Tag Archives: Anarchism

Building More Prisons is Not the Solution to Prison Riots

This post was written by and originally published at the Center For a Stateless Society (C4SS) under the title “More Prisons is Not Reform.” Posts and other content can be submitted to the CopBlock Network via the CopBlock.org Submission Page. (Note: This has been posted in its original form and no edits to the original text were made.)

This post relates to recent riots within the United States prison system and specifically two riots at Holman Prison in Alabama, which took place in March of this year. Nick makes the point that it’s the underlying problems and abuses within the prison system itself and not just the singular symptom of overcrowding that caused those riots. Building even more prisons (which inevitably will also be filled to beyond capacity) is not the answer to those issues.

Previous posts by Nick Ford that have been shared on CopBlock.org can be found here, here, and here. If you appreciate the things Nick has written, you can support him directly here.

More Prisons is Not Reform

Holman Prison in Alabama is home to death row and many there have little to lose should something go wrong. Given the degrading conditions of prisons and their lack of security for prisoners, it should come as no surprise that riots took place on March 11th and 14th.

The first riot happened when a prison guard was stabbed during a fight between two inmates. A prison fire was subsequently started by inmates so they could get access to another part of the prison. The riot included 100 inmates and went from Friday night into Saturday morning before control was re-established and the prison put on lockdown.

An inmate who was interviewed by WHNT 19 News over the phone explained, “What [the officer] did was not professional. They teach them not to do what he did. He went in swinging his stick and throwing inmates around. You know, if you try being in prison for 20 years, people get tired of seeing their fellow convicts get treated that way.”

On Monday while Holman was still on lockdown, an estimated 70 inmates barricaded themselves in a dormitory room after the stabbing of another inmate. WKRG News was able to get a phone call with an inmate there who “said inmates are fed up with deteriorating conditions and overcrowding within the prison system, something even Governor Robert Bentley has acknowledged is a serious issue in Alabama.”

Unfortunately the answer by both Bentley and media like Alabama.com has been to build more prisons.

Bentley and others agree that the riots are symptomatic of a system that isn’t working. But instead of trying to reduce sentences, challenge discriminatory practices or expand alternatives we’re given the choice to expand prisons.

Then again it shouldn’t be surprising that the response from the people in power to necessary and radical action on the part of inmates is milquetoast at best. Yes, the riots were necessary, despite perhaps being inadvisable. Prison riots are acts of desperation that will more naturally occur under such brutal and repressive systems. There’s no need for moral condemnation of the inmates; desperate people act desperately in an attempt to become empowered.

The proposed expansion of prisons from Bentley includes, “merg[ing] the state’s maximum security prisons — about 14 in all — into six prisons, four of them new.” But suspiciously Bentley has also pushed for a one-time exemption for letting a single company build these new prisons. The inevitability of sweetheart deals is much too great to be surmounted by well-meaning liberals.

Governor Bentley thinks focusing on older prisons and merging some will help save money. As true as this may be it still won’t bring back all of the casualties that the Alabama system has caused.

One casualty was death row inmate Timothy Jason Jones. Jones committed suicide in 2006 before he could be sentenced to death for a murder conviction. Jones was a drug user, aggressive, and shied away from his responsibilities by fleeing the scene.

But instead of trying to understand him, prosecutors called him a “monster” and confined him in a locked cell where he eventually killed himself. My point isn’t that Jones was a good person but that instead of giving him the chance to prove he could’ve been the state decided he’d be better off rotting in a cell.

There are are other ways to deal with justice.

Organizations like Common Justice and Community Works West both specialize in alternative forms of justice and specifically transformative and restorative justice. These organizations help inmates feel they can still successfully contribute meaningful things for themselves and their communities. They involve prisoners in their local communities and try to encourage meditation as ways to address underlying issues of crime. As organizations they may not deal with death row inmates specifically but their promise is great.

The success of these models helps release pressure from the overcrowded and bloated prison systems that the inmates expressly used as one of their underlying motivators. If we can help build alternatives to prisons that use positive collaboration instead of fear and dread, perhaps we can begin to more meaningfully address overcrowding.

