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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Masters Attorney Seeks Perjury Investigation

Attorneys waging Tim Masters' innocence bid are seeking a special prosecutor to investigate whether a Fort Collins police detective committed perjury during their client's 1999 trial for Peggy Hettrick's murder.

In a motion filed Friday, attorneys David Wymore and Maria Liu cite newly discovered records linking Jim Broderick to a 1988 surveillance operation of Masters around the one-year anniversary of the homicide.

That may conflict with the officer's trial testimony describing no involvement in the murder investigation between 1987 and 1992.

"This insured that he (Broderick) would not be questioned during cross-examination about his role in or the nature of that operation," according to the pleading.

Broderick said Friday that he was not officially a part of the department's investigative team and simply stopped a suspicious motorist near the crime scene in response to a report from the surveillance team.

"I've never perjured myself, I never have and never will," Broderick said, saying he only served as a patrol supervisor in 1988. "I welcome whoever the court wants to appoint."

Detailed records of the surveillance effort have become a pivotal issue in Masters' pursuit of a new trial. The documents, which are among hundreds of papers only revealed by police during recent weeks, would have bolstered his original defense eight years ago, his attorneys say.

Police mobilized dozens of officers to watch Masters, then 16, theorizing that he would revisit the crime scene, Hettrick's gravesite or act out violently. Instead, he played videogames and occasionally drove his car fast, among other ordinary activities, records show.

Masters was arrested a decade later and convicted based on a psychiatrist's examination of his violent writings as a 15-year-old. No physical evidence tied him to the crime.

He is now seeking a new trial, alleging misconduct by Fort Collins authorities and ineffective counsel. One set of special prosecutors already have been assigned to the case, after the Larimer County DA removed himself earlier this year.

The hearings resume Monday morning in Larimer County District Court

The Denver Post

Juvenile Sentences Too Harsh

Friday, November 30, 2007

- Sharon Cohen, AP National Writer EDITOR'S NOTE - First in an ongoing series of stories on ways in which America is reconsidering its get-tough approach to juvenile justice.

A generation after America decided to get tough on kids who commit crimes - sometimes locking them up for life - the tide may be turning.

States are rethinking and, in some cases, retooling juvenile sentencing laws. They're responding to new research on the adolescent brain, and studies that indicate teens sent to adult court end up worse off than those who are not: They get in trouble more often, they do it faster and the offenses are more serious.

"It's really the trifecta of bad criminal justice policy," says Shay Bilchik, a former Florida prosecutor who heads the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. "People didn't know that at the time the changes were made. Now we do, and we have to learn from it."

Juvenile crime is down, in contrast to the turbulent days of the 1990s when politicians vied to pass laws to get violent kids off the streets. Now, in calmer times, some champion community programs for young offenders to replace punitive measures they say went too far.

"The net was thrown too broadly," says Howard Snyder, director of systems research at the National Center for Juvenile Justice. "When you make these general laws ... a lot of people believe they made it too easy for kids to go into the adult system and it's not a good place to be."

Some states are reconsidering life without parole for teens. Some are focusing on raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, while others are exploring ways to offer kids a second chance, once they're locked up - or even before.

"There has been a huge sea change ... it's across the country," says Laurie Garduque, program director at the MacArthur Foundation, which has worked extensively on juvenile justice reform. "It certainly helps that there has been a decline in juvenile crime and delinquency."

Not everyone, though, believes there's reason to roll back harsher penalties adopted in the 1990s.

"The laws that were changed were appropriate and necessary," says Minnesota prosecutor James Backstrom. "We need to focus on the protecting the public - that's No. 1. Then we can address the needs of the juvenile offenders."

Each year about 200,000 defendants under 18 are sent directly or transferred to the adult system, known as criminal court, according to rough estimates.

Most end up there because of state laws that automatically define them as adults, due to their age or offense. Their ranks rose in the 1990s as juvenile crime soared and legislators responded; 48 states made it easier to transfer kids into criminal court, according to the juvenile justice center.

These changes gave prosecutors greater latitude (they could transfer kids without a judge's permission), lowered the age or expanded the list of crimes that would make it mandatory for a case to be tried there.

Some states also adopted blended sentences in which two sanctions can be imposed simultaneously; if the teen follows the terms of the juvenile sentence, the adult sentence is revoked.

The changes were ushered in to curb an explosion in violent crime - the teen murder arrest rate doubled from 1987 to 1993 as the crack trade and guns flourished - and to address mounting frustrations with the juvenile justice system.

A series of horrific crimes by kids rattled the nation:

In Michigan, a baby-faced sixth grader, Nathaniel Abraham, shot and killed a stranger who was leaving a convenience store. When he was arrested in his classroom, his face was painted for Halloween.

In Florida, Lionel Tate was 12 when he beat and stomped to death a playmate half his age.

In Chicago, two boys, then 10 and 11, dangled, then dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse to his death from a 14th-story vacant public housing apartment. His terrified brother raced down the stairs, hoping he could somehow catch Eric.

Some politicians began using the phrase "adult crime, adult time." There were predictions of even bleaker days ahead.

Some warned that by the end of the century, thousands of remorseless kids - a new generation of "superpredators" - would be committing murder, rape or robbery, joining gangs and dealing drugs.

"There was an organized effort to label kids and make people afraid of juveniles," Snyder says. "People were saying their mothers had smoked crack, their DNA had changed. ... they were no longer the same people. They tried to make it seem these kids are different from your kids and that you need to do something."

But the super-vicious breed of criminal never emerged. (The professor who coined the "superpredator" term later expressed regret.) Drug trafficking declined. An improved economy produced more jobs. And the rate of juvenile violent crime arrests plummeted 46 percent from 1994 to 2005, according to federal figures.

"When crime goes down, people have an opportunity to be more reflective than crisis-oriented and ask, `Was this policy a good policy?"' Bilchik says.

The MacArthur Foundation said in a report to be released this month that about half the states are involved in juvenile justice reforms - among them, taking more kids out of the adult system, providing more mental health and community based-services and improving conditions at detention centers.

A national poll, commissioned by MacArthur and the Center for Children's Law and Policy and set for release at the same time, also found widespread public support for rehabilitating teens rather than locking them up. Most favored shifting some money states spend on incarcerating kids and using it for counseling, education and job training.

Some states have already begun to make changes.

-In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter, a former district attorney, recently formed a juvenile clemency board to hear cases of kids convicted as adults. The head of the seven-member panel says it's an acknowledgment that teens are still developing and different from adults - a point made in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed the death penalty for crimes committed as juveniles.

This was the second revision in Colorado. In 2006, a law replaced the juvenile life-without-parole sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years.

Ledger Dispatch

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Zavaras Wants More Beds

If we are closing in on zero growth, why would we need more prisons? It's getting close to legislative time I suppose. Let's build treatment facilities instead and see how much more successful we are at the end of the day.

Ari Zavaras wants the Colorado Legislature to start talking about building new state prisons again.

As executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Zavaras told the Legislature's Capital Development Committee on Wednesday that despite recent efforts to reduce recidivism, the state still has a great need for more prison beds.

He highlighted several Southern Colorado prisons that he said are in need of expansion, including lockups in Pueblo and Trinidad, that add up to more than $500 million.

"Over the years, our inmate population has grown about the size of a prison a year," Zavaras told the six-member committee, which began its annual review of which capital construction projects the Legislature will fund next year.

"As of Oct. 31, 2007, the inmate population was 22,673. (Legislative Council Services) projects our population at 23,475 at the end of this fiscal year, and at 28,336 by year 2012. That really tells us the department still has some serious bed needs," Zavaras said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins said there is not much chance the Legislature will be able to come up with the money Zavaras is seeking, but suggested that lawmakers should discuss some other way to obtain the money.

"This half a billion dollars is sobering," Bacon said. "I think we're at a crisis with dealing with this public safety issue."

Zavaras said efforts that he and Gov. Bill Ritter have pushed to reduce recidivism are starting to produce results.

State inmates being housed in county jails are at an all-time low, and monthly inmate growth is the lowest it's been in years, he said.

Regardless of those efforts, the department still faces some critical infrastructure needs, particularly in the San Carlos Correctional Facility located on the Colorado Mental Health Institute-Pueblo campus, Zavaras said.

He's asking the committee for nearly $60 million to double the size of that 250-bed facility, which primarily is used to house mentally ill inmates.

Zavaras also wants to start a phased expansion of the 484-bed Trinidad Correctional Facility to the 2,541-bed "mega-facility" that was initially planned. That project would cost a whopping $337 million to complete.

Other expansion projects the department is requesting include:

Expanding the 224-bed Colorado Women's Correctional Facility in Canon City by 284 beds at a cost of approximately $47 million.

