Reimagining Prison with Frank Gehry

Prison as college campus. Prison as wellness center. Prison as monastery. “I’ve personally spent only one night in jail,” Frank Gehry confessed. “I didn’t like it very much.” Gehry, 88, who has been described as our greatest living architect (and, by an admiring pro-cannabis website, as a Very Important Pothead), said he got his only taste of incarceration when he was busted for possession many years ago. Last Friday in New Haven, that night behind bars was a kind of credential. An invited … [Read more...]

Computer Programs Are Deciding How Long People Spend in Jail

The United States jails more of its citizens, by percentage and in raw numbers, than any other country on earth, including those we label dictatorships and criticize as human rights violators. Judge, jury and parole board verdicts are influenced by everything from lived experience to momentary mood to how recently participants have had a food break. Studies consistently show that being black counts against defendants,resulting in far longer, harsher penalties than white offenders get for the … [Read more...]

Tracking the Impact of the Prison System on the Economy

One of the most popular parts of our 2003 book The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry concerns the economic power of the criminal justice system. I updated three of the graphs and concepts from that book. The justice system may have slowed its growth in recent years, but it still has a large hold on the economy. In 2012 — the most recent data available — the more than 2.4 million people who work for the justice system (in police, corrections and judicial services) at … [Read more...]

Don’t Let Judges Hijack California Bail Reform

Californians who want to bring fairness to the criminal system recognize that there is no justice without meaningful bail reform. Wealthy people buy their liberty and fight their cases from home without regard for public safety. Poor people – the vast majority of criminal defendants – languish in jail even for minor charges. They lose jobs and their families go into debt paying non-refundable bail bonds. Those who can’t pay bail face a heartbreaking choice – assert their innocence and stay in … [Read more...]

86 Percent of Women in Jail Are Sexual-Violence Survivors

According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represented just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization. Sexual violence is so pronounced among jailed and incarcerated women that Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ,) labeled the overarching phenomenon as "a survivor-of-sexual-trauma to … [Read more...]

Guards Raping Women Prisoners

What’s life like for thousands of incarcerated women? Imagine if Hollywood's worst predators had a key to your home It didn’t start as rape. Just weeks after arriving at a Kentucky jail, Rosa (not her real name, to protect her safety) was already a target. One of her guards, a captain, entered her cell and demanded that she undress for him. Refusing was not an option, so Rosa complied. Of course he returned. That same month, the captain sexually assaulted Rosa in her cell — the first of … [Read more...]

LA Activists Count the Costs of a Domestic Terror System

I'm grateful that three colleagues I admire deeply were able to help me create an insight-filled panel presentation at the first-ever Left Coast Forum taking place at LA Trade Tech this past weekend. We called our session "Mass Incarceration: Counting the Costs," and we began by measuring the damage across different measures: the economic toll, the psychological and spiritual toll, the grave horrors inflicted on individuals, families, neighborhoods, and whole communities. Each panelist linked … [Read more...]

We Are Witnesses: Others: A Portrait of Crime and Punishment in America Today

The impact of America’s punishment policies is often measured in numbers: there are now 2.2 million people in our jails and prisons; one in a hundred and fifteen adults is confined behind bars; our inmate population is four times larger than it was in 1980. “We Are Witnesses,” a collection of short videos, offers a very different sort of calculation: the human cost of locking up so many citizens for so many years. The project comprises nineteen videos, each between two and six minutes long. … [Read more...]

Ex-Inmates Behind Push for California Employers to ‘Ban the Box’

  Many of the 7 million Californians with a prior arrest or conviction likely can relate to Sandra Johnson’s job hunting experience nearly a decade ago. On every employment application, she checked a box that inquired about criminal history. “It was terribly hard,” the 59-year-old mother and grandmother said of the months she spent seeking work after completing a San Francisco drug treatment program. “I would go and apply and I would never hear back because that box was always … [Read more...]

Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing … [Read more...]