lunatic-asylumOld lunatic asylum

This final post concerns the third main driver of high US incarceration rates: the warehousing of the mentally ill in America’s prisons and jails. It’s the one I’m most intimately acquainted with, after campaigning for 14 years, alongside the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, to end this medieval barbarism. Federal and state lawmakers are perfectly aware that 1) this 40 year old practice constitutes a crime against humanity under international law and 2) that imprisoning the mentally ill costs taxpayers two to three times as much as community treatment. Yet our elected representatives remain unwilling or incapable of rectifying this problem.*

According to Health Affairs, 20 percent of US prison inmates have a serious mental illness and 30 to 60 percent have substance abuse problems. Between 50 and 70 percent have mild to moderate mental disorder.  Al Jazeera reports that people with severe mental illness are 10 times more likely to be in a jail or prison than in a mental health facility and 40 percent of individuals with a severe mental illness will have spent some time in their lives in either jail, prison, or community corrections.

Aside from the absolute barbarity of warehousing vulnerable mentally ill offenders with violent psychopaths, locking them up costs the taxpayer far more than providing them outpatient mental health services: adding up to $150 billion annually

I see two main factors behind the American practice of using correctional facilities to warehouse the mentally ill. Number one is the systematic defunding of America’s mental health system. Number two is the systematic defending of federal housing programs that initially provided shelter for the mentally ill when they were first released from state mental hospitals in the sixties, seventies and eighties.

The Movement to Close State Mental Hospitals

The movement to close state mental hospitals and “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill began in 1963, after President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Center Act. The goal of the new law was to replace institutionally based mental health treatment with community based care, by funding outpatient community mental health centers, group homes and residential facilities. In the early seventies, the discovery of effective pharmaceutical treatments for schizophrenia and manic depressive disorder facilitated this process.

As anticipated, state legislatures all over the country jumped at the opportunity to shift the cost of mental health care to the federal government. Because they provided 24/7 care, state hospitals had monstrous labor costs and lawmakers were only too happy to close them.

Unfortunately this federal funding dried up when Johnson created Medicaid for low income Americans in 1968. From this point on, the only federal mental health funding states received was from the individual entitlement of the Medicaid patients they served. Any non-Medicaid patients they treated had to be funded by private fees and charity.

Reagan Slashes Medicaid

Mental health funding deteriorated even further when Reagan replaced Medicaid funding with social service “block grants” that provided 25% less funding than the programs they replaced. Federally subsidized housing programs experienced comparable funding cuts.

Faced with steep funding cuts, states had no choice but to turn away thousands of mentally ill clients in genuine need of treatment. It was during the early eighties, under the Reagan administration, that large numbers of mentally ill Americans first made their appearance on the streets and in jails and prisons.

As funding continued to deteriorate, community mental health centers reduced costs even further by replacing labor intensive counseling and psychotherapy with “drugs-only” treatment and “case management” – and master’s degree social workers and counselors with “case workers” with no mental health training.

George W Bush Makes Further Medicaid Cuts

America’s mental health system would take a further hit in 2006 when Bush further slashed federal Medicaid funding to help finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. States responded with further service cutbacks and, as always, jails and prisons took up the slack.

America’s mental health system would enter its death spiral when the economic recession hit in 2008. A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reveals the states slashed an unprecedented $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets between 2009 and 2011.

Continuing a well-established trend, mentally ill patients unable to access community treatment would end up in jail or prison.

To fully appreciate the unspeakable horror of this inhumane policy, listen to this excellent BBC World Service documentary America’s New Bedlam**

*The total indifference of our elected representatives to our prison system’s crimes against humanity is well illustrated by this post on solitary confinement (which also violates international law):  Oh, Just Stop It

**Bedlam refers to the Royal Bethlem Hospital in London, the first to specialize in the treatment of the mentally ill.

photo credit: danmillerinpanama



The debate over solar has also created some surprising tensions among conservatives. On the one hand, (corporate) right-wing groups like ALEC are opposed to the heavy subsidies given to solar power by Congress and states. But another subset of (Tea Party) conservatives view solar power more favorably — and oppose efforts by states to restrict it or impose new fees.

Originally posted on Nwo Report:

If you ask the people who run America’s electric utilities what keeps them up at night, a surprising number will say solar power. Specifically, rooftop solar.

That seems bizarre at first. Solar power provides just 0.4 percent of electricity in the United States — a minuscule amount. Why would anyone care?

