Friday, December 28, 2012

FCC Steps Up to Bar for Phone Charges

<applause>  <applause>
The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making.  OK.... they are taking comments.  But still, this is a huge step from a huge agency that can stop the gouging of inmates and their families.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tx House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

Criminal justice is always at the mercy of legislative budgets.  It is also always noticed/ignored/acted on by the legislative body if the committee chair is  active and interested.  Thus Texas' new dilemma:  who will chair the committee now that Rep. Pete Gallego is in D.C?  Gallego's   constituents always came first (not his party affiliations, not special interest groups).  So he will be hard to replace, and the current list of possibles does not hold any bright stars.  Who cares about criminal justice?  One of the representatives needs to stand up and shout an interest, and all the interested parties need time to review the shouter.  Soon.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Prison Rape Elimination Act applies to females, too

Movies and TV have painted a grim story of male inmates being raped.  What many citizens aren't noticing, however, are female inmates.  Passed in 2003 and signed into law by Pres. G.W. Bush, PREA is making major changes in how prisons and staff are held accountable for rape.  Prison advocates are hoping that the 8-member commission will require cameras in all areas--including closets--to keep the record straight.  No guard wants a false accusation;  no inmate should be fearing the staff or other inmates.  The more scrutiny in PREA, the better all parties will be.       

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Solitary without Hearing?

Massachusetts inmate Edmund LaChance lost his chance to live in the regular population when he threw a cup of pudding.  He was kept there indefinitely, "awaiting action status."  Ten months after being sanctioned for the original 14 days, he was released into the general population again.  Don't throw pudding?  Don't have a melt-down and threaten others when you learn of the punishment?

Prison Legal Services in Boston took the pro se case to Massachusetts's top court--and won.  Won!  They determined he had a due process right to a hearing rather than a pro-forma review by officials.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Texas leg to investigate uncorroborated snitching

Democratic Representative Harold Dutton has filed HB 189, hoping that this year the Texas legislature will ban uncorroborated testimony of jailhouse snitches.  The snitching is a terrific tool for prosecutors, so it may be a difficult sell.  In the past, Pete Gallejo was in charge of the committee overseeing criminal justice; he has ascended to national Congress.  [disclaimer:  Pete was not only my student at U.T. Law but was Teacher's Pet.]   Let's hope Rep. Dutton can open a fruitful debate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tamms Supermax: Report Reveals More Guards Than Prisoners, Soaring Costs

A southern Illinois, all-solitary confinement prison, is reported to have twice the number of guards for the number of prisoners.  Since they are in lock-down cells, that work is something the rest of us might sign up for!  "Tamms has 208 guards and supervisors in its maximum-security unit, or C-max, to handle 138 prisoners, for a security-staff-to-inmate ratio of 1.5-to-1. At Alcatraz in the 1940s, the ratio was 1-to-3, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons."

Or you might want to sign on a chef/cook:  "In addition, there are 16 food supervisors earning an average of $71,600 a year working at Tamms. That’s the same number of food supervisors as at the Pontiac Correctional Center, which houses around 1,700 maximum- and medium-security inmates."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Snitching! 1 in 8 fed inmates tattles for reduction

It's hard to get your mind around this statistic, but apparently 1 in 8 federal convicts get their sentences reduced for snitching on each other.  If they don't have anything worth snitching about, obviously it's worth their while to dream something up.  But what to do about it?  Prosecutors insist they'd never make a case if we eliminate use of snitches.  Activists insist on eliminating the use of snitches.  Middle ground seems to be to insist on taped recordings of the private conversations if they're to be used--but that opens yet another can of worms.   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prison Diets: Budget vs. Health

Should prisons be required to offer healthful options?  How about vegetarian options for those who have lifetime commitments to meatless lives?  A court in Missouri has recently turned down a vegetarian's request to have meatless servings at Buzz Westfall Justice Center.  Diabetes and obesity and high blood pressure is creating a prison population that needs extra medical care;  prisons need the money to upgrade food choices, period.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Word Play over Solitary: Bradley Manning

James Averhart, Chief Warrant Officer IV, who as commander of the Quantico brig determined conditions of confinement, kept Pvt. Bradley Manning naked for 7 days, and in solitary confinement despite recomendations from doctors to release him  He insists that the regulation gives him to authority to decide whether to relax confinement standards--even though the regulation says a prisoner "shall" be released if the medicos say so. 

Averhart argued that the word "shall" did not introduce a specific timeline for ending the confinement. "[T]he order is vague - it does say 'shall,' it does not say 'right now' or 'immediately,' sir - it still gives me the opportunity to evaluate," he said.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

780 days solitary--no threat, violence

Leroy Peoples is suing the state of New York.  He was left in solitary confinement for 780 days--for misbehaving:  no violence, no security threat.  The New York Civil Liberties is helping with the suit:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Atlantic Joins Wash Post: Phone Rates!

Two major journalistic inquiries into the exorbitant prison phone rates has uncovered that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has sat on the problem for 3500 days.  That's some sitting, because a judge sent them the problem to resolve.


Tx. Senator and Union boss agree: close some prisons

I'm not sure how often in Texas politics that we've had this confluence:  Sen. Whitmire and Lance Lowry, president of Texas chapter of the union with prison staff, agree that we need to close 2 more prisons.  Doing so will help ensure the safety and security of not only inmates but the guards.  Texas prison staffing is down 2700 officers this year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Got Change for a Call? Or $25?

It's about stealing from the poor again;  telephone companies are charging so much for inmate phone calls that even the FCC is noticing.  No, really.  And the New Yourk Times is reporting the outrage.  I suppose a $17 phone call that lasts under 15 minutes depletes a commissary account pretty fast.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Moral Responsibilites

As a society, we have a moral obligation to safeguard the members of our society by maintaining a system that separates the worst among us so that other citizens are not injured;  we also have a moral obligation not to injure those separated, not to reduce them to non-humans.  How we balance these obligations defines us as a society, as a nation.  When international human rights groups point to our prison system as 'barbaric,' we need to examine our laws, our oversight of the system.  And we have to act on what we learn.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Majority of jail prisoners awaiting trial; wait coerces pleas

  The Pretrial Justice Institute has just released new statistics on the people we are keeping in our tax-funded jails;  61% are sitting there, waiting for a day in court.  And while they sit, they grow tired and discouraged.  So they are more likely to accept guilty pleas and spent unnecessary time in our jails and tax-funded prisons.  See the original report at

and a discussion of it at

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Pinal County Jail makes list of 10 worst immigrant detention centers

Detained immigrants have even fewer rights then U.S. inmates in jails and prisons.  Detension centers are supposed to non-punitive administrative holding centers for individuals undergoing immigration proceedings.  The reality, though, is harsher than that.  Much harsher.  Detention Watch Netwrk just released a report citing 10 facilites with "sexual assault, substandard medical care, lack of due process and abysmal living conditions."  Not surprisingly, Arizona's Pinal County jail is one of the 10.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Inmate With a Handicap? Lotsa Luck!

   California has yet another problem, this one a lawsuit filed by Berkeley's Disability Rights Advocates, on behalf of inmates in the Santa Rita units.  What if you require a wheelchair, but the bathroom stalls are too narrow for one?  What if you need help standing, but showers have to grab bars?  Apparently, you urinate on yourself at times, and hope a sympathetic guard will help you shower.

Funding Books for Prison Libraries

The campaign to fund the graphic novel Prison Grievances into prison libraries is almost over.  We've collected over $7000 and will be able to send books into more than 1500 prisons.  If you can help in these last two days, go for it!  And many thanks to all who have already given or sent positive wishes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gangs Rule Idaho Private Prison?

   You know you're in trouble when the inmates file in court to get protection from the prison gangs.  Seems the gangs run the prison.  But CCA hasn't noticed, according to an article in CBS Top Stories.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Contributions to graphic novel top $6000

As you know, I'm collecting money to send copies of my graphic novel into prison libraries,  It's the toughest work I've ever done (raising funds), but it's for a great cause.  I'm sure you've given, so thank you!

If you haven't or know someone who might, here's the link again:

Friday, November 9, 2012

What's Deliberate Indifference?

