Three Strikes Laws, Prison Slavery, Private Prisons: excerpts from The DISH

~Venue for an Artist...three devorah major
~Bit of History...Three Strikes You're Out 
~Hood Notes...Three Strikes Caused This Prison Larry Gerston, Ph.D.  
~News You Use...Private Prisons: Greed and Corruption   ~Politics Y2K11...Florida's Racist New Law...By Mansfield Frazier

Venue for an Artist / three strikes

By devorah major

three strikes you're out

and the return of the chain gang

a rose by any other name

when you think

of the american institution of slavery

do you think of history

black history

do you think of stories of slave ships

bodies pressed together head to toe

death and misery stories of long ago

auction blocks

flesh groped and pushed

weighed in

people renamed

chained, beaten and confined

and turned from human into commodity

when you think of slavery

do you think of then

well then

what should we call it now

when men and women

chained ankle to ankle

wrist to wrist

neck to waist

are taken to a place

where they are

confined in quarters

in blocks

in cells

strike one

what do you call it

when you take these

sometimes chained

and very confined people

and then give them a new name

be it toby or B253476

be it mammy or G714280

strike two

what should we call it

when these renamed confined

chained humans

these sons...these fathers

these mothers

these daughters

these brothers

these sisters

are told that they

will never again be free

and that they will have to work

for the room they are locked in

the clothes they are made to wear

the food they eat

and for you

what should we call it

when we know

that the constitution's

13th amendment outlaws

involuntary servitude

"except as a punishment for crime

whereof the party shall have been

duly convicted"

strike three

what should we call it

if you ask me

it sounds too much like

a different brand of slavery

About Me: A resident of San Francisco, teacher, novelist, essayist and
arts activist, Major was selected as San Francisco's third Poet Laureate
in 2002. Her volume in the City Lights Poet Laureate Series is "where
river meets ocean" (2003). Major is a "free spirit looking toward the
future." (Source:

Bit of History / Three Strikes You're Out

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on May 23, 2011 highlighted the major
problem with "three strike" laws. Among other things, the Court ordered
California to release 36,000 prisoners within five years to relieve
current overcrowded conditions, which violate the 8th Amendment guarantee
against cruel and unusual punishment. California's prison problem was
compounded in 1994 with the passage of Proposition 184 "Three Strikes
You're Out" law. Lobbied and supported by Mark Klaas in the aftermath of
the 1993 kidnapping and murder of his 12-year-old daughter Polly Klaas,
the law allows judges to sentence twice-convicted felons to a minimum of
25 years in prison, regardless of the crime they are convicted of on the
third occasion.

These statutes became very popular in the 1990s. Enacted by state and
federal governments, three strikes laws significantly increase the
sentences of persons convicted of felonies who have previous convictions
of a violent crime or serious felony and limit the ability of these
offenders to receive a punishment other than a prison sentence. Violent
and serious felonies or offenses include murder, robbery of a residence in
which a deadly or dangerous weapon is used, rape and other sex offenses;
serious offenses include the same offenses defined as violent offenses,
but also include other crimes such as burglary of a residence and assault
with intent to commit a robbery or murder. Judges have no discretion in
length of incarceration; sentences are mandatory.

The practice of imposing longer prison sentences on repeat offenders
(versus first-time offenders who commit the same crime) is nothing new.
For example, New York State has a Persistent Felony Offender law that
dates back to the late 19th Century. The concept has evolved from what is
called habitual offender, a person who has repeatedly committed the same
crime. Various states and jurisdictions have laws targeting habitual
offenders that specifically provide for enhanced or exemplary punishments
or other sanctions. Designed to counter criminal recidivism, the nature,
scope and type of habitual offender statutes vary, but kick in as three
strike laws when a person has been convicted a minimum of twice for
various crimes.

The exact application of the three strikes laws varies considerably from
state to state. Some states require all three strike felony convictions to
be for violent crimes in order for the mandatory sentence to apply, while
others - most notably California - mandate the enhanced sentence for any
third felony conviction so long as the first two felonies were deemed to
be either "violent" or "serious," or both.

California has convicted 4,468 offenders on third strikes since 1994.
Roughly 2,700 received at least a 25 years-to-life sentence for nonviolent
and non-serious offenses. Nearly 75 percent of 2nd strikes and 50 percent
of 3rd strikes are for nonviolent and non-serious offenses. The most
common charges leveled against third-strike criminals involve drugs, theft
and burglary. Approximately 8,700 California inmates are currently serving
life sentences under the "three strikes" law.

