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.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Disabled in Prison: Surviving a Stroke at ASPC-Perrryville

This is one of the few letters I've received from the women at Perryville prison this month - it came just before my mailing to them about asserting health care rights was confiscated and my communication with existing correspondents there virtually severed. This kind of thing that Judith describes is why prisoners riot - they're tired of being treated as less-than-human. Empowering people to assert their civil rights appropriately, provided that the channels are accessible and responsive, should help decrease prison violence, if anything.

I contacted Richard Pratt, Director of the Health Services Division at the AZ DOC, inquiring about a reasonable accomodation that would allow Judith to go out for physical therapy. Any reasonably prudent person could see that the chances of her suffering harm from not getting that rehab are pretty good - why would the DOC not help her get there? His response was as follows:

 "I have forwarded your concerns to our monitoring team in Perryville to review the records for restrictions that may be in conflict with ADA..."

He said nothing about her particular circumstances, though, which is a way of avoid taking responsibility for solving the problem, so I suggested the following to Judith:

1. file an HNR requesting a new referral for physical therapy, 

2. submit a grievance about the transportation policies  requesting a reasonable accommodation to her disability, 

3. contact the ACLU-AZ and the AZ Center for Disability Law (because they're suing the DOC re: negligent health care), 

4. file an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint with the US Department of Justice.

for more resources, see the 8/3/12 Arizona Prison Watch post:

----correspondence from Perryville prison---

SHAME on the AZ DOC for how they have neglected this woman...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wexford, human rights causing riot fears at ASPC-Perryville?

My mail has been hung up for a few weeks now, beginning with a mailing I sent to women correspondents at Perryville prison about their health care rights. A copy of the latest version is below - all but one or two copies appear to have been intercepted by prison authorities, though. One of the men I sent the second of the two letters below to said his copy was seized by officers and marked "riot material". After not hearing back from over 70 prisoners I'd written to in the past few weeks, by this weekend I felt pretty sure that the DOC was intercepting most of my mail going into their prisons, and are preventing those who had previously corresponded with me from getting word out. 

Unfortunately, since Director Ryan still hasn't responded to the following email I sent him 5 days ago, I don't know if any of those allegations I've made are true. For all I know, I'm about to be arrested for attempting to incite a riot or for promoting prison contraband. Or perhaps the DOC just made a huge mistake by messing with my free speech rights and diverting the US mail inappropriately. 

We'll soon see. I'll keep you posted here...

 Remembering victims of neglect and suicide at ASPC-Perryville 
(Phoenix, AZ : November 2011)

----from my email account-----

On Sat, Oct 20, 2012 at 4:48 PM,
Arizona Prisonwatch <> wrote:

Director Ryan:

While we're on the subject of rioting, I thought you should see these other two letters yourself and tell me if they warrant confiscation as well. I've hardly heard a word out of Perryville since mailing them to about 30 women there - nor much from the 40 men to whom I sent the one with Donna's emails - and suspect that either these letters have also been diverted from the intended recipients, or their voices are being repressed. A similar problem has befallen one of your Botulism patients - his mail from me about who victimized him and what he might be able to do to assure his rights are protected has definitely been interfered with, and he'll run out of time to exhaust his remedies and access the courts if he's kept in the dark about his options much longer. I'm also concerned about the possibility that his ability to advocate effectively for himself right now could still be impaired by the neurological damage done to him after your people at Eyman refused to get him to a hospital for a week. I don't trust that they now have his best interests at heart.

Are you aware of the escalating crisis of guys trying to get into your Protective Segregation program because the gangs are totally in control on medium and higher yards? The guys all are. Your prisoners also have the right to know why - after four months of filing HNRs or going through the grievance process - they are still suffering with an untreated urinary tract infection, or have gone without their Metformin since July, who is responsible for that kind of thing, and what they can do about it.

You have the duty to Arizonans behind bars and in the community alike to assure that you are doing no harm to those people entrusted to your care for rehabilitation, because 95% of them will someday have to come home to the rest of us. We'd like them to return with better social and employment skills than when they left, not come back to us more disturbed or violent than they ever were before.

The men are already "rioting", by the way, according to Dr. D'Angelo, because they are hungry and terrified of dying horribly due to gross medical neglect in your custody. I also think the fear that one is about to be assaulted if one doesn't strike first is contributing to the escalating rate of vicious attacks on vulnerable prisoners over things that previously would have gone unnoticed on the yards, and thus creates some of your 805 backlog.

The women will be rioting soon without me too, you know. That's your doing, however, not mine.

The men and women alike in your prisons are all tired of being expected to shut up and disappear when they resist sexual violence or extortion, say no to racism, and challenge the deliberate indifference of their health care providers. Those allegations about Wexford include some of criminal misconduct, not just the heartless greed that our ALEC-laden legislature happily expected they were satisfying when they mandated you to outsource the prisoners' health care for didn't put up much resistance or educate them about better options, as I recall. None that I could see evidence of, anyway.

One way to reduce the level of violence in your prisons may be to empower people to learn and use the law and civil discourse in a constructive manner to protect themselves from harm instead of reaching for a gun or a gang to alleviate their fears - the deepest of which no one here talks much about, which is rape. I haven't even begun to look at your PREA reports lately; is sexual assault and exploitation on the rise, too?

Many prisoners are waiting to hear back from me on issues related to their health and safety, Director Ryan; they write to me begging for their lives. Please get with your lawyers and get back with me soon. I need to know whether you have some rogue mailroom employees absconding with my mail, or if what I've written to your prisoners deserves to be suppressed because it's more dangerous than the conditions that you've cultivated and are now allowing to fester.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Margaret Plews

Again, no one but myself is responsible for the contents of this email or the attachments. Be aware that it and any response it gets (or doesn't get), is hardly going to be kept between us.

--------------------October 4, 2012 letter to the women of Perryville prison---------

October 4, 2012

Please read all the enclosed material carefully; I'm sending it to all the good addresses I have for women at Perryville. The Orange Gazette needs to do the bulk of the work from here, though. Spread my PO Box if nothing else, and I'll send whomever writes to me the same materials as long as I am able to. The enclosed are also posted at the Arizona Prison Watch blog, where your families can download the letter as well as info about how advocating for yourselves as prisoners, and mail it to you themselves.

If ever you were in a fight for your lives and real justice, it is now. It’s not just about you, either - you need to stand with the women suffering even more around you. I applaud those of you who have had the courage to do so already - facing certain reprisal. I know that if they don’t nail you now, they will once no one is looking at the prisons again.

I took your complaints and letters to the Sun City/ West Valley National Organization for Women last month, and their program committee is inviting me to come speak about Perryville’s conditions and the health care crisis for their November meeting. So for October I need to be kept up to date with what’s happening there - both in the way of improvements or deterioration of the situation for each of you individually and on your respective yards. If you have copies of grievances and responses you can send me, even better.

If you are willing to let me use your name and story publicly, please tell me - and be explicit if you would like me not to identify you as well… though don’t think your involvement in organizing with NOW will be a secret to the DOC if you write to me - they will no doubt be monitoring all of my correspondents, and their officers may repeatedly move you or search your cell to steal the evidence you accumulate against them. Your silence will not protect you either, though, as Audre Lourde once said. You each need to do what you have to do to survive your sentence, though. I respect that. You alone know what you can and can’t risk in there.

If you do correspond with me, please remember that I am not an attorney or a journalist - I’m just an artist and freelance writer in the community - a civilian doing my good deed before I leave this earth. Nothing you send me is privileged information, and I don’t know if the first amendment would protect my sources the way it does for the mainstream media. I sure don’t have a corporate legal team behind me to protect any of us if the state tries to harass or punish those of you courageous enough to correspond with me. But I need that information in order to get help in there to you, and it must be current and verifiable. If victims of and witnesses to abuse, neglect, and criminal activity by state or contract agents are willing to send signed statements you’ll swear by that I can publish and read aloud to the women from NOW, it would make the most impact.

Things often get worse before they get better when you are fighting people with this much power over your very right to survive. It may not even get better there before you leave - and some of you may die in the battle for women‘s rights. But the more of you who stand and speak out now, the safer it will be for others who come after you to keep up the fight, and really make a change from the inside out. You can’t count on the ACLU or the rest of us to rescue you - and we can’t do our part right without you.

So, you know where to find me. Be patient but persistent if I am slow to respond directly to your individual letters - I run out of ink and postage and have to juggle crises of varying magnitude. But I am listening, and I have friends out here who care about Perryville’s prisoners as well. So please, if you can, write to me.  Send me your poetry, too. And letters from your kids, if you want - these women need to know just who I am asking them to help and why - you need to be real people to them; touch them, please. They are willing to hear you.

Let me know if any of this is contrabanded. There are two other pieces of paper enclosed - one is an AZ Republic Article from last week, and the other is an email to Chuck Ryan from Donna Hamm, both reporting on what’s really up with this BS with Wexford Health.

In Solidarity,

Peggy Plews

-----update of October 2 2012 letter about health care rights----

REVISED October 15, 2012

AZ State Prisoners:

Sending the following letter to you is not Donna Hamm's doing – it's mine alone. Many of you will need this information for evidence and to guide your discovery for more if you (or, in the case of your death, your family) decide to file a lawsuit about your rights being violated. If you go that route, you also need an attorney – not me.

That said, please don't go threatening to sue your nurses and doctors or accuse them of criminality or complicity – save the posturing for others to do. That just pisses the wrong people off while you still have no power and need their help. This guy D'Antonio proves there are still some good people in the mix, so look for them and tell me who they are when you find them, just like you tell me about the bad guys. Don't chase the good ones away.

Even if you think following the rules of engagement with the DOC will yield nothing, you must file HNR's about your specific health care needs or complaints according to policy, which you need to ask to see if you didn't get a copy from me – don't take some guard's word for it. If the response to the HNR is unsatisfactory, don't just call home to get them to call Central Office or file another HNR asking the same thing a different way: they will appease and stall family and you will just lose your rights thinking you are getting action that way.

