Live from Prison Event at Wealthy Theatre

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Tonight, the Wealthy Theatre will host an interesting event on prisons. The event, “Live/Life: From a Prison in Ionia to the Streets of Grand Rapids,” will provide a live forum in which 7 prisoners at Ionia’s Bellamy Creek Correctional Institute will take questions via telecast from the audience at the Theatre. It will be held at 5:30pm at the Wealthy Theatre at 1118 Wealthy St SE.

The event is being organized by a variety of entities including the Community Media Center, the Grand Rapids Police Department, the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Michigan Prisoner ReEntry Initiative, and Weed and Seed.

According to the news release:

The purpose of the event is to educate “at risk” youth and young adults, between the ages of 13 and 25, on prison life and the importance of making the right decisions to prevent the youth from entering the criminal justice system. The inmates will talk about their life experience and will expose the myths and hardships of prison life while answering questions from youth in the audience.

I think there is good reason to be skeptical of the program on some level. The news release and the article in the Grand Rapids Press focus solely on the role that “bad decisions” play in getting people into prison. While that certainly plays a role, many other things inform those “bad decisions” including lack of access to opportunity, how law enforcement operates, sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system, racism, classism, and more. Unfortunately, I don’t think people end up in prison simply because they make one “bad decision”–there are a host of other factors that all too often make prison a very real possibility for a large section of our population.

Nevertheless, it is a rare chance to hear from prisoners. All too often, they are cast out from society and forgotten.

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Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Democracy Now Headlines: Ex-Prisoner: Guantanamo Got Worse Under Obama; Judge Rules Franken Winner of Minnesota Senate Race

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

North Korea to Quit Six-Party Nuclear Talks

North Korea said today it will boycott six-party nuclear disarmament talks and restore its program to make weapons-grade plutonium. The threat was issued hours after the UN Security Council condemned North Korea’s long-range rocket launch from April 5. A North Korean official said, “We will never again take part in such talks and will not be bound by any agreement reached at the talks.”

Obama Partially Lifts Cuba Travel Restrictions; Embargo Remains

President Barack Obama has directed his administration to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, but Obama has refused to lift the nearly fifty-year-old trade embargo on the island. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced the new Cuban policy.

Robert Gibbs: “Today, President Obama has directed that a series of steps be taken to reach out to the Cuban people to support their desire to enjoy basic human rights and to freely determine their country’s future. The President has directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to carry out the actions necessary to lift all restrictions on the ability of individuals to visit family members in Cuba and to send them remittances.”

The Obama administration has also lifted a ban on US telecommunications companies reaching out to Cuba.

Dan Restrepo, special assistant to the President: “We want to increase flow of information among Cubans and between Cubans and the outside world. And one of the ways we can do that, under US–existing United States law back to the Cuban Democracy Act, is to allow US telecommunications companies to seek to provide services on the island.”

The Obama administration announced the policy change days before Obama heads to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas.

Report: Spanish Prosecutors to Indict Bush Admin Officials

Spanish prosecutors have reportedly decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantanamo. This according to a report by attorney and writer Scott Horton on the website TheDailyBeast.com. An official announcement has not been made yet. The other former Bush administration officials facing indictment are former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Pentagon official Douglas Feith, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes. Scott Horton also reports Spanish prosecutors will ask that Judge Baltasar Garzon step aside, because he presided over efforts to bring terrorism charges against the five Spaniards previously held at Guantanamo. Garzon is the Spanish judge who ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

Mortars Fired at Plane Carrying US Congressman in Somalia

Somali militants fired mortars Monday at a plane carrying Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey as he was leaving Mogadishu. No one was injured in the attack. Payne was the first senior US politician to visit the Somali capital in years. The mortars were fired just hours after a pirate leader threatened retaliation against the United States for killing his men during an operation to rescue a kidnapped US captain.

Thai Protesters End Siege of Prime Minister’s Office

In Thailand, anti-government protesters have ended a three-week siege of the prime minister’s office, one day after at least two people were killed in large protests in Bangkok. The protesters decided to leave the government building after Thai troops surrounded them. Earlier, an army spokesman had said troops were ready to move against the protesters, who had been encamped around the prime minister’s office since March 26.

