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Guides for Life After a Life Sentence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/08/2020 - 2:35am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Lifers find a way

For prison “lifers” who finally make parole after decades of incarceration, navigating life on the outside can be daunting. A program in California is linking up these new releases with their formerly incarcerated peers, who provide guidance as they build their new lives. 

The Peer Reentry Navigator Network (PRNN) was launched five years ago in response to the huge number of lifers being released from California prisons following a shift in parole regulations. Many of the participants, now in their fifties or sixties, come out with chronic health conditions, not to mention little experience with modern technology — some have never used the internet or even an ATM. Their peers, who have learned to successfully navigate post-prison life, show them the ropes through group meetings, one-on-one counseling, life skills, job leads, even relationship advice.

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The program builds on the simple fact that most people age out of criminal behavior — one researcher at Montclair State University found that inmates who are released late in life have a recidivism rate of just 1.14 percent. “Lifers build communities with each other in prison, so the group is a way of extending the runway,” says one social worker who helped develop the program. “So having people they can talk to, check in with, and give and get ‘pull ups’ instead of ‘push downs’ is important.” 

Read more at the Christian Science Monitor

Space invaders

Occupants of homeless shelters often reside in large communal rooms. But since the pandemic began, many of those individuals have been moved into hotel rooms to prevent the spread of the virus. Now, those individuals are showing dramatic, often unexpected improvements in many areas of their lives, particularly the ones who struggle with mental health issues. 

Residents of Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center are living at the Morrison Hotel. Credit: Wikipedia

“What we’ve realized is that the physical environment contributed to the stress and difficulties that people were under, and we had a lot of crisis events,” said the director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center, a Seattle shelter. In this shelter, where 230 people were living in congregate housing before the pandemic struck, tempers would flare and misunderstandings would sometimes escalate into physical conflicts. Since the residents were moved into a local hotel, however, such interactions have diminished, and many residents report that their mental health has improved. The data reflect this: During a five week period in the summer of 2019, shelter workers had to call police or medical services 128 times. During the same period this year, they called 25 times. 

“In a congregate setting, my patients hardly ever feel safe. They have to be concerned with their things being stolen, have no privacy, and that leads to trouble sleeping and feeling like they’re always on edge,” said a physician at another Seattle shelter that moved its residents into a hotel. “Once they moved, you just noticed how people could relax and have the bandwidth to start healing.”

Read more at Shelterforce

Classroom with a view

Kids in Kashmir are keeping their education on track against a breathtaking backdrop. In the India-administered region, few kids have access to laptops or tablets, and internet service is often too spotty for remote learning. So when Covid-19 forced Kashmir’s schools to close, teachers in Doodpathri, a town in Budgam district, set up outdoor classrooms in a spot normally teeming with tourists.

kashmirThe India-administered Kashmir region.

Now, in grassy meadows six feet apart from each other, children are getting an education with the snow-capped Himalayas towering above them. “Their eager participation has made the entire concept click and created similar demand elsewhere,” said one teacher. A parent adds: “It’s far better that our kids attend such schools than grow weary in homes where they often end up frustrating themselves.”

Read more at the BBC

The post Guides for Life After a Life Sentence appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Just Who Is Responsible for the Tory Downgrading Algorithm?

Mike and Zelo Street have both put up excellent articles tearing apart the Tories in England for their massive class bias and signal incompetence over the ‘A’ level exam results. Yeah, Boris and his cabinet of grotesquely overprivileged ex-public school boys and girls are now doing a screeching U-turn, but this in response to the massive public outcry and dissatisfaction from their own benches. The public is getting the message that the Tories hate everyone below the centre middle classes. The Tories really  believe that the best opportunities and places right across society from industrial management, the arts, education and science, housing, healthcare, leisure and just about anything else they can get their hands on should go to the wealthy children of the upper and upper middle classes. The people, who have received exorbitantly expensive private educations at the elite schools. The same people, who, non-coincidentally, supply a good few of the Blairite MPs in the Labour Party and the Blairites and Liberals, who attacked Corbyn’s Labour Party in what passes for the left-wing press, most notably the Groan, Absurder, and the I. The lower orders – the working and lower middle classes – are there to work in the manual trades and in the lower grade office work. But despite all the loud Tory braying about creating a classless England, a meritocracy where anyone can rise from the humblest origins through talent and hard work, the reality is that the Tories are staunchly behind the traditional British class system.