We are about to find out.  In a Texas case just filed today, an Air Force veteran jailed for criminal mischief, died after repeated smashing his head into the jail's walls.  Allegedly, jailers watched and did nothing. 
   According to the complaint, Appell was put in a padded cell but not restrained. That, according to his mother, allowed him to paced the cell and strike his head against the door viewing window allegedly whiled the jailers watched.
 "Everybody in the jail, from what Mrs. Appell told me, could hear him hitting his head against the wall," said Michelle Smith co-counsel with the Texas Civil Rights Project.
  The lawsuit alleges that the death was slow and the decision not to stop him was deliberate.
   "So they let him bash his head for over 24 hours," said Shirley Appell.
  The case is based on violating the ADA and Rehabilitation Act as well as failing to provide protection under the 14th Amendment.

Read more:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Overcrowded federal prisons create their own problems

We all know that humans smashed into a finite space have more difficuloties than those with lots of breathing room.  Now consider being crowded behind cell bars and unable to get out at will.  WHile prison is supposed to be punishmnet, this recent overcrowding has proven to be much more.  Read the full story at

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Can Felons Vote?

State law decides if felons can vote.  According to Solitary Watch and Mother Jones magazine, more than 2 million voters found themselves having to check with the Secretary of State in their own state to see if they were eligible to vote.  In Texas, once someone is "off paper," then he or she can cast a ballot.  In Florida, the governor declared that any felon is blocked from voting;  that overturned the decision of the last two Florida governors.  Given the high number of formerly incarcerated, and the high number of US couch potatoes, seem to me each state needs to reconsider any barriers to anyone voting.
According to The Sentencing Project, 1 in 40 adults are disenfranchised.  In 11 states, felons can never again vote.  and 1 in 13 African Americans of voting age are disenfranchised (4 times the rate on non-African Americans).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Colo. Solitary Confinement Prison Empty

Maybe we're all just nuts?

Opened over objections  Colorado State Penitentiary II was built without a vote of the people, a requirement for Colorado projects that increase state debt, and in spite of a warning from the state treasurer that the voters should decide.

The prison was built despite a 2005 Colorado Department of Corrections report from its own staff confirming that Colorado held three times as many people in solitary confinement as the average state prison system.

It finally opened in 2010, over renewed objections that Colorado didn't need it. The corrections department, in turn, won the fight to open it with a misleading claim that most states actually held more prisoners in what the department calls "administrative segregation."

Now it's empty.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Low-level felons still marching into Calif. state prisons

Despite new policies, innumerable studies, and the concerns of over-taxed Californians, state judges continue to send low-level felons into the state prisons instead of county facilities.  Everyone loses!

"A panel of three federal judges presiding over inmate lawsuits against California has given the state until Jan. 7 to produce a new prison reduction plan. California must reduce crowding to 137.5% of what its 33 prisons were designed to hold. The cap translates into 112,032 inmates in prisons built to hold 81,000.

The population caps were ordered after California failed for years to improve what judges ruled were unconstitutionally cruel conditions in its aging prisons, with medical care so bad that an inmate a week died needlessly." 

As usual, everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else.  See the whole story  from the L.A. Times:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aljazeera criticizes 3-strike laws

Nothing, finally, surprises me about prisons and prison law.  But reading today a long story in Aljazeera:  Power & People, I discovered that people in the middle east find our laws excessive.  Whew!

 In Saudi Arabia, they still cut off the hands of thieves.  They hold public beheadings.  But still, the authors of this article find that the U.S. 3-strike law, requiring life imprisonment for a third crime, to be excessive.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Private federal prison implodes: who pays?

OK, so ... the federal prison system hired a private firm to collect doctors together who would work on prisoners.  But no one seems to have been watching what that private firm did with the money, or whom they forgot to repay--like the doctors and the hospitals.  -
"BUTNER -- A Florida-based company that lent its CEO more than $5 million for an Angus cattle ranch and a biography and screenplay about himself has gone into receivership, leaving Duke University Health System and area doctors’ offices owed more than $8 million for treating patients from Butner federal prison, according to court records and officials of the state medical society."

Read more here:


Russians question US jail precedures

How bad is the Houston jail?  Well, acording to the Russian radio stories, 4 Russians are asking international human rights observers to investigate.  They contend they are denied legal acccess, among other complaints.

Russians detained in Houston complain about their prison conditions.

Friday, October 19, 2012

John Howard Society endorses graphic novel

The international organization, founded in 1777, investigates prison abuses;  keeps the public informed;  advocates for humane conditions in prisons.

And their executive director has just announced that he will "be honored to support" Prison Grievances.  They read it and announced that it is "Brilliant!" and "much needed."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Man Who Spent Time In an Iranian Prison Thinks California's Are Worse

Well, can you think of something to say about American prisons that would be worse than what Shane Bauer concludes?  Shane was one of three American hikers arrested in Iran after the crossing over the border from Iraq in 2009. He spent 26 months in Tehran's Evin Prison, the first four in solitary confinement. "He wasn't given a lawyer, a trial, or even an idea what he was supposedly guilty of," reports The Atlantic Wire.  But it was better tham California solitary confinement.

"While a prison term is assigned by a judge, the amount of time in solitary sentences can be indefinite and the way out, impossible. The quickest route into the hole is to be associated with a prison gang, but anyone can accuse you of that without evidence and the appeal process is a joke. (The number of inmates who have successfully overturned a gang validation is 0.4 percent.)"

"The quickest way out of solitary is to accuse some one else. By revealing everything you know about a gang, you can earn your way to slightly better quarters, while also earning the wrath of those you might have ratted on. But if you aren't actually in a gang (which you can't prove in court), then you have nothing to offer authorities and remain where you are."  see the full story:


GOA report traces problems to prison growth

Spet 2012 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office to Congress found that in 2011, 48% of federal inmates were incarcerated for drugs. 

The most severe crowding, puzzlingly, was in the highest security facilities:  55% are overcrowded.  Perhaps that gang tag (discussed yesterday) has pushed this crowding.

Among unacceptable conditions cited are double and triple bunking, wait list for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased staff/inmate ratios.  These conditions contribute to inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of staff and inmates.  See the full report:


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to Give up Gang Status?

California inmates in two prisons, at prisons near Tehachapi and Corcoran, are refusing food over new policies, policies that were supposed to relieve those in solitary confinement of lengthy stays.

How does someone 'quit' a gang while he's in solitary?  Good question.  Currently, wardens from around the state are attempting to read and understand the guidelines.  Meanwhile, inmates believe the rules, intended to help, will make it even more difficult to get out of solitary confinement.

Ohio turns to sentence reforms; privatizing failing

Ohio sold the Northeast Ohio prison to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2011;  a recent audit revealed that the private prison is meeting only 66.7% of the state's standards, including low staffing, lack of training, overcrowding (mattresses on floors), lack of santitaion, and--most worrisome perhaps--inadequate contraband services.

These oversights create an unsafe environment for both staff and inmates. 

Why isn't there an "in loco parentis" standard for citizens whose lives the state now controls?  We have that standard for students--who can at least move back home.  According to Cinncinati's City Beat,

"ODRC Director Gary Mohr might have decided to stop privatizing Ohio’s prisons. On Sept. 25 — the same day the audit was mailed to Mohr’s office — Mohr announced his department would focus on sentencing reforms to bring down recidivism instead of saving costs by privatizing more prisons. The news came during the week CityBeat’s cover story on private prisons was in stands."


Monday, October 15, 2012

Overcrowding from 3 strikes? Unnecessary

Sociology professor Robert Nash Parker determined that crime has been decreasing at about the same rate in every state for 20 years, regardless of whether three-strikes policies are in place or not.

Parker's findings appear in the paper "Why California's 'Three Strikes' Fails as Crime and Economic Policy, and What to Do."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cease fire plus hunger strike in Calif prison

Although inmates at one California prison broke their fast and began eating on Wednesday, another prison solitary population decided to continue fasting.  Across California, Wednesday began prisoners' attempts to stop racial violence within The Walls.

 About 300 prisoners at California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi, north of Los Angeles, also began refusing meals Wednesday. About 200 of them continued to refuse food Saturday.

Curiously, prison officials say they do not know what caused inmates to begin fasting.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lifetime Lockdown and Reentry

The American Friends Service Committee of Tucson, AZ, released a major report recently, following the statistics and stories of inmates left in lockdown for extended periods.

