Right now approximately 80,000 Americans are living in solitary confinement in this country’s prisons. Many of them have no record of violence either in or out of prison, says a new investigative report by The Dart Society.
Here’s a clip from the report, written by Susan Greene:
Among the misperceptions about solitary confinement is that it’s used only on the most violent inmates, and only for a few weeks or months. In fact, an estimated 80,000 Americans — many with no record of violence either inside or outside prison — are living in seclusion. They stay there for years, even decades. What this means, generally, is 23 hours a day in a cell the size of two queen-sized mattresses, with a single hour in an exercise cage, also alone. Some prisoners aren’t allowed visits or phone calls. Some have no TV or radio. Some never lay eyes on each other. And some go years without fresh air or sunlight.
Solitary is a place where the slightest details can mean the world. Things like whether you can see a patch of grass or only sky outside your window – if you’re lucky enough to have a window. Or whether the guy who occupies cells before you in rotation has a habit of smearing feces on the wall. Are the lights on 24/7? Is there a clock or calendar to mark time? If you scream, could anyone hear you?
In the warp of time and space where [Osiel] Rodriguez lives, the system not only has stripped him of any real human contact, but also made it unbearable to be reminded of a reality that has become all too unreal. It’s ripping him apart. [Rodriguez robbed a bank and a pawn shop when he was 22 years old.]
“Looking at photos of the free world caused me so much pain that I just couldn’t do it any more,” writes Rodriguez, 36. “Time and these conditions are breaking me down.”
This is what our prisons are doing to people in the name of safety. This is how deeply we’re burying them.
SHOULD FREE SPEECH PROTECT THE RIGHT TO LIE?
William Bennett Turner writes for the NY Times about the alarmingly slippery slope presented by the Stolen Valor Act.
Here’s a clip:
XAVIER ALVAREZ is a liar. Even the brief filed on his behalf in the United States Supreme Court says as much: “Xavier Alvarez lied.” It informs us that he has told tall tales about playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, being married to a Mexican starlet and rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. But as the brief reminds us, “none of those lies were crimes.”
Another of his falsehoods, however, did violate the law. In 2007, while introducing himself at a meeting of a California water board, he said that he was a retired Marine who had been awarded the Medal of Honor (both lies). He was quickly exposed as a phony and pilloried in the community and press as an “idiot” and the “ultimate slime.”
But his censure did not end there. The federal government prosecuted him under the Stolen Valor Act, which prohibits falsely claiming to have been awarded a military medal, with an enhanced penalty (up to a year in prison) for claiming to have received the Medal of Honor. Mr. Alvarez was convicted but appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that the act violated the First Amendment.
The government has taken the case to the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments this week. The question before the court is not whether there is a constitutional “right” to lie. Rather, it’s a question about the scope of the government’s power over individuals — whether the government can criminalize saying untrue things about oneself even if there is no harm to any identifiable person, no intent to cheat anyone or gain unfair advantage, no receipt of anything of value and no interference with the administration of justice or any other compelling government interest.
Read the rest. It’s extremely interesting—especially when you start to consider the implications. (Hint: One of them involves Steven Colbert.)
THE SUPREMES, CITIZENS’ UNITED, THOSE CRANKY MONTANANS CHALLENGING THE LAW—AND THE MEANING OF RUTH GINSBURG’S REMARKS
On Friday of last week, the Supreme Court agreed to a stay on the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling of last fall,—one that upheld its own state law and thus basically made the US Supreme Court’s extremely controversial (and truly hideous) Citizens United decision inoperative in the Big Sky state.
Tom Goldstein over at SCOTUSBlog explains the significance of the message conveyed in the statement made by Justice Ruth Ginsburg (joined by Justice Breyer) at the hearing’s conclusion.
Or, if SCOTUSBlog is too wonky for your taste, the story at the Washington Post, addressing the same issue, lays things out more directly. Here’s how it opens:
Two Supreme Court justices suggested Friday that the court reconsider its controversial 2010 decision that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending in elections.
The suggestion came as the court blocked a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding a century-old ban on corporate campaign spending in the state.
The Montana ruling seems squarely at odds with the court’s 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited corporate spending. The U.S. Supreme Court majority had said such independent spending did not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.
In Friday’s order, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer said the upheaval in the world of campaign finance since the Citizens United decision does not bear out the majority opinion.
“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’ ” Ginsburg wrote.
“A petition for certiorari [from those challenging the Montana court’s decision] will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”
Most experts think that the chances of Citizens United being modified or undone by the Supremes are worse than slim, as that would require Justice Kennedy (or someone more conservative than he) switching sides, which is unlikely. But the fact that the discussion will likely be raised may lay down tracks for a future court’s consideration.