Incarceration, Asset Forfeiture, Arrests, Informants, Police Raids, Search and Seizure

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Is Your Vagina Drug-Free? Albany's Narcs Want to Know

Here's an especially sordid and sickening example of abusive policing in the name of the drug war. A young woman driving in the wrong part of Albany gets pulled over by a special, aggressive drug enforcement squad, the Street Drug Unit. As the Albany Times-Union explains:
ALBANY-- The cops in the marked patrol car had circled through West Hill a couple times keeping an eye on their female target. They were part of the Street Drug Unit, an aggressive squad assigned to help rid Albany's neighborhoods of drug dealers and addicts blamed for much of the city's problems. It was early evening and already dark when the patrol car's emergency lights flashed in the rearview mirror of Lisa Shutter's Mitsubishi sedan on Quail Street, just off Central Avenue. Police records show the officers called out a "Signal 38" to alert a dispatcher they were onto something suspicious and about to pull someone over. They would later write in a report that they had pulled her over for "failure to signal," although no ticket was issued, according to police records shared with the Times Union. The actions of police in the minutes that followed would end in controversy rather than with an arrest. They would also leave Shutter, a 28-year-old single mother from Ravena, shaken and angry after one of the officers allegedly inserted his finger into Shutter's vagina on a public street during an apparent search for drugs. When it was over, "I pulled off down the road and I just cried for probably a half hour," Shutter said. "I called my dad. ... I felt like I had been basically raped."
Sounds pretty horrendous, but then, so is the response from the Albany police when Shutter filed a complaint:
The incident has triggered an ongoing internal affairs investigation by the Albany Police Department. But the handling of that investigation has raised questions about whether the department has sought to cover up the incident. Shutter claims Burris Beattie, a commander in internal affairs, dissuaded her from reporting the incident to a civilian police oversight board. The board, which was formed in 2001 in response to community concerns about the handling of internal police investigations, is empowered to monitor cases involving claims of brutality and civil rights violations against any officer. "He said they (internal affairs) would do a better job," Shutter said, recounting her conversation with Beattie. "He said they would like to keep it 'internal' ... that that's how they like to handle things."
Good thing they kept it aware from the civilian police review board, because it would have gotten to the bottom of things, right? Well, maybe not. It seems that the Albany board is as toothless and feckless as the rest of those organizations that are supposed to provide oversight to law enforcement:
Jason S. Allen, acting chairman of Albany's Citizens' Police Review Board, did not respond to a request for comment about whether all civilian complaints against officers are forwarded to the board. Instead, someone from the review board, which maintains an office at Albany Law School, contacted the department two weeks ago and alerted them that a Times Union reporter was asking questions about their policies, according to a police department source.
Let me get this straight: The civilian police review board, which is supposed to keep an eye on police misconduct, but when the board is contacted by reporters about an alleged incident, it doesn't investigate, but instead alerts the department? With review boards like this…But wait, there's more:
A member of the Citizens' Police Review Board, who spoke on condition of anonymity because only the chairman is authorized to make public statements, said some members of the board have privately suspected that the department may be hiding cases of police misconduct. In other instances, the internal affairs reports are so poorly organized and investigated the board has had trouble reaching decisions and often sends them back for more investigation. The board is supposed to appoint a monitor for complaints involving civil rights violations or allegations of excessive force. "Whether the letter of the law says that this should be the process, the intent and spirit of the law mandates that, especially in cases of civil rights violations, they be submitted to us for review," the board member said. "If not this, what do we review? ... The fact they would dissuade someone from reporting an incident and say they would do the investigation better completely defeats the purpose of why we were created."
One of the two officers involved, Matthew Fargione, is the son of a former Albany narc who is a long-time buddy of the chief, James Tuffey. Fargione Sr. used to be Tuffey's boss on the narc squad. The other officer was Nick Abrams. While Shutter said police internal affairs told her one of the officers had been suspended, apparently that is untrue. Here's how it went down, according to the Times-Union account:
The incident unfolded just after 7 p.m. on Dec. 22. Shutter said she'd just finished some last-minute holiday shopping and became confused as she drove through West Hill looking for a friend she'd agreed to pick up that night. Shutter was behind the wheel of a friend's rented car, and said she saw the police car drive past her twice before the stop. The officer at her window grilled her about drug use and hidden crack pipes, she said. "You fit the profile," the officer said, according to Shutter. "You're a white girl in a rental car." She told the officer she had no drugs and offered to take a Breathalyzer test, but he declined to give one, she said. The officer then allegedly reached through her window and plucked Shutter's cellphone from her lap. He scrolled through the personal information in her phone, she said, asking questions about "private calls" and someone named "Mandie," whose name appeared on her contacts' list. Mandie Buxton, 28, who is Shutter's friend since childhood, was at home when her cellphone rang that night. The man calling identified himself as an Albany police officer and asked whether Shutter was supposed to be picking Buxton up that night. "I said: 'What are you talking about?' " Buxton said. "He said: 'You don't know what I'm talking about?' and then he hung up. I called right back and no one answered." Ordinarily, police need a search warrant to seize or access someone's telephone. Before it was over, Shutter was ordered to stand outside her vehicle with her hands on the trunk. One officer searched her body while a second scoured the inside of the car. They also dumped the contents of her purse and asked whether she'd spent her money on crack because her wallet was empty. Shutter said she never consented to a search of her vehicle, her telephone or her body. She said she pleaded with the officer who allegedly slid his hand down the back of her jeans, and inside her underwear, to stop. "I kept saying over and over ... 'If you have to search me, can you bring me to the precinct?' " Shutter said. A female officer was called to the scene and informed Shutter she was there to search her body, Shutter said. The female officer patted her down, lifted Shutter's sweater and felt along her bra strap, and made Shutter open her mouth and lift her tongue. No reason was given. The police found no drugs or other evidence of criminal wrongdoing before allowing Shutter back in her car. "He said 'you're lucky' ... and that I better not drive around there again," Shutter said. Shutter called Buxton and her father minutes later, crying hysterically, they said. Shutter's mother, Sherry, characterized her daughter's encounter with police as a "life-changing nightmare at the hands of an Albany police officer." "Our daughter did not deserve to be so grossly violated and I want the officers to comprehend and be held accountable for violating our child," she said. "I just keep telling her that 'you did not deserve this.'"
One question: How many other women have been sexually assaulted by these criminals in blue? Another question: Is it okay for women to be digitally raped by cops if there are drugs in their vaginas? This story isn't going over too well in Albany, either. Check out the responses by Albanyites (Albanians?) at the Time-Union's blog page.
Location: 
United States

