I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

David Rovics: We Are Everywhere

To my fellow activists now struggling through life - let this be a reminder that you are not alone and that we desperately need you here. All the injustice, grief, war, and human suffering calls for us to stay and do everything we can about it - you can't help us anymore when you're gone. Don't give up the fight - your last shred of hope may just keep someone else alive, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prison Abolitionist 2013 Poster Calendars


Please support my work helping Arizona state prisoners battle the prison industrial complex, and pick up a signed 2013 art calendar from the Deep Southwest for any donation of $10 or more. Choose one of the designs below as your backdrop for the year, and email me at with your order specifications and snail mail address. You're on the honor system here - your donations can be made on-line at:

Thanks, friends. You rock. I'll turn your orders around and get them to you as fast as I can.




Assert Your Humanity (Phoenix, AZ)

            the end of prisons...                                  Build communities 
       (Tent City, Phoenix, AZ)

4th Ave Jail (Phoenix, AZ)

Resist Police Oppression 
(PHX Police at Freeport McMoran)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Arizona Walmart's Black Friday, 2012: Pickets in Buckeye and Tempe!

Anarchists, Pacifists, Labor and Shoppers UNITE:
All turn out to support WALMART workers on Black Friday!!! 

(This day represents more than 1/4 of Walmart's annual sales...)



The Phoenix IWW will be hosting a picket at the Walmart distribution center in Buckeye, AZ on Friday Nov. 23, "Black Friday," in solidarity with Walmart workers who have been organizing and taking action all over the country. We will be meeting at the Worker's Resource Center  (331 E. Wiletta, PHX) at 8:30am to carpool out to Buckeye. It takes approx. 1 hour to get there so we will picket at about 9:30 or 10am. The address is 23701 W. Southern Ave., in Buckeye. We will picket for approx. 2 hours with the goal of being back in town around 1pm in order to support the Walmart picket in Tempe.

(support local merchants or buy fair trade for loved ones on your gift list): 

1607 W Bethany Home Rd
3721 E Thomas Rd
6145 N 35th Ave
5250 W Indian School Rd
4747 E Cactus Rd
2435 E Baseline Rd
6150 S 35th Ave
1825 W Bell Rd
2020 N 75th Ave
4617 E Bell Rd
7575 W Lower Buckeye Rd
and for shoppers from ASU: 
800 E Southern Ave, TEMPE, AZ  


October was a banner month for Walmart workers nationwide.  Each week saw more Walmart workers speaking up and going on strike, to protest Walmart’s attempts to silence workers and retaliate against them. The strikes culminated in an announcement at Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters that if the retaliation does not cease, workers will make Black Friday a “memorable” day for the company.
To make Black Friday a success, Walmart workers need the support of community members like you. Our website now features a number of ways to get involved and support Walmart strikers on Black Friday.
1) Take the Black Friday Pledge to say that you will stand with workers on the busiest shopping day of the year. On the Corporate Action Network website we are starting to gather locations for actions and events supporting Walmart strikers, as well as materials. Enter your city or zip code to see if we have something scheduled near you or adopt your own store.

2) If you want to help in another way, why not sponsor a striker? The brave act of going out on strike also comes with an economic cost. By making a donation, you can help to ensure that Walmart strikers receive a $50 grocery gift card.

3) Use our Share for Respect Facebook app to tell your Walmart worker friends about what’s going on!

4) Join the conversation on how to change Walmart by contributing art and ideas to our Tumblr.

5) Connect with workers and other community supporters on our Official Black Friday Walmart Strike Facebook page and like the Making Change at Walmart Facebook page.

6) On Twitter, use the hashtag #walmartstrikers and follow Making Change at Walmart.
Below is the official call to action from Walmart workers with the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). We hope to see you on Black Friday!

OUR Walmart Workers Call to Community – 

Across the country, Walmart employs 1.4 million people. We are not just the Associates that you see in stores, we are moms and dads, sons and daughters, husbands and wives working hard to support our families.

We have been speaking out for good jobs with decent pay, regular hours, affordable healthcare and respect, but instead of working with us to make changes, Walmart has attempted to silence us and has retaliated against us for speaking out. Our jobs have been threatened, our hours cut, our schedules changed. Some of us have even been fired.

We will not be silenced. Throughout the holiday season, including Black Friday, we will be standing up for an end to the retaliation against workers who speak out for what’s right for our families, our communities and our country, and we hope that you will stand with us. It is not an easy decision, but without an end to the retaliation, Walmart workers across the country will be walking off the job in protest, and we hope you will join us in creative, non-violent action in solidarity with our strike. We ask that supporters take action that spreads the word about our strikes and demonstrates to Walmart a wave of support for workers who are speaking out.

Together, we are calling on Walmart to end the retaliation against hard-working employees who are courageously speaking out for better pay, fair schedules and more hours, affordable health care and respect.

We will not be silenced until we see real change at Walmart.


OUR Walmart Workers


Below is our Declaration for Respect. Please sign on if you agree with the changes we asking to see from Walmart.

We, the hourly Associates, are the life-blood of Walmart. Our company is stronger because of the values we embrace – a strong work ethic, compassion for one another and honesty. Yet we are not treated with the respect we deserve. The fundamental desire to be shown respect is what led us to join together as OUR Walmart – an organization of Walmart Associates, by Walmart Associates, for Walmart Associates. We are one Organization United for Respect at Walmart.
  • One of Sam Walton’s rules for building a successful business was, “Listen to everyone in your company and figure out ways to get them talking.” We are following that winning philosophy. However, too many of us do not have a true voice at our stores. Our concerns about providing the highest quality customer care and about making our jobs, quality jobs are ignored. Walmart should listen to OUR Walmart, celebrate our initiative, and follow our recommendations.
  • We are the foundation of the quality service and value Walmart provides its customers. Walmart should honor the hard work and humanity of Associates by living up to Mr. Sam’s promise of “respect for the individual.”
  • Associates who assert their freedom of association frequently face retribution from the company. Walmart should allow Associates to freely join OUR Walmart without fear of negative company action.
  • Associates who have tried to utilize Walmart’s Open Door have found that their issues are not resolved and confidentiality is not respected. Walmart should ensure confidentiality in the Open Door and provide in writing resolution to issues that are brought up and always allow associates to bring a co-worker as a witness.
  • Walmart publicly claims that pay for full-time Associates averages more than $13 per hour in some communities, when in truth most of us work for less than $10 per hour and are only scheduled for part-time hours, making it difficult to support our families. Walmart should follow through on its public statements and pay at least $13 per hour and expand the percentage of full-time workers.
  • Our schedules are often irregular and inflexible making it difficult to care for our families. Walmart should make scheduling more predictable and dependable.
  • Too many of us are unable to access Walmart’s health care because it is too expensive or we lack the hours to qualify. Walmart should expand health care coverage and continue to work to expand coverage when health reform goes into effect, rather than taking advantage of loopholes in the law to deny coverage.
  • Too often Associates are faced with retaliation when speaking out about issues at work. Walmart should honor our constitutional right to freedom of speech and adhere to company policies that support dialogue and resolution.
  • Walmart’s management often chooses to enforce written policies only when it is in their own interest, leaving Associates guessing proper protocol. Walmart should do more to ensure managers are properly trained on how to evenly and equitably enforce Walmart’s written policies at all times and to provide all Associates with a policy manual.
  • Too many of us have been denied equal treatment. Walmart should adopt affirmative policies that secure full access to opportunity and equal treatment to all Associates regardless of gender identity, race, disability, sexual orientation, or age.
  • We know our company has an impact around the globe in terms of its standards and practices. Walmart should require that suppliers and stores around the globe operate with the highest standards and ensure that workers’ freedom to associate is respected.
  • Far too many of us have to rely on government assistance for our basic needs. Walmart should provide wages and benefits that ensure that no Associate has to rely on government assistance.
We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals. And finally, we close with one more rule from Mr. Sam: “Share your profits with all your Associates, and treat them as partners.”

PHX RED SQUAD: New LGBTQ Community liasons.

The Maricopa County Superior Court has removed the on-line records pertaining to Chris Wilson's prosecution, preventing the community from witnessing how justice is done, or showing up to show support for the victims. I can't even tell who the judge is. Here's the information about his case you need to know to inquire at the court clerk's office: 

Please call and complain about secrecy in the judicial process. No other admitted child molester gets this kind of protection from public scrutiny.

SUPERIOR COURT RECORDS:  (This includes questions about Marriage Licenses, Divorce Decrees, or Court Cases) To view information on the website click here or to speak with a deputy clerk you may call the Clerk's Public Records Office and Customer Service Center at (602)-506-3360

The indictment was filed against Christopher Wilson (DOB 11/1968) in Maricopa Superior Court:  # CR2012142112

I began the "Queers Are Cool" campaign to alert the activist community that Chris Wilson wasn't an aberration, or just "one officer who decided to be stupid" - I guess that's what they call child sexual abuse at the PHX PD - just being "stupid." Wilson built trust with young activists just like he was supposed to as a Red Squad detective, and was commended for it - then he abused his trust and power just as so many other cops do theirs. 

The Phoenix Police should lay off the "stranger danger" emphasis in their public education BS about sexual assaults and look at the basics of how they deal institutionally with trust and power. Immediately after Wilson's arrest became public, instead of pointing out that the majority of child abuse happens at the hands of those well know to the child or family, the PHX PD released composite sketches of a Latino male snatching young girls from school bus stops - that all came AFTER the guy was caught. Why release images like that once the suspect is no longer a threat? Just to distract from the real danger - the cops themselves. 

The PPD took one giant step back from Chris Wilson's excess, but it seems to be a strategy for disrupting local activist communities: instead of bashing in our heads in Phoenix, the cops are busy trying to "friend" us - and get in bed with the most vulnerable to their tactics - our youth. Let's learn from that, and teach our children well...