Owen Jones has a very revealing anecdote about how naked this class hatred is behind closed doors. In his book Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, he describes how an unnamed Tory MP, speaking at a university Tory gathering behind closed doors, told his audience, ‘This is class war. And we started it.’ And in the 1990s Private Eye supplied further evidence in their literary reviews. One of these was in Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which consisted of a set of interviews with old Etonians. The anonymous reviewer was not impressed, describing just how smug, complacent and self-satisfied they were. One of the interviewees was an Anglican bishop, who confessed to only having respect for other old Etonians. He said that if he found out someone didn’t go to the old school, he felt that it somehow counted against them in some obscure fashion. The Eye’s reviewer wasn’t remotely surprised, and made it clear that they thought that attitude really counted against old Etonians and their school. I don’t think the bias is necessarily conscious either. It’s just there in their whole upbringing, which they imbibe with their mothers’ milk and the very air they breathe.

And because education is one of the keys to social success, the Tories have been keen to use it as a political football and find whatever way they can to stop children from working and lower middle class backgrounds challenging them. There has been survey after survey that has shown that the education ordinary children receive in state schools is actually broader and better, and that they actually outperform their social superiors at university. I’ve remember the results of such studies appearing from the 1990s. But a decade earlier, there were rumblings from the Tories about bring back the 11 +. You remember, the old exam that went out with the comprehensive schools. The one everyone took when they were 11, and which immediately decided whether they went to a grammar school to receive an academic education, or went instead to the secondary moderns to learn a trade. It was scrapped, along with the grammar schools, because it heavily discriminated against working people. They were largely sent to the secondary moderns while the more privileged children of middle class homes got into the grammar schools.

The Tory algorithm looks very much like a similar device, just done through the backdoor. Because in meritocratic, Thatcherite Britain, we’re all supposed to be classless ‘One Nation’ Tories. Well, as Rab C. Nesbitt could remark, they’ve certainly done their job. ‘Cause to paraphrase the great guerrilla philosopher of the underclass, there’s no class in this country any more.

Gavin Williamson is rightly receiving stick for this debacle, and angry parents, teachers and students, not to mention some Tories, are demanding his job. But Zelo Street this evening has asked Carole Cadwalladr’s further question, equally important: who was responsible for the creation of this computer programme in the first place?

He writes

After James Doleman made the obvious point – that Nicola Sturgeon’s swift admission looks better with each passing day, especially as Bozo tried to get away with it, only to be forced to back down – there was only one more question, and that is, as Carole Cadwalladr put it, “Does anyone know who built the algorithm?” Don’t all shout at once.

Because whoever has their paw prints on that part of the fiasco should have some explaining to do, but in a Government where nobody resigns, there won’t be any. But there will be the distinct impression that someone has sanctioned yet another waste of taxpayer funds on a gizmo that caused rather more problems than it solved.

It’s a good question. Zelo Street himself suggests that it might be someone not unconnected to the poisonous Cummings. Well, he is a Social Darwinist, who was prepared to  let the country’s elderly die from the Coronavirus just in order to save the economy. But you also wonder if the company responsible for the algorithm also was connected to the Tories. They’ve had form in giving government contracts to their pet firms, whose management either includes members of the party, or which donates to them. And who have massively failed in their responsibilities. Like the private company that was supposed to take over from the state the provision of PPE to our brave, dedicated and caring medical professionals. Or what about the ‘world-beating’ test and trace programme, which is now being drastically scaled back because it, like the government that commissioned it, isn’t really fit for purpose.

Or is it one of the delightful private companies to which the government have been outsourcing services that should be provided by the state. Companies like Serco, G4S, Maximus, Capita and all the rest that have been delivering failure and rubbish for over thirty years, ever since they were invited in by the Tories in the late ’80s or early ’90s. At one time there was at least one article every fortnight in Private Eye about this clowns. Capita were so incompetent that the Eye awarded them the nickname ‘Crapita’. They started off with contracts to provide IT services, which were just about always behind schedule, over budget and sometimes so dire that they had to be scrapped. But for some reason they failed upwards, and were immediately given more contracts. And the outsourcing companies have gone on to dig themselves further into the infrastructure of government, with worse results. Like ATOS and Maximus manufacturing reasons to throw genuinely disabled people off the benefits they so desperately need, because the Tories and Tony Blair have decided that a certain percentage must be malingerers. The rioting against appalling conditions in our wonderful, privately run prisons and detention centres for asylum seekers. G4S in the ’90s managed to make themselves a laughing stock when a consignment of prisoners they were escorting to trial broke out and escaped. Are these same companies – or  one similar – also responsible for this unjust, odious algorithm?

Zelo Street doubts we’ll ever know the answer. He’s probably right. The Tories are very keen to protect their failures, and would probably argue that the information is too professionally sensitive to be divulged. Just like they’ve done with other private companies involved in government business, like all the private healthcare providers angling for NHS contracts.

This isn’t good enough. Williamson should go, and the company behind the algorithm should be named, shamed and its contract cancelled.

But I very much doubt that the Tories will take that step. Just remember the old saying

‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

To which you could add that there are also a fair number of the morally parentless on the Tory benches.

See also:

19 Years Ago Private Eye Revealed New Labour Plans to Privatise NHS and Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 4:07am in

One of the good aspects of Private Eye that has kept me reading it – just about – is the way it has covered the deep and pernicious connections between the political parties and big business. And in their issue for 15th-28 June 2001, right at the beginning of Blair’s second term in government, the Eye revealed his plans to privatise the NHS and the education system in the article ‘How the New Government Will Work’. This ran

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are in two minds: should they privatise the entire delivery of public services or just some of it? To help them decide they are consulting the best minds money can buy.

For a start, Downing Street has a report from the Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research. It recommends that private firms deliver health and education on the widest possible scale. The report, a final paper from IPPR’s “Commission on Public Private Partnerships”, claims that “the crucial ingredient that the private sector possesses and the public sector needs is management.”

The report was paid for by the Serco “institute”, a front for the firm which privately runs a slew of Britain’s prisons and immigration detention centres, including the grim “Doncatraz” Doncaster gaol. Serco failed to win the air traffic control privatisation precisely because of worries about its management.

The report was also supported by Nomura, Japanese bank with a big interest in private finance initiative-style (PFI) deals: Nomura’s management of army housing under PFI has been lamentable. KPMG chipped in to support the report as well. It is not a disinterested party either. KPMG advised on 29 hospital PFI schemes, and many other deals outside health.

The giant accountant’s role in these hospital sell-offs has only come under indepdent scrutiny once: at Dartford and Gravesham hospital. The national audit office (NAO) found that, despite KPMG’s “healthcare” advice, the new hospital probably made no financial saving but did cut beds drastically. KPMG’s own fees were originally tendered at £152,000. It finally billed the NHS for £960,000. For good measure, the Norwich Union, which also put millions in PFI, invested in the IPPR report too.

Martin Taylor, chancellor Brown’s friend who used to run Barclays Bank, acted as “commissioner” in drawing up the IPPR’s advice. He is perfectly suited to the job: as an adviser to Goldman Sachs he is in the pay of a multinational bank which wants to make a profit out of Britain’s poor. Goldman Sachs is involved in PFI: it originally funded the PFI buy-out of all Britain’s dole offices.

As the “honorary secretary” of the Bilderberg group, Taylor is also involved in the secretive corporate schmoozing of big name politicians (he signed up for Bilderberg originally alongside Peter Mandelson). And when he ran Barclays, he showed his “secret ingredient” was disastrous management. Under his stewardship the bank lost £250m gambling in Russian financial markets, and had to stump up £300m to bail out the absurd American “hedge fund”, Long Term Capital Markets.

Eventually Taylor was ousted by a boardroom battle in November 1998 before he could cause more damage. Now he’s decided to help the public sector.

The treasury meanwhile wants to take a second look at IPPR’s prediction about the efficiency of privatisation. In particular chancellor Brown wants to test the idea that the private sector gets greater productivity out of employers through “reskilling”, “efficient shift systems and better motivation” – rather than low pay, poor conditions, long hours and casualisation.

To test the theory he will commission a study by the Office of Government Commerce. This office in turn also has a private manager: Peter Gershon, Britain’s highest paid civil servant on £180,000 a year, plus performance benefits and a three-year contract.

He was formerly chief operating officer at British Aerospace. But far from being expert in efficiency, BAe is best at massive cost overruns, project failures and non-competitive tendering. The managers in charge of the Tornado, Bowman Radio and Type 45 destroyer programmes – all plagued with late delivery and technical problems – reported directly to Gershon.

Since then, Serco have become notorious for their massive inefficiency and the inhuman conditions at the prisons and detention centres they run. One of the most notorious of the latter was Yarl’s Wood, which was so atrocious the asylum seekers rioted. And I don’t think that was only one either. I also remember the outrage that the government’s sale of the army barracks to Nomura caused.

Goldman Sachs and Lehmann’s Bank caused the 2008 world banking crash, ushering over two decades of cuts and austerity, which has made conditions for the poor even more worse. For those who are managing to survive the low pay, monstrous levels of debt, and the almost non-existent welfare state. This has forced millions of people onto food banks to keep body and soul together, and hundreds of thousands are suffering from starvation, or ‘food poverty’ as the media now delicately put it. And I forget what the death toll from this is, it’s so high.

As for low pay, poor conditions and job insecurity – that all increased under Gordon Brown, and has increased even more so under the Tories, as it all keeps the working woman and man down, cowed and fearful, in her and his place.

And the Bilderbergers will be familiar to anyone interested in conspiracy theories. They were some of the ‘Secret Rulers of the World’ covered by Jon Ronson in his documentary series on Channel 4 of the same name.

I dare say some of the names involved in the privatisation agenda has changed, but you can bet it’s all going to come in with Starmer, despite his retention of Corbyn’s election manifesto. ‘Cause that was popular. Now it looks like he’ll undermine it by starting to ignore it.

And we’re back to Blairite misery, despair, poverty and starvation again. Except for the multinationals and their utterly talentless managers. It all looks pretty good for them.

Black Cross: A Proposal for an Abolitionist Prisoner Support Group

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/07/2020 - 5:47pm in

image/jpeg iconBlack Cross.jpg

A proposal for a Black Cross, an abolitionist prisoner support group that seeks to abolish prisons and police.

With the Terror Bill now becoming Terror Law, we can expect an increase of arrests and suppression from the State.... The proposal for an abolitionist prisoner support group is made more urgent by the day as more and more are imprisoned and incarcerated for speaking truth to power.

Simoun Magsalin

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What George Floyd’s Dying Breaths Tell Our Fractured Nation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 6:04am in

As George Floyd’s daughter said, in death, her daddy changed the world. The least the rest of us can do is try to make that change permanent. Continue reading

The post What George Floyd’s Dying Breaths Tell Our Fractured Nation appeared first on

The joy of [censored]: A brief glimpse inside the murky world of JPay

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 6:39am in



image/png iconJPay message 1.png

A brief look at the absurdities of a public-private censorship partnership.

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Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons‘ treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.



