Sunday, March 24, 2013

New Home for the Blog

The Prison Grievances blog has moved.  Please visit the new, improved Prison Grievances at And please change your bookmarks.  All of the content from this blog is now at the new blog and this blog will no longer be updated.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Overlooked in jail for TWO YEARS? Really?

So Stephen Slevin got snagged for DWI in New Mexico, thrown into jail, placed in solitary, and forgotten.  For two years.  There was some question about the car he was driving (friend said he could use it?).  But because Slevin Never.Saw. A. Judge in those two years, facts didn't apply.  Today he is out and awarded $15.5 million, which might help with his lung cancer.      

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Coerced Confessions Cost Us All

Chicago is focusing on the release of Nicole Harris, who 'confessed' to killing her son after being held 27 hours by police.  Today she is free, "after serving seven years of a thirty year sentence. Her conviction in the death of her son, Jaquari, was overturned by a federal appeals court last October and earlier this month the 7th Court of Appeals ordered Harris’s release."  Meanwhile, her life, her family's life, and the taxpayers of Illinois have all suffered.  Maybe it's time to stop rewarding police for confessions and instead reward them for mediations, truth, etc.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

TX: Eat Your Eyeballs? But Still Sane Enough for Execution

Andre Thomas is making the news in Texas Tribune.  He's on death row, except he's blind after gouging out both eyes and hears God telling him things--like to murder his wife and children, and pluck out his eyes.  Texas Ct of Criminal Appeals said "Thomas is “clearly ‘crazy’ but he is also ‘sane’ under Texas law,” because a jury had concluded he knew right from wrong at the time of his crime.  Yup.  The answer to mental illness in the 60s was that communities would rush in and help all those kicked out of mental institutions.  "In 1955, there were 500,000 patients in psychiatric hospitals nationwide, said Lynda Frost, director of planning and programs at the University of Texas at Austin’s Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. In 2000, there were 59,000." 

Monday, February 25, 2013

HARVARD Magazine Spotlights Prisons

Bruce Western, Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is highlighted both on the cover and the inside story on "The Prison Problem."  "We may have skimped on welfare, but we paid anyway, splurging on police and prisons.  Dollars diverted from education and employment found their way to prison construction."   Perhaps this unusual coverage will help Harvard graduates better understand causes, conditions, and solutions to mass incarceration.     
March/April 2013, The Harvard Magazine, p. 38-43        

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Calif. Cell Walls A-Tumbling?

California voters accepted Prop. 36, which begins unwinding the massive over-incarceration under the draconian 3-Strikes Law.  "Throughout the entire state, around 2,800 people are eligible for sentence reductions, nearly half of which originate in Los Angeles County. Judge Ryan began receiving request even before voters passed the proposition. Inmates filed their own and some used attorneys, but who prepared the request makes no difference to Ryan. 'I’m taking everything, even if it’s in crayon, as long as it has the right information.' ”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Illinois Inmates and Hunger Strike

When you read that inmates have gone on a hunger strike, you have to know conditions are really, really intolerable.  They know they'll be punished with solitary.  What what has these inmates so upset?  "Among other complaints, the hunger strikers at Pontiac (which is the oldest prison in Illinois and the eighth-oldest in the country) have stated that Plexiglas barriers placed on their cell doors, installed recently supposedly to increase security, are preventing their rooms from being heated. Inmates are protesting as well against a lack of necessities, such as the forms required for them to receive visits, legal-sized envelopes, cleaning supplies and hygiene products. Inmates have claimed that they are charged $5 to use items like nail clippers, and that these utensils are not sterilized between uses, even though some of the prisoners have communicable diseases."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rational Approach to Privatization

Writing on blog, Carl ToersBijns (retired prison system manager, etc.) investigates how the state and private industry can work together to create better prisons. It isn't easy, and it requires a lot of oversight:       

Monday, February 18, 2013

Baylor Offers Business Certificates

  A terrific writer at Texas Tribune, Maurice Chammah, describes an innovative in-prison program designed to help develop inmates into entrepreneurs. First they are taught and encouraged:  "more than 100 students in the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, an initiative organized by a Houston nonprofit of the same name that teaches business skills to prisoners who will soon be released, including market research, finance and professional etiquette. Inmates across the state can apply, and those accepted are transferred to the Cleveland Correctional Center, which houses the program."         

Post Release: where is the help?

A formerly incarcerated woman describes the suicide path of a 16-yr-old girl who bounced into and out of a New York prison.  "Get out of prison, go report to parole, go to Credo, (drug and alcohol counseling), go to mental health, get a job, pay your rent, don’t drive till we say you can, pay parole, pay credo, be home at curfew. You give up because it is all to stressful, can’t get a decent job because you are just out of prison and no one wants to hire you, zero job programs or training programs for parolees. One can’t even go to VESID (vocational training) until 6 months after you get out of prison and by then it is usually too late."   These people need our help.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Closing Prison? Be Careful What You Wish For

So California is closing prisons and shifting inmates--into already crowded prisons.  Victoria Law, of Truthout, is doing the new math:  "In December 2011, on the heels of the US Supreme Court's decision that the overcrowding in the California state prison system is unconstitutional, the CDCR proposed converting Valley State to a men's prison and transferring its women and transsexual prisoners to the neighboring Central California Women's Facility (CCWF). That month, CCWF was at 160 percent capacity with 3215 people. 'The CDCR has been talking about gender-responsive and gender-humane prisons. They said that women have different needs than men, but look at us now - women are overcrowded with eight to a room,' Wendy stated. A room, according to the Merced Sun-Star, is 348 square feet."