Supporters of three strikes cite several benefits to society, namely, the
law is a fix for a flawed justice system by keeping repeat offenders in
prison, it provides a very effective deterrent after the 2nd conviction,
the media distort the true effectiveness of the law by focusing on trivial
cases (like someone stealing pizza) rather than violent perpetrators, and
the law applies to 3 convictions, not 3 crimes (i.e. criminals may get
away with several incidents). Conversely, those opposed to it say, the law
destroys flexibility of courts and judges, it is unjust in certain
conditions (victimless crimes, young offenders, etc.), two convictions
almost always guarantee the cost and time of a trial, plea bargains on the
first two convictions set felonies up for three strikes and it is a
violation of the 8th Amendment.

California is a classic case of applying harsh judicial solutions for
behaviors that are criminal but not deadly according to Barbara Ellis,
founder of Families of Incarcerated Loved One's (FILO)," Under three
strikes, we now have terminally ill and permanently medically
incapacitated prisoners in prison, and have eliminated the return to
society of those with administrative and technical parole violations,
nonviolent drug offends and those with minor offenses that were judged as
serious, creating a huge tax burden on citizens."

Criminologist Robert Parker says "We oversold the idea and included too
many minor offenses that resulted in this enormous overcrowding of prisons
which led to the Supreme Court case. It was all preventable. We can
reassure the public that we can release an estimated 40,000 prisoners who
pose very little risk of committing serious offenses and save almost $2

Three strikes measures were advertised as a way to keep violent predators
in prison. But the unintended consequences of cost have many communities
weighing the wisdom of their decision. Communities are learning that
warehousing criminals in prisons indefinitely after three convictions is
far more expensive than the cost of rehabilitation efforts at the
beginning of a life of crime. (Sources: , , ,

Hood Notes / Three Strikes Caused This Prison Problem

By Larry Gerston, Ph.D.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold a cap on the number of
California prisoners complicates the already cloudy California budget

Under the terms of the decision, California must release 36,000 prisoners
within five years because current overcrowded conditions constitute a
violation of the Eighth Amendment guarantee against cruel and unusual

The state now faces a daunting problem: either release prisoners outright
or build more prisons which are extremely costly. Given California's
touchy budget mess, it appears that the releases will take place, which
will no doubt cause concern in the communities to which the released
prisoners relocate.

It may also cause a headache for Calif. Governor Jerry Brown as the person
in charge of the state even though Brown has no responsibility for the

More than anything else, the problem was caused by the "three strikes"
initiative passed by voters in 1994, which allows judges to sentence
twice-convicted felons to a minimum of 25 years in prison, regardless of
the crime they are convicted of the third time.

Tens of thousands of prisoners are incarcerated because of that law, and
the state has failed to build enough facilities to house them.

The Supreme Court decision reveals another important fact--the extent to
which the federal courts may overrule a state law if judges see the law in
violation of U.S. constitutional guarantees. Arizona has learned this with
the overturn of its immigration legislation. And last year, several cities
including Chicago, had gun control laws overturned because, the Court
said, they were violating the 2nd Amendment rights of individuals.

Ironically, the Court's decisions on these types of issues in recent years
have actually empowered the states more times than not. But in the
California case, the state will pay the price for not keeping up with the
needs of its prisoner population.

Whether Jerry Brown pays the price as well remains to be seen. (Source:

News You Use / Private Prisons: Greed and Corruption

In the current economic environment, most states are experiencing fiscal
problems. Many are addressing budget shortfalls by selling or leasing
state assets and privatizing government services. In return, states
receive billions of dollars, which certainly help in reducing or closing
budget gaps. However, with the growth in prison populations, questions are
being raised about the efficacy of selling public prisons to private
enterprises, as well as building more private prisons. Some believe the
growth in the US prison population is due in part to greed and corruption.

According to an article published in the Columbus Dispatch that quoted
national studies showing the cost savings from private prisons are
minimal, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has solicited bids to sell five state
prisons to private companies. The prisons would be operated for-profit by
these companies. The article also implies the possibility of cronyism in
the Kasich prison deal. His close friend and campaign adviser, Donald
Thibaut is a lobbyist for Nashville-based CCA, the largest owner of
prisons. Other former Kasich campaign insiders, Robert F. Klaffky and
Douglas J. Preisse, are lobbying partners for the Boca Raton-based GEO
Group Inc., an industry leader in private correctional and detention

Besides the prospect of cronyism in the Ohio deal, which is probably not
an isolated situation, privately-owned prisons make a profit by cutting
costs, which means lower wages, reduced staff sizes and other cost-cutting
measures that can lead to a less secure environment for inmates, the staff
and the public. The profit motive also provides opportunities for
corruption, as in the case of two Pennsylvania judges, Mark Ciavarella and
Michael Conahan, who were convicted of sentencing juveniles to a
privately-owned prison for relatively minor offenses
. In return for
incarcerating these young people, the judges received millions of dollars
in kickbacks.

Unquestionably, when private companies purchase public assets, including
prisons, they receive a good rate of return on their investment. At first
blush, this appears to be a win-win proposition for all parties. However,
a closer examination shows greed and corruption play prominent roles in
the nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated in US prisons. For a brief
report by Gayane Chichakyan on this situation, log on to .

Politics Y2K11 / Florida's Racist New Law

By Mansfield Frazier

A new Florida rule stops felons from voting long after they've served
their time. Is it tough-on-crime posturing—or a way to keep Obama from
winning the state in 2012?

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with
one out of every 32 Americans locked up or on probation or parole at any
given time. But some lawmakers think that's not quite harsh enough.

Prisoner reentry was turned into a political football in Florida on
Wednesday when newly elected Governor Rick Scott, at the urging of State
Attorney General Pam Bondi, swiftly changed the rules governing when
felons' rights are restored in the state after they're released from
prison. Moving with speed characteristic of tin-horn dictators in banana
republics, Scott and the Florida cabinet imposed a five-year wait period
on restoring many rights to individuals convicted of nonviolent crimes,
and a seven-year wait for those convicted of violent crimes. Additionally,
those in the latter category must have a hearing before a clemency board
that will determine if their civil and voting rights are to be restored.
"Felons seeking restoration of civil rights demonstrate they desire and
deserve clemency only after they show they're willing to abide by the
law," Scott said.

But whether the move was simply tough-on-crime posturing or something more
nefarious remains an open question. Howard Simon of the Florida ACLU
recalls the hotly contested 2000 presidential election in which George W.
Bush carried the state by the slimmest of margins and was declared the
victor only after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. He suggests that
the new law might have been designed to deny voting rights to as many
people as possible before the 2012 presidential election. "The unseemly
haste and lack of transparency suggests clearly that this was politics
disguised as public policy," Simon said.

Cleveland State University Urban Studies Associate Professor Ronnie Dunn
has written extensively on how, since the advent of the Jim Crow era,
unfair laws have been enacted— particularly in Southern states—to deny
blacks the right to vote. Writing in a soon-to-be-released handbook on
prisoner reentry, he describes how poll taxes, literacy tests, and
property ownership were devices routinely used to suppress the black vote
and unfairly affect election outcomes.

Florida now joins two other states, Kentucky and Virginia, in having the
most severe restrictions on former felons voting and other rights, such as
serving on juries and holding certain professional licenses. Five black
Florida lawmakers joined a chorus of civil-rights advocates in objecting
to the rule changes, saying no evidence existed that the abandoned
process, which was approved by former Gov. Charlie Crist and the former
cabinet in 2007, was not working.

"It's really not about what's right or fair," said Ken Lumpkin, an
attorney and political activist in Cleveland. "This is about stealing
elections and hurting an individual's chances of starting over after
prison. If felons had had the franchise in Florida back in 2000, over a
million more people would have been eligible to vote, and the election
would not have been close enough for the Supreme Court to give it to Bush.
What this new governor is doing is rolling back the clock on minority
rights. And with Republican governors and legislative majorities in states
like Ohio and Wisconsin, no one should be surprised if they try to change
the rules in those states also. If that happens, a Democratic candidate
for president won't stand a chance."

Indeed, incoming Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, among other changes,
wants to stop county boards of elections from mailing unsolicited absentee
ballots to voters and limit the window of time they have to cast them.
Democrats, however, charge that Husted's proposals are designed to
discourage voting, especially in big urban counties.

Ohio State Rep. Michael Stinziano (D-Columbus), the former director of the
Franklin County Board of Elections, said it would be "bad public policy"
to prevent county boards from soliciting and paying postage for absentee
ballots. The service, he said, alleviated long lines at polling places
(such as those that marred the county's 2004 presidential election) that
caused some elderly voters to walk away without voting.

Back in Florida, state NAACP Vice Chairman Dale Landry said that
individuals who have completed their sentences have paid their debt to
society in full and should be allowed to vote. "Why do we come back and
impose a further penalty?" he asked. "What we're saying is that… the state
wants to impose further sentencing, an additional penalty. That's exactly
what was done here."

The clemency board did not release the proposed rule changes to the public
until moments before the meeting, and limited public testimony to two
minutes per person for a total of 30 minutes before unanimously approving
the changes. State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked for a
slower, more detailed explanation of the changes, saying he "didn't have
much time" to read them since he got the proposal so late.

"Why the rush to go back to where we started from?" asked Sen. Arthenia
Joyner (D-Tampa).

During the testimony period, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion
Sancho accused the clemency board of turning back the clock to Florida's
post-Civil War era by imposing restrictions "whose sole purpose was to
ensure that the former slaves of this state could never reintegrate into
the society and be able to vote." Sancho said the process was "a stain on
the State of Florida, and will ensure a permanent underclass of
underemployed individuals." (Source:


Disgruntled says: When an ordinary individual is harmed as a result of the
abusive practices of a company, medical malpractice or actions of another
individual, the courts and civil lawsuits are the only recourse for
restitution to make the aggrieved person whole, pay medical bills, recoup
lost wages and punish the abuser. As a result, the United States is a
litigious society. However, according to the public relations arms of big
business, too often these lawsuits are "frivolous," meaning they lack
merit, lead to higher insurance premiums, higher prices and burden the
court system. With generous campaign contributions and the ability to
purchase favorable media, big business has worked tirelessly to limit the
ability of individuals to bring suits against bad actors and to cap the
dollar amount awarded injured parties through "tort reform." Basically,
"tort reform" allows bad actors to obfuscate and minimize the consequences
of their behavior. Only in the United States are young people imprisoned
for long terms for minor offenses, while, thanks in large part to the
incestuous relationship between government and business, the real bad
guys, those that profit from destroying millions of lives and polluting
the environment, are allowed to escape unscathed with a free reign to
prey. Unfortunately, this is the American way

Disgruntled feels: Fear-mongering! Following the US Supreme Court decision
ordering the release of thousands of California prison inmates on the
grounds that their overcrowded living conditions constitute "cruel and
unusual punishment," the Merced County sheriff and chairman of the state's
sheriffs' association, Mark Pazin, declared, "We’re bracing for the worst
and hoping for the best. This potential tsunami of inmates being released
would have such an impact on local communities. Each of those who would be
released have really earned their pedigree as a criminal. It could create
real havoc." Such comments are designed to instill fear -- the public
should be afraid of these people-- even though most are non-violent
offenders. Pazin’s remarks also ignore the fact that these people would
have eventually returned to their communities had the Supreme Court not
acted. Rather than this fear-mongering, public officials should be working
to remove the barriers that prevent the effective integration of these
people back into the socioeconomic and political mainstream. If we have
anything to fear, it is the blowback from the onerous legal barriers that
ostracize former inmates, prevent them from securing gainful employment
and bar them from voting and receiving social services.

Disgruntled wants to know: On the morning of May 5, a SWAT team stormed
the home of Iraq War veteran Jose Guerena to serve a search warrant.
Within moments of their arrival, he was dead, having been struck at least
60 times by the barrage of bullets fired by Pima County sheriff's
deputies, who thought they were storming the Tucson home of a dangerous
drug trafficker. No drugs were found at the Guerena residence. And,
according to documents and a statement later issued by the Pima County
Sheriff's Department, Guerena had the safety on the rifle he was holding
when deputies opened fire. When police are trained to shoot first and ask
questions later, invariably the very citizens they are sworn to protect
and serve become victims of police deadly force. We see a lot of this in
black communities across the country. A police officer only has to feel
threatened to legally kill a black person. Consequently, black people have
frequently felt threatened, rather than safe and secure, in the presence
of police. With the death of a war veteran under suspicious circumstances,
the growing use of warrants that allow agents to enter homes without the
owners’ knowledge, warrantless wiretapping, the use of torture,
restrictions on free speech, including dancing at the Jefferson Memorial
(see , FBI surveillance, etc., what
is the real difference between the United States and other police states?