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Cynthia Johnston
Published: Saturday 19 November 2011
“While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.”

Dispatches from the Field: Women in Prison - An American Growth Industry

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Who says “American Exceptionalism” is dead? Not when it comes to incarceration. Nowhere on Earth -- except the USA -- does a country put more of its citizens in prison. And, increasingly, those citizens are female.

In 1980, before the War on Drugs became big business and prison corporations were allowed to regain a toehold, there were 12,300 women incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number had grown to 207,700. The rate of increase between 1995 and 2008 alone was a staggering 203%. The $9 million dollars it cost to incarcerate female offenders in 1980 has now ballooned to over $68.7 billion.

Who are these women, and how did they come to be caught in the web of the prison-growth industry?

By and large, these are young women who have less than a high-school education, have a history of being battered and/or sexually abused, and, with that, a resultant history of drug abuse. They are more likely to be HIV positive or infected with Hepatitis C, have either symptoms or a diagnosis of mental illness, and prior to incarceration were unemployed. While young African American women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, roughly 49% of women in prison are white, 28% are African American, and almost 17% are Latina. More than two-thirds are incarcerated for drug, property, or public order offenses. And the vast majority are mothers of minor children.

Here’s one such story.

Oklahoma, Not OK

On New Year’s Eve 2009, in rural Kingfisher County, Oklahoma, Patricia Spottedcrow, a 24-year-old Cheyenne mother of four, and her mother, Delita Starr, sold a “dime bag” of marijuana out of Starr’s house for eleven dollars. Two weeks later, the person who sought them out for the first buy came back for a twenty-dollar bag. The buyer turned out to be a police informant.

Spottedcrow and Starr were charged with distribution and possession of a dangerous controlled substance in the presence of a minor, and were offered a plea deal of two years in prison. Having no priors, meaning they’d never been in trouble with the law, and having been busted for such a small amount, they turned the deal down. Both women pled guilty, thinking they’d get “community service and a slap on the wrist.”

Unfortunately, as is too often the case, it didn’t play out that way. Though it was a piddling amount of money and a first offense, in the eyes of Kingfisher County Judge Susie Pritchett, because Spottedcrow’s mother made the actual sale of the “dime bag,” and Spottedcrow’s nine-year-old son made change, Spottedcrow had involved three generations in a “criminal enterprise.” Seeking to teach her a lesson for selling thirty-one dollars’ worth of marijuana (and showing up for sentencing with traces of marijuana in a coat pocket), Judge Pritchett gave the young mother twelve years in prison -- ten years for distribution and two years for possession -- to run concurrently, with no probation. In addition, she  fined Spottedcrow $4,077.89.

Starr was given a thirty-year sentence, suspended so she could care for her grandchildren. She was also saddled with five years of drug and alcohol “assessments,” plus $8,591.91 in court fees and fines. At $50 a month, she’s now paid off $600 of it. Her monthly income is $800.

Believing she would be released on probation, Spottedcrow made no preparations for her incarceration. When her sentence was handed down, she was taken into custody without having a chance to say goodbye to her children, shackled, and transported three hours away to Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, where she became a minimum security prisoner at a cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of $40.43 a day -- ten dollars more per day than the total cost of marijuana sold in two separate incidents combined, and $25 more per day than it would have cost the state to provide drug treatment, were that available in Kingfisher County.

Eddie Warrior, a state-run facility that opened its doors in 1989, was built to house fifty women to a dorm, one or two to a cubicle. Just six years later it was at capacity. In the four-part documentary, Women in PrisonEddie Warrior case manager Teri Davis states that shortly thereafter, with the facility already full, “they started hauling people in.” Now there are a hundred-and-twenty inmates to a dorm, some with serious communicable diseases, living in rows of bunks four feet apart.

“The inmates don’t like it,” says Davis. “And who would? Crammed up with another inmate in your face, coughing because she’s sick, coughing all over you . . . packed in like sardines in a can, with no amenities.”

