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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Children in Greeley Hit Hardest In Raids

GREELEY — A study released today on the effects of immigration work-site raids on children says that this northern Colorado community was the most deeply affected of the three communities examined.

The National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute commissioned the report on communities that experienced large-scale work site raids within the past year: Greeley, Grand Island, Neb., and New Bedford, Mass.

In Greeley, three children for every four adults taken into custody were affected by the raid on the Swift & Co. meat-processing plant Dec. 12.

A total of 201 children had at least one parent who were arrested. In all, there were more than a dozen pregnant women taken into custody.

Marina, a Guatemalan native who declined to give her last name because she is undocumented, was one of them.

She was seven months pregnant when she was arrested. She was released the same day, but her court hearing isn't until Oct. 4, 2008. She awaits her fate, and that of her 6-month-old U.S.-born son.

"I am still afraid to go out," she said, crying, as she recalled the morning she was taken to a detention center in Aurora.

Rocky Mountain News

Pot Passed in Seattle...And It Made A Difference

Denver voters are deciding on an initiative that says marijuana should be the city's "lowest law-enforcement priority."

To find out how the law works, Denver can look to Seattle, where an 11- member panel began reviewing marijuana incidents in 2003 to see whether police and prosecutors were pursuing cases against adults who possessed small amounts of marijuana.

Seattle City Attorney Thomas Carr, who says he is required to sit on the panel, says he hopes Denver doesn't pass the initiative.

"The panel is slanted toward proponents of the law," Carr said. "It does not work all that well. We get yelled at a lot by people in the room. Telling police and prosecutors to look the other way on a crime is really bad policy."

Dominic Holden, a community representative on Seattle's panel, says that citations and prosecutions for marijuana-related incidents declined by 50 percent a year after the initiative passed.

"The law does not tell police to ignore state or federal law," he said. "It simply tells them where on the schedule of priorities these arrests fall."

Although the committee cannot agree on why the numbers of marijuana arrests and prosecutions are down in Seattle, city officials have sent a letter to Denver endorsing the law as safe, effective and inexpensive.

The Seattle group also found no evidence of an increase in marijuana use among young people, crime or adverse effects on public health.

Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, spokeswoman for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, said that marijuana-possession cases already are a low law-enforcement priority.

"It isn't something police specifically target for enforcement or to which they deploy significant resources," she wrote in an e-mail. "Generally, when a person is charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana - as the state law requires - it is because the marijuana was uncovered by police during the course of investigating another crime."

In 2004, Seattle police officers were told during roll call that marijuana incidents would be their lowest priority.

But Denver police Sgt. Ernie Martinez says he's not going to direct officers to stop arresting drug users.

"Our official response is to continue to enforce marijuana laws," Martinez said. "It's still illegal in the state statues and federal statutes."

That philosophy is the reason why marijuana proponents felt the need to draft an initiative in Denver.

Absent From Duty ....Me

I have been away from the computer for a couple of days.
Some stuff is just unavoidable....Thank you for your patience.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oklahoma Prisoners Sue To Come Back To Colorado

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Nearly 400 Colorado inmates being held at a Sayre, Okla., private prison have sued their prison warden in an attempt to return to Colorado.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this year, 34-year-old inmate Jeremy G. Gardner, a convicted thief, argues because his crime was committed in Colorado and he was convicted in Colorado, he should be imprisoned in Colorado.

According to Beckham County, Okla., District Court records, at least 380 Colorado inmates have joined in his lawsuit against North Fork Correctional Facility Warden Fred Figueroa, filing nearly identical complaints with the county court between May 14 and Oct. 19.

Colorado transferred 480 inmates, including Grand Junction man Stephen Dallas Peck, to the private prison in December 2006 and January 2007. Inmates’ families have since complained that the move was not only unfair but also hindered their abilities to help rehabilitate their relatives.

Peck’s complaint, which mirrors that of his peers, argued he has committed no crimes in Oklahoma; therefore, he “has been deprived of all constitutional due process rights.”

Peck argues that the contract the Colorado Department of Corrections entered into with the Corrections Corporation of America is illegal, and therefore moot.

“(Figueroa) should be ordered to release the petitioner … due to his complete lack of authority to detain him,” Peck’s complaint states.

Officials from the North Fork Correctional Facility could not be reached for comment last week.

Beckham County Associate District Judge Doug Haught consolidated the inmates’ cases last week into a single case, “because the petitioners are located at the same confinement facility, and because of the similarity of claims, the court finds that consolidation is appropriate.”

Colorado Department of Corrections Director Ari Zavaras, Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, are scheduled to visit the Oklahoma prison today and Monday.

King and McFadyen have expressed interest in bringing Peck and his peer inmates home to Colorado.

“With proper oversight, a private prison is a way of leveraging tax dollars, a way of having adequate bed space and so forth,” King said. “From a policy standpoint, that adequate supervision part, in my mind, means that those prisons are in Colorado, not in Oklahoma.”

The Sentinel

Friday, October 26, 2007

Genarlow Wilson Freed

FORSYTH, Ga. — Genarlow Wilson walked out of prison a free man today, ending a case that drew national umbrage over a state law that mandated a long jail term after the youth was convicted of having had sex with another teen.

Wilson was released about 5:30 p.m. from the Burruss Correctional Training Facility in this Monroe County city, hours after the Georgia Supreme Court tossed out his 10-year sentence for having had consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17.

Emerging into a cool, sunny afternoon —a perfect Georgia autumn day — and escorted by two guards, Wilson came down his path with his hands in his pockets.

The 21-year-old former inmate broke into a wide grin when he saw his his mother Juannessa Bennett, 9-year-old sister Jiaya — who was 4 when the man's ordeal began — and their attorney, B.J. Bernstein. He hugged his mother, picked up his sister and carried her to a podium set up for the news media.

"It feels great," Wilson said. "After today, I believe in the justice system."

Wilson has served 2 years 8 months of a 10-year sentence. He was convicted in February 2005 of aggravated child molestation, a crime that carried a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years with no parole. The law was changed in 2006 to make Wilson's crime a misdemeanor with a maximum 1-year sentence when it involved teenagers within certain age ranges.

Wilson told reporters he was glad he did not accept a plea deal, as his accomplices did, because he would then have been designated a sex offender for the rest of his life.

"I wouldn't be able to be here near my beautiful sister," he said, gesturing to Jiaya.

Wilson said he spent most of his time while incarcerated reading the Bible and books about patience. He first heard he might soon be free this morning, when someone told him he had heard the news on the radio.

"I was in disbelief. I was waiting to see for myself," he said.

Asked about what happened to him in prison, Wilson said, "For the most part, I've matured. This is no place I'd ever want to come to again."

Asked by reporters what he planned to do now, Wilson replied, "First thing I'll do is, I'm going to get some rest."

Then, he added, he wants to get back to school. A high school graduate, his goal of attending college was cut short by prison.

Asked if there would be a welcome home party, he said to the laughter of everyone present, "There's not going to be any more parties for a while."

"I know he's learned a lot," his mother said. Asked what she would do now for her son, she said, "I've got some more meat on those bones."

"We are all thrilled for this day," Bernstein later told reporters. "This is never going to happen again in Georgia. We are so grateful.... The system does work, and the Georgia Supreme Court came through today."

"There were definitely some things that went wrong that night," Bernstein said, referring to the 2003 New Year's Eve party in Douglasville where the tragedy began. "I want Genarlow's story to be a warning to other young people."

"This is an awakening for parents with teenagers. You have to have that conversation with your teenager."

The Supreme Court ruling caught Wilson, his family and their attorney by surprise. The first word anyone had was when the Clerk of the Court's office called Bernstein this morning to tell her she a 48-page document was being faxed to her.

"My stomach just paused," Bernstein said.

The lawyer then read the court's 4-3 decision upholding a Monroe County judge's ruling that Wilson's sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment under both the Georgia and U.S. constitutions.

The majority opinion said the sentence appeared to be "grossly disproportionate" to the crime and noted that it was out of step with current law.

Bernstein called her client's mother, she gathered up her daughter, and the three of them set out for the long drive to Forsyth — a trip delayed by heavy traffic headed south of town to the Atlanta Motor Speedway as well as the usual Friday evening crush.

Wilson, meanwhile, ate his last prison meal — a lunch that included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a bologna and cheese sandwich.

After arriving at the prison about 5:15 p.m., Bernstein, Bennett and Jiaya quickly walked inside, escorted by prison officials. When reporters gathered nearby called out, Jiaya turned and smiled at the crowd.

Prison officials passed along clothes Bernstein had carried around in her car for a year in anticipation of the day he won his freedom: a Ralph Lauren long-sleved checked shirt, navy pants and Cole Hahn shoes. Wilson was wearing them when he emerged.

"I'd like for people to learn from my situation .... just to know a few miniutes of fun could be a lifetime of hard times," Wilson said.

"It's a whole new beginning. All I can do is start from today."

The Supreme Court on Friday morning ordered Wilson's release, voiding the controversial 10-year sentence he was serving for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. He is now 21.

Wilson was convicted in February 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with the girl at a 2003 New Year's Eve party in a hotel room.

The crime carried a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years with no parole. But the law was changed in 2006 to make Wilson's crime a misdemeanor with a maximum 1-year sentence when it involved teenagers within certain age ranges.

