Newsflash:
Issues Economic and Social Justice End Mass Criminalization Repackaging Mass Incarceration
Monday, 09 June 2014 14:44

Repackaging Mass Incarceration

Written by  James Kilgore | Counterpunch

Since my CounterPunch article last November which  assessed the state of the movement against mass incarceration, the rumblings of change in the criminal justice have steadily grown louder. Attorney General Eric Holder has continued to stream his mild-mannered critique by raising the issue of felony disenfranchisement; the President has stepped forward with a proposal for clemency for people with drug offenses that could free hundreds.

In the media, we’ve seen a scathing attack on America’s addiction to punishment in the New York Times and the American Academy of Sciences has released perhaps the most comprehensive critique of mass incarceration to date, the 464 page The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences. In late May, several dozen conservatives including Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, and former NRA President David Keene pulled together the first Right on Crime (ROC) Leadership Summit in Washington DC. The ROC, an organization which boasts a coterie of members with impeccable right wing credentials, reiterated the need for conservatives to drive the process of prison reform. The Conference  “call to action” argued: “In our earnest desire to have safer neighborhoods, policy responses to crime have too often neglected core conservative values — government accountability, personal responsibility, family preservation, victim restoration, fiscal discipline, limited government and free enterprise.” Gingrich engaged in similar kinds of soul searching:  “Once you decide everybody in prison is also an American then you gotta really reach into your own heart and ask, is this the best we can do?”

All of this has precipitated another round of optimistic cries about the possibilities of a Left-Right Coalition on mass incarceration, including a high profile Time Magazine op-ed co-authored by Norquist and MoveOn.org co-founder Joan Blades.

While the spirit of reconciliation in criminal justice attracts most of the media attention, a number of pieces have also emerged rejecting any rush to positive judgment.  For example, fellows at the Brennan Center compiled a statistically based report which contends that careral change has not yet turned the corner while Black Agenda Report co-founder Bruce Dixon asserted that Obama’s clemency measures would have no significant impact on mass incarceration.

However, another process, likely at least as important in the long run as number crunching, coalitions or clemency also has been gaining steam. The official voices of incarceration- politicians, corrections officials, private prison operators, prison guards unions and county sheriffs, are exploring changing discourse and cosmetic reform in order to avoid systemic restructuring. In the business world, they call this re-packaging.

Re-Packaging Mass Incarceration: Carceral Humanism
Currently this re-packaging assumes several forms.  One of the most important is carceral humanism or what some people refer to as incarceration lite.  Carceral humanism recasts the jailers as caring social service providers. The cutting edge of carceral humanism is the field of mental health. According to a recent report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 2012 the US had over 350,000 people with serious mental health issues in prisons and jails as compared to just 35,000 in the remaining state mental health facilities.  Prisons and jails have become the new asylums and the jailers are waking up to the fact that mental health facilities also represent a new cash cow. Likely the most important examples of carceral humanism are happening in California. There Governor Jerry Brown has played a shell game called realignment in which he’s transferred thousands of people from state facilities to county jails in order to comply with a Federal court order to reduce the state prison population. To help counties adapt to all these new prisoners, the Governor put up $500 million to the state’s sheriffs to build extensions onto their jails. In response, the Sheriffs had to come to Sacramento to pitch for a slice of that money. They didn’t come talking about public safety. Their mantra focused on caring-providing opportunities and improved circumstances for those in custody. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s summary from Lake County, one of the 15 winners out of 36 submissions, is illustrative:

$20 million for a new Type II, 40-bed women’s jail with a new stand alone 39-bed Medical/Mental Health Services building with program space, a new administration building, and renovations so that existing space can accommodate programs.”

The new jails are about institutionalizing the funding of mental health and other services behind the walls, further diverting money from the already bare bones social services in communities.  The Lake County proposal also featured another prominent strain of carceral humanism- a woman’s jail or in the present corrections jargon, a “gender-responsive” facility. Since mainstream research now argues that women experience incarceration differently than men, law enforcement is waving the gender banner to access more funding for construction.  Los Angeles lies at the cutting edge in this regard. In March the LA Board of Supervisors authorized $5.5 million for consultants to draw up a plan for what some law enforcement people are calling a “women’s village.” Deputy Sheriff Terri McDonald of Los Angeles suggested that the new facility could be a place where “women and children could serve their time together.”

