America’s prison population: Who, what, where and why [#quickhit: link]

But it also underscores something we’ve written about before: America locks up too many people for too many things. The number of federal laws has risen from 3,000 in the early 1980s to over 4,450 by 2008.

On the economist:

THE United States not only incarcerates a lot of people, it also has a bewildering array of places to put them. There are, of course, jails and prisons: jails are usually run by local jurisdictions (cities or counties) and house either convicted criminals serving short sentences or people awaiting trial. Prisons, or penitentiaries, are run by states or the federal government, and house convicts serving longer sentences. But there are also juvenile-detention facilities, military prisons, immigration-detention and civil-commitment centres (used for court-ordered treatment of the mentally ill; they can be inpatient or outpatient) as well as jails and prisons in Indian and overseas territories, most of which are administered by different government entities. This keeps data on the overall size of America’s incarcerated population, as well as information about their crimes, quite fragmented.

Yesterday the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), a criminal-justice research and advocacy group, released a report and chart that draws on various data sources to present a fuller picture of precisely who is behind bars, and for what reason. It’s not happy reading. PPI reckons the United States has roughly 2.4m people locked up, with most of those (1.36m) in state prisons. That is more than the International Centre for Prison Studies estimates, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Rest: The Economist.

John Oliver Uses Puppets To Explain US Prison System Is ‘A Lot Racist’ (VIDEO) [#quickhit: video]

#Twitterpurge is revenge porn: We need laws to stop the non-consensual posting of naked pictures. [#quickhit: link]

Over the weekend, under the hashtag #twitterpurge, users took to Twitter to “expose” the nude photos they had of other people, with or without consent. The so-called purge primarily targeted girls and women. In other words, it was revenge porn.

As an attorney who helps clients remove revenge porn from the Internet, I recently got a call from a mother whose daughter had been contacted by a reporter for an interview. The 22-year-old learned from the reporter that four nude selfies of her had been featured on a site specifically for this kind of thing for nearly eight months and accumulated over 30,000 views. They had been posted with her full name, the name of the town where she lived, and with links to her Facebook and Twitter accounts. Above all of this information was a screed calling her a “cunt” and a “whore” and a “sick, suicidal bitch.”

That’s typical revenge porn; it’s bullying. “Porn” is a misnomer since it draws the focal point to the wrong spot, at least from the victim’s point of view. Victims have lost jobs, dropped out of school, moved, changed their names, attempted suicide, and more, after having their photos posted without consent. The nonconsensual exposition of privately taken or acquired images of a person, particularly nude images, coupled with assaultive language amounts to deeply damaging abuse.

On #Twitterpurge is revenge porn: We need laws to stop the non-consensual posting of naked pictures. (slate)

Most rapists and murderers aren’t ill. Don’t call misogynists “mad” [#quickhit: link]

Swapping misogyny for mental illness in explanations for violence against women (particularly when the explanations are a clear-cut as the Elliot Rodger case) is nothing more than excuse-making. It’s inaccurate and it prevents a criminal justice system from dealing with violence. It also covers up the extreme misogyny that women experience every day and that they’re taught to re-frame (“it was my fault”), ignore (“he says he won’t do it again”), and forgive (“he’s really sorry”). We need to call this spade a spade. On Feminist Times:

An actor called him a lunatic, and newspapers and magazines called him a madman and deranged. And while it may have been tempting to use these words to describe the young man who killed six people because of his arrogant attitude of entitlement to women, Elliott Rodger’s videos and manifesto made clear that his problem was not his mental health, but rather his unbridled misogyny.

Using mental health slurs to describe people who are violent or objectionable is not only inaccurate, it also promotes stigma and damaging attitudes towards people with mental health problems. This is why describing rapists and murderers as crazy, psychos or nutters is dangerous as well as lazy.