That fueled Wilson's legal appeal on grounds that he'd been unfairly sentenced under a law aimed at older offenders.

"Although society has a significant interest in protecting children from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson's crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children ..." wrote Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears in the majority opinion.

She said that "for the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly disproportionate to his crime."

Justice George Carley, in the dissent, said the 2006 change in the law was specifically written so it would not be retroactive. He said "the General Assembly made the express decision that he cannot benefit from the subsequent legislative determination to reduce the sentence for commission of that crime from felony to misdemeanor status."

Carley said the majority opinion showed "unprecedented disregard" for the legislative intent of the law change and creates the potential for releases of "any and all defendants who were ever convicted of aggravated child molestation and sentenced" under circumstances similar to Wilson's.

Wilson's lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, said earlier Friday that she was elated by the ruling.

"We never turned away from the courts," she said. "The Supreme Court issued a wonderful and just decision. We had faith in this all along -- although it took a little longer than we thought it would."

She said Wilson, once released, will do all he can to encourage teenagers to do the right thing.

"Genarlow is going to be committed to talking and working with young people to spread the message that he made a mistake that night and doesn't want it to happen to anyone else," he lawyer said.

In a statement issued Friday, Attorney General Thurbert Baker said he will "respectfully acknowledge" the state Supreme Court's decision.

"I hope the court's decision will also put an end to this issue as a matter of contention in the hearts and minds of concerned Georgians and others across the country who have taken such a strong interest in the case," Baker said.

Baker's office had appealed the ruling by the Monroe County Superior Court judge who overturned Wilson's felony conviction last summer and reduced it to a misdemeanor. That judge's ruling to resentence Wilson to a misdemeanor, "however well-meaning, was unauthorized under Georgia law," Baker said. "It was for this reason that I appealed, in order to (ensure) a fair and consistent application of the law, not just to Mr. Wilson, but to others similarly situated."

In its majority opinion, the state Supreme Court acknowledged that it rarely overturns sentences on grounds that they are cruel and unusual. But the court also noted it has done so twice before following legislative changes. It also said a review of other states showed that most "either would not punish Wilson's conduct at all or would, like Georgia now, punish it as a misdemeanor."

Wilson's case has drawn national attention.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Atlanta) said Friday that the state high court "righted a great wrong, an unbelievable wrong. This young man, each day he stayed in prison, was a day too long."

Lewis said he visited Wilson in prison a few months ago. "His head was on straight. He's smart. He realized he had made mistakes. He said, 'Congressman, I'm a good person. I want to get out and make a contribution.'"

Lewis said he will do all he can to make good on a promise to help Wilson after his release from prison.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and four state legislators held a press conference at the state Capitol on Friday, at which Jackson called for an end to "over-prosecution" of young black men. "Genarlow is a symbol of a a system that's out of control," he said. "We need oversight for prosecutors who abuse their position."

"It looks like we may be near the end for Genarlow, but let me emphasize there are a thousand -- ten thousand -- Genarlows," said state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).

Said state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell): "I'm proud to say that the stain that was on the state of Georgia has been somewhat removed."

Jackson said a service is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ebenezer Baptist Church to celebrate Wilson's release. He also said that his organization, Rainbow/PUSH, will contribute $5,000 to a college scholarship fund for Wilson already started by African-American members of the Legislature. "We want schools to bid to offer him scholarships," Jackson said.

Wilson was arrested following a party also attended by five other male youths. His sex act with the 15-year-old girl was videotaped by one of his friends.

Wilson was also charged with raping a 17-year-old girl at the party but was acquitted of that charge.

Several months after he was convicted of aggravated child molestation, a felony, and given the mandatory 10-year term, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation making consensual sex a misdemeanor between teenagers who were as close in age as Wilson and the 15-year-old.

The Monroe County judge's decision came last June, and the state's appeal by Baker sent the case to the Supreme Court.

Also last summer, Douglas County District Attorney David McDade offered Wilson's attorneys a deal in which he could plead guilty to another felony and get a sentence including 5 years of jail time with credit for two years served. Wilson and his lawyers rejected the deal.

Joining Sears in the majority decision were justices Carol Hunstein, Robert Benham and Hugh Thompson. Joining Carley in the dissent were justices Harris Hines and Harold Melton.

Atlantic Constitution

America Incarcerated

America Incarcerated

By Glenn C. Loury, from the Boston Review

The early 1990s were the age of drive-by shootings, drug deals gone bad, crack cocaine, and gangsta rap. Between 1960 and 1990, the annual number of murders in New Haven, Connecticut, rose from 6 to 31, the number of rapes from 4 to 168, the number of robberies from 16 to 1,784—all this while the city’s population declined by 14 percent. Crime was concentrated in central cities: In 1990 two-fifths of Pennsylvania’s violent crimes were committed in Philadelphia, home to one-seventh of the state’s population. The subject of crime dominated American domestic-policy debates.

Most observers at the time expected things to get worse. Consulting demographic tables and extrapolating trends, scholars and pundits warned the public to prepare for an onslaught, and for a new kind of criminal—the anomic, vicious, irreligious, amoral juvenile “superpredator.” In 1995 one academic commentator predicted a “bloodbath” of juvenile violence in 2005.

And so we prepared. Stoked by fear and political opportunism, but also by the need to address a very real social problem, we threw lots of people in jail, and when the old prisons were filled we built new ones.

But the onslaught never came. Crime rates peaked in 1992 and have dropped sharply since. Even as crime rates fell, however, imprisonment rates continued their upward march. The result, the current American prison system, is a leviathan unmatched in human history.

According to a 2005 report of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States—with 5 percent of the world’s population—houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40 percent greater than those of our nearest competitors (Bermuda, Belarus, and Russia). Other industrial democracies, even those with significant crime problems of their own, are much less punitive: Our incarceration rate is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, and 12.3 times that of Japan. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined workforces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.

Never before has a supposedly free country denied basic liberty to so many of its citizens. In June 2006 some 2.25 million people were being held in the nearly 5,000 prisons and jails that are scattered across America’s urban and rural landscapes. One-third of inmates in state prisons are violent criminals, convicted of homicide, rape, or robbery. The other two-thirds consist mainly of property and drug offenders. Inmates are disproportionately drawn from the most disadvantaged parts of society. On average, state inmates have fewer than 11 years of schooling. They are also vastly disproportionately black and brown.

How did it come to this? One argument is that the massive increase in incarceration reflects the success of a rational public policy: Faced with a compelling social problem, we responded by imprisoning people and succeeded in lowering crime rates. This argument is not entirely misguided. Increased incarceration does appear to have reduced crime somewhat. But by how much? Estimates of the share of the 1990s reduction in violent crime that can be attributed to the prison boom range from 5 percent to 25 percent. Whatever the number, analysts of all political stripes now agree that we have long ago entered the zone of diminishing returns. The conservative scholar John DiIulio, who coined the term superpredator in the mid-1990s, was by the end of that decade declaring in a Wall Street Journal headline that “Two Million Prisoners Are Enough.” But there was no political movement for getting America out of the mass-incarceration business. The throttle was stuck.

A more convincing argument is that imprisonment rates have continued to rise while crime rates have fallen because we have become progressively more punitive: not because crime has continued to explode (it hasn’t), not because we made smart policy choices, but because we have made a collective decision to increase the rate of punishment.

One simple measure of punitiveness is the likelihood that a person who is arrested will be subsequently incarcerated. Between 1980 and 2001 there was no real change in the chances of being arrested in response to a complaint: The rate was just under 50 percent. But the likelihood that an arrest would result in imprisonment more than doubled, from 13 to 28 percent. And because the amount of time served and the rate of prison admission both increased, the incarceration rate for violent crime almost tripled, despite the decline in the level of violence.

The incarceration rate for nonviolent and drug offenses increased at an even faster pace: Between 1980 and 2001 the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses tripled, and the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses increased by a factor of 11. Indeed, the criminal-justice researcher Alfred Blumstein has argued that none of the growth in incarceration between 1980 and 1996 can be attributed to more crime:

The growth was entirely attributable to a growth in punitiveness, about equally to growth in prison commitments per arrest (an indication of tougher prosecution or judicial sentencing) and to longer time served (an indication of longer sentences, elimination of parole or later parole release, or greater readiness to recommit parolees to prison for either technical violations or new crimes).

This growth in punitiveness was accompanied by a shift in thinking about the basic purpose of criminal justice. Until the 1970s, the sociologist David Garland argues, the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. Since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment and stayed there. Felons are no longer persons to be supported, but risks to be dealt with. And the way to deal with the risks is to keep them locked up. As of 2000, 33 states had abolished limited parole (up from 17 in 1980); 24 states had introduced three-strikes laws (up from zero); and 40 states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from 3). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.

This new system of punitive ideas is aided by a new relationship between the media, the politicians, and the public. A handful of cases in which a predator does an awful thing to an innocent get excessive media attention and engender public outrage. This attention typically bears no relation to the frequency of the particular type of crime, yet laws—such as three-strikes laws that can give mandatory life sentences to nonviolent drug offenders—and political careers are made on the basis of the public’s reaction to media coverage of such crimes.

Despite a sharp national decline in crime, American criminal justice has become crueler and less caring than it has been at any other time in our modern history. Why?

