Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee: Accountability, Prison Reform Advocacy and the 13th Amendment

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Accountability, Prison Reform Advocacy and the 13th Amendment

The focus on the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution as an educational tactical tool by prison reform advocacy is idealistic.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." 
13th Amendment circa 1865

Focus on the above 13th Amendment places prison advocacy on the defensive and at a disadvantage. Because for example, let's take the state of Virginia. Virginia does not have specific laws of what it's imprisonment practices are. Despite the existence of Virginia Code Title 53.1 which deals with: Prisons and other methods of correction, it has consciously and purposefully omitted specificity of its prison related law.

What Va. Code 53.1 does is, it sets up parameters. So for example, Va Code 53.1-32 "treatment and control of prisoners; recreation; religious service speaks to employment, training, and education of prisoners and Va. Code 53.1-32-1 references payment or wages but in a pedestrian manner. Meaning Va Code 53.1-32.1 do not embrace the 13th amendment, nor does Virginia Legislative Action specify wages       what it does codify at Va. Code 53.1-32.1 "Classification system; program assignment; mandatory participation" @ F, is..."inmates employed pursuant to Article 2 (53.1-31 et seq.) of chapter 2 of this title shall not be deemed employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia or its agencies and shall be ineligible for benefits under chapter 29 (sec. 2.2-2900 et seq) of title 2.2, Chapter 6 (sec. 60.2-600 et seq) of title 60.2, chapter 5 (sec.65.2-500 et seq) of title 65.2 or any other provisions of  the code pertaining to the rights of state employees. "[unquote] 

What is significant and noteworthy is the degree of specificity to which Virginia keeps at arm's length any hint of prisoners being employees of the state, despite the fact in all other regards Virginia prisoners are subjects of the state. On the question of wages, Virginia leaves its response to the undemocratic and non-legislative speculations of the State Board of Corrections and the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The point I'm making and the motive-logic behind "vapac" [Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee] is people, the citizenry needs to know and understand that what goes on in Virginia prisons or any prison system for that matter [because the lack of specificity in-laws governing the prison condition isn't limited to Virginia] are consequences of ideas, prison officials [who are no more qualified than any drunken bum under a bridge] have about how to treat a prisoner.

So, for example, the idea and practice of Virginia prisoners confined in Solitary [segregation] only permitted 2 phone calls a month are simply that "ideas," the Virginia Legislature neither debated it as law nor it passed it. Virginia prisons officials enacted it because Va. code 53.1-10 "powers and duties of Director" permits the Director of the Virginia Dept. of Corrections statutorial authority to "speculate" on what his administration and governance will be. So regardless and irrespective of how the 2 phone call a month idea was concluded and decided on, the fact remains: That it is simply that someone's idea.

On the question of ideas, let's take for example the idea why drivers and passengers should wear seatbelts in cars. It's an idea based on scientific and measurable fact. Meaning science-physics instructs that if one is in a vehicle unrestrained by a seatbelt and there is a crash, you will keep moving forward till you smash into the dashboard or windshield, incurring injuries beyond the initial crash. So the requirement seat belts are worn in vehicles is based on science and not idealistic-speculation.

So on what science is the practice of 2 phone calls a month for Virginia prisoners confined in Solitary [segregation] based on? Despite whatever logic prison officials dredge up, what is ignored as prison officials experiment on prisoners, is the prisoner, not proxy for exercising and playing out fantasies by the state as it develops the social-contract. Virginia prison officials bandy about a term "evidence based program" to cloak their speculative treatment of prisoners as science based. But none of it is. Which is why the Virginia Legislature, left the notion of what is the imprisonment condition up to prison officials with a wink and nod, understanding that the social-contract mandates of the state can be one-dimensionally and superficially pursued by the surrogacy of un-elected prison officials.

What prison advocacy the reform movement has to orient from is the position: If people are imprisoned as a result of the social contract and if prison is a function of government and if government is "off, by and for people," then the people have every right to question determine whether treatments being done to prisoners in their name are valid and not the sadistic ideas of less enlightened minds for the sake of mere gratuitous cruelty. Because in all other aspects and facets of society and its consciousness, the trend and imperative are towards enlightenment. But, only when it concerns prisons and the treatment of prisoners do we encounter a speculative, idealistic hodgepodge. So what happens is: The one facet of society that requires society's full throttled enlightenment, it its treatment of its members who violate and run afoul of its laws      is where we find society retreating from enlightenment and behaving and displaying the exact impulses that resulted its citizens to do that which landed them in prison [regardlessof reason] In conclusion. Yes as we do the work of demanding accountability of social-contrast, as we focus on the antagonisms of the 13th Amendment and its endorsement of the par none ahumanistic relation, slavery. Nonetheless, as a tactical response to the struggle of holding the imprisonment practice and it's prison official subjective, accountable, it's merely an intellectual speculative exercise.

Constitutions, laws, procedures, policies, and practices do not precede the human condition. Instead the human condition defines constitutions and laws, naturally, the dominant narrative will frame their utility    and redefining the narrative, not constitutions or laws but the socio-narrative is the work of prison reform advocacy, because once there is a cleansing of the narrative of its status quo impulses that have nothing to do with the practice of justice, then our political action will be practical and up to the task.

By William Thorpe held in Solitary Confinement at Virginia's Red Onion State Prison

No comments :