Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Aging Prisoners Clogging Nations Prisons

Read the Article Here

OP ED - Jena, OJ and the Jailing of Black America

New York Times OP- ED

Cambridge, Mass.

THE miscarriage of justice at Jena, La. — where five black high school students arrested for beating a white student were charged with attempted murder — and the resulting protest march tempts us to the view, expressed by several of the marchers, that not much has changed in traditional American racial relations. However, a remarkable series of high-profile incidents occurring elsewhere in the nation at about the same time, as well as the underlying reason for the demonstrations themselves, make it clear that the Jena case is hardly a throwback to the 1960s, but instead speaks to issues that are very much of our times.

What exactly attracted thousands of demonstrators to the small Louisiana town? While for some it was a simple case of righting a grievous local injustice, and for others an opportunity to relive the civil rights era, for most the real motive was a long overdue cry of outrage at the use of the prison system as a means of controlling young black men.

America has more than two million citizens behind bars, the highest absolute and per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Black Americans, a mere 13 percent of the population, constitute half of this country’s prisoners. A tenth of all black men between ages 20 and 35 are in jail or prison; blacks are incarcerated at over eight times the white rate.

The effect on black communities is catastrophic: one in three male African-Americans in their 30s now has a prison record, as do nearly two-thirds of all black male high school dropouts. These numbers and rates are incomparably greater than anything achieved at the height of the Jim Crow era. What’s odd is how long it has taken the African-American community to address in a forceful and thoughtful way this racially biased and utterly counterproductive situation.

How, after decades of undeniable racial progress, did we end up with this virtual gulag of racial incarceration?

Part of the answer is a law enforcement system that unfairly focuses on drug offenses and other crimes more likely to be committed by blacks, combined with draconian mandatory sentencing and an absurdly counterproductive retreat from rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. An unrealistic fear of crime that is fed in part by politicians and the press, a tendency to emphasize punitive measures and old-fashioned racism are all at play here.


Oldest Prisoner Ready to Confess. Sort Of - NY TIMES

It could have been the perfect crime. A wealthy heart surgeon from Long Island injected his 48-year-old invalid wife, the mother of their six children, with a lethal dose of a painkiller. The death certificate recorded the cause as a stroke.

But the police were suspicious from the start because the surgeon had signed the certificate himself and immediately shipped the body out of state for burial. Five weeks later, he was arrested at Kennedy International Airport trying to leave the country with more than $450,000 of his wife’s cash, negotiable bonds and jewelry.

In 1977, he was convicted of second-degree murder after one of a turbulent decade’s most celebrated trials. He was sentenced to 25 years to life. He never testified, but was imprisoned still protesting his innocence.

Fast forward 30 years. Today, the surgeon, Charles E. Friedgood, is the oldest inmate in a New York State prison. Suffering from a catalog of physical ailments and an emotion resembling remorse, he is seeking parole again next week. He is ready to admit that he did “it,” depending on how you define “it.”

“You look back, you know, it’s you can’t believe how sometimes things happen that you did that it was completely unnecessary,” Dr. Friedgood said in a recent interview from prison. “If you don’t want to be with a woman anymore, you divorce. You know, you don’t have to resort to murder. So 32 years later, I begin to realize how stupid you can do things.”

On Wednesday, Dr. Friedgood will mark his 89th birthday in Woodbourne Correctional Facility, a Gothic red-brick medium-security prison modeled after a monastery, in the foothills of the Catskills.

Although he has terminal cancer and has undergone numerous operations, including a colostomy, at state expense, he has been rejected for parole four times since serving his minimum sentence. Critics say the rejections were a result of a blanket no-release policy by the Pataki administration for inmates convicted of violent felonies.

Read the article at the NY Times

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Obama Favors Changes In Drug Sentencing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrat Barack Obama said Friday that as president he would relax drug sentencing laws and address vast racial inequities in the justice system as part of his crime policy.

The Illinois senator said he would review mandatory minimum drug sentencing and give first-time, nonviolent drug offenders a chance to serve their sentence in drug rehabilitation programs instead of prison.

"If you're convicted of a crime involving drugs, of course you should be punished," Obama said in a speech at Howard University's opening convocation. "But let's not make the punishment for crack cocaine that much more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine when the real difference is where the people are using them or who is using them."

The historically black college awarded Obama an honorary degree.

Obama framed his speech around the case of a racially charged school beating in Jena, La., that has sparked demonstrations by civil rights advocates. Racial animosity flared about a year ago in the largely white town when a black student sat under a tree that was a traditional gathering place for whites.

A day later, three nooses were found hanging from the tree. Reports followed of racial fights at the school, culminating in the a December attack by a group of black students on a white classmate. The black students were arrested while no one was ever held responsible for hanging the noose.

"Like Katrina did with poverty, Jena exposed glaring inequities in our justice system that were around long before that schoolyard fight broke out," Obama said.

Last week, the State newspaper in South Carolina reported that civil rights activist Jesse Jackson said Obama was "acting like he's white" for not speaking out more forcefully about the incidents in Jena. Jackson later said in a statement that he had been taken out of context.

As Obama finished his speech, his campaign announced he would make a four-day "judgment and experience tour" across Iowa next week. The tour was timed for the fifth anniversary of a speech Obama gave in opposition to the Iraq war. It is meant to answer doubts that the first-term senator is ready to be president, a reality that his advisers acknowledge are keeping some voters from signing onto his campaign.

During his years as an Illinois state legislature, Obama played a lead role on several law enforcement issues, from reforming the death penalty system to studying racial profiling in traffic stops. He brought a decidedly liberal viewpoint but developed a reputation for listening closely to police and Republican lawmakers.

For instance, he led negotiations on legislation to require Illinois police to videotape interrogations in death penalty cases as a safeguard against abusing and threatening suspects into false confessions. Police groups had long opposed the idea, but Obama got them on board and the measure passed unanimously.

"There's also no reason why we can't pass a racial profiling law like I did in Illinois, or encourage state to reform the death penalty so that innocent people do not end up on death row," Obama said.

AP Story Here

TX Planning Executions Despite Supreme Court Ruling

HOUSTON, Sept. 28 — A day after the United States Supreme Court halted an execution in Texas at the last minute, Texas officials made clear on Friday that they would nonetheless proceed with more executions in coming months, including one next week.

Though several other states are halting lethal injections until it is clear whether they are constitutional, Texas is taking a different course, risking a confrontation with the court.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to stay convicted murderer Carlton Turner’s execution will not necessarily result in an abrupt halt to Texas executions,” said Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas. “State and federal courts will continue to address each scheduled execution on a case-by-case basis.”

Shortly before midnight on Thursday, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of Mr. Turner, who had been scheduled to become the 26th Texas inmate executed this year by lethal injection in Huntsville.

Although the court gave no reason for its order, Mr. Turner, convicted of murdering his adoptive parents in 1998, had appealed to the court after it agreed Tuesday to consider the constitutionality of lethal injection, the most commonly used method of execution in the United States.

Several legal experts said the Supreme Court reprieve would be seen by most states as a signal to halt all executions until the court determined, probably some time next year, whether the current chemical formulation used for lethal injections amounts to cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment.

Eleven states had halted executions for that reason. On Thursday, Alabama stayed an execution for 45 days to come up with a new formula.

“There is a momentum quality to this,” said Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who has a blog, Sentencing Law and Policy. “Not only the Supreme Court granting the stay, but also the Alabama governor doing a reprieve that is likely to lead to other states with executions on the horizon waiting to see what the Supreme Court does. I’ll be surprised if many, and arguably if any states other than Texas, go through with executions this year.”

On his blog on Friday, Professor Berman predicted that there would be few if any executions in the country for the next 9 to 18 months, while the court deliberates and, later, as lower courts parse the meaning of its eventual ruling.

Texas, which has a history of confrontations with the Supreme Court over its prerogatives in criminal justice, does not appear interested in waiting. That forces lawyers for condemned prisoners to appeal each case as high as the Supreme Court.

