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July 29, 2015

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons

Opinion
in: CS Monitor

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons
Finally, America is beginning to tackle overcrowded prisons, prompted by financially strapped states that can no longer afford them. The road to prison reform, and less crowding, includes revamping 'three strikes' laws, as in California, and limiting pre-trial detention.

By Arjun Sethi / December 29, 2011

Necessity can spur novelty. Even political novelty. As the need for fiscal austerity grows, an unlikely alliance has emerged between policymakers and public advocates who have long sought criminal justice reform. These policymakers are realizing what advocates have reiterated for years: The nation's addiction to incarceration as a curb on crime must end. The evidence is staggering.

In California, 54 prisoners may share a single toilet and 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium supervised by two or three officers. Suicidal inmates may be held for protracted periods in cages without toilets and the wait times for mental health care sometimes reach 12 months.

Citing these conditions and more, the Supreme Court ruled in May that California prisoners were deprived adequate access to medical and mental health care in violation of the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the early release of tens of thousands of inmates.

Prison overcrowding is ubiquitous and shows few signs of abating: Between 1970 and 2005, the nation's inmate population grew by 700 percent. Besides impeding access to health care, overcrowding also creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions, diverts prison resources away from education and social development, and forces low- and high-risk offenders to mingle, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Expect additional lawsuits. That's why a consortium of states, including Illinois, Texas, and my home state of Virginia, submitted an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of California.

America's overreliance on incarceration has also impeded the rights of criminal defendants. TheSixth Amendment guarantees legal representation to individuals charged with a crime. Yet, because of the crushing volume of cases, indigent defense programs often suffer from inadequate staffing, funding, and supervision.

In Kentucky, a public defender may represent more than 450 clients in a single year. In Miami, Florida, the annual case load is nearly 500 felonies and 2,225 misdemeanors. The consequences include wrongful incarceration, wrongful convictions, and guilty pleas when meritorious defenses are otherwise available.

Civil rights groups in Michigan and New York have already brought lawsuits seeking an overhaul of their states' indigent defense systems. These lawsuits might be a harbinger for the future: States unfaithful to the promise of the Sixth Amendment may be forced to increase funding and restructure legislative priorities.

Protecting prisoners and criminal defendants is not just about fidelity to the Bill of Rights. It is about recognizing that they are acutely vulnerable because they do not have access to coalitions and political networks capable of effecting change. Affording them protection is consistent with the enduring constitutional principle that political democracy alone cannot adequately protect the rights of certain groups of people.

First, revamp habitual-offender laws, now in effect in more than 20 states, which regularly yield perverse sentences.

California's three-strikes law, for example, was passed during the paranoia that followed the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a long-time violent offender, and is so egregiously punitive that nonviolent petty theft may serve as a "third strike." Leandro Andrade, a father of three, who never once committed a violent felony, received two sentences of 25 years-to-life for stealing children's videotapes, including "Free Willy 2" and "Cinderella," from Kmart. A new ballot initiative in California, "The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012," seeks to change this law.

Second, implement misdemeanor reform by decriminalizing offenses such as feeding the homeless, dog-leash violations, and occupying multiple seats on the subway. Such reform is vital: between 1972 and 2006, misdemeanor prosecutions rose from 5 million to 10.5 million.

Third, limit the use of pre-trial detention. Nearly two-thirds of the nation's prison population haven't been convicted of a crime - they are awaiting trial. Many are arrested for low-risk offenses such as disturbing the peace or traffic violations, and they languish in jail because they can't afford bail. Releasing these individuals would not jeopardize public safety and would reduce overcrowding and public defender case loads. Just this year, Kentucky terminated pre-trial detention for numerous drug offenses and mandated citations rather than arrests for certain misdemeanors.

Fourth, impose nonprison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations like missing a meeting or court appearance. This would dramatically ameliorate overcrowding and excessive case loads given that over a third of all prison admissions are for such types of violations. Texas is leading the charge here, and through such measures has significantly reduced its inmate population.

The spirit that animates the Sixth and Eighth Amendments is human dignity. A recognition that no matter the crime or harm, criminal defendants and prisoners retain a dignity that must be respected.