It is these attitudes that prevent people with mental health diagnoses from getting on with their lives. They cause people in a leafy Sheffield suburb to actively object to a charity-run crisis housein their backyard on their street. The resulting prejudice prevents us from getting jobs and causes people to fear and loathe us. It makes people avoid seeking treatment because they are so afraid of the stigma that comes alongside the ‘mentally ill’ label. As an anonymous contributor to Fementalists wrote:

“For those of us who are mentally ill, however, it stays with us, stabs at us. Whenever we hear this kind of thing we’re getting the message we’re not to be accepted as we are, that we’re bad, wrong, to be mocked, or worse, dangerous. To me, it’s a constant message sent by society that we are unwelcome in it.”

Rest: Feminist Times.

Penned In: Letters Reveal the Lives of Transgender Women in Prison [#quickhit: link]

Last August, the Army private now known as Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison. A day after the trial, Manning announced plans to undergo hormone therapy and begin public life as a woman. Her coming-out shone a light on a population that media rarely discusses: transgender women in prison.

I have a fat, accordion-style file folder—each section stuffed with mangled envelopes from across the country—full of heavy-hearted, handwritten letters from women I’ve never met. Shaylanna, Venus, Prada, and Eva: every letter flaunts the industrial, pre-stamped return address of a state prison, and every signature is a transgender woman living in a male facility.

With the help online networks that connect people to pen pals in prison, I wrote to all four women last fall, shortly after Chelsea Manning was convicted of leaking troves of classified documents to WikiLeaks and, a day later, came out as transgender. Ostracized by fellow prisoners and tarred by a system that refuses to acknowledge basic human rights, their letters spin a compelling—and woefully unsurprising—narrative.

All four women gave me permission to tell their stories. The names listed here reflect their chosen names; some self-applied during their incarceration, others chosen decades before.

Let’s start with Venus. Incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison, the maximum-security facility notorious for housing true-crime superstars Richard Ramirez, Charles Manson, and Scott Peterson, she writes of a lonely, dejected routine where she endeavors, above all, to just stay out of everyone else’s way. “I eat by myself most of the time,” she told me in one letter. “I don’t like being hated by many inmates and cops, but at least I’m not hiding behind my eyes like most people seem to do.” Incarcerated since 1981, Venus is celibate and “very burnt out on mean men,” as she writes. She craves the creature comforts of the outside world—“real makeup, real nylons, real high heels, real dresses, real panties”—and longs for a loving, meaningful relationship.

On Bitch Media.

How the juvenile justice system failed one “Jane Doe”

“The larger lesson is the way we systematically over-rely on the criminal justice toolbox to deal with youths, rather than on social services or education. The United States incarcerates children at a rate that is 10 or 20 times higher than in some other industrial countries.

A generation ago, perhaps it was plausible that the shock of juvenile detention would scare a kid back to the straight-and-narrow path. Now that’s not tenable. Robust research shows that incarcerating kids often just turns them into career criminals.”

On NYTimes:

IF you want to understand just how miserable a childhood can be, 16-year-old “Jane Doe” is a good place to start.

That’s what the authorities in Connecticut call her to protect her identity. She was removed a few days ago from an adult prison where she had been confined by herself for two months — not as punishment but because the state said it had nowhere else to put her that would be safe.

Now Jane is in a girls’ detention center in Middletown, Conn. She’s one of almost 70,000 American youths incarcerated on any given day — and a reminder of how ineffective our programs for troubled children are.

Like many detained kids, Jane has been through hell. Because her father was in prison and her mother was a drug abuser, she was raised by relatives. At age 8, she says in an affidavit provided to the courts, her cousin began to rape her anally, causing her to lose control of her bowels.

“My grandfather made me sleep outside on the porch for two days because I couldn’t hold my stool and had an accident,” she recounts. “He told me, ‘only animals do that,’ and if I didn’t stop he would treat me like one.”

A history of abuse is common for troubled kids. One study of 2,500 people sentenced to life imprisonment while juveniles found that almost half had been physically abused. Among girls, 77 percent reported sexual abuse.

More than 60 percent of incarcerated youths in America are confined for nonviolent offenses. Two-thirds are children of color.