NY Times

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Blacks And Latinos Live In Cells Than Dorms

  • Story Highlights
  • Census studied people in "group quarters" -- prisons, dorms, nursing homes
  • Black, Latino students far outnumber prisoners if commuting students included
  • Civil rights advocate calls situation a tragedy, blames education system
  • Census also shows males make up 90 percent of prison inmates

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than three times as many black people live in prison cells as in college dorms, the government said in a report to be released Thursday.

The ratio is only slightly better for Hispanics, at 2.7 inmates for every Latino in college housing.

Among non-Hispanic whites, more than twice as many live in college housing as in prison or jail.

The numbers, driven by men, do not include college students who live off campus. Previously released census data show that black and Hispanic college students -- commuters and those in dorms -- far outnumber black and Hispanic prison inmates.

Nevertheless, civil rights advocates said it is startling that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to live in prison cells than in college dorms.

"It's one of the great social and economic tragedies of our time," said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the Urban League. "It points to the signature failure in our education system and how we've been raising our children."

The Census Bureau released 2006 data Thursday on the social, racial and economic characteristics of people living in adult correctional facilities, college housing and nursing homes. It is the first in-depth look at people living in "group quarters" since the 1980 census. It shows, for example, that nursing homes had much older residents in 2006 than in 1980. See breakdown of who lives in cells, dorms »

The new data has limitations. In addition to not including commuter students, it does not provide racial breakdowns by gender or age, though it does show that males make up 90 percent of prison inmates.

Also, most prison inmates are 25 or older while 96 percent of people in college housing are age 18 to 24.

The data show that big increases in the percentage of black and Hispanic inmates occurred since 1980. In 1980, the number of blacks living in college dorms was roughly equal to the number in prison. Among Hispanics, those in college dorms outnumbered those in prison in 1980.

There are a lot of reasons why black students do not reach college at the same rate as whites, said Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University's Teachers College.

Black students are more likely to attend segregated schools with high concentrations of poverty, less qualified teachers, lower expectations and a less demanding curriculum, she said.

"And they are perceived by society as terrible schools, so it is hard to get accepted into college," Wells said. "Even if you are a high-achieving kid who beats the odds, you are less likely to have access to the kinds of courses that colleges are looking for."

Students who don't graduate high school are much more likely to go to prison, said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. Nearly 40 percent of inmates lack a high school diploma or the equivalent, according to the census data.

"The criminal economy is one of the only alternatives in some of these places," Orfield said. "You basically have the criminalization of a whole community, particularly in some inner cities."

Blacks made up 41 percent of the nation's 2 million prison and jail inmates in 2006. Non-Hispanic whites made up 37 percent and Hispanics made up 19 percent.

Morial, who is a former mayor of New Orleans, said the political debate over high incarceration rates for minorities hasn't yielded results. He said conservatives blame a lack of family values while liberals blame a lack of government programs, with neither side seeing the whole picture.

"We do, in the African-American community, need to instill a stronger value on education," Morial said.

But, he added, minority students also need more early childhood education, longer school days, longer school years and more meaningful summer job opportunities.

"We need to get serious about true investment on the front end," Morial said.

Among the other findings in the census data:

  • Men made up about 90 percent of prison and jail inmates in 2006, down from 94 percent in 1980.
    • About 9 percent of prison inmates were immigrants last year, up from about 4 percent in 1980. Immigrants made up about 13 percent of the total population in 2006.
    • Non-Hispanic whites made up about 73 percent of the 2.3 million people living in college housing in 2006. Blacks made up about 12 percent, Asians about 7 percent and Hispanics about 6 percent.


Meth Grants To Help Kids

A state task force fighting methamphetamine abuse will use $375,000 in new grant money to help children of meth users and fund a program to treat addicts and ease them back into the community.

The Daniels Fund provided $200,000 to the Colorado Alliance for Drug Endangered Children, and $175,000 that will go to a meth treatment pilot program in Delta County.

The Alliance worked closely with the state Methamphetamine Task Force to create a program for communities to use when tackling meth abuse and its effects on children, said Attorney General John Suthers, who chairs the task force.

Children who are removed from homes where meth is used or manufactured need the attention of child welfare services and assessment by medical and mental health professionals, said Lori Moriarty, commander, Thornton Police Department and a vice chair of the task force.

The Alliance will bring together personnel from law enforcement, courts, probation, social services, treatment, mental health and other agencies to work on~ the problem in an integrated way, Moriarty said.

"If we can help those using the drug and also treat the children we can try to break the cycle," of addiction, she said.

The Delta Community Based Methamphetamine Community Based Treatment Project provides treatment but also helps meth users work their way back into the community, said Nicolas Taylor, a licensed psychologist who helped develop the program.

Meth addicts become enmeshed in a world of illegal drugs, and frequently commit crimes in order to pay for their habit.

Getting the community to accept them when they are weaned from the drug isn't easy, Taylor said. "We are dealing with a population of people who are not the most popular members of the community. These are not people you welcome to your kids' soccer game. We have to figure out ways to get them back into the community," Taylor said.

Both programs will serve as models for communities throughout Colorado, and in other states, Suthers said.

The Daniels Fund grants follow a $50,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation to fund the task force, formed one year ago, for two years.

When the state Legislature set up the State Methamphetamine Task Force last year, "We were told that we should be looking for private funding and government grants," said Suthers

The Denver Post

Law Enforcement Maintains Marijuana Focus Despite Rise In Violent Crime

According to recently released statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), marijuana arrests reached an all-time high last year.

This news comes despite a rise in violent crime for the second consecutive year. Yet, last year alone, 829,625 Americans were charged with marijuana offenses according to the recently released FBI Uniform Crime Statistics. Eighty-nine percent of those charges were merely for simple possession.

This begs the question: shouldn’t law enforcement focus on the rising violent crime rate instead of wasting precious resources and manpower going after people for marijuana?

Close to 100 million Americans—including more than half of those between the ages of 18 and 50—have tried marijuana at least once. Military and police recruiters often have no choice but to ignore past marijuana use by job seekers. In fact, the FBI recently announced it is changing its policy of not hiring people with a history of marijuana or other illegal drug use because the policy disqualifies so many people the agency cannot fill needed positions.

Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a substantial portion of the populace. Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of any criminal offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion in direct costs alone.

Punishments range widely across the country, from modest fines to a few days in jail to many years in prison. Prosecutors often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession—but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation and parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive for marijuana or because they were picked up in possession of a joint. Alabama currently locks up people convicted three times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. There are probably— no firm estimates exist—100,000 Americans behind bars tonight for one marijuana offense or another. And even for those who don’t lose their freedom, simply being arrested can be traumatic and costly. A parent’s marijuana use can be the basis for taking away her children and putting them in foster care. Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana offense no matter how long they have lived in this country, no matter if their children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long they have been legally employed. More than half the states revoke or suspend driver’s licenses of people arrested for marijuana possession even though they were not driving at the time of arrest.

With violent crime on the rise, arresting marijuana users at such alarming rates does nothing to make Americans feel safer.

Drug Policy News

Afghan Farmers Find Alternative To Opium -- Just Grow Pot

H/t to Michael Connelly for this one...over at Corrections Sentencing for this one

As Afghanistan struggles to cut its raging opium production, aid workers try to find alternative crops, but for some former poppy farmers the choice was easy -- they planted marijuana instead.

Afghanistan's opium crop topped all records this year, producing some 93 percent of the world's supply of the drug.

But while there has been a sharp rise in poppy production in the troubled south, the drug crop has been eliminated in a growing number of provinces in the safer north of the country.

Balkh province in the north was trumpeted as a success story -- from 7,000 hectares of poppies cultivated in 2006, it was declared opium-free in 2007 after strong local government action.

But around the ancient citadel of Balkh, in fields where pink poppy flowers stood last year, jagged green marijuana stalks poke above other crops and in places whole cannabis fields produce a pungent aroma strong enough to be picked by passing motorists.

The farmers are still cautious. "They are not my fields," said Shamseddin, surrounded by head-high cannabis plants in full flower. "I don't know who they belong to," he said, dropping a sickle to the ground and nudging it away with his foot.

