Uprising by Vermont Prisoners

Some three dozen Vermonters were on “lock down” at a private prison in Tennessee on May 14 for non-violent civil disobedience on May 12. A prison official refused to tell the Associated Press when the prisoners would be allowed to make phone calls and have their other rights restored, for example, the right to exercise outside their cells. Guards used a "non-lethal grenade" to force the prisoners into their cells.

The prison is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The Vermont governor and legislature hired the company to save money. CCA pays very low wages to its employees.

There are 665 Vermonters at private prisons in the South. To boost profits, CCA and other prison corporations lobby for harsher punishment for possession of drugs and other crimes.

The prisoners on May 12 refused to get into their cells. Past uprisings have been related to the low quality and small volume of food at private prisons.

“A hundred years ago, private prisons were a familiar feature of American life, with disastrous consequences,” said Ken Silverstein. He’s an editor of Harper’s magazine. “Prisoners were farmed out as slave labor. They were routinely beaten and abused, fed slop, and kept in horribly overcrowded cells. Conditions were so wretched that, by the end of the nineteenth century, private prisons were outlawed in most states.”

Because of corporate cost-cutting, people kept in private prisons are probably more likely to commit violent crimes when they get out, he said.

Vermonters kept in prisons in the South are less likely to get visits from their family and friends.

The Northampton-based Prison Policy Initiative www.prisonpolicy.org notes on its web site that, as of 2004, there were more than 2 million people in U.S. prisons. The nation was home to about 300 million people. African Americans were almost 10 times more likely to be in prison than white people in the U.S. in 2004.

A new prison opened last month near Keene.

Several other groups are trying to address America’s prison crisis:

The Justice Policy Institute www.justicepolicy.org
is dedicated to ending society’s reliance on incarceration.

The National Prison Project of the ACLU www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights
is dedicated to ensuring that our nation's prisons, jails, and detention centers comply with requirements of the U.S. Constitution, federal law, and international human rights principles, and to addressing the crisis of over-incarceration in this country. The NPP is the only organization that litigates prison conditions cases on a national level. Since 1972, the NPP has represented more than 100,000 men, women and children.

Critical Resistance www.criticalresistance.org seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. “We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure,” according the group’s web site. “Our work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness. The success of the movement requires that it reflect communities most affected by the PIC. We seek to abolish the PIC.”

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