Tag Archives: Prisons

A New Vision for Youth Justice: Imagining a World Without Youth Prisons

On any given day 50,000 youth are incarcerated in America’s juvenile justice system.  Seemingly harmless names like “training schools” and “academies” are used to obfuscate an archipelago of youth prison environments sprawled across the US where minors are subjected to restraints, brutal violence, and the use of solitary confinement. A group called the Youth First Initiative is taking aim at these facilities with a simple demand, #NoKidsInPrison

Youth First is a growing national constellation of organizations from Kansas, Virginia, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and New Jersey that launched in 2015 with a goal of closing youth prisons.  The coalition’s tireless efforts have already lead to commitments to close 5 facilities in 4 states, with many more joining a growing list of facilities under scrutiny from state and federal authorities.  This Friday, the Larned Juvenile Correctional Center in Kansas will close after 45 years of operation. The closure of this medium/high security facility, designed to imprison 170 youth, marks a significant victory for Kansans United for Youth Justice, part of the Youth First Initiative.

After successful campaigning by Kansans United for Youth Justice and The Youth First Initiative, the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility is slated for closure on Friday, March 3, 2017

Today’s political climate underscores the importance of Youth First’s work. While youth incarceration has been on the decline for over a decade (due in part to the efforts of Youth First and myriad other juvenile justice advocates) signals from Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions raise concerns that the youth prison complex may see renewed vigor.

This short film about Youth First’s efforts was produced by our partners at Balestra Media on behalf of Youth First, with direction from Sparrow’s cofounder Andy Stepanian, Christina DiPasquale of Balestra Media and Jeffrey Wirth of Burning Hearts Media.  A full credit list is included below.

Follow Youth First’s work on Twitter, Facebook, or their website

CREDITS
Produced by Balestra Media for The Youth First Initiative
Andy Stepanian, Creative Direction
Jeffrey Wirth, Director of Photography
Christina DiPasquale, Storyboarding
Carrie Cervantes, Color Correction

ADDITIONAL IMAGES BY
Calamari Productions
Richard Ross Studio
Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections
Mark Standquist
Elizabeth Williams
You Tube
Google Earth
Pond5
Video Hive

Cecily McMillan Presser

Cecily McMillan Released from Rikers Island: Uses Platform to Challenge Systemic Injustices Incarcerated Women Face Daily

[NEW YORK, NY] Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street.

This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012.

The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST:

“Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

“Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Rikers isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed are aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restoring dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

“First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.

“The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently. About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

“After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

“Our next demand is that Corrections Officers should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

“Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

“Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower re-incarceration rates.

“We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are given. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

“Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”

Cecily McMillan is a New York City activist and graduate student wrongfully imprisoned for felony assault of a police officer after an incident at an Occupy Wall Street event on March 17, 2012. Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and lifted her into the air, at which other officers joined Officer Bovell in beating McMillan until she had a series of seizures. She was convicted on May 5th after a trial in which Judge Ronald Zweibel disallowed key pieces of evidence from the defense. On May 19th she was sentenced to a 90-day sentence and 5 years of probation after a large public campaign for leniency, which included an appeal to the judge signed by 9 of the 12 jurors, who thought she should be given no further jail time. The sentence on this charge is typically a term of 2-7 years of incarceration.

No Separate Justice: Advocates & Families Impacted by the “War on Terror” Launch New Campaign Challenging Prosecutorial Overreach & Unjust Incarceration

No Separate Justice: Advocates & Families Impacted by the “War on Terror” Launch New Campaign Challenging Prosecutorial Overreach & Unjust Incarceration

[NEW YORK, NY]   On January 7, 2014, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Educators for Civil Liberties, CUNY School of Law’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project, and Amnesty International USA will host a panel discussion to launch  “No Separate Justice: A Post-9/11 Domestic Human Rights Campaign.” This new campaign aims to shed light on and end a pattern of human rights and civil liberties abuses in “War on Terror” cases in the criminal justice system.

A focal point of this new effort will be monthly vigils held outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in lower Manhattan, a federal detention center where people accused of terrorism-related offenses have been held in solitary confinement for years, even before they have been tried.

The panel will include discussion of the case of Syed Fahad Hashmi, who is currently serving a 15-year sentence at the federal “supermax” prison in Colorado on material support charges, after three years of pre-trial solitary confinement and Special Administrative Measures at the MCC in New York. It will highlight efforts by the Center for Constitutional Rights and allies to challenge Fahad’s inhumane conditions of confinement, and show how Fahad’s treatment is part of a pattern of rights violations in other “War on Terror” cases, based on extensive research into terrorism prosecutions. Family members of other federal terrorism prisoners will also participate on the panel.

This January 7 campaign-launch event dovetails with a year-long series, “America After 9/11” – a collaboration between The Nation and Educators for Civil Liberties – which features monthly articles examining facets of the domestic “War on Terror.”

SPEAKERS WILL INCLUDE

 


lilianna
Liliana Segura
Specializing in the prison industrial complex and harsh sentencing Liliana is a former editor at The Nation magazine and is currently a founding partner at Glenn Greenwald’s new public service journalism venture, First Look.

 


Pardiss
Pardiss Kebriaei
Pardiss is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center Constitutional Rights, which she joined in 2007. Her work focuses on challenging government abuses post-9/11, including in the areas of “targeted killing“ and unjust detentions at Guantanamo and in the federal system. Pardiss represents Fahad Hashmi.


Tamer


Tamer Mehanna

Tamer’s brother, Tarek Mehanna, was convicted under broad allegations of “material support to terrorists” for 1st amendment protected activities, and is currently imprisoned at the Federal Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, IN.


sonali
Sonali Sadequee

Sonali’s brother, Ehsanul “Shifa” Sadequee, was held for three years in pre-trial solitary confinement while charged under the “material support” statute and is currently incarcerated at the Federal Communications Management Unit in Terre Haute, IN. As a member of the Sadequee family and Free Shifa Campaign, Sonali organizes and speaks publicly to expose the inherent injustices of the War on Terror and the prison complex.


sarah
Sarah Khasawinah

Sarah is a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a friend of the Abu-Ali family and will be speaking on behalf of Ahmed Abu-Ali (sentenced to life in prison based on a confession he maintains was coerced through torture while in a Saudi prison). Since 2005 Ahmed has been in held in solitary confinement. He is currently at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, CO.


Tarek2
Tarek Ismail

As a fellow at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute Tarek develops research and policy at the intersection of human rights and U.S. counterterrorism policies, with a particular focus on issues affecting Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities in the United States, including racial profiling, selective prosecution, and the use of informants and sting operations.


faisal
Faisal Hashmi

Co-founder of the Muslim Justice Initiative. Faisal’s brother, Fahad, was accused of providing material support to Al-Qaeda. He is currently being held in solitary confinement at the Federal “Supermax” Prison, ADX-Florence, Colorado.


WHAT: Panel Discussion & Launch Event
WHEN: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 | 7:00pm-9:00pm
WHERE: Judson Memorial Church | 55 Washington Square South, New York 10012
INFO: Facebook RSVP | media RSVP andy@sparrowmedia.net

To arrange an interview with any of the speakers & presenters please email or text Andy Stepanian at andy@sparrowmedia.net or 631.291.3010

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Johnny Cash Could Teach Peter King a Thing (or two) About Prison-Born Terrorism Plots

Yesterday Congressman Peter King held his second hearing into radicalization within Islamic communities in the United States. This hearing focused on the potential for radicalization within the state and federal prison industrial complexes, specifically highlighting a conspiracy by four California men to wage war against the United States through attacks against military recruitment facilities and other targets in and around Los Angeles in 2005. One of the four men, Levar Washington, who pled guilty to his involvement in the plot was confined to the same secretive federal prison program I was confined to in 2008 for my involvement in an animal rights protest campaign. Levar and I became friends while incarcerated together, we were both young, we were both vegetarians, we would work out together every day, we would discuss spirituality, politics, and every Friday we would sit together and watch animal planet’s ‘Whale Wars’ show on the prison TV. It was an unwritten code in prison to not ask much about someone’s case unless they brought it up in conversation first, so I never learned about Levar’s charges until one afternoon he opened up to me…

Pter King Hearings

Levar, a once-outspoken member of the Rolling Sixties Crips had spent his adolescent and teen years in the California juvenile corrections system, he eventually turned 18 and served the remainder of his time on the yards of some of California’s hardest state penitentiaries — Pelican Bay, CSP, Sacramento, and Folsom State Penitentiary. His life on the yard was one of constant oppression, violence, and sorrow. Levar would spend weeks and sometimes months segregated in the “Hole” or “S.H.U.” (Secure Housing Unit).  It was in the hole at Folsom State Penitentiary that Levar first picked up the Quran. Also segregated to the hole at Folsom was Levar’s future co-conspirator Shakyh Shahaab Murshid (born to the name Kevin James) and during their time together in the hole Kevin turned Levar onto Islam and onto a secret organization he founded in 1997 called Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS) Arabic for The Assembly of Authentic Islam. Levar’s foiled terror plot years later was to be claimed by JIS according to a pre-drafted press release FBI agents found on the floor of his apartment during his arrest.

Johnny Cash at Folsom State Prison.  “Folsom Prison Blues” Cash’s song about the daily oppression of prisoner life highlights the desperation of men living behind Folsom’s walls.   It was from this yard, rife with oppression, that Levar Washington and Kevin James allegedly hatched their 2005 failed terror plot…

Cash’s words resonated with the Folsom men and prisoners everywhere, a stark contrast to the xenophobic rhetoric Congressman Peter King and some of his hand-selected witnesses used when trying to quantify prisoner radicalization.  King and the “expert witnesses” displayed that the lens from which they view these serious issues through, retards their ability to confront real life issues of oppression and violence that impact all of us… For Levar the Qur’an answered his questions about justice, it gave his life a new meaning, it healed old wounds, and his relationship with the text was purely restorative. Peter King’s witnesses made an attempt to argue that it was the cherry-picking of the scripture itself or Islam by it’s very nature that led Levar down the path that eventually ended with his involvement in a terror plot years later. King’s hearings did so without fully acknowledging the oppression, violence, and conflict that enveloped Levar Washington’s life prior to his introduction to the faith. It may be easier for King to scapegoat a religion and chase fictitious bad guys in a system he does not fully understand then begin to address the all-too-real looming problems of disempowerment in inner city communities, xenophobia, failing foreign policies, poverty, and lack of education. All of these factors enable and encourage radicalization to a greater extent then religious scriptures do.

King however is not alone with his approach. How often do we as a culture search for quick fixes to myriad ailments while disregarding our need to make lifestyle changes that challenge our personal comfort. From deeply personal individual battles with cancer to the global war on terror, human responses to these acute onslaughts are almost always reactionary and seldom preventative. Amidst the immediacy of our tragedies we rarely question what brought us to those malignant moments –instead we desperately reach for quick fixes– surgery, chemotherapy, torture, carpet-bombing. In the global war on terror preventative medicine is often practiced as pre-emptive military action, rendition, entrapment, torture, and sanctions. These means never challenge the cultural roots of the problem and often actually serve as a tool for recruitment. Like flourishing bacterial cultures in a petri dish, terrorism is a symptomatic cultural reflex that can be easily seen growing out of its own hospitable environments. Levar Washington is a reactionary by-product to poverty, oppression, and a life of incarceration, not a terrorist recruit of the Quran. Until King begins to acknowledge the predicate problems that spawn terror plots he will continue chasing his own xenophobic tail, will continue to offend America’s beautiful Islamic communities and will continue waisting US taxpayer money.