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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Supreme Court rules juvenile life without parole cruel and unusual

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday limited the use of life terms in prison for murderers under 18, ruling that judges must consider the defendant’s youth and the nature of the crime before putting him behind bars with no hope for parole.
In a 5-4 decision, the high court struck down as cruel and unusual punishment the laws in about 28 states that mandated a life term for murderers, including those under age 18.
The justices ruled in the cases of two 14-year-olds who were given life terms for their role in a homicide, but their decision goes further. It applies to all those under 18.  It does not automatically free any prisoner, and it does not forbid life terms for young murderers.
Nonetheless, it is an important victory for those who have objected to imposing very long prison terms on very young offenders.
Justice Elena Kagan referred to state laws that “mandated each juvenile (convicted of murder) die in prison even if the judge or jury would have thought that his youth and…the nature of his crime made a lesser sentence (for example, life with the possibility of parole) more appropriate.”
“We therefore hold that mandatory life without parole for those under age of 18 at the time of their crime violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments,” she said. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor agreed.
The court’s opinion does not say whether its ruling applies only to future sentences, or whether it could give a new hearing to the more than 2,000 prisoners who are serving life terms for earlier murders.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented. “Put simply, if a 17-year old is convicted of deliberately murdering an innocent victim, it is not unusual for the murderer to receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole.” Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined in dissent.
The majority, however, argues that states had not necessarily intended to impose life terms on juvenile offenders. Instead, they passed laws that allowed juveniles to be sentenced as adults for serious crimes. And they also passed laws that set life in prison without parole as the required punishment for murder.
In one case that came before the court, Kuntrell Jackson was 14 when he and two other teenagers went to a video store in Arkansas planning to rob it. He stayed outside, and one of the youths pulled a gun and killed the store clerk. Jackson was charged as an adult and given a life term with no parole.
In the second case, Evan Miller, a 14-year-old from Alabama, was convicted of murder after he and another boy set fire to a trailer where they had bought drugs from a neighbor. He too was give a life term with no parole.
Today’s decision in Miller vs. Alabama is the third in a decade that puts new constitutional limits on crimes involving juveniles.
In 2005, the court abolished the death sentence for those under 18 who are convicted of murder. In 2010, the justices went further and said life terms with no parole are unconstitutional for juveniles who commit crimes short of murder.
Today’s decision does not end life terms for young murderers, but it says judges or juries must consider the defendant’s youth before imposing a life term with no parole.
Bryan Stevenson, the Alabama attorney who argued the case, called the ruling “an important win for children. The court took a significant step forward by recognizing the fundamental unfairness of mandatory death-in-prison sentences that do not allow sentencers to consider the unique status of children.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

NJ Dems Call for Greater Oversight


Democrats in New Jersey’s Legislature called for stricter oversight of the state’s troubled system of halfway houses on Thursday, saying new disclosure requirements would lead to “better safety for our communities and the halfway house residents.”
The plan came in response to articles published this week in The New York Times that examined the privately run system, which has beds for roughly 3,500 state inmates and parolees. The articles detailed unchecked violence, gang activity, drug use and hundreds of escapes from the facilities every year.
Democratic lawmakers called for the Corrections Department to issue quarterly reports describing conditions inside the halfway houses, including the number of inmates, the number of escapes, incidences of violence and disciplinary measures taken.
In addition, every halfway-house operator that contracts with the Corrections Department would have to undergo a financial audit, said Senator Paul A. Sarlo, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The language was included in the latest version of the Democratic budget proposal. A final vote on the budget is expected Monday.
Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, has close ties to the company that dominates the network of halfway houses, Community Education Centers, as do some prominent Democrats. Mr. Christie’s close friend and political adviser William J. Palatucci is a senior executive of the company, and Mr. Christie has often visited and praised its facilities.
On Monday, Mr. Christie ordered new inspections of halfway houses. Democrats said more accountability was needed.
“Clearly, there’s reason to be concerned about the lack of transparency from the administration,” said Assemblyman Charles Mainor, a Democrat who is chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee. “We’re taking a vital step toward improved disclosure and, hopefully, better safety for our communities and the halfway-house residents and employees.”
Since the 1990s, New Jersey has sent some state prison inmates finishing sentences to privately run halfway houses, many of which have hundreds of beds. State and county agencies now spend roughly $105 million a year on such placements. Community Education received about $71 million of that in the last fiscal year, according to company records.