Phoenix police name new liaisons to the city's LGBT community

Phoenix police name new liaisons to the city's LGBT community

by Cecilia Chan - Nov. 17, 2012 09:50 PM
The Republic |

Two detectives recently took on roles as the Phoenix Police Department's liaisons to the city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia's announcement in October came three months after the arrest of the previous liaison, Detective Christopher J. Wilson, on suspicion of sexual misconduct with two teenage boys.

Wilson, who handed in his badge immediately after his August arrest, met one of the boys through his duties with the LGBT community, according to court documents. Wilson sits in jail and faces an initial pretrial conference Nov. 27.

Last week, the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, which oversees peace-officer training, conduct and certification, accepted Wilson's voluntary relinquishment of his state certification without discussion.

On Oct. 31, Garcia introduced Detectives Julie Smith and Dottie Conroy at department headquarters to representatives from various community groups, including the Phoenix Police LGBT Citizen Advisory Board.

Detective Dottie Conroy

Conroy, a 17-year veteran, said that as an openly gay woman, it's an opportunity "to deal with the community that I love."

Detective Julie Smith

Smith, who is heterosexual, said since joining the department nine years ago, she had always wanted to work with the various communities in Phoenix. The Phoenix native said she looks forward to her new assignment because "it is so diverse and so wonderful."

In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated 6.4 percent of Phoenix's population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. That's about 63,222 people.

Garcia, who became chief in May, will assign two detectives to each of the department's eight community advisory boards for minority groups, which include Muslims, Sikhs, Hispanics and African-Americans.

The move will enable the department to do more outreach, said Gerald Richard, assistant to the police chief.

Richard said community advisory boards foster dialog and build relationships between the department and minority groups to handle issues before they erupt into turmoil.

Don Hamill, a community activist who has served as a board member of Phoenix Pride, told Garcia officers still need more education.

"There is a problem in your force, and it affects everybody in this room," Hamill said.

Hamill said he recently overheard uniformed officers use the words, " 'the gays,' because they've been told not to use the 'F' word."

"It's wrong," Hamill said. "I was shocked to hear it. I pay their salary (and) pension."

He told the chief that there should be zero tolerance for inappropriate language, and officers should use no other adjective than citizen in talking about groups of people.

"I agree with you 100 percent," Garcia said. "We are not at Shangri-La yet."

Patrick Kelley, who co-chairs the LGBT Citizen Advisory Board, also commended the selection of Conroy and Smith.

Kelley said advisory groups help bring understanding between the community and police. He said about a year ago, a Phoenix police officer stopped a man dressed in drag going to a fundraising event and asked, "Why are you dressed like a freak?"

Kelley said the issue was brought up at an advisory-board meeting.

He said officers at the precinct where the incident took place received cultural-sensitivity training.

"When we recognize a problem, we address it professionally and not by burning down half of the city because you have one officer who decided to be stupid."

Veterans Day, Phoenix, 2012: For Marty Atencio.

The following photo is from the Veterans Day parade in Phoenix, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio rolled out his biggest toy to honor our dead soldiers. I stopped to leave him a message for one dead Army veteran he should be especially mindful of: Marty Atencio. That man should be held criminally liable for the death of his prisoners given the dehumanizing treatment he encourages and the culture of contempt he's cultivated among his officers. 

The chalk is mine, but I can't take the credit for the shot: Lisa Blank took it, and it's all over Arizona Community Press's Community Free Press Facebook page. Thank you Lisa!

Remember Veterans like Marty, Sheriff Joe.
Veterans  Day 2012: Phoenix

Thanks to Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times for this series about Marty's brutal killing by Phoenix Police and Joe Arpaio's deputies at the 4th Avenue Jail last year...

------from the Phoenix New Times----

Joe Arpaio's U.S. Veteran Victim Marty Atencio: Family Files Suit in Superior Court

By Stephen Lemons
Published Tue., Oct. 23 2012 at 12:24 PM

The family of U.S. Army veteran Marty Atencio is filing suit today in Maricopa County Superior Court over his brutal death late last year in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Fourth Avenue Jail.

Atencio, who suffered from mental illness, was off his meds and wandering the streets in a daze on December 15, when he was picked up by Phoenix cops, allegedly because he had frightened a woman with his bizarre behavior.

Read the Atencio family's lawsuit.

That woman later stated that she'd hoped Atencio, 44, would receive the help he needed if he was in custody.

Instead, he received a one-way ticket to a military funeral.

See also:
-Joe Arpaio's Victim Marty Atencio: Family Files Notices of Claim Totaling $20 Million in Wrongful Death Case
-Jailhouse Goons Make Fun Of and Kill a Mentally Ill Inmate
-Joe Arpaio's Victim Marty Atencio Killed by "Law Enforcement Subdual," Among Other Factors, Says Medical Examiner (w/Update)
Joe Arpaio's Victim Ernest "Marty" Atencio Laid To Rest
-Joe Arpaio's Latest Victim Marty Atencio: MCSO Video of His Detention

Though Atencio was processed first without incident at the Phoenix Police Department's southern command station, his experience later in Fourth Avenue would be brief, humiliating and fatal.

There, Atencio was taunted and made fun of by MCSO detention officers, as is recounted in the suit:

After going through the medical screening, Marty was taken to have his mug shot
taken. While Marty was having his mug shot taken, the D.O.s were taunting him, asking him to "clown" for them, telling him to "turn left," "turn right," and making fun of Marty's
inability to follow instructions. 

As the guards made fun of Marty, they told him to make funny faces and the photographer, and a female Detention Officer, kept saying "let's make this one the Mug Shot of the week." After they took a particularly humiliating mug shot, the D.O.s had finished their fun with Marty and took him back to the holding tank.

Along the way, Atencio was escorted by Phoenix Police Officer Patrick Hanlon, who, according to the complaint, led Atencio "with his hands and arms bent in a position which caused Marty pain."
The complaint continues, stating that, "While Officer Hanlon was escorting Marty to the Linescan Room, Marty said `you're making Tony angry, you're making Tony angry.' Marty was telling Officer Hanlon that the officer was hurting him."

Shortly thereafter, in the jail's so-called "linescan room," as millions have now witnessed in video released by the MCSO, Atencio essentially did not remove his shoes fast enough for the officers present, with deadly consequences.

Atencio crossed his arms in front of him, in a non-violent stance. And that's when they pounced, piling onto Atencio, wailing on him and Tasing him, in what the suit refers to as a "jailers riot."

The complaint relates how these goons then dragged Atencio to a so-called "safe cell," where, as Atencio was held down, he allegedly was kneed more than once by MCSO detention officer Anthony Hatton.
Atencio was stripped of his clothes, and left to die. The jail's video system captured a naked Atencio breathing what looked like his dying breath on camera.

Outside the cell, as I've previously reported, Phoenix cops and MCSO detention officers partied like it was 1999.

"After this event," reads the complaint, "the jail's surveillance video outside `Safe Cell 4' shows D.O. Hatton, with a smile on his face, talking to other Officers, while two MCSO women danced and bumped their buttocks together."

Later, Atencio's brain-dead body was revived by officers and rushed by paramedics to a local hospital, where his family ultimately decided to remove him from life support.

The Atencios lawyer, tort titan Mike Manning, who just won a $3.2 million settlement for the family of diabetic mom and Arpaio jail victim Deborah Braillard, observes in the suit that Atencio's death is the direct result of the "culture of cruelty" in Arpaio's vast incarceration complex.

Also, the complaint makes clear, the MCSO is in direct violation of federal court orders instructing Arpaio and the county to provide proper medical screenings of prisoners for mental and physical illness.

Because the MCSO is not in compliance with these orders, Atencio was not properly screened on arrival at Fourth Avenue, where the health care "professional" who examined him noted signs of psychosis, yet did not provide Atencio with the medical help he needed.

Unfortunately, all the court orders, lawsuits and multi-million dollar payouts seem to do nothing to change the reality of Arpaio's disastrously-run jails.

The only real change will come if the voters wake up, and retire Arpaio on November 6 by voting for his Democratic rival Paul Penzone.

Otherwise there will be more victims, more Marty Atencios, and a lot more lawsuits.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ethnic studies books banned from AZ state prisons?

As I said in my previous correspondence, Mr. Ryan: you are the reason  your prisoners have rioted, not me. I don't think I even have contacts on Santa Rita. You appear to have plenty of discretion as to what you will and won't allow inside your institutions...I wish your SSU officers were as vigilant about keeping the heroin out as they are about stopping the flow of my free speech.

In any case, to the rest of you: here is the newsletter in question, in case you missed it. I mailed a list of the ethnic studies books banned from Arizona's public schools to a bunch of prisoners this summer, encouraging them to request and read them in solidarity with students - and in defiance of racism, which is necessary to uphold the current power structure inside. 

I really didn't think those books would be off limits to adult prisoners too, but that sure is what it sounds like - this is the AZ DOC's General Counsel they sent to intimidate me, by the way. She really is scarier than Chuck - she used to be a capital crimes prosecutor at the AG's office. This newsletter isn't what I was so concerned about being confiscated, though - they still haven't responded to me on that count.

Here is the beginning of DO 914.08, by the way:

"UNAUTHORIZED PUBLICATIONS AND MATERIAL - Prohibited publications include those that by their nature or content threaten or are detrimental to the security, safety and orderly operation, or discipline of the facility, or inmate rehabilitation, or, are found to facilitate, encourage, incite, promote or instruct in criminal activity or unauthorized prison activity."

Shame on me for urging anyone - especially criminals - to resist racism and violence...

Carlo Krakoff, age 29, 
died in an AZ state prison of a heroin overdose.
Substance abuse treatment programs are nearly impossible to get into in the AZ Department of Corrections, even for those who want it desperately - only 4% of all state prisoners were able to participate in one last year, including those we sent to private prisons specifically for DUI offenses. That's despite AZ DOC records stating that oapproximately 75% of prisoners are there for substance abuse-related crimes. Too many prisoners going in are actually clean but come out addicted to herion, as the drug is so plentiful and alternative activities for the mind, body and soul  are so few. 