Instead of expanding prisons, let’s work to expand alternatives.

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Shifting Prisoners to New “State of the Art Facilities” Won’t Eliminate Prison Abuse

This post was written by and originally published at the Center For a Stateless Society (C4SS) under the title “Tutwiler Prison Will Live On.” Posts and other content can be submitted to the CopBlock Network via the CopBlock.org Submission Page. (Note: This has been posted in its original form and no edits to the original text were made.)

This post relates to the impending closure of Julia Tutwiler State Women’s Prison, a facility located in Montgomery, Alabama that is notorius for rampant sexual abuse and other types of abuse, as well. Much like the clamoring for the closure of the detention center located at Guantanamo Bay, the perception is that simply shifting its residents to an alternate location will somehow eliminate those abuses, even though in reality the only real change will be geographical.

Tutwiler Prison Will Live On

Content Warning: Discussions of rape and sexual abuse

After over two decades of abuse, Julia Tutwiler Prison, located in Montgomery Alabama, will close. After almost two decades of prison guards sexually assaulting, abusing and raping inmates, Tutwiler prison will be closed. After nearly two decades of investigations, reformist legislature, promises on the part of the prison to improve, Tutwiler prison will close.

But Tutwiler prison will live on.

The governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, has said in a speech that Tutwiler prison will be closed so that Alabama may have a “complete transformation of the state’s prison system.” But adds that “These aging prisons will be consolidated and replaced by four, newly constructed state of the art facilities.”

And so Tutwiler prison will live on.

Tutwiler prison maintained its rampant sexual abuse even after a 2004 bill, advocated for by Amnesty International and the C4SS’s own Charles Johnson, had been passed. The bill was aimed at terminating and prosecuting abusive guards. But within the span of 2009-2013 only 18 cases of sexual abuse were reported in a prison well known for its widespread abuse.

As Charles Johnson notes, “the first basic obstacle is no matter how unambiguously written and strongly worded the law is, it is always nearly impossible ever to safely try to get a[n abusive guard] prosecuted from inside your cell. … The same overwhelming, full-spectrum life-and-death domination that facilitates the endemic, repeated rape also makes it impossible to defend yourself from them through legal processes.”

Removing this dynamic from prisons would mean prison abolition. And since we can safely presume Governor Bentley doesn’t believe in prison abolition, it’s safe to say that Tutwiler will live on.

Last year the US Department of Justice reported that Tutwiler had a population of women living in constant fear. They were in a highly-sexualized environment where abuse was so rampant that the prison was found to be in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

But all prisons are cruel and unusual.

Because of the aforementioned dynamics between prison guards and prisoners there will always be abuse and a reluctance to prosecute the abuse. In Tutwiler, reports from victims were discouraged by perceived or actual retaliation from prison guards. Guards at Tutwiler were often allowed to resign instead of being terminated. And thus were able to easily reintegrate themselves into another prison.

In this way too, Tutwiler Prison shall live on.

To make matters worse, the claims by victims of sexual abuse were frequently dismissed as the rantings of mentally ill patients. Polygraphs, known for their unreliability, were used as primary means to determine the validity of an accusation. Most insultingly, if the prisoners said it was consensual, then it was treated as such. And all of this only happened if an investigation actually occurred after an accusation, which it more often than not didn’t.

Treating accusations like this is not uncommon in prisons. A place where the abusers hold supreme power and have he legal system backing them engenders little accountability. Abusive prison guards are akin to police officers accused of murder in that they’re rarely indicted for, let alone convicted of crimes.

So, as you might expect, Tutwiler will live on.

ABC 33/40 recently reported that the Lovelady Center in Birmingham will take more than 100 inmates from Tutwiler. Lovelady is a rehabilitation facility for female convicts. But it’s also “faith-based treatment for women” and aims at converting the female convicts to Christianity.  Anyone who is either non-religious or isn’t interested in being proselytized is likely to feel excluded.