 “The sustaining societal and economic consequences of solitary confinement, supermax prisons, and prisoner lockdown are detrimental to families, our communities, and the economy, and need not be expanded, but rather reduced and eventually halted all together” (p. 40).

Conditions Affect Staff as Well

We need to remember that once anyone enters jail or prison, those In Walls conditions affect them.  All of them.

Oklahhoma Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview is investigating the wide-spead turn-over of prison staff.

“These prison staffing levels are life and death situations now,” Hickman said. “Someone is going to die if we don't make some changes and make them sooner rather than later.”
The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester is short 50 employees, he said. The maximum-security prison is authorized to have 521 workers and is funded to have 363. It has 310.

Read more:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Advice to Jail/Prison Staff

An excellent article in reminds officers of their own freedoms, and that those freedoms should help them stay calm and professional in a tense and negative world.

Ohio Private Prisons: 50% more assaults

When states contract with private prisons, it's to ease taxpayer burdens. But then the consequences: "One study by George Washington University found private prisons have a 50 percent higher rate of inmate-on-staff assault and a 66 percent higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assault. The troubling numbers were attributed to lower standards at private prisons that keep costs low and profits high."

The Ohio Correction facility, the first private prison in the state, was cited for 47 violations by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODFC).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

4500 in NY solitary confinement

How big is your city?  Your university?  Imagine 4500 people in boxes?  I can't.  But that's what the New York Civil LIberties investigating group discovered.

“New York’s arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe use of extreme isolation has led to an urgent human rights crisis,” according to the report. “Corrections officials can separate and remove violent or vulnerable prisoners from the general prison population without subjecting them to the punishing physical or psychological deprivation of extreme isolation.”

We can't keep ogmoring these numbers;  they will eventually swamp us--with taxes, with ex-cons who haven't seen and talked with others in decades.

Let's Review Medical Paroles

Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, researched parole for "infirm" inmates and discovered that, in Texas alone, the state would save  $42.6 million in 2013, while only adding $1.57 million in parole costs. 

It's arithmetic.  Tax dollars.  So why can't parole baords begin releasing the terminally ill, the veterans who can't walk but can be released to VA centers, etc.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What we don't know can hurt us

Governor's Veto Leaves Some Prisoners Out of View

October 4, 2012, 12:57 pm • Posted by Laird Harrison

When Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill expanding news media access to state prisons, he was following in a long California tradition. Three previous governors have vetoed such bills that would let reporters record interviews of whatever prisoner they choose.

Michael Montgomery/KQED
So why does the legislature keep butting heads with the governor on this issue?
When the bill passed in the State Senate, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said in a media release that expanding media access would help uncover problems in the state prison system.
The lack of good information is also a danger to the prisoners, the employees and the public at large. It was under these closed-door conditions that prison health conditions deteriorated to the point that the courts stepped in. When it comes to prisons, what we don’t know can really hurt us.
Brown argued in his veto message that wardens need control of what television interviews prisoner can have.
Giving criminals celebrity status through repeated appearances on television will glorify their crimes and hurt victims and their families.
In an interview with KQED’s Joshua Johnson, California Watch prisons reporter Michael Montgomery provided some background.
Michael Montgomery: Three previous governors have vetoed similar measures, in part after the Department of Corrections raised complaints. In this case the Department of Corrections said the bill would be very costly if it passed. It would have required prison officials to deal with lots of interview requests from the media, and it would have required them to respond on short notice.
Joshua Johnson: What is the situation now?
Michael Montgomery: As a reporter covering the prisons you can meet with inmates of your choice during regular visitor hours, if they have the right to visitors. You can take notes, but you can’t record your meeting which is behind glass. So in essence the current rules are really much more restrictive of the broadcast media than print outlets. For broadcast reporters, it silences the voices of many of those inmates.
Joshua Johnson: What do you make of the governor’s argument that he didn’t want to make essentially TV stars out of these inmates?
Michael Montgomery: The current restrictions do make it impossible for a celebrity, like Charles Manson, to speak on television or the radio. However the issue for many reporters is that the current rules make it impossible to interview any inmate of your choosing. You can interview inmates randomly. You can interview inmates who are chosen by the Department of Corrections. But you cannot go to the department right now and say “I want to record an interview a specific inmate.” That is banned by the state of California.
Joshua Johnson: How does that affect our ability to really understand how California’s prison system works, what’s going on behind bars, what areas might bear improvement?
Michael Montgomery: One example concerns last year’s hunger strike, which last year spread to about 13 prisons. The men who started that hunger strike are at Pelican Bay State Prison. And the Department of Corrections continues to prevent broadcast reporters from interviewing these men. These are men who launched a very successful hunger strike that helped pressure the Department of Corrections to make some changes in these isolation units. And they are inmates with whom the Department of Corrections has actually had a dialogue. However, we as broadcast reporters are not allowed to interview them on tape. So in that sense the public has been left a bit in the dark about what these men have to say

NY: 5400 segregated inmates

Nearly 4,500 prisoners in the state are held in segregated housing on any given day, about half in solitary confinement and half in cells with another inmate, according to the N.Y.C.L.U., which planned to publish a 72-page report on its findings on Tuesday, a copy of which was provided in advance to The New York Times.

The civil liberties group called both types of segregation “arbitrary, inhumane and unsafe,” arguing that corrections officials have too much discretion to send inmates to segregated housing for long periods, even for minor infractions.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Staggering Number in Correctional System

More than 7 million adults are under some form of correctional supervision in the United States.

More than 1.6 million are incarcerated in federal and state prisons;  760,000 are locked in our jails.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

No shackles while delivering

Calif. Gov. Brown signed AB 30, allowing female inmates to have those shackles taken off whiole they deliver babies.  Now how about the other states?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Privatized health care in AZ

When the State of Arizona chose Wexler Health Services to supply the medical needs of inmates, taxpayers were supposed to save money, and the inmates were supposed to be cared for.  Opps.

The Arizona Department of Corrections has just fined its own outsourcer $10,000 for both "wasting state resources" and for "improperly dispensing medicine."  The actual case stories are sickening (pun intended).  The Pittsburgh-based company took over inmate care July 1 after winning a $349 million, three-year contract. The company plans to appeal the fine.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mice, roaches in prison cells may be unconstitutional

September 27, 2012|Jonathan Stempel | Reuters

(Reuters) - A prominent federal judge said on Thursday that the infestation of a prison cell with mice and cockroaches may violate the U.S. constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, even if the inmate is not physically harmed.
Writing for a panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, Circuit Judge Richard Posner nonetheless said an inmate who objected to such conditions in his Illinois state prison cell could not recover damages because the state did not waive its immunity from suit.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Even Amnesty Condemns SHUs


SHUs Have to Go

This week Amnesty International issued a stark, damaging assessment of California's isolation units.  It concluded that California "must make substantial changes" and reduce the number inside SHUs and the amount of time any prisoner remains in isolation.

That's just common sense, so it takes outsiders to make the point.  How can we ignore the 78 prisoners who have been in these cement coffins for over two decades each?  For 22 1/2 hours each day?  Often with no sunlight at all?  Shame on all of us.

As you can imagine, many of these isolated souls are inside SHUs because they are mentally ill;  they have been taken out of the prisons' general populations because their behavior doesn't fit into the "security" mantra of the officials.  So .. they're nuts, and we coffin them up and make them more nuts?  Surely we don't need Amnesty to explain that keeping people in coffins will make them sicker than they were when they entered.

Here's something to mull over when you try to sleep tonight:  Over 2,000 prisoners are being held in isolation after being “validated” as members or associates of prison gangs.  What are the proofs or signs of gang activity?  One inmate was areading a book that happened to have been owned by someone who was a gang member, and signed the corner of the book.  The guard udnerstood that book to be concerted gang activity, and away wne the reader.  Perhaps forever.  Many inmates have tattoos, most for protection from other ethnic gangs.  So if the prisoner gets one tattoo to separate himself from another gang, presto!  Into the SHU.  No one has to prove that the inmate took part in gang activity.

Once inside an SHU, prisoners are, in theory, reviewed annually to see if they can rejoin the general population.  But hey, the qualifications for getting out include not being in a gang.  Circular?  Yep.  Prisoners can't get out for being model citizens while in the SHU.  They can't get out because they have taken educational classes.  The only way to have officials take the "gang" label off is to confess to gang activities and--get this--list others in the gang.  How many ways is that wrong?  Plenty.

