THE BRUTALITY OF PRISON

Our prisons cannot continue to rely on deprivation, control and institutional violence to maintain order.

The failure to provide adequate treatment, programs and education is not justifiable, given the growth in prison spending in recent years as populations have declined — and given the high societal costs of recidivism.

We must re-align priorities in correctional budgets, and we must move forward with decarceration.

Prison distills all of our systemic injustices. People come there disproportionately from communities that are policed rather than resourced.

The incarcerated are housed in dismal cinder-block cells, deprived of adequate care, decent food and education, and paid pennies per hour, if they are lucky to even have a job.

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TOUGH ON CRIME ISN’T WORKING: Letter To The Editor

Responding to recent shootings, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown declared that “violent felons” need to “stay in jail longer.”

If he means that pretrial detainees must be jailed longer, this is unconstitutional. You can’t delay someone’s trial to jail them longer.

If he means that people convicted of violent crimes must stay in prison longer, this is equally ignorant. In Illinois, if someone commits a murder with a gun, he or she faces a minimum 45-year sentence, which the person is unlikely to outlive.

What makes Brown think that increasing that sentence will make a difference?

Brown’s outworn “tough on crime” rhetoric betrays his disregard for the failure of punitive deterrence and the real social needs of marginalized communities. Another police officer, Patrick Skinner, stressed in a recent Washington Post op-ed that “the rhetoric and the tactics and the aggression of war have no place in local police work.”

Yet Brown invokes the same aggressive approach and demonizing labels used by his predecessors and politicians for the past 40 years, which have proved ineffective in preventing crime and disastrous for marginalized communities.

Curiously, Brown hasn’t called for harsher prison sentences for violent police.

People (including those in uniform) need to be held accountable for their actions. But extreme punishment is a failed and racist policy. The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate, and yet our cities have some of the world’s highest crime rates.

Illinois stands out for extreme sentencing laws, which have sent thousands of Illinoisans — over 70% of whom are people of color — to prison for the rest of their lives.

To bolster past politicians’ “toughness,” these people have been permanently torn from their families and communities.

Communities have sent a clear message: no more law enforcement “toughness” or swaggering sound bites. They want real solutions for families who are both victims of violence and caught in cycles of incarceration.

Brown’s burying of these concerns with knee-jerk rhetoric underscores why the Chicago Police Department must be defunded. Plans for shifting resources to social and mental health services and community renewal and for reopening closed schools, all of which have proved to prevent crime, would be much more inspiring.

— Joseph Dole, policy director, and Shari Stone-Mediatore, managing director, Parole Illinois

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AN END TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE?

After spending more than half his life behind bars, George Mullins can tick off what he sees as sorely needed programs: economic literacy, conflict resolution, learning how to recognize trauma and triggers, connecting with family, positive reinforcement.

It’s too easy to languish otherwise, watching each year roll by like heavy fog.

A quote from Bryan Stevenson, president of the Equal Justice Initiative, struck a chord: “You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

We cannot create a system that serves people adequately—people suffering from trauma, people who are victims of violence themselves—we can’t serve them if we’re not listening to them. Not just listening to them, but centering them.

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JUNETEENTH 2020: An Extraordinary Moment

The next election should focus on creating a framework to allow people calling for the abolition of modern prisons to begin the hard work of creating new institutions.

Americans need to vote to help activists continue anti-racist work that will allow us to envision the possibility of a society that is free of racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia.

I don’t know whether it would have unfolded as it did if not for the terrible COVID-19 pandemic, which gave us the opportunity to collectively witness one of the most brutal examples of state violence.

This is an extraordinary moment which has brought together a whole number of issues.

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PROTESTS AT COOK COUNTY JAIL AWAKEN PRECKWINKLE

A day after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle voiced support for defunding police, the County Board on Thursday advanced a measure resolving to redirect money from the failed and racist systems of policing.

The resolution was introduced by Commissioner Brandon Johnson.

“It is time for Cook County government to take a bold step forward to break the systemic cycle of oppression and subjugation of a significant portion of its population,” Johnson said during a virtual board meeting Thursday.

“The Justice for Black Lives resolution is a demonstration that the Cook County Board of Commissioners will decisively break the back of residential segregation, inequity, over-policing and disinvestment in predominantly Black communities.”

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SHUT DOWN VIENNA

Activists and family members of people incarcerated in Vienna Correctional Center are calling on the Illinois Department of Public Health to shut down the minimum-security prison in southern Illinois.

The prison has been plagued by electrical issues, which caused intermittent power outages over several weeks in May, according to news reports.

Prison officials have relied on backup generators, which generate noxious fumes and are themselves unreliable.

The petition also claims the prison is infested with black mold and rodents in the dining halls and kitchen. These ongoing issues have made the facility dangerous, especially during a pandemic.

Activists have often called for the closure of prisons, including Stateville, Pontiac and Menard.

Vienna, which opened in November 1965, is often on the list.

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2700 SOUTH CALIFORNIA AVENUE

A cacophony of car horns, drums, cowbells and trombones echoed along the strip of grass just beyond the coiled razor wire glistening in the sunlight.

A few onlookers peered from turret-like openings on the other side of the wire-topped wall to see what all the noise was all about.

“We love you!” the protesters yelled.

For the Chicago Police and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department there was only scorn, as about 150 protesters on foot — as well as hundreds more in cars — demanded the defunding of the Cook County Jail.

“We have pumped more and more money into mass incarceration and our communities are no safer. So anyone who believes this is actually working, I would question their reasoning.”

The protesters outside Cook County Jail, at 2700 South California Avenue, said money taken from the facility would be put to better use if it funded housing for the poor, mental health services and other social service needs.

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JOHN CATANZARA: TONE-DEAF TO THE CRIES OF PROTEST

John Catanzara, the new president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police criticized officers who kneel.

He said now is not the time or place to be kneeling with protestors, and said officers would be risking being brought up on charges and thrown out of the lodge.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called his comments really unfortunate.

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DEFUND COOK COUNTY JAIL

Each year, Cook County spends more than $600 million each year supporting a racist system of policing and incarceration through the Cook County Sheriff’s budget, which includes sheriff’s police, the Cook County Jail, and more.

Through the Coalition to End Money Bond, we’ve reduced the jail population by more than 50% since 2013.

But in that time, the budget for the jail has actually increased by 26%. If the jail budget had gone down proportionally to the number of people locked up, we would have $117 million more for other public services in our County.

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