Dispatches From The Carceral State

carcel state

Carceral: adjective, car·cer·al \ ˈkär-sə-rəl: relating to or suggesting a jail or prison, such as the 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 76 Indian Country jails, and hundreds of other military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and territorial prisons currently operating in the United States of America, AKA the freest nation on earth.

Item #1 – Arizona’s war on women

Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. incarcerated population. In what will surprise to no one with even a passing familiarity with mass incarceration in this state, the change in women’s state prison incarceration rates has been much smaller in some states, like California and Maine, and far more dramatic in Arizona.

women AZ incarceration graph

Item #2 – APAAC’s war on truth

This March, the taxpayer-funded Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) released the 4th edition of its “Prisoners in Arizona” report. Current APAAC Chairperson and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk  lauded the report for supposedly proving that Arizona prisons are “filled with repeat and violent offenders.”

This is a truly curious assertion, due to the fact that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) itself states that,

  • 53.8% of Arizona prisoners are in prison for the first time.
  • 21.7% of all Arizona inmates are currently in prison for drug offenses – the highest percentage of all categories of incarcerated offenders. (This includes the 198 people in prison for marijuana possession only. In comparison, ADOC currently houses 150 people convicted of domestic violence.)

Back in 2011, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice debunked a previous edition of APAAC’s “Prisoners in Arizona” report point-by-point, proving among other things that the report conflates the definition of  “repeat” and “violent” offenders, artificially inflates the number of people classified as “dangerous, violent, or sexual offenders,” and falsely asserts that Arizona’s high incarceration rate is responsible for a drop in crime. The 4th edition of “Prisoners in Arizona” is no better, and might even be worse. Its principal author, John Lott, Jr., is an academic fraud who published a paper in December in which he claimed that undocumented immigrants in Arizona are at least 146% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. This claim is completely false, as it rests on the ridiculous notion that that all deportable, non-US citizens are undocumented immigrants. They aren’t, of course. A huge proportion of them are legal immigrants who violate the terms of tourist visas, work visas, or Green Cards.

Also, one more thing about this “report.” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery funded Lott’s “research” with RICO funds, which are public dollars raised through civil asset forfeiture and  intended for things like crime victim assistance, substance abuse prevention, and gang violence intervention; “pretty much anything other than promoting the legislative agenda of Arizona’s elected County Attorneys,” said Caroline Isaacs, Program Director for American Friends Service Committee-Arizona.

Item #3 – America’s war on racial equality

The United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a report in 2016 recommending that the government of the United States make reparations to African-Americans as amends for America’s history of racism, racial terror, and mass incarceration. Among its findings:

  • From an early age African-Americans are “treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence.”
  • Excessive control and supervision targeting all levels of the lives of African-Americans.
  • Racially based patterns of arrests without justification, detentions without legal counsel, and at times deadly physical abuse against African-Americans committed by members of the Chicago Police Department.
  • The over-representation of African-Americans in federal and state prisons, and disproportionately high incarceration rates for African-American men and women.
  • Federal and state use of mass incarceration as a system of racial control, in much the same way Jim Crow laws were used in previous decades.
  • Inadequate conditions of detention, and serious barriers to detainees accessing physical and mental health treatment.
  • A strong correlation between race and imposition of the death penalty. (African Americans represent 41.7% of the U.S. death row population, and 34.6% of defendants executed since 1976.)

Item #4 – The Carceral State’s war on our wallets

Finally, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative (If you follow this blog and don’t donate to them, you really should. Their work is priceless), America’s continuing addiction to mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers $182 billion every year. This is more than the annual federal discretionary budget for food & agriculture, science, energy & environment, health, and transportation combined.

costs of mass incarceration

Coda – Larry Krasner’s war on injustice

Viva Larry Krasner! As Philadelphia’s new District Attorney, he is making an unprecedented effort to put a stake in the heart of mass incarceration.

