— In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will
move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors
to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level
drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum
sentences for drug-related offenses.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar
Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce
the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer
spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the
justice system, according to his prepared remarks.
Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for
no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder is planning to justify his policy
push in both moral and economic terms.
“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread
incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and
unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “It imposes a significant economic
burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral
costs that are impossible to calculate.”
Mr. Holder will also introduce a related set of Justice Department policies that
would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of
drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program
of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent
crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”
The policy changes appear to be part of Mr. Holder’s effort, before he
eventually steps down, to bolster his image and legacy. Turmoil over the
Congressional investigation into the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun
trafficking case ensnared him in the Obama administration’s first term, and more
recently, controversy has flared over the department’s aggressive tactics in
In recent weeks, he has also tightened rules on obtaining reporters’ data in
leak cases and started an effort to strengthen protections for minority voters
after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The
move continued an assertive approach to voting rights and other civil rights
enforcement throughout his tenure.
Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’
high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s
population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts
to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead
of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.
Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on
Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that
they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for
drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not
involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders
of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs
or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.
For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five
kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum
sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to
distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in
when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the
circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called
for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.
It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would
be recharged because of the new policy.
Amid a rise in crime rates a generation ago, state and federal lawmakers began
passing a series of “tough on crime” laws, including mandatory minimum sentences
for drug possession. But as crime rates have plummeted to 40-year lows and
reduced the political potency of the fear of crime, fiscal pressures from the
exploding cost of building and maintaining prisons have prompted states to find
alternatives to incarceration.
Driven in part by a need to save money, several conservative-leaning states like
Texas and Arkansas have experimented with finding ways to incarcerate fewer
low-level drug offenders. The answers have included reducing prison terms for
them or diverting them into treatment programs, releasing elderly or
well-behaved inmates early, and expanding job training and re-entry programs.
The policy is seen as successful across the ideological divide. For example, in
Texas, which was an early innovator, taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions
of dollars on what had been projected as a need to build prison space. With
crime rates remaining at generational lows, the space is no longer necessary.
Several years ago, a group called Right on Crime formed to push what it calls
the “conservative case for reform.” Its Republican affiliates include Jeb Bush,
a former Florida governor; Edwin R. Meese III, an attorney general during the
Reagan administration; and Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker.
“While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant
state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in
America’s overall prison population — including, in 2012, the largest drop ever
experienced in a single year,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “Clearly, these
strategies can work. They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red
states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.”
Still, in states that have undertaken prison and parole overhauls, the changes
were approved by state lawmakers. Mr. Holder’s reform is different: instead of
going through Congress for legislation to modify mandatory minimum sentencing
laws, he is invoking his power of prosecutorial discretion to sidestep them.
Earlier in Mr. Obama’s presidency, the administration went through Congress to
achieve policy goals like reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and
powder forms of cocaine. But it has increasingly pursued a strategy of invoking
unilateral executive powers without Congress, which the White House sees as
bogged down by Republican obstructionism.
Previous examples, like Mr. Obama’s decision last year to issue an executive
order allowing immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to
remain without fear of deportation and to work, have drawn fire from Republicans
as “power grabs” that usurp the role of Congress.
Mr. Holder’s speech marches through a litany of statistics about incarceration
in the United States. The American population has grown by about a third since
1980, he said, but its prison rate has increased nearly 800 percent. At the
federal level, more than 219,000 inmates are currently behind bars — nearly half
for drug-related crimes — and the prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent
above their official capacity.
Calif. — Standing on the footsteps of the Fresno County Jail, where he had just
been released one recent afternoon, Juan Diaz rated the food inside a 2. The
state prison at Coalinga, where he served three years on a weapons conviction,
earned a 10.
Battle-hardened young men like Mr. Diaz, 33 — who is a member of the Bulldogs,
the largest Hispanic gang in California’s Central Valley, and who spent the
night in jail for missing a court date on charges of possessing a stolen car and
methamphetamine — used to deride the downtown Fresno jail as “Club Snoopy.”