Gmail Arizona Prisonwatch <>

Prisonwatch Newsletter
2 messages

NORTHUP, DAWN <> Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 4:24 PM

To: Arizona Prisonwatch <>

Ms. Plews:
On behalf of Director Ryan, I am responding to your October 30, 2012 email, inquiring about the reason your Prisonwatch Newsletter has not been disseminated to inmates at ADC complexes.  In your Summer, 2012 Newsletter, titled: “Prisoners’ Justice Day 2012: Justice For Dana” you advocated that prisoners “push back” and show resistance from injustice by requesting a subversive book or by “support[ing] another prisoner’s resistance.”  Although your intent may have been to provoke non-violence, inmates may construe your suggestion that they “fight the injustice from within” as an invitation for unrest and non-compliance. 

Contrary to many of your assertions, the safety and security of the inmates and staff is of paramount concern to ADC.  In accordance with DO 914.02, staff at each complex is authorized to withhold publications that may have a detrimental impact on the safe and orderly operation of the institution.  Encouraging inmates to request books that you know are prohibited or to conduct themselves in a manner to show “resistance” violates that policy.

In accordance with DO 914.02 and 914.08, your Newsletter, as with all other incoming publications, is subject to screening and review.  Your Newsletter will be disseminated to intended recipients after review provided it complies with Department Policy.  

Dawn Northup
General Counsel
Arizona Department of Corrections

Arizona Prisonwatch <> Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 5:40 PM


Cc: Daniel Pochoda <>

Thank you for getting back to me on the July Newsletter. My greater concern, though, is that my more recent correspondence - not all of it containing calls to "resist" in a way that could seriously threaten institutional order - has apparently been disrupted to nearly all the prisoners I previously corresponded with. This includes prisoners trying to access both health care and safety because they are in harms way; I hate to answer people in such desperate straits with silence.

Since I haven't gotten any feedback from you folks about what may be getting confiscated or contrabanded until now, I have no idea if your office has legitimate things you want me to tone down, or if Chuck Ryan just doesn't want me arming his prisoners with information about appropriately asserting their civil rights. Those are two very different things. In any case, I'd like to know what procedures I need to follow to protect my own rights - the "free speech" ones. How do I grieve an ADC action that adversely affects me as a civilian? That correspondence represents a tremendous investment of time, money, and other resources.

Much of my correspondence with prisoners is time-sensitive, as I'm sure you are aware, so I'd really prefer confrontation over avoidance on such matters. Please let me know what's happening with the rest of my mail - both to and from prisoners.


Peggy Plews
[Quoted text hidden]
Margaret J. Plews, Editor
Arizona Prison Watch
P.O. Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..." 

- Arundhati Roy

Prison Abolitionist
Arizona Prison Watch
Survivors of Prison Violence - AZ

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gibbons: Occupy and the Beast.

Day of the Dead Prisoners 2012
Maricopa County Superior Courthouse, Phoenix , AZ


Occupy the Prison-Industrial Complex

Thursday, 08 November 2012 09:11By Chip GibbonsTruthout | Op-Ed
The United States has just 5 percent of the world's population and over 20 percent of its prisoners. Since 1980 alone, America's prison population has quadrupled. While this enormous prison population, as well as its deep racial biases, should be of concern to anyone, prisons should be of particular concern to the Occupy movement.

Since Occupy first exploded onto the scene, many within the political establishment and mainstream media have criticized occupiers alternatively for a lack of demands and for embracing too many seemingly unrelated demands. In spite of this confusion among those who are the self-appointed gatekeepers of political discourse, most people have understood Occupy as being a movement concerned with corporate influence over government, economic inequality and the economic crisis at large. It is precisely for those reasons that Occupy should be concerned about America's penal population (which is not to say that many Occupy groups and occupiers are not).

The current regime of mass incarceration is very much tied to the emergence of the neoliberal state in America. The neoliberal state demands stability for the market, but ultimately generates instability with its generation of surplus populations and lack of social resources. This means that while neoliberalism seeks to limit state intervention in the market and slash social welfare nets in the name of "freedom," it inevitably results in increased coercion, militarization and incarceration. And with its desire to subject every aspect of society to the market, prisons become not just a necessity under neoliberalism, but a profitable venture. These factors, not an epidemic of criminality, are the chief causes of mass incarceration in America. Prisons are therefore very much tied to the larger economic polices that Occupy opposes.

Only a small percentage of prisons are private, but the privatization of prisons represents the worst of corporate profiteering from human suffering. Stories about private prison companies influencing policy are plentiful. A judge in Pennsylvania accepted bribes for sending juvenile offenders to a for-profit prison. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) helped draft Arizona's draconian immigration law. Additionally, CCA recently sent a proposal to 48 governors offering to buy prisons as long as the states promised to keep them at 90 percent capacity for 20 years.

Many of the financial institutions that have already gathered the ire of Occupy are profiting from prisons. Wells Fargo, which received $38 billion from the bank bailout, was also the second-largest shareholder of GEO Group, a for-profit prison company, though its latest SEC filings show it recently dumped 75 percent of its GEO stock, a move which occupiers and their allies consider a major victory as they continue their efforts. In addition to investing in private prisons, both Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch write prison construction bonds.[1] Even when prisons are not private, Wall Street still finds a way to profit from them.

In California, general obligation bonds which pledge the full faith of the state and increase debt must be approved not only by the legislature, but by popular referendum. While in the past, prison expansion had been approved by the public, in the early 1980s, after lobbying from private financial firms, the state legislature changed the status of prison bonds to lease revenue bonds. Lease revenue bonds were previously reserved only for education and allowed the state to borrow money with the debt staying off the record, and thus, not subject to the ballot initiative. Such bonds were also tax-exempt.[2]

Many Occupy activists have already started to make these connections. Both Occupy DC and Occupy Portland have targeted Wells Fargo over their investments in private prisons. Occupy Baltimore protested the construction of a new youth jail. Additionally, a prison-focused group, Occupy 4 Prisoners, has formed. What's important is not only that Occupy embraces America's prison problem as a cause, but is clear in linking it to its larger agenda of resisting unchecked corporate power and structural economic problems.

Christian Parenti. Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. London New York: Verso 219
Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Golden Gulag : Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007. 97-8.


Chip Gibbons is a progressive writer and activist whose writings can be found on his blog, Exiting Emerald, and have been featured on Counterpunch. He holds a bachelor of arts in political studies and history from Bard College and is currently a JD candidate at American University Washington College of Law.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Richard Chrisman Trial UPDATE: Court-watching the cops.

UPDATE: October 25, 2012: The murder trial of former PHX Police officer Richard Chrisman has again been postponed. It should begin February 13, 2013 at 8am.


 signs of protest at the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association's fundraiser for Chrisman
  after he was charged with murder and eventually canned from the force.
(April 2011)

As those of you Googling this guy know, Chrisman is the Phoenix police officer standing trial for the murder of Danny Rodriguez in October of 2010 - check out this account of it in the Phoenix New Times. Here's the actual police report on the shooting in which another cop provides the eyewitness testimony that gets Chrisman charged.

Chrisman's trial was supposed to start this summer, then this fall, but it was postponed again.

Meanwhile, this sociopath is not only running loose in our community, he spent some time traveling this summer (with the court's blessings). Chrisman shot an unarmed man fleeing him in his underwear point blank in the chest, yet travels freely throughout the Southwest, while all sorts of other folks face violence and disease in Arpaio's jails awaiting trial because they lack the measley $500 bond that was put on them for "camping" one too many times (aka being homeless). That seems really twisted to me...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cali communities support prisoners' call to fight racial violence.

This comes right out of the awesome National Black Newspaper, the San Francisco Bay View. If you have a loved one inside any state prison in the country, print this up and mail them a few copies. It's a follow-up to a September post that includes the original announcement. 

California rises to prisoners’ challenge to end racial hostilities

San Francisco Bay View
October 14, 2012
by Mary Ratcliff

Unity is a matter of life and death in all ‘hoods – in the prisons and on the streets. The Youth Justice Council rallied outside the LA County Men’s Jail at 10 a.m. on 10/10, the day set by the Pelican Bay Prison Short Corridor Collective for the beginning of the end of racial hostilities. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez

In the U.S., we not only encage 25 percent of the world’s prisonersmore than any nation in the history of the world and more Black people than were enslaved in 1850 – but we isolate at least 80,000 of them in solitary confinement. I contend that the purpose is to drive them mad; and after years of reading their letters, I believe they are targeted for this intense form of torture not because they are the worst of the worst but because they are the best and brightest.

In September, the Short Corridor Collective, prisoners confined to the SHU in Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the first and harshest examples of mass solitary confinement, sent out a historic call for racial hostilities to end in California prisons beginning Oct. 10.

Of the prisoners in the SHU, who are all “considered the most dangerous and influential (prisoners) in the state,” these men in the Short Corridor are “the leaders, what one authority called all the ‘alpha dogs,’” writes Nancy Mullane of KALW, who managed to get approval for a visit to the SHU – and even an interview with a SHU prisoner. In California, reporters’ access to prisoners is largely barred by law.

In announcing their 10/10 rally, LA’s Youth Justice Council quote political exile Assata Shakur: “If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!” – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
In a letter to prisoner advocates, these so-called “shot callers,” who prison officials say require isolation to prevent them from ordering prison murders, have shown their true colors. Writing “on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor,” they declare that “now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.”

“Therefore,” they write, “beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease.” With this call, prisoners who endure some of the world’s worst punishment have disarmed their jailers – disabling the most effective weapon in the Corrections Department arsenal: divide and conquer.

“Beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease.” With this call, prisoners who endure some of the world’s worst punishment have disarmed their jailers – disabling the most effective weapon in the Corrections Department arsenal: divide and conquer.

“In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit,” they write. So, with solidarity, the same men who led last year’s hunger strikes, which involved 12,000 prisoners at their peak, intend to achieve the modest relief they were promised then – promises still unfulfilled.