Follow the grievance process all the way to the top, or you stand no chance in hell if you ever take any of these people to court to sue for your constitutional rights. Follow the rule of law to the letter on this matter, or you will lose your civil case even if the DOC and Wexford cause you to lose your sight or legs, or ultimately your life. Make sure your grievances reflect what you anticipate you may have to fight for in court, too. If the grievance policy for health issues has changed since Wexford took over, get it in writing and get it out to me.

Please report to me any DOC officer or health care employee who obstructs your attempts to file any informal resolution or grievances, or anyone up the chain of command who doesn't respond in a timely fashion according to policy – I need names and dates and reasons for the grievance you attempted to file. Also report anyone to me who refuses to show you DOC policy that governs grievances and how you are able to access medical care. Just don't tell any of them you're reporting them, or you'll likely get punished for it one way or another. Assert yourselves appropriately, but keep your heads down and study up on your rights like mad – catch up with the SOBs later in court, once you know how to do it right.

Please remember that I am an artist and community activist – not an attorney. I don't know anything about the law except what I've taught myself while trying to help you folks figure it out. So, use the reference guides I send you and the resources below, and share them with others who need them too...

Donna is a former judge and a professional criminal justice consultant, and can help more with legal questions and strategy than I can, if you can afford to hire her. She's been doing this for 25 years.

Donna Leone Hamm
Middle Ground Prison Reform
139 E. Encanto Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281

Ask the ACLU-AZ for a copy of “Parsons' v Ryan” – the class action against the DOC for medical and psychiatric neglect and abuse of the mentally ill in solitary. Also file a complaint with them if you haven't already about your prison health care.
ACLU-AZ PO Box 17148, Phoenix, Az 85011

The National Lawyer's Guild will send you their complete Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook if you send them $2 in stamps, check or money order. I can't print the whole thing up, but you need it like a bible for the duration of your sentence. Ask family to send for it (it must be mailed directly to you from the NLG), or write me if you have no one – I'll find a sponsor to order one for you.

National Lawyers Guild 132 Nassau Street, Rm 922 New York, NY 10038

Here is the address to the AZ Medical Board. Request each of their pamphlets and a complaint form – but again, don't tell Wexford or DOC what you're doing, just do it. Be prepared to document allegations well, though, or face real problems yourself.

Arizona Medical Board
9545 E. Doubletree Ranch Rd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85258

All of you need to stand together if you take these people on, don't leave it to one or two prisoners, or they'll get picked off like flies. You need to show each other solidarity, and be attentive witnesses to staff misconduct when it goes down. Write statements and have another witness them when you see things – just like the guards write incident reports - and always send copies of your statements and other evidence (HNRs, grievances, etc) out to someone you trust – preferably to the loved ones who will have standing to sue in federal court if you die from neglect. The DOC routinely ransacks cells to steal and destroy evidence against them. Just don't think you can engage in this without risks and retaliation – it may get worse before it gets better – it probably will, so study up.

Arizona Prison Watch, by the way, is just the blog I write – not an organization, per se. I have friends behind me, but not in high places – we're all pretty poor and hated by the authority in this state, no doubt. I am anti-capitalist and think the profit motive undermines human rights. I hate the drug war and the war on the poor, and the kind of mass incarceration we practice in this country has been used to destroy communities of resistance as well as liberation movements – I want to abolish the whole system and start over. I believe the prisons are the front lines in the battle to save our collective humanity. It's where the worst abuses occur because society has already exiled and silenced you for your crimes (and class, and race, and so on), and justified great harm to your lives. I don't want to live in a state that encourages cruelty and exploitation in my name, for my ”safety”. It's the public, not the prisons, I most want to reform. How we treat our prisoners is a reflection of our collective spiritual evolution, and I want this world to move forward.

So, I am here for as long as I am able, simply to serve as a counterbalance to the overwhelming power of the state to silence and oppress you, by giving you what tools I can to help you fight for yourselves, and amplifying your voice. That's basically my mission.

Be patient but persistent if we are working together on something – I''m swamped with correspondence. And take care of each other in there.
Peggy Plews
    Arizona Prison Watch
    PO Box 20494
    Phoenix, AZ 85036

    (this is all also part of that mailing. perhaps this is what they really fear will cause a riot...) 

October 2, 2012

Mr. Charles Ryan, Director
Arizona Department of Corrections
1601 West Jefferson
Phoenix, Arizona  85007
Dear Mr. Ryan:
Yesterday, Oct. 1, I received a telephone call from Dr. Lawrence D'Antonio, who works for a contractor who provides professional healthcare workers to Wexford.  As you know, Wexford, in turn, provides all medical care for prisoners within the Arizona Department of Corrections.  D'Antonio currently works at the Eyman Complex/Rynning.  He was originally supposed to work at Meadows, but now only works at Rynning. He says the Meadows Unit is a "lost cause."   If I understood him correctly, he believes there is no doctor currently assigned to Meadows Unit and that the Clinical Center there is essentially inoperative.  He has been a doctor (D.O.) for 27 years.  He has worked for the contractor who provides doctors to Wexford since about July 2012.

D'Antionio says that Dr. Tom Bell is the Statewide Medical Director employed by Wexford.  The Regional M.D. for Wexford is Dr. Hector F. Garcia.  He is Dr. Bell's boss.  Karen Grant is the Director of Nursing for Wexford.  D'Antonio refuses to converse with or take orders from Grant.  Grant was abusive, used obscenities with him, and was unprofessional during their initial conversation.  He believes that it is ironic that only current physican at the Eyman/Rynning Unit (D'Antonio) has no communication  with the Director of Nursing.  He has advised his own employer that either Wexford needs to obtain someone other than Grant for him to communicate with or he will not work there at all.

He says "personnel (medical) are leaving in droves."  Grant was ordering him to do things outside his training and outside of his expertise.  She was ordering him to see patients who needed specialists; he is not a specialist.  He says that Dr Bell ordered  that certain medications are to be stopped for some inmates.  When asked why the medications were to be stopped, Bell stated, "Because they are prisoners."  He asked Bell, "Is this your own medical decison-making?"  Bell replied, "This comes from Wexford."

Karen Grant has ordered D'Antonio to write prescriptions en masse for patients whom he has not seen.  He refused to do so, stating that in most cases he needs to see each patient individually before he can prescribe a medication.  He says Wexford is sabotaging everything by doing such things as excessive questioning of the doctor ("for more information") when he prescribes a medication.  When he makes a referral for a patient to have a procedure, obtain a specialist's opinion, have additional testing, etc., Wexford has a procedure which they call a "collegial" conference call.  Their staff get on a conference call and the vast majority of the time, they delay the additional procedure by requesting "additional information" from the referring doctor.  This goes on and on, back and forth, so that the procedure itself never gets done or is so delayed as to be meaningless (or dangerous) for the patient.

He says that he was told that all prior referrals (for specialists, tests, etc.) made by DOC healthcare workers prior to July 1, when Wexford took over, are cancelled, and will not be honored.  Instead, the inmate is required to go through the referral process all over again, thus further delaying what might be life-saving diagnostic testing.  D'Antonio says that many of the referrals are "shelved" and continuously cycled through the "get more information" process over and over.

D'Antonio refers to the mistakes and unethical conduct going on by Wexford employees as "staggering" and "criminal."  He says that while he does not consider himself to be soft on crime or criminals, "they are human beings and deserving of basic medical care."  He has restricted his exposure to liability for the type of care being provided to inmates by limiting the days he will work, the hours he works, and the units at which he will work.  He says what is happening at the Meadows Unit and throughout the Florence prisons is a "disgrace."

The doctor says that there are such people as what doctors refer to as "hatchet" doctors or "administrative" doctors -- they work for a corporation and have given up their ethics (and oath) to 'do no harm' by accepting a huge paycheck just to go along with corporate policies and directions.  D'Antonio says there are doctors (or nurses) such as this that work for Wexford.

He says that each time he sees a patient, he must fill out a progress note.  This is a form.  When he orders lab work, an x-ray or a prescription, each requires a separate form.  At the Meadows Unit, it was nearly impossible to find the forms needed, thus delaying and complicating the already dysfunctional process.  He says chart work is ignored and there is no review process.  He was originally hired just to do induction physical exams for incoming (new) prisoners, but that he has ended up doing everything from emergency care, chronic care, diagnostics, etc. and that they are so back-logged in reviewing charts that there is no reasonable way that each patient's chart can be reviewed in a timely manner.

He states that he has been told by Wexford employees that, "We are forbidden from talking about what happens here. . ." and that he has been advised, "Prisoners have died at the Meadows Unit due to lack of care since Wexford took over . . . ." (He was unable to provide me any names or DOC #'s of inmates who have allegedly died at Meadows Unit due to lack of medical care since Wexford took over on July 1, 2012).

He says that the Wexford formulary for approved medication is "archaic." He gave an example of the medication that Wexford has approved for hay fever.  (I can't spell it).  He says this was a medication that was being phased out in the 1980's (it was a medication that he would have taken as a child)  -- and that the standard of care in today's world for allergies is an antihistamine and/or a nasal steroid spray.  He says Wexford approves a salt water/ocean spray which is so outdated, it is laughable.  So, when he writes a prescription for a timely/updated drug (a "non-formulary" drug), Wexford can't fill it (won't fill it) because it isn't in their formulary.  So, there is a huge delay for the patient in obtaining non-formulary medication, and the formulary list itself is actually responsible for delay after delay after delay for patients to obtain a prescribed medication, including for serious medical problems.  He states that Wexford would likely claim that their formulary medications are "great" and "adequate," but many of their medications are simply not used anymore in today's real world of medicine in the USA.

He says he works a 12-hour day with no breaks and he even eats lunch while charting.  He works the hours by choice in order to get in his weekly hours in as short a time as possible to get out of there as quickly as possible.  But the workload is so far behind, it would require a full team of doctors to get caught up and would take a year.

He is concerned because many of the inmates are complaining they are not getting enough food and the doctor is concerned about the weight loss he has actually observed.  His says he has heard comments from many people that the real reason for the recent riots/disturbances at Tucson and Rynning is because of an underlying tension or stress among the inmate population due to (1) not enough food; (2) being denied medical care.  The DOC explained the reason for the riots to the media as "racial disturbances."