Spending years in jail instead of prison is an increasing possibility
now, as California carries out the most far-reaching overhaul of its criminal
justice system in decades. And that idea fills Mr. Diaz with dread.
“I’d go insane,” he said. “I would probably hang myself, seriously. I would
probably do something stupid.”
Built for stays shorter than one year, the jail does not offer the kind of
activities, work programs and amenities found in most prisons. “You’re stuck
in a little cell,” Mr. Diaz said, while prisons with outdoor space provide
plenty of “yard time.” Soup costs $1 here, compared with 30 cents at the canteen
at Coalinga, which Mr. Diaz said he left in 2005. “My homie just got out a
couple of months ago,” he said, “and the canteen went up only, like, 3 cents, 4
Ordered by the United States Supreme Court to reduce severe overcrowding in its
prisons, California began redirecting low-level offenders to local jails last
October in a shift called realignment. Its prison population, the nation’s
largest, has since fallen by more than 16 percent to 120,000 from 144,000; it
must be reduced to 110,000 by next June.
Counties with already tight budgets are scrambling to house the influx of
newcomers in facilities that were never designed to accommodate inmates serving
long sentences, like a man who began serving 15 years for fraud recently in the
Fresno County — a sprawling agricultural area surrounding the city, which is
also facing financial problems and became a punch line for Conan O’Brien
recently — is adding 864 beds to its chronically overcrowded jail. Under a
longstanding federal consent decree that requires the Sheriff’s Department to
release inmates when the jail reaches capacity, 40 to 60 people are let go early
In a move watched by other states also facing prison overcrowding, California is
handing its 58 counties money and leeway to decide how to handle the new
arrivals. Liberal communities like San Francisco are using a greater share of
the state money on programs and alternatives to incarceration. But most
counties, particularly here in the conservative Central Valley, have focused on
building jail capacity.
That troubles organizations on both sides of the political spectrum. Sheriff
Keith Royal of Nevada County, the president of the California State Sheriffs’
Association, said members were worried about their capacity to provide “adequate
treatment” in jails and about “litigation at the location level.” The American
Civil Liberties Union warned that instead of making fundamental improvements to
the criminal justice system, many counties risked simply repeating the state’s
mistakes by reflexively putting people behind bars.
Criticized for its overemphasis on jails, a local committee overseeing
realignment in Fresno recently approved using $848,000 from its state total of
$20.8 million this year to expand drug rehabilitation programs for people
released from jail. But even that relatively small amount is facing deep
skepticism from the county’s Board of Supervisors, which will vote on the plan
“Some people, you’re not going to change their behavior until they’re
incarcerated and they have to pay the consequences,” said Debbie Poochigian, the
chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. “I believe we’re keeping our community
safer because they’re not out there looking for their next victim.”
The county has used about 40 percent of its state money so far to reopen two of
three jail floors that were closed a few years ago because of budget cuts. The
priority, Ms. Poochigian said, should be to finance the reopening of the third
floor. If Fresno runs out of space, she added, inmates could be transferred to
jails in other counties or to private jails.
According to the Board of State and Community Corrections, the population in
county jails rose by about 4 percent from an average of 71,293 in last year’s
third quarter to 73,957 in the first quarter of 2012, the latest figures
available. In Fresno, like elsewhere, about two-thirds are inmates awaiting
Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. who co-wrote a study on the shift to
jails, said the population at county jails could be significantly reduced by
overhauling pretrial procedures. Many inmates, who present no risk, remain in
jail simply because they cannot afford bail, he said, adding that alternatives
like electronic monitoring and day reporting could free up jail space and save
But in counties where elected officials are afraid of appearing soft on crime,
such alternatives are particularly sensitive.
“Everything is political,” said Sheriff Margaret Mims of Fresno County.
Sheriff Mims said she had become “less optimistic” about the shift to jails
because of rising crime in the county, including burglaries and car thefts.
Though law enforcement officials acknowledge that rising crime cannot be linked
directly to the realignment policy, they say people engaging in nonviolent
offenses like property crime no longer fear being sent to prison.