Others said they only planted marijuana to shield their cotton fields from livestock or that it was just a trial crop.


"The landlords used to plant poppy, but then the government came along and destroyed the crops," said farm worker Mohammad Yassin.

"This year we planted marijuana, the dealers will come and buy the crop from us, so we'll see what we make from it. We probably won't plant any next year."

Marijuana, while not as profitable as opium, still makes more money than other legal crops.

"In order to survive and feed their families, the farmers have to cultivate marijuana," said Balkh drug squad chief Faiz Mohammad. "Other crops don't give a good profit."

Last month the United States unveiled a carrot-and-stick strategy to combat opium production. It plans to spend $25 million to $50 million in the next fiscal year to reward provinces that make significant progress against drugs.

The governor of Balkh, a former warlord, was credited for much of the success in eliminating opium in his province, but has complained he has yet to receive the promised incentives for doing so, let alone any funds for cutting back cannabis crops.

"Every year the international community announces that it is spending millions of dollars on counter-narcotics but we haven't seen a dime of that money," the Institute of War and Peace Reporting quoted governor Mohammad Atta as saying.

Balkh drugs squad chief Faiz Mohammad said his officers had made a start in informing farmers they should not plant cannabis and had requested funding from the national and local government to destroyed marijuana fields, but it had yet to arrive.

Yahoo News

Unfair Penalties Of Crack Cocaine - OP ED

Mark Mauer the Executive Director of the The Sentencing Project wrote this thought provoking op-ed for the Philly Inquirer.

As the World Series approaches, many baseball fans may recall the accomplishments of former Kansas City Royals star Willie Mays Aikens. In the 1980 World Series, Aikens became the first player to chalk up a pair of two home-run games.

While millions of Americans will tune in to the series at home this year, Aikens will have to watch from a federal prison cell, where he is in the 12th year of a 20-year sentence for selling crack cocaine. Tragically, a drug problem led to Aikens' leaving baseball and subsequently selling drugs to support his addiction. Ultimately, a sale to an undercover officer led to his mandatory prison term.

Aikens is but one of more than 50,000 people sentenced for crack cocaine offenses under mandatory-sentencing laws Congress adopted in the 1980s. Those penalties treated crack cocaine offenses far more harshly than powder-cocaine crimes, even though the two drugs are pharmacologically identical. People convicted of selling 500 grams of powder cocaine receive a five-year prison term, but only 5 grams of crack are required to produce that same mandatory sentence. Since these laws were enacted, extensive research has documented their ineffectiveness and the injustices that have resulted.

Until this year, these mandatory-sentencing laws seemed impervious to change. Congress soundly defeated a reform recommendation from the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 1995, and reform legislation introduced in 2001 did not go far. But growing support for change from a broad spectrum of legal groups and civil rights leaders is finally signaling a real prospect for progress.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the crack laws in Kimbrough v. United States. Derrick Kimbrough was convicted of selling crack in Norfolk, Va., in 2005, and under federal sentencing guidelines faced a prison term of 19 to 22 years. But after reviewing the Sentencing Commission's policy arguments for change in the law, the judge concluded that such a term was too harsh. He reduced the sentence to 15 years - still quite severe by most standards. The question before the court: To what extent should federal judges have discretion to consider such policy recommendations when imposing sentences in crack cocaine cases?

The crack issue is receiving high-level attention on Capitol Hill, as well. In the Senate, three reform proposals have been introduced, with hearings anticipated this fall. Legislation introduced by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D., Del.) would eliminate the disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, while a bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), Edward M. Kennedy (D., Mass.), and Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) would reduce the disparity significantly.

Why has momentum for reform on crack cocaine surfaced so visibly this year? In part, it reflects the growing recognition that the drug war's focus on harsh punishments has come at the expense of needed investments in prevention and treatment. Incarcerating a low-level crack offender for a mandatory five-year prison term costs taxpayers about $125,000, money sorely needed by many publicly run treatment agencies. Further, lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the distortions in prosecution produced by the crack laws.

Mandating the five-year prison term for possession of just 5 grams of crack - the weight of two sugar packets - creates an inevitable trend toward using scarce prison space for low-level offenders. Sentencing Commission data confirm that 60 percent of crack-cocaine defendants serve as street sellers and "mules" of the drug trade.

Finally, the racial distortions produced by the crack policies are unconscionable for a justice system whose premise is fairness and equality. With 80 percent of crack sentences imposed on black defendants - a far higher proportion than the African American share of crack users - these laws have severely skewed already disturbing racial disparities in the justice system.

There is no question that crack cocaine is a dangerous drug that has harmed many families and communities. So, too, have powder cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other substances. The challenge for public policy is to develop proven remedies, not just sound-bite political slogans.

"Getting tough" on drug users may sound catchy, but providing high-quality treatment does much more to reduce substance abuse than warehousing people in prisons.

Op Ed

Thursday, September 27, 2007

JENA 6 Teen Released On Bail

Mychal Bell, the black teenager whose incarceration in a racially explosive case helped draw tens of thousands of civil rights protesters to the tiny Deep South town of Jena, La., last week, was released from jail on Thursday after more than nine months behind bars.

Bell, 17, one of six black teenagers charged with the beating of a white classmate at Jena High School last December, was freed after a local judge abruptly set a bond of $45,000, which a local bail bonding firm quickly posted on Bell's behalf.

The youth's release capped a day of mounting political and judicial pressures in a case that has drawn condemnation from scores of national civil rights leaders concerned about perceived inequalities in the town's justice system.

In Washington, the Congressional Black Caucus asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate possible civil rights violations and prosecutorial misconduct in the Jena 6 case.

"This shocking case has focused national and international attention on what appears to be an unbelievable example of the separate and unequal justice that was once commonplace in the Deep South," the group of 43 lawmakers said in a letter to Acting Atty. Gen. Peter Keisler.

A Justice Department spokesman said investigations into the case were ongoing but declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana district attorney whose prosecution of the Jena 6 defendants sparked the civil rights protest declared that only through the intervention of Jesus Christ was Jena spared from a "disaster" last week when more than 20,000 African American demonstrators marched peacefully through the town.

"I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened," LaSalle Parish District Atty. Reed Walters told a nationally televised press conference.

When a black Jena pastor attending the press conference called it a "shame" that the prosecutor was crediting divine intervention for the orderly behavior of the demonstrators, Walters, who is white, said: "What I'm saying is, the Lord Jesus Christ put his influence on those people, and they responded accordingly."

The six-hour march on Sept. 20 drew families from across the nation who rode buses for hours to protest perceived racial discrimination in the mostly-white town of 3,000 people. The demonstration was completely nonviolent; state and local authorities confirmed that they made no arrests and received no reports of property damage.

Walters insisted that he had treated all of the Jena 6 defendants "fairly and with dignity" but said he would not relent in his prosecution of the youths for aggravated second-degree battery in the beating of Justin Barker, a 17-year-old white classmate.

The attack on Barker followed months of racial unrest in the town sparked after three white students hung nooses from a tree at the high school in an apparent warning aimed at black students not to try to sit beneath its shade. In a series of ensuing racial fights both on and off the campus, white students who attacked black students were charged with misdemeanors or not at all, but the six black youths who jumped Barker and knocked him briefly unconscious were initially charged by Walters with attempted murder.

Bell was the first of the teenagers to go to trial. One of the remaining five has been charged as a juvenile, three others await trial as adults and one youth has yet to be arraigned.
Chicago Tribune

Lawyer Lists Wrongs In Master's Case

FORT COLLINS - A plastic surgeon concluded that it would have been "almost impossible" to sexually mutilate Peggy Hettrick the way prosecutors asserted she was at Tim Masters' 1999 murder trial, but that information was never turned over to the defense.

At the same time, a forensic psychologist whose testimony was at the heart of the case against Masters helped write the arrest warrant for him and expressed hope, in a letter to prosecutors, that he would be convicted.

But those details also were kept from the defense when Masters was tried in Hettrick's killing.

