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The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) released a 56-page report April 5 systematically outlining the unchecked violence and sexual abuse which is the outcome of the degrading and subhuman conditions in the state of Alabama’s prison system. The report serves as a damning indictment of America’s entire criminal justice system, the largest in the world, which currently holds 2.3 million people in prisons and jails across the country in nearly identical conditions.
Since the beginning of 2018, four people in ADOC custody – three in solitary confinement and one on death row – have died by suicide. The suicide rate in Alabama prisons is one of the highest in the country. In June 2017, U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson declared the mental health system in Alabama prisons “horrendously inadequate,” an unconstitutional failure that led to what Thompson called a “skyrocketing suicide rate” among prisoners.
Louisiana has per capita the highest incarceration rate in the world. This statistic includes comparisons to South Africa, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. And, with 87 percent of these people being Black, the United Nations Human Rights Council should be investigating Louisiana’s legal system as a rather ingenious form of ethnic cleansing. Louisiana must decarcerate – or accept the fact that this is modern legal apartheid.
Last week, an Alabama state prisoner who had testified in an ongoing federal trial over the state of mental health care in state prisons was found dead, apparently of suicide. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, he was found unresponsive, hanging from a piece of cloth in his cell. The state’s attorney said, “Jamie’s case is emblematic of the utter neglect and mistreatment of people with serious mental illness in ADOC prisons.”
Of all the labels and titles that could rightfully be appended to Bond – activist, politician, lecturer, commentator, professor – he wished to be remembered most as a “race man”: “A race man is an expression that’s not used anymore, but it used to describe a man – usually a man, could have been a woman too – who was a good defender of the race, who didn’t dislike White people, but who stood up for Black people, who fought for Black people. I’d want people to say that about me.”
The state of Alabama may be a step closer to exonerating all of the Scottsboro Boys. But as state lawmakers prepare to introduce legislation to clear the youths’ names, Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen warned that it’s also “incredibly important” to ensure today’s criminal trials are free from discrimination that can lead to such injustices today.
There’s a growing national consensus that, as Attorney General Eric Holder stated in August, “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason.” Despite the heavy toll that mass incarceration exacts every day and in countless ways on many American communities the topic attracts remarkably little consistent coverage in the mainstream media.
Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast. The impact of Katrina and government bungling continue to inflict major pain on the people left behind. It is impossible to understand what happened and what still remains without considering race, gender and poverty. The following offer some hints of what remains.