[Ppnews] "Life, Health Care, Prisons & Cutting Costs" by Sundiata Acoli

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 8 12:25:51 EDT 2009


Life, health care, prisons and cutting costs

By Sundiata Acoli
Health care costs are soaring and have become 
unaffordable for many families. It is no 
different for the Prison Industrial Complex 
(PIC), except they’re required by law to provide medical care to their wards.

Although much of prison health care is 
inadequate, many of its youthful captives can at 
least squeak by on what’s presently provided. Not 
so for those over 50 years of age, most of whom 
are beset by the common old age infirmities: high 
blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, clogged 
arteries, heart disease, cancer and the need for body part replacements.

California has the largest prison population in 
the U.S. plus the highest health care costs and 
spends $98,000 to $138,000 per year for each 
prisoner over 50. (See “Study Finds Record 
Numbers of Inmates Serving Life” by Solomon 
Moore, New York Times, July 2009, page A20.) An 
Aug. 11, 2009, New York Times editorial noted 
that just days before a Chino, California, prison 
riot, a three-judge panel ordered the state to 
reduce its 150,000-plus prison population by 
about 40,000 in the next two years as the only 
way to bring its prison health care system up to constitutional standards.

The editorial concluded: “The riot at Chino and 
the federal court’s ruling contain the same 
message for states everywhere: They must come up 
with a smart way to reduce prison populations and they must do it quickly.”

More prisoners today are serving life sentences 
than ever before. They are called “Lifers,” their 
numbers have quadrupled since 1984 to over 
140,000 and they’ve become a major driving force 
behind the explosion of health care costs in 
prisons. Many Lifers are over 50 and most are 
parole eligible, while the remainder are doing life without parole (LWOP.)

One reason for the ballooning of life sentences 
is the Three Strikes You’re Out mandatory 
minimums, 100 to 1 ratio of crack to powder 
cocaine sentences, children sentenced to LWOP – 
in clear violation of international law – and 
other harsh edicts of the law and order climate of the last several decades.

The other reason for the balloon is the 
unrectified racial residue that has accompanied 
America’s justice system since antebellum days. 
Two thirds of prisoners serving life sentences 
are Latino and Black and nearly half of those 
serving life are Black. In 13 states Blacks make 
up 60 percent of the Lifers. In New York state, 
only 17 percent of prisoners serving life are White.

Many Lifers over 50 have already done 20, even 30 
years or more and some are 60, even 70 years old 
and more. Crime has been decreasing for the last 
decade or two and ALL indicators show that 
elderly prisoners, once released, rarely commit 
another crime and are least likely to return to prison.

So it is self-evident that the smartest and 
quickest way to begin reducing prison health care 
costs and prison overcrowding is to release aged 
and infirmed Lifers and LWOPs whose age plus 
years served equal a fixed number – say 70 years, 
for example – which could be further reduced in 
proportion to the seriousness of the Lifer’s illness.

Such a release process would not only be smart 
but ethical and prisoners’ families, loved ones 
and the public would be even wiser to urge their 
Congress member to put such a prison cost cutting bill into effect immediately.
About Sundiata

Sundiata Acoli is a 72-year-old prisoner at FCI 
Otisville, New York, who is sentenced to life 
with the possibility of parole, afflicted with 
common old age infirmities and has been 
imprisoned 36 years to date. He was arrested for 
the May 2, 1973, New Jersey Turnpike shooting 
incident in which he shot no one but merely 
managed to survive but in which his passenger, 
Zayd Shakur, and a New Jersey trooper, Werner 
Foerster, were killed and another trooper, James 
Harper, was wounded as was Sundiata’s other 
passenger, Assata Shakur, who was at the time the 
object of a nationwide “woman hunt” and she was 
captured. Sundiata was also wounded, then 
captured 40 hours later. Sundiata and both his 
passengers were members of the Black Panther Party at the time.

Sundiata has endured some of the harshest 
treatment a prisoner could experience. Still, he 
maintains a favorable prison record. He is a 
talented painter and has written numerous 
published articles about the prison industrial 
complex. He is a beloved father, grandfather, 
brother and elder to many with a rich history of 
making invaluable contributions to his community.

In the ’60s Sundiata left a promising career at 
NASA as a computer programmer to travel to the 
South to help register Blacks to vote. During his 
activism with the New York Chapter of the Black 
Panther Party, Sundiata contributed to various 
programs providing the city of Harlem with 
community control of schools, tenant control of 
slum housing, free breakfast for school children, 
free health care, legal clinics and political 
education classes. He also worked on community 
programs against drug dealers and police 
brutality. Numerous Panthers are still 
languishing in prison and have repeatedly been 
denied parole despite clear support for their release.

For those reasons and because Assata escaped 
prison long ago, the Parole Board has twice 
denied Sundiata parole claiming he’s likely to 
commit another crime. Sundiata comes up for 
parole hearing again in February 2010 and people 
concerned about justice are urged to send 
letters, cards and signature petitions.

As the attorneys will present your letters 
formally and keep record of the number of letters 
received, please do not mail them to the Parole 
Board directly. Instead mail your letters to: 
Attorney Florence Morgan, 120-46 Queens Blvd., Kew Gardens, NY 11415.

Letters should be addressed to: Chairwoman 
Volette C. Ross, New Jersey State Parole Board, 
P.O. Box 862, Trenton NJ 08625, saying in effect 
that 36 years is enough. Sundiata Acoli, New 
Jersey No. 54859 and federal No. 39794-066, has 
long ago fulfilled all requirements for parole 
and is too old, infirm and highly unlikely to 
commit another crime, so I urge you to release Sundiata Acoli on parole.

To join the Sundiata Acoli Freedom Campaign 
(SAFC) email list or request additional 
information, feel free to contact SAFC by email 
at <mailto:TheSAFC at gmail.com>TheSAFC at gmail.com.

More info on Sundiata at: <http://www.sundiataacoli.org>www.sundiataacoli.org

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