The question has no simple answer, but the racial composition of prisons is a good place to start. The punitive turn in the nation’s social policy—intimately connected with public rhetoric about responsibility, dependency, social hygiene, and the reclamation of public order—can be fully grasped only when it is viewed against the backdrop of America’s often ugly and violent racial history. There is a reason why our inclination toward forgiveness and the extension of a second chance to those who have violated our behavioral strictures is so stunted, and why our mainstream political discourses are so bereft of self-examination and searching social criticism.

This historical resonance between the stigma of race and the stigma of imprisonment serves to keep alive in our public culture the subordinating social meanings that have always been associated with blackness. Race helps to explain why the United States is exceptional among the democratic industrial societies in the severity and extent of its punitive policy and in the paucity of its social-welfare institutions.

Slavery ended a long time ago, but the institution of chattel slavery and the ideology of racial subordination that accompanied it have cast a long shadow. I speak here of the history of lynching throughout the country; the racially biased policing and judging in the South under Jim Crow and in the cities of the Northeast, Midwest, and West to which blacks migrated after the First and Second World Wars; and the history of racial apartheid that ended only as a matter of law with the civil rights movement. It should come as no surprise that in the post–civil rights era, race, far from being peripheral, has been central to the evolution of American social policy.

The political scientist Vesla Mae Weaver, in a recently completed dissertation, examines policy history, public opinion, and media processes in an attempt to understand the role of race in this historic transformation of criminal justice. She argues—persuasively, I think—that the punitive turn represented a political response to the success of the civil rights movement. Weaver describes a process of “frontlash” in which opponents of the civil rights revolution sought to regain the upper hand by shifting to a new issue. Rather than reacting directly to civil rights developments, and thus continuing to fight a battle they had lost, those opponents (consider George Wallace’s campaigns for the presidency, which drew so much support in states like Michigan and Wisconsin) shifted attention to a seemingly race-neutral concern over crime:

Once the clutch of Jim Crow had loosened, opponents of civil rights shifted the “locus of attack” by injecting crime onto the agenda. Through the process of frontlash, rivals of civil rights progress defined racial discord as criminal and argued that crime legislation would be a panacea to racial unrest. This strategy both imbued crime with race and depoliticized racial struggle, a formula which foreclosed earlier “root causes” alternatives. Fusing anxiety about crime to anxiety over racial change and riots, civil rights and racial disorder—initially defined as a problem of minority disenfranchisement—were defined as a crime problem, which helped shift debate from social reform to punishment.

Of course, this argument (for which Weaver adduces considerable circumstantial evidence) is speculative. But something interesting seems to have been going on in the late 1960s regarding the relationship between attitudes on race and on social policy.

Before 1966 public attitudes on the welfare state and on race varied year to year independently of one another. You could not predict much about a person’s attitudes on welfare politics by knowing the person’s attitudes about race. After 1966 the attitudes moved in tandem as welfare came to be seen as a race issue. Indeed, the year-to-year correlation between an index measuring liberalism of racial attitudes and attitudes toward the welfare state over the interval 1950 to 1965 was .03. These same two series had a correlation of .68 over the period 1966 to 1996.

The association in the American mind of race with welfare, and the association of race with crime, have been achieved at a common historical moment. Crime-control institutions are part of a larger social-policy complex—they relate to and interact with the labor market, family-welfare efforts, and health and social work activities. Indeed, sociologist Garland argues that the ideological approaches to welfare and crime control have marched rightward to a common beat: “The institutional and cultural changes that have occurred in the crime control field are analogous to those that have occurred in the welfare state more generally.” Just as the welfare state came to be seen as a race issue, so, too, crime came to be seen as a race issue, and policies have been shaped by this perception.

Consider the tortured racial history of the war on drugs. Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested for a drug offense in 1975 but five times as likely by 1988. Throughout the 1990s, drug-arrest rates remained at historically unprecedented levels. Yet according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, drug use among adults fell from 20 percent in 1979 to 11 percent in 2000. A similar trend occurred among adolescents. In the age groups 12–17 and 18–25, use of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin all peaked in the late 1970s. Thus, a decline in drug use across the board had begun a decade before the draconian antidrug efforts of the 1990s were initiated.

Of course, drug usage rates and drug arrest rates needn’t be expected to be identical. Still, we do well to bear in mind that the social problem of illicit drug use is endemic to our whole society. Significantly, throughout the period 1979 to 2000, white high school seniors reported using drugs at a significantly higher rate than black high school seniors. High drug-usage rates in white, middle-class American communities in the early 1980s account for the urgency many citizens felt to mount a national attack on the problem. But how successful has the effort been, and at what cost?

Think of the cost this way: To save middle-class kids from the threat of a drug epidemic— one that might not even have existed by the time that drug incarceration began its rapid increase in the 1980s—we criminalized underclass kids. Arrests went up, but drug prices have fallen sharply over the past 20 years—suggesting that ratcheting up enforcement has not made drugs harder to get on the street. The strategy clearly wasn’t keeping drugs away from those who sought them. Not only are prices down, but the data show that drug-related visits to emergency rooms also rose steadily throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

An interesting case in point is New York City. Analyzing arrests by residential neighborhood and police precinct, the criminologist Jeffrey Fagan and his colleagues Valerie West and Jan Holland found that incarceration was highest in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, though these were often not the neighborhoods in which crime rates were the highest. Moreover, they discovered a perverse effect of incarceration on crime: Higher incarceration in a given neighborhood in one year seemed to predict higher crime rates in that same neighborhood one year later. This growth and persistence of incarceration over time, the authors concluded, were due primarily to the drug enforcement practices of police and to sentencing laws that require imprisonment for repeat felons. Police scrutiny was more intensive and less forgiving in high-incarceration neighborhoods, and parolees returning to such neighborhoods were more closely monitored. Thus, discretionary police behavior led to a high and increasing rate of repeat prison admissions in the designated neighborhoods, even as crime rates fell.

Fagan, West, and Holland explain the effects of spatially concentrated antidrug-law enforcement in the contemporary American metropolis. Buyers may come from any neighborhood and any social stratum, but the sellers—at least the ones who can be readily found hawking their wares on street corners—come predominantly from the poorest, most nonwhite parts of the city. The police, with arrest quotas to meet, know precisely where to find them. The researchers conclude:

Incarceration begets more incarceration, and incarceration also begets more crime, which in turn invites more aggressive enforcement, which then re-supplies incarceration. . . . Three mechanisms . . . contribute to and reinforce incarceration in neighborhoods: the declining economic fortunes of former inmates and the effects on neighborhoods where they tend to reside; resource and relationship strains on families of prisoners that weaken the family’s ability to supervise children; and voter disenfranchisement that weakens the political economy of neighborhoods.

The effects of imprisonment on people’s life chances are profound. For incarcerated black men, hourly wages are 10 percent lower after prison than before. For all incarcerated men, the number of weeks worked per year falls by at least a third after their release.

So consider the nearly 60 percent of black male high school dropouts born in the late 1960s who are imprisoned before their 40th year. While they are locked up, these felons are stigmatized—they are regarded as fit subjects for shaming. Their links to family are disrupted; their opportunities for work are diminished; their voting rights may be permanently revoked. They suffer civic excommunication. Our zeal for social discipline consigns these men to a permanent nether caste. And yet, since these men—whatever their shortcomings—often need to be fathers and lovers and husbands, we are creating a situation in which the children of this nether caste are likely to join a new generation of untouchables. This cycle will continue so long as incarceration is viewed as the primary path to social hygiene.

I have been exploring the issue of causes, of why we took the punitive turn that has resulted in mass incarceration. But even if the racial argument about causes is inconclusive, the racial consequences are clear. To be sure, in the United States, as in any society, public order is maintained by the threat and use of force. We enjoy our good lives only because we are shielded by law and order, which keep the unruly at bay. Yet in this society, to a degree virtually unmatched in any other, those bearing the brunt of order enforcement belong in vastly disproportionate numbers to historically marginalized racial groups. Crime and punishment in America has a color.

In his fine study “Punishment and Inequality in America” (2006), the Princeton University sociologist Bruce Western powerfully describes the scope, nature, and consequences of contemporary imprisonment. He finds that the extent of racial disparity in imprisonment rates is greater than in any other major arena of American social life. At eight to one, the black-to-white ratio of incarceration rates dwarfs the two-to-one ratio of unemployment rates, the three-to-one ratio of nonmarital childbearing, the two-to-one ratio of infant-mortality rates, and the one-to-five ratio of net worth. While 3 out of 200 young whites were incarcerated in 2000, 1 in 9 young blacks were. A black male resident of California is more likely to go to a state prison than to a state college.

The scandalous truth is that the police and penal apparatus are now the primary contact between black American men and the American state. Among black male high school dropouts ages 20 to 40, a third were locked up on any given day in 2000, fewer than 3 percent belonged to a union, and less than one quarter were enrolled in any kind of social program. Coercion is the most salient meaning of government for these young men. Western estimates that nearly 60 percent of black male dropouts born between 1965 and 1969 were sent to prison on a felony conviction at least once before they reached the age of 35.

One cannot reckon the world-historic American prison buildup over the past 35 years without calculating the enormous costs imposed upon the persons imprisoned, their families, and their communities. (Of course, this has not stopped many social scientists from pronouncing the net benefits of incarceration without doing so.) Deciding on the weight to give to a “thug’s” well-being—or to that of his wife or daughter or son—is a question of social morality, not social science. Nor can social science tell us how much additional cost borne by the offending class is justified in order to obtain a given increment of security or peace of mind for the rest of us. These are questions about the nature of the American state and its relationship to its people that transcend the categories of benefits and costs.

Yet the discourse surrounding punishment policy invariably discounts the humanity of the thieves, drug sellers, prostitutes, rapists, and, yes, those whom we put to death. It gives insufficient weight to the welfare, to the humanity, of those who are knitted together with offenders in webs of social and psychic affiliation. What is more, institutional arrangements for dealing with criminal offenders in the United States have evolved to serve expressive as well as instrumental ends. We have wanted to “send a message,” and we have done so with a vengeance. In the process, we have created facts. We have answered the question, Who is to blame for the domestic maladies that beset us? We have constructed a national narrative. We have created scapegoats, indulged our need to feel virtuous, and assuaged our fears. We have met the enemy, and the enemy is them.

Incarceration keeps them away from us. Thus Garland: “The prison is used today as a kind of reservation, a quarantine zone in which purportedly dangerous individuals are segregated in the name of public safety.” The boundary between prison and community, Garland continues, is “heavily patrolled and carefully monitored to prevent risks leaking out from one to the other. Those offenders who are released ‘into the community’ are subject to much tighter control than previously, and frequently find themselves returned to custody for failure to comply with the conditions that continue to restrict their freedom. For many of these parolees and ex-convicts, the ‘community’ into which they are released is actually a closely monitored terrain, a supervised space lacking much of the liberty that one associates with ‘normal life.’ ”

Deciding how citizens of varied social rank within a common polity ought to relate to one another is a more fundamental consideration than deciding which crime-control policy is most efficient. The question of relationship, of solidarity, of who belongs to the body politic and who deserves exclusion—these are philosophical concerns of the highest order. A decent society will on occasion resist the efficient course of action, for the simple reason that to follow it would be to act as though we were not the people we have determined ourselves to be: a people conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that we all are created equal. Assessing the propriety of creating a racially defined pariah class in the middle of our great cities at the start of the 21st century presents us with just such a case.

My recitation of the brutal facts about punishment in today’s America may sound to some like a primal scream at this monstrous social machine that is grinding poor black communities to dust. And I confess that these brutal facts do at times incline me to cry out in despair. But my argument is analytical, not existential. Its principal thesis is this: We law-abiding, middle-class Americans have made decisions about social policy and incarceration, and we benefit from those decisions, and that means from a system of suffering, rooted in state violence, meted out at our request. We had choices and we decided to be more punitive. Our society—the society we have made—creates criminogenic conditions in our sprawling urban ghettos and then acts out rituals of punishment against them as some awful form of human sacrifice.

This situation raises a moral problem that we cannot avoid. We cannot pretend that there are more important problems in our society, or that this circumstance is the necessary solution to more pressing problems—unless we also are prepared to say that we have turned our backs on the ideal of equality for all citizens and abandoned the principles of justice. We ought to ask ourselves two questions: Just what manner of people are we Americans? And in light of this, what are our obligations to our fellow citizens—even those who break our laws?

To address these questions, we need to think about the evaluation of our prison system as a problem in the theory of distributive justice—not the purely procedural idea of ensuring equal treatment before the law and thereafter letting the chips fall where they may, but the rather more demanding ideal of substantive racial justice. The goal is to bring about, through conventional social policy and far-reaching institutional reforms, a situation in which the history of racial oppression is no longer so evident in the disparate life experiences of those who descend from slaves.

I suggest we approach that problem from the perspective of political philosopher John Rawls’ theory of justice: first, that we think about justice from an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance” that obstructs from view our own situation, including our class, race, gender, and talents. We need to ask what rules we would pick if we seriously imagined that we could turn out to be anyone in the society. Second, following Rawls’ “difference principle,” we should permit inequalities only if they work to improve the circumstances of the least advantaged members of society. But here, the object of moral inquiry is not the distribution among individuals of wealth and income, but instead the distribution of a negative good, punishment, among individuals and, importantly, racial groups.

So put yourself in Rawls’ original position and imagine that you could occupy any rank in the social hierarchy. Let me be more concrete: Imagine that you could be born a black American male outcast shuffling between prison and the labor market on his way to an early death to the chorus of nigger or criminal or dummy. Suppose we had to stop thinking of us and them. What social rules would we pick if we actually thought that they could be us?

I expect that we would still pick some set of punitive institutions to contain bad behavior and protect society. But wouldn’t we pick arrangements that respected the humanity of each individual and of those they are connected to through bonds of social and psychic affiliation? If any one of us had a real chance of being one of those faces looking up from the bottom of the well—of being the least among us—then how would we talk publicly about those who break our laws? What would we do with juveniles who go awry, who roam the streets with guns and sometimes commit acts of violence? What weight would we give to various elements in the deterrence-retribution-incapacitation-rehabilitation calculus, if we thought that calculus could end up being applied to our own children, or to us? How would we apportion blame and affix responsibility for the cultural and social pathologies evident in some quarters of our society if we envisioned that we ourselves might well have been born into the social margins where such pathology flourishes?

If we take these questions as seriously as we should, then we would, I expect, reject a pure ethic of personal responsibility as the basis for distributing punishment. Issues about responsibility are complex, and involve a kind of division of labor—what Rawls called a “social division of responsibility” between “citizens as a collective body” and individuals. When we hold a person responsible for his or her conduct—by establishing laws, investing in their enforcement, and consigning some persons to prisons—we need also to think about whether we have done our share to ensure that each person has a decent set of opportunities for a good life. We need to ask whether we as a society have fulfilled our collective responsibility to ensure fair conditions for each person—for each life that might turn out to be our life.

We would, in short, recognize a kind of social responsibility, even for the wrongful acts freely chosen by individuals. I am not arguing that people commit crimes because they have no choices, and that in this sense the “root causes” of crime are social; individuals always have choices.

My point is that responsibility is a matter of ethics, not social science. Society at large is implicated in an individual’s choices because we have acquiesced in—perhaps actively supported, through our taxes and votes, words and deeds—social arrangements that work to our benefit and his detriment, and that shape his consciousness and sense of identity in such a way that the choices he makes, which we may condemn, are nevertheless compelling to him—an entirely understandable response to circumstance. Closed and bounded social structures, like racially homogeneous urban ghettos, create contexts where “pathological” and “dysfunctional” cultural forms emerge; but these forms are neither intrinsic to the people caught in these structures nor independent of the behavior of people who stand outside them.

Thus, a central reality of our time is the fact that there has opened a wide racial gap in the acquisition of cognitive skills, the extent of law-abidingness, the stability of family relations, the attachment to the workforce, and the like. This disparity in human development is rooted in political, economic, social, and cultural factors peculiar to this society and reflective of its unlovely racial history. It is a societal, not communal or personal, achievement.

At the level of the individual case we must, of course, act as if this were not so. There could be no law, no civilization, without the imputation to particular persons of responsibility for their wrongful acts. But the sum of a million cases, each one rightly judged on its merits to be individually fair, may nevertheless constitute a great historic wrong. The state does not only deal with individual cases. It also makes policies in the aggregate, and the consequences of these policies are more or less knowable. Who can honestly say—who can look in the mirror and say with a straight face—that we now have laws and policies that we would endorse if we did not know our own situation and genuinely considered the possibility that we might be the least advantaged?

Even if the current racial disparity in punishment in our country gave evidence of no overt racial discrimination—and I view that as a wildly optimistic supposition—it would still be true that powerful forces are at work to perpetuate the consequences of a universally acknowledged wrongful past. This is in the first instance a matter of interpretation—of the narrative overlay that we impose upon the facts.

The tacit association in the American public’s imagination of “blackness” with “unworthiness” or “dangerousness” has obscured a fundamental ethical point about responsibility, both collective and individual, and promoted essentialist causal misattributions: When observers are confronted by the facts of racially disparate achievement, racially disproportionate crime rates, and racially unequal school achievement, they will have difficulty identifying with the plight of a group of people whom they (mistakenly) think are simply “reaping what they have sown.” Thus, the enormous racial disparity in the imposition of social exclusion, civic excommunication, and lifelong disgrace has come to seem legitimate, even necessary. We fail to see how our failures as a collective body are implicated in this disparity. We shift all the responsibility onto their shoulders, only by irresponsibly—indeed, immorally—denying our own. And yet this entire dynamic has its roots in past unjust acts that were perpetrated on the basis of race.

Given our history, producing a racially defined nether caste through the ostensibly neutral application of law should be profoundly offensive to our ethical sensibilities, to the principles we proudly assert as our own. Mass incarceration has now become a principal vehicle for the reproduction of racial hierarchy in our society. Our country’s policy makers need to do something about it. And all of us are ultimately responsible for making sure that they do.

Utne Reader

Court Returns Pot

A small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia was returned by Jefferson County authorities Tuesday to a medical marijuana caregiver who was issued a summons at Mount Falcon Park earlier this year.

Anton Marquez, 29, walked out of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday afternoon with the seized items, ending what Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado, said was an ordeal of six months for Marquez.

Marquez provides marijuana to his father and brother, who suffer from epilepsy. He also takes it himself, he said, because of a brain tumor.

"I believe marijuana is the quintessential realization of the term life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Marquez said.

Vicente said Marquez appeared in court four times on a summons that charged him with possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and possessing paraphernalia.

