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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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7. Special Administrative Measures (SAMs).

Although SAMs were originally designed to prevent terrorists from planning attacks from the inside, in practice the BOP and the Attorney General have used them to pressure people into pleading guilty, and subsequently isolate and demean them. Even before  Fahad Hashmi had been convicted of a single crime, he endured 23-hour lockdown with 24-hour electronic monitoring and was forced to shower and relieve himself in front of a camera. Each week he was allowed to write one 3-page letter, and every other week he was allowed a no-contact visit from an immediate family member. Hashmi was prohibited from participating in group prayer and could only read newspapers older than 30 days. After spending nearly three years in almost complete isolation, and with the prospect of a lifetime of similar conditions before him, Fahad Hashmi pled guilty to providing material support for a terrorist group. (He still lives under SAMs today.)

John Walker Lynne, the so-called American Taliban, was stripped naked, cavity searched, and thrown into the SHU for violating one particular order on his SAM: “all communications with others will be in English.” His crime? Uttering the customary Islamic response (“Walaikum assalam”) when a Muslim brother greeted him in the cafeteria.

8. We still criminalize “evil” bodies: HIV+ people and pregnant drug users.

Nearly three-quarters of states criminalize exposure or potential exposure to HIV through sex, shared needles or even bodily fluids. Generally, prosecutors do not have to prove that the individual had the intent to transmit HIV or that actual transmission took place; nor do these prosecutions reflect how HIV is transmitted or the risks involved in particular behaviors. In one case, a  homeless man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon… his HIV+ saliva. ( No one has ever contracted HIV through contact with saliva.)

According to the  New York Times, four states across the country have passed legislation to confine women who struggle with substance abuse. Many other states rely on civil-confinement, child protection, or criminal to control or criminalize pregnant drug users— all despite the objections of obstetricians and gynecologists. This past January, the  Alabama Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a woman  sentenced to 10 years in prison for using meth while she was pregnant, after her premature son died within minutes of his birth. 

9. In 2011, twice as many people were locked up in federal prisons for crack cocaine offenses (15%) than violent crimes (7.6%). 

In the  last 25 years the US prison population has skyrocketed by almost 800%, due in large part due to the draconian mandatory minimum drug statues and three-strikes laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s. The crack-cocaine disparity in sentencing, perhaps the most notoriously racist manifestation of mandatory minimums, is still at a shameful 18:1 today. Of the  30,000 people on the inside for crack-cocaine offenses, over 80% are African American.

There are so many shocking cases it is difficult to know which ones to list.  Todd Hannigan went to a park in Florida with 31 Vicodin and a six-pack of beer with the intention of committing suicide, but the cops arrested him before he took the pills. Mandatory minimums kicked in and he was sentenced to 15 years. 

10. According to Amnesty International, “the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

What more is there to say?

 
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