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Sylvia Clute

What if law and justice fostered transformation?
       How can we get there?


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Is it Possible to be Free in the Age of Terrormism?

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 5:25 PM

News reports about the disintegration of Iraq are heightening our fear of terrorism. There are people who desire to harm the U.S. and its citizens. In the name of national security, our own government keeps tightening security, imposing more controls and secretly investigating what previously was private.


As our fear grows, our freedoms are melting away and we seem unable to put a stop to it. Is it possible to live in an age of terrorism and be free?


That depends on whether or not we are able to realize the power we have to create the world we experience. At the moment, we are deeply immersed in the dualistic lens of “us versus them” and “good versus evil.” Enemies appear everywhere, attacking this way and that, forcing us to constantly plan our counterattacks, further diminishing our freedom. We are living into the world we are creating.


In this dualistic worldview, we believe enemies and attacks are inevitable. Why is this happening to me? is a question frequently asked when living in this fearful state of mind. Seeing ourselves as slaves to our environment and powerless over what happens, we are always in reactive mode.


When this is how we see the world, there are no solutions to the problem of terrorism or our loss of our freedom. This permits our own government to use our fear against us.


Remember the color codes for the level of national security risk used during the last Bush administration, codes that were sometimes used to manipulate us instead of protect us? Who would have thought when the attacks on 9-11 occurred that it would be seized as the opportunity to build the largest spy agency in history, an agency that now spies on U.S. citizens under a Democratic president who promised us change?


Consumed with fear, we still place our faith in the politicians who condemn our enemies and affirm our nation’s innocence, even though such assertions are full of inconsistencies. We live by duality’s double standard of morality so we can harm “the other” and claim it is moral, while not applying the same standard to harm done by those whom we call terrorists.


“Our killing is moral, theirs is not,” we declare, “because they make us do it.” But our attacks are met with counterattacks by those who feel they are innocent and it is we who are to be condemned. In this regard, they are the mirror reflection of us.


This enslaved state persists because neither side sees that these circumstances are the result of their own free will, or that they are alike in their fear and hatred. Wedded to the illusion of separation, we become our own slave masters, not seeing that freedom is always accessible because it is a choice.


We can remain mired in duality, or we can instead choose the reality of Oneness. Oneness is already ours, for it is inherent within us; our task is simply to claim it as our own.


Through the lens of Oneness, it is clear that to harm another is to harm oneself. This does not mean the tit-for-tat harm that duality sanctions, but rather is reflected, for example, in the deteriorating effect the emotion of hate has on the mind and body of the person experiencing the hate, or in the slave master’s loss of freedom to maintain the enslaved.


It is reflected in the diminished investment in our children as we increase our investment in weapons of mass destruction. It is also found in the loss of freedom that those who live in fear of others impose on themselves.


Oneness is a system with no losers; it is understood that no one wins until everyone does. If we want to be free, it is in our interest that others be free. If we want to be safe, our goal must be to make others safe. What makes them safe, be it nuclear disarmament, safe drinking water, or low crime rates, makes us safe. We achieve enlightened mutuality in seeing our interests aligned with the interests of others.


We can begin to strengthen our own freedom by adopting one standard of morality for us and everyone else, namely, harm to anyone, by anyone, is immoral. As this moral standard reduces the level of harm in our culture, everyone is safer and more secure.


As this single standard of morality impacts our foreign policy, there will be fewer people who want to harm the U.S. As our example is followed and it spreads to other nations, the world will become a safer place for everyone.


Even a small doubt about the sanity of duality is a step toward Oneness and the freedom it brings. As the momentum builds, someday we will be able to declare, “We are free at last,” and it will be true.


The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Why?

Posted on June 9, 2014 at 6:55 PM

The school-to-prison pipeline is a tragic reality for far too many of our youth. How did it come to this?

Two policies, “zero tolerance” school discipline and high-stakes testing, are largely responsible for this development. They share the same punitive ideological roots, one punishing student misconduct, the other punishing underperforming students and teachers.


According to an article by the Advancement Project, together they cause further damage to many communities that are already struggling by causing serious damage to the relationships between schools and the communities they serve throughout the country. (Search TEST, PUNISH, AND PUSH OUT: How “Zero Tolerance” and High–Stakes Testing Funnel Youth Into the School-to-Prison Pipeline.)


Students who are struggling need support. Instead, their opportunities to fulfill their potential and achieve their goals are hampered. These two misguided policies, in combination, have turned schools into hostile environments for many of our youth, pushing large numbers of students out of school and into the juvenile and criminal court systems. For far too many of our youth, courts are the portals to jails and prisons.


According to the article, high-stakes testing was another way to sell “getting tough” as a political message that had proved so successful for politicians. (See my prior blog, Time to "Get Tough" on the Politicians.) Ever more punitive school disciplinary policies that began in the 1980s led to a greater police and security presence in schools, along with a spike in suspensions and expulsions.This had the effect of blurring the line between the education and criminal justice systems.


