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July 29, 2015

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Press Release: Pelican Bay Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike to Protest Grave Conditions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—June 29, 2011
Pelican Bay Prisoners Go On Hunger Strike to Protest Grave Conditions
Lawyers, Advocates, Organizations Hold Press Conference, Voice Prisoner Demands

Press Contact: Isaac Ontiveros
Communications Director, Critical Resistance

Office: 510 444 0484
Cell: 510 517 6612

What: Press Conference

When: Thursday, June 30, 2011, 11:00am

Where: Elihu M. Harris State of California Office Building, 1515 Clay St., Oakland, CA

Oakland—Prisoners at the notorious Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, CA will initiate an indefinite hunger strike on July 1st, 2011 to protest condition in the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). Lawyers and advocates who have been in contact with the prisoners will hold a press conference Thusday June 30th at the Oakland Federal Building, at 11am to rally support for the strike and put pressure on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to respond to the prisoners’ demands.

Prisoners have delivered their demands to Pelican Bay warden Greg Lewis, the CDCR, and to Governor Jerry Brown. Their demands include an end to long-term solitary confinement, collective punishment, and forced interrogation on gang affiliation. The prisoners have also stated that they are willing to give up their lives unless their demands are met.

"The prisoners inside the SHU at Pelican Bay know the risk that they are taking going on hunger strike,” says Manuel LaFontaine, of All of Us or None, an organization that supports former prisoners and part of a Bay Area-based Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition supporting Pelican Bay’s prisoners. La Fontaine continues, “The CDCR must recognize that the SHU produces conditions of grave violence, such that people lose their lives in there all the time." U.S. and international human rights organizations have condemned Security Housing Units as having cruel, inhumane, and torturous conditions. SHU prisoners are kept in windowless, 6 by 10 foot cells, 23½ hours a day, for years at a time. The CDCR operates four Security Housing Units in its system at Corcoran,California Correctional Institution, Valley State Prison for Women as well as Pelican Bay.

Recent work and hunger strikes in Georgia and Ohio prisons were successful in both winning some concessions and alerting the public to the conditions inside US prisons. "People who are in prison are already being punished. They are still human beings and should not have to lose their civil and human rights" says Karen Shain, a lawyer with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Pelican Bay’s hunger strike begins amidst the recent landmark Supreme Court ruling condemning California’s prison overcrowding and order the reduction of its population by at least 33,000 people. At the center of the overcrowding ruling were dozens of prisoner deaths a year due to the lack of basic medical and other healthcare. Thursday’s Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity press conference will touch off several events happening in cities across North America in the coming weeks.

Legal workers, advocates, and experts on the California prison system will be available for comment and interviews.
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Sent to us per email.

Wal-Mart, Martori Farms and Women in Prison Labor: "I Ain't Gonna Work On Martori's Farm No More"

Note: This is the contact email for Wal-Mart's "ethics" office. Please take a  minute and write them about the horrific labor conditions for the women at Perryville. Wal-Mart's Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

"I Ain't Gonna Work On Martori's Farm No More"
Posted: 06/29/11
By Al Norman, Founder, Sprawl-Busters
in: Huffington Post

For the past 20 years, Wal-Mart has fed its stores with agricultural produce from a company called Martori Farms. According to Hoover's profile of the company, Martori is "a fruit and vegetable grower, packer, shipper, and wholesaler and is the largest commercial agricultural company in Arizona.

The agra business was "hand-picked" by Wal-Mart, and in 2007, the giant retailer showcased Martori Farms as part of its "Salute To America's Farmers" program. The Martori farm operations took seed in the 1930s Arizona soil, later specializing in melons and broccoli. The company today has 3 major locations in Arizona, and one site in California. One of its holdings contains more than 15,000 arcres of farmland.

Wal-Mart has described its relationship with Martori Farms as an example of "fruitful collaboration." The retailer's first 35 superstores were stocked with organic cantaloupes from Martori Farms. "Our relationship with Martori Farms is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration we strive for with our suppliers," a Wal-Mart spokesman said four years ago. "Wal-Mart buys more United States agricultural products than any other retailer in the world and we're proud to salute American farmers like Martori Farms."

But new allegations about the use of prison labor at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Martori Farms could blight the fruitful relationship between the retailer and the farmer.

For almost 20 years, Wal-Mart has had a clear policy forbidding the use of prison labor by its vendors. "Since 1992 Wal-Mart has required its supplier-partners to comply with a stringent code of conduct," Wal-Mart said in a 1997 press statement. "This code requires factories producing merchandise for Wal-Mart to be automatically denied manufacturing certification if inspections reveal...evidence of forced or prison labor."

The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) has supplied prisoner labor for private agricultural businesses for almost 20 years. For at least the last four years, the state of Arizona has fined employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. Farmers responded by calling up the ADC for workers. "We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor," the manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI) told the Christian Science Monitor in 2007. "Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don't want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative.

One of those businesses that turned to prison labor was Wal-Mart's vendor, Martori Farms. According to a disturbing story published June 24th by Truth-Out.org,(http://www.truth-out.org/abusive-conditions-martori-farms/1308844017) Martori Farms "pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm." Women from the Arizona state prison complex at Perryville Unit are assigned to work at Martori Farms." Arizona law requires that all able bodied inmates work.

One of the women prisoners at Martori Farms told Truth-Out: "We work eight hours regardless of conditions .... We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants ... Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don't check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our 'good time'!!! We are told we get 'two' 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it's more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that's not acceptable... In addition, the prison has sent women to work on the farms regardless of their medical conditions."

Wal-Mart's focus on labor conditions has basically been in Third World producer nations, not on domestic shores. In 1997, Wal-Mart wrote: "The issue of global sourcing and factory conditions is very important to Wal-Mart and to our suppliers. Since 1992, we have spent enormous amounts of time and money to assure compliance with our standards and there has been much improvement."

Yet here in America, prisoners are working under intolerable conditions picking produce for Wal-Mart superstores. In its Standards for Suppliers, Wal-Mart acknowledges that "the conduct of Wal-Mart's suppliers can be attributed to Wal-Mart and its reputation." If for no other reason than to protect its reputation, Wal-Mart should take immediate action against Martori Farms. Such actions should include:

1. an unannounced inspection of working conditions at Martori Farms by an independent auditor

2. enforcement of the Wal-Mart's own Conditions for Employment, including fair compensation of wages and benefits which are in compliance with the local and national laws, reasonable employee work hours in compliance with local standards, with employees not working in excess of the statutory requirements without proper compensation as required by applicable law.

As long as Wal-Mart allows Martori Farms to exploit its prison workers, Wal-Mart is complicit in the scheme. This arrangement violates the company's ethical sourcing standards. Such working conditions are not right in Sri Lanka, not right in Bangladesh, and they are not right in Scottsdale Arizona either.

The next time you squeeze a melon at Wal-Mart, think about the prison farmworkers who got squeezed to produce it.

Wal-Mart's Global Ethics Office can be emailed at ethics@wal-mart.com.

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters, and is the author of organizer's classic big box story, Slam-DunkingWal-Mart.

Article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-norman/i-aint-gonna-work-on-mart_b_886596.html

Monday, June 20, 2011

Five myths about Americans in prison

In: Washington Post
By Marc Mauer and David Cole, Published: June 17

No country on Earth imprisons more people per capita than the United States. But for America, mass incarceration has proved a losing proposition. The Supreme Court recently found California’s overcrowded prisons unconstitutional, and state legislators want to cut the vast amounts of public money spent on prison warehousing.

Why are so many Americans in prison, and which ones can be safely released? Let’s address some common misunderstandings about our incarceration problem.

1. Crime has fallen because incarceration has risen.
U.S. crime rates are the lowest in 40 years, but it’s not clear how much of this drop is a result of locking up more people.

In Canada, for example, violent crime declined in the 1990s almost as much as it did in the United States. Yet, Canada’s prison population dropped during this time, and its per capita incarceration rate is about one-seventh that of the United States. Moreover, while U.S. incarceration rates have steadily risen for four decades, our crime rate has fluctuated — rising through the 1970s, falling and then rising in the 1980s, and falling since 1993.

Harvard University sociologist Bruce Western believes that increased incarceration accounts for only about 10 percent of the drop in crime rates; William Spelman, a professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, puts the figure at about 25 percent. Even if the higher figure is accurate, three-quarters of the crime decline had nothing to do with imprisonment. Other causes include changes in drug markets, policing strategies and community initiatives to reshape behavior.

2. The prison population is rising because more people are being sentenced to prison. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the number of people sent to prison grew mainly because of the war on drugs. The number of drug offenders sentenced to state prisons increased by more than 300 percent from 1985 to 1995.
Since then, however, longer prison terms more than new prison sentences have fueled the prison population expansion. These are a result of mandatory sentencing measures such as “three strikes” laws and limits on parole release. Today, 140,000 prisoners, or one of 11 inmates, are incarcerated for life, many with no chance of parole.

