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August 27, 2021

RFK killer. Sirhan Sirhan, recommended for parole after decades of denials

As the saying goes, if at first you do not succeed, try, try again.  As detailed in this Los Angeles Times article, after trying again and again to get a positive parole recommendation, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, today finally succeeded:

Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy at a Los Angeles hotel more than 50 years ago, was recommended for release by a California parole board Friday, the first step toward making him a free man.

The two-person panel Sirhan appeared before Friday granted parole, but the decision is not final.  Parole staff still have 90 days to review the matter.  After that, Gov. Gavin Newsom — or whoever might replace him following next month’s recall election — could still decide to block Sirhan’s release.

Sirhan, then a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant who had written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death, shot the senator at the since-demolished Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1968. Kennedy was considered a leading candidate for president and had just won primaries in South Dakota and California at the time of his assassination.  Sirhan admitted to the killing in 1969 and has been in prison for 53 years.

The board granted his release Friday, in part, after receiving letters of support from two members of the slain senator’s family. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has previously expressed doubt about Sirhan’s guilt, said he believed his father might extend mercy to his own killer.  “While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” Kennedy Jr. wrote in a letter submitted in advance of Friday’s hearing.

Douglas Kennedy said that while he’d lived in fear of Sirhan for years, he saw him now as “worthy of compassion and love.” “I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” Douglas Kennedy wrote. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department submitted a letter opposing Sirhan’s release, on behalf of the Kennedy family.

Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said the governor will review Sirhan’s case if it is presented to him....

Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney, says the 77-year-old has not been accused of a serious violation of prison rules since 1972 and that prison officials have deemed him a low risk for violence. Sirhan first became eligible for parole in 1972. Between 1983 and 2006, he was granted parole hearings every one to two years, but was always denied. Beginning in 2006, those hearings were held just twice a decade. He was last denied release in 2016.

The recommendation for Sirhan’s release also came without opposition from L.A. County prosecutors, who are barred from fighting release at parole hearings under a policy enacted by Dist. Atty. George Gascón. While Gascón’s policy had been in effect for nearly nine months, it attracted new scrutiny this week because of Sirhan’s case. Gascón has said it should be up to the parole board to determine an inmate’s suitability for release, rather than prosecutors who are simply relitigating the facts of old cases, sometimes decades later....

Critics of Gascón have said the parole policy is indicative of a broader abandonment of victims under his administration. Some victims have complained to The Times that they felt helpless without an advocate present when they went to oppose the release of a loved one’s killer earlier this year. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a staunch opponent of Gascón, has also said he would send staff to aid victims at parole hearings if Gascón wouldn’t send prosecutors, but he has yet to explain how often he’s done so or what impact, if any, the move has had in such cases....

While critics of Gascón have claimed the parole policy will end with a flood of violent criminals returning to the streets, data suggest otherwise. Records show the state parole board only granted release in about 19% of all cases it heard from 2018 to 2020, and that does not factor in cases where Newsom later blocked an inmate’s release.

It will be interesting to see if Gov. Newsom says anything publicly about this case before the recall election in a few weeks at a time when his rivals are accusing him of being "soft on crime."

August 27, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Lots of interesting sentencing issues as South Dakota's Attorney General avoids any incarceration after killing pedestrian

This AP piece, headlined "An Attorney General Won't Serve Any Jail Time For A Crash That Killed A Pedestrian," reports on the details of a notable resolution to a high-profile criminal case involving the top legal official in the Mount Rushmore State. Here are some details:

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg pleaded no contest Thursday to a pair of misdemeanor traffic charges over a crash last year that killed a pedestrian, avoiding jail time despite bitter complaints from the victim's family that he was being too lightly punished for actions they called "inexcusable."

Circuit Judge John Brown had little leeway to order jail time.  Instead, he fined the state's top law enforcement official $500 for each count plus court costs of $3,742.  Brown also ordered the Republican to "do a significant public service event" in each of the next five years near the date of Joseph Boever's death — granting a request from the Boever family.  But he put that on hold pending a final ruling after Ravnsborg's attorney objected that it was not allowed by statute.

Ravnsborg said in a statement after the hearing that he plans to remain in office.  The plea capped the criminal portion of a case that led Gov. Kristi Noem — a fellow Republican — and law enforcement groups around the state to call for his resignation.  But he still faces a likely lawsuit from Boever's widow and a potential impeachment attempt.

Ravnsborg's statement accused "partisan opportunists" of exploiting the situation and said they had "manufactured rumors, conspiracy theories and made statements in direct contradiction to the evidence all sides agreed upon."  Noem, in a statement afterward, pushed the Legislature to consider impeachment and said she ordered the House speaker be given a copy of the investigative file. Impeachment proceedings halted in February after the judge barred state officials from divulging details of the investigation. Lawmakers indicated then that they might resume after the criminal case ended.

The attorney general was driving home to Pierre from a political fundraiser on Sept. 12 when he struck Boever, who was walking on the side of a highway. In a 911 call after the crash, Ravnsborg was initially unsure about what he hit and then told a dispatcher it might have been a deer. He said he didn't realize he struck a man until he returned to the crash scene the next day and discovered the body of Boever, 55.

Ravnsborg pleaded no contest to making an illegal lane change and using a phone while driving, which each carried a maximum sentence of up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Prosecutors dropped a careless driving charge.

Ravnsborg didn't attend the hearing — he didn't have to and was represented by his attorney, Tim Rensch. That angered Boever's family. "Why, after having to wait nearly a year, do we not have the chance to face him?" Boever's sister, Jane Boever, asked the court. She said "his cowardly behavior leaves us frustrated."

She said her brother was "left behind carelessly" the night he died. She accused Ravnsborg of running down her brother and then using his position and resources to string the case along. She said he has shown no remorse, and only "arrogance toward the law." Jane Boever called the punishment "a slap on the wrist."

"Our brother lay in the ditch for 12 hours," she said. "This is inexcusable." Boever's widow, Jennifer Boever, said Ravnsborg's "actions are incomprehensible and ... cannot be forgiven."

Rensch pushed back hard on the family's criticism, calling the attorney general an "honorable man." Rensch said Ravsnborg had been consistent from the beginning that he simply did not see Boever. And he noted that the case was "not a homicide case, and it's not a manslaughter case."

"Accidents happen, people die. It should not happen. No one wants anybody to die," he said. Rensch told reporters after the hearing that Ravnsborg had cooperated fully with investigators by sitting down for two interviews and allowing his phones to be analyzed. "Basically just take your shirt off and say, 'Here I am, bring it on.' I'll answer anything you've got, and that's what this guy did," Rensch said.

Beadle County State's Attorney Michael Moore, one of the prosecutors, agreed that the attorney general had been cooperative. He was also satisfied with Ravnsborg's punishment and the crash investigation. "Because of who it was and the high profile nature of the case, the investigation was a lot more thorough," he said.

After a months-long probe led to prosecutors charging Ravnsborg with the three misdemeanors in February, Noem put maximum pressure on Ravnsborg to resign, releasing videos of investigators questioning him. They revealed gruesome details, including that detectives believed Boever's body had collided with Ravnsborg's windshield with such force that part of his eyeglasses were deposited in the backseat of Ravnsborg's car.

Prosecutors said Ravnsborg was on his phone roughly one minute before the crash, but phone records showed it was locked at the moment of impact. Ravnsborg told investigators that the last thing he remembered before impact was turning off the radio and looking down at the speedometer. A toxicology test taken roughly 15 hours after the crash showed no alcohol in Ravnsborg's system, and people who attended the fundraiser said he was not seen drinking alcohol.

Ravnsborg adamantly denied doing anything wrong. He insisted he had no idea he hit a man until returning to the crash site and that he is worthy of remaining the state's top law enforcement officer. "Joe's death weighs heavily on me and always will," Ravnsborg said in his statement. "I've often wondered why the accident occurred and all the things that had to have happened to make our lives intersect."

Ravnsborg's insistence on remaining in office has opened a divide among Republicans, with him retaining support among some GOP circles. The attorney general has been spotted working booths for local Republican groups at county fairs in recent weeks. But popular predecessor Marty Jackley is already running for his old job and has collected the support of most of the state's county prosecutors. Political parties will select candidates for attorney general at statewide conventions next year....

Boever's family said they hope Ravnsborg is driven from office one way or another. "It is not too late for the state Legislature to resume impeachment proceedings," Jane Boever said. "And if they fail us, then it's left to the voters of South Dakota to remove him from the ballot box."

The sentencing nerd in me is struck by the fact that Judge Brown, in response to a request from the victim's family, "ordered the Republican to 'do a significant public service event' in each of the next five years near the date of Joseph Boever's death." I am not sure what that exactly means, but apparently the SD AG's lawyer thinks it is "not allowed by statute."  I also wonder if the possible, but not certain, prospect of Ravnsborg losing his job may have influenced the prosecutors to accept this deal.  (And, the Criminal Law professor in me also thinks this might be a good hypo when I teach omission liability next week.)

Because the exact facts are a bit opaque (e.g., was the victim killed instantly and why and how was he walking on a "highway"), I am still not sure what to make of this sentencing outcome.  But I would certainly be eager other perspectives.

August 27, 2021 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6)

Amazing line-ups for "The Future of the President’s Pardon Power: 2021 Clemency Panel Series"

Clemency-Series_for-web-and-email2

I am so very pleased and proud to be helping to put on a terrific series of online panels to explore in depth the federal clemency powers.  This series is jointly organized by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, the Federal Sentencing Reporter, and the David F. and Constance B. Girard-diCarlo Center for Ethics, Integrity and Compliance at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. 

Though a whole lot of folks are doing great work putting this series together, the indefatigable Margaret Love merits extra praise for helping to turn a general idea into this great series.  She also deserves special recognition for her work helping to assemble writings on these timely topics in Volume 33, Issue 5 of the Federal Sentencing Reporter (which largely provides the foundation for these panels.)

The series’ three panels will discuss the use of the pardon power by President Donald Trump and how it may influence pardoning in the future. They will consider whether Trump’s irregular pardoning may have been a blessing in disguise by prompting much-needed reforms in law and in practice.

PANEL 1: Donald Trump’s Theatre of Pardoning: What Did We Learn?

September 14, 2021 | 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. EDT | Zoom

Panelists:

 

PANEL 2: Supplementing the Pardon Power: Second Looks and Second Chances

Tuesday, September 21, 2021 | 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. EDT | Zoom

Panelists:

 

PANEL 3: Managing the Pardon Power: Should the Justice Department Remain the Gatekeeper?

Tuesday, September 28, 2021 | 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. EDT | Zoom

Panelists:

August 27, 2021 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 26, 2021

California Supreme Court turns back broad challenge to state capital procedures

As detailed in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "California’s top court declines to overhaul death penalty," a broad challenge to death penalty procedures was rejected by the California Supreme Court today.  Here are the basics:

The California Supreme Court on Thursday decided to leave the state’s death penalty law intact, refusing an entreaty from Gov. Gavin Newsom that would have overturned scores of death sentences.

In a unanimous decision, the state’s highest court said there was little legal support under state law for overhauling the law, as opponents of capital punishment urged. In fact, the court said, some of the precedents cited by defense lawyers actually undercut their position.

Defense lawyers had argued the state’s capital punishment law was unconstitutional because it failed to require jurors to unanimously agree beyond a reasonable doubt on the reasons why a defendant should be sentenced to death instead of life without possibility of parole. A decision to impose the death penalty also should be made beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard now used in deciding guilt, the lawyers said.

If the court had agreed, hundreds — if not all — death sentences would have had to be overturned because such decisions generally apply retroactively.