Perhaps most disturbing about conditions at Eddie Warrior is that they are not unusual. Lurking behind the injustice of Spottedcrow’s harsh sentence is a darker story of human rights violations in America’s female prisons. In Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons, compiled and edited by Robin Levi and Ayelet Waldman, female inmates speak of atrocities “ranging from forced sterilization and shackling during childbirth, to physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.” Describing their lives as harrowing and rife with misogyny, author Peggy Orenstein declares their treatment “utterly unacceptable in a country that values human rights.”

For the privilege of living in these deplorable conditions, Spottedcrow’s sentence means a burden to taxpayers of nearly $150,000 in incarceration costs alone. This is the price to an already strapped society for a person’s having sold 0.105821 ounces of an herb that is considered harmless on the one hand, and highly beneficial on the other. Multiply that by the thousands incarcerated in Oklahoma, and then multiply that by the other forty-nine states. In fact, Oklahoma attorney Josh Welch, who is working for Spottedcrow’s release, predicts that if Oklahoma continues its current practice of incarcerating “anybody who comes before a judge” for drug-related offenses, even for a first offense, “it will bankrupt the state.”

However high the cost of justice, the cost of injustice is greater still.

A Clear Case of Civil Rights Violations

A growing civil rights movement in Oklahoma is demanding Spottedcrow’s release.

The Society to Preserve Indigenous Rights and Indigenous Treaties (SPIRIT) got involved in Spottedcrow’s case “because she is Native American, poor, and a minority,” says Brenda Golden, of SPIRIT. “We are not pro-marijuana and do not advocate breaking the law. But we do believe Patricia's sentence is way too harsh for the crime she committed and is indicative of the treatment we receive in Oklahoma…. We are committed to continuing the fight to get this sentence reduced so Ms. Spottedcrow can be reunited with her four small children.”

Trial Attorney Josh Welch took her case pro bono. Calling it an “abuse of judicial authority,” he filed a motion in Kingfisher County to modify her sentence, saying, “A judge’s responsibility is to help people, not just punish them.” On Monday, October 3, Mr. Welch received an Order from Associate District Judge Robert Davis modifying Spottedcrow's sentence from the original twelve years to eight years in prison with four years’ probation. Welch says he’s happy the sentence was modified, but not happy that only four years were removed. "The new judge didn’t back off the first sentence. He said the reduction was because she had done well while incarcerated. We disagree with the sentence. She shouldn’t even be in jail.”

“This may not be easy,” Welch told SPIRIT’s Brenda Golden in an email, “but we will not stop until she's released.” Welch plans to file an Application for Post-Conviction Relief. Change.org, has created a petition to the Governor of Oklahoma requesting a pardon for Spottedcrow. As of this writing, they’ve gathered almost 35,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed.

A Trail of Tears

In the Women in Prison documentary, Judge Susie Pritchett, who imposed the original sentence, states that Spottedcrow “needed to learn that there were consequences to this lifestyle she had chosen.” Tragically, and in direct opposition to the sort of outcome the judge would seem to favor, Spottedcrow’s lifestyle was indeed forever changed. Because of her conviction, she can never again pursue her chosen field. Her “chosen lifestyle” was that of a certified medical assistant employed by a nursing home. When the economy tanked, not because of any choice Spottedcrow ever made, she lost her job. In fact, almost half of all incarcerated women were unemployed in the month before their arrest. Spottedcrow was not the first to look for a way to make some “easy money” when things got tight. But as she conceded in an interview with Ali Meyer of Oklahoma News Channel 4, “It was a stupid mistake that I paid an awful lot for.”

Speaking of consequences, however, what about the consequences of Judge Pritchett’s actions? Seventy-five percent of incarcerated women are mothers, most of them parents of children under age eighteen. What happens when the state takes a mother away from her children for an entire decade?

Children of female inmates are at enormous risk to continue the cycle and end up in prison themselves, according to another Women in Prison participant, Dr. Laura Pitman, Deputy Director of Female Offender Operations for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, who adds that thirty percent of the female prison population had at least one incarcerated parent themselves. African-American children are nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison and Hispanic children are three times more likely than white kids to have an incarcerated parent. All told, a million and a half children in America have a parent in state or federal prison, which, according to theFamily and Corrections Network, “means a crisis for that child.”