Longer stays in prison offer diminishing returns for public safety. As prisoners age, the likelihood that they will commit crimes drops, but the cost of their imprisonment rises, primarily because of increased medical care. Harsher sentences also offer little deterrence: When people consider committing crimes, they may think about whether they will be caught, but probably not about how harshly they will be punished. In 1999, the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University reviewed studies of deterrence and sentencing and found no basis “for inferring that increasing the severity of sentences generally is capable of enhancing deterrent effects.”

3. Helping prisoners rejoin society will substantially reduce the prison population. Ninety-five percent of American prisoners will return home someday. While reentry programs can aid reintegration into the community, they do little to reduce our reliance on incarceration. Prison appears to make inmates as likely to commit crime as not; about half of released inmates return to prison within three years. Congress appropriated only $83 million for reentry in fiscal year 2011, or less than $120 per released prisoner. Even with additional state funds, one is not likely to overcome a lifetime of low educational attainment, substance abuse and/or mental health disabilities with this meager commitment.

Investing in prevention and treatment instead of imprisonment is more likely to shrink the prison population. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, for example, found that home-based supervision of juvenile offenders produced $28 in taxpayer benefits for every dollar invested.
4. There’s a link between race and crime. Yes, African Americans and Latinos disproportionately commit certain crimes. But in a 1996 study of crime rates in Columbus, Ohio, criminologists from Ohio State University concluded that socioeconomic disadvantages “explain the overwhelming portion of the difference in crime.”

Nowhere are racial disparities in criminal justice more evident than in drug law enforcement. In 2003, black men were nearly 12 times more likely to be sent to prison for a drug offense than white men. Yet, national household surveys show that whites and African Americans use and sell drugs at roughly the same rates. African Americans, who are 12 percent of the population and about 14 percent of drug users, make up 34 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 45 percent of those serving time for such offenses in state prisons. Why?

In large measure, because police find drugs where they look for them. Inner-city, open-air drug markets are easier to bust than those that operate out of suburban basements, and numerous studies show that minorities are stopped by police more often than whites. For example, a Center for Constitutional Rights study found that 87 percent of the 575,000 people stopped by the police in New York City in 2009 were African American or Latino.

5. Racial disparities in incarceration reflect police and judges’ racial prejudice.

Shocking instances of racism still come to light in the justice system. But racist cops and courts are not the primary reason for racial disparities in incarceration.

Consider increased penalties for drug offenses in school zones. Though not racially motivated, these laws disproportionately affect minorities, who more often live in densely populated urban areas with many nearby schools. In New Jersey, for example, 96 percent of people incarcerated under such laws in 2005 were African American or Latino. Judges didn’t necessarily want to sentence these defendants to more prison time than those convicted outside school zones, but under the law, they had to.

Where we spend money also contributes to the problem. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 appropriated $9.7 billion for prisons and $13.6 billion for law enforcement, but only $6.1 billion for crime prevention. Politicians eager to be seen as tough on crime too often find ways to fund new prison cells, even though they know that minorities will predominantly fill them. This isn’t the fault of racist individuals. It’s the fault of a system that fails to take the promise of equality seriously.

The United States imprisons a larger proportion of its population than Russia or Belarus. Our incarceration rate is eight times that of France. These tragic statistics force us to ask: Would the American public accept these rates if incarceration were distributed more equally across race and class?

mauer@sentencingproject.org
cole@law.georgetown.edu

Marc Mauer is executive director of the Sentencing Project. David Cole is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Want to challenge everything you know? Visit our “Five myths” archive.

California organizations outline smart, safe prison population reduction strategies

by Emily Harris
Via the SF Bay View
June 18th 2011

Oakland – In response to the May 23 Supreme Court ruling on California prison overcrowding, a statewide alliance of over 40 organizations known as Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is pushing the state to take up a number of strategies that would make substantial reductions in the prison population while potentially freeing up billions of dollars for programs and services devastated by California’s budget crisis.

CURB, which works to both shrink California’s prison population and end costly prison and jail construction, released “The Budget for Humanity” in March of this year. “The Budget for Humanity” outlines a series of smart and safe strategies that California could push forward to reduce the prison population in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. These strategies include:

- Reforming drug sentencing laws by making possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
- Eliminating return-to-custody as a sanction for administrative and technical parole violations.
- Making low-level, non-violent property offenses misdemeanors instead of “wobblers” which can be charged as a felony.
- Repealing or amending the three strikes law so that the second and third strike must also be classified as “serious or violent.”
- Providing education and/or job training to every person in prison.
- Expanding “good time” credits.
- Providing independent community-based drug, mental health treatment and reentry services to people coming home from prison.
- Releasing or discharging all people who are terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated by expanding medical parole and utilizing compassionate release.
- Releasing elderly prisoners.
- Paroling term-to-life prisoners who are parole eligible.
- Amending or repealing juvenile life without parole convictions
- Releasing people who are “mentally ill” to community-based mental health treatment programs.