Dr. D'Antonio has openly discussed with Dr. Bell his concern that Dr. Bell could have a work-related breakdown over his job.  He is deeply concerned about Dr. Bell's mental well-being and feels it is possible that Dr. Bell may become "overwhelmed" by his job duties as Medical Director.  D'Antonio believes the various relevant Arizona professional medical boards and nursing board should immediately become deeply involved and investigate what is happening.  The Hippocratic Oath:  Do no harm -- is being violated directly.   He says he is witnessing "outrageous" medical neglect and actions contributing to such neglect by staff.

When a patient is referred for an outside professional test, procedure or consultation, the referral goes to the Wexford "collegial board."  He has asked, "What happens if it (the referral) is denied?"  Dr. Bell told him, "Well, it goes back to the referring doctor."  D'Antonio said, "Well, what happens if I refer the same patient a second time for the same procedure because I obviously believe he needs it?"  Bell replied, "Well, then we fire you because you keep making referrals."

He says many doctors and nurses have quit.  About 9-10 doctors have quit between the Florence and Eyman Complexes.  Describing the situation as "under-manned" or "under-staffed" is a diversionary term by Wexford.  The doctors who quit need to come forward to explain the reasons why they quit.  The under-manned situation is a result of the very problematic things that are happening.

D'Antonio says that what is happening in the Department of Corrections with respect to inmate medical care is "nothing short of outrageous."

He will agree to an interview with the media or with the ADC Director, but will only do face-to-face.  He lives in Tucson.

Mr. Ryan, on September 5, 2012, I wrote you an email expressing my concerns about the care being afforded to inmates by Wexford, and wondered why the company did not seem to be attempting to especially impress the Department during the early stages of their multi-million dollar, multi-year state contract.  You did not respond to this email.  It now appears as though Wexford sees the ADC as a cash cow for corporate profits at the expense of the very care they supposedly are contractually, legally, morally, and medically committed to providing.  This cannot be permitted to continue, and corporate assurances of corrective action are fundamentally insufficient as a response to the level, nature, and depth of the issues that now are emerging as a result of the outsourcing of inmate medical care to Wexford.

Just prior to the Sept. 5th email, I had notified you of a Wexford nurse who had ordered a female inmate to lick a powdered prescription medication from her own hand after the nurse had poured it into the hand.  The inmate protested because of the unprofessional and unorthodox method of medication administration and ended up with a disciplinary sanction and movement to another yard.  It is unknown if the nurse was sanctioned or terminated, but you did advise me that Wexford had "retrained" their nurses in the proper method of distribution of medication.

Now, with the above serious information as provided to me, I have no choice but to contact the relevant Medical and Nursing Boards of the State of Arizona.  Human lives are at stake.

While we appreciate the recent well-written noncompliance letter from Joseph Profiri, that letter does not go far enough.  For example, there is no mention that families can't get in touch with or recieve call back response from Wexford about their loved one's medical care.  Families repeatedly complain to me that Wexford's "hot line" is completely non-responsive.


Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Ret.)
Executive Director
Middle Ground Prison Reform

----------------EMAIL #2----------------

October 5, 2012

Mr. Charles Ryan, Director
Arizona Department of Corrections
1601 West Jefferson
Phoenix, Arizona  85007

Dear Mr. Ryan:

It is my understanding, based on information coming directly from Dr. Lawrence D'Antonio, that Dr. D'Antonio was escorted off the Rynning Unit by the Deputy Warden of the Unit and a security officer, after my recent email to you had been (apparently) forwarded to Wexford.  This is apparently the procedure applied toward whistle-blowers by Wexford.

It is also my understanding that Karen (or Caryn) Grant, Director of Nursing, resigned very recently (since my email to you).  I don't know if her resignation is connected to the fact that when I filed a complaint against her with the Arizona Nursing Board, they advised me that there is no "Karen Grant" who is licensed to practice nursing in the State of Arizona at this time, but that a "Karen Grant" was licensed up until 1991.  I believe that impersonating a nurse is a felony in Arizona.
Meanwhile, I have learned some additional very disturbing information from Dr. D'Antionio which, if verified as correct, amounts to an EMERGENCY situation.  The following information cannot simply be passed along to the "appropriate personnel" as you advised about my previous email.  Each and every prisoner who is incarcerated in the state Department of Corrections is entrusted to your department's care and custody, and you and your Department are ultimately responsible for their care, welfare and safety, which -- of course -- includes providing the community standard of care for serious medical needs.
During the time he worked at the Rynning Unit, Dr. D'Antonio personally observed that some inmates are given incorrect medications.  He also observed that some inmates are receiving medications which are contraindicated for other conditions that they have (for example; no inmate who is a diabetic should take a beta-blocker, etc.).  Some combinations are drugs which have the potential for being lethal.   He also observed that some inmates are being given double doses of prescribed medication, each dosage from a different manufacturer with a different name.  Once again, in some cases, the double dose could be fatal or seriously debilitating.  He reported to me that he advised Dr. Tom Bell of his observations, and Bell essentially shrugged him off and did not seem to grasp the import of D'Antonio's concerns.  As Dr. Bell had previously stated, "They are just prisoners."

Because you now are in possession of the above information as related to me by a licensed doctor in the state of Arizona and based upon his own personal observation, I believe that you are obligated to order an immediate audit/investigation of ALL inmate medical files for inmates housed at the Rynning Unit.  The investigation must be conducted by an independent qualified doctor or doctors who are not connected to Wexford or to the Department of Corrections in any manner.  Wexford should pay for the audit/investigation.  Other units should be audited as well because there is no reason to believe that these egregious mistakes are isolated to the Rynning Unit only.
Again, it is insufficient to simply pass this message along to Wexford. This potentially dangerous and/or lethal information must be addressed at once and I expect to receive a report of the findings in a timely manner.  A report that addresses these issues would not have to reveal HIPPA protected information because a code number could be assigned to each case.  It is imperative, however, that any incorrect medications, double-dose medications or contraindicated medications must be identified at once; hopefully, prior to an emergency situation induced by deliberate indifference or by gross negligence.

Please advise.

Donna Leone Hamm, Judge (Ret.)
Criminal Justice Consultant
Executive Director
Middle Ground Prison Reform
(480) 966-8116 (or contact James Hamm at (602) 339-0176

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wexford at Lewis: A Clear and Present Danger

This opinion piece comes from a prisoner doing time in the AZ DOC at ASPC-Lewis. He was courageous enough to offer his real name, but I want to see him get home safely to his family someday, so I'm posting this anonymously for him. The DOC appears to have silenced just about everyone else who's been writing to me, so thank you, EV, for your voice today. 

for the AZ DOC's dead...

------------------ from ASPC-Lewis----------

Wexford Health Sources, Incorporated
Serving the Lewis Complex Wasteland:
A Clear and Present Danger

October 2, 2012 (REVISED October 27, 2012)

I’m writing from within the confines of Arizona’s Lewis Complex Prison, where each day I become more and more aware that I’m becoming less and less human--banished to some perilous wasteland of diseased and neglected souls lost in the interests of corporate greed.

Welcome to the wonderful world of ADOC and Wexford Health Sources, Inc., the infamous Pittsburgh-based, private, for-profit corporation hired in July to provide healthcare to Arizona’s 42,000 inmates--a 3-year, 349 million dollar deal.

And July was the last time many of us ever went to medical.

Since then our health needs requests and grievances have gone unanswered, there exists a culture of indifference to inmate medical needs, including excessive delay in psychiatric evaluation, and duty of care violations rising to a level of gross negligence. In fact on August 27, 2012, Jane Nwadiuto Nwaohia, a Wexford nurse already under investigation by the state nursing board contaminated the insulin supply with a dirty Hep-C infected needle, then used the contaminated insulin vial to administer shots to 105 other inmates, causing an exposure incident that neither ADOC nor Wexford reported to the Health Department for a week. (And this only after an inmate's family contacted 12 News to break the story September 12.)

Inmate grievants, attempting to exhaust their administrative remedies, pursuant to the prison litigation reform act, have been met with shameless and blatant delay tactics designed to frustrate or eliminate potential lawsuits arising from such grossly negligent and admitted violations of basic infection control protocols by the nurse, since fired.

These inmate victims are people that I know and who I see everyday with families just like mine. We've gained national attention, not for our crimes, but for attempted suicides, deaths, and infectious disease outbreaks. Some guards walk around wearing latex gloves all day to avoid Staph and other infections and viruses in abundance at the Lewis complex wasteland. And who can blame them?

ADOC Director Ryan said some of those exposed to the Hep-C outbreak may have already been exposed (so it shouldn’t matter, right?).  Wexford was reportedly fined $10,000.  A 349 million dollar contract and a $10,000 fine- or $95.00 per inmate exposed to an incurable liver disease.  And further exposures do cause harm.

What message does this send?  My message is this: Wexford Health Sources, Inc. is a clear and present danger to all inmates everywhere and is a huge liability to all involved in their substandard practices.

In fact, the recent Arizona incidents are but a small fraction of the misery Wexford has caused nationwide.  The Private Corrections Working Group, in Florida, has posted a Wexford “Rap Sheet” detailing the company’s gross negligence and substandard care across the nation ( ) and the Santa Fe Reporter (NM) did a 15-Part award-winning series entitled “The Wexford Files” (2006).

Administrators at the Lewis Complex Wasteland are no less culpable in the continued indifference to inmate medical grievances, at times refusing to provide grievance forms, refusing to process a grievance due to time frames although it involved a serious condition, and staff indicating that the nurse contaminated the insulin supply on purpose All this under the supervision of Warden Tara Diaz, ADW Chris Moody, DW Kimberly Currier, ADW Barrios, and COIV Juanita Baca.

I’ve often wondered what becomes of our humanity when even the so-called “good people” allow their hearts to become cold.  What becomes of the human spirit when its light is extinguished by the overpowering agenda of a multi-hundred million dollar powerhouse corporation., like Wexford, whose only motive is profit--no matter the cost in human dignity, suffering, disease, and even death?

I’ve been to the bottom and seen the worst in human nature, but somehow I still believe that we’re all fundamentally good.  Regardless of where we are in our respective lives, we’re all entitled to basic human dignity and a measure of respect--even those in prison.

