In The Last Supper, activist Julie Green has created a series of ceramic plates, each of which illustrate the final meal requests of prisoners on death row to protest the United States’ use of capital punishment. Images range from lobster and ice cream to a single Jolly Rancher. One prisoner even requested that his mother come to cook him his favorite comfort food. Created by Dark Rye, the online magazine from Whole Foods (a business not typically associated with progressive talking points), the documentary chronicles how Green became so drawn to the issue.
As an American, or maybe just as a moral human being, it’s hard not to feel appalled, even outraged, that Norwegian far-right monster Anders Breivik only received 21 years in prison for his attacks last year, including a bombing in Oslo and a cold-blooded shooting spree, which claimed 77 lives. That’s just under 100 days per murder. The decision, reached by the court’s five-member panel, was unanimous. He will serve out his years (which can be extended) in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room, and “Ikea-style furniture.” The New York Times quoted a handful of survivors and victims’ relatives expressing relief and satisfaction at the verdict. It’s not a scientific survey, but it’s still jarring to see Norwegians welcoming this light sentence.
Norway’s criminal justice system is, obviously, quite distinct from that of, say, the U.S.; 21 years is the maximum sentence for anything less severe than war crimes or genocide. Still, it’s more than that: the entire philosophy underpinning that system is radically different. I don’t have an answer for which system is better. I doubt anyone does. But Americans’ shocked response to the Breivik sentence hints at not just how different the two systems are, but how deeply we may have come to internalize our understanding of justice, which, whatever its merits, doesn’t seem to be as universal as we might think.
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As he sits today in Supermax, Jack Powers had amputated his fingers, a testicle, his scrotum and his earlobes, has cut his Achilles tendon, and had tried several times to kill himself. Those tattoos you see? Powers had none until 2009, when he started mutilating with a razor and carbon paper. He did much of this — including biting off his pinkie and cutting skin off his face — in the Control Unit at Supermax while prison officials consistently refused to treat his diagnosed mental illness. Rules are rules, prison officials told him, and no prisoners in that unit were to be given psychotropic medicine no matter how badly they needed it.
This is the first in a three-part series about the new class-action lawsuit filed Monday against the Bureau of Prison and the officials who run ADX-Florence, the so-called “Supermax” facility that houses some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals. The second part will focus on the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. The third part will focus upon some of the many legal issues involved in the litigation.
This is the guy whose story military prosecutors are going to endorse in court against other detainees. This is the guy who is going to be subject to cross-examination by lawyers for Hambali and Mohammed. This is the guy who is going to promise that he is telling the truth now. Remember when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called men like Kahn “killers” and when President George W. Bush called them “the worst of the worst”? Six years later, Kahn has a new name: star government witness. It’s mind boggling.
I don’t blame Kahn. He’s doing whatever he can to get out of Gitmo. And I don’t necessarily blame the Obama Administration for using the convenient tactic of turning the detainees against one another to expedite trials for some of the prisoners. What other choice do the feds have now that Congress has limited their ability to transfer the men to the States for federal civilian trial? In any event, whatever else Kahn’s testimony will do, the whole episode gives new meaning to the phrase “by hook or by crook.”
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For decades, the trade-off of becoming known as a “prison town” and being associated with incarceration has been a worthwhile trade-off for municipalities in financial straits. And states in need of a place to put their growing inmate populations during the height of the War on Drugs were willing to pay good money for it.
This is where publicly-traded, private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO, formerly known as Wackenhut, — what Eric Schlosser dubbed the “prison industrial complex” — stepped in. They offered cheaper and more efficient prison management than state-run systems because they could use non-union employees at lower wages with less training.
But much like the real estate market crash of the last ten years, the belief that the incarceration market was recession-proof and could only rise is being proved wrong. Declining crime rates are leaving more prisons empty. There isn’t enough crime to keep the prison industry afloat as it currently stands.
To save money, more states are moving their prisoners back to state-run facilities when space is available. Without prisoners, the private companies managing the facilities are leaving. And the small towns who bet on an ever-growing incarceration rate are left further in debt with few sources of capital. Read more.
A compelling, difficult story from The Atlantic Cities about incarceration and struggling American towns. Here’s a question for y’all: Can we reconcile our satisfaction about falling crime rates with concern for those losing their livelihoods?
Graeme Wood ponders the future of prisons without walls.