Adding 384 beds to the 1,007-bed Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Crowley at a cost of approximately $61 million.

Turning the 500-bed Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, which also houses mentally ill inmates, into one that has 750 beds at a cost of approximately $24 million.

Despite the high cost of new prisons, the capital construction requests are only a fraction of the total requests the committee handles each year.

The committee already is trying to prioritize an estimated $516 million in requests, which range from renovating track for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad to fixing up crumbling buildings on college and university campuses.

Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West and a member of the committee, said the Legislature and the rest of the state need to consider other options to pay for new prisons, such as bonding and lease agreements, or take an issue to the voters to raise state revenues, including a possible tax increase.

"There is no question that the security and the safety of Colorado public depends upon ensuring we have enough beds in the Colorado state prisons system, and private prisons are not the answer," McFadyen said.

"We're going to have to have a very public debate . . . as to how we're going to come up with the funding. I'm a state representative who doesn't want to build more prisons. Nobody does. But we're faced with a crisis. We have no choice. We're going to have to look at every funding method possible," she said.

The Chieftain

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lawsuit Attacks 24 Years in Solitary

Law students at the University of Denver sued the federal Bureau of Prisons today on behalf of a man kept in solitary confinement for 24 years. The lawsuit, filed in Denver federal court, said the incarceration of Thomas Silverstein amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Silverstein, 55, is being held in total isolation at the Supermax prison in Florence. He has been in prison since 1975 and in solitary confinement since the 1983 murder of a prison guard at the federal prison in Marion, Il. He previously was convicted of killing two inmates at prisons in Marion and Leavenworth, Kan., in 1981 and 1982. His conviction for killing a third inmate was overturned and never retried.

Silverstein was put on permanent "no human contact" status after the 1983 murder of the prison guard. His isolation for 24 years has led to deterioration of his mental health, the lawsuit said. The conditions of his confinement caused him to "suffer deprivations that cause mental harm that goes beyond the boundaries of what most human beings can psychologically tolerate," the lawsuit charged.

Kept in soundproof cells, he has been subjected to extreme heat and constant bright lights in his cells, the lawsuit said. His only visitors were strangers who volunteer to visit prisoners or persons he knew before he was incarcerated.

Silverstein developed an interest in Buddhism and other religions which he has not been able to pursue, the lawsuit charges. It took years for him to be able to listen to the radio, play tapes for his studies or have access to art supplies, the lawsuit said. Silverstein has demonstrated for 15 years that he no longer poses a threat to staff or inmates, the lawsuit said. He has not violated a prison policy or received a misconduct citation for more than 20 years, the lawsuit said.

He exhibited nonviolent behavior even when inmates released him during a prison riot in Atlanta in 1987, the lawsuit said.

He was moved to Supermax in 2005 believing he would be able to demonstrate his ability to function in the general population. Although he complied with prison requirements, officials have refused to consider reducing the level of his confinement, the suit said.

At Supermax, he is confined in a sound-proof room with 24-hour camera surveillance. His art supplies have been taken away.

He is being held in total isolation while other inmates who have murdered guards or inmates while in prison are not, the lawsuit said.

As a result of his isolation, Silverstein has suffered depression, hallucinations, memory loss and other mental and physical harm, and is in danger of succumbing to mental illness, the lawsuit said. The suit seeks a court order to remove him from solitary confinement and place him into the general population, to give him access to religious materials and to relax restrictions on his communication with visitors and attorneys.

DU law students Steven Baum and Amber Trzinski filed the case under the supervision of visiting professor Dan Manville, a prisoner's rights expert, and associate professor Laura Rovner, as part of the school's Civil Rights Clinic.

Earlier this year, Rovner led a team of student lawyers in a case that overturned a Bureau of Prison rule barring inmates form publishing articles and stories under their own name. The Civil Rights Clinic is a year-long class in which students do all the work, preparing the lawsuit, following up on motions and arguing in court under a federal provision for student lawyers.

Rocky Mountain News

Set In Steel: Why No Parole?

For federal prisoners, the prospect of early release expired in 1987. As prisons bulge and recidivism persists, why is the parole ban still in place?

In 1982, when George Martorano pled guilty to charges of marijuana possession and drug conspiracy, he was expecting ten years in prison, at most.

Today, after 24 years, Martorano holds the honor of longest-serving nonviolent first-time offender in the history of the United States. He's all too ready to forfeit that mark of distinction, but if his sentence plays out as issued, he'll be looking at several decades more: Martorano is serving a life sentence for three years of transporting and selling marijuana. Despite his spotless prison record - not to mention his suicide-prevention volunteer work, his yoga practice and the 20 books he's written while incarcerated - he has no hope of being released.

Martorano is just one of almost 200,000 inmates in federal prison, many of whom have no chance for early release, thanks to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, which abolished parole at the federal level. The toughening of prison legislation over the past 20 years has also meant longer sentences for nonviolent offenders, combining with the parole ban to prompt a sharp increase in the federal prison population. As it stands, the beefed-up federal prison system costs taxpayers $40,000 per year for every inmate, and it costs inmates whole decades of their lives.

"We're being warehoused," Martorano said in a phone interview. "It's taken a million dollars just to keep me in."

Since the parole ban took effect, the federal prison population has more than quadrupled, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

In the past few years, the sentencing system has been slowly changing in other ways. For example, the US Sentencing Commission recently shortened its recommended sentences for crack cocaine offenses, and Congress has shown signs that it will consider bills addressing the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine. The Supreme Court is deliberating whether judges should be able to grant sentences that dip below established guidelines for sentence lengths.

However, Congress has taken no steps toward reversing course on federal parole. Although a bill to revive parole for federal prisoners has been introduced repeatedly in the House over the past few years, it has never made it to the floor for a vote. And an official at the US Sentencing Commission, who asked not to be identified, said he was not aware of any impetus that would bring back parole anytime soon.

As the prison population continues to explode, many influential voices in Congress and the public sphere are still touting a hardline philosophy when it comes to criminal justice, according to Representative Danny Davis (D-Illinois), who has sponsored the federal parole reinstatement bill for the last two Congresses.

"People don't want to be characterized as being 'soft on crime,'" Davis said in an interview. "They are still afraid that characterization will follow them. You would think that a country that is supposed to be as progressive as ours would've recognized that this approach is not working."


Problems With Synthetic Marijuana - The Video

Professor of Pharmacology and co-author of Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, John Morgan explains why synthetic marijuana is problematic as a substitute for therapies calling for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Watch the Video Here

Keeping DNA Critical Says Task Force

DNA evidence that could free people wrongfully convicted of murder or sexual assault should be preserved by law enforcement for as long as the defendant is behind bars, members of a governor's task force said Tuesday.

"We all agree there ought to be a duty on the part of law enforcement to preserve DNA evidence involving the most serious crimes," said retired Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless.

The task force settled on a set of tentative recommendations that, in part, call for storing and preserving DNA evidence in sexual assault and first- and second-degree murder cases while the defendant is incarcerated or on parole.

But some district attorneys and police departments say their biggest challenge will be finding the space and resources to house physical evidence for long periods of time.

The 21-member panel's recommendations will become the framework of legislation four lawmakers plan to introduce next year aimed at creating uniform standards in preserving physical and biological evidence in criminal cases.

Rocky Mountain News

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Did the Plants Survive?

A Fort Collins couple arrested last summer after police found marijuana in their home will get their property back, a judge ruled Monday afternoon.

"I'm very satisfied," said James Masters, who looked a bit dazed following the decision. "I don't even know where to begin."

On Aug. 2, 2006, the Larimer County Drug Task Force removed 39 plants from the home of James and Lisa Masters. The plants were seen while officers accompanied child welfare workers to the home.

The couple told police the marijuana was medicinal and was grown for their use, as well as the use of other patients for whom they acted as caregivers.

The criminal charges were dropped in June after Chief District Court Judge James Hiatt concluded the affidavit for a search warrant was drafted based on an illegal search.

Defense attorney Brian Vicente argued Monday that he'd presented "real, tangible and significant evidence" that the couple was committed to the well-being of their patients and that they were caregivers for their clients, even if they hadn't been formally designated as such.

And Hiatt agreed, ruling that the couple was entitled to get back their property, including the seized plants.

"It's pretty clear to this court he (James Masters) took this role (as caregiver) very seriously," Hiatt said.

Prosecutor Michael Pierson had argued that providing medical marijuana and the occasional ride to a doctor's appointment did not constitute being a primary caregiver.

Pierson also argued the property - which he called contraband - should not be returned because the Masterses had not followed the provisions of the amendment by not having medical marijuana certificates and not being designated as caregivers on their patients' certificates.

This could have been a fatal flaw had the hearing been part of a criminal proceeding, but was not in the request for return of property, Hiatt said.

Pierson did not comment after the hearing.

But the case is not yet over.

The couple will likely retrieve their property - paraphernalia and growing equipment - later this week, but the fate of the plants is not yet known for sure.

Neither Vicente nor Pierson knew definitively where the plants are or if they had been destroyed.

Lt. Craig Dodd, who heads the drug task force, was not in the office Monday but has previously said they do not have the resources or space to maintain marijuana plants seized in potential medical marijuana cases.

If the plants have been destroyed, Vicente said they'll seek financial compensation for the plants, which could be in excess of $100,000.


No Treatment For Colorado's Military

Today's report is the first in a series of five reports.

Watch Brian Ross' exclusive investigation, "Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs," Friday on "20/20" at 10 p.m. EDT

They were prepared for war. They were prepared to die for their country. But Fort Carson soldiers say they weren't prepared to come home and fight a different battle -- addiction to illegal drugs.

Many of this country's bravest men and women who volunteered to defend America in a time of war have come home wounded -- physically and mentally -- and are turning to illicit drugs as they adjust to normal life, according to soldiers, health experts and advocates.

"Lots of soldiers coming back from Iraq have been using drugs," said Spc. William Swenson, who was deployed to Iraq from Fort Carson. "Right when we got back, there were people using cocaine in the barracks; there were people smoking marijuana at strip clubs; one guy started shooting up," he said.

Fort Carson, just outside Colorado Springs, is home to 17,500 active duty personnel. Four thousand eight hundred service members are currently deployed in the "sand box," as soldiers call Iraq and Afghanistan.

ABC News spoke to more than a dozen soldiers who described widespread abuse of illegal drugs at Fort Carson by service members back from the war.

Spc. Alan Hartmann was a gunner on a Chinook helicopter flying missions from Kuwait into Iraq in 2003. He described the high of flying and the feeling that "nothing can touch you" as well as the terror of being shot at.

After sustaining a neck injury in Iraq, Hartmann returned to Fort Carson. Having regularly ferried the bodies of American soldiers killed in combat -- with the helicopter exhaust blowing warm air and the smell of death through the craft -- Hartmann said he had trouble sleeping. The nightmares were too bad, he said.

To help Hartmann deal with his physical and emotional pain, Army doctors prescribed painkillers and anti-depressants -- two typewritten pages' worth since he's been back. But Hartmann said he didn't like how the drugs made him feel, and instead he turned to self-medication with methamphetamines.

"The nightmares were killing me from being over there. The pain was so bad I didn't want to deal with it. Well, amphetamines is a real quick way to get rid of it," Hartmann said. "I was snorting it, and I was smoking it, and then I was hot railing it, and then I got to the point where I was actually injecting it in my arms," said Hartmann, who eventually checked himself into rehab and is now clean.

"[Soldiers are] coming back, drinking, fighting, putting $1,000 tabs down at a bar and drinking four to five hours, getting to the point where you don't give a crap about anything anymore [or] anybody, don't care if you live or die&the point where you do drugs," Hartmann said. "[Drugs] have been in Fort Carson like crazy."

Another former Fort Carson soldier, Michael Bailey, said he was discharged from the Army after testing positive for cocaine.

Bailey served two tours, one in Iraq and another in Kuwait. The stress of his deployment combined with marital problems overwhelmed Bailey who said he twice tried to commit suicide.

"The dose [of anti-depressants] I was on wasn't working, so I was trying an extra one and that wasn't working," Bailey said. "So I started drinking, and at one point I did cocaine."

Baily said he failed a drug test the very next day. Even though he was in the process of receiving mental health counseling from the Army, Bailey said he was discharged over his drug use. At the time of his interview with ABC News, Bailey was unemployed and still grappling with feelings of depression and anxiety.

And then there's combat engineer William Swenson who was injured on what was to be his final mission in Iraq when his vehicle drove over a 200-pound improvised explosive device. The blast injured Swenson's spine, and he developed syringomyelia -- a condition in which cysts form on the spinal cord.

Swenson said a laundry list of prescribed painkillers was ineffective so he turned to marijuana, the only substance that he said would numb his physical and emotional pain. Swenson failed a drug test after testing positive for marijuana as well as cocaine.

"I think a lot of people using drugs, soldiers mainly, coming back from Iraq, it's just to get an escape from&all those horrible things that came into their mind when they were over there," Swenson said.

Army Denies Growing Drug Abuse Problem

Fort Carson's leadership declined to discuss substance abuse issues with ABC News despite numerous interview requests. Fort Carson also said it could not comment on the individual cases of the soldiers we interviewed, citing privacy concerns.

In interviews with ABC News at the Pentagon, however, the U.S. Army strongly denied there was an increase in drug abuse among soldiers deployed to Iraq.

According to Dr. Ian McFarling, acting director of the Army Center for Substance Abuse Programs, less than one half of one percent of soldiers in Iraq have tested positive for illegal drugs.

"That's a testament to the kind of leadership we have is that they believe that that's not the place that they should be doing drugs," said Dr. McFarling.

But Dr. McFarling said that once soldiers return from Iraq, the positive rate for drug tests doubles to more than one percent. In addition, Dr. McFarling said five percent of soldiers back from Iraq seek help for substance abuse issues from clinical providers.

The U.S. Army does offer treatment for soldiers dealing with drug abuse, and Fort Carson has a busy Army Substance Abuse Program.

But some soldiers are forced off post because Fort Carson offers no inpatient services; others get treatment in the community to avoid the stigma associated with seeking help, soldiers and advocates said.

Since the Iraq war started in 2003, Colorado Springs hospitals and counseling services have seen a dramatic increase in active duty soldiers seeking treatment for substance abuse. Penrose-St. Francis Health Services went from treating no active duty soldiers for substance abuse before the war to between 30 and 40 now, said Phillip Ballard, the hospital's inpatient psychiatrist.

According to Ballard, "Now that we have larger numbers than the military facilities can treat&it falls upon the civilian community to treat those patients."

Veterans' advocacy groups charge that the problem of substance abuse is much greater than the Army wants to publicly acknowledge, and it's growing.

"I've met with veterans from coast to coast, and I will tell you that there is a catastrophe on the horizon," said Paul Sullivan, director of Veterans for Common Sense.

Three thousand fifty-seven veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were potentially diagnosed with a drug dependency from fiscal year 2005 through March 2007, according to figures provided to ABC News from the Veterans Health Administration. From 2002 through 2004, only a total of 277 veterans were diagnosed with drug dependency, the numbers show.

"The military right now can say whatever they want, but the truth on the ground is that the soldiers are in a lot of pain, emotional and physical pain, and they're turning to drugs in order to alleviate that," said Sullivan.

Photos: Coming Home: Soldiers and Drugs

ABC News

Monday, November 26, 2007

Lethal Injection Standards

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments early next year on whether lethal injections violate the U.S. Constitution's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

It is an issue that has brought a halt to executions in more than a dozen states, nine of which are facing litigation on the matter. While we oppose the death penalty, we also believe the high court needs to clarify the hodgepodge of state laws that has left states in a quandary over the death penalty.

Colorado, one of 37 states that allows the death penalty, has used lethal injection just once since it was instituted here in 1988. Gary Davis was put to death on Oct. 13, 1997, using a lethal cocktail. Before that, executions in this state were carried out by hanging and lethal gas.

Death penalty supporters consider lethal injection to be less painful than other forms of execution, including the electric chair (which is still used in Nebraska). But there have been problems with lethal injection, largely with the administration of the drugs that are supposed to bring about a quick and painless death. The American Medical Association prohibits doctors from taking part in any aspect of an execution. Instead, the injection is given by volunteers, who run the risk of making mistakes.

There are currently no uniform standards for carrying out lethal injections, and lawsuits have been brought in various states challenging the methods for carrying out the sentence. In addition, there is adequate evidence that the injection, with some frequency, does not fully anesthetize the prisoners, leaving them paralyzed and able to feel severe pain as a heart-stopping drug is injected.

Two Kentucky death row inmates, each convicted of a double murder, brought the appeal now pending before the Supreme Court. They claim that lethal injection presents an "unnecessary risk" of pain and suffering. The Kentucky Supreme Court concluded in the case that the Constitution's prohibition against cruel punishment "does not require a complete absence of pain."

The high court agreed in September to consider the constitutionality of lethal injections. The justices are expected to hear arguments early next year.

While we don't expect the justices to determine whether or not capital punishment is constitutional, we hope the court will insist on stricter, more uniform standards for putting people to death by lethal injection.

Denver Post Editorial

The Cost of Justice

.....and money for treatment is.....??

As counties across Colorado finalize their budgets for 2008, they are preparing to earmark millions of dollars in new criminal justice spending - money that will pay for new law officers, courtrooms and prosecutors.