Those revelations came Wednesday as attorneys for Masters continued a meticulous, time-consuming effort to show that police and prosecutors improperly hid information that defense lawyers could have used to win an acquittal.

Masters, serving a life sentence, has exhausted his appeals and is fighting for a new trial.

Nathan Chambers, who represented Masters at his 1999 trial, spent all day on the witness stand, and repeatedly asserted that his effort to win an acquittal was thwarted because prosecutors failed to turn over information they were ethically required to provide.

"This is just hugely exculpatory - hugely exculpatory," Chambers said of information from the plastic surgeon.

Chambers was questioned for hours by Masters' current attorney, David Wymore.

Rocky Mountain News

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deputy's Assault Rifle Stolen

Why would there be an assault rifle (or any police equipment) left in an unmarked car parked outside the home of an officer?

Authorities in Larimer County are trying to hunt down a suspect who broke into a Larimer County sheriff's deputy's unmarked car and stole a treasure trove of law enforcement equipment.

The suspect took the deputy's Armalite AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, two Motorola police radios, a bullet-proof vest, road spikes, hazardous materials equipment including a gas mask and a black baseball cap with the sheriff's department logo on it.

The break-in happened between Saturday night and Sunday morning. The deputy's unmarked car was parked in the driveway of a home in the 4000 block of Vista Drive in Fort Collins. Neighbors told police there had been several vehicle break-ins in the area recently.

Anyone with information on the break-in is asked to call the Larimer County Sheriff's Office or Fort Collins police.

The Denver Post

Vick Hot For Pot

Apparently Michael Vick didn't read the part of the playbook that said you shouldn't get high before sentencing, when you KNOW you have to submit to drug tests.

RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge placed tighter restrictions on Michael Vick today after he tested positive for marijuana.

Because of the result, U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson placed special conditions on Vick's release, including restricting him to his home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and ordering him to submit to random drug testing.

The urine sample was submitted Sept. 13, according to a document by a federal probation officer that was filed in U.S. District Court today.

Vick, who admitted bankrolling a dogfighting operation on property he owns in Surry County in his written federal plea, is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10.

Rocky Mountain News

Blanco: No Appeal On Jena Case

Activism at work! Put enough of the right pressure in the right place and change can happen! Now, can we get Mychal out on bail.

BATON ROUGE, La.—Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday that the prosecutor in one of the so-called "Jena 6" cases has decided not to challenge an appellate ruling that sends the case to juvenile court.

LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters had earlier said he would appeal the state appeals court's decision that 17-year-old Mychal Bell's second-degree battery conviction be set aside. The court ruled that Bell could not be tried as an adult.

Blanco said she had spoken with Walters and asked him to reconsider pushing to keep the case in the adult courts system. She said Walters contacted her Wednesday to say he had decided not to appeal the ruling.

"I want to thank him for this decision he has made," Blanco said.

Bell, who remains behind bars, was one of six Jena High School teens arrested after a December attack on a white student, Justin Barker. Five of the six teens initially were charged with attempted second-degree murder, though charges for four of them, including Bell, were later reduced. One teen hasn't been arraigned, and the case of the sixth, handled as a juvenile, is sealed.

Blanco made her announcement at a news conference with activists Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton said he hopes a bond will be set low enough to allow for Bell's release, and he thanked Blanco for getting involved in the matter.

"I want to congratulate her for showing leadership," Sharpton said. "And I want to congratulate the district attorney for good judgment."

The Denver Post

Lawyer Cites Conflict in Masters Case

FORT COLLINS — A prosecution expert whose testimony helped convict Tim Masters of murder helped write the arrest warrant in the case, according to court testimony this morning.

And an attorney who represented Masters at his 1999 trial said that compromised Dr. Reid Meloy's position as an unbiased expert witness.

"An expert, to be effective, needs to be perceived by the jury as being objective, as standing back and taking a scientific look at the evidence," attorney Nathan Chambers testified. "That view of the evidence is compromised if they are not objective but rather are a part of the prosecution team."

Masters is serving a life sentence for the Feb. 11, 1987, stabbing and sexual mutilation of Fashion Bar manager Peggy Hettrick. He is fighting for a new trial on the grounds that police and prosecutors failed to turn over information about a now-deceased Fort Collins ophthalmologist who his attorneys believe should have been investigated as a potential suspect.

Hettrick's killer stabbed her in the back and sliced away flesh from her vagina and one breast.

Masters was 15 when Hettrick was killed. He lived in a trailer overlooking the field where her body was found, and hew as a prime suspect from the first hours of the investigation.

It wasn't until 1998, however, that he was arrested and charged with murder.

Chambers, who represented Masters during his 1999 trial, returned to the stand for a second day to answer questions from David Wymore, who is leading the fight to win a new trial.

After Chambers took the stand, Wymore handed him a letter written on July 24, 1998, by Fort Collins police Lt. Jim Broderick, the lead investigator in the Hettrick homicide. That letter was addressed to the two prosecutors who handled the Masters case, Terry Gilmore and Jolene Blair.

Chambers read it for a few minutes, shaking his head slightly.

"I don't recall ever seeing this," he said. "It's pretty shocking though."

Hettrick Evidence Points To Doctor
Rocky Mountain News

What's Going On In Jena?

Is there something in the water?

First youth, then hurricane evacuees were tortured by Jena prison guards Print
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Jena, Louisiana - Jena, the little town of 3,000 located about four hours north of New
Jena prison KKK on dumpster 100305 by NAACP.jpg
When Human Rights Watch and the NAACP LDF went to Jena in 2005 to investigate prisoners’ claims of severe abuse, they found “KKK” spray painted on a dumpster outside the prison. The Klan is rumored to be planning a counter-demonstration in Jena on Sept. 20. Photo: naacpldf.org
Orleans, where thousands of people are headed from all over the U.S. to a Sept. 20 rally for the young men known as the Jena 6, used to be best known for its notorious prison.

Called Jena Juvenile Justice Center when Wackenhut opened it in 1998, it promised counselors and teachers with college degrees to help young people turn their lives around. But in 2000, it was closed after a federal lawsuit revealed that youth were regularly being raped, brutalized and humiliated.

Expressing shock, the judge said, "The way this facility operates or has operated in the recent past is that young people are treated as if they walk on all fours." The infirmary logged 100 serious traumatic injuries in less than two months - a rate of two a day.

Some teenagers became so distraught they slit their wrists on the razor wire that surrounded the prison. Is it any wonder - considering that Jena was probably the home of most of the prison personnel - that this is the town where injustice against the Jena 6 has shocked the world?

The prison was reopened in September 2005 to house prisoners evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. Pretrial detainees were sent to Jena from Jefferson Parish Prison just outside New Orleans. Like the teenage prisoners housed there before them, treatment of these men by the guards in Jena amounted to nothing less than torture.

Interviews conducted with them Oct. 4, 2005, by Human Rights Watch and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) revealed widespread claims of abuse. Every detainee but one of the 23 interviewed reported that he had been hit or kicked by the prison staff.

Read the article here

Florence: Losing More Getting Less

Ongoing Colorado Confidential articles about the situtation in Florence. The ongoing question is what happens when no one wants to work in prison situations anymore?

Are correctional workers getting burned out at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado?

According to correctional officers (COs) at the federal prison, the facility is losing more correctional staff than it's gaining, and new and old recruits are transferring out of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to other government agencies because of frustration with staffing levels and the work demand at ADX. Prison managers are also encouraging new COs to allegedly cut corners in an effort to be more efficient, a fact veterans say can lead to trouble.

Erin Rosa :: Inside Florence ADX: Losing More, Getting Less
Although the hiring process is elaborate, including background checks, credit checks, and multiple interviews, correctional workers are leaving ADX faster than they are arriving, whether it be to other agencies or by transferring to neighboring institutions like the Florence United States Penitentiary (USP) facility or the medium security Federal Correctional Institution (FCI).

"We've had new kids that joined, and within six months they're quitting because they've been basically run into the ground," says a veteran CO who has worked at ADX for a number of years and wished to remain anonymous when speaking to Colorado Confidential. "

Colorado Confidential

Report: Connect Kids to Community To Prevent Crime

Report: Connect Kids to Communities to Prevent Crime
September 25, 2007
Juvenile-justice systems need to involve communities and family members in connecting youth to mentors, jobs, and community services to prevent crime and addiction, according to a new report from the Reclaiming Futures project.

The report, Moving Toward Equal Ground, suggests ways to improve treatment services and outcomes in the juvenile-justice system. "Families and community members have the right to be involved and need to be involved in all aspects of helping youth in the justice system who struggle with alcohol and drug use," said Laura Nissen, Ph.D., national program director of Reclaiming Futures. "They can shape the way the system treats these youth, and provide the positive social opportunities needed to keep them out of trouble."

Reclaiming Futures provides a model for serving youth involved in the juvenile-justice system, including screening adolescents for alcohol and other drug use and providing access to treatment and links to employers, mentors, and volunteer service projects.

The report includes "lessons learned" and case studies from communities that have successfully implemented the Reclaiming Futures model.

Join Together

Bear Valley Community Church Honors Prison Ministry

Last night I had the pleasure of being invited to the Bear Valley Community Church for a banquet that honored prison ministries and volunteers around the state. I had dinner with a wonderful couple who has a son is currently one of the 480 who is being held in Sayre, Oklahoma. I was also lucky enough to be seated with two wonderful men who run a law firm and dedicate both time and money to the programs run by the church at Bear Valley.

One of those programs is called "Barnabus" which is dedicated to helping families to get to the prisons to see their loved ones. As most of you know, our prisons are mostly located in extremely rural areas in Colorado, and if it wasn't for this program which is the only one of it's kind in the state, many families would never be able to visit.

The banquet was a well-attended affair, perhaps 300 people. The largely Italian fare was prepared by the boys from the Chef Program at the Lookout Mountain Youth Detention Facility. They had a team of professional looking and very polite young men who acted as maitre' d's and made sure everyone had their needs taken care of. Ari Zavaras, Executive Director from the Department of Corrections spoke for a few moments and made a comment to the boys that perhaps they would want to come and work for the Department. A young man stood up and said, 'Sorry, we don't do prisons" to which Ari replied, "Amen".

There was also a choir of women who were brought in from the local women's prison and their handlers (the guards were pretty low-key and not quite attached at the hip), the women sang a collection of inspirationals and really did a wonderful job. What a day when the head honchos from DOC (Ari Zavaras, Steve Smith, Allison Morgan, and others) had dinner next to a table of prisoners on a seemingly level playing field.

The reason for the banquet was to honor the hundreds of volunteers who help to minister to prisoners and their families across the state and have been doing so for years. Our sincere and genuine thanks goes out to the folks of the Bear Valley Church for their ongoing commitment to helping prisoners and their families through their times of personal crisis. We applaud the efforts of all the ministries they are involved with.

Minority Hiring Rates Rising in Police Force

The rate at which Denver hires Latino and black police officers and firefighters has increased over the past two years, even as the total number of minority hires has fallen slightly.

City officials credit the increasing rate to changes in hiring and recruitment practices.

"You have better functioning police and fire service when the departments reflect the community, and can better represent the concerns of the community from within," said Al LaCabe, the city's safety manager, who oversees the city's Police and Fire departments.

At the Police Department, the city doubled the percentage of Latino and black hires in two years.

In 2005, 16 percent, or 28 of the 171 police officers hired, were Latino. And 11, or 6 percent, of the hires were black.

This year those numbers jumped to 32 percent Latino, or 25 of the 77 hired. Another 10 of the hires were black, representing 13 percent.

Last year, the Fire Department more than tripled the rate of Latino hires - 33 percent, or 8 of 24 positions - over the previous year. And the city hired five black firefighters in the past two years, ending a long drought of no black hires at the Fire Department from 2000 through 2005.

Latino hires at the Fire Department declined to 14 percent this year from last year's numbers, but that's still above the rate in 2005 and 2004.

The Denver Post

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Judges Quitting Because Of Sentencing Injustices

(h/t to Doug Berman)
Federal judges rebel over limits to sentencing power

Paul G. Cassell Hangs Up the Robe

Paul G. Cassell - a U.S. District judge in Utah who was a leader in declaring federal sentencing mandates unconstitutional - is resigning after just five years on the bench, the Deseret Morning News reported.

Cassell served previously as a law clerk for Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in the 1980s and as an associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. Cassell will resign in November to return to teaching law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, where he was a law professor for a decade before becoming a federal judge.

Cassell said he wants to pursue research on the rights of crime victims in his resignation letter last Friday to President George W. Bush, who nominated Cassell for the judgeship in 2001. "We're at a pivotal point in our country's history in determining how we're going to move from a two-party, state-versus-defendant model to a three-party model that recognizes the legitimate interests of victims," Cassell said.

Cassell, who earned $165,200 a year, also cited the low pay of federal judges as another reason for leaving the bench, an issue that is reverbrating in the lower courts, the Supreme Court and before Congress.

NEW YORK - John Martin will quit his job for life as a federal judge next
month, vacating 16th-floor chambers that are bigger than most Manhattan

Martin isn't leaving because of the salaries, though, despite 13 years on the
bench, he still makes less than most young corporate lawyers. Nor is he
departing because of the bitter Senate confirmation battles that leave
judgeships unfilled and caseloads rising.

Instead, Martin will be retiring his judicial robes because of changes to
federal sentencing rules that he considers so "unjust" that he no longer
wants to work inside the criminal justice system.

Martin's reaction, though extreme, is part of a rare rebellion in the federal
judiciary over new congressional strictures that limit the range of prison
sentences judges can dispense. From Washington to California, normally
reticent judges at virtually all federal levels are chafing at the guidelines
that, among other things, eliminate flexibility in setting jail terms for
whole categories of crimes.The protests aren't coming from just a few
disgruntled liberal judges, either. William Rehnquist, the chief justice of
the US Supreme Court, has said he believes the changes go too far. Martin
himself is a former federal prosecutor who was appointed to the federal
District Court in Manhattan by George H.W. Bush.

The result: an enduring philosophical clash between two powerful branches of
government - Congress and the federal judiciary - over who should have the
ultimate authority in determining criminal punishments. "It's a very, very
painful period for judges," says Daniel Freed, a Yale University law

The source of the judicial ire is changes to the federal sentencing
guidelines, made at the request of Congress, that went into effect last month.
Under the new rules, judges who depart from the guidelines can face the
possibility of their individual sentencing records being made public. They
also face more scrutiny from appellate courts about sentences they give out.

Read the Article here at the Nat'l Assoc of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Federal Prison in Florence

Two articles from Erin Rosa at Colorado Confidential on the federal prison in Florence.

In some units the duress system is broken, meaning that inmates who push the button in their cells to report an emergency are not able to communicate with correctional officers (COs). A security measure around the perimeter of the prison has not worked for nearly 9 months, and there are problems with the phone logging equipment used to monitor inmate phone calls. On top of that, COs are becoming ill due to a sewage spill contaminating ventilation systems, a problem that has been ongoing for approximately 5 years.

Such details are a reality according to COs and union officials working at the federal United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, one of the country's most notorious prisons.

Meanwhile, employees also allege that the facility's warden has spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money updating conference rooms and a command center with amenities like custom-made furniture and plasma television sets. A question of priorities? The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) isn't saying.

Locked Doors Locked Mouths

he job has never been easy, and it won't be getting any easier.

Right now a general consensus from the workforce of correctional officers (COs) residing in one of the nation's most notorious prisons is that "we're basically screwed." So says a veteran officer working at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado.

On top of low staffing levels that are reportedly turning the facility into a concrete tinderbox, there's also the issue of the real people who work the prison, and the consistent fear that they won't come home from an 8-hour shift. But you might not guess this with the image of stability and security portrayed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), an agency that workers say doesn't take kindly to the idea of COs talking to the media.

Erin Rosa :: Inside Florence ADX: Locked Doors, Locked Mouths

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mandatory Minimum Debate Heats Up

District Judge Reggie B. Walton marked the 20th anniversary of federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws for crack and powder cocaine crimes last year by calling for a reexamination of the controversial policy which he once advocated for in the late 1980s.