The end of hisses, whistles and stares: we need to walk the streets without fear [#quickhit: quote]

But what makes street harassment difficult to tackle in everyday life is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut way to deal with it. Other countries have tried to implement female-only train cars to curb harassment, Italy opened a women-only beach to stop the leering and catcalling and now hotels are even offering floors dedicated only to female travellers.

The message here is that women should change their behavior, not men. And what happens if women-only spaces become the norm and someone is harassed outside of one – will we blamed for not taking our designated train car? We deserve safety in public spaces, not just in segregated “safe zones”.

Jessica Valenti on The end of hisses, whistles and stares: we need to walk the streets without fear,

Two thirds of women in the US have been street harassed

I’m surprised, really, that it’s as low as 65%. That could be indication of how normalised and “acceptable” street harassment has become.

From feministing:

A new study commissioned by Stop Street Harassment reveals just how common street harassment is in the US. No surprise there.

Sixty-five percent of women say they’ve experienced street harassment at some point in their lives. More than half experienced verbal harassment and 41 percent experienced physical aggression. Twenty-three percent have been sexually touched, 20 percent have been followed, 14 percent had been flashed, and 9 percent have been forced to do something sexual. A quarter of men have also been harassed. LGBT men are more likely to be harassed than other men–most commonly with homophobic or transphobic slurs. The vast majority of harassers of both genders are men. And Black and Latin@s are more likely to be harassed than whites.

Rest: Two thirds of women in the US have been street harassed.

Can “Orange is the New Black” Change the Way Congress Thinks About Prisons?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d disappeared. I didn’t. Well, I did, but only into a low-internet period. May and June are always manically busy times in academia. I’ve not been keeping up at all on the femosphere so there may be quite a number of posts over the next few days. Or not. It all depends.

I have, however, been finding time for the second season of Orange is the New Black. I have two episodes to go and as well as enjoying a bloody good show, as always, I’ve also been mindful of its ground-breaking, transformative messages on women in prison. Here’s another take:

Can “Orange is the New Black” Change the Way Congress Thinks About Prisons? (bitch magazine)

When it burst onto the small screen last summer, Orange is the New Black quickly catapulted women’s incarceration into pop culture consciousness, becoming most-watched of Netflix’s series of 2013. While media has been buzzing about the all-at-once release of season two this Friday—speculating on plot development and characters—the real-life Piper Kerman has also been busy. Kerman, who was incarcerated for 13 months in Connecticut before writing the memoir that inspired the Netflix series, could have just basked in the show’s popularity. Instead, she’s been using her fame and media interest to bring attention to real issues facing incarcerated women.

Even before Orange is the New Black debuted, Kerman joined the board of the Women’s Prison Association, a 100-year-old advocacy and service provider organization for women caught in the New York legal system. Since the show’s debut, Kerman has been speaking at college campuses, community centers, and social justice organizations around the country about women’s prison issues. Her fame has also put her in a position to bring women’s prison issues before policymakers.

On February 25, 2014, Kerman testified at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement in Washington, DC. Unlike her fictional character, Kerman was never placed in solitary confinement. But she testified about the many women incarcerated alongside her who had:

“While I was in prison, I saw many women sent to the SHU for minor infractions such as moving around a housing unit during a count, refusing an order from a correctional officer, and possession of low-level contraband like small amounts of cash (which is largely useless in prison) or having women’s underwear from the outside rather than prison-issued underwear. All of these infractions drew at least 30 days in solitary. Sometimes women are sent to the SHU immediately upon their arrival in prison because there aren’t any open beds.”


As her testimony makes clear, these are hard issues to talk about. Most politicians would rather ignore the reality of the problems with the prison system than address them head-on and risk being seen as “soft on crime.” Orange is the New Black—and Kerman’s determined attempt to link the peoples’ interest in the fictional story to real women’s suffering—has helped get Americans talking about prison in a way few pieces of pop culture have. It’s also a way to get people talking about women in the prison system rather than focusing the conversations around men. It’s also a sad truth that politicians and Americans in general are more likely to listen to a celebrity telling them about prison conditions than someone who didn’t become famous after being incarcerated. To her credit, Kerman (unlike some other celebrities who have experienced short stints behind bars) has been using her platform to advocate for change.

