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The Campaign to Close the Atlanta Jail

There is a community campaign fighting to close the Atlanta City Detention Center and use the facility for alternative purposes.  The jail costs $33 million/year to operate but because of recent progressive changes in sentencing policy and policing strategy, it is largely empty on most days.  It can house over 1,300 incarcerated people.

Working with the Racial Justice Action Center (RJAC) and Women on the Rise, Research|Action provided background and budget data on the jail to better understand its history and the economics of the facility.  This included researching news articles and city budget documents going back to when it was built in the 1990s.

We found that the city largely paid for the construction of the $55 million facility during fiscal years 1994-1996. It had also raised nearly $68 million for this project from a 1992 bond fund which was used to pay for the initial construction as well as ongoing capital improvements over time.  The city then paid back the bond in subsequent years until 2017 when it was fully paid off.

In 2011 there were discussions about selling the facility to Fulton County, but a deal never materialized.

Research|Action also spoke at a recent Atlanta City Council hearing to provide this background data to inform the discussion.

A recent article about the campaign is here.

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News & Blog

Research|Action Supports the Solidarity Economy

The solidarity economy can be considered all the alternative entities that operate in the economy based on principles other than capitalist ownership and market competition.  Examples include food cooperatives which are owned by the members who shop there and housing cooperatives which are owned and managed by the residents instead of a landlord. Also included are worker-owned cooperatives, of which there are nearly 200 in the United States. Who needs a boss anyway?

Research|Action operates as a cooperative and we want to support other cooperatives and the solidarity economy in general.  So when we decided recently to get our first business cards, we went to Collective Copies of Amherst MA. In business since 1983, not only is it a cooperative but it’s also affiliated with the United Electrical workers union and is an example of a union cooperative, a collaboration we have worked to promote.

We encourage everyone to check out Collective Copies and all other cooperatives so that we can grow the solidarity economy!

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Cruel & Usual Report added to Prison Policy Initiative Research Library

We’re proud that our new prison report, Cruel & Usual, has been added to the Prison Policy Initiative research library. It can be found here.

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News & Blog

Rotten and Rat-Infested: The Appalling Food and Healthcare Conditions Facing Inmates in U.S. Prisons

Article about our report Cruel and Usual.

We rarely see what goes on inside of U.S. prisons, besides the occasional reports of riots, suicides or corruption scandals that trickle out of an otherwise opaque institution. But a new study looking into prison conditions nationwide shines light on the bleak reality of everyday life behind bars.

The study, conducted by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC)—an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World and Research Action Cooperative—surveyed 123 incarcerated individuals across 21 states. The majority of the participants were from state facilities, but also included prisoners from federal institutions and immigrant detention centers, mostly from Missouri, Texas and California.

Read the article.

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New Report Documents Poor Quality of Food and Health Care for Prisoners

Results of a survey of over 100 prisoners nationwide

Widespread problems with food and health care quality are standard in U.S. prisons, according to a new report by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and Research Action Cooperative. 65% of prisoners reported that food made them sick in the last year and 63% reported being denied needed health care.

Based on a survey of 123 prisoners in 83 facilities in 21 states, the report, Cruel and Usual: A National Prisoner Survey of Prison Food and Health Care Quality, concludes:

Overall, the prisoners describe a prison system that routinely provides inadequate food and health care that endangers their health.  Unsanitary conditions, small servings of poor quality food, and lack of attention to special diets are common.  Disrespect by health care staff, delayed care, and denial of treatment and medications are also common.

Read the report.

Among the report’s findings about food:

  • 65% reported that the food made them sick during the last year and 66% reported that they were served food not intended for humans, food with bugs, or moldy/spoiled food during the last year.
  • 80% stated that they have been denied meals or given too little food in the last year. About half reported having special dietary needs, and 70% of them did not have their needs met.  69% of respondents rated the food quality as poor.
  • Nearly 40% indicated that they were only served fresh fruit or vegetables “once in a while” or “never.”

