From Jihad to Jewelry Making: Inside Nigeria’s Secret Prison for Former Boko Haram Fighters – By DREW HINSHAW And PATRICK MCGROARTY Updated Sept. 14, 2015 5:15 p.m. ET

Government offers ex-militants rehabilitation at prison complex, while also aiding women they traumatized

Fatima Bukar, in white, took part in an Arabic lesson at a secret government camp in Nigeria on Aug. 21. Boko Haram held Ms. Bukar and her daughter hostage in a forest clearing for nearly five months.

Fatima Bukar, in white, took part in an Arabic lesson at a secret government camp in Nigeria on Aug. 21. Boko Haram held Ms. Bukar and her daughter hostage in a forest clearing for nearly five months. Photo: Patrick McGroarty/The Wall Street Journal


Usman Balami once commanded hundreds of Boko Haram jihadists in attacks on police stations and banks. Now serving time at a prison complex in northern Nigeria, he says he is a changed man.

“In the past, I would have loved to die as a martyr,” said the 34-year-old, after changing out of a yellow goaltender’s jersey following a morning soccer match. In a nearby room, a group of former insurgents strung together beaded necklaces in a jewelry-making class.

About 100 miles away in another government facility, Fatima Bukar prayed that she can move on as well. Each day at midnight, the hour in which she believes God is listening most intently, she rises in the hostel where soldiers are keeping watch over hundreds of women rescued from Boko Haram. The group held Ms. Bukar and her daughter hostage in a forest clearing for nearly five months.

“I pray that Allah can turn them back into good people,” said the 27-year-old. “If not, Allah should destroy them.”

Boko Haram has become Nigeria’s collective trauma. The insurgency has swept thousands of boys and men into its ranks, often at gunpoint. It has snatched several thousand more girls and women, many of them raped nightly for months.

Continued fighting has left more than 25,000 people dead and more than one million people without homes, Ms. Bukar among them.


Now, in these two high-walled camps, survivors from both sides of the conflict are coming to terms with the scars of the six-year insurgency that has redefined their lives.

It is the start of a long reckoning for Nigeria.

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A photographer went into an El Salvador prison so dangerous that even the guards stay outside

The Mara Salvatrucha gang are so feared in El Salvador, with a reputation for merciless revenge and cruel retribution, that they’ve been allowed to run their own prison.

Source: A photographer went into an El Salvador prison so dangerous that even the guards stay outside

The simple truth about why mass incarceration happened – Updated by German Lopez on August 30, 2015, 10:00 a.m. ET

How could US politicians possibly think it was a good idea to incarcerate millions of Americans starting in the 1980s, creating the system of mass incarceration we have today?

It’s a question that gets tossed around a lot nowadays, with varied answers — from claims it was an attempt to control the population to arguments that private prisons created a profit motive for locking up millions of Americans.

But there’s a much simpler explanation: The public wanted mass incarceration.

Chart of percent of Americans who said crime is "the most important problem."

It’s easy to forget now, but the politics of crime were huge in the 1990s. According to data from Gallup, never before or after the nineties have so many Americans said that crime is the most important problem facing the country today.

Americans had a very good reason for these concerns. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, crime was unusually high. The country was still coming off what was perceived as a crack cocaine epidemic, in which the drug ran rampant across urban streets and fueled deadly gang violence. So Americans, by and large, demanded their lawmakers do something — and politicians reacted with mass incarceration and other tough-on-crime policies.

It’s very easy in hindsight to consider this an overreaction — now that we know crime began its decades-long decline in the early 1990s, and now that researchhas shown that mass incarceration only partly contributed to this decline.

But people didn’t know that at the time. They didn’t know crime was about to begin its long-term drop, and the research on mass incarceration was far from conclusive.

Politicians thought crime would get worse, not better

In fact, there were warnings at the time that things were on the verge of getting worse. One prominent concern in the 1990s — based on what turned out to be very bad social science research — suggested that there was an incoming epidemic of superpredators, violent youth who would rob and kill people. This great video, from the New York Times, captures the era well:

In this context, it was expected that all politicians — liberal and conservative — take a tough stance on crime. That’s partly why liberals like Hillary ClintonJoe Biden, and Bernie Sanders supported the 1994 crime law that contributed to mass incarceration. It’s why dueling candidates for governor in the liberal state of New York campaigned on who could be tougher on crime. And it’s why practically every state passed tough-on-crime policies throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

More than two decades later, criminal justice reform is all the rage. It’s an expectation for Democratic presidential candidates to have a progressive criminal justice platform. So the same politicians who caused this problem are being asked to undo what they did in the past. And they face a common question: How can they be expected to solve a problem that they helped cause?