Justice Goodwin Liu, who wrote the ruling, said some of the cases cited by defense attorneys did not support their position. “If anything,” he said, they suggested “the ultimate penalty determination is entirely within the discretion of the jury.” The court did not reject the constitutional arguments raised by Newsom but said they did “not bear directly on the specific state law questions before us.”

In a concurring opinion, Liu said there was enough U.S. Supreme Court precedent to warrant reconsidering California’s death penalty rules in future cases. He noted that some other states have changed their capital punishment requirements as a result of more recent Supreme Court rulings on the 6th Amendment, which protects the trial rights of the criminally accused....

John Mills, who represented two scholars of the state Constitution as friends of the court, said the ruling and Liu’s concurrence have provided a road map for future challenges that may be more likely to succeed. He predicted death row inmates will soon bring the kinds of claims that Liu said might be persuasive but were not at issue in McDaniel’s appeal. “He was laying out some concerns that were not presented by Mr. McDaniel about the operations of the California death penalty statute that he is concerned may violate the federal Constitution,” Mills said. “Those issues remain an open question in California because they were not litigated in this case.”...

California has more than 700 inmates on death row, but legal challenges have stymied executions. Only 13 inmates have been executed since 1992, and Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions during his time in office.

The full 111-page opinion from the California Supreme Court is available at this link.

August 26, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (6)

Might Oklahoma really try to move forward with seven executions over the next six months?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new local article headlined "Oklahoma AG requests execution dates for seven state death row inmates." Here are the basics:

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor late Wednesday asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for seven death row inmates, including Julius Jones. The action comes after the state put the death penalty on hold following the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett, the 2015 execution of Charles Warner using the wrong drug, a review of the protocol and litigation.

O’Connor asked that Jones’ execution date be set for Oct. 28. Jones, who has waged a public relations campaign claiming innocence, is set for a Sept. 13 commutation hearing before the Pardon and Parole Board. However, with the O’Connor filing seeking an execution date, that could change to a clemency hearing a later date, said Tom Bates, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board director.

The board has scheduled a meeting for next week to discuss the potential resumption of executions and the scheduling of clemency hearings. Jones was convicted of the 1999 murder of Edmond businessman Paul Howell.

O’Connor asked the court to set a Feb. 10 execution date for James Allen Coddington, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 killing of Albert Hale in Oklahoma County. He also requested that a Dec. 30 execution date be set for Donald Anthony Grant. He was sentenced to death for the 2001 murders of Del City motel workers Brenda McElyea and Suzette Smith.

An Oct. 7 date was requested by John Marion Grant Grant, who was sentenced for the 1998 killing of Gray Carter, a prison kitchen worker at the Dick Connor Correctional Center in Hominy. Wade Greely Lay, sentenced to death for the 2004 killing of a Tulsa security guard Kenny Anderson, was petitioned to be sentenced on Dec. 9.

The court was also asked to set a Jan. 20 execution date for Gilbert Ray Postelle. Postelle was convicted at trial of killing four people in 2005 outside a trailer in Del City. He received the death penalty for two of the murders.

A execution date of Nov.18 was requested for Bigler Jobe Stouffer.  Stouffer was sentenced to death for the 1985 killing of Putnam City teacher Linda Reaves.

I believe there have only been four state executions nationwide since the start of the pandemic nearly 18 months ago, so I am inclined to assume that this request for multiple execution dates over the next six months from the Oklahoma AG is mostly a symbolic effort primarily intended to signal the AG's eagerness to move forward with executions and to keep capital proceedings moving along.  But when former US AG William Barr announced his intent in 2019 to restart federal executions after a long delay, I underestimated just how effectual a motivated AG could be in getting the machinery of death back in action.  So stay tuned.

August 26, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

Notably high-profile cases now the focus of parole decision-making

Perhaps in part because the federal system abolished parole nearly 40 years ago through the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, parole practices and parole reform often do not get the most attention in broad debates about criminal justice and sentencing policies.  But the majority of states still have parole as part of their justice systems, and this 2019 Prison Policy Initiative report makes the case that "most states show lots of room for improvement" in their parole practices.

I have general parole issues on the mind because two new press pieces about a couple of high-profile cases serve as a useful reminder of the import of parole decision-making and the array of actors who can impact this decision-making:

From The Hill, "Prosecutors for first time not opposing parole for RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan"

Los Angeles prosecutors for the first time have decided not to oppose the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968.  The Washington Post reported that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s office is remaining neutral in the case and will not be present at Sirhan's parole hearing on Friday.

While prosecutors had opposed Sirhan’s release in 15 previous parole hearings, Gascón upon taking on his role in December 2020 said his office’s “default policy” would be to not attend parole hearings and to instead work to submit letters in support of inmates who have served mandatory minimums and no longer pose a threat to society. 

From The Guardian, "Black police groups call for ex-Black Panther jailed for 48 years to be released"

A coalition of current and retired Black police officers is calling for the release on parole of Sundiata Acoli, a former Black Panther member who has been incarcerated for 48 years for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper.

Four Black law enforcement groups have joined forces to press the case for Acoli’s parole almost half a century after he was arrested.  In an amicus brief filed with the New Jersey supreme court, they call his continued imprisonment “an affront to racial justice” and accuse the parole board of violating the law by repeatedly refusing to set the prisoner free.

August 26, 2021 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 25, 2021

"Crime trends and violence worse in California’s Republican-voting counties than Democratic-voting counties"

The provocative title of this post is the title of this press release from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice promoting its new report titled "California’s Republican Counties Have Worse Crime Trends And Higher Violent Crime Rates Than Democratic Counties."  Here is much of the press release:

A report released today by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice finds that, compared to the 35 California counties that voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election, the state’s 23 Republican-voting counties have higher rates of violent crime, including homicides.

For decades, Republican candidates and elected officials have demanded a “get-tough” approach to crime that generated more arrests, more imprisonments, and longer prison sentences.  As a result, a person is 58 percent more likely to be arrested and 41 percent more likely to be incarcerated in a Republican-voting county than in a Democratic-voting one.  Likewise, 12 of the 13 highest-incarceration counties vote Republican, while 16 of the 18 lowest-incarceration counties vote Democratic.

