Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thoughts about Prisons

Promoting Fiscal Discipline and Liberty Through Criminal Justice Reform

John Knock: A man who must wrestle with the wind that is called The Rule of Law

This is just one vignette among many about practices in the Federal Prison System. This is only a personal story, however it is played over and over again in Federal facilities, and most probably presents in the same way through out state prison systems.

To put my interest in context, you must first know that I have a brother who was sentenced to life plus twenty by Judge Maurice Paul in 2000 in the Northern District of Florida. John has always been a pacifist. This was the first time he had been charged with a crime and it was a marijuana only conspiracy. He is presently in FCI Allenwood, a high security prison and he is 61 years old. John is not a threat to society . The secret is that there are many non violent prisoners assigned to high security prisons at great expense to the tax payers. When it is time to allocate funds, it is assumed that funds must be expended for high security prisons to keep communities safe. High security prisons require more staff and more capital for building and infrastructure.

There is another method used by people in the prison industrial complex to call attention to their facility and document in some way that these are dangerous institutions that require increased money for staff and security.

I will give just two recent examples. Allenwood was locked down from July 20 to Aug 4 2009. When a lock down is instituted inmates remain in their cells for the length of the lock down. This is a small shared space. Food is served through a slot and it is cold. Guards go through each cell and take any personal items that they deem non essential. This includes books, legal papers, writings, religious literature, what ever the guards select can be confiscated.

Families become understandably concerned during these lock downs because they are unable to communicate with their family member. Sometimes families have made elaborate arrangements to visit, This can be a major undertaking as Federal Prisoners are frequently housed hundreds of miles from their families. Children are looking forward to seeing their father or mother, parents their son etc. The inmate cannot tell their families the facility is locked down and the family arrives after a long trip only to be told that they may not visit. Being deprived of communication with family, being in a very small space with a cell mate for 24 hours a day with food being served cold through a slot, and having belongings that are important to you confiscated is extraordinarily stressful. These inmates must exercise great self control.

During the last lock down at Allenwood, I looked for the reason on the internet and found the lockdown site on the Web Site of the Council of Prisons Union, which is part of the American Federation of Government Employees. The reason for the 15 day lock down was guards had heard rumors that there was going to be a food strike. Apparently prison officials heard that some inmates were not going to leave their cells for meals. This was the reason for the 15 day facility lock down.

Obviously, a facility that requires frequent lock downs can make a case for a need for more funds for security.

My 61 year old non violent brother has a cell mate who is in his 30s. As a young service man his cell mate was involved in a violent crime. I can’t know the details, but I believe it involved very young military men, some alcohol, and a baseball bat. It resulted in the death of a young man. John’s cell mate will be eligible for release in a couple of years. John seems to be proud and protective of the young man who has tried valiantly to prepare himself for a new life upon release. He is quite close to getting a college degree. During the month of June Allenwood was also locked down for around two weeks. During that lock down when the guards took personal possessions from the cells, they took hundreds of dollars of my brother’s cell mates books that he needed to complete his course work. Staying calm during these stressful times must require great self discipline and grace.

It is apparent that there are many interested stake holders in our current criminal justice system. We have three major publically traded companies that depend on the growth of the prison population for their companies growth and profits. They are GEO Group Inc., Corrections Corp of America and Cornell Companies. These are just the largest of the private security and corrections companies. They have may partners and stake holders in their orbit. There are untold vendors and suppliers, construction companies, technology and security companies, consultants, etc. Other stake holders are the strong and growing unions who represent the hundreds of thousands of worker in the prison and law enforcement community.

This prison constituency has become such a large % of our work force and of the economy that government officials feel compelled to court them.

This ever growing passion to punish in our country has given us a sickness of the soul and coarsened our culture. We now think it is acceptable when we see obviously old, ill or injured people being handcuffed and chained and escorted by many armed and able law enforcement personnel. It is accepted that people who are arrested will be stripped and have their body probed and poked as a matter of course regardless of the danger they pose. This is inhumane and damaging for both parties. Our Country needs to regain respect and dignity. For ourselves and others. This can only happen when we rein in primitive instincts to dominate and control and reform our Criminal Justice System.

Prosecutors deals with confidential informants, the use of plea agreements to get purchased and bargained testimony, and sting operations run and instigated by law enforcement all poison the integrity of our legal system. These practices and our ever increasing propensity to incarcerate have also causes us to lose the respect of many countries who find our justice harsh and primitive.

An essential step is to end the War on Drugs. In fact ending the war and czar metaphors would be a start. Do not place non violent inmates in high security facilities. Change the public dialogue and discourse. In short, return to our roots and take liberty and freedom seriously.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Charles Lynch Update

On June 11, 2009 Lynch was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. He was given bail while waiting for his appeal. On June 15, 2009 his appeal was filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jim Webb

Jim Webb is the most important Senator for the Legalization and Prison Reform Community. Below you will find a link to his Webb site. We are fortunate to see the tide turning in this great debate about a failed Drug Policy.

Jim Webbs Web Site

Webb's Washington Week

Jim Webb's Website | Contact Senator Webb on This Issue | Subscribe to eNewsletter | Bookmark and Share

The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 that I introduced in the Senate on March 26, 2009 will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

press statement from Massachusetts FAMM

This is a report issued about the cost of incarcerating non violent drug offenders in the state of Massachusetts. It is very interesting yet only speaks to one state, but note worthy all the same.

MBA Drug Policy Taskforce Report

Press statement by Barbara J. Dougan, FAMM Project Director in Massachusetts. Click here

June 18, 2009

MBA report calls sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders too harsh and
costly; suggests top to bottom overhaul of state’s failed system
Reforms could save more than $25 million a year

BOSTON, Mass. — Massachusetts must enact meaningful drug reform for
non-violent offenders, focusing on education and treatment instead of
incarceration and punishment, according to a report of the
Massachusetts Bar Association’s Drug Policy Task Force. Mandatory
minimum sentencing reform and diversion to treatment, alone, could save
the state more than $25 million a year.

the full article can be viewed here

The War Against the Drug War


If that old adage still holds true, then the nation may soon see a gradual backpedaling from the criminal justice policies that have led to wholesale incarceration in recent decades.

For the most populous state in the union is on the verge of insolvency--partly because it didn't set aside a rainy-day fund during the boom years; partly because its voters recently rejected a series of initiatives that would have allowed a combination of tax increases, spending cuts and borrowing to help stabilize the state's finances during the downturn; partly because it has spent the past quarter-century funneling tens of billions of dollars into an out-of-control correctional system. Now, as California's politicians contemplate emergency cuts to deal with a $24 billion hole in the state budget, old certainties are crumbling.
Can be found here


Please visit FREE GRANDPA on John Knock's web site.

Project to release non-violent senior marijuana prisoners

Friday, June 19, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Charles Lynch Mar, 23 Sentencing Hearing

It was somewhat difficult to find but I believe that today the judge postponed the sentencing. He wanted to wait till there was clarification from the Attorney General about the future of federal prosecution of medical marijuana offenses. Should be quite interesting to hear how the Dept. of Justice handles this.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Charles Lynch To be sentenced Monday

Charles Lynch was interviewed on the Al Roker special about marijuana policy. Charles was a dispenser of medical marijuana in California. His business was a member of the Chamber of Commerce, he paid local, state, and federal taxes, and he was lisenced to do business in the state of California. He was arrested by the DEA, indicted by Federal Prosecutors, and tried in Federal Court in the 9th Circuit.

He along with many others are caught in a vice between state and federal law. I for one am wishing him well on Monday.

You may read about him at:
friends of Charles Lynch and
Media awareness project

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Using the Drug War for Your Political Preference

I've been watching the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings today and am reminded of an interview I saw on c-span this week end with Garry Leech. You can read about the hearings
here Reuters article .

