Monday, April 11, 2011
Monica Conyers makes impossible(?) sentence modification request from prison
This local piece coming from Detroit, headlined " Monica Conyers asks to serve remainder of her sentence at home," provides an interesting example of a high-profile federal prisoner making what seems to be an impossible sentencing request. Here are the details:
Former City Council President Monica Conyers wants out of "Camp Cupcake." The imprisoned wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, has asked a federal judge to modify her 37-month prison sentence for bribery and let her serve time at home, according to a three-page handwritten letter filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
In arguing for reconsideration, Conyers, 46, said a federal judge failed to consider her age, education, work skills, employment record, family ties and "likihood (sic)" she would commit another crime. Plus, her son's babysitter is returning to school soon, Conyers wrote in the letter to U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.
Her bid is a long shot considering Conyers has filed an appeal, which is pending before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and former federal prosecutor. "You can ask," Henning said. "Barring extraordinary circumstances, I doubt he would reconsider."
The request comes seven months after Conyers reported to a federal women's prison camp in Alderson, W.Va. Dubbed "Camp Cupcake," the prison camp offers plenty of perks, including washers, dryers, microwave ovens, hair dryers, curling irons and cosmetology areas where inmate-to-inmate pedicures and manicures are allowed.
In a letter, Conyers said the court could, as an alternative, sentence her to home confinement, community confinement or intermittent confinement to "correct the blatent (sic) sentencing disparities." Conyers is serving the sentence after pleading guilty to accepting at least $6,000 for her deciding vote in the 2007 Synagro Technologies Inc. sludge contract.
After her sentence, Conyers tried to withdraw her guilty plea and appealed. She complained that she pleaded guilty because she was unable to resist pressure from her lawyer, the government and the news media, according to an appeal brief....
In a letter to The Detroit News this year, Conyers complained that Camp Cupcake doesn't live up to its cushy nickname, provides no second servings of food to inmates and has few education opportunities.
Those interested in seeing Monica Conyers' letter to the judge can check it out at this link. And, as the title to my post is meant to suggest, I am pretty sure Judge Avern Cohn lacks any legal authority to give Conyers' the relief she seeks even if he were moved by her request.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
"Right-winger + hard time = compassion?"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable piece by Justin Elliot now up at Salon.com, which also has the cool graphic reprinted here and carries this subheading: "Some of the most eloquent advocates for prison reform are conservatives who find themselves behind bars." Here is how the piece gets started:
Last week, disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham wrote a letter to several media outlets from the federal penitentiary where he has resided since 2006. In it, Cunningham, a conservative Republican who pleaded guilty in a public corruption case in 2005, waxed eloquent about an unlikely topic: prison reform.
"The United States has more more men & women in prison than any other nation including Russia and China," he wrote. "The largest growing number of prisoners, women -- 1-34 Americans are either on probation or in prison. The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later." Cunningham also promised he would dedicate his life to prison reform.
We've seen transformations like this before. Cunningham is the latest in a string of conservative political figures to see the light on prison reform following a stint behind bars.
Right-wing media mogul Conrad Black, for example, did two years' hard time after being convicted in a 2007 fraud case. Following his release in 2010, Black has written passionately about prison reform.
While incarcerated, he learned "of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society. I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.)."
And, of course, Nixon aide Charles Colson devoted his life to criminal justice reform -- and spreading Christianity among prisoners -- after serving seven months in 1974 for obstruction of justice in a Watergate-related case. Colson's Justice Fellowship organization lobbies for better conditions in prisons and reform of sentencing and the criminal code. The head of Justice Fellowship is Pat Nolan, a former conservative law-and-order Republican in the California assembly who devoted himself to prison reform after serving 29 months for corruption in the 1990s.
The piece concludes with a Q&A intereview in which I speculate on some of the reasons why some conservatives start talking about sentencing and prison reform after they have seen the operation of the criminal justice system first hand.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
New NAACP report laments shift of state funds from education to prison spending
As detailed on this new page from the NAACP website, today "the NAACP released a new report, Misplaced Priorities, that examines America's escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children." Here are the basics:
Misplaced Priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. Researchers have found that over-incarceration most often impacts vulnerable and minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities.
The report is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe Campaign,” and offers a set of recommendations that will help policymakers in all 50 states downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.
The full report is available at this link, and here is a snippet from its executive summary:
In this new report, Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate, NAACP researchers assembled data from leading research organizations and profiled six cities to show how escalating investments in incarceration over the past 30 years have undermined educational opportunities. Misplaced Priorities represents a call to action for public officials, policymakers, and local NAACP units and members by providing a framework to implement a policy agenda that will financially prioritize investments in education over incarceration, provide equal protection under the law, eliminate sentencing policies responsible for over incarceration, and advance public safety strategies that effectively increase healthy development in communities.
Misplaced Priorities echoes existing research on the impact excessive prison spending has on education budgets. Over the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars nationwide, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education. In 2009, as the nation plummeted into the deepest recession in 30 years, funding for K–12 and higher education declined; however, in that same year, 33 states spent a larger proportion of their discretionary dollars on prisons than they had the year before.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Budgets and litigation have shrunk California's prison population ... but not enough
Stateline.org has this fantastic new piece on the state of California's prison system under the headlined "California shrinks its prisons, but overcrowding persists." Here are excerpts:
As the financially battered state enacts huge budget cuts, it has no choice but to downsize its sprawling correctional system, which now consumes 10 percent of the state budget and swallows more taxpayer dollars than higher education — a fact that, if public opinion surveys are accurate, Californians abhor. A single prison bed costs taxpayers $44,500 a year.
The federal courts have dialed up the pressure, putting state officials on notice that severe overcrowding — a fact of life in California prisons for years — is no longer acceptable. Two years ago, a panel of three federal judges found that overcrowding had created unconstitutionally inhumane conditions, ordering the state to reduce its inmate population by more than 40,000 — a staggering figure that eclipses the entire prisoner total of all but nine states.
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to weigh in on the overcrowding problem by deciding whether to uphold, strike down or modify that order. Oral arguments in the case, Schwarzenegger v. Plata, made clear that the court’s decision could break along familiar ideological lines....
California’s prison downsizing efforts began before the Supreme Court’s involvement. In 2006, when the state's inmate population reached an all-time high of more than 172,000, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an overcrowding emergency, warning that inmates and guards alike faced “extreme peril.”
About 10,000 inmates were promptly shipped to private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. More recently, thousands of others had their release dates moved up as state lawmakers, usually known for enhancing criminal penalties, were forced to change course. Through an expansion of so-called “good-time credits,” they authorized many inmates to leave prison ahead of schedule while reducing parole supervision for others, hoping to reduce the number sent back for relatively minor technical violations. Today, California's in-state inmate population is down to 152,000.
Governor Jerry Brown, who took office in January, hopes to keep going. Brown wants to shift tens of thousands of low-level state inmates to county jails, even though many of those jails themselves are at capacity. If enacted, Brown's plan could reduce the state prison population by another 38,000 within four years, according to a nonpartisan legislative estimate. It also may force counties to release thousands of offenders from their jails to make room for the state transfers....
In the notoriously divided Legislature, where budget negotiations between Brown and Republicans collapsed last week, it is difficult to find consensus on any policy, let alone one as emotionally and politically charged as prisons. Not a single Republican voted for Brown’s plan to shift inmates to the counties. And with funding for the plan now uncertain, there is discussion of leaning more heavily on spending reductions to balance the budget — cuts that could speed prisoner releases and decimate what remains of inmate rehabilitation programs.
Meanwhile, fears about a spike in crime are common. Law enforcement officials warn that more releases — whether they are ordered by the Legislature or by the Supreme Court — will have predictable long-term consequences on crime, given that parolees in California are far more likely than in other states to run into trouble again. “I’m not Nostradamus, but we have a 70 percent recidivism rate. That is a fact,” says Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. “If you release 40,000 inmates, 28,000 of those will reoffend.”
Monday, April 04, 2011
"Cost and Punishment: Reassessing Incarceration Costs and the Value of College-In-Prison Programs"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Gregory Knott, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This article argues that college-in-prison programs are an effective response to prison population growth and cost explosions -- admittedly on a limited scale. The programs reduce long-term costs through investments in education. Such offerings are not suitable for every prisoner, but can be highly effective for those individuals in a position to benefit from devoting time in prison to learning.
The article begins with an overview of the untenable situation in U.S. prisons, including the burden of the population and cost boom in prisons across the country. Second, the article examines the prison population to determine which individuals there might benefit from education. Third, the study considers theories of penology and the place an education program might occupy in the respective theories. Fourth, the article describes college-in-prison programs and their efforts to address the needs of both prisoners and the populace paying for the prison system. Finally, the article considers the role of college-in-prison programs as part of the risk management paradigm currently predominant in criminal justice systems.
Seniors looking at functional life prison terms for selling prescriptions
Because I always find the intersection of age and aging issue and sentencing considerations to be interesting and dynamic, this lengthy local article from Oklahoma caught my eye. The piece is headlined "Seniors might die in prison: Two elderly Oklahomans are facing the possibility of spending the remainder of their lives in prison. They’re accused crimes? Selling their prescriptions." Here is how the piece gets started:
Old age doesn’t preclude a person from committing a crime, and in the cases of two elderly Oklahomans, it also doesn’t rule them out from possibly spending the remainder of their lives in prison on drug complaints.
Opal Verndean Wesley, 73, of Bristow, was charged Friday in Creek County on complaints of possessing controlled prescription drugs with intent to distribute and for having a firearm after prior felony convictions. If convicted, she faces six years to life in prison. She was booked into the Creek County jail Friday.
Nearly 200 miles south in Love County, Louis Harold Norton, 70, of Marietta, accepted a plea deal on March 24 for 30 years in prison with 15 suspended. The plea stemmed from two 2009 felony charges of distributing painkillers. He is currently in the Department of Corrections custody.
They don’t know each other, but officials say it’s eye-opening and troubling that senior citizens are selling their legally obtained prescriptions. Though these are rare cases, these two could spend their twilight years behind bars.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections records show about 9 percent of the nearly 26,000 incarcerated are older than 51 years old. Nearly 30 percent of the prison population is serving time for drug crimes.
“We can’t just say this guy is old so we’re not going to prosecute,” said Love County Assistant District Attorney Paule’ Wise. The prosecutor in Wesley’s case, Creek County Assistant District Attorney Mike Loeffler, echoed the same sentiment: “It’s hard to be blind to age, but selling these drugs is for no other purpose than economic gain.”
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman Mark Woodward said the argument is sometimes made that selling prescriptions becomes the only way for the elderly to supplement Social Security benefits and make money. “More people die from these drugs than street drugs,” he said. “Age has nothing to do with greed and that’s what this is.”
I believe very strongly that being old or even infirm should not preclude prosecution for crimes, and I do not know anyone who seriously contends that old age should be a complete defense to criminal conduct. But this reality just heightens the pressure and challenge of sentencing older offenders who, when convicted of non-violent crimes, seem quite unlikely to pose a significant threat to the public and who also may suffer more (and cost more) when incarcerated during their twilight years.