Prisoners respond to the call

When the Bay View published the call to end hostilities, prisoner advocate Kendra Castaneda printed 100 copies of the story and mailed them to 100 prisoners around the state, so that word would begin to spread before Bay View prisoner subscribers received their October papers. She was determined to make a way around the severe restrictions on prisoners’ ability to communicate.

A large, enthusiastic crowd, including prisoners’ families and supporters as well as youth, turned out for the 10/10 rally in LA. – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
California prisoners, who are prohibited from writing to each other, rely on phone calls, visits and letters from outside the walls and on the Bay View and a few other publications for the news that matters most to them. Most of the men in the Short Corridor Collective, however, are allowed no phone calls, and many are denied visits as well.

And rumors reached us that the Corrections Department might ban the October Bay View statewide for containing the call that would effectively disarm them. We don’t yet know whether subscribers have received their papers. What we have heard is that many prisoners’ letters to the Bay View are being confiscated.

Of the 100 copies of the call to end hostilities that Kendra mailed, all appear to have been delivered except the 11 addressed to the very same men who wrote it. On Oct. 12, she received 11 “mail stops,” notices from the Pelican Bay gang unit claiming her letters violate California Code of Regulations Title 15 with “plans that violate the law” and facilitate prisoner-to-prisoner communication, even though she had deleted all the signers’ names and prison numbers.

Rumors have reached us that the Corrections Department might ban the October Bay View statewide for containing the call that would effectively disarm them.

Responses from prisoners who did receive her letters are beginning to reach Kendra, and here’s what they write:

This is one of 11 “mail stops” Kendra Casteneda received Oct. 12, barring her letters containing copies of the Bay View story announcing and including the “Agreement to end hostilities” from reaching the very prisoners who wrote the agreement. This mail stop names Ron Dewberry, better known as Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa. (Click to enlarge.)
From Gustavo Chavez: “The idea of this agreement going around is a positive start to a new beginning for all inmates. If we could maintain this valuable peace treaty within the prison system, why not work on spreading the word outside the prison walls so that we may put an end to the gang violence and work on becoming a bigger force?

“If we could maintain this valuable peace treaty within the prison system, why not work on spreading the word outside the prison walls so that we may put an end to the gang violence and work on becoming a bigger force?” – Gustavo Chavez

“Of course this movement will immediately be looked at as home grown terrorism. We can’t allow such propaganda to interfere with our progress to educate our youth. The whole system operates on scare tactics, tactics that we shouldn’t fear.

“The challenges that lie ahead must be supremacy over the entire system. We can’t allow our decisions to be uncertain, because uncertainty won’t take us far. We also must implement principal to our purpose so that we may understand the cause. When people lose focus, things get ugly, and we all know who benefits from that!

“Last but not least, we/I know that rumors have been going around about certain stuff, and supposedly everything is coming from the Short Corridor. It sounds like the guards are attempting to disrupt the agreement by spreading these rumors around. We all must be careful not to fall into the guards’ web.
“I’m always prepared for the worst, especially when knowing I’m being psychologically tortured day after day.” – In struggle, Gustavo Chavez, E-45117, PBSP SHU D-8-121, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532, written Sept. 26, 2012

In a separate personal letter, Gustavo writes on Oct. 7: “Kendra, a lot of scandalous things are occurring up here. They have over 16 inmates from the main line on potty watch. I’m constantly being threatened by the coward pigs. Their tactics are aimed to disrupt what we are setting out to accomplish. You make sure to continue riding strong against the enemy regardless of the amount of times they try to bring you down.”

From Terrance E. White: “They’ve moved a lot of people over to Wasco State Prison Ad-Seg Unit, and they’re still validating people but have let non-serious incidents go back to the yard. That’s what I’ve witnessed.

“And they didn’t try to deter our Black August celebration this year. Here at North Kern State Prison, we had Southern Hispanics, Northern Hispanics and a few whites participate in our exercising routines on the yard (dog kennel) with us New Afrikkkans.

“We are all also aware of the peace treaty that’s to start Oct. 10, 2012, throughout the prison system and are all in agreement with it. It is about time to take back all that has been lost and continue to press forward in this struggle for liberation. They’ve had all us oppressed in these conditions for far too long.” – Comrade T, Terrance E. White 

AG8738, KVSP D6-241, P.O. Box 5005, Delano, CA 93216, written Oct. 5, 2012

From Heshima Denham: “We received the comments (from several different sources) on the 10/10 cessation of hostilities and are in FULL adherence/compliance with all three points. However, there does seem to be some confusion on aspects of point 3 as it relates to the 10/10/2012 date, and we were wondering could we get some clarity from the main reps at PB?” – Heshima Denham, J-38283, Cor-SHU 4BIL-46, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212, written Oct. 3, 2012

Prisoners’ inability to communicate leads to confusion

The confusion Heshima mentions appears to be reflected in an Oct. 13 story in the Los Angeles Times. Prisoners apparently heard that a call had been put out by those who had called last year’s hunger strikes and assumed it was for another hunger strike. The Times reports:

“Corrections officials said they do not know why about 500 inmates started refusing food Wednesday, the same day a prison ‘end to hostilities’ was called by inmate activists who had orchestrated last year’s mass hunger strikes.

“The fasting began at opposite ends of the state. Several hundred inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison near the Oregon border refused meals from Wednesday through Friday, but began eating again Friday night, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. About 300 prisoners at California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, north of Los Angeles, also began refusing meals Wednesday. About 200 of them continued to refuse food Saturday, Thornton said.”

This youngster dressed in stereotypical prison garb behind bars dramatizes the encaging of human beings practiced on a mass scale in California and throughout the U.S. Prisoners in solitary confinement endure years and even decades of isolation in windowless “concrete coffins” the size of a parking space, deprived of sensory stimulation, human contact or a glimpse of the natural world – a bird, a tree or a blade of grass. Imagine the strength of character that takes! – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
The Times’ story closes on an ominous note:

“Prison officials regard the reference to race [in the call to end hostilities] as a synonym for the race-based gangs active in California prisons, including the Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood and 415 KUMI.

“Molly Porzig with Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity said Pelican Bay prison officials responded to the ceasefire by asking the 16 Short Corridor inmates whose names appear on the statement to acknowledge gang activity. She attributed the claim to a family member visiting one of those inmates last week.”
This suggests that CDCR is trying to turn the call to end hostilities on its head and consider it evidence of gang activity.

It is imperative that the truth be communicated to prisoners all over California. We urge readers to print out this story and mail it to prisoners you know.

To nip in the bud these efforts to confuse and criminalize prisoners and stop their peaceful organizing, it is imperative that the truth be communicated to prisoners all over California. We urge readers to print out this story and mail it to prisoners you know. If you’re not currently corresponding with a prisoner, look for California prisoners from among the hundreds of pen pals listed in the Bay View.

The call to end hostilities is heard and heeded on the streets

Los Angeles’ Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) called for a “parallel cease fire in the streets” to correspond to the end of hostilities inside the prisons called by the Short Corridor Collective. Led by the youth, a large, diverse crowd rallied at 10 a.m. on 10/10 outside the LA County Men’s Jail.

In announcing their rally, YJC wrote: “Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison advocacy organizations. It is signed by prisoners identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation or nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state.”

As the crowd gathered for the 10/10 rally, a big banner greeted them: “To the cops we all look the same! Unite LA! Why fight each other? Fight for justice!” – Photo: Virginia Gutierrez
“We have the duty to fight for our brothers and sisters who remain inside the walls of injustice and confined to a system that does NOT work for our community,” they declared.

Photos taken at the rally that illustrate this story exude solidarity and hope.

Sponsoring organizations included Youth Justice Coalition, Fair Chance Project, LA Community Action Network, FACTS (Families to Amend California Three Strikes), California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement, Homies Unidos, California Faith Action, Coalition to Stop Sheriff Violence and Gender Justice LA. For more information or to add your organization as a supporter, email the Youth Justice Coalition at or call them at (323) 235-4243.

The youth quote political exile Assata Shakur: “If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!”

“If unity happens inside the walls of prison, imagine the impacts it will have on our neighborhoods and youth!” – Assata Shakur

Another rally was held in Riverside. The announcement on Facebook reads: “We are calling on all communities in Riverside County to stand in solidarity with all of our loved ones locked inside California’s prisons and county jails. This press conference and rally calls on the CDCR and local county sheriff’s departments to honor the call to end all hostilities between racial groups.”
In the Bay Area, a panel discussion on the call to end hostilities among other topics under the heading, “Alternatives to the Prison System,” is set for Saturday, Oct. 20, 2:30 p.m., at the Niebyl-Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. The topics are:
  • prisoners’ call for an end to hostilities, inside and in the communities
  • a critique of power’s criminality as revealed in the existence of prisons
  • real alternatives to the criminality of punishment
Panelists will include:
  • Steve Martinot, author of “The Need to Abolish the Prison System: an Ethical Indictment”
  • Joileen Richards, Campaign to End Mass Incarceration
  • Urszula Wislanka, Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Support Committee, and News and Letters
  • Melvin Dickson, The Commemorator: Commemoration Committee for the Black Panther Party
  • Dorsey Nunn, All of Us or None
Bay View editor Mary Ratcliff can be reached at or (415) 671-0789.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coy McKinney: An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

I've always thought that most people wouldn't be so afraid of an anarchist version of the future if they knew what exactly that meant about how we might "maintain order". We're so used to how things are now, in this kind of society, that we have a hard time wrapping our brain around other possibilities, which makes people even afraid to question the wisdom of what we've practiced for the past few decades - like mass incarceration and building more for-profit prisons.

There is room at the end of this article to talk more about the concept of transformative justice (which maybe I should pickup on soon), but I thought it was a really well-articulated analysis of anarchist principles re: the prison industrial complex, and extremely well-sourced. It's much better than anything I've tried to compose myself in the past 3 1/2 years of doing this blog. I usually identify myself as a "sympathizer", rather than a full-fledged anarchist - it's nothing against my brothers and sisters in black. Other people can just explain anarchist theory (which I've read shockingly little of) and the ways it plays out in the real world better than I do.

