Wednesday, March 11, 2009

News update: prison rate quadrupled, ban racist mascots, Obama reviews BC denial regs, more

Prison population rate quadrupled
Wisconsin has been doing a great job warehousing people. Monday’s Pew Center on the States report on incarceration shows that our state quadrupled its prison population in the last 25 years. We’re in the top 10 of states with accelerated incarceration rates. Nationally, it’s more like one in 31 people is behind bars. It’s a complicated picture of why so many people are in jail, but the “truth in sentencing” trends in punishing crimes has led to the denial of parole for even non-violent crimes. You can see characters “getting out for good behavior” in old movies, but not in Wisconsin today. In his budget proposal, Governor Doyle suggests that we look at early release for some incarcerated people and put them on probation instead. Early release and probation is cheaper than the warehouse: $3.42 versus $78.95. Now if we can just let people with felony convictions vote when they are released, we might have a better budget for taxpayers and a truer democracy for citizens.

Ban racist mascots
There is some attention being paid to the proposed law to ban racist mascots, including this editorial from the Appleton Post Crescent. Having a law that recognizes why race-based mascots for public schools are inherently an act of government discrimination would be a step in the right direction. The proposed law is fair, gives the community a chance to raise their voice in opposition to the mascot, and gives the Department of Public Instruction the responsibility of having a hearing on it.

Obama reviewing Bush rule on birth control denial
On the reproductive rights front, President Obama is taking a look at what can be done about Bush’s end-of-term passage of the unbalanced Department of Health and Human Services regulations on religious-based refusals of reproductive health care, including birth control prescriptions. The ACLU took a stand against the HHS regs because they gave too much power to health care providers to refuse prescriptions and care, even at the expense of patient safety. In a time of recession, high unemployment rates and chronic numbers of uninsured women, access to birth control and other reproductive health care services should not be compromised. Now that the Obama administration is reviewing the regulations, the ACLU hopes that an effective solution can be found to restore the balance between health care workers’ right to religious liberty and patients’ rights to barrier-free reproductive health care.
Read more about how the ACLU was among the hundreds of thousands of comments about the HHS regs before their passage.

Local events:
Community potluck and film screening on the criminalization of free speech activity at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities 2008
Saturday, March 28, 7:00 pm, Madison Infoshop, 1019 Williamson St. Get an update on activists jailed for the political organizing of protesters. Suggested donation $5-10.

Prison issues film series (2nd Thursday of every month
Thursday, March 12, 7:00 pm, Rainbow Bookstore, 426 W Gillman St.
Wisconsin Books to Prisoners sponsors the films which will be shown in Wisconsin prisons one week and to the public the following week in order to facilitate a discussion between those inside and outside the system.
This month - "Doing Time: Life Inside the Big House"
“After gaining unprecedented permission from the Justice Department to gain access to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, two indie filmmakers spent 5 weeks inside ‘the walls’ and produced a hard-edged and shocking expose of incarceration in the U.S.”