Emptier Jails Could Stay That Way

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 4:57am in

A couple of months ago, the county jail in Cleveland started doing something that, prior to the pandemic, would have been unimaginable: It began releasing hundreds of inmates. 

The problems at the jail were impossible to ignore. In 2018, the facility, which was designed to hold 1,765 inmates, was housing about 2,500. In a period of just six months that year, eight inmates died of various causes, prompting a U.S. Marshals investigation of the jail, which described its conditions as “inhumane.”

The jail’s troubles were emblematic of America’s mass incarceration problem, in which inmates spend months or years in jail on low-level charges or because they can’t afford bail. 

But in Cleveland, this problem all but evaporated on March 10. That day, a group that included judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials and public health advisors anxiously convened an emergency meeting. The state of Ohio had just recorded its first Covid-19 infection, and the group knew the virus could tear through the city’s over-capacity jail if something wasn’t done fast.

That’s when Dr. Julia Bruner, who oversees health care at the jail, stood up and told the attendees that the pandemic had just changed everything they knew about incarceration in Cleveland.  

“She told the judges that, as coronavirus spreads, it could impact 30 percent of jail staff, spread through the jail quickly and leave officials with too few workers and too many inmates to treat,” reported the Cleveland Plain Dealer. According to Bruner, once she laid out that nightmare scenario, “There was very little resistance in the room.”

cleveland jailThe Cuyahoga County Jail and Courthouse. Credit: Tim Evanson

Soon after that, the county began releasing inmates who were awaiting trial or close to their release dates. For defendants who had just been convicted, judges handed down more lenient sentences. Cleveland’s overcrowded jail quickly began to depopulate — a total of about 900 inmates have been released so far, bringing the county’s inmate total down to about 1,000. 

It was a drastic measure, taken in the heat of a crisis. As it happened, it was also a goal that many — on both ends of the political spectrum — had long hoped to achieve.

“The coronavirus pandemic gave our political leadership added ammunition and the critical mass to address something we’ve been trying to do for quite some time,” says Cleveland Municipal Court Judge Michael Nelson. “The virus helped push these proposed changes into real action. It is hard to predict what will happen when the virus becomes less of a safety issue, but I know this much: We won’t go back to how we were before.”

Justice reform gets a preview

What has happened in Cleveland is happening all over the country. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago and New Orleans are releasing tens of thousands of inmates. In Denver, from March 1 to April 15, the average number of people in jail fell by 41 percent. Mobile, Alabama’s jail population went from 1,580 to 1,100 in four weeks. San Diego released 300 inmates in a single day in mid-April. In all cases, the released inmates were either at high-risk for coronavirus, low-level offenders, or near the end of their sentences.

Notably, the people advocating for these early releases are hardly social justice warriors. They are sheriffs, prosecutors and judges that have long been looking for an opening to reduce mandatory incarceration for low-level offenders – and lower the bail costs that keep many of the poor behind bars before trial. This is happening in both rural and urban areas, in red states and blue states, in places where prison reform has been on the table for years and in places where it has rarely been discussed. 

“In the last decade or so there has been more of an opening for reconsideration on how many people we send to jail, and the current health crisis has opened that further,” says Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project and one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, race and the criminal justice system. “The discussion now is getting less political and more solution-oriented. That’s the difference now.”

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The U.S. prison population began to rise in the mid-1970s, reaching double-digit annual percentage increases in the 1980s as almost every state adopted some form of mandatory sentencing and ramped up arrests for drug offenses. The 1994 federal crime bill contributed to the increase by expanding the death penalty, mandatory minimum sentencing, and incentives that encouraged states to adopt harsher punishments and limit parole.

The result? Between 1980 and 2020, while the U.S. population increased by about 45 percent, the prison population increased by 275 percent. Local jails also saw a big increase, with 223,000 people incarcerated in 1983 and about 630,000 today, about two-thirds of whom are unconvicted — they are simply awaiting trial or sentencing. 