But have the hardline approaches pursued by Republicans officials actually reduced crime?  Just the opposite.  Republican-voting counties are seeing lesser declines in crime and higher rates of crime, particularly violent offenses and homicides, compared to their Democratic-voting counterparts.

The report finds:

  • Violent and property crime rates have declined most rapidly in Democratic-voting counties.
  • Homicide rates in Republican-voting counties are now 28 percent higher than in Democratic-voting counties.
  • The homicide death rate among White people in Republican-voting counties is on par with people of color in Democratic-voting ones, challenging widely held beliefs about violence in urban communities of color.
  • Republican-voting counties experience higher rates of drug, alcohol, and gun deaths than Democratic-voting counties, particularly among White residents.
  • Republican-voting counties pay less in state and local taxes per capita but rely more heavily on California’s costly prison system.

The gaps between urban/suburban-Democratic and exurban/rural-Republican California are widening, contributing to extremist politics and intractable divisions. Thirty years ago, the state’s cities experienced the worst economic hardships and highest rates of violent crime. Today, these issues have shifted to its exurbs, small towns, and rural areas.

California, like the rest of the country, suffered a major increase in homicide in 2020. This disturbing development has prompted calls by Republicans, and some Democrats, to roll back criminal justice reforms and reinstate tougher arrest and imprisonment policies. Yet these “get-tough” campaigns ignore an important reality – that Democratic-voting counties, which are more likely to embrace progressive reform, now see fewer violent crimes and homicides per capita than Republican ones.

I lack the empirical chops (and the time with the start of a new semester) needed to dig into the particulars of this report to assess its analysis. I do know that the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice is a progressive organization "whose mission is to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems."  And I would be eager to hear from certain persons at Crime & Consequences, which is located in California and has folks blogging here with a distinct set of criminal justice views, about their take on this notable new report.

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 25, 2021 in National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unusual Fourth Circuit panel affirms federal convictions and death sentence for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof

I noted in this post from May 2021 that an unusual Fourth Circuit panel had to be assembled to hear the capital appeal of Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof because all the member of the Fourth Circuit were recused.  The mass recusal resulted from the fact that now Circuit Judge Jay Richardson was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina in 2017 and the lead prosecutor on the Roof case.  And it meant that  Judge Duane Benton of the Eighth Circuit, Judge Kent Jordan of the Third Circuit and Senior Judge Ronald Gilman of the Sixth Circuit considered Roof's many issues on appeal.

That trio of judges today handed down a 149-page opinion in United States v. Roof, No. 17-3 (Aug. 25, 2021) (available here).  The per curiam opinion starts and concludes this way:

In 2015, Dylann Storm Roof, then 21 years old, shot and killed nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (“Mother Emanuel”) in Charleston, South Carolina during a meeting of a Wednesday night Bible-study group.  A jury convicted him on nine counts of racially motivated hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of racially motivated hate crimes involving an attempt to kill, nine counts of obstructing religion resulting in death, three counts of obstructing religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.  The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence on the religious-obstruction and firearm counts, and he was sentenced accordingly. He now appeals the convictions and sentence.  Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 18 U.S.C. § 3595(a), we will affirm....

Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder. He used the internet to plan his attack and, using his crimes as a catalyst, intended to foment racial division and strife across America.  He wanted the widest possible publicity for his atrocities, and, to that end, he purposefully left one person alive in the church “to tell the story.” (J.A. at 5017.)  When apprehended, he frankly confessed, with barely a hint of remorse.

No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.  We have reached that conclusion not as a product of emotion but through a thorough analytical process, which we have endeavored to detail here. In this, we have followed the example of the trial judge, who managed this difficult case with skill and compassion for all concerned, including Roof himself.  For the reasons given, we will affirm

In capital cases, it is pretty common for the losing party to seek en banc review. But, as was discussed in my May post, it is unclear whether and how an additional 12 judges would get appointed by designation in order to properly consider any en banc petition that might come next. Roof can, of course, proceed now to seek certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court (which will surely happen eventually even if he does seek en banc review).

A few of many prior related posts:

August 25, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

"When the Conditions Are the Confinement: Eighth Amendment Habeas Claims During COVID-19"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Michael Zuckerman with an abstract now available via SSRN.  Here is that abstract:

The COVID-19 pandemic cast into harsher relief much that was already true about mass incarceration in the United States.  It also cast into harsher relief much that was already true about the legal barriers confronting people seeking to make its conditions more humane.  This Article offers a brief overview of the legal landscape as the COVID-19 crisis arose and then dives into surveying eight prominent federal cases involving habeas claims related to COVID-19 outbreaks at carceral facilities.  The Article then distills six key tensions from these cases and discusses their implications for future litigation and doctrine. 

Specifically, the Article addresses: (a) the relationship between habeas and classic “conditions of confinement” cases; (b) the nature of Eighth Amendment “deliberate indifference” in this context; (c) the efficacy and availability of class-wide procedures for adjudicating these kinds of claims; (d) issues involving federalism and comity, and how courts may source such concerns through exhaustion requirements; (e) whether temporary release is better conceived of under these circumstances as preliminary or final relief; and (f) the fraught interplay between rights and remedies.  The Article concludes by suggesting potential solutions for courts and legislatures.

August 25, 2021 in Impact of the coronavirus on criminal justice, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 24, 2021

NY Gov Andrew Cuomo leaves office with a (high-profile) clemency whimper

in a detailed report released early last year, the NYU Center for the Administration of Criminal Law documented the decline of clemency in New York state in modern time.  This report, titled "Taking Stock of Clemency in the Empire State: A Century in Review," starts this way:

Clemency in New York has long been declining, while the state’s prison population has grown dramatically.  Between 1914 and 1924, New York averaged roughly 70 commutations per year, equal to the total number granted between 1990 and 2019.  In 1928, Governor Al Smith granted 66 commutations from a total prison population of 7,819.  Had commutations been granted at an equivalent rate in 2019, there would have been approximately 373; in actuality, there were two.

The ugly modern New York clemency numbers were particularly disheartening given that former NY Gov Cuomo started talking big about NY clemency efforts in 2015 and again in 2017 (see prior posts here and here).  But, after talking the talk, former Gov Cuomo thereafter never actually delivered significant results (see prior posts here and here). 

But, as is depressingly common, former Gov Cuomo did deciding to go on a bit of a final (though still modest) clemency spree after announcing his resignation.  This AP piece  detailed that Cuomo granted five pardons and five clemencies last week, and this new local piece details that in his final hours in office, "Gov. Andrew Cuomo commuted the sentences of four individuals, referred one case to the parole board, and fully pardoned one individual."  Given that there are well nearly 40,000 persons in New York prisons (with likely more than 10,000 over 50) and probably more than four million will some sort of state criminal record, a total of 16 clemencies on the way out the door seems more like a whimper than a bang.

That said, the one referral to the parole board will be sure to get attention because it involved a high-profile inmate with a high-profile son and it does not serve as a conclusion of the matter.  This local article, headlined "Cuomo commutes sentence of radical who took part in '81 robbery; David Gilbert, imprisoned for four decades, can take case to parole board," provides the basics:

Just hours before leaving office, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo granted clemency to five men, including the commutation of the 75-years-to-life sentence of David Gilbert, a former member of the radical Weather Underground who in 1981 took part in the robbery of a Brink's armored truck in Rockland County that left two Nyack police officers and a security guard dead.

Steve Zeidman, a CUNY Law School professor who began representing Gilbert in 2019, said Monday evening that his client is one of the oldest and longest-serving among the state's roughly 38,000 inmates.  He said that Gilbert has expressed deep remorse for his role in the crime, and while behind bars has taken part in efforts such as the creation of an AIDS education program that became a statewide model as the epidemic was raging in the 1980s and '90s.

Zeidman, who directs the law school's Criminal Defense Clinic, said that beyond the impact on Gilbert personally, Cuomo's action sends a message to incarcerated people who fear they have no chance for release.  "When a governor issues clemency, it echoes, it reverberates, it spreads hope," he said.  Gilbert's son, Chesa Boudin, was elected district attorney for San Francisco in 2019.  His mother, Kathy Boudin, was also incarcerated for decades for her part in the heist, and received parole in 2003.

 

Gilbert and Kathy Boudin were in a transfer truck waiting for the getaway car carrying the robbers and the $1.6 million they had stolen from the Brink's truck at the Nanuet Mall. Boudin received a sentence of 25 years to life after hiring a lawyer, pleading guilty and accepting a plea deal; Gilbert defended himself and went to trial.

"My father was not present in the courtroom for much of the trial and nobody advocated for him, which is why it is a bad idea to represent yourself," Chesa Boudin told Grondahl. "My mother and father did the exact same thing and had identical culpability in the crime. My mother served 22 years in prison and was paroled 17 years ago, while my father is still in prison. It's an example of criminal justice imbalance."

August 24, 2021 in Clemency and Pardons, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Is New York’s Wave of Gun Violence Receding? Experts See Reason for Hope"

Just over a month ago, I was starting to look at summer crime data from various cities as I pondered in a post, "As we puzzle through gun violence spike, is it too soon to hope a decline is already starting?."  I highlighted in this subsequent post that mid-year homicide data was more encouraging in 2021 than in 2020 in some notable cities (though more discouraging in others).  I now see that the Gray Lady is on the beat with this new article that has the headline that I have used for the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

[A]mid the drumbeat of reports of shootings, experts who study the issue say that recent gun violence data has shown a downward trend. This June and July saw considerably fewer shootings than those months in 2020, experts note, and the numbers have not reached the stark levels many feared they might.

Experts caution against drawing conclusions from limited data and note that the recent trends could still change. Shootings also remain significantly up from prepandemic levels. But after the toll of the past year, the preliminary numbers have offered reason for optimism.

“In April and May, all indications were that where we were headed was even worse than most of last year,” said Marcos Gonzalez Soler, who heads the mayor’s office of criminal justice. “I think that is a very different universe from where we are now.”

As New Yorkers emerged last summer following months of isolation during the pandemic’s peak, the city began to experience the worst gun violence it had seen in decades. Over June and July 2020, New York saw 448 shooting incidents, a Police Department statistic that tracks distinct instances in which one or more people are shot, rather than total victims. It was a spike in shootings that was driven at least in part, many experts believe, by the social and economic disorder that accompanied the pandemic.

This summer, as the city reopened, the number of shooting incidents in June and July dropped to 323. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, have both touted the lower summer monthly totals as a positive sign, and have pointed to the increase in gun arrests between this year and last. (The arrests dropped dramatically between 2019 and 2020.) Mr. Gonzalez Soler offered a broader reasoning, pointing to the city’s range of efforts to tackle the issue over the summer.

Experts caution that it can take years to learn why crime statistics change, and warn against comparing crime figures in one year with the previous year — and that is particularly true during the pandemic’s upheaval and frequent waves of change. But many have taken note of the swing. Jeffrey Butts, the director of the research and evaluation center at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has been conducting analyses of quarterly shooting totals, comparing three-month periods between 2020 and 2021. The spike has appeared to be tapering off, even if gradually, across the past several times he has run the numbers, he said.

Mr. Gonzalez Soler said that he was “always skeptical” looking at the short-term trends in general, but “optimistic about the direction” the city has appeared to be moving in. Even as concerns remain, he noted several positive signs: New York saw homicides, for example, hover around a total similar to prepandemic levels over the past two months with 67 in 2021 — more in line with 2019 (64) than 2020 (100).

While experts say the current statistical trends are encouraging, shootings are still significantly up from 2019, when about 177 shootings were recorded in June and July. And regardless of the next few months, 2021 will end having taken a steep toll compared with the time before the pandemic, when fewer than 1,000 people were shot by year’s end. By Aug. 15, police statistics show more than 1,160 people had been shot in New York City this year....