Each time he told the prosecutor that he was a medical marijuana caregiver, presented a copy of his Medical Marijuana Registry card to the prosecutor and told the prosecutor she should dismiss the case, Vicente said.

"The law could not be more clear - that when presented with a medical marijuana caregiver card or a patient card, the case is to be dropped," Vicente said.

Finally, Vicente said, Marquez went to Sensible Colorado.

"I met with the prosecutor and I said, 'Listen, you have to drop this charge. You have no case,"' Vicente said. "And she said, 'Oh, OK, I guess you are right. We are not going to bring charges.' And ultimately, a judge agreed."

The judge, Roy Olson of Jefferson County Court, also ordered that the seized items be returned.

Pam Russell, spokesperson for the Jefferson County district attorney's office, said prosecutors moved for dismissal of the case because Marquez had a Medical Marijuana Registry card, which meant he could legally be in possession of the small amount of marijuana he had in his car and there was no evidence he had been smoking the marijuana.

The Denver Post

Master's Case Muddied By Detective

Conflicting statements by a former Fort Collins police detective who helped send Timothy Masters to prison for murder could start a court battle over whether she disclosed a doctor's opinion about the intricacy of the victim's wounds.

And if she did, why a report of the interview has not been found.

Plastic surgeon Christopher Tsoi has said that he told investigator Marsha Reed in early 1998 that he believed the genital wounds inflicted on murder victim Peggy Hettrick were probably made by someone with surgical skill.

Among Masters' arguments is that he, as a 15-year-old at the time of Hettrick's 1987 murder, lacked the surgical ability to inflict such precise wounds.

The Denver Post

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Gallup Poll - the Public and The War On Drugs

by Joseph Carroll


PRINCETON, NJ -- The annual Gallup Poll Social Series update on Americans' attitudes toward crime finds the vast majority of Americans saying the problem of illegal drugs in the United States is very serious, but substantially fewer saying drugs are a serious problem in the area where they live. These results are consistent with what Gallup has observed in recent years. There has also been little change in the public’s views about government efforts to deal with the problem -- only about one in three Americans saying it has made progress in this area.

Americans in lower-income households are more likely than those in higher-income households to view drugs as a serious problem both on the local and national level. Women express a higher level of concern about the nation's drug problem than do men, but women are also more inclined to say the nation has made progress with the problem.

The Drug Problem in the United States

The Oct. 4-7, 2007, poll asked Americans to assess the problem of drugs in the United States and also in the area where they live.

Seventy-three percent of Americans describe the nations' problem as either "extremely" (35%) or "very" (38%) serious. An additional 24% say it is "moderately" serious, and only 2% say it is "not too" or "not at all" serious. Most Americans have described the nation's drug problem as extremely or very serious since Gallup first asked this question in 2000. At that time, 83% said illegal drugs in the country were a serious issue. Since then, this percentage has been somewhat lower, ranging between 70% and the current 73%.

Gallup Poll

Sentencing Project Fall Newsletter

A two-tiered system fails us all ....................2

Report could signal end of bleak era ......3

Iowa highest in black-to-white incarceration rate ...3

Maryland, Florida, Rhode Island continue voting rights expansion......4

Personal crusade gives Maryland voting rights victory ............................5

Supreme Court makes federal case about crack.................6

Pro bono work sparks lawyers’ passions .......................6

Angela Davis book, Arbitrary Justice, featured in Time......7

Oregon lawmaker introduces racial impact law ..................8

Sentencing Project

National Women's Prison Project Reentry Conference

National Women’s Prison Project sponsors third annual reentry conference

The National Women's Prison Project annual reentry conference, “The Journey Continues,” will feature seminars on various issues including prison ministry building, reentry resources and housing. Yvonne Majette Cooper, author of God of My Silent Tears, will be one of the keynote speakers. The event takes place Saturday November 24 at The Empowerment Temple located at 4217 Primrose Ave. in Baltimore, MD from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Scholarship assistance may be available for formerly incarcerated women. For more information, contact Alfreda Robinson at 410-233-3385 or Melinda Fallen at 202-481-1414.

The Sentencing Project

Monday, October 22, 2007

NORWAY - Prisoners Save Prison

We couldn't let such a nice prison burn down," Ronny Stenberg said after he and fellow inmates at Arendal Prison in Fyresdal chose to fight flames rather than run.

"I don't dare think what would have happened if the prisoners themselves hadn't discovered the fire and helped fight it," prison guard Daniel Trollsås told newspaper Agderposten.

When firefighters arrived after about 40 minutes, a prisoner sleeping near the blaze had been pulled out to safety and the fire halted, with damage limited to only one barracks.

In appreciation of the effort, the prison threw a party last Wednesday after the blaze, with Trollsås buying cake and candy for everyone.

"I've done time in a closed prison, I wouldn't wish that on anyone," said Stenberg about the inmates' decision to preserve their prison.

Fyresdal grants prisoners a high degree of personal responsibility, and this program gave the approximately 30 inmates little hesitation in staying to fight for their facility rather than going on the run when the fire broke out.

About 10-12 years ago prisoners took responsibility and saved my life when one of the inmates went completely berserk and tried to kill me. Now I have had another chance to experience that this prison is full of so many good and reasonable people that when things get dangerous, it is the prisoners that take charge," Trollsås told Agderposten.

Read the Article Here

State Colleges Scramble For Money

Last year, Colorado State University tried to get a last-minute tuition increase as the Senate considered the state budget. It failed, opponents said, largely thanks to CSU student lobbyist Luke Ragland, who grew up in Dolores. He argued the increase would be too much for students and their families.

This year, Ritter and the CCHE want every school singing the same tune. Every Colorado school is underfunded, they say, compared to similar schools around the country. Colorado's higher-education budget would have to increase $832 million - or almost 25 percent - to catch up to the national average, according to a study by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Ritter's long-term goal is to close the gap, but it won't happen this year because colleges have to compete with Medicaid, prisons and other programs for state dollars.

"We face realities that make it difficult to get there quickly," Ritter said.

Durango Herald

Marijuana Might Cure Brain Tumors

One of the great ironies in the debate over marijuana's medical applications is that the drug may prove to be vastly more useful than many marijuana activists even realize. As the U.S. government continues to block medical marijuana research, scientists around the world are discovering new and exciting possibilities:

Investigators at Bar-Ilan University in Israel report that the administration of THC significantly affects the viability of GBM cells. Glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of glioma (brain cancer), strikes some 7,000 Americans annually, and generally results in death within one to two years following diagnosis.

"THC [is] an essential mediator of cannabinoid antitumoral action," investigators concluded. [NORML]

Or, in layman's terms, THC might stop tumors from killing people. Isn't that great? Now all we have to do is legalize it so people can cure their brains without fear of being raided by the DEA.

As evidence of marijuana's potential value in treating various cancers continues to grow, it becomes increasingly vital that we silence marijuana opponents who seek to prevent such discoveries from being made. The more helpful the drug turns out to be, the more deadly and foolish becomes the conspiracy to destroy its reputation and punish its users.

Is it really so difficult to conceive of the possibility that this plant, like so many others, exists for a good reason?

New Study

Psychiatric Problems in Teens Difficult To Pinpoint

ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2007) — Your teen is moody. He’s not doing well in school. He wants to be left alone.

Does he have a learning disability? Depression? Or maybe he’s just a normal teen?

Pinpointing a diagnosis of psychiatric and behavioral problems in teens can be tricky, even for experts in mental health. The human brain is still developing during adolescence, and as any parent of a teen can attest, mood and behavior can fluctuate wildly at this age.

“Teens are by nature secretive and it is sometimes very hard to figure out what is normal and what is not about teen behavior,” says Norma Clarke, MD, medical director of the Adolescent Treatment Program at The Menninger Clinic in Houston. “Also, teens can behave very well in a psychologist’s or counselor’s office, which makes it harder to arrive at a diagnosis.”

That’s the first challenge, Dr. Clarke adds, because an accurate diagnosis is an essential step in treating mental illness. For teens struggling with psychiatric or behavioral disorders it can mean the difference between progressing in treatment or remaining stuck in their current situation and often unhealthy pattern.

By adolescence, many teens in treatment for behavioral or psychiatric issues have received multiple diagnoses—ranging from ADHD to bipolar disorder. Mood swings and irritability are a common symptom of many disorders, but, depending on the diagnosis, treatment can be drastically different, including the medication and therapy prescribed. When individuals don’t respond to treatment that is not suited for them, they feel like failures.

“They feel that they are broken for life,” Dr. Clarke says. “They feel hopeless and think there is something so wrong with them. It affects their self-esteem and their ability to make friends and become the best they can be.”

Many parents of teens struggling with psychiatric or behavioral disorders feel helpless because they can’t help their child, Dr. Clarke adds.

Menninger recently launched its Adolescent Assessment Program to provide troubled teens and their parents with more clarity around the problems and issues confronting teens. An accurate diagnosis is one aspect of this clarification. While brief, the two-week evaluation is intense and allows the patient, parents and treatment team to get to the heart of the matter. The Program fits the needs of teens and families who aren’t making progress in their treatment and who desire a second opinion.

During their two week assessment at Menninger, patients meet with members of the evaluation team, which includes a psychiatrist, psychologist, internist, social worker, rehabilitation specialist, addictions counselor, nursing and senior staff specialists. The treatment team considers patient and family history, parent and patient reports, psychological testing, past treatment records and observations during the patient’s stay.

