It’s a place where few living New Yorkers have ever set foot, but nearly a million dead ones reside: Hart Island, the United States’ largest mass grave, which has been closed to the public for 35 years. It is difficult to visit and off-limits to photographers. But that may be about to change, as a debate roils over the city’s treatment of the unclaimed dead. Never heard of Hart? You’re not alone—and that’s part of the problem.
Hart Island is a thin, half-mile long blip of land at the yawning mouth of Long Island Sound, just across the water from City Island in the Bronx. Depending on who you ask, it was named either for its organ-like shape or for the deer (or hart) that thrived here after trekking across the frozen sound in the 18th century. Hart is dense with history; it’s been used as a prison for Confederate soldiers, a workhouse for the poor, a women’s asylum, and a Nike missile base during the Cold War.
Its most important role has been to serve as what’s known as a potter’s field, a common gravesite for the city’s unknown dead. Some 900,000 New Yorkers (or adopted New Yorkers) are buried here; hauntingly, the majority are interred by prisoners from Riker’s Island who earn 50 cents an hour digging gravesites and stacking simple wooden boxes in groups of 150 adults and 1,000 infants. These inmates—most of them very young, serving out short sentences—are responsible for building the only memorials on Hart Island: Handmade crosses made of twigs and small offerings of fruit and candy left behind when a grave is finished.
Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova, 24, and Maria Alekhina, 25, will be freed from prison three months before their scheduled release, according to Reuters. The two women and fellow band member Yekaterina Samutsevich were arrested for performing Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away from Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral on Feb. 21, 2012. Their crime: “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility.”
Trying to get contraband into a prison is nothing new, but there is a new method. This week, some creative crooks tried to get tobacco to South Georgia prisoners by using a remote controlled helicopter, but they didn’t get away with it.
A lieutenant from the Calhoun State prison noticed a small helicopter flying over the gates of and a search began. Sheriff Josh Hilton says about an hour later deputies noticed a suspicious black dodge car with Gwinnett County tags on Edison Street.
Ann Neumann writes about William Coleman, a U.S. prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for the past five years:
There are two places in the U.S. where you can be fed against your will: a Catholic hospital and a prison.
Staff turned off the video camera typically used to record medical procedures. They strapped Coleman down at “four points” with seatbelt-like “therapeutic” restraints. Edward Blanchette, the internist and prison medical director at the time, pushed a thick, flexible tube up Coleman’s right nostril. Rubber scraped against cartilage and bone and drew blood. Coleman howled. As the tube snaked into his throat, it kinked, bringing the force of insertion onto the sharp edges of the bent tube. They thought he was resisting so they secured a wide mesh strap over his shoulders to keep him from moving. A nurse held his head. Blanchette finally realized that the tube had kinked and pulled it back out. He pushed a second tube up Coleman’s nose, down his throat, and into his stomach. Blanchette filled the tube with vanilla Ensure. Coleman’s nose bled. He gagged constantly against the tube. He puked. As they led him back to his cell, the cuffs of Coleman’s gray sweatshirt were soaked with snot, saliva, vomit, and blood.
“I have been tortured,” he would say later. And it was enough to make Coleman start drinking fluids again. For a while. When he stopped a few months later, the prison force-fed him again, and twelve more times over the next two years. By last year they could no longer use Coleman’s right nostril. A broken nose in his youth and repeated insertion of the tube have made it too sensitive.
The Obama administration announced new regulations intended to reduce prison rape recently. This CBS News piece seems to bury the lede:
Just about the same number of former inmates were victimized by facility staff as were victimized by other inmates. About 27,300 — 5.4 percent — reported incidents with other inmates, while 23,300 — 5.3 percent — reported incidents that involved facility staff. Of the former inmates who reported incidents with staff, 6,300 — or 1.2 percent — of the former inmates said they had unwilling sex or sexual contact with staff, while the rest said they “willingly” had sexual contact with the staff member.
Any sexual contact between staff and inmate is officially classified as nonconsensual. Prisons uniformly forbid inmate-staff sexual contact.
The way the story presents the numbers is a bit confusing. To say that inmates are victimized as much by staff as other inmates might be overstating the issue since all sexual contact, consensual or not, is considered abuse. However, that’s 1.2% of the total population surveyed who have had unwilling sexual contact with staff – not 1.2% of the 5.3% who reported sexual contact with staff. That puts the number of unwilling contact at 27% of total staff sexual contact. If we don’t count willing contact, then prisoner are still much more likely to be sexual abused by other prisoners, but we can still see that there is a significant amount of abuse happening on the part of prison staff.
The U.S. government now owns the story of Colton Harris-Moore, the gawky delinquent thief and burglar who will cool his heels in prison while a movie about his exploits as the “Barefoot Bandit” appears headed for a theater near you.
The 20-year-old Harris-Moore pleaded guilty to seven federal felony charges Friday in a plea agreement that recommends he serve between 5 ¼ and 6 ½ years in prison to resolve the federal aspects of his two-year crime spree, including the thefts of two airplanes and a boat and being a fugitive in possession of a firearm.
As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.
Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.
Mark of Cain, a documentary by Alix Lambert about the culture of Russian criminal tattoos, is now available for free online under a creative commons license. This documentary served as a reference for the David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises.
The story is a little confusing, but the AP is reporting that several Rastafarians in the Virginia prison system are being moved to their own prison. The Rastas have been held in solitary, sometimes for years, for refusing to cut their hair. Presumably, they are in prison for more than their growing their hair out, they’re just in solitary because of their hair. There are as many as 50 Rasta in Virginia currently in solitary for this reason. The Rastas will now live two to a cell, but “they will not have all the privileges of inmates in general population.”
The evidence presented here powerfully refutes the widespread popular belief that America’s Hispanics have high crime rates. Instead, their criminality seems to fall near the center of the white national distribution, being somewhat higher than white New Englanders but somewhat lower than white Southerners. Taken as a whole, the mass of statistical evidence constitutes strong support for the “null hypothesis,” namely that Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age.
We must bear in mind that most Hispanics are still of very recent immigrant origins and thus are considerably poorer than the average American. There actually does exist a connection between poverty and crime, even if liberals make such a claim, and since today’s Hispanic population has roughly the same crime rate as far more affluent whites, there is every reason to expect that this crime rate will drop further as Hispanics continue to move up the economic ladder. As the American Enterprise Institute’s Douglas Besharov pointed out in an important but insufficiently noticed October 2007 New York Times column, the last decade or two have seen an extremely rapid economic advance for most of America’s Hispanic population. 10 This rise may be connected with the simultaneous and unexpectedly rapid drop in urban crime rates throughout the country.