But utilities don’t see things that way. As solar technology gets dramatically cheaper, tens of thousands of Americans are putting photovoltaic panels on their roofs, generating their own power. At the same time, 43 states and Washington DC have “net metering” laws that allow solar-powered households to sell their excess electricity back to the grid at retail prices.

That’s a genuine problem for utilities. These solar households are now buying less and less electricity, but the utilities still have to manage the costs of connecting them to the grid. Indeed, a new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory…

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The third of four posts on America’s scandalous prison industrial complex.

While private prison companies and profits are the primary driver of America’s scandalous incarceration rates, institutional racism and the collapse of America’s mental health system also make a major contribution.

Most crimes in the US are committed by white people. The most heinous crimes, such as serial killings, mass shootings and mortgage and foreclosure fraud are nearly always committed by Caucasians. Yet ethnic minorities, who comprise less than 35% of the general population (14.3% African America, 17% Hispanic) represent 58% of the prison population

A black man born in 1991 has a 29% chance of going to prison. One in 15 black children and one in 42 Latino children have a parent in prison

Institutional Racism in the Criminal Justice System

Reasons for the mass incarceration of ethnic minorities are multifaceted. Racially biased policing is the most obvious. Police randomly stop (and sometimes shoot) people of color for no other reason than their ethnicity. Once in custody, low income minority defendants have no choice but to rely on inexperienced, overworked and underpaid public defenders to represent them. Owing to time constraints and restricted investigation budgets, public defenders often pressure minority defendants who are “factually” innocent to cop a plea. This becomes especially worrying in cases where police have deliberately lied or fabricated evidence.

Disproportionate Sentencing

Once convicted, according to the Wall Street Journal, an African American offender will likely receive a harsher sentence than a white person committing a comparable crime. Nearly half of America’s prison population are doing time for non-violent offenses. This is largely due to racist war on drugs and tough-on-crime polices that force judges to impose minimum mandatory sentences and disallow non-custodial sentences, such as home detention and community service.

The main driver behind minimum mandatory sentencing and habitual offender (aka “three strikes”)* laws is race-based neoconservative fear mongering by corporate media and neoconservative politicians. Both deliberately portray ethnic minorities as inherently unstable, aggressive, violent and a threat to the social order.

In his 2003 documentary series The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis eloquently depicts how neoconservatives deliberately create myths about dark skinned Muslim fanatics to win votes and consolidate political power. The neocons’ racist law and order agenda is the domestic counterpart of their War on Terror. Convinced they are at imminent risk from African and Hispanic men, terrified white voters elect strong tough-on-crime candidates to lock them away for as long as possible.

*Typically three strikes laws require mandatory imprisonment without opportunity of parole for all violent offenders with two prior felony convictions.

To be continued with a final post discussing the wholesale warehousing of America’s mentally ill in prisons and jails.

photo credit:




Political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, along with Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, are America’s conscience.

Originally posted on United States Hypocrisy:

The following is the latest commentary from America’s most well-known political prisoner worldwide, Mumia Abu Jamal. All credit goes to Mumia as well as to Noelle Hanrahan for regularly recording these radio commentaries, which are available online at

The Isis Crisis: A U.S. Creation (2:43) by Mumia Abu-Jamal

When the ISIS group cracked the news several weeks ago, it stunned millions of Americans who wondered, “Where did this come from?”

The media, performing their function of servant to the corporate state, just as they did in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, simply distributed audio from the Pentagon and politicians.

Few went deeper.

One had to search hard to find the truth – that ISIS was armed, paid and equipped by the U.S. And moreover that ISIS, like al-Qaeda, was a tool of U.S. Grand Strategy, a strategy designed decades ago to win the grand prize…

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prison-call-centerInmate-run call center

This second post deals with the corporatization of US prisons and the private companies who profit from high incarceration rates.

US rates of violent and property crime have been declining steadily since 1990. Logically dropping crimes rates should produce a drop in incarceration rates. Yet until 2009, when 26 states acted to reduce prison populations, the exact opposite was true. As crime rates declined in state after state, the number of people they locked up skyrocketed.

Presently the US “enjoys” the highest incarceration rate in the world. At 500 per 100,000 population, it’s  five times higher than other developed countries.