NATO Air Strike Kills Six Civilians in Afghanistan

Afghan officials say six civilians were killed Monday in an overnight NATO air strike in Kunar province near the Pakistan border. The dead reportedly included a three-year-old girl and ten-year-old boy. Officials said sixteen other civilians were injured in the strike. Last week, five people, including a seven-day-old baby, died during a US-led operation in southeastern Khost province. US forces initially said they had killed four insurgents but later acknowledged the dead were civilians defending their home.

Iraqi Government Cracks Down on Media Organizations

In Baghdad, the Iraqi military is attempting to shut down two media organizations for allegedly misquoting officials. A top Iraqi military spokesperson said he was filing a lawsuit seeking to close the Baghdad office of Al-Hayat, one of the most prominent newspapers in the Arab world, as well as the satellite signal of the TV channel Al Sharqiya. The Iraqi military has criticized local, Arab and international news media for recent reports about arrests of members of the Sunni Awakening Councils.

NYT: US May Drop Key Condition for Talks with Iran

The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium for some period during negotiations to press Iran to open up its nuclear program to wide-ranging inspection. This would be a sharp break from the approach taken by the Bush administration, which had demanded that Iran halt its enrichment activities, at least briefly, to initiate negotiations. Administration officials said the long-term goal remains the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program.

Obama Appears Set to Boycott UN Racism Conference

The Washington Post reports the Obama administration appears to be standing by its decision to boycott the World Conference Against Racism next week in Geneva, despite efforts to focus and tone down language in a draft conference document critical of Israel. Israel and several Jewish advocacy groups have urged the United States and other nations not to take part in the conference. But a number of other groups, including TransAfrica and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, are urging the Obama administration to participate in the conference. Imani Countess of TransAfrica said, “For President Bush not to participate, that would have been expected. For Barack Obama’s administration not to participate sends a disappointing signal. It says these issues are not important.”

Ex-Gitmo Prisoner: Conditions Worsened at Jail Under Obama

A former prisoner at Guantanamo said conditions worsened at the prison after President Obama took office. Binyam Mohamed made the comment in an interview posted on the CagePrisoners.com website.

Binyam Mohamed: “They started implementing rules, degrading rules, where they pushed most of us to actually go on hunger strikes. And if you look at the records, before the new administration took over, there was only about ten to twenty people who were on hunger strike, and right after the new administration took over, it went all the way to forty-something on tube feeding and another hundred just on hunger strike.”

Binyam Mohamed was released from Guantanamo in late February after seven years in US custody. Mohamed says he was repeatedly tortured while being held at a secret CIA prison and at Guantanamo.

100 Ex-Gov’t Staffers Working as Bank Lobbyists on Bailouts

Mother Jones magazine is reporting top bailout recipients have dispatched more than 100 past congressional staffers and ex-government officials to shape the bailouts to their liking. One of Citigroup’s top lobbyists, Jimmy Ryan, is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s former chief counsel. Goldman Sachs has more than thirty ex-government officials registered to lobby on its behalf, including former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. In addition, ex-staffers for at least ten members of the Senate Finance Committee have lobbied lawmakers on behalf of big financial firms receiving billions of dollars of government assistance.

Goldman Sachs Reports $1.6 Billion 1st Quarter Profit

This comes as Goldman Sachs reports it made over $1.6 billion in the first three months of the year. Last week, Wells Fargo says it expects to report record first-quarter earnings of $3 billion. Both companies have received tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts. Goldman Sachs said it plans to raise $5 billion in stock to help it pay back government bailout funds in part to free itself from government-imposed restrictions on executive compensation.

Exxon Mobil CEO Receives 10% Raise

In other business news, Exxon Mobil announced Monday its CEO Rex Tillerson received a ten percent raise in 2008, even though the company’s stock price dropped 15 percent. Tillerson received a compensation package valued at nearly $24 million.

Minn. Judges Rule Franken Winner of Senate Race

In Minnesota, Al Franken has moved one step closer to becoming a US senator. On Monday, a three-judge panel ruled that Franken had received 312 more votes than incumbent Norm Coleman on Election Day, five months ago. The court rejected Coleman’s central argument that the election and its aftermath were fraught with systemic errors that made the results invalid. But the legal battle in Minnesota is not over. Coleman has vowed to appeal Monday’s ruling.

Time Warner Criticized for Proposed New Internet Fees

Democratic Congressman Eric Massa of New York is drafting legislation to prohibit internet providers from charging subscribers based on the amount of data they download. Massa made the announcement days after Time Warner Cable said it was moving forward with plans to cap broadband speeds and charge $150 a month for unlimited broadband downloads.

VA Official Confiscates Reporter’s Equipment

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an investigation into why a government official confiscated a reporter’s recording equipment last week and ordered the reporter to leave a VA hospital in Washington, D.C. David Schultz of public radio station WAMU was at the hospital during a town hall meeting last week. While he was conducting an interview with a veteran, hospital public affairs officer Gloria Hairston stopped the interview and confiscated the sound card from Schultz’s digital recorder. The VA later returned the sound card, and Schultz broadcast part of the interaction on WAMU.

Gloria Hairston: “I can’t allow you to use this.”

David Schultz: “I’m going to use this.”

Hairston: “He can’t talk anymore. That’s it. I can’t do it, sir. You can’t do it.”

Schultz: “You have a right to talk if you want to talk.”

Veteran: “Who are you? I’m just saying–just tell me who you are and why.”

Hairston: “I’m Gloria Hairston, public affairs here at the medical center.”

Veteran: “And why are you telling me that I have to keep my mouth shut? See, that’s the problem.”

Hairston: “No, I didn’t say that you have to keep your mouth shut. You don’t have to keep your mouth shut.”

Veteran: “Well, then why are you telling me I can’t do this interview?”

Pro-Pesticide Group Criticizes First Lady’s Organic Garden

And First Lady Michelle Obama is coming under criticism from a pro-pesticide industry group for deciding to plant an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America CropLife Association recently wrote to the First Lady to urge her to consider using pesticides, or what they call “crop protection products.” One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” Mid America CropLife represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

Michigan Prisons Adopt Policy Aimed at Preventing Discrimination aginst LGBT Prisoners

Michigan Prisons Adopt Policy Aimed at Preventing Discrimination aginst LGBT Prisoners

The Michigan Department of Corrections has implemented a new policy aimed at preventing discrimination against prisoners who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

The change is included in an updated version of Michigan’s “Humane Treatment and Living Conditions for Prisoners” policy directive. It reads:

“All prisoners committed to the jurisdiction of the Department shall be treated humanely and with dignity in matters of health care, personal safety and general living conditions. They also shall not be discriminated against based on race, religion, ethnic background, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, or disability.”

Michigan Equality praised the decision, stating:

“Our hope is that those involved with legislative and policy decisions in our Michigan schools, businesses, townships and cities will also decide to add these enumerated protections to their policies, ordinances, and laws. We are especially pleased to see the much-needed addition of – sexual orientation and gender identity – as a group of people in need of – and now provided – protection. It is ironic that prisoners in Michigan are now to be treated more humanely than the citizens of our state. Our mission – and hope – is to bring that same protection to the rest of Michigan.”

1 in 27 Michigan Residents in the Corrections System

1 in 27 Michigan Residents are in the Corrections System

A new study by the Pew Center on the States has found that 1 in 27 Michigan residents are in the corrections system, either in prison, on parole, or on probation.

The findings were released as part of a new report on the United States corrections system. The report finds that nationally, 7.3 million people–or 1 in 31 adults–is in the corrections system. Moreover, major racial disparities remain:

“Correctional control rates are highly concentrated by race and geography: 1 in 11 black adults (9.2 percent) versus 1 in 27 Hispanic adults (3.7 percent) and 1 in 45 white adults (2.2 percent); 1 in 18 men (5.5 percent) versus 1 in 89 women (1.1 percent). The rates can be extremely high in certain neighborhoods. In one block-group of Detroit’s East Side, for example, 1 in 7 adult men (14.3 percent) is under correctional control.”

More on Michigan’s Corrections System

Along with the study, fact sheets were released profiling each state. The Michigan fact sheet reports that Michigan has the 13th highest ratio of residents in Michigan. The ratio has grown significantly since 1982, when 1 in 110 Michigan adults were in the corrections system.

Prison spending in Michigan has grown from $1.1 billion in 1998 to $1.7 billion today. The daily cost per prisoner has also risen from $64.82 to $89.91. Corrections spending accounts for $2.18 billion–or 22%–of Michigan’s budget.

