Category Archives: Prison Abolition

The Illusion of Individualism

The people who believe “crime” is an individual act are still trapped in the illusion of individualism. They are unwilling to see their responsibility in the situation and that until society is healed crime will be a problem and incarceration will increase.

 

Furthermore, the profit motive of the prison industrial complex only serves to interrupt the process of seeking alternatives to incarcerating youth.

 

Blaming and punishing youth, whom it is our responsibility to socialize, for our failure to properly instruct them and providing them an environment in which they can thrive is wrong. That is blame-shifting and it is destroying the fabric of our society.

 

One of the biggest problems the illusion of individualism has create is the destruction of our human necessity for interdependence. One of the factors is simply the size of our society because its very structure denies participation on a level that is necessary to foster interdependence. In a civilization that is so disparate and where participation so minimal the agency and control by people over their environment is fleeting at best. Major corporations are also culprits in this regard. When I refer to creating an environment conducive to the development of youth, I am thinking about an environment that has a foundation of interdependence. When your neighbor is the one growing the food you eat, and you are producing the tools they need to farm it creates a motivation to not harm those we depend upon for survival. Intra-communal violence and harm are reduced by necessity and when the people simultaneously may express more control and agency over their own environments many of the other factors that lead into “crime” are averted. The people will have more time and opportunity to socialize the youth and can elect the method and manner in which they are socialize them that is localized to the needs of the community, not standardized to an entire civilization in a manner that may have no meaning to the youth.

 

Individualism, hierarchical systems of power and control, and agency are the major factors to the ills of our society, and as such, are the major component of the prison industrial complex and why most Amerikans are afraid to even consider an alternative to incarceration. Furthermore, the indoctrination that most Amerikans have received systematically denies the very type of shift we need to occur, and thus, they deny the evolution our society needs in order to thrive healthily.

What is Really Going On

Street crime, drug addiction, and delinquency have been asserted to be the result of the immorality of the impoverished. Therefore, poverty, which is a human creation, that is, it is an institution which is being blamed for the depravity of the people in our society. The extension of this is that those who are most disenfranchised and without the power to influence and shape society are being blamed for the creation of the institution of poverty. Yet, there cannot be poverty if there is not the massive consolidation of wealth. Thus, if the object of the “Tough on Crime” and “War on Drugs” campaigns that lead to the development and expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex were really to heal the immorality of our society, then the most obvious solution given the underlying assumptions would have been to eliminate poverty and diminish the pervasive disparities of this country. This would mean that the best method and strategy to limit the harms that occur in our society is to redistribute the control of wealth merely beyond the threshold of their being people who are impoverished. It is not the case that people do not want to work yet, it is the case that many cannot afford to work because the minimum wage in most states does not even begin to permit a family to escape poverty. When a person has a forty hour work week and still has to rely on welfare to eat and maintain a place to live, and at the end of the month are still in poverty is the quintessential example of the creation and maintenance of a system of impoverishment. But, this solution has been rejected because it is believed to present too much of a short-term burden in exchange for a long-term peace and moral maturity. Those who claim to be the most concerned with the immorality and depravity of our society, and who are also the most responsible for their existence, are also least interested in doing what is necessary to solve the problems they themselves have created. Instead, to retain their comforts and privilege they blame the people least responsible and most disenfranchised, while expanding the penal code and criminalizing even the smallest infractions, that are then arbitrarily enforced by the police institution, to put these people behind bars to further fatten the pockets of those most responsible by increasing the prison labor pool.

Prison Divestment

A public institution that only has about 3% Black folx as undergraduate students also has investments in prisons, while the school to prison pipeline is syphoning P.O.C. and Black children into incarceration by the thousands each year. There is a major inconsistency here. The University of Washington claims to have a Racial and Equity Initiative and, to be open and accessible to everyone and yet it is profiting and benefitting from the same system that permitted and promoted the executions of:

#MichaelBrown #TrevonMartin #EricGarner #RekiaBoyd #FreddyGrey #SandraBland #CheTaylor #JohnTWilliams #EmmittTill #MalcomX #MLK #FredHampton

What they tell us is that they do not know if it is financially responsible for them to divest from prisons and what we are telling them is that financial responsibility does not matter in this case; social responsibility does.