Rest: Bitch Media.

Mental health, misogyny and not all men


I think this one is a no-brainer for anyone who’s seen or read any of Rodger’s views – he hated women. Anyone who says a group of people should be rounded up in concentration camps hates that group of people. Come on now. His own words make clear that this hatred played a part in his decision to attack others. How he arrived at this and rationalised it or how his mental health played a part is a whole other can of worms, and we don’t know enough right now to get into that. We may never.

(It’s worth noting that he also killed and injured men – perhaps women were a scapegoat for his resentment of society as whole or feelings of failure, as is pretty typical of hate crimes. If so, how women came to be the focus is still interesting and relevant, and important. Someone’s own perception of their motivation is not necessarily the whole story, but it’s a place to start. But I digress, and I begin to speculate as I said I would try not to, so let’s move on.)

What’s putting me and plenty of other women of my acquaintance through the emotional wringer in the wake of this story is that although this is horrifying, there is something we recognise in it. It’s shocking, but not surprising – no, that’s not quite the word. It’s not unfamiliar. Men getting angry and aggressive because they didn’t get what they want from women is something that threatens, hurts and kills women every day. For me and other women I’ve been talking to today, Rodger’s words bring back memories of being on the receiving end of an aggrieved sense of entitlement, and turn up to 11 our sense of having had a fucking lucky escape. To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, men are afraid women will reject them; women are afraid men will kill them, and this is why, writ large.

Rest: effie perine.

Excerpt from an excellent post from someone who works with violent offenders every day. Rodger’s problems were not about mental health (convenient as it is for the detractors to badge them as such and, therefore, defend him). He said himself felt entitled to women and hated them for not complying. What exactly is unclear about that misogyny?

Also, you should read Effie’s speech at Durham Women Rising. It’s transcribed here.

The fear of reprisal: What happens if you stand up to harassment?

I marched – or waded – over and promptly informed the three men that I would rather sew myself up and remain sexless for the rest of my life than have relations with any of them. My fellow swimmers tittered, while I stood, trying to maintain as much dignity as possible in a late-90s Speedo swimsuit and a red face. Then the middle one came forward and hissed, menacingly: “You fucking bitch.” Fear began to set in and my heartbeat quickened. I could feel my pulse in the soles of my feet. I glanced up but the life guard was busy watching over the kids. As I turned to swim away, I could feel them watching me. After two more lengths, I got out.

Lydia Smith on Feminist Times.

Harassment is not harmless or a joke or a compliment or “just how it is” or “boys being boys”. It’s more often frightening, disabling and very damaging.

Elliot Rodger’s California shooting spree: further proof that misogyny kills

Valenti – rightly – points out that Elliot Rodger’s views on women are not unusual or unlikely but, rather, examples of very common perspectives.

Rodger, like most young American men, was taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention. (Only last month, a young woman was allegedly stabbed to death for rejecting a different young man’s prom invitation.) He believed this so fully that he described women’s apathy toward him as an “injustice” and a “crime”.

“You forced me to suffer all my life, now I will make you all suffer. I waited a long time for this. I’ll give you exactly what you deserve, all of you. All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men.”

Rodger was reportedly involved with the online men’s rights movement: allegedly active on one forum and said to have been following several men’s rights channels on YouTube. The language Rodger used in his videos against women – like referring to himself as an “alpha male” – is common rhetoric in such circles.


Here’s what I want from progressives some fucking solidarity

I’ve watched my abusive ex continue to thrive in his community — join all the boards, the parent-teacher groups, spearhead community initiatives. What a guy! And hey, he didn’t abuse you, so WHO’S TO SAY. And who cares when there’s progressive work to be done! Real progressive work. Work that matters. Not just the girl shit. They’re all crazy anyway — the girls.