Spending Focuses on Prison

The report shows that while much of corrections spending focuses on prisons, people return to prison at a lower rate if they go through community supervision programs:

“Research shows that strong community supervision programs for lower-risk, non-violent offenders not only cost significantly less than incarceration but, when appropriately resourced and managed, can cut recidivism by as much as 30 percent. Diverting these offenders to community supervision programs also frees up prison beds needed to house violent offenders, and can offer budget makers additional resources for other pressing public priorities.”

Like many states, the majority of Michigan’s correctional spending is on prisons. For every dollar it spends on prison, it spends just 10 cents on probation and parole.

Headlines: 7.3 Million in the U.S. Corrections System; Climate Activists Block Gates to Coal Plant

Democracy Now Headlines: $30 Billion More for AIG Bailout; GDP Shrinks 6.2%

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Sri Lankan Cricket Team Attacked in Pakistan

In Pakistan, eight people have died after masked gunmen attacked a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team on its way to play in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The dead included six Pakistani police officers and two bystanders. Six Sri Lankan cricket players and a coach were wounded. TV footage showed heavily armed men with backpacks firing at the convoy. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Players say cricketers have never been attacked before in Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport.

Dow Drops Below 7,000 for First Time in 11 Years

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped below 7,000 for the first time in eleven years. The market has now lost almost one quarter of its value this year and more than half since its high in October 2007. The sell-off came as insurance giant AIG announced it had lost a record $62 billion in the last three months of 2008.

CIA Admits It Destroyed 92 Videotapes of Interrogations

The CIA has acknowledged it destroyed ninety-two videotapes documenting harsh interrogations of prisoners held by the CIA. The number of destroyed tapes is far more than has previously been acknowledged. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh accused the agency of engaging in a “systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations.”

Justice Dept OKed Military Carrying Out Domestic Raids After 9/11

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has released a series of Bush administration Justice Department memos written after the September 11 attacks. One memo, co-written by John Yoo, authorized President Bush to deploy the military to carry out raids inside the United States and to spy on Americans without a warrant or probable cause. Yoo wrote, “the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Yoo’s memo also claimed other parts of the Constitution could be disregarded. He wrote, “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.”

Climate Activists Block Gates to D.C. Coal Plant

In Washington, D.C., more than 2,000 activists blocked the gates of a coal-fired power plant on Capitol Hill Monday in what was described as the largest display of civil disobedience on the climate crisis in US history. Police made no arrests. Days before the protest, congressional leaders said they want the Capitol Power Plant to drop coal and convert to natural gas. Protesters at the plant on Monday included NASA scientist James Hansen, the writer Wendell Berry and over 1,000 students who had attended the Power Shift conference on climate change.

Obama Nominates Sebelius to Head HHS

President Obama has nominated Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to run the Department of Health and Human Services. She is expected to spearhead Obama’s drive to overhaul the US healthcare system.

Group: Israel May Built 73,000 New Settlement Homes

The Israeli group Peace Now says Israeli authorities are considering plans for 73,000 new housing units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that if all of the units are built, it would mean a 100 percent increase in the total number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Hagit Ofran of Peace Now: “We believe that if such plans are going to be implemented, this could really prevent a two-state solution and actually any solution to our conflict. And this is why we call the new government not to approve any new construction anywhere in the West Bank whatsoever.”

Donors Pledge $5.2 Billion at Gaza Reconstruction Conference

International donors pledged $5.2 billion Monday at a conference to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip, but not all of the money will go to Gaza. The Obama administration offered up $900 million, but only $300 million is directed for humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza. The rest of the money will go to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri criticized the international community for not directing more of the money to rebuild Gaza.

Mushir al-Masri: “We would like to stress that the rebuilding of Gaza should not be politicized, and this cause needs to be placed in its correct context–the welfare and humanitarian one. What happened in this conference was directing the rebuilding funds to the wrong people. But we would like to stress that what is most important is opening the crossings and ending the siege that has been placed on the Gaza Strip.”

UN Commissioner Urges US to Attend Racism Conference

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has criticized the United States, Canada and Israel for threatening to boycott next month’s World Conference Against Racism conference in Geneva.

Navanethem Pillay: “Narrow, parochial interests and reflexive partisanship must be cast aside in the interest of a greater common good. Let me underscore that a failure to do so may reverberate negatively on the full spectrum of human rights work and mechanisms for years to come. We need to prevent the acrimony of the past from encumbering the fight against intolerance, which is–and I’m sure we all agree–both of urgent concern and in the best interest of everyone.”

The Obama administration said the US won’t attend unless the conference’s final document drops all references to Israel and reparations for slavery.

Obama Sends Secret Letter to Russia About Missile Defense & Iran

The New York Times reports President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons or nuclear warheads. The letter to President Dmitri Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials three weeks ago.

Canadian PM: Insurgency Can’t Be Defeated in Afghanistan

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has predicted the United States and NATO forces will never be able to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Harper made the comment in an interview on CNN with Fareed Zakaria.

Stephen Harper: “We’re not going to win this war just by staying. We’re not going to–in fact, my own judgment, Fareed, is, quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had–my reading of Afghanistan, the history–has probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind. What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance.”

Canada currently has about 2,700 troops in Afghanistan.

Red Cross: Afghan Surge Will Cause Spike in Civilian Casualties

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that Afghan civilians will likely bear the brunt of an escalation in the Afghan war this year. The Red Cross said civilian casualties are significantly higher than a year ago. The United Nations estimates over 2,100 civilians died in 2008, a 40 percent jump over 2007.

Mexico to Send 7,000 Troops to Border City

Mexico has announced it will send a total of 7,000 soldiers and federal police officers into the border city of Ciudad Juarez, where 1,600 people died last year in drug-related violence. Ciudad Juarez is located across the US border from El Paso, Texas. The city’s police chief resigned almost two weeks ago, after several of his officers were shot to death and anonymous signs appeared warning that an officer would be killed every forty-eight hours unless he stepped down. On Sunday, during an interview on Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the US military will increase its support of Mexico.

Robert Gates: “I think we are beginning to be in a position to help the Mexicans more than we have in the past. Some of the old biases against cooperation with our–between our militaries and so on I think are being set aside.”

David Gregory: “You mean providing military support?”

Robert Gates: “Providing them with–with training, with resources, with reconnaissance and surveillance kinds of capabilities, but just cooperation, including in intelligence.”

Castro Reshuffles Cuban Cabinet

Cuban President Raul Castro has reshuffled his cabinet by replacing eight ministers, many of whom were closely linked to his older brother Fidel Castro. The most prominent official to lose his post was Foreign Minister Perez Roque, Fidel Castro’s former personal secretary. The Cuban government said the moves were needed to make Cuba’s government more compact and functional.

Study: 7.3 Million Americans Now in Prison, on Parole or Probation

Here in this country, a new study has found the number of people in prison, on parole or probation has reached a record 7.3 million. One in every thirty-one adults is now in the US corrections system. Twenty-five years ago, the rate was one in seventy-seven. The Pew Center on the States found that corrections spending is outpacing government spending on education, transportation and public assistance. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates that states spent a record $52 billion on corrections last year–that’s one in every fifteen general fund dollars.

Supreme Court Rejects Appeals in Agent Orange Cases

The Supreme Court has rejected appeals in three separate cases by American and Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange who were trying to sue Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other companies that made the toxic chemical defoliant used in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and American veterans.

UN Urges Intensified Actions to Combat Sexual Violence

Senior UN officials have called for “intensified worldwide actions” to fight the scourge of violence against women and girls. The call came as the Commission on the Status of Women opened its annual session.

Rachel Mayanja, UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women: “Violence against women, one of the most extreme manifestations of pervasive violations of women’s human rights, continues unabated, and intensified worldwide efforts are needed to end it. Its consequences and costs are far-reaching, long-lasting and devastating, not only for its victims, but also to societies.”

Florida Man Shoots Dead Two Chilean Students

In Florida, two students from Chile were killed last week when a gunman opened fire on a townhouse where they were staying. Police are investigating the shooting as a likely hate crime. Three other Chilean students were injured in the shooting. A sixty-year-old man named Dannie Baker has been charged with the killings. Baker was known for his anti-immigrant views. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported hate crimes against Latinos jumped by 40 percent between 2003 and 2007.

Oscar Grant’s Family Sues BART for $50 Million

In California, the family members of Oscar Grant have filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency. Grant was the unarmed African American man who was shot dead by a BART police officer on a train platform in Oakland on New Year’s Day.