Saturday, April 02, 2011
"Isolation Units within U.S. Prisons: A Panel Discussion"
The title of this post is the name of an event sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights taking place in San Francisco early next week. The details can be found in a flier available for download below, and here is how the event is being described:
A diverse group of leading experts will discuss the ramifications of solitary confinement and experimental isolation units in the prison system. Panelists will also examine critical issues affecting theprison population, including prisoners’ rights, racial and religious profiling, and government misconduct.
Friday, April 01, 2011
"More Black Men Now in Prison System than Were Enslaved"
The title of this post is the headline of this piece from the LA Progressive reporting on a presentation by my Ohio State colleague Michelle Alexander concerning her book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Here is how the piece starts:
“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.
Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her year-old bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Interest ran so high beforehand that the organizers had to move the event to a location that could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening, more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library’s main room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room, and even more latecomers turned away altogether. Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tenth Circuit rejects interesting attack on BOP policy concerning RDAP early release
The Tenth Circuit has an interesting opinion today in Licon v. Ledesma, No. 10-6166 (10th Cir. March 30, 2011) (available here), on a federal prison topic that (too?) rarely gets litigated. Here is how the opinion starts:
Ortino Licon challenges a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy and regulation that denies him eligibility for an early release program because he was convicted of felon in possession charges. The BOP has authority to reduce a nonviolent offender’s term of imprisonment upon successful completion of a drug rehabilitation program. The challenged BOP policy categorically denies prisoners convicted of felon in possession charges eligibility for the early release benefit. Licon contends the policy arbitrarily categorizes every inmate convicted of firearm possession charges as violent offenders. We conclude the BOP’s policy is not arbitrary, and therefore the BOP acted within its discretion by excluding inmates convicted of felon in possession charges.
Monday, March 28, 2011
New NPR investigative series on private prisons
NPR has this interesting and notable new set of pieces on private prisions:
- Town Relies On Troubled Youth Prison For Profits
- Private Prison Promises Leave Texas Towns In Trouble
- What Is GEO Group?
Here is the start from one of the pieces:
The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — the United States — is supporting a $3 billion private prison industry. In Texas, where free enterprise meets law and order, there are more for-profit prisons than any other state. But because of a growing inmate shortage, some private jails cannot fill empty cells, leaving some towns wishing they'd never gotten in the prison business.
It seemed like a good idea at the time when the west Texas farming town of Littlefield borrowed $10 million and built the Bill Clayton Detention Center in a cotton field south of town in 2000. The charmless steel-and-cement-block buildings ringed with razor wire would provide jobs to keep young people from moving to Lubbock or Dallas.
For eight years, the prison was a good employer. Idaho and Wyoming paid for prisoners to serve time there. But two years ago, Idaho pulled out all of its contract inmates because of a budget crunch at home. There was also a scandal surrounding the suicide of an inmate.
Shortly afterward, the for-profit operator, GEO Group, gave notice that it was leaving, too. One hundred prison jobs disappeared. The facility has been empty ever since.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
US Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin announces retirement
As detailed in this BOP press release, "Director Harley G. Lappin has decided to retire from the Bureau of Prisons effective May 7, 2011." Here is more from the release:
During his eight years as director of the Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Lappin has played an important role in supporting the Department of Justice efforts to manage federal prisons that are safe and secure and provide prisoners with a range of programs to enable them to develop the skills needed for reentry into society.
Additionally, he has supported the department’s initiatives involving immigration, drug and weapons prosecutions, and the nation’s war on terror. Despite significant budget challenges during Director Lappin’s tenure, the bureau has expanded and improved program offerings for inmates that enhance public safety. He championed the Inmate Skills Development Initiative, which substantially enhanced the bureau’s efforts to effectively prepare inmates for a successful, crime-free return to the community at the completion of their sentences.
It has never been clear to me how much independent policy-making authority is in the hands of the BOP director. Even this short press release suggests a BOP director can play an important policy role, but more as an administrative supporter of policy choices made initially by the US Justice Department. The recent important testimony by Director Lappin before the US Sentencing Commission concerning new prisoner release proposals (discussed here) also suggests that a BOP director is necessarily required to be more follower than leader on key federal criminal justice policy issues.
That said, a number of existing statutory provisions and administrative realities ensure that the BOP has a tangible impact on many aspects of federal sentencing and corrections law and practice — on issues ranging from drug treatment programming to application of compassionate release mechanisms. This reality, in turn, ensures that Director Lappin's replacement will play an important role in the future of federal criminal justice policy and practice.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
"Hardened Criminals Held in Freedom: Doing Time on Norway's Island Prison"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting, lengthy piece from Germany's Spiegel Online. Here is how it gets started and a few notable passages:
No bars. No walls. No armed guards. The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals. Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons. For some inmates, it is more than they can handle....
There is only one pistol on Bastøy -- a bronze sculpture in the warden's office. The warden, Arne Nilsen, is a slim man in his early sixties, a man who doesn't need a uniform to convey his authority. He doesn't know where the pistol came from. It's always been there.
The warden is a man who deals in freedom. He is also a visionary. He wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other. What he doesn't want is a camera in the supermarket. He doesn't want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.
The inmates on Bastøy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime and petty theft. "We don't pick out the mild cases," says Nilsen. Some inmates serve their entire sentences on the island. Murderers can only apply to be transferred to the island once they have served two-thirds of their sentences elsewhere. Some 115 prisoners live on Bastøy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community. Anyone caught drinking alcohol or fighting is thrown out....
This paradise has been around for 20 years -- and has a warden who loves statistics. The numbers, after all, prove him right. Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastøy as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole. In Germany, where recidivism is measured after three years, the rate is 50 percent.
The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island -- and because no one left Bastøy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Is it really surprising that some prison treatment programs are now run poorly?
The question in the title of this post is inspired by this editorial in today's New York Times, which is headlined "New York’s Prisons Fall Short, Again" and goes like this:
Perhaps as many as three-quarters of New York State’s 57,000 prison inmates need drug counseling or treatment to have a chance at productive, crime-free lives once they are released. A three-year study of drug and alcohol abuse programs in the New York State Department of Corrections suggests that prisons are failing to provide adequate treatment programs for the tens of thousands of inmates who need them.
The study by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group, examined drug treatment programs at 23 of the state’s nearly 68 facilities. It found that the programs varied wildly in effectiveness and that most departed significantly from best practices laid out by the addiction research division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The New York prison programs have several deficiencies in common. They fail to screen candidates based on the severity of their problems, which means they wastefully enroll large numbers of people in intensive programs they don’t need. They also routinely enroll poorly motivated inmates, which limits effectiveness. In a particularly glaring oversight, they fail to coordinate prison treatment programs with those offered in the communities to which the inmates will return.
The correctional association’s researchers found model treatment programs in at least four state prisons, including Hale Creek in upstate Fulton County. According to the report, these prisons use a three-phase system that begins with a six-month residential treatment program, in which the targeted inmates live in a separate prison dorm. This is followed by an integration component, under which people typically receive treatment during work release. Finally, newly released men and women are formally enrolled in community programs.
According to the study, the Department of Corrections could improve drug treatment without spending any more than the estimated $19 million it currently devotes to this problem by deploying the existing staff in better designed programs. The result would be better drug treatment, safer communities and less recidivism.
Though it is discouraging to hear about poorly run prison treatment programs, I find heartening the news that some prison are already running model programs. Modern prisons have not generally been designed nor incentivized to develop and run effective treatment programs, and thus I find it more surprising that some prison treatment programs are already running so well than that some are running so poorly.
I fear it is inevitable that prison treatment programs will face various difficulties unless and until legislators and other policy-makers make clear that they will consistently fund and reward those facilities that provide the most effective treatment programming. Tight budgets and overcrowded prisons seem to be leading more and more folks to talk a good game about the importance of development effective rehabilitative programs, but all the "smart on crime" rhetoric has to become real reform and funding priorities before anyone should hope that all prison treatment programs will be following modern best practices.
"Sale of prisons, fewer inmates part of budget plan"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article from my own Columbus Dispatch this morning. Here is how it gets started:
Sell five prisons, and privatize two. Reduce the population by 2,000 inmates. Save $10 million in medical costs. Ohio prisons chief Gary Mohr has big goals.
While some lawmakers questioned how he plans to reach those goals, none in yesterday's three-hour legislative hearing appeared intent on derailing prison-system changes integral to Gov. John Kasich's budget.
In the first airing of the proposed $2.97 billion biennial prison budget, Mohr made it clear that his proposed changes won't be easy, nor will they be accomplished without pain; 171 state employees would lose their jobs. "I do not envy you the decisions you will have to make in this budget," Mohr told the House Finance Committee, which is considering Kasich's $55.5 billion proposal. He said the budget, while imperfect, "leads us in the right direction to meet our core functions of safety, security and meaningful programming."
Mohr, a veteran of Ohio and private prison operations, said the fiscal alternative to selling five facilities was shutting down several Ohio prisons and shipping as many as 12,000 inmates out of state. "This director will not build another prison," he said.
If the legislature adopts proposed changes in sentencing, Mohr said, he expects to reduce the prison population by about 2,000 over two years. The Office of Budget and Management included $50million in the budget from sales of prisons in Conneaut, Grafton (two), Marion and a closed youth-detention center, also in Marion. Mohr said he expects the sale to generate $200million. Prison officials said they are still paying off the two private prisons, both of which opened in 2000.
State Rep. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, asked Mohr how private companies can operate prisons at a lower cost than the state. Mohr said private companies pay less and allow less vacation, sick and personal time. It takes two state employees to staff a position for a week but requires 1.7 private employees to do the same job, he said. "We are paying more people to be off more often than they are." The bottom line, he said, is that private prisons require 45 fewer people to fill 150 spots than the state.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
USSC hearing testimony about federal prison overcrowding and new release plans in works
Thanks to a helpful e-mail, I discovered that the statement of Harley Lappin, the director of the US Bureau of Prisons, delivered to the US Sentencing Commission this week during its public hearing includes some very interesting passages about federal prison overcrowding and new release proposals in the works to deal with it. Here are the passages:
As the nation’s largest corrections system, the Bureau is responsible for the incarceration of about 210,000 inmates. Currently, the Bureau confines more than 171,000 inmates in 116 facilities with a total rated capacity of 126,971. The remainder, more than 18 percent, are housed in privately operated prisons, residential reentry centers, and local jails. In fiscal year 2009, a net growth of 7,091 new inmates was realized and an additional 1,468 inmates were added in fiscal year 2010. An increase of approximately 5,000-6,000 inmates per year is expected for fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012.
Most of the inmates in Bureau facilities are serving sentences for drug trafficking offenses. The remainder of the population includes inmates convicted of weapons, immigration law, violent, fraud, property, sex, and other miscellaneous offenses. The average sentence length for inmates in Bureau custody is 10 years. Approximately 7 percent of inmates in the Bureau are women, and approximately 26 percent of the Federal prison population are non-U.S. citizens.
System-wide, the Bureau is operating at 35 percent over its rated capacity. Crowding is of special concern at higher security facilities with 50 percent crowding at high security facilities and 39 percent at medium security facilities. This severe crowding has resulted in double and triple bunking inmates. As of January 2011, 94 percent of high security inmates were double bunked, and 16 percent of medium security inmates and almost 82 percent of low security inmates were triple bunked or housed in space not originally designed for inmate housing.