The rest of the women who will not be taken into those relatively merciful hands teeming with religious indoctrination will suffer in other ways. They may end up another number in recidivism statistics, or if they are freed, deal with the social isolation that comes with being a convict. Given that some will have their votes taken away, their job opportunities diminished and incredible social stigma, do you think they’ll stay out of prison for long?

Through these aftereffects, Tutwiler will live on.

And it will continue to live on until we abolish prisons.

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If You Want True Reform, Abolish The Police!

This post was written by and originally published at the Center For a Stateless Society (C4SS) under the title “Ferguson, Accept No Substitutes: Abolish the Police!” Posts and other content can be submitted to the CopBlock Network via the CopBlock.org Submission Page. (Note: some links have been inserted, although no edits to the original text were made.)

Back in August 2014 a man named Michael Brown was shot by a police officer, Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed and found himself in the hostile climate that exists between people of color and the police. His resulting death was the spark that lit the fire. Protests for #BlackLivesMatter began in earnest, people rallied for justice for Brown (Wilson was eventually acquitted of any wrong-doing) and in general, folks were deeply upset with the city of Ferguson.

Whether Brown’s actions warranted the almost 10 shots he received by officer Wilson, the background context of the event couldn’t be denied. Even the Department of Justice (DoJ) noted, to quote CBS, “a portrait of poor community-police relations, ineffective communication among the more than 50 law enforcement agencies that responded, police orders that infringed on First Amendment rights, and military-style tactics that antagonized demonstrators.”

The DoJ also remarked on a broad pattern of discrimination by the Ferguson police, particularly towards people of color.

What has changed in over a year and a half?

In September, CBS reported that, “Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon recommended the consolidation of police departments and municipal courts in the St. Louis area, and decreasing the use of police force.”

But more recently and perhaps more promisingly to some, there has been a proposed agreement between the DoJ and the City of Ferguson. If approved, this agreement would postpone any sort of federal lawsuit and make changes to local policies concerning the police. CBS reported that the proposal was even brought before the public for “feedback” before its approval.

Policy changes could include mandatory body cameras and microphones for police and their cruisers. In addition, there could be more thorough training of police and possible revisions of municipal codes that allow the City of Ferguson to jail people who can’t afford fines.

All of these things, if actually implemented, might sound like decent reforms.

But as fellow C4SS writer Thomas L. Knapp wrote back in December of 2014, when it comes to body cameras and the like, “Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. … Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.”

Why would we want the police to regulate themselves on how well they’re doing? A recent example of Chicago police officers tampering with their dash cams is just the tip of the iceberg. Somehow police often “mysteriously” can’t find evidence against themselves. It seems unlikely that it’d be any different in Ferguson.

Likewise, though there’d be more thorough training of the police, who would it be by? Other police? That’s likely the end result of this supposed “thorough” training that may teach “tolerance” for the disabled and marginalized. But acceptance is a lot more meaningful than tolerance, and how can we expect either to be taught to the police in any case?

They operate in an institution founded on “I was just taking orders” as a legitimate defense to wrong-doing. They operate in an institution that, if it really only had “a few bad apples”, would’ve done something more drastic than putting murdering cops on paid vacations. They operate in an institution that lacks any sort of communal competition in many areas, giving them de facto monopoly provision of defense. This monopoly leads not only to a lack of accountability but also violence on the part of the police.

Lastly, it seems unlikely that the city would, for some reason, stop imprisoning less fortunate citizens. If they’re able to make money off of these prisoners, why would they stop it? It seems akin to asking cops to stop profiting from traffic stops.

It’s a nice gesture to let the public “look” at the document before it’s actually passed.

But that’s all it is, a gesture.

Real change won’t come from the fox guarding the hen house. Real change will come from communities coming together and modeling their efforts less on busy-body neighborhood watches and more like the Black Panthers.

Further, community involvement shouldn’t aid prisons and punishment but rather should entice restitution and resolve.

To do that, my advice is simple: Abolish the police!

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