In detailed comments, prisoners described food that was served in unsanitary conditions and was expired, spoiled or moldy, or contained bugs or rocks. Some containers were labeled not fit for human consumption. Several described getting food poisoning or diarrhea. Many prisoners commented that their food servings were too small or that they were not given enough time to get food.  Written comments from prisoners include:

  • Prisoner in Kansas: “The portions on the trays are very small and I’m always hungry even after I eat.”
  • Prisoner in Missouri: “Our containers we have our juice made and served in are often moldy. We do not have the proper chemicals, like bleach, to clean them out. Our trays and cups are often dirty also. There are rats and roaches in the kitchen too. We also have rats, in the warehouse, where our canteen is stored.”

Among the report’s findings about health care:

  • 69% of respondents rated their health care quality as poor.
  • 63% reported being denied needed health care during the last year and 54% reported that the health care staff treated them badly in the last year.
  • Nearly 40% reported having to wait weeks or months to get care they asked for.
  • 60% or more reported not having a physical exam, teeth cleaning, or vision exam in the past year.
  • 82% reported needing medications, and about 40% of them reported that they either didn’t get them or sometimes got them.

In detailed comments, many prisoners described rude and disrespectful behavior, routine neglect, denial of care, and poorly trained health care staff. Several prisoners reported being charged excessive fees for care and several described getting inadequate treatment remotely via video conference.  Written comments from prisoners include:

  • Prisoner in Texas: “I, nor anyone I know on this unit has ever seen a doctor face to face. We are usually seen by a “provider” which is usually an RN through a TV interview and they assess our medical needs by looking at us through a webcam and asking questions.”
  • Prisoner in California: “Doctors are argumentative and very dismissive and controlled by custodial officers who dictate which inmate gets what level of care. Custodial staff intentionally lie on prisoners which causes inmates to receive poor care.”

IWOC member Brianna Peril states, “As a labor union with prisoners and free people, IWOC fights for better prison conditions and this report gives prisoners an opportunity to make their voices heard on the crucial issues of food and health care. It’s clear that the U.S. prison system is failing them through this routinely poor treatment that endangers their lives.”

The report concludes that people who are being punished through imprisonment should not also be punished again with inadequate food and health care, and that this callous treatment is often the result of cost-cutting, racism, and an inhumane, punitive approach to imprisonment.  IWOC believes that a true investment in positive rehabilitation would provide quality food and health care that values prisoners’ lives.

Read the report.

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News & Blog

Research|Action 2017 Year in Review!

Last year was our first year of operation for R|A and a busy one. After our retreat in February, we went through the process of incorporating in NY as an LLC, which took several months.  We officially launched in June and had another mid-year retreat in July. We also continued to update our operating agreement and other administrative documents and procedures. We want to run our research collective as a democratic, member-owned cooperative, and we currently have four members working about 3-15 hours a week on this, so it’s a very part time initiative.

The goals for our cooperative are to work on a mixture of interesting projects, paid and pro bono, that assist social justice organizations, the labor movement and the overall solidarity economy.  We are also all interested in cooperative formation as a key left strategy, and there’s no better way to learn than to start your own!

We worked on seven projects last year. You can see our Projects page for the finished projects that have or will result in a report or published product. By far the largest and most ambitious was researching and producing a report in cooperation with the Housing Justice League in Atlanta called Beltlining. This deals with gentrification and the displacement of low-income black residents due to the development of the BeltLine.

Also in Atlanta, we are working on a long term project to assess the benefits of the city’s pilot pre-arrest diversion program for minor offenders. This is part of an effort to create progressive alternatives to the punitive mass incarceration system.  Related to this, we helped analyze data on arrests for low-level charges such as marijuana possession, as part of a successful effort to decriminalize marijuana usage in the city.

We worked with the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives and the CUNY Murphy Institute in New York City to put together a brochure to educate the labor movement about the growing number of Union Cooperatives.  We also have an article about this movement.

Also in the cooperative space, we worked with the Cooperative Development Institute and the Cooperative Economics Alliance of New York City to research coops and solidarity economy entities in upstate NY, for inclusion in an online database, and to assist further research on the solidarity economy. We hope that this new database will be up and running soon and we’ll be sure to post about it.  We have more information about the solidarity economy in this article.

We conducted a strategic corporate research training for groups in the Appalachian region that are undertaking a long term research project to study corporate land ownership throughout the region. More information about their project is here.

