Thursday, April 30, 2015

The injustice of incarceration rates in America and the privatization of the prison system

Jermayne Largent
Poli 337
The Privatization of America’s Prison System:
An Unjust form of Punishment in regards to Justice

One of the key concepts that has been taught since the beginning of this course, was that justice is a process. “Justice should be conceptualized as a process whose purpose is to reconstitute the equilibrium of human dignity and not simply as an end result.” For justice to truly be obtained each step in it that process must be successfully executed. One of the steps in that process, that seems to not be carried out completely or to its fullest potential, is punishment. Punishment is necessary for justice, because if executed properly, (which one could relate to proportionality) eliminates attacks of vengeance, but also because it deters crimes. Punishment doesn’t only affect the perpetrator(s). Punishment when it is successfully implemented by being proportionate to the crime(s) committed, is key in restorative justice. Punishment shouldn’t only deter crime but also restore the dignity of the victim by providing them with closure, which presents an opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness. America’s prison system, as a whole, in my opinion is an injustice. I believe that the value and purpose of our prison system over time has been distorted and forgotten. In my opinion, our prison system in this day in age, does not successfully deter crime nor does it equally re-establish human dignity. This can be attributed to two reasons: the first being, incarceration rates which have been affected by “one size fits all” sentencing, giving lead way to the privatization of prisons and the second being a lack of re-entry resources for ex-convicts.

A for profit private prison is a facility managed by a for profit organization through a public-private partnership with a government contract (on the federal and state level). For profit private prisons thrive off of growing incarceration rates, which state governments can’t afford to maintain. Thus benefiting off of our justice system’s sentencing policies and lack of finding alternative punishments other than incarceration. Policies such as, “Mandatory sentencing, three strikes laws, and ‚truth-in-sentencing laws”, limit parole eligibility and keep people in prison longer. Even policies like the “war on drugs” have sent more people; especially people convicted of drug offenses, to prison. I’m not trying to subjectify these policies as wrong in intent but rather criticizing to what means in which they were carried out. Those policies were made because of problems in our society i.e. drug trafficking, gang violence, but to use incarceration as a “one size fits all” solution to those problems is unjust and negates proportionality. Such sentencing policies have been a primary contributor to the number of people in prison giving lead way to for profit private prisons to take advantage of the prison system and further diminish the overall lesson(s) that being incarcerated is supposed to teach the perpetrator.

Private prisons generally charge a daily rate per person incarcerated to cover investment, operating costs, and turn a profit. The Justice Policy Institute’s June 2011 report, Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, details the success of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group; the most successful and prominent companies operating, for profit private prisons. As of 2010, CCA operated 66 correctional and detention facilities, had contracts in 19 states, as well as, D.C., and had record revenue of $1.67 billion. Majority of that money, $838.5 million came from state contracts, while 13% ($214 million), came from the state of California alone. As of 2010, GEO operates 118 facilities world wide, contracts with 13 states, the Federal Bureau of Prison, the U.S. Marshals Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2010, 66 % ($842 million) of GEO’s $1.27 billion in revenue was from U.S. corrections contracts. Of the $842 million in revenue, 47% came from corrections contracts with 11 states. The primary injustice with privatizing prisons is that they prostitute crime. Morally speaking a society with low crime rates is the ultimate goal, but not for for-profit private prisons. The contracts between themselves and state governments often include a Guaranteed Occupancy Clause; an agreement that private prisons are guaranteed a certain occupancy rate, and if it is not met than the state will impose a low crime tax to make up the loss profit. The state of Colorado has had to collect $2 million dollars in low crime tax dollars. Approximately 65% of private prison contracts include occupancy rate guarantees, and the range of occupancy rates range from 80%-100%, with 90% being the most frequent guaranteed occupancy rate. This behavior may actually cause a civil uproar by making victims and other citizen feel like the justice system is corrupt if they were made to pay a “low crime” tax, that in its self, to them would be a punishment which they do not deserve, which could lead them into a state of retribution. For-profit private prisons discredit a lot of the core elements of the process of establishing justice.

