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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Brian Dolinar

Profiting Off Mass Incarceration: Detroit Pistons Owner Buys Private Prison Phone Company

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The election of Donald Trump has already given an economic boost to those profiting from mass incarceration. The stock prices of the two biggest private prison builders – CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group – doubled after Trump took office.

Companies that charge for expensive phone calls from prisons and jails also won big after Trump’s victory. One of the president’s first appointments placed Ajit Pai at the helm of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who promptly rolled back the agency’s 2015 decision to regulate the prison phone industry. The companies hailed it as a victory.

Shortly after the FCC’s reversal, Securus, one of the largest prison phone companies, announced it was being sold to Platinum Equity, a large investment firm for a reported $1.5 billion. (To date the deal has not been finalized.) Tom Gores, Platinum’s founder and CEO, is an investment mogul who also owns the Detroit Pistons. In 2011, Gores purchased the basketball team with the stated intent of improving the struggling city.

In the United States’ current economy, prisons and basketball are growth industries. Both profit from the exploitation of black bodies, pulling in people from poor neighborhoods in major ...

With General Inch in Charge, We Can Expect Further Militarization of the Prison System

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The appointment of retired Army General Mark S. Inch to head the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a major blow to those working for prison reform under Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on August 1, 2017 that Inch would be taking over the position. In the past, Inch has been responsible for detainee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been plagued by accusations of torture and abuse. Looking at Inch’s record, many prison activists and formerly incarcerated people expressed alarm that his appointment will likely lead to worsening conditions in the future.

This news comes just days after Trump gave a speech before police in Long Island, New York, joking that they should treat suspects “rough” and not be “too nice” to those he called “thugs” and “animals.” Throughout his campaign for president, Trump billed himself as the “law and order” candidate – rhetoric that apparently resonated with his base.

Attorney General Sessions, appointed by Trump, has expressed his own support for the war on drugs, asset forfeiture and anti-immigration policies. In his announcement, Sessions called Inch a “military policeman” who was “uniquely qualified” to head the federal prison system.

Truthout spoke ...

Orange Crush: The Rise of Tactical Teams in Prison

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

Since Ferguson, there has been a public outcry over militarized police who shoot down African Americans on the streets of our cities, but less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated. In Illinois, there is a notorious band of guards called the “Orange Crush” who don orange jumpsuits, body armor and riot helmets to conceal their identities. They carry large clubs and canisters of pepper spray, which they use liberally. A recent lawsuit names a list of horrific abuses that includes strip searches, beatings and mass shakedowns of cells.

In the decades since the 1971 prison rebellion at Attica in New York, there has been a gradual build-up of these “tactical teams,” also known as “tac teams” or Special Operations Response Teams (SORTs). Today, they are routinely used for anything from fights to reports of contraband. Only within the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) have they earned the infamous name of “Orange Crush.” Anyone who has been incarcerated in the men’s state prison system has a story about these abusive guards.

I first heard of the Orange Crush in 2005 from my pen pal Gregory Koger, then held in isolation ...

When Jail is Used as Drug Treatment

By Brian Dolinar, Smile Politely

Some in our community say that those in the local jail are dangerous people that shouldn’t be let out on the streets. Yet the tragic story of Toya Frazier, who recently died in the jail, is the more common case of someone who was no violent criminal, but struggled for years with drug addiction and needed treatment. What she got instead was a death sentence by the Champaign County court system.

Toya Frazier was found dead December 1, 2015 at 5:11 p.m., alone in a cell at the Champaign County Satellite Jail. Guards were supposed to conduct checks every 15 minutes for those on medical watch like Frazier. She was screaming in pain throughout the previous night from what was apparently heroin withdrawal. According to video viewed afterwards, Frazier laid dead in her jail for nearly an hour and a half before she was discovered.

Her death would be blamed on the pills she snuck into the jail. But Frazier should not have been there in the first place. There is a lengthy waiting list at the Prairie Center, one of the few options for drug treatment in Champaign County. For others, there ...

How Privatization Destroyed an Illinois Jail's Award-winning Suicide Prevention Program

Several years ago, while working at our local Books to Prisoners, I met a volunteer who was formerly a mental health counselor in the local jail in Champaign County, Illinois. This was just after there had been three jail suicides within a six-month period in 2004. She recalled a time when she worked with the "Crisis Team," a nationally-recognized mental health program which for 20 years prevented any suicides at the jail. In response to the three suicides, Sheriff Dan Walsh outsourced mental health services to Health Professionals Ltd. (HPL), a private company based in Peoria, Illinois. Yet this has not stopped suicides and other deaths at the jail.

There is a current debate in Champaign County, where the twin cities of Champaign-Urbana are home to the University of Illinois, about whether to allocate millions of dollars toward a new jail. Sheriff Walsh has frequently cited the large percentage of those with mental illness (as much as 20 percent of the daily population) and argued for the need to expand the jail's mental health facilities. More than just bricks and mortar, this issue demands that we look into quality of services provided by the private company HPL. We have ...

National Conference for Prison Book Projects Held in Urbana-Champaign

On November 3, 2007, a conference in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois brought together 88 participants from 29 different prison book projects across the country. A similar event of this kind has not taken place since a 2002 conference in Philadelphia.

Participants shared information about issues of fundraising, censorship, and how to work with prison administrations. They compared their experiences of what has worked and what has not. All agreed that, despite their titles, prisons have failed to "correct" their prisoners. These prison activists have taken it upon themselves to reach out to those individuals who are "gone but not forgotten." 

The history of the Urbana-Champaign Books To Prisoners project, host of the event, is an inspiring story. Yet it's just one example of similar projects that have sprouted up throughout the nation in places like New Orleans, Seattle, Boston, and Claremont, California. In 2004, the UC-BTP began as a small handful of volunteers carrying boxes of books around in the backs of their cars. When the local Independent Media Center purchased an old post office built in 1915, UC-BTP found the perfect home in an old mail sorting room in the basement with built-in shelves ready-made for a library.

Books ...


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