Steele and Limbaugh Spar Over Republican Leadership

And Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele has apologized to right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after the two engaged in a public fight over the leadership of the Republican Party. Limbaugh countered, saying Steele was off to a shaky start as RNC chair and claimed that Steele was not actually the head of the Republican Party after Steele said on CNN:

“Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. Rush Limbaugh’s whole thing is entertainment. Yes, it is incendiary. Yes, it is ugly.” After Steele came under criticism for his comment, he apologized, saying, “My intent was not to go after Rush. I have enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh. I was maybe a little bit inarticulate…There was no attempt on my part to diminish his voice or his leadership.”

New Company to Provide Health Care in Michigan Prisons

Prison Health Services--An Oft-Criticized Company--Has Received A Contract To Provide Health Care In Michigan's Prisons

Following intensive criticism of Michigan’s prison health care system, a new provider–Prison Health Services–will take over in April. The company will provide health care to Michigan’s prisoners. The contract lasts for three years and is worth $326 million.

Michigan’s previous prison health care provider, Correctional Medical Services, was the subject of harsh criticism. However, critics have expressed disappointment that Michigan went with Prison Health Services, who they say has a worse reputation.

The company was the subject of a yearlong examination by The New York Times who found that Prison Health Services has faced lawsuits across the country:

“A yearlong examination of Prison Health by The New York Times reveals repeated instances of medical care that has been flawed and sometimes lethal. The company’s performance around the nation has provoked criticism from judges and sheriffs, lawsuits from inmates’ families and whistle-blowers, and condemnations by federal, state and local authorities. The company has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements.”

Despite its problems, Prison Health Services provides health care to jails and prisons in twenty-four states.

Prisoners in US Sick, have Poor Access to Health Care

Prisoners in the US are Sicker than the General Population and have Limited Access to Healthcare

Prisoners in the United States have higher rates of serious illness and worse access to health care than previously believed according to a recent study by the Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School.

The study–the first to look at the health of all prison and jail inmates in the United States–found that over 800,000 (or ~40%) of the nation’s 2 million prisoners have chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, or persistent heart and kidney problems. However, despite this illness rate–which is higher than the general population–few have access to necessary medical care. The study finds that over 20 percent of sick inmates in state prisons and 13.9 percent in federal prisons had not seen a doctor or nurse since their incarceration. The same was true of 68.4 percent of jail inmates with persistent medical problems.

Additionally, a quarter of inmates have a history of chronic mental illness and two-thirds were off treatment at the time of their arrest. For research Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, this suggests that they may have avoided criminality had they been receiving proper treatment.

Health Care in Michigan’s Prisons

Last year, MediaMouse.org covered the findings of an American Friends Service Committee report that explored the state of health care in Michigan’s prisons. The study concluded that Michigan is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide health care to Michigan prisoners. It cited failings that have led declining prisoner health, and in some cases, death.

Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

By their very nature, prisons are something that is kept out of sight. The community doesn’t want to notice them and those housed within prisons have been temporarily (although in many cases the effects of incarceration remain long after release) removed from society. This out-of-sight nature makes it difficult to find out information about conditions in prisons. Beyond government statistics and agencies, it can be difficult to find out what happens inside prison walls.

This lack of transparency has accelerated in recent years as the number of privately run prisons–often with even more limited forms of disclosure–has risen. Private prisons have appeared in response to mass incarceration in the United States, with over two million people in prison. Private companies have realized that there is a fortune to be made in housing prisoners.

However, it isn’t just through the construction of private prisons that companies are making money from mass incarceration. Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration looks at the other ways in which corporations are profiting from the prison boom. The book is the third in a series that look at unprecedented increase of mass incarceration since the 1980s. The others include Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor and The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the US Prison Industry.

Prison Profiteers features eighteen essays divided into three sections–“The Political Economy of Prisons,” “The Private Prison Industry,” and “Making Out Like Bandits.” The essays expose a host of problems with the prison system ranging from inadequate prison care to misuse of public funds. All of the examples share the same motivation: profit. The essays on the prison healthcare system were particularly striking, with distributing examinations of horrific healthcare given to inmates by companies such as Correctional Medical Services. In some cases, this grossly negligent care has resulted in unnecessary deaths. The book spends a significant amount of time on the increasing number of private prisons, looking at problems and the companies behind them. In one particularly interesting chapter, Samantha Shapiro reports on the increase of evangelical Christian programs in prisons. These programs–of which Prison Fellowship Ministries is the largest–are sold to prisons as a way of minimizing violence and improving prisoner behavior. While they have had some success, the author raises important questions about the ethics of these programs. The book looks at lesser known ways in which private companies profit from mass incarceration as well, including prisoner transport, prison phone service, and jail fees.

