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Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
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.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Technology is changing. CCJRC wants to make sure our website and communications are meeting your needs and you are getting what you need from us.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Solitary confinement reform is welcome sign of progress | solitary, prison, confinement - GUEST COLUMN - Colorado Springs Gazette, CO
This month, the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) announced that it would begin transitioning more than 300 inmates out of administrative segregation, commonly known as solitary confinement, and send them back to locations within the general prison population.
It might not sound like earthshaking news. But as we reflect on this decision to move toward a safer, less costly and more humane state prison system, it is important to note that every person in Colorado has a stake in this.
In this country, we believe that if someone is punished for a crime, they should have a clear picture of what their punishment will look like — especially of when it will end. In Colorado, however, hundreds of inmates have languished in solitary confinement for years at a time, with no clear path out, even when they have fully complied with all the rules and regulations of the institution.
There have long been cries for reform. Last year, State Senator Morgan Carroll introduced legislation to fundamentally change solitary confinement practices, calling for policy that would reaffirm our core values, effectively prioritize scarce law enforcement resources, and protect the safety of our communities. Carroll’s Senate Bill 176 was scaled back to allow the CDOC to audit its own practices and determine the best course of action. The result is the announcement of reducing solitary numbers made by CDOC Director Tom Clements.
Despite the depiction in the movies that solitary confinement is reserved for the worst of the worst, the independent audit found that most of those in solitary confinement in Colorado are not disruptive and have been in good standing with prison rules for a long time. In fact, the average length of stay in solitary confinement is not the 30 days that you see on TV, but instead two years or more. The independent consultants recommended a more transparent system that would allow an inmate to return to the general population in no more than nine months, if they are in compliance with all the rules.
Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/solitary-132524-prison-confinement.html#ixzz1kqvojq00
at 6:15 AM
Friday, January 27, 2012
he Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported the number of people in
prison declined in 2010 for the first time since 1972; state and federal prison
populations fell by more than 9,200 between 2009 and 2010, a decline of
0.6%. Currently, more than 7.1 million men and women are under some form of
correctional supervision. The majority of persons – 4.8 million – under criminal
justice supervision are in the community on probation or parole, while 2.2 million
are incarcerated in prison or jail. The United States continues to maintain the
highest rate of incarceration in the world at 731 per 100,000 population.
Reductions in the scale of incarceration are the result of declining crime rates and a
mix of legislative and administrative policies that vary by state. Lower demand for
correctional capacity resulted in at least 13 states closing prison institutions or
contemplating doing so during the past year. One salient reason for prison closures
is the reduction in state revenues caused by the recession. According to a report by
the National Governors Association, at least 40 states made cuts to correctional
expenditures between 2009 and 2010 by reducing labor costs, eliminating prison
programs, and making food-service changes. Additionally, states have increasingly
focused on finding ways to downscale prisons.
at 6:30 AM
Wall Street Journal
Prison systems in the U.S. have an aging problem, one that has nothing to do with steel bars and cement walls.
The fastest-growing population in federal and state prisons are those 55 and older, a trend that is forcing cash-strapped local governments to wrestle with the growing cost of caring for the aging inmates. Some experts are pushing states to take the controversial step of releasing certain older prisoners before their sentences are up.
According to a study being released Friday by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based advocacy group, the number of state and federal prisoners 55 or over nearly quadrupled to 124,400 between 1995 and 2010, while the prison population as a whole grew by only 42%.
"Prisons are facing a silver tsunami," said Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch study. "Walk through any prison and you'll see a a surprising number of wheelchairs and walkers and portable-oxygen tanks."
At current rates, a third of all prisoners will be 50 or older by 2030, according to a study to be released next month by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"It's a simple calculation—during the last 30 years, more people went to prison for longer periods of time," said Martin Horn, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and the former commissioner of New York City's Department of Correction. "Those people are getting older now."
All prisoners are guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution adequate health care and the basic necessities of life. But according to some prison-system experts, prisons aren't equipped to handle many of the most predictable woes that come with aging, like problems with seeing, hearing and moving around, and age-related illnesses. Basic activities, like washing or climbing out of a narrow bunk bed, become difficult, if not impossible, they say.
"Heart problems, diabetes, cognitive impairment and end-stage liver disease from hepatitis or cirrhosis, these are becoming increasingly common problems in our nation's prisons," said Robert Greifinger, a former chief medical officer for the New York City department of correction.
Several states have established medical facilities on or near prison grounds to treat problems most closely associated with aging. In 2006, for instance, New York opened a facility that specializes in treating inmates with dementia. Prisons in Mississippi, Texas and California have centers that offer specialized treatment for geriatric medical problems.
at 6:00 AM
Anthony Harvey dropped out of eighth grade and went on to become an established small-business owner in Fort Collins.
But it wasn't until he was charged with running one of Northern Colorado's largest cocaine-trafficking operations that he got his GED, or General Educational Development, diploma.
"The rug's been pulled out from under my feet," said Harvey, 35, of Fort Collins, adding that he "finally" had the time for the test.
Harvey was one of 55 Larimer County Jail inmates in 2011 to receive a GED certificate, taking the high school equivalency exam while behind bars. Hundreds of inmates receive tutoring for the test each year, but many leave the shorter-term facility before they take it.
Harvey was arrested Sept. 30. Less than a month later, he had his diploma.
'A step higher'Inmates arrive at the jail with a variety of educational backgrounds. Some are ready for the test in a few weeks, and others take four to five months, said Vicky Connell, programs manager with the Larimer County Sheriff's Office.
"We are a GED-testing site, and I believe we were the first facility in the state of Colorado to become a testing site," she said, adding that all materials are provided, tutors volunteer to help and test results are immediate.
The jail has graduated more than 1,300 inmates since it began offering the GED program in 1986.
About 10 to 15 inmates have requested to take the test in February, because it is one of several programs intended to help people from myriad backgrounds leave jail better prepared to be productive and law-abiding.
at 5:58 AM
Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Gray Box: An investigative look at solitary confinementA few weeks ago, on the fifteenth anniversary of his first day in prison, Osiel Rodriguez set about cleaning the 87 square feet he inhabits at ADX, a federal mass isolation facility in Colorado.
“I got it in my head to destroy all my photographs,” he writes in a letter to me. “I spent some five hours ripping each one to pieces. No one was safe. I did not save one of my mother, father, sisters. Who are those people anyway?”
Such is the logic of the gray box, of sitting year after year in solitude.
Whether Rodriguez had psychological problems when he robbed a bank, burglarized a pawn shop and stole some guns at age 22, or whether mental illness set in during the eight years he has spent in seclusion since trying to walk out of a federal penitentiary in Florida – it’s academic. What’s true now is that he’s sick, literally, of being alone, as are scores of other prisoners in extreme isolation.
at 10:55 AM
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
the Denver Post
Few events have shaped school discipline policies the way the 1999 Columbine High School massacre has — not just in Colorado but around the nation.
Zero tolerance became a catchphrase for "doing-everything-possible-to-make-sure-this-never-happens-again."
And we get that. Keeping children safe is the very least we should expect of our schools.
It has become apparent, however, that too many children are being suspended and expelled for mundane matters, and the system needs to recalibrate.
We are glad to see such an effort embodied in Senate Bill 46, a bipartisan measure in the state legislature that is the product of hours of meetings and input from educators.
The bill puts disciplinary flexibility where it belongs — with the districts. It boils zero tolerance down to its core, which is a prohibition on guns in schools.
It directs districts to create their own disciplinary codes, shaped to fit the students and issues that make each district unique. It encourages districts to limit out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. And it encourages the use of peer mediation and restorative justice.
Some, however, are concerned the bill would amount to another unfunded mandate. Costs are deeply concerning to many districts struggling to absorb funding cuts.
Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said that's why the bill emphasizes flexibility.
Beyond the three dozen Front Range school districts, the majority of the state's 178 districts are in rural areas. Restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm done, could take very different forms in rural and urban districts.
at 7:44 AM
Friday, January 20, 2012
The Denver Post
The Department of Corrections is transferring 321 inmates out of administrative segregation following a new directive by the department's executive director.
Executive Director Tom Clements acknowledged that the state's prisons relied too heavily on administrative segregation. He said one of the reasons it should be reduced is because 97 percent of all offenders will some day be released.
"Our efforts to ease an offender's transition from administrative segregation to eventual release into the community should also reduce recidivism," Clements said in a news release Friday.
Inmates are placed in administrative segregation, or 23-hour lock-down, when they violate prison rules by fighting, drug dealing or organizing gangs.
The reduction in administrative segregation was also called for following an independent analysis by the National Institute of Corrections, the U.S. Department of Justice and two national corrections experts.
"This is an excellent example of good government and how to tackle tough issues head on," Gov. John Hickenlooper said. "In these times of tight budgets, the department is doing a remarkable job of balancing costs with appropriate levels of security."
Last August, Clements began requiring that two prison administrators review all instances in which an offender was held for more than one year.
Of 870 cases that were reviewed, prison officials determined that 321 inmates or 37 percent should be moved out of segregation. The moves are still underway.
Administrative segregation keeps prisons safer, but Colorado prisons had become over-reliant on the tool, Clements said.
at 9:55 PM
The Denver Post
About 18 students bounced between nervousness and overwhelming excitement as they showed off their work during a biannual art show Thursday.
"It just lets you have fun. It makes you feel proud," said 10-year-old Noemi as she showed off her artwork: a pirate spaceship in which an alien travels the galaxies rescuing princesses.
The alien art projects encompasses the two features — academic and mental support — that make the Intensive Day School, a center program at Valdez Elementary, unique.
"They are using that as a vehicle to express their needs and their creativity. For instance, they are making pillows for their aliens, blankets and pets so they learn about different needs," said Sarah Hammer, a full-time social worker at the school. "They're not always used to getting positive attention, so it's a really good opportunity for them."
The program started when a coalition of four mental-health advocacy groups got together to fund six projects, including the Denver Public Schools program.
The program aims to keep students in grades two through six with severe mental or emotional issues in school, as opposed to sending them out of the district to receive mental care. This way, program organizers say, mental or emotional issues don't make learning take a back seat.
Noemi's mother, Gerylann, is thrilled by the progress her daughter has made since she entered the program three years ago. She now reads at a partially proficient level, up from being unsatisfactory before starting the program.
" She's learning to use skills for controlling her aggravation, and she's able to talk with other kids," Gerylann said. "It's her ability to have a life. She actually laughs and smiles now."
The coalition stopped funding the program two years ago, but DPS has managed to keep the program running.
at 7:25 AM
Thursday, January 19, 2012
From Jeralyn over at Talk Left:
The newly crowned Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler aka Ms. Wisconsin, has a special cause: Children of the Incarcerated. At one time, she was one. Check out her organization, Circles of Support.
As to her post-Miss America plans, her website says in addition to her mentoring work, she will pursue a degree in Family and Child Advocacy Law. She also owns a music studio and teaches voice and piano. For her talent competition, she performed (sang) Luigi Arditi's classical aria, Il Bacio. [More...]
at 4:01 PM
Saturday, January 14, 2012
The use of private prisons by states and the federal government continues to increase, yielding billions in annual revenues for two dominant companies in the industry -- despite a lack of solid research that America's experiment with for-profit incarceration actually saves taxpayers money in the long run.
A new report by The Sentencing Project, "Too Good to Be True: Private Prisons in America," delves into the history and growth of private prison operators and reaches some fairly bleak conclusions.
The industry is thriving: While the overall prison population grew by 17 percent in the last decade, the number of inmates shipped to private operations went up by 80 percent. Roughly one out of twelve state and federal prisoners is currently in a for-profit hoosegow, one probably operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group; the two companies control more than half the contracts.
Colorado has stashed about a fifth if its inmates in private prisons, such as CCA's Bent County Correctional Facility (scene of this "natural" death) and Crowley County Correctional Facility (target of a long-running lawsuit over a 2004 riot). But the state has become less reliant on the private companies to handle its overload in recent years as its overall inmate population has declined. The greatest growth area has been in contracts with the federal government, which has seen a whopping 784 percent surge in its use of the privateers since 1999, thanks largely to "War on Drugs" sentencing provisions and other legislation that has packed the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' existing facilities.
at 5:59 AM
Friday, January 13, 2012
• In 2010 seven states housed more than a quarter of their prison population in private facilities.
• Claims of private prisons' cost effectiveness are overstated and largely illusory.
• The services provided by private prisons are generally inferior to those found in publicly operated facilities.
• Private prison companies spend millions of dollars each year attempting to influence policy at the state and federal level.
at 8:22 AM
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Colorado Springs Independent
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream didn't include more black men being in prison than in college.
But nearly 50 years after his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, that's the reality.
In the past few decades, blacks and Hispanics have become grossly overrepresented in the nation's prison population. In fact, of the 2.3 million people incarcerated nationwide, 60 percent are black or Hispanic, according to The Sentencing Project, a national organization that advocates for system reform.
Black men today have a 1-in-3 likelihood of being incarcerated in state or federal prison in their lifetime, and Hispanics a 1-in-6 chance, compared with a 1-in-17 chance for white men. In Colorado, blacks are incarcerated at 6.6 times the rate of their white counterparts, and Hispanics at twice the rate.
Overall, blacks are arrested, imprisoned, denied early parole, re-arrested, and sent to death row at rates far greater than their representation in the population.
If he were alive today, King would speak out against such racial disparity, believes Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
"When you are incarcerating people disproportionately to their [population] numbers, there's nothing there that says 'civil rights,'" she says. "The criminal justice system is fraught with disproportionately."
El Paso County is no anomaly. The county jail historically has twice as many minorities as whites among its inmate population. And in 2010-2011, the daily average detention population in the Division of Youth Corrections for the 4th Judicial District, which includes El Paso and Teller counties, was 40 percent white, 28 percent black and 27 percent Hispanic.
Yet, El Paso County is 80 percent white, 6 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
Christie Donner, executive director of the Denver-based Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, has battled the trends of incarceration since 1999. Some prejudices are unintentional, she says. For example, a white person who shows up to court with an expensive lawyer, a suit and tie, and plenty of "Yes, sirs" and Yes, ma'ams" can make a different impression than a person of color who wears baggy jeans and doesn't speak politely, she says.
"Nobody ever says black people commit more crimes, but that's the subtext," Donner says. "And white people are not very comfortable with having this conversation."
Unconscious bias is common in the criminal justice system, believes local Judge Regina Walter.
"The system has been inherently biased," she says, "and for the most part, we've been completely unaware."
In 1995, eight years into serving the 4th Judicial District, Walter had an epiphany during a conference on disproportionate minority confinement. "I was convinced I treated everybody the same, based on race and ethnicity, but I didn't," says the judge.
Walter mistakenly had assumed that blacks charged with possession of crack cocaine were dealing drugs, so she didn't give them an opportunity for substance-abuse treatment.
Realizing that assumption was wrong, she formed the Minority Overrepresentation Committee of the 4th Judicial District's Best Practices Court. She also founded an annual Educating the Children of Color Summit; this year's all-day event is Jan. 28 at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It's free to high-schoolers, college students under 21 and students' parents. Professionals are charged $25, which funds scholarships. (To register, go to educatingchildrenofcolor.org.)
Recent changes across the nation to such sentencing laws should help rectify part of what Walter calls that "institutional racism." Some states require lawmakers considering new criminal justice policies to generate estimates of their racial impacts, similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements.
Several new Colorado laws could reduce minority overrepresentation, Donner says, including a 2010 drug sentencing reform bill that decreases sentences for low-level possession cases.
"My sense is that you're going to see a disproportionate enforcement of those laws against people of color," Donner says. "If we provide more funding for treatment, by reinvesting savings from the Department of Corrections, we may have better outcomes."
It's hard to say whether local efforts have had any impact, says Walter, who also provides diversity training and has spearheaded programs for high-risk youth to help keep them out of the "cradle-to-prison pipeline."
Lytle is pushing for an end to the death penalty, though her father was killed in Indiana at 46 in a robbery-gone-bad that remains unsolved. Forty-two percent of death-row inmates are black nationally, including all three of Colorado's current death-row inmates.
"There are pervasive race and class double-standards that are present in almost every criminal justice setting, from the way police behave to jury selection to sentencing," Lytle says. "That's not to say everyone is bad or racist. Whether intentional or unintentional, we've created second-class citizenship like our great-grandparents faced. This mantle is being reconstructed, and we have to be intentional about dismantling it."
at 8:28 PM
The Denver Post
Denver paid $1.34 million in 2011 to settle lawsuits that alleged police used excessive force, only the second year since 2004 that the total substantially topped $1 million.
Last year also accounted for the largest payout since 2004, when the city settled the fatal shooting of Paul Childs, a mentally disabled teen who died after confronting an office with a knife.
As in previous years when payments approached or topped $1 million, one case accounted for most of 2011's total settlement. The city paid $795,000 to Alexander Landau, an aspiring rapper/musician and college student who suffered brain injuries and trauma during a 2009 traffic stop for an illegal left turn.
It is often cheaper to settle the cases than take them to court, where it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay legal experts and other costs, even if the city wins, said City Attorney Doug Friednash.
"It's easy to look at these cases and try to make a media splash," he said. "In none of these cases do we admit liability. You have to look at the economics as a steward on behalf of the taxpayers."
The average amount paid per officer to settle cases in Denver per-year — $697 — is far lower than that spent by some other cities, Friednash said. He cited data that found Chicago averaged $2,930, New York $2,700, Los Angeles, $2,200, and Philadelphia, $1,360.
In Denver, the $1.325 million paid to Childs' estate accounted for the bulk of $1.778 million that excessive force suits cost the city in 2004.
Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado legal director, said the per-officer payouts minimize the true cost of excessive force by police.
"We can't let public officials minimize the expense of police brutality by by pointing to a lower per-officer cost than other cities," he said. "None of those dollar amounts factor in the real human cost. They leave behind a trail of bruised bodies, broken bones and shattered lives and you can't put a dollar amount on that."
at 8:02 PM
The Denver Post
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday renewed its call for a federal investigation of the 's use of force after outgoing law enforcement watchdog Richard Rosenthal said the department is incapable of investigating itself.
"We will be in communication" with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado.
Told of the ACLU's intentions Wednesday, Daelene Mix, spokeswoman for Denver Manager of Safety Alex Martinez, said in an e-mail: "Although the examples cited in Rosenthal's report do not support an investigation by the Department of Justice, the new Manager of Safety and new Chief of Police have always intended to assess and make appropriate changes in the police department, including internal affairs."
There is no guarantee the DOJ will launch an investigation, although Xochitl Hinojosa, spokeswoman for the Civil Rights Division, said the agency would review the requests.
In his last quarterly report before leaving the Office of Independent Monitor to set up a similar watchdog agency in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rosenthal said Internal Affairs Bureau investigators favor officers they investigate, in part by failing to ask obvious questions or request documents that will illuminate instances of alleged excessive force.
Martinez slammed the report, saying none of the points Rosenthal raised would have changed the outcome of any investigations. In response, Rosenthal said the DOJ should investigate the department, calling "deficiencies" in the bureau serious.
"I think Rosenthal finally said some things that we at the ACLU have been noticing for years," Silverstein said.
at 5:27 AM
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
The New York Times
IN 2010, the Chicago Public Schools declined to hire Darrell Langdon for a job as a boiler-room engineer, because he had been convicted of possessing a half-gram of cocaine in 1985, a felony for which he received probation. It didn’t matter that Mr. Langdon, a single parent of two sons, had been clean since 1988 and hadn’t run into further trouble with the law. Only after The Chicago Tribune wrote about his case did the school system reverse its decision and offer him the job.
The impact of these arrests is felt for years. The ubiquity of criminal-background checks and the efficiency of information technology in maintaining those records and making them widely available, have meant that millions of Americans — even those who served probation or parole but were never incarcerated — continue to pay a price long after the crime. In November the American Bar Association released a database identifying more than 38,000 punitive provisions that apply to people convicted of crimes, pertaining to everything from public housing to welfare assistance to occupational licenses. More than two-thirds of the states allow hiring and professional-licensing decisions to be made on the basis of an arrest alone.
Employers understandably want to protect their employees and customers from risk. Yet at the same time, there is a growing public interest in facilitating job opportunities for those who have stayed crime-free for a reasonable period of time. The weak economy and a rethinking of the logic of mass incarceration — driven in large part by budget pressures — have also brought attention to the situations of ex-offenders like Mr. Langdon, who face the collateral consequences of conviction long after their involvement with the criminal justice system has ended. Federal authorities are beginning to pay attention. Last April, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged state attorneys general to review laws and policies “to determine whether those that impose burdens on individuals convicted of crimes without increasing public safety should be eliminated.”
It is well established that the risk of recidivism drops steadily with time, but there is still the question of how long is long enough. By looking at data for more than 88,000 people who had their first arrest in New York State in 1980, and tracking their subsequent criminal histories over the next 25 years, we estimate the “redemption time” — the time it takes for an individual’s likelihood of being arrested to be close to that of individuals with no criminal records — to be about 10 to 13 years. We also found that about 30 percent of the first-time offenders in 1980 were never arrested again, in New York or anywhere else.
at 11:54 AM
The Digital Journal
More than 2,500 youth offenders serving life without parole sentences in United States adult prisons experience conditions violating basic human rights, including denied access to education, isolationism, rape, and assault, according to a new report.
eloquent testimony to the stunting and desperation felt by youth serving life without parole sentences.The new research reveals severe prison conditions - conditions HRW states “violate fundamental international human rights laws and standards” - youth offenders serving LWOP are facing. Often entering prison while still children, these offenders must cope with solitary confinement, increased risk of suicide, denied adequate mental health care, and the ever-present abuse. Some spend years with only fleeting human contact. Of the 560 youth offenders in 11 states contacted by HRW for the report, none had managed to avoid prison violence. HRW noted prison officials condoning such violence become part of the “serious human rights abuse” problem.
Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/317660#ixzz1j9h4MKBq
at 6:17 AM
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
We'd like to welcome back Michael Connelly (former blogmaster of Corrections Sentencing), his new blog is called Corrections Sentencing 2020. (round of applause). You can find Corrections Sentencing 2020 on our blogroll to the left.
Welcome to Our New Website and Home
Thank you for visiting our new website and home. We hope you will make it a regular stop, hopefully even bestow upon it that hallowed bookmark. As you will see from the What This Blog Is and What This Blog Is Not posts, we will take a proactive, futures approach to corrections and sentencing policy. The approach will perhaps seem confrontational because it rejects acceptance of the current status quo in the face of an arriving Perfect Storm of fiscal and environmental pressures that are already assaulting most state and local budgets and will continue to do so for years and years to come. We will provide you the latest research and news not only concerning corrections and sentencing but also concerning those fiscal and environment concerns, spiced by commentaries by us and the kind contributors we bring on board.
We refuse to be a gloom and doom site, though. We will be diligent about providing ideas and examples of ways to address the practical and the theoretical issues facing corrections and sentencing as they adjust to the unpredictably changing world evolving before us. We hope you will find us a useful and convenient site for information and options to deal with problems and issues that either don’t respond to the old practices or have never really been addressed before. If you are attuned to the world we’re facing but wary that you’ve been alone, you’re not, and we will do our best to make sure you aren’t disappointed whenever you visit. Even if you don’t accept part or all of what we’re talking about right now, we feel that the new realities hurtling down on all of us in corrections and sentencing will bring you back, whether you want to or not. Don’t worry. We’ll just be glad to see you again.
Our point is that the world of corrections and sentencing will dramatically change by 2020, even more and in different ways than it has changed in the last few years. It goes without saying that we can deal with that well or badly or somewhere in between, with precious public safety and scarce tax dollars in the balance. We vote for “well.” We think we have something to contribute to that, and what we can’t help with, we’ll find and get to you here as fast and as much as possible. We don’t have to take this swirling, disruptive future lying down.
We’ll look forward to seeing you here.
at 10:30 AM
Monday, January 09, 2012
The New York Times
The Supreme Court has not banned capital punishment, as it should, but it has long held that the death penalty is unconstitutional if randomly imposed on a handful of people. An important new study based on capital cases in Connecticut provides powerful evidence that death sentences are haphazardly meted out, with virtually no connection to the heinousness of the crime.
A number of studies in the last three decades have shown that black defendants are more likely to be sentenced to death if their victim is white rather than black. But defenders of capital punishment often respond to those studies by arguing that the “worst of the worst” are sentenced to death because their crimes are the most egregious.
The Connecticut study, conducted by John Donohue, a Stanford law professor, completely dispels this erroneous reasoning. It analyzed all murder cases in Connecticut over a 34-year period and found that inmates on death row are indistinguishable from equally violent offenders who escape that penalty. It shows that the process in Connecticut — similar to those in other death-penalty states — is utterly arbitrary and discriminatory.
From 1973, when Connecticut passed a death penalty law, to 2007, 4,686 murders were committed in the state. Of those, 205 were death-eligible cases (capital murders that include the killing of a police officer, murder for hire, murder-rape and murder committed during a kidnapping) that resulted in some kind of conviction, either through a plea bargain or conviction at trial. The arbitrariness started at the charging level: nearly a third of these death-eligible cases were not charged as capital offenses as they could have been, but as lesser crimes. Sixty-six defendants were convicted of capital murder, 29 went to a hearing for a death sentence, nine death sentences were sustained and one person was executed.
Why was this small group of defendants singled out for death? Did their crimes make them more deserving of execution than all the others?
To get answers, Professor Donohue designed an “egregiousness” ratings system to compare all 205 cases. It considered four factors: victim suffering (like duration of pain); victim characteristics (like age, vulnerability); defendant’s culpability (motive, intoxication or premeditation); and the number of victims. He enlisted students from two law schools to rate each case (based on fact summaries without revealing the case’s outcome or the race of the defendant or victim) on a scale from 1 to 3 (most egregious) for each of the four factors. The raters also gave each case an overall subjective assessment of egregiousness, from 1 (low) to 5 (high), to ensure that more general reactions could be captured.
The egregiousness scores for those charged with capital murder and those who were not were virtually identical; the nature of the crime bore almost no relationship to how the case came out. Among the 29 who had a death penalty hearing, there is no clear difference in the level of egregiousness for the 17 who got life without parole and the 12 sentenced to death (three eventually had their sentences vacated for various reasons). Among the 32 most awful cases on the four-factor egregiousness scale, only one resulted in a death sentence.READ MORE
at 5:34 AM
Sunday, January 08, 2012
The Denver Post
Ronald Sena's troubles started with heroin, which led him to thievery and shoplifting and larceny, which led him to prison. He was 19 the first time he went in. For much of the next 20 years, he made regular use of the revolving door, accumulating a lengthy record of nonviolent crime.
That was all many years ago, but I'm laying it out first because Sena's past refuses to stay in his past and because his terrible choices will be all that matters to some readers, so I'll save them the trouble of reading further.
By 1994, Sena was a free man in the workforce. He worked continuously for the next 14 years — most of that for a cardboard-box manufacturer. He became Joe Taxpayer, drug-free, with a car and a bank account and health insurance. He screwed up twice in recent years with two arrests for drunken driving. One he disputes; the other he admits. The charges were reduced in both instances, and he pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired.
To simplify: Sena spent almost 20 years in and out of jail, followed by almost 20 years of uninterrupted employment.
On Dec. 30, 2008, he was laid off. He's hasn't been able to find steady work since. He's 58. "How much consideration does an ex-con, an old ex-con, get?" Sena asks. "Zero."
This is not an unusual story. Especially not in this job market. An employer who can choose between a convicted felon and someone with a clean record is going to pick the clean record. That's just reality.
"When I last left prison, the associate warden came up, and he handed all of us parolees $100 each and a bus ticket, and he shook our hand and said, 'You've paid your debt to society,' " Sena says. "Well, that was a lie. I'm 20 years out and I'm still paying."
No matter what you think of Sena, he raises a point applicable to all who served their time. (And I have a cousin among them.) When is a debt repaid? How long out of prison is long enough?
"The haters out there are going to say, 'It's your fault you're in this situation.' Well, they're right," Sena says. "It is. I admit that. I should get the least consideration of everyone in society. That being said, then what? What am I supposed to do now?"
He collected unemployment and then fell ill, racking up more than $40,000 in medical bills he cannot pay. Thanks to his mother and siblings, he's not on the street. "I'll tell you how it goes," Sena says. "You lose your job, then your possessions, then your money, then your clothes. As you see, I'm on the last chapter."
What I see is a thin man, neatly dressed and clearly desperate. In our first telephone conversation, he told me he was thinking of committing a nonviolent crime to go back to prison. His voice was shaking. Bad idea, I said.
Bad idea, says Hassan Latif. Latif is a Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition board member and a case manager for Turnabout Inc., which helps ex-offenders find work. He's also an ex-con, on his seventh year out. He says Turnabout has been averaging 950 visits a month from ex-offenders, most of them living in halfway houses or still on probation or parole.
"There's actually a term to describe this situation," he says. " 'Collateral consequences.' It's the impact a criminal history has on people seeking employment. . . . What you are hearing from (Sena) is something we hear frequently. 'Just take me back.' But that's not a solution. They have to come back out eventually, and it's not like the situation will be that much different."
at 9:25 AM
The Denver Post
More than 500 people were wrongly imprisoned in Denver's jails over seven years, with some spending weeks incarcerated or pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit before authorities realized they nabbed the wrong person, a federal court filing shows.
Civil-rights lawyers suing the city and county of Denver assert the documented mistaken-identity arrests "are the tip of the iceberg" and are an undercount of the true magnitude of the problem.
In one case a black man spent nine days in jail after he was arrested on a warrant for a white man wanted on a sex-crimes arrest warrant.
In another, authorities arrested an 18- year-old when they were searching for a man 30 years older.
A white man was hauled in even when the suspect actually was an American Indian who was nearly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. He wasn't released until almost a month had passed and not until the victim of the crime alerted authorities at a court hearing that they had the wrong suspect.