So keep starting your startups and having your protests and your meetings and keep writing your articles and having your very important discussions about climate change and poverty and union politics and Donald Sterling is such a racist, isn’t he. We’ll all support you, I guess, because we have no other choice. Because where do we go? Where is our community? Where is our Next Top Progressive Website? Where’s our Jacobin? When we launch it will we get profiled in The New York Times?

Oh. No. We don’t get one. We aren’t serious enough. It’s just women’s issues after all. Not Serious Politics. Oh. Because you still want your buddies and your porn and your class of women to fuck and ogle and to listen to your fucking baby-child emotions and to comfort you and support you and be there for you while you work through your fucking damage even though we had to work through ours all on our own. When is it our turn? When will you listen to us?

We’ll keep telling you our stories. Because we keep thinking you’ll care. We keep hoping that this time you’ll believe us. That this time you’ll get it.

- Meghan Murphy on Here’s what I want from progressives (some fucking solidarity)Feminist Current.

Sexual Assault on the College Campus (research paper)

From the discussion. (I have the full paper if anyone wants it.)

Scholarship on violence against women has proposed offense-specific explanations arguing that traditional criminology is insufficient to explain this unique form of offending. Schwartz and DeKeseredy’s (1997) male peer support model borrows some concepts from more general, traditional theories but applies them in a unique framework to explain the relationship between male group membership and sexual assault. This type of offense-specific explanation, however, runs the risk of being misspecified if more general explanations of criminal behavior are not considered. For example, Gottfredson and Hirschi’s (1990) general theory of crime has been a powerful explanation of offending. Despite significant criticisms of the theory (see Miller & Burack, 1993; Sellers, 1999), the empirical status of self-control as a predictor of offending has suggested the need to examine its predictive capacity for sexual assault in conjunction with more offense-specific theories, such as male peer support. Accordingly, the analyses presented here lead to three conclusions.

First, although not entirely supported in these results, some of the concepts that capture male peer support had significant effects on sexual assault both directly and indirectly. Group secrecy and peer pressure for sex directly affected sexual assault, and gender role ideology and informational support significantly predicted sexual assault through their impact on peer pressure for sex. Schwartz and DeKeseredy’s (1997) model has identified some important predictors of sexual assault, yet these factors were not necessarily or solely tied to fraternity membership. Specifically, fraternity membership did not significantly affect gender role ideology, informational support, or group secrecy. Rather, the only significant indirect impact of fraternity membership occurred through peer pressure for sex. In other words, fraternity members experienced greater levels of peer pressure to have sex, which, in turn, increased the likelihood of sexual assault. It may be that although the current analysis used fraternity membership to measure the effects of all-male groups, analyses investigating male peer support using different forms of organized male-only peers may produce different results. Indeed, male peer support can operate in other homosocial group contexts, and so results of this analysis should be considered only in the context of fraternity membership. That said, the findings presented here lend support to facets of the male peer support model, but not as it has been conceptually proposed and not without accounting for the role of self-control.

Not Happily Ever After” Campaign Shows Disturbing Twists In Fairytale Endings [#quickhit: image]

Caption: The fairytale never said anything about Prince Charming using sex as a weapon to exert his power over the beautiful princess, or demanding it from her even when she said no.

Not Happily Ever After” Campaign Shows Disturbing Twists In Fairytale Endings

“Not Happily Every After” is a new campaign launched on May 8th in Ireland, featuring this uncomfortable and eye-catching image.

The venture is a joint project between Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Women’s Aid, after a recent survey that found that 6% of women in Ireland reported experiencing sexual violence within relationships.  The campaign aims to highlight that sexual violence can and often is experienced within intimate relationships, at the hands of violent partners.  Shockingly in Ireland, marital rape was not criminalized until 1990 (in the USA it was criminalized state-by-state in the 1970′s). Given the very recent nature of the change in law, it is not surprising that women refrain from speaking out, or remain uneducated about the nature of sexual violence from intimate partners. [Rest on bust.]