The main injustice with our prison system is the threat that, for-profit private prisons pose on the state of justice. The privatizing of prisons is diminishing the effectiveness of incarceration as a punishment and its ability to deter crime and equally re-establish human dignity. But the thing fueling the need for these for-profit private prisons is our steadily growing incarceration rate. Possible solutions to lowering the incarceration rate include, implementing better re-entry programs to convicts, with startup dates beginning early enough for them to really grasp the material, in order to implement it in real life. Majority of these programs are made available to inmates during the last two months of their sentence. By implementing better re-entry programs and techniques, there is a chance that the continuous population of people, who intentionally return to prison because they can’t assimilate into society, will be eradicated. Another solution would be for state governments to really go back and reconsider or redefine what crimes are punishable with incarceration, as well as, finding alternative solutions like house arrest. For instance, what Maryland did by decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana will definitely help lower the incarceration rate in our state. In regards to possession of marijuana, our state government has done well at coming up with punishments or penalties that are in place before incarceration would be an option. To help restore our prison system, my peers along with myself should go out and vote for laws that may affect incarceration rates, or even volunteer in a re-entry program at a prison. Also, just practice the golden rule and don’t judge a book by its cover, everyone deserves a second chance…and some people may need a third or fourth, but don’t write someone off just because they were convicted of a misdemeanor of felony. Finally the most important thing we can do, is make sure we don’t commit any crimes and continue the trend of the current incarceration rate. Our generation can change the status que about "reckless youth". We need to educate ourselves of the laws that are in place and that are on the desks of our legislators and politicians. We must understand the full impact of how voting laws, policies, and procedures into place may affect our society in the long run. Changing the ways we act and respect others can be very auspicious to obtaining justice. When voting we shouldn't think about ourselves in the individual state but instead how those said laws may affect other individuals making up our society. For example, while I do not condone substance abuse, I am in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, because I believe it will lower incarceration rates for something that I consider a new socially accepted norm amongst society and a petty crime.

Link to read, The Growth of INCARCERATION in the United States, a book consisting of research compiled by the National Research Council.

“Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies.” Justice Policy Institute (2011): n. pag. Justice Policy Institute. June 2011. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

Times-Picayune, Cindy Chang The. "Prison Re-entry Programs Help Inmates Leave the Criminal Mindset Behind, but Few Have Access to the Classes." The Time Picayune, 19 May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

"Privatization Scan April 07, 2014." In the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

"Private Prisons: The Injustice League - Online Paralegal Programs." Online Paralegal Programs. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Short, April M. "6 Shocking Revelations about How Private Prisons Make Money." Saloncom RSS. N.p., 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

Zurcher, Anthony. "Report: US Prison Rates an 'injustice'" BBC News. Echo Chambers, 2 May 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Injustice of Amanda Knox

In 2007, Amanda Knox, an American student, was studying abroad in Italy. Knox shared a house in in Perugia with two Italian women and another American student that was studying abroad, Meredith Kercher. The house was split into two levels, with the women in the upper level and four men living in the lower level. On November 1st, 2007, Meredith Kercher was found murdered in her bedroom, mostly nude, with stab wounds in her neck. The night of the murder, all four men that lived downstairs were away for a long weekend and the other female housemates were staying at their boyfriends' for the night, leaving Kercher alone in the house.

Amanda Knox was originally scheduled to work at a local pub that night, but after receiving a text from her boss, Patrick Lumumba, saying she did not need to come in, she had gone to stay at the apartment of her new Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, The next day, Knox returned to the house and found the front door unlatched, spots of blood in the bathroom, and Kercher's door locked. Knox went back to Sollecito's to tell him what she saw and asked him to come back and investigate with her. When they returned, they noticed the window of one of their flatmates was broken and after trying to open Kercher's door and trying to contact her unsuccessfully, the two called the police.

The Italian postal police arrived at the house first and after they forced open the locked door, found the body of Meredith Kercher. More police soon arrived and based on what they described as "odd behavior," placed the couple under arrest. Once back at the station, Knox was interrogated for many hours over the next few days. According to Knox, there were as many as 12 officers yelling at her in Italian very loudly and she was denied a translator for some time after she asked for one. When she asked for an attorney the police said that would only make everything worse. Police reportedly struck her over the head and told her that if she did not confess, she would go to jail for 30 years and never see her family again.

After looking at the texts between Knox and her boss, Lumumba, they misinterpreted the conversation and took it as the two were going to meet up later that night. The police demanded to know where the two had gone repeatedly and even the translator that eventually came told Knox she may be blocking out the truth from her memory due to the trauma. After hours of interrogation and sleep deprivation she told police that she was at the house while Lumumba murdered Kercher. Amanda's boss, Lumumba, proved to have an alibi at the time and so Knox and Sollecito were arrested and charged with the murder of Kercher.

Police held a press conference detailing the arrests and that they had evidence the two killed Meredith after she refused to take part in a sex game, and that the case was effectively closed. However, police had barely examined any forensic evidence from the scene at the time and once the results came back two weeks later, DNA evidence pointed to Rudy Guede, a friend of the men who lived downstairs who also had a record of breaking into homes. Guede's DNA was found inside and on Meredith's body, along with his handprint in blood at the crime scene. Guede had fled to Germany but was quickly extradicted back to Italy and charged with the murder. Guede stated that he was at the scene of the crime but did not commit the murder, and also that Knox and Sollecito were not involved.

After making such a public ordeal about the case and unwilling to admit their mistake, the Police inserted Guede into the story where Lumumba previously was. The media portrayed Knox as a sex crazed American and ran fabricated stories about her and Sollecito's awful behavior in court. Although the couple had no previous records of violence, the judge in the case refused to grant them house arrest because they "failed to show any remorse for the crime.' After over a year of the media's twisted coverage while Knon and her boyfriend were in jail, the trial began in October 2008.

Even though there was very little evidence against them, the famous lead prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini spouted wild theories and weak accusations during the trial and on December 4, 2009, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were charged with the murder of Meredith Kercher. Their lawyers filed appeals, contesting the evidence and credibility of the witnesses. On October 3rd, 2011, Knox and Sollecito's convictions were overturned and Knox returned to the US.

In March 2013, the Italian Supreme Court ordered Knox and Sollecito to stand trial again for Kercher's murder. In February 2014, the two were found guilt again of the murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Finally, in March 2015, their convictions were again overturned by the Italian Supreme Court and due to Italian law limiting the number of rulings on a case, this ruling is final.

There are numerous injustices throughout the Amanda Knox case. The interrogation process violated multiple of Knox's rights by refusing to provide an interpreter, refusing to provide an attorney, physically harming her, and coaching her into a false confession. The entire unfair portrayal of the couple in the media combined with the lack of evidence and misconduct by the prosecutors all contributed to the absence of a fair trial. Another injustice is the fact that Knox was in prison for over 3 years by the time she was finally exonerated, and the entire process had tarnished her name, disrupted her education, cost her family millions of dollars, and robbed Knox of a portion of her life. The constant opening and closing of the case also subjected Knox and her family to years of prolonged worrying and fears. 

Some remedies that could be done for this injustice is a formal apology to Amanda Knox and her family from the Italian government, along with providing compensation for the expenses and trauma the family was subjected to. Also, the Italian government could launch an investigation into the mishandling of this case and hold those who allowed this to happen responsible. Finally, Italy could reform their laws regarding criminal cases including the conduct of the media, attorneys, jury members, and investigators to ensure that everyone has a fair and unbiased trial.

Some things that we can do to fight this injustice is sign a petition calling for the US, Great Britain, and Italy to launch investigations into the mishandling of the Meredith Kercher case, donate to the Amanda Knox defense fund or the Raffaele Sollecito defense fund, contact your local representatives or government officials and voice your concern about flaws in the Italian Justice system, and most importantly, know the rights you are entitled to for whatever country you may be in. 


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Carla Nuñez Human Trafficking

