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.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

US judges won't ease state prison crowding order

Posted: 5:28 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, 2012


A panel of federal judges won't consider easing its order that the state sharply reduce its prison population to improve inmate care, but may give state officials more time to comply, the three judges said Friday.

State prison officials have said they won't be able to meet a court-ordered deadline to reduce the population of the state's 33 adult prisons by about 33,000 inmates by June 2013. They argue that they could house another 3,000 inmates in those prisons while still bringing conditions up to constitutional standards for providing medical and mental health care.

The judges wrote in a four-page order that they are not willing to reconsider the population cap order that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

"That question has already been litigated and decided by this Court and affirmed by the Supreme Court, and this Court is not inclined to permit re-litigation of the proper population cap at this time," they wrote.

"It was a forceful rejection of the state's position that they are entitled to modify the population cap," said Don Specter, director of the nonprofit Berkeley-based Prison Law Office. "Here's my wish: that the state would stop playing games with the court and take the judgment of the U.S. Supreme Court seriously and abide by the law of the land."

Corrections officials said they could not immediately comment.

The judges said they would consider extending the state's deadline by six months, until December 2013. No further delay would be acceptable, they said, because the state already has said how it could meet the original standard without endangering public safety.

"They have to prove that they can't do it by June. That's the next battle," Specter said. "That's going to be a hard burden for them to meet."

In court filings on Aug. 17 and again earlier this week, state officials said they could elect to keep enough inmates in private prisons in other states to meet the population cap.

"Although this is a far-worse alternative than the contemplated modification of the final benchmark because it relocates inmates far from their communities, is expensive, and is unnecessary in light of the vast improvements Defendants have made to prison health care, it is nevertheless an available option," state officials said in their filing on Tuesday.

The state already has sharply reduced its prison population under a law that took effect last year that shifts responsibility for less serious criminals to county jails. Prison officials say that will have moved more than 29,000 inmates to the local level by June 2013.

In their order, the judges also rejected a request from inmates' attorneys to hold state officials in contempt of court. The state had previously ignored the judges' Aug. 3 order to say how and when they could meet the court's population cap by identifying inmates who are unlikely to commit new crimes or might otherwise be suitable for early release. The judges also told the state to submit other ways in which it could meet the June 2013 deadline.

"Defendants may not ignore an order from this Court, and they shall file a brief answering these questions on or before September 17, 2012," the judges said.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Feds: Kan. women's prison violates inmates' rights Sept. 7

by John Hanna

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Sexual misconduct and abuse of inmates at Kansas' prison for women is "rampant throughout the facility" and persisted even as federal officials investigated problems at the facility, according to a U.S. Justice Department report released Thursday.

The department's Civil Rights Division concluded that Kansas failed to adequately deal with problems at the Topeka Correctional Facility after the National Institute of Corrections recommended more than two dozen changes in January 2010 and the prison's top administrator was reassigned. The report also cited a shortage of female officers and said the prison's policies and staffing are inadequate.

Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, immediately sought to assign blame for the problems to former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who left office in April 2009 to become U.S. health and human services secretary. Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag said Thursday night that Brownback's administration has made "immense strides" in improving the prison's operations since he took office in January 2011.

The Justice Department launched its investigation in April 2011. The findings were reported to Brownback in a letter Thursday from Thomas Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights. The letter warned that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could file a lawsuit if the department does not believe Kansas is properly resolving the problems by late October.

"We conclude that TCF fails to protect women prisoners from harm due to sexual abuse and misconduct from correctional staff and other prisoners in violation of their constitutional rights," Perez said in his letter. "The women at TCF universally fear for their own safety."

Jones-Sontag noted the 17-month lag between the start of the Justice Department's investigation and Perez's letter, and said the Brownback administration "moved aggressively to make changes" that included new policies and the installation of 100 new cameras at the prison.

She said that as the Justice Department gains "a more complete picture" of conditions at the prison, "it will become clear that the constitutional rights of TCF inmates are protected by the State of Kansas in the Brownback administration."

Potential problems at the prison — including sexual misconduct by staff — were highlighted by the Topeka Capital-Journal in a series of stories starting in October 2009, though allegations dated from the Sebelius administration. The newspaper reported that inmates and staff said as many as one-third of its 250 employees had been involved with an illegal black market that included exchanging drugs for sex with female inmates.