Thirty years ago, a group of inmates claimed they were deprived of this dignity and, in what has since become a subject of fascination in American pop culture, rioted at Attica Correctional Facilityin New York. The ensuing violence and its death toll serves as an ominous reminder that Americamust pursue criminal justice reform if it is to honor this dignity.

Arjun Sethi is an attorney.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/1229/Four-ways-to-relieve-overcrowded-prisons

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Force-fed and beaten – life for women in jail

From: The Independent
Dec 18, 2011
New UN guidelines are being flouted worldwide, Independent on Sunday research shows
By: Molly Guinness

Female prisoners around the world are being subjected to body cavity searches, beatings and force-feeding, are held in padded cells, shackled during childbirth, and made to work in chain gangs. Some of the worst conditions are in developing countries, but there are also serious abuses and overcrowding in Europe and North America. These are the major findings of a survey by The Independent on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of United Nations rules governing the treatment of women in prison.

The "Bangkok Rules" make stipulations about contact with families, gender-specific healthcare, psychological treatment and hygiene, and they forbid strip searches in most circumstances. The guidelines were adopted on 21 December 2010, but reports from around the world show they are being widely flouted.

In Greece, for example, prisoners have been offered a choice between a vaginal search and solitary confinement on a course of laxatives. Chinese prison officers encouraged inmates to tie each other up and fight. In Turkmenistan, prisoners are shackled to their beds as they give birth - a practice that is also legal in most of the United States. South African prisoners complain that they run out of water on an almost monthly basis. A Russian male deputy prison governor was jailed for beating female inmates with his fists and boots. Rape victims have been jailed in Afghanistan for having extramarital sex. And women's prisons from Russia to Canada, France to Australia have been condemned for their appalling living conditions and inadequate mental and physical healthcare.

Just as alarming is the steep rise in the number of women being jailed. More than 500,000 are in prison around the world. In the US alone, there are now eight times more women in prison than 30 years ago. Fiona Cannon, who chairs the Prison Reform Trust's Women's Justice Taskforce, said women's prisons are now seen as "stop-gap providers of drug detox, social care, mental health assessment and treatment, and temporary housing". Self-harm and suicide are far more common among female prisoners than male, relatively few women are in jail for violent crimes, a majority have children, and many are drug addicts or victims of sexual abuse.

At Johannesburg Women's Prison, cells typically contain one toilet, one sink, one shower and as many as 40 people. Prisoners are locked in from 2pm to 8am. "People can kill each other before they unlock the cells," Duduzile Matlhabadile, a former prisoner, told The IoS. "You don't know what's going to happen. It's not safe in there." Ms Matlhabadile, who served 12 years for armed robbery and homicide, recalled an incident in which a woman threw boiling water over a fellow prisoner; it took two hours for the guards to come and open the doors. She said her cell would often be without water for two days at a time.

A former judge inspector of prisons in South Africa, Deon van Zyl, last year called the country's prison conditions "shockingly inhumane". Campaigners at the Wits Justice Project, which investigates problems in South Afica's justice system, say the Department of Correctional Services has ignored their requests to gain access to prisons since February, adding that anecdotal evidence indicates conditions have not improved.

In northern Turkmenistan, inmates at the Dashoguz Women's Prison colony are reportedly handcuffed to the bed from both sides while giving birth. The baby is given away and the woman returns to forced labour a day or two later. More than 2,000 women are housed in a colony built for 1,000. Fights break out when food is handed out: black bread, porridge and a thin soup made of bones, cotton oil and pumpkin make up the daily diet.

The EU has its share of horrors, too. Greece's Thiva Women's Prison is an hour north of Athens. A former detoxification centre, it has the bleak atmosphere of a converted warehouse. Its dormitories each hold six bunk beds and a couple of single beds. A communal area features a concrete floor, dark green walls and little else; the exercise yard contains no equipment or shelter. Messages are conveyed to inmates via a loudspeaker. Vaginal searches are conducted there, as in other women's prisons in Greece. Until earlier this year, prisoners who refused a vaginal examination on arrival were placed in a segregation unit for several days and made to take laxatives. Authorities say vaginal searches are now undertaken only in exceptional circumstances and are now done by trained doctors, rather than by nursing assistants. They say laxatives are no longer administered, but monitors from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture confirmed that the practice was still going on when they visited in January.