Another man was jailed twice on a warrant for second-degree burglary and sexual assault even though his tattoos didn't match the real suspect's, described in the arrest warrant.
"I missed five full days of work and lost five days of wages due to my first mistaken- identity arrest," Carlos Alberto Hernandez, now 34, stated in a declaration filed with the court.
"I also lived in fear that I was going to be terminated from my employer due to the missed work and the accusations about the sexual assault charges. I had problems and numerous arguments with my girlfriend because of the accusation that I was guilty of sexual assault and a sex offender."
City officials say the documented mistakes make up a fraction of the more than 33,000 inmates incarcerated at the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Facility last year. They say they strive to avoid detaining the wrong suspects but concede that mistakes do happen.
"The best we can do is set up processes so these get addressed immediately, and that's what we've done," said Denver police Lt. Matt Murray.
The mistaken-identity arrests are detailed in a 216-page motion filed at the U.S. District Court in Denver by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
Motion blasts lax tracking system
The wrongful arrests in Denver occurred for a variety of reasons. Often those wrongly held had the same names as criminals, but authorities failed to check their dates of birth. Some were wrongly arrested because their identities had been stolen. In other cases, the last name matched but not the first or middle.
at 7:20 AM
Wednesday, January 04, 2012
The Denver Post
LAS ANIMAS — What if the most dire predictions prove true? What if closing the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility prompts 10 percent of Bent County's workforce to move, triggering an economic tsunami in the Arkansas River Valley?
Cindy Miller, a corrections officer at the prison facing $1,000-a-month gasoline bills for her and her husband to transfer to new jobs at a different prison, ponders the questions for a minute, then reluctantly answers.
"Go on welfare, I guess."
Moving people from jobs to handouts does not seem like a rational way to balance the budget, and it is not what the Department of Corrections and Gov. John Hickenlooper had in mind when they chose to save a projected $6 million a year by closing the prison.
But by picking Fort Lyon, here in the southeastern corner of the state, rather than further cutting costs in a more-populated area better able to handle the job losses, that may be the result.
"If we were to lose 200 jobs from the Denver area, or even Cañon City area, they could absorb those losses much better than we can," said Sgt. Chris Newman, a 12-year DOC employee whose 12-minute commute is becoming an hour each way as he transfers to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway.
The loss of roughly 200 good jobs here equates to erasing as much as 25 percent of the take-home pay in a county where about 35 percent of the 6,500 residents already live in poverty.
at 5:49 AM
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
At first glance, his home looks like your typical high-tech bachelor pad. In the living room he’s got a huge, flat-screen Sony TV with Bose surround-sound speakers and a bookcase of DVDs, including the entire set of Police Academy movies. He can’t get enough of the farcical cop flicks. His home-office desk features a massive computer monitor with an icon for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops. But then you look around and see that next to the desk there’s another monitor, this one featuring a multiscreen display of real-time surveillance from 11 cameras strategically positioned on the roof and around the perimeter of the property. Then there’s that six-foot-high white fence—a steel, electric gate—and his two rottweilers, Ike and Tina. The place is more like a fortress that helps keep the world at a distance.
Tim Masters, who seems closer to 30 years old than his chronological age of 40, is wearing faded jeans, a blue T-shirt, and well-worn, white running shoes. He has a reddish-brown mustache and a carefully groomed beard. His blue eyes convey an intense attention to detail as he talks about the treachery and turning points that have shaped his life since that morning nearly 25 years ago when he stumbled upon a corpse and became a suspect. The stigma hovered over him during high school and through an eight-year stint in the Navy. It peaked with his arrest in 1998 and his conviction for first-degree murder. It took everything he had to keep his spirit from folding into itself during the decade-long legal battle that ultimately won his release from prison. The events surrounding the case tore apart a town and challenged people’s perceptions of right and wrong, truth and justice, and who, really, were the good guys and the bad guys.
Now, on a clear, late winter morning in 2011, Masters sits with his shoulders pressed against the high back of a worn beige couch in the old farmhouse he bought in rural Greeley, Colorado. With the millions he received in the settlement from the people who locked him away, he could afford a more modern place in a fancier part of town, but he feels comfortable here. It is out of the way. The neighbors don’t pry. He can work on his cars in the driveway. “I don’t really have a routine these days,” Masters says. “I’ve been doing a lot of work on the house, renovating the bathrooms and the utility room, sanding drywall, retiling floors, putting in new cabinets and counters, and doing trim work. Fixing up the house is therapeutic.” He sips at a cup of coffee and glances toward the security feeds. READ MORE
at 10:18 AM
Sunday, January 01, 2012
Alger thinks outside the prison boxMUNISING -- More than 400 miles from Detroit, Alger Correctional Facility is one of those prisons "across the bridge" many inmates dread because its remote location often means few or no visits from friends and family. It's also a prison with 176 segregation cells in two housing units named -- God knows why -- "Aspen" and "Birch." Even by prison standards, segregation is a different world, completely locked down. Inmates were, by protocol, handcuffed or put in a cage called an interview module while I spoke to them.
To its credit, Corrections is trying to reduce the use of segregation, where inmates do time alone in an 8-foot-by-10-foot cell, instead of being double-bunked. Segregation costs nearly double the $33,000 a year the state typically pays to incarcerate each prisoner. More important, MDOC administrators understand that isolating inmates who have nothing to do is no way to equip them for life after prison. Bad things can happen in seg in almost total secrecy, especially to mentally ill prisoners.
In July 2009, Alger employees, led by Warden Catherine Bauman and Assistant Deputy Warden Lyle Rutter, started an "Incentives in Segregation" pilot project to reward positive behavior. The program has cut down on major misconducts and so-called critical incidents in segregation, including cell damage, by more than half. It has also reduced days in segregation by possibly 10%.
"When you start re-enforcing positive behavior, (prisoners) have something to lose," Bauman said. "It's made a safer environment for staff and prisoners."
Bauman credits the new program with helping Alger to convert one of its segregation units into double-bunk housing two years ago, and for encouraging her officers to interact more with inmates.
"It empowers me to do my job," said Officer Tracy Berg, who now helps train staff at other prisons.
Segregation, by the numbersNearly 1,000 Michigan inmates are under administrative segregation, the highest and most restrictive custody level. With space for 44,200 inmates, MDOC has 1,126 administrative segregation cells, plus 542 punitive detention and temporary holding cells. Most of the state's 32 prisons have segregation cells.
International treaty bodies and human rights experts, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, have denounced the widespread and, in some states, growing use of segregation cells. Inmates are isolated from programs, treatment and other people, and restricted to their cells for 23 hours a day. They are handcuffed when they leave their cells, eat off serving trays pushed through the slots of steel doors, and generally lack the few privileges they get in the general population, such as telephone calls, contact visits and television. At least 17% of the state's inmates are mentally ill, but Corrections officials acknowledge that the share of such inmates in segregation is probably significantly higher.
It was in segregation -- a holding cell -- that Timothy Joe Souders, a 21-year-old mentally ill inmate died of heat and thirst in 2006, after spending most of his last four days strapped down, naked and soaked in his own urine. In a segregation cell since August at Marquette Branch Prison, another mentally ill inmate, Kevin DeMott, 19, has received misconduct tickets for trying to hurt and even kill himself. DeMott cut himself and tried to make a noose out of a blanket, his mother, Lois DeMott of Lansing, told me this week. She's the co-founder of Citizens for Prison Reform.
In 2008, Corrections started requiring wardens to interview segregation inmates every six months. The department also ordered regional administrators to interview prisoners in long-term segregation. From August 2008 to August 2011, the number of Michigan prisoners in administrative segregation dropped from 1,275 to 964.
"We've focused on getting to know who's in administrative segregation, how long they've been there and why -- and making an effort to get these folks out," Russ Marlan, administrator of MDOC's executive bureau, told me.
Support from officersAt Alger, veteran corrections officers such as Berg, Randy Ollis and shift commander Kevin Taskila were at first skeptical of the incentives program, but have become big supporters. Segregation units at Alger have become quieter and calmer. "I'll be honest -- at first it seemed soft," Ollis said. "But I've worked in segregation for 16 years, and I can tell you this works."
Before returning to the general population, segregation inmates work through six stages, usually within two to 12 months. Each stage requires tasks and grants privileges. At Stage 2, for example, prisoners must explain why they are in segregation and what they need to do to get out. They also can use library services and get some recreation time. At Stage 4, inmates can use a personal television and also get one 15-minute phone call a month, while performing jobs such as cleaning cells and tutoring other prisoners. Stage 5 requires prisoners to work in a journaling program, and allows them two 15-minute telephone calls a month. Other incentives include photo tickets; ordering food items from the prison store, and getting a personal cup.
"Getting some incentives breaks up your time and gives you a chance to work for something," said inmate Patrick Thomas, 44, of Detroit, who has spent five months in seg for possessing a shank. "You can go stir crazy just sitting in a cell."
Dustin Watters, 26, of Howell, landed in seg after officers found a razor in his mattress. Watters has done well, nearly completing the six stages and working as a porter. "It's shown me that if I do good, positive things will happen," he said.
Not all inmates in seg feel the same. As I walked through a unit, several inmates shouted derogatory comments about the program. Speaking through a bolted door, one inmate told me incentives do nothing to reduce seg time and that officers sometimes abuse their authority in controlling who moves up. Staff members meet weekly to determine when a prisoner graduates to the next stage.
Former MDOC prisoner Peter Martel -- now a law student and program associate for the American Friends Service Committee in Ann Arbor -- said officers' discretion can pose particular problems at UP prisons like Alger, where 70% of the inmates are African American and staffs are practically all white. Alger has no African-American officers. Martel spent 10 years in segregation from 1995 to 2005, following an attempted prison escape.
The Alger program expanded in 2009 to Baraga Correctional Facility, which converted one of its four segregation units in 2011. Ionia Correctional Facility and Marquette Branch prison have also adopted the program, as will Bellamy Creek. Other states, including Ohio, Maine, California, Colorado and New York, have requested information on Alger's incentive program.
at 8:00 AM