At the time, state corrections officials said the extent of the potential problems had been exaggerated. But Perez's letter said the state and the prison have failed to remedy "the myriad systemic causes of harm to the women prisoners" despite "well-documented" investigations and audits.

As of Wednesday, the prison housed 684 inmates.

"They live in a highly charged sexual environment with repeated and open sexual behavior, including sexual relations between staff and prisoners and non-consensual sexual conduct between the female prisoners, open and notorious sex parties, and public nudity," Perez said in his letter.

Much of the inappropriate behavior remains unreported because of insufficient staffing, inadequate policies, a fear of retaliation and "a dysfunctional grievance system," according to the letter, which noted that 68 percent of the prison's staff is male.

Keen Umbehr, a Topeka-area attorney who has represented female inmates and investigated their complaints, said he's disappointed that the Department of Corrections culture hasn't appeared to change since Brownback took office in January 2011.

"Go to these other states that don't have any of these problems," Umbehr said. "They have a management style that prevents this nonsense."

In 2010, during the tenure of Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson, the state increased the penalties for staff having sex with inmates, requiring prison time. After Brownback took office and appointed him, Corrections Secretary Ray Roberts conducted an internal investigation, leading to more announced changes.

Yet the Justice Department's letter said the Department of Corrections and the prison "still have failed to adequately address the deficiencies."

In June, Brownback and legislative leaders agreed to have the state pay $30,000 to a former Topeka Correctional Facility inmate who was forced by an officer into having sex in 2008. The officer had pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual relations and was placed on probation.

The Justice Department letter said officials reviewed a video of an inmate-on-inmate sexual assault at the prison that continued for 45 minutes without staff intervening. The letter did not provide more details about the date of the incident or the inmates involved.

The letter also said prisoners reported incidents of "parties" in which naked prisoners would pass around and use sex toys, though it didn't say when they occurred. It also said one unnamed officer was fired in 2011 after "years" of credible allegations of sexual abuse.

"Many of the prisoners with whom we spoke also complained of being groped and sexually assaulted in pat-down searches," the letter said.

The Justice Department letter lists 21 steps it expects the Department of Corrections and the prison to take to remedy the problems. They included enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy against sexual abuse and a policy to prevent any employee, contractor or volunteer suspected of sexual misconduct from having contact with inmates until an investigation is completed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Crowded Illinois Prisons

> Chicagoland Quinn's plan to close prisons put on temporary lockdown
Judge agrees with union that increasing crowding would endanger guards

By Monique Garcia, Chicago Tribune reporter

September 5, 2012

A southern Illinois judge has issued a temporary halt to Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close several prisons and juvenile justice facilities.

The ruling came at the request of the state's largest employee union, which asked Alexander County Circuit Judge Charles Cavaness to block the closures. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees argued that the closures would put prison employees' safety at risk, citing already crowded conditions at prisons across the state.

The move follows last week's ruling by an arbitrator that Quinn violated the state's contract with the union by moving forward with the closures. The arbitrator ordered the state to return to the bargaining table.

Quinn wants to close the state's only supermaximum-security prison near Tamms in far southern Illinois, as well as the women's maximum-security prison in Dwight, in central Illinois. Two juvenile justice centers, in Joliet and Murphysboro, also are slated for closing, along with three transitional centers for inmates, including one on Chicago's West Side.

Quinn's office already had agreed to stop transferring prisoners out of those facilities because of the lawsuit. Most of the facilities were scheduled to close at the end of August, except for the youth center in Joliet, where the target date is Oct. 31.

Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said Tuesday that the governor's office remains "committed to our closure plans and are eager to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."

The state is "examining options" related to the lawsuit and an appeal of the arbitrator's ruling, Kraft said.

"We have empty, half-full, outdated and expensive facilities in Illinois that our taxpayers are funding," Kraft said in a statement. "It is disappointing that progress to make Illinois a better place and to put its financial house in order continues to be halted."

Quinn is spending the week in Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention, where union bosses in attendance have noted the troubled relationship between the Democratic governor and workers who have historically been key supporters of Democrats.

Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune

The 3 Essential Correctional Skills

By Judith A. Yates

Published: 09/10/2012

The three most important skills in corrections are report writing, the ability to ‘read’ nonverbal communication, and the ability to communicate. Sounds simple? It takes years of training, watching, and the ability to want to learn. Report writing is essencial. We have become far to reliant on electronic means for spell check and grammar. You should have noticed there are already two spelling and grammar errors here: ‘essencial’ and ‘to,’ easy to overlook but sloppy in a report. A report can lose a case in court, can have your statement thrown out of the Lieutenant’s basket, or can make your entire department appear disorganized, ignorant, and incompetent.
As the saying goes, “If it is not written down, it did not happen.” You should be able to read a report and tell exactly what occurred five minutes, five days, even five years after the incident. It should tell who, what, where, when, why, how. There should be no detail overlooked. All employees should take advantage of, and even request, report writing classes, because in this business you never know what may occur.
Reading body language is an art and a skill you cannot acquire in a day. Sometimes it is as easy as noting aggressive posture, such as two inmates squaring off in a heated argument, when you are yards away. It can be a slight flick of a hand to hide small contraband as you approach within feet. Inmates may throw a fast gang sign when being moved from a cellblock.
When I was a rookie I was assigned to the rec yard, sitting in a small office with heavily tinted windows. I spoke with a mentor and confided I was bored. She explained, “This is where you learn to watch inmate behavior. Who runs with which group? How do they act?” I began to watch their behaviors, when they did not think they were being watched, versus their body language when another officer approached their immediate area. I eventually cultivated a few snitches, discovered gang identities, and more. It is estimated body language is 85-90% of communication – we are what we do.
The ability to communicate is not what we say, but also how we say it. For example, officers speaking to child molesters know by berating the perpetrator they will get no information and may even be sued for discrimination. On the flip side, we must be careful not to become a ‘caregiver’ or a rule-bender, for inmates will see this as a weakness. We walk a fine line between supervisor and caretaker. We cannot shout at an inmate, “Get out of my office, stupid!” Nor can we ask sweetly, “Please leave my office, sir?” But we can say, “I need you to leave my office.” We know all inmates’ crimes are bad: hurting another person by theft, murder, abuse, or drugs.
As correctional employees we are not Judge or jury and we must play our role. The inmate is serving their sentence. If we degrade ourselves with name-calling, taunting, or purposely set out to “get” or “show them” we harm ourselves. In the Federal Bureau of Prisons there was a saying: “Inmates have 24 hours a day, 365 days to think about revenge.” In history, officers were part of the punishment phase. No more.
If you work on writing complete reports with no spelling or grammatical errors, are cognizant of your environment to include the ability to ‘read’ nonverbal communication, and communicate in a way that is fair and equal to everyone without being too compliant, your future in corrections is secure. This is a business like no other, and we must continue to train and work together so everyone goes home safe at the end of shift.Be safe out there. author, Judith A. Yates was a trainer and Senior Officer Specialist for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. She was also employed at the Wichita County Sheriff’s Office in Texas. She is now a true crime writer and has written a book on common sense self defense. She can be reached at

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Colorado Prison Inmate Wins Right to Outdoor Exercise

By John IngoldThe Denver

Posted: 09/04/2012 12:01:00 AM MDT

For 12 years, virtually the only exposure Troy Anderson has had to the
outdoors has come in a 90-square-foot room.
At one end of the room are two slits in the wall that are 6-inches wide and
5-feet tall. The slits are covered with metal grates. On one wall of the room is
a chin-up bar.
This, Colorado Department of Corrections officials argued in a lawsuit Anderson filed, satisfied the constitutional requirement that Anderson, a prisoner at the Colorado State Penitentiary, be
given outdoor exercise opportunities.
In a ruling issued last week, a federal judge in Denver disagreed and ordered
prison officials to allow Anderson to exercise in a place with no roof where the
rain can fall on him and the wind can blow at him.
"The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons," U.S. District
Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in his ruling, "but it does forbid inhumane
Anderson's treatment, Jackson wrote, was "a paradigm of inhumane
The ruling could have widespread impact.
The Colorado State Penitentiary, or CSP for short, is the most
restrictive prison in the state system and is used to house the state's most
dangerous inmates. Prisoners are kept in their cells for at least 23 hours a
day. Meals come through a slot in the cell door. The only window in the cell is
difficult to look through.
There are 756 inmates at the prison, according to the Department of
Corrections. Anderson, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes
that include a shootout with police, is one of nine inmates who have been housed
in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, according to Jackson's
Anderson's attorneys — law students from the University of Denver and their
faculty advisors — say the ruling could mean that all inmates at CSP must be
given genuine outdoor exercise time.
"We're hopeful the ruling will be the catalyst ... to change that inhumane
practice," DU law professor Brittany Glidden, one of the faculty advisers,
But, in an e-mail, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the
department sees the ruling as applying only to Anderson. Jackson gave the
department 60 days to come up with a plan for giving Anderson outdoor exercise
for one hour at a time, three days a week.
One of the options, Glidden said, is that the department might just move him
into a less-resrtictive prison.
"We just received the ruling and are now analyzing how we are going to
implement the judge's orders," DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti wrote in an
Jackson noted in his ruling that one prison expert who testified at trial in
the case said CSP is the only prison in the nation that does not provide true
outdoor exercise for inmates. Instead, across the country, prisons are rethinking the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
"CDOC officials," Jackson wrote, "know that CSP is out of step with the rest
of the nation."
John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or

