Did you know that Read Between the Bars is completely run by volunteers and donations? That is why we are so appreciative of the local businesses and community groups that allow us to share our mission to help gather donations. We have had a few places help us out over the last year, and just want to thank them for helping the Arizona community!
A big thank you to…
To find out more about any of these organizations, click on the links above.
Join Read Between the Bars on Tuesday, March 31st from 5pm to 10pm at La Cocina Restaurant and Bar for their weekly benefit! Come and enjoy any food or drink that evening, and 10% of the sales will go to support Read Between the Bars’ mission of sending books to people incarcerated in Arizona.
While there, you’ll get to enjoy live music by Mik and Scott and Billy Sedlmayr. Mik and Scott, who are regular performers at La Cocina, use looping bass, sax, drums, and other instruments to create a unique, experimental funk sound. Billy Sedlmayr h
as been a contributor to Tucson’s music scene since his teenage years, when he was involved in local punk bands like The Pedestrians. Over the years, while sharing the stage and studio with the likes of Howe Gelb and Dave Seeger, his sound took a turn toward Americana.
Let us know you’re coming by RSVPing on the Facebook event. Feel free to bring your gently used paperback books to donate at that time. Hope to see you there!
For questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The release of the annual United States Peace Index (USPI) by the nonpartisan Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has given Arizona a bit of notoriety. The USPI ranked Arizona number 46, making it one of the least peaceful states in an analysis that examines how homicide, violent crime, small arms, incarceration, and police employment compare from state to state. While Arizona isn’t at the very bottom of the rankings (that distinction goes to Louisiana), Arizona did show the biggest fall from previous USPI data.
Although Arizona’s fall is attributed to an increase in homicide, what’s worth pointing out is that incarceration is where Arizona is furthest beyond the national average. IEP provides an interactive map for people who want to browse this year’s USPI results. Clicking on a state opens a bar graph that will show how that state measures up in rates per 100,000 people for each indicator. A green dot on each bar indicates where the national average is. For Arizona, incarceration is where the bar passes the dot by the widest margin. Arizona’s rate, at 5 per 100,000, puts it among the six worst states in the nation. (If the number seems too small, it’s because of the limiting criteria; it “only includes prisoners under state jurisdiction who have been sentenced to more than one year in prison. This means that both federal prisoners and prisoners in jail are not included in calculating the USPI.”)
But Arizona’s prisons continue to expand. The Arizona Daily Sun reported today on Arizona’s latest spending plan, which includes “$20 million this coming year–with a promise of another $30 million the year after that–to build a new maximum security prison.” In a state that has made deep cuts in education spending, reining in prison spending seems to be off the table.
The good news is the USPI shows that the U.S. is the most peaceful it’s been at any time in the last two decades, and that while “state incarceration rates in the U.S. have dramatically increased from 1981 to 2007,” “this trend seems to have reached a plateau and the incarceration rate has even slightly decreased over the last two years.” Of course, in a nation that is the world leader in incarceration, at 743 per 100,000, a plateau is little consolation for those working to turn the tide against mass incarceration–and, more importantly, for those incarcerated.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of some news items that were noteworthy but not covered in our blog this week.
- From the ACLU Blog of Rights, Monday, March 12, 2012: A New York Times article on Sunday “reinforces what the ACLU and human rights activists around the nation have long said: it’s time to end the barbarously cruel practice…of locking down prisoners in long-term total isolation.” The article includes telling comments by Mississippi’s commissioner of corrections, who “started out believing that difficult inmates should be locked down as tightly as possible” but later changed his mind: “If you treat people like animals, that’s exactly the way they’ll behave.”
- From the Sentencing Project, Tuesday, March 13, 2012: “African-American teenagers are more likely to be sentenced to life in prison without parole if a judge or jury convicts them of murdering a white person, according to the first-ever survey in which juvenile lifers were questioned. Conversely, white teenagers who are convicted of murdering a black person are less likely to be sentenced to life without parole, the same survey found.”
- From Witness to Innocence, Wednesday, March 14, 2012: Death row exonerees will serve as expert consultants for a forthcoming Sundance Channel drama titled Rectify, which “will focus on the story of Daniel Holden, who is released after spending nearly twenty years on Georgia’s Death Row when DNA evidence disputes a key element of the prosecution’s case.”
- From Arizona Prison Watch, Wednesday, March 14, 2012: A workshop on restoring civil rights after release from incarceration will be held at the Maricopa County Superior Court Law Library on Wednesday, April 11, 2012, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Information is available at (602) 372-6803, and registration by phone is available at (602) 506-3461. Please see the Arizona Prison Watch blog for details on materials that should be brought to the workshop.
- From the Internationalist Prison Books Collective (Raleigh, North Carolina), via Solitary Watch, Wednesday, March 14, 2012: Eight inmates were put in solitary confinement after protesting work conditions. “Prisoners in these kitchens are made to work ten hours a day, seven days a week.” A call-in day was held on March 14, but prison officials can still be contacted now: Prison Warden Ken Lassiter, (919) 715-2645, and North Carolina Director of Prisons Robert C. Lewis, (919) 838-4000.
- From Grassroots Leadership News, Friday, March 16, 2012: Florida became “the first southern state to ban the shackling of pregnant women in their third trimester and during childbirth” with a bill that will take effect in July of this year. (A similar bill was recently approved in Arizona.)