Despite Fresno County’s conservative attitude toward crime, the policy shift has
fueled a debate about alternatives to incarceration by grouping various agencies
in the committee overseeing the change, said Emma Hughes, a criminologist at
California State University, Fresno, who is working as a consultant for the
Linda Penner, the chief probation officer and chairwoman of the realignment
committee, said that having secured money to reopen two jail floors, the
committee had the political room to approve the $848,000 for the rehabilitation
“Do I think we’re all getting on the same page in reckoning with the fact that
we have to create alternatives to detention?” she said. “Yes.”
Inside the Fresno jail’s north wing, where the newly reopened facilities are,
each floor is composed of six two-level “pods” housing 72 inmates. In one pod,
men were lying on three-level bunk beds, watching television, playing cards or
doing push-ups. They are given an hour a day at an indoor gym on each floor.
Inmates in the jail’s older wings get only three hours a week, split between an
indoor gym and a rooftop basketball court.
Violence among inmates has risen since the policy shift, Sgt. Terry Barnes said,
attributing it to inmates’ realization that they might spend years in a place
with few of the activities and amenities they enjoyed in prison.
“They’re very frustrated with the idea that this is it,” said Sergeant Barnes, a
corrections officer who has worked at the jail for 24 years.
Outside the jail, David Otero, 35, was chaining his bicycle to a handrail before
visiting his brother inside. Mr. Otero said he himself had spent seven months in
the jail and 38 days at a state prison for a hit-and-run conviction in 2006.
Prison had better amenities, he said, but there was “a lot more politics” there
than in Club Snoopy.
His brother, who spent more than 10 years in prison on various drug convictions,
was now serving his second year in jail for robbery, Mr. Otero said. He and his
mother visit often, giving his brother money for the canteen.
“If he knows he’s a block away from his mom and his brother, who can visit him
anytime, that’ll have a direct impact,” Mr. Otero said. “We’re just up the
Last summer’s record-breaking heat wave had a grim impact on Texas, playing a
role in the deaths of roughly 150 people. Many of them were found in their homes
or apartments, but a few were discovered somewhere else — in their prison cells.
Ten inmates of the state prison system died of heat-related causes last summer
in a 26-day period in July and August, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners’
rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state
prisons puts inmates’ lives at risk.
The 10 inmates were housed in areas that lacked air-conditioning, and several
had collapsed or lost consciousness while they were in their cells. All of them
were found to have died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when body
temperature rises above 105 degrees, according to autopsy reports and the
state’s prison agency.
Other factors contributed to their deaths. All but three of them had
hypertension, and some were obese, had heart disease or were taking
antipsychotic medications, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat.
One inmate, Alexander Togonidze, 44, was found unresponsive in his cell at an
East Texas prison called the Michael Unit at 8 a.m. on Aug. 8 with a body
temperature of 106 degrees, according to prison documents. The temperature in
his cell, taken by prison officials 15 minutes after he was pronounced dead, was
86.2 degrees and the heat index was 93 degrees.
Five days later, at the nearby Gurney Unit prison, Kenneth Wayne James, 52, was
found in his cell with a body temperature of 108 degrees. His autopsy report
stated Mr. James most likely died of “environmental hyperthermia-related classic
heat stroke,” noting several risk factors, including Mr. James’s chronic illness
and use of a diuretic, and the lack of air-conditioning.
“We were looking for him to come home in a few months,” said Mary Lou James, the
mother of Mr. James, who had been charged with injuring a child and was serving
a five-year sentence for violating probation. “I think that’s just awful, to
have a place like that where you don’t have any air. I don’t think human beings
should be treated in that manner.”
Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said
12 inmates had died of heat-related causes since 2007. The debate over the lack
of air-conditioning in the prison system has intensified in recent weeks, after
lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the agency in federal
court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file
additional wrongful-death lawsuits.
Of the 111 prisons overseen by the agency, only 21 are fully air-conditioned,
and inmates and their advocates have argued that the overheated conditions
during triple-digit summers violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishment.