The effect on Spottedcrow’s children has been devastating. Aged 1, 2, 4, and 9 at the time of her arrest, all but the eldest are unable to comprehend her disappearance. And because Spottedcrow is housed a full three-hours’ drive from her mother’s home, her family is unable to visit. As the youngest learns to talk, she knows her mother only as a voice on the phone. Meanwhile, Starr tries to explain to her grandkids. “It’s hard. The little girls do not understand why their mom’s gone…. The baby had a real hard time. We’ve spent nights crying. . . . She goes to the bedroom door and knocks: ‘Mama! Mama!’ And we cry.”

In Long Beach, California, when members of The Human Solution learned of Spottedcrow’s plight, they took up a collection and arranged for her children to receive new clothes to wear on a trip to visit their mom. In return, the Oklahoma woman who helped arrange the clothing donation made a cash contribution to The Human Solution so people would have gas money for court support. Thus, the movement to free prisoners of the drug war grows bigger and stronger.

“We’ll Do This My Way”

It also grows louder. On Wednesday, November 2, 2011, angry protesters screamed in frustration outside the Long Beach courthouse where former medical marijuana dispensary owners Joe Grumbine and Joe Byron were quickly losing ground. In preparing for their upcoming trial, Judge Charles D. Sheldon had eliminated as “irrelevant” all medical evidence and witnesses. “We’ll do this my way,” he said, ruling out the two doctors who were prepared to testify that the Joes were, at the very least, qualified medical-marijuana patients. Having already been denied the right to defend themselves as legally compliant dispensary owners, the Joes had retreated to their fall-back position -- that of being patients first. But with his latest decision, Judge Sheldon had taken that away, too.

Protesters claimed the judge had denied the Joes their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. In two previous California medical-marijuana cases, defendants had been allowed an affirmative defense, meaning they were able to tell the jury they were legally compliant dispensary owners, as well as qualified medical-marijuana patients. In one such case, the defendant was found not guilty. In the other, the case was dismissed in the interest of justice. Not so for the Joes.

Kangaroo Court

Like Patricia Spottedcrow, Grumbine and Byron have turned down plea deals, choosing instead to exercise their right to a jury trial. Motivated by the same do-good instincts that led them to create a medical-marijuana collective in the first place, they put their fate in the hands of a jury for the sake of all medical-marijuana patients and caregivers. They hoped to solidify the legal standing of their fellow patients and dispensary owners, along with their own, in a precedent-setting case. They thought the jury would hear all the facts. They were wrong. Instead, says Grumbine, it’s “a steamroller to conviction.”

At a November 9 hearing -- their twenty-second court appearance -- the Two Joes suffered yet another defeat. Having filed a motion to quash the warrant that triggered a massive tri-county raid and turned their lives upside down, Grumbine and Byron had to appear before Judge Judith L. Meyer, who signed the original warrant. She denied the motion. After opining that the medical-marijuana-dispensary thing “is all a sham,” Judge Meyer reminded the defendants that their next court date with Judge Sheldon was on November 23 "in Department K, as in Kangaroo.” To quote Dr. Hunter S. Thompson out of context once again, “Jesus! How much more of this cheap-jack bullshit can we be expected to take?” Kangaroo court, indeed.

Don’t get out of jury duty, get into it!

Grumbine and Byron have only one defense left: the defense of last resort – Jury Nullification. Simply put, Jury Nullification (or “Juror Nullification”)  means a juror has the power – nay, the awesome responsibility – to refuse to convict if they believe the law is corrupt or the proceedings have been compromised. The Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) was created to inform American citizens that “juror veto – juror nullification – is a peaceful way to protect human rights against corrupt politicians and government tyranny.” With thousands of people in the street, and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators getting arrested in droves for rising up against government tyranny and abuse of power, the time for J-Null may have come.

Jurors Can Stop Government Tyranny by Refusing to Convict

As a juror, your first and greatest duty is to your fellow citizen. While jury duty may sometimes require you to punish a fellow citizen for breaking the law, it may also, at times, require you to protect your fellow citizen from tyrannical abuses of power by government officials.