Following on the heels of our prior post about wrongful imprisonment comes news from the blog Grits for Breakfast that gives more reason for skepticism. Grits for Breakfast discusses the poor track record of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), a crime lab accreditation agency used extensively throughout the U.S. A reader forwarded a 31-page memo by Marvin E. Schechter, a section chair at the New York State Bar Association. Schechter’s memo states that ASCLD/LAB “could…be described as a product service organization which sells for a fee, a ‘seal of approval,’ covering diverse laboratory systems which laboratories can utilize to bolster their credibility through in-court testimony by technicians plus ancillary services such as protection from outside inquiry, shielding of internal activities and where necessary, especially in the event of public condemnation, a spokesperson to buffer the laboratory from media inquiry.” It’s not a very flattering description of an agency that currently accredits 387 crime labs, 10 of which are in Arizona.
Arizona is mentioned in the memo as one of several states where lab failures at ASCLD/LAB-accredited facilities have been reported. Here’s the excerpt:
Newspapers have reported since 2005 at least 50 laboratory failures….Of these 50 incidents, 28 occurred in facilities that were under ASCLD/LAB accreditation….Incidents occurred have occurred [sic] in ASCLD/LAB accredited facilities in Arizona (4), California (6), Connecticut (1), Florida (1), Georgia (3), Kansas (1), Maryland (1), New York (6), North Carolina (1), Tennessee (1), Texas (1).
In these eleven states, the failures encompassed different forms. Thus, there were mistakes in the identification of fibers, destroyed blood samples, DNA contamination, failure to perform maintenance and calibration, mix-up of key physical evidence, faking calibration dates, false credentials, faking of drug test results, failing proficiency tests, safety deficiencies, substandard ventilation, ineffective operating procedures, evidence integrity issues, delay in reporting DNA evidence, expired chemicals, “dry-labbing,” supervisory failure, incorrect drug weights, theft of drugs, incorrect and/or misleading blood serology results, lack of proper certification and use of outdated tests and destruction of laboratory records.
Upstream from Arizona’s problematic prisoners are problematic crime labs. You can read more about the memo on the Grits for Breakfast blog.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of some news items that were noteworthy but not covered in our blog this week.
- From the Arizona Prison Watch blog, Tuesday, February 28, 2012: “[T]he ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office are about to file a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona for their horrid treatment of prisoners when it comes to health and mental health care.” Additionally, Arizona Prison Watch announced that it will be co-sponsoring a forum on March 22 called “Fair Treatment for All: Ensuring Humane Medical Care for Arizona Prisoners” at the Maryvale Community Center Auditorium at 4420 N. 51st Ave. in Phoenix. The Arizona ACLU is an additional co-sponsor of the event.
- From the Real Cost of Prisons Weblog, Thursday, March 1, 2012: In an egregious example of racial disparities in drug arrests, “93 percent of all marijuana possession arrests in the city of Atlanta [in 2011] were African-Americans, and 7 percent were white. The city’s population is 54 percent African-American and 38 percent white.”
- From the Newport News (Virginia) Daily Press, via SentenceSpeak blog, Thursday, March 1, 2012: “A 2010 report released by the Congressional Research Service revealed the [corrections] industry employs about 770,000 workers….By way of perspective: The U.S. auto industry employs about 880,000 people.”
- From the National Immigrant Justice Center, via the Dignity Not Detention blog, Friday, March 2, 2012: “Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) welcomes the announcement that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released a long-awaited set of new immigration detention standards intended to address critical human rights concerns in the system. Unfortunately, the new standards do not go far enough to protect the rights of all ICE detainees, and ICE has yet to commit to a timeline for implementation that will ensure immigrants are protected from abuse, neglect, and inhumane conditions.” Among other shortcomings, it won’t apply the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 to immigrant detention facilities.
- Also released this week was a new study by The Sentencing Project, The Lives of Juvenile Lifers: Findings from a National Survey (PDF). Among the 1,579 individuals surveyed, the study found “high rates of socioeconomic disadvantage, extreme racial disparities in the imposition of [sentences], sentences frequently imposed without judicial discretion, and counterproductive corrections policies that thwart efforts at rehabilitation.”
The blog Cell-Out Arizona reports today on a new budget bill in the Arizona legislature that would make private prison companies less accountable to the public.
Earlier this month a report on the private prison industry by the American Friends Service Committee added to the statewide controversy over the accountability of private prisons in Arizona. Among other findings, the report “revealed that the state overpaid for private prisons by more than $10 million between 2008 and 2010.”
You can read more at Cell-Out Arizona.
The ACLU reports today on a success in banning the practice of putting minors who are convicted as adults in solitary confinement.
The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of conditions at the privately-operated Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in central Mississippi. As a result of the lawsuit, the Mississippi Department of Corrections will no longer house minors under its supervision in privately run prisons, or subject them to solitary confinement.
The conditions at Walnut Grove were summarized in the ACLU’s press release: “The lawsuit describes the routine practice of…peddling drugs to the teenagers in their custody, subjecting them to brutal beatings, sexual exploitation, solitary confinement and failing to protect them from violence at the hands of older, predatory prisoners. One youth suffered permanent brain damage as a result of an attack in which GEO staffers were complicit.”
According to Dr. Ernest Drucker of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, in his recently published book A Plague of Prisons, “those placed in solitary…account for almost half of [prison] suicides.” Drucker adds that “the United States now has over half of all the world’s prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement.”
Solitary confinement has devastating effects on inmates. The victory that the ACLU and SPLC have secured will spare some of the most vulnerable inmates from those effects. You can read more on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.