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Sick Justice

Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Sick Justice
    Book Description:

    In America, 2.3 million people-a population about the size of Houston's, the country's fourth-largest city-live behind bars.Sick Justiceexplores the economic, social, and political forces that hijacked the criminal justice system to create this bizarre situation. Presenting frightening true stories of (sometimes wrongfully) incarcerated individuals, Ivan G. Goldman exposes the inept bureaucracies of America's prisons and shows the real reasons that disproportionate numbers of minorities, the poor, and the mentally ill end up there. Goldman dissects the widespread phenomenon of jailing for profit, the outsized power of prison guards' unions, California's exceptionally rigid three-strikes law, the ineffective and never-ending war on drugs, the closing of mental health institutions across the country, and other blunders and avaricious practices that have brought us to this point.Sick Justicetells a big, gripping story that's long overdue. By illuminating the system's brutality and greed and the prisoners' gratuitous suffering, the book aims to be a catalyst for reform, complementing the work of the Innocence Project and mirroring the effects of Michael Harrington'sThe Other America: Poverty in the United States(1962), which became the driving force behind the war on poverty.

    eISBN: 978-1-61234-488-1
    Subjects: Law, Sociology
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE (pp. xi-xiv)
    • 1 The Mostly Invisible Catastrophe (pp. 3-18)

      BRENDA VALENCIA, A NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD WITH NO HISTORY OF DRUG USE or criminal behavior, made a terrible mistake in 1991. She gave a ride to her roommate’s stepmother, a cocaine dealer. She drove the woman to the West Palm Beach, Florida, home of a man who turned out to be another dealer. Valencia remembers being impressed by the spacious, luxurious house. She watched the World Series on TV with the daughter of the man who lived there, and he and her passenger went outside to talk. The phone rang, and Valencia picked it up. Recalled Valencia, “The guy on the end...

    • 2 Fear, Loathing, and Guns (pp. 19-26)

      SOCIETIES MORE CONCERNED WITH PUNISHMENT THAN WITH TRUTH CAN appear orderly, but only because the results of their priorities won’t be immediately visible. Citizens will know that a potentially disagreeable multitude is safely walled off somewhere, and they won’t need to know much more. But that kind of thinking got us where we are, with one in thirty-one U.S. adults in jail, prison, or on parole, according to a 2009 report from the respected Pew Center on the States.¹ The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics counted 7,225,800 of these closely monitored or locked-up souls.²

      When the Supreme Court in 2011...

    • 3 Informants (pp. 27-34)

      JOURNALISTS CONSIDER IT UNETHICAL TO PAY SOURCES FOR THEIR INFORMA-tion. This long-standing principle has withered under pressure from the twenty-four-hour news cycle and tabloid players like Rupert Murdoch, but it remains part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and is still observed by traditional news gatherers. For good reason. When sources are paid cash for their tales, they’re tempted to invent some whoppers. Yet prosecutors, who, like journalists, are supposed to investigate the facts of a case, obey no such rules. They routinely reward witnesses with a commodity far more precious than mere cash. They dangle the...

    • 4 The War on Drugs (and Reason) (pp. 37-60)

      TWO YEARS BEFORE THE END OF HIS MANDATORY TEN-YEAR TERM FOR CRACK possession, James Allen was transferred from a private prison in Southern California to a federal penitentiary in Oregon so that he could participate in a drug program and knock a few months off his sentence. Clearly no threat to anyone, he was sent unescorted. Authorities handed him a bus ticket, and he traveled approximately a thousand miles on his own so that he could knock on the door of his new prison to be locked up again. Congressional crime busters had terminated parole in the federal system back...

    • 5 The Death of Rachel Hoffman (pp. 61-64)

      NOTHING MORE STARKLY DEMONSTRATES THE DESTRUCTIVENESS OF OUR DRUG laws than the vicious, grievous murder of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman.¹ A psychology major who’d just graduated from Florida State University, Hoffman, age twenty-three, was on track to attend culinary school in Arizona. Friends described her as a free spirit, friendly and open, a post–hippie era hippie. Her family said that Hoffman lived her life according to the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love.” She was utterly unprepared for the nightmare world that was thrust upon her.

      During a traffic stop and search in February 2007, Hoffman was caught in...