Stand with us! SIGN THIS PETITION! Get involved. Do something. And don’t just let the world and I justice continue unchecked either because you think you cannot make a difference or because you do not think it concerns you. It does concern you and you can make a diffetence. You are a fully rational human being with the agency to help shape the world around you.

I am counting on you. We all are.

#PrisonDivestment

#BlackLivesMatter

Petition:

https://www.change.org/p/university-of-washington-divest-uw-s-endowment-from-prisons-and-reinvest-in-survivors-of-incarceration?recruiter=52405116&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=share_facebook_responsive&utm_term=mob-xs-share_petition-custom_msg&fb_ref=Default

Song About the Prison Industrial Complex (History

Project 180: An Alternative to Incarcerating Youth

I had the privilege and the honor to sit in on a 180 Program session, which is an alternative to incarceration that has been in effect since 2012, and I had both my mind and heart blown away by what I witnessed. I was already impressed that the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office created this program. However, after I met Coach Dom (Dominique Wheeler-Davis) the program director, by accident at Urban Impact, whose mission is to “Partner with families and communities to break the cycle of social, material, and spiritual poverty,” when I was recovering a schoolbook I had left behind after I attended a Restorative Justice meeting, I was thoroughly impressed and very excited. This happenstance meeting occurred shortly after the Seattle City Council voted unanimously on Resolution 31614 “Zero Use of Detention for youth” on September 21, 2015. A resolution is not a law, and as such, it is not legally binding, but it is the direction that the City of Seattle is moving. By definition, a resolution is a firm decision to do or not to do something. In political and legal terms, a resolution is the official position of the legislative body, such as, how the body will function. Furthermore, it is not intended that the resolution will be applied eternally, but rather, for a limited time and acutely focused. In the case of Resolution 31614, Seattle City Council is focusing its attention on alternatives to incarcerating youth that is community led. So, the chance meeting with Coach Dom, and the invitation to Project 180 was clandestine.

Project 180 is nonetheless, a community led program, even though they are partnering with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and as such will fit the resolution the City Council passed. Te program has had, and is having a positive impact on the lives of over 1500 youth in King County since 2012. The program is, in my opinion, limited by its focus on misdemeanor offenses, not limited in its impact in the lives of those who can participate in the program because of the threshold between felony and misdemeanor. Notwithstanding that limit, Project 180, is still able to assist over 300 youth in King County per year. That is 300 people who may not have to suffer the stigmatizing affects of a criminal background and the ostracization that often accompanies such a background in terms of limited educational and employment opportunities. I am going to let the program and its facilitators speak for themselves in this video:

I went to the Law School at Seattle University on September 26, 2015 to observe Project 180 thinking I was going to see a loosely structured, meeting and what I was greeted with was discipline and purpose.  The organizers of the event had an entire panel prepared with a mix of men, women and young people who all had their own stories of making 180s in their lives. Most of the speakers were people of color, though not all, and the participants in the program were from many backgrounds and ethnicities. In addition to the youth who were there to seek an alternative resolution to the criminal justice system, their parents were also in the room engaging in the program with them. This was something that I had not expected to encounter. However, the impact immediately apparent and it was obvious that the parents and guardians of the adolescents were truly invested in helping their children to achieve brighter futures without the entanglements of a criminal record. Most of the program was devoted to revealing that the adolescents and the adults in the room were not so different, and that in fact, we had all shared many experiences. The process was bridging a divide between us that we all walked in with and I was a component of the emergence of a community.

The program was focused on the beginnings of conflict resolution, which is developing communication skills. In most of the relationships that I am party to whether, they are activism circles, churches, non-profit organizations; friends, family, or romantic in nature issues with communication tend to be at the heart of most issues and complications. The first factor is that we as a people tend not to listen very efficiently to those whom we share our lives. Secondly, we may actually hear the words they are saying when we are not speaking over them, but we are not understanding what our partners are communicating to us. There are two methods that may increase our ability to communicate effectively and efficiently, which will decrease the negative emotional impacts that our interactions tend to draw to the surface. The first is active listening, and that is, carefully listening to the people in our lives without focusing on how we are going to respond to or undermine what is being told to us. The second is to ask questions for clarification to ensure that we have received the messages appropriately.  This is what I observed in the training during the Project 180 program.