Carceral humanism has also surfaced in the repackaging of immigration detention centers.  The latest immigration prisons carry the label “civil detention” centers. The GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private prison operator, opened their latest such facility in Karnes Texas. The LA Times called it a “pleasant surprise for illegal immigrants.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials boast that people detained in Karnes won’t be housed in cells but in “suites” holding eight people.  Those detained will be supervised not by guards or correctional officers but by “resident advisers.”

Repackaging 2: Non-Alternative Alternatives to Incarceration
A second form of repackaging mass incarceration falls under the heading of non-alternative alternatives to incarceration. These non-alternatives purport to change things but in essence simply perpetuate the culture of punishment.  The most common forms of these are Drug Courts, Mental Health Courts and Day Reporting Centers. While many of these may be well-intentioned and in some cases have positive effects, they typically involve heavy monitoring of a person’s behavior including frequent drug testing, limitations on movement and association, a whole range of involuntary but supposedly therapeutic  programs of dubious value and very little margin of error to avoid reincarceration.  Perhaps the most extreme example of a non-alternative alternative to incarceration, and one which is likely to gain increasing traction, is electronic monitoring.

While advocates claim electronic monitoring facilitates employment, building family ties and participation in community activities, my interviews with a number of people on a monitor have revealed a different experience.  Jean – Pierre Shackelford, who spent two years on an ankle bracelet in Columbus, Ohio said that he felt like his probation officer had him in a “choke hold” while he was on an ankle bracelet. He labelled monitoring “another form of control and slavery, 21st century electronic style.” Shaun Harris, on a monitor for a year in Michigan called it a form of privatized incarceration, “it’s like you just turned my family’s house into another cell” was his comment. Shackelford and Harris, like many others I spoke with, both reported difficulty getting movement for family activities and a lack of clarity about what was and wasn’t permitted.  Shackelford finally took to going to church because that seemed to be the only activity his probation officer would approve.  Both Shackelford and Harris, like most people interviewed, complained that they could be put on 24 hour “lockdown” (meaning they couldn’t leave the house at all) for any reason for an indefinite period and there would be no way to appeal such a decision.  Even a late return home from work due to a delay in public transportation could result in a re-arrest. To make matters worse, most electronic monitors come with a daily user fee which ranges anywhere from five to twenty dollars a day.

While the punitive nature of ankle bracelet regimes is a cause for concern, the potential to implement exclusion zones with GPS-based monitors contains more serious long-term implications.  Exclusion zones are places where monitors are programmed not to let people go.  At the moment authorities mainly use exclusion zones to keep individuals with a sex offense history away from schools and parks. But such zones have the potential to become new ways to reconstruct the space of our cities, to keep the good people in and the bad people out.  This technology, which can be set up via smart phones, holds the possibility to turn houses, buildings, even neighborhoods into self-financing sites of incarceration.  In the meantime, firms like the GEO Group, which owns BI Incorporated, the nation’s largest provider of electronic monitoring technology and backup services, are experimenting with new target groups for ankle bracelets. In parts of California and Texas they’ve used electronic monitors on kids with school truancy records. Under a $370 million contract, BI already has thousands of people awaiting immigration adjudication on monitors. Packaged as an alternative these bracelets actually represent a new horizon for incarceration, finding ways to do it cheaper with technology through the private sector and then getting the user to pay, likely a  model that would line up squarely with Right on Crime’s notions of reform..

Re-Packaging: Why Now?
Most commentators attribute the spirit of change in criminal justice to a belated recognition of the fundamental irrationality of spending so much money locking up so many people for so long.  As Grover Norquist put it, “Conservatives may have wanted more incarceration than was necessary in the past, so what we’re trying to do is find out about what works.”

Such analyses make perfect sense but they also ignore a big picture political question. Mass incarceration is becoming a flash point of rebellion and resistance, with African American communities the most visible hot spot. Mass incarceration and the racialized vagaries of criminal justice have been going on for decades but recently we’ve seen new levels of anger and frustration in reaction to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, as well as to the sentencing of Marissa Alexander.  Even mainstream Black commentators like Melissa Harris-Perry appear incensed.  At the grassroots level we’ve witnessed campaigns against stop and frisk, solitary confinement, mandatory minimums, crack cocaine laws and a host of new jails and prisons.  On the ideological plane, the notion of the New Jim Crow, categorizing  mass incarceration as a new form of slavery and segregation is catching on.  People are latching onto the idea of mass incarceration as a systemic problem that can only be solved with a vast redirecting of resources into the communities that have been devastated by imprisonment.  In other words, mass incarceration requires a total paradigm shift. The situation has the potential to explode.  Politicians and business people don’t like explosions.  When explosions appear a genuine possibility it is time to talk reform, time to re-package.

