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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Jean Trounstine

Fighting the Fees that Force Prisoners to Pay for Their Incarceration

by Jean Trounstine, Truthout.org

This past January, prisoners in Florida went on strike to protest what they called modern-day slavery in the state’s prisons. As of March, not only had the Florida Department of Corrections not responded to the demand for paid labor and improved living conditions, it had also placed some of the prisoners who were demanding fair wages into solitary confinement. As Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy, succinctly said on Democracy Now!, “If you do not treat people as human beings they will eventually erupt.” The fight is far from over.

Florida is one of five states where prisoners receive no money for their work, forcing families to cough up money for food and necessities. Florida is also one of 43 states that charge prisoners for their so-called “stay” behind bars, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This egregious injustice disproportionately targets African Americans, who fill a third of Florida’s prison beds, although they only make up 17 percent of the state’s overall population.

While the movement to end money bail has gained steam across the nation, the burgeoning fight against ...

US Parole Activists Aim to Overhaul a Failing System

by Jean Trounstine, originally published September 30, 2017, Truthout.org.

The United States has the shameful reputation of being the world's largest jailer, and as the Prison Policy Initiative reported in March, 2017, 2.3 million people are currently locked up in prisons and jails. This mass incarceration continues in spite of the fact that a Brennan Center for Justice report shows that crime is down and rates remain near historic lows.

Furthermore, our punishment system extends beyond the prison walls and includes destructive parole policies. "Max Out," a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts report, details that over the past three decades, those sent to prison have been serving longer sentences. They are less likely to earn parole, the opportunity to finish one's sentence in the community. This occurs in spite of the fact that research shows that longer sentences do not make us safer and do not prevent people from returning to prison, even as they cost more.

But here's the good news: Activists across the county are seeking remedies for people impacted by this failing parole system, and in some cases, changing the system itself.

How Is Parole Failing?

Parole is often portrayed as "a free ...

Brutal Crimes Don't Justify Bad Laws

By Jean Trounstine, Truthout

A true tragedy, driven by a media frenzy, often provokes a misguided need to do something as quickly as possible and leads to bad public policy - like California's Three Strikes sentencing law.

Massachusetts Juvenile Judge Jay D. Blitzman got it right when he explained in 2008 why brutal crimes so often lead to bad laws. In an article for the Barry Law Review he wrote: "As the public and media react to the crime du jour, there is an unfortunate tendency to legislate by anecdote." Stories gain momentum, get fueled in the press, and can be used for political advantage by the powers that be, and before we know it, the need for change, and in some cases, vengeance, turns too quickly into ill-conceived laws.

The Massachusetts Experience

This kind of political dynamite is exactly what exploded in Massachusetts this past year. First, in 2013, public outrage spread over the tragic killing of Danvers High algebra teacher Colleen Ritzer. Accused of first-degree murder and rape of his teacher, 14-year-old Philip Chism is now set to be tried as an adult, the norm for any Massachusetts juvenile charged with murder who has reached age 14 ...


 

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Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual