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Before group therapy begins for mentally ill maximum-security inmates at California prisons, five patients are led in handcuffs to individual metal cages about the size of a phone booth. Steel mesh and a plastic spit shield separate the patients from the therapist, who sits in front of the enclosures wearing a shank-proof vest.
When the lock clanks shut on the final cage — prison officials prefer to call them "therapeutic modules" — the therapist tries to build the foundation of any successful group: trust.
During a recent session at a prison in Vacaville, psychologist Daniel Tennenbaum, wearing a herringbone sports coat over his body armor, sat just out of urination range of the cages with an acoustic guitar, trying to engage the inmates with a sing-along of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay."
About a decade ago, a federal judge ruled that it was cruel and unusual punishment to leave mentally ill prisoners in their cells without treatment. Since then, state prisons have spent more than a billion dollars delivering care to an ever-growing population of inmates diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other psychiatric problems.
State officials say they have not tried to estimate how much of that cost is attributable to the caged therapy. The value of the sessions, however, is the subject of heated debate among mental health professionals today.
"Those cages are an abomination. They train people that they're not human, that they're animals," said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist in Berkeley who served as an expert witness on treatment of mentally ill prisoners in the case that forced California prisons to provide psychiatric care.
"It's bizarre, it has a Hannibal Lecter quality to it," said H. Steven Moffic, likening California's procedures to the measures used to contain an incarcerated serial killer in "The Silence of the Lambs."
Moffic, a psychiatry professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has written about treating patients in prisons under less imposing restraints. "I'm not quite sure what the clinicians think they are going to get out of it," he said of California's method.
Prison officials say they're doing their best to comply with the court order, which requires them to offer treatment to all mentally ill inmates, no matter how dangerous.
Overall, that care in 2006 cost the state $166 million to treat about 32,000 inmates, department records show. By 2009 the number of inmates had risen modestly to 36,000 but the cost of treatment had more than doubled more than $358 million.
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Stop the Drug War
Sentencing Reforms Continue in the States
In a bid to reduce corrections spending, a number of states in the last decade have moved to implement sentencing reforms, and 2010 saw the trend continue. In May, Colorado passed reforms that will reduce some drug use and possession sentences, allow greater judicial flexibility in sentencing, and keep some technical parole violators from being sent back to prison. But the package also increases some drug sales and manufacturing sentences. In June, South Carolina passed reforms that will end mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. In August, Massachusetts passed reforms that will eliminate some mandatory minimums in a bill that was watered down from an earlier Senate version. In all three cases, it was not bleeding hearts but bleeding wallets that was the impetus for reform.
A Congressional Drug Warrior Goes Down in Flames
It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. This year is also notable for the spectacular May end to the career of inveterate congressional drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). The doughy cultural conservative crusader from the heartland resigned from Congress after admitting at a press conference to having an affair with a female staffer with whom he had once made abstinence videos. Souder is best known to drug reformers as the author of the "smoke a joint, lose your federal aid" provision of the Higher Education Act, and thus deserves credit for almost singlehandedly causing the formation of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. But his enthusiasm for the war on drugs also led him to the chairmanship of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources from 2001 to 2007, where he used his position to support harsh drug policies. He was, for instance, a staunch foe of medical marijuana and a loud voice against the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendments, which would, if passed, have stopped federal raids on medical marijuana patients and providers. To be fair, Souder did offer committee legislation in 2006 to restrict the reach of his student aid penalty, and he was also a key Republican supporter of the recent "Second Chance" prisoner reentry funding legislation. Still, reformers are happy that one of the staunchest and most active drug warriors is out of Congress now, struck down by his own hypocrisy
(CLICK HERE TO READ MORE)
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As Christmas is celebrated in Incarceration Nation, it’s worth remembering certain things about the two figures who dominate this holiday.
As more than 3,000 Americans sit on death row, we revere the birth of a godly man who was arrested, “tried,” sentenced, and put to death by the state. The Passion is the story of an execution, and the Stations of the Cross trace the path of a Dead Man Walking.
Less well known is the fact that Saint Nicholas, the early Christian saint who inspired Santa Claus, was once a prisoner, like one in every 100 Americans today. Though he was beloved for his kindness and generosity, Nicholas acquired sainthood not by giving alms, but in part by performing a miracle that more or less amounted to a prison break.
As we described in one of our earliest posts on Solitary Watch, Nicholas was the 4th-century Greek Bishop of Myra (in present-day Turkey). Under the Roman emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians, Nicholas spent some five years in prison–and according to some accounts, in solitary confinement.
Under Constantine, the first Christian emperor, Nicholas fared better until the Council of Nicaea, in 325 A.D. There, after having a serious theological argument with another powerful bishop, Nicholas became so enraged that he walked across the room and slapped the man. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE)
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Attorneys named to replace 2 northern Colorado judges ousted by voters - KDVR
DENVER (AP) — Fort Collins attorneys Julie Field and Stephen Howard have been appointed to replace two state judges who were voted out of office in November.
Voters rejected retaining District Judges Jolene Blair and Terrence Gilmore. They were the prosecutors in a 1999 case in which Timothy Masters was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The state Supreme Court censured Blair and Gilmore in 2008, saying they failed as prosecutors to turn over information to defense attorneys.
Masters' conviction was overturned the same year after new tests showed the DNA evidence failed to put him at the scene and pointed to other suspects. He was released from prison after nearly a decade.
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DENVER (AP) -- Denver anti-gang activist Leon Kelly is among 20 people receiving pardons from Gov. Bill Ritter, who leaves office Jan. 11 after one term.Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, announced the pardons Wednesday. Until now, Ritter had only pardoned three people during his four years in office.Ritter's predecessor, Gov. Bill Owens, pardoned 13 people during his eight-year tenure.Ritter said the latest people to receive pardons have demonstrated great remorse, have made an effort at redeeming themselves and in some cases, are significantly involved in their community.He pardoned five women and 15 men for felony and misdemeanor offenses dating from 1971 to 1999. The offenses range from marijuana possession to robbery. A pardon restores all rights of citizenship, including the ability to vote, participate in jury duty, hold public office and own guns.Kelly, executive director of Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, was pardoned for a 1979 conviction for aggravated robbery for which he served three years in prison."It's done," Kelly said in an interview, fighting back tears as he talked about visiting his father's grave to commemorate the occasion. "This is the day I received the pardon from the governor."Kelly's father died in March.For nearly three decades, he has worked with at-risk Denver youth to help steer them away from gangs and live productive lives. His personal story of how he began dealing drugs after graduating from the University of Colorado and then getting arrested for a home invasion to collect a drug debt plays a large role in his work.Kelly has recently begun working on a program to help felons find work after being released from prison."I didn't read about this in a book, I didn't hear about this in a story," Kelly said. "I know what it is when I was locked up. The life that goes on behind bars, I've seen it."The conviction weighed heavily on Kelly, though he said he tried not to think about it. He said his time in prison helped him reflect on his life and prompted him to turn his life around and help others."I don't feel like I'm that unique," Kelly said. "If you have a felony, it shouldn't even matter, if you have a right mind to do what you have to do to live a productive life."Community leaders and prosecutors, including Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, wrote letters in support of Kelly's pardon."Leon is an example of somebody who has turned his life around," said Morrissey, who has gotten to know Kelly and his family. "My only disappointment is that his father died before he received this pardon."In announcing the pardons, Ritter said he carefully reviewed each case and its unique set of circumstances."Today's pardon will allow them to move forward as a productive member of the work force, of their community and of society," he said.
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Te New York Times
PRISON crowding has reached crisis proportions: California’s prisons, the largest state system in the country, operate at almost double their maximum capacity. The conditions there — the legacy of the war on drugs and long, mandatory sentences — are so bad that a federal court has found that they deny inmates constitutional rights to adequate health care and other basic services; the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case last week.
The lower court’s decision requires California to reduce its prison population to about 110,000 inmates from 144,000 by next December. Risks to public safety from releasing that many prisoners will make this almost impossible. But the federal government can take one important step to help states comply: deport many immigrant criminals before they enter prison, not after.
Non-citizen criminals represent a significant percentage of American prisoners: in 2009, some 25 percent of federal prisoners and a smaller fraction of state prisoners were non-citizens; in California, 18,705 inmates were non-citizens. Although the federal government can deport many of them as soon as their criminal convictions become final, a century-old law provides that immigrants can be deported only after they have served their sentences here.
This provision, intended to ensure that the criminals are punished, was enacted in 1917, long before severely crowded prisons were deemed unconstitutional. This was also before legal and budgetary pressures forced prison officials to prematurely release inmates, even those with a significant recidivism risk (in California, as many as 58 percent commit new crimes within three years). Deporting criminal immigrants would make it easier to keep these potential recidivists behind bars.
Fortunately, the law now contains a potentially useful loophole: deportable criminals can be deported without serving their full sentences if they committed non-violent offenses (with some exceptions), and if the appropriate officials request earlier deportations.
As simple as it seems, this exception has rarely been employed. The federal and state governments should use it to remove as many deportable criminals as possible from their prison populations.
This is certainly not a panacea. Not every immigrant prisoner is deportable; it depends on their particular crimes and whether they can obtain a waiver. Also, the immigrants’ home countries might refuse, contrary to international law, to repatriate them, and some treaties require the prisoner’s consent. Even those countries that do accept convicted citizens may not imprison them at all, or not for long. There’s also the prospect that repatriated prisoners, once free, will try to re-enter the United States illegally.
These objections are manageable. Diplomacy, and American cash, might persuade home countries to incarcerate repatriated criminals. The prisoner transfer treaty with Mexico can be renegotiated. And better border enforcement is already reducing re-entries.
Other options are themselves problematic or have already been tried and proved inadequate. It is costly and unpopular to build new prisons and hire more guards; California, amid a severe fiscal crisis, is already spending $9 billion a year on corrections. Easier probation and parole have their limits. Structural changes, like decriminalizing non-violent offenses and reducing the length of sentences, are promising reforms but hard to accomplish politically.
The Supreme Court will, in all likelihood, uphold the lower court’s findings that California’s prison conditions are unconstitutional, but will cut officials some slack in managing the remedy. That gives states and the federal government the room to try new approaches. Accelerating the deportation of criminals who will eventually be deported anyway would not end the overcrowding problem, but it would surely help.
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9NEWS.com | Denver | Colorado's Online News Leader | Sen. Bennet makes good on campaign promise: Family gets dog
DENVER - Children will forget their shoes, forget
their manners, forget their homework, but they r
arely forget a promise made to them by mom or
This is especially true when dad just happens to be
Senator Michael Bennet. His daughters Caroline,
Halina and Anne were focused on just one thing the
day after the election.
"The only business they wanted to deal with after
the election was getting a dog. That was job number
one and they managed to do it," Bennet said.
Bennet says in many ways his daughters and wife
were more productive than the U.S. Senate, choosing
their dog in just one day without fighting about
which one was best.
The girls and their mom, Susan, found their dog
through the Colorado Cell Dog Program. Dogs
rescued from shelters across statewide are brought
into the Prison Trained Dog Program (PTDP) for
obedience training; including lessons involving
house training, crate training, sit, sit-stay, down,
down-stay, come when called, basic heeling on lead
and even a few tricks.
After meeting several dogs, the Bennet girls picked
a small, black, Pomeranian mix. They decided to
name the dog Pepper, because he had lots of pep
and they say his personality was kind of "spicy."
After a few weeks of training, Pepper performed for
Susan and other future dog owners at the Denver
Women's Correctional Facility. His trainer, Christina
Collins explained why it's such a privilege to do this
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The prison system began lifting lock downs at four institutions and returning the facilities to normal operations Wednesday and inmate said they were ending their protest for now and reporting to work assignments.
One of the organizers of the protest said prisoners are still going to pursue their concerns. If the Department of Corrections ignores their requests, the next protest will be violent, he said.
Prison officials did not say what led to the decision to end the lock downs that had been in place since last Thursday. But an inmate at Smith State Prison in Glenville said in a telephone interview prisoners had agreed to end their “non-violent” protest to allow administrators time to focus on their concerns rather than operating the institutions without inmate labor.
“We’ve ended the protest,” said Mike, a convicted armed robber who was one of the inmates who planned and coordinated the work stoppage. “We needed to come off lock down so we can go to the law library and start ... the paperwork for a [prison conditions] lawsuit.
“We’re just giving them time to … meet our requests without having to worry about us on lock down,” Mike told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday.
Mike is one of the inmates who organized the protest at Smith prison who has talked to the AJC about it. He did not want his last name published for fear of retaliation from prison officials, but agreed to allow the AJC to verify his prisoner identification number, which the paper then cross-checked with the Department of Corrections website.
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As reported here last summer, a controversial state study suggesting no harmful psychological effects from solitary confinement was drawing heated protests from prison activists even before it was published. Now that it's been released, psychiatric experts and the ACLU of Colorado are saying the report is just -- well, crazy.
Can life in lockup be good for you? The Colorado Department of Corrections thinks so.
After studying and testing close to 250 inmates confined to administrative segregation (that's prison-speak for "the hole") at the state supermax and elsewhere over several months, researchers found little or no deterioration in the subjects' mental state as a result of their isolation. In fact, "there was initial improvement in psychological well-being across all study groups," regardless of whether the prisoners were mentally ill or not at the time they were sent to ad-seg.
The findings are at odds with most of the scientific literature on the effects of solitary, which has prompted respected researchers -- including Stuart Grassian, a pioneer at Harvard in studying the issue -- to question the study's methodology and omissions. In this broadside from the ACLU, psychiatrist Terry Kupers calls the study "so deeply flawed that I would consider the conclusions almost entirely erroneous."
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The ACLU of Colorado and leading forensic psychology experts are questioning the findings of a report released by the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) on the psychological effects of solitary confinement. The report, titled “One Year Longitudinal Study of the Psychological Effects of Administrative Segregation,” concludes that solitary confinement does not cause mentally ill prisoners to get worse. The ACLU noted that this conclusion, which contradicts considerable previous research and prevailing expert opinion, also poses a danger of rationalizing the continued warehousing of seriously mentally ill prisoners in “supermax” conditions that impede treatment and improvement.
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