Part of the spending is the inevitable consequence of a growing population and continuing efforts to prevent crime and get tough when it occurs. And part of it is the result of the state's unprecedented plan to hire 43 new judges over the next three years - a move that will have the ripple effect of forcing sheriffs and district attorneys to hire people to staff new courtrooms.

"It's a fight to stay current with the growth, and it's everywhere," said Don Christensen, executive director of County Sheriffs of Colorado. "It's a constant pressure."

Rocky Mountain News

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Long Road Back After Exoneration

The New York Times has a fascinating set of articles today that focus on lives of people who have been exonerated over the years, mostly through DNA evidence. How have the years that folks spent in prison left them to deal with life outside?

Christopher Ochoa graduated from law school five years out of prison and started his own practice in Madison, Wis. He has a girlfriend and is looking to buy a house.

Michael Anthony Williams, who entered prison as a 16-year-old boy and left more than two years ago as a 40-year-old man, has lived in a homeless shelter and had a series of jobs, none lasting more than six months.

Gene Bibbins worked a series of temporary factory jobs, got engaged, but fell into drug addiction. Four and a half years after walking out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, he landed in jail in East Baton Rouge, accused of cocaine possession and battery.

The stories are not unusual for men who have spent many years in prison. What makes these three men different is that there are serious questions about whether they should have been in prison in the first place.

The men are among the more than 200 prisoners exonerated since 1989 by DNA evidence — almost all of whom had been incarcerated for murder or rape. Their varied experiences are typical of what The New York Times found in one of the most extensive looks to date at what happens to those exonerated inmates after they leave prison.

The Times worked from a list of DNA-exonerated prisoners kept by the Innocence Project — widely regarded as the most thorough record of DNA exonerations. The Times then gathered extensive information on 137 of those whose convictions had been overturned, interviewing 115.

The findings show that most of them have struggled to keep jobs, pay for health care, rebuild family ties and shed the psychological effects of years of questionable or wrongful imprisonment.

Typically, testing of blood or semen from the crime scene revealed DNA pointing to another perpetrator. The authorities in some of the cases have continued to insist they convicted the right men, and have even fought efforts by some of them to sue for money.

About one-third of them, like Mr. Ochoa, found ways to get a stable footing in the world. But about one-sixth of them, like Mr. Bibbins, found themselves back in prison or suffering from drug or alcohol addiction.

About half, like Mr. Williams, had experiences somewhere between those extremes, drifting from job to job and leaning on their family, lawyers or friends for housing and other support.

And in many cases the justice system has been slow to make amends.

NY Times

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bush Clemency Bids Backing Up

If you are a turkey or worked at the White House you might have a shot at clemency. Otherwise....

WASHINGTON -- The federal clemency system is approaching gridlock as a surge in applications for pardons and commutations has resulted in the largest and most persistent backlog of cases in recent history, according to federal data obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

As of Oct. 1, more than 3,000 petitions for clemency filed by federal prisoners were pending with the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Justice Department statistics show. That compares with an average of 500 to 1,000 in the five decades since World War II.

The number of petitions soared during the final years of the Clinton administration and has remained high under President Bush, creating a buildup of pending applications that has averaged more than 2,000 a year since 2001.

The backlog has grown sharply in recent months. After acting on several hundred petitions each year since 2001, Bush closed only 18 cases in fiscal 2007, which ended Sept. 30. The last action Bush took was to commute the 30-month prison term of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in July.

The logjam has enormous emotional and practical consequences for inmates and their supporters, who often must wait years to get a decision. Critics of the federal justice system see clemency as an important safety valve at a time when parole is no longer available for federal inmates and when many prisoners have been sentenced under stiff mandatory minimum sentencing laws enacted by Congress in the 1980s.

There is a growing debate about the impact and fairness of those laws, including measures that have punished African Americans disproportionately for possessing or distributing crack cocaine. Indeed, legal experts say the surge in petitions is fueled in part by people who have spent a decade or more in prison after being sentenced under tough federal drug laws.

Critics say the lack of action on clemency applications reflects an abandonment by Bush of the discretion he holds under the Constitution to commute sentences. Bush has granted 113 pardons and commuted four sentences since taking office. That is the lowest number of any president since World War II, except for President George H.W. Bush, who granted 74 pardons and three commutations in his one term.

The critics also said the backlog raises questions about whether the Justice Department is up to the task of assessing petitions in an orderly and fair way.

"The number of cases that are not being acted on is skyrocketing," said P.S. Ruckman Jr., a clemency expert and author who is an associate professor of political science at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill. "There have been times in history when there have been just as many applications but not this huge gap" of unresolved cases, Ruckman said.

The Justice Department said it receives more than 1,000 clemency petitions yearly. "The processing and evaluation of these cases takes significant time, and in many cases, several years," the department said in a statement. "The Department is aware of the staffing needs to process the increase in clemency petitions and is working to address this."

An additional staff attorney has been assigned to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, according to the statement. And, "the Department will continue to evaluate the staffing needs of the office."

The Justice Department also noted that it "routinely sends clemency recommendations to the White House," suggesting that the backlog is due in part to the president's inaction. "The timing of clemency grants and denials is the president's constitutional prerogative," the statement said.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "We neither encourage nor discourage clemency recommendations, and do not interfere in the process. Clemency decisions are made on a case-by-case basis."

The growing backlog is demoralizing for families and supporters of inmates.

Circle of Support

Nice catch by Mike over at Corrections Sentencing about a program in Vermont that creates support groups for people coming out of prison. Originally Canadian, the effort is called the "Circle of Support" reentry program . This program is in the community in an effort to circle around folks once they get out in an effort to make people feel like they are a part of the community and therefore develop a sense of accountability. That's where real public safety is derived from. The article states that CO is looking into this strategy as well. I don't know who that would be at this point. Apparently the program is developed through the Department of Corrections so we would have to contact them for more information. For more information about the structure of the program go to this website in Canada.

BARRE, Vt. - Vermont corrections officials are trying a radical new strategy to reintegrate the state's worst offenders into society: Team them up with groups of students, parents, businesspeople, and retirees in the towns they return to after prison, and let these surrogate families and friends show them how they can fit in again.

Modeling their efforts on a successful Canadian program, towns across Vermont are matching felons who have served time in prison for sexually abusing children, beating up family members, dealing drugs, and other offenses with artists, barbers, lawyers, teachers, and retirees. The volunteers help the returning offenders find jobs and apartments, give them rides and advice, and socialize with them. The idea, which is backed by studies of the Canadian program, is that former inmates who feel connected to the places where they live are less likely to break laws again.

The Vermont Department of Corrections is one of the first in the United States to embrace the approach, using a three-year $2 million federal grant it received in 2003, said Derek Miodownik, the grant manager.

Support teams, called "circles of support and accountability," meet weekly to check on former prisoners in Newport, St. Johnsbury, Barre, Montpelier, and Brattleboro. Each offender works with a small team of volunteers, who begin meeting with the offender before he or she leaves prison. The teams are supervised by local community justice centers, state-funded agencies that work with crime victims and offenders. Paid coordinators, who are employed by the centers, lead the groups and help make sure offenders stay on track. The offenders have been released from prison under state supervision; all have counselors or probation officers who also keep tabs on them.

To make them feel part of the team, the volunteers refer to the offenders as "core members." The teams discuss the effects of the crimes the offenders committed on their victims and the community.

Eric Horowitz, 45, of Brattleboro, said he would probably be back in prison if not for his four team members. They have taken him bowling, to restaurants, and on walks, said Horowitz, who served six years for lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor and aggravated domestic assault.

When he saw that the members of his team did not condemn him, "it was a great surprise to me," he said. He said the group has boosted his self-esteem and taught him an important lesson: "When you do something to society, it loses trust in you, and you have to rebuild that trust."

The fate of the Vermont project is uncertain. The federal grant funding will run out at the end of the year, and legislation that would provide more money remains tied up in Congress, said Miodownik. The grant money pays the salaries of the group coordinators.

For now, Vermont has set up 23 trained support teams in five towns and cities. Most of the offenders have returned to the towns where they lived and committed their crimes.

The new initiative has attracted volunteers such as Howard and Elinor Yahm, 64-year-old retired psychotherapists who moved to Vermont almost a year ago from New York. They said they have grown close to the young man their team is trying to help, a 20-year-old who recently served 18 months in prison for possession of child pornography.

Asked about his progress, the Yahms said proudly that the young man is doing "terrifically," thriving in the job they helped him find as manager of a deli and dating a new girlfriend.

"The more successful he is, the more protected the community is," said another volunteer, Jeannie MacLeod of Barre.

A trained mediator and the mother of a young son, MacLeod, 40, is on a team that is helping another former convict, a man who served nine months for assaulting a family member.