    • 6 Three Strikes and You’re Out (pp. 65-74)

      In November 2012 more than 60 percent of California voters passed Proposition 36, ending eighteen years of a three-strikes experiment gone wrong. The new measure retained the concept of extending sentences for repeat offenders, particularly those facing a third conviction, but it established grounds for people serving time for nonseri-ous and nonviolent crimes to ask for shorter prison sentences.¹ Under the new law’s reforms, approximately twenty-eight hundred inmates were eligible to file for sentence review, and judges were obliged to reduce sentences unless doing so would endanger the public.

      By early 2013 judges across the state were examining petitions. On...

    • 7 Divine Right Prosecutors (pp. 75-82)

      HAD YOU CHECKED THE WEBSITE OF THE TULARE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, DIS-trict Attorney’s Office in November 2012, you’d have seen a studio portrait of a smiling, middle-aged, balding man with a closely trimmed white beard. He wore a dark suit and appropriately somber tie. A U.S. flag dangled on a pole behind his right shoulder. The man was District Attorney Phillip Cline, a member in good standing of both the local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. (Cline announced his retirement in October 2012, effective in December, approximately two years before the end of his term.) Before becoming district attorney, the...

    • 8 The Innocent and the Dead (pp. 83-102)

      IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE BEING IN THE SHOES OF A CONVICTED INNOCENT. TAKE the case of Timothy Cole. In 1986 Cole, twenty-six, an ex-soldier and student at Texas Tech, was positively identified by a student victim of a rape and robbery. After trial and conviction in Lubbock, Cole was sentenced to twenty-five years. He’d refused a plea bargain because he said he wouldn’t plead guilty to something he didn’t do. After his sentence was read, recalled his mother, Ruby Session, her son fell to the courtroom floor crying uncontrollably. She got off her chair and down on the floor with...

    • 9 Walking the “Toughest Beat” in Guccis (pp. 105-114)

      DURING THE SAVINGS-AND-LOAN SCANDAL OF THE 1980S, A WARM-UP FOR THE banking and real estate collapse of 2008, a questioner at a congressional hearing asked scheming, silver-tongued financier Charles Keating whether the $1.5 million he’d contributed to politicians could really buy him influence. “I certainly hope so,” quipped Keating, who’d eventually do four years for crimes that included swindling thousands of retirees out of their life savings. Keating, who once called a meeting with five senators who had received his contributions (and they all showed up), was a personification of how wrong the system can get when money-hungry public servants...

    • 10 Mongo and Squeaky (pp. 115-122)

      SEVERAL YEARS BEFORE I THOUGHT ABOUT WRITING THIS BOOK, I DROVE 130 miles from Los Angeles to visit James Allen, the ex-fighter who was then doing time at a no-name private prison holding two thousand inmates in the high desert town of Taft, California. With me was Allen’s trainer, Charlie Gergen. The prison sat along the edge of a dreary town set among scattered oil wells, many sucked dry and no longer cranking. This was a minimum-security institution—no concrete walls, just cyclone fences and razor wire. We passed some guards who had Wackenhut tags sewn onto their gray, wrinkled,...

    • 11 Prison Privateers and Jailing for Cash (pp. 123-134)

      PRISON CORPORATIONS ARE ENTREPRENEURIAL KIN TO THE THÉNARDIERS IN Hugo’sLes Misérables. Paid to care for Cosette by her struggling, tragically deceived mother, they saw her as a commodity to exploit for labor and income. Modern Thénadiers hire hordes of lobbyists and propagandists to induce us to ignore the conflict of interest that’s built into the very concept of a private prison, to disregard the plain truth that the mission of incarcerating humans is incongruent with the profit motive.

      These privateers most obviously cross the line when they subtly advocate jailing people even though they either know or at least...

    • 12 Captive Employees (pp. 135-140)

      SOFIA COSMA, ONE OF GREATEST PIANISTS OF HER TIME, WAS AN AUSTRIAN Jew who managed to flee into Soviet territory one step ahead of her Nazi pursuers. But after crossing the border, she was arrested and transported to Siberia to dig potatoes for seven years. Her crime? She possessed an Austrian passport. Austria, which had been absorbed into the Third Reich and no longer existed as a separate country, was nevertheless a ghost enemy of the Soviet Union, and so, Cosma was a Soviet enemy too.¹ Stalin’s security functionaries made this and other grievous arrests based on bureaucratic bungling, institutional...