Experts say it was always unlikely that the spike would vanish quickly: Individual shootings can fuel cycles of retaliation that lead to further gun violence and take time to break....

The shootings spike came after a period during which homicides in the city dropped to their lowest levels in more than six decades. The overall crime index — which tracks seven major crimes including murder, felony assault, rape and car theft — has also remained at its lowest level in decades because of declines in reports of burglary and robbery.

Even as gun violence has risen, it remains far below the city’s “bad old days” and peak levels of the 1980s and ’90s. Then, the city often reported annual homicide totals in the high 1,000s or low 2,000s. Last year’s end-of-year total was around 450; 2021 is on pace to finish near or below that number....

A clear view of where New York’s new baseline gun violence level may fall will not come anytime soon, experts say — particularly as the Delta variant fuels a rise in coronavirus cases and reopening efforts pause. “I think Delta’s going to interrupt any sort of simple narrative,” said John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University. “The pandemic’s already rebounding again,” he continued. “I think we have to wait until we really know we’re beyond the rebound before looking at what post-pandemic will look like.”

It’s also too early to pin down the root causes for the rise itself. Many experts who study gun violence and those who work in neighborhood groups on the issue believe the pandemic and its social and economic toll played a critical role.

But a variety of other factors may be part of the puzzle, including the rise in the volume of guns in New York and elsewhere during the pandemic and the breakdown of relations between communities and the police over the past year. And among the U.S. cities, large and small, that have seen spikes in gun violence during the pandemic, the causes are unlikely to be identical. For New York’s part, homicide rates remain below those of many smaller major cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. (That was also the case before the pandemic).

A few of many prior recent related posts:

August 24, 2021 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 23, 2021

En banc Sixth Circuit preserves death sentences in Kentucky in two big en banc rulings

This past Friday and also today, the Sixth Circuit handed down divided en banc rulings to upholds death sentences in cases from Ohio and Kentucky.  The Ohio case, Hill v. Shoop, No. 99-4317 (6th Cir. Aug, 20, 2021) (available here), has a majority opinion that gets started this way:

In this death penalty habeas case, appellant Danny Hill seeks collateral review of his conviction for the murder of Raymond Fife, a twelveyear-old boy. The case has been to the Supreme Court once and before panels of this court twice.  The core issue in the underlying state case was whether Hill was ineligible for the death penalty because he is intellectually disabled, a question that became pertinent after the Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). Before us, the issues are whether, under governing AEDPA review principles, the state court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or was “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).  We conclude that the state court’s resolution of the issue does not meet either of the criteria that would permit a federal court to disturb a state conviction. Thus, we affirm the district court’s denial of Hill’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

The Kentucky case, Taylor v. Jordan, No. 14-6508 (6th Cir. Aug, 23, 2021) (available here), has a majority opinion that gets started this way:

Victor Taylor murdered two high-school students in 1984, for which a jury convicted him of capital murder and recommended a sentence of death.  The trial judge imposed that sentence and the Kentucky Supreme Court repeatedly denied Taylor’s claims for relief.  Taylor eventually filed a federal habeas petition, arguing (among many other things) that the prosecutor at his trial had discriminated against African-American members of his venire.  The district court denied Taylor’s petition. We affirm.

August 23, 2021 in Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Nova Scotia Court says "historic factors and systemic racism" should be considered in sentencing an African Nova Scotian offender

A helpful reader made sure I saw this interesting story about a notable new ruling in Canada headlined "Nova Scotia Court of Appeal rules to consider history of racism, marginalization in cases."  Here are the details:

The sentencing of Black offenders in Canada is on the verge of a dramatic change after Nova Scotia’s top court ruled that, as with Indigenous offenders, trial judges need to consider the history of racism and marginalization that shaped them, and do their utmost not to put them behind bars where appropriate.

The Criminal Code has spelled out since 1996 that incarceration is a last resort for Indigenous offenders.  It does not refer to any other racialized group.  But it does say that sentences are meant to fit both the offence and the offender.  The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, in a ruling last week, became the country’s first appeal court to draw on that principle and require a judge-made, as opposed to legislated, approach to the sentencing of Black offenders.

“The moral culpability of an African Nova Scotian offender has to be assessed in the context of historic factors and systemic racism,” Justice Anne Derrick wrote in a 5-0 ruling. The ruling illustrates the sharp turn that will now be demanded of Nova Scotia’s judges -- a change in approach that could well spread to other provinces.  Ontario’s top court is expected to decide a case soon on whether to require a similar approach.

Like the reports written on some Indigenous offenders, known as Gladue reports, in-depth documents that tell a judge at sentencing about a Black offender’s history of exclusion and marginalization should be done from here on, or the appeal court may overturn the sentence, Justice Derrick warned.  The reports on Black offenders are known as an Impact of Race and Culture Assessment (IRCA).

The ruling was applauded by Roger Burrill, a lawyer for Rakeem Anderson, the offender in the Nova Scotia case, who was sentenced to two years of house arrest, to be followed by two years of probation for illegal gun possession.  “I think it’s impactful for the whole country, on the basis that systemic racism is completely, totally, unequivocally recognized as a factor in dealing with the principles of sentencing,” Mr. Burrill said in an interview.

It was also applauded by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, based in Ontario, which intervened in the case. “Not to suggest colonialism is the same as what happened to Blacks in Canadian history,” Daniel Brown, a vice-president of the group, said in an interview, “but there has been a history of slavery, a history of segregation. All of that has contributed to many of these challenges they face today.”... 

The IRCA report on Mr. Anderson, co-authored by social worker Robert Wright and by Natalie Hodgson, said the offender’s best friend was killed by violence.  Ms. Hodgson testified gun possession was an accepted cultural norm in the North End of Halifax, where Mr. Anderson, in his 20s, had lived in substandard housing, surrounded by poverty and crime. “Many Black males arm themselves with guns, not because they have plans to harm someone, but rather they feel the need to protect themselves in case,” Ms. Hodgson testified.