Thanks to the author and this site Dissident Voice "a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice" for putting this out there...

Phoenix, AZ (September 2012)


An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

This paper is a critique of how the state, the legal system, and the criminal justice system function in American society, and calls for an anarchist approach to how society should be organized that will remove the oppressive frameworks we currently live under.

To support my arguments, I will first provide an overview of how the criminal justice system works. From there I will offer an analysis on why the criminal justice system is flawed, and the racially discriminatory effect it has had on society. I will then discuss why the disproportionate number of minorities found in prison and impoverished in this country is directly tied to the contemporary ruling interests that were preserved by the U.S. Constitution. Showing that the system is inherently discriminatory, I propose an alternative method for viewing society through anarchism. I will spend time debunking myths regarding anarchism and explaining why it is a viable ideology. In the end, I will propose a restorative justice approach to criminal justice that requires neither the state nor the legal system.

Overview of criminal justice system

In theory, the function of the legal system, and the state is to provide a structure that creates an environment for society that protects individual and collective freedom. The intention of the legal system then, is to provide an objective set of rules for governing conduct and maintaining order in society. In order to cover all potential conflicts, the law is divided into two forms: (1) civil law, which are rules and regulations that decide transactions and grievances between individuals; and (2) criminal law, which are rules concerned with actions deemed dangerous or harmful to society as a whole, and are prosecuted by the state.

Relevant to this paper, the criminal justice system is the method by which society deals with individuals who violate criminal laws. It is the means for society to “enforce the standards of conduct necessary to protect individuals and the community.”1 This system is composed of three parts: (1) police enforcement of the law; (2) adjudication of potential violations; and (3) punishment/rehabilitation for criminal acts.
The state authorizes police officers to enforce the law and maintain order. This permission allows the police to arrest individuals, and use deadly force when the circumstances permit. Since police officers are allowed to use their discretion in determining when there has been a violation of the law, and when to use deadly force, they are trained to be capable of assessing the situations they find themselves in, and acting accordingly.

As a check on the power given to police officers, state prosecutors are responsible for determining whether the charges have substance, and if the individual’s case should go to trial. In the words of Michelle Alexander, the prosecutor has the most power of any other criminal justice official, and is the person that “holds the key to the jailhouse door.”2 This adds a special responsibility for prosecutors, according to Chief Judge, Isaac Christiancy:

The prosecuting officer represents the public interest, which can never be promoted by the conviction of the innocent. His object like that of the court should be simply justice; and he has no right to sacrifice this to any pride of professional success. And however strong may be his belief of the prisoner’s guilt, he must remember that though unfair means may happen to result in doing justice to the prisoner in the particular case yet justice so attained is unjust and dangerous to the whole community.3
If a prosecutor determines there is enough evidence for trial, the individual will be charged with committing a crime.

At trial, the adversarial system is used. This means the prosecutor will present evidence, in addition to arguments, explaining why the defendant is guilty of the alleged crime(s), and the defendant’s attorney, who is either appointed by the state or chosen independently, will do the same, except explaining why the defendant is not guilty. All this is presented before a judge, and sometimes a jury, who are regarded as objective third parties, and are responsible for determining the guilt of the defendant.

If an individual is convicted of a crime, they enter into the custody of the correctional authorities. An example of the stated role correctional authorities and prisons play in the criminal justice system is exemplified by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which “protects society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.”4 Prisoners can receive medical, educational, religious, and career assistance to achieve the stated edification goals. Prisoners can be released before fulfilling their required time in prison by being placed on parole, which means they are released back into society with certain restrictions on their freedom. Ultimately, the objective of the correctional authorities and prisons is to protect society from criminals, while also providing rehabilitation to them so that they leave prison better than when they entered.

In its entirety, the criminal justice system is structured to deliver justice in a fair manner that upholds the ideals America holds for itself.

The problem — the illusion

Despite the stated intent of the criminal justice system, there are clear, systemic problems with how it functions that not only call its existence into question, but also the legal system that produced it as well. At the core of the problem is the fact that “justice” is determined by the state, and not the individuals involved. Worsening this is the fact that the origin of the state was built on discriminatory ideals. This has resulted in a criminal justice system that does not serve the people, but works to maintain oppressive and discriminatory, governmental authority.

The victims and alleged offenders have little, to no, say in the determination of justice throughout the criminal process. The state replaces the actual victim as the injured party for trial, and seeks justice based on its own standards. Defendants are advised to remain silent, and to allow their attorney to do most of the speaking for them. In describing this phenomenon, Alexandra Natapoff, writes:
The United States’s criminal justice system is shaped by a fundamental absence: Criminal defendants rarely speak. From the first Miranda warnings through trial until sentencing, defendants are constantly encouraged to be quiet and to let their lawyers do the talking. And most do. Over ninety-five percent never go to trial, only half of those who do testify, and some defendants do not even speak at their own sentencings. As a result, in millions of criminal cases often involving hours of verbal negotiations and dozens of pages of transcripts, the typical defendant may say almost nothing to anyone but his or her own attorney.5 [...]

Defendant silence also has systemic implications for the integrity of the justice process. In our democracy, individual speech has historically been seen as an antidote to governmental overreaching. Criminal defendant speech is perhaps the quintessential example of the individual defending his or her life and liberty against the state. Yet silent defendants rarely express themselves directly to the government official deciding their fate, be it judge or prosecutor, and are often punished more harshly when they do. The justice system assumes that conversations between counsel and clients, and counsel’s own speech on behalf of clients, fulfill the personal needs of defendants as well as systemic requirements that defendants be “heard.” Yet most defense counsel are overworked, appointed counsel with insufficient time to spend communicating with their clients or fully exploring their clients’ personal stories.6
Together, the practice of “representation” does not form an honest quest for justice, since it silences the only individuals that are truly capable of determining it.

Although America’s legal system has determined that justice is most effectively administered through the adversarial system, the reality of the process shows that this is a contrived conclusion. The adversarial system relies on prosecutors to “do justice,” and for defense attorneys to be “zealous advocates” for their clients, relying on both sides to present their strongest arguments, so that a third-party trier of fact can make the best decision.7 This system relies on justice being equated with victory, which encourages both sides to be as uncooperative as possible with each other.

In living up to their roles as zealous advocates for their clients, and encouraged by the adversarial system, defense attorneys can employ a number of tactics to win cases, that do not help the trier of fact make an informed decision. In his essay outlining the problems with these tactics, labeled “aggressive defense,” William H. Simon, provides a few troublesome examples:
Defense lawyers sometimes have opportunities to draw out and delay cases, for instance, by deliberately arranging their schedules to require repeated continuances. This can have the advantage of exhausting prosecution witnesses and eroding their memories.

Defense lawyers are sometimes asked to present perjured testimony by defendants. They sometimes find they can benefit their clients by impeaching the testimony of prosecution witnesses they know to be truthful. And they sometimes can gain advantage by arguing to the jury that the evidence supports factual inferences they know to be untrue. [...]

Lawyers occasionally find it advantageous to disclose or threaten to disclose information that they know does not contribute to informed determination on the merits because such disclosure injures the prosecution or witnesses.8

While these tactics are permissible, each exemplifies how the adversarial system promotes the goals of the individual defendant over that of overall justice.

Prosecutors are also encouraged by the adversarial system to give precedence to winning rather than obtaining actual justice. As a representative of the state, prosecutors must be conscious of how the public perceives their decisions. To ensure this, almost everywhere in America, (except Alaska, Connecticut, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia) the job of chief prosecutor is determined by an election.9 To secure election, or reelection, prosecutors often campaign on how “tough” they are on crime, something that is usually demonstrated by the number of convictions a prosecutor has made. This equates convictions with justice, which consequently, creates an imbalance in the pursuit of justice, as it implies justice lies on the side of the prosecutor, by default, and not the defendant. In arguing that judges should not be elected, Justice John Paul Stevens said, “A campaign promise to ‘be tough on crime,’ or to ‘enforce the death penalty,’ is evidence of bias that should disqualify a [judicial] candidate from sitting in criminal cases.”10 The same argument can be made for prosecutors as well. Thus, in order to show proficiency, prosecutors are often encouraged to convict individuals. However, the argument that convictions equal justice is a fallacy. If this were true, the rate of recidivism would be decreasing, yet it is increasing. According to a 2006 report released by the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, within three years of their release, 67% of former prisoners are rearrested and 52% are re-incarcerated.11
Assisting the “convictions = justice” belief are economic incentives that permit individuals and corporations to profit from the number of prisoners a jail has. This is commonly referred to as the “private prison-industrial complex.” Between 1999 and 2010, the use of private prisons increased by 40% at the state level, and by 784% in the federal prison system.12 This rise correlates with an increase in revenues as well: Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, made over $2.9 billion combined in 2010.13 Explaining how these profits have been spent, the Justice Policy Institute states, “[a]s revenues of private prison companies have grown over the past decade, the companies have had more resources with which to build political power, and they have used this power to promote policies that lead to higher rates of incarceration.”14 Thus, a cycle exists where private prison facilities influence the criminal justice system through political and economic means, encouraging the flawed belief that convictions equal justice.