MacLeod said she volunteered because she knew the family of her offender. But she quickly found herself riveted by the drama of helping another person struggle through the adversity of returning from prison.

Wilson said recruiting volunteers has been the toughest task facing the program in Canada. In Barre, a blue-collar city of 9,000 people, project leaders said recruitment took off, driven by word of mouth, after Katherine Paterson, the local author of the bestselling children's novel "Bridge To Terabithia," decided to volunteer. About 30 volunteers now serve on nine support teams.

Colorado and a handful of other states are also setting up volunteer teams, and there are other signs that the model may be gaining momentum. Canadian psychologist Robin Wilson, a leading proponent, was in Boston last week to explain how the program works in Canada to clergy members, legislators, and social workers.

Getting residents involved in the lives of felons improves public safety, says Wilson and other proponents. The volunteers become invested in the successful reintegration of the former inmates and serve as role models who help steer their charges away from activities that could lead to crime. In an interview, Wilson said former prisoners fare better under the Canadian approach than when they are shunned in their communities.

"We have to get our heads around the idea that most of them are going to come back to the same places they left," he said. "We can't put them on an island somewhere."

Between 150 and 200 of the circles are operating in Canada, where they serve mostly sex offenders. Another 40 to 50 are in place in the United Kingdom, Wilson said.

A Canadian study compared 60 convicted sex offenders who were deemed most likely to reoffend but who had the help of support teams with 60 felons convicted of similar crimes who lacked such support. The study, conducted by Wilson in 2005, found that the returning felons without support teams were about three times more likely to commit new sex crimes than those with support teams, and more than twice as likely to commit any violent crime within four to five years of their release from prison.

Vermont corrections officials say it is too soon to judge the outcome of the program, which started teaming volunteers with felons in 2005, but they are encouraged: Of the 23 offenders currently participating in the project, some of whom have been in the program for more than a year, only two have been charged with new offenses. One of those two was convicted of providing alcohol to a minor, a lesser crime than his original drug offense, said Miodownik, the grant administrator.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of the people released from prison were arrested for another serious crime within three years of their release, according to a 1994 government study.

The effort in Vermont has drawn little criticism, but some supporters of crime victims say the state should make sure that their needs receive equal attention.

"We hope this is helpful in preventing future victims," said Sharon Davis, special projects coordinator for the Vermont Center for Crime Victims Services. "But on the other side, we should also worry about what we're doing in the longer term for victims."

At a dinner for members of the nine support teams in Barre church basement this month, Howard and Elinor Yahm looked on, smiling, as their young charge dashed back and forth in a Red Sox T-shirt, delivering steaming bowls of squash and potatoes from the kitchen to the table. The former prisoner, who asked that his name not be published, said he hopes one day to be a chef and own a restaurant.

In and out of the criminal justice system for years, the young man said a lot of people have tried to help him, but his group members are different.

"They're not paid to help," he said. "They do it of their own free will."


NY City Murders At An All Time Low

New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable Police Department statistics became available in 1963.

But within the city’s official crime statistics is a figure that may be even more striking: so far, with roughly half the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers, a microscopic statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million.

If that trend holds up, fewer than 100 homicide victims in New York City this year will have been strangers to their assailants. The vast majority died in disputes with friends or acquaintances, with rival drug gang members or — to a far lesser degree — with romantic partners, spouses, parents and others.

The low number of killings by strangers belies the common imagery that New Yorkers are vulnerable to arbitrary attacks on the streets, or die in robberies that turn fatal.

In the eyes of some criminologists, the police will be hard pressed to drive the killing rate much lower, since most killings occur now within the four walls of an apartment or the confines of close relationships.

“What are you going to do, send cops to every house?” said Peter K. Manning, the Brooks professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

“We know that historically, homicide is the least suppressible crime by police action,” he added. “It is, generally speaking, a private crime, resulting from people who know one another and have relationships that end up in death struggles at home or in semipublic places.”

Police officials did not dispute the validity of that assessment.

The homicide figure continues a remarkable slide since 1990, when New York recorded its greatest number of killings in a single year, 2,245, and when untold scores of the victims were killed in violence between strangers.

Homicides began falling in the early 1990s, when Raymond W. Kelly first served as police commissioner, and plummeted further under subsequent commissioners. Mr. Kelly returned to serve under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2002, the first year there were fewer than 600 homicides. There were 587 that year, down from 649 in the previous year.

Nearly two decades ago, the city’s crack-cocaine epidemic led to headlines about gang wars, semiautomatic gunfire in schoolyards and a police blotter that showed more than six homicides a day, on average.

This year, with 428 killings logged through Sunday — 412 actual killings plus 16 crime victims who have died this year from injuries sustained long ago — the average number of killings is a bit more than one a day.

The numbers on file from before 1963 are not considered reliable for comparison because until then, many homicides were not recorded until an arrest was made and the case was closed, but ever since, they have been recorded as they occurred. There were 390 homicides recorded in 1960, fewer than this year, but any comparison would be faulty.

The killings that have seized the headlines this year appear to have personal motives at their core: An assistant has been charged with killing her boss, Linda Stein, inside Ms. Stein’s Fifth Avenue penthouse after a vicious argument; a Queens orthodontist, Daniel Malakov, was gunned down, and a relative of his estranged wife, whom he was fighting in divorce and child custody proceedings, has been charged.

In contrast to the 35 cases this year in which officials have found that victim and assailant were strangers, there were 121 in the whole of last year, officials said. The motives in the remainder of the killings this year are still being analyzed.

The dropping homicide rate raises a question of whether other types of crime are on the rise. But police statistics, which are subject to an internal auditing system in use since the early 1990s, show dips in six of the seven major crime categories, according to the department’s latest reports.

As of Sunday, overall crime was down 6.47 percent, compared to the same period last year. In addition to the homicide rate, the number of rapes, robberies, burglaries, grand larcenies and car thefts are all on the decline.

Felony assaults have increased slightly, to 15,372 from 15,344, a 0.1 percent increase, according to the police statistics. Shootings, which the department has tracked for 14 years, as well as the number wounded in those shootings, are both down.

After years when crime fell across the nation, many cities in the country are now experiencing a surge in homicides, said Thomas A. Reppetto, a police historian who monitors the city crime numbers and helped write “NYPD: A City and Its Police.”

“You would expect New York to follow the national trend, but instead, murders continue to go down considerably,” Mr. Reppetto said.

“Not only has the N.Y.P.D. reduced murder, by nearly 80 percent, but it has changed the pattern of homicides,” he added. “In the early 1990s, many innocent citizens were killed by bullets from battling drug gangs. Today, thanks to the police drive against the gangs, that type of homicide is far less common.”

It is extremely common around the nation to find in killings involving acquaintances that those involved are not family members but criminals or drug gang members, said David M. Kennedy, the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.

In the 412 killings this year, the number of people with previous arrests for narcotics was striking: 196 victims and 149 assailants. And 77 percent of the assailants had a previous arrest history, while 70 percent of the victims did, the statistics showed.

Killers and those killed are overwhelmingly male and most in both categories are between 18 and 40, according to the police analysis. In terms of race and ethnicity, whites make up 7 percent of victims and assailants, while 66 percent of the victims and 61 percent of the assailants are black and 26 percent of the victims and 31 percent of the assailants are Hispanic.

When told about the low homicide numbers, Dr. Manning uttered a single word: “Wow.”

Mr. Kennedy said, “What this shows is that the N.Y.P.D. — and whatever else is going on in New York — has managed to squeeze the problem of active offenders against active offenders down to a remarkably, historically low level.”

NY Times

Prison Secrets

A guard at Limon Correctional Facility who had a "more than just professional" relationship with an inmate tipped him off to an upcoming drug bust - information that later got him killed, authorities say.

Now two men are facing the death penalty in the 2004 killing of inmate Jeffrey S. Heird, who prosecutors say was stabbed 20 to 30 times because he didn't warn gang members about the bust.

The guard, Gina Kirkland, 30, denied the relationship when she took the witness stand in a preliminary hearing last year. She also said she never leaked information to Heird. Reached by phone this week, she declined to comment.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said that Kirkland was moved to another position while an internal investigation was conducted, but that Kirkland "is no longer with us."

The possible relationship between the married guard and an inmate serving time for kidnapping and murder is just one revelation contained in the case files of accused murderers David Bueno and Alejandro Perez.

The documents, filed in Lincoln County court, paint a picture of a prison occupied by more than 170 gangs, where contraband was regularly coming in and the drug trade lucrative enough that a disruption of business may be reason to kill.

Different stories

Heird was convicted of kidnapping and killing a gas station attendant in Cortez in 1991.

In prison, he was a power weight lifter who worked for a while as the facility's plumber. He met Kirkland when he went to the visiting area to do plumbing work, she testified during a 2006 hearing for Bueno and Perez.