    • 13 Deporting for Cash (pp. 143-146)

      WHEN PRIVATE PRISONS RENT OUT JAIL SPACE TO THE GOVERNMENT, THEY’RE paid whether the inmates are innocent or guilty. It’s another one of their perks. The process works the same way when jails hold Americans accused of being non-Americans. Administrative or judicial errors translate into profits in this business, and the longer it takes to sort out a mistake, the more profitable it is. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains approximately thirty-three thousand immigrants at any one time.¹ Many are held in private, for-profit facilities; but precisely what percentage is unclear.

      Researchers found that eighty-two people held for deportation...

    • 14 The War against the Poor (and Middle Class) (pp. 147-154)

      PROMINENT BRITISH EPIDEMIOLOGISTS RICHARD WILKINSON AND KATE PICK ett mined a mountain of data showing that gross inequality of opportunity and income boosts rates of homicide, narcotics use, playground bullying, mental illness, anxiety, teen pregnancies, academic failure, physical ailments such as obesity and heart disease, and many other disorders, many of them life threatening. In their bookThe Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, they wrote that humans are acutely social animals, vividly conscious of the society around them. Consequently, suffering hardships in relation to others can be far more injurious than individual suffering that’s not experienced within...

    • 15 Crazy Consequences (pp. 155-162)

      ON APRIL 15, 2010, MICHELLE LYN TAYLOR, AT THE AGE OF THIRTY-FOUR, WAS sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of lewdness with a minor under fourteen. Her crime was to force a thirteen-year-old boy to touch her breast through her clothing and ask if he’d like to have sex with her. Although she accepted responsibility for her actions, she said she had no memory of the offense, which took place two years before she was sentenced.¹

      The boy involved in the crime, the son of a friend, was playing video games at her apartment. He could certainly be...

    • 16 Crime Academies, Rape, Sex Slaves, Infection, Death (pp. 163-176)

      When it starts, it starts fast and keeps moving fast. Just like on the street. Yet the horror might not end so quickly. To those on the receiving end, it’s like being trapped in a corner with flames licking your flesh. Flames don’t care. No sense pleading. There might be a reason, but an excuse will do. This time it was about paperwork. The new fish didn’t have any. When the door slammed behind him, his hands were empty. A calamity he failed to understand. New cons always have paperwork. At least one sheet that lists your crime and how...

    • 17 The Insanity of Mental Health Practices (pp. 177-184)

      BACK IN 1955 THERE WAS ONE PSYCHIATRIC BED FOR EVERY THREE HUNDRED Americans. But by 2010 most of those beds had disappeared, and the ratio was one for every three thousand.¹ Some of this immense decline in residential treatment can be attributed to advances in psychiatric care, particularly the formulation of a whole new galaxy of medications. But wholesale deinstitutionalization of mental patients had little to do with good medical practice. The patients weren’t cured. We just stopped looking after them. The most acute cases remained in institutions, but the rest, if they had no families to care for them,...

    • 18 Legacy Inmates (pp. 187-194)

      Brenda Valencia, who served nearly a dozen years in federal penitentiaries after she gave a ride to a drug dealer, noticed that she kept meeting inmates whose parents were doing time in other prisons, often on drug charges.

      These girls would be put in foster care and end up pregnant at thirteen. They’d meet an older guy who promises to take care of them and these boyfriends basically worked them into the system and they’d end up behind bars themselves, usually for drugs. But they just wanted to be loved. It happens over and over. I heard so many stories...

    • 19 “The Future” (pp. 195-204)

      Tolstoy’s heartfelt novelResurrectionfollows the life of Katusha, a penniless servant girl who is raped, impregnated, thrown into the street by the family that had employed her, and driven to prostitution. Although innocent of the charge, she’s convicted as an accessory to murder largely because jurors and court officials were eager to break for lunch. Prince Nekhlyudov, a juror, is also the blackguard who deflowered her years earlier and moved on. Now reformed, he is both startled and revolted by the court’s action. He hires an attorney to appeal Katusha’s case and takes her on as an all-consuming personal...

  9. NOTES (pp. 205-230)
  10. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 231-234)
  11. INDEX (pp. 235-248)
  12. ABOUT THE AUTHOR (pp. 249-250)