Really important stuff. Wonder if this is the first, concerted campaign to address intimate partner violence and abuse in Ireland?

Twitter: Optimised For Abuse

Ugh. The abuse that Caroline Criado-Perez received last year (for being a woman with opinions who fights for gender equality, no less) was disgusting. Sickening. And, frankly, terrifying. In the linked post, she discusses it again, particularly in terms of Twitter’s pathetic and irresponsible response.

On weekwoman:

Last summer I was the target of months of violent, misogynistic abuse. The abuse was widely reported, although the worst tweets (most of the tweets), were never broadcast or printed, because the media deemed them too offensive. This left me in the rather unfortunate position of not only being driven to the edge of a nervous breakdown from the fear and strain of hundreds of tweets  coming in every minute telling me I would be maimed, raped and killed, but also being targeted by people who thought I was being a delicate flower and couldn’t take a bit of off-colour banter, or “dissenting opinion”. Nevertheless, the media pressure was such, that twitter was reluctantly, eventually forced to act. They streamlined their reporting process by including a link on each tweet to report it for abuse, and automatically included the link for that tweet in the report form. For someone who was receiving a hate-filled threat every minute, this function was invaluable. Despite promising to do something about the fact that every time you report someone for abuse, including threats to kill you, you have to tick a box agreeing that your information can be shared with them, twitter did no more once the media furore died down.

Well, that’s not strictly true. They have done things: they’ve made it easier for people to stalk and abuse. In December, twitter displayed their total contempt for victims of stalking and abuse by making it possible for people who have been blocked to follow their victim and retweet them. As someone who has been a victim of stalking online, and seen the way in which abusers use these facilities to incite abuse, I was horrified by these changes. Luckily, there was another outcry, and twitter was forced to backtrack.

Rest here (CW for abusive tweets).

It’s Time to End American Exceptionalism When It Comes to Putting Citizens Behind Bars

Twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population is incarcerated in the US. I had no idea. Their draconian drugs sentencing laws are certainly part of the explanation for this excessiveness.

It’s time to end the United States’ exceptionalism when it comes to incarcerating its citizens. Our objective should be to make America average.  We need to re-join the family of civilized nations when it comes to incarceration.

A groundbreaking  report released yesterday by the National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, documents the unprecedented and costly price of U.S. incarceration rates. With less than five percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, the U.S. continues to rank first among nations in both prison and jail population and per capita rates. As the report points out, this unprecedented rate of incarceration is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. history.  America’s prison population exploded largely as a result of the failed drug war policies of the last 40 years.

The report, commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and the MacArthur Foundation, documents how the drug war has contributed to the skyrocketing U.S prison population and  the staggering costs associated with mass incarceration. The report points out that U.S. incarceration rates are 5-10 times higher than rates in Western Europe and other major democracies. The report also documents the staggering racial disparities in drug enforcement and incarceration.

The report calls for a significant reduction in rates of imprisonment and says that the rise in the U.S. prison population is “not serving the country well.” It concludes that in order to significantly lower prison rates, the U.S. should revise its drug enforcement and sentencing laws.

Rest on Alternet.

What It’s Like to Visit Your Mom in Prison on Mother’s Day [#quickhit: image]

What It’s Like to Visit Your Mom in Prison on Mother’s Day

My foster sister is in prison. Her four children see her briefly once a month, as part of a 368-mile round-trip that takes up their entire Saturday. (Before she was transferred last month, the trip measured 404 miles). She has missed so many milestones and special events in her children’s lives: first days of kindergarten, Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens, first school dances. More than three percent of American children have a parent behind bars; so many that even Sesame Street thought to address the issue in a heartbreaking video and a recent initiative. With Mother’s Day upon us, I have to wonder: As kids grow up, what’s it like when the person they love most is locked away?

rest on Mother Jones.

All images courtesy of the Noun Project. Distance: Tommy Lau, Money: Nicola Vendramin, Calendar: James Keuning, Prison: Saman Bemel-Benrud.