I’ve written about the Silent Protest Parade previously here.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing a letter in response to the Cook County Jail’s new visitation policy. This newly adopted policy, which can be found here, states that all visitors of inmates being held at the Cook County Department of Corrections are required to complete an application that involves a background check of the visiting person, which can take up to three days. The application that must be completed is only available online; there is no other way to apply.
A few issues arise with this policy: it implies that everyone has access to computers and the Internet; the application is only available in English, effectively shutting out everyone who isn’t fluent. The mandatory background check is also said to take 3 days for completion.
The individuals being held by Cook County Department of Corrections have families, friends, and loved ones who need and would appreciate their support systems in these strenuous times. Creating barriers such as this new visitation policy is heartless.
I have personally experienced this new policy implemented by the Cook County Department of Corrections. I am a working professional; I was able to access the application online for both my partner and myself. When we arrived to the Cook County Department of Corrections, and were turned away, I was grief –stricken. The corrections officers informed us that applications were taking nearly a week to complete the process and to call the social worker before attempting to visit again. We asked about the people who may not have access to computers or speak English “like my parents”, and an Officer’s aloof response was, “Well there is the library.” On our way out we noticed the waiting room was near empty, quite the contrast to our previous visits.
We walked away with feelings of sadness, that we were unable to visit our loved one and of anger, but with no outlet. Seeing the empty visiting room made us realize the injustice that was happening in our county. So we ask: Is this necessary protocol? If so, is the Cook County Department of Corrections upholding their end of the arrangement? Are applications being processed in a timely fashion? Is this set of rules conveniently omitting people who do not have access to a computer, the Internet and are not only English speaking? Are loved ones even aware of the new procedure for visitation? Are our inmates suffering another kind of punishment before proven blameworthy? What is the main intention of this policy, is it to isolate a person from any humane experience and deprive them from communicating with their external support systems? Why? This whole experience validated that our loved ones in the Cook County Jail are not treated as human beings but as property items. Is this justice?
I am challenging this protocol, asking if this procedure is being examined for need and accessibility; furthermore that the Cook County Department of Corrections be held accountable for invoking a punishment before culpability has been established.
Dulce M Quintero
I finally crashed tonight. I got home & I was done. I knew that it would happen. For days, I’ve been operating at peak productivity. I haven’t slowed down. I’ve been consumed with opposing SB 1342, a mandatory minimum gun bill proposed by Rahm Emanuel and currently being considered by the Illinois legislature. Regular readers won’t be surprised at this. I’ve been ranting about this bill since January when it was first introduced as “HB2265.”
For the past few weeks, I’ve been told by various stakeholders that the bill was “a done deal.” “It’s definitely going to pass,” others have said. By this, they mean that the politicians have made deals with various interests and that public opposition is futile.
But I’ve learned something important in my many years of organizing: we must never give up. Why should we bother to advocate so consistently and comprehensively against a bill that is “a done deal?” It’s simple: SB 1342 hasn’t passed yet. It hasn’t come before the full House or Senate yet. And even if it does, it hasn’t been signed into law by the Governor yet. This is where things stand and so as long there isn’t a signed bill that has become law, we must resist. I would contend that our continued resistance will be needed even if the bill becomes law. Because, in the law, nothing is permanent. Everything can be changed.
Sheila Bedi wrote about the potentially destructive impact of SB 1342 in the Daily Beast over the weekend:
So by targeting neighborhoods for mass imprisonment, law enforcement officials have created a well-greased revolving door between prisons and our communities. And in so doing, they have destroyed the only things that have ever been proven to create safe neighborhoods. Emmanuel’s mandatory minimum proposal would only serve to fan the flames of Chicago’s failed prison and policing initiatives. Thousands of young, mostly African-American men would be funneled into already overcrowded prisons.
Once there, they will languish behind bars—denied access to even the most basic educational programs which have been defunded because of budget shortfalls. Many will endure the brutal violence and sexual assaults that are endemic in a prison environment. Most will spend their three years behind bars in forced idleness. This is the case not only in Chicago, but across the country.
Writing at the Black Youth Project, Aaron Talley offered his thoughts about how #SB 1342 would impact young black people like himself:
And so let’s be clear, like the “war on drugs,” this law will disproportionately criminalize Black and Brown bodies. Communities of color who are already targets of racial profiling and brutal policing will continue to be fed into prisons, rather than being met with compassionate and creative solutions to solving the interweaving problems of violence and poverty. If there is ample evidence that suggests that this mode of punishment does not work, why then would it continue to be employed?
The consequences of mass incarceration are not academic or abstract to me. They are all too real. I see its ravages every single day in my work with young people. It’s impossible then for me to sit idly by in the face of another structural assault on the lives of black and brown young people.
This evening, dozens of other people showed up to say that they too refuse to accept another law that will do further violence to our young people and to our communities. Bundled up in the Chicago cold, holding signs, flashlights, and lightboards, Chicagoans of all stripes said “NO TO MANDATORY MINIMUMS.” Together, we stood as testaments of the refusal of so many people in this city to give up even when we’re told that things are “done deals.”
“I call for you
cultivation of victory Over
long blows that you want to give and blows you are going to get.
what wants to crumble you down, to sicken
you. I call for you
cultivation of strength to heal and enhance
in the non-cheering dark,
in the many many mornings-after;
in the chalk and choke.” – From: To Prisoners by Gwendolyn Brooks
I spent hours cooking today. I spent the rest of the time entertaining others. I’m actually a misanthrope so the mingling is always draining.
Around 3 p.m., I was hiding out in the bedroom reading when a friend burst in to tell me the news… Marissa’s home, she yelled. She’s home for Thanksgiving. I heard the words but I was silent because I couldn’t process them. What happened? I finally asked. She gave me her tablet and I read an article confirming that Marissa was released on bail shortly before midnight. She was home with conditions. She is under house arrest and electronic monitoring until her re-trial but she is with her family.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT COOK COUNTY JAIL: PRISONERS WITHOUT HEAT
Press Contact: Turn Up the Heat CCJ Coalition 931-996-2865
As temperatures in Chicago dipped down to 8 degrees last weekend, and have stayed below freezing, Cook County Jail (CCJ) is housing prisoners in cells with absolutely
no heat. A coalition of activists and grassroots organizations working on prison issues in Chicago are taking action. Last Thursday they launched a call in campaign to Sheriff Tom Dart’s office at the jail to get answers as to why prisoners awaiting trial at CCJ had no heat and inadequate blankets. They were repeatedly and consistently told the jail would look into it.
Advocates continued to call Tom Dart’s office, and soon jail personnel began to forward all calls regarding the lack of heat to the Public Relations Department. A representative told multiple callers that the heat was on, and had been on, in all divisions.
In the meantime, confirmed reports were coming from prisoners and their loved ones about a lack of heat particularly in Division 9 of the Jail. The claims made by jail officials were refuted. At this time, the heat is still off. Reports from prisoners confirmed that in Division 9 the inspectors came to the unit last Thursday, the heat was turned on until the weekend, and then the heat was turned off again, and has remained off despite the freezing temperatures. The jail claims that this is due to old and faulty equipment in another area of the jail, yet Division 9, a maximum security unit for male prisoners, was built in 1992.
“Jail officials say the heat has been off in only a small women’s tier for a few days, but they’re forgetting to mention the fact that they didn’t even bother turning the heat on until late November, and because of our campaign demanding they look into it,” a supporter named Michelle Day said. “Tom Dart and the media the jail is putting out to avoid attention on this issue only refers to issues in Division 4, but we are in contact with prisoners in Division 9 who have complained that they only had heat Thursday and Friday and can see their breath in their cells. This is clearly a way for the jail to attempt to save money, or be punitive toward prisoners, disregarding the fact that this is a clear human rights violation.”
One advocate, Mariame Kaba of Project NIA, began tweeting directly at Tom Dart’s
office and challenging jail officials claims. She got several responses that conflicted with the on-the-ground responses from prisoners and their visitors. Kaba documented the responses in a Storify. Asked about the response from Sheriff Dart’s Twitter account, Kaba said: “It’s important that CCJ be truthful and transparent with the public. Our taxes are used to maintain this facility & we expect humane treatment of all prisoners. I want CCJ to fix the heat situation immediately and to provide honest, non-conflicting responses as well.”
Jail advocates undertook a similar campaign last winter, when CCJ failed to turn on
the heat well into winter. The heat was turned on for a few weeks, only to be turned
off again when the pressure was off. The only time the heat was turned on again in Division 9 last winter, was when federal inspectors came in from the Dept. of Justice. As soon as they left, the heat was turned off again. So this year advocates have amped up for a broader campaign to put the heat on, and keep it on, as a campaign, and literally. They are encouraging people to call Tom Dart’s office, and to write letters to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the federal overseer of the jail, to ensure it complies with federal regulations at:
US Dept. of Justice Civil
Rights Division special litigation sec. 950
Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington DC 20530
In 2008, Cook County Jail was under investigation by the DOJ for poor jail conditions including abuse by corrections officers, poor food quality, lack of access to medical care resulting in amputations, and prisoners having to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding.
The coalition says it will keep the heat on, until the heat is on for good for CCJ prisoners. A supporter named Stephanie stressed, “We’re ready to keep this campaign going, and get more advocacy organizations involved, to ensure Cook County Jail respects the human rights of its prisoners.”
For updates, find the call in campaign on Facebook.
Far away from the Washington Beltway, where politicians are playing games with heath insurance coverage for millions of Americans & the media are focused on brinksmanship, a group of young activists in Chicago have been fighting for three years to establish a level 1 trauma center on the Southside. It’s been an uphill battle from the start but the young people have been persistent, patient, and pro-active. They belong to groups like Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), Students for Health Equity (SHE), and Reclaiming Inner-City Streets and Elevating Chicago (RISE Chicago).
