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

Dr. King is no Pawn of White Supremacy

MLK

This picture is a fake. It was photoshopped from a real picture taken of Dr. King on June 19, 1964, showing him giving the peace sign after hearing that the civil rights bill had passed the U.S. Senate.

MLK real picture

Dr. King didn’t give us the finger in 1964. In 2018, we would certainly deserve it.

Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is a white supremacist. His victory was the crowing jewel of a resurgent white supremacist system – the same one Dr. King fought against, and the same one that murdered him. The rickety explanation that Trump’s election was nothing more than understandable working class anger collapses in the face of hard data proving it was racism that won him the day, not economic anxiety.

Trump governs in accordance with the ideology of white supremacy. It is visible across all of his policies, from immigration to criminal justice to foreign affairs. His Republican Party – in control of all three branches of the federal government and a majority of state governments – stands firmly behind him, and does not disavow his white supremacy.

So today, let us pause our inspirational memeing about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice and recognize for a moment that this is the government of the United States of America. Today, January 15, 2018, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
MLK, Eulogy for the Martyred Children, Sept. 18, 1963

Trump does not govern alone. Just as it’s important to understand the system of white supremacy that produced him, it is also critical to identify enablers and co-conspirators who, through both action and inaction, allow his white supremacist government to survive and thrive.

A confederacy of dunces and hate

On January 9 in the state capitol, during, of all things, a harassment and ethics training session at the House of Representatives, LD 10 Representative Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) opened his personal laptop which displayed an image of the confederate flag. LD 4 Representative Geraldine Peten (D-Goodyear), one of only two African-American legislators in Arizona, confronted Mr. Clodfelter about the image and asked him to take it down. He initially refused, and said the two lawmakers would have to “agree to disagree.” According to Mr. Clodfelter,

All my family and ancestry is from the South. And my perspective of the imagery of that particular flag is not the same as hers. So from my perspective, it’s acceptable. From hers, it’s offensive.”

Mr. Clodfelter later agreed not to bring his personal laptop to the House floor. He told Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller he continues to have a favorable view of the Southern cause, and the confederate flag “represents sovereignty and freedom and revolution toward tyranny.” This is white supremacist ideology. It is also a lie.

With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system…Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.” – Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.” – Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession, January 9, 1861

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” – Texas’ Declaration of Secession, February 2, 1861

The confederacy stood for slavery and white supremacy. Its flag celebrates “southern culture and history” only in the same way the Nazi flag celebrates German heritage. The sole difference between the stars & bars and the swastika is that Arizona politicians still feel comfortable displaying the symbol of 19th Century white supremacist genocide inside our state capitol, but draw the line at showing off its 20th Century counterpart.

What is most depressing about Mr. Clodfelter and his prideful adherence to white supremacy is that today, under this President and this government, it is banal. There are hundreds of Todd Clodfelters in state capitols across the U.S., and they are a crucial to normalizing our white supremacist President and his – our – white supremacist government.

Introducing the next Senator from the great state of Arizona

On January 12, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-CD2) announced her candidacy for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. During her announcement in Tucson, Ms. McSally made sure to normalize and excuse Trump’s white supremacist condemnation of Haitian, Salvadoran, and African immigrants as coming from “shithole” countries. “I speak a little salty behind closed doors,” the Congresswoman said. Ms. McSally’s campaign announcement video is a masterful amalgam of fear-mongering, dog-whistle racism, and militaristic cheerleading. In it, the Congresswoman explicitly sides with our white supremacist President. She flashes a picture of them posing together and smiling, she brags that she is “Arizona’s most reliable vote for the Trump agenda,” and she plays an audio clip of Trump lauding her as “the real deal” and his “friend.”

Not much analysis or commentary is needed here. “The Trump agenda” is white supremacy, and nothing advances that agenda more effectively than voting for it in Washington. And yet, today Ms. McSally will still be invited to take some stage and lionize the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If Malcom were here he would recognize this old ruse;  the approach of the angel who is really nothing but the devil.