In the 1980s, Walton pushed for tougher sentences for crack cocaine cases as a top drug policy advisor to former President George H.W. Bush. To Walton and other drug experts, the perceived greater risk of addiction and the level of violence associated with the crack trade warranted a sentencing disparity where the sale of five grams of crack cocaine garners the same five-year prison term as selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

However, in testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission last fall, Walton acknowledged he “never thought that the disparity should be as severe as it ultimately has become,” adding that it was “unconscionable” to maintain the current sentencing structure.

Walton is part of a growing push from judges, civil rights groups and lawmakers for sweeping changes to federal and state crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, which they say disproportionately affects blacks.

Several new bills addressing federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws have been proposed in Congress. States have also moved toward repealing or revising their versions of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This fall, the Supreme Court is set to wade in on whether judges can issue lighter sentences than those called for under the federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. What’s more, the U.S Sentencing Commission, an independent expert panel charged with developing federal sentencing guidelines, recently issued its fourth recommendation that called on Congress to reform the laws.

Read the article at Human Nature Magazine

New Proposal For Ault Prison Land

New proposal for controversial Ault land

A new business may build on the land once slated for a much-debated prison in the town of Ault.

Metal Solutions Inc. of Windsor, a structural and steel fabrication company, recently came before the town board to present a proposal for a warehouse on the Ault Industrial Site. Until last spring, a private company was working toward building a prison on the land.

Plans for the facility came to a halt in May when the Colorado Department of Corrections rescinded its offer to GEO Group, which would have built the facility. The 1,500-bed medium-security prison was proposed in the spring of 2006 when the town board entered into an agreement with the company, which sparked controversy among town residents. Months later, an ordinance requiring resident approval was passed.

After seeing the informal presentation by Metal Solutions, Trustee David Janssen said the warehouse seems like a good fit for Ault. He was encouraged by the company's estimates that the facility could eventually employ up to 15 people.

"You're going to get something here: people employed here, who buy homes here and make Ault their community," he said.

he town planning board still must consider Metal Solutions' proposal before it comes up for a board vote.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

FBI Reviewing Anti-Jena Web Page

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The FBI is reviewing a white supremacist Web site that purports to list the addresses of five of the six black teenagers accused of beating a white student in Jena and "essentially called for their lynching," an agency spokeswoman said Saturday.

Sheila Thorne, an agent in the FBI's New Orleans office, said authorities were reviewing whether the site breaks any federal laws. She said the FBI had "gathered intelligence on the matter," but declined to further explain how the agency got involved.

CNN first reported Friday about the Web site, which features a swastika, frequent use of racial slurs, a mailing address in Roanoke, Va., and phone numbers purportedly for some of the teens' families "in case anyone wants to deliver justice." That page is dated Thursday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement Saturday that some of the families have received "almost around the clock calls of threats and harassment," and called on Gov. Kathleen Blanco to intervene.

A Blanco spokeswoman said the governor had asked law enforcement — primarily state police — to investigate.

AP Story

Prop 36 Survives Budget Cuts in CA

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the 2007-08 state budget into law late last month, he preserved funding for Proposition 36 at $120 million, the level approved by the legislature. This was a relative victory, given that Schwarzenegger cut $703 million--including funding for many critical services--from the legislature's budget before signing.

The governor has the power to “blue pencil,” or reduce or eliminate, funding to any program before signing the budget into law. He does not have the power to increase funding.

Senate Republicans had asked the governor to use his blue pencil to eliminate all funding to Prop. 36. The fact that the program was not part of his cuts reflects the outpouring of support from advocates and legislators, including Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, during the contentious budget process.

Prop. 36 advocates, treatment providers and prison reform activists from San Diego to Long Beach to Sacramento wrote letters, sent faxes and made calls to their legislators and the governor, asking them to do the right thing. Thanks to all their dedication, the governor maintained funding to this important program.

The 2007-08 budget provides $100 million for the Prop. 36 trust fund, and $20 million for a separate Prop. 36 fund, called the Offender Treatment Program. The first fund is distributed to all 58 counties, depending on need (as determined by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs). The second fund, however, requires that counties match funds at a ratio of 1:9. Counties unable, or unwilling, to match funds cannot access OTP funding.

Margaret Dooley, Prop. 36 coordinator for DPA, said, "The fact that Prop. 36 will receive $120 million this year is wonderful news, especially given that many other essential state programs that provide critical services were cut or eliminated. However, we had hoped for more."

Dooley noted that the program is already operating on a shoe string. She said, "Another $20 million in cuts will mean that more people end up on waiting lists rather than in treatment programs-—and, as a result, some people will fail simply because they are unable to access treatment quickly enough."

The Prop. 36 trust fund will receive $20 million less in 2007-08 than it did the previous year, and $40 million less than the legislature’s budget committees agreed earlier this year. Meanwhile, health care and housing costs continue to rise.

However, the level of funding Prop. 36 did receive is an accomplishment in the current budget climate. Thanks to the outpouring of support, 36,000 people convicted of low-level nonviolent drug offenses will continue to have access to drug treatment each year.

Drug Policy Alliance

Dr. Seuss On The Docket

The poem US District Court Judge James R. Muirhead wrote in response to a prisoner's complaint about food (Read the AP story here)

No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Just like no ham
On the kosher plan.

This egg will rot
I kid you not.
And stink it can
This egg at hand.

There will be no eggs at court
To prove a clog in your aort.
There will be no eggs accepted.
Objections all will be rejected.

From this day forth
This court will ban
hard-boiled eggs of any brand.
And if you should not understand
The meaning of the ban at hand
Then you should contact either Dan,
the Deputy Clerk, or my clerk Jan.

I do not like eggs in the file.
I do not like them in any style.
I will not take them fried or boiled.
I will not take them poached or broiled.
I will not take them soft or scrambled
Despite an argument well-rambled.

No fan I am
Of the egg at hand.
Destroy that egg!
Today! today!
Today I say! without delay!

SO ORDERED (with apologies to Dr. Seuss)

CT: Gov Bans Parole For Crimes Of Violence

HARTFORD, Sept. 22 — Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut has suspended parole for all inmates serving time for violent offenses after the authorities said a parolee stole a car at knifepoint in Hartford and then drove to New York City, where he was shot by the police. The move comes two months after a pair of parolees were arrested in the killing of a woman and her two daughters in a home invasion.

“Until we can find a better way to determine who poses a risk to the public if released, we will not add to the ranks of people on parole,” Mrs. Rell said in a news release Friday evening.

In addition to suspending parole for violent offenders, she directed the state’s Board of Pardons and Paroles to immediately review all parolees who were sentenced for violent crimes. She said any in violation of their parole would be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences. Typically, inmates convicted of what are classified as violent offenses must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before parole.

Robert Farr, chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said on Saturday he that agreed with the governor’s decision and that the board would start its review on Monday.

He estimated that one-third of the approximately 3,000 inmates the board paroles each year are classified as violent offenders.

Lawmakers said they were prepared.

NY Times

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Angela Davis Speaks At Cornell University

Things on my wish list : Hear Angela Davis speak in person.

ITHACA — Professor and former Black Panther Party member Angela Davis spoke to a packed Sage Chapel audience at Cornell University Tuesday night about the connection between the U.S. prison system and democracy.

Davis, who was once on the FBI's most wanted list and who spent 16 months in jail, challenged the audience to rethink their understanding of the country's prison system.

She started her speech focusing on the 1838 text “Democracy In America” and how French author Alexis de Tocqueville was drawn to America by its prison systems.

“This new prison system served as evidence of the existence of democracy,” Davis said. “How did this occur? During slavery many people gauged their own freedom by the (lack of freedom) of the slave.”

Davis also addressed the ability of prison to rehabilitate.

“This institution was supposed to refashion citizens, it was supposed to allow citizens to reflect on themselves and remake themselves,” Davis said. “How can you rehabilitate someone if the foundation of the punishment consists of denying them their rights and liberty? Not that rehabilitation shouldn't be possible, but is it possible within the confines of an institution whose purpose is to rob you of your rights and liberties?”

Asa Craig, a Cornell freshmen who is studying prisons in one of his classes, said he was excited to hear Davis' address.

“When I told my parents about this chance to see Angela Davis they said, ‘Wow, you should read about her and learn about what she was done in her past,' ” he said. “I think I'm going to walk away with a better understanding of our prisons and society and how that correlates with each other.”

Maanami Ransom, a sophomore pre-med major at Cornell, was eager to hear Davis' thoughts about prison and African American women.

“I don't get opportunities like this coming from a science background,” she said. “But I thought it was a way for me to keep in touch with things that are going in my community as an African American female.”

Davis shared the story of a white friend who stole constantly and how her friend never was watched by the police when she entered retail stores. Davis compared that to an Ithaca High School student she spoke with on Tuesday who said he was constantly approached by the police.

“But they're are not watching people like my friend,” Davis said. “I'm trying to make an argument about the reasons why people end up in prison that often have little to do with their behavior. I'm not trying to excuse the things people do that put them in prison, people do horrible things, but at the same time people who don't go to prison do a lot of horrible things as well.”

Ithaca Press

Friday, September 21, 2007

Greeley Cops Cleared in Shooting

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has cleared two Greeley police officers in the shooting death of a paroled convict on Aug. 15.

Jimmy Joe Trevino was killed by two officers who chased him from near his wife's apartment to a parking lot where they found him hiding in a trash Dumpster.

The Weld County Coroner stated Trevino was shot eight times in the chest and abdomen, that he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.187 and had traces of marijuana in his blood.

The two officers who fired on Trevino told investigators, and witnesses corroborated, that Trevino was ordered to show his hands several times. The officers said Trevino began moving his hands toward his pants pockets, which made them believe he was about to pull out a gun. Both officers opened fire on Trevino.

No gun was found in his clothing or in the Dumpster. Police found five 9mm rounds in his right front pocket and a spent shell casing in his left pocket.

Police had been called that morning by Trevino's brother-in-law, Vince Nava, to check on his sister, Veronica Trevino, Jimmy Joe's wife.

Trevino had recently been paroled from prison and had cut off his ankle bracelet, the report stated.

She said Trevino entered her apartment, told her he had tried to shoot his sister in the head, showed her the gun and then roughed her up.

As police questioned her, they saw Trevino appear in a nearby parking lot. They chased him and eventually found him in the Dumpster.

"I find that (the two officers)reasonably believed that it was necessary to defend themselves and each other from the imminent use of deadly physical force against them," Buck wrote. "I therefore find that (the officers) were justified in using deadly force against Mr. Trevino.

The Denver Post

Judge Denies Request To Free Jena Teen

Maybe if his last name was "Nacchio" he'd be released.

JENA, La.—A judge on Friday denied a request to release a teenager whose arrest in the beating of a white classmate sparked this week's civil rights protest in Louisiana. Mychal Bell's request to be freed while an appeal is being reviewed was rejected at a juvenile court hearing, effectively denying him any chance at immediate bail, a person familiar with the case told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because juvenile court proceedings are closed.

Earlier, Bell's mother emerged from the hearing in tears, refusing to comment.

Bell, 17, was convicted of aggravated second-degree battery, which could have led to 15 years in prison. But his conviction was thrown out by a state appeals court that said he could not be tried on the charge as an adult because he was 16 at the time of the beating.

"This is why we did not cancel the march," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, an organizer of Thursday's rally along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP. "When they overturned Mychal's conviction, everyone said we won."

Jackson said in an interview Friday that federal intervention is needed to protect Bell's rights. Sharpton said he has scheduled meetings in Washington with congressional leaders to discuss the Jena Six case.

At a separate closed hearing Friday, a judge refused a request from defense attorneys to remove Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. from Bell's case, said John Jenkins, father of one of Bell's co-defendants.

Defense lawyers have complained that Mauffray set a high bail for Bell—$90,000—prior to his conviction in the Barker beating. Mauffray had cited Bell's criminal record, which included juvenile arrests for battery and damage to property, in setting the bail.

On Thursday, the case drew thousands of protesters to this tiny central Louisiana town to rally against what they see as a double standard of justice for blacks and whites. The march was one of the biggest civil rights demonstrations in years.

The Denver Post

Sentencing in Lafayette Murder Case

Boulder — Jared Guy, the teen who twice tried to help an alleged killer bury a Lafayette mom's body, was sentenced to work-release, home detention and probation today.

Guy will serve six months in a jail work-release program, six months of electronic home monitoring and three years of probation. The sentence, which spared Guy, 19, any prison time for his conviction for tampering with evidence, came after Guy's attorney pleaded for mercy for his client and Boulder District Court Judge James Klein instead responded with outrage.

"I think he played a major part in prolonging a horrendous, horrific event," Klein said. "The fact of the matter is a month went by, and Linda Damm's body sat in the back of a Subaru. And Mr. Guy knew.

"I don't know what it takes to desensitize a human being enough that something like this took place."

Damm's body was discovered in late February in the trunk of her Subaru, after a tip led police to the Lafayette home she shared with her daughter, Tess, and Tess' boyfriend, Bryan Grove. According to accounts the teens gave to police, Grove and Tess discussed killing Damm, 52, after getting into arguments with her.

The Denver Post

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hundreds Gather In Denver For The Jena 6

Hundreds of people — young and old, black and white — gathered at a Five Points cafe tonight to show their support for six black youths they feel are being treated unfairly by the justice system in Jena, La.

They sang and listened to speeches. Poets and spoken-word artists performed. At the end of the evening, organizers asked for donations, and soon they had collected more than $1,800 to help the Louisiana youths, dubbed the Jena 6.

But those who spoke at Blackberries cafe in Denver tonight used the rally to transcend the events in Jena, by also focusing on problems closer to home and by encouraging people at the rally to get involved with the political process.

"This country's soil is soaked in injustice," said

Read the La Salle Parish (La.) District Attorney's statement.

  • View a slide show of images from the rallies in Louisiana and Denver.
  • Watch video of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's comments.
  • Watch video of Al Sharpton speaking at the Louisiana protest.
  • Watch video with background information about the Jena Six case.
Jeff Fard, founder of Brother Jeff's Cultural Center. "The difference with this situation is people put light on it."

The rally mirrored others taking place in cities across the country and occurred on the same day tens of thousands of protestors marched through Jena in support of the Jena 6. But organizers of Denver's rally said they didn't know what to expect this evening.

The idea for the rally began only a few days ago in discussions among a group of artists and activists. The organizers promoted the event through word of mouth, on the Internet and in flyers.

Come evening, about 350 people showed up for the rally, overflowing the cafe. Many had to stand on the sidewalk outside.

"I'm overwhelmed," said Rene Marie, one of the rally's organizers. "What a great outpouring of community spirit. What I loved about it is there was so much diversity here."

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Craig said he came to the rally because he didn't agree with officials' decision to prosecute the Jena 6 so harshly.

"I think this is truly inspirational because it's showing how people are beginning to take notice," Craig, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School said. "We're taking a stand against these unjust, biased decisions that are being made."

Menola Upshaw, the octogenarian president of Denver's NAACP branch, agreed.

"It tells me something because here in 2007 I really didn't think we would have to be fighting something like Jena, La.," she said.

As the night wore down, people from the audience were invited to come to the microphone and express their thoughts. Some talked about the situation in Jena. Some talked about local situations in which they saw injustice.

"This is not the only issue," Fard said in closing out the rally. "But this is an opportunity for us to show that we can come together. We need to move beyond black and white. We need to look at right and wrong."

Or, as Upshaw said as she left the rally and walked into the night, "I'm going to pray that we will have one America and not two Americas."

The Denver Post

FL- Paey Given Full Pardon By Governor Crist

TALLAHASSEE -- Richard Paey is a chronic pain patient in year three of a 25-year mandatory-minimum sentence for trafficking in drugs -- his own pain medication.