In order to reduce crowding, one or more of the following must occur: (1) reduce the number of inmates or the length of time they spend in prison; (2) expand inmate housing at existing facilities; (3) contract with private prisons for additional bedspace for low-security criminal aliens; and (4) acquire and/or construct and staff additional institutions.
The Department of Justice is working with Congress on two legislative proposals that will provide inmates with enhanced incentives for good behavior and participation in programming that is proven to reduce recidivism, while also reducing crowding somewhat. The first proposal increases good time credits available by seven days per year for each year of the sentence imposed. The second proposal creates a new sentence reduction credit that inmates can earn for successful participation in recidivism-reducing programs, such as Federal Prison Industries, education, and occupational/vocational programming.
The last two sentences that I have placed in bold could be extraordinarily important to the federal criminal justice system if and when they move from proposals to law.
Friday, March 18, 2011
"Do the crime, pay more than time"
The title of this post is the headline of this article appearing today on the front-page of my own Columbus Dispatch. Here is how the piece begins:
When it comes to budget sacrifices, it appears no one is exempt in Ohio -- not even prisoners, who will have to pay $1 a month for electricity in their cells. Also behind bars, flavored drinks are out, saving $1 million, and meals will have less variety, saving $3 million over two years.
Those changes are part of $30 million in cost savings set in motion by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction as part of the state's budget belt-tightening. Among other changes: closing two prison farms, eliminating the $75 "gate pay" for certain inmates upon release and contracting for some medical services.
Overall, the agency must cut $188 million in the coming biennium under Gov. John Kasich's budget blueprint. Much of that would be done by laying off or eliminating positions of 171 workers, selling five prisons to private operators and offering early retirement to veteran employees.
But prisons chief Gary Mohr, looking to squeeze more money out of his budget, called together 200 staff members and asked them to come up with additional money-saving ideas. Many of the resulting suggestions were included in the plan rolled out this week.
Requiring inmates to pay $1 a month if they use televisions and radios in their cells or bunks will save about $250,000 a year, prisons spokesman Carlo LoParo said. Indigent inmates and those on court-ordered repayment plans will be exempt.
Inmates are paid an average of $18 a month for doing jobs in prisons -- more if they work for Ohio Penal Industries. The money goes into an account, maintained by the prison, which will be tapped for the electricity charge.
The flavored, noncarbonated drinks inmates are now served are being eliminated. Menus will be modified to serve more of the "most-popular and least-expensive items," the budget plan said. Together, those will save an estimated $4 million over the biennium. LoParo said inmates have orange and apple juice, coffee and milk available with breakfast but will get only water with the noon and evening meals with these changes.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
What is the current status and latest research on faith-based prisons?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local news article from Florida headlined "Faith-based prison in Riverview to close." Here are the details from this piece:
Hillsborough County's only state prison is among several corrections facilities statewide that will be shut down by June 30, officials announced today. Hillsborough Correctional Institution in Riverview, the state's lone faith-based women's prison, has almost 300 inmates and 141 full-time employees.
Prisoners will be moved to Lowell Correctional in Marion County, which will provide faith-based dormitories, said Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. Once some other prisons statewide are converted to a faith-based system, prisoners will have the opportunity to move there....
With about 101,700 inmates, the state's prisons are under capacity. The programs affected by the closures have roughly 2,100 inmates. The closures will affect 564 full-time workers, officials said. The department has about 28,000 employees.
Officials said closing the Riverview facility and two other correctional institutions, as well as two boot camps and a residential prison where inmates serve on road crews will save $30.8 million a year – mostly through attrition – as well as millions more by avoiding repairs.
The department's annual budget tops $2 billion. "The facilities to be closed are older and require more resources to operate than newer institutions," DOC Secretary Edwin Buss said in a statement.
Hillsborough Correctional, 11150 County Road 672, was established in 1976 to house 272 male youthful offenders in minimum and medium custody. It housed men from 1988 to 1994 and then reverted to youthful offenders. In 2004, it became a faith-based prison for female inmates, offering Bible studies, anger management classes and other programs. Inmates must seek permission to be housed at the prison.
Hillsborough Correctional is zoned for up to 360 inmates, Plessinger said, but even at capacity, "We're still not going to be cost-effective at that facility."
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Should a state be able to garnish a prisoner's wages to cover his incarceration costs?
The question in the title of this post is one that came before the Illinois Supreme Court today, as detailed in this local article headlined "Illinois wants to collect inmate's prison wages." Here are the specifics:
The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could determine whether inmates who have jobs in prison owe their income to the state to cover the costs of their incarceration. Inmate Kensley Hawkins, 60, has saved about $11,000 during his 21 years in prison by squirreling away the $75 a month he makes as a furniture assembler. Now, the Illinois Department of Corrections wants him to turn over that money to help pay for the cost of housing him.
Under state law, the Illinois Department of Corrections can move to recover housing and other costs from inmates who report assets of more than $10,000, said David Simonton, an attorney for Hawkins. But those assets typically come from inheritances, pensions or some other windfall -- not the wages the inmates have earned in prison, and the source of Hawkins' money is what makes his case unique, Simonton said.
If the state is allowed to take the income that inmates earn, they'll be less inclined to get jobs in prison and gain the kinds of work experience that would help them upon their release from custody, Simonton said. "I don't think that either the department (of corrections) or the state have thought out the consequences of this," he said. "Hopefully, the Supreme Court will look from a common-sense, public policy perspective and will realize that the legislature did not intend this result when they drafted the reimbursement statute."...
State law also allows IDOC to collect 3 percent of inmates' wages, and Hawkins' attorneys say the department isn't entitled to more. About $751 was taken out of Hawkins' income to cover the 3 percent. The corrections department says the cost of Hawkins' incarceration from July 1, 1983, to March 17, 2005, was $456,000.
Hawkins is serving 60 years for murder, attempted murder and burglary, among other charges. His projected parole date is 2028.
"5 prisons to be put on block by state"
The title of this post is the headline of this front-page article appearing today in my own Columbus Dispatch. Here are the details:
While Gov. John Kasich's plan to sell four prisons promises to raise much-needed cash for the state, the news isn't so good for affected employees who could see their pay cut by one-third and lose paid health-care benefits. Kasich is expected to propose selling the prisons, plus the closed Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility, in his two-year budget plan to be unveiled today....
If approved by the General Assembly in the budget process, the prison sales would produce an estimated $200million for state coffers. In addition, there would be annual savings on operating costs, probably a minimum of 5 percent as required by current state law. The state would contract with the new owner-operator to house and care for inmates.
It also would mean that about 800 employees, including 475 corrections officers, would lose state jobs. Sources said employees would receive hiring "preference," but not guarantees, from the new owners. The silver lining for the communities could be new property-tax revenue when prisons go from tax-exempt state ownership to taxable private ownership. One source estimated that to be from $400,000 to $1 million per year for each institution.
The administration refused to confirm the deal, but sources said for-sale signs will go up on the North Central Correctional Institution in Marion and the Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County, both state-owned, and the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, in Ashtabula County, and North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton. The latter two are operated by Management & Training Corp. of Centerville, Utah.
Ohio Civil Service Employees Association officials said yesterday that pay at two private prisons averages about one-third less than comparable jobs at state prisons. Salary schedules aren't available from the private company, but the union obtained some details from public-records requests. For example, a state corrections captain earns about $30 an hour compared with $20 at private prisons.... Prison employees are "absolutely scared," said Tim Shafer, union operations director and a former corrections officer. "They're concerned about their families and their communities."...
The prisons and juvenile facility would be sold to the highest, qualified bidder, a process that would narrow the field considerably to existing companies with the money to buy and operate the institutions. The largest private-prison operators, in addition to MTC, are Corrections Corporation of America, of Nashville, Tenn., and the GEO Group, of Boca Raton, Fla.
Friday, March 04, 2011
Budget woes might get in way of California's plans for "Cadillac" death row
This interesting new Bloomberg piece, headlined "California's 'Cadillac' Death Row Complex Target in Budget Talks," spotlights an interesting on-going debate about costs for the state with the largest death row in the nation. Here are excerpts:
California is set to begin construction of a new death row, already the biggest in the U.S., at a cost to taxpayers of as much as $1 billion, even though it may reach capacity in as little as three years. Contracts for the unit at San Quentin prison may be awarded in weeks. The complex would replace cells there dating as far back as 1927. The project, at 540,000 square feet (50,000 square meters), would be about the size of the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is negotiating with lawmakers to plug a $25.4 billion deficit over the next 15 months through a combination of tax extensions and spending cuts. With services for the poor, sick and elderly threatened, some lawmakers say it’s not the time to spend money on 768 new cells.
“It’s a Cadillac death row,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a Democrat from Marin County, where the prison is located, about 10 miles north of the Golden Gate . “Even if you were to somehow try to justify this huge expense by saying this is the solution to our condemned-inmate needs, it’s a three-year solution and then you are left right where we are now.” While inmates now live one to a cell, the prison system plans to double-bunk, to make room for 1,152 men. Opponents say that might violate prisoners’ rights....
Executions have been blocked since 2006 by a federal judge over concerns that California’s lethal injection procedures and equipment were tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. Last month, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel toured San Quentin’s new death chamber, built for almost $900,000. He has yet to rule on its fitness.
The death-row complex, estimated by the prison system to cost $270 million, is to be financed with bonds. The interest on the bonds over 25 years may bring the cost to taxpayers to $1 billion, according to Huffman and Senator Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco and chairman of the Budget Committee.
California has 713 inmates awaiting execution, the corrections department said yesterday. By comparison, Florida ranked second, with 398, and Texas was third at 337... About 700 condemned men are confined at San Quentin, north of San Francisco, in facilities built to hold 554, according to the Corrections Department’s website. (Nineteen women face execution and are held in Chowchilla, a prison in the Central Valley.) On average, the men are likely to spend 17 years in the aging cell blocks, according to the prison system....
Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, approved a $64 million loan from the general fund in August to begin construction on the new death row. That money is to be repaid by the sale of prison construction bonds. When lawmakers in 2003 approved the new San Quentin complex, it was expected to cost $220 million. That ballooned 62 percent to $356 million on delays caused in part by opposition from state and local officials....
Putting two inmates in each cell would provide enough capacity for death row until 2035, according to the state auditor. If the state can’t double-up, the complex would be full by 2014. The state’s existing death-row buildings include two cell blocks built in 1927 and 1934 and a three-story concrete “adjustment center” where newly sentenced and the most- dangerous condemned inmates are confined....
Since 1978, when California reinstated capital punishment, 53 condemned inmates have died from natural causes while on death row. Eighteen committed suicide and 13 were executed. Six died from other causes.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
The high costs created by very sick prisoners in California
The Los Angeles Times has this interesting report, headlined "Despite medical parole law, hospitalized prisoners are costing California taxpayers millions," highlighting the high health-care costs for an especially sick portion of the California prison population. Here are excerpts:
A degenerative nerve disease has left 57-year-old California inmate Edward Ortiz semi-paralyzed in a private Bay Area hospital for the last year. The breathing tube in his throat tethers him to a ventilator at one end of the bed; steel bracelets shackle his ankles to safety rails at the other.
Still, California taxpayers are shelling out roughly $800,000 a year to prevent his escape. The guards watching Ortiz one day last week said department policy requires one corrections officer at the foot of his bed around the clock and another guard at the door. A sergeant also has to be there, to supervise. "Some of this is ridiculous, but you can't argue with policy," said Corrections Officer Allan Roper as he stared down at the unconscious Ortiz, a convicted child molester who requires medical attention beyond the prison system's capabilities.
Authorities have identified 25 "permanently medically incapacitated" inmates being treated at outside hospitals who are candidates for parole because they no longer pose a threat to the public. Californians will pay more than $50 million to treat them this year, between $19 million and $21 million of that for guards' salaries, benefits and overtime, according to data from the federal receiver who oversees California prison healthcare. The final amount will depend on how many of the guards are paid overtime.
In September, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a "medical parole" law designed to spare taxpayers the cost of guarding inmates like Ortiz and dozens of others who officials say are incapacitated. Some are in comas, others paraplegic. If the prisoners were released from custody, the medical costs would shift to their families if they could afford to pay, or to other government programs if they could not. The expense of guarding the patients would be eliminated.
But the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has yet to schedule a parole hearing for even one such inmate. "It's maddening," said State Sen. Mark Leno (D- San Francisco), who sponsored the bill that Schwarzenegger signed. "We have school districts on the verge of closing" because of the state's budget crisis. "We don't have millions of dollars to squander on this kind of nonsense."
Terri McDonald, chief deputy secretary of adult operations for California prisons, said her department had been working with the receiver, appointed in 2005 after a federal court found that healthcare in the state's prisons was tantamount to "cruel and unusual" punishment, to draft regulations to implement the new law. Despite those efforts, McDonald would not predict when the first sick inmate might get a parole hearing. "These are complex public-safety regulations," she said.
Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for receiver J. Clark Kelso, said Kelso is "anxious to have these regulations in place so we can maximize savings." Leno said he introduced the medical parole law to address concerns about the existing statute that allows "compassionate release" of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated or terminally ill with less than six months' life expectancy.
Compassionate release has the same legal effect as completion of a prison sentence, meaning the former inmate can't be sent back to prison unless he is convicted of another crime.
Opponents of that system pointed to the notorious case of the Lockerbie bomber, the Libyan terrorist who blew up a Pan Am flight in 1988, killing 270, but was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 when doctors thought prostate cancer would kill him in less than three months. He was still alive a few days ago, according to published reports. An inmate freed on medical parole in California, however, would be sent back to prison if his physical condition improved enough that he could pose a reasonable threat to public safety.
Partly because of the concern that an inmate could cheat justice by outliving a prison doctor's prognosis, the odds have not favored inmates petitioning for compassionate release. Seventy percent of the 1,157 prisoners determined by doctors to qualify between 1991 and 2010 were rejected for compassionate release, often because top prison administrators or sentencing judges believed they could still pose a threat.
Although some able-bodied inmates have tried to escape while on outside medical appointments, corrections department officials could not cite any who had succeeded. Reducing the guard on such patients, even the most incapacitated, invites risk, said prison spokesman Oscar Hidalgo. "And we are not in the business of taking risks with public safety," Hidalgo said.
Ninth Circuit rejects effort to get review of BOP decisions about RDAP under the APA
Though the alphabet soup of abbreviations in the title of this post may only make sense to some federal sentencing practitioners, all sentencing fans ought to be somewhat intrigued by the little ruling today by the Ninth Circuit in Reeb v. Thomas, No. 09-35815 (9th Cir. Mar. 3, 2011) (available here), which gets started this way:
This case requires us to decide whether a district court has subject matter jurisdiction to review the Bureau of Prisons’ (“BOP”) individualized residential drug abuse program (“RDAP”) determinations, a question of first impression in this Circuit. The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law reviewed de novo. Puri v. Gonzales, 464 F.3d 1038, 1040 (9th Cir. 2006). Because we hold that 18 U.S.C. § 3625 precludes judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) of the BOP’s individualized RDAP determinations made pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3621, we vacate and remand to the district court.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Former prisoners as consultants to prison-bound white-collar offenders
This interesting Chicago Tribune piece, headline "Ex-cons offer prison primers for soon-to-be incarcerated execs," reports on the "handful of consultants nationwide who gear their [sentencing and prison advice] services toward a white-collar population that includes mortgage fraudsters, tax evaders and Ponzi-schemers." Here are some of the details:
The cottage industry is dominated by ex-offenders, retired jailhouse employees and advocates who support prison alternatives. High-profile cases during the 1980s and '90s, including the prosecutions of corporate raider Ivan Boesky and former junk bond financier Michael Milken — both of whom used prison consultants — have helped heighten awareness.
Some criminal defense attorneys remain skeptical, and question whether the consultants can deliver what they promise. But today's economic downturn has provided no shortage of work.
John Webster, a former attorney who served time in federal prison after lying for a client, started the Nashville, Tenn.-based National Prison and Sentencing Consultants in 2002. At first, few people had heard of his industry. "Now it's gotten to where a lot of people see the need and the benefit," he said. "With the meltdown of the real estate industry, we had a lot more mortgage brokers who were getting indicted." He charges $3,500 to $10,000 for prison coaching.
Some consultants are flashy, like ex-convict Larry Levine, whose Los Angeles-based operation asks on its website: "Going from the Exchange Floor to the Prison Yard?" Levine's clients include a former Highland Park couple, Robert and Virginia Carter, convicted in a $17 million embezzlement and money laundering case, according to news reports and Levine himself.
At the other end of the spectrum is Baltimore-based social worker Herbert Hoelter, who founded the nonprofit National Center on Institutions and Alternatives in 1977. Bernard Madoff turned to him for help when he pleaded guilty in 2009 to one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history, Hoelter said....
Some consultants try to strengthen a defendant's presentencing request to be enrolled in a 500-hour federal drug and alcohol abuse program, which can result in a shorter prison stint. Others document medical reasons that argue why an inmate needs a lower bunk or special diet....
Before reporting to prison, offenders often have questions that lawyers can't answer about the daily prison routines, said Jeff Steinback, a prominent Chicago defense lawyer who represented Scott Fawell, Gov. George Ryan's closest political adviser, who pleaded guilty to mail fraud. "There is a place for that kind of advice, as long as it is well-intended and not simply a business," Steinback said. He typically pairs a newly sentenced defendant with someone who has already served time, to prepare them for incarceration....
Chris Burke, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, said that he is not aware of any influence that consultants have on prison assignments. And some defense attorneys question the effectiveness of a prison consultant, pointing out that information about the ins-and-outs of prison life can be found online.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Should more (and male) inmates be permitted (and even encouraged) to raise babies behind bars?
The provocative question(s) in the title of this post is prompted by this local storyout of Washington, which is headlined "8 babies behind bars at Washington womens prison." Here are the basics that prompt my query:
Right now, at Washington's largest corrections center for women, 871 inmates are serving their sentences. Among them are 8 babies being raised right in the middle of it all. It's a trailblazing program pioneered by Washington and now being adopted in other states. But, is prison a safe place to raise a child?
Little Deegan's hands tell so much about the eight-month old boy. He's playful, curious and always reaching out to his mother Sunny. "We're all in this and it's hard," Sunny Van Cleave explained. "Deegan makes people happy."
Deegan is surrounded every day by everything he needs; he has his books and toys, his mom and the caregivers who love him. But, outside his home at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, razor wire separates Deegan from the reality of where he's been raised since he was born....
"We're promoting a healthy bond between incarcerated women and their children," explained Sonja Alley, who supervises the [Residential Parenting Program]. On the day we visited last week, the RPP housed 10 women and 10 kids, with the youngest child just two weeks old.
Sheri Pam's son Quincey is 20-months old, the oldest in the unit right now. Pam is serving time for Second Degree Robbery; she was six months pregnant when she was sentenced. Like every room in the unit, Pam's room has a bed for her, a bed for Quincey and the toys and books you'd see in any toddler's room. Women here have to meet strict criteria to qualify: they have to be minimum-security offenders, CPS history is considered and mental health is evaluated.
While there are exceptions, the women typically have to be serving a sentence of 30 months or less. It's a short time in prison terms, but a lifetime for these infants and toddlers. The program is designed to keep moms and babies from ever coming back. "Children of incarcerated parents are five to seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves," Alley explained. "So, we're really trying to break that chain."...
Most women allowed in the program never set foot in prison again. But, what about the kids? It may help the moms to have their babies with them in prison, but is it fair to the kids who have to live here? How do they tell their child years later that they spent their first birthday and had their first steps just yards away from convicted killers?...
The per-inmate cost of the program is the same as other minimum security offenders here -- about $123 a day. DSHS money pays for toys, books and food. It's money the families would qualify for outside of prison, so there's no additional cost to taxpayers. Doctors come in once a month for well-baby checks and vaccinations.
Many of the women say they're receiving care for themselves and their babies they had no idea how to access when their other children were born outside of prison. Like their moms who work or go to school in prison, these babies are busy, too. Every day, they head across the prison yard to a sanctuary. It's the Early Head Start Program, staffed with educational professionals.
As my parentheses are meant to explore, I wonder if this kind of "Residential Parenting Program" might have unique and uniquely important rehabilitative potential for new fathers as well as new mothers. If so, perhaps Washington and other states should consider having this sort of program available in more settings than just their women's prisons.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
"Budget Crunch Forces A New Approach To Prisons"
The title of this post is the headline of this NPR story which rant today and starts this way:
Budget problems are forcing states and the federal government to rethink their approach to prisons. More than 2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, and the cost is getting unbearable.
Even conservatives who describe themselves as tough on crime are starting to call for the release of some inmates. That's in part because the numbers are speaking louder than ever. States spend about $50 billion a year to house prisoners, and experts say incarceration is the fastest-growing expense in state budgets, except for Medicaid.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
"Mass Incarceration and the Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation"
Thanks to the always great Prison Law Blog, I just discovered the very interesting article that shares a title with this title of this post. This piece is by Heather Schoenfeld in a recent issue of Law & Society Review. Here is the abstract:
In this article I examine how prison conditions litigation in the 1970s, as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement, inadvertently contributed to the rise of mass incarceration in the United States. Using Florida as a case study, I detail how prison conditions litigation that aimed to reduce incarceration was translated in the political arena as a court order to build prisons. Drawing on insights from historical institutionalist scholarship, I argue that this paradox can be explained by considering the different historical and political contexts of the initial legal framing and the final compliance with the court order.
In addition, I demonstrate how the choices made by policy makers around court compliance created policy feedback effects that further expanded the coercive capacity of the state and transformed political calculations around crime control. The findings suggest how “successful” court challenges for institutional change can have long-term outcomes that are contrary to social justice goals. The paradox of prison litigation is especially compelling because inmates' lawyers were specifically concerned about racial injustice, yet mass incarceration is arguably the greatest obstacle to racial equality in the twenty-first century.
Missouri prison breaking in new geriatric wing
This new piece, headlined "Aging inmates challenge Missouri prison system," concerning a new wing of a Missouri prison reports on what is becoming old problem for states dealing with old inmates. Here are excerpts:
A prison in Missouri's capital now has a geriatric wing as state officials confront an increasingly elderly inmate population. The "enhanced care unit" opened Jan. 1 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center....