Here are Amnesty's suggestions.  Someone out there, please help get California's legislature to listen:
  • Limit the use of isolation units so that is it imposed only as a last resort in the case of prisoners whose behaviour constitutes a severe and ongoing threat to the safety of others.
  • Improve conditions for all prisoners held in isolation units, including better exercise provision and an opportunity for more human contact for prisoners, even at the most restrictive custody levels.
  • Allow prisoners in isolation units to make regular phone calls to their families.
  • Reduce the length of the Step Down Program and providing meaningful access to programs where prisoners have an opportunity for some group contact and interaction with others at an earlier stage.
  • Immediate removal from isolation of prisoners who have already spent years in those units.
  • They don't have to get re-elected;  they don't have to explain to terrified citizens why these people should be released.

Careful What You Ask For

First, recognize that the prison system administrators follow the mandates that the California legislature produces.  In theory, that congress is responding to the will of the California taxpayers.  If you don't like SHUs or the policies that govern them, maybe you'd better ask yourself what you, yourseelf, have done to create this mess.  Then you might ask your congressman/woman who mandated the procedures here. 

Second, until you've been inside California general-population prisons and seen the anger and hatred and violence, maybe you shouldn't be so quick to suggest we just open those SHU doors and bring the worst of the bunch back into the general population.  Although all inmates were indeed once citizens walking the streets and living in your cities, today they have had many rights taken away, and they aren't all that happy about it.  California law requires we keep them until their time is served;  then they again return to your cities.  Letting the SHU population return to general population is going to heat up the atmosphere real fast;  those heated prisoners then leave.  Think about that.

Third, the state of California has an epidemic of gangs.  California prisons have a mega-epidemic.  Some say the worst gangs even started behind these walls.  Apparently these gang members are going to continue hating each other until they are deep in their graves.  (Recent optimism is a new stop-the-gangs movement--sure hope it catches on!)  When a gang member kills another inmate, we have little option but to separate him from both the rival gang (who are going to be a tad pissed) and his own gang (who will knight him and try to top his performance.)  You think there are too many SHUs?  Apparently, there aren't enough.

Last, put yourself into our shoes a moment:  we are as imprisoned as our guests.  We hear the same horrid noises day in and day out.  We smell the same locked-up, sweaty-toes air that they do.  Our food is not catered by the Four Seasons.  When we walk into a room, we never know if we'll be able to walk out.  The tension and depression add up.  Yet we weren't sentenced for a crime against humanity.  We're doing a necessary job.  Don't make it harder on us by flooding our cells with someone so crazy-angry he bites us.  Don't return the gang murderer.  Please.

If you want to change prison policy so that the SHU inmates get sunshine, go for it!  It'll require extra guards, so be ready for a tax increase.  If you want to provide them healthier food, go for it.  (see above, tax increase)  If you want them to have group activities, you'll need extra guards and educators.  Good luck funding that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Other Death Sentence: Aging and Dying in America’s Prisons

New America Media, James Ridgeway, Sept. 26, 2012

SHIRLEY. Mass.--William “Lefty” Gilday was 82 and suffering from dementia and Parkinson's when officials at Massachusetts' Shirley Prison placed him in an isolation cell -- a "medical bubble" -- for throwing an empty milk carton at a guard. He spent the last months of his life alone, separated by a window from medical staff, who placed manila folders across the glass so they didn’t have to look at him—and also blocking his view.

As we get older, it is easy enough to imagine old age as a prison -- the body imprisoned by illness and loneliness. But in recent months, I have been corresponding with older men in Massachusetts state prisons who are in for life -- or in this case, death.

I am 75, so we share a camaraderie of sorts as we compare notes on our aches and pains and our medication regimens. They know I understand what it's like to be growing old and facing illness and death. But they also know I have no idea what it's like to endure life behind bars, to face the difficult end of life with no chance of ever again breathing the free air.

The men in prison want to tell me, and they want the outside world to know what their lives are like. They know full well the retribution that would likely follow for speaking with the press, but not one of my correspondents asked for anonymity.

Daily Indignities and Isolation

What is clear from my correspondence is that days are filled with indignities, such as trying to heave an aging body into the top bunk, fighting off younger troublemakers, struggling to move fast enough to get a food tray filled or get a book at the library when you can barely walk.

Most of all, there is isolation. Prisons discourage inmates from forging friendships, and prison officials are suspicious of anything that smacks of organizing. So they switch inmates back and forth between prisons and deny them the right to communicate with anyone else who is incarcerated.

Yet the group of lifers I've corresponded with have tried to make something of their lives, serving as jailhouse lawyers, organizing against abusive conditions, helping other inmates survive.

Sometimes these pursuits get them in trouble, but their prison records are free of any violent offenses. Even if technically eligible for parole, as a few of them are, most have been convicted of crimes that were both horrific and high-profile, ensuring that they will never get out.

Joe Labriola, 66, is a former Marine war hero who served two tours in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with V for valor. After returning home, Joe was convicted of killing a drug dealer, who was an FBI informant. He got life without parole. So far he has served 38 years, 18 of them in solitary confinement.

Agent Orange exposure left Joe struggling to breathe. He can't walk more than 10 steps without help from an oxygen tank. He's in a wheelchair most of the time and lives in a ward called Assisted Daily Living, which he describes as a clutch of hospital beds in a corridor.

"The only assistance we get,” he tells me, “is what other prisoners assigned to clean the floor and bathrooms render us when we ask."

From his window, Joe has a view of the prison hospital. "I see men coming up for medication and insulin at least three to four times per day. They come in chairs, geriatric walkers, and all have medications. In one week we had three deaths."

Seniors in the outside world complain about health care. But the inpatient facilities at the prison’s hospital consist of a series of five small wards with five beds in each. Men in various stages of bad health or terminal illness lie in bed all day with nothing to do but watch soap operas and the rare housefly that meanders in.

"What they need is mental, spiritual and human stimulation in the form of one-on-one care provided by trained prisoners," Joe writes. "There are many men willing to volunteer their time and energy to make this a reality."

“We Loved the Old Man”

Joe Labriola's "best pal" was Lefty Gilday. A minor league ballplayer turned ’60s revolutionary, a convicted cop killer, and target of one of the most famous manhunts in Massachusetts history, Lefty had been in and out of prison several times on robbery offenses when he fell in with a group of young Brandeis students, who thought they could spur on a black revolution by stealing guns and money.

When the Boston police answered an alarm during a bank robbery with guns drawn, Patrolman Walter Schroeder was shot dead. Lefty maintained it was a ricochet of a warning shot, but he was tried and convicted of first-degree murder.

Initially sentenced to death, Lefty became a lifer when the U.S. Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment in 1972. The students got sentences of no more than seven years.

In prison, Lefty became renowned as a jailhouse lawyer, putting together cases for other inmates. He settled disputes and became something of an elder statesman. "We loved the old man," Joe wrote.

When dementia set in, Lefty was already suffering from advanced Parkinson's disease and a host of other ailments. Inmates at Shirley Prison formed an ad hoc hospice team in their crowded ward. They brought special food from the prison commissary, heated it in an ancient microwave, and fed it to their dying friend. They helped him to the toilet and cleaned him up.

Joe tried to see that Lefty got a little sunshine every day, wheeling his chair out into the yard and sitting with his arm around Lefty to keep him from falling out.

After Lefty was placed in the medical bubble, his friends were denied contact with him. When Joe snuck in one day he found unopened food containers stacked up. Lefty said he couldn't open the tabs to get at the food. The stench of piss and feces was overpowering.

In September 2011, Lefty Gilday died in a Boston hospital. His friends sought permission to conduct a service in the prison chapel. Their request was denied. A chaplain helped put together a service in a classroom, which culminated in some 80 men sailing paper planes into the air in a symbolic representation to Lefty's spirit.

Younger Prisoners Not Told of Dementia

Other inmates with dementia are not as fortunate in their cellmates. John Feroli, in for murder, wrote to me about several lifers at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgwater, Mass. They are housed in double cells with much younger prisoners who are never told about the old timers' ailments.

In one case the guy with dementia believed his cellmate was stealing his clothes and started a fight. His cellmate broke his jaw. Another thought his cellmate was pissing in his socks, so he smashed his cellmate's guitar and hit him over the head with it. He got knocked out in return.

John also wrote about another guy in his 70s, who was in solitary confinement because he failed to stand for the afternoon count. "He was on the third floor of the housing unit, he was partially paralyzed from a stroke and the batteries in his hearing aid were dead and he never heard the announcement for 'Count time.'"

At 73, Frank Soffen, convicted of armed robbery and second-degree murder, has spent more than half his life in prison. He has suffered four heart attacks, has kidney and liver disease, and can move about only in a wheel chair.

Because of his failing health and a record that includes once rescuing a guard threatened by other prisoners, Frank has been identified as a candidate for release on medical and compassionate grounds. He has a supportive family and a place to live with his son.

The Massachusetts Board of Parole voted to deny his release in 2006, and again this past January. He will not be eligible for review for another five years. Today, he is warehoused in a medical observation bubble at Norfolk State Prison, bed-ridden, unable to wash himself, clad in adult diapers, and unable to hold a pen.

In May, I went to visit Gordon Haas at Norfolk, some 70 miles south of Boston. Haas has been in prison since his 1975 conviction for murdering his wife and children. That conviction was overturned and a retrial ended in a hung jury. He was reconvicted in a third trial in 1982.

Since he has been behind bars, Haas has earned a master's degree from Boston University. Now at age 68, he is active in the prison’s lifers' group, which he now leads, and is pushing compassionate care legislation in the state legislature. Haas has been urging the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to adopt a hospice program for the last 15 years.

"Our contention is that since lifers will probably be in need of such care we [prisoners] are a resource for others now," he tells me. "But the DOC does not sanction prisoners helping other prisoners. There is one outlet and that is prisoners can volunteer to take those who can go outside for programs and fresh air, even those in wheelchairs. That is good, but that is all there is."

Mass. Ignores Signs of Times
About one in five Massachusetts inmates (19 percent) is 50-plus, more than the national average of one in six (16 percent), according to “At America’s Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly,” released in June by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Nationally, says the ACLU report, inmates 50 or older cost --$68,270 to house and maintain—double the average for all prisoners of $34,135. That’s far lower than the Massachusetts overall per-prisoner cost of $45,502.19 in 2011, according to the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC).

For those at the end of life, Massachusetts prisons have no hospice programs to manage the care of terminally ill prisoners. In January, the state released its “Massachusetts Corrections Master Plan,” which projects the long-term development of three new facilities to deal with medical problems.

Despite housing 2,212 older prisoners, the Massachusetts DOC said it does not “have a position on compassionate, geriatric or any other type of release. That's up to the Legislature.”

In recent years, according to a 2010 report from the Vera Institute for Justice, by 2009 at least 15 states and the District of Columbia had programs allowing some form of “geriatric release,” especially for imprisoned elders with terminal or serious illnesses or disabilities.

The Vera report notes, though, that jurisdictions rarely use these provisions because of political considerations, public opinion, narrow eligibility criteria, procedures discouraging inmates from applying for release, and complicated and lengthy referral and review processes.

Massachusetts has no type of medical, or geriatric release program.

--James Ridgeway

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Better Hepatitis Treatment Costly for Prisons

Texas Tribune  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prison Violence Spikes in Tennessee

Nashville Scene

Posted by Jonathan Meador Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Comissioner Derrick Schofield

The nonprofit advocacy group Human Rights Defense Center has released data that shows an uptick in incidents of violence in Tennessee's prisons over the last three years, according to documents obtained by Pith.WSMV broke the news of this trend last night in a story featuring Alex Friedmann, a longtime prisoners' rights advocate and private prison critic, who on behalf of the HRDC provided data that reveals a steady 18.3 percent increase in violent incidents per 1,000 prisoners between 2010 and the first six months of 2012.Friedmann maintains that the surge in violence corresponds with the appointment of TDOC Commisioner Derrick Schofield, a Haslam Administration pick, whom Friedmann alleges is operating with "virtually no oversight and is running his own show."

In a press release [PDF] dated today, the HRDC cites a number of policies implemented by Schofield that they believe are responsible for creating conditions conducive to violence within Tennessee's prisons.

• Prisoners are required to walk in a single-file line under staff escort on the compound, a specified distance apart, and are not allowed to talk.

• Prisoners are not allowed to have their hands in their pockets while under escort, even during cold weather, and the TDOC has not issued gloves to all prisoners.

• Daily cell inspections are held in which prisoners have to stand by their cells without talking, reading or doing anything else until all cells in a unit have been inspected.

• Property rules have been repeatedly changed, and property items that prisoners were previously allowed to own have been prohibited.

• When prisoners are called to meals they are required to line up and wait outside until it is their turn to go to the dining hall; when it is raining they must stand in the rain.

• Arts and crafts programs have been curtailed at some facilities, including in-cell arts and crafts; also, access to musical instruments has been restricted.

• Most recently, prisoners are required to be standing by their bunks in their cells during the morning count, which is held at 5:00am to 6:00am; this was never done previously.

Also in the release, Friedmann notes the June, 2011 dissolution of the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections, and the resulting shift in prison oversight to the office of Gov. Bill Haslam and legislative judiciary committees: “Both Governor Haslam and the chairpersons of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees were notified of rising levels of violence in Tennessee state prisons in March 2012, including increased violence against staff; they received copies of a letter that was sent to Commissioner Schofield to that effect," Friedmann is quoted as saying. "However, they expressed no interest."In a statement responding to the allegations, Commissioner Scholfield told WSMV, "This department's policies are focused on building accountability and changing behavior."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

CAR "separate, unequal and wholly inhumane"


Advocacy Groups Target Private Prisons for Immigrants
by Maurice Chammah September 13, 2012

The unnecessary prosecution of nonviolent illegal immigrants is sending ever larger numbers to poorly managed private prisons, a coalition of advocacy groups said in a report released Thursday, calling on Congress to reject the appropriation of $25,865,000 for 1,000 new private prison beds.

The coalition, which includes Justice Strategies, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership and the Sentencing Project, argued that “petty immigration violations” are sending more Latinos to prisons where they face “poor management, lack of medical care, prolonged lockdown and human rights violations.” These facilities, called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons, are run by private companies including the Corrections Corporation of America, the Management & Training Corporation and the GEO Group.

“Conditions in CAR facilities are intentionally separate, unequal and wholly inhumane,” Krystal G√≥mez, policy and advocacy counsel for the ACLU of Texas, said in a news release. She said she has interviewed more than 100 CAR prisoners.

“Prisoners reported conditions that violate both constitutional protections and human rights norms, such as refusal to diagnose or treat disfiguring and progressive tumors, denial of critical medication to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and epilepsy," she said, "and failure to identify and treat dangerous communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which pose significant risk to public health.”

The groups are asking Congress to reject an appropriation of nearly $26 million for 1,000 new prison beds proposed in the 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which would likely go to one of the three companies, which all have a large presence in Texas. A facility in Willacy County on the Texas-Mexico border and managed by the Management Training Corporation (MTC) was converted last year from an immigration detention center to a CAR prison for convicted immigrants.

The demand for immigrant detention facilities grew in 2005 with the beginning of a program called Operation Streamline, which directs law enforcement who catch illegal migrants to turn them over for prosecution, rather than return them to Mexico or send them to immigration courts. Although there are no specific statistics for immigration detention centers, private corrections companies like CCA and MTC currently house 13,812 federal inmates at seven facilities in Texas, according to statistics from the Bureau of Prisons.

Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said that his agency cannot respond to complaints about conditions, and that it is up to the companies themselves to deal with the specific concerns of inmates.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the criticism is misplaced. "Ultimately, these groups are seeking to engage in a discussion about immigration detention policy, which CCA neither makes nor enforces," he wrote in an email. "Further, under longstanding corporate policy, we do not lobby for, promote, or in any way take a position on immigration detention policy. We hope these critic groups will shift their time, effort and money to the appropriate policy forums rather than attacking a company providing solutions to some very serious problems facing our country."

Issa Arnita, a spokesman for MTC, said critics of private prison companies miss the point of the services they provide.