Increase in Texas Prison Slayings: 2012 shaping up as deadly year for Texas prisons

By MICHAEL GRACZYK, Austin American Statesman

The Associated Press

— With four months still remaining, 2012 is already the deadliest year in more than a decade in Texas prisons.
   The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has reported 10 homicides this year, up from only three in 2011. There were five in 2010 and just one in 2009, according to agency figures.
   "It's definitely jumped out at us," Bruce Toney, the agency's inspector general, said of the increase. "It definitely has not been an average year."
   The homicides don't appear to be connected and have been scattered throughout the 111-prison system. The reason for the surge, the highest number in 15 years, is uncertain, Toney said.
He described the nature of the deaths in most cases as the result of "hands and feet kicking" and not a question of inmates armed with contraband weapons. More than half of the fatal attacks were committed in cells and involved altercations between cellmates, making it difficult to prevent.
   "It's a situation where they have some kind of disagreement and it results in a death," he said. "Inside a prison cell, everything is metal so that leaves the potential for injuries if someone gets knocked down."
   "Unfortunately, offenders serving prison sentences can become aggressive and act out violently against not only staff but also other offenders," prison department spokesman Jason Clark said. "The agency is committed to the safety of all offenders incarcerated within TDCJ."
   This year's homicide total is a far cry from the wave of violence that swept a much smaller Texas corrections department in the 1980s. In 1985, 27 inmates were killed and hundreds of others hurt in attacks at a time when Texas prisons housed only about one-fourth of the more than 150,000 convicts now incarcerated. Since then, Texas spent more than $1 billion in prison construction and now has the nation's largest state prison system.
   A classification system implemented in the late 1980s to pair inmates with similar backgrounds eased the violence and some of the same procedures are still used today. For example, the difference in age of inmates sharing a two-person cell must be within nine years, their weight within 40 pounds. Medical restrictions are considered as well as any past incidents involving the pair. Race or ethnic origin is not a factor.
   Still, the slayings count for 2012 is the highest since 10 were reported in 1997.
   "One thing we look at in housing assignments is did we put a bad guy in with a white-collar criminal or whatever," Toney said. "The housing appears right, the classification appears right. ... They've just been bad individuals locked up together in a cell."
As a result, none of the cases "has really been a 'whodunit,' " he said. "Almost in all of them, they've told corrections officers or us that they've done it. The instances we've had, there hasn't been any doubt."
   A prisoner accused in a slaying could face a capital murder charge if he's already serving a life term or 99 years. The decision on charges rests with the district attorney in the county where the death occurred or with the prison agency's special prosecution unit.
   In the most recent slaying, Elasko Thomas, an East Texas man sentenced two years ago to life in prison for kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, was killed Aug. 7 at the Robertson Unit northeast of Abilene. Cellmate Michael Deloach is accused of killing him during an altercation, and is a year into a 40-year term for murder.
   None of the deaths has occurred in units where the agency is experiencing chronic difficulties filling corrections officer vacancies.
   Only the Middleton Unit, a transfer unit also near Abilene, has been the scene of more than one homicide. Authorities said an inmate died of injuries suffered in a fight with another prisoner in a dayroom, and the other slaying was the result of a fight in a dormitory area.


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