And they’ve been fighting for their lives and those of their peers…
Wednesday was a major turning point in the trauma center campaign. A hearing was called by Rep. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) “to look into whether people are dying on the South Side from gunshot wounds because the specialized care they need is all at hospitals on the North or West sides of the city or in the south suburbs.” Veronica Morris-Moore, a key leader of Fearless Leading By the Youth (FLY), summed up her feelings after the hearing in a Facebook post [thanks to Veronica for giving me permission to share her words]:
“Hearing meeting downtown at the State building was a step in the right direction for the Trauma Center Campaign. It felt good to be heard in that type of setting & also hear Senators, State Representatives, doctors, & other community members say a lot of things the youth have been saying, for years, about the lack of Trauma Care on the south side of Chicago & what needs to be done about it.”
the protest at the University of Chicago Hospital was HELLA deee oooo peee eeee. A lot of committed youth leaders & allies used collective effort & selfless committment & to show that no matter what our communities endure nothing can diminish the fight in us. & seeing all those people holding signs demanding trauma care showed me that we are building that fight in the right direction. & the more they try to ignore us the louder we will be.
Today felt like progress & at the very very end of the day thats ALL we want.
I have nothing left to say except to express my profound gratitude and admiration for the young people and their comrades who continue this life and death struggle. Below are some photographs taken by the terrific Sarah Jane Rhee of the coffin protest.
TOMORROW, NOVEMBER 5, 2013 AT 2:00, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on an amendment to increase the mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession charges (SB 1342). Decades of empirical research demonstrate that mandatory sentences will not reduce gun violence. SB 1342 will not increase public safety, but will dramatically increase costs to the state and to individual counties and communities (disproportionately communities of color).
Update: The bill passed out of committee 11-4. It is headed to the floor where we will have to fight it representative by representative. Reach out to yours HERE.
Please raise your voice for smart, strategic, evidence-based solutions to gun violence and OPPOSE this amendment.
To voice your opposition to SB 1342, please submit a slip by taking the followings steps:
1. Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website HERE
2. Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 1342 to create a witness slip.
3. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
4. Leave Section II blank.
5. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button.
6. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
7. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
8. Select the “Create Slip” button.
Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, November 5 at 1:45 pm
The new amendment:
· Strips judges of the discretion to use alternatives to incarceration such as boot camp when circumstances warrant, further limiting sentencing options.
· Retains the most expensive parts of previous proposals – eliminates the ability of nonviolent offenders to earn reduced time for good behavior (while more serious offenders can still earn it), flooding overcrowded prisons with thousands of lower-level people unable to earn parole.
· Lengthens mandatory minimum sentences despite research that they are not effective and run counter to national trends.
· Applies to people upon a first gun possession offense: each weapon (and sometimes each bullet) is charged separately. Moreover, increased sentence length has not been proven any more effective with “repeat” offenders than with “first-time” offenders.
Coming Soon! Hope to see you there.
Picturing a World without Prisons
The U.S. is a prison nation. There is no other society in the history of humanity that has imprisoned more people. Over 2.2 million people are incarcerated in this country; representing an over 500% increase since 1970. This number excludes those we imprison in hundreds of immigrant detention centers. Our obsession with locking people up isn’t cheap. States spend over $50 billion a year just on their prison systems. The Federal government also spends tens of billions to police, prosecute, and imprison people.
Yet research and anecdotal evidence show that incarceration makes people worse and does not improve public safety. Instead of spending money on drug treatment programs, meaningful employment initiatives, health care, affordable housing, and public education, our tax dollars funnel the most vulnerable populations into the prison system so that they may languish with little-to-no access to needed resources. This is not justice. Nor is it humane. We believe that this must change.
We must dismantle the prison industrial complex. In order to do so, we have to envision what a world without prison can and should look like so that we can build that world together.
Through this exhibit which brings together the visions of incarcerated youth and people on the outside, we want to engage the public in imagining a world without prisons with us.
It will run from November 11 through December 6th at the HumanThread Center/Gallery for Nonviolence, Arts & Education, 1200 W. 35th street (Bridgeport Art Center, 5th floor)
Please join us on November 15th from 6 to 10 p.m. for the Opening Reception. RSVP HERE for the reception.
This event is part of Chicago Transformative Justice Fall and you can view other upcoming events HERE.
Update: SB1342 was not called in the Judiciary Hearing today. It might be called later today. The time for filing witness slips has expired. However, we still need your help if you live in Illinois. Please use this easy LINK to contact your elected representative to oppose this bill. It will take three minutes. All you need to do is input your zip code to contact them. Thanks.
To voice opposition to SB 1342, please submit a slip by taking the followings steps:
- Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website.
- Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 1342 to create a witness slip.
- Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
- Leave Section II blank.
- In Section III, select the “Opponent” button.
- In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
- Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
- Select the “Create Slip” button.