The article compares the criminal law’s War on Drugs to the excessively punitive approach taken toward what became called “failing schools.” Following the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk,” there was a push for greater school accountability using achievement on standardized tests as the measure. As the approach to discipline became progressively punitive and popular, so did the approach to “failing schools,” this time making both students and educators the targets.


The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that passed in 2002 grew out of the growing punitive mentality toward schools, and led to a wave of inflexible test-based accountability. Since its passage, the use of highstakes tests has turned many schools into “test-prep factories” in which the curricula have been contorted into mindless drilling, rote memorization and “teaching to the test.”


The promoters and defenders of these policies have used the same, undeniably persuasive arguments grounded in principles of accountability and personal responsibility that many Americans associate with success in other fields, such as business. Indeed, the driving ideology behind both high-stakes testing and zero tolerance comes right out of the corporate playbook: solve problems and achieve productivity through rigorous competition, uncompromising discipline, constant assessment, performance-inducing incentives, and the elimination of low performers.

Quality education has fallen prey to this movement, making it more difficult to engage students, motivate teachers and sustain learning. This get-tough approach to accountability turns students off to learning and turns teachers off to teaching.


Opportunities for students who do not do well on these tests are increasingly restricted. Nonetheless, the political appeal of the punitive messages relating to discipline and accountability has so far won out over the mounting evidence of the damage being caused by both zero tolerance and high-stakes testing.


Both zero tolerance and high-stakes testing are poor excuses for meaningful education reform. They do, however, make the introduction of the whole-school unitive justice approach even more compelling as a possible means of changing school culture and achieving positive results. It’s time for the policy makers to change course.


Time to "Get Tough" on the Politicians

Posted on June 9, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Mid-term elections are coming up and a tidal wave of campaign ads is already swamping us. We now have enough data to know that voting for candidates who promise to get tough on crime is a big mistake. That’s political jingoism used to play on our fears, not because it is good public policy, but because it’s good for getting themselves elected.

For over forty years U.S. politicians have used the get-tough punitive approach to crime to convert complex problems into simple slogans. What they don’t tell us is that these policies have little effect on the rate of violent crime, because they are primarily locking up nonviolent offenders. By the 1990s that was clear.

Between 1980 and 1993, nonviolent offenders accounted for eighty-four percent of the growth in state and federal prison populations.  Nonetheless, politicians of both parties continue to run on a get tough on crime platform because it works. How did we get caught in this trap?

From 1950 to 1960, the number of televisions in U.S. homes grewfrom nineteen million to forty-seven million. As television took over as our main entertainment and source of information, the media, politicians, and pollsters became more savvy about how to use feelings, images, and thirty-second sound bites to shape how Americans vote. They discovered that our fear of crime is easily manipulated.

Richard Nixon was the first to combine television ads with a promise to get tough on crime, but others soon followed. Within a decade, the incarceration rate nationwide began to move upward, then the floods gates opened.

In the 1980s, politicians began to see thirty-second soundbites about crime as essential campaign tools. They crafted snappy messages, like “the war on drugs,” “abolish parole,” “truth in sentencing,” “three strikes, you’re out,” “mandatory minimums,” “zero tolerance,” and “try juveniles as adults.” These clever sound bites were translated into ever more punitive laws that have deeply impacted the system.

We have been on an incarceration binge ever since.  Getting tough on crime has become a crusade, used even when crime rates are falling.

Candidates who object to this wasteful path and propose better answers are labeled “soft on crime.” In an environment of vengeance at any cost, it makes them an easy target. While tough on crime is an easy sell, the assertion that this excessively punitive approach is good public policy is refuted by a stream of reports, studies, books, and documentaries that have been warning us of an impending crisis for a long time.

Dr. Karl Menninger wrote The Crime of Punishment in 1966, even before the U.S.incarceration binge began. He tells us about two disturbed young men who had pointlessly killed a younger friend. In a compromise, life sentences were imposed instead of death. While incarcerated, one was killed by a fellow prisoner.

After the other man spent many years in prison, a number of people helped him secure parole. He worked in a hospital laboratory until he was fifty; then he went to college. After graduation, he served for four years as research associate and project director in the Department of Health.

Menninger asks, as a society, was this the right decision, or “. . . should we have held to the ancient, savage ritual of confinement and punishment, and continued his slow suffocation at public expense?” (The Crime of Punishment, 251–252)

So far, our society has favored the ancient, savage ritualof punitive justice for which we all pay a price. We are offered forced compliance, at the expense of meaningful, transformative change. We have acquiesced as the politicians continue to write the laws that sustain this failed policy, blind to its excessive costs.

It is time to get tough on politicians who promise to get tough on crime by getting rid of them. The November elections can be the beginning of a new era--being smart on crime, not destructively tough.


This is a good TedX talk by Melanie Snyder, called Breaking Out of Prison Thinking. She describes the magnitude of the mass incarceration problem: