Sasha Abramsky

Sasha Abramsky is a Sacramento-based freelance journalist and senior fellow at Demos. He is the author of five books, including Breadline USA and Inside Obama's Brain.

Recent Articles

Small-Town Blues

On April 17, about 50 residents of Encinal, Texas, drove across the railway tracks to the Veterans' Hall community center to debate whether the impoverished town should add a large, privately run U.S. Marshals Service prison to its meager list of possessions. Specifically, they discussed an environmental assessment commissioned by prison proponents to reassure locals that the prison wouldn't overwhelm the water and sewage systems, kill off the endangered wildlife and violate the peaceful, starry nights. But the real story had played itself out over the previous three years -- and it wasn't so much about environmental malaise as about shady deals, political horse-trading, and a deeply unsavory power grab by a series of private companies and middlemen looking to make a quick buck from the economic misery of Encinal -- a town of 600 people 40 miles north of Laredo -- and surrounding La Salle County. It's a salient warning of the problems this kind of business generates, as Texas now...

Return of the Madhouse

L ast summer, some 600 inmates in the notorious supermaximum-security unit at California's Pelican Bay State Prison stopped eating. They were protesting the conditions in which the state says it must hold its most difficult prisoners: locked up for 23 hours out of every 24 in a barren concrete cell measuring 7 1/2 by 11 feet. One wall of these cells is perforated steel; inmates can squint out through the holes, but there's nothing to see outside either. In Pelican Bay's supermax unit, as in most supermax prisons around the country, the cells are arranged in lines radiating out like spokes from a control hub, so that no prisoner can see another human being--except for those who are double-bunked. Last year, the average population of the Pelican Bay supermax unit was 1,200 inmates, and on average, 288 men shared their tiny space with a "cellie." Since 1995, 12 double-bunked prisoners in the Pelican Bay supermax unit have been murdered by their cell mates. But near-total isolation is the...

Did Roe v. Wade Abort Crime?

C rime is down across America. The nation's crime rate has been dropping for the best part of a decade now, and everyone is keen to take the credit. New York's Mayor Rudy Giuliani claims that zero-tolerance policing is responsible; former California Governor Pete Wilson credits three-strikes-and-you're-out laws; President Bill Clinton says gun control and federal funding for prison construction and new police officers have done their part. Likely as not, they're all partly right. But what if it turns out that other factors are actually having far more influence on the crime rate than these get-tough policies? Why lock up two million people--more than half of them nonviolent offenders--at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a year and the disruption of untold millions of lives, if the real explanations for the drop in crime lie elsewhere? Last summer word began circulating, first in the academic community and then in the media, that two professors, John Donohue and Steven Levitt, had...

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