Mr. Wright, the author of the first IRCA in Nova Scotia in 2014, testified that certain behaviours arise from “a community’s trauma and difficulty,” and that harsh treatment will neither reform the individual nor deter others from their community. His report said: “Rakeem was thrown into the world as a young adult lacking the skills and knowledge to thrive and survive; no resources, supports or interventions, without therapy for trauma and loss, and a very low elementary-level education.”

Chief Justice Williams said she had spent many hours “agonizing” over a just sentence. Mr. Anderson, a father of four young children and said to have a good heart, in some ways did not appear a good candidate for rehabilitation.  He had done little to address his education and training deficits while his case was before the court.  Ultimately though, the judge agreed with Mr. Wright and sentenced Mr. Anderson to two years of house arrest, with a 10 p.m. curfew and conditions that he attend Afrocentric therapy to address trauma, attend literacy and education programs with an Afrocentric focus and perform community service.  “Punishment does not change behaviour when the actions are rooted in marginalization, discrimination and poverty,” Chief Justice Williams said, while adding that those who endanger society must be separated from it....

The 1996 Criminal Code provision singling out Indigenous offenders for more lenient treatment has not stemmed an increase in the prison population.  Indigenous peoples now make up 31.5 per cent of federal prisoners, while they are just over 5 per cent of the country’s population.

The full ruling is available at this link.

August 23, 2021 in Race, Class, and Gender, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Deep thoughts about "criminal legal education" as we head back to school

I am very excited to be back to school this week with the extra pleasure and honor of teaching a (small section) of 1L Criminal Law (though I am frustrated that this semester will now be the fourth beset with COVID challenges).  My very first class ― way back in Fall 1997! ― was a small section of Criminal Law to 1Ls, and I surely want to believe I have done more good than harm in well over a dozen iterations of this great class.  However, this notable new Inquest essay by Shaun Ossei-Owusu should perhaps lead every criminal law professor to give some thought to whether and how we are just "Making Penal Bureaucrats."  This essay builds on some points he made in a recent law review article, "Criminal Legal Education," and here are excerpts:

Many lawyers play a central role in creating and sustaining mass incarceration; and many will leave law school with the ability to do the opposite. The high-profile death [of George Floyd] confirmed the brutality, inequality, and, for some, irredeemability of the very things many professors teach.  And criminal legal educators, some believe, need to read the room and offer instruction that better conveys the unjust realities of our legal system.  Alice Ristroph, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, may have offered the most forceful of these critiques, arguing that the detachment from reality and supposed race-neutrality of criminal-law teaching produces “pro-carceral” lawyers who help sustain mass incarceration.

My own work, published and forthcoming, moves in a similar direction, but also examines the race, poverty, and gender oversights in criminal legal education more broadly.  Some fellow academics will take issue with the idea that law professors have a hand in mass incarceration, to say nothing of other social ills, while others will applaud and nod in approval.  Whatever side they’re on, the undeniable reality is this: Law professors have trained and will continue to educate public defenders, prosecutors, and judges.  The legal education of these penal bureaucrats matters in the larger conversation around criminal justice policy and its deep, structural failings. And so the obstacles to changing legal education are really obstacles for the effort to tear down the legal edifice that made Floyd’s murder possible in the first place. As history shows, those challenges are not insignificant. To overcome them, we need a clear-eyed sense of what the precise obstacles are standing in the way to a more justice-oriented legal education.

Simply put, we can’t afford to ignore curricular reform in this moment, as navel-gazing as such a project may seem to those outside of law school.  I don’t profess to have all the answers.  Instead, I hope to sketch some issues we must confront if legal educators hope to meaningfully leverage this new energy in favor of effective curricular reform.  There have been various proposals and calls for action, but it seems necessary to raise questions that are sometimes muted or skipped over in the rush to reform a curriculum that has real shortcomings. The answers to these questions might lead us closer to capturing what legal historian Bob Gordon has described as “the motors of curricular change.”...

 With the exception of untenured faculty, law professors enjoy considerable latitude in their classrooms. A dean or administration has some carrots and sticks at their disposal, but few are game changers. These professors can be fussy and persnickety about teaching, and rightfully so.  Teaching comprises a substantive portion of professorial duties (the other two standard activities being research and service). As one professor observed in 1968, “I have seen law teachers, who have no peers in nitpickery, verge on purple apoplexy in debate over the curriculum. The whole academic business is fraught with vested interests, gored oxen, ground axes, pet peeves, visionary schemes, and intractable inertia.”

All this power-wielding exists in a context where there are competing ideas about the role of the professor.  A mere transmitter of what the law is?  A camouflaged activist who blends instruction with the inculcation of a particular set of values that makes students want to improve the criminal justice system, independent of how many people actually want to go in that line of work?  An instructor whose teaching discourages students from certain kinds of work as undesirable — where progressive prosecution and indigent defense alike are “system-reifying”?

In view of this morass of challenges, it is no wonder that urging legal instructors to talk more about racism, poverty, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia in their classrooms — even if they engage those topics already — is no stroll in the park.  Looking to the broader aim of criminal legal reform, explaining why the rest of the public should care or enter this discussion at all is tricky.  Law schools can be cordoned off from their local communities.  The key here is to recognize that this is a site of struggle where change-oriented people and organizations can develop allyships with like-minded students and faculty to help craft solutions to the multilayered problems of our penal system.