Carla Nuñez
29 April 2015
POLI 337
Human Trafficking
            Human trafficking is the worlds second fastest growing criminal industry right behind drug trafficking.  The estimated global annual profit of all trafficked victims is around 31.6 billion dollars. Human trafficking is an injustice that needs to be addressed immediately. Human trafficking is an injustice because in many cases the victim (prostitute) is the one who suffers legal consequences not the pimp. In the Netflix documentary ‘Tricked’ Danielle stated she was arrested so many times that she had to start using a fake name while her pimp never saw the inside of a jail cell. The notion of human dignity in all cases of human trafficking is diminished. The pimps often “season” the victims, seasoning means the break down of an individual by sexual assault, confinement, and creating a dependence: drug use or psychological abuse.
            Human trafficking is not just prostitution; it also involves forced labor, slavery, and the removal of organs to be sold in the black market. Trafficking is done through threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, and abuse of power. Typical trafficking victims work in massage parlors, strip clubs, brothels, or they have ads in back page newspapers. Trafficking victims suffer from both physical and psychological effects. The psychological effects the victim feels are feeling insignificant, living in constant fear due to the threats of harm to family and friends, and the trauma of an abusive relationship. The physical effects are obvious, STDs, burns and scaring, pelvic pains, and forced abortions.
            You may ask yourself who would be capable of doing such horrific acts to another human begin? Those who commit these horrendous crimes are typically called pimps. There’s a romeo pimp who uses psychological abuse, they typically manipulate the victims by dehumanizing them, taking away their dignity and self worth. Then there are gorilla pimps who use physical abuse to control their victims, beating them instilling fear, making them believe the beating is their fault. Traffickers also consist of brothel owners, gangs, factory owners, and even intimate partners or family members. 52% of recruiting victims are men and 42% are women. The other 6% consists of the intimate partners. While there are many international laws such as United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, Slavery Convention, Universal declaration of Human Rights these laws are not enforced. The laws are sometimes hard to enforce due to the fear the victims have of the trafficker, there’s also a lack of training of officials who deal with the trafficking victims.
While human trafficking is a vast problem globally it’s also an enormous problem right here in Baltimore. Many say Baltimore is a “prime hot spot” for human trafficking due to the easy access to ports and the truck stops on the major interstate 95. A recent local case involves Matthew Warren Brown, 25 and Anthony Leon Eley, 30. The local Baltimore County police answered an ad in the paper. They met three underage girls 14, 16, and 17 at a Best Western hotel. Matthew and Anthony drove the girls to the hotel, gave them condoms, and told them to rob the “johns”, people who buy sex, afterwards. When the police interviewed the girls they told them the specific instructions from both Matthew and Anthony. The underage girls also made the police aware that Matthew and Anthony knew they were under the age of 18 despite claims that they didn’t know. Both Matthew and Anthony were charged with human trafficking, but in Maryland human trafficking is only a misdemeanor. Just last month, March, a bill was purposed to make human trafficking a felony charge and the bill was denied. What can we do as students? We can become educated on trafficking, all of its forms, where it’s happening, and who is doing the trafficking. You can also write to government officials to make human trafficking a felony in Maryland, this is a serious crime and it deserves to be treated as such.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Getting Punched in the Face - Robert Caverly

In December of 2014, a crazy man punched me in the face in a fit of road rage as I was on my way to my last exam. I was driving on campus and another driver ran a stop sign in front of me, almost hitting me and causing an accident. I honked and flipped off the other driver as I drove past, and continued on to the building where my final was. I noticed that this other driver was following me but I didn’t think anything of it until he parked next to me and got out of the car when I did.
            As I looked over he began to yell and curse at me for giving him the bird. I told him that I did it because he ran the stop sign and almost hit me and he did not have right of way. I also told him that I had an exam and didn’t have any time. After this I began walking away towards my exam and he ran up and punched me in the face. This knocked me down and as I stood up I pulled my cell phone out to call the police. As soon as he saw me take out my phone he ran back to his car and drove away, so all I could give the police was his license plate number. After a short call with the police I went to take my test and then to the UMBC Police station to make a report. The next day I also went to the courthouse to press assault charges and get a court date set.
Both the UMBC Police Officer and Courthouse Prosecutor I talked to told me that they would not recommend continuing with the charges because he would most likely get nothing and I would waste a lot of time and effort. Fortunately for me, I did not listen to their advice and I did get a court date set for April 1, 2015. The guy ended up getting a Probation Before Judgment, requiring that he complete an anger management course and not have contact with me for 3 years in order to evade a trial and potentially, becoming a convicted criminal.
The injustices for me in this experience were the initial assault, the results of the justice process, and the expectations of the officer and prosecutor. The initial assault is of course an injustice because it is a crime to assault other people unless in self-defense. The consequences for the man were also an injustice because he never had to admit guilt or apologize to me. He actually could not apologize to me because it would violate his probation agreement not to contact me and because it would be an admission of guilt. However these were not the worst injustices.
In my opinion, the worst injustice was the expectations of the prosecutor and the officer for nothing to come of this. To me, the fact that the very people who work in the justice system are recommending for me not to use it because they think it will not work, says a lot about the system as a whole. It means that its problems are so big that even the people who work in the system and can see them have no idea how to solve them. They would rather contribute to the problem than admit there is a problem and work on a solution, or at least not be part of the problem. This broken system creates a perpetual cycle of and will continue to produce it  until the problems with the justice system causing injustices are solved.

People need to believe and trust in the system to get justice or there will be no incentive to report crimes over taking personal revenge. If this happens, violence and personal revenge will become the societal norm for settling scores rather than going to court. This type of society could lead to a state of complete anarchy, and the United States could become a Somalia-like territory, borderless and lawless. The fall of such a world power would spur other countries to invade and claim colonies. The wars over claiming these colonies would cause WWIII. Don’t let WWIII happen. Report all crimes, big or small, let justice be your revenge. Don’t work for a broken justice system, work to reform it to a working one; then work for that one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2014 Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In June 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists. In response, a Palestinian was kidnapped and killed a short time after. What came next was described by the UN as "unprecedented in Gaza, at least since at least the start of the Israeli Occupation in 1967".

After Hamas fired rockets at Israel, the Israeli government carried out Operation Protective Edge, launching rockets for the next 50 days, into August 2014. After the conflict, a total of 2,300 people were killed, mainly Palestinians.

At the end of the conflict, 2,200 Palestinians were killed, with 1,500 of them civilians. Israel, on the other hand, had only 71 casualties, with 67 of them soldiers, capturing the lopsidedness of the conflict. In addition, about 500,000 Palestinians were displaced, with 108,000 homeless from the rocket launches.

The Call to Justice is not only because of the inequalities in the war, but the Israelis also targeted UN-chartered schools that held refugees.Before the conflict erupted, the UN made sure that the Israeli government knew where the schools were and that it was against international law to target and destroy them. Regardless, about 7 schools were bombarded.

Even though this is an Israeli and Palestinian conflict, it also affects us as Americans. Each year, we fund the Israeli government's army, about 3 billion dollars a year, the most military financial aid to any country in the world. This aid comes directly from our taxpayer money, and can be stopped by keeping our politicians accountable.

In addition, our politicians need to enforce international law more carefully. Fortunately, after the conflict ended, a commission was instituted to "break the persistent impunity for crimes under international law by Israel and the Occupied territories".

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Umbrella Revolution

Long Lee
Professor Davis
Poli 337

The Umbrella Revolution

The Umbrella Revolution began in the end of September in 2014 and lasted until the beginning of December of the same year. Throughout the movement, several major roadways were blocked and barricaded by the people of Hong Kong in an effort to get the government to hear their demands. The protestors operated under the concept of “non-violent disobedience” and simply camped out on the major roadways. However, the Hong Kong government chose to ignore any of the protestors’ requests. Additionally, the government authorized the use of excessive force upon the protestors almost immediately after the protests started. Several of the protestors were beaten and badly hurt. Many were hospitalized and some even beaten to the extent of being put into a coma. Pepper spray and tear gas were used to herd the protestors away in addition to riot shields and beating.

The reasoning for the protest stemmed from China’s persistence on having candidates for Hong Kong’s upcoming 2017 election for chief executive all go through a screening process. According to the contract drafted between Britain and China in 1997 when the territories of Hong Kong were given to China, China and Hong Kong were to operate as “one country; two systems.” Hong Kong was to retain its autonomy and be free from any form of political influence from China for the next 50 years. Insisting that candidates go through a screen process was seen by Hong Kong as a breach of the contract. However, what it more importantly represents is the beginning of China’s influence into Hong Kong. On July 1st, 2047, after the 50 year period of political immunity, China will be given complete control of Hong Kong’s politics and rights. The greatest fear of Hong Kong and its people is that China will assimilate Hong Kong into itself thereby stripping Hong Kong of the identity it once had.

Two of the sites where major roadways being blocked were the Mong Kok area and the Admiralty area. The Mong Kok area was an extremely aggressive site with signs of aggression from both sides. Protestors showed great resistance towards cops by refusing to leave their stops. Protestors all wore helmets and had make shift shields and umbrellas to protect them from the police officers’ aggression. They also wore saran wrap over their bodies to protect from substances the officers would use. From the police officer’s side, they used excessive force on defenseless citizens. While the Admiralty site was more peaceful, there were still injustices that occurred. The protestors were much less aggressive than the Mong Kok area and had that taken advantage of by the police officers. The officers would often launch surprise attacks where they would run at protestors in formation when least expected to force them to move. In both sites, the police officers treated the protestors almost as if they were inhuman. Officers would bet and harass them constantly and herd them around to get them to end the protests as if they were animals.

When the protests at both the Mong Kok and Admiralty sites were finally quelled, nothing was accomplished. The government did not pay any attention to the requests of the people and acted rashly and with brute force in order to silence them. The protestors themselves were also very brash and did not think their ideas through. The movement itself was only back by a small percentage of Hong Kong people; most of them being high school and university students that just wanted a change. Both sides of this movement showed injustices but it is still clear that it was the side of the protestors that received the crueler injustices.