In addition to the lessons in communication, I was also party to the development of a community. Again, this is not what I expected to encounter when I agreed to attend this event. The word “love” was used, not passively, but actively and in such a way as it not customary in many public and formal occasions. For instance, one of the exercises was for us to turn to the people who were sitting beside us and to tell them that we believed in them and that we love them. Now that may seem like a trivial and uncomfortable act, to tell someone whom you do not know, that you love them; and it was, let me assure you. However, that simple act made a huge difference to many of the people who were there; so huge that some even started to cry. The act did a few things. First, it showed everyone that they were not alone. Second, it revealed that everyone was worth respect, honor, integrity and that they were also human and members of our moral community. Third, because we all shared the uncomfortable moment together, we had a shared emotional experience that began fusing relationships among us, broadening our communities to include the people in the room.

My best research and activity has revealed that many of the social harms we want to solve begin with improving the conditions of our communities. Much of that improvement entails conflict resolution and effective communication. Communities are bodies or groups of people who work together for the common goal of the betterment of all who identify with the community. In my opinion, that is the real definition of justice and that is what I observed occurring in the Project 180 program event. However, the program does not end there, they also provide an AfterCare component, which helps the adolescents and parents or guardians to address many of the issues that may have led to the behavior and circumstance that brought them into Project 180 via the criminal justice system. These factors may include such things as education, drug and alcohol abuse, conflict resolution, emotional and mental health, job training and placement, and so on. The aftercare component of Project 180 is specifically designed to help the participants in the program to address those issues, so that they can become functioning and participatory members in our communities.

In my opinion, it is providing a very valuable and vital service to our community. As such, I think this program should be supported by our community with both funding and volunteers because it is having a positive impact on our community on multiple levels. To donate to Project 180 or to find out how you can help in some other way, please contact Urban Impact or contact Coach Dom at mailto:coachdom1@gmail.com

Please also contact our Seattle of Seattle and King County officials and inform them that you would like to see this program maintained and enhanced and most importantly, financially supported.

It is truly an honor and is highly encouraging to see that people are engaged in activities that are having positive and tangible impacts on our community; this goes for community members as well as the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Resolution 31614: Zero Use of Detention for Juveniles

The intention of Resolution 31614[1] is to help foster a healthier community and a component of this is to address the disparaging incarceration rates of people of color, in particular, African American youth. However, a change in the policy of how the City of Seattle manages abhorrent behavior will serve to be beneficial to youth of all ethnicities and backgrounds. So, before I present information that represents the evidence of Restorative Justice (RJ) as a reaction to ‘criminal’ behavior, I want to highlight the very real need for a multiplicity of efforts that I believe should function in conjunction with RJ to achieve the objectives of this resolution.

The best research that I have been through over the past four years reveals that socio-economic conditions and, access to and assistance with education directly impact the social outcomes of individuals in society. Essentially, when people are suffering from dire socio-economic conditions and/or suffer from a deficient education are huge factors, if not partial causes, that incarceration is a response to. This is why I sought to highlight programs like The Service Board (TSB)[2], Arts Corps[3], The Youth Orion Center[4], and New Horizons Youth Ministries[5] among others when I provided testimony at the Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee” meeting September 16, because they have the potential to intercede in the lives of inner-city youth prior to their becoming involved with the criminal justice system. It is my opinion that a proactive approach is much preferable to a reactive approach and this will require a continuing effort to support organizations, which do such and to implement strategies and programs to address the other factors that lead to abhorrent behavior.

Working on issues like affordable housing, employment and job training, and education in conjunction with employing Restorative Justice programs and practices are what will be necessary to address the concerns the Seattle City Council is confronting with Resolution 31614. This analysis is shared by William Julius Wilson, the author of “When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor” (1996), wherein Wilson identifies social and economic conditions as harm causing factors that shape cultural responses to environmental constraints. These constraints affect all ethnicities, but because of the demographics of urban areas it is also the case that people of color are disproportionately affected. Nonetheless, the net result will improve conditions for all the citizens whom are marginalized within an urban area, not just people of color, but especially them. Restorative Justice by itself does not have the capacity or the aim of addressing all the factors entailed in social and economic conditions that lead to behavior labeled as ‘criminal’. However, coupling other initiatives with RJ will be proactive and seek to heal our community.