As Escapees Stream Out a Penal Business Thrives

NY Times
After serving more than a year behind bars in New Jersey for assaulting a former girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred in 2010 to a sprawling halfway house in Newark. One night, Mr. Goodell escaped, but no one in authority paid much notice. He headed straight for the suburbs, for another young woman who had spurned him, and he killed her, the police said.

The state sent Rafael Miranda, incarcerated on drug and weapons charges, to a similar halfway house, and he also escaped. He was finally arrested in 2010 after four months at large, when, prosecutors said, he shot a man dead on a Newark sidewalk — just three miles from his halfway house.
Valeria Parziale had 15 aliases and a history of drugs and burglary. Nine days after she slipped out of a halfway house in Trenton in 2009, Ms. Parziale, using a folding knife, nearly severed a man’s ear in a liquor store. She was arrested and charged with assault but not escape. Prosecutors say they had no idea she was a fugitive.
After decades of tough criminal justice policies, states have been grappling with crowded prisons that are straining budgets. In response to those pressures, New Jersey has become a leader in a national movement to save money by diverting inmates to a new kind of privately run halfway house.
At the heart of the system is a company with deep connections to politicians of both parties, most notably Gov. Chris Christie.
Many of these halfway houses are as big as prisons, with several hundred beds, and bear little resemblance to the neighborhood halfway houses of the past, where small groups of low-level offenders were sent to straighten up.
New Jersey officials have called these large facilities an innovative example of privatization and have promoted the approach all the way to the Obama White House.
Yet with little oversight, the state’s halfway houses have mutated into a shadow corrections network, where drugs, gang activity and violence, including sexual assaults, often go unchecked, according to a 10-month investigation by The New York Times.
Since 2005, roughly 5,100 inmates have escaped from the state’s privately run halfway houses, including at least 1,300 in the 29 months since Governor Christie took office, according to an analysis by The Times.
Some inmates left through the back, side or emergency doors of halfway houses, or through smoking areas, state records show. Others placed dummies in their beds as decoys, or fled while being returned to prison for violating halfway houses’ rules. Many had permission to go on work-release programs but then did not return.
While these halfway houses often resemble traditional correctional institutions, they have much less security. There are no correction officers, and workers are not allowed to restrain inmates who try to leave or to locate those who do not come back from work release, the most common form of escape. The halfway houses’ only recourse is to alert the authorities.

A Volatile Mix Fuels A Murder

The New York Times
NEWARK — Derek West Harris wore tailored pants, soft sweaters and shiny shoes. People called him D-Nice. His easygoing manner drew customers to his barber’s chair at Million Dollar Kutz in Newark, a shop where he was known as much for his conversation as for his trims. He chatted about religion, relationships and cars, which he loved.

It was a car that landed Mr. Harris in New Jersey’s troubled system of halfway houses. In May 2009, the police pulled him over in a Mazda Millenia he had recently bought and found that he had not yet registered or insured it. He also had about $700 in unpaid traffic tickets.
After his arrest, Mr. Harris was not held at the local jail. Instead, he was sent to Delaney Hall, a 1,200-bed halfway house here that was set up to rehabilitate inmates sentenced for minor offenses. But Mr. Harris, 51, was thrown in with violent criminals.
Two days later, three of those inmates robbed Mr. Harris of the contents of his pockets — $3 — and killed him.
The inmates were prosecuted, but officials cleared Delaney Hall of responsibility.
Officials of Essex County, which includes Newark, maintain that they use Delaney Hall, rather than the far more secure county jail, solely for low-level offenders like Mr. Harris who need rehabilitation and treatment.
Yet internal county documents obtained by The New York Times show that the county has been placing inmates at Delaney Hall who have a history of violence and have been charged with violent crimes.
There is a financial incentive for this policy: to generate revenue for the county.
By placing inmates at Delaney Hall, the county frees beds at its jail. It then earns a significant profit by renting those beds to the federal government to house federal inmates and immigration detainees. About 40 percent of the county jail’s roughly 2,400 beds are now reserved for federal use.
The Times’s findings on the Harris killing, part of a 10-month examination of the halfway-house system in New Jersey, underscore how financial concerns are playing a pivotal role in prison privatization in the state, which is a national leader in this movement.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mentally Ill Prisoners at Federal Supermax File Lawsuit

Market Watch

DENVER, Jun 18, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed today alleging that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is mistreating mentally ill prisoners at the Supermax U.S. penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Eleven prisoners filed the case on behalf of all mentally ill prisoners at the facility. The defendants are the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and several of its top officials with responsibility for the operation of the prison. According to papers filed in the U.S. District Court for Colorado, extended confinement in isolation is likely to exacerbate all types of mental illness, increasing the risk of violence against prison staff and other inmates, and reducing the likelihood that these prisoners will ever be able successfully to re-enter society at the end of their sentences.
The lawsuit, styled Bacote, et al v. Federal Bureau of Prisons, seeks to compel BOP to comply with its own existing policies and rules regarding the placement and treatment of mentally ill prisoners. The lawsuit also seeks to define a minimum level of care and medical treatment for those in custody that is sufficient to satisfy the prohibitions of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment.
The penitentiary in Florence, referred to as ADX, was built to house the most dangerous prisoners in the system and is considered to be the most secure prison in the country. Staff there refer to ADX as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies." Prisoners spend up to 24 hours per day in single cells, and their communications and contact with other inmates and staff are severely restricted.
The complaint alleges that despite the BOP's own written policies excluding the mentally ill from ADX because of its severe conditions, the BOP frequently assigns prisoners with mental illness there because of a deficient evaluation and screening process. Then, according to the complaint, mentally ill prisoners housed at ADX are denied constitutionally adequate treatment and services.
The consequences of BOP's deliberate indifference to the proper diagnosis and treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness are shocking. According to the complaint, "Some prisoners mutilate their own bodies with razors, shards of glass, sharpened chicken bones, writing utensils and whatever other objects they can obtain. Others swallow razor blades, nail clippers, broken glass and other dangerous objects. Many engage in fits of screaming and ranting for hours on end. Others carry on delusional conversations with the voices they hear in their heads, oblivious to reality and the danger that such behavior might pose to themselves and to anyone who interacts with them. Still others spread feces and other waste throughout their cells, throw it at the correctional staff and otherwise create health hazards at ADX. Suicide attempts are common; many have been successful." In fact, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed last month in federal court in Colorado. That lawsuit, styled Vega v. Davis, charges that a prisoner at ADX suffering from mental illness committed suicide while he was there because he was not properly treated.
Ed Aro, a partner in the Denver office of Arnold & Porter and the lead attorney in the case, calls ADX "a national disgrace." He adds, "No one disputes that certain prisoners require a closely controlled prison environment. But for people with mental illness, confinement with little or no mental health care in the isolated and brutal conditions at ADX is torment. It's wrong and it's unconstitutional."
The Complaint alleges that because of their untreated or poorly treated mental illness, many prisoners at ADX act out, resulting in disruption, compromised security and a risk of harm to themselves, ADX staff and other prisoners. And, as Aro points out, "Not everyone at ADX will die in prison. A quarter of our mentally ill clients there will be released into the community in the next five years, and almost 60% will be released in the next 20 years. Unless the BOP reforms the mental health system at ADX, it will be very, very difficult for mentally ill prisoners held there to return to society safely and successfully."
The DC Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs is co-counsel with Arnold & Porter. Its director, Philip Fornaci, said, "Americans would not allow sick or wounded animals to be treated as these prisoners are treated. They should not sanction the inhumane treatment of U.S. citizens, whatever crimes they committed in the past. We will not stop until this situation has changed."
Arnold & Porter LLP, with offices in nine cities, including Denver, Colorado, has a long-standing commitment to important pro bono matters, including those involving the rights of prisoners.
The DC Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs ( http://www.washlaw.org/projects/dc-prisoners-rights ) advocates for the humane treatment and dignity of the nearly 8,000 DC prisoners currently held in dozens of BOP facilities across the country. In collaboration with private law firms and individual pro bono attorneys, the Project has achieved significant changes in access to health care for DC prisoners in jails and prisons across the country, including insuring access to constitutionally-adequate levels of medical and mental health care in both local jails and distant BOP facilities.
Additional information about the Bacote and Vega lawsuits is available at www.supermaxlawsuit.com .
SOURCE: Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

Monday, June 18, 2012

At Bo Robinson, a Halfway House in New Jersey Bedlam Reigns

The New York Times
TRENTON — Most of the attacks happened inside the supply closet. Away from workers or security cameras. A dark space that Vanessa Falcone tried desperately to avoid.

Ms. Falcone was an inmate at the Albert M. “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center, a 900-bed halfway house here that is at the vanguard of a national movement to privatize correctional facilities.
She was assigned to the cleaning crew, under the supervision of a janitor. One night in 2009, he ordered her into the closet.
“He took his pants off and grabbed my hair and pushed me down,” Ms. Falcone, now 32, said in an interview. “That started a few weeks of basically hell.”
Finally, she told a senior guard that she was being sexually assaulted, according to internal reports written by the guard.
She was immediately transferred to another halfway house. The janitor was dismissed. And that is where it ended.
State officials and prosecutors did not conduct an inquiry into the allegations or the halfway house, which is run by Community Education Centers, a company with close ties to New Jersey politicians, including Chris Christie, who became governor in 2010.
“They shipped me off to another place like it never happened,” said Ms. Falcone, who had gone to prison for forging prescriptions.
Located next to a highway in an industrial stretch of Trenton, the Bo Robinson center is supposed to represent the new thinking in corrections. To save money, the state releases inmates early from prisons and turns them over to privately operated halfway houses.
These facilities are not the street-corner halfway houses of the past. They have hundreds of beds and are promoted as therapeutic communities with a focus on preparing inmates for society.
Yet Bo Robinson, behind its walls, often seems to embody the worst in the prisons it was intended to supplant. Imagine a sizable penitentiary, filled with inmates, some with violent records, but lacking the supervision that prevents such places from falling into bedlam.
The New York Times, during a 10-month investigation of New Jersey’s system of state-regulated halfway houses, put together a portrait of life in Bo Robinson from dozens of interviews with inmates and workers and a review of hundreds of pages of internal reports, court filings and state records.
Inmates are housed in barracks-style rooms, not cells. At night, one or two low-wage workers typically oversee each unit of 170 inmates. Outnumbered and fearful, these workers sometimes refuse to patrol the corridors.
Robbery, sexual assault, menacing of the weak — in the darkness, the inmates’ rooms turn into a free-for-all.
Inmates regularly ask to be returned to prison, where they feel safer, workers said.
Government agencies pay millions of dollars annually to Bo Robinson for drug counseling, yet drugs have been so rampant inside that when one group of inmates was tested, 73 percent came up positive, Mercer County records show.
The government requires that Bo Robinson provide therapy, job training and other services, but current and former workers said they had neither the skills nor the time to do so.
They said that as a result, they falsified inmate records. The workers said that when they did deliver these services, they had to do so haphazardly, knowing they were accomplishing little, if anything.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hassan Latif: Ex-con advises others how to stay out

Contrary to scenes in numerous books and movies, getting locked up doesn't always lead to painful bouts of reflection and self-examination. Criminals are a stubborn bunch, and it's easy behind bars to embrace a convict code and a victim mentality that merely reinforces addictive, self-destructive and antisocial behavior -- which is why so many convicted felons end up back in prison within a few years of release.
It's a mind game that Hassan A. Latif knows too well.
"I spent a lot of time and energy refusing to deal with what put me there," says Latif, who went into the Colorado Department of Corrections at the age of 33 and emerged shortly after turning fifty. "For fifteen years, I wasn't about hearing any of it. I wasn't looking in the mirror at my part in this."
Latif came to Colorado from New York in the 1980s with an attitude and an addiction to cocaine -- his "drug of no choice," as he puts it. In 1988, he was convicted of armed robbery in Arapahoe County. He emerged from prison early in 2006 determined to pursue a different path. He now works as an addiction counselor, serves as executive director of the newly launched Second Chance Center -- and has just published Never Going Back: 7 Steps to Staying Out of Prison, a survival guide for parolees coming out of the corrections system and families trying to keep them out.
The turning point in his own incarceration, Latif says, came when he decided to seek out a "therapeutic community" at DOC for prisoners with a history of substance abuse, followed by a residential program operated by Peer I and University of Colorado Denver upon release. The in-prison program had few slots available and was disparaged by other prisoners, but Latif refused to be discouraged.

hassan latif.jpg
Hassan Latif.
"Most guys never had the opportunity to access it," he recalls. "They called it a 'rat program' because it's peer-driven, one participant addressing another about their behaviors. But the people saying that were the ones who failed the program." Latif's book distills many of the hard lessons acquired from his own experience of moving from semi-institutionalized badass to tenuous freedom. His seven steps begin with "Own Your Own Crap" -- dispensing with the usual broken-record whining and excuses and accepting responsibility for past crimes -- and move on to confronting addiction and coping with the basics of job-hunting and "ego management" on the outside. The message isn't dissimilar to what many prisoners may be hearing from parole officers and case managers, but it's delivered in a been-there-done-that tone of bittersweet, firsthand understanding and empathy.
At the same time, the narrative shares few specifics of Latif's own troubled history -- largely because he didn't want to glorify his crimes or prison life, he says.
"I was getting a lot of pushback from publishers to include war stories, to include more HBO's Oz kind of stuff," he explains. "But I didn't want it to be my story. I didn't want it to seem like you had to go through my particular experiences to be successful."
What makes a hardened criminal abruptly decide to change his or her life? Latif says that varies with each individual. "Some people go in, and after six months in prison they're ready for something new," he says. "For others, it can take years and years. My hope was that loved ones would be purchasing this for themselves as well as for the people who are coming out."
More information about Latif's book -- and some early, enthusiastic responses -- can be found at the Never Going Back Facebook page. Latif will be signing copies of Never Going Back at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, 2401 Welton Street, on Monday, June 18, at 4:30 pm.
Other articles about parole and recidivism issues are collected in Westword's Crime and Punishment archive.
More from our Prison Life archive: "Krystal Voss's advice for female prisoners: Obsessively hoard water."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Denver 2012 Pridefest

     Will have a booth at the Pridefest Celebration in Civic Center Park

Our booth is located on the South side of 14th Ave in front of the library and art museum on the just south of the Greek Theater.

Please come by to say hello!! Learn more about current legislation!!

Saturday, June 16 from 11 a.m - 7 p.m
Sunday, June 17th from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Fight for your right to PRIDE!

Denver PrideFest 2012 will be held June 16th and 17th at Civic Center Park, headlined on Saturday by Fab Morvan of Milli Vanilli and dance sensation Kristine W on Sunday. Our parade Grand Marshals this year are the four out elected officials of the Colorado State Legislature, Senators Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman, and Representatives Mark Ferrandino and Sue Schafer.

Festival Hours:
Saturday, 11am - 7pm
Sunday, 10am - 6pm

The CoorsLight PrideFest parade steps off from Cheesman park at 9.30am and proceeds down Colfax into Civic Center Park.
Click here to check out our 2012 flipbook!
Click on links to the left to check out our stages and entertainment:
- The Center Stage with headliners Fab Morvan of Milli Vanilli and Kristine W.
- Orgullo Latino with headliner Rigo Gutierrez as Pitbull
- Smirnoff Dance World, with headlning DJs Micro and Irene
- OutWest Country stage with professional exhibitions and open dance all weekend

Produced by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of Colorado (The Center), Denver PrideFest is now the third largest pride festival, and seventh largest pride parade in the United States.

Denver PrideFest takes place annually in June in downtown Civic Center Park. PrideFest features the CoorsLight PrideFest Parade, a Dance Stage with DJs, a Country Stage with line-dancing lessons, a Latin Stage with cultural programming, and the Main Stage with live entertainment, and plenty of celebrating both days.
The festival also features more than 250 vendor booths with arts, crafts, food and more. We provide a VIP area with food and drinks for sponsors and contributors to enjoy, and there's also a family area, youth alley, and a transgender resource area.

PrideFest also provides a $25 million dollar economic impact to the City of Denver annually, as reported in a 2009 survey conducted by Birchill Enterprises.
The mission of Denver PrideFest is to create a fun, safe and empowering space to celebrate and promote the heritage and culture of the LGBT and allied community in Colorado.

Monday, June 11, 2012

61% in Colorado Favor Legalizing, Regulating Marijuana - Rasmussen Reports™

61% in Colorado Favor Legalizing, Regulating Marijuana - Rasmussen Reports™
Coloradoans will be voting whether to legalize marijuana this November, a ballot initiative that some say could impact the presidential race there. Most Colorado voters are in favor of legalizing the drug under certain conditions.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Likely Voters in Colorado favor legalizing marijuana if it is regulated the way alcohol and cigarettes are. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the Centennial State shows that 27% of voters oppose legalization even with government regulation, while 12% are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
The survey of 500 Likely Voters in Colorado was conducted on June 6, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

DOC 2011 Statistical Report

Colorado Department of Corrections

DOC Monthly Population Report May 2012

Colorado Department of Corrections

Saturday, June 09, 2012

DREAMers in Denver protest deportations, private prisons for immigrants » peoplesworld

DREAMers in Denver protest deportations, private prisons for immigrants » peoplesworld
DENVER - Undocumented youths from CAD, the Campaign for the American Dream, arrived here just a few days ago, and are already changing things.
Almost three months previously these DREAM Walkers began their 3,000 mile journey across the United States, from the Golden Gate Bridge in California on their way to the White House, to demand the Obama administration stop massive deportations and issue an executive order to bar deportations of DREAM Act-eligible youth.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or DREAM Act, sponsored by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, would provide a path to legalization and citizenship for young people, brought here as children without any legal documents, if they have "demonstrated good moral character" and are either working toward completing a college degree or are serving in the armed forces.
Immediately after setting foot in Colorado in the last few days of May, these six courageous young people kept on walking-in the 3,000-person march on Wells Fargo bank's Colorado headquarters, led by the Service Employees International Union during its quadrennial international convention here.
They joined the many other undocumented marchers in the union's action to bring public attention to Wells Fargo's involvement in payday lending, fraudulent foreclosure, and ridiculously low tax payments, as well as the bank's private-prison profits from the incarceration of undocumented people.
On June 4, the DREAM team joined over 100 Coloradans in the spirited monthly march and rally against Immigration and Customs Enforcement's immigrant detention center in Aurora, just east of Denver.
Though technically under the control of ICE, a part of Homeland Security, the notorious facility is actually run by the GEO Group, an international private-prison corporation. Friends and family members of undocumented people trapped inside recount the reports of humiliation, extortion, physical and sexual abuse within the prison walls at the protest each month.
The next day, the DREAM Walkers visited the Obama for America Denver campaign office-and stayed. Two of the group entered the office and soon began a sit-in and hunger strike. They repeated their call to President Barack Obama to put portions of the American DREAM Act into force by executive order.
Noting that the current administration has deported over one million people, more than any previous administration, they called on Obama to end massive deportations at once and to take action on the DREAM Act without further delay.
The two carrying out the current hunger strike are Veronica Gómez, 24, of California, and Javier Hernández, 23, of Denver.  Gómez was brought to the U.S. when she was a little girl of three, Hernández when he was a six-month-old baby. Neither has ever visited Mexico since.
"With deportations on the rise and "Secure Communities" recently imposed throughout the state of Colorado, we cannot just sit back and wait!" said Gómez.
In the final week of May, "Secure Communities" was suddenly imposed on all 64 Colorado counties, and local law enforcement officials are now obligated to assist ICE in rounding up and detaining undocumented people.
Some of the six walkers are fighting their own deportation. At the next day's rally and press conference in front of the now-closed OFA office where Gómez and Hernández were still sitting in, others in the CAD team officially "came out" as undocumented.
Spontaneously, many Coloradans in the crowd immediately followed suit.  A number of young participants took advantage of the liberating spirit of the event: Many who had not previously acknowledged their status as undocumented-even to close friends and fellow students-announced their status, putting them at risk. Yet, chants like, "undocumented, unafraid, unashamed," arose as the rally gathered steam.
The two young people inside the building, at that time just 24 hours into their sit-in and hunger strike, smiled broadly and waved as they watched the enthusiasm of their colleagues and supporters just a few feet away outside the office's large windows.
Local progressive, labor, and faith-based groups in Colorado are voicing support for the hunger strikers and the other DREAM Walkers, and offering donations of supplies for the continuing march to Washington, D.C. Yet the campaign is being led by the Walkers and in Colorado assisted by local organizations of undocumented people.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Average Prison Stay Grew 36 Percent

New York Times
For petty offenders and violent criminals alike, the length of a prison stay increased by more than a third over the past two decades, a period of time in which the prison population doubled, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. Inmates released from prison in 2009 spent an average of 2.9 years — or 36 percent — longer behind bars than offenders released in 1990, the report found. The additional time cost taxpayers more than $10 billion. In Florida, the average time served rose by 166 percent; in New York, 2 percent. Eight states showed decreases in the length of prison terms, according to the report, which analyzed data from the federal government’s National Corrections Reporting Program. Adam Gelb, director of the center’s Public Safety Performance Project, noted that the variation among states followed no evident regional pattern, reinforcing the idea that “state policy choices, often driven by particular crimes or circumstances in that state, drive the size and cost of the prison population, rather than data and research about what’s most effective in reducing crime.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

A Wave of Prisoner Resistance Sweeps the South


Last week, prisoners in two different facilities in the United States resisted inhumane conditions — one through an uprising that the mainstream media dubbed a “riot,” and the other through a hunger strike. The tactics employed by the two groups differ, but the messages are clearly linked: Prisoners are protesting their conditions and are willing to put their lives on the line to fight for better treatment.
On May 20, inmates took control of the Adams County Correctional Facility in Mississippi for over eight hours. One inmate managed to access a cell phone during the uprising and called WLBT TV in Jackson, proving his presence in the prison by sending pictures. He gave the station the following statement: “They beat us; we’re just [paying] them back. We just need better treatment and services. We need medical attention. We just want some respect. They call us wetbacks” — referring to a racist slur used against undocumented immigrants.
The prison is privately owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which manages over 60 facilities and touts a capacity of 90,000 beds. The prison in Adams County is populated by immigrants from over 70 countries awaiting deportation and is part of a larger war on undocumented immigrants in the United States. 2011 was a record year for deportations: 396,000 people were removed from the country, and more than half of those people were convicted of crimes and held at private immigration detention facilities like the one in Adams County.
During the uprising, one guard was killed, and several guards and inmates were injured. Over two dozen guards were reportedly held hostage. The prisoners were subdued by SWAT teams, which dropped pepper spray grenades and tear gas bombs into the facility. Before it was quashed, more than 600 of about 2,500 total inmates were reportedly involved in the takeover.
The mainstream media, much like the prison officials themselves, have sought to silence the grievances that motivated the uprising. Nearly every headline has emphasized images of violence, tumult, disorder. Many news outlets claimed that a gang fight started the revolt, yet they fail to explain how a clash between rival gangs could result in an apparently unified uprising with clear demands.
The nature of the uprising and the death of a prison guard in the midst of it have given the media a pretext to ignore the massive violence and brutality that prisoners suffer across the country every single day. The incident is also symptomatic of the fact that the privatization of prisons like the one in Adams County means a lack of oversight and responsibility, which results in inhumane conditions for inmates. The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance has received numerous complaints about the conditions of this CCA facilitity and many others, with reports of beatings, overcrowding, substandard food and lack of proper medical care, among other grievances. These are precisely the kinds of problems that were cited by those who took matters into their own hands in Mississippi by mounting an occupation.
Meanwhile, 45 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Virginia were plotting another kind of resistance: a hunger strike, which they launched on May 22. With the help of a network of prisoner-support activists in the area, the hunger strikers released 10 demands and a press advisory. Among these demands were such basics as fully-cooked food and access to fresh fruit and vegetables, access to complaint and grievance forms, an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation, and adequate medical care. Five hundred of the 1,700 inmates at Red Onion — Virginia’s only “supermax” prison — spend 23 hours a day in isolation. Inmates at Red Onion have also reported being beaten by guards and bitten by dogs.
Prisoner hunger strikes like this have been growing in frequency. Just in the past year, hunger strikes have happened at the Ohio State Penitentiary, the Corcoran State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, Ironwood State Prison, Kern Valley State Prison and more. Prisoners around the world are also choosing to resist by hunger striking, most notably the 2,500-strong Palestinian prisoner hunger strike that went on for weeks and was ultimately hailed as a victory. As we write, there are prisoners fasting in resistance in Dubai, Morocco, Egypt and, earlier this week, a 110-day hunger strike ended in Bahrain.
On Tuesday, a flurry of articles, including one in The Washington Post, ran with headlines claiming that the hunger strike at Red Onion prison had ended. In order for the state to officially recognize a hunger strike, inmates must reject their meals for nine consecutive days, which Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke said they had not. In response to the news, activists with the group Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers issued a response challenging the validity of the DOC’s statements:

Monday, June 04, 2012

Colorado prisons turn away from heavy use of solitary confinement

The Denver Post

On paper, murderer and white supremacist Daniel Scott Dias appears to be the type of prisoner Colorado officials should lock up in a maximum- security prison cell and throw away the key.
And for years, that basically was how the Colorado Department of Corrections dealt with many violent felony offenders.
But in the past year, Dias and hundreds of other prisoners have been transferred to lower-security lockups as part of a new systemwide strategy that is less costly and gives inmates more educational opportunities.
The strategy is partly based on some sobering statistics.
"Ninety-seven percent of those who are locked up will get released," DOC executive director Tom Clements said.
Of those prisoners in administrative segregation, 47 percent are released directly to the community, he said.
The mass transfer of inmates from segregated single cells to general-population cell blocks is one of the main reasons Colorado will close Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City — its second maximum-security prison to shutter — by 2013 and before a newly built prison will be completely filled.
Colorado closed its first prison, Fort Lyon Correctional Facility, on March 1.
Prison populations are declining in Colorado and nationwide after decades of steady growth. For the first time since 1977, the total U.S. prison population slightly decreased in 2010.
Between 2005 and 2010, the U.S. crime rate dropped by 12 percent. In Colorado, the crime rate dropped by 32 percent over the same period, Clements said. Violent crimes are going down, he said.
"I think it's a very good thing," Clements said. "When the crime rate drops, people can feel a little safer."
When it became apparent Colorado needed to close another prison because of the state's rapidly decreasing prison population, DOC officials targeted the most modern.
Centennial cost $184 million to build and is the most costly to run because inmates are kept in single cells and more staff are needed to guard them, Clements said.
At the time Centennial was built, "it made all the sense in the world," he said.
The number of high-risk inmates was on the rise, many with mental illnesses. Others started riots, ran gangs or killed each other, Clements said. The administrative-segregation numbers swelled, as total prison numbers grew every year.
But last year, a study by national prison experts found that Colorado was keeping prisoners in segregation much longer than necessary.
DOC officials — including Clements — set up a system in which officials regularly review the behavior of inmates in administrative segregation.
Dias, who fatally stabbed his girlfriend Rebecca Ochs, 24, in Aurora in 1995, and was also accused of a white-supremacy murder plot, lived alone in a tiny cell at Centennial for two years.
Dias, 42, now lives in a cellblock at Sterling Correctional Facility where he often encourages black and Jewish cellmates to attend religious-worship meetings with him. He is a model prisoner.
Dias is serving a 45-year sentence on a conviction for second-degree murder. He said he decided on his own to change his life.
"I turned my life over to the Lord," he said. "I try to abide by every rule."

Friday, June 01, 2012

Doug Bruce Released Deplores Jail Conditions

The Denver Post

Former Colorado legislator Douglas Bruce on Thursday groused about the food, the deplorable living conditions and the ridiculous rules — just as the average convict often does.
Bruce was sentenced to 180 days in the clink for using his charity to avoid income taxes — but was released early for good behavior.
On Thursday, he emerged from the Denver city jail slim and scrappy, saying his spirit had not been broken behind bars.
"I'm stronger than when I went in because I rose above the insanity of the whole process," he said.
He vowed to sue the lockup after he wins his appeal of his tax-evasion conviction.
Bruce's list of complaints is long.
"They served refrigerated rolls at least twice View more images of Doug Bruce getting out of jail.

a day. I've never seen that," Bruce said outside the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, explaining that he lost 47 pounds during 104 days in jail. "They served what they called gravy, which I considered to look and taste like sewage. They didn't serve coffee. All they served was chicory, which is a boiled root."He was placed in solitary confinement for the first four days of his sentence. He said jail staff later admitted that was unnecessary and placed him in a low-security housing block. When a man threatened to cut his throat with a knife, he was again placed in solitary confinement for three days. It didn't make sense that he was punished, he said.
But jail spokesman Capt. Frank Gale said Bruce was initially placed in an administrative segregation cell at his own request, and for his own safety he was returned to segregation after his life was threatened.
Bruce said that inmates were overcharged for use of phones and that the commissary food was five times market prices.
The jail food was inedible, he said, adding that he survived on low-fat milk and oranges. Not even the guards ate the food, he said.