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The Ministry of Spiritual Development  
The mission of the N.O.I. as a whole and of each of its parts is the spiritual development of the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in North America and our people throughout the world. The mission of the N.O.I. is the resurrection spiritually of a dead people and the entire focus and meaning of its work is to bring about this resurrection as quickly as possible. This is the purpose that gives meaning to all other activities engaged in and is the criterion by which we expect to be judged by Allah and His Messenger, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. As such, the spiritual dimension must be present in all and excluded from none. (copied from  
For more information, call Student Minister Marcus Muhammad (269) 861-6504 e-mail:     

Real jail time for fake drug crimes


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Report, activists slam feds for targeting Blacks, Latinos in sting operations
CHICAGO—A research report accusing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of plotting drug stash house sting operations that targeted dozens of Black and Latino males for arrest and prosecution is evoking outrage from social justice advocates and attorneys.

Young men were recruited by ATF informants and agents and convinced to rob drug houses hoping to reap rich financial rewards. The drug houses never actually existed and neither did the drugs. But being ensnared in the federal scheme meant heavy prison time because of laws that exact harsher punishments for drug crimes—even if the crimes are fake crimes.

Sometimes “robbers” had to be given guns by ATF to carry out the fake crimes, or were almost coerced into the robberies—as in the case of a young man who was threatened by an ATF informant with gang retaliation if he didn’t pay back a loan given for a car. The payback was to participate in a drug house robbery. Those ensnared by the ATF often had records as small time drug dealers but not for violent crime.

“This is disturbing and provides further evidence of the racial inequities in our criminal justice system—inequities that must be addressed,” said Ed Yohnka of the Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Even on the watch of a Black president and Black attorney generals, the ATF’s misdeeds prove historical inequities still exist in U.S. law enforcement and in the criminal justice system, said critics.

The comprehensive report, authored by Professor Jeffrey Fagan, was the basis of motions to dismiss charges filed in three federal criminal drug and weapons cases in late September by attorneys with the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic.

The clinic represents poor and low income defendants charged in federal crimes and is affiliated with the University of Chicago Law School. Attorneys plan to file motions in seven more cases over the next several weeks.

The ATF intentionally discriminated in drug stings by targeting Blacks and Latinos and violated their constitutional rights, said the clinic. Sting targets were arrested and charged with felony drug crimes. While some of the men arrested had prior criminal histories others had little or no criminal record.
Of 24 cases involving 94 individuals charged between 2006-2013 in Chicago, the overwhelming majority were Black and Latino. Between 2011-2013 the ATF engaged in nearly exclusive recruitment of non-White persons in these operations, noted Prof. Fagan’s report.

“From 2011-2013, the selection of only one White defendant among the 57 Stash House defendants recruited in that period suggests that Black and Hispanic persons were targeted for selection by the ATF,” the report continued.

Of 94 sting targets, eight were White, 12 Latino and 74 Black. Mr. Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia Law School and professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and senior research scholar at Yale Law School, was also instrumental in compiling data from the controversial Stop and Frisk police policy in New York that targeted Blacks and Latinos and was deemed unconstitutional. 

A long history of nefarious law enforcement conduct?
The ATF is the U.S Department of Justice agency responsible for enforcing firearms, explosives and tobacco laws and regulations and protecting communities from violent criminals and criminal organizations.

“This has been going on for ages, this type of behavior. I was a former Los Angeles police officer. I worked narcotics, I worked with the ATF. These things have been going on for the longest, this isn’t anything new under the sun,” said Alex Salazar, now an activist with the National Association of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice, Accountability and Reform.

As more people become empowered, more problems within policing and criminal justice will be exposed, he said.

What made the tactics all the more nefarious was that ATF agents often lied to lure suspects, said activists and lawyers.

“The ATF’s Stash House Operation is a wholly fictitious crime that is created, managed, and orchestrated by the ATF for the ostensible purpose of identifying persons and infiltrating groups that ... focus their criminal activities on executing robberies, by means of force, for personal gain,” attorneys argued in court documents.

The ATF ignored controls that were supposed to be used in stash house stings, said Chicago lawyers. Each of the 24 cases reviewed included use of the same or similar tactics. But the cases did not comply with ATF internal guidelines for identifying criminals prone to commit violent crimes—and therefore legitimate targets for drug stings.