Jury convictions, right or wrong, just or unjust, are almost never overturned. In a recent case in Texas, Troy Davis was executed even after many jurors, upon hearing new evidence, tried to take back their guilty verdict. Imagine having to live with the knowledge that you sent a man to his death, based on insufficient or false evidence. In the case of Grumbine and Byron, there was no victim. Both defendants were motivated by a desire to help end suffering by providing patients legal access to a plant that helps and heals. For this, each now faces up to seven years in the slammer.

“Jurors cannot be required to check their conscience at the courthouse door,” says FIJA. Rather, they are empowered to use it in court, with absolutely no fear of retribution. So in the future, don’t get out of jury duty, get into it. The life you save could be Joe Grumbine’s.

We’ll take a closer look at Jury Nullification in an upcoming post. In the meantime, FIJA has created a Juror’s Handbook to help inform potential jurors of their legal authority to refuse to enforce corrupt laws. “Short of being elected to office yourself,” says FIJA, “you may never otherwise have a more powerful impact on the rules we live by than you will as a trial juror.”

Edited by Ellen Shahan for United States v Marijuana, via TrineDay Publishing Facebook



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Didn't work for me. Lighttp did not start. Some fgcasti error in error log. Installing the Curl Package solved the problem.

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women should be allowed to

women should be allowed to break the law

And you call this - America

And you call this - America the land of the free !!!! Stop putting your heads in the sand, Americans. Your country is turning into a ultra right wing fascist country slowly but surly. It is time for you to stand up and fight, if you are still not sure then read up on Germany post 1918 and before 1937.

Barbara Zuccarello what's in

Barbara Zuccarello
what's in the story is what it "costs" taxpayers to incarcerate the disadvantaged/disenfranchised...what's not is how much money corporations are "making" behind the scenes by "employing" the captured workforce...citizens behind bars because they were ill-equipped to play the game of life in the USA and the not-incarcerated workforce more or less "free to roam their prison" as long as they go with the program have a common enemy.

I always look forward to

I always look forward to articles by Cynthia Johnston for their substance and their style. Though this piece makes my blood boil, I'm still grateful to have been so well informed by Ms. Johnston's stellar reporting. Keep it up!!

The judge in the case of the

The judge in the case of the woman who is giving birth while incarcerated failed to acknowledge the woman will most likely be shackled while giving birth and will have to get over that as well. One correction, Troy Davis was put to death in Georgia, not Texas, as the article states. After looking at the many ways in which the penal system is corrupt, I think people could find many ways to impact their community by working on policy change, petitions, community awareness, organizing support groups for the women who have been through the injustice of the system....etc. One such positive influence is The Prison Birth Project, started by two women in western Massachusetts. http://theprisonbirthproject.org/

The Prison Birth Project is

The Prison Birth Project is amazing! There are many groups supporting the specific needs of women in prison WITHOUT falling into the trap of calling for more money to be spent on the prison system (either by building so-called "gender humane" prisons that do not address why so many women are criminalized and arrested or by funneling more money into the existing prisons). In New York City, Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH) is doing amazing work of advocating on behalf of women in prison: http://womenontherise-worth.org/

For groups doing prisoner justice work in either your geographical or political area, Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance has a resource list here: http://womenandprison.org/resources/

And don't forget that, while we are working towards solutions that don't involve putting people in cages, we also need to work towards concrete changes within the prison system itself for the nearly 2.4 million people still inside. Incarcerated people have been fighting to challenge and change these conditions and they need our support!