The 36-bed unit is designed as a miniature nursing home, a place where elderly convicts in wheelchairs, strapped to oxygen tanks or struggling with dementia can be segregated from the general prison population. Prisoners older than 50 represented 6 percent of Missouri state inmates in 1998; two decades later, that figure increased to 15 percent.
State officials plan to open similar units in five more state prisons and eventually build a separate prison hospital for elderly inmates, complete with a dementia unit and a dialysis lab.
Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff questions whether the state can afford such specialized care. "I don't think the public is really all that keen on spending hundreds of millions of dollars on running nursing homes in prison for old — dare I say — harmless guys," he said....
The rapid growth in the state's aging prison population — as well as the overall prison population — has been driven not by an uptick in crime but by state sentencing policies...
Medical and corrections officials say that due to a variety of factors — including backgrounds that often include drug and alcohol abuse, high-stress lifestyles and a chronic lack of proper medical care — prisoners tend to age more quickly than people on the outside. That's why most state corrections agencies classify inmates as "geriatric" at age 50 or 55, the common age when inmates' health begins deteriorating.
Across the country, older inmates pose a much lower risk of recidivism than their younger counterparts, statistics show. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, people released from prison at age 20 or younger have a recidivism rate of 23 percent for new crimes after two years. For those older than 70, only 3.5 percent commit new crimes.
Some related posts:
- "Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release"
- What should Florida and other states do with all their old sex offenders?
- "Aging inmates straining prison systems"
- The story of prisons becoming nursing homes in Virginia
Friday, February 11, 2011
Prison practicalities in lean budget times
Thanks to entries at The Crime Report, I saw these two notable stories from Louisiana and Texas that provide a sign of our lean budget times here in incarceration nation:
The Jindal administration is asking companies to detail how much they would charge the state to care for inmates in Allen and Winn parishes if two state prisons are sold to ease budget problems.
Texas’ corrections chiefs should consider freeing more feeble inmates and quit holding them until they die, some House budget writers said Thursday. Legislative budget staff members have criticized current practices, saying they sock taxpayers with huge costs for gravely disabled and geriatric inmates’ medical care in prison.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Charlie Manson (and lots of other California prisoners) getting access to cell phones
I am having a hard time avoiding giving some humorous spin to the news that mass murderer Charlie Manson and many others in California's prisons apparently have little problem getting access to cell phones. This lengthy Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Lawmakers say guards union is a key obstacle in effort to keeping cellphones out of prisons," provides some interesting backstory:
Lawmakers struggling to keep cellphones away from California's most dangerous inmates say a main obstacle is the politically powerful prison guards union, whose members would have to be paid millions of dollars extra to be searched on their way into work.
Prison employees, roughly half of whom are unionized guards, are the main source of smuggled phones that inmates use to run drugs and other crimes, according to legislative analysts who examined the problem last year. Unlike visitors, staff can enter the facilities without passing through metal detectors....
Brown, whose campaign received generous financial support from the union and who made one of his few public appearances between the November election and his January inauguration at the union's annual convention in Las Vegas, would not say whether searches are under review. "Our office does not discuss the details of pending contract negotiations," said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup, who noted that the prison system is testing technology to block cellphone calls in prisons.
More than 10,000 cell phones made their way into California prisons last year -- up from 1,400 in 2007, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. Two of those wound up in the hands of Charles Manson, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the ritualistic murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969.
The phones can fetch as much as $1,000 each behind prison walls, according to a recent state inspector general's report, which detailed how a corrections officer made $150,000 in a single year smuggling phones to inmates. He was fired but was not prosecuted because it is not currently against the law to take cellphones into prison, although it is a violation of prison rules to possess them behind bars....
Prison officials added 30 days to Manson's sentence after guards found an LG flip phone under his mattress in March 2009. They found him with a second phone, equipped with a camera, on Jan. 6, Thornton said. She declined to provide details about where Manson got the phone, saying the case is still under investigation.
My desire to add some levity to this serious story comes from thinking about the kind of iPhone or Droid commercial that might be imagined with Manson as a spokesperson. Or, alternatively, maybe somebody can devise an especially fitting new phone app for the apparently burgeoning prisoner cell-phone marketplace (especially since Angry Birds might give prisoners some bad ideas).
Given that Audi is previewing a Super Bowl ad features Kenny G as prison warden, the idea of turning this Manson story into a marketing ploy may already be on the minds of the folks on Madison Avenue. Perhaps Manson keeps trying to get a cellphone so he can call an agent.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Health care is a "budget buster" ... for inmates in Minnesota
As detailed in this local article, health care costs keep rising for the incarcerated. The piece is headlined "Inmate health care is a budget buster; Demands for medical and dental care are straining jails as never before, and sheriffs are looking for answers." Here is how it begins:
A Washington County jail inmate, ill with cancer, is driven to a nearby hospital every week for chemotherapy, accompanied by a corrections officer likely to be working on overtime. In Ramsey County, two inmates needed emergency medical care last year that rang up $445,000 in hospital bills and busted the county's budget. Hennepin County was paying so much for jail inmate dialysis that it bought its own machines to do the job.
As lawmakers in Minnesota and Washington, D.C., debate health care and human service programs, county taxpayers wind up footing the bill for people in county custody -- regardless of whether they're convicted of a crime. Authorities note a rise in the number of inmates who have mental health problems, expensive medications and treatments, and a general increase in health care costs. For instance, medicine costs at the Hennepin County jail were $156,000 in 2005 and jumped to $300,000 in 2009. "Add all those things together, and you have a collective mess," said Jim Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association.
Federal and state medical assistance programs and many private insurance plans cease once someone enters jail, putting the cost on counties. It's an ongoing issue magnified as government budgets get tighter and funding is slashed or obliterated. "Trying to budget for these costs is a little like roulette because you don't know who's going to be booked for what or who's going to be how ill," said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt. "We just don't know."
What county officials do know is that they're required by law to pay for inmate medical care, even though they likely won't be reimbursed. They're required to provide essential and reasonable medical and dental care, not things like elective procedures. And when an inmate goes to a hospital, an officer has to be along to guard him or her 24 hours a day, forcing juggling of schedules that often leads to overtime costs. The mandate thrust upon counties also forces them to strike a delicate balance between providing adequate care and making sure they don't open themselves up to legal action for neglect.
I have often joked with my students that the United States already has universal health care; the problem is, one has to commit a crime in order to access this system.
"Reducing Mass Incarceration: Lessons from the Deinstitutionalization of Mental Hospitals in the 1960s"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece available via SSRN from Professor Bernard Harcourt. Here is the abstract:
In 1963, President Kennedy outlined a federal program designed to reduce by half the number of persons in custody in mental hospitals. What followed was the biggest deinstitutionalization this country has ever seen. The historical record is complex and the contributing factors are several, but one simple fact remains: This country has deinstitutionalized before. As we think about reducing mass incarceration today, it may be useful to recall some lessons from the past.
After tracing the historical background, this essay explores three potential avenues to reduce mass incarceration: First, improving mental health treatment to inmates and exploring the increased use of medication, on a voluntary basis, as an alternative to incarceration; in a similar vein, increasing the use of GPS monitoring and other biometric monitoring, and moving toward the legalization of lesser controlled substances. Second, encouraging federal leadership to create funding incentives for diversionary programs that would give states a financial motive to move prisoners out of the penitentiary and into community-based programs. Third, encouraging impact litigation of prison overcrowding, as well as documentaries of prison life, as a way to influence the public perception of prisoners. With regard to each of these strategies, however, it is crucial to avoid the further racialization of the prison population and merely transferring prisoners to equally problematic institutions.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Is it inhumane for a "giant" criminal to be incarcerated in a small cell?
The question in the title of this post might seem like an abstract query for those like Adam Kolber and the many others currently engaging in a robust theoretical debate about the significant of subjective experience to punishment theory and policies (see papers here and here and here and here and here and here for just a portion of this debate). In fact, as detailed in this new BBC article, the question is currently before a court at The Hague:
A Dutch prisoner described by his lawyer as a giant has gone to court over the size of his single cell, arguing that it is inhumanely small. The prisoner, 2.07m tall (6ft 9in) and 230kg (36st), says he cannot properly sleep or use the toilet.
Prison officials have tried to relieve his discomfort by adding a a 2.15m plank and an extra mattress to his bed. Named by his lawyer as Angelo MacD., he is asking to complete his two-year sentence for fraud under house arrest.
His lawyer, Bas Martens, told a court in The Hague that his client's conditions of detention violated the European Convention on Human Rights. He insisted that MacD. was not trying to get out of serving his time. "My client just wants to serve a comparable sentence without pain," Mr Martens told Radio Netherlands....
"He is 2.07m tall and a metre wide and a metre deep," he said. "He is not obese. He is a giant. He even walks like a giant, like out of the comic books."
MacD. began his sentence on 29 September and is not due for release until 12 April 2012. His cell in a prison in the south-western town of Krimpen aan de IJssel would probably be adequate for most prisoners but for him, the problems start in the doorway, where he must bow his head to pass through.
His bed, which is fixed to the wall, is 77cm wide and 1.96m long, according to a sketch provided by Mr Martens. This means that his client must sleep on his side ... [and] he now has to "sleep with one eye open in case he falls out of bed", Mr Martens said.
To take a shower, he must first wedge himself into the cubicle, then crouch down under the head. So tiny and low is his toilet, he complains, that "visits" must be kept to the absolute minimum.
Other alleged problems included a lack of adequate space for family visits and suitable seating in the prison canteen. Mr Martens pointed out that his client was unable to do prison work for similar reasons, despite this being a requirement of his sentence.
A court ruling on the case is expected early next month.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Federal fiscal discipline at DOJ might mean increases in good-time credits
A helpful reader pointed me to this notable new Wall Street Journal article headlined "Budget Cutting Starts at Justice Department." Here are excerpts that ought to intrigue sentencing law and policy fans:
As President Barack Obama finalizes his proposals to increase federal funding for his priority programs, the White House is searching for ways to reduce spending elsewhere in the federal government.
At the Justice Department, officials are considering whether to shorten some federal prison terms and have already shut down a program that successfully encouraged fugitive criminals to turn themselves in. The department — which saw years of rapid growth after the 2001 terrorist attacks — is just one of the federal agencies facing significant belt-tightening at a time of rising worries about the federal budget deficit.
The president, in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, said he planned to seek more federal money for education, transportation and energy. At the same time, he called for a five-year freeze on non-security, discretionary government spending. To accomplish both goals, some other programs will have to go.
So the White House Office of Management and Budget, in discussions with departments and agencies, has proposed numerous cuts that could be included in the president's final budget proposal, to be sent to Congress in February. At Justice, according to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, OMB's proposals include:
—Increasing the amount of time deducted from prison terms for good behavior, which would immediately qualify some 4,000 federal convicts for release, and another 4,000 over the next 10 years.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Lots of interesting prison and prisoner law activity by SCOTUS today
The Supreme Court Justices have started a month break from oral argument this week. But, on their way out of town, the Court gave prison jurisprudence fans a going away gift. Specifically, the Justices via a summary reversal in Swartout v. Cooke (available here) told the Ninth Circuit that it must not be reviewing the substance of parole decisions in California. Here is a key snippet from the per curiam ruling:
The liberty interest at issue here is the interest in receiving parole when the California standards for parole have been met, and the minimum procedures adequate for due-process protection of that interest are those set forth in Greenholtz....
Because the only federal right at issue is procedural, the relevant inquiry is what process Cooke and Clay received, not whether the state court decided the case correctly. The Ninth Circuit’s questionable finding that there was no evidence in the record supporting the parole denials is irrelevant unless there is a federal right at stake, as §2254(a) requires. See id., at 67. The short of the matter is that the responsibility for assuring that the constitutionally adequate procedures governing California’s parole system are properly applied rests with California courts, and is no part of the Ninth Circuit’s business.
In addition, though technically a civil case with its real impact on civil lawyers, the Justices also handed down an opinion today in Ortiz v. Jordan (available here), which concerns "a procedural issue arising in a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 by Michelle Ortiz, a former inmate at the Ohio Reformatory for Women."
And, not to be overlooked, the Court granted cert in two cases involving prison and post-prison criminal procedural concerns. The issues in these two new SCOTUS cases are well explained in this new SCOTUSblog post:
The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to clarify when prison or jail officials must give an inmate warnings about his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, any time they take the prisoner out of a cell for questioning about another crime. The issue arises in a Michigan child sex abuse case, Howes v. Fields (10-680). The Court’s ruling on the case — expected in its next Term — will clarify the scope of the Court’s ruling in 1968 in Mathis v. U.S. That was one of two cases granted review before the Justices began a four-week recess.
In the second granted case, the Court will decide whether an individual convicted of violating a 2006 federal sex offender law has a right to go to court to challenge the U.S. Attorney General’s decision to apply that law to those who were convicted of sex crimes before the law’s enactment. That issue is posed in Reynolds v. U.S. (10-6549). The Court declined to review issues raised in the petition about the constitutionality of the federal law.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Tough discussions in California about how to handle serious juve offenders
This piece via the New York Times, which is headlined "Whither Young Offenders? The Debate Has Begun," spotlights the challenging discussions in California concerning what to do with a distinct set of challenging offenders. Here is an excerpt:
Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent proposal to eliminate California’s Division of Juvenile Justice was billed as a way to cut $242 million from the state budget. It was also the culmination of a decade-long effort to shut the state’s troubled youth prison system, which for years has been plagued by violence, abuse and decaying facilities.
Much of that effort has been centered in the Bay Area after accusations of abuse and neglect at the institutions surfaced in a 2003 Alameda County lawsuit. In recent years, some local judges often refused to send young offenders to state institutions, preferring to confine them in county facilities regarded as safer and more effective.
Mr. Brown’s initiative would take that unofficial policy further. It would scrap the state juvenile justice system and shift responsibility for confining the most violent young offenders to the local level, where they are nearer to family and have more community treatment options. The move would affect the 1,300 youths in state care, down from 10,000 in 1996.
Even among critics of the Division of Juvenile Justice, the proposed shift has set off a new debate over whether counties are equipped to handle an influx of severely troubled young people. “I’m disgusted with myself to think of defending D.J.J. with all the things that have happened over the years,” said Sue Burrell, a lawyer at the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, “but if you ask me right now, I would opt for keeping a very, very small D.J.J. open and not throwing the kids to the wolves.”
Ms. Burrell said she was concerned that prosecutors might see counties as unfit to handle serious offenders and thus try many juveniles as adults, forcing teenagers into adult prisons.
Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, said that keeping young offenders at the county level might offer them fewer rehabilitation options. “I would bet that those kids would end up in juvenile hall, in isolation, getting fewer services,” Mr. Krisberg said. “I don’t think we can shut down the entire state system.”
But Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit group in San Francisco, said he believed young offenders could receive better support at the local level. “In county juvenile halls, you don’t have the entrenched gang culture and violence you have at the state youth authority,” Mr. Macallair said. “The counties can offer a continuum of options — maximum security, minimum security, intensive services in the community — that the state could never come close to matching.”
Mr. Macallair, who has called the state institutions “relics of the 19th century,” agreed that the proposed state closings presented challenges, but he said too much hand-wringing would keep resources at the state level and prevent needed changes. “The state system is not set up for major change,” he said. “If the money won’t be flowing to counties, counties won’t get any better, and you’ll be left with the status quo.”
Monday, January 17, 2011
Can you believe prisons now have tanning beds ... in Russia?!?!?!
There is this amusing new prison story, headlined "Notorious Russian prison to get tanning beds," coming from the AP out of Moscow. Here are the details:
A centuries-old Russian prison notorious for its primitive conditions will soon offer inmates a new perk — tanning beds....
[Viktor] was quoted as saying the tanning beds are meant to compensate for inadequate sunlight in the cells. But inmates will have to pay and at 10 rubles (33 cents) a minute, that's a sizable fee in a country where the average monthly salary is well under $1,000.
The prison's dismal conditions attracted wide attention in 2009 after the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a young lawyer who died of pancreas disease there after inadequate medical care.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Some notable comings and goings from prison
Thanks to Google News, I saw these interesting headlines concerning some interesting folks headed to and leaving from prison:
- Palin E-Mail Hacker Imprisoned Against Judge's Recommendation
- Wife of Massachusetts Rep. Tierney Sentenced To Prison
- Former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards freed from prison
Friday, January 07, 2011
Former Governor Ryan briefly released from prison to visit dying wife
This local news report, which is headlined "Ryan secretly visited ailing wife, prosecutors say," updates an interesting high-profile story of prison policy and procedure. Here are the particulars:
Former Gov. George Ryan visited his ailing wife Wednesday night for two hours, according to a court filing Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago — something that his lawyers haven’t disclosed as they sought his release on bail,.
Ryan was released from a federal prison for the visit and escorted by federal Bureau of Prisons officials, prosecutors said. On Wednesday, Lura Lynn Ryan was taken to a Kankakee hospital after going into what her doctors described as septic shock. Her condition was called “very grave” by former Gov. James Thompson, a family friend and attorney who’s been making the case in the news media for Ryan’s release.
As he has pleaded for officials to take mercy and allow the imprisoned 76-year-old former governor to be released on bail so he could go to his wife’s hospital bedside, Thompson never disclosed that Ryan was indeed allowed to do so through a second avenue — a temporary furlough granted by the warden of his prison. The Bureau of Prisons doesn’t disclose when it furloughs a prisoner, or when it refuses to.
On Thursday, Thompson said that lawyers hadn’t gotten any word from officials at the prison where Ryan is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence on his corruption conviction. Thompson could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed that Ryan had visited his wife in a filing with the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in which prosecutors objected to Ryan’s bid for a release on bail while he appeals his 2006 conviction. Prosecutors said the appeals court should reject Ryan’s bail request because “Ryan has not shown that his appeal is likely to succeed. This court has repeatedly cautioned that the courts’ limited authority to grant bail in the context of collateral proceedings should be exercised ‘very sparingly.’ ”
Recent related post:
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Why shouldn't imprisoned former Governor George Ryan get released to see his dying wife?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this AP article, headlined "Jailed ex-Illinois gov. asks to visit gravely ill wife." Here are the basics:
Family members of imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan have gathered at the hospital bedside of his gravely ill wife while waiting for a federal appeals court to decide whether he should be allowed to join them.
Ryan's attorneys filed an emergency motion Wednesday asking that the 76-year-old former governor be let out of prison during daytime hours so he can be with his wife of 55 years, who they said was in intensive care suffering complications from chemotherapy.
One of Ryan's attorneys, former Gov. James Thompson, told The Associated Press that Lura Lynn Ryan's family was called to her side Wednesday morning. Family members did not address reporters who congregated outside Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee. "Doctors have told the family that they have to go hour by hour," Thompson said.
An emergency motion filed with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago says Ryan's wife went into septic shock, a complication of her treatment for what the motion describes as incurable cancer of the lungs, back, pelvis, ribs and liver. "Though neither radiation nor chemotherapy will affect a cure, Mrs. Ryan . . . has elected to receive both treatments in the hope that they will keep her alive until she can be with her husband to say goodbye," the motion says. "She has, at most, weeks to live."
The former governor has served three years of a 6 1/2-year sentence on convictions of racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI. His attorneys' motion argues "he is not a flight risk or a danger to the community." Attorneys also appealed directly to federal prison authorities to release Ryan under a program allowing inmates temporary leave to visit gravely ill family members, Thompson said.
Thompson said Ryan remained in prison as of Wednesday night but that his attorneys were keeping in touch with prison authorities in hopes of winning an immediate release. U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said prison wardens decide whether to grant bedside visit requests, but that the agency cannot disclose whether a request is made or granted due to privacy and safety concerns....
Ryan was convicted in 2006 of steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was secretary of state and then governor for one term. He received vacations and gifts in return. He also was accused of stopping an investigation into secretary of state employees accepting bribes in exchange for truck driver's licenses.
For all non-violent offenders who pose no obvious risk of flight or to the community, I would endorse a general rule that they readily be permitted release for a short period to be with a dying spouse. Such a temporary release rule, especially if limited to critically ill spouses, seems essential to a truly humane criminal justice system.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Ninth Circuit upholds DNA extraction from California prisoners
Today in Hamilton v. Brown, No. 09-1523 (9th Cir. Jan. 4, 20110 (available here), a Ninth Circuit panel rejects various constitutional challenges to California's process for extracting DNA from its state prisoners. Here is how the opinion gets started:
We must decide whether California state prison inmates constitutionally may be required to provide blood samples for DNA identification under California’s DNA and Forensic Identification Database and Data Bank Act of 1998, as amended, Cal. Pen. Code § 295 et seq. (the “Act” or the “California DNA Act”). Pro se plaintiff George Hamilton, a California state prison inmate, alleges that prison officials forcibly extracted a blood sample for DNA identification without his consent. He contends that this violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and under California state law. The district court dismissed Hamilton’s second amended complaint with prejudice. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Empty prison in Virginia a sign of new sentencing and prison times
This effective and lengthy local article, headlined "New $105M Va. prison remains empty," reflects some of the new sentencing and prison times that many states are experiencing as we start a new year. Here are excerpts:
[F]our months after the Grayson County prison was completed at a cost of $105 million, it sits empty -- the consequence of a declining number of inmates statewide, and a reduction in state dollars to lock them up.
Having a new prison without prisoners is a striking turnabout for Virginia. The state's inmate population of about 38,000 has nearly doubled since 1994, when the General Assembly voted to abolish parole and to embark on a prison-building boom. In the past two fiscal years, however, the number of inmates has declined for the first time in recent history, dropping by 2.8 percent.
At the same time, the ongoing fiscal crunch has forced the Virginia Department of Corrections to trim its $1 billion budget. The state has eliminated nearly 2,500 prison beds in the past two years, in part by closing four correctional centers....
It's not unusual for states to shut older prisons as crime drops and public concern shifts to the troubled economy, said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a national group that promotes criminal justice reform. "Corrections over the past 25 years has become an increasingly big component of state budgets, to the point that it's competing for funding with education and other core services," Mauer said. "And you can't have it both ways anymore." What's more unusual, he said, is for a brand-new prison like the one in Grayson County to be mothballed....
[C]rime in Virginia is declining, a trend that began well before the three new prisons were ready to accept inmates. "Prior to 2002, historical trends showed growth," Larry Traylor, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections.... Arrest rates have since dropped, especially for violent crimes and drug offenses that in the past have driven inmate predictions upward. "Forecasters across the country are monitoring trends to explain these unprecedented declines; however, they are not explained at this point," Traylor said....
Even with arrests down, correctional officials say they can always use more prison beds. "This is not a bed space problem. This is a money problem," Traylor said, when asked to respond to criticism that the prison system was overbuilt. "Budget reductions have forced us to close facilities."...
At the direction of Gov. Bob McDonnell, corrections officials are putting more emphasis on programs to keep inmates from re-offending. Although Virginia's recidivism rate is the sixth-lowest among 40 states for which data was most recently available, the current reduction in prison beds and funding is adding urgency to the effort.
The program -- run by a newly created coordinator and overseen by a council appointed by the governor -- will target inmates as soon as they enter prison and develop a detailed plan to assist their rehabilitation. Such an idea might never have been broached 10 or 15 years ago -- much less by a Republican governor -- when the mood among politicians was to abolish parole, enact mandatory minimum sentences and vote for other punitive measures.
But with crime down and state dollars scarce, there seems to be a shift in philosophy when it comes to crime and punishment, said Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, who serves on the Virginia Crime Commission. "I think we've come full circle, because it's obvious we've overbuilt ourselves with prisons," Ware said. "I think it's finally seeped in. I don't think people like to admit it politically, but the fact of the matter is that it's a lot cheaper to do prevention than it is to lock people up in the penitentiary."
Re-entry is not the only new idea being floated these days. A state task force is looking for ways to cut down on the number of nonviolent felons sent to prison. For years, drug dealers and thieves have far outnumbered killers and rapists in prison.
Sunday, January 02, 2011
"Outlawed, Cellphones Are Thriving in Prisons"
The title of this post is the headline of this fascinating new New York Times article. Here are excerpts:
Technology is changing life inside prisons across the country at the same rapid-fire pace it is changing life outside. A smartphone hidden under a mattress is the modern-day file inside a cake.
“This kind of thing was bound to happen,” said Martin F. Horn, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The physical boundaries that we thought protected us no longer work.”
Although prison officials have long battled illegal cellphones, smartphones have changed the game. With Internet access, a prisoner can call up phone directories, maps and photographs for criminal purposes, corrections officials and prison security experts say. Gang violence and drug trafficking, they say, are increasingly being orchestrated online, allowing inmates to keep up criminal behavior even as they serve time.
“The smartphone is the most lethal weapon you can get inside a prison,” said Terry L. Bittner, director of security products with the ITT Corporation, one of a handful of companies that create cellphone-detection systems for prisons. “The smartphone is the equivalent of the old Swiss Army knife. You can do a lot of other things with it.”
The Georgia prison strike, for instance, was about things prisoners often complain about: They are not paid for their labor. Visitation rules are too strict. Meals are bad. But the technology they used to voice their concerns was new.
Inmates punched in text messages and assembled e-mail lists to coordinate simultaneous protests, including work stoppages, with inmates at other prisons. Under pseudonyms, they shared hour-by-hour updates with followers on Facebook and Twitter. They communicated with their advocates, conducted news media interviews and monitored coverage of the strike....
Even closely watched prisoners are sneaking phones in. Last month, California prison guards said they had found a flip phone under Charles Manson’s mattress. The logical solution would be to keep all cellphones out of prison. But that is a war that is being lost, corrections officials say. Prisoners agree.
“Almost everybody has a phone,” said Mike, 33, an inmate at Smith State Prison in Georgia who, like other prisoners interviewed for this article, asked that his full name not be used for fear of retaliation. “Almost every phone is a smartphone. Almost everybody with a smartphone has a Facebook.”
Cellphones are prohibited in all state and federal prisons in the United States, often even for top corrections officials. Punishment for a prisoner found with one varies. In some states, it is an infraction that affects parole or time off for good behavior. In others, it results in new criminal charges.
President Obama signed a law in August making possession of a phone or a wireless device in a federal prison a felony, punishable by up to a year of extra sentencing. Still, they get in. By the thousands. In the first four months of 2010, Federal Bureau of Prisons workers confiscated 1,188 cellphones, according to Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who sponsored the federal measure. In California last year, officers discovered nearly 9,000 phones....
The solution, [various experts] say, is to simply jam cellphone signals in prisons. [P]rison officials from  states petitioned the Federal Communications Commission last year for permission to install technology that would render cellphones useless. But there is no support from the cellphone industry. “It’s illegal, plain and simple,” said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association. He cited the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits the blocking of radio signals — or, in this case, cellphone signals — from authorized users.
The recent rise in smartphones raises larger issues for prisoners and their advocates, who say the phones are not necessarily used for criminal purposes. In some prisons, a traditional phone call is prohibitive, costing $1 per minute in many states. And cellphones can help some offenders stay better connected with their families.
Mike, the Georgia inmate who was part of the recent strike, said he used his to stay in touch with his son. “When he gets off the school bus, I’m on the phone and I talk to him,” he said in an interview on his contraband cellphone. “When he goes to bed, I’m on the phone and I talk to him.”
Some groups are encouraging prisons to embrace new technology while managing risks. Inmates are more likely to successfully re-enter society if they maintain relationships with friends and families, said David Fathi, director of the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “It shows that even if they are closed institutions, prisons are still part of the larger society,” Mr. Fathi said. “They can’t be forever walled off from technological changes.”
And in a world where hundreds of apps are introduced each day by developers hoping to tap new markets, a pool of prisoners with smartphones can seem an attractive new market, despite the implications.
“It’s a pure business opportunity,” said Hal Goldstein, the publisher of iPhone Life magazine. He predicted that games would be big, but so would the ability to download news and books. “People outside of prison become addicted to their phones,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Can you imagine if you had nothing but time on your hands?”
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Newest BJS data on correctional population shows historic first decline
Perhaps finally providing that what goes up must eventually come down even in incarceration nation, the Bureau of Justice Statistics announced today via this press release "the first measured decline in the total number of adults under correctional supervision [in the United States] since BJS began reporting these populations in 1980." Here is more:
One in 32 adults, or about 3.1 percent of U.S. adult residents, was under correctional supervision at yearend 2009, down slightly from the rate of supervision in 2008.
Although comparatively small, decreases in the probation population (down by 40,079 offenders) and the parole population (down by 5,526 offenders) were the first observed decreases since BJS began annual data collections on these populations in 1980. At yearend 2009, 4,203,967 adults were on probation, and 819,308 were under parole or other post-custody supervision....
Among incarcerated offenders, the number of jail inmates totaled 760,400 at midyear 2009 (down 2.2 percent from 2008). The number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities increased by 0.2 percent (3,981 prisoners) during 2009 to reach 1,613,740 at yearend.
The growth in the prison population during 2009 was the slowest annual increase in the current decade and marked the third consecutive year of a declining rate of growth in the prison population. While the federal prison population increased by 3.4 percent (up 6,838 prisoners), the state prison population had the first measured decline (down 0.2 percent or 2,857 prisoners) since 1977.
Sentencing nuts and/or data junkies eager in mining these numbers further should be sure to check out this series of new reports released today by BJS:
Correctional Populations in the United States, 2009: Presents summary data on the number of adults under some form of correctional supervision in the United States at yearend 2009. Correctional supervision includes adults supervised in the community on probation or parole and those incarcerated in prison or local jails.
Probation and Parole in the United States, 2009: Presents the number of adults under community supervision (probation or parole) at yearend 2009 and the rate of change in both populations during the year.
Prisoners in 2009: This annual report presents data on prisoners under jurisdiction of federal or state correctional authorities on December 31, 2009, collected from the National Prisoner Statistics series.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Federal education stimulus dollars covering prison costs in Alabama
As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Prisons the biggest recipient of Alabama's education stimulus dollars," a big chunk of federal dollars earmarked for education has been going to prison spending in Alabama. Here are the details:
Alabama’s biggest recipient of federal education stimulus dollars thus far is not a local school system or a college: It’s the Department of Corrections, according to a Press-Register analysis.
The agency has received $118 million of $1.1 billion in stimulus funding doled out to the state by the U.S. Department of Education since 2009. The money covered health care costs for 26,000 inmates, and salaries and benefits for about 4,200 corrections officers and other employees for three and a half months, officials said.
The spending was legal: Governors were allowed to give up to 18 percent of the funding to areas other than education, such as public safety. Nonetheless, Alabama spent about $4,500 in education stimulus dollars per prisoner, about four times the amount per student in kindergarten through 12th grade....
“If we could’ve had that $118 million,” Baldwin County schools Superintendent Alan Lee said of school systems in general, “we could’ve given the prisons less business.” Studies have shown that students who fail classes and drop out are more likely to go to prison than those who do well in school....
Steve Brown, associate commissioner over administration for the Department of Corrections, said the injection of federal stimulus dollars was vital to the 31 prison facilities across the state. Without it, he said, his agency might have petitioned the Legislature for permission to release inmates, something that Brown said would not have been well-received. Or, the state would have had to skim money from all of its other departments, including education, to cover a corrections budget that has been ailing for years.
Prisons are overcrowded and the corrections department is staffed only at 80 percent of what it should be, he said. “We’ve done ‘what if’ drills before. We would’ve had to release 40 percent of our inmates. That’s not a viable option,” Brown said. Brown said that federal auditors examined the corrections department spending and gave their OK.
Friday, December 17, 2010
"The Worst of the Worst: Supermax Torture in America"
The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from the Boston Review authored by investigative journalist Lance Tapley. The piece provides an important and disturbing view of supermax confinement in the United States. Here are excerpts from a must-read:
James’s story [of being beaten during cell 'extractions' he’d endured at the hands of the supermax-unit guards at the Maine State Prison] illustrates an irony in the negative reaction of many Americans to the mistreatment of “war on terrorism” prisoners at Guantánamo. To little public outcry, tens of thousands of American citizens are being held in equivalent or worse conditions in this country’s super-harsh, super-maximum security, solitary-confinement prisons, or in comparable units of traditional prisons. The Obama administration — somewhat unsteadily — plans to shut down the Guantánamo detention center and ship its inmates to one or more supermaxes in the United States, as though this would mark a substantive change. In the supermaxes inmates suffer weeks, months, years, or even decades of mind-destroying isolation, usually without meaningful recourse to challenge the conditions of their captivity. Prisoners may be regularly beaten in cell extractions, and they receive meager health services. The isolation frequently leads to insane behavior including self-injury and suicide attempts.