Popular demand for tough-on-crime laws in the past doesn’t in any way excuse the devastation lawmakers inflicted on millions of people through mass incarceration and other policies. But based on voters’ concerns in the 1990s, if a politician didn’t contribute to the problem back then, he or she may not be prominent enough to run for president today. That’s how America ended up with mass incarceration — and the seemingly contradictory Democratic presidential candidates for 2016.

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4 ways John Oliver nails America’s disastrous War on Drugs – TONY NEWMAN, ALTERNET THURSDAY, AUG 6, 2015 02:00 AM PDT

4 ways John Oliver nails America's disastrous War on Drugs

For some years now, Comedy Central and HBO have played a huge role in educating people about some of the most important issues of the day. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Larry Willmore and John Oliver are all skillful at both educating and entertaining us. They are so impactful that presidential candidates and others running our country make it a priority to go on their shows.

Oliver, with his extensive 15-minute segments on his spinoff show on HBO, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, digs deeper into issues than most traditional news channels. One issue that Oliver has taken the lead on is ridiculing and slamming our country’s disastrous war on drugs. Oliver hits the drug war from all angles. Here are four excellent segments that show Oliver is becoming one of the most influential voices in our country to say loud and clear: No More Drug War.

Oliver Slams Mandatory Minimums and Mass Incarceration

Just last week, Oliver piggybacked off the news of President Obama’s 46 commutations and pivoted to our country’s insane mandatory minimums and their role in making the US the world leader in incarcerating its people.

Oliver Blasts the U.S. Bail System for Locking up Poor People Regardless of Guilt

Oliver recently took on the U.S. bail system pointing out that it has increasingly become a way to lock up the poor, regardless of guilt. Oliver referenced a report by the Drug Policy Alliance that found nearly 40 percent of the jail population in New Jersey is held solely because they don’t have the money for bail, which can be a little as a few thousand dollars. The average length of time people wait in jail is 10 months.  It won’t surprise you that the vast majority of those locked up are poor people of color.


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Pressure Mounts For Obama To Ban The Box – BY ALAN PYKE JUL 31, 2015 10:10AM


CREDIT: ALAN PYKE/THINKPROGRESS Marchers seeking reform of hiring protections for former convicts near the White House on Thursday

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Glenn Martin answered 50 different job postings in his first 30 days out from a six-year stint in prison. “Almost every single one turned me down right away, and the one or two that did offer me a job within hours rescinded that job offer,” he told a crowd gathered outside the White House Thursday morning.

But within seven years, Martin had risen to a Senior Vice-President job at the high-powered Fortune Society. He launched his own organization late last year and is on track to provide leadership training and individually tailored organizing training to 220 former corrections inmates by the end of this calendar year.

Despite his success, Martin still faces challenges since leaving prison. “When I got turned down 50 times for jobs, first of all your self-esteem goes down the drain,” he said. “This is a country where so much of your life is tied to your employment, your health care, your identity.”

Martin, now the founder and president of Just Leadership USA, was at the White House Thursday with a very simple message: “Ban the Box.”

If you’ve ever applied for a job, you’ve probably seen the box. Hiring forms commonly require applicants to indicate if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. That little check-box produces some grand societal failures: An estimated 60 to 75 percent of Americans released from prison cannot find work throughout their first year back home.

The idea behind the slogan isn’t to forbid hiring managers from ever asking about an applicant’s past. It’s to ditch the up-front ask on an initial application form, the little box that makes it so easy to chuck people into the trash without actually weighing their qualifications and suitability for the job.

That box effectively bars the roughly 70 million Americans with an incarceration record from finding employment after serving their time, undermining rehabilitation and driving up recidivism. Given the racist disparities of the American criminal justice and prison systems, the economic effects of the box fall heaviest on black people – and not just the ones who did time.

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Obama: $80 billion spent on incarceration could eliminate tuition at public universities – Updated by German Lopez on July 14, 2015, 9:53 p.m. ET

Mass incarceration costs the US more than $80 billion in a year. That’s how much corrections expenditures cost the US — mostly state and local governments — in 2010, according to the Hamilton Project.