Restorative Justice has been shown to reduce the likelihood of re-offence and to decrease recidivism, as well as, improve victim satisfaction with the justice system. A report produced by the Ministry of Justice titled, “Restorative Justice in New Zealand: December 2010,”[6] wherein the structure of the program is identified and provides a summary of objective results of the implementation of RJ in their country. In particular, the report notes that “Reconvictions reduced by 27% in 2 years following restorative justice process,”[7]  which is a vast decrease.  The New Zealand Ministry of Justice released another report June 2011 titled “Reoffending Analysis for Restorative Justice Cases: 2008 and 2009,”[8] which details further findings. The 2011 report states, “The principal finding of this report is that those who had been through a restorative justice conference had a 20 percent lower reoffending rate than comparable offenders who did not receive a restorative justice conference (33.2% and 41.3% respectively).”[9] The 2010 report from the New Zealand Ministry of Justice did report that youth have a higher expected rate of offense, and that this group did show a consistent rate of re-offense. It also reported that “Offenders aged 20 – 25 years showed a large apparent drop”[10] in the rate of re-offense. So, although not all reports are favorable for RJ practices and programs, by and large it seems to be effective. These reports show dramatic and positive impacts on the criminal justice system as measured by recidivism and re-offense, which reveals that there are promising potentials for its application in the City of Seattle.

The program in New Zealand holds the victim as the primary focus in the Restorative Justice process, and the Restorative Justice: Victim, Offender, Community states, “If the victim’s needs are addressed, the process will serve the offender and the community well”[11] Earlier I alluded to victim satisfaction with the justice system the Smith Institute has conducted an in-depth analysis the effectiveness of RJ in reducing the harms to victims.[12] The Smith Institute acknowledges that those victims of crime who elect not to engage with the people who caused them harm or the victims of unsolved offense will not receive the same benefits of RJ as those who participate in the process. This is also in line with voluntary characteristic of RJ that New Zealand identifies in its Best Practice Principles; “Restorative justice processes are underpinned by voluntariness for both the victim and the offender.”

[13] The Smith Institute notes that of those who elect to participate in the RJ process “almost always indicate a high level of satisfaction with the process”[14] The Smith Institute further acknowledges that the RJ process may not be appropriate for all situations and in a small proportion of those analyzed, their condition worsened as a result of engaging with the offenders. The Smith Institute concludes that “Nonetheless, across all these studies including many kinds of offence type the conclusions are clear: when victims consent to meet their offender in an RJ conference they are usually satisfied with their experience provided that 1) the RJ meeting happens as promised and 2) the offender complies with the undertakings they made during the conference.”[15]

The Smith Institute report reveals that Restorative Justice may be more effective at decreasing the recidivism of violent crime than non-violent crime. A randomized experiment the report notes is the Canberra RISE project, which observed: “In a two-year-before, two-year-after comparison, the frequency of arrest among white people under 30 years of age who were assigned to RJ dropped by 84 per 100 offenders more than in the control group”[16] The other studies also showed decreases in recidivism, although, not as pronounced. However, in regard to property crime, the Smith Institute observed two studies that revealed increased recidivism, and five studies that revealed decreased recidivism.[17] It was the report’s conclusion that there is simply not enough evidence compiled thus far to make a determination either way as to the effectiveness on non-violent crime.

Returning to a point I made earlier about proactive measures that intercede in people’s lives prior to their entering into the criminal justice system, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has been employing Restorative Justice practices since 2005, with promising results.[18] As a justification for the implementation of RJ programs and practices, the OUSD states, “Compelling evidence suggests that zero tolerance disciplinary policies and teacher/principal practices used for decades do not work to improve student behavior, school safety or academic achievement. In fact, they limit meaningful opportunity for students to learn and engage, instead increasing unstructured out-of-school time and likelihood of isolation, dropping out and being arrested.”[19] This is an analysis that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has concurred in the article “Where Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense.”[20] The OUSD had at the time of the report 24 schools including elementary, middle, and high school levels. The schools reported growth and development of community that was translated into conflict resolution, intrapersonal and interpersonal skill development, emotional intelligence development, growth in empathy and understanding, and improvement in relationships with both teachers and other students.[21] In addition to that, suspensions and expulsions have decreased, reading levels have improved, attendance has improved, and graduation rates have significantly increased in comparison to schools that have not implemented RJ practices.[22] By employing RJ in the school system many of the factors that are implicated in criminal and abhorrent behavior are being addressed and they are witnessing very promising results.

Restorative Justice, as effective as it seems is also not the only program that has been used to intercede the detention of youth. For example, the 180 Program[23] was launched in 2012 in King County, which permits first and second time offenders to opt into workshops with ex-offenders who had turned their lives around. There is also the Creative Justice[24] program which fosters art based alternatives to youth incarceration in King County has just launched in 2015. Alternative programs to incarceration have real potential to shape the lives of our youth and one inspiring story comes from a former prosecuting attorney and superior court judge named, John Phillips. In the article, “I was tired of throwing kids in prison. So I built a place to help keep them out of it,”[25] Phillips speaks to the problems of mandatory minimum sentencing and how a lack of flexibility in sentencing was harmful and exacerbated the problem facing marginalized communities. He writes about the lack of services that were available for marginalized youth saying; “Very few services were provided for young people involved in criminal activity before they got in trouble. But once the trigger was pulled, all sorts of resources were directed to them — police, prosecutors, a defense attorney, the judge, the judicial system, probation officers, and of course, prison incarceration.” Phillips, with his community transformed an abandoned hospital into a school/community center for at risk and marginalized youth to help them learn vocational, educational, and life skills with a focus on community and, also provided transitional living spaces for homeless youth. “We’ve reduced recidivism 80 percent among students in the program, and the rate of our students staying out of trouble is twice that of young people exiting incarceration without the benefit of our program” Phillips reports. Even more encouraging than the statistics Phillips reports, is the observation he has of his students spirits; “When you provide young people with an encouraging environment and the opportunity to rediscover themselves, they begin to hold their heads up high and start thinking, often for the first time, about their future.”

The goal of Resolution 31614 is not only the Zero Use of Detention for Juveniles, but the creation of a more healthy community. That is what is implied by the intention of forming partnerships and making investments into community led solutions and organizations and, that is the express intent of incarceration and the now present need to transition from utilizing incarceration. The problem is unfortunately not one dimensional, but rather, a multi-factored, multi-layered set of circumstances and constraints. It will require ingenuity and creativity and a willingness to experiment with promising alternatives. A multiplicity of tactics and strategies that address the socio-economic conditions and constraints, which lead to criminal and abhorrent behaviors of individuals and groups is necessary. The programs and organizations that I have listed above are some, although, not all of the programs locally or abroad that reveal promising outcomes and as such, are viable alternatives to the incarceration of our youth. Above all, I believe it is better to be proactive than reactive, which means interceding prior to our youth encountering the criminal justice system, programs like the 180 Program, Creative Justice, and Restorative Justice being led by our community members and organizations, is a great way to begin healing our community.

[1] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Proposed%20Amendment.pdf

[2] http://www.theserviceboard.org/

[3] http://www.artscorps.org/

[4] http://www.youthcare.org/

[5] http://nhmin.org/

[6] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf

[7] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 6)

[8] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Reoffending%20Analysis%20for%20RJ%20Cases%202008%20and%202009.pdf

[9] file:///C:/Users/Michael%20Moynihan/Desktop/Community%20Based%20Alternatives%20to%20Imprisonment/Reoffending%20Analysis%20for%20RJ%20Cases%202008%20and%202009.pdf (p. 7)

[10] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 6)

[11] http://www.restorativejustice.org.nz/cms/RJManual/tabid/63/Default.aspx

[12] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 61)

[13] http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/criminal-justice/restorative-justice/documents/restorative-justice-overview.pdf (p. 8)

[14] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 62)

[15] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 65)

[16] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 68)

[17] http://www.iirp.edu/pdf/RJ_full_report.pdf (p. 69)

[18] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (IV)

[19] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (IV)

[20] https://www.aclu.org/blog/where-zero-tolerance-makes-zero-sense

[21] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (V)

[22] http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf  (VI)

[23] http://www.kingcounty.gov/Prosecutor/news/2012/june/180program.aspx

[24] http://creativejustice.4culture.org/

[25] https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/07/i-was-tired-of-throwing-kids-in-prison-so-i-built-a-place-to-help-keep-them-out-of-it/