– Joel Feinman

Growing Prisons Instead of Potatoes

prisons kill farms 1

There is no shortage of shocking statistics illustrating the tragic size and persistence of the mass incarceration crisis in the United States today. We can look at race, poverty, geography, or any number of other categories and see just how severely mass incarceration is corrupting the social fabric our nation. Recently the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit and non-partisan research and advocacy organization, published an updated chart illuminating how much mass incarceration has ruptured our economic life as well.

in 1790, 90% of the U.S. workforce worked in agriculture. That number has dropped exponentially over the decades and centuries, due mostly to technological advances and increased productivity. Now, more than one decade into the 21st Century, we have reached the point where more people work in the U.S. justice system than work to grow food.

food vs mass incarceration

For years, rural communities have turned to prisons to reignite their failing economies. We only need drive 76 miles North-West to visit a prominent example of this tragic trend; Florence, Arizona, is home to three federal prisons, three state prisons, two private prisons, and one county jail.

Not all or even most of the blame for this change can be attributed to mass incarceration – globalization and technological advancement have displaced far more farmers than prisons ever have. Still it is worth asking; what kind of a nation employs more prison guards and policemen than farmers? When wardens and judges outnumber tractor drivers and cherry pickers, are we still a free and democratic republic?

– Joel Feinman


4 criminal justice reform bills headed to AZ Legislature

legislative bill

A bipartisan coalition of groups, including The Goldwater Institute, The American Friends Service Committee and The American Civil Liberties Union have worked together to create a policy package intended to save taxpayer money, reduce recidivism, and make Arizona criminal laws more just.

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee will hear these four bills this Thursday, February 2, at 9am. The following AZ Senators sit on that Committee – contact them over the legislature’s request to speak (RTS) system, or email or call them to make your voice heard about the pressing need for criminal justice reform in Arizona.

Nancy Barto (R) – nbarto@azleg.gov; 602-926-5766
Judy Burges (R) – jburges@azleg.gov; 602-926-5861
Lupe Contreras (D)- lcontreras@azleg.gov; 602-926-5284
Andrea Dalessandro (D) – adalessandro@azleg.gov; 602-926-5342
Frank Pratt (R) – fpratt@azleg.gov; 602-926-5761
Martin Quezada (D) – mquezada@azleg.gov; 602-926-5911
Bob Worsley (R) – bworsley@azleg.gov; 602-926-5760

SB1069 / HB2291
This bill allows people to petition courts to expunge their conviction 5 years after they have been released, as long as they have not had any additional violations. This allows ex-offenders greater access to jobs, increasing the probability they will remain productive members of society.

SB1071 / HB2290
This bill allows qualified non-violent ex-offenders to obtain a temporary, provisional license to work in specialized fields and increase their probability of obtaining stable employment. It provides the person the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and commitment without increasing risks for the employer.

SB1067 / HB2154
This bill provides appropriate penalties for technical parole violations that do not interrupt the reentry and reintegration process. Keeping people with technical parole violations out of prison allows them to maintain employment and sustain contact with their families and communities. This increases the probability that they will remain productive members of society.

This bill reduces the mandatory 85% time offenders must serve for less serious, non-violent offenses. If a person is determined rehabilitated prior to that 85% mark, they would be released to community supervision so that they may obtain employment and become productive taxpayers.

New study finds 39% of American prisoners do not belong behind bars

Mass incarceration in Arizona

Per the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 39% of the 1.46 million Americans currently locked away in state and federal prisons – about 576,000 people – are being incarcerated with little public safety rationale.

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According to the study, these 576,000 prisoners could be more appropriately sentenced to an alternative to prison or a shorter prison stay, with limited impact on public safety. Releasing these people from prison would save taxpayers $20 billion per year, and almost $200 billion over 10 years: enough money to employ 270,000 new police officers, or 360,000 probation officers, or 327,000 school teachers. Among the study’s other findings:

  • Alternatives to prison are likely to be more effective sentences than incarceration for about 364,000 lower-level offenders – 25% of the current U.S. prison population. Researchers have shown that prison does little to rehabilitate these kinds of offenders, and that incarceration often increases recidivism in such cases.
  • 212,000 prisoners – 14% of the total prison population – have already served sufficiently long prison terms and could be released within the next year with little risk to public safety.
  • 79% of U.S. prisoners suffer from either drug addiction or mental illness, and 40% suffer from both. Alternative interventions such as treatment would be more effective sanctions for many of these people.

– Joel Feinman