Kirkland, whose husband still works in the prison's transportation department, conducted background checks on visitors and from time to time, monitored phone calls and visits, she said.

Kirkland testified that she knew Heird for about a year and a half before he came to work as one of her porters in the visiting area. She also said they never had a sexual or more than professional relationship.

Taking the witness stand immediately after Kirkland, Heird's mother, Mary Foote, testified she spoke with her son twice a week while he was in Limon, and that they talked about his relationship with Kirkland.

She said the two had a relationship for one or two years. She didn't think the relationship was ever sexual, but said it was "more than an employee-inmate relationship."

Heird and Kirkland had "deep discussions," including one about Heird wanting Kirkland to have his child, Foote said, according to a transcript of the proceeding. She also said she was troubled by the relationship because if prison authorities found out about it, her son would be in trouble.

"It's like if they had gotten caught having sex or something, then (Heird) - they could have hollered rape and (Heird) would have faced charges," Foote said.

Rocky Mountain News

Friday, November 23, 2007

NY TIMES ED.- Children Behind Bars

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 created a far-sighted partnership between the federal government and the states that agreed to remake often barbaric juvenile justice systems in exchange for federal aid. Unfortunately, those gains have been steadily rolled back since the 1990s when states began sending ever larger numbers of juveniles to adult jails — where they face a high risk of being battered, raped or pushed to suicide. The act is due to be reauthorized this year, and Congress needs to use that opportunity to reverse this destructive trend.

As incredible as it seems, many states regard a child as young as 10 as competent to stand trial in juvenile court. More than 40 states regard children as young as 14 as “of age” and old enough to stand trial in adult court. The scope of the problem is laid out in a new report entitled Jailing Juveniles from the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group based in Washington. Statistics are notoriously hard to get, but perhaps as many as 150,000 young people under the age of 18 are incarcerated in adult jails in any given year.

As many as half of the young people who are transferred to the adult system are never convicted as adults. Many are never convicted at all. By the time the process has run its course, however, one in five of these young people will have spent more than six months in adult jails.

Some jails try to protect young inmates by placing them in isolation, where they are locked in small cells for 23 hours a day. This worsens mental disorders. The study says that young people are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile facility. Young people who survive adult jail too often return home as damaged and dangerous people. Studies show that they are far more likely to commit violent crimes — and to end up back inside — than those who are handled through the juvenile courts.

The rush to criminalize children has set the country on a dangerous path. Congress must now reshape the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act so that it provides the states with the money and the expertise they need to develop more enlightened juvenile justice policies. For starters, it should rewrite the law to prohibit the confinement of children in adult jails.


Fewer Crimes Not More Prison

Nation needs fewer crimes, not more prisons

Earlier this week, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa laid out his case for more jail cells to ease overcrowding at the Criminal Justice Center. A look around the nation shows Maketa is not alone in his concerns for the safety of his deputies and inmates.

It hasn’t gotten this bad in Colorado yet, but last year, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looked at the 175,000 prisoners crammed into a prison system built for half that number and proclaimed a state of emergency. So far, this emergency has been addressed largely in terms of prison supply — more beds. A truly comprehensive solution for jails and prison systems nationwide must focus also on reducing prison demand: reducing the number of criminals by reforming sentences for those lawbreakers who don’t threaten public safety. A research institute that works closely with corrections departments around the country conducted an analysis of the nation as a whole, and found both the same problem and the same necessary solution.

According to Colorado Department of Corrections data, “As of Jan. 31, 2006, there were 28,243 people under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Department of Corrections.” In 2004, the incarceration rate was 438 per 100,000 adult residents.

The report issued last week by the JFA Institute shows this follows the pattern of the nation as a whole, which now warehouses 2.2 million prisoners at a cost of $100 billion a year: a 10-fold increase compared with three decades ago. JFA Institute, based in Washington, D.C., works with government and philanthropic agencies to evaluate criminal justice policies and design research-based policy solutions.

Who are these 2.2 million people? Hundreds of thousands of them are people imprisoned for non-violent drug charges.

The JFA report demonstrates the primary reason for overcrowded prisons is not an explosion of crime, but an explosion of prison sentences. These sentences are many times the length of those for equivalent crimes in other industrialized nations, and they are “significantly longer than they were in earlier periods in our penal history.” The result is greater expense for less effect.

The JFA Institute argues its recommendations would save $20 billion a year and, eventually, reduce prison rolls by half. Certainly, they represent the real reforms America needs: reducing sentences, eliminating the use of prison for parole violators, reducing parole and probation supervision periods and, most importantly, decriminalizing victimless crimes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Remember the War On Drugs?

It is good to see Mexico and the United States working together to battle the drug cartels that deliver hundreds of tons of illegal drugs to American consumers every year, killing more than 2,000 Mexicans annually along the way. Still, the Bush administration’s proposed $1.4 billion counternarcotics aid package falls far short of what is needed to confront the problem.

If Washington is serious about stopping the northward flow of cocaine, heroin and other drugs, it must begin an aggressive campaign to stop the southward flow of money and high-powered weapons that finance and arm the cartels. And there must be a far more serious effort to curb Americans’ use of illicit drugs.

Federal financing for drug prevention and treatment programs has been steadily declining since 2005. Yet so long as there is demand, the narcotics will always find a route, through Mexico or some other way.

There is not a lot of talk these days about the war on drugs, but the traffickers are more than holding their own. The National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that Andean cocaine arriving in Mexico for transshipment north jumped from 220 tons in 2000 to 380 tons in 2006. Mexican heroin production for the United States market went from 9 to 19 tons in the same time. In Mexico, defeat is measured in bodies: more than 2,000 last year and 1,100 in the first six months of 2007, including drug dealers, police officers, journalists and bystanders.

For the first time, Mexico is seriously turning to the United States for help, and Washington is eager to respond. Even then, the proposed aid package — starting with $500 million to help train and equip Mexican law enforcement tucked into the White House’s request for the Iraq war — looks shockingly inadequate when compared with what the drug dealers have at their command.

According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, between $8 billion and $23 billion in proceeds from the drug trade flowed illegally across the border into Mexico in 2005. The cartels have used that enormous financial clout to corrupt Mexican law enforcement on an unparalleled scale. The traffickers’ firepower — likened to what American soldiers face in Afghanistan and Iraq — also eclipses the puny arsenal of Mexico’s police forces. Mexican officials estimate that 90 percent of the guns they confiscate are smuggled in from the United States.

The good news is that Mexico and the United States finally recognize that they are on the same side in this battle. It is a vast improvement over Washington’s perennial finger-wagging. Mexico’s resolve to take on drug trafficking, rather than dismissing it as an unsolvable problem, is also welcome. But it is only a start

Reverse Unfair Crack Sentencing

I wonder if our sentencing commission will get this type of support. The first meeting will be on January 11. So I guess we'll see.

A federal commission should make changes to crack-sentencing laws retroactive, freeing many who were jailed in the 1980s.
By The Denver Post

Disproportionately harsh federal prison sentences for crack cocaine offenders is an injustice that has been smoldering for two decades.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, a presidentially appointed body that sets federal court policies and practices, recently changed those crack penalties so they are in keeping with punishments for other drugs.

But the commission still is contemplating whether to make those changes retroactive so that 19,500 prisoners serving unfairly long sentences can petition to be released. Of them, 115 were sentenced in Colorado.

The commission took one step in the right direction and we think it ought to take another and give those prisoners a chance at justice.

If the commission makes the change retroactive, it wouldn't be the first time. It has done so with changes to sentencing laws involving LSD, marijuana cultivation and OxyContin, a prescription painkiller.

This circumstance is different because whether intentionally or not, harsh crack sentences have had an unfair effect on black communities.

Many crack offenders are poor black people, in part because of the drug's cheap price. Harsh crack penalties are often among the reasons cited for the escalating number of black people incarcerated in this country.

An illustration of how disproportionate punishments for crack crimes had been can be found in comparing punishments for powder cocaine. Though the drugs have the same chemical properties, possession and dealing charges for powder aren't nearly as severe. Before the recent changes, a first-timer selling just 5 grams of crack, which equals 10 to 50 doses, had gotten the same five-year mandatory sentence as dealers pushing 500 grams of powdered cocaine, which is 2,500 to 5,000 doses.

Crack sentences were passed during a panicky stretch in the 1980s when it was a scary new drug. The laws may not have been intended to discriminate, but they did and it's time to right that wrong.

The Bush administration opposes retroactivity, saying communities would suffer from the release of large numbers of drug offenders. And Congress could overturn any such proposal from the commission.

But we like the reasoning of U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who last week testified before the commission on behalf of the federal judiciary. You may recall that Walton is the Bush appointee who gave Scooter Libby a 30-month prison term for obstructing justice in a probe over the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Walton could hardly be described as soft on crime. (The president ultimately commuted the sentence). Walton said in contemplating retroactivity, he struggled with concerns about public safety and extra work for the federal court system. But in the end, those worries were outweighed by the fundamental unfairness of the situation. He's right.

A Sentencing Commission analysis says retroactivity could reduce prison sentences of 19,500 inmates by an average of 27 months. Many have been in prison so long they are older than 40, which reduces the probability they'd return to crime.

Releases wouldn't happen automatically. Prisoners would petition the courts and prosecutors would have a good chance of denying release for serious, violent offenders.

It's only fair that the small-time users and dealers who got caught up in draconian sentences should have the chance to have their sentences reduced to a term that fits the crime.

The Denver Post

Hospital Cited In Death At Jail

Denver Health Medical Center has been cited for failing to diagnose and treat Emily Rae Rice's abdominal injuries before sending her to the Denver jail where she bled to death, U.S. District Court records show.

Rice, 24, died in her cell Feb. 19, 2006, after a drunken-driving crash in which her spleen was ruptured and her liver slashed.

She was first taken by ambulance to Denver Health, where a paramedic student and a graduate nurse indicated to the primary-care nurse and physician that Rice complained of pain to her shoulder and abdomen, the records show.

But the primary-care nurse and physician did not follow up with a physical examination of Rice's abdomen before she was transferred to the jail, the records say.

Three federal citations, issued in August 2006, were contained in a court motion filed Monday by Rice family attorney Darold Killmer.

Killmer says he and the family were unaware of the citations or the federal probe for 16 months because Denver Health officials did not inform them even though they were engaged in discussions with the hospital on resolving the family's federal lawsuit.

"Denver Health has effectively squashed that investigation because it's so damning towards them," Killmer said Tuesday.

Denver Health spokesman Tony Encinias said the medical center has not been fined, and he declined to comment on whether a fine could be pending or other elements of the Rice case because of the litigation.

Rice's parents have sued the hospital and the jail because they say her complaints of abdominal and side pain were ignored, causing her death 20 hours after she was seen by doctors at the medical center.

An internal-affairs investigation at the jail determined that two deputies had failed to make required visits to check on Rice, possibly contributing to the cascading events that led to her death. The jail has denied that the failure to check on Rice played a role in her death from internal bleeding.

In the filing, Killmer is responding to a motion to dismiss the case against Dr. Jason Haukoos, one of many medical personnel who came in contact with Rice the day she was taken to Denver Health.

Killmer contends Haukoos should not be dismissed from the lawsuit because his negligence caused Rice's death and that the citations support the allegations.

"Defendant Haukoos affirmatively decided to perform no diagnostic tests or labs which could explain the cause or causes of her shoulder or abdominal/side pain," the filing says. "Instead, the only lab work those detaining Ms. Rice found to be important enough to perform was a Breathalyzer that would determine Ms. Rice's criminal culpability instead of any tests whatsoever to determine the severity of her medical condition."

Rice had a 0.12 percent blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash. The legal limit for drivers in Colorado is 0.08 percent.

The investigation of Denver Health's actions in the Rice case was conducted by the state on behalf of the federal government. Authorities found Denver Health failed to provide Rice adequate medical screening; failed to ensure that Rice received adequate assessment and treatment to stabilize her medical condition; and failed to ensure that her medical condition was stabilized before she was transferred to the jail.

Such deficiencies violate the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, designed to guard against hospitals dumping patients.

Neither Howard Roitman of the state Department of Public Health and Environment nor Killmer knows what the citations mean for the hospital.

Officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees the citations, could not be reached Tuesday for information about the investigation.

The Denver Post

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Judge Eases Medical Marijuana Access

Access to medical marijuana will be easier as a result of a ruling by a Denver judge.

District Judge Larry Naves last week overturned a state health department policy that restricted providers of medical marijuana to five patients.

The ruling endorses a settlement reached between the health department and attorneys for AIDS patient Damien LaGoy, who sued after his caregiver request was denied in May based on the five-patient rule.

The denial forced him to buy marijuana on the street, LaGoy said.

"I was in a very dangerous situation," LaGoy said at a news conference Monday. "I was trying to get medical marijuana from some of the darkest spots in town, risking my life at times. I actually have been robbed once trying to find medical marijuana. Also, you never know what you're getting."

LaGoy, who has AIDS and hepatitis C, said marijuana helps control his nausea and gives him an appetite. "Medical marijuana is about the only thing that helps," he said.

Naves granted an injunction this summer preventing the health department from enforcing the policy, which he said was adopted by the department in a closed meeting in 2004.

That ruling led to negotiations in which the state agreed not to enforce the five-patient rule and to notify patients, caregivers and others when considering policies affecting medical marijuana users.

Naves subsequently overturned the five-patient policy, saying its adoption violated the Colorado open meetings act.

"The health department just randomly selected five as the limit in a secret, clandestine meeting that was not open to patients or caregivers or doctors or the scientific community," said attorney Brian Vicente.

Dan Pope, whom LaGoy chose to be his caregiver and supplier of medical marijuana, said he hopes the ruling "will pave the way for establishing regulated dispensaries to provide medical marijuana in a safe, reliable way."

Supporters say the ruling is a victory for as many as 1,800 medical marijuana users in Colorado.

Health department spokesman Mark Salley said the department will take a new look at a "whether a limit is warranted and what that should be."

Whatever the department does, Salley said, would involve public comment.

Rocky Mountain News

Monday, November 19, 2007

Unlocking America: What and How to Reduce America's Prison Population

The JFA Institute released their report today:

The U.S. has the world's largest incarcerated population, with 2.2 million Americans in prison or jail on any given day. At the same time, statistics show that there is little relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates, proving that overflowing prisons are not making us safer.

This new report, co-authored by nine leading criminology and penal experts, calls for universal adoption of proven reforms, including reducing time served in prison and eliminating prison time for technical parole and probation violations.

Moderated discussion included nationally syndicated columnist
Clarence Page. Panelists included:

  • James Austin, President, JFA Institute
  • Devon Brown, Director, Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections
  • Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
  • Dr. Fred Osher, Director, Center for Behavioral Health, Justice, & Public Policy, University of Maryland
  • Dr. Michael Pinard, University of Maryland, School of Law
  • Christy Visher, Research Associate, Urban Institute

  • Unlocking America

    Getting On After Getting Out - Pueblo Chieftain

    Prisoners who soon face a life of freedom and have no idea how to prepare for a return to the streets will get some sorely needed help from a new re-entry guide compiled by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

    The guide, "Getting On After Getting Out: A Re-entry Guide for Colorado," was released last week and is packed with 200 pages of helpful information which took author Carol Peeples and coalition volunteers three years to compile.

    With the help of Correctional Industries, 20,000 free copies will be distributed to state prisons and then be distributed to inmates and parolees by case managers. The guides were printed thanks to $60,000 in donations from the Piton Foundation, Denver Foundation, Daniels Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

    "We are ecstatic to provide so many copies, but it only covers two-thirds of the people in prison or on parole and doesn't account for the 900 people a month that are new admissions into the prison system," said Christie Donner, executive director for the reform coalition.

    "As part of any prison reform, we need to find ways to keep parolees from coming back to prison," Donner said. "We keep getting reports over and over again about the barriers these parolees face - they are quickly overwhelmed with dread, depression and hopelessness because they are told ‘no’ on jobs and housing or if they do get a job they have such low pay they can't meet all their expenses."

    "It becomes a huge pit of expenses and it's a hole they can't dig out of, so they become noncompliant. Many start using drugs and alcohol again to drown their sorrows," Donner said.

    The newly released parolees are faced with restitution costs, required class fees, drug and alcohol screens, child support, medical and cost of living expenses and they don't have identification, work clothes or a place to stay. The "Getting On" guide is designed to help inmates before their release by preparing them to go before the parole board, plan their release, take care of unresolved legal matters and other things they can still tackle while in prison.

    "The inmates can't prepare a lot of times because they can't access the Internet and the case managers are having a hard time because they themselves don't have contacts they can network with on the outside," Donner explained.

    Once inmates are out on their own, the guide covers everything from getting off the bus to getting clothing, plus finding mentors, work and housing.

    One parolee told the coalition volunteers, "I was afraid. I felt like I was from another planet after doing 7 years. I was lost - trying to remember phone numbers and addresses was a nightmare. The only number I couldn't forget was my Department of Corrections number."

    An unfortunate statistic indicates most people released from prison are not successful. Last year, 10,087 people were released from state prisons in Colorado and for those released on mandatory parole, 65 percent will be revoked and returned to prison within three years.

    "The number one issue those who failed on parole bring up is that they were not prepared for release. We hope to fill that huge information gap and dispel some myths and misinformation that is circulating that some inmates make their plans on," Donner said.