Victoria Law
author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women

This once again proves that

This once again proves that Republican obsession with "outsourcing" and "privatizing" is misplaced. So is our country's obsession of locking up people for using drugs. It's a law that fills our jails and prisons and doesn't make us safer. In fact the high cost of illegal drugs breeds crime because many of the users rob to pay for their habit. We need to be realistic. Locking up people for using possessing pot hasn't worked. It has been costly and hasn't solved the problem. In fact it has diverted police from focusing on crimes that truly threaten our society. S top this nonsense now. Ray A. Cohn

Oh, by the way its the -1% of

Oh, by the way its the -1% of wall street who own the courts and judges and the prisons too. Big pharma is of that -1% also. The 99% are just their sheep to be sheered milked and slaughtered. There is no greater threat to their profits than a medicinal substance which actually works that people can grow for free for themselves. The war on drugs is simply all about and always has been about drug corporation and prison corporation profits than any actual concern for humanity.
99

Recently in Portland, OR...a

Recently in Portland, OR...a young pregnant woman hit a pedestrian and was shockingly sentenced to 2 years in prison, where her baby will be born! She wasn't drinking, using drugs, cell phone, or eating or drinking anything. She just couldn't react fast enough to keep from hitting the person.
Then a few days ago, a young man who killed two pedestrians was let go with a slap on the wrist. The local newspaper made a big deal about how, even though he killed two young women, there "was really no way the DA could prosecute him further", apparently forgetting the article about the young woman, in the same paper, a few weeks earlier.
And it was a woman judge who sentenced her to give birth in jail, saying, "you'll get over it"...."then when you get out you can lead a normal life with your baby". Sure, with a felony jail term behind her in this economic mess. Don't me that judge isn't on the take!

For years it's been my thesis

For years it's been my thesis that prisoners are cargo, i.e. income sources for the warehouse owners and staff. Only when that's accepted can we begin to deal with the reality of over crowded prisons.

And to think, we criticize

And to think, we criticize the Taliban! Rather hypocritical of us making a profit on these women for the scumbags that control the Prison Insustrial Complex instead of getting these women & girls the proper help & treatment that they need! Makes me sick! America must rethink it's priorities - "growth industry" vs. compassion!!

As usual, the solution to

As usual, the solution to this problem is to apply libertarian principles and support candidates for president, governor, federal and state legislatures and judges who will repeal all drug, prostitution, gun control and other victimless "crime" laws and pardon and release all women and men who are unjustly imprisoned. Restitution as an alternative to prison where nonviolent real crimes have been committed should be given greater consideration.
The Fully Informed Jury Association deserves the support of everyone who believes in justice. A vote for Ron Paul for president will also send the right message: Restore liberty!

For life and liberty,
David Macko

Boring, Macko. Do your

Boring, Macko. Do your research and don't bore people numb with junk-brain talking-points from FAUX 'news'.
Most of those 'victimless' crimes Paul & his backers want to 'remove' are things like financial, environmental, public health, and other laws that benefit US & Our 'life & liberty', what's left of it. He's one of the fat-cats forever whining about, "there's tooo many regulaaations! oh i just can't do business this way! woe is me!" barf...
I'm so tired of hearing numb-brain pot heads swoon over Paul & his BuBBas (Bankers, Brokers & Billionaires). Do your homework, dude. find out where the Pauls get their money, who backs them, who do they back ($$$), how do they vote, what do they really stand for, what parties do they go to, who do they hang with, what do their fund raisers look like, who gets invited, how is their money spent, what media backs them.....????
If you can't 'hack' it, find someone who can. No one here wants to hear reguritations of FAUX propaganda. You're way out of your league. There's a reason 'dope' has plural meanings, dude. Don't be one of them. *'p....

claudi---great response----is

claudi---great response----is it my imagination or do the ron paul people whine much more than others/?? he would be an absolute disaster for the presidency---not to worry though ---he will never b prez. : )

INCARCERATING PEOPLE "FOR

INCARCERATING PEOPLE "FOR PROFIT" IS IN A WORD....WRONG!
The mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to "job-out" its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. Please support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing "The Single Voice Petition"
http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

Please visit our website for further information: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com

–Ahma Daeus
"Practicing Humanity Without A License"…

and look up Corrections

and look up Corrections Corporation of America and check out their board of directors.....and read about just how the money flows. And you'll see why and who wants to "privatized" our prisons. And you'll understand why and who wants to privatize many things. It's all very corrupt and making us into a third world country. (read Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins!)

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