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NO MORE PRISONS: ARISE and the Fight Against the Chicopee Women's Prison (english)
31 Jul 2003
Modified: 06 Aug 2003
At the same time as it sacrifices essential services to taxpayers on the altar of “budget cuts,” the Massachusetts state government is ignoring a potentially far-reaching strategy for trimming costs, and, many observers say, worsening already-existing problems in the Department of Corrections for a waste totaling tens of millions of dollars annually.
State Budget Planners and DOC Ignoring Commonsense, Cheaper

By Free Bird

When the cops raided Frances Smith’s home in Springfield, they found drugs in her possession, and firearms in her daughter-in-law’s room. She agreed to a deal for a one-year mandatory sentence plus 2 ½ years probation. But after getting out, she violated probation, and found herself back at the Hampden County House of Correction. While there, she began participating in an
8-week group program run by an outside community organization called ARISE for Social Justice. She says it was here that she started learning self-esteem, and realized there was a way out from her dependency. Out for a year now, her record is clean, and she has begun volunteering with ARISE to advocate for changes specific to
women prisoners’ needs.

Smith has good reason to be seeking change in how the courts deal with offenders. While the current model favors warehousing greater numbers of people in more prisons, alternatives which address basic needs of prisoners like the ARISE group, are virtually
non-existent in the world of the Massachusetts DOC, says Jamie Bisonnette of the Criminal Justice program at the American Friends’ Service Committee (AFSC) in Cambridge. This is especially so in Hampden County, where she charges Sheriff Michael Ashe with assuming the role of a “corporate lord” by creating “a corrections empire” and a “gothic behavior modification program,” which penalizes inmates who
do not accept the regimen imposed on them by the prison.

The need for dealing with prisoners’ addiction and other histories is readily apparent. In 1999, a 2-year study of women prisoners in Hampden County, funded by the federal Department of Justice, and conducted by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Youth Services, the Springfield Police Department, judges and others, was released with policy recommendations. Among
its findings was that a stunning 88 percent of women studied reported being sexually or physically abused in childhood, and an equally alarming 90 percent admitted addiction to one or more chemical substance. The “overwhelming majority of these women are mothers (in
most cases of more than one child),” said the report. Perhaps most interesting was the consensus that “women’s ability to lead productive lives in the community is strongly related to social forces and social services outside of corrections.” If the study’s sentencing guidelines were adopted, it continued, “49.9 percent of
female offenders would qualify for intermediate sanctions [alternatives to prison, like treatment for addiction, probation, community service, etc.].

In terms of the state budget, this amounts in plain language to free money. ARISE community organizer Holly Richardson says she usually estimates the average cost for alternatives is one-third that of incarceration ($10,000/year for intermediate sanctions vs. $30,000/year for prison). She says she was shocked to learn during a
recent lobbying trip to the State House in Boston that legislative aides were using an updated figure of $41,000/year for prison, making alternatives that much more urgent. A juicy added benefit of finding non-incarceration options is the elimination of prison construction
and upkeep costs. Currently, ARISE is fighting the construction of a new women’s prison in Chicopee, near Springfield. The state has already floated a $27 million construction bond to pay for it, and plans to shell out an added $10-12 million/year to run it. The 230-bed lockup is totally unnecessary, say ARISE members, since the
Hampden County jail currently holds only 80 women, most of whom could be released into treatment or other alternatives.
It’s possible the jail could hold federal prisoners, says AFSC’s Bisonnette, but that is not the role of a facility paid for by Massachusetts taxpayers. Also, since crime rates have stabilized and have actually dropped over the last three years in Massachusetts compared to a rise nationwide, the need for a large new facility is
all the more questionable.

It would seem the state and its DOC are acting contrary to the advice of its own experts, who recognize the fundamental importance of going beyond incarceration to treatment and social services. “Support systems [like ARISE] need to be fostered and developed in the community,” says Jim Kelleher of the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center at the Hampden County jail. “We rely on these programs because that’s where offenders will end up- in the community.” Della Blake, manager of the women’s unit at the jail, explains how prisons come to be the only way out for many: “If I asked the women in one of my groups, ‘How many of you are glad those cops arrested you and saved you from yourself?’ maybe 16 out of 18 would raise their hands. It’s sad that incarceration has to be the starting point, but we’re having hard times right now with finding beds in detox centers- the women don’t have options for this treatment.”

“A model prison is one that disappears,” admonishes
Bisonnette, and calls for “real programs which divert people from prison.” But Della Blake worries that with the state on a community-support cutting spree these days, and shelters, detox programs, treatment facilities and other social services either cut altogether or taking big hits in funding, “alternatives are very slim or nonexistent.” She feels things have gotten to the point where high
recidivism rates could actually be desirable. “Most of the women are survivors of rape, molestation, domestic abuse- coming back in can be good so women are exposed to treatment.” Of course, she agrees that people in prison are there involuntarily, against their will. “Jail is a quick fix, but it interferes with keeping families together,
finding housing, being able to pay bills… Why do they have to come to prison to get these services?”