Prison Profiteers also looks at the relationship between the growth in the private prison industry and the growth in prisoners, finding that the correlation doesn’t always work as one might expect. Logic would seem to indicate that private prison companies have grown as the number of prisoners grow, however, in some cases it appears that the privatized prison services companies–many of which often have close relationships with governments–are in some ways fostering an increase in the number of prisoners.

Overall, Prison Profiteers sheds light on an issue that many likely have not considered, while offering a larger critique of the prison system as a whole.

Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, Eds., Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration, (The New Press, 2008).

Eco-Anarchist Being Held in West Michigan Prison

Anarchist Michael Sykes is incarcerated in a West Michigan Prison

“He was tired of seeing all the forest being destroyed,” say police in the case of Michael Sykes, an 18-year old anarchist arrested last year in Southeast Michigan for the arson of two homes in suburban developments near the Ohio/Michigan border.

Sykes accepted a plea agreement and avoided a trial while being sentenced to a minimum of four years in prison and a maximum of ten. Sykes is currently incarcerated here in West Michigan at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.

Background and Motivations

According to police in the case, after his arrest last March, Sykes identified himself as an environmentalist and claimed that the arsons were a statement against the destruction of the natural environment.

The corporate media has largely portrayed Sykes as a nihilist who had a hatred of society. The case received extensive coverage in The Toledo Blade, which reported detectives’ assertions that Sykes “hates society. He wants to see society fall.” In an article on his sentencing, The Toledo Blade reported that Sykes offered little explanation for his actions. Instead, the newspaper played up the angle that Sykes had “psychological issues” that motivated the arsons. Sykes’ mother criticized the media’s coverage of Sykes as making him seem to be a “monster.”

While psychological reports provided to the court by Sykes’ attorneys indicated that he was “a very troubled juvenile,” the judge in the case imposed a sentence designed to make an example of Sykes and to deter others from committing similar acts. Despite his age, Michigan law required that Sykes be sentenced as an adult. Similarly, the sentence did not provide for psychological help for Sykes. Rather, he was ordered to pay restitution of $200,000-$400,000.

Support

Sykes’ case has garnered the attention of the anarchist and radical environmental movements. Sykes has made the list of “eco-prisoners” compiled by the North American Earth Liberation Support Network, a group that “support[s] people who are accused or convicted of actions taken in defense of the Earth and its inhabitants.”

The prisoner support group Earth Warriors are OK! has also created a “Support Michael” website to inform people about his case and to encourage people to send letters and books to Sykes to help him through his prison sentence.

Top Stories of 2008

Here’s a brief list of some our favorite stories that appeared on MediaMouse.org during 2008.

We’re not so big on end-of-the-year wrap-ups, hence the reason why our 2008 “top stories” list is just now being posted. However, we did one last year and already did a round-up of our favorite books of 2008, so it seems only appropriate to get this post done.

Compiling the list also offers some time for reflection on what MediaMouse.org has done over the past year. Like many progressive, left, or liberal news sources, we probably focused a bit too much on the 2008 elections. However, unlike many of those outlets, we focused most of our “Election Watch” coverage on dealing with systemic issues such as ballot access, voting problems, and substantive differences between the candidates. Unlike so many of our peers, we didn’t fall lockstep behind the Democratic candidates and I’d argue we’re in a better place because of it. With the inevitable disappointments that followed Obama’s election–see his right-leaning cabinet choices for example–we’re in a better position to hold Obama accountable.

Our traffic–as it has every year MediaMouse.org’s existence–also increased.

Anyway, here’s the list of some of our favorite stories. As always, the list could be considerably longer, but this seems like a manageable length.

Also, if you like what you see here or saw throughout the year, please consider giving a donation–it would mean a lot to us.

2008 Elections

Media

Racist Right

Islamophobia

Environment

The Economy

Iraq

Prisons