The Need for Better Demands

6/17/20

I find it interesting whenever a group which is protesting creates a list of demands and it starts getting really long. I just this week participated in a letter writing campaign which centers on incarcerated people’s right to vote. At the end of the form letter I was given to copy and send in was a long list of demands, all of which are issues of basic human dignity of people living in prison. Some of them, however, are quite problematic. I’m reluctant to be overly critical because I don’t know the context which many of these demands have arisen from. Here I will reproduce the list of demands, and provide commentary on the one’s I think are poorly thought out. Also, the order is in need of serious reorganization, but that’s just me nitpicking.

+ End all forms of solitary confinement in excess of 30 days
+ End all excessive bail and provide fair release laws for everyone
+ Repeal all “85% mandatory minimum” laws, three strikes laws, and habitual felon laws which enhance punishment
+ COVID-19 Pandemic: provide adequate testing and PPE free use of phone and video visits during pandemic

This is the first one I scratched my head on. The whole reason there is a demand for free phone calls is because we are charged 11 cents a minute plus a 50 cent connection fee for our calls here in Washington, and our prison phones are considered to be very cheep as compared to other states. Furthermore, we do not have the ability to put funds directly on out own phone account. Meaning the only way for us to make phone calls is if our people a affluent enough to be able to afford $2.70 per 20 minute phone call. Furthermore, video visits are garbage and should be free anyway. The picture quality is terrible and half the time the audio cuts out. We’re talking circa 2002 quality levels here. The demand should be for incarcerated people to have access to the internet, and not just “during the pandemic” but permanently. Then we can figure out our own Skype calls.

+ Repeal any Structured Sentencing Acts and restore Fair Sentencing Act in effect prior to 1994 retroactive to all prisoners.
+ End all SRG policies that place unreasonable restrictions on visits

Define “unreasonable.” The PIC will pretty much always have a far different definition of that word than prison abolitionists.

+ End life sentences and sentences that result in death by incarceration retroactive to all affected persons
+ Pay living wages for prisoners’ labor
+ Establish meaningful rehabilitation, education, and employment opportunities for prisoners
+ Reestablish all person’s right to vote who were born or naturalized in the US and end felony disenfranchisement

The whole point of the letter writing campaign is getting incarcerated people the right to vote and they list it as the tenth demand?!? This confuses me.

+ Repeal all prison policies that restrict or limit who can send money to prisoners through JPay or other financial servers

Yes, but why not end the financial abuse the PIC visits upon incarcerated people by allowing us to be in charge of our own money while incarcerated? The state holds all my money “in trust”. I’m not ok with this. Incarcerated people should be able to have and use independent bank accounts.

+ Repeal all prison policies that allow prisoners to be charged a $10.00 administrative fee for prison rule violations

This should be phrased “any fee” not “$10 fee”. I’ve seen this type of argument play out. The PIC’s answer is to charge a $9 fee instead and claim the demand was met.

+ Limit strip searches to only known assaultive prisoners

This one is the whole reason I started this critique. I’m in prison for murder and have two infractions for fighting. However, I have not been in a fight in six years. Am I an “assaultive prisoner? The creation of loopholes like this allows for the creation of new categories of people that can then be oppressed for being in that category. The same thing has happened with attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and borderline personality disorder diagnosis. Queer folx and POC get classified in these ways more often than their white or straight counterparts thus allowing this to be another way to cause systemic harm. Strip searches are bad. The only time I believe they should be considered is if it is known that someone is hiding something. Not suspected, but known. And in those situations the person in question should be given the opportunity to come off their contraband to avoid the strip search. But even this I’m iffy on.

+ Establish a prisoner’s bill of rights
+ Repeal the 13th amendment to the US constitution
+ Reestablish parole procedures for everyone, even those serving a life sentence
+ Repeal jail and prison censorship policies that restrict prisoners from the market place of ideas, publishers, outside supporters, and incarcerated persons of the opposite sex from corresponding

I was on board with this until it went sexist/homophobic. Why only “opposite sex?” Why not simply “correspond with other incarcerated people?” If they want to cite security concerns then limit it to communication through email and instant messaging which can be logged and tracked. There is no reason why prisoners should not be pen pals to each other.

+ Provide punishment for police/prison employees found guilty of the excessive use of force, intentional false arrest, abuse of power including false or trumped up disciplinary reports
+ Punish prosecutors for misconduct, vindictive prosecuting, or abuse of power
+ Provide better food, medical, dental, and mental health care for all prisoners
+ Increase penalties against attorneys who provide Ineffective Assistance of Counsel to clients

I’m iffy on this one. People don’t work for the public defender’s office because they want to send people to jail. The public defender’s office needs to be given staffing, funding, space, and resources to match that of the prosecutor’s office (or better yet, take money from the prosecutor’s office and give it to the defense office). They need to have their ongoing education paid for so they can offer the best defense possible. And they need to have their clients released without bail pending trial so they can be working With their clients on their defense, not For their clients.

I also find it interesting that there is no demand to decriminalize the sexuality of incarcerated people. This applies both to the sexuality of queer and straight incarcerated people. Queer folx are punished for having relationships with other incarcerated people and have their platonic friendships sexualized die to the homophobic leveraging of infractions which criminalize “consensual sex and public displays of sexual affection.” Both straight and queer people have their sexuality criminalized through mailroom censorship and infractions which criminalize sexual conversations and photographs over the phone and through the mail as well as extremely limited or nonexistent conjugal visitation.

I feel like this list of demands, which is similar to other lists of demands I have seen, has a strong antiracist critique, and middling anticapitalist critique, but does not have any sort of feminist or queer critique and that is a problem.

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