Abolitionists and the Prison System

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new kind of abolitionists. They want to abolish prisons and those aspects of the government that make prisons possible including having police departments. Of course all abolitionists are not alike and some have more rigid expectations while others seem to have more realizable goals. And neither is it a recent phenomenon. It may date back to the 60’s with the ideas of Angela Davis and with the work of trail blazers like Ruth Wilson Gilmore. What gave this movement flight however was CNN host Van Jones suggesting several years ago that the prison population should be cut by half. Then he was criticized but things have sufficiently changed he is now hailed. What is new is that many committed to reform the criminal justice system have endorsed some of the abolitionists’ ideas. Closing Riker’s Island prison in New York City for example was once thought ridiculous, but it no longer is. Besides incarceration, probation is also being looked at including the possible use of ATM-like machines through which people could check in without having to report to a probation officer. Other ideas that seem to have traction are what crimes should be prosecuted as well as the seeking of out of court remedies. Still another idea filtering through to a more general acceptance is that the system as it is creates harm seriously mitigating whatever public safety it yields. Those who work toward criminal justice reform from within the system can be frustrated by die-hard abolitionists who would want to not only abolish the whole structure but redirect the monies spent on it.  But an outsider like me can be indebted to both for instigating long overdue reforms and looking to continue reforming a system that is no longer serving the society, and much less the human beings caught within it.

DNA Testing and Errors

A recent NYT op-ed strongly alerted readers to a study that found errors in DNA testing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology gave the same sample of DNA mixtures to 105 US crime labs and 3 Canadian ones and asked them to compare it to the DNA of 3 suspects from a mock robbery. A DNA mixture is a biological sample of 2 or more individuals from which a DNA profile could be drawn. Today’s DNA testing is advanced enough that an analysis can be done even if someone has lightly touched an object. The labs correctly identified 2 of the suspects, but 74 got Continue reading “DNA Testing and Errors”

On Religious Freedom

A military chaplain, the Rev Ronald Apollo, sued the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to be able to practice his religious beliefs and won. BOP wanted all personnel to carry pepper spray, including chaplains, so that if attacked by an inmate they could protect themselves. Apollo challenged the rule and now prison chaplains will no longer have to carry pepper spray. That to some may be just another example of how the Christian right asserts its values on the society, but it is more than that. First of Continue reading “On Religious Freedom”

Private Prison Boom

I found a small article in der Spiegel magazine disturbing although I know there are those who will find in it a good tip, or a good move. I had already read that the Trump administration, in this case the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions, was undoing the phasing out of private prisons begun under the Obama administration.  But this article went further. It took notice of this action because Deutsche Bank issued a report saying Continue reading “Private Prison Boom”