This week we revisit episodes explaining our flawed criminal justice system. Xander breaks down the issues and solutions in conversations with activist; Adnan Khan, founder of Worth Rises, Bianca Tylek, and host of the hit podcast, Wrongful Conviction, Jason Flom.
These advocates devote their careers to ending mass incarceration using their unique professional skills and inspiring personal experiences. Adnan particularly brings an insider's perspective, having spent 16 years imprisoned. His work ensures that all criminal justice advocacy work together, so he avoids terms like "low-level crime" because it separates people into categories.
"There is no distinction when talking about justice and reframing what justice looks like." Khan, who helped form from behind bars RE: Store Justice, ultimately wants to remove prisons. Still, until then, he believes extreme sentencing is one of the significant factors influencing mass incarceration. Regulations such as plea deals and mandatory minimums force excessive sentencing.
"There's a minimum number that you will be sentenced to, for example, gang enhancements; a 25 to life sentence", Adnan says. "If a prosecutor decides to charge you with this and you are found guilty, there's a minimum amount of years the jury or the judge can give you; they can not go lower than that amount." Adnan, who was convicted, not for the crime itself but for being a part of the act, doesn't question if he should have received a conviction but was that sentence appropriate, and was justice restored? "Nowhere was I asked to apologize in the court system," Adan says of his sentencing. "Nowhere was I told to make amends." For Adnan, true justice would be accountability for the appropriate harm, but who is accountable for those wrongly convicted when making amends is not an option for innocent people.
"We buy into this CSI myth that these amazing people are solving all of these crimes', says Jason Flom, "We need to have a more educated and more skeptical jury pool who will really look at the people that are presenting the evidence." Jason, who is one of the founding members of The Innocence Project, left his career as a music exec to expose the all too many wrongful convictions occurring today and the over 69% of prisoners who couldn't pay bail awaiting trial. "Between 4-5 hundred thousand people on any given night (are) in jail, in America, who haven't been convicted of anything".
Jason also believes that premature guilty pleas combined with poor representation are to blame for wrongful convictions. In some scenarios, Jason explains, "Your lawyer doesn't even know your name, they haven't visited you, they're juggling 400 cases, they might be drunk..." An enticing plea deal would one year be promised instead of three. "That's Sophie's Choice that people are inclined to take because you're looking at a system that is stacked against you." In addition to what happens at sentencing, there are the causes for flawed arrests with inaccurate eyewitness accounts and false confessions. "In the first 150 exonerations that involved DNA," Jason says, "25% of those 150 cases involved false confessions. These are people who confessed to a crime they did not commit."
So how does this problem keep growing despite decades of technology and social justice awareness? Bianca explains that the prison industry is a powerhouse operation with many incentives to overlook these injustices. "There is an 80 million dollar industry behind incarceration and surveillance in this country," she says. So who is making out on this deal? One incentive is job creation despite the adverse health effects on correctional officers. "Jobs in prison and jails, contrary to what people might believe, have very high rates of suicide," says Bianca. However, she sees prison as modern-day slavery, benefiting large corporations with loopholes surprisingly still in our constitution today.
"The 13th Amendment has been framed as abolishing slavery, but the reality is that that amendment had an exception built in it that reads: 'except as punishment for a crime, Bianca says, "In 2021 we still have in our US amendment, and our US Constitution that slavery is allowable so long as 'x' condition is met." Corporations make money off of prisoners not just through labor but via the families supporting them. From commissary costs to phone calls, these businesses are booming, which is why she campaigns to end companies like Securis owned by Platinum Equity. "Securis owns 40% of the prison telecom market share; in fact 90% of the prison telecom space is owned by just 3 companies, all owned by private equity firms'. Bianca explains, "The CEO and founder is Tom Gores, a billionaire based in Los Angeles."
Our over-capacity prisons have an uphill battle due to our capitalistic-centered country combined with its history of racism and punitive justice. "America is unique in what it's built on; why we have policing, why we have prisons. Racism is a big problem. White supremacy institutions are the reasons why we have them still erected.", says Adnan. An industry meant as a tool for criminal justice is ironically unfair. "That 80 billion dollar industry is preventing us from moving towards a world where we can see safety and justice without needing policing or prison," says Bianca.
Fortunately, a better future is possible with advocates such as these as long as we fight and take their advice. "We need to elect progressive prosecutors," says Jason, "We need to elect judges that are going to do their very best to make sure that fair trials become the norm."
To hear more from Bianca, Adnan and Jason, click the links below.