RN: prison realities


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list,   Oct. 9

Recently, a couple messages concerning human rights abuses in prisons and
criminalization in general have come my way. I want to share some of this
information with you; I feel it's important to keep our minds and hearts
open to a world that is so often closed to most citizens, that of the
prisons. As we know, part of the globalization agenda involves criminalizing
more and more of the population. Part of the reason for this is simply that
when people have fewer and fewer legitimate ways to make a living, they will
end up resorting to illegitimate means. They will also be more susceptible
to addictions of various sorts to escape the pain of their lives. Another
reason for increasing imprisonment is that activities that were formerly
considered to be part of the right and responsibility of citizens: the right
to be politically active, become criminal. (A good example of this is how
students at the University of British Colombia were not allowed to fly the
Tibetan flag within view of the APEC motorcade at the APEC summit (in
Vancouver) last November. The Canadian government is feeling some heat now
for the way protesters were treated. The repressive tactics included
forcible kidnapping of at least one student organizer by unmarked police.)

This is an issue affecting most countries in the world (although I think I
heard that Norway has shown leadership in lessening its prison population.
If anyone has information on successful efforts to empty prisons, please
send it along.)

Here is a message from César Roberto in Brazil, linking the situation in his
country to the one in the US:
Date: Sat, 3 Oct 1998 05:38:28 -0300
From: •••@••.••• (R.Magellan)
Subject: Students walk out against prisons

I think that you will find the message below quite interesting.  In USA, as 
in Brazil, it is impressing the rush to build new prisons, not to mention 
the recurrent right wing campaign to introduce the capital punishment  (and 
just now, for my complete astonishment, a Workers's Party  federal 
representative too).

The high school students mentioned herein below remind me of my high school 
times, when one of our mottos was  "more budget resources  [for education], 
less tanks!"   ("mais verbas, menos tanques!).

Best regards, C. Roberto


From: •••@••.•••
Date: Sat, 03 Oct 1998 01:16:04 -0400
Subject: high school student walk out against the expansion of prisons
Reply-To: •••@••.•••


"Schools are messed up, buildings are falling apart, books are torn up."

Students from about 10 schools marched about a mile through town, giving
speeches at a sheriff's office and a mall.

Political activist turned educator Angela Davis watched from the

"And when you consider that these are high school students. They're like
kids who are showing us the way. Who are telling us that we need more
schools and fewer prisons. That we don't need to be sending young people
to these institutions like this juvenile hall here in San Leandro," said
Davis, now a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Thirteen miles away in Fairfield, about 600 students rallied at the
school district office to protest plans to go to a year-round school plan.
School board President Mike Helms said the year-round schooling plan is a
result of voters rejecting four bond measures, two in the last year, to pay for
a new high school.

The two protests come amid reports that under Gov. Pete Wilson's
administration, California's budget for higher education has shrunk by 3
percent while corrections spending has jumped 60 percent -- a greater
gap between the two programs under Wilson's leadership than any other
governor in California history.

The Justice Policy Institute think tank findings revealed that
California's budget for higher education has shrunk by 3 percent while
corrections spending has jumped 60 percent.

The study also found that five black males are in prison for every black
male in a state university, while three Hispanic males are added to
California's prison population for every one enrolling at a four-year
public university.

The protesters Thursday were made up primarily of minority students.


Copyright © The Associated Press
Copyright © The Sacramento Bee

The article below gives further evidence of how damaging this
criminalization trend is. ... Not only is criminalization damaging to those
who end up as "criminals", it brutalizes the society at large. The way some
people show up at executions with popcorn (as if they were going to a movie;
I suppose it is movie fare but in real life...) is eloquent testimony of how
state imposed brutality makes violence more and more "palatable" to more and
more people.


Date: Wed, 7 Oct 1998 20:28:38 +1000 (EST)
From: Matthew Townsend <•••@••.•••>
Subject: US in dock over report on jail abuses

>International News / US in dock over report on jail abuses  /  Nick Hopkins
>US in dock over report on jail abuses
>Nick Hopkins
>TORTURE and sexual violence against prisoners is widespread in jails across
the United States, according to a report published this week, which accuses
the country of wholesale human rights abuses.
>The two-year study by Amnesty International, its first comprehensive
analysis of North America, accuses the US of failing in its duty to provide
a moral lead to the rest of the free world.
>"Across the USA, thousands are victims of human rights violations," said
Pierre Sane, Amnesty's international secretary-general. "Too often, human
rights in the USA are a tale of two nations. Rich and poor, white and black,
male and female."
>In particular, Amnesty concentrated on the penal system, where, it claims,
the breakdown in basic human rights has led to atrocities more commonly
associated with authoritarian Third World regimes.
>The massive increase in the prison population -- it has trebled to 1.7
million in the past 18 years -- has put the system under tremendous strain,
resulting in a shift "away from rehabilitation towards ... incapacitation
and punishment".
>Overcrowding and a lack of central control have also provided prison staff
with opportunities to exploit inmates, especially women.
>The report cites two recent examples: the Department of Justice sued
Arizona and Michigan states for failing to protect women from sexual
assaults and "prurient viewing during dressing, showering and use of toilet
>And earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons paid $500,000 to
settle a lawsuit brought by three women who claimed they had been beaten,
raped and sold by guards for sex with male inmates at a federal prison in
>The indiscriminate use of leg irons, restraint poles, restraining chairs,
and electro-shock weapons, including stun guns, is also alleged to be common.
>There were two other major areas where Amnesty said it found persistent
abuses: brutality by the police and the "arbitrary, unfair and racist" use
of the death penalty.
>The report, Rights For All, claims it has evidence that police officers
regularly beat and shoot suspects who are not resisting arrest, and that
there is widespread misuse of batons and chemical sprays.
>The victims are mostly from ethnic minority backgrounds, and the officers,
who are encouraged to be aggressive, nearly always seem to get away without
>Piers Bannister, one of the researchers who compiled the report, said that
racial discrimination within the police was virulent. "It makes a mockery of
the slogan which many of them use, 'To Protect and Serve'," he said.
>Though Amnesty has long railed against America's use of the death penalty,
it claims that there has been another worrying development. The US has
started to execute juvenile offenders, in clear breach of article six of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. America was one of
only two countries to opt out of signing this provision of the treaty, which
covers the execution of minors.
>The Guardian Weekly Volume  Issue  for week ending , Page 4

Matthew Townsend                            
Barrister & Accredited Mediator
Lecturer in Environmental Law, Victoria University of Technology
Clerk: McNaught                 205 William St, MELBOURNE 3000
Business: (03) 9608 7319                Fax: (03) 9608 8668
Home: (03) 9826 9662            Mobile: (04) 1122 0277
DX: 89                          Email: •••@••.••• 

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... I find myself doing something that Richard has done before: With the
imminence of a trip away from the computer, I find myself wanting to send
just a FEW more things to you before I leave you in peace for a couple weeks
:-) Please bear with me! 

all the best, Jan
PS I'm going to Quebec, partly to visit friends, also to attend an
environmental conference.