The Program also uses neuropsychiatric diagnostic tools including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to pinpoint the possible causes of behavioral and psychiatric problems in patients and rule out an underlying medical condition, such as a brain injury.

Patients participate in individual, group and family therapies and learn about coping strategies. Mental health professionals also review medications and other prescribed interventions.

Close to the end of the assessment period, team members share their findings during a conference and discuss the patient's diagnoses and treatment goals. Following this conference, the team shares these findings with the adolescent and the parents and involves them in discussing options for next steps in the treatment process and ways to support the teen academically and socially. Patients may continue treatment at Menninger or other programs if indicated.

Armed with answers, teens and parents can make decisions about future treatment methods, schooling and life. With their newfound clarity, they also regain hope.

“Once they are pointed in the right direction, teens can make positive strides toward recovery and learn how to lead successful lives,” Dr. Clarke says.

Science Daily

Prisoner Dog Program

When convict Ben LaVigueur sits in a wheelchair posing as a disabled person these days, it isn't a scam.

The 29-year-old inmate at Fort Lyon Correctional Facility acts out a role to teach Rachel - a black Labrador - how to serve her future master: a paraplegic student attending graduate school at Harvard University.

"What this dog will do is something I would never have been able to offer someone before I came to prison," LaVigueur said recently while sitting in a wheelchair next to a grass prison courtyard. Rachel sat rigidly beside him, staring intently at his face, awaiting his next command.

LaVigueur is among 12 Fort Lyon inmates teaching canines rescued from dog pounds to serve disabled people and

Chris Vogt gives his German Shepherd, named Cahill, a command during training in the courtyard of the Fort Lyon prison Thursday, September 27, 2007. (Post / Karl Gehring)
police and fire departments as well as crime victims. The prisoners teach dogs skills they will use to find cadavers following house fires, sniff out bombs and protect a victim of a brutal rape in New York City.

In the fifth year of the Colorado Department of Corrections' dog training program, inmates across Colorado are teaching dogs as many as 55 commands each. The work demands patience not suited to most inmates, yet it also requires the concentrated devotion of people like inmates who have a lot of time on their hands.

"This program will bring mean people like me to tears," said Christopher Vogt, a second-degree murder convict from Grand Junction serving a 48-year sentence. "I understand how privileged I am" to be in the program.

Vogt instructs other inmates at Fort Lyon, near Las Animas in southeastern Colorado, how to train dogs. He has taken correspondence courses, earning master dog-trainer designation.

"If I got out tomorrow, this is what I would do," Vogt said.

The inmate trainers must apply for the role, said Lt. Becky Mills, the program liaison. No sex offenders are accepted, and inmates with write-ups for bad behavior are excluded.

Working with the dogs is such a coveted privilege that LaVigueur said he has overlooked taunts and insults from other inmates in order to remain in the program.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katheryn Sanguinetti said that in each of the eight Colorado prisons that have a dog program, tensions have gone down. The dogs seem to affect more than just the inmates who are involved, she said.

"It's had an amazing calming effect on every facility," Sanguinetti said.

Mills said the inmates are responsible for the welfare of the dogs 24 hours a day. Each dog stays in a kennel in the master's cell. The inmates bathe and feed the dogs and nurse them when they are sick.

The inmates work with the dogs six to eight hours a day, running them repeatedly through complicated drills like retrieving a wheelchair, fetching shoes or pushing an elevator button with a nose.

It can take hundreds of teaching attempts to train a dog to do a single task.

Dennis Barnum, 60, serving a 48- year term for burglary, frequently hid tennis balls for his detection dog, Macey, a chocolate Labrador. Macey eventually will work for the Tennessee State Patrol, Barnum said.

Finding the ball will help train Macey to find suspicious objects like a bomb, Mills said. Barnum repeatedly hides the ball, and Macey never seems to tire of racing after it.

"She is just a ball junkie," Barnum said. "We try to get their work drive high so they can go eight hours straight."

The dog will someday be required to sniff relentlessly through a school or a public building for a whiff of chemicals used to make bombs.

The reward for inmates is written all over their faces when they work with the dogs, Mills said.

"You can't have much better time when you are locked up," LaVigueur said.

But when a dog is ready for his new master, it is an emotional parting, Vogt said.

"It's tough for us. But you feel for the person receiving the dog," he said. "It's almost like sending your child off to college."

The Denver Post

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Smoking Scourge Among Urban Blacks

I can't wait to see what happens when they make tobacco illegal...

BALTIMORE, Oct. 15 — Outside subways stops and bars in parts of this blighted city, slouching hustlers mutter “loosies, loosies” to passers-by, offering quick transactions, 50 cents a stick or three for a dollar.

Their illegal, if rarely prosecuted vocation: selling loose Newport cigarettes to those who do not have $4.50 to buy a pack.

In small corner markets, customers sometimes use code words like “bubble gum” or “napkins” to receive individual cigarettes wrapped in a napkin. Or they buy a flavored Black and Mild, the latest smoking craze here, from an opened five-pack.

Out-of-package sales are common in the poor areas of many cities, an adaptation to meager, erratic incomes and rising cigarette taxes. But researchers say they are just one facet of a high smoking rate among low-income urban blacks.

Even as antismoking campaigns have sharply reduced tobacco use in society at large, smoking has remained far more common among the poor of all races.

Still, officials here said they were surprised when a recent study suggested that more than half of poor, black young adults smoke cigarettes — almost always menthol, almost always Newports.

In the latest twist, the study also found that nearly one in four of them also smoke candy-flavored cigarillos, often inhaling despite the danger posed by higher tar and nicotine levels.

Alarmed by the findings, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, on Monday convened health experts, community leaders and high school students to discuss the spreading use of Black and Milds, plastic-tipped cigarillos that come in flavors like wine, cream and apple and are often seen in hip-hop videos and the HBO series “The Wire,” which is set in Baltimore.

Jamila Wilson, 17, said at the meeting that she had started smoking Black and Milds at 15 and now smoked several a day, inhaling.

“If you smoke the wine flavor, it gives you a buzz, ” Jamila said, adding that if she goes too long without, “I get light-headed.”

Amid violence and drug problems, smoking may seem a comparatively harmless vice. “But if you take a step back,” Dr. Sharfstein said, “it’s the smoking that will end up killing a lot of these kids, maybe not next week but well ahead of their time.”


Oklahoma Sheriff Running Sex Slave Ring?

OKLAHOMA CITY — A lawsuit accuses Custer County, Okla. Sheriff Mike Burgess of operating a sex-slave ring and threatening to send female jail inmates to prison unless they complied with his sexual demands.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against Burgess on behalf of 12 women who either were jail prisoners or are participants in the county's drug court program.

Burgess had sex with one such woman more than 30 times after telling her that "he got her into the Drug Court program and if she did not provide the required sexual favors, he would get her out," the lawsuit alleges.

As sheriff and as a member of the drug court, Burgess had the power to carry out that alleged threat, the lawsuit claims.

One woman, Joy Mason, was required at least twice to drive to an Oklahoma City hotel where the sheriff was staying, even though she was required by the drug court not to leave Custer County, the lawsuit states. One such rendezvous occurred in December, the night before Mason appeared before the Legislature as a showcased member of the drug court program, according to the lawsuit.

The allegations have led to a criminal investigation, records obtained Wednesday indicate.

In a July 13 letter to Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Custer County District Attorney Dennis Smith asked to be recused from a potential prosecution of Burgess because of a "strong working relationship" between them.

"An OSBI investigation has been ongoing for approximately two months, and I believe there will be decisions to be made on whether a criminal case should be, or is, filed in that matter," Smith wrote.

Burgess couldn't be reached either at his home or the sheriff's office. A dispatcher said he is out on medical leave.

Tulsa attorney Thomas Seymour, who filed the lawsuit, said of the combined allegations: "It is one of the most disgusting things I have seen in my 40 years of practice."

Rocky Mountain news

800 Homeless Get Help At Invesco

I was down there today talking to folks and handing out our literature. What an incredible opportunity for people to see what is really going on folks lives.
Darla LaDeaux and Daryl Jones lost everything when their car was towed.

That was six months ago. Without even identification, they've been turned away from homeless shelters. So they've been sleeping on the streets of Denver.

"It's very hard," LaDeaux said. "It's just me and my husband, and there are people out there who are addicted to crack. If they come smoke near you, they put you in an unsafe environment, so then we have to move, and sometimes we don't get very much sleep."

LaDeaux, 34, and Jones, 41, were among more than 800 homeless people who came to Invesco Field Friday seeking solutions to problems that keep them on the street.

They arrived on special RTD runs from pick-up points around Denver as part of a project organized by the city, United Way, Regis University and the Broncos Wives Drive.

Inside the stadium, they filed up an escalator to the club level, where officials were waiting to connect them to a dozen public services ranging from drug and alcohol treatment to legal services to job training. More than 500 had medical exams, and 284 got flu shots.

They also got breakfast and lunch, as well as packages containing socks and underwear.

More than 800 Regis volunteers — student, teachers and alumni — helped them negotiate a maze of service providers and bureaucratic forms.

"If I was in their position, this would be overload," Russ Shaw, the volunteer who guided LeDeaux and Jones, said of the room buzzing with homeless people and agency representatives.

Many of the homeless people have been on the street for years.