The confluence of economic and political motives for obtaining more convictions has had tremendously negative effects on society, and has helped usher in a period of “mass incarceration.” According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States has the highest incarceration rate per 100,000 people of the national population, than any other country in the world.15 A New York Times article described the situation succinctly, “[t]he United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.”16
Furthermore, this period of mass incarceration has illuminated the racist character of America’s legal system. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of December 31, 2010, state and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 1,612,395 prisoners, while a total of 7.1 million people were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities.17 Of the 1.6 million prisoners, 588,000 identified as Black, and 345,900 identified as Hispanic, representing 36% and 21%, respectively, of the prison population.18 This is alarming since, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Blacks make up 12.6% of the American population, and Hispanics constitute another 16.3% of the population.19 Making the imbalance clearer, the estimated number of inmates held in custody in local, state, or federal prisons per 100,000 U.S. citizens, for Blacks, Hispanics, and Whites, respectively, is the following: 4,607; 1,908; and 769.20 This means Blacks are nearly 6 times as likely as Whites to be in prison. Paul Butler writes:

Imagine a country in which more than half of the young male citizens [referring to Blacks] are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, either awaiting trial, in prison, or on probation or parole. Imagine a country in which two-thirds of the men can anticipate being arrested before they reach age thirty. Imagine a country in which there are more young men in prison than in college.21

The racial disparity is also present in death penalty cases. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “[m]ore than half of the over 3300 people on death row nationwide are people of color; nearly 42% are African American. Prominent researchers have demonstrated that a defendant is more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black.”22 And according to Amnesty International, a 1990 report by the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found, “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.”23 As a result, the effect of criminal laws, their enforcement and prosecution, has disproportionately placed more Blacks and Hispanics in jail than in the nation’s history.

Causes for the discriminatory effects of the criminal justice system

The disproportionate number of racial minorities involved in America’s criminal justice system is not by chance, but intent, as it is a consequence of the racist and classist interests the U.S. constitution was designed to protect. Starting in the mid-15th century, after the violent acquisition of land belonging to long-established indigenous communities, Americans and Europeans engaged in the cruel transportation of over 11 million Africans for over 450 years.24 The African slave trade helped build America into one of the most powerful countries in the world, but also created a patriarchal society that reified racial discrimination by the creation of racial identities. These racial identities were used by the rich, White elites to create artificial divisions amongst the masses to pit them against each other, and not their rulers. The Populist leader from Georgia, Tom Watson, in calling for racial unity, said:
You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars both.25

The rich, white men that had obtained economic and political power throughout the colonies utilized the opportunity the Constitutional Convention provided to ensure their power was maintained with the formation of the new country. Writing about the findings of fellow historian Charles A. Beard, Howard Zinn writes:
Beard applied this general idea [that the rich must either control the government directly, or control the laws by which the government operates] to the Constitution, by studying the economic backgrounds and political ideas of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to draw up the Constitution. He found that a majority of them were lawyers by profession, that most of them were men of wealth, in land, slaves, manufacturing, or shipping, that half of them had money loaned out at interest, and that 40 of the 55 held government bonds, according to the records of the Treasury Department.

Thus Beard found that most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government: the manufacturing needed protective tariffs; the moneylenders wanted to stop the use of paper money to pay off debts, the land speculators wanted protection as they invaded Indian lands; slaveowners needed federal security against slave revolts and runaways; bondholders wanted a government able to raise money by nationwide taxation, to pay off those bonds.

Four groups, Beard noted, were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property.26

Summarizing the constitution then, Zinn writes:
The Constitution, then, illustrates the complexity of the American system: that it serves the interests of a wealthy elite, but also does enough for small property owners, for middle-income mechanics and farmers, to build a broad base of support. The slightly prosperous people who make up this base of support are buffers against the blacks, the Indians, the very poor whites. They enable the elite to keep control with a minimum of coercion, a maximum of law–all made palatable by the fanfare of patriotism and unity.27

Those with power and influence, who had benefited from the use of slaves as a means of achieving economic and political power, helped ingrain slavery into their respective legal systems and cultures. Thus, representatives, especially from Southern states, had a strong interest in preserving slavery, and would not have agreed to join the union without a constitutional protection for it. This protection is exhibited by the original sections of the Constitution located at: Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 (recognizing the “three-fifths compromise”); Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 (permitting the continuance of the slave trade until 1808); and Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 (protection for the Fugitive Slave Act).

While legislation to abolish the slave trade became law in 1808, some state governments enacted Black Codes, or laws to regulate the institution of slavery and to place further restrictions on the liberty of Blacks. The Supreme Court did nothing to abolish slavery, or the racist laws, in fact, it thwarted an attempt by some Northern states to limit slavery, through the Missouri Compromise, by nationalizing the practice with its decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford.28 The issue of slavery ultimately contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War, and the eventual passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in 1865, 1868, and 1870, respectively (prohibiting slavery except as punishment for committing a crime, guaranteeing equal protection for all citizens, and prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on race, respectively). However, the intent in maintaining a racially divided society persisted, as state governments implemented “Jim Crow” laws that segregated Blacks to a separate, and second-class citizenship. The Supreme Court again did nothing to repeal these laws until its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka over 80 years later in 1954.29 The Civil Rights Movement followed in the 1960s and 1970s and helped remove many of the overt forms of racial discrimination the legal system and federal government had maintained, but regardless of these changes, legally sanctioned racial discrimination has endured.
Now, it operates in covert and institutionalized ways that can be shown through the impact of governmental policy. The government’s “War on Drugs” has become the most recent, post-Civil Rights Movement policy to continue the racial discrimination and exploitation of minorities in America. While the term “War on Drugs” was initially used by President Richard Nixon, it was under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan when it became heavily enforced. The purported purpose of the “war” was to reduce the illegal drug trade, by implementing policies that discouraged the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal drugs. This included imposing restrictive penalties on an individual’s liberties for committing drug-related crimes (i.e., losing the right to vote, denial of public benefits), and harsher sentencing guidelines (i.e., “three strikes laws,” mandatory minimums).

Although the appearance of the effort appears racially neutral, its enforcement has had a clear racial bias. Terming the initiative the “New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander explains that, “[a]s of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified …”30 Illustrating the racial bias of this, Alexander continues:

This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.31

Another indicator of the racial bias within the initiative can be shown through the difference in sentencing guidelines. In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100:1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack, in comparison to the penalties for trafficking powder cocaine, which exhibits discrimination since Blacks are more likely to use crack than powder cocaine, a substance that is predominantly used by Whites.32 Compounding this further are the revelations journalist Gary Webb uncovered on how the Nicaraguan rebel group, the Contras, who were known for drug trafficking, were assisted by the U.S. government in distributing crack cocaine in Los Angeles, California to fund weapons purchases.33 Thus, the undisguised racist laws and policies that targeted Blacks after the formation of the Constitution have continued, just in a less overt fashion.

The history of the plight of other minorities under oppressive laws and governmental policies should not go unmentioned. Latinos have been targeted through anti-immigrant laws, termed “Juan Crow,” that have had similar, but different effects on Latinos as Jim Crow did on Blacks.34 Native Americans are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system since they are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national per capita rate.35 Muslims, especially after the September 11th events, have been subjected to racial profiling and surveillance by local and federal authorities, similar to how the Japanese, and Asians generally, were persecuted before and during World War II. Furthermore, the government’s practice of discriminating against groups based on racial identities is exemplified by its use of data obtained by the U.S. Census and the policies it has created.36
Encapsulating the history of America’s legal system with the impact it has had on society, the conclusion can be drawn that it has successfully achieved the objectives its creators intended: a patriarchal, plutocracy ruled by Whites. The gap in equality on wealth, health, education, and employment between Blacks and Whites has continued to expand, further demonstrating the bias inherent in the construction of American society.37 Thus, a new approach to how we live and interact with each other is desperately needed. One where our interconnectedness is valued, and where society nurtures everyone’s existence. This requires a culture that focuses on anti-oppressive structures, and has the goal of collectively liberating all people. Luckily, such a vision exists, and it is called anarchism.

Introduction to anarchism

The word “anarchism,” derived from the Greek root “anarchos,” means “without authority,” and according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, its central ideals are freedom, equality, and mutual aid.38 Despite this, in modern popular society, anarchism is surrounded by stigma and taboo, and invokes images of social chaos, in which terrorism is the prevailing means of establishing law and order, making anarchism seem both impractical and undesirable. However, through the fog of misperception and obscurity, lies a sociopolitical doctrine that challenges some of our deeply held assumptions on what the relationship between the individual and society can be, and calls us to work towards creating a truly free and cooperative society.

Behind some of the constructions of anarchism as a violent ideology are events that transpired between the years of 1890 and 1901. During this time period, individuals that identified as anarchists killed several ruling figures, including U.S. President William McKinley, King Umberto I of Italy, and Sadi Carnot, the President of France.39 These are certainly extreme acts, but it is unfair, and too simple to ascribe these actions to all anarchists without an investigation into the circumstances surrounding each event, or consideration for the diversity of thought and tactics within anarchism itself. Such an investigation is beyond the scope of this paper, but suffice it to say, the use of violence, as a means to justify the ends anarchism seeks, is not a universally accepted tactic.

Another argument used to discredit anarchism is its perceived impracticality and lack of application outside of “non-primitive” societies. Generally, “primitive” societies are distinguished from modern societies because of an absence of an institutionalized government-like authority. Due to this distinction, “primitive” societies are considered irrelevant to discussions surrounding present-day social issues.
Anarchist anthropologist, David Graeber, provides an alternative lens to view this dichotomy through his book, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology.40 Graeber writes that the popular American understanding of how human society has developed is that it has followed a linear path, beginning primitive and becoming more advanced and complex over time. Graeber explains that the anthropological record does not support this conclusion, using three egalitarian cultures, the Piaroa, Tiv, and Malagasy, as examples.41 Graeber writes:

… we [anthropologists] have been trying for decades now to convince the public that there’s no such thing as a ‘primitive,’ that ‘simple societies’ are not really all that simple, that no one ever existed in timeless isolation, that it makes no sense to speak of some social systems as more or less evolved.42

Author Walter Cruttenden also takes time to dispel this myth, writing:
The leap was made: If Darwin had evidence that physical organisms adapt to fit their environment (evolve), then society, even over short periods, must evolve in the same linear fashion. In other words, if evolution existed in physical development, it must also play a role in societal and cultural development within humanity. This was very appealing to the intellectuals of post-Renaissance Europe as it justified a superior attitude toward less complex societies.43

Everywhere in the world, it seems, archaeological digs are reshaping our view of the distant past. Not only are these findings revealing that civilizations were older than once thought, but they are showing that man was smarter and more progressive.44
Based on this, Graber asks that we engage in a “thought experiment”:
What if, as a recent title put it, ‘we have never been modern’? What if there never was any fundamental break, and therefore, we are not living in a fundamentally different moral, social, or political universe than the Piaroa or Tiv or rural Malagasy? […]
Let us imagine, then, that the West, however defined, was nothing special, and further, that there has been no one fundamental break in human history. No one can deny there have been massive quantitative changes: the amount of energy consumed, the speed at which humans can travel, the number of books produced and read, all these numbers have been rising exponentially … The West might have introduced some new possibilities, but it hasn’t canceled any of the old ones out.45

Without a basis for disregarding the social organization of “primitive” societies, anarchism remains a relevant sociopolitical doctrine.