In recent years, reducing this incarceration rate has united advocates on the right and the left, who are by turns motivated by the human costs and the monetary ones. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that the U.S. spends more than $80 billion each year to keep roughly 2.3 million people behind bars, or about $35,000 per inmate.

But is the answer simply to release inmates who are deemed low-risk, as is happening now? Does a solution that makes sense during a pandemic also make sense as permanent policy?

The last few years have provided some hints to that answer, as several states have moved to reform their bail systems, effectively doing in small doses what is now being done in a deluge. 

New York is the most recent example, which earlier this year eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. The reforms have succeeded in reducing the jail population, but have also drawn the ire of the NYPD, which has reported a rise in crimes like robbery since the reforms were enacted. “There’s a correlation” between bail reform and the increase in crime, the department’s commissioner said in January.

But advocates say it’s ridiculous to attribute a few months of data fluctuations to a single policy, and accuse reform’s opponents of cherry-picking their crime statistics. For instance, they point out, while robberies have gone up since the reforms, rapes and homicides have fallen. In his January report, the police department’s own statistician declined to attribute January’s rise in crime to bail reform. And research has suggested that the NYPD, which controls the city’s CompStat crime-data cruncher, may manipulate this data to sway public opinion on these issues.

Across the Hudson River, New Jersey provides a longer-term case study. Bail reforms implemented there in 2017 reduced the state’s jail population by 45 percent. Yet New Jersey has experienced no major upswing in crime. In 2016, there were 21,914 violent crimes in the Garden State. In 2018, post-reforms, there were 18,357.

Credit: Prison Policy Initiative

In California, too, a series of reforms, lawsuits and ballot initiatives have reduced the incarceration rate significantly since its peak in 2006. As in New York, critics point to spikes in crime in California since the reforms began. For instance, in 2014, after voters passed Proposition 47, reclassifying many non-violent offenses as misdemeanors, a 12 percent increase in robberies and aggravated assaults followed.

But advocates for the reforms will tell you to look at the longer trend line: Those small spikes are overwhelmed by the broader decrease in crime — now the lowest it has been since the 1960s. “To look at it from a year-to-year basis is very short-sighted,” Michael Romano, the director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law, told the Marshall Project. “We really have had a sustained downward trend over the past decade or two.” 

Source: FBI. Credit: The Marshall Project

Even if these spikes do correlate with policies that let some inmates out of jail, supporters say there’s a larger question society needs to ask itself: Can it tolerate a small and temporary uptick in minor non-violent crimes for the greater purpose of alleviating the devastation caused by mass incarceration? “If you wanted to have the safest community, you just would lock up everybody,” Judge Glenn Grant, administrative director of the New Jersey courts, told the New York Daily News. “But we are looking to try to balance presumptions of innocence versus public safety.” 

Despite such appeals to fairness and decency, it may be the economic argument that becomes the more compelling one, especially as state and city budgets collapse, and the costs of housing thousands of low-level and unconvicted inmates mount.

“One would like to think the open-minded can see a significant reduction in the number of people in jail will have little effect on crime,” says The Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer. “But all this will depend quite a bit on the larger issues of economic and social dynamics. The economic hit from [Covid-19] will be substantial to the country, and we will have to come together as a nation to bring the economy back to life. We will have to make cuts on government spending programs, no doubt.”

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While We Were Social Distancing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 4:16am in

With mounting deaths, unemployment at Depression-era highs, and daily presidential briefing spectacles, there’s even more news flying under the radar. The team at brings you the news you need to know — some of it good, some of it outrageous, all of it important — that’s been covered up by COVID-19. May 2, 2020. Continue reading

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My review of Robert Clark’s book on Canada’s prisons

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 3:34am in

Robert Clark has written a very good book about Canada’s prison system. Mr. Clark worked from 1980 until 2009 in seven different federal prisons, all located in Ontario. The book is a compilation of personal accounts based on the author’s various assignments.

Since prisons can be a pipeline into homelessness, I’ve reviewed the book with great interest.

My review is available here.