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Children Locked Up For Life: 10 Shockers About America's Prison System

Twice as many people rot in prison for crack use than for violent crimes. Children are being locked up for life. What's wrong with our criminal justice system?

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4. Neo-slavery.

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery… except of course, “as a punishment for crime,” something we Americans really seem to have taken to heart. Today,  more black men are behind bars today than were enslaved in 1850. For the hundreds of thousands of people locked up in the federal system, work is not a choice, it’s a requirement.

To say that federal prisoners receive a wage for their forced labor is mostly a technicality: in 2001 the hourly minimum wage in Haiti, 30 cents, was higher than that of inmates working for UNICOR, the federal prison industries: 23 cents. Still, 23 cents an hour more than some prisoners receive. When  Georgia prisoners went on strike in December 2010, their number-one demand was to receive a living wage. You could hardly blame them—paying inmates is prohibited under state law.

Then there’s the corporations like  Bank of America, AT&T and Walmart making use of prison labor. And why wouldn’t they? Inmates are a captive labor pool;  they’re banned from union organizing; and they don’t to be provided with costly benefits like heath insurance.

5. Rendition.

Remember how embarrassing it was under Bush, when suspected terrorists were kidnapped off the streets of foreign countries and detained by US authorities on the flimsiest of evidence? That’s still happening—but instead of ending up in Guantanamo, rendition victims are ending up right here at home. 

You might have heard about  Anas al-Libi, who was indicted in a New York court last month after being snatched off the streets of Tripoli by US Special Forces. And then there's Mahdi Hashi, who was only 23 years old when he was picked up by the Djiouti secret police at the behest of the US authorities. He  alleges he was held for months, threatened with electrocution and sexual abuse before being handed over to the CIA. According to Hashi, once they had a confession he was put on a plane to New York, where he was indicted on federal terrorism charges. He is currently held in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Manhattan.

The Ker-Frisbie doctrine means that criminal defendants can be prosecuted in US courts regardless of whether or not they were transported onto US soil in accordance with the relevant extradition treaties. Which means President Obama can gain liberal kudos points by reiterating his promise to shut Guantanamo Bay, and still keep his hands clean when those pesky legal channels get in his way.

6. 15,180 days in solitary confinement… and counting.

That’s how long it’s been for Albert Woodfox, the last member of the  Angola 3 to remain on the inside. On any given day, almost  80,000 people across the United States spend almost 23 hours in total isolation, a practice described as torture by UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez.

People are not only driven to insanity by spending months, years and decades in solitary, they are also denied mental healthcare. A  lawsuit filed in June 2012 outlines the desperation of prisons in ADX Florence:

“Prisoners interminably wail, scream and bang on the walls of their cells. Some mutilate their bodies with razors, shards of glass, writing utensils and whatever other objects they can obtain. Some swallow razor blades, nail clippers, parts of radios and televisions, broken glass and other dangerous objects.”

In California, where the “wrong”  Christmas card can get you thrown in isolation, prisoners in isolation make up just 5% of the prison population, but nearly half of its suicides. Across the United States,  children are also placed in solitary confinement for days, weeks or even months.

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