While anarchism’s critics may concede that it is conceivable, they may still argue it is not the best way of structuring society. This position is exemplified by the thoughts of French Revolution thinker, Jacques-Pierre Brissot. Brissot, in denouncing his political rivals, the Enragés, accused them of advocating anarchy, warning that without the rule of law and government, there could be no way of delivering justice within society.46 This sentiment is exemplified modernly in Paul Butler’s bold essay, “Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power In The Criminal Justice System.”47 In Butler’s essay, he calls for Blacks to exercise jury nullification in particular circumstances as a way of protesting the unfair practices of the criminal justice system. Although Butler calls for the undermining of the legal system, he ensures that readers do not confuse his ideas as “encouraging anarchy” by explicitly stating so (“I am not encouraging anarchy.”48 ). A logical assumption of Butler’s reasoning is that anarchy would be more problematic than reform.

Anarchism’s absence from mainstream America’s discussions should not reflect poorly on the ideals it promotes. In the opinion of anarchist author, John Zerzan, anarchism is about, “eradicating all forms of domination. This includes not only such obvious forms as the nation-state, … and the corporation, … but also such internalized forms as patriarchy, racism, and homophobia.”49 “Domination” occurs in relationships where there is an unequal distribution of power, allowing the dominator(s) to exert their will over others. Being subject to domination causes mental and physical oppression, both of which obstruct human growth. For this reason, hierarchy is viewed negatively by anarchists, and instead, horizontal structures, dependent upon collaboration are encouraged. According to Anarchist writer, David Wieck, anarchism represents:

… a kind of intransigent effort to conceive of and to seek means to realize a human liberation from every power structure, every form of domination and hierarchy. Correlative with this negation is the positive faith that through the breakdown of mutually supportive institutions of power, possibilities can arise for noncoercive social cooperation, social unity, specifically a social unity in which individuality is fully realizable and in which freedom is defined not by rights and liberties but by the functioning of society as a network of voluntary cooperation. [...]

We are premising a society in which people have stopped living in fear of one another, in which gross violence, hatred, and contempt for life have become uncommon, in which alienation of person from person seldom reaches the malignant extremes to which we are accustomed.50

Thus, anarchism does not advocate violence or mayhem, but rather calls for the liberation of everyone by removing oppressive social structures and practices from within our communities.

The vision anarchism has for society directly challenges a number of the core assumptions and principles held by mainstream America. For one, anarchists believe the current legal system and the authorization it provides for governmental and state power is both harmful and unnecessary.

In theory, the government is supposed to be of, for, and by the people, but the reality of its function has only ensured the existence of a ruling class, whose power and interests are perpetually preserved by the system of governance. David Graeber describes the state as having a dual character, where it is viewed as an institutionalized form of extortion by communities that seek to retain some degree of autonomy, while also appearing as a “utopian project in the written record.”51 Despite its idealistic aura, Peter Kropotkin writes that, “… Anarchists have often enough pointed out in their perpetual criticism of the various forms of government, that the mission of all governments, monarchical, constitutional, or republican, is to protect and maintain by force the privileges of the classes in possession …”52 Essentially, the power a community naturally has to rule itself, is given to a higher authority, the state, to govern on the community’s behalf. This opens the community to the abuses of power that result from hierarchical relationships. Additionally, the community’s reliance on the state to govern its affairs diminishes the community’s own power, making it, and its members, subservient to the state. This reliance on the state and the legal system creates an indirect way of resolving conflict. Rather than individuals settling disputes amongst themselves, they rely on impersonal laws to find a solution. To this point, Kropotkin writes:
[Quoting French jurist Dalloy] “… legislation is expected to do everything, and each fresh law being a fresh miscalculation, men are continually led to demand from it what can proceed only from themselves, from their own education and their own morality.” In existing States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves [the populace] altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it.53

Allowing officials of the state to fill positions of power and determine policy for the community is problematic for the following reason:

The notion of “policy” presumes a state or governing apparatus which imposes its will on others. “Policy” is the negation of politics; policy is by definition something concocted by some form of elite, which presumes it knows better than others how their affairs are to be conducted. By participating in policy debates the very best one can achieve is to limit the damage, since the very premise is inimical to the idea of people managing their own affairs.54

As a result, communities that concede their power to the state, reduce their independence and freedom to determine the type of society they want to live in.

The relinquishing of community power to a state government is unnecessary because there is no reason to believe the state can perform better than the community could. Anarchists believe we are capable of practicing a natural form of justice amongst ourselves, based on our conscience and innate ability to reason with one another, without trusting the process to a hierarchical ruling class of professionals. Kropotkin explains the manipulative justification for law by saying:
Its origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage. Its character is the skilful commingling of customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect, with other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment.55

The anarchist belief equates “law” with ethics, and reasons that since we learn ethics from our families, friends, and other members of our community, our current governmental legal system is not required.
The permanence of a state authority comes under further questioning when its actual existence is probed. Graeber writes:
In fact, the world is under no obligation to live up to our expectations, and insofar as “reality” refers to anything, it refers to precisely that which can never be entirely encompassed by our imaginative constructions. Totalities, in particular, are always creatures of the imagination. Nations, societies, ideologies, closed systems… none of these really exist. [...]

This is not an appeal for a flat-out rejection of such imaginary totalities … It is an appeal to always bear in mind that they are just that: tools of thought.56

Thus, part of the state’s existence and legitimacy is due to the mental recognition we assign to it. If everyone were to shift their thinking to a worldview in which the state was undesired, and instead, looked to live without its authority, the state’s power and existence would be critically undermined.
The primary reason we acknowledge the authority of the state is its ability to use force as a means of enforcing compliance. This means anyone who breaks the law can have their liberty taken from them, or be killed by state officials. Sociologist Max Weber, describes the state as, “ a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”57 On the issue of force and violence, Graeber writes:

… violence, particularly structural violence, where all the power is on one side, creates ignorance. If you have the power to hit people over the head whenever you want, you don’t have to trouble yourself too much figuring out what they think is going on, and therefore, generally speaking, you don’t. Hence the sure-fire way to simplify social arrangements, to ignore the incredibly complex play of perspectives, passions, insights, desires, and mutual understandings that human life is really made of, is to make a rule and threaten to attack anyone who breaks it. This is why violence has always been the favored recourse of the stupid: it is the one form of stupidity to which it is almost impossible to come up with an intelligent response. It is also of course the basis of the state.58

Consequently, the manner in which we allow the state to enforce compliance to the law is comparable to the rhetoric the American government uses to demonize “terrorist” groups and the countries labeled as their supporters. If terrorism is something we collectively admonish, our next step is to be honest in our introspection, and overcome the glaring contradiction that surrounds us.

Despite the state’s monopoly on the use of legitimate force, it still only exists because we acknowledge it to. To live in a truly cooperative and free society, we must be willing to let go of our reliance on the external state and legal system, and begin to engage each other on a local basis, and take full responsibility for the structure of our communities and neighborhoods.

A new way forward — a restorative approach to justice

The current legal system’s fundamental purpose is to resolve conflict. However, the power to determine resolutions is given to individuals that do not have an interest in the matter, and prevent the individuals involved to determine their own form of justice. Additionally, obedience to this system is enforced under duress. Rather than using force to achieve compliance, the anarchist approach to resolving conflict is voluntary, and believes justice can only be determined by the involved parties through dialogue. A justice system based on these principles exists, and is called restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a form of conflict resolution, used by different indigenous groups throughout the world, to settle disputes between individuals. According to a restorative justice co-director of facilitation, Matthew Johnson, “[r]eliance on the state to achieve justice or security goes against the idea that people are fully equipped to deal with their own conflicts — an idea that is at the core of restorative justice principles.”59 In contrast to the current criminal justice system, where the state is viewed as the primary victim in criminal acts, and victims, offenders, and the community are given passive roles, restorative justice views crime as being directed against individual people.60) This means conflicts and disputes are settled entirely by members of the community. The framework restorative justice uses, allows it to be applied in any circumstance in which a conflict is deemed to exist. At its core, it is a form of community justice that recognizes the interconnectedness of communal living, and that harm and conflicts are symptoms of communal inadequacies. Therefore, if everyone’s needs are being met, then consequently the causes for conflict are prevented.

Howard Zehr, a leading advocate and visionary for restorative justice, says that it has three primary pillars: harms and needs, obligations, and engagement.61 In regards to harm, Zehr writes, “[w]hile our first concern must be the harm experienced by victims, the focus on harm implies that we also need to be concerned about the harm experienced by offenders and communities.”62 The restorative approach tries to uncover the causes of conflicts in a manner that respects the perspectives of the people involved. Behind this is the belief that conflicts are created by misunderstandings and needs not being met for individuals. This method prevents individuals that have caused harm from being vilified, which encourages others to participate, and also reveals any inadequacies within the individual’s community.