    "The guide is a much-needed tool in the effort to reduce recidivism and impact the revolving door," said Ari Zavaras, executive director for the Colorado Department of Corrections. "The book will keep offenders focused on re-entry from Day 1 to parole and through to release."

    Those who wish to purchase a re-entry guide can order online at www.ccjrc.org/reentry-guide.html. Orders also can be placed via phone at 303-825-0122.

    Cost is $10 plus shipping. If a guide is purchased for an inmate, the reform coalition needs to mail the guide directly to the inmate to meet state guidelines.

    "Ideally, we would like this to be a part of the orientation packet and keep it on an ongoing basis. By selling guides, it will help us reserve funds to reprint the guide so we can continue to distribute it to inmates and parolees," Donner said.

    The Pueblo Chieftain

    El Paso County Jail Out Of Room

    Sheriff blames long stays by inmates who violate parole or are awaiting trial

    November 19, 2007 - 6:57AM

    The average number of inmates at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center has nearly doubled since 1996, climbing from 838 to more than 1,500 a day.

    The rise has Sheriff Terry Maketa warning county officials and the community that the day is approaching when there’s no more room in his jail.
    “I hate to venture to guess what could happen in the next month,” he said.

    There is one deputy for every 67 inmates at the jail, and Maketa said that if the numbers continue to go up, deputies will have a hard time maintaining control.

    Illegal immigrants and state prisoners contribute to the crowding, but they aren’t the main culprits, Maketa said. The primary problem is a backlog of inmates awaiting trial or reincarcerated for violating parole.
    “Our No. 1 enemy is how long inmates are staying here,” Maketa said.

    According to statistics provided to The Gazette by the Sheriff’s Office, the average length of stay for prisoners charged with a felony has gone up about seven days this year, from 39 in 2006 to about 46.

    The 19-year-old jail at 2727 E. Las Vegas St. has enough beds for 1,599 prisoners. There’s also a tent that holds up to 200 inmates in a workrelease program.

    As of Thursday morning, the jail had 1,575 inmates. Of the total, 114 were housed in the tent. The longer incarcerations tie up beds, making it harder to take in more inmates, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, when people arrested over the weekend are awaiting court appearances, and on Thursdays, when judges often sentence offenders.

    Roughly 11 percent of the jail’s inmate population, about 170 prisoners, is being held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Colorado Department of Corrections. But Maketa said these groups don’t significantly affect crowding, since ICE moves its inmates within 72 hours, and state inmates can move to jails in other counties.

    On Sept. 27, Maketa sent letters to law enforcement agencies in El Paso County, 4th Judicial District judges and magistrates and the District Attorney’s Office outlining procedures if there are no available beds at the county jail. It included prioritizing inmates based on the severity of their offense and requiring all agencies to keep their offenders until space freed up.
    It wasn’t just a precaution — the jail was at capacity several times last month.

    According to the Sheriff’s Office, parole violators are staying in the jail an average of about 67 days. Maketa said about 180 inmates are parolees charged with new offenses and facing revocation by the state parole board.

    Inmates awaiting trial are at the county jail for an average of about 11 days, and Maketa said they make up 65 percent to 70 percent of the inmate population.

    Fourth Judicial District Attorney John Newsome and Chief Judge Kirk Samelson said they understand the concern over the inmate population, but will continue to do their jobs as the law requires.

    “There’s got to be more people in jail, because we’re having more trials,” said Samelson. “But we’re going to do anything necessary to fairly try them, regardless of a jail population.”
    Newsome said a new jail should be among the community’s top priorities.

    “I understand the need,” Newsome said. “That being said, all the arrests mean nothing without prosecution.”

    In 2006, Maketa declared a moratorium on misdemeanor offenders being sent to the jail unless they posed a threat to the community. On Jan. 1 this year, he also halted the inmate work-release program because of lack of space. The program resumed April 15 after a 12,000-square-foot canvas tent was put up in the jail parking lot to house the inmates.

    Maketa, who was first elected sheriff in 2002, said he and his predecessors have been asking county commissioners for a new jail for 15 years.

    In 2002, a ballot proposal to build a jail was voted down. Seven years before that, voters rejected a ballot measure to expand the jail, which was built in 1988.

    A 2002 Gazette article quoted former Sheriff Bernie Barry as having said in 1988 that the county would be lucky if the jail would be adequate for 15 years. By 1992, CJC was full.

    In 2005 a new wing opened, adding 864 beds. But that same year, the Metro Jail was closed for safety concerns. The jail, at 205 S. Cascade Ave., had housed the county’s most dangerous inmates.

    A new jail would cost taxpayers about $42 million to build and $7.9 million to staff and operate each year, Maketa said. Putting off construction for even five years, he said, would increase the cost to $60 million.

    The county agreed with Maketa that a new jail is needed, but said there’s no money to build it. This month, commissioners cut $4.1 million from county budgets through the end of 2007.
    The 2008 county budget is just as tight, with an estimated $7.4 million to be trimmed.

    “No matter how you slice it, we need a facility for our serious offenders,” said Commission Chairman Dennis Hisey.

    A proposed tax increase to fund public safety projects could go before voters in 2008. But Hisey said that even if the tax increase is approved, the sheriff might be second in line behind the coroner, who also needs a new building.

    “That and the coroner’s building are the things that are the highest on the list,” he said. “The only reason why the coroner’s building is at the top is because $3 million is more doable than $40 million.”

    If voters approve a tax increase next year, the earliest a new jail could be in operation would be 2011, Maketa said. “It will take 18 to 24 months to build,” he said. “And then it will take about two years to hire a full staff, and that’ll have to be done in phases.”

    Until a new jail can be built, law enforcement officials say they’ll have to be creative to keep the jail population manageable.

    In August, the Sheriff’s Office began a reintegration and recovery program with roughly 140 sentenced inmates. Its goal is to teach life skills to the inmates, including basic education, drug and alcohol awareness, and anger management, and steer them away from breaking the law.

    Maketa said he also meets with Newsome and Samelson to discuss options to get offenders through the courts more quickly.


    67 to 1
    Ratio of inmates to deputies at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. Thursday, the jail had 1,575 inmates.

    $42 million
    Approximate cost to taxpayers to build a jail. Cost to staff and run it would be about $7.9 million a year.


    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Lawyer Says DNA Doesn't Match Master's

    BOULDER, Colo. - The lawyer for convicted murderer Timothy Masters says DNA found near victim Peggy Hettrick in 1999 does not match his client.

    The Greeley Tribune said Lawyer David Wymore, during a hearing Friday, declined to a request from prosecutors to information, obtained from a laboratory in Holland.

    A court is considering a new trial for Masters.

    Special prosecutor Mike Goodbie suggested that he would not oppose a request for a new trial if the information showed that it matches the late Dr. Richard Hammond. Wymore has hinted that the surgeon killed Hettrick.

    Rocky Mountain News

    Women, Stress and Addiction

    ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2007) — Females seem to be unequally disposed to the harmful effects of stress and to addiction compared with males. Recent studies show that:

    • Estrogen can increase the possibility that females will start to take, and continue taking, cocaine.
    • Females appear to have a genetic predisposition toward reproducing the physiological reward produced by cocaine, suggesting sex chromosomes may influence habit formation.
    • Mothers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may uniquely pass on biological risk factors to their offspring, according to work with the descendents of Holocaust survivors.
    • Stress can damage an area of the brain with a controlling effect on mood.
    • Females without a growth-factor gene can become more depressed than males.

    "The comparisons between male and female responses to pain, depression, injury, and addiction are manifold," says Bruce McEwen, PhD, at Rockefeller University in New York City. "Neuroscientific proof of these differences can have profound impacts on everything from over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to government reimbursements for health care."

    In three experiments with rats, Jill Becker, PhD, of the University of Michigan, found in each case that females showed an increased vulnerability to cocaine addiction.

    In the study, a pool of 150 male and female rats of various predetermined hormone levels (some males were castrated, some females had their ovaries removed) were exposed to various combinations of estrogen, progesterone, or a peanut oil control. The rats were allowed to self-administer cocaine for a three-week period, during which time doses increased every seven days.

    Becker found that female rats were more likely to use cocaine when circulating estrogen was high, but also that progesterone could counter the effects of estrogen. Further, she found that the administration of estrogen had no effects on self-administration in male rats.

    "The factors that cause some people to try drugs despite all of society's warnings about their dangers are complex, but we know that among the factors are gender, personality type, and prior stress experiences," Becker says. "Women tend to try cocaine earlier in life, susceptible individuals become addicted faster, and, once addicted, they suffer worse damage to their brains, hearts, and livers as a result of their cocaine use, compared with men."

    Science Daily