Prison officials dispute those claims, saying that the health and well-being of
the inmates are their top priorities and that the autopsies of the 12 inmates
who died list a variety of contributing factors to their deaths. They said they
take steps to help inmates on hot days, including restricting outside work
activities and providing extra water and ice.
“It is unknown whether the lack of air-conditioning was a contributing factor in
the offender deaths,” Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said in a
statement. “Texas experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2011. It
was an unprecedented event affecting the entire state and much of the southern
and eastern United States. T.D.C.J. took precautions to help mitigate the impact
of temperature extremes on offenders and staff. The agency continues to do so.”
But a corrections supervisor who works at a prison where one of the 12 inmates
died said the number of heat-related fatalities was a cause of concern, as was
the larger number of inmates and corrections officers who require medical
attention because of the heat.
At least 17 prison employees or inmates were treated for heat-related illnesses
from June 25 through July 6, according to agency documents. Many of them had
been indoors at the time they reported feeling ill.
At the Darrington Unit near Rosharon on June 25, a 56-year-old corrections
officer fainted in a supervisor’s office and was taken to a hospital. Heat
exhaustion was diagnosed. At the four-story Coffield Unit near Palestine, where
one inmate died of hyperthermia last August, dozens of windows have been broken
out — prisoners slip soda cans or bars of soap into socks and throw them at the
windows, hoping to increase ventilation.
“I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their
cells,” said the corrections supervisor, who declined to be identified because
he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “If you’ve got a life
sentence, odds are you’re going to die in the penitentiary. But what about the
guy who dies from a heat stroke who only had a four-year sentence? His four-year
sentence was actually a life sentence.”
One of the 10 inmates who died last summer, Larry Gene McCollum, 58, a prisoner
at the Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas, had a body temperature of 109.4
degrees. Nine days before his death in his cell, the indoor temperatures at
Hutchins were routinely recorded by prison officials and ranged from 100 degrees
to 102 degrees, according to agency documents.
Those temperatures exceed those allowed by a state law requiring county jails to
maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees in occupied areas. But the
law applies only to county jails, not to state prisons.
“After this many deaths, prison officials obviously know this is a problem,”
said David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American
Civil Liberties Union, in Washington. “Prisons aren’t supposed to be
comfortable, nor are they supposed to kill you.”
State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate
Criminal Justice Committee, said he was not alarmed by the number of deaths,
noting that the overall state inmate population exceeds 150,000. Keith Price,
the former warden of the Coffield Unit, agreed.
“Just from a statistical standpoint, that’s really not significant, particularly
when you consider the population,” Mr. Price, an associate professor of
sociology and criminal justice at West Texas A&M University, said of the 12
deaths. “Many inmates are poorly equipped to manage their lives and thus make
poor decisions. I do not believe it is up to the taxpayers to provide
air-conditioning for inmates when some simple self-discipline would avoid many
of these problems.”
Prison officials said that air-conditioning had not been installed in many
buildings because of the additional construction and utility costs, and that
retrofitting them would be an extraordinary expense.
Prisoners’ rights advocates said that treating inmates who become ill from the
heat is just as costly, and that retrofitting entire buildings was not the only
possible solution. They said allowing medically high-risk inmates to spend time
in air-conditioned areas would be one improvement.
The New York Times
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Heirens, the notorious “Lipstick Killer” who in 1946 confessed to three horrific
murders in Chicago and then spent the rest of his life — more than 65 years — in
prison despite questions about his guilt, was found dead on Monday in the Dixon
Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. He was 83.
He was pronounced dead at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center,
where an autopsy was to be performed, the Cook County medical examiner’s office
said. Mr. Heirens was known to have had diabetes.
Mr. Heirens’ notoriety stemmed from the separate killings of two women,
Josephine Ross and Frances Brown, in 1945. At the scene of the second murder,
that of Miss Brown, someone had used lipstick to scrawl on a wall: “For heaven’s
sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.”