In France, strip searches are more or less routine, and inmates' letters seen by The IoS complain about being made to adopt degrading positions. One pregnant woman was told to lift up her breasts while being searched before being permitted to see her family in the visiting room. But the real problem in France's prisons is healthcare. In the mixed-sex Nîmes Prison in southern France, for example, there is no facility for gynaecological examinations, which means that no preventative consultations are done.

In England and Wales, conditions are far more benign, but the number of women in jail has increased from 1,800 in 1996 to 4,100 now. More than half of female prisoners say that they have suffered domestic violence, 37 per cent have previously attempted suicide, nearly 40 per cent left school before 16, and one in three have experienced sexual abuse. More than two-thirds of female prisoners have children, which means, according to Home Office research in 2003, that prison deprives nearly 20,000 children of their mothers each year. And judges do not take into account whether a defendant is a primary carer. "It's deeply ingrained in judges that a child must not be an excuse to avoid imprisonment," said Rona Epstein, who has studied 47 cases in England and Wales where judges have ignored the rights of the child.

The situation in North America is worse. The California state prison healthcare system has been in federal receivership since 2006. To get healthcare and living conditions to a constitutional minimum, the state has been ordered to reduce its prison population by 33,000 over the next two years. In the meantime, supplies of medicines and sanitary products are limited, and understaffing means prisons are in lock-down mode. Two-thirds of education staff have been laid off in the past two years, and all the while the prison population continues to rise.

The state's two biggest female prisons are both in the desert town of Chowchilla. Valley State Prison is designed to hold 2,024 people and is currently housing 3,810. Central California Women's Facility is holding 3,918, far more than its 2,004 capacity. Cells originally built for four people are holding 10. "We've never, ever had the reports of violence among peers that we're seeing now," said Cynthia Chandler, the director of the women's campaign group Justice Now.

"People are dirty, their cells are dirty, they're bleeding on themselves, they're emotional and in a state of despair. It's creating conditions inside a pressure cooker." And, across the border in Arizona, female chain gangs are made to bury the dead and clear wasteland in the desert heat, in a scheme introduced by Sheriff Joe Arpaio in June.

Andrew Coyle, director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at London University, said: "Scandinavian practice in general terms is better than in many other countries. That's because they put fewer people in prison, and the consequence is they can run them more decently and humanely. The criminal justice system is kept for those who need to be locked up for the sake of society.

"Reducing reoffending is a false target. It's based on the premise that sending someone to prison makes them less likely to commit crime. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of future offending is being sent to prison. We know the solutions: more community-based facilities and putting women in small units close to home. The answers are there. They're just not being implemented."
[emphasis by PW]
---
See here the UN document or "Bankok Rules" (PDF): http://www.apt.ch/region/visits/Bangkok%20Rules_en.pdf

See also: article by the Association for the prevention of torture (6 November 2011)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prison Visits Make Inmates Less Likely To Commit Crimes After Release, Study Finds

From: Huffington Post:

By John Rudolf
12/7/11
Just a single visit from a family member or a friend can make a big difference in whether or not a prisoner ends up back behind bars after their release, a new study finds.

The study, by researchers with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, determined that prisoners who received at least one personal visit at any time during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony and 25 percent less likely to end up back in prison on a technical parole violation. Data showed that the more visits prisoners received, the lower their chance of re-offending after release.

The study tracked 16,000 prisoners over nearly five years, making it the largest such study of its kind, according to Grant Duwe, director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who led the research team. The study will be published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Duwe said prison officials in Minnesota were already weighing how to apply its results to the state's corrections policies.

"I think the completion of this study gives us some tangible evidence to show that if we can increase visitation, we can give offenders more of the social support they need to succeed," he said.

Several previous, smaller-scale studies have found an even larger correlation between prison visitation and inmates' likelihood of re-offending. But most state prison systems continue to see visitation as a privilege, not a tool to help inmates establish law-abiding lives after their release, Duwe said.