Prisoner advocates also find major flaws with “aftercare” – what happens when people come out of prison? The first wave of prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimums are hitting the streets about now, reports Bisonnette. The slow economy and scarce jobs are
inextricably linked to crime rates, and will prevent success for prisoners on the outside, she suggests, especially without support programs for finding housing, jobs, childcare, etc. In addition, legislators have drawn up a growing list of crimes that would disqualify former inmates from public housing and certain jobs for which they are otherwise qualified, using a criminal background check
called CORI, making reintegration into society much more difficult. “It’s going to get worse- what are we doing all this work for if they can’t get legitimate opportunities after they get out to continue their lives?” Blake fumes. “They have to survive, and they’re going to end up back hustling drugs or hustling their bodies.”

The trend toward cutting essential services is a nationwide one, as states struggle to avoid bankruptcy. While the nation’s leaders spend hundreds of billions on widely discredited military campaigns, initiatives like the Alternatives to Incarceration Program in Connecticut for example, suffer dire setbacks. 17 Alternatives to
Incarceration Centers around the state were providing non-prison options to people convicted of non-violent crimes. But bail commissioners and probation officers have been laid off, and alternative drug courts shuttered, even though statistics showed AIP programs cost $5-6000/year/person vs. $25,000/year/person for incarceration. Judges, prison staff, legislators and journalists
opposed the cuts on the grounds they would raise costs and swell prison numbers, but funding for many commonsense options was cut anyway.

It seems the best role the state can play in the
‘corrections’ process is to make ‘correction’ possible, with funding now for initiatives everyone wants, and which cost millions of dollars less than what is currently funded. The only explanation people can offer for why we continue down the path of increased incarceration, is that politicians, especially coming up to elections, don’t want to be perceived as “soft on crime.” Increasing funds for prison construction and police to fight the disastrous drug
war is an easy way to seem concerned about public safety. But any objective person looking at the problem squarely can see the obvious solution, and it’s not more warehouses for people who need a way to deal with trauma or poverty. Those officials who refuse to be responsible about these issues, in the interests of re-election or profit, can expect the problem only to worsen, and a gradually
awakening public to hold them accountable for their cynical inaction.

“They only know about saving people’s jobs [in the corrections industry]," says Frances Smith about politicians, “ -they don’t know about destroying other people’s lives.” And with that she goes back to worrying about how to support her son, a father of five children, currently doing a ten-year drug sentence.

1. The 1999 study about women prisoners in Hampden County:
2. Critical Resistance Against the Prison Industrial Complex:
3. Prison Moratorium Project:


SPOTLIGHT: ARISE for Social Justice

ARISE is an 18-year old "low-income rights,
anti-oppression membership organization" based in Springfield, and active in a broad swath of western Massachusetts. Its membership is open, but most of its hundreds of active members are women, according to organizer Holly Richardson. Their work is divided among
several committees, including Economic Justice, Peace, WISE Women (Women In Support of Each Other), a Users' Council (of current and former addicts), and one which produces an independent community newspaper called the Springfield Voice.

It was founded in 1985 by "four women on welfare who met around a kitchen table and decided to organize and advocate for their rights." The committees mobilize around campaigns using tactics like direct community outreach, distributing literature, taking surveys on current issues, marches, and occasionally lobbying officials for issue-specific needs like needle-exchange and detox programs.

At the moment, the campaign to stop the proposed $27 million women's prison in Chicopee, led by the WISE group, is keeping them busy. Also on the front burner is an initiative to decriminalize prostitution, which Richardson and prison officials agree is done mainly by addicted women looking to support a drug habit. Both campaigns benefit from the efforts of Jackie Logan, a formerly incarcerated woman now active with ARISE. She argues that if the
Chicopee prison is built, it will result in increased harassment of women by police in an attempt to fill the beds there. Most of the women now in the Hampden County jail should be released into other alternatives, advises Logan, and there is certainly no need to build a new 230-bed facility to house the rest.

In addition, Logan is pasionate about women's rights to do with their bodies as they see fit: "Why are you putting me in jail for selling something that belongs to me, that God gave me on the day I was born?" Since prostitution has roots in addiction and poverty, the logical solution is to treat the underlying problem, and
not to criminalize it, ARISE advocates. "Even vice cops we've spoken to say it shouldn't be criminalized," says Richardson, since their efforts at arrest and incarceration have little impact on rates. In addition, men who solicit services do not see jail time, while the women who provide them do.

Decriminalization is gaining support among legislators, but the prospect of a wasteful new prison still looms, as do wars of conquest and corrupt police and politicians. Still, despite recently having to lay off their few paid staff, that's what drives women like Smith and
Richardson to keep pushing the system.

To contact or volunteer: 413 348 8234 or arise (at)
To make a tax-deductible donation, make checks out to: ARISE for Social Justice, and mail to 94 Rifle Street, Springfield MA 01105
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LA forces Injections and Medical Experiments (english)
06 Aug 2003
Forced injections, forced experiments, incarceration of the poor for the control and for the profit of the wealthy and their entourage of bureaucrats known as "The Beast" have turned our country into a prison nightmare.

It will take a full scale social upheaval with workers strikes to get our nation back. It probably will not have.

Time to have a "Cuban". Free art and music. Experiment information is one paragraph down at page.
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