August 3, 2009
BY ABDON M. PALLASCH
Political Reporter- Chicago Sun Times
More prisons are not the answer to America’s crime problems, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the nation’s lawyers Monday.
“We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety,” Holder told the American Bar Association delegates meeting here for their annual convention. “Since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.”
Holder conceded that the massive build-up of prisons — a seven-fold increase over the past 40 years — probably has something to do with the crime rate dropping 40 percent since 1991.
“Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated — the highest incarceration rate in the world,” he said. But the country has reached a point of diminishing returns at which putting even greater percentages of America’s citizens behind bars won’t cut the crime rate.
That’s in part because once people spend time in prison, they’re likely to keep engaging in the kind of behavior that sends them back to prison, he said.
“Most crimes in America are committed by people who have committed crimes before,” Holder said. “About 67 percent of former state prisoners and 40 percent of former federal prisoners are re-arrested within three years of release. If we can reduce the rate of recidivism, we will directly reduce the crime rate.”
Prisoners who undergo drug treatment and/or work training in prison are 16 percent less likely to re-offend after their release, he said.
Diverting non-violent drug offenders away from prison and into treatment programs, as New York State does, saves taxpayers money, better rehabilitates offenders and helps reduce the crime rate, Holder said.
“Every state in the union is trying to trim budgets,” Holder said. “States and localities are laying off teachers, cutting back on public health, and canceling after-school programs for our children. But in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to rise. This is unsustainable economically.”
Holder provoked applause from the delegates when he complained that across the country, state and local governments are under-funding public defenders, whose growing caseloads make it difficult for them to adequately represent their clients.
Holder did not speak on the delegates overwhelming voice vote to ask Congress to repeal part of the Defense Of Marriage Act that prevents same-sex partners receiving federal benefits even in states that have legalized gay marriage.
This and other news about mass incarceration can be found at www.realcostofprisons.org/blog/
Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...
This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.
Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.
Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.
I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.
In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.
I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
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