CURB points out that most of these strategies have been safely and sustainably implemented in other states across the U.S. Additionally, CURB’s Budget for Humanity argues vehemently against jail and prison bed expansion to address overcrowding. CURB calls prison and jail construction a “false solution” to the Supreme Court ruling and continues to criticize the billions of dollars of prison construction spending authorized by California’s controversial AB 900 lease revenue bond.

To view CURB’s 50 ways to reduce the number of people in prison in California visit http://curbprisonspending.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/50waysCurb.pdf.

Emily Harris is statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). She can be reached at (510) 435-1176 or emily@curbprisonspending.org.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SAMs — The Creepy, Inhumane Legal Weapon the State Uses to Break Prisoners

By Chris Hedges, Truthdig
Posted on June 13, 2011, Printed on June 16, 2011

http://www.alternet.org/story/151280/hedges%3A_sams_–_the_creepy%2C_inhumane_legal_weapon_the_state_uses_to_break_prisoners
This article first appeared on Truthdig. [link is wrong]


In Franz Kafka’s short story “Before the Law”a tireless supplicant spends his life praying for admittance into the courts of justice. He sits outside the law court for days, months and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted. He sacrifices everything he owns to sway or bribe the stern doorkeeper. He ages, grows feeble and finally childish. He is told as he nears death that the entrance was constructed solely for him and it will now be closed.
 
Justice has become as unattainable for Muslim activists in the United States as it was for Kafka’s frustrated petitioner. The draconian legal mechanisms that condemn Muslim Americans who speak out publicly about the outrages we commit in the Middle East have left many, including Syed Fahad Hashmi, wasting away in supermax prisons. These citizens posed no security threat. But they dared to speak a truth about the sordid conduct of our nation that the state found unpalatable. And in the bipartisan war on terror, waged by Republicans and Democrats, this ugly truth in America is branded seditious.

The best the U.S. government could offer as evidence of Fahad’s crimes was that an acquaintance who stayed in his apartment with him while he was a graduate student in London had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks in luggage at the apartment and that the acquaintance eventually delivered these to al-Qaida. But I doubt the government is overly concerned with a suitcase full of waterproof socks taken to Pakistan. The reason Fahad Hasmi was targeted was because, like the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Al-Arian, he was fearless and zealous in his defense of those being bombed, shot, terrorized and killed throughout the Muslim world while he was a student at Brooklyn College. Fahad was deeply religious, and some of his views, including his praise of the Afghan resistance, were to me unpalatable, but he had a right to express these sentiments. More important, he had a right to expect freedom from persecution and imprisonment because of his opinions. Facing the possibility of a 70-year sentence in prison and having already spent four years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, he accepted a plea bargain on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism.

It has been a year since his 15-year sentence was pronounced in a New York courtroom. He is now held in Guantanamo-like conditions in the supermax ADX [Administrative Maximum] facility in Florence, Colo. He is isolated in a small cell for 22 to 23 hours a day. He has only extremely limited contact with his mother, father and brother, often going weeks without any communication. Between his transfer to Florence last August and this March he was permitted only one phone call. The rule of law in America, especially if you are Muslim, fits Kafka’s grim parody. The tyranny we impose on those held in Guantanamo, Bagram and the secret CIA “black sites” we impose on ourselves. This is and always has been the disease of empire. Empire imports the crude and brutal tools of control and violence back to the homeland. It creates internal as well as external colonies.

We no longer have freedom; there is only the appearance of freedom. We are consumed by an endless and vague war on terror in which the perfidiousness of our enemy, whose number, location and nature are never clearly defined, justifies the shredding of constitutional rights, torture, kidnapping, detentions without charges or trials and an occult-like battle against an absolute evil. And if you think the state intends to limit itself to the persecution of Muslims, especially once there is an increase in domestic unrest and instability, you know little about human history.

I spoke Saturday night to Fahad Hashmi’s father, Syed Anwar Hashmi. The elder Hashmi came to the United States from Pakistan when Fahad was 3 and his other son, Faisal, was 4. He worked for more than two decades as an accountant for the city of New York. He came, as most immigrants have, for his children. He believed in America, in its fairness, its chances for opportunity, its freedoms. And then it all crumbled when the state proved as capricious and cruel as the Pakistani dictatorship he had left behind. On the day of his son’s arrest, he says, “my American dream became an American nightmare.”

Read the rest here

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
© 2011 Truthdig All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/151280/

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