Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Injustice of For Profit Prisons

              An issue that has been brought up during the intense presidential campaigns was the subject of private prisons.  Recently Hillary Clinton has vowed to not take dirty money from the CCA and the GEO for her campaign.  CCA and GEO are massive corporations who deal with private prisons and are known to lobby for punitive and harsh policies toward criminals.  However, the subject of private prisons is under scrutiny as of late due to many problems that have arose out of these prisons.  Many of these problems arise out of the need to maximize profits, as is the goal of every private business.  There have been many injustices inside of these prisons, but there is also an injustice in policy making.  CCA and the GEO have lobbied for tougher sentences, more criminalizing laws, and they lobby against alternatives to prison sentences.  Are private prisons the best answer to overcrowding state-run prisons and for the voters who want to be even tougher on crime?
                Many states have policies that private prisons must save the state money.  Such is the case as in Arizona, however, in an article published by the New York Times “the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state run prisons” (Oppel).  Aligned with the capitalistic mindset that America has built itself upon, some believe that privatizing certain aspects, like prisons, will ultimately save money as corporations can do things much more efficiently than the government.  In certain cases this may be the case, however, private prisons may not hold up true with that statement.  Additionally, in the same New York Times article, Oppel also points to research by the Arizona Department of Corrections, where it is seen that privatized prisons “often house relatively healthy inmates.”  What this tells us is that the private prisons cherry pick who they want to house in the private prisons because it will save them money.  They do not need to spend money for psychiatric help for these prisoners, nor do they want to spend money on those with pre-existing medical conditions.  This puts the responsibility onto the state and county prisons to spend money on providing medical assistance and psychiatric help for the prisoners.  This serves to be a disservice to the tax payers who pay their taxes for something that should be the responsibility for the state or county.  Perhaps the money could be spent for alternatives such as drug treatment programs that could ultimately help drive down crime.  Driving down recidivism through alternatives such as drug treatment programs could be effective, but the CCA and GEO spend massive amounts of money lobbying against any kind of effort to reform the current criminal justice system.
                In discussing private prisons, one must not only discuss the economic issues regarding privatized prisons, but should also discuss the injustices within the prison themselves.  In a study published by Blakely and Bumphus (2004) “private prison employees also receive 58 hours less training than their publicly employed counterparts” (as cited by Mason).  Providing less training to the employees may have implications on the safety of the overall prison.  In a letter to the governor of Mississippii, the DOJ concluded in a letter regarding the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility that their investigation “reveals systematic, egregious, and dangerous practices exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls” (Perez).  Some of these offenses identified in the letter included being indifferent to sexual misconduct of its employees, using excessive force, and being indifferent to gang affiliations (Perez).  Although the inhabitants of the prisons are criminals, both non-violent and violent offenders, they should still be treated as human beings.  Are these criminals going to learn their lesson in an environment where violence is promoted by its own employees?  In addition to this, there are other ways in which injustice occurs simply by the systematic approach to maximizing profits.  In the case “Dockery vs EPPS,” the ACLU sues the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, on behalf of the prisoners for the injustice that occurs within the facility.  The ACLU argues that within the facility:
Prisoners are underfed and routinely held in cells that are infested with rats and have no working toilets or lights. Although designated as a facility to care for prisoners with special needs and serious psychiatric disabilities, ECMF denies prisoners even the most rudimentary mental health care services. Many prisoners have attempted to commit suicide; some have succeeded (“Dockery vs EPPS”). 
Although the case is still proceeding, these injustices point to the mathematical/economic way of reducing costs.  Many people may say that these prisoners deserve the punishment that they are getting, but do these prisoners not have rights?  These prisoners could be in prison for just simple drug offenses but they are subjected to being underfed and without working toilets or lights. 
                Going against these major corporations may be a huge undertaking as they have almost unlimited funds.  However, the general public should promote effective reform policies that may be able to undercut the funds that go to these corporations.  Promoting lessened time for non-violent criminals and effective reforms to the criminal justice system may help in bringing down the institution of private prisons.  The CCA and GEO lobby against these kinds of efforts, but legislators should listen to the voice of their constituents when making the laws.  Ultimately, it is up to the constituents of this country to voice their concerns regarding these injustices, and vote for the best candidate that will follow the voice of their voters. 
"Dockery v. Epps." American Civil Liberties Union. 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Mason, Cody. "Too Good to Be True." The Sentencing Project. Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Oppel, Richard A. "Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 May 2011. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Perez, Thomas E. "Investigation of the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility." Letter to Phil Bryant. 20 Mar. 2012. SplCenter. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Felony Disenfranchisement--Dylan Rogers Elliott

          Previous blog posts have looked at injustices perpetrated against groups such as children, immigrants, and victims of lead paint poisoning. This post, however, discusses a different group: felons. You may be asking, what injustices are impacting felons? After all, these individuals have injured neighbor and society. A deeper examination, however, reveals that felons are often the target of a variety of injustices, particularly as they are released from incarceration and re-enter society. The attention of this post will be focused on “felony disenfranchisement”—the denial of voting rights to released felons.

            An estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws barring convicted felons from voting. Voting, as defined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is “the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest.”[1] Thus, nearly six million Americans are banned from participating in the democratic process. This is an injustice because these felons have already paid their debts—they have served their time and are now returning to their communities. Yet, they are being treated as second class citizens who are expected to live in a society that is not allowing them access to all of its rights and privileges. Said succinctly: an isolated and vulnerable group is being denied a fundamental, democratic right because of previous mistakes.

            Abrogating voting rights as a punishment is an ancient device, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, yet we continue to wield it in the 21st Century.[2] Perhaps this is an outdated punishment, perhaps not. Regardless, it hardly seems fair to release a felon and expect them to immediately reintegrate into society while at the same time denying one of the “fundamental” means of participating in that society—voting.

            This is not a “soft on crime” stance; this is recognition of the fact that felons who have been released from incarceration—either for completing their sentence, for parole, or for probation—have completed their judicially prescribed punishment. The continued absence of voting rights upon the completion of a sentence silently extends the punishment period, continuing the segregation of the felon from the society they are being told to rejoin. Felony disenfranchisement is one of several “collateral consequences” that stifle felon’s job opportunities, civic participation, and eligibility for public benefits.[3] These roadblocks help keep recidivism high and prevent felons from reintegrating.

            Fortunately, in recent years, states have increasingly backed the rights of felons to vote upon completion of their terms of incarceration. Maryland has been the most recent to make this a reality. When the State Senate overrode Governor Hogan’s veto of SB340/HB980 it paved the way for 40,000 Maryland felons to regain the right to vote. Specifically, it extended the right to vote to all felons who have been released from incarceration, including those on parole and probation. In doing so, one obstacle to reintegration was eliminated.[4] The victory for voting rights in Maryland was the result of a number of organizations that lead a successful grassroots campaign.

            The success in Maryland seems to strike the best balance for rectifying this injustice. Felons still lose their voting right while incarcerated, yet upon release they regain that right. Although they may be serving a parole or probation, it is only fair for them to regain the rights of an average citizen. While on parole or probation felons are expected to swiftly begin the reintegration process, why should they not swiftly be reintegrated into the electorate?

            Many other states, however, continue to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed parole and probation or have served a multi-year waiting period. Some felons will forever be banned from voting.[5] Those wishing to support the fight to expand voting rights for felons can contribute to organizations such as The Sentencing Project which research and advocate for sentencing reform. If you find yourself passionately dedicated to the cause of felon voting rights the best action is direct action in state’s still abrogating felon voting rights. Research and contact local groups advocating for felon’s voting rights to learn more about how you can be of help in that specific state.


[1] The Sentencing Project,; American Civil Liberties Union,
[2] National Conference of State Legislatures,
[3] Nicole D. Porter, “The State of Sentencing 2015 Developments in Policy and Practice,” (Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project, 2016), (, accessed March 27, 2016).
[4] Erin Cox, “Released Felons Gain the Right to Vote in Maryland after Veto Override,” (Baltimore, M.D.: The Baltimore Sun, 2016) ( accessed March 27, 2016).
[5] National Coalition of State Legislatures,

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Homelessness has and most likely will always be a justice issue if the proper action is not taken. One major reason why I feel like homelessness is a justice issue is because it isn’t fair and this reason alone goes against the definition of justice. Another component of justice that homelessness defiles is equality. Being homeless is a sign that everyone in the U.S. is not on the same level. Whether it be socioeconomic status, job opportunity, health care opportunity or anything else, the truth of the matter is that all Americans do not have the same right or opportunity. For instance, there are some unfortunate occurrences where people are born into families of low socioeconomic status. Because they are born into poor living conditions, it is likely that they will grow up that way and continue to carry on that tradition.

On the other hand, there are cases where people are homeless because of something that they might have brought upon their self. For example, someone could continuously come to work late, fail to complete assigned projects in it’s entirety, lie on their timesheet and eventually get fired. This is an instance where the person brought the situation upon their self and now they have to figure out how to make ends meet before they get evicted from their home. Now, they’re depressed because they lost their job, they’re living on the street, and they possibly turn to drugs to fill the void they created. Whatever the case may be, homelessness is an unfortunate and tragic situation to be in no matter what you did or might not have done to get to that point.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 564,708 people experience homelessness on any given night in the United States. There needs to be a remedy for the issue of homelessness because the U.S. is well developed and wealthy enough to support people who identify themselves as homeless. In order for justice to be served in this case, everyone who is concerned about this issue needs to be prepared to work diligently. One way to seek justice and get homeless people off the street is to start locally. Volunteering at a local housing organization or even participating in a fundraising drive are ways to start in your community. Donating money, canned foods, clothes or anything that might benefit those in need is also a great way to reduce the amount of homeless people on the street. Another way of seeking justice is to take a more direct approach by making your voice known to officials by signing up for the Advocacy Updates through the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