"We are a partner with government agencies to save money and because we bring expertise," Arnita said.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Gang of Deputies" in L.A. Jails

A Sheriff with his Head in the Sand

By Margaret Winter, National Prison Project & Peter J. Eliasberg, ACLU of Southern California at 9:30am

[reposted from LinkedIn: The Innocence Project] Originally posted by the ACLU of Southern California.

Gang-like cliques of sheriff’s deputies operating with impunity inside L.A. County jails. Department top brass encouraging a culture of violence and brutality against inmates. And a sheriff with his head in the sand.

We at the ACLU have been calling attention to the medieval conditions inside L.A. County jails for years. But on September 7, 2012, the blue-ribbon Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence held its penultimate hearing on deputy violence in the L.A. County jails. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors created the Citizens’ Commission last October, shortly after we released a report detailing dozens of sworn statements by victims of brutal deputy-on-inmate violence in L.A. County jails.

Our report that prompted the creation of the commission was titled “Cruel and Usual Punishment: How a Savage Gang of Deputies Controls Men’s Central Jail”. The report — which includes blood-chilling, eyewitness accounts of sadistic deputy-on-inmate violence by jail chaplains, monitors, and other civilian volunteers — triggered a fire-storm of media attention and public criticism of L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

The commission held a series of public hearings, calling witnesses including victims of deputy abuse, nationally-recognized corrections experts, and ACLU jails monitors and counsel. In addition, the staff of the commission, made up of pro bono lawyers from some of the most prestigious law firms in the country, interviewed more than a hundred other witnesses and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents.

At the September 7 hearing, a panel of the commission’s attorney investigators issued a preliminary report of their findings. The findings are devastating: investigators confirmed that LASD personnel “have used force against inmates disproportionate to the threat posed, or when there was no threat at all”; LASD’s process for investigating use of force incidents contains “multiple deficiencies”; dangerous, gang-like cliques have been operating inside the jails; Undersheriff Paul Tanaka not only discouraged investigations into alleged deputy abuses but also actually actively encouraged a culture a violence, urging deputies to act aggressively against inmates; Sheriff Baca, in turn, failed to discipline Tanaka or other top managers; and that top jails managers insulated Baca from information about the gang-like deputy cliques operating in the jails.

These findings come as no surprise to the ACLU: for the past four years, we’ve been intensively monitoring, carefully documenting, and vigorously denouncing the escalating pattern of deputy violence in the jails. In January 2012, the ACLU and the law firm of Paul Hastings filed a class-action lawsuit against Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Tanaka on behalf of all detainees in the jails, seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief from the violence.

Although not unexpected the Citizens’ Commission findings are extraordinarily important. They strongly corroborate the ACLU’s allegations against Sheriff Baca, Undersheriff Tanaka, and other top jail management — who continue to minimize the pervasiveness of deputy violence, to suppress the evidence of deputy violence, and to malign the deputies’ accusers, even as the reign of terror in the jails continues. We look forward to the release next month of the commission’s final report; with findings by a blue-ribbon panel staffed by many of the finest law firms in the country, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the sheriff to dismiss the deputies’ accusers as lacking in credibility.

Margaret Winter and Peter Eliasberg are two of the lead counsel for Plaintiffs in Rosas v. Baca; Ms. Winter testified in front of the Jail Commission.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Illinois System and Critics Agree

Northwest Herald

By CHRISTOPHER WILLS - The Associated Press

Ill. to improve youth prison conditions

SPRINGFIELD – The state of Illinois has agreed to improve conditions at youth prisons under a settlement that officials hope will avert a legal battle if a judge agrees to the deal.

The settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois doesn’t spell out exactly what would be done to correct problems such as violence, limited educational opportunities and inadequate mental health care.

Instead, it proposes that independent investigators review procedures and present a plan within six months.

Also under the proposal, the Department of Juvenile Justice would change its practice of throwing children into solitary confinement for long periods and keeping inmates behind bars after they’re supposed to be released because the state has nowhere to send them.

The ACLU plans to submit the proposed settlement today at the same time it files a federal class-action. A judge would then review the deal and decide whether to accept it.

Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel for the Illinois ACLU, called the agreement “a starting point” in ensuring that youth prisons provide proper care.

Meanwhile, Arthur Bishop, director of the Juvenile Justice Department, said it is “another brick in the foundation” of a new system to help youths instead of simply warehousing them.

The department houses about 1,000 children and teenagers. Nearly 70 percent of them are nonviolent offenders or former prisoners who were sent back for technical violations of their parole, according to the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group.

The association and other independent groups say the youths often can’t get a decent education.

Classes are often canceled because teachers aren’t available, the John Howard Association reports, and the agency went a full year without an administrator to oversee schooling. Special education is limited, although the ACLU says nearly half the inmates need it.

Mental health is a similar story. About two-thirds of youths at state facilities face some kind of mental illness, but the Department of Juvenile Justice lacks staff to treat them. For instance, services at the Kewanee prison, which focuses on youths with mental problems, were cut by 75 percent last year, the John Howard Association found.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2010 that the state’s juvenile correctional facilities had seen seven suicides in the past decade and 175 serious suicide attempts.

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that violence among inmates is a frequent problem, as is abuse by the staff. It does not provide any examples or statistics to support that, and Schwartz said he didn’t have any figures available.

However, the John Howard Association reports that staff members have told them they will turn their back on misconduct by other staffers to avoid being a possible witness. And they claim they might face retaliation if they report misconduct.

Watchdog groups criticize the department’s practice of putting inmates in “confinement” – which means solitary confinement without any activities, including classroom work – for non-violent offenses. The ACLU lawsuit says youths can be kept in confinement for weeks or, at one facility, up to three months.

The average time in confinement last year was 2.4 days, down from 8.8 days in 2006, according to the John Howard Association. But confinement was being handed out as a punishment just as often, even though the department now handles fewer people.

Another problem is that state government’s lack of money and employees makes it hard to arrange places for juveniles to go once they are released. As a result, they end up being kept in youth prisons longer than they should be.

The Chicago Tribune reported in 2010 that the state’s juvenile correctional facilities had seen seven suicides in the past decade and 175 serious suicide attempts.

The ACLU lawsuit alleges that violence among inmates is a frequent problem, as is abuse by the staff. It does not provide any examples or statistics to support that, and Schwartz said he didn’t have any figures available.

However, the John Howard Association reports that staff members have told them they will turn their back on misconduct by other staffers to avoid being a possible witness. And they claim they might face retaliation if they report misconduct.

Watchdog groups criticize the department’s practice of putting inmates in “confinement” – which means solitary confinement without any activities, including classroom work – for non-violent offenses. The ACLU lawsuit says youths can be kept in confinement for weeks or, at one facility, up to three months.

The average time in confinement last year was 2.4 days, down from 8.8 days in 2006, according to the John Howard Association. But confinement was being handed out as a punishment just as often, even though the department now handles fewer people.

Another problem is that state government’s lack of money and employees makes it hard to arrange places for juveniles to go once they are released. As a result, they end up being kept in youth prisons longer than they should be.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Texas: 878 Ag Seg released into public

The Texas Tribune
Lawmakers Revisit Approach to Solitary Confinement
by Maurice Chammah
September 5, 2012

Solitary confinement has been referred to by many names, including "special housing units," "lockdown" and "the hole." In Texas, it's called "administrative segregation," and prison administrators reserve it for inmates considered particularly dangerous, including those affiliated with a prison gang.

While solitary confinement in prisons is rising as a national issue because of concerns about its psychological effect on individual inmates, Texas lawmakers are worried in particular that inmates are released with no transition between solitary confinement and the free world.

"The longer you leave someone in there without rehabilitation, there is a possibility they will come out more dangerous,” Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Tuesday at a committee hearing.

Though the U.S. still leads the world in its rate of solitary confinement, Texas has seen a slight decline in its number of inmates held in administrative segregation. There are 8,144 inmates (including roughly 80 women) under the classification in Texas, down from 8,701 in 2010 and 9,752 in 2005. The average stay in administrative segregation is 3.2 years, but some inmates have been there for more than two decades.

Solitary confinement gained traction nationally in the 1980s, when the federal prison system turned increasingly toward “supermax” prisons in response to the growth of prison gangs. Texas followed, placing inmates deemed members of “security threat groups” into cells for 23 hours a day, letting them out only for recreation and showers.