“In this district, the program swept up not the ‘worst of the worst,’ but enormous numbers of poor and vulnerable Black people and other people of color,” court documents noted.

These drug cases are especially difficult to win because they are fought at the federal level, said Chicago-based attorney Standish Willis.  

“I think I’ve had three of these (cases) in the last 10 or 12 years and all the guys went to prison because it was hard to beat them because they were set up by the ATF—and we raised the issue of race. I raised it with various judges but it didn’t go any place because we couldn’t prove it,” said Atty. Willis.

“If I did three cases and all of my defendants were Black then it doesn’t look right. And it was set-up, it wasn’t a drug case,” said the Black lawyer. “It was just a robbery but it ends up being a drug case. Nobody had any drugs except the government agent who was saying they had drugs … but (sting targets) still end up getting hit with a drug offense.”
“It just didn’t seem like it was something that the government should be doing since people weren’t really doing anything,” said Atty. Willis.

War on Drugs, war on Blacks 
and Latinos?
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) officers inspect the grounds of an apartment building after tear gas was used during a raid in South Los Angeles, April 12, 2007. A two-year probe of the violent South Los Angeles street gang, the Neighborhood Crips, ended with 22 arrests, including one that involved tear gas, a neighborhood evacuation and the seizure of drugs and guns. Photo: AP/Wide Worl photos

According to the Sentencing Project, half of those incarcerated in U.S. federal prisons are locked up for drug offenses. “Most of these people are not high-level actors in the drug trade, and most have no prior criminal record for a violent offense,” the group notes.

In 2014 there were 488,400 people in U.S. prisons and jails for drug offenses, a ten-fold increase from 40,900 in 1980 after harsher sentencing penalties were instituted under the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs.

In 1986, people released after serving time for a federal drug crime had spent an average of 22 months in prison. By 2004, sentences had increased three times that length to over five years, 62 months in prison.

When drug prosecutions were taken from individual local law enforcement agencies and given to the federal government, a change took place, said Atty. Willis.

“During the mid-80’s even earlier we as lawyers begin to see, in particular activist lawyers, begin to see there was something going on in the community and it was unusual. We didn’t know how broad it was,” he explained. Lawyers began noticing the increased penalties for drug crimes.

“We’re talking about wars against drugs, wars against crimes, wars against gangs. And this became the rhetoric and it was pretty clear that they were talking about wars against Black youth.  Still we couldn’t put it all together but it was pretty clear that something is going on. And it was not just happening in Chicago,” he said. 

ATF tactics have been called into question in similar cases nationwide under what the agency called “Operation Gideon,” which launched in Phoenix, Ariz. in March, 2009. According to a Sept. 22, 2009 press release from the ATF, “the pilot project involved the deployment of some of ATF’s most experienced undercover operatives to team with local agents and police investigators by conducting sting investigations involving violent home invasion crews.”

The operation was shut down after 120 days in Phoenix. But other versions of Operation Gideon were attempted.
In 2014 California’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a hearing that could have allowed a lower court to overturn long prison sentences for four defendants convicted in some of the “more bogus” drug stash house stings.   

“Dissenting judges argued that the practice of enticing poor young men into robbing stash houses raised questions not only of fair play, but also of constitutionality. The dissenters were particularly concerned that federal agents targeted primarily minority neighborhoods filled with desperate, unemployed young men tempted by the lure of fast cash,” wrote Clarence Walker in an article, “ATF’s Operation Gideon Raises Questions of Fairness, Justice, and Race,” posted on

The sting tactics are part of a mass incarceration campaign to imprison Blacks, said Atty. Willis.

“That’s what the mass incarceration has been about. They don’t have one way to do it they have several—many ways to do it. Drugs seem to be the key element in doing it because drugs in the federal court gives you more (prison) time than anything you can do in a federal court.” 

The ATF has a stereotypical perception that Black communities are crime-filled, crime-oriented and crime-related, said Atty. Lew Meyers, Jr.

In order to fulfill their mission to regulate and control guns in Chicago, the agency feels it must come to the Black community, which is extremely prejudicial and racist, said Atty. Meyers, who is also a professor of criminal justice at Chicago State University. 