Maurice Collier, 52, said he was homeless from 1995 to 2000, when he got a job as a custodian. He's been back on the streets off and on since that job fell through two years later.

He lives at a Salvation Army shelter.

Collier was at Invesco trying to get glasses.

"I had some but I lost them," Collier said.

An eye exam showed he still needs glasses.

"He definitely can't see far," said Karen Metzger-Adducci, the volunteer who accompanied Collier.

But he won't be getting the glasses soon. Some agencies offer glasses at reduced cost, but none gives them away free — the price Collier can afford.

Collier said he hopes to pick up money beginning next month with a job as a Salvation Army bellringer.

Also looking for glasses was Neal Morris, 42. (Where are reentry services for Neal?) hmmmm?

His glasses were broken during the trip from the state's Crowley County Correctional Facility to a halfway house in Denver when officers crammed his luggage into the van, Morris said.

Morris is under a six-year sentence for forgery and drug possesion.

In addition to seeking glasses, he was waiting on line to have his resume scanned onto a disc, a form some employers prefer.

Jones and LeDeaux live in Scott's Bluff, Neb. Their troubles started when they came to Colorado to visit LaDeaux's son at the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center.

They left their car when it stopped running and came back just as it was being towed.

"We don't even know where the car is or who has it," Jones said. Their only possessions now are blankets.

They get food from church programs.

"When it's cold, they come out and give you soup," LaDeaux said.

LaDeaux is a nurse. She believes she can reclaim her job if she can get back to Scott's Bluff.

LaDeaux has relatives there, but they are too poor to help.

At Invesco, Alberto Torres, a volunteer from Colorado Legal Services, was able to find birth certificates on line for LeDeaux and Jones — the first step toward getting a Colorado ID. The birth certificates will be available in about a week from the city.

Jones was able to make an appointment with the Stout Street Clinic, a facility that serves the homeless, so he can get medication for bi-polar disorder. He has been off his medication since losing his possessions.

His behavior has been erratic. But, LaDeaux said, "I know how to handle him."

The couple was not able to get vouchers to stay at a motel Friday.

But Jones said he was happy.

"At least we're seeing some progress as far as ID, as far as meds," he sai
Rocky Mountain News

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Disbar Judge Who Slept With the Prosecution

The state disciplinary agency for attorneys requested today that a judge who had an affair with a prosecutor be disbarred because he "deceitfully tainted the bench" with his behavior.

"Judges should be held to the highest standard," prosecutor Kim E. Ikeler said during the disciplinary hearing for former Douglas County Judge Grafton Minot Biddle.

Biddle,57, resigned in December before his affair with deputy district attorney Laurie A. Hurst was made public. Hurst, 29, who used the last name of Steinman at the time, is now divorced.

"He knew when he took the bench the trust that had been placed in him," Ikeler said. "He knew that he was betraying that trust."

Biddle did not attend the disciplinary hearing and has in the past not responded in writing to the allegations against him, as requested by the Attorney Regulation Counsel, which monitors lawyer misconduct.

State Supreme Court Disciplinary Judge William Lucero has 60 days to decide Biddle's punishment.

Rocky Mountain News

What Happens When the Defense is Broke?

ATLANTA—The state public defender's office voted Thursday to defy a judge's order to continue to provide funding for the legal fees and expenses of the man accused of killing four people in a 2005 rampage.

After meeting in private, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council agreed to tell Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller at a contempt hearing that had been set for Monday that it can't pay the costs and carry out its duty in roughly 80 other capital cases in the state.

The council said it would file court papers to that effect under seal. The members declined to comment further.

A few hours later, Fuller voluntarily recused himself from overseeing the hearing, which he postponed. Fuller will still preside over the rest of the case, but said it would be more appropriate if another judge hears the contempt issue.

A west Georgia judge, A. Quillian Baldwin Jr. of LaGrange, will assign a new judge to handle the contempt hearing because all Fulton County Superior Court judges have recused themselves from the entire case. A new date for the hearing was not immediately set.

The council's move follows Fuller's decision Wednesday to indefinitely suspend jury selection in Brian Nichols' state murder trial.

Fuller suspended the trial after Nichols' lawyers demanded that individual questioning of prospective jurors, which started Monday, stop immediately until they receive money to pay their fees and expenses.

The state public defender's office has said that because of the amount of money already spent on Nichols' defense so far—$1.8 million as of the end of June—there isn't enough money for other cases. As a result, it cut off funding to Nichols' defense on July 1.

The Legislature has refused to step in. Nichols' defense did get one piece of good news late Wednesday when Fulton County said it would comply with an order to pay the legal fees of one of Nichols' four attorneys. That, alone, however, won't solve all of the defense concerns.

Fuller did not say when jury selection would resume. He also indicated that he would decide later whether to release the 1,100 prospective jurors in the current pool from duty and create a new one.

Nichols' lawyers have said they are unprepared to go forward. Fuller has warned that the case may never be tried without adequate defense funding.

The Denver Post

Father Woody's Blue Ribbon Day-Shelter

The shelter is about 5 blocks from our office and I have ridden past the construction every day for months. Very exciting

More than one VIP insisted it had to be true.

As a line of homeless people cut a blue ribbon Wednesday on the brisk count of one, two, three, somebody in heaven was applauding - even if he had to juggle a cigarette to do it.

"I know Father Woody is saying, 'What took you so long?' " quipped retired King Soopers president Don Gallegos to more than 200 people gathered at West Seventh Avenue and Lipan Street, where trucks rumble by and the homeless linger.

Now the corner will also be known as the address of Fr. Woody's Haven of Hope, a $1.1 million day shelter for homeless people that was paid for through private donations.

Inside the sleek stucco building, men and women will be served daily breakfasts and lunches, given access to private showers and haircuts, and provided long distance phone service and laundered clothes.

That's the kind of dignity that the shelter's namesake, a chain-smoking Catholic priest officially called Monsignor Charles B. Woodrich, always accorded the poor, speakers said.

"If you could suffer the second-hand smoke, you got pretty close to a saint," said Gov. Bill Ritter, who like many city and state officials knew "Woody" on a first- name basis.

Father Woody's legacy

The poor got to know him, too. In their honor, some homeless people cut the ritual blue ribbon.

Billy Cave, 47, was one of them.

"It means a lot," Cave said. "I used to live near here, on the street. When I was drinking I lost my way."

Sixteen years after he died, Woodrich, a former advertising executive, is still linked to homeless issues.

He was a driving force behind the founding of the Samaritan House shelter, as well as the sandwich line for the poor at Holy Ghost Church, where he was a pastor. He got national media attention during the blizzard of 1982 when he opened the church to freezing street people.

"If Woody were here there would be ten times more cameras and a direct feed to the White House," said the Rev. John Lager, an adviser to the new facility. "He knew how to capture the media."

But his real genius, Lager said, "was to inspire others to do what he did, one by one
Rocky Mountain News

Evidence Reform Advocated

The New York-based Innocence Project urged Colorado's DNA task force Wednesday to pursue an overhaul of state law so that it spells out a duty to preserve evidence - taking cues from the federal government and a handful of other states.

"You don't have to save a whole car or couch" from crime scenes, said the group's policy analyst, Rebecca Brown, stressing that the federal Innocence Protection Act led to regulations defining biological evidence and guiding authorities on what they should retain to avoid bulging warehouses.

Like most states, Colorado doesn't impose uniform rules on DNA preservation, leaving decisions to individual police agencies that frequently face disorganized and cramped storerooms.

The state's post-conviction appeal law further complicates the issue because it creates "no duty" to preserve DNA - what the Innocence Project and other experts have branded as one of the weakest rules in the country.

The Innocence Project is the nation's leading advocacy group for the wrongly convicted, seeking exonerations through DNA analysis.

Brown stressed that any new effort to reform Colorado's statute also could aim to protect cold-case evidence, alluding to recent discoveries that crucial materials have been lost in dozens of unsolved cases.

"It's an incredible waste" of criminal justice resources, Brown said, to see crime-scene items lost or destroyed.

Most panel members - the vast majority appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter boast backgrounds in law enforcement - reached a consensus that uniform standards should be pursued.

State Sen. John Morse, a former police chief of Fountain, said he wanted to avoid evidence "disasters waiting to happen" across the state.

The Denver Post

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Oklahoma Transfer of Prisoners Hits Families Hard

Monday, October 15, 2007

It has been months since Roger Peck has seen his son.

A year ago, Peck and his wife, Millicent, twice a month were driving more than 400 miles from Grand Junction to see their son, 47-year-old Stephen Dallas Peck, at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs.

But when Peck and 479 other inmates were relocated in December and January to the privately owned North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, Okla., those visits ended.

“It’s almost impossible for us to get to Oklahoma, and I’m sure we’re more capable than a lot of people that have loved ones in prison,” Roger Peck said.

The retired couple said their contact with their son, who was sentenced in early 2004 to 18 years in prison for felony theft and methamphetamine possession, has become relegated to brief collect calls twice a month.

The Colorado Department of Correction’s decision to ship its healthiest and best behaved inmates more than 300 miles southeast of Colorado’s closest prison in Trinidad, the Pecks said, is “completely opposite” the state’s goal of promoting prisoner wellness and reducing recidivism.

“They skimmed the cream to start with. They took inmates who were in relatively good health and have no violent history and were not in there for violent crime,” Roger Peck said. “So they took the cream of the crop, so to speak, and sent them to this facility whose sole purpose in life is making money.”

Without their support, the Pecks said, they fear how well their son will cope with his methamphetamine addiction, which also landed him in prison in 1997.

Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said in an attempt to address some of the Peck family’s concerns, he and Colorado Department of Corrections Director Ari Zavaras are going to visit the North Fork Correctional Facility at the end of this month.

King said after he met the Peck family earlier this year, he began to wonder if Colorado was abandoning its oversight responsibilities by shipping felons out of state.

“I had some real concerns about us giving up our ability, in some ways, to have oversight of these people that are Colorado citizens,” King said. “Granted they’re felons, but they’re our felons, and we have a responsibility to make sure they’re doing their time in a safe environment.”

King said “outsourcing our felons” removes them from the support network of friends and family they need to transition from their criminal lifestyles and addictions back to living normal lives.

Zavaras said from a purely financial standpoint, private prisons — the six in Colorado and the North Fork Correctional Facility — are a cost-effective way to deal with Colorado’s exploding corrections population.

According to Department of Corrections statistics, Colorado’s inmate population has nearly doubled over the past decade, from 13,242 inmates in 2006 to 22,424 inmates this year. Nearly 5,000 of Colorado’s inmates reside in private prisons.

Zavaras said sending prisoners outside Colorado is neither ideal nor fair to the inmates, but it is necessary.

“Managing prisoners out of state, quite frankly, is very, very difficult for us,” Zavaras said. “If we would have had in-state beds, we wouldn’t be out of state. We’re only there as a last resort.”

He said there are plans to expand two existing private, in-state prisons. As soon as those expansions are completed, he said, “We will bring them back.”

Zavaras said he plans to scrutinize the Sayre, Okla., prison during his and King’s Oct. 28 and Oct. 29 visits. He said during that time he will not only speak with Colorado inmates but look into the concerns of inmates’ families.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said that ideally Colorado would pull out of private prisons, whose missions are directly contrary to reducing recidivism.

McFadyen, who has 12 state and federal prisons in her southern Colorado House district, said private facilities have no reason to attempt to reintegrate felons back into society. She said private facilities see felons as possible repeat customers, so they have no incentive to decrease recidivism.

Removing inmates from Colorado, she said, is an even better way for private prisons to maintain demand for their beds.

“Sending an inmate out of state is almost guaranteeing they’ll come back in the system because of the lack of support,” McFadyen said. “I don’t know how an inmate succeeds when they have no support from home.”

The Pecks said they hope King and Zavaras’ trip to the North Fork Correctional Facility will give them and their peers a clearer picture of the harm distant relocations can have on prisoners.

“We recognize it’s not a simple problem,” Roger Peck said. “And farming them out is a solution, but in my mind it’s a very poor solution and certainly should not a long-term solution.”

In the meantime, he said he hopes policymakers realize their money-saving maneuvers affect Coloradans like his son.

Grand Junction Sentinel

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Teenage Lifers: Seeking A Second Chance

Colorado has just formed a Juvenile Clemency board, which is the first of it's kind in the nation.

American Exception

Without Parole
This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will examine commonplace aspects of the American justice system that are actually unique in the world.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

Mary Nalls, an 81-year-old retired social worker here, has some thoughts about the matter. Her granddaughter Ashley Jones was 14 when she helped her boyfriend kill her grandfather and aunt — Mrs. Nalls’s husband and daughter — by stabbing and shooting them and then setting them on fire. Ms. Jones also tried to kill her 10-year-old sister.

Mrs. Nalls, who was badly injured in the rampage, showed a visitor to her home a white scar on her forehead, a reminder of the burns that put her into a coma for 30 days. She had also been shot in the shoulder and stabbed in the chest.

“I forgot,” she said later. “They stabbed me in the jaw, too.”

But Mrs. Nalls thinks her granddaughter, now 22, deserves the possibility of a second chance.

“I believe that she should have gotten 15 or 20 years,” Mrs. Nalls said. “If children are under age, sometimes they’re not responsible for what they do.”

The group that plans to release the report on Oct. 17, the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Ala., is one of several human rights organizations that say states should be required to review sentences of juvenile offenders as the decades go by, looking for cases where parole might be warranted.

But prosecutors and victims’ rights groups say there are crimes so terrible and people so dangerous that only life sentences without the possibility of release are a fit moral and practical response.

“I don’t think every 14-year-old who killed someone deserves life without parole,” said Laura Poston, who prosecuted Ms. Jones. “But Ashley planned to kill four people. I don’t think there is a conscience in Ashley, and I certainly think she is a threat to do something similar.”

Specialists in comparative law acknowledge that there have been occasions when young murderers who would have served life terms in the United States were released from prison in Europe and went on to kill again. But comparing legal systems is difficult, in part because the United States is a more violent society and in part because many other nations imprison relatively few people and often only for repeat violent offenses.

“I know of no systematic studies of comparative recidivism rates,” said James Q. Whitman, who teaches comparative criminal law at Yale. “I believe there are recidivism problems in countries like Germany and France, since those are countries that ordinarily incarcerate only dangerous offenders. But at some point they let them out and bad things can happen.”

The differences in the two approaches, legal experts said, are rooted in politics and culture. The European systems emphasize rehabilitation, while the American one stresses individual responsibility and punishment.

Corrections professionals and criminologists here and abroad tend to agree that violent crime is usually a young person’s activity, suggesting that eventual parole could be considered in most cases. But the American legal system is more responsive to popular concerns about crime and attitudes about punishment, while justice systems abroad tend to be administered by career civil servants rather than elected legislators, prosecutors and judges.

In its sentencing of juveniles, as in many other areas, the legal system in the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States is an island in the sea of international law.

And the very issue of whether American judges should ever take account of foreign law is hotly disputed. At the hearings on their Supreme Court nominations, both John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. said they thought it a mistake to consider foreign law in constitutional cases.

But the international consensus against life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders may nonetheless help Ms. Jones. In about a dozen cases recently filed around the country on behalf of 13- and 14-year-olds sentenced to life in prison, lawyers for the inmates relied on a 2005 Supreme Court decision that banned the execution of people who committed crimes when they were younger than 18.

That decision, Roper v. Simmons, was based in part on international law. Noting that the United States was the only nation in the world to sanction the juvenile death penalty, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said it was appropriate to look to “the laws of other countries and to international authorities as instructive” in interpreting the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

He added that teenagers were different from older criminals — less mature, more susceptible to peer pressure and more likely to change for the better. Those findings, lawyers for the juvenile lifers say, should apply to their clients, too.

“Thirteen- and 14-year-old children should not be condemned to death in prison because there is always hope for a child,” said Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Ms. Jones and several other juvenile lifers.

The 2005 death penalty ruling applied to 72 death-row inmates, almost precisely the same number as the 73 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes committed at 13 or 14.

The Supreme Court did not abolish the juvenile death penalty in a single stroke. The 2005 decision followed one in 1988 that held the death penalty unconstitutional for those who had committed crimes under 16.

The new lawsuits, filed in Alabama, California, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin, seek to follow a similar progression.

“We’re not demanding that all these kids be released tomorrow,” Mr. Stevenson said. “I’m not even prepared to say that all of them will get to the point where they should be released. We’re asking for some review.”

In defending American policy in this area in 2006, the State Department told the United Nations that sentencing is usually a matter of state law. “As a general matter,” the department added, juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole terms “were hardened criminals who had committed gravely serious crimes.”

Human rights groups have disputed that. According to a 2005 report from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 59 percent of the more than 2,200 prisoners serving life without parole for crimes they committed at 17 or younger had never been convicted of a previous crime. And 26 percent were in for felony murder, meaning they participated in a crime that led to a murder but did not themselves kill anyone.

The new report focuses on the youngest offenders, locating 73 juvenile lifers in 19 states who were 13 and 14 when they committed their crimes. Pennsylvania has the most, with 19, and Florida is next, with 15. In those states and Illinois, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, 13-year-olds have been sentenced to die in prison.

In most of the cases, the sentences were mandatory, an automatic consequence of a murder conviction after being tried as an adult.

A federal judge here will soon rule on Ms. Jones’s challenge to her sentence. Ms. Poston, who prosecuted her, said Ms. Jones was beyond redemption.

“Between the ages of 2 and 3, you develop a conscience,” Ms. Poston said. “She never got the voice that says, ‘This is bad, Ashley.’ ”

“It was a blood bath in there,” Ms. Poston said of the night of the murders here, in 1999. “Ashley Jones is not the poster child for the argument that life without parole is too long.”

In a telephone interview from the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Ala., Ms. Jones said she did not recognize the girl who committed her crimes. According to court filings, her mother was a drug addict and her stepfather had sexually molested her. “Everybody I loved, everybody I trusted, I was betrayed by,” Ms. Jones said.

“I’m very remorseful about what happened,” she said. “I should be punished. I don’t feel like I should spend the rest of my life in prison.”

Mrs. Nalls, her grandmother, had been married for 53 years when she and her husband, Deroy Nalls, agreed to take Ashley in. She was “a problem child,” and Mr. Nalls was a tough man who took a dislike to Ashley’s boyfriend, Geramie Hart. Mr. Hart, who was 16 at the time of the murders, is also serving a life term. Mrs. Nalls said he deserved a shot at parole someday, as well.