Your Name/Logo/Message on Our New Traveling Prison Artmobile for the World to See

[Courtesy of Prison Art Gallery] It's time that word got out in the nation's capital (and across America) about your organization or business, and we're prepared to do it with our planned Prison Artmobile. This unique prison-art filled vehicle is bound to capture the media and public's attention. With spring upon us and the opportunity to showcase the more than one thousand pieces of beautiful art in our Prison Art Gallery throughout Washington (thanks to a legal challenge the ACLU won for us that allows us to use any public space), we're looking for a donated vehicle that we can convert into the Prison Artmobile. Ideally, we'd like a van, but will consider a station wagon or pickup. Any year after 1998 will do. If you have one to donate, there's a big tax advantage since we're a 501(c)(3) organization and we're not going to resell the vehicle. So it will be counted at full book value. We'll put your Name/Logo/Message on the Prison Artmobile at our own expense. Thousands of people will see the Prison Artmobile (starting in Washington and eventually traveling cross country). In addition to featuring your Name/Logo/Message, the rest of the Prison Artmobile will be attractively decorated by a skilled formerly incarcerated artist. It will also feature the famous Pablo Picasso quote: "Even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would persevere in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell." Please contact us today about your vehicle. In the event that you do not have a used vehicle to donate, please consider donating funds to help us outfit the Prison Artmobile. The same offer to include your Name/Logo/Message applies. For further information, please call 202-393-1511 or email staff@PrisonsFoundation.org. But please hurry. Spring is about to be sprung.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Photographer Alan Pogue to Speak, Sign New Book

CURE invites you to join in the thanking and congratulating of Alan Pogue for his book "Witness for Justice." Alan Pogue has been CURE's volunteer photographer since its first statewide prison reform convention in Texas in 1975. As CURE has expanded nationally and now internationally, so has the geography of Alan's photography. He will speak briefly and answer questions at 4, 5 and 6 pm. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Refreshments will be served. "Pogue's stunning black & white images not only attract the eye to clarity and form, stir emotions to anger and compassion-but most are transformative encounters. We are taken to some of the world's most oppressed places-from the Middle East to Central America, to Cuba, Haiti and Mexico, to the punitive prison system of Texas-all in a searing panorama that challenges our inculcated prejudices and exotic fantasies" - Robert Bonazzi, San Antonio Express-News
Date: 
Thu, 03/06/2008 - 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Location: 
900 North Capitol St., NW
Washington, DC
United States

One in 99 American adults is in jail

[Courtesy of MPP] 

Our nation is currently incarcerating a record one in 99 adults, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. You can read The New York Times' article on the U.S. government’s war on the American people here.

This horrifying statistic was calculated by adding the number of people in federal and state prisons (almost 1,600,000) to the number of people in local jails (723,000). With American adults numbering about 230,000,000, the report concluded that one in 99 adults is currently behind bars.

This is madness. As previous studies have found, our nation imposes harsher sentences for nonviolent drug offenses than for many violent crimes, creating a steady, unconscionable increase in the prison population. Visit www.mpp.org/victims to read stories of nonviolent marijuana prisoners.

The Pew report points to the urgent need to tax and regulate marijuana, as fully 3% of our nation’s 2,323,000 prisoners are incarcerated because of marijuana offenses. Indeed, Pew’s recommendations included diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison.

The report also highlights how the U.S. criminal justice system inordinately penalizes people who are not white. Appallingly, one in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars, as are one in 15 black adults, not to mention one in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34. And these numbers don’t include people on parole or probation, which means even more than one in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is caught up in the criminal justice system.

Who are our nation’s drug laws helping by locking up so many young black men — or by forcing so many adults into jails and prisons? True drug addicts? Nonviolent drug offenders? Their families?

If you're as outraged by these statistics as I am, please turn your anger into action by helping MPP restore some sense to our nation's laws by ending marijuana prohibition: Become a monthly pledger today.

MPP is the largest organization focused solely on releasing from jail/prison the 3% of inmates who are marijuana offenders. In 1995, we helped to reduce the federal sentencing guidelines for marijuana cultivation, resulting in the release of hundreds of federal prisoners. Every time we pass a medical marijuana law — as we did in Maryland, Vermont, Montana, and Rhode Island, and as we hope to do in Michigan this November — we protect seriously ill marijuana users from jail. We’re assisting a campaign in Massachusetts to decriminalize marijuana via a ballot initiative in November, which would end the arrest of marijuana users (and therefore 6% of all arrests) in the state. And we’re supporting bills that are currently moving in Vermont and New Hampshire that would eliminate the threat of jail for marijuana possession.

We face a long battle in rolling back the entrenched tradition of using incarceration as the solution to our nation’s woes. Please join MPP for the long haul by signing up for our monthly pledge program today.

Thank you for standing with us in this worthy fight.

Sincerely,
Kampia signature (e-mail sized)
Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $3.0 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2008. This means that your monthly pledge will be doubled.

Location: 
United States

Search and Seizure: US Supreme Court to Hear Case on Warrantless Vehicle Searches

The US Supreme Court agreed Monday to rule on whether police may search a parked vehicle whenever they arrest a driver or passenger. Since a 1981 Supreme Court decision that held that police may search a vehicle for weapons when they arrest an occupant, most courts have held that police have ample authority to search vehicles after an arrest.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/car-search.jpg
police searching accused drug traffickers' car
But in a case from Tucson, the Arizona Supreme Court disagreed in the case of Rodney Gant. Police surveilling a suspected drug house arrested him on an outstanding warrant for driving without a license after he pulled up in his car. Gant was handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car. Officers then searched his vehicle and found a gun and a bag of cocaine.

In a 3-2 decision, the Arizona Supreme Court threw out the evidence, saying that the post-arrest search of his car violated the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. With Gant handcuffed in the back of a squad car, police faced no danger from any weapons hidden in the vehicle, the majority said. Because police did not initiate contact with Gant before he got out of his vehicle, the search of his vehicle was not incidental arrest and thus unconstitutional. Police could have obtained a search warrant if they could convince a magistrate they had probable cause, the court noted.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard appealed to the US Supreme Court last fall, arguing that the Arizona Supreme Court decision sets "an unworkable and dangerous test" that would confuse police, prosecutors, and judges. He was backed by other law enforcement agencies and associations, including the Los Angeles district attorney's office and the National Association of Police Organizations.

The case, Arizona v. Gant, will be argued this fall.

Prisons Foundation: Three upcoming events of interest (Two of them Free)

[Courtesy of Prisons Foundation] It's time to get out of the house (if you're a member of congress), or the office (if you're a justice advocate), or the street (if you're a justice activist), and start networking with like-minded movers and shakers. 1. Concert for Prison Musicians featuring Lamont Carey of "The Wire," Friday, February 22, 7pm Come to the always-jumping Potter's House,1658 Columbia Rd, NW, Washington, DC, on Friday, February 22nd, 7:30pm to 10:30pm for a benefit concert to raise funds to purchase musical instruments for prisoners. Lamont Carey of "The Wire," ex-con jazz guitarist Dennis Sobin, Jim Dugan, Joe Shade and others will perform. There is a suggested donation of $5 to $15. Prison art will also be on view and available for purchase to help raise funds. Lamont Carey is a spoken word artist and actor who spent 11 years behind bars. He has made appearances in several stage plays, films and most recently the HBO hit series "The Wire." He has appeared three times on HBO's Def Poetry show and has published a collection of his poetry entitled "Why I Keep U A Secret." Dennis Sobin spent 10 years in state and federal prisons where he learned jazz and classical guitar. After being released in 2003, he cofounded the Prisons Foundation, which promotes the arts and education in prison. An accomplished guitarist with ten CDs to his credit, Dennis recently performed at the Kennedy Center. Jim Dugan's music has been used in various soundtracks for film and television. MusicMonthly.com in a review of Jim's CD "Marigold" said it was "Great music, great songs." Joe Shade is a performing singer and songwriter whose style and proficiency have been widely acclaimed. For further information, please call 202-393-1511 2. Free Justice Sunday reception featuring Prison Legal News experts, Sunday, March 30, 2pm You are cordially invited to attend a free reception at the Prison Art Gallery, 1600 K St NW, Washington, DC (three blocks from the White House) on Sunday, March 30, 2pm, for a talk by Paul Wright, Editor of Prison Legal News, and Alex Friedmann, Associate Editor. Both are accomplished legal writers, researchers and justice advocates who are recognized experts in the fields of prisoner rights, sentencing reform, and related justice topics. There will be a question and answer period following their presentation. This is a rare opportunity to get your legal questions answered by knowledgeable professionals who closely follow the latest trends and court decisions. Paul spent more than a decade in prison, where he began publishing Prisons Legal News. A monthly news journal, it is now the pre-eminent source of information about criminal justice and prison litigation. It is circulated and used by litigants in virtually every jail and prison in America. Paul will be bringing and signing copies of his new book, Prison Profiteers, a critical look at over-incarceration in America. Don't miss this rare opportunity to gain important knowledge and understanding from two professionals in the know. Refreshments will be served. For further information, please call 202-393-1511. 3. Free Workshop to become a mentor to imprisoned artists, Saturday, May 24, 10am to 4pm Attend a Free workshop on Saturday, May 24, 10am to 4pm at the Prison Art Gallery, 1600 K Street. NW, Washington, DC to become a mentor to imprisoned artists. Learn what it takes to work in a jail or prison to foster artistic development among inmates. You'll receive information and insights from experienced correctional officials as well as accomplished ex-prisoner artists. There will be a 15-minute break at 1pm for lunch, which will be provided. This is the approximate time that many inmates get to consume their meal (though you can continue to eat your meal as the workshop continues). The free lunch provided will be typical jail fare, nourishing and balanced though not necessarily gourmet. We believe that you will find the workshop enjoyable and beneficial. Whether you're looking for a one afternoon per month volunteer opportunity in a jail or prison, or a full-time paid career position, we believe that you will find this workshop a great door opener and a way to gain important skills and understanding. For further information, please email staff@PrisonsFoundation.org or call 202-393-1511.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Europe: Grow Ops Pop Up in Southern Norway

Norwegian police have made a number of marijuana grow operation arrests this year, according to the Oslo newspaper Aftenposten. Gardens busted on Kråkerøy Island, near Fredrikstad, and Kongsberg in Buskerud over the weekend were just the latest indications that cannabis cultivation is taking off in the land of the Norse.