"I think visitation has been largely viewed as a concession that's given to inmates," he said. "I don't know if there has been a great deal of thought given to the public safety benefits that visitation might have."

As the economic slowdown has bitten into state budgets, some prison systems have already altered visitation policies in order to save money. In Minnesota, a temporary government shutdown earlier this year led to the suspension of all prisoner visitation as a cost-saving measure.

In July, Arizona lawmakers imposed a one-time $25 fee on all adult visitors to inmates. Funds from the fee are to be directed to maintenance of state prisons. Middle Ground Prison Reform, an advocacy group, filed suit against the state, calling the fee an "unconstitutional tax."

"If this policy results in delaying or diminishing or eliminating prison visitation for anyone, the state is shooting themselves in the foot in terms of rehabilitation," Donna Hamm, a retired municipal court judge and executive director of the group, said in September, according to the Associated Press. "That's a very short-sighted view of public safety policy."

John Kavanagh, the Republican legislator who wrote the provision, scoffed at the idea that the fee would discourage prison visitors, however.

"If a one-time charge of $25 is enough to dissuade you from visiting your loved one, then I'm wondering how much of a loved one he or she is," he told the Arizona Daily Star.

Duwe declined to comment specifically on the Arizona policy. But he said the results of the Minnesota study clearly suggested that states have a fiscal incentive to encourage visitation, not discourage it.

A single parole violation that returns a released inmate to prison, even briefly, costs upwards of $9,000. A prisoner who commits a new felony and spends additional years behind bars will cost far more.

"The benefits we could see from a reduction in recidivism could vastly outweigh the cost of increasing visitation," he said.

A few states, such as Idaho and Virginia, are already experimenting with a novel and cost-effective way to boost interaction between inmates and their loved ones: internet-based video visitation systems, which have proven popular with inmates and administrators.

Read the rest here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/prison-visits-inmates_n_1135288.html

This should make prison administrators think, prisons ought to do much more in encouraging family and friends to visit their loved ones. It is a free means for 'rehabilitation.' But often prisons are built very far away, and having many prisoners earns the prisons more money, and the employees do not want to loose their job. One would nearly think prisons profit from crime, one would think they want it to happen so that more will come to their remote prisons. More prisoners, not visitors, that is... yet,. prisons earm money from visits too (canteen). And from telephone calls...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children


United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children, says Amnesty International

Human Rights Organization Details Stories of Three Young Offenders From Louisiana, Illinois and North Carolina, in New Juvenile Justice Report
Louisiana Case to be Featured in Amnesty International’s Global Write-a-Thon

November 30, 2011
(Washington, D.C.) -- Authorities in the United States must ban the imposition of life without parole sentences against children and review the cases of more than 2,500 prisoners currently serving such sentences to bring the sentences into line with international law, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

"In the United States, people under 18 cannot vote, buy alcohol or lottery tickets or consent to most forms of medical treatment, but they can be sentenced to die in prison for their actions. This needs to change,” said Natacha Mension, U. S. campaigner at Amnesty International (AI).

Children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without parole in the United States – the only country in the world to impose this sentence on children.

Amnesty International’s 34-page report 'This is where I’m going to be when I die': Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, illustrates the issue through the stories of Christi Cheramie, Jacqueline Montanez and David Young.

In the United States, life without parole can be imposed on juvenile offenders as a mandatory punishment – without consideration of mitigating factors such as history of abuse or trauma, degree of involvement in the crime, mental health status, or amenability to rehabilitation.

"We are not excusing crimes committed by children or minimizing their consequences, but the simple reality is that these sentences ignore the special potential for rehabilitation and change that young offenders have," said Mension.

In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said life without parole is "an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile," as the young offender will serve, on average, more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an older offender. "A 16-year-old and a 75-year-old each sentenced to life without parole receive the same punishment in name only," the Court said.

Eighteen months after prohibiting this sentence for non-homicide crimes committed by under-18-year-olds, on November 8, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to consider this issue in relation to crimes involving murder. It will not issue a decision until the second quarter of 2012 at the earliest.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force more than two decades ago, expressly prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offenses, however serious, committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention.