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has warned for decades of the U.S. government’s very real conspiracy to incarcerate Black youth. There is no real “war on drugs,” the Muslim leader has pointed out.  

“This is purposely done, because prison, now, is ‘big business.’ You know, the prison industrial complex is now on the stock market, and the privatizing of the prison industry is going on as we speak. Therefore, just as people don’t build hotels if you don’t expect occupancy, people don’t build prisons unless you expect people to fill those prisons,” the Minister has often warned.

The Fagan report only amplifies what lawyers have always known, said Atty. Meyers, who questioned the number of Black agents that work for ATF.

“You’re going to find that the great majority of those agents, including in the Chicago field office are White. You might also find that the great majority of those agents in the country who are involved in the targeting process and who are involved in the racist policy of the ATF that involves the targeting of the Black community, those people are White,” added Atty. Meyers.

He could only recall only one or two times in the last 20 years where he has seen a chief ATF agent that was Black. But even in those rare instances, the chief ATF policymakers are White and call the shots, he noted.

On Sept. 24, federal prosecutors in Chicago dropped several drug conspiracy charges against 27 defendants with no explanation. There is strong suspicion the decision was connected to findings outlined in Prof. Fagan’s report. Prosecutors didn’t want to be drawn into controversy or be forced to justify any suspect investigations or convictions. Weapons and other charges against the defendants were not dropped.

The Final Call contacted the ATF Chicago field office and received no response. Calls to the ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C., were met with a terse reply: ATF does not and would not comment on ongoing cases, contact the U.S. Attorney’s office. The Final Call called the office of U.S. Attorney for Illinois Zachary Fardon, left a message but received no response.

A spokesman from the ATF’s Chicago field office was quoted as denying discrimination accusations. “We don’t see race or ethnicity when we are conducting a criminal investigation,” Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the Chicago ATF told the Chicago Tribune. “We are not planting that seed,” he said.

The ATF’s denial that race is a factor in the numbers of Blacks and Latinos arrested “borders on the ludicrous,” said Atty. Meyers. The statistics in the report defy that logic, he added.

What comes next?
Atty. Willis believes it will be up to attorneys with current clients indicted under drug stings to determine how to handle allegations of bias raised by the report. Many judges will probably “put things on hold to see how this is going to play out,” he predicted. “The next step will very likely be filing motions to dismiss these indictments and we’ll see what happens.”

U.S. courts, especially at the appellate level do not like and usually will not entertain overturning such cases, Atty. Willis noted. “So we said that if we’re going into the courts and if it gets up on appeal, we have to have very solid statistical basis, otherwise they’ll probably just throw it out.  But if we have very solid statistical basis, especially with this guy (Prof. Fagan) who we hired, then it will be more difficult for them to throw it out. And if they throw it out then we will go to the Supreme Court,” said Atty. Willis.

He believes judges in some pending cases will grant new trials. U.S. attorneys can appeal that decision but the appellate court is likely to be cautious, he said. “They know the next step will be taking it to the Supreme Court and we’ll have a much better chance in the Supreme Court because it’s a national issue now,” he argued.

Asked if other law enforcement agencies are employing similar tactics, Mr. Salazar said it is “very highly probable.”
The government would love to have you believe these are isolated incidents, but unfortunately they are not, he added.
Mr. Salazar said the head of the ATF, Deputy Director Thomas E. Brandon, should be fired and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has to answer some tough and serious questions. “This is madness here, I mean this falls directly under that jurisdiction of Loretta Lynch who oversees all of the DOJ’s operations whether it be DEA, FBI, ATF, Homeland Security. She ultimately oversees everything.”

Atty. Meyers agreed. Attorney General Lynch and Jeh Johnson, head of Homeland Security, must intervene and assess what is happening.

While he hopes there will be significant changes after this latest report, Mr. Salazar is not overly optimistic. “Until the log is removed out of their eyes and it’s made very glaring like with this report, they usually don’t do anything and before, that’s exactly what it’s been. The world has known that this type of behavior happens,” said Mr. Salazar. 

It is ironic that much of the ATF action occurred under President Obama’s watch, said Atty. Meyers. “Eight years later, we’re still being confronted by systemic problems of racism in the criminal justice process and, in general, agencies involved in the criminal justice process. I’m not so sure that that might not be a drag on whatever good will that our president leaves office with in 2017,” he said.

From The Final Call Newspaper

    State Of Emergency - Black skins, White minds and false promises

    By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Sep 20, 2016 - 6:09:26 PM

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    The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan speaks Sept. 18 at Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Photos: Mark 6X

    Farrakhan warns against evil political choices in 2016 and the consequences of practicing White America’s demonic ways

    WASHINGTON—There are two “very evil people” who are the main contenders for the U.S. presidency, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan warned guests attending the Union Temple Baptist Church annual Men’s Day.

    The Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, and Min. Farrakhan’s “brother and companion in struggle” issued a “call to action” in response to a “state of emergency” for men’s day this year, and, as he’s done for more than 39 years, the Muslim leader answered the call.
    Audience applauds message delivered at Union Temple Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

    “The despised, the rejected, the lost that needs to be found; the unloved, the unwanted, the unsaved that need to be saved,” are among the souls to be redeemed, Min. Farrakhan said. “That which was called the irredeemable, needs their redeemer; that which was considered hopeless and lost and beyond ability to save, must be serviced today in the name of Him who is Savior; Who is Redeemer, Who is The Finder of that which was lost.

    “He said ‘I didn’t come to judge you, I came to save you from your sins,’ ” said the Muslim leader. “But then, my teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said, ‘not saving you from your sins, but saving you from the sins of White people that you have learned by your sojourn among them for 460 years.’ “You never were in Africa, what you have become today. Never. Never. You’re not yourself.                     
    Thomas Muhammad, left, and Doug E Fresh at Union Temple Baptist Church. Photo: Mark 6X

    You’re a White person in Black skin,” and therein is the critical choice facing Black people Min. Farrakhan explained in his Sept. 18 address. “That’s why it’s so easy for you to kill your brother, lie on your sister, rape your daughter.

    “It’s easy for you to do those foul things to yourself and one another, because the enemy has made us unto himself. You’re not yourself. You’re the product. You should have it in your coat, on your lapel, ‘Made in America.’                     
    Men line up to hear a special message from the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan delivered Sept. 18 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Mark 6X

    “Don’t tell me you’re the mayor of Washington, or Baltimore, or New York. Don’t tell me you’re the President of the United States of America. To them, you’re still a nigger. They have no respect for you, no matter how high you rise in their world.”
    Just hours earlier, President Barack Obama pleaded with guests attending the 46th annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus that he would consider it a “personal insult” if they did not vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to succeed him as president. “My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Mr. Obama said. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot.”

    But President Obama’s legacy is not to be fairly judged by those who will succeed him, or by those who opposed and condemned him, literally from the day he took office, said Min. Farrakhan. Those same critics of President Obama have continuously referred to him and to First Lady Michelle Obama using “dirty names” bordering on the obscene.

    Today, there are two “very evil people” contending for the White House today, said Min. Farrakhan. “Which one is worse, Lucifer, Satan, or the devil?” Ironically Minister Farrakhan pointed out, “the best woman who’s ever been in that White House is coming out of it in a few months,” and like President Jimmy Carter, history may eventually remember Mr. Obama as a better “former president” than he was when he was the president, and confined by the dictates of his office.

    But for now, Min. Farrakhan warned: “You’ve got no choice.” The politicians have “been promising you. They make a promise and they never fulfill it.” As far as Republican nominee Donald Trump is concerned: “You vote for him he’ll put you on a rocket ship to hell. Hillary’s rocket ship may not have as much octane in it, but she’s going in the same direction. Do you really think she will do any better for you?”

    None of the political leaders on the scene today can intercede with God, who is in command today, said Min. Farrakhan. Conventional politics cannot solve the problems Black people are confronting today because, “God intends to break the bond because you are made in America. God has marked our children to inherit the Promised Land.“Don’t let your children inherit the Promised Land while you go to hell with pharaoh. Don’t sell your soul for a little money,” Minister Farrakhan advised. The political establishment never keeps its promises to suffering people. “Show me the promises they made to the Native people, and tell me did they ever fulfill them? Show me the promises that they made to us, and did they fulfill them?

    “Trump said: ‘You ain’t got nothing to lose.’ He ain’t lying. And when he tells the truth, you’re mad. He said your schools are no good. How do you know the schools are no good? Look at the product that they produce. You ain’t no good for your people!”

    The only way White politicians can intercede or deter the wrath of God and slow down the wrath of God is to give you justice that you deserve, the Minister said.

    A trumpet is being sounded today because this is an emergency time, Min. Farrakhan explained. Our children are the ones that God has marked to inhabit the Promised Land. The only way the elders can make it—except as you become as a child and accept the real gospel.

    “God is telling you, he didn’t come to integrate you. No, brothers and sisters don’t sell your souls for a little money. Be what Christ wants—Christian soldiers, marching. This is the call today. Open the doors, and let the sick and the lame in, and above all pastors, stop running the young away,” said Minister Farrakhan.

    “You Democrats have been in that party a long time. Answer me, what did you get? You got a president. He’s worried about his legacy. You want Hillary to get in to protect your legacy, because Trump said, the minute he gets in, he’s gonna reverse the Affordable Care Act, because that’s your signature achievement.

    “I just want to tell you Mr. President. You’re from Chicago, and so am I. I go out in the street with the people. I visited the worst neighborhoods. I talked to the gangs. While I was out there talking to them, they said: ‘You know Farrakhan, the president ain’t never come. Could you get him to come and look after us?’

    “There’s your legacy Mr. President. It’s in the street with your suffering people, Mr. President, and if you can’t go and see about them, then don’t worry about your legacy, if you didn’t earn your legacy with us.

    “We put you there. You fought the rights of gay people. You fought for the rights of this people and that people. You fight for Israel. Your people are suffering and dying in the streets, and you failed to do what should have been done,” Min. Farrakhan said of President Obama.

    “But it’s never too late. Come on back to the ‘hood, and start organizing like you did, and with your influence all over the world,let’s make a new and better people, and from us, if it’s Allah’s will, we can build a new and better America,” Min. Farrakhan said.

    He’s “a spokesperson for the poor,” wrote @aboog19, “grace and mercy from Allah” wrote @ sisterdonna, and “food for the soul” wrote @nestaplc on Twitter.

    A standing room only church crowd in the sanctuary, an overflow crowd in the lower level, nearly 9,000 watched on the church’s live stream, another 1,000 watched via Student Minister Carlos Muhammad’s Periscope live feed and countless others followed the Minister’s message via social media.

    “I look forward to Mens Day at Union Temple because I know my soul will be fed when I come to hear Rev. Willie Wilson and his special guest Minister Farrakhan. Some might have been offended when he said we were ‘Made in America.’ It’s true. Look at how far we’ve fallen,” Shameeka Anderson told The Final Call.

    “Our men can’t get jobs, our women run the home with children and no man, our dollar leaves our community as soon as we get paid, we are in bad health, we fill the jails and so much more. I could go on and on but you get my point. We are made in America.”

    “I knew I was looking for something. I just wasn’t sure what it was but after hearing Minister Farrakhan I knew the answer as soon as I heard it. I’m so glad I came. He made me want to start my life all over again. He made me want to get right with God,” said David Richardson.

    @billknox thanked Student Minister Carlos Muhammad for the live broadcast on Periscope but as the Minister continued in his presentation @billknox wrote, “He pretty much hates America.” @grassrootsjamil responded by writing, “He hates EVIL.”

    In 1979 when Minister Farrakhan was rebuilding the Nation of Islam and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Rev. Wilson bravely allowed Minister Farrakhan to speak at Union Temple. Even though he lost members in protest, Rev. Wilson has maintained this decades-long relationship and continues to welcome Minister Farrakhan to his church. He has gained new members and a stronger presence in the Black community in his demonstration of Black unity.

    It wasn’t warm wishes for all on social media. @obamasukks wrote on Periscope, “black racists.”
    Sonya wrote on the church’s comment page while watching, “Truth is truth and the words coming out of his mouth is the truth so maybe we should be digesting what he’s saying.” Florinicia Williams wrote, “Thank you for TRUTH which set my Brother Aaron free which in turn set me free mentally, physically and morally. ... Truth teller in all ways understood.”

    Minister Farrakhan invited the audience to hear his message celebrating the 21st Anniversary of the Holy Day of Atonement and the Million Man March. That address will be delivered Oct. 16 in Atlanta, Ga. He plans to offer “the truth of both candidates.”

    (Nisa Islam Muhammad contributed to this report.)

From The Final Call Newspaper

The Final Call takes a look at mass incarceration in America, where the money is and goes and what the future holds for a country that leads the world in locking people up.

Phone calls, slave labor, vending and profits

How mass incarceration still feeds lucrative prison industrial complex in U.S.
A long battle has been waged by prison advocates, inmates, and their loved ones against what they contend is profiteering on the part of phone companies that contract with private prisons.  In some cases, a call out of prison can cost as much as $14 per minute.  Photo:
A long battle has been waged by prison advocates, inmates, and their loved ones against what they contend is profiteering on the part of phone companies that contract with private prisons. In some cases, a call out of prison can cost as much as $14 per minute. Photo:

LOS ANGELES— Prison abolition groups are fighting to cut the tentacles of the prison industrial complex saying that it dehumanizes and exploits inmates largely through private corporations.
Prisoner advocates say the high costs of prisons are fueled by stock trading, prison labor, prison construction, exorbitant phone call fees, and other money made on the backs of the poor.
“The fight to end mass incarceration is immense. This is a country that was founded on a lot of those principles to criminalize and exploit people of color,” said Daniel Carillo, executive director of Enlace.

The alliance of low-wage worker centers, unions, and community organizations in Mexico and in the U.S. organizes for racial and economic justice.

Its National Private Prison Divestment Campaign targets investors in the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the United States. Their private prisons are slated for cuts with a Justice Department Aug. 18 announcement that the federal government would phase out use of private prisons.

Mr. Carillo said the Justice Department’s efforts are a step forward, but companies are scrambling to determine what their next steps are for expanding mass incarceration—and making money.
Enlace has been meeting with groups to push for the closure of immigrant detention centers, most of which privatize, he said.

Phone calls, commissary and price gouging
“Over the last couple of decades, this industry has really been created from nothing,” said Carrie Wilkinson, Prison Phone Justice Director for the Human Rights Defense Center.
In this Aug. 14, 2015 photo, Larry Stephney holds wooden products he helped make while he was an inmate at a privately run prison in Nashville, Tenn.  Stephney says inmates were required to build plaques, birdhouses, dog beds and cornhole games for officials who sold the items through an online business and at a local fl ea market.Photo: AP Wide World Photos
In this Aug. 14, 2015 photo, Larry Stephney holds wooden products he helped make while he was an inmate at a privately run prison in Nashville, Tenn. Stephney says inmates were required to build plaques, birdhouses, dog beds and cornhole games for officials who sold the items through an online business and at a local fl ea market.Photo: AP Wide World Photos

The whole web of prison for profits grew off the prison phone industry, she said.

“Thirty years ago, prisoners picked up the phone and made a collect call to your A long battle has been waged by prison advocates, inmates, and their loved ones against what they contend is profiteering on the part of phone companies that contract with private prisons. In some cases, a call out of prison can cost as much as $14 per minute. Photo: family or their loved ones for support and now there’s been an entire industry created with the business model of a company going to a correctional facility and being granted a monopoly contract in exchange for a kickback paid to the correctional facility based off of gross telephone revenues,” Ms. Wilkinson told The Final Call.

Over time, she said, the government has seen an opportunity for profits through prison phone calls. Prison phone rates have long been based on the amount of kickback, which works backwards, she said.

Instead of offering the best service for the lowest price, prison phone contracts include kickbacks of up to 93.6 percent of gross revenues going back to the institutions, she said.

For every dollar spent, almost 94 cents goes to the Arizona Department of Corrections which has a contract with Century Link, observed Ms. Wilkinson.

“The prison phone industry is a billion dollar industry. The last number I saw regarding kickbacks paid nationwide I believe was 2013 and the number was $460 million paid to correctional facilities in a year,” Ms. Wilkinson told The Final Call.

Those kickbacks were generated solely from prisoners and their families, some of the poorest people in the country, unti the Federal Communications Commission stepped in.

Through the 2011 Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, co-founded by the Human Rights Defense Center, activists won rate caps for interstate calls, effective February 2014.

Rates for collect calls were capped at 25 cents a minute and for 21 cents a minute for debate or prepaid calls, said Ms. Wilkinson. That led to a significant increase in call volume since people could afford to make calls, though the rates are still too high, she said.

She stated, “In 2010, a 15- minute call from the Washington Department of Corrections cost $18.30 as one of the highest in the country, and now that same call costs $1.65.”

Inmates from Oak Glen Fire Camp in Riverside retreat to higher ground May 14, 2014 as they work to control the fire near Oriole Court in Carlsbad.  Photo: MGN Online
Inmates from Oak Glen Fire Camp in Riverside retreat to higher ground May 14, 2014 as they work to control the fire near Oriole Court in Carlsbad. Photo: MGN Online

But companies just took the opportunity to increase in-state call rates after that, she said. And there was also an acceleration in the use of video monitor visits, instead of in-person visits, and money transfer fees to put money on prisoners’ books so they could purchase items from prison commissaries.

The latter presented a dual edged sword with families paying exorbitant fees to transfer funds and prisoners price gouged to buy what should be reasonably priced items, she explained.
With the use of monitors, loved ones must now pay fees to visit with someone who is behind bars as there is a charge to pick up a phone, talk to and see someone on-screen. “What I personally fi nd particularly egregious about the video presentations is that in a number of facilities, the facilities are eliminating in-person visitations altogether, and in some of the contracts I’ve reviewed, the kickbacks paid to the facility is based on volume,” Ms. Wilkinson said.

“I think that we’re now personally affected by mass incarceration. If we don’t have a personal family member who’s incarcerated, we have a friend who has a family member, or we know someone. It’s much more personal to us and we have an opportunity to hear about these things,” she said.

Tax breaks and prison industry
National activists are pushing Congress to eradicate the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks private prison corporations receive under the guise of real estate investments.

According to Bob Sloan, executive director of the Voters Legislative Transparency Project, the problem stems from a last minute settlement brokered in 2012 when the majority Republican Congress threatened to shut down the government over budget debates.

It included an authorization from Congress for federal prison industries to join a program that exempts certified state and local departments of corrections and other eligible entities from normal restrictions on the sale of goods made by prisoners and distributed between states. Typically prison products had to be sold to government or state agencies and sales were limited to the states in which the products were produced.

The Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program lifts some restrictions and permits certifi ed entities to sell such goods to the federal government for more than the previous $10,000 limit.
The program in part was supposed to put inmates in realistic work environments, pay local prevailing wages for similar work, and help inmates gain marketable skills to increase their rehabilitation and employment when released.

But many inmates receive nowhere near prevailing wages, activists argued.

Daniel Carillo
Daniel Carillo

‘Cash cows’ milked by the system?
“It’s really a modern day slavery that causes a burden on the family from something as simple as products in outdated vending machines marked up extremely high, like the cost of an average frozen burrito which is $5-7,” said Ansar Muhammad, a Nation of Islam Western Region Prison Reform minister and co-founder of the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation gang intervention and prevention organization.

“Prisoners are cash cows and have been for many, many years,” he stated. He worked in the prison laundry department when locked down.

‘The fight to end mass incarceration is immense. This is a country that was founded on a lot of those principles to criminalize and exploit people of color.’
–Daniel Carillo, Executive director of Enlace

“I made 15 cents an hour and remember at the end of the month, I was able to get me a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream after that. That was the highlight,” Ansar Muhammad said. “Can you imagine all the inmates that don’t have any family or outside support?” They wound up with nothing.

In 1980, the American Legislative Exchange Council began driving laws benefi tting corporations and privatizing everything associated with prisons, such as inmate bank accounts run by a private bank in Florida, Mr. Sloan told The Final Call.

Every inmate is charged $4 a month, whether money fl ows through his account or not. If he accrues fees over a year and gets $100 all of a sudden, fees are paid right off the top, he explained.

“In 2013, the last count, there were 309 full-time factories operating coast to coast employing over a million inmates and most of those factories are hooked up with these different private companies,” he stated.

Those include potato cultivation, harvesting and distribution by the Idaho Department of Corrections, as well as private medical care by different health care organizations.

“Both Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan Muhammad have told the world that the Black man and woman are the chosen people of God,” said Nation of Islam Prison Reform Minister Abdullah Muhammad. “Minister Farrakhan said that this is a spiritual problem calling for a spiritual solution.”

Citing scripture, he said, it is prophesied that the people of God would be snared in holes and hid in prison houses. “They are for a prey. The snare is the crack cocaine pipeline to finance a war. The prey are the people of God entrapped and entangled in the distribution and sale of the cocaine which results in mass incarceration,” Min. Abdullah Muhammad said.

“Once snared, the lobbyists go to work on the politicians to pass laws that allow the corporations that they represent to prey on the ensnared to feed their treasuries by providing business opportunities to phone companies, clothing companies, food service, personal hygiene products and cheap labor, etc.,” he continued.

Under the National Correctional Industries Association, prisoners make almost everything from apparel, hardware, chemicals, decals and tags and license plates, eyeglasses, fabrics, furniture, lighting, electronics and entertainment, software, shoes, sewing machines and food products.

Prison Policy Initative
“It’s an evil wheel, and in order to stop it, really put a dent in it, we’ve got to get rid of the fodder that they’re using for labor,” Mr. Sloan said.

Reduce incarceration, reduce overcrowded prisons, and get people back on the streets, to their families, and work to not incarcerate people except when they pose serious threats to other humans, he recommended.

“That used to be what it was, a last straw, but it’s moved away from that. Now it’s mandatory minimum sentencing, prison for 10 years. They know you have a shelf life for 10 years, and they’re going to get to utilize them for 10 years,” Mr. Sloan argued.

However, those same people that worked for prisons while incarcerated making chain-link fences for 10 years are rendered unqualified once released.

In this June 15, 2010 file photo, the Idaho Correctional Center is shown south of Boise, Idaho, operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  The Justice Department says it’s phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found the private facilities have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government.  Photo: AP Wide World Photos
In this June 15, 2010 file photo, the Idaho Correctional Center is shown south of Boise, Idaho, operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Justice Department says it’s phasing out its relationships with private prisons after a recent audit found the private facilities have more safety and security problems than ones run by the government. Photo: AP Wide World Photos

“They will not hire them, because number one they’ve got to check the box (saying you were convicted of a crime), and number two, why should I hire you at $15 or $20 an hour when the guy that’s replacing you in that factory behind the prison fence we only have to pay him 35 cents an hour?” asked Mr. Sloan.

The big news for 2016 has been reform in the states, according to Molly Gill, director of federal legislative affairs for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Florida repealed a mandatory minimum 20 year sentence for aggravated assaults. In some cases, she said, people who’d fi red shots in self-defense were getting charged and sentenced 20 years even though no one was injured.

Maryland repealed all of its mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses earlier this year, and Iowa cut its mandatory minimum drug sentences in half and gave people parole eligibility halfway through their minimum term, Ms. Gill said.

“We’ve seen well over 30 states now that have reformed their mandatory sentencing laws in the last 10 years, and crime has continued to go down in these states, so sentencing reform has been a huge success at state level,” Ms. Gill said.

Part of that stems from strong bipartisan support in Congress, she said. She attributed some of the support to age rather than party lines. Some congressional members age 60-65 lean toward those laws and seem reluctant to reevaluate them, while younger ones, under 60, grew up in a very different world, she noted.

“They weren’t part of passing the mandatory minimums in the fi rst place … they’ve seen crime go down, … Also, frankly, probably a lot of them know people who have substance abuse problems and they’ve seen that these long drug sentences probably haven’t done much to stop the use of drugs,” Ms. Gill added.

Dorsey Nunn is with the All of Us or None Prison Advocacy Organization and executive director of the San Franciscobased Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The objective of prison privatization is to make money, not to provide real security, he argued.

“When I look at private prisons, that’s one of those places where you could say clearly on the stock exchange, they’re selling and trading human bodies!… They’re trading Latinos and Black people on the Stock Exchange,” he said.