According to Jason Clark of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, gang members were threatening the families of guards if they didn't let drugs into the prison, and strict custody was needed to keep these inmates from communicating with gang members outside the prison. Administrative segregation cells are located in 22 of Texas' more than 100 state prisons.

Meanwhile, the psychological impact of such conditions continues to become a national issue, and Texas advocates aren't ignoring it. Travis Lee of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition discussed a letter from an inmate who had been in administrative segregation for 18 years. “I have difficulty concentrating while reading and talking and I forget what I was trying to say mid-sentence,” the inmate wrote. “I’ve watched sane men slowly go insane, become a person I’ve never seen before. They lose their ability to rationalize.”

“This gives you a picture of the conditions people are being removed straight from,” Lee said, “and placed straight into the community.”

“We're taking people we're mad at and making them into people we're scared of,” says Matt Simpson, a policy strategist with the Texas ACLU. “I think what we need is a better classification system." He says Texas should look to Mississippi, which over the last nine years has drastically decreased its population in solitary confinement through graduated incentives, anger management programs and more recreation.

“I ain’t worried about their comfort level, to be honest,” Whitmire said at Tuesday’s hearing. He is concerned about the release and re-entry of inmates held in these conditions, which mostly do not allow for educational or rehabilitative programs. “Is there something we could be doing with this population,” he asked, “to see if we can make an imprint, a change in their behavior?"

According to Brad Livingston, the executive director of TDCJ, his department is looking at educational programs for inmates in administrative segregation. At the Estelle Unit near Huntsville, officials have placed television monitors in some of their cells for educational viewing, as part of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative Program. Livingston says there are plans to expand the program if all goes well.

"I'm looking out for public safety that they're not in Ad Seg their whole sentence and then they come back to the streets,” Livingston said. This year, 878 inmates have finished their sentence and were released directly from administrative segregation.

According to Livingston, TDCJ is looking to expand opportunities for inmates to get out of administrative segregation by renouncing their gang affiliations. He estimates that 60 percent of inmates have ended up in this classification due to their membership in a gang, and that with more resources these inmates can get back into the general population. "It's not in our interest to have inmates in administrative segregation that could be housed in general population," he said.

Whitmire recommended a working group be convened to study the best way to rehabilitate these inmates. “Removing people from that, and not providing them with resources or some assistance, is obviously detrimental to public safety,” he said.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chief Deputy Agrees: Deplorable Conditions

Inmate families protest conditions at Jefferson County Jail

Published: Monday, September 10, 2012, 1:23 PM Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012, 1:23 PM

By Carol Robinson -- The Birmingham News

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Family members of several Jefferson County Jail inmates protested outside the downtown facility today, saying the food and conditions are atrocious.

Five people held signs outside the Mel Bailey Criminal Justice Center and talked to news reporters and photographers, who outnumbered the protesters. Bridget Gober of Gardendale said her 18-year-old daughter has been jailed on drug charges since July 27, and has been in the same jail uniform since she was incarcerated. A judge has denied her bond and drug court, according to her mother.

Gober said her daughter suffered withdrawals because she wasn't given her prescription Xanax, and no jail staff helped her. The food, Gober said, isn't fit to eat. The protesters said a typical breakfast might include a piece of toast, a hard-boiled egg and a spoonful of grits.

"It's not supposed to be a country club, but give them adequate food," she said. "I expect for them to be treated like a human."

Jefferson County sheriff's Chief Deputy Randy Christian said the jail has averaged 500 inmates over capacity since the county jail in the Bessemer Cutoff closed in 2009.

"The deplorable conditions at the Birmingham jail are well-documented," Christian said. "A jail shouldn't be a cake walk, but there are standards that must be met or you end up in federal court with a judge issuing compliance orders. The conditions for our deputies and civilian personnel is very concerning."

"We have been protesting this for a couple of years ourselves," Christian said. "It's about time someone else joined in."

Closing of Illinois Supermax

Fight Over Closing of Illinois Supermax Ends 14 Years of Prisoners' Silence in Solitary Confinement

-Wednesday, 15 August 2012 00:00 By Yana Kunichoff and Jesse Menendez, Truthout and Vocalo | Report-

Tamms Correctional Center on 200 Supermax Road, near the southern tip of Southern Illinois, may be as far from the hustling and bustling city of Chicago, with its constant city throb of noise, as you can get. And it's likely that no one can feel the difference as much as its inmates.

The only supermax facility in Illinois, meaning it is the only prison built to keep the majority of its prisoners in isolation, Tamms prison was consigned for closure by the state's governor in July.

But the battle between former prisoners, the families of those hurt by conditions at Tamms, anti-torture advocates, the union determined to keep its jobs and the state legislature struggling to contain costs continues to rage.

The story of Tamms is the story of something positive that may have come out of a recession, about what may be the last throes of the supermax movement, and what a campaign against torture accomplished in less than four years.

Behind the Walls of Tamms
A man in Tamms made this drawing and others like it to communicate his despair from being in Tamms since 1998. (Image: Bear Cub)The first supermax prison in the United States was the infamous Alcatraz, opened in 1934. Since then, tough-on-crime policies have led to the opening of more than 55 correctional facilities devoted, entirely or partly, to housing "the worst of the worst" across the country. This was the logic behind the opening of Tamms in 1998.

For the first ten years of its operation, the prison was mostly silent to the public ear. When the Tamms Year Ten campaign launched ten years after the prison was first opened, it became clear that much of the silence was due to the prolonged solitary confinement that most of its inmates were kept in for years.

"We wanted to create a set of demands around the crisis of isolation," said Laurie Jo Reynolds with the Tamms Year Ten campaign. "The prison was started with the concept of short-term isolation, but ten years later, no one had heard anything from inside Tamms."

The group, made up of former prisoners, prisoners' families, artists, writers, lawyers and others, believes that long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture punishment that should be curtailed, if not banned altogether.

When they finally began hearing word from Tamms, the group discovered that most inmates are held in concrete cells 24 hours a day, are not allowed phone calls, and rarely see or speak to another human being. In addition, what little counseling was available was wholly inadequate, and reading material and family photographs were strictly rationed.

A former inmate, Brian Nelson, described the feeling of being in Tamms: "The doors are like a rust-red color with thousands of perforated holes. And you look outside, and you don't see nothing but a gray wall. My biggest fear is that this is all happening in my head, and I am going to wake up and I'm in that cell. And that scares the s--- out of me."

Reynolds says that half of the prisoners they communicate with are under administrative detention, meaning they could be alleged gang members or have other ties that cause them to be classified as "administrative detainees," a category long considered "broad enough as to be meaningless."

A report by the John Howard Association of Illinois found that:

Supermax inmates frequently suffer from mental illness. At Tamms, this often manifests itself in inmates cutting themselves, a practice staff tries but is unable to prevent. While Tamms has implemented some policies intended to lessen the harshness of life within its walls, it also has some practices certain to increase inmate discomfort....

The prison is intentionally devoid of color or other visual stimulation. Inmates are usually unable to talk with one another. At best, they spend 23 hours a day alone within their cells. At worst, they can be confined to their cells 24 hours a day for three months as a disciplinary measure. Like its counterparts around the nation, Tamms is frequently criticized for maltreatment of inmates. There are 23 pending federal lawsuits against Tamms, according to prison management. Earlier this year a federal judge ruled that inmates sent to Tamms could challenge their transfer to the prison. The judge concluded that conditions at the prison endanger the psychiatric well being of long-term inmates.

Reynolds says that a large majority of the prisoners have pre-existing mental health conditions, creating a cruel cycle. "When those people are in a regular prison, they can't follow all the rules, but when they are placed in isolation, their mental health gets worse."

More generally, Illinois correctional facilities regularly hold inmates who are mentally ill and end up in prison or jail for lack of treatment facilities that could help them avoid punishment. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called Cook County Jail "the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois."

In 2012, the United Nations discussed the possibility of launching a probe to see whether the treatment of inmates at Tamms constituted torture by international human rights standards.

But for those whose loved ones spend every day in Tamms, the pain continues.

Brenda Smith, whose son Herman has been in isolation in Tamms for more than ten years, says, "The letters that he writes me are horrifying."

The only way she copes is by "trying not to think about what he is going through."

"I am the only person he can write the letters to, and he doesn't tell me everything he is going through," says Smith.

