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.

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