Garry Leech is a remarkable writer and journalist. He wrote Columbia Journal which you can read about here Colombia journal. The ineffectiveness of the US war on drugs in Columbia and it's relationship to our failed policy in this hemisphere is a tragedy. We have wasted human and financial resources, and not made the world safer.

The Drug war has been used by those of every political persuasion to promote their agenda and their pet political projects. At this time, the chaos and violence in Mexico and on our southern boarder is being used by those who would like to promote tighter gun control, those who would like to use more military force to tighten our boarders, those who would like to strengthen control of money flow across boarders.

In every way the Drug War is used to take away civil liberties and and give government more control in order to keep us safe. It is used as a reason to give federal money to local law enforcement, give government more power to scrutinize our bank accounts, funnel money to local court approved mental health agencies, and gain approval for military intervention in foreign countries. The Drug War also is the rational for more citizen surveillance, and helps gain approval of the public to militarize law enforcement both inside our boarders and abroad.

Presently the gun control lobby is intent on encouraging more control based on the flow of fire arms across the Mexican boarder. There is a saner way to take the profits and power from drug suppliers. Legalize, tax, and regulate
Beth Curtis

Friday, March 13, 2009

Response to John Walters Op Ed in Wall Street Journal
john walters op ed in wsj

I haven't been able to forget the opinion piece by John Walters in the Wall Street Journal. John Walters opinion piece was titled Drug Legalization isn't the Answer. In reading the opinion, I must conclude that Mr. Walters believes that we should continue fighting the War on Drugs in the same manner we have for the past 30 years. In deed he seems to imply that our current methods should be escalated and enhanced. What a waste of time, money and human treasure.

A majority of the population believes that the Drug War has failed and that drug policy has failed. The Drug War has done immense damage to our credibility in many foreign countries. It has militarized our law enforcement and given us the aura of extreme hubris around the world. It has placed non-violent offenders in prison for life. We have children raised without the parents who love them because we have not learned the lessons of prohibition. Families and communities are marginalized and destroyed. Marijuana is a plant whose use does not cause social problems. The problems are caused because we have declared war on it. Alcohol is the real gate way drug, but we know we cannot revisit that failed policy.

The most recent pew report shows that we now have 1 in 31 citizens under the control of the criminal justice system. This includes those incarceratedm on parole, and on probation. Why would we continue on this path? I believe it is because The Drug War has many constituents, law enforcement with their ever expanding warriors, federal state and local prosecutors, the private and public prison industry, prison guard unions, and even the mental health industry with it's legion fo drug counselors with court mandated patients.

Every family has members with alcohol and drug addiction. Now as a result of this war more and more families have family who are incarcerated. If we tried to resume the same war on alcohol we could double or triple these numbers. Why don't we legalize and regulate and tax. Take the illegal profit oout of the drug trade. Government could then begin a civil approach to law enforcement.

There will be lots of resistance to ending the War on Drugs. Tere are many businesses employee groups, and not for profits that have financial interests in escalating this failed war. We should find the courage to accept the failure and try a more civil approach.

Just a thought

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tonight I'm thinking about the opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. John Walters wrote an article about why drug legalization was not the answer. Not only did he say it was not the answer, he elaborated and made it clear that he thought that there should be more of the same and if we just doubled down we would have success.

It is astounding that someone who knew about the war on drugs would have the hubris to proclaim that it could be won in the current fashion.

The newest pew report now says that one in every 31 citizens of the US is under the control of the criminal justice system. It is costing billions of dollars - although they are going to workers in the prison industry, law enforcement, prosecutors, court system, and mental health industry - the War on Drugs has failed and is destroying lives and making us a less civil society.

We have a war on people and plants.
beth curtis

Monday, February 23, 2009

John Knock

This is a blog about the state of the prison system. Largely because of the War on Drugs we now have one in every 100 citizens in prison and 2 in every 100 citizens under the control of the criminal justice system.

The crises will be financial as we care for hundreds of thousands of non violent senior prisoners in expensive facilities.