Smith's son is one of the inmates at Tamms whose distress has led him to self-mutilate.

"It's like he's dead, in a sense. You can't touch him; you can't hug him. It's hard."

Family members and other people of conscience hold a rally outside the James R. Thompson Center to urge Governor Quinn to recognize that long-term isolation causes lasting mental damage, and that people with extreme mental illnesses are more likely to end up in segregation and eventually isolation. (Photo: Tamms Year Ten)

The Roots of a Campaign Take Hold

Reynolds first met two mothers of prisoners at Tamms when she was working on a campaign against the high cost of phone calls in jails. The prison opened in 1998, and it was 2008 when Reynolds says that one-third of the more than 250 inmates in Tamms had been in solitary confinement for ten years.

She kept in touch with them, and then, in 2000, she joined several mothers and anti-prison activists on the Tamms Committee. From there, they launched the Tamms Poetry Committee, "By sending a poem or a letter to every person at Tamms," said Reynolds, "we gave them much-needed human contact."

One of the prisoners sent a poem back, and then, more prisoners sent poems back. And then they started asking something else, says Reynolds: "This is great, but could you please tell the government what is going on here."

That was in 2007.

"It prompted us into launching a campaign," said Reynolds. "I thought, if I find this so appalling and reprehensible, if we take this issue to the public, they will agree with us. It was the prisoners who prompted us to go further."

Then began the legislative merry-go-round that the group has followed doggedly, now nearly to its end. The group started pressuring the Prison Reform Committee, an arm of the Illinois House of Representatives, to call a hearing.

And when they did, in 2008, "We held a series of events to prepare for the hearing, and then packed the room," said Reynolds.

Riding the momentum from the hearing, Tamms Year Ten decided to push for reform legislation that Reynolds says would "go back to the original legislative intent" of the facility.

A key complaint of the men in the prison was that many of them were not aware why they were in the supermax facility, or what they needed to do to get out. The result was HB 6651, introduced in the spring 2008 session to establish standards for which prisoners could be transferred to Tamms and to set the limits of their stay.

According to Stephen Eisenman, a Northwestern University art professor and activist with the campaign, the bill would, "ensure that only violent prisoners are transferred to Tamms; provide hearings to establish fairness in decisions about transfer; limit terms of solitary confinement at Tamms to one year, unless the prisoner committed another violent act; and prevent mentally ill prisoners from being sent to Tamms."

The legislation didn't make it into law, but a new director, Michael Randle, was appointed to the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), with the top priority of reviewing the supermax. He met with Tamms Year Ten and legislators and began looking into the conditions in the prison. This was in May 2009.

Meanwhile, the Belleville News-Democrat began a series in August 2009 that unveiled the horror behind the doors of Tamms: prisoners self-mutilating, the high proportion of mentally ill prisoners and the large costs of running the facility.

Tamms Year Ten continued to send letters and poetry to prisoners and to organize screenings, marches, music concerts and art campaigns.

Randle issued a Ten Point Plan for how to reform Tamms in 2010, calling for better mental health screenings, limited phone calls and the chance for prisoners to earn time outside of their cells. At the same time, a new process of prisoner reviews at Tamms led to the transfer of nearly 40 inmates out of the facility and the introduction of a new GED program.

Then in July of 2012, US District Judge G. Patrick Murphy ruled that several dozen individuals from Tamms had had their constitutional rights violated and were denied their right to a hearing before they were sent to the isolation facility, and called the incarceration at Tamms "virtual sensory deprivation."

Eisenman, in an op-ed in The Chicago Sun-Times, argued that, while their efforts were welcomed, "neither Judge Murphy nor the John Howard Association got to the heart of the matter."

The problem with Tamms is not that guards are insensitive, food is poor, educational programming - apart from a few GED classes - is nonexistent or rules for visitation are maddeningly complex. It is that terms of isolation are unconscionably long and that there is a lack of transparency concerning the reasons prisoners are sent to Tamms. Forty of the 206 men now at Tamms have been there since the facility opened in 1998, and criteria for being sent to the prison (and held there) are vague in the extreme.... [Legislators and Illinois Department of Corrections officials] should remember that the Ten-Point Plan at Tamms remains an incomplete project and that fundamental change at the Supermax is essential for the sake of economic health, public safety and basic humanity."

On September 2, 2010, the group lost its sympathetic director when Randle resigned following a scandal in which prisoners let out on an early-release initiative he championed re-offended soon after their release.

Tamms Year Ten has continued to testify every year to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees when the IDOC budget is being argued.

"The financial argument itself is so striking, it would be easy to close the facility on that only," said Reynolds.

The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back
On June 19, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced that Tamms would be closing by the end of August.

Along with years of work by activists, the straw that broke the camel's back and led to the planned closure was price tag. The cost to run Tamms, which regularly holds less than 200 prisoners at a time, is $62,000 per inmate per year. According to NPR, this is three times the statewide average.

Quinn said in a statement: "We have the responsibility to manage the state's limited resources as efficiently as possible and make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois. The growing costs of pension and Medicaid make up 39% of state general revenue spending. While we were able to enact more than $2 billion in Medicaid reforms with bi-partisan support, we still must reform our public pension systems to alleviate this squeeze on general revenue spending."

Annually, the cost to run the facility is $26 million, out of the IDOC's $1.2 billion budget.

Meanwhile, Illinois' budget deficit is one of the worst in the nation - $43.8 billion in the red. Child care programs, health care for low-income people, programs for the homeless and public-sector pensions have all ended up on the chopping block.

The Tamms Year Ten campaign celebrates the decision, says Reynolds. "It was a pragmatic decision, but I think Quinn is also principled and cares about the issue."

Reynolds says that the new IDOC director says only 25 individuals in Tamms are in need of maximum security. Some prisoner transfers have already begun.

For Smith, whose son remains in Tamms, the news of the closure "is something to give them hope."

"They would have a lot less problems if they were giving them any hope, but they see no way out," said Smith. "If you cage an animal up and mistreat him, he will bite you."

Downstate legislators and the prison union have come down hard against the closing of the prison. It is the main employer in Tamms, Illinois, a town with a population of 632.

Legislators, including some Democrats, have continued to put money to run Tamms into the Department of Corrections budget, which Governor Quinn has then vetoed as a line item.

Illinois Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), one of the Democratic legislators leading the push to keep Tamms open, was not available for comment.

Prison guards, led by American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 31, are suing Governor Quinn for his plans to close the facility, arguing that bringing Tamms residents to other prisons will increase overcrowding and bring unsafe working conditions.

Reynolds, in response, says that guards from Tamms could be used to staff other overcrowded and understaffed prisons. "The union has gone entirely ballistic with a campaign of outright lies, half-truths and fearmongering," she said.

AFSCME Local 31 did not respond to requests for comment.

But the lawsuit, and a criminal investigation into alleged leaks by prison guards, has halted prisoner transfers until August 17.

Eric Fink, a labor lawyer, professor and former legal attorney for AFSCME prison guards in Pennsylvania, says that the tension between a union's immediate employment interests and a wider social justice agenda is not unheard of.

"The union's main function is to advocate for the interest of its members, and it isn't normally in the business of saying we support eliminating the jobs of our members."

However, says Fink, "the ideal solution might be to say, for reasons of social justice, that we agree with reigning back the prison complex, but we want that to be coupled with shifting to other jobs and the necessary training so correctional officers can be trained to do other things."

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000 in California has come out against prison expansion in favor of increasing positions for social workers instead.

The End of Supermax?
Despite the roadblocks, Reynolds says she is "confident the closure of Tamms - a really difficult project, but also a really inspiring project - will be completed."

And with it, says Reynolds, another leg will be kicked out from under the supermax model. States including California and Kansas have closed or downgraded their maximum-security prisons.

However, the battle continues. On August 17, Quinn is expected to announce the results of his discussions with AFSCME, and as the Tamms issue continues, he is under fire for not letting reporters into two other Illinois prisons where, inmates say, conditions are poor.

For Reynolds, "the moral of the story is, it really does matter if a bunch of people band together and say, You can't do this."

Interviews by Vocalo

Music Vox host Jesse Menendez spoke with Tamms Year Ten representative Josh Jones about his organization's efforts to close the Tamms Correctional Center and the benefit Tamms Year Ten is organizing to support their cause.

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