To make matters worse for purveyors of the carceral status quo, the immigrants’ rights movement has also been erupting over the last decade. From the immigrant worker strikes and demonstrations of 2006 to the endless string of demonstrations by the Dreamers and the Dream Defenders in the face of continued mass deportations, a steady stream of unrest has materialized.  With the changing national demographics, key players in criminal justice need to be seen to be doing something if they want to maintain their power.

Lastly, there is the movement inside the prisons themselves.  The hunger strikes at Pelican Bay in California and in Washington’s Northwest Detention Center coupled with the outpouring of solidarity these actions prompted,  pose a serious threat to the already heavily smeared image of US prisons. In addition, even once notorious political prisoners are gaining increasing legitimacy. Captives from across several generations are attracting large coteries of supporters.  This includes high profile individuals who have served decades behind bars, individuals  like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Albert Woodfox, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Russell Maroon Shoatz and Leonard Peltier, along with more contemporary prisoners like Lynne Stewart (recently released), Marie Mason and Chelsea Manning. Inside and beyond the walls, there is rebellion in the air.

This reality raises another question: whether a Left-Right Coalition can deliver even enough change to calm the waters. Mass incarceration has become such a fundamental part of how the US addresses issues of race, crime, poverty, gender and inequality, it appears unlikely to collapse from gradual reforms whether inspired by carceral humanism, punitive alternatives to incarceration or more genuine critique. As with civil rights, pressure from below will be required, from a social movement that has the creativity to envision an alternative, the skills and legitimacy to mobilize the people who are most directly affected, and the political power to make their voices be heard and get others to join them. Perhaps this social movement is, to borrow a phrase from the Spanish poet Antonio Machado, making the path by walking at this very moment.

Link to original article from Counterpunch

 


 

James Kilgore is a Research Scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).  He is a frequent commentator on mass incarceration, a social justice activist, and the author of three novels, all of which were written during his six and a half years of incarceration.  He is currently working on a primer on mass incarceration to be published by The New Press in 2015. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   His writings are available at his website, www.freedomneverrests.com

Read 2858 times Last modified on Monday, 09 June 2014 14:55

Trans Pacific Partnership Fast Track - Where Does Your Legislator Stand

Click your state to see your Senators and Representatives

Green = Most Legislators Oppose Fast Track, Yellow = Some Opposition, Orange = Oppose TPP, Gray = Unknown
DeLauro 13 - Signed 2013 DeLauro/Miller letter
Pocan - Signed Freshman Letter Opposing Fast Track
W/M - Signed Ways and Means Letter opposing TPP
Gibson - Signed Rep. Chris Gibson letter opposing TPP
SOPA - Oppose Stop Online Piracy Act - voted against
Currency - Oppose Currency Manipulation (Signed Michaud Letter)
Textile - Oppose changes to "First Yarn" (Signed Textile Industry Letter)

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  • Preserve social programs that work
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    I started a chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America in Springfield a few years ago. Since then our chapter has grown to include the Greater Springfield Area. At an event last fall in front of U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin’s office we had 75 folks attend from various unions and organizations, many of them traveling from Normal, Bloomington, Peoria, Jacksonville, Morrisonville and Champaign.

    Written on Friday, 07 February 2014 03:25 Read more...
  • Conversations with Great Minds P1 - Rep Keith Ellison - My Country 'Tis of Thee
    Conversations with Great Minds P1 - Rep Keith Ellison - My Country 'Tis of Thee

    Congressman Keith Ellison(D-MN, 5th District) / Author of the new book, My Country 'Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future joins Thom Hartmann.

    Written on Thursday, 06 February 2014 22:36 Read more...
  • JESSE JACKSON: Response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address
    JESSE JACKSON: Response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address

    The country seems turned off and tuned out to the Congress, politics generally and the federal government in particular. The good news is the emerging grass-roots movement exemplified by The Dreamers and the burgeoning campaign among low income workers around the nation, offering a clear challenge to the political gridlock, the inaction and non-work by Congress. Seeking to respond to this grassroots energy and to combat the frustration many people are feeling around the country, President Obama presented an optimistic tone, an uplifting message and a new plan of action to move America forward.

    Written on Thursday, 30 January 2014 20:01 Read more...
  • State of the Union: Right on Wages, Wrong on Trade
    State of the Union: Right on Wages, Wrong on Trade

    President Obama wants 2014 to be a “year of action” in which the country finally begins to address a wealth gap that has made the term “income inequality” the catchphrase of the moment. And he framed the crisis well in his fifth State of the Union address:

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 17:32 Read more...
  • House passes $956B farm bill
    House passes $956B farm bill

    The House on Wednesday approved a mammoth, $956 billion farm bill in a bipartisan vote.