The reports of a “lipstick killer” terrified Chicago as the press took note of
other unsolved murders of women. Then, about two weeks after the Brown murder,
on Jan. 7, 1946, a 6-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing
from her bedroom at her North Side home. A ladder was found outside the window.
The police later determined that the killer had strangled her and taken the body
to the basement of a nearby building, where it was dismembered. Her head was
found in a sewer; other body parts were found scattered about the neighborhood.
The newspapers called the killing the crime of the century, and though the
police questioned a parade of suspects, there was no arrest.
Almost six months later, Mr. Heirens (pronounced HIGH-rens), a 17-year-old
student at the University of Chicago, was apprehended at the scene of a burglary
in the girl’s neighborhood. The police charged him with the murder after
determining that his fingerprints were on a $20,000 ransom note that had been
left behind at her home.
While he was in custody, The Chicago Tribune, citing what it called
“unimpeachable sources,” reported that Mr. Heirens had confessed to the Degnan
murder. Four other Chicago newspapers published similar articles, basing them on
The Tribune’s account. The outcry against him mounted.
Mr. Heirens, who said he was beaten and given “truth serum” in jail, disputed
the newspaper accounts, saying he was about to sign a confession in exchange for
one life term but rebelled at “being forced to lie to save myself.” He was then
charged with the Brown and Ross murders, saying they had incriminating physical
evidence against him, including crime-scene fingerprints and a handwriting
analysis. Offered three consecutive life terms in exchange for a guilty plea, he
accepted, on the advice of his lawyers. Later he said he had done so only to
avoid a death sentence if he had gone to trial.
“I confessed to live,” he said.
When he did confess, his memory seemed ragged. Time after time during the plea
bargaining, prosecutors brought up details from The Tribune article, which he
then incorporated into his testimony. Mr. Heirens recanted his confession soon
afterward and maintained his innocence for the rest of his life while being
denied parole or clemency numerous times. He questioned the validity of the
fingerprints and other evidence, as have public interest lawyers who supported
In one clemency petition in 2002, his lawyers from the Northwestern University
Center on Wrongful Convictions alleged more “prosecutorial misconduct,
incompetent defense counsel, unprecedented prejudicial pretrial publicity, junk
science, probably false confessions and mistaken eyewitness identification.” But
others could not ignore his detailed admissions of guilt, even if he had
retracted them. “He is the yardstick by which all evil is judged,” Thomas Epach,
a Chicago police official, said at the 2002 clemency hearing.
Suzanne Degnan’s family fought all efforts to release him. Betty Finn, Suzanne’s
older sister, said at the 2002 hearing, “Think of the worse nightmare that you
cannot put out of your mind, you’re not allowed to put out of your mind.”
William George Heirens was born on Nov. 15, 1928, in Evanston, Ill. His father’s
flower business failed, and the family teetered on the edge of poverty. In
interviews, William said that his parents had fought frequently and that he had
burglarized houses to relieve the tension he felt at home. He did not try to
sell the things he stole, he said.
He was placed in two Roman Catholic youth detention centers. At the second, he
proved to be an excellent student, skipping his senior year of high school. He
was admitted to the University of Chicago at 16, with plans to major in
engineering. In interviews, Mr. Heirens said his mother had led him to believe
that sex was dirty. When he kissed a girl, he said, he would burst into tears
and vomit. He said one reason he broke into houses was to play with women’s
In the burglary in which he was arrested, the police testified that he had aimed
a gun at an officer and twice pulled the trigger, but that the weapon misfired.
He was additionally convicted of assault with the intention of killing a police
After Mr. Heirens went to jail, his parents and brother changed their names to
Hill. He left no known survivors.
While serving one of the nation’s longest prison terms, Mr. Heirens became the
first prisoner in Illinois to earn a degree from a four-year college. He also
managed the prison garden factory and set up several education programs. In
recent years, his diabetes damaged his eyesight, and he used a wheelchair. He
told The New York Times in 2002 that he had learned that prison friendships were
“Most of them, you hear for a little while, and then they kind of fade out,” he
said. “Usually when they get out, they try to forget they were ever in.”
The New York Times
By PAM BELLUCK
OBISPO, Calif. — Secel Montgomery Sr. stabbed a woman in the stomach, chest and
throat so fiercely that he lost count of the wounds he inflicted. In the nearly
25 years he has been serving a life sentence, he has gotten into fights,
threatened a prison official and been caught with marijuana.
Despite that, he has recently been entrusted with an extraordinary
responsibility. He and other convicted killers at the California Men’s Colony
help care for prisoners with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia,
assisting ailing inmates with the most intimate tasks: showering, shaving,
applying deodorant, even changing adult diapers.
Their growing roster of patients includes Joaquin Cruz, a convicted killer who
is now so addled that he thinks he sees his brother in the water of a toilet,
and Walter Gregory, whose short-term memory is ebbing even as he vividly recalls
his crime: stabbing and mutilating his girlfriend with a switchblade.
“I cut her eyes out, too,” Mr. Gregory declared recently.
Dementia in prison is an underreported but fast-growing phenomenon, one that
many prisons are desperately unprepared to handle. It is an unforeseen
consequence of get-tough-on-crime policies — long sentences that have created a
large population of aging prisoners. About 10 percent of the 1.6 million inmates
in America’s prisons are serving life sentences; another 11 percent are serving
over 20 years.
And more older people are being sent to prison. In 2010, 9,560 people 55 and
older were sentenced, more than twice as many as in 1995. In that same period,
inmates 55 and older almost quadrupled, to nearly 125,000, a Human Rights Watch
While no one has counted cognitively impaired inmates, experts say that
prisoners appear more prone to dementia than the general population because they
often have more risk factors: limited education, hypertension, diabetes,
smoking, depression, substance abuse, even head injuries from fights and other
Many states consider over-50 prisoners elderly, saying they age up to 15 years
With many prisons already overcrowded and understaffed, inmates with dementia
present an especially difficult challenge. They are expensive — medical costs
for older inmates range from three to nine times as much as those for younger
inmates. They must be protected from predatory prisoners. And because dementia
makes them paranoid or confused, feelings exacerbated by the confines of prison,
some attack staff members or other inmates, or unwittingly provoke fights by
wandering into someone else’s cell.
“The dementia population is going to grow tremendously,” says Ronald H. Aday, a
sociologist and the author of “Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections.”
“How are we going to take care of them?”
Some prison systems are confronting that now. Many would like to transfer
demented inmates to nursing homes, but their often-violent crimes make states
reluctant to parole them and nursing homes reluctant to take them.
New York has taken the top-dollar route, establishing a separate unit for
cognitively impaired inmates and using professional caregivers, at a cost of
about $93,000 per bed annually, compared with $41,000 in the general prison
population. Pennsylvania and other states are giving mental health workers
special dementia training.
But some struggling prison systems, including those in Louisiana and California,
are taking a less expensive but potentially riskier approach. They are training
prisoners to handle many of the demented inmates’ daily needs.
“Yeah, they did something horrible to end up here,” said Cheryl Steed, a
psychologist at the California Men’s Colony, where prisoners who help inmates
with dementia are called Gold Coats because their yellow jackets contrast with
the standard-issue blue. But without them, she said, “we wouldn’t be able to
care for our dementia patients very well.”
After escorting Joaquin Cruz to an appointment, James Evers, a Gold Coat, was
returning him to their adobe-colored cellblock when they encountered corrections
officers strip-searching inmates for missing tools.
Mr. Cruz, 60, who barely recalls that he is in prison for killing someone who
sold him fake cocaine, grew confused and resistant when guards tried searching
him. “He has Alzheimer’s,” Mr. Evers managed to explain. “It’s not that he’s
refusing to do what you’re asking.”
At the prison, shadowed by seacoast mountains, Gold Coats are paid $50 a month
and have better knowledge of impaired prisoners’ conditions than many prison
guards. Gold Coats, trained by the Alzheimer’s Association and given thick
manuals on dementia, were the first to notice when Mr. Cruz began putting his
boots on the wrong feet and