I call upon the good people who can, to take action in defense of those of us in the wasteland--each of whom have brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and children of our own who live in your midst.  It’s time to send a clear and present message to ADOC and their corporate millionaire friends who “win” hundred million dollar contracts to provide substandard and grossly negligent care to inmates whose mothers can be seen by all in tears on the evening news as they prepare to bury a son.  Or a mother whose son’s DUI sentence may very well now become a death sentence (of course, Wexford did receive a $95.00 fine for that, which they appealed).

There must be a full scale legislative investigation into privatization of prison healthcare because what really matters is the bottom dollar.

As good citizens of Arizona, what should matter to you is that all the while we become less and less human.  Many of us will become more and more like your next door neighbor.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cali communities support prisoners' call to fight racial violence.

This comes right out of the awesome National Black Newspaper, the San Francisco Bay View. If you have a loved one inside any state prison in the country, print this up and mail them a few copies. It's a follow-up to a September post that includes the original announcement. 


California rises to prisoners’ challenge to end racial hostilities

San Francisco Bay View
October 14, 2012
by Mary Ratcliff

Unity is a matter of life and death in all ‘hoods – in the prisons and on the streets. The Youth Justice Council rallied outside the LA County Men’s Jail at 10 a.m. on 10/10, the day set by the Pelican Bay Prison Short Corridor Collective for the beginning of the end of racial hostilities. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez

In the U.S., we not only encage 25 percent of the world’s prisonersmore than any nation in the history of the world and more Black people than were enslaved in 1850 – but we isolate at least 80,000 of them in solitary confinement. I contend that the purpose is to drive them mad; and after years of reading their letters, I believe they are targeted for this intense form of torture not because they are the worst of the worst but because they are the best and brightest.

In September, the Short Corridor Collective, prisoners confined to the SHU in Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the first and harshest examples of mass solitary confinement, sent out a historic call for racial hostilities to end in California prisons beginning Oct. 10.

Of the prisoners in the SHU, who are all “considered the most dangerous and influential (prisoners) in the state,” these men in the Short Corridor are “the leaders, what one authority called all the ‘alpha dogs,’” writes Nancy Mullane of KALW, who managed to get approval for a visit to the SHU – and even an interview with a SHU prisoner. In California, reporters’ access to prisoners is largely barred by law.

In announcing their 10/10 rally, LA’s Youth Justice Council quote political exile Assata Shakur: “If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!” – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
In a letter to prisoner advocates, these so-called “shot callers,” who prison officials say require isolation to prevent them from ordering prison murders, have shown their true colors. Writing “on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor,” they declare that “now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.”

“Therefore,” they write, “beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease.” With this call, prisoners who endure some of the world’s worst punishment have disarmed their jailers – disabling the most effective weapon in the Corrections Department arsenal: divide and conquer.

“Beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease.” With this call, prisoners who endure some of the world’s worst punishment have disarmed their jailers – disabling the most effective weapon in the Corrections Department arsenal: divide and conquer.

“In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit,” they write. So, with solidarity, the same men who led last year’s hunger strikes, which involved 12,000 prisoners at their peak, intend to achieve the modest relief they were promised then – promises still unfulfilled.

Prisoners respond to the call

When the Bay View published the call to end hostilities, prisoner advocate Kendra Castaneda printed 100 copies of the story and mailed them to 100 prisoners around the state, so that word would begin to spread before Bay View prisoner subscribers received their October papers. She was determined to make a way around the severe restrictions on prisoners’ ability to communicate.

A large, enthusiastic crowd, including prisoners’ families and supporters as well as youth, turned out for the 10/10 rally in LA. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
California prisoners, who are prohibited from writing to each other, rely on phone calls, visits and letters from outside the walls and on the Bay View and a few other publications for the news that matters most to them. Most of the men in the Short Corridor Collective, however, are allowed no phone calls, and many are denied visits as well.

And rumors reached us that the Corrections Department might ban the October Bay View statewide for containing the call that would effectively disarm them. We don’t yet know whether subscribers have received their papers. What we have heard is that many prisoners’ letters to the Bay View are being confiscated.

Of the 100 copies of the call to end hostilities that Kendra mailed, all appear to have been delivered except the 11 addressed to the very same men who wrote it. On Oct. 12, she received 11 “mail stops,” notices from the Pelican Bay gang unit claiming her letters violate California Code of Regulations Title 15 with “plans that violate the law” and facilitate prisoner-to-prisoner communication, even though she had deleted all the signers’ names and prison numbers.

Rumors have reached us that the Corrections Department might ban the October Bay View statewide for containing the call that would effectively disarm them.

Responses from prisoners who did receive her letters are beginning to reach Kendra, and here’s what they write:

This is one of 11 “mail stops” Kendra Casteneda received Oct. 12, barring her letters containing copies of the Bay View story announcing and including the “Agreement to end hostilities” from reaching the very prisoners who wrote the agreement. This mail stop names Ron Dewberry, better known as Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa. (Click to enlarge.)
From Gustavo Chavez: “The idea of this agreement going around is a positive start to a new beginning for all inmates. If we could maintain this valuable peace treaty within the prison system, why not work on spreading the word outside the prison walls so that we may put an end to the gang violence and work on becoming a bigger force?

“If we could maintain this valuable peace treaty within the prison system, why not work on spreading the word outside the prison walls so that we may put an end to the gang violence and work on becoming a bigger force?” – Gustavo Chavez

“Of course this movement will immediately be looked at as home grown terrorism. We can’t allow such propaganda to interfere with our progress to educate our youth. The whole system operates on scare tactics, tactics that we shouldn’t fear.

“The challenges that lie ahead must be supremacy over the entire system. We can’t allow our decisions to be uncertain, because uncertainty won’t take us far. We also must implement principal to our purpose so that we may understand the cause. When people lose focus, things get ugly, and we all know who benefits from that!

“Last but not least, we/I know that rumors have been going around about certain stuff, and supposedly everything is coming from the Short Corridor. It sounds like the guards are attempting to disrupt the agreement by spreading these rumors around. We all must be careful not to fall into the guards’ web.
“I’m always prepared for the worst, especially when knowing I’m being psychologically tortured day after day.” – In struggle, Gustavo Chavez, E-45117, PBSP SHU D-8-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532, written Sept. 26, 2012

In a separate personal letter, Gustavo writes on Oct. 7: “Kendra, a lot of scandalous things are occurring up here. They have over 16 inmates from the main line on potty watch. I’m constantly being threatened by the coward pigs. Their tactics are aimed to disrupt what we are setting out to accomplish. You make sure to continue riding strong against the enemy regardless of the amount of times they try to bring you down.”

From Terrance E. White: “They’ve moved a lot of people over to Wasco State Prison Ad-Seg Unit, and they’re still validating people but have let non-serious incidents go back to the yard. That’s what I’ve witnessed.

“And they didn’t try to deter our Black August celebration this year. Here at North Kern State Prison, we had Southern Hispanics, Northern Hispanics and a few whites participate in our exercising routines on the yard (dog kennel) with us New Afrikkkans.

“We are all also aware of the peace treaty that’s to start Oct. 10, 2012, throughout the prison system and are all in agreement with it. It is about time to take back all that has been lost and continue to press forward in this struggle for liberation. They’ve had all us oppressed in these conditions for far too long.” – Comrade T, Terrance E. White 

AG8738, KVSP D6-241, P.O. Box 5005, Delano, CA 93216, written Oct. 5, 2012

From Heshima Denham: “We received the comments (from several different sources) on the 10/10 cessation of hostilities and are in FULL adherence/compliance with all three points. However, there does seem to be some confusion on aspects of point 3 as it relates to the 10/10/2012 date, and we were wondering could we get some clarity from the main reps at PB?” – Heshima Denham, J-38283, Cor-SHU 4BIL-46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212, written Oct. 3, 2012

Prisoners’ inability to communicate leads to confusion

The confusion Heshima mentions appears to be reflected in an Oct. 13 story in the Los Angeles Times. Prisoners apparently heard that a call had been put out by those who had called last year’s hunger strikes and assumed it was for another hunger strike. The Times reports:

“Corrections officials said they do not know why about 500 inmates started refusing food Wednesday, the same day a prison ‘end to hostilities’ was called by inmate activists who had orchestrated last year’s mass hunger strikes.

“The fasting began at opposite ends of the state. Several hundred inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border refused meals from Wednesday through Friday, but began eating again Friday night, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. About 300 prisoners at California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, north of Los Angeles, also began refusing meals Wednesday. About 200 of them continued to refuse food Saturday, Thornton said.”

This youngster dressed in stereotypical prison garb behind bars dramatizes the encaging of human beings practiced on a mass scale in California and throughout the U.S. Prisoners in solitary confinement endure years and even decades of isolation in windowless “concrete coffins” the size of a parking space, deprived of sensory stimulation, human contact or a glimpse of the natural world – a bird, a tree or a blade of grass. Imagine the strength of character that takes! – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
The Times’ story closes on an ominous note:

“Prison officials regard the reference to race [in the call to end hostilities] as a synonym for the race-based gangs active in California prisons, including the Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood and 415 KUMI.

“Molly Porzig with Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity said Pelican Bay prison officials responded to the ceasefire by asking the 16 Short Corridor inmates whose names appear on the statement to acknowledge gang activity. She attributed the claim to a family member visiting one of those inmates last week.”
This suggests that CDCR is trying to turn the call to end hostilities on its head and consider it evidence of gang activity.

It is imperative that the truth be communicated to prisoners all over California. We urge readers to print out this story and mail it to prisoners you know.

To nip in the bud these efforts to confuse and criminalize prisoners and stop their peaceful organizing, it is imperative that the truth be communicated to prisoners all over California. We urge readers to print out this story and mail it to prisoners you know. If you’re not currently corresponding with a prisoner, look for California prisoners from among the hundreds of pen pals listed in the Bay View.

The call to end hostilities is heard and heeded on the streets

Los Angeles’ Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) called for a “parallel cease fire in the streets” to correspond to the end of hostilities inside the prisons called by the Short Corridor Collective. Led by the youth, a large, diverse crowd rallied at 10 a.m. on 10/10 outside the LA County Men’s Jail.