    Members approved the House-Senate agreement on farm policy in a 251-166 vote. A majority of Republicans backed the bill, with 63 GOP no votes. But a majority of Democrats opposed it, with 103 voting no.

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:45 Read more...
  • Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced it to Surrender
     Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced it to Surrender

    When some of the greatest musicians in the world gathered five years ago to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of the musician who inspired them all, Bruce Springsteen told Pete Seeger: “You outlasted the bastards, man.”

    And so he did.

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:30 Read more...
  • State of the Union: It doesn’t have to be this way
    State of the Union: It doesn’t have to be this way

    President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will focus on inequality, on the reality that this economy does not work for working people. Given the obstruction of House and Senate Republicans, the president faces the reality that little of what he proposes can pass this Congress. He has vowed to use his “pen” and “phone” to act unilaterally where he can. But the real challenge is to explain to the American people what the reality is, what must be done and who is standing in the way.

    Written on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 15:56 Read more...
  • Ellison’s Steps to Income Equality: More Powerful Unions and Weaker Trade
    Ellison’s Steps to Income Equality: More Powerful Unions and Weaker Trade

    Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that increasing the power of unions is key to addressing income inequality in America.

    “We need a comprehensive plan, but let’s start with increasing the right to collective bargaining,” Ellison said on MSNBC. “We’ve got to get workers on the job in a position to demand that the wealth that they create be shared by the company. That’s a key thing. If you look at how wages has stagnated in the United States and you look at how union did something that has gone down, the lines track right together. You got to get power in the hands of the workers. That’s key.”

    Written on Thursday, 23 January 2014 18:18 Read more...
  • Celebrating MLK: A drum major for justice
    Celebrating MLK: A drum major for justice

    As I went from event to event Monday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, I was struck by both the tribute and the distortion.

    The tribute is remarkable. Martin Luther King held no public office. He amassed no great fortune. He led no victorious armies

    Written on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 16:03 Read more...
  • Keith Ellison Blasts Inaction on Government-Backed Poverty: “The Most Remarkable Dodge I’ve Ever Seen”
    Keith Ellison Blasts Inaction on Government-Backed Poverty: “The Most Remarkable Dodge I’ve Ever Seen”

    One day after a top Obama administration official deflected a congressman’s call for executive action to raise labor standards for contractors, activists Wednesday announced the filing of a new Department of Labor complaint over alleged wage theft in a government building. The complaint alleges that dozens of workers in D.C.’s government-owned Union Station are owed over $3 million in back pay and damages for rampant failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.

    Written on Saturday, 18 January 2014 16:26 Read more...
  • King’s evolving Dream
    King’s evolving Dream

    It is that time to pause and think about the incredible life and contributions of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., oftentimes referred to as MLK. He was named Michael King Jr. after his father ­ who later changed both their names to Martin Luther, in honor of the religious reformer.

    Written on Saturday, 18 January 2014 15:37 Read more...
  • Moral Monday Movement Spreads Through the South
    Moral Monday Movement Spreads Through the South

    After drawing thousands of protesters to the state legislature and inspiring the arrests of more than 900 people for nonviolent civil disobedience, North Carolina's Moral Monday movement challenging the extreme conservative agenda of the state's Republican-controlled legislature and administration is gearing up for more actions in 2014.

    Written on Monday, 13 January 2014 13:30 Read more...
  • On 50th anniversary of 'War on Poverty' speech, Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern says cuts to SNAP are 'war on poor people'
    On 50th anniversary of 'War on Poverty' speech, Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern says cuts to SNAP are 'war on poor people'

    U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern says the "War on Poverty" has shifted from helping the poor to fighting them.

    McGovern, a Democrat who represents the 2nd district, spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday about hunger in America and potential cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the proposed Farm Bill.

    Written on Saturday, 11 January 2014 15:37 Read more...
  • War on Poverty wages on
    War on Poverty wages on

    Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson, lamenting that too many Americans “live on the outskirts of hope,” declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” This will not be “a short or easy struggle,” he stated in his State of the Union address to the Congress, “no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we will not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

    Written on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 18:11 Read more...
  • Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?
    Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?

    At the Future of America Learning Center in the West Bronx, the pre-K curriculum is built around adult jobs—visiting real workplaces and then learning about the vocabulary and skills that grown-ups use every day.