For students, I hope that identifying these challenges will clarify two things.  The first, which is something that I’ve consistently argued, is that legal education is unlikely to provide students with the kind of social justice-oriented training that some are demanding.  Self-led learning and organizing by student groups within and across law schools may have to be the second-best option. But this is not simply nudging students toward neoliberal self-help.  My second hope, instead, is for students to better understand these constraints — and in the process, to get a better sense of how to organize for and demand desired changes from their institutions.  Issues such as faculty composition, faculty governance, the professional pathways of graduates, and ideological variation within student bodies are some of the many issues that shape what they learn in a criminal legal education course.  But these factors may not be readily apparent to students who don’t have a sense of the “backstage” of legal education.  The short-term nature of legal education — three years, or two if you do not count the overbearing first year or a third year some students often check out of — demands cooperation with change-minded people outside of law schools and intentional strategies that withstand law school’s running out the clock on curricular change and hoping that the next cohort of students does not notice.

My fellow legal educators are likely to understand where I’m coming from. For those who care about this issue, my desires are also twofold.  First, I hope that these reflections will spur them to honestly assess where they might fit on a rough spectrum of this kind of curricular reform: active implementer, passive supporter, or outright adversary.  I have my own beliefs on the desirability of revamping criminal legal education; and yet I think there are principled justifications for each of these dispositions.  Let us just be intellectually honest about where we stand.  Second, I hope that we can all see that we are part of a vocation that has long professed ideas about intellectual curiosity, social justice, and equality under the law.  Nevertheless, our field has not been fully responsive to longstanding appeals to include legally relevant conversations about social inequality in our teaching.  Our response to this moment will partially dictate whether our profession can march closer toward social justice-oriented legal education — one that could mold not only the next generation of penal bureaucrats but also the change agents who will engage them and help to build new decarceral futures.  Or whether that curricular goal will simply result in yet another round of panels, symposia, and hashtags that merely scratch the surface.

August 23, 2021 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 22, 2021

What exactly is going on at the federal prison in Atlanta?

DownloadThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution headlined "EXCLUSIVE: Atlanta federal pen nearly vacant amid corruption investigation."  A helpful reader made sure I did not miss this interesting story, and I am not quite sure what to make of it.  Here are excerpts:

An investigation into alleged corruption at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta has led federal officials to ban several prison staffers and nearly empty out the prison, transferring about 1,100 offenders to correctional facilities in other states, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

As of Friday, 134 inmates remained inside the Atlanta prison, according to its official website. Back in March, it had more than 1,800 inmates. Employees have been told that ultimately all prisoners from the penitentiary and inmates at the adjacent minimum security camp will be transferred.

The prison went into an institutional lockdown on June 22 after receiving a “serious threat” and an institution emergency was declared, a staff memo obtained by the AJC states. Two days later, an official with the Federal Bureau of Prisons told the staff in a follow-up memo the lockdown was being extended after investigators discovered a “prevalence of narcotics and cellular devices being used by the inmate population.”

That same day a prison teacher found 24 cell phones, 30 chargers, ear buds, Under Armour long underwear, wrapped bundles of a “leafy substance,” weed grinders, assorted chains and necklaces and one bottle of air freshener. And that was just in the Education Department.

A little more than two weeks later, BOP sent out memos notifying staff that four senior officers, along with one wage supervisor, had been barred from the federal pen and should not be allowed entry “under any circumstance.” They were barred “in the interest of the efficiency of the service,” the memos stated.

To employees at the prison, though, the opaque wording concealed nothing. One complained that the Bureau of Prisons had “gone nuclear” in rooting out problem employees, while others said an overhaul was long overdue. “We’ve been shouting from the rooftops for years and they didn’t do a damn thing,” said one longtime employee, who fears losing his job if his identity were revealed. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Inmates were transferred out the last week of July. The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment. The southeast Atlanta complex is a medium-security prison for men. The complex also has a detention center for pre-trial detainees and inmates being held for transfer, as well as an adjacent camp for minimum security inmates.

Evidence has piled up in recent years about lax security at the complex, with lapses blamed at times on inadequate staffing. Tales of raucous parties and free-flowing contraband, though, pointed to staff complicity....

For years, some inmates at the minimum-security prison camp would come and go through a hole in the fence. A shuttle service was allegedly set up by inmates to transport other camp prisoners to local restaurants. But there were no arrests until 2017, when the FBI and police stationed officers on the other side of fence line to greet inmates on their way out.

Prisoners used cellphones for everything from self-incriminating Facebook Live sessions to allegedly operating a drug-trafficking organization from a prison cell. Just last week, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General released a scathing report on security lapses at an unnamed federal prison. The longtime employee who spoke with the AJC said the conditions outlined in the report mirror those at the Atlanta pen.

“A review of the facility’s video monitoring system revealed that staff were able to enter the facility during the night shift and walk around the metal detector without being screened,” the inspector general’s report states. “After discussing the matter with BOP personnel at the facility, we are concerned that this presents systemic concerns.”

The longtime employee said some guards would come in with backpacks and duffel bags that were never searched. The source told the AJC a carton of cigarettes could be worth $1,000. Parcels of methamphetamine would turn up in hiding places all over the prison. Those hiding places exist all over the prison and have taken a toll on its infrastructure, the longtime employee said.

It’ll be up to the prisoners who stayed behind to tackle the physical rehabilitation of a facility that in January turns 120 years old. “The plan is to receive approximately 250 Low Security inmates to serve as a work cadre for the entire USP to include outside areas,” BOP stated in an answer sheet provided to employees. While offenders are ultimately expected back ― that same answer sheet said “at this time” officials were unaware of any plans to shutter the prison for good or to assign staff to other Bureau of Prison facilities ― many employees may not be returning.

“They went nuclear instead of being surgical,” one lieutenant wrote on Facebook. He kept his job, he said, because he’s so close to retirement. Most of his colleagues in the lieutenant class were transferred elsewhere. “They have ruined lives and put an incredible stress on families,” said the lieutenant. The AJC is not naming him because he could not be reached for comment.

The longtime prison employee told the AJC “there’s lots of good people who are being forced to leave.” But too many were not on the up and up, he said. “I’d say 20 to 30% of the officers were dirty,” he said. “And that’s just totally unacceptable. You’re always going to have a few. Most prisons have one, two or maybe three bad apples. Not a quarter of the staff.”

August 22, 2021 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5)