Sadly for us Democrats, the system, the way of life, the philosophy of white supremacy is bipartisan. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-CD9) is also running for Senator Flake’s seat. Ms. Sinema did not brag about her loyalty to the Trump agenda in her campaign announcement video – the sins of that piece of political theatre are of a different order. However if we are taking Dr. King’s admonition seriously, we cannot fail to note how studiously Ms. Sinema avoids opposing our white supremacist President, and the white supremacist policies of his white supremacist government. Her campaign website mentions no policies and takes no positions – it is strictly a fundraising vehicle.* The “latest news” section of her congressional website contains not a single condemnation of anything Trump has ever said. None of her seven legislative priorities include combating Trumpism, and her solutions for “fixing a broken Washington” are limited to withholding congressional salaries until a budget is passed, expanding election spending disclosure rules, and cutting government waste and inefficiency. When you are U.S Congressperson, whose full-time job is to propose, to oppose, and to govern, silence is acquiescence. It is consent. Only a tiny fraction of southerners donned white masks and robes and murdered black men, women, and children during the 1950s and 60s. It was the silence of the majority, who turned their heads and closed their lips, that allowed the white supremacist terrorism of that era to claim so many lives.

Maybe – probably – Mr. Clodfelter, Ms. McSally, and Ms. Sinema do not think their actions and inactions support a system of white supremacy. Maybe – probably – they claim there is no racism in their hearts, and their positions on race and Trump are expedient choices all good politicians must make in order advance their real agendas. Maybe. But on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when all three will almost certainly march, and be invited to the microphone to mouth empty platitudes about how they too have a dream, they are not fooling the good doctor. And neither are we. He’s not giving us the peace sign today. Today, he’s giving us the finger.

– Joel Feinman

*Editors note: this statement was accurate when this piece was first published in January, 2018. Beginning in March 2018, the website included a “priorities” page.

On Shooting A Man Then Shaming Him For Bleeding

blaming the victim for crime 1

Police bias vs. black-on-black crime

The subject of black-on-black crime inevitably arises during any debate about race and racial bias in the criminal justice system. One of its most vocal denouncers is Heather MacDonald, the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in New York City. On January 11, she participated in a debate entitled “Is Policing Racially Biased,” and stated that contemporary policing is data driven, and that patterns of policing today do not demonstrate police bias, because police simply go where the crime is. According to Ms. MacDonald, objective statistics show that crime is disproportionately a minority problem.

According to the Justice Department, Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That’s because Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined according to the Justice Department. In the 75 largest counties of the United States, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks commit over 50% of all violent crime, though they’re 15% of the population in those counties. These crime disparities are repeated in every big American city. Here in New York, Blacks commit 75% of all shootings, though they’re 23% of the population…whites commit 2% of all shootings, though they are 34% of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for 98% of all shootings in New York City. This means that virtually every time the cops are called out to a shooting scene, they’re being called to a minority neighborhood on behalf of minority victims and being given a description of a minority suspect. The cops don’t wish that disparity. It’s a reality forced upon them by the reality of crime.”

There are well-written and well-researched pieces, supported by data, arguing these statistics are “a dodge, it’s a smokescreen, it’s a red herring, it’s bullshit.” But behind the debate over whose statistics are correct lies the question of how much Ms. MacDonald and her fellow travelers actually care about the lives of Black people.

The truth may be that they don’t care very much. The people who protest black-on-black crime the loudest are precisely the same people who vehemently oppose social policies that mitigate the poverty and inequality that so often causes crime. When Ms. MacDonald is not talking about policing, she does not seem the least bit concerned with protecting or enhancing the well-being of African-Americans.

The inseparable illnesses of crime and poverty

Crime does not arise in a vacuum, and none but the most ardent racists believes that one ethnicity is predisposed to commit more crime than others. One of the factors that intuitively and empirically contributes to crime rates is poverty. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice published a special report which found that black and white households living in poverty were much more likely to be victims of crime, and were victims of crimes at similar rates. Poverty also tends to create criminals, as two Scottish researchers documented in a groundbreaking study which followed the lives of 4,300 children as they transitioned to adulthood.

