Oct 18, 2013 UN Official comes to Berkeley: LONG TERM SOLITARY CONFINEMENT VIOLATES INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW
Why does the US put so many people behind bars and what lies behind California's new push for leniency?
People and Power last Modified: 01 Nov 2012 14:40
By filmmakers Michael Montgomery and Monica Lam
The US locks up more people than any other country in the world, spending over $80billion each year to keep some two million prisoners behind bars. Over the past three decades, tough sentencing laws have contributed to a doubling of the country's prison population, with laws commonly known as 'three strikes and you're out' mandating life sentences for a wide range of crimes.
But a clear sign that Americans are rethinking crime and punishment is a voter's initiative on California's November ballot called Proposition 36 that seeks to reform the state's three-strikes law. Some 27 states have three-strikes laws patterned after California's version, which was one of the first to be enacted in the country.
Since it was passed in 1994, nearly 9,000 felons have been convicted in California under the law.
One of them is Norman Williams, a 49-year-old African-American man who was a crack addict living on the streets. He was convicted of burglarising an empty home and later stealing an armload of tools from an art studio. His third strike: filching a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. His fate sealed under California's three-strikes law, Williams was sent to a maximum security prison [for a life sentence] alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.
"I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that," Williams says.
Williams was lucky. After 13 years behind bars, his case was reviewed by a judge and he was released. He is one of about two dozen 'three strikers' who have won sentence reductions through the work of a Stanford University law clinic founded by Michael Romano. In Williams' case, the prosecutor actually agreed that the original sentence was too harsh. An idea emerged from Romano's work: Why not draft a ballot initiative to ensure that sentences like Williams' will not be repeated?
"When people originally passed the three-strikes law in 1994 the campaigns were about keeping serious and violent murderers, child molesters in prison for the rest of their lives," Romano says. "I think that's what people want and are kind of shocked to hear that people have been sentenced to life for petty theft."
Statement to the Streets and All Youth Lock-ups
Last summer, people held in the SHU - Security Housing Unit - at Pelican Bay State Prison declared a hunger strike to protest the cruel and inhumane conditions inside. The hunger strikespread to more than 7,000 people locked up in California prisons. People from all "sides" - blacks,whites, Asians, Surenos and Nortenos put all politics behind and came together to demand their human rights.
On this day, October 10, 2012, the men in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay are againleading all of us. They have called for "an end to all hostilities" within our state's prisons and jails. After doing so much time, the men in the Pelican Bay SHU have realized that they are being recycled over and over through the same dead-end system. For all of us, there must be a cut off point - a time at which we stop participating in our own destruction.
As young people who have experienced bloodshed on the streets of Los Angeles, and the violence and humiliation within juvenile halls, Probation camps and Division of Juvenile Justice Youth Prisons, we are also calling for an end to the war between the youth.
I’ve been eating well this summer, enjoying the local fruits and vegetables of northwest California, while sixty miles away a group of men risked their health by refusing to eat for three weeks. I’m in Big Lagoon, surrounded by ocean, lagoon, and forest in an area of coastal California described by National Geographic as among the top twenty “unspoiled” tourist destinations in the world. An hour’s drive north of here is Pelican Bay State Prison, a state-of-the-art hellhole that was recently the center of a three-week hunger strike led by prisoners in the Secure Housing Units (SHU).
August 1st: INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST & SOLIDARITY WITH THE PRISON HUNGER STRIKERS
In support and respect for the courageous prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison and other prisons all around California, whose July 2011 hunger strike challenged the inhumane conditions of the Security Housing Units [the SHU] and inspired the support of people far and wide—we now call on people of conscience everywhere across the U.S. and beyond, to join in an International Day of Protest and Solidarity with the Prison Hunger Strikers on Monday, August 1, 2011.
The Hunger Strikers achieved real success: the conditions of systematic abuse and torture in the SHU—and widespread thru the prison system—were dragged into the light of day. Their original five core demands have now been acknowledged—although not yet met—by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), which promised to consider them. On Monday, August 1 many diverse people and organizations will publicly speak out and act in support of these demands. Prisoners must gain the human rights and civil rights demanded by their very humanity—and by ours outside the prison walls too, wherever we may be. We insist there must be NO RETALIATION by the authorities against individual prisoners, groups of prisoners, prisoners’ family members or attorneys or other advocates, in the wake of the Hunger Strike. (And we will be paying attention.) Let us show on August 1 that the prisoners do not stand alone, through our demonstrations, rallies, religious services, fasts, call-the-governor-days, art and music, taking to the airwaves thru talk show and other call-ins, and many other public, visual, and creative expressions. Send word of your plans to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow news and information at prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
Over the past several months, a growing shortage of the drug, sodium thiopental, has forced some states to put executions on hold.
And the problem is likely to get worse with the announcement from Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Illinois.
'We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment,' Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said. 'Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take.' Italian Health Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.