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Feature: Among Architects, a Prison Design Boycott Gains Steam

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as France embarked on a massive prison-building campaign, working class anarchist revolutionaries fought back by attacking the prison-industrial complex. Naming themselves Os Cangaceiros after the social bandits of the Brazilian northeast in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the revolutionaries sabotaged prison construction, published prison blueprints, and physically assaulted architects who designed prisons before being repressed and melting away into the subterranean criminal networks they had established over the previous decades.

Professionals are responsible for their behavior, the revolutionaries argued. In a communique to one prison architect they attacked, they wrote:

Letter to an Architect

Subject: Ambush

Are your wounds well healed, architect? Did you figure out why?

Shamelessly, with no discretion of any kind, centimetre by centimetre, you have conceived these cages in which even the handicapped will be locked up. Inside the walls which you have designed, individuals who are worth more than you will be beaten up on a regular basis. It is good that you have received an appetizer of what thousands of prisoners will endure to the nth degree.

To be sure, architect, this is not your company's first infamy. Considering what you build to house normal citizens, one can guess your competence to shut away delinquents. One moves easily from the tower blocks of the 13th arrondisement to prison cells.

Pig, looking at your snout up close, we were able to note from your tired face how deeply you involve yourself in your projects.

Before you were building walls, now you're going to knock them down.

Os Cangaceiros, Lyon, 29/03/90

Beginning in the 1980s, the US has seen an ever more massive prison boom and a never-ending demand for more prison construction. With the prison and jail population now approaching 2.3 million and steadily increasing, there is no end in sight. And as in France, architects are among those profiting from penal profligacy. But not all members of the profession are willing to "conceive cages."

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) is not a revolutionary anarchist organization, but, as the name suggests, a group of architects and planners interested in social justice issues. Still, ADPSR shares with Os Cangaceiros both the belief that professionals have an obligation to help create a better society and the conviction that mass imprisonment as a solution to social problems is something to be decried, not abetted.
ADPSR poster contest winning entry, by Miguel Bermudez (
For the past three years, ADPSR has been working proactively on an effort to get architects, designers, and planners to wash their hands of working on prison projects, the Prison Design Boycott Campaign. The campaign seeks to get architecural professionals to sign a pledge to "not participate in the design, construction, or renovation of prisons."

Between September 2004, when the campaign started, and January 2006, 500 of the estimated 1,000 to 2,000 architectural and planning professionals who would work on prison design signed the pledge. Now, according to campaign head Raphael Sperry, a San Francisco Bay-area architect, that number is up to 800.

For Sperry and ADPSR, the prison design boycott is part of a larger effort to challenge militarism and violence within American society and the US government. "We have a long history of peace and social justice work dating back to the 1980s," Sperry told Drug War Chronicle. "This campaign had its genesis in the war with Iraq. For us, the war presented us with the issue of militarism, both at home and abroad. With the peace movement so far ineffective, it seemed important to us to challenge this whole mindset at home, where people can see it on a day to day basis, and prisons are one of the biggest social justice failings of our country these days," he said.

"We are calling for an end to the expansion of the prison-industrial complex as a first step," Sperry continued. "We also want to see reinvestment in communities to provide for public safety and we want community-based alternatives to incarceration to solve problems and reduce crime."

ADPSR specifically targets the war on drugs. "The war on drugs is one of the biggest components of the rise of mass incarceration, and the drug laws and drug policy is one of the biggest problems in our criminal justice system today," Sperry said. "We use incarceration instead of treatment. That's not solving the problem, just pushing it behind the walls."
ADPSR poster contest runner-up entry, by William Arbizu & Kerstin Vogdes (
While the campaign has yet to prevent any prisons from being built, it has raised awareness of the issue in the professional community. The campaign has been covered in numerous professional publications, correctional industry publications, and the mainstream press, and it has led to debate within the industry's primary professional organizations, such as the American Institute of Architecture and the American Planning Association.

"We have gotten a lot of attention from architects who design prisons," said Sperry. "Even many of them share and appreciate our understanding of the flaws of the criminal justice system. Raising awareness is really important because it can provide us with real room for legislative reform on criminal justice issues like sentencing and drug policy. With this campaign, we hope to add another noisy voice to those already calling for reform."

With about one-third of planners working for various government agencies, reaching them with the campaign message is a tactical goal. "These are the people who put together future prison population projections and do the planning used to create mass incarceration. Every year, they just say "we're going to need more prisons," instead of arguing for policy decisions to reduce the number of prisoner," Sperry noted.

It's not just architects and planners who have embraced the Prison Design Boycott. It has been endorsed by a number of criminal justice reform groups, including the anti-prison activists of Critical Resistance, the Justice Policy Institute, which seeks to end over-reliance on incarceration, and the November Coalition, which focuses on drug war prisoners.

"We embraced the architects' efforts early on because we agree with them that there are too many people in prison and it's essential to expand our movement," said the November Coalition's Tom Murlowski. "Architects and planners are part of the infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex, and we are very pleased to see this organization challenge the profession on this," he told the Chronicle.
ADPSR poster contest finalist entry, by Allison Colley (
"We are working on parallel lines here. We've recently launched No New Prisons, a web site about how to stop prisons in your own communities, including examples for activists of how it's been done, like we successfully stopped the new prison here in Stevens County, Washington," Murlowski said.

While the campaign may not prevent prisons from being built, the project will advance the cause in various ways, said Sperry. "Look, if 99% of architects signed the pledge, there would still be that 1% willing to do the work, but at the level of political acceptability, if we reach a point where a majority of architects are saying the government shouldn't even embark on building new prisons, that says something. Architects are licensed by the state and have a responsibility to protect the public health, safety, and welfare, so if they are saying building prisons does not contribute to a safe public environment, that's a strong public statement," he said.

"There are a lot of young architects who say they didn't become architects to lock people up," Sperry concluded. "I hear stories of the partners in firms going after those contracts, but the young people didn't want to work on prisons. There was an internal resistance, but not a coordinated movement, so we thought we could make a public statement and make it more targeted."

The campaign pledge is not just for architecture, design, and planning professionals. Sperry and the Prison Design Boycott Campaign want anyone who understands and agrees with their position to sign the pledge on their web site.

While the methods of Os Cangaceiros may have a certain outlaw appeal, we're happy to see the architects themselves trying to take matters in hand instead.

Methamphetamine: Feds Make First Cold Medicine Bust Under Combat Meth Act

An Ontario, New York, man last Friday won the dubious distinction of being the first person arrested under the 2005 Combat Meth Epidemic Act. According to a DEA press release, William Fousse was arrested for purchasing cold tablets containing more than nine grams of pseudoephedrine within a one month period.
Busted for Bronkaid
Under the Combat Meth Act, passed with little scrutiny when it was attached to a bill renewing provisions of the Patriot Act, chemicals widely used as cold remedies or other non-prescription medicines that can also be used in home meth manufacture, such as ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine, are now "scheduled listed chemical products."

Products containing these chemicals are now kept behind the counter. In order to purchase them, one must show identification and sign a log book at pharmacies. DEA and state and local law enforcement monitor those logbooks to see if anyone is buying amounts over the limit.

"This is a first for DEA," crowed DEA Western New York Special Agent in Charge John Gilbride. "DEA's focus is to dismantle clandestine methamphetamine labs and trafficking organizations and to also monitor the products that are illegally used to produce methamphetamine. DEA is committed to keeping our communities safe from the dangers of methamphetamine production and abuse. Today's arrest is a warning to those who violate the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act."

Fousse is alleged to have purchased more than 400 Bronkaid tablets containing a total of more than 29 grams of ephedrine during the month of January -- more than three times the legal limit -- at one pharmacy and to have purchased a like amount at two others. It was a call from the first pharmacist to the DEA's Buffalo office that set the wheels in motion.

DEA agents visited Fousse at his home on February 13. According to a police affidavit, Fousse said he was unaware of the law, was not selling the pills to meth cooks, and was using the stuff himself. That was not good enough for the DEA and federal prosecutors. He faces a May 1 court date.

A case of mistaken prosecution

United States
Capitol Hill Blue (VA)

Peru Prez Orders Bombing Drug Labs

Prensa Latina (Cuba)

Rainbow Farm Author Visiting Cass Library

Cass District Library will host Dean Kuipers, author of "Burning Rainbow Farm," to talk about his writing experience, sign his book and answer guests' questions. Kuipers has agreed to arrive an hour early to mingle and chat with guests before his presentation. Refreshments will be provided for everyone's enjoyment. Kuipers is visiting Cass District Library as part of the Library of Michigan's 2007 "Michigan Notable Authors Tour." This year, 18 authors whose engaging works were chosen as 2007 Michigan Notable Books selections will visit nearly 70 libraries throughout the state.
Sun, 04/15/2007 - 2:00pm
319 M-62 North
Cassopolis, MI
United States

Sheriff’s group: Ruling will hurt drug investigations

Charleston, WV
United States
The Herald-Dispatch (WV)

New York City Is Hell for Pot Smokers

New York, NY
United States
AlterNet (CA)

For pot growers, suburbia is fertile ground

United States
The Los Angeles Times

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Beat the Heat: How to Handle Encounters With Law Enforcement," by Katya Komisaruk (2003, AK Press, 192 pp., $16.00 PB)

We don't usually review books except when they're hot off the press, but we're making an exception with attorney Katya Komisaruk's "Beat the Heat." This is the best legal self defense book we've seen in some time and we think our readers need to know about it.
It's a sad commentary on our society that we need books that tell us how to protect ourselves from the police. But with the number of drug arrests each year climbing inexorably toward the two million mark, and with drug prohibition being, in our view, morally indefensible, those of us who use illicit substances (or have friends or loved ones that do) need all the protection we can get.

This book will help drug users avoid arrest. I won't be shy: I think this is a good thing. Call it applying the principles of harm reduction to the US criminal justice system. While we acknowledge the possible harms drug users can incur to themselves or inflict upon others, we think the harms of being arrested, and quite possibly imprisoned, far exceed those of drug use. People who harm others can be punished under other kinds of laws than those that criminalize drugs. Anything that can throw some sand in the gears of the drug war machine is something to cheer.

"Beat the Heat" throws sand in the gears of the drug war machine. It does so by teaching its readers how to exercise their basic constitutional rights. That's another sad commentary in itself. We have a prohibitionist drug policy that relies on citizens knowingly or unknowingly waiving their rights in the face of intimidating uniformed men with guns. After all, it's not like drug use or sales is a crime where there is a complaining victim. Nor do drug users or sellers normally flaunt their contraband items. The only way many drug arrests are made is by people letting the police browbeat them into doing something stupid -- like admitting they smoke pot or allowing the police to search their vehicle when they know there are illicit items within.

Katya Komisaruk shows you how to exercise your rights in an easy-to-read, down-to-earth fashion, complete with illustrated scenarios where she shows you what you did wrong and what to do instead. It's not rocket science: Never talk to the police, she advises, and never consent to a search. You've got nothing to gain and plenty to lose.

The police aren't talking to you to make idle chit-chat. They are investigating, looking for possible crimes, and the more you open your mouth, the greater the chances of ending up in jail. In response to police requests to talk, Komisaruk recommends this phrase: "Am I free to go?"

If the answer is "yes," then go. If the answer is "no," you are already being detained or arrested. The correct answer to all further inquiries from police is: "I'm going to remain silent. I'd like to see a lawyer."

And when it comes to requests to search you, your home, or your vehicle, the answer is always: "I do not consent to a search."

These are basic constitutional rights, and it seems simple to exercise them. But police are experts in getting people to waive their rights. A valuable portion of "Beat the Heat" is devoted to explaining just how police get people to waive their rights -- intimidation, false friendliness, lies -- and how to avoid falling into those traps.

But "Beat the Heat" is much more than just how not to get busted. It's also a primer for those who have been arrested and are now facing the tender mercies of the criminal justice system. Komarisuk covers it all, from getting out on bail to working with your lawyer to what to do if all else has failed and you're headed for prison. There's also a chapter on how to witness and accurately report police misconduct, as well as chapters on the legal rights of minors and non-citizens.

Don't get me wrong: "Beat the Heat" is not written as a book to help drug users stay out of jail. Nor is it a diatribe against the drug war. It merely teaches people how to protect themselves from unnecessary arrest by knowing their rights and how to effectively exercise them. And that makes it a book that helps drug users stay out of jail. I'm all for that.

There are 20 million drug users abroad in the land today. If you are one or know one, you need to get this book. Komisaruk will make it easy for you to understand what you need to do to protect yourself.

Law Enforcement: The Drug War Dominates Grand Jury Action in One Ohio County

Ashtabula County, Ohio, sits in the far northeast corner of the state, adjacent to Cleveland. With slightly more than 100,000 people, 95% of them white, there is not a whole lot of criminal justice system activity going on. Without drug prohibition, there would be even less.

Last Friday, the Ashtabula County grand jury issued indictments for 15 people. One was a sex offender who failed to register, two assaulted a police officer, one was charged with attempted murder, one was charged with auto theft, and one was charged with felonious assault. That's six out of 15 indictments.

The remaining nine indictments were drug-related. The charges included possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, possession of crack cocaine (2), possession of methadone, possession of meth precursors (2), marijuana distribution, and cocaine distribution.

In other words, people charged with simple drug (or precursor) possession accounted for nearly half of all criminal indictments in Ashtabula County last week, and drug-related charges constituted 60% of all indictments. With an end to drug prohibition, or at least an end to arresting drug users, the Ashtabula County court house would be a much quieter place. And while the figures may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it's pretty much the same all over.

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