In a tweet-storm following his speech at the NAACP’s 2015 national convention, President Barack Obama provided a different way to look at that cost by explaining what that $80 billion could go to:

America is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

America keeps more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

In 1980, there were 500,000 people in American jails. Today, there are 2.2 million. Many belong. But too many are nonviolent offenders.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

The $80 billion we spend each year to keep people incarcerated could pay for universal pre-K for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

The $80 billion we spend each year on incarcerations could double the salary of every high school teacher in America.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

We could eliminate tuition at every public college and university in America with the $80 billion we spend each year on incarcerations.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

Mass incarceration doesn’t work. Let’s build communities that give kids a shot at success and prisons that prepare people for a 2nd chance.

— President Obama (@POTUS) July 14, 2015

As Obama noted, some people will always need to be in prison, and the $80 billion includes the cost of probation and parole, so that full sum isn’t going to be freed up even through really extensive criminal justice reform. But by directly comparing incarceration with other expenditures, Obama is making a point many criminal justice experts now agree with: Mass incarceration reached the point of diminishing returns by the 1990s — there are only so many serious criminals out there, and by then the people getting put in prison weren’t people who’d be committing crime after crime on the street. So it would be better for the US to spend money on other measures, some of which could even do a better job at fighting crime.

Jon Stewart Basks in the Awesomeness of Donald Trump’s Crazy Media Blitz – Published on Jun 23, 2015

Jon Stewart was really worried tonight that Donald Trump would disappoint him by not actually filing to run for president, but was relieved that it’s serious and he can keep ingesting the crazy.

Stewart has made it clear Trump running for president is a godsend to his final few weeks on the show, and tonight he mercilessly mocked “military genius” Trump for his totally legit plans to fix the Middle East.

“What’s the harm,” Stewart asked, “of riding this crazy train as long as it can take us?”

Well, Trump’s polling well in New Hampshire, so…

Columbia becomes first U.S. university to divest from prisons – By Wilfred Chan, CNN Updated 9:26 AM ET, Wed June 24, 2015

Members of Columbia Prison Divest hold protest signs at a University Senate meeting on April 2, 2015.

Members of Columbia Prison Divest hold protest signs at a University Senate meeting on April 2, 2015.

(CNN)Columbia University has become the first college in the United States to divest from private prison companies, following a student activist campaign.

The decision means the Ivy League school — which boasts a roughly $9 billion endowment — will sell its estimated 220,000 shares in G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, as well its shares in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United states.

The campaign began in early 2014, when a small group of Columbia students discovered the school was investing in the two firms, which run prisons, detention centers, and militarized borders.

The group, called Columbia Prison Divest, launched protests and meetings with administrators, arguing it was wrong for the elite school to invest in a “racist, violent system.”

“The private prison model is hinged on maximizing incarceration to generate profit — they’re incentivized by convicting, sentencing, and keeping people in prison for longer and longer times,” Dunni Oduyemi, a 20-year-old organizer, told CNN.

“We don’t think about how the privileges and resources students get access to are premised upon violence done to people by virtue of their race, class, or citizenship status.”

In an emailed statement, a Columbia spokesperson said the university’s trustees had decided to divest from private prison companies and would refrain from investing in such companies again.

“This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum,” the statement said. “The decision follows … thoughtful analysis and deliberation by our faculty, students, and alumni.”

The spokesperson would not confirm how much Columbia had invested in the two companies.

In 2007, Farallon, a company managing part of Yale University’s endowment, also divested from CCA after a student campaign, though it did not rule out future investment in prison stock.

History of controversy

Oduyemi said activists targeted CCA for its “horrific” human rights record. A 2014 ACLU investigation found abuse and neglect in CCA-run prisons where guards used “extreme isolation arbitrarily and abusively,” exposed prisoners to contaminated water, and delayed medical care of inmates, causing “needless suffering.”


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On The Line: Danny Gold Discusses Chicago’s Mental Health Crisis – Vice News Published on Apr 13, 2015

Danny Gold joined ‘On the Line’ to discuss his new piece on America’s mental health care crisis, “Institutionalized: Mental Health Behind Bars” –

America’s relationship with its mentally ill population continues to suffer as a result of inadequacies in the country’s mental health care system.

For the mentally ill in Chicago, the effects of this inadequacy are felt on a magnified scale, as budget cuts and a lack of community-based mental health resources have left these individuals with minimal support. More often than not, this means being repeatedly swept up into the criminal justice system for low-level, non-violent crimes

Danny Gold traveled to Chicago for VICE News, to speak with community members on Chicago’s south side, and get a first-hand look inside Cook County Jail.

VICE News and On The Line want to hear from you! Let us know your questions on Twitter with the hashtag #ontheline, or send us a video message on Skype.