But his freedom is just hours away.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet voted unanimously to grant Paey a full pardon Thursday morning for his 2004 conviction on drug trafficking and possession charges.

"We aim to right a wrong and exercise compassion and to do it with grace," the governor said. "Congratulations ... and I state he should be released today."

With that, Paey's wife Linda, their three children, a family friend and attorney John Flannery II hugged and cried at the podium, the entire cabinet meeting room erupting into applause at 9:40 a.m.

It was a stunning turn in the long saga of Paey, a 48-year-old Hudson man who suffers debilitating pain from a 1985 car wreck, botched back surgery and multiple sclerosis that has left him needing the use of a wheelchair in prison.

He was first arrested in 1997 and convicted on the third try in 2004 of possessing, trafficking and illegally obtaining the medication he needs for the searing, fiery pain in his back and legs.

His supporters still contest every bit of the state's case and today, they finally found sympathetic ears eager to help. His medical condition is real, they told the cabinet, evidenced by the amoung of painkillers the Department of Corrections itself now gives to Richard Paey every day.

What makes Thursday's development all the more surprising was that the Florida Parole Commission actually recommended against commuting Paey's sentence to time served.

But then Crist allowed Flannery to speak for nearly 30 minutes -- much more than the 5-minute limit. Then the governor allowed Linday Paey, their three children and even a family friend to speak.

ST Petersburg Times

America's War On Drugs and The 25 Year Quagmire

No issue has had more impact on the criminal justice system in the
past three decades than national drug policy. The “war on drugs,”
officially declared in the early 1980s, has been a primary
contributor to the enormous growth of the prison system in the United States
during the last quarter-century and has affected all aspects of the criminal
justice system and, consequently, American society. As a response to the
problem of drug abuse, national drug policies have emphasized punishment
over treatment, and in a manner that has had a disproportionate impact on
low-income minority communities. After millions of people arrested and
incarcerated, it is clear that the “war on drugs” has reshaped the way America
responds to crime and ushered in an era of instability and mistrust in
countless communities.
By the mid-1990s, the climate regarding drug policy in the United States had
shifted somewhat, reflecting a growing frustration with the “lock ‘em up”
strategy to addressing drug abuse and growing support for the treatment
model of combating drug abuse. The result was the proliferation of drug
courts and other alternative sentencing strategies that sought to divert low level
drug offenders from prison into community-based treatment programs.
Despite the expansion of these options over the last decade, the punitive
sentencing provisions of the 1980s remain in effect across the United States,
resulting in a record number of arrests, convictions, and sentences to prison
for drug offenses.

Read the Report at The Sentencing Project

CCA Spends 1.3 Million in Lobbying

WASHINGTON - Corrections Corp. of America, which builds and manages prisons, spent $1.3 million to lobby the federal government in the first half of 2007, according to a disclosure form.

The company lobbied Congress on legislation and regulations related to the privately owned prison industry, according to the disclosure form posted online Aug. 10 by the Senate's public records office.

In addition to lawmakers, the company lobbied the Bureau of Indian Affairs, plus the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, the White House budget office

Under a federal law enacted in 1995, lobbyists are required to disclose activities that could influence members of the executive and legislative branches. ...

Forbes Magazine

Thousands Rally in LA for Jena

JENA, La.—Traffic jammed the two-lane road leading into the tiny town of Jena early Thursday as thousands of demonstrators gathered in support of six black teens initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said it could be the beginning of the 21st century's civil rights movement, one that would challenge disparities in the justice system.

"You cannot have justice meted out based on who you are rather than what you did," Sharpton told CBS's "The Early Show" Thursday.

The six were charged a few months after the local prosecutor declined to charge three white high school students who hung nooses in a tree on their high school grounds. Five of the black teens were initially charged with attempted murder, but that charge was reduced to battery for all but one, who has yet to be arraigned; the sixth teen was charged as a juvenile.

"This is the most blatant example of disparity in the justice system that we've seen," Sharpton said Thursday. "You can't have two standards of justice. We didn't bring race in it, those that hung the nooses brought the race into it."

District Attorney Reed Walters, breaking a long public silence, denied Wednesday that racism was involved.

The Denver Post

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

California Prisoners Dying For Medical Care

As many as 66 inmates died because of poor medical care last year, according to a report released Wednesday, including a man whose treatment for "constant and extreme" chest pain was delayed eight hours.

The report released by Robert Sillen, the court-appointed receiver in charge of California prison health care, reviewed 381 deaths. It found that 18 deaths were preventable and 48 were possibly preventable, for a total of about 17 percent. The report excluded suicides and executions.

"There are just far too many horror stories that continue to occur," Sillen said.

Sillen took over the prisons' medical system in April 2006, after a federal judge found that an average of one inmate a week was dying of neglect or malpractice. Inmates have continued dying preventable deaths, according to the report, even as Sillen has begun making changes, which have cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I had no expectations the first year that there would be any change in the numbers, because there are no quick fixes," Sillen said. "We've scratched the surface, but that's all we've done."

Sillen said he expects it will take another year or even two before preventable deaths decline as better doctors and nurses take their place. Fifty-seven prison doctors and six nurses were fired, suspended or required to take remedial education classes between June 2005 and July 2007 as a result of poor medical decisions, according to the report.

Attorneys for inmates and some lawmakers have criticized Sillen for not bringing results fast enough even as he has unilaterally increased medical provider wages and ordered new equipment and medical centers.

"I'm hoping that actions can be taken that will more promptly minimize the risk, especially getting more doctors into the system," said Steve Fama, an attorney with the nonprofit Prison Law Office. "They're trying to provide medical care with one hand tied behind their back, and it doesn't work."

Fresno Bee

Chicagoans Head to Help JENA 6

(CBS) CHICAGO Hundreds of people united Tuesday night in a show of support for six African-American boys who are being held for beating a white teen. They are known as the "Jena 6."

Busloads of protestors from Chicago are already on their way to Louisiana to show support. As CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot reports, organizers say more than 1,000 people were in Daley Plaza for a rally to bring attention to what they call absolute injustice.

"I want to thank you for taking out time to do something for justice and do something for righteousness, here in Chicago," St. Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger told the crowd.

Pfleger said the people you see circling Daley Plaza Wednesday night stand together in unity with those who left for Jena, La., for Thursday's rally aimed at bringing attention to the "Jena 6."

Five of the six young black men were charged with attempted second degree murder. The sixth was charged as a juvenile. The six allegedly beat a white teen. The classmate allegedly taunted the six with racial slurs.

One of the students was found guilty of second degree aggravated battery. His conviction was overturned last week.

Before all this happened at Jena High School, a group of African-American students sat under a school tree which among students, was understood to be "for whites only." The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree.

"I think that it's a shame that in the 21st century we're still dealing with racism," said rally attendee Karen Armstrong.

"It isn't an isolated incident," said attendee Eric Landin. "It's indicative of a problem that's all across our world, across our nation and we really need to stand together, we really need more things like this."

CBS Chicago

WESTWORD - That's Life - New Law Reduces Life For Juveniles

The day that Michael Tate was found guilty, sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed before his eighteenth birthday, 45 inmates were already serving life sentences in Colorado for crimes they'd done as juveniles ("Headed for Trouble," July 7, 2005). But after Tate, only two more defendants could face the same fate.

It was twenty years ago that Colorado's district attorneys first obtained the right to direct-file juveniles accused of violent felonies into adult court, without having to get a judge's permission. In 1990, the Colorado Legislature passed a law dictating that all convictions for first-degree murder result in mandatory life-without-parole sentences — and juvies charged as adults were no exception.

Last year, the legislature finally changed the law, allowing for juvies convicted of first-degree murder — including felony murder — to be eligible for parole after forty years. By then, at least 47 juvies had received a life sentence, although three of those had their sentences overturned. And seven, including Tate and Michael Fitzgerald, were still awaiting trial, still looking at a life-without-parole sentence because they'd been charged with first-degree murder for crimes that occurred before the law was changed.

READ LUKE TURF'S Article at Westword