The second pillar is that restorative justice “emphasizes offender accountability and responsibility.”63 This means, rather than sending offenders to jail, they confront the people that have been harmed by their actions, and take responsibility for rectifying the situation. Offenders are permitted to tell their side of the story, but must also listen to how and why their actions led to the harm. Then together, the individuals work towards an agreeable solution. All this fits within the third pillar of engagement, which suggests that the primary parties affected by crime be given significant roles in the justice process.64 An example of how the process works is as follows:

We [an organization that coordinates restorative justice conferences] would get a referral, call each principal actor in the conflict, interview them carefully and empathetically…making sure they are aware of the process as well as their own feelings…and get their consent to participate in the process. We would then repeat the process with everyone else involved and schedule a time that worked for everyone and an appropriate, neutral location. If it were a Victim-Offender Dialogue, it would likely take place at the correctional institution. The preparation process, where a trained facilitator would talk to each person individually, is generally the most important part and will determine the success of the conference. At the end of the conference, dialogue, etc., the facilitator(s) would help the participants generate a consensus agreement, that might include restitution, an apology, community service, etc., and follow up with participants after an established amount of time to ensure that they were satisfied with the agreement and that it was being followed as agreed.65

Thus, the restorative justice process function of compassionately helping individuals learn from their mistakes.

Restorative justice practices are gaining traction and being applied throughout the country in a variety of contexts, but its success and continued use is dependent upon a continuing shift in societal values, and the strengthening of communal ties.66 In some instances, forms of restorative justice are being used in conjunction with the criminal justice system for misdemeanor crimes. Defendants are given the choice of pleading guilty and going through a process in which they admit guilt, and discuss what caused them to commit the crime, and are then required to perform community service. While this is a step in the right direction, the process still operates under the power of the state. Additionally, it creates a problematic incentive for defendants to plead guilty to crimes just to escape accountability. Accountability is important in ensuring justice through the restorative method, however, without the force of the state to ensure this, the question becomes, how can society hold people accountable for their actions? Matthew Johnson believes:
… that accountability comes naturally with community and interdependent relationships. We tend to not view ourselves as connected in Western culture; we see ourselves primarily as individuals. In this context, accountability is not as important as escaping blame or harm. However, if I value my relationship with you more than my own willingness to avoid pain/consequences, I will tell you that I broke your favorite possession, etc., because I would want the same done for me, and we are interconnected. Also, accountability comes much easier when there is no expectation of punishment. If I knew you weren’t going to sue me, hit me, or shun me for admitting my wrongdoing, I would have much more of an incentive to tell the truth and be accountable. The current criminal justice system, along with the capitalist economic system, assumes that we act within our own self-interests, and this is just the way of things. Therefore, we incentive behavior that maximizes self-interest. Yet we turn around and criticize people for being selfish, etc. The principles of restorative justice go against this paradigm. Its practitioners have a much less cynical view of humanity, but nonetheless it’s quite possible that RJ (restorative justice) won’t reach its full potential without a radical re-evaluation of societal values.65

Thus, in order for restorative justice to operate in the anarchist fashion it is intended to, and be successful, there needs to be an evolution in the way we live our lives, and the way we view one another.


In conclusion, the racist, classist, hierarchical interests represented in the formation of the Constitution have created a legal system, and subsequently, a criminal justice system, that has consistently failed to administer true justice. Thus, a new approach must be taken, which will require us to stop relying on the current criminal justice system, and its oppressive laws to solve our interpersonal issues. The criminal justice system will continue to work the way it has, as long as we continue to consent and participate in it. If we collectively take a stand and withdraw our consent from the system, and instead redirect how we deal with conflict to a restorative approach, the criminal justice system will become irrelevant. In explaining “revolutionary exodus,” David Graeber writes:

The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal,” mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. They have not involved challenging power head on (this usually leads to being slaughtered, or if not, turning into some—often even uglier—variant of the very thing one first challenged) but from one or another strategy of slipping away from its grasp, from flight, desertion, the founding of new communities.67
Critical for creating this new society is a belief that it is possible and that we have the power to do it.
It is time to reaffirm what is already ours and reclaim our individual sovereignty. It is time for our self ownership to be reaffirmed and lived out in life. It is a metaphysical fact that we own our bodies and minds. All other ownerships can be challenged and are transitory at best, but self ownership is undeniable and permanent as long as we are living beings. Therefore it is ultimately, indeed must be our decision as to how we will conduct our lives the only law that we must accept is to do no harm to others and to recognize and respect the personal sovereignty of the other as they must ours. Recognition and respect of every person’s individual sovereignty is the only way in which systems of mutual cooperation can be successfully developed and maintained. And indeed is the only law required for peaceful coexistence with the greater society. But it is not a law of compulsion like most laws, but is rather the natural state of things such as the laws of physics.68
  1. President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, 7, (1967). []
  2. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 86, (2010). []
  3. Hurd v. People, 25 Mich. 405 (Mich. 1872). []
  4. Federal Bureau of Prisons, (last visited Apr. 26, 2012). []
  5. Alexandra Natapoff, Speechless: The Silencing of Criminal Defendants, 80 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 1449 (2005). []
  6. Natapoff, supra note 5, at 1451. []
  7. Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 3.8(a) (2008); Id. at Preamble, Scope, Terminology (2008). []
  8. William H. Simon, The Ethics of Criminal Defense, 91 Mich. L. Rev. 1703, 1704-5 (1993). []
  9. Ric Simmons, Election of Local Prosecutors, Ohio State University, Moritz School of Law, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  10. John Paul Stevens, Assoc. Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, Opening Assembly Address, American Bar Association Annual Meeting, Orlando, Florida (Aug. 3, 1996), in 12 St. John’s J. Legal Comment. 21, 30-31 (1996) (discussing need to improve quality of judges and espousing belief that judges should not be elected). []
  11. Commission On Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Confronting Confinement, 106, (2006). []
  12. Cody Mason, Too Good To Be True: Private Prisons In America, 1, (2012). []
  13. Justice Policy Institute, Gaming The System: How The Political Strategies of Private Prisons Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies, 12 (2011). []
  14. Id. at 2. []
  15. International Centre For Prison Studies, Entire world – Prison Population Rates per 100,000 of the National Population, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  16. Adam Liptak, U.S. Prison Population Dwarfs That of Other Nations, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  17. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners In 2010, (last visted Apr. 27, 2012); Bureau of Justice Statistics, Correctional Populations In The United States, 2010, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  18. Bureau of Justice Statistics, supra note 17 (first cite), at Appendix, Table 12. []
  19. Karen R. Humes, Nicholas A. Jones, Roberto R. Ramirez, Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010, Table I (2011). []
  20. Bureau of Justice Statistics, supra note 17 (second cite), at Appendix Table 3. []
  21. Paul Butler, Racially Based Jury Nullification: Black Power in the Criminal Justice System, 105 Yale L.J. 677, 690-1 (1995). []
  22. Equal Justice Initiative, Racial Bias, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  23. Amnesty International, Death Penalty and Race, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  24. British Broadcasting Corporation, Quick guide: The Slave Trade, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  25. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, 291 (2003). []
  26. Id. at 90-1. []
  27. Zinn, supra note 25, at 99. []
  28. Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (U.S. 1857). []
  29. Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (U.S. 1954). []
  30. Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama As A Racial Nightmare, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  31. Alexander, supra note 30. []
  32. Jim Abrams, Congress Passes Bill To Reduce Disparity In Crack, Powder Cocaine Sentencing, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  33. See Gary Webb, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, Seven Stories Press; 2nd edition (1999). []
  34. Karla Mari McKanders, Sustaining Tiered Personhood: Jim Crow and Anti-Immigrant Laws, 26, Harv. J. on Racial & Ethnic Just., 163 (2010). []
  35. U.S. Commission On Civil Rights, A Quiet Crisis, Federal Funding And Unmet Needs In Indian Country, 68 (2003). []
  36. See Therese Beaudreault, The Race Categories On The U.S. Census: Representations of False Consciousness, (last visited May 6, 2012). []
  37. See Ajamu Dillahunt et al., United for a Fair Economy, State of the Dream 2010 DRAINED Joblessness and Foreclosed in Communities of Color; The Schott State Report on Black Males & Education. (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  38. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Anarchism, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  39. Brittanica, supra note-38. []
  40. David Graeber, Fragments of An Anarchist Anthropology, (2004). []
  41. Graeber, supra note 40, at 65. []
  42. Id. at 41. []
  43. Walter Cruttenden, Lost Star of Myth And Time, 9 (2006). []
  44. Id. at 295. []
  45. Graeber, supra note 40, at 46-51. []
  46. Brittanica, supra note 38. []
  47. Butler, supra note 21, at 677. []
  48. Butler, supra note 21, at 20 []
  49. Everythingology, Enemy of The State: An Interview With John Zerzan & Derrick Jensen, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  50. David Wieck, Anarchist Justice, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  51. Graeber, supra note 40 at 65. []
  52. Peter Kropotkin, Law And Authority, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  53. Id. []
  54. Graeber, supra note 40, at 9. []
  55. Kropotkin, supra note 52. []
  56. Graeber, supra note 40, at 43-5. []
  57. Max Weber, Politics As A Vocation, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []
  58. Graeber, supra note 40, at 72-3. []
  59. Email interview with Matthew Johnson, Co-Director of Facilitation, Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County (Apr. 26, 2012). []
  60. Mark S. Umbreit and Betty Vos and Robert B. Coates and Elizabeth Lightfoot, Restorative Justice In the twenty-first century: A social movement full of opportunities and pitfalls, 89 Marq. L. Rev. 251, 255 (2005). (This article provides a comprehensive breakdown of the variety of restorative justice models and their impact. []
  61. Howard Zehr, Little Book of Restorative Justice, 22 (2002). []
  62. Id. at 23. []
  63. Zehr, supra note 61, at 23. []
  64. Zehr, supra note 61, at 24. []
  65. Johnson, supra note 59. [] []
  66. Umbreit, supra note 60, at 261. []
  67. Graeber, supra note 40, at 60-1. []
  68. Consent Withdrawn, We Must Marginalize The State And Capitalism, (last visited Apr. 27, 2012). []