In 2004, state-run supermaxes in 44 states held about 25,000 people, according to Daniel Mears, a Florida State University criminologist who has done the most careful count. Mears told me his number was conservative. In addition the federal system has a big supermax in Colorado, ADX Florence, and a total of about 11,000 inmates in solitary in all its lockups, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Some researchers peg the state and federal supermax total as high as a hundred thousand; their studies sometimes include more broadly defined “control units” — for example, those in which men spend all day in a cell with another prisoner. (Nationally, 91 percent of prison and jail inmates are men, so overwhelmingly men fill the supermaxes. Women also are kept in supermax conditions, but apparently no one has estimated how many.) Then there are the county and city jails, the most sizable of which have large solitary-confinement sections. Although the roughness in what prisoners call “the hole” varies from prison to prison and jail to jail, isolation is the overwhelming, defining punishment in this vast network of what critics have begun to call mass torture.
Some related older and newer posts:
Kentucky judge rejects death sentence for child killer claiming life term will be a "hell more suited to you"
A helpful reader alerted me to this remarkable new sentencing story from Kentucky in which a sentence judge rejected the prosecutor's death sentence request for a child killer claiming that such a sentence would be too easy for the defendant. Here are the details:
Saying the death penalty was not a harsh enough punishment, a judge ordered for Cecil New II to serve the rest of his life in prison, surrounded by “bigger, meaner men who have nothing to lose.”
“He will fear for his life every day,” Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman told the family of 4-year-old Ivan Aguilar-Cano, who disappeared while playing outside his home near Churchill Downs in 2007 and was murdered by New. “He will wish this court had put him on death row.”
Since a November hearing in which prosecutors asked that New be sentenced to death, McDonald-Burkman said she had investigated the differences between the life of a death-row inmate and one serving a life sentence. On death row, she said, inmates are segregated from other prisoners and can have meals sent to their cell without ever having to be around anyone else, and typically an execution is not scheduled for at least 20 years. With the life sentence, New must congregate with other prisoners and “is never truly isolated.”
“Death is undoubtedly justified for you,” the judge told New. “There’s not one cell in your body, Cecil New, that can be rehabilitated, not one. But is a death sentence justice?” The unusually frank language from McDonald-Burkman included scenarios on how New’s life would play out in the general population. “Death is easy,” she said. “Living outside of death row, in general population in fear of prison justice every day is a hell more suited to you, Mr. New, than living under the protective guise of death row.”
McDonald-Burkman reiterated that this was not a “sentence of mercy, not an act of mercy, not an anti-death penalty stance” but the harshest punishment she could hand down.... The judge also addressed Ivan’s family directly, saying she hoped they would find comfort knowing that the only contact New would have would be with bigger, meaner inmates and that “he will be the smaller, weaker, more defenseless.”
Ivan’s family left through a back hallway, away from the media, but activist Christopher 2X, spoke for the family, saying they understood the judge’s decision but felt that “a life for a life should be the appropriate penalty.”...
On Oct. 14, the day before his trial, New surprised many by pleading guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, tampering with physical evidence and unlawful transaction with a minor. However, New did not negotiate a plea bargain and entered what is known as an open plea, which made him eligible to receive the death penalty and waiving his right to an appeal.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jon Heck had asked McDonald-Burkman on Nov. 16 to give New the death penalty, saying he deserved to die for his actions. But Jay Lambert, New's attorney, argued that New's life should be spared because of a horrific childhood that, at least in part, helped make him into who he is.
After the sentencing, Heck said he agreed with the judge’s reasoning that the life sentence was the greatest penalty. “He will serve out his life a tormented man,” Heck said. “And I think he deserves that.”
It is not uncommon to hear death penalty abolitionists claim that a life sentence is in fact worse than a sentence of death, but I cannot recall a case in which a jurist has expressly relied on such a claim in order to reject a prosecutorial request for a death sentence. Intriguingly, though the victim's family seems displeased with this result, this press report suggests that the prosecution agrees with the sentencing judge here and thus likely will not seek an appeal (and I am not even sure if applicable state law would permit an appeal in any event).
"Festivus for the rest of us, O.C. Jail style"
The title of this post is the headline of this awesome holiday-season article from the Orange County Register about how a inmate managed to talk his way into a healthier meal for his jail stay. Here are the details:
Festivus may only come around only come around once a year — more often if you watch "Seinfeld" reruns — but longtime county inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was able to celebrate it three times a day while locked up at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange.
King’s quest for a healthier eating option while behind bars ended with a county lawyer forced to research the origin of Festivus and its traditions and a Superior Court judge recognizing the holiday — which lodged its place in pop culture on an episode of "Seinfeld" — as a legitimate religion.
The menu selection at Theo Lacy apparently didn’t please King, 38, when he was booked into the jail on drug charges in April. They serve salami there. And that didn’t quite fit in with the fitness buff/gym clothes model’s lifestyle. So King, who is also suspected of being in the country illegally from Liberia, asked for kosher meals....
Judge Derek G. Johnson signed off on the high-protein double-portion kosher meals for King. That didn't sit well with the Sheriff's Department — which pays for the food. Kosher meals are more expensive than the regular jail fare — and are reserved for those with a religious need....
When sentencing day came, King pleaded guilty to the sale or transport of a controlled substance — a felony. Two other felonies were thrown out. But King still wanted his non-salami meals.
Judge Johnson pulled King's lawyer and the prosecutor aside and said he needed a religion to put down on the order to make it stick, explained [King's lawyer Fred] Thiagarajah. “I said Festivus,” said Thiagarajah. The order was granted — three non-salami meals a day.
County Counsel researched Festivus, arguing the holiday was the creation of writer Dan O’Keefe to celebrate his first date with his wife in 1966. The holiday was introduced to the world by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for "Seinfeld," who wrote it into the show. Seinfeld celebrated Festivus with an aluminum “Festivus pole” instead of a tree and traditions such as the “Airing of Grievances” and “Feats of Strength.” Easily explainable events were “Festivus miracles.”...
King was released from county jail Oct. 5 and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He is awaiting deportation, according to ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley. No word if Festivus celebrations are allowed in ICE detention.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
New issue of Pace Law Review on need for prison oversight in US
I received via e-mail a press release spotlighting this new issue of the Pace Law Review that all sentencing law and policy fans will want to check out. Here is how the press release begins:
Latest issue of Pace Law Review offers blueprint for critically-needed U.S. prison oversight: Contains views from academics, human rights lawyers, national and international corrections experts
The United States has, by far, the highest incarceration rate of any developed country on the planet, yet its prisons remain largely hidden worlds. Unlike many Western countries, which have systems for inspecting and reporting on prison conditions, the U.S. lacks formal and comprehensive external oversight mechanisms to regularly monitor prisons and jails.
Now, a newly released issue of the Pace Law Review, “Opening up a Closed World: A Sourcebook on Prison Oversight,” offers a comprehensive look at prison oversight, including articles from leading academics, national and international corrections experts, and prisoners’ rights and human rights lawyers. Together, this diverse group calls for a national conversation on this important subject, and offers insights and practical ideas for how oversight could be accomplished in the American context.
Monday, December 13, 2010
"Releasing elderly non-violent prisoners would reduce Ohio deficit"
The title of this post is the headline of this potent and effective letter to the editor in a local Ohio paper. Here are excerpts:
How do you eat an elephant? . . . One bite at a time
Ohio is $8 billion in the red. A budget crisis the size of an elephant. A recent report by the Kasich camp suggesting ways to balance the budget, asked Ohio agencies to look at operating at a 90 percent of their current budgets. As expected, all said such a plan would reduce services, raise education costs and create havoc. The scenario communicated by the Department of Corrections is particularly startling. If the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction takes a 10 percent hit to their current $3.1 Billion budget, staff would be reduced by 20 percent and several prisons would have to close. Overcrowding would rise from 135% overcapacity to a startling 174 percent creating a dangerous and inhumane situation....
In September, Director Ernie Moore announced that the big WIG or “Wildly Important Goal” of the ODRC is to “reduce the prison population to 48,000 by July 1, 2013.” This trickle of proposed reductions over 2½ years is uninspired. We need a fiscally and morally arguable plan to reduce the absurd amount of resources wasted to warehouse humans in the name of public safety now. Don’t be fooled by the fear mongering by those who benefit by the ever-growing prison industrial complex. The ODRC employs nearly 14,000. Make no mistake there are vested interests in keeping prisons open, full and growing. When the rhetoric of releasing prisoners is used to create fear, panic and more irresponsible spending, remember over 95% of those incarcerated are eventually released regardless of pedantic tactics used to manipulate the public....
It is said that character of a society can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalized. There is no group of citizens more vulnerable or more marginalized, forgotten and forlorn than the elderly incarcerated. According to the US Department of Justice, elderly inmates represent the most vulnerable of the entire population. They are subject to systemic abuse and neglect, violated in ways that would make you sick. They suffer exponentially and in degrading and disgusting circumstances that were never intended, even by the most ardent supporters of tough on crime legislation.... Yet, they are unquestionably proven to be the least risk to society and of recidivism.
Ohio has nearly 7,000 inmates over the age of 50, the age, generally accepted as elderly by the National Institute of Corrections and the State of Ohio. Based on documented “accelerated aging” studies showing the actual age of an older inmate to be 10 years older than their biological age.
To incarcerate the most vulnerable, lowest risk and most expensive inmates, is costing Ohio $500,000,000 a year; a half billion dollars, money that could go to schools, job training and positive, productive uses. Resources that should be an investment in the future of Ohio not spent on satisfying the public and political appetite for the last morsel of vengeance.
If Ohio and the ODRC was to release just 3,000 of the eldest, non violent offenders that alone would save over $225 million, stave off the dangerous overcrowding and put Ohio on the cutting edge and moral high ground of the travesty of geriatric incarceration. The immediate, early release of the elderly non-violent prisoners is both pragmatic and humane. Simply, it is just the right thing to do. This is one big bite of the elephant that should be palatable to all.
Some recent related posts:
- ACLU of Ohio produces major report on prison growth and problems
- "Ohio lawmakers mull sweeping reform to cut prison populations"
- Incoming Ohio Governor Kasich having to face over-crowded prisons and tight budgets
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Prisoners in Georgia coordinate (unprecedented?) strike
Though it may not be unprecedented, this news via the New York Times about a prisoner strike in Georgia is certainly remarkable. Here are the basics:
In a protest apparently assembled largely through a network of banned cellphones, inmates across at least six prisons in Georgia have been on strike since Thursday, calling for better conditions and compensation, several inmates and an outside advocate said.
Inmates have refused to leave their cells or perform their jobs, in a demonstration that seems to transcend racial and gang factions that do not often cooperate. “Their general rage found a home among them — common ground — and they set aside their differences to make an incredible statement,” said Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther leader who has taken up the inmates’ cause. She said that different factions’ leaders recruited members to participate, but the movement lacks a definitive torchbearer.
Ms. Brown said thousands of inmates were participating in the strike. The Georgia Department of Corrections could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
“We’re not coming out until something is done. We’re not going to work until something is done,” said one inmate at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. He refused to give his name because he was speaking on a banned cellphone. Several inmates, who used cellphones to call The Times from their cells, said they found out about the protest from text messages and did not know whether specific individuals were behind it....
Ms. Brown, who lives in Oakland, Calif., said she planned to gather legal and advocacy groups on Monday to help coordinate a strategy for the inmates.
Chief among the prisoners’ demands is that they be compensated for jailhouse labor. They are also demanding better educational opportunities, nutrition, and access to their families.