Yet poverty is not colorblind. As of February 2015, 1 in 10 Asians and non-Hispanic whites lived below the federal poverty line ($24,600 per year for a family of four), compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic/Latinos, 1 in 3 Native Americans, and over 1 in 4 African-Americans. In absolute numbers, 42% of all poor people are non-Hispanic whites, yet they make up 62.6% of the overall U.S. population.

federal poverty line by ethnicity

Percentage of population by ethnicity living below the federal poverty line

According to the Economic Policy Institute, while the overall U.S. unemployment rate dropped in 35 states in the fourth quarter of 2016, the African-American unemployment rate exceeded the white unemployment rate in every state where Black unemployment rates could be computed. The Black unemployment rate was highest in Washington, D.C. at 13%, while the white unemployment rate was highest in West Virginia at 5.3%. That unemployment picture looks far more dire when we factor into it how many Black men are locked behind bars, and therefore cannot look for work.

black unemployment rate including prison

While there has long been a gulf in wealth between white Americans and people of color (white families have earned on average $2 for every $1 that Black and Hispanic families have earned for the last 30 years), that gap has widened since the 2008 economic crises; by 2013 the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for Black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families. Redlining – the arbitrary denying or limiting of financial services to specific neighborhoods because the residents are people of color or poor – has afflicted communities of color for generations, with economically devastating results.

Decrying the disease but criticizing the cure

Heather MacDonald’s crime stats may or may not be correct, but what they do for certain is falsely insulate crime rates from the old, pernicious problem of race-based poverty that commentators like her either completely ignore or consciously obfuscate.

Ms. MacDonald never digs below the surface to ask why crime rates are so high among communities of color. Nor does she seem very interested in proposing solutions to the crime problem that do not involve additional policing. On the contrary, Ms. MacDonald has been a vocal critic of exactly the kind of social policies intended to alleviate the poverty and systemic inequality that gives birth to high crime rates.

In her 2001 book “The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society,” Ms. MacDonald dismisses much of New York City’s social welfare programs as “progressive nonsense.” She has condemned putting day care centers in schools to simplify life for teenage mothers, and admitted that she has “always loathed” affirmative action. Ms. MacDonald has also criticized “out-of-wedlock births, particularly among blacks” as the real of cause poverty, and disdainfully asserted that school textbooks have been “revised in accordance with the multiculturalist agenda,” which presents “American history as a morality play whose primary theme is the oppression of virtuous ethnic minorities by a monolithic evil white majority.” She has displayed a startlingly ignorant, ethnocentric view of history by claiming, “The concept of an inclusive, tolerant society is the legacy of the European Enlightenment, and of it alone.” Finally, she has called for limiting Hispanic immigration into the United States, which she views as the importation of an underclass with the potential to expand indefinitely,  and sought to disabuse sentimentalists who cling to “the myth of the redeeming power of Hispanic family values, the Hispanic work ethic, and Hispanic virtue.”

A painful and transparent insincerity

In his masterful work Between The World And Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote,

Black-on-black crime is jargon, violence on language, which vanishes the men who engineered the covenants, who fixed the loans, who planned the projects, who built the streets and sold red ink by the barrel…The killing fields of Chicago, of Baltimore, of Detroit, were created by the policy of Dreamers, but their weight, their shame, rests solely upon those who are dying in them. There is a great deception in this. To yell “black-on-black crime” is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Crime among and between African-Americans cannot be separated from centuries-old policies of racism and oppression, which set the stage and skewed the risers. When criminologists and commentators like Heather MacDonald address the crime problem, they make no attempt to contextualize it or even engage with its historical roots. But Ms. MacDonald uses buzz words to make it seem like her focus on black-on-back crime is motivated by altruism, as she did during her January 11 debate, when she stated, “According to the Justice Department, Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. That, to me, is the civil rights issue that we should be most concerned about.”

This seems to be the very kind of linguistic violence that Ta-Nehisi Coates condemned. While Ms. MacDonald is more than happy to adopt the rhetoric of civil rights to defend American policing, she has consistently and vocally opposed social polices that would benefit the very crime victims she claims to champion. If Ms. MacDonald and other commentators of her ilk cared about the victims of black-on-black crime, or sincerely wanted to prevent such crime from occurring, they would champion school desegregation, oppose voter suppression, insist on investing in urban economic development, and demand radical reform to our failed health and child care systems. Instead Ms. MacDonald does the opposite. She condemns the black people who commit black-on-black crime, then actively opposes policies intended to alleviate the poverty and racism which breed that very criminality.  Ms. MacDonald isn’t just shaming the bleeding man; she is working to ensure an endless supply of blood-sotted shooting victims.

– Joel Feinman

Pima County Attorney Does Not Prosecute Hate Crimes

prosecuting hate crimes 3

The Pima Liberator has obtained copies of every incident designated a “hate crime” by the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in 2015 and 2016. After analyzing the police reports and court files of every single incident, The Liberator has learned that the Pima County Attorney has not prosecuted a single hate crime in the last two years.

Prosecutors must allege a crime was motivated by hate for it to be punished as a “hate crime”

In April 1990, the U.S. Congress passed The Hate Crimes Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. § 534)  which requires the U.S. Attorney General to collect data about crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. The law was amended in later years to include crimes motivated by disabilities, gender and gender identity, and crimes committed by and against juveniles. As a result, Pima County law enforcement agencies make a practice of collecting information on crimes that appear to be motivated by hate towards one of these groups, and reporting that information to the FBI.

Arizona law does not define “hate crimes” as a unique kind of criminal conduct. Instead, Arizona Revised Statutes § 13-701(D)(15) and § 41-1750(A)(3) state that, when a judge decides how to sentence a defendant, they shall consider as an aggravating factor,

Evidence that the defendant committed the crime out of malice toward a victim because of the victim’s…race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.”

In other words, hate crimes in Arizona are more commonplace crimes such as assault, robbery, and murder that can lead to a harsher sentence if motivated by the victim’s membership in a protected group. However, in order for a judge to make a hate crime finding and sentence a defendant to a longer prison sentence, the prosecutor must first allege that the crime was motivated by hate. This allegation is made in a pleading attached to the formal criminal indictment, which lists what laws a defendant is charged with violating.

In 2015 and 2016 the Pima County Attorney prosecuted zero out of 20 incidents designated by law enforcement as hate crimes

The Pima Liberator obtained copies of all 20 reported incidents that the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department designated as hate crimes in 2015 and 2016. All 20 are listed and summarized here.

Among the findings:

  • The Pima County Attorney did not prosecute any of these incidents as a hate crime.
  • 11 of the 20 incidents involved race or color; 7 involved national origin; 7 involved a crime based on sexual orientation; 5 involved religion. (Some incidents were targeted at multiple protected groups.)
  • Only 3 of the 20 incidents resulted in an arrest.
  • 2 of those 3 incidents were prosecuted as misdemeanor disorderly conduct and threatening and intimidating cases – charges not included in Arizona’s current hate crimes laws.
  • Only once did the Pima County Attorney bring felony charges in an incident designated by law enforcement as a hate crime. In January, 2015, a male high-school student assaulted another male student in their high-school’s bathroom while calling the victim “faggot,” “retard,” and “bitch.” The victim suffered a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, and a broken clavicle. The Pima County Attorney did not charge this as a hate crime, but allowed the defendant to plead guilty to a class 6 (the lowest level) felony in juvenile court. The defendant was sentenced to probation, and the charge was eventually designated a misdemeanor.

Actions speak louder than words

Despite this very thin record, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall has previously trumpeted her commitment to prosecuting hate crimes, which she has said extends to serving on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorney’s Association, “Whose meetings deal with numerous issues of vital concern to our constituents, including issues related to…hate crimes.” Ms. LaWall has ordered her office to create and distribute – from Pima County taxpayer funds – glossy brochures in which she has bragged about working with community groups to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

LaWall hate crimes claim

“A Report To The People: Pima County Attorney’s Office 1996 – 2006,” pg. 32

In addition, Ms. LaWall’s employees and supporters have lauded her supposed dedication to the prosecution of hate crimes during her previous elections.

Taking the “mission to protect the public safety” seriously

Hate crime is a serious issue in our community and our country. The FBI reports that there was a 6% rise in hate crime in 2015, and there has been a huge spike in the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the U.S.. Recent days have seen the brutal shooting of Indian immigrants, and dozens of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers across the country, including here in Tucson. The Tucson City Council is right now considering a new hate crimes ordinance that would prohibit misdemeanor hate crimes, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement just last week promising that the Tucson Police Department will work vigorously “to apprehend the people behind any hate crimes.”

According to her own words, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall gives special attention to helping victims and prosecuting violent crime, and takes seriously her “mission to protect the public safety.” But how well is this mission fulfilled when our chief prosecutor does not even attempt to prosecute hate crimes? It is unfair to expect any prosecutor to maintain a perfect record of hate crimes prosecutions, especially when such crimes often lack eyewitnesses or suspects. But it is also unfair to the voters and taxpayers of Pima County for an elected official to publicly and vigorously condemn hate crimes that they in fact do not seem to care all that much about prosecuting.

– Joel Feinman