And finally, we worked with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee to survey over a hundred inmates around the country about food and health care quality issues. We hope to have a report on this research very soon.

As we plan for 2018, we want to continue to work on exciting projects and develop relationships with great ally groups. We have even been talking about generating a research project of our own. If you have any ideas or projects you’d like to discuss, give us a call!

Abby, Biko, Eric and Kate

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News & Blog

Putting the Brakes on Runaway Gentrification in Atlanta

The BeltLine is making the neighborhoods in its path too expensive. Can a proposed inclusive housing bill help?

Read the article.

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Advocates: Data reveals signs that poor are being pushed out of Atlanta Beltline neighborhoods

A report from grassroots advocates the Housing Justice League shows evidence that the poor are leaving Atlanta Beltline neighborhoods, even as existing residents say they want to stay.
Read the article.
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New Report Shows Gentrification and Displacement from BeltLine in Atlanta’s Historically Black Southside

Residents Fight for their Communities and Offer Solutions

ATLANTA, October 12, 2017: The Atlanta BeltLine greenway development is displacing low income residents even in neighborhoods that it has not yet touched, says a new report by the Atlanta advocacy group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative. The Atlanta BeltLine, which will ultimately be a 22-mile loop of green parks, trails, and streetcars circling inside city neighborhoods along discontinued rail beds, is a force for gentrification and displacement of long-time, low-income residents, many of them Black. But it does not have to be that way.  

As Alison Johnson, a Peoplestown resident and Housing Justice League member who helped author this report, says,

Communities on the Southside deserve to be a part of the process to shape and determine the neighborhoods where we live. We want the kind of responsible, democratic city building that gives us the best quality of life, not that which is done by and for the wealthy.

Research by the Atlanta community group Housing Justice League and Research|Action Cooperative in the three historically Black neighborhoods of Adair Park, Peoplestown, and Pittsburgh tracks the hopes of the residents for the BeltLine, how they are actually affected by it, and the forces of gentrification that, if left unimpeded, will damage the economic and racial diversity that long-term residents and newcomers alike say is a strength of the area.

The report – BeltLining: Gentrification, Broken Promises, and Hope on Atlanta’s Southside – builds upon a survey, analysis of census data, and a year-long participatory action research project. The researchers found that:

  • Residents overwhelmingly want to stay in their neighborhoods,
  • Gentrification has already raised property values and displaced people in historically Black neighborhoods not yet touched by BeltLine development, and
  • Atlanta failed to enact protections against displacement that have been effective in other parts of the country. It still has time to do so as the BeltLine turns its development eye to more of the historically Black Southside.

The report’s major recommendation is for Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the public-private partnership leading the development, and the City as a whole, to embrace more democratic planning processes so that the interests of current residents are incorporated into development, and the supportive networks among neighbors are protected and appreciated.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc. was launched in 2005, when the Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Public Schools, and Fulton County all empowered a new Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District to fund both parks and housing—only 5,600 units of it affordable—in neighboring areas. The hope of the BeltLine lies in its initial promises: to spur equitable development and to include a robust affordable housing strategy to prevent displacement.

But as Atlanta BeltLine Inc. itself acknowledges, almost midway through the 25-year-long development period, fewer than 1,000 units of affordable housing have been built in the area, far short of the original goal, even as housing prices near the greenways are rising faster than in the city as a whole. This means the area is losing far more existing affordable housing than it is creating. And there are no rent regulations or alternative property tax policies to stop the surge.

Housing Justice League members pressed elected officials to enact policy solutions that protect current residents of gentrifying areas and create more affordable housing.

Media Coverage:

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News & Blog

Unions and Worker Co-ops, Old Allies, Are Joining Forces Again

In the 1800s unions and cooperatives were part of the same movement. Today once again, unions are collaborating with cooperatives to save jobs, create new ones, and organize new members.

From the early days of the labor movement, as John Curl makes clear in his excellent book For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, union members saw cooperatives as vital to their struggle. Unions and cooperatives were part of a growing labor movement that also included myriad political parties, mutual aid societies, fraternal organizations, and secret worker associations.

Read article.