A number of factors contribute to this disgrace. In my view, the first and most important is the enormous profit potential of American’s prison industry, resulting in major pressure on state legislatures from private for-profit prison companies and their friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council place on state legislatures. The second is a raft of tough-on-crime legislation driven by deliberate neoconservative race-based fear mongering. The third is the systematic defunding of mental health services in the US, leading to the warehousing of mentally ill patients in federal and state correctional facilities.

Profit, Not Crime, Drives Prison-Building Spree

Prison privatization, which began under Reagan in the 1980s, has turned incarceration and immigration detention into a multibillion dollar growth industry with its own trade shows, conventions, mail order catalogs and state and federal lobbyists. Unsurprisingly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Wackenhut and the 16 other for-profit prison companies are major campaign donors to federal and state lawmakers who advocate tough-on-crime and tough-on-immigrant policies. These are usually the same legislators who sponsor bills to replace state prisons with private for profit correctional facilities.

Who’s Making Big Bucks Off Prison Privatization?

The booming private prison industry provides numerous opportunities for banks and other corporate interests to skim off profits at taxpayer expense:
1. The Wall Street investment banks (e.g. Goldman Sachs) who issue the bonds to finance the building of state and local prisons.
2. The private companies who run prisons – Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut are the largest, but there are now 18 altogether. CCA also operates our federal immigration detention facilities and helped write Arizona ‘s controversial immigration law.
3. Private companies that provide food services, health care, and assorted security paraphernalia to prisons.
4. Bed brokers who, in Texas, earn $2.50 – 5.50 per man-day (for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence) by recruiting prisoners from out of state.
5. Major corporations who save on labor costs in 37 states by contracting cheap prison labor.

The list of corporations employing cheap prison labor is extensive: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, JC Penny, Best Western Hotels, Honda, Chevron, BP, Victoria’s Secret, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more.

Virtual Slave Labor

Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage ($7.25). Not all do, though. In Colorado state prisons, they get about $2 per hour. In private prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour.

As Vicky Pelaez writes in Global Research, thanks to dirt cheap prison labor, manufacturing jobs that corporations previously outsourced to third world sweatshops are returning to the US. She gives the example of a company operating a maquiladora (Mexican assembly plant near the border) that closed down operations and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California.

The virtual slave labor that occurs in state prisons also drives down wages in neighboring communities. Pelaez gives the example of a Texas factory that fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoners at the private Lockhart Texas prison, who assemble circuit boards are assembled for IBM and Compaq.

BP also made profitable using of cheap prison labor in cleaning up Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Many US corporation employ prison labor to staff their call centers. According to NBC News, If you recently called your motor vehicle department or received a telemarketing call from Microsoft or Hitatchi, it’s likely the person on the other end was a prisoner.

Another great resource on the scandalous prison industrial complex are is the excellent series Nation at Risk  at Deconstructing Myths.

photo credit: The Politics of Information

To be continued.




Obama’s in trouble now – apparently he’s bombing the wrong terrorists in Syria. It’s damned hard to tell them apart at 34,000 feet.

Originally posted on Uprootedpalestinians's Blog:

Saudi Arabia urges U.S. to stop its air-strikes targeting ISIS in eastern Syria

The Saudi foreign Minster called his American counterpart, demanding him to end “the devastating campaign” against the Muslim population in eastern Syrian territories ,occupied by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reported RT.

During his phone –call, Saud bin Faisal Al Saud, importuned Mr. John Kerry to persuade U.S. president to end all hostilities with the hardline Islamist organization to save tens of thousands of innocent Syrian entrapped civilians and to continue preventing Iran from achieving its goals   , RT quoted the Saudi Daily Al-Okaz as saying.

The American senior official in his part , told the Saudi foreign minister to convey president Obama’s message to Saudi monarch , asking him to prevent factions inside the Saudi regime from financing the notorious ISIS terrorists group in Syria and join western alliance against the Al- Qaeda…

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This is the first of four posts on America’s scandalous prison industrial complex. I start with the good news. Thanks to the budget crisis most states have faced since the 2008 economic crash, US prison populations have shrunk by 600,000.

States Save Billions by Downsizing Prisons

An important silver lining of the 2008 economic downturn has been a decline in the US incarceration rate. Despite two decades of declining violent and property crime rates, the US still enjoys the highest incarceration rate (500 per 100,000 population) in the world. Nevertheless, thanks to the recession-related budget crisis in 48 state capitols, America’s prison population has started to fall. According to CBS News, between 2009 and 2012, it fell from a peak of 2.2 million to 1.57 million.

In 2013 prison populations rose slightly (there were an estimated 1,574,700 inmates on December 31, 2013 – an increase of 4,300 prisoners).

What explains this overall decline in prison occupancy? Between 2008 and mid-2013* every state except Montana and North Dakota faced yearly budget shortfalls. Because states aren’t allowed to run deficits, most had to make substantial cuts in “essential” state programs, including education, housing, highway maintenance and repair – and most importantly prisons.

In 2010, the last time such costs were calculated, the average annual cost of incarceration was $28,000 – $40,000 per inmate.

This definite budget breaker has led 26 states to resist lobbing by private prison operators such as Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut, Cornell Corrections and their friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and enact legislation to reduce prison numbers.

California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act

California clearly leads the nation in this initiative. When the US Supreme Court (in May 2011) upheld a lower court ruling ordering them to reduce prison overcrowding, Sacramento had the hard choice between borrowing money to build more prisons, paying private prisons in other states to take their offenders or adopting the Criminal Justice Realignment Act. This legislation works to move nonviolent offenders out of the prison system, as well as finding alternatives to custodial sentences for new nonviolent offenders. Under the Realignment Act, the number of inmates in California prisons has dropped by 25,000 since 2011. The count of offenders on parole is down about 30,000, and prisoners held in private out-of-state prisons is down 10 percent.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that it saves $1.5 billion a year through realignment and will save another $2.2 billion a year by canceling $4.1 billion in new construction projects.

25 Other States Work to Cut Prison Populations

According to the ACLU and NORML, 25 other states are saving money by cutting and/or slowing the growth of their prison populations. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia are working to to reduce their incarceration of nonviolent offenders by decriminalizing marijuana.*

  • Alabama – passed law allowing a sentencing commission to set new guidelines for nonviolent crimes.
  • Alaska – decriminalized marijuana
  • Colorado – shut down large penitentiary in view of falling crime rates and passed a ballot initiative in 2012 legalizing marijuana use for recreational purposes.
  • Connecticut – became 17th state to repeal death penalty in April 2012, as well as decriminalizing marijuana.
  • District of  Columbia – decriminalized marijuana.
  • Florida – closed eight prisons that were built in anticipation of a crime wave that never occurred
  • Georgia – passed bill reducing sentences for low level drug offenses and theft, creates drug and mental illness courts and establishes graduated sanctions, such as community service, for probation violations.
  • Hawaii – passed law requiring the use of risk assessments in pretrial and parole hearings, to enable the identification of individuals who pose the most risk to public safety, as well as those who can be safely supervised outside of prison or jail.
  • Illinois – passed SB 2621, reinstating a program that allows prisoners to reduce their sentences through good behavior and participation in reentry programs. The bill also provides incentives for prisoners to participate in programs, such as drug treatment, that reduce recidivism.
  • Kansas – passed a law allowing judges to divert individuals convicted of low-level crimes from prison to less expensive and more effective substance abuse treatment.
  • Louisiana – passed one law allowing prisoners serving life sentences for nonviolent crimes to go before a parole board to prove they are ready for release and another allowing inmates who have committed repeat low-level offenses to appear before a parole board after serving one-third of their sentences.
  • Maine – decriminalized marijuana
  • Maryland – passed a law increasing the number of offenses that must/can be charged via citation instead of arrest and detention.
  • Massachusetts – decriminalized marijuana
  • Minnesota – decriminalized marijuana
  • Mississippi – decriminalized marijuana
  • Missouri – passed one law reducing disparity for crack and powder cocaine offenses and another sending fewer people back to prison for technical violations of probation and parole, such as a missed meeting or failed drug test.
  • Nebraska – decriminalized marijuana
  • Nevada – decriminalized marijuana
  • New York – decriminalized marijuana
  • North Carolina – decriminalized marijuana
  • Ohio – decriminalized marijuana
  • Oregon – decriminalized marijuana
  • Rhode Island – decriminalized marijuana
  • Vermont – decriminalized marijuana
  • Washington State – created the LEAD program, which diverts individuals charged with low-level offenses into community-based services, such as drug treatment, immediately after arrest and before booking. Also passed a ballot initiative in November 2012 legalizing recreational marijuana.

*In 2013, increasing tax revenues enabled all but two states (Washington and California), to balance their budgets without major cuts.
**In most instances decriminalization means no prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a small amount for personal consumption. Instead the offense is treated like a minor traffic violation.

photo credit: abardwell via photopin cc