposed. Where is the economic boom they were promised? Where are the stores? The industry? The housing developments? If prisons are so great for local economies, why doesn’t Florence have a thriving downtown?

The bottom line is, once you have prisons, all you will ever have is prisons.

One final note: Several residents noted during the hearings that Arizona is in a very sorry state when the only type of economic development offered to people is from an industry that is so harmful to our communities in so many ways. One retired firefighter at the Goodyear hearing put it this way: “Our fire station budget was cut and many firefighters were laid off. But we don’t go around saying, ‘we need more fires.’”

IssaEl21 12:05 PM

Lie #7: “We’ve learned from our mistakes.”
Lie #7: “We’ve learned from our mistakes.”

You gotta hand it to them—it takes some serious moxie to tell people that, because of your company’s gross negligence resulting in two deaths, your prisons are now the safest in the state. Especially when we know that MTC dragged its feet on fixing the problems at Kingman and only got its act together when the state stopped paying them.

A security audit of Arizona’s private prisons completed after the escapes reveals that the problems at Kingman are endemic to all private prisons in the state. Here’s what it found:

“At the three Geo prisons – Florence West, Phoenix West and the Central Arizona Correctional Facility – Corrections Department inspectors found such issues as inmates having access to a control panel that could open emergency exits; an alarm system that didn’t ring properly when doors were opened or left ajar; and that staff didn’t carry out such basic security practices as searching commissary trucks and drivers, among many other failures.

At MTC’s Marana prison, there were broken monitors, a control-room panel that didn’t work, missing perimeter lights, missing razor wire, missing visitor passes. Marana’s swamp coolers – in August, in Arizona – weren’t working, making it hotter inside the prison buildings than outside.”

You can read the full report, obtained through a public records request by Arizona Republic reporter Bob Ortega, on the Republic website.

Not only did MTC resist making the necessary fixes to Kingman demanded by the Department of Corrections, they threatened to sue us for attempting to hold them accountable. When ADC pulled our prisoners out after the escapes and refused to pay MTC until the security problems were fixed, MTC threatened to sue us for $10 million. Because they have better lawyers and more money than God, we rolled over. We paid this corporation $3 million for empty beds—beds that were empty due to their gross negligence, which resulted in two deaths.

Clearly, this is not a corporation that “learns from its mistakes. It’s a company that is wholly unaccountable for its mistakes.

Lie #6: GEO Group’s contract to run the Cook County juvenile detention center was cancelled because the state wanted to move the facilities from rural to urban areas, NOT because of the rampant abuse of children by GEO’s guards.

Baloney. The New York Times reported that “Juvenile detainees as young as 13 years old slept on filthy mats in dormitories with broken, overflowing toilets and feces smeared on the walls. Denied outside recreation for weeks at a time, they ate bug-infested food, did school work that consisted of little more than crossword puzzles and defecated in bags.”

In response, Texas “has transferred the 197 offenders in Bronte to other institutions, fired seven monitoring officials and canceled an $8 million contract with the GEO Corporation, the prison company in Boca Raton, Fla., that managed the center. The state has also opened a criminal investigation and a review of the adult prisons run by GEO.”

IssaEl21 12:06 PM

Lie #5: “Our security system is state-of-the-art”
Lie #5: “Our security system is state-of-the-art”

I would bet a large sum of money that this exact same pitch was made to the people of Kingman when that prison was built. They might have fancy technology, but does it work? And if it stops working, will they fix it? See the security audit referenced under Lie #5—broken monitors, control-room panels that don’t work, alarms that don’t ring properly, malfunctioning security cameras. These problems were found in all our private prisons.

Technology is only as good as the people using it. We consistently hear after a riot or escape that a for-profit prison was having “staffing issues.” That pay was low, there was a lack of training, and the guards were inexperienced. Clearly, ADC has gotten wise and is requiring contractors to provide the same training as the state—it’s written into the RFP. But that doesn’t address the turnover problem. Those folks might get trained, but they won’t stick around. That means that a large percentage of the staff is inexperienced and unlikely to know how to handle a dangerous situation. One report stated that 80% of the guards at Kingman were recent hires.

At Kingman, the guards were propping those state-of-the-art security doors open with rocks. They ignored those high-tech alarms when they went off. The ADC monitor was either asleep at the switch or being blown off by Central office. As they say, “you can’t fix stupid.”

Lie #4: “The town is not taking any risks in the financing scheme for the prison”

Prison construction for private facilities is almost always financed through lease revenue bonds. They generally create an “Industrial Development Authority” or “Public Facilities Corporation,” which is essentially a paper tiger created through the city or county. The reason they fund through this mechanism is because they don’t want to take the risk, carry the paper, nor pay the interest.

When industrial revenue bonds are issued, the public is often told that neither the local government nor the taxpayers will be obligated or negatively affected in any way if the project fails. While it’s true that revenue bonds are not a general obligation of the issuer, it is not true that governments and taxpayers will be unaffected by the risks of the project.

The debt is paid off with the money received as per-diem payments for each inmate housed. This looks great on paper, but what happens when there are no inmates?

The savvy businessperson approaches any financing project asking “where is the market?” In this case, the financing for these prisons is dependent on a guaranteed occupancy of state prisoners. Yet the Arizona Auditor General reports that our prison population grew by only 65 prisoners in 2010. And there’s a movement afoot in the state legislature to reduce our prison population as 25+other states have done through sensible reforms to criminal sentencing laws favoring cheaper alternatives like probation, drug treatment, and house arrest.

If there’s no market, then these projects are doomed to fail. And what will happen to the town then? What if the corporation gets a better offer somewhere else and decides to pull out of the contract? What if Arizona’s prison population goes down?

Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what the Director of the Oklahoma DOC said after Arizona pulled its inmates out of a private prison there: He said the private prison industry is a speculative market. “It is not immune to recession and trends in sentencing and crime,” Jones said. “A lot of states have gone back and applied research to their sentencing practices, which results in sentences that are more evidence-based, and that obviously affects a market that relies upon incarceration.”

There are numerous cautionary examples of towns facing default struggling to pay the debt on an empty prison: Hardin, MT is one of the most notable. The town there got so desperate that they actually asked the state to send them sex offenders and lobbied the Obama administration to send Guantanamo detainees. A few weeks ago, the town of Littlefield, TX had to hold a public auction to sell a prison there so that they could pay the debt on the facility after GEO group cancelled its contract and left the town holding the bag.

Even if the town isn’t directly responsible for paying the debt on the prison, a default on the bond can affect the town’s credit rating (kinda like S&P just did to the United States). That can make it difficult for the town to borrow money for other needed projects like new schools or a hospital. Some towns have taken desperate measures to try to pay the debt on a prison in an effort to avoid default, including raising taxes and cutting other critical city budgets. A bond default can also make a city the target of costly litigation, further draining the town’s coffers.

IssaEl21 12:08 PM

Lie #3: “It’s impossible to measure recidivism from our prisons
Lie #3: “It’s impossible to measure recidivism from our prisons, because the prisoners may be housed in several different facilities during their incarceration.”—Terry Stewart, former Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections and now consultant for MTC

We asked every one of the companies what their recidivism rate was, and none of them had an answer. Isn’t that convenient? These companies can make claims about how they supposedly are “changing lives” and rehabilitating people, and they don’t even have to prove it.

Probation departments, social service providers and re-entry programs all measure recidivism. They don’t say, “well, this guy is also getting services at the VA and the food bank, so there’s no way to measure the impact of our programs.”

Let’s face it–these corporations know that their recidivism rate won’t be any better than the state’s and probably worse.

What’s more, the Arizona Department of Corrections has all this data, they just won’t go to the trouble to analyze it. They could easily do a comparison between state prisoners who have been housed in private prisons at any point in their incarceration, and those who have only been in state facilities.

Lie #2: “What lawsuits?”

When directly asked whether the company had settled lawsuits over abusive conditions in its juvenile prisons in Michigan and Louisiana, GEO Group representatives hemmed and hawed and refused to answer the question. We consider this the same as lying.

As reported in the Dallas Morning News, GEO not only faced lawsuits over bad conditions, but they actually lost contracts due to their abuses.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the company in 2000, when it was known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp., alleging that juveniles at the company’s Louisiana facility were subjected to excessive abuse and neglect. Wackenhut agreed to a settlement that provided for sweeping changes to Louisiana’s juvenile justice system and required the company to move all juveniles from its facility. The former security chief pleaded guilty in 2001 to beating a 17-year-old handcuffed inmate with a mop handle. In October 2005, Michigan closed the state’s private youth prison run by GEO after an advocacy group sued the prison over inadequate inmate care.

And, rather than accepting responsibility for its actions, the company turned around and sued the state of Michigan for wrongful termination of contract. How’s that for being a “good corporate citizen”?

And the #1 Lie told at the Arizona Hearings: “I’m accountable to you”—George Zoley, CEO of GEO Group

Waaah! Ha! Ha! Good one, George! About 30 seconds after uttering this whopper, Zoley proceeded to tell the crowd that GEO does not even bother to measure recidivism and then refused to disclose how much money he makes. Accountability, indeed.

Fortunately, Frank Smith of Private Corrections Working Group was in attendance and informed the crowd that Zoley made $16 million last year. Zoley’s pay, he pointed out, is a matter of public record. As a follow up, Frank provided us with the exact figures. Zoley’s salary, per companypay.com, was $3,825,433. He made $23 million in stock trades in the last 18 months.

Just a note to the boys at GEO corporate—don’t send Zoley to these things. He creeps people out.

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