    Written on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 01:24 Read more...
  • Advice for Young Women: Get a Union Job
    Advice for Young Women: Get a Union Job

    Back in the days before modern feminism, a young woman looking for work might typically be advised, politely, to “learn a trade,” with the implication that she wasn't bound for college or an elite career, but a humbler job as, say, a secretary or seamstress. Such a phrase might sound condescending today. Yet working in a trade might still be sound career goal for a woman, if she gets the right kind of job—in a union.

    Written on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 21:30 Read more...
  • Walmart Workers Will Make History on Friday As America Confronts Growing Inequality
    Walmart Workers Will Make History on Friday As America Confronts Growing Inequality

    This Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, tens of millions of Americans will travel to Walmart stores to look for holiday discounts on computers, toys, and cell phones as well as to buy groceries and basic household items.

    Written on Saturday, 30 November 2013 15:20 Read more...
  • McDonald's: Low-Paid Workers, High-Flying Execs
    McDonald's: Low-Paid Workers, High-Flying Execs

    He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it.

    Written on Thursday, 21 November 2013 13:44 Read more...
  • Growing Movement: Expand Social Security or 'Pay a Price'
    Growing Movement: Expand Social Security or 'Pay a Price'

    Sen. Warren: 'Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day.'

    With Social Security cuts once again on the table in closed-door congressional budget negotiations, a growing movement has taken the offensive, demanding that lawmakers strengthen, rather than stranglehold, our social safety net.

    Written on Thursday, 21 November 2013 13:36 Read more...
  • Paul Ryan Gets 700,000 ‘No’ Votes on Social Security Cuts
    Paul Ryan Gets 700,000 ‘No’ Votes on Social Security Cuts

    Ryan’s office on Wednesday received a petition signed by more than 700,000 people that said there should be “no grand bargain” in the budget negotiations being led by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “in exchange for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.”

    Written on Saturday, 16 November 2013 03:10 Read more...
  • House Dems Can Block GOP Food Stamp Cuts—By Killing the Farm Bill
    House Dems Can Block GOP Food Stamp Cuts—By Killing the Farm Bill

    The farm bill will almost inevitably include deep cuts to the food stamps program—unless House Democrats join with conservatives to kill the bill. The food stamps program—which helps feed one in seven Americans—is in peril. Republicans in the House have proposed a farm bill—the five-year bill that funds agriculture and nutrition programs—that would slash food stamps by $40 billion. But by taking advantage of House Republicans' desire to cut food stamps as much as possible, Democrats might be able to prevent cuts from happening at all.

    Written on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 15:28 Read more...
  • Food Stamps, Yes!
    Food Stamps, Yes!

    If you’re reading this column, you probably don’t participate in a government program such as SNAP, to help provide food for your family. If you can afford to have a newspaper delivered to your home, or if you have a computer and an internet connection so you can read online, you may have more than enough money for food.

    Written on Friday, 04 October 2013 01:50 Read more...

Does Your Legislator Support the Robin Hood Tax?

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

CWA devised a simple plan for which they were uniquely suited: drag TPP out of the shadows and into the light - one city at a time - using a medium they understand intimately: Daily Newspapers!

Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

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Hand Deliver a Letter to your Rep on Jobs

If your Representative is not currently a cosponsor of HR 1000 they may not completely understand how important full employment is to your community; click on your state at the bottom of this page to see all the cosponsors in your state. Nothing sends a stronger message to a Congressional member than a personal visit to a district office by a voter with a written request. Phone calls and emails are incredibly important but nothing gets attention like a personal visit. Our Educate Congress page has information and a sample letter. Print the letter, sign it, deliver it.

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Report on your TPP Contact

Please let us know your legislator's stance on Fast Track Authorization for the Trans Pacific Partnership as well as their stance on the TPP in General. Click here to report the response.

The Robin Hood Tax

Robin Hood Tax: John Nichols and Keith Ellison and Michael Lighty

Why The Robin Hood Tax

Rep. Jim McGovern on Protecting SNAP

Workers Speak Out on the TPP

PDA Labor Panel - Progressive Central III

Main Street NOT Wall Street

The Trans Pacific Partnership: Corporate Global Domination

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

Lori Wallach Leaked TPP Documents (Democracy NOW)

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of

Lori Wallach on Thom Hartmann (Great Minds) - The TPP

TPP Downloads

The following documents are available from the Oppose TPP Downloads Folder

June 29th TPP Powerpoint

CWA TPP Jobs Report

Endorse HR 1000

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