In announcing their rally, YJC wrote: “Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison advocacy organizations. It is signed by prisoners identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation or nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state.”

As the crowd gathered for the 10/10 rally, a big banner greeted them: “To the cops we all look the same! Unite LA! Why fight each other? Fight for justice!” – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
“We have the duty to fight for our brothers and sisters who remain inside the walls of injustice and confined to a system that does NOT work for our community,” they declared.

Photos taken at the rally that illustrate this story exude solidarity and hope.

Sponsoring organizations included Youth Justice Coalition, Fair Chance Project, LA Community Action Network, FACTS (Families to Amend California Three Strikes), California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, Homies Unidos, California Faith Action, Coalition to Stop Sheriff Violence and Gender Justice LA. For more information or to add your organization as a supporter, email the Youth Justice Coalition at or call them at (323) 235-4243.

The youth quote political exile Assata Shakur: “If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!”

“If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!” – Assata Shakur

Another rally was held in Riverside. The announcement on Facebook reads: “We are calling on all communities in Riverside County to stand in solidarity with all of our loved ones locked inside California’s prisons and county jails. This press conference and rally calls on the CDCR and local county sheriff’s departments to honor the call to end all hostilities between racial groups.”
In the Bay Area, a panel discussion on the call to end hostilities among other topics under the heading, “Alternatives to the Prison System,” is set for Saturday, Oct. 20, 2:30 p.m., at the Niebyl-Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. The topics are:
  • prisoners’ call for an end to hostilities, inside and in the communities
  • a critique of power’s criminality as revealed in the existence of prisons
  • real alternatives to the criminality of punishment
Panelists will include:
  • Steve Martinot, author of “The Need to Abolish the Prison System: an Ethical Indictment”
  • Joileen Richards, Campaign to End Mass Incarceration
  • Urszula Wislanka, Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Support Committee, and News and Letters
  • Melvin Dickson, The Commemorator: Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party
  • Dorsey Nunn, All of Us or None
Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at or (415) 671-0789.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coy McKinney: An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

I've always thought that most people wouldn't be so afraid of an anarchist version of the future if they knew what exactly that meant about how we might "maintain order". We're so used to how things are now, in this kind of society, that we have a hard time wrapping our brain around other possibilities, which makes people even afraid to question the wisdom of what we've practiced for the past few decades - like mass incarceration and building more for-profit prisons.
There is room at the end of this article to talk more about the concept of transformative justice (which maybe I should pickup on soon), but I thought it was a really well-articulated analysis of anarchist principles re: the prison industrial complex, and extremely well-sourced. It's much better than anything I've tried to compose myself in the past 3 1/2 years of doing this blog. I usually identify myself as a "sympathizer", rather than a full-fledged anarchist - it's nothing against my brothers and sisters in black. Other people can just explain anarchist theory (which I've read shockingly little of) and the ways it plays out in the real world better than I do.
Thanks to the author and this site Dissident Voice "a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice" for putting this out there...
Phoenix, AZ (September 2012)

An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

This paper is a critique of how the state, the legal system, and the criminal justice system function in American society, and calls for an anarchist approach to how society should be organized that will remove the oppressive frameworks we currently live under.

To support my arguments, I will first provide an overview of how the criminal justice system works. From there I will offer an analysis on why the criminal justice system is flawed, and the racially discriminatory effect it has had on society. I will then discuss why the disproportionate number of minorities found in prison and impoverished in this country is directly tied to the contemporary ruling interests that were preserved by the U.S. Constitution. Showing that the system is inherently discriminatory, I propose an alternative method for viewing society through anarchism. I will spend time debunking myths regarding anarchism and explaining why it is a viable ideology. In the end, I will propose a restorative justice approach to criminal justice that requires neither the state nor the legal system.

Overview of criminal justice system

In theory, the function of the legal system, and the state is to provide a structure that creates an environment for society that protects individual and collective freedom. The intention of the legal system then, is to provide an objective set of rules for governing conduct and maintaining order in society. In order to cover all potential conflicts, the law is divided into two forms: (1) civil law, which are rules and regulations that decide transactions and grievances between individuals; and (2) criminal law, which are rules concerned with actions deemed dangerous or harmful to society as a whole, and are prosecuted by the state.

Relevant to this paper, the criminal justice system is the method by which society deals with individuals who violate criminal laws. It is the means for society to “enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect individuals and the community.”1 This system is composed of three parts: (1) police enforcement of the law; (2) adjudication of potential violations; and (3) punishment/rehabilitation for criminal acts.
The state authorizes police officers to enforce the law and maintain order. This permission allows the police to arrest individuals, and use deadly force when the circumstances permit. Since police officers are allowed to use their discretion in determining when there has been a violation of the law, and when to use deadly force, they are trained to be capable of assessing the situations they find themselves in, and acting accordingly.

As a check on the power given to police officers, state prosecutors are responsible for determining whether the charges have substance, and if the individual’s case should go to trial. In the words of Michelle Alexander, the prosecutor has the most power of any other criminal justice official, and is the person that “holds the key to the jailhouse door.”2 This adds a special responsibility for prosecutors, according to Chief Judge, Isaac Christiancy:

The prosecuting officer represents the public interest, which can never be promoted by the conviction of the innocent. His object like that of the court should be simply justice; and he has no right to sacrifice this to any pride of professional success. And however strong may be his belief of the prisoner’s guilt, he must remember that though unfair means may happen to result in doing justice to the prisoner in the particular case yet justice so attained is unjust and dangerous to the whole community.3
If a prosecutor determines there is enough evidence for trial, the individual will be charged with committing a crime.

At trial, the adversarial system is used. This means the prosecutor will present evidence, in addition to arguments, explaining why the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime(s), and the defendant’s attorney, who is either appointed by the state or chosen independently, will do the same, except explaining why the defendant is not guilty. All this is presented before a judge, and sometimes a jury, who are regarded as objective third parties, and are responsible for determining the guilt of the defendant.

If an individual is convicted of a crime, they enter into the custody of the correctional authorities. An example of the stated role correctional authorities and prisons play in the criminal justice system is exemplified by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which “protects society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.”4 Prisoners can receive medical, educational, religious, and career assistance to achieve the stated edification goals. Prisoners can be released before fulfilling their required time in prison by being placed on parole, which means they are released back into society with certain restrictions on their freedom. Ultimately, the objective of the correctional authorities and prisons is to protect society from criminals, while also providing rehabilitation to them so that they leave prison better than when they entered.

In its entirety, the criminal justice system is structured to deliver justice in a fair manner that upholds the ideals America holds for itself.

The problem — the illusion

Despite the stated intent of the criminal justice system, there are clear, systemic problems with how it functions that not only call its existence into question, but also the legal system that produced it as well. At the core of the problem is the fact that “justice” is determined by the state, and not the individuals involved. Worsening this is the fact that the origin of the state was built on discriminatory ideals. This has resulted in a criminal justice system that does not serve the people, but works to maintain oppressive and discriminatory, governmental authority.

The victims and alleged offenders have little, to no, say in the determination of justice throughout the criminal process. The state replaces the actual victim as the injured party for trial, and seeks justice based on its own standards. Defendants are advised to remain silent, and to allow their attorney to do most of the speaking for them. In describing this phenomenon, Alexandra Natapoff, writes:
The United States’s criminal justice system is shaped by a fundamental absence: Criminal defendants rarely speak. From the first Miranda warnings through trial until sentencing, defendants are constantly encouraged to be quiet and to let their lawyers do the talking. And most do. Over ninety-five percent never go to trial, only half of those who do testify, and some defendants do not even speak at their own sentencings. As a result, in millions of criminal cases often involving hours of verbal negotiations and dozens of pages of transcripts, the typical defendant may say almost nothing to anyone but his or her own attorney.5 [...]

Defendant silence also has systemic implications for the integrity of the justice process. In our democracy, individual speech has historically been seen as an antidote to governmental overreaching. Criminal defendant speech is perhaps the quintessential example of the individual defending his or her life and liberty against the state. Yet silent defendants rarely express themselves directly to the government official deciding their fate, be it judge or prosecutor, and are often punished more harshly when they do. The justice system assumes that conversations between counsel and clients, and counsel’s own speech on behalf of clients, fulfill the personal needs of defendants as well as systemic requirements that defendants be “heard.” Yet most defense counsel are overworked, appointed counsel with insufficient time to spend communicating with their clients or fully exploring their clients’ personal stories.6
Together, the practice of “representation” does not form an honest quest for justice, since it silences the only individuals that are truly capable of determining it.

Although America’s legal system has determined that justice is most effectively administered through the adversarial system, the reality of the process shows that this is a contrived conclusion. The adversarial system relies on prosecutors to “do justice,” and for defense attorneys to be “zealous advocates” for their clients, relying on both sides to present their strongest arguments, so that a third-party trier of fact can make the best decision.7 This system relies on justice being equated with victory, which encourages both sides to be as uncooperative as possible with each other.

In living up to their roles as zealous advocates for their clients, and encouraged by the adversarial system, defense attorneys can employ a number of tactics to win cases, that do not help the trier of fact make an informed decision. In his essay outlining the problems with these tactics, labeled “aggressive defense,” William H. Simon, provides a few troublesome examples:
Defense lawyers sometimes have opportunities to draw out and delay cases, for instance, by deliberately arranging their schedules to require repeated continuances. This can have the advantage of exhausting prosecution witnesses and eroding their memories.

Defense lawyers are sometimes asked to present perjured testimony by defendants. They sometimes find they can benefit their clients by impeaching the testimony of prosecution witnesses they know to be truthful. And they sometimes can gain advantage by arguing to the jury that the evidence supports factual inferences they know to be untrue. [...]

Lawyers occasionally find it advantageous to disclose or threaten to disclose information that they know does not contribute to informed determination on the merits because such disclosure injures the prosecution or witnesses.8

While these tactics are permissible, each exemplifies how the adversarial system promotes the goals of the individual defendant over that of overall justice.

Prosecutors are also encouraged by the adversarial system to give precedence to winning rather than obtaining actual justice. As a representative of the state, prosecutors must be conscious of how the public perceives their decisions. To ensure this, almost everywhere in America, (except Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia) the job of chief prosecutor is determined by an election.9 To secure election, or reelection, prosecutors often campaign on how “tough” they are on crime, something that is usually demonstrated by the number of convictions a prosecutor has made. This equates convictions with justice, which consequently, creates an imbalance in the pursuit of justice, as it implies justice lies on the side of the prosecutor, by default, and not the defendant. In arguing that judges should not be elected, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “A campaign promise to ‘be tough on crime,’ or to ‘enforce the death penalty,’ is evidence of bias that should disqualify a [judicial] candidate from sitting in criminal cases.”10 The same argument can be made for prosecutors as well. Thus, in order to show proficiency, prosecutors are often encouraged to convict individuals. However, the argument that convictions equal justice is a fallacy. If this were true, the rate of recidivism would be decreasing, yet it is increasing. According to a 2006 report released by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated.11
Assisting the “convictions = justice” belief are economic incentives that permit individuals and corporations to profit from the number of prisoners a jail has. This is commonly referred to as the “private prison-industrial complex.” Between 1999 and 2010, the use of private prisons increased by 40% at the state level, and by 784% in the federal prison system.12 This rise correlates with an increase in revenues as well: Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, made over $2.9 billion combined in 2010.13 Explaining how these profits have been spent, the Justice Policy Institute states, “[a]s revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.”14 Thus, a cycle exists where private prison facilities influence the criminal justice system through political and economic means, encouraging the flawed belief that convictions equal justice.

The confluence of economic and political motives for obtaining more convictions has had tremendously negative effects on society, and has helped usher in a period of “mass incarceration.” According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States has the highest incarceration rate per 100,000 people of the national population, than any other country in the world.15 A New York Times article described the situation succinctly, “[t]he United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”16
Furthermore, this period of mass incarceration has illuminated the racist character of America’s legal system. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of December 31, 2010, state and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1,612,395 prisoners, while a total of 7.1 million people were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities.17 Of the 1.6 million prisoners, 588,000 identified as Black, and 345,900 identified as Hispanic, representing 36% and 21%, respectively, of the prison population.18 This is alarming since, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Blacks make up 12.6% of the American population, and Hispanics constitute another 16.3% of the population.19 Making the imbalance clearer, the estimated number of inmates held in custody in local, state, or federal prisons per 100,000 U.S. citizens, for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites, respectively, is the following: 4,607; 1,908; and 769.20 This means Blacks are nearly 6 times as likely as Whites to be in prison. Paul Butler writes:

Imagine a country in which more than half of the young male citizens [referring to Blacks] are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, either awaiting trial, in prison, or on probation or parole. Imagine a country in which two-thirds of the men can anticipate being arrested before they reach age thirty. Imagine a country in which there are more young men in prison than in college.21

The racial disparity is also present in death penalty cases. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “[m]ore than half of the over 3300 people on death row nationwide are people of color; nearly 42% are African American. Prominent researchers have demonstrated that a defendant is more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black.”22 And according to Amnesty International, a 1990 report by the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found, “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.”23 As a result, the effect of criminal laws, their enforcement and prosecution, has disproportionately placed more Blacks and Hispanics in jail than in the nation’s history.

Causes for the discriminatory effects of the criminal justice system

The disproportionate number of racial minorities involved in America’s criminal justice system is not by chance, but intent, as it is a consequence of the racist and classist interests the U.S. constitution was designed to protect. Starting in the mid-15th century, after the violent acquisition of land belonging to long-established indigenous communities, Americans and Europeans engaged in the cruel transportation of over 11 million Africans for over 450 years.24 The African slave trade helped build America into one of the most powerful countries in the world, but also created a patriarchal society that reified racial discrimination by the creation of racial identities. These racial identities were used by the rich, White elites to create artificial divisions amongst the masses to pit them against each other, and not their rulers. The Populist leader from Georgia, Tom Watson, in calling for racial unity, said:
You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.25

The rich, white men that had obtained economic and political power throughout the colonies utilized the opportunity the Constitutional Convention provided to ensure their power was maintained with the formation of the new country. Writing about the findings of fellow historian Charles A. Beard, Howard Zinn writes:
Beard applied this general idea [that the rich must either control the government directly, or control the laws by which the government operates] to the Constitution, by studying the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers by profession, that most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest, and that 40 of the 55 held government bonds, according to the records of the Treasury Department.

Thus Beard found that most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturing needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts, the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds.

Four groups, Beard noted, were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property.26

Summarizing the constitution then, Zinn writes:
The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law–all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.27

Those with power and influence, who had benefited from the use of slaves as a means of achieving economic and political power, helped ingrain slavery into their respective legal systems and cultures. Thus, representatives, especially from Southern states, had a strong interest in preserving slavery, and would not have agreed to join the union without a constitutional protection for it. This protection is exhibited by the original sections of the Constitution located at: Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 (recognizing the “three-fifths compromise”); Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 (permitting the continuance of the slave trade until 1808); and Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 (protection for the Fugitive Slave Act).

While legislation to abolish the slave trade became law in 1808, some state governments enacted Black Codes, or laws to regulate the institution of slavery and to place further restrictions on the liberty of Blacks. The Supreme Court did nothing to abolish slavery, or the racist laws, in fact, it thwarted an attempt by some Northern states to limit slavery, through the Missouri Compromise, by nationalizing the practice with its decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford.28 The issue of slavery ultimately contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War, and the eventual passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in 1865, 1868, and 1870, respectively (prohibiting slavery except as punishment for committing a crime, guaranteeing equal protection for all citizens, and prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on race, respectively). However, the intent in maintaining a racially divided society persisted, as state governments implemented “Jim Crow” laws that segregated Blacks to a separate, and second-class citizenship. The Supreme Court again did nothing to repeal these laws until its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka over 80 years later in 1954.29 The Civil Rights Movement followed in the 1960s and 1970s and helped remove many of the overt forms of racial discrimination the legal system and federal government had maintained, but regardless of these changes, legally sanctioned racial discrimination has endured.
Now, it operates in covert and institutionalized ways that can be shown through the impact of governmental policy. The government’s “War on Drugs” has become the most recent, post-Civil Rights Movement policy to continue the racial discrimination and exploitation of minorities in America. While the term “War on Drugs” was initially used by President Richard Nixon, it was under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan when it became heavily enforced. The purported purpose of the “war” was to reduce the illegal drug trade, by implementing policies that discouraged the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs. This included imposing restrictive penalties on an individual’s liberties for committing drug-related crimes (i.e., losing the right to vote, denial of public benefits), and harsher sentencing guidelines (i.e., “three strikes laws,” mandatory minimums).

Although the appearance of the effort appears racially neutral, its enforcement has had a clear racial bias. Terming the initiative the “New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander explains that, “[a]s of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified …”30 Illustrating the racial bias of this, Alexander continues:

This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.31

Another indicator of the racial bias within the initiative can be shown through the difference in sentencing guidelines. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100:1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack, in comparison to the penalties for trafficking powder cocaine, which exhibits discrimination since Blacks are more likely to use crack than powder cocaine, a substance that is predominantly used by Whites.32 Compounding this further are the revelations journalist Gary Webb uncovered on how the Nicaraguan rebel group, the Contras, who were known for drug trafficking, were assisted by the U.S. government in distributing crack cocaine in Los Angeles, California to fund weapons purchases.33 Thus, the undisguised racist laws and policies that targeted Blacks after the formation of the Constitution have continued, just in a less overt fashion.

The history of the plight of other minorities under oppressive laws and governmental policies should not go unmentioned. Latinos have been targeted through anti-immigrant laws, termed “Juan Crow,” that have had similar, but different effects on Latinos as Jim Crow did on Blacks.34 Native Americans are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system since they are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national per capita rate.35 Muslims, especially after the September 11th events, have been subjected to racial profiling and surveillance by local and federal authorities, similar to how the Japanese, and Asians generally, were persecuted before and during World War II. Furthermore, the government’s practice of discriminating against groups based on racial identities is exemplified by its use of data obtained by the U.S. Census and the policies it has created.36
Encapsulating the history of America’s legal system with the impact it has had on society, the conclusion can be drawn that it has successfully achieved the objectives its creators intended: a patriarchal, plutocracy ruled by Whites. The gap in equality on wealth, health, education, and employment between Blacks and Whites has continued to expand, further demonstrating the bias inherent in the construction of American society.37 Thus, a new approach to how we live and interact with each other is desperately needed. One where our interconnectedness is valued, and where society nurtures everyone’s existence. This requires a culture that focuses on anti-oppressive structures, and has the goal of collectively liberating all people. Luckily, such a vision exists, and it is called anarchism.

Introduction to anarchism

The word “anarchism,” derived from the Greek root “anarchos,” means “without authority,” and according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, its central ideals are freedom, equality, and mutual aid.38 Despite this, in modern popular society, anarchism is surrounded by stigma and taboo, and invokes images of social chaos, in which terrorism is the prevailing means of establishing law and order, making anarchism seem both impractical and undesirable. However, through the fog of misperception and obscurity, lies a sociopolitical doctrine that challenges some of our deeply held assumptions on what the relationship between the individual and society can be, and calls us to work towards creating a truly free and cooperative society.

Behind some of the constructions of anarchism as a violent ideology are events that transpired between the years of 1890 and 1901. During this time period, individuals that identified as anarchists killed several ruling figures, including U.S. President William McKinley, King Umberto I of Italy, and Sadi Carnot, the President of France.39 These are certainly extreme acts, but it is unfair, and too simple to ascribe these actions to all anarchists without an investigation into the circumstances surrounding each event, or consideration for the diversity of thought and tactics within anarchism itself. Such an investigation is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say, the use of violence, as a means to justify the ends anarchism seeks, is not a universally accepted tactic.

Another argument used to discredit anarchism is its perceived impracticality and lack of application outside of “non-primitive” societies. Generally, “primitive” societies are distinguished from modern societies because of an absence of an institutionalized government-like authority. Due to this distinction, “primitive” societies are considered irrelevant to discussions surrounding present-day social issues.
Anarchist anthropologist, David Graeber, provides an alternative lens to view this dichotomy through his book, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology.40 Graeber writes that the popular American understanding of how human society has developed is that it has followed a linear path, beginning primitive and becoming more advanced and complex over time. Graeber explains that the anthropological record does not support this conclusion, using three egalitarian cultures, the Piaroa, Tiv, and Malagasy, as examples.41 Graeber writes:

… we [anthropologists] have been trying for decades now to convince the public that there’s no such thing as a ‘primitive,’ that ‘simple societies’ are not really all that simple, that no one ever existed in timeless isolation, that it makes no sense to speak of some social systems as more or less evolved.42

Author Walter Cruttenden also takes time to dispel this myth, writing:
The leap was made: If Darwin had evidence that physical organisms adapt to fit their environment (evolve), then society, even over short periods, must evolve in the same linear fashion. In other words, if evolution existed in physical development, it must also play a role in societal and cultural development within humanity. This was very appealing to the intellectuals of post-Renaissance Europe as it justified a superior attitude toward less complex societies.43

Everywhere in the world, it seems, archaeological digs are reshaping our view of the distant past. Not only are these findings revealing that civilizations were older than once thought, but they are showing that man was smarter and more progressive.44
Based on this, Graber asks that we engage in a “thought experiment”:
What if, as a recent title put it, ‘we have never been modern’? What if there never was any fundamental break, and therefore, we are not living in a fundamentally different moral, social, or political universe than the Piaroa or Tiv or rural Malagasy? […]
Let us imagine, then, that the West, however defined, was nothing special, and further, that there has been no one fundamental break in human history. No one can deny there have been massive quantitative changes: the amount of energy consumed, the speed at which humans can travel, the number of books produced and read, all these numbers have been rising exponentially … The West might have introduced some new possibilities, but it hasn’t canceled any of the old ones out.45

Without a basis for disregarding the social organization of “primitive” societies, anarchism remains a relevant sociopolitical doctrine.

While anarchism’s critics may concede that it is conceivable, they may still argue it is not the best way of structuring society. This position is exemplified by the thoughts of French Revolution thinker, Jacques-Pierre Brissot. Brissot, in denouncing his political rivals, the Enragés, accused them of advocating anarchy, warning that without the rule of law and government, there could be no way of delivering justice within society.46 This sentiment is exemplified modernly in Paul Butler’s bold essay, “Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power In The Criminal Justice System.”47 In Butler’s essay, he calls for Blacks to exercise jury nullification in particular circumstances as a way of protesting the unfair practices of the criminal justice system. Although Butler calls for the undermining of the legal system, he ensures that readers do not confuse his ideas as “encouraging anarchy” by explicitly stating so (“I am not encouraging anarchy.”48 ). A logical assumption of Butler’s reasoning is that anarchy would be more problematic than reform.

Anarchism’s absence from mainstream America’s discussions should not reflect poorly on the ideals it promotes. In the opinion of anarchist author, John Zerzan, anarchism is about, “eradicating all forms of domination. This includes not only such obvious forms as the nation-state, … and the corporation, … but also such internalized forms as patriarchy, racism, and homophobia.”49 “Domination” occurs in relationships where there is an unequal distribution of power, allowing the dominator(s) to exert their will over others. Being subject to domination causes mental and physical oppression, both of which obstruct human growth. For this reason, hierarchy is viewed negatively by anarchists, and instead, horizontal structures, dependent upon collaboration are encouraged. According to Anarchist writer, David Wieck, anarchism represents:

… a kind of intransigent effort to conceive of and to seek means to realize a human liberation from every power structure, every form of domination and hierarchy. Correlative with this negation is the positive faith that through the breakdown of mutually supportive institutions of power, possibilities can arise for noncoercive social cooperation, social unity, specifically a social unity in which individuality is fully realizable and in which freedom is defined not by rights and liberties but by the functioning of society as a network of voluntary cooperation. [...]

We are premising a society in which people have stopped living in fear of one another, in which gross violence, hatred, and contempt for life have become uncommon, in which alienation of person from person seldom reaches the malignant extremes to which we are accustomed.50

Thus, anarchism does not advocate violence or mayhem, but rather calls for the liberation of everyone by removing oppressive social structures and practices from within our communities.

The vision anarchism has for society directly challenges a number of the core assumptions and principles held by mainstream America. For one, anarchists believe the current legal system and the authorization it provides for governmental and state power is both harmful and unnecessary.

In theory, the government is supposed to be of, for, and by the people, but the reality of its function has only ensured the existence of a ruling class, whose power and interests are perpetually preserved by the system of governance. David Graeber describes the state as having a dual character, where it is viewed as an institutionalized form of extortion by communities that seek to retain some degree of autonomy, while also appearing as a “utopian project in the written record.”51 Despite its idealistic aura, Peter Kropotkin writes that, “… Anarchists have often enough pointed out in their perpetual criticism of the various forms of government, that the mission of all governments, monarchical, constitutional, or republican, is to protect and maintain by force the privileges of the classes in possession …”52 Essentially, the power a community naturally has to rule itself, is given to a higher authority, the state, to govern on the community’s behalf. This opens the community to the abuses of power that result from hierarchical relationships. Additionally, the community’s reliance on the state to govern its affairs diminishes the community’s own power, making it, and its members, subservient to the state. This reliance on the state and the legal system creates an indirect way of resolving conflict. Rather than individuals settling disputes amongst themselves, they rely on impersonal laws to find a solution. To this point, Kropotkin writes:
[Quoting French jurist Dalloy] “… legislation is expected to do everything, and each fresh law being a fresh miscalculation, men are continually led to demand from it what can proceed only from themselves, from their own education and their own morality.” In existing States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves [the populace] altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it.53

Allowing officials of the state to fill positions of power and determine policy for the community is problematic for the following reason:

The notion of “policy” presumes a state or governing apparatus which imposes its will on others. “Policy” is the negation of politics; policy is by definition something concocted by some form of elite, which presumes it knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted. By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs.54

As a result, communities that concede their power to the state, reduce their independence and freedom to determine the type of society they want to live in.

The relinquishing of community power to a state government is unnecessary because there is no reason to believe the state can perform better than the community could. Anarchists believe we are capable of practicing a natural form of justice amongst ourselves, based on our conscience and innate ability to reason with one another, without trusting the process to a hierarchical ruling class of professionals. Kropotkin explains the manipulative justification for law by saying:
Its origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage. Its character is the skilful commingling of customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect, with other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment.55

The anarchist belief equates “law” with ethics, and reasons that since we learn ethics from our families, friends, and other members of our community, our current governmental legal system is not required.
The permanence of a state authority comes under further questioning when its actual existence is probed. Graeber writes:
In fact, the world is under no obligation to live up to our expectations, and insofar as “reality” refers to anything, it refers to precisely that which can never be entirely encompassed by our imaginative constructions. Totalities, in particular, are always creatures of the imagination. Nations, societies, ideologies, closed systems… none of these really exist. [...]

This is not an appeal for a flat-out rejection of such imaginary totalities … It is an appeal to always bear in mind that they are just that: tools of thought.56

Thus, part of the state’s existence and legitimacy is due to the mental recognition we assign to it. If everyone were to shift their thinking to a worldview in which the state was undesired, and instead, looked to live without its authority, the state’s power and existence would be critically undermined.
The primary reason we acknowledge the authority of the state is its ability to use force as a means of enforcing compliance. This means anyone who breaks the law can have their liberty taken from them, or be killed by state officials. Sociologist Max Weber, describes the state as, “ a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”57 On the issue of force and violence, Graeber writes:

… violence, particularly structural violence, where all the power is on one side, creates ignorance. If you have the power to hit people over the head whenever you want, you don’t have to trouble yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on, and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t. Hence the sure-fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it. This is why violence has always been the favored recourse of the stupid: it is the one form of stupidity to which it is almost impossible to come up with an intelligent response. It is also of course the basis of the state.58

Consequently, the manner in which we allow the state to enforce compliance to the law is comparable to the rhetoric the American government uses to demonize “terrorist” groups and the countries labeled as their supporters. If terrorism is something we collectively admonish, our next step is to be honest in our introspection, and overcome the glaring contradiction that surrounds us.

Despite the state’s monopoly on the use of legitimate force, it still only exists because we acknowledge it to. To live in a truly cooperative and free society, we must be willing to let go of our reliance on the external state and legal system, and begin to engage each other on a local basis, and take full responsibility for the structure of our communities and neighborhoods.

A new way forward — a restorative approach to justice

The current legal system’s fundamental purpose is to resolve conflict. However, the power to determine resolutions is given to individuals that do not have an interest in the matter, and prevent the individuals involved to determine their own form of justice. Additionally, obedience to this system is enforced under duress. Rather than using force to achieve compliance, the anarchist approach to resolving conflict is voluntary, and believes justice can only be determined by the involved parties through dialogue. A justice system based on these principles exists, and is called restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution, used by different indigenous groups throughout the world, to settle disputes between individuals. According to a restorative justice co-director of facilitation, Matthew Johnson, “[r]eliance on the state to achieve justice or security goes against the idea that people are fully equipped to deal with their own conflicts — an idea that is at the core of restorative justice principles.”59 In contrast to the current criminal justice system, where the state is viewed as the primary victim in criminal acts, and victims, offenders, and the community are given passive roles, restorative justice views crime as being directed against individual people.60) This means conflicts and disputes are settled entirely by members of the community. The framework restorative justice uses, allows it to be applied in any circumstance in which a conflict is deemed to exist. At its core, it is a form of community justice that recognizes the interconnectedness of communal living, and that harm and conflicts are symptoms of communal inadequacies. Therefore, if everyone’s needs are being met, then consequently the causes for conflict are prevented.

Howard Zehr, a leading advocate and visionary for restorative justice, says that it has three primary pillars: harms and needs, obligations, and engagement.61 In regards to harm, Zehr writes, “[w]hile our first concern must be the harm experienced by victims, the focus on harm implies that we also need to be concerned about the harm experienced by offenders and communities.”62 The restorative approach tries to uncover the causes of conflicts in a manner that respects the perspectives of the people involved. Behind this is the belief that conflicts are created by misunderstandings and needs not being met for individuals. This method prevents individuals that have caused harm from being vilified, which encourages others to participate, and also reveals any inadequacies within the individual’s community.

The second pillar is that restorative justice “emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility.”63 This means, rather than sending offenders to jail, they confront the people that have been harmed by their actions, and take responsibility for rectifying the situation. Offenders are permitted to tell their side of the story, but must also listen to how and why their actions led to the harm. Then together, the individuals work towards an agreeable solution. All this fits within the third pillar of engagement, which suggests that the primary parties affected by crime be given significant roles in the justice process.64 An example of how the process works is as follows:

We [an organization that coordinates restorative justice conferences] would get a referral, call each principal actor in the conflict, interview them carefully and empathetically…making sure they are aware of the process as well as their own feelings…and get their consent to participate in the process. We would then repeat the process with everyone else involved and schedule a time that worked for everyone and an appropriate, neutral location. If it were a Victim-Offender Dialogue, it would likely take place at the correctional institution. The preparation process, where a trained facilitator would talk to each person individually, is generally the most important part and will determine the success of the conference. At the end of the conference, dialogue, etc., the facilitator(s) would help the participants generate a consensus agreement, that might include restitution, an apology, community service, etc., and follow up with participants after an established amount of time to ensure that they were satisfied with the agreement and that it was being followed as agreed.65

Thus, the restorative justice process function of compassionately helping individuals learn from their mistakes.

Restorative justice practices are gaining traction and being applied throughout the country in a variety of contexts, but its success and continued use is dependent upon a continuing shift in societal values, and the strengthening of communal ties.66 In some instances, forms of restorative justice are being used in conjunction with the criminal justice system for misdemeanor crimes. Defendants are given the choice of pleading guilty and going through a process in which they admit guilt, and discuss what caused them to commit the crime, and are then required to perform community service. While this is a step in the right direction, the process still operates under the power of the state. Additionally, it creates a problematic incentive for defendants to plead guilty to crimes just to escape accountability. Accountability is important in ensuring justice through the restorative method, however, without the force of the state to ensure this, the question becomes, how can society hold people accountable for their actions? Matthew Johnson believes:
… that accountability comes naturally with community and interdependent relationships. We tend to not view ourselves as connected in Western culture; we see ourselves primarily as individuals. In this context, accountability is not as important as escaping blame or harm. However, if I value my relationship with you more than my own willingness to avoid pain/consequences, I will tell you that I broke your favorite possession, etc., because I would want the same done for me, and we are interconnected. Also, accountability comes much easier when there is no expectation of punishment. If I knew you weren’t going to sue me, hit me, or shun me for admitting my wrongdoing, I would have much more of an incentive to tell the truth and be accountable. The current criminal justice system, along with the capitalist economic system, assumes that we act within our own self-interests, and this is just the way of things. Therefore, we incentive behavior that maximizes self-interest. Yet we turn around and criticize people for being selfish, etc. The principles of restorative justice go against this paradigm. Its practitioners have a much less cynical view of humanity, but nonetheless it’s quite possible that RJ (restorative justice) won’t reach its full potential without a radical re-evaluation of societal values.65

Thus, in order for restorative justice to operate in the anarchist fashion it is intended to, and be successful, there needs to be an evolution in the way we live our lives, and the way we view one another.


In conclusion, the racist, classist, hierarchical interests represented in the formation of the Constitution have created a legal system, and subsequently, a criminal justice system, that has consistently failed to administer true justice. Thus, a new approach must be taken, which will require us to stop relying on the current criminal justice system, and its oppressive laws to solve our interpersonal issues. The criminal justice system will continue to work the way it has, as long as we continue to consent and participate in it. If we collectively take a stand and withdraw our consent from the system, and instead redirect how we deal with conflict to a restorative approach, the criminal justice system will become irrelevant. In explaining “revolutionary exodus,” David Graeber writes:

The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal,” mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. They have not involved challenging power head on (this usually leads to being slaughtered, or if not, turning into some—often even uglier—variant of the very thing one first challenged) but from one or another strategy of slipping away from its grasp, from flight, desertion, the founding of new communities.67
Critical for creating this new society is a belief that it is possible and that we have the power to do it.
It is time to reaffirm what is already ours and reclaim our individual sovereignty. It is time for our self ownership to be reaffirmed and lived out in life. It is a metaphysical fact that we own our bodies and minds. All other ownerships can be challenged and are transitory at best, but self ownership is undeniable and permanent as long as we are living beings. Therefore it is ultimately, indeed must be our decision as to how we will conduct our lives the only law that we must accept is to do no harm to others and to recognize and respect the personal sovereignty of the other as they must ours. Recognition and respect of every person’s individual sovereignty is the only way in which systems of mutual cooperation can be successfully developed and maintained. And indeed is the only law required for peaceful coexistence with the greater society. But it is not a law of compulsion like most laws, but is rather the natural state of things such as the laws of physics.68
  1. President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, 7, (1967). []
  2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 86, (2010). []
  3. Hurd v. People, 25 Mich. 405 (Mich. 1872). []
  4. Federal Bureau of Prisons, (last visited Apr. 26, 2012). []
  5. Alexandra Natapoff, Speechless: The Silencing of Criminal Defendants, 80 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 1449 (2005). []
  6. Natapoff, supra note 5, at 1451. []
  7. Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.8(a) (2008); Id. at Preamble, Scope, Terminology (2008). []
  8. William H. Simon, The Ethics of Criminal Defense, 91 Mich. L. Rev. 1703, 1704-5 (1993). []
  9. Ric Simmons, Election of Local Prosecutors, Ohio State University, Moritz School of Law, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  10. John Paul Stevens, Assoc. Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, Opening Assembly Address, American Bar Association Annual Meeting, Orlando, Florida (Aug. 3, 1996), in 12 St. John’s J. Legal Comment. 21, 30-31 (1996) (discussing need to improve quality of judges and espousing belief that judges should not be elected). []
  11. Commission On Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Confronting Confinement, 106, (2006). []
  12. Cody Mason, Too Good To Be True: Private Prisons In America, 1, (2012). []
  13. Justice Policy Institute, Gaming The System: How The Political Strategies of Private Prisons Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, 12 (2011). []
  14. Id. at 2. []
  15. International Centre For Prison Studies, Entire world – Prison Population Rates per 100,000 of the National Population, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  16. Adam Liptak, U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  17. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners In 2010, (last visted Apr. 27, 2012); Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional Populations In The United States, 2010, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  18. Bureau of Justice Statistics, supra note 17 (first cite), at Appendix, Table 12. []
  19. Karen R. Humes, Nicholas A. Jones, Roberto R. Ramirez, Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010, Table I (2011). []
  20. Bureau of Justice Statistics, supra note 17 (second cite), at Appendix Table 3. []
  21. Paul Butler, Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System, 105 Yale L.J. 677, 690-1 (1995). []
  22. Equal Justice Initiative, Racial Bias, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  23. Amnesty International, Death Penalty and Race, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  24. British Broadcasting Corporation, Quick guide: The Slave Trade, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  25. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, 291 (2003). []
  26. Id. at 90-1. []
  27. Zinn, supra note 25, at 99. []
  28. Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (U.S. 1857). []
  29. Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (U.S. 1954). []
  30. Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama As A Racial Nightmare, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  31. Alexander, supra note 30. []
  32. Jim Abrams, Congress Passes Bill To Reduce Disparity In Crack, Powder Cocaine Sentencing, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  33. See Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, Seven Stories Press; 2nd edition (1999). []
  34. Karla Mari McKanders, Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigrant Laws, 26, Harv. J. on Racial & Ethnic Just., 163 (2010). []
  35. U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, A Quiet Crisis, Federal Funding And Unmet Needs In Indian Country, 68 (2003). []
  36. See Therese Beaudreault, The Race Categories On The U.S. Census: Representations of False Consciousness, (last visited May 6, 2012). []
  37. See Ajamu Dillahunt et al., United for a Fair Economy, State of the Dream 2010 DRAINED Joblessness and Foreclosed in Communities of Color; The Schott State Report on Black Males & Education. (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  38. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Anarchism, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  39. Brittanica, supra note-38. []
  40. David Graeber, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology, (2004). []
  41. Graeber, supra note 40, at 65. []
  42. Id. at 41. []
  43. Walter Cruttenden, Lost Star of Myth And Time, 9 (2006). []
  44. Id. at 295. []
  45. Graeber, supra note 40, at 46-51. []
  46. Brittanica, supra note 38. []
  47. Butler, supra note 21, at 677. []
  48. Butler, supra note 21, at 20 []
  49. Everythingology, Enemy of The State: An Interview With John Zerzan & Derrick Jensen, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  50. David Wieck, Anarchist Justice, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  51. Graeber, supra note 40 at 65. []
  52. Peter Kropotkin, Law And Authority, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  53. Id. []
  54. Graeber, supra note 40, at 9. []
  55. Kropotkin, supra note 52. []
  56. Graeber, supra note 40, at 43-5. []
  57. Max Weber, Politics As A Vocation, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  58. Graeber, supra note 40, at 72-3. []
  59. Email interview with Matthew Johnson, Co-Director of Facilitation, Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County (Apr. 26, 2012). []
  60. Mark S. Umbreit and Betty Vos and Robert B. Coates and Elizabeth Lightfoot, Restorative Justice In the twenty-first century: A social movement full of opportunities and pitfalls, 89 Marq. L. Rev. 251, 255 (2005). (This article provides a comprehensive breakdown of the variety of restorative justice models and their impact. []
  61. Howard Zehr, Little Book of Restorative Justice, 22 (2002). []
  62. Id. at 23. []
  63. Zehr, supra note 61, at 23. []
  64. Zehr, supra note 61, at 24. []
  65. Johnson, supra note 59. [] []
  66. Umbreit, supra note 60, at 261. []
  67. Graeber, supra note 40, at 60-1. []
  68. Consent Withdrawn, We Must Marginalize The State And Capitalism, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []