Sunday, June 19, 2011

Muslim Chaplains Work to Reform

Commentary: Muslim prison chaplains work to reform, not radicalize

The danger of Islamic radicalization inside U.S. prisons “remains real and present,” alleges Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York in his second congressional hearing on the threat of Muslims within America radicalizing. 

It appears to me that Rep. King has never been inside a county jail or prison to meet incarcerated Muslims. If he had been, I suspect that Rep. King would not have made such an outlandish statement.
As a Muslim chaplain, I tend to prisoners of all faiths, not just Islam, and the common theme is that such people are seeking a new beginning through God. 

Clearly lost upon Rep. King is the story of Malcolm X, a fellow New Yorker, who through Islam gave up his criminal ways to become one of this nation’s most honored civil rights activists. 

Prisoners who convert to Islam in jail do so to find a new path, one that is far from the world of hate and violence that is often the cause of their incarceration. 

To suggest that Muslim chaplains are radicalizing prisoners is to betray one’s own ignorance of the institutions of corrections in the United States. Books are screened for content, and chaplains interviewed and monitored. 

But if Rep. King wishes to address incarceration, then let’s do that honestly. It is disgraceful that we, as Americans, place more emphasis on incarceration than on education.   

In the past 20 years, state spending on prisons has grown at six times the rate of spending on higher education. And one in 31 Americans is under some form of corrections control. 

Federal research shows states spend more than $50 billion annually on government-run correction programs. With more than 2 million people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States today, it would be more helpful for Rep. King, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, to focus on issues of judicial and prison reform than on imaginary threats that are in reality thinly veiled attacks against Islam. 

You do your job, Rep. King, and I’ll keep doing mine.

Hasan Hakeem is a Muslim chaplain for Kenosha County Jail and president of the Zion, Ill., chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Kicked to the Curb: A Return to Prison

Civil death
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Civil death (Latin: civiliter mortuus)[1] is a term that refers to the loss of all or almost all civil rights by a person due to a conviction for a felony or due to an act by the government of a country that results in the loss of civil rights. It is usually inflicted on persons convicted of crimes against the state or adults determined by a court to be legally incompetent because of mental disability.[2]
In medieval Europe, felons lost all civil rights upon their conviction. This civil death often led to actual death, since anyone could kill and injure an ex-felon with impunity.[3] In the old German Empire, a person declared civilly dead was called "vogelfrei" ("free as a bird") and could even be killed since they were completely outside the law.[4]
Historically outlawry, that is, declaring a person as an outlaw, was a common form of civil death.[4]
In the US, the disenfranchisement of felons or ex-felons has been called a form of civil death;[5] see also loss of rights due to felony conviction.
A recent study by the Pew Center on the States, a nonprofit public policy research organization, found that 43.3 percent of people released from the nation’s prisons in 2004 were reincarcerated within three years. But many state prison inmates  are released after serving their sentence without any requirement that they check in with authorities to make sure they’re not getting into trouble again. Theoretically, at least, inmates who leave prison under supervision ought to have a much lower recidivism rate than those who do not.

Ex-Convicts and Civil Death

Imagine a corporate executive who’s been convicted of embezzlement. He serves his sentence and some years later, having paid his debt to society, leaves prison a free man. Now he’s an ex-convict, in fact, an ex-felon. Should we allow him to vote? Or has he forfeited his right to participate in American democracy?

Depending on where he lives, he may never vote again. Thirteen states bar ex-felons—permanently—from voting. Thirty-two states disenfranchise them while on parole, twenty-nine while on probation.

Few of us realize that ex-felons so commonly lose their right to vote. Nor are we aware that any felony can trigger what some have called “civil death.” If, for example, a first-time offender pleads guilty to a single drug sale and is placed on probation, he or she can be permanently barred from voting. As Andrew Shapiro, an attorney, notes, “ An eighteen-year-old first-time offender who trades a guilty plea for a non-prison sentence may unwittingly sacrifice forever his right to vote.”

The people most affected by these laws, as you might suspect, are not corporate executives. They are disproportionately black men. Thirteen percent of African-American men—1.4 million people—are permanently disenfranchised because they are in prison, on parole or probation, or are ex-felons.

The impact of such widespread disenfranchisement on our elections is staggering. Florida, for example, denies the vote to ex-felons who have fully served their sentence. According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Florida law prevented more than four hundred thousand ex-felons from voting in the November election. Among African-Americans, the impact was dramatic. Approximately one-third of Florida’s black men—some two hundred thousand residents—were legally prohibited from casting a vote. Human Rights Watch concludes: “Assuming the voting pattern of black ex-felons would have been similar to the vote by black residents in Florida generally, the inability of these ex-offenders to vote had a significant impact on the number voting for Vice President Gore.”

In other words, absent these disenfranchisement laws, Gore would now be president.

This nation began with a stingy view of who was virtuous enough to cast a vote in elections. In fact, the framers limited this right to free white men who owned property. But ever since, suffrage has been extended to those who were initially excluded: people without property, women, African-Americans, and people who are not literate.

The one group still excluded is convicted felons. In part, this is a legacy of the South’s successful post-Reconstruction effort to prevent freed slaves from voting. Between l890 and 1910, southern states crafted their criminal disenfranchisement laws, along with other voting qualifications, with the goal of preventing African-Americans from voting. In 1901, for example, Alabama lawmakers inserted a provision in the state constitution that disenfranchised any person guilty of the felonious crime of “moral turpitude.” (In the South, that could mean just staring at a white woman.) Nor did the legislators even bother to hide their goal, which they openly declared was to establish and preserve white supremacy.

We are the heirs of that racist legacy. In most democratic countries, ex-felons are expected to re-enter society as citizens newly endowed with the rights and responsibilities they lost as legal outcasts. “These people have paid their debt to society,” says Jamie Fellner, associate counsel at Human Rights Watch. “No other country in the world takes away the right to vote for life.”

But in America, our legacy of slavery and Reconstruction still affects so many aspects of our democratic process—from the electoral college to poorly working voting machines in black districts. The bright side of Election 2000, however, is that it has ignited a spirited reconsideration of many of the arcane practices that shape our electoral process. So far, though, the issue of how many people are disenfranchised because of their criminal pasts has not been highly publicized.

I believe that an individual who is imprisoned for a felony should give up many civil rights, including that of suffrage. But afterward? If the point of imprisonment is rehabilitation, how can we conclude that people should suffer civil death after they have been released from prison? When a person has done time, he or she should be able to vote again, not after finishing parole, but upon leaving the prison grounds.

Because the disenfranchisement of ex-felons disproportionately affects African-American men, many of whom are in prison for drug felonies, many blacks are rightfully angry that disenfranchisement laws rob them of their participation in the voting process. “Fifty years after the beginnings of the civil rights movement, it is tragic that every day more black citizens lose their voting rights,” says Marc Mauer, assistant director of the Washington D.C.-based Sentencing Project. “This is not just a criminal justice issue, but one of basic democracy.”

Joe Loya, a disenfranchised ex-felon, expresses this sentiment even more eloquently: “Without a vote, a voice, I am a ghost inhabiting a citizen’s space. I want to walk calmly into a polling place with other citizens, to carry my placid ballot into the booth, check off my choices, then drop my conscience in the common box.”

Listen to his words. They just may be the battle cry for the next struggle for suffrage.

Ruth Rosen, who teaches history at the University of California, Davis, and is an editorial writer at the San Francisco Chronicle.

I Don't Know How to Live Out There

Our challenge as Americans is what do we do about the thousands of men and women incarcerated in prisons? When they are relased how do we reintegrate them into society? Listen to what this inmate is saying to the listener.  It is a cry for help.  How do we help him to be a productive and better citizen in contemporary society, or should we just keep him locked up in an enviroment he has come to understand and survive in since he was a teenager?

His admission is a reality for men and women throughout our nation, who have no hope for a sustainable lifestyle in society, especially if they are on probation or parole conditions. They are subject to a brief freedom if they fail to adhere to the rules and regulations on "paper." 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Prison Reform is the real deal in USA

Michigan Rep. Clarke hits it right on the head. The problem is not Islam in prisons. It's the judicial system and the prison industrial complex that continues to suck the life out of our communities.  Why not focus on the hatred that's created by inequality and injustice in the judicial system.  What is needed is real justice -- Aboslute Justice For All Americans, regardless of creed, color, culture or race.

Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) used his question period to deliver an impassioned address about the broader problem of prison reform, at times holding back tears as he discussed how the issue impacted his own life.
"We talk about political correctness, you know what pisses me off? I'm a damned member of Congress here and my friends have rotted in prison and those that have gotten out, they've never been the same again," he said. "Some of you who are Tea Party members, this is the waste we got to stop. We're spending too much money incarcerating young men, young black men, whose lives can be saved. It's not about Islam, it's abut the sentencing policy, it's about this prison system. We got to change that."

He added that based on his own discussions with prisoners who converted to Islam, inmates did so largely to gain protection from dangerous gangs and to make a clean break from their criminal past, not to engage in any kind of radical behavior.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Media Neglects Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

Posted by Mollie

I love all most of our reader submissions, but the other day we received one that sounded pretty surprising. It comes from Hasan Hakeem, a member of the Ahmadiyya Community and the Chaplain of the Kenosha County Jail in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I’ll go head and just quote it:
This week after spending almost 7 months at a refugee prison in central Bangkok, 96 Ahmadiyya refugees from Pakistan were released by Thai authorities, a landmark development in a country that does not formally recognize refugees despite the fact that it is currently coming to the end of its tenure as president of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The released Ahmadiyya are members of a minority Muslim group that is oppressed in Pakistan, where they are not recognized as Muslims and are often victims of sectarian violence. US Media completely ignored the story despite the fact that members of the American Ahmadiyya Community has actively fought for and provided resources for the release of the detainees.
I certainly hadn’t heard word one about this story. Had you? I did a quick Google search and not only do I not see any American media coverage of the time spent in detainment, the U.S. media isn’t even covering the release. If we can’t be bothered to cover stories such as this, which tell us not only about a dire religious situation but a political one as well, this is a problem.

Precisely the only story I found in the U.S. media came from A photo blog posting included several pictures of detainees being released, followed by this blurb:
Ninety-six people, most of whom were arrested in December, will be released from a Bangkok detention centre on Monday, an immigration officer said.
The detained group are from Pakistan’s Ahmadi Muslim community, who suffer violence and persecution in their home country, according to the Thai Committee for Refugees, which helped organise the release.
I’m glad that covered the release, but wow do we need much more information. We’ve seen other stories on the Ahmadiyya, but a dramatic incident such as this needs context and analysis and much more insight and background.

Just from the reader submission alone, we see several angles that could be pursued.

Murder in the Name of Allah

Comment: It's only the Ahmadies who strugle to improve the image of Islam where as the rest of the Muslims do nothing but disgrace Islam with their violence, foul language and disgracefull interpretation of Islam.