United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness

Jail and prison staff throughout the United States have used unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released last week.

The 127-page report, “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” details incidents in which correctional staff have deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. Staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their death.

Staff in US correctional facilities are authorized to use force when necessary to control dangerous or highly disruptive prisoners. But as Human Rights Watch found, staff at times respond with violence when prisoners engage in behavior that is symptomatic of their mental health problems and even when it is minor and non-threatening, such as urinating on the floor, using profane language, banging on a cell door, masturbating, complaining about not receiving a meal, or refusing to come out of a cell. Staff also sometimes use force to punish inmates who annoy or anger them.

via United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness | Human Rights Watch.

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Guilty of Mental Illness

Criminalizing mental illness is costly, inhumane and counterproductive. On average it costs $143 a day to incarcerate someone who is not mentally ill, but twice as much if the individual has a psychiatric condition and requires doctor’s care, medication and extra security. Experts say the money used to lock people up could be better spent helping people get the mental health and other social services they need to live productive, meaningful lives.

Many are incarcerated for committing survival crimes, offenses involving people trying to get something to eat, find a place to sleep and just get by. Incarceration can also exacerbate psychiatric illness…

 

via Guilty of Mental Illness.

 

 

 

Dehumanization and Violence

Who is considered a valued part of the community, and who is considered expendable? Answering these questions requires examining the hate frame.

Hate violence is symbolic: It declares the superiority of one group of people over another. Those targeted are symbolically presented as psychically or physically disposable; the violence is a ritual of degradation.

Hate violence is society’s visible eruption of long-standing practices of injustice that are expressed in a multitude of ordinary ways. Transformative change can only occur by first understanding how hate violence is inextricably bound to broader social and political systems.

via Imagining Social Justice as a Communal Process.

Guilty of Being Poor

Here’s something you might not know about Ferguson, Missouri: In this city of 21,000 people, 16,000 have outstanding arrest warrants. In fact, in 2013 alone, authorities issued 9,000 warrants for over 32,000 offenses.

That’s one-and-a-half offenses for every resident of Ferguson in just one year.

Most of the warrants are for minor offenses such as traffic or parking violations. And they’re part of a structural pattern of abuse, according to a recent Department of Justice investigation.

The damning report found that the city prioritized aggressive revenue collection over public safety. It documented unconstitutional policing, violations of due process, and racial bias against the majority black population.

One woman’s story illustrates what’s happening to more and more people as municipal revenues become the focus of police departments all over the country.

It began with a parking ticket back in 2007, which saddled a low-income black woman with a $151 fine and extra fees. In economic distress and frequently homeless, she was unable to pay. So she was hit with new fines and fees — and eventually an arrest warrant that landed her in jail.

By 2010, she’d paid the court $550 for the single parking violation, but more penalties had accrued. She attempted to make payments of $25 and $50, but the court rejected those partial installments.

Even after being jailed and paying hundreds of dollars above the original fine, she still owes the court $541 — all because she lacked the money to pay the initial fees.

This woman’s story is repeating itself in town after town.

It’s even worse for the homeless. A majority of cities now prohibit sitting or lying down in public, and nearly a quarter make it a crime to ask for food or money.

via Guilty of Being Poor | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

It’s Not Just Ferguson

English: Timeline of yearly U.S criminal justi...

The Department of Justice confirmed on March 8 what many of Ferguson’s residents have been saying, and protesting against, for months: the city racks up millions of dollars each year in fines and court fees by illegally harassing its black population. What the federal government did not say, however, is that the practice of criminalizing black people to raise money for police and court systems is not rare; local governments across the country have been doing it for years—ironically, to offset the spiraling costs of the incarceration boom of the past three decades.

In an afternoon press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder described Ferguson as “a community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue.” Holder said the pressure to keep revenue flowing has generated constitutional violations at “nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system”—including inappropriate use of force.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement—the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” said Holder, later adding, “Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.”

Holder’s conclusion, coming after an in-depth, six-month investigation in Ferguson, could have easily described many cities and local jurisdictions across the country.

Ironically, the trend appears to have been driven by the incarceration wave that preceded it. Many of the laws that states now use to impose court fees and fines were passed in the 1990s and early 2000’s. “Jurisdictions began to look for sources of funding to support their criminal justice systems,” explains Alexes Harris, a sociologist at the University of Washington who is researching the topic now.

“As a result of…hyper-incarceration that began in the mid-1970’s, systems of government could no longer afford what they were doing. Essentially, policy makers decided to shift the burden of the costs of prosecution, incarceration and criminal justice management onto the backs of the people it processed.”

While the court fees and fines generate revenue, Harris argues they are also about social control. “The legal justification for creating layers and layers of policies that allow courts to assess fines and fees from traffic tickets to misdemeanors to felony offenses is that jurisdictions need money to run their systems of justice. But in practice—in effect—the system turns into a strict system of control, and this control is over poor people.”

via It’s Not Just Ferguson | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens

The Obama administration on Thursday issued a report accusing the Cleveland police department of using excessive and deadly force against citizens in violation of their constitutional rights, the latest development in a growing national debate over the fairness of local police tactics, especially in minority communities.

According to the Justice Department report, Cleveland police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unnecessary force — including shooting residents, striking them in the head and spraying them with chemicals. The Justice Department and the city agreed to establish an independent monitor to oversee changes in the police department, including better training and supervision of officers. And the Justice Department urged Cleveland civic leaders to hold police accountable for their improper actions when necessary.

“In recent days, millions of people throughout the nation have come together — bound by grief and anguish — in response to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference. “The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans . . . have raised urgent national questions. And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.’’

via Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens, Justice Department probe finds – The Washington Post.

America, we have a problem

Too many times the criminal justice system tells black people their lives do not matter. That’s why Ferguson was not alone in its demonstrations Monday night. We’ve seen the not so subtle, dehumanizing reminders play out so many times this year alone — reminders that the rules don’t apply to people of color and whites in quite the same way.

Back in August, for example, KDVR-TV reported 18-year-old Steve Lohner walked the streets of Aurora, Colorado — the scene of the horrific 2012 movie theater shootings — with a loaded shotgun around his shoulder. Though Colorado is an open carry state, the 911 calls poured in. Police arrived and calmly asked the teen for his ID. He refused, saying he was carrying the gun “for the defense of myself and those around me.”

On the video the teen captured during the confrontation, an officer speaks to him with his hands down, tucked in his belt — and not on his gun. Do you honestly believe a black teenager would have the same experience? Especially when you consider that same month, in Ohio — also an open carry state — a 911 call was made about a man with a gun in Walmart. Store surveillance video shows John Crawford III picking up a pellet gun in the toy department before stopping by the pet supplies aisle. He was on the phone with the mother of his two children. Within seconds of police entering the store he was shot, according to news reports.

We still have a race problem in this country. And too many of us work harder at denying race has anything to do with the world we live in today than listening and empathizing with those who are hurting. But tell me, at what point will the kinds of killings that we are seeing time after time after time across this country be described as what they are?

Racism.

via On Ferguson: America, we have a problem Opinion – CNN.com.