Those two raids were the fourth in a week, and the 14th and 15th in recent months in southern Norway. Other garden busts have occurred in Telemark, Buskerud, Hedmark, and Østfold counties. Many of the busts have involved Vietnamese growers, according to police.

Police believe many of the grow ops are linked, and the national crime unit, Kripos, has been called in to aid local investigators. "We've noticed that many of these cases bear similarities," said Kripos spokesman Atle Roll-Mathiesen. "We've gotten involved, to look at the links between them."

Scandinavian countries generally have tough drug policies, and Norway's drug laws are no exception. While small-time drug possession, including marijuana possession, is charged under a relatively lenient section of the Norwegian criminal code, drug cultivation or trafficking offenses, including those involving marijuana, are serious crimes punishable by up to 21 years in prison.

Thanks to a major grant we received, you can become a mentor to imprisoned artists

[Courtesy of Prison Art Gallery] Thanks to a grant we received from the DC Government, you can become a mentor to imprisoned artists. Work either as a volunteer or paid staff member in a jail or prison. Attend one of our upcoming one-day workshops to learn what it takes to work in a jail or prison to foster artistic development among inmates. You'll receive valuable training from experienced and effective correctional officials while also benefiting from the insights and knowledge of ex-prisoner artists who will be additional workshop leaders. They will all share their experiences with you in a relaxed and fun setting at the Prison Art Gallery in downtown Washington, DC. Everything you need for a productive and nourishing day will be provided. This is a rare opportunity to make contacts and obtain important information. And it's absolutely free! Whether you're looking for a one afternoon per month volunteer opportunity or a full-time paid career position, you will find these workshops a great door opener. Meet the people who make hiring decisions while finding out what it takes to be effective in the challenging setting of a jail or prison. Please call us at 202-393-1511 or email us at staff@PrisonsFoundation.org for more information. We are now setting up a schedule of workshops to accommodate everyone who may be interested. We would like to what days and times would work best for you. Thank you.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Canada: Smell of Pot No Grounds for Arrest or Search, Says Saskatchewan Appeals Court

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has ruled that the scent of burning marijuana emanating from a car window is not probable cause for an arrest and vehicle search. The decision came in the case of Archibald Janvier, who was pulled over for a broken headlight four years again in La Loche, Saskatechewan.

When the officer approached Janvier's truck, he said he could smell burnt marijuana. He arrested Janvier for marijuana possession based on smelling the burnt weed, then searched the vehicle and found eight grams and a list of names, which led to Janvier being charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking.

At trial, the judge found that the scent of marijuana created a suspicion it had been smoked, but did not provide "reasonable and probable" grounds for either the arrest or the search. To arrest him based simply on the scent of burnt marijuana violated his right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, the judge ruled as he declared him not guilty.

The Crown appealed the verdict, but the appeals court upheld the judge's verdict. That was the correct decision, said Ronald Piche, Janvier's attorney.

"Until now, police have used the smell of marijuana as reasonable grounds to arrest someone for possession of marijuana," he told Canwest News Service after the decision. "It always struck me as a little thin, frankly. It's frankly a lazy officer's way of giving out a warrant, and getting to check a vehicle out, and oftentimes finding some evidence."

It's hard to possess something that's already been smoked, Piche continued. "The smell alone can't constitute the grounds, because the smell of burnt marijuana -- as opposed to raw marijuana -- gives an inference that the material is gone, it's dissipated into the atmosphere. So how can you say you're in possession of something that doesn't exist?" Piche said. "There may be suspicion that the person is in possession of marijuana, but that's not enough to base an arrest."

Crown prosecutors, unsurprisingly, were not happy. Crown lawyer Douglas Curliss told Canwest the court's decision was based on the lack of any additional evidence to justify an arrest and search. "The court was of the view that all he had was the smell of burnt marijuana alone; he couldn't act." Still, he said, the Crown will not appeal the decision.

Is there a continental trend here? Last March, the Utah Supreme Court held that the smell of burning marijuana is not enough evidence for a warrantless home search. And just last month, a California Appeals Court ruled that even seeing someone smoking pot inside a home was not sufficient grounds for a warrantless entry.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the US Prison System," by Silja Talvi (2007, Seal Press, 356 pp., $15.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor

Forty years ago, some 11,000 women were imprisoned in the United States. By 2004, that number had skyrocketed to 110,000, and if you add in the women in jails on any given day, the number of women behind bars is around 200,000 -- many, many of them on drug charges.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/womenbehindbars-small.jpg
While the overall US prisoner population has rapidly increased over the past few decades, the growth in the number of women behind prison far surpasses the overall rate. Yet most studies of the US prison and jail systems focus on the much larger male prisoner population. That's something investigate journalist Silja Talvi hopes to redress with "Women Behind Bars," and she has done an outstanding job of it.

Visiting numerous prisons -- not only in the US, but also, for comparative purposes, in Canada, England, and Finland -- and conducting hundreds of interviews with prisoners, guards, and advocates, as well as perusing the academic literature, Talvi has constructed a portrait of the US criminal justice system's treatment of women that is a harsh indictment of not only our prisons, but also the culture that perpetuates the resort to mass incarceration as a response to social problems.

It is not easy reading. After all, who wants to read about women prisoners being sexually harassed and raped by guards, who wants to read about prison wings full of mentally disturbed women prisoners screaming incessantly or rubbing feces on their cell walls, who wants to read about women prisoners committing suicide after being locked into cell-like "suicide prevention" rooms seemingly designed to drive them over the edge? Who wants to read about some of the weakest and already most brutalized members of our society who turn to dope or prostitution (or, too often, dope and prostitution), only to be imprisoned for their "crimes"?

It's an ugly subject, and that's part of the problem. Nobody wants to think about our world-leading prison population or the agonies we inflict upon it. In fact, our prison system is geared to shutting them up behind grey walls hidden from the public eye and, hopefully, from the public consciousness. But Silja Talvi is determined to rip the scales from our eyes and force us to look at what we have wrought.

She does so with verve, grace, and humanity. Not only does Talvi bring a keen critical intellect to bear, she also gives voice to the voiceless, standing aside at times to let the women prisoners of America speak for themselves. Their tales of suffering are heartrendingly grim, sometimes seeming as if they were coming from the seventh circle of Hell. The treatment of mentally ill women prisoners is a scandal. The use of female prisoners as sexual playthings by corrupted prison guards is another.

All too many of those stories are because of the decades-long, relentless escalation of the war on drugs. For many reading these words, the story of the imprisonment juggernaut created by the drug war legislation of the 1980s and nurtured by political inertia ever since is an already familiar tale. But Salvi tells it again, eloquently and passionately. We meet women like Amy Ralston, who suffered in prison for more than a decade because she wouldn't rat out her estranged husband , and Regina White, a black woman from South Carolina doing 12 years after crusading pro-life prosecutors charged her with manslaughter for doing cocaine while pregnant -- even though there was no evidence linking her child's death to her drug use.

Talvi offers a harsh critique of the policies and practices that generate thousands of new women prisoners on drug charges, many of them only spouses or girlfriends of the law's actual targets. All too often, Salvi notes, these women end up doing more time than the real culprits even if they had little or no involvement in any drug conspiracies. Prosecutors routinely make conscious decisions to charge them as co-conspirators and send them up the river for years or decades despite knowing that the women are small change. It is a cruelty and cynicism that makes even the hardened heart weep.

Talvi isn't a prison abolitionist; she argues that there are indeed some people who need to be behind bars, but that that number is a tiny fraction of those who actually are, especially women. But she is ready to take on the drug war, sex laws, and other freedom-sucking laws and practices: "I personally would prefer to see the decriminalization or legalization of drug use, the legalization of all forms of consensual sex (including prostitution), far more opportunities for truly therapeutic intervention, prevention- and intervention-minded counseling, real vocational education, and a regular and fair parole review," she writes.

Her book, a cry from heart, will hopefully help hasten that process. We should all hope so, for as the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky once famously noted, "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals." As it should be, for we are all complicit in this by our silence.

In fact, as I ponder this, I am reminded of another quote, this one from a freedom-loving radical in our national past. "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." That was Thomas Jefferson. He's probably been spinning in his grave for so long, there's nothing left by now.

Maybe, just maybe, Silja Talvi will help save us from ourselves by forcing us to help those we victimize the most. Let's hope lots of people read this book and take its lessons to heart.

(Copies of Women Behind Bars are available as part of our latest membership offer.)

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