Prison Writing & Political Will

 By Andrea Jones

As prisoners in California entered the tenth day of statewide hunger strikes staged in opposition to the long-term solitary confinement policies of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), news broke that administrators were countering activism with reprisal.

Confined for up to twenty-three hours per day in cramped, windowless cells called Security Housing Units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay State Prison, the inmates who initiated the protests—which spread to include 30,000 prisoners across two-thirds of state facilities—did so as a plea to abolish indefinite isolation. Although the enduring psychological harm of solitary confinement is well established—the U.N. has called for the prohibition of the practice in excess of fifteen days—many of California’s prisoners have been stuck in solitary for decades.

Rather than consider the demands presented, CDCR cut off access to broadcast news and confiscated some of the legal papers of fourteen Pelican Bay participants, forcing them into administrative segregation—an even more punitive form of isolation, according to a statement from the prisoners.

“Despite this diabolical act on the part of CDCR intended to break our resolve and hasten our deaths,” the statement read, “we remain strong and united! We are 100% committed to our cause and will end our peaceful action when CDCR signs a legally binding agreement meeting our demands.”

Eminently reasonable, these demands include: adequate food for SHU inmates; educational and rehabilitative programming; one phone call per week; and the elimination of “debriefing,” a policy that poses severe safety risks by making release from solitary contingent upon informing on other inmates. “Hunger strikes are the last option for prisoners,” explains Shane Bauer, the journalist whose traumatic confinement in Iran in 2009 compelled him to investigate conditions at Pelican Bay last year. With administrative and legal attempts proving futile, prisoners are risking their health as a final resort.

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Accreditation Scams

By Garry W. Johnson

A reporter visited the websites of the high school’s accreditation agencies, the In­ternational Accrediting Agency for Online Universities and the Universal Council for Online Education Accreditation, and found they provided no address, names of staff, or listing of schools they certify.  Image courtesy

Employees of Belford refused to give straight forward answers when a reporter called and asked why the accrediting agen­cies had such vague websites. When the re­porter mentioned that the agencies weren’t listed in the U.S. Department of Education’s database, the employee respon­ded – correctly, but irrelevantly – that the education department doesn’t accredit schools. Then he hung up. The reporter also called the accrediting agencies twice, but no one answered.

Post-Secondary Education Accreditation

Unlike bogus GED programs, college legit­imacy is a little harder to nail down, espe­cially in the United States. In other nations most colleges and universities are operated by the government, just as the public school system is here. But colleges in the U.S. are private (like diploma mills) or state facilities, and the federal government does not have a body of experts who in­vestigate and approve individual schools. In fact, accreditation in this country is en­tirely a voluntary process. The government does not commission accrediting agencies; they are essentially private firms made up of experts for investigating and deeming worthy schools that are willing to be ac­credited. This lack of central supervision has led to there being good accreditation and bad accreditation.

Take for example an accrediting agency that calls itself the Accrediting Commission for Specialized Colleges. This agency ac­credits, among others, a school named Indi­ana Northern Graduate School. The name sounds impressive, but investigators found the school to be nothing more than a dairy farm in Gas City. The accrediting agency will accredit anyone willing to mail them a check for $110.

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