In conclusion, although there is a wide variety of people that are homeless out in the streets today, great work has been done to reduce the amount of people sleeping on the street. For example, in 2009, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Obama Administrative Care committed to ending veteran homelessness by 2015. Ever since that point, there has been a 35 percent decrease in the number homeless veterans. There is a lot more work that needs to be done to help people get back on their feet and get them out of the streets but overall, progress is being made and that’s all that matters.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Violence Against Women: Acid Violence

Violence against women is not a new topic to the international community. Examples of hegemonic gender norms leading to oppression have been seen around the world. Thankfully, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). This convention holds the states that ratified it accountable for ensuring that discrimination against women does not occur, and to take the necessary legal efforts to put an end to it. Because of CEDAW, many crimes against women have been able to grab the attention of the international community. This attention is crucial in pressuring corrupt governments to stop impunity, and gain justice for victims. Take the 2012 New Delhi, India gang rape of a college student named Jyoti Pandey, for example. Her devastating demise was felt by the international community through the press and the release of India’s Daughter. The intense international scrutiny as a result of these releases led to the Indian government making legal reform on issues of sexual assault. Unfortunately, one specifically gruesome crime against women, occurring mostly in Southeast Asia, has been swept under the rug. It is called acid violence.
Acid violence is the intentional act of throwing, spraying, or pouring acid onto victims faces and/or bodies. Perpetrators of acid violence often use hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acid which burns through flesh and bone within seconds. The excruciating pain victims feel as a result of acid burns are not the only problem that they face. Acid violence has extremely detrimental health effects for victims. Often times, victims face blindness, loss of facial or body features, and unbearable mental suffering. Victims are often marginalized in society because of the grotesqueness of the physical damage and accompanying disabilities. Unfortunately, many Indian women have suffered the effects of acid violence. Acid violence is often used on Indian women who have “allegedly or actually” disobeyed subordinate gender roles. Other reasons like hurting male pride, rejection, family and marriage issues, land disputes, or dowry related reasons have been noted. These heartless attackers generally will aim to throw the acid on a woman’s face, intentionally destroying her physical identity. Acid violence is particularly such a heinous crime because it is done with the intention of seriously maiming and destroying the dignity of another human being.
Acid violence in India has been justified as “keeping women in their place.” This incredibly vile mindset has caused many Indian women to suffer for the rest of their lives. The Indian government has left hundreds of women without justice. The Indian Penal Code (I.P.C.) does not criminalize acid violence, despite the growing number of reported cases. The closest attempt is Section 326 of the I.P.C., which “deals with causing gracious hurt by throwing of a corrosive substance.” This vague code does not even closely begin to describe the various injuries that victims have to deal with as a result of this “corrosive substance.” It, also, does not deal with the discriminatory intent and planning behind the attack. Lastly, it does not come close in defining clear provisions for awarding compensation to the victim. Under this code, many perpetrators have been sentenced to a maximum of seven to ten years which is incredibly insufficient when comparing the amount of time, the victim suffers. Often, these perpetrators end up being released a lot earlier than the seven to ten sentences.
This is impunity in its finest form. To add icing onto the nauseating cake, many victims are unable to get past a police report because the police and/or her family will assert that she should compromise. This pressure to not seek justice is detrimental to victims as they as it prevents them from truly ever restoring their dignity again. Luckily, nongovernmental organizations like Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), Stop Acid Attacks, and Acid Survivors Foundation India have raised awareness about acid violence globally. Through fundraising, these NGO’s have been able to secure prosecution teams to help these victims continue their search for justice. They have been able to pay for medical bills that often become unbearable to burn victims as India does not have health insurance, so patients must pay completely out of pocket. Also, NGO’s have been able to give psychological treatment to victims which is essential because many lose their self-esteem and suffer from depression. The international community plays an even bigger role than NGO’s in establishing justice for these type of crimes.
The United Nations has to step in and hold the Indian government along with these criminals in an international tribunal for violating the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These NGO’s cannot do it alone, lawyers around the globe should petition to the UN and demand justice. Acid violence is unacceptable, and should be punished severely. If the United Nations applies pressure on the Indian government to do something, they will. The Indian government has to create a code of laws defining and outlining punishment for acid violence. These codes have to increase the minimum and maximum sentences for acid crimes, as well as defining compensation to acid violence victims. If the government institutionalizes the condemnation of acid violence and takes the necessary legal steps that it committed to do in CEDAW, only then will acid violence in India reduce.