"It is long past time for the United States to ratify the Convention without reservations or other limiting conditions and to fully implement its prohibition on the use of life imprisonment without release against children, including in relation to the cases of those already sentenced," said Mension.

On November 30, Christi Cheramie, who is serving life without parole in Louisiana, will submit an application for executive clemency with the state Board of Pardons. Christi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1994, when she was 16 years old for the killing of her 18-year-old fiancé’s great aunt.

She pleaded guilty just before her trial in adult court began, fearing she could be sentenced to death if the trial went ahead. Her guilty plea prevents her from directly appealing her conviction or sentence.

A psychiatrist who saw Christi prior to her trial said that she was a "depressed, dependent, and insecure" 16-year-old who "seems to have been fearful of crossing" her fiancé, who she maintains committed the crime. Christi’s childhood was marked by sexual abuse. At the age of 13, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic after trying to commit suicide on at least two occasions.

After spending half of her life in prison, Christi believes she has changed in many ways. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma, a degree in agricultural studies, and teaches a number of classes at the prison. A warden has stated that she is "worthy of a second chance." View a video of Christi’s grandmother and her conversation with Christi here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AHsW9YbP1A&NR=1

Christi will be among 15 people for whom Amnesty International activists worldwide will be taking action as part of Write for Rights – the Global Write-a-Thon on December 3 - 11. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will be educated about Christi’s case and asked to call on Governor Jindal to help. In the United States, more than 35,000 people are expected to participate in this annual event. http://www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon

Additionally, on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, Amnesty International USA, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Louisiana Interfaith Conference and Citizens for Second Chances will hold an event from 4 to 7 pm with a candlelight vigil, music and speakers focusing on Christi’s case at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Avenue. For more information visit www.jjpl.org

A clemency campaign is also pending for a second person whose case is profiled in AI’s report. Jacqueline Montanez is the only woman in Illinois serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a child. A victim of child abuse, Jacqueline began abusing drugs and alcohol at the age of nine. Jacqueline’s abuser was her step-father, a gang leader, who also involved her in the drug trade as a very young child and groomed her to be his “little soldier.” After running away from home and joining a rival gang, she and two older women shot and killed two adult male members of her step-father’s gang.

Because she was 15 at the time of the crime and charged with first degree murder, she was automatically tried in adult criminal court. This denied the court system the opportunity of conducting a transfer hearing to determine whether her case ought to have been tried in juvenile court where factors such as her young age, home environment or amenability to rehabilitation would have been considered. Jacqueline was also automatically sentenced to life without parole due to her conviction; the sentencing court had no discretion to consider her history, her age, the circumstances of the offense or her potential for rehabilitation.

Now 35 years old, she expresses deep remorse for her actions and believes that she has grown into a very different person. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma and has become a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people. She grieves for her victims and the pain that their families have suffered.

In Illinois, 80 percent of children in prison for life without parole received mandatory sentences; about 82 percent are prisoners of color. That number is even higher in Cook County, where the Montanez case originated. These findings were published by the Illinois Coalition on the Fair Sentencing of Children in its 2008 report Categorically Less Culpable, Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Illinois. http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cfjc/jlwop/documents/JLWOP_Report.pdf

Jacqueline’s petition for executive clemency will be submitted to the Illinois governor and the Prisoner Review Board in January 2012.

David Young is one of two teenagers arrested and charged for the murder of Charles Welch in 1997. He was automatically charged in adult criminal court as required by North Carolina law for any criminal offense committed by anyone age 16 or older. Young’s co-defendant, who shot the victim, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 to 23 years in prison. David was convicted of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life without parole.

Young grew up in a hostile community environment where his parents abused drugs and his stepfather physically abused him and his mother. Now 32 years old, Young obtained his high school equivalency diploma and is in solitary confinement after being stabbed by two prisoners.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.

# # #

For a copy of the report, 'This is where I’m going to be when I die': Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, email Gwen Fitzgerald at gfitzgerald @ aiusa.org. OR Click here to view the report in PDF.

Photos are available online at https://adam.amnesty.org/asset-bank/action/quickSearch?keywords=newsflash+LWOP. For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.

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