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Don't Snitch! Advice for Those Going In

Bradley Schwartz, once lawyer, then once inmate, is detailing his experiences in a continuing blog,  Terrific insider info!  One suggestion I'm passing along because it relates to prison conditions and grievances:  don't snitch.  But then, how do you write a grievance if someone is doing you wrong?  That conundrum is part of the daily challenge of an inmate's life, and not one for an easy, flippant answer.                              

Friday, February 15, 2013

Debtors' Prisons 2013: Late Renters

   We seem to forget that the forefathers left England in part to escape the spectre of Debtors' Prisons.  In the new Colonies, debtors perhaps went into the stocks but were released and ordered to work and pay up.  Today, Tough on Crime dictates the oddest punishment:  late on rent?  Go to jail.  Do not work.  Waste taxpayers' dollars.  How wasteful!                                                   

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Funding Innocence Projects

The Texas legislature cut 20% of law school's clinic budgets last time around.  Texas does not fund a state-wide Innocence Program, as some other states do.  We need that funding restored, and even increased.  Turns out many an inmate shouldn't be inside, using our tax dollars, wasting his/her life.  If mere research and the will for justice count, then these students deserve funds. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Texas Pays $123 Million a Year to Private Prisons

Tex. Senator John Whitmire, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, wants to close a private pre-parole transfer facility and a state jail, both run by Corrections Corporation of America.  That's the good news.  But he wants to divert the savings to fight crime rather than improve the rest of the prison system. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Captive Audiences Love Sports

Super Bowl means more to the captive audiences behind bars than it means to most free-world households.  Sports Illustrated recently ran an essay from an exonoree, explaining that "sports are crucial to survival."  Sports allowed Jeff Deskovic "to leave the prison for a while, even if in my own mind."  Critics who want to unplug prison TVs need to re-think their positions:  having a few out-of-prison fantasies may keep the inmates sane.                           

Sports Illustrated, Feb. 4, 2013

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ACLU: Ohio Private Prison Unsafe and Disgusting

One year ago, Ohio's Lake Erie Correctional Facility was taken over by the the Corrections Corporation of America's (CCA).  "CCA's track record over the last year at Lake Erie amounts to an across-the board failure: burdening the local community, failing to control the escalation of dangerous conditions within prison walls, all the while ratcheting up costs despite big promises of efficiency."  Who let this happen?  "The compliance rating plummeted from the 97.3% compliance rating the prison achieved when publicly-owned to 66.7%. Auditors found outrageous violations like prisoners being forced to use plastic bags for defecation and cups for urination because they had no running water for toilets. Basic conditions were heinous, with black mold, standing water, and spoiled food found throughout the prison. Perhaps even more troubling were reports that the medical department is grossly understaffed and many prisoners go untreated."   

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Wisconsin Prison Staff and Safety Concerns

An internal union dispute and shifting state oversight has resulted in confused and contradictory reporting on inmate attacks on staff and on vacancies/forced overtime.  Someone needs to be in charge:  America's most vulnerable population (inmates) is again at risk due to political wranglings.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NY State Bar Opposes Long-term Solitary

State by state, sanity may overtake former prison policies.  The New York State Bar Association has passed a resolution against the lengthy, and frequently unnecessary, use of prolonged solitary confinement.  The Association believes solitary offends not "just the conscience, but the Constitution."  They write, "solitary confinement, if used at all, should be measured in days, not years, months, or even weeks, ensuring that all prisoners, regardless of their conditions of confinement, have some minimal measure of interactive activity so that their psyche does not begin to deteriorate."                                              

Prison Reform: Texas Businesses Pressure Congressmen

It's been a long time coming.  But "it" is here:  Texas Association of Business is pressuring Texas congress to keep people out of prison, and reduce barriers of employment to the formerly incarcerated.  Tip of the Prison Advocates' Hat to Penny Rayfield, president of OnShore Resources.  She's also a TAB board member and helped create this new agenda.             


Countdown to Publishing Novel for Inmates

Prison Grievances:  when to write, how to write, is at the publisher and set for sell in a week through  Author Terri LeClercq is quite excited!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Prison Suicides 1 Every 11 Days in California

Special Master Matthew Lopes is investigating California prisons at the courts' request.  He wants to see all 33 state prisons but has seen only one--enough to make him argue against Gov. Brown's request to end court supervision of the state prisons.  "The problem of inmate suicides … must be resolved before the remedial phase of the Coleman case can be ended," Lopes wrote, referring to the 2001 lawsuit that led to the appointment of a special master. "The gravity of this problem calls for further intervention. To do any less and to wait any longer risks further loss of lives."  The prison system is responding with a 609-page report.  Yep!  ,0,6228066.story?goback=%2Egde_4402440_member_207320103

Prison Crowding in California: Gov and Overseer Disagree

The state closed 100 crowded beds, and Gov. Jerry Brown now wants the courts out of the prisons, and calls any further improvements to the California system "nitpicking."  Wait a minute, insists those who investigate:  "a court-appointed monitor said in papers filed last week that Mr. Brown’s demand to end oversight is “not only premature, but a needless distraction” that could affect care for mentally ill inmates. The monitor cited dozens of suicides and long periods of isolation instead of treatment.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Inmate Facing 4th death date vs. DNA Testing

His defense lawyers believe they have proven 10 times over that Larry Swearingen was in jail when he supposedly murdered Melissa Trotter.  State prosecutors and the courts have agreed to DNA testing, but--they can't agree on when the testing will be done.  Because he is scheduled to be executed Feb. 27, Swearinger is rather involved in the disagreement.  Specifically, the defense wants the labs to take more time and perform sophisticated tests;  that could change the execution date.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Florida Prisons to Offer Kosher!

Miami-Glade, never a forerunner of prison innovation, has nevertheless announced it would begin serving kosher meals to any Jews who request them.  Officials promise that kosher food will soon extend to women's prisons and other facilities with a large portion of Jewish inhabitants.

Officials also insist the decision had nothing to do with the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit on behalf on 10 Jewish inmates.                                                  


Saturday, January 19, 2013

350 Prison Manuals? And Inmates Are Supposed to Keep Track?

Is it "frivolous and excessive" to ask for more than 100 free pages to be copied toward an inmate's law suits?  The Utah prison system has decided so.  They point out that much of the requested information can be accessed through interviews, etc.  But at least one committee member questions why at least the prison system manuals aren't kept available in the libraries so inmates can read them there.                                                    

Friday, January 18, 2013

Texas Lawmakers Finally Considering Medical Parole

It's taken a major budget crisis and numerous examples of million-dollar cases, but the Texas Legislature is actually looking at the stringent procedures that keep terminally ill patients within the cells.  Head of the parole system, Rissie Owens, is frequently quoted as saying these prisoners are known to have miraculous recoveries and commit new crimes;  perhaps the legislature can investigate how many do actually pick up their pallets and walk into crime.

Calif. Prison Overcrowding Defies Court Orders

If you were governor of a state that was under federal orders to reduce prison overcrowding, what would you do?  California's Jerry Brown has decided to change the definition of overcrowding.  Yep.  "The state said its 33 prisons on average are at 149.4% of design capacity. Nearly half of the individual prisons are much higher than that: 172% at North Kern State Prison, 187% at the Central California Women’s Facility, and the men’s section of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is now at almost 352%."  Gov. Brown thinks that the state "has improved living conditions within its prisons to the point it no longer needs to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding."                     

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Controversy: Inmates Working While Incarcerated

Should inmates work while they're in prison?  Some critics of work programs see them as modern slave factories, where an inmate earns, perhaps, $0.81/hr.  In California, one program that teamed with trades unions taught the inmates a skill, and helped them get employed upon release.  But the State has run out of money, so the program is being discontinued.  The recidivism rate for inmates who succeed in the program is astonishing low;  perhaps critics should re-think their position and urge the states to offer them everywhere.                            

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Washington's New Transition Program

Washington state has opened new programs to help those in isolation units earn their way out.
"At Clallam Bay, the path out of isolation runs through the color-coded tiers of the Intensive Transition Program (ITP), housed since 2006 in a unit originally built for juveniles.
About 30 inmates, all volunteers, agree to a nine-month program stocked with coursework such as "moral recognition therapy" and "self-repair," gradually earning more freedoms."  Some are former gang members;  some are mentally ill.                                                      

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Judge Agrees that Mentally Ill Are Mistreated

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided that Indiana's treatment of mentally ill inmates is not constitutional.  The issue, again:  isolation units.  When human beings are separated from all interaction with other humans, they develop symptoms of insanity.  When inmates were already having mental troubles, the isolation confounds the problem.  And then the inmates are released into society.  The judge stopped short of requiring specific cures to the problem but will be monitoring the system.                           


Friday, January 4, 2013

Journalists Barred from Prisons?

Policy varies from state to state, from Warden to Warden.  Despite the First Amendment, Public Information Officers of prisons can ban the public from knowing what is happening inside prisons, and that can't be all good now, can it?  Jessica Pupovac, investigating prison journalists' access to prisons for her master's thesis, uncovered a wild array of policies and yet, and yet taxpayers spend approximately $74 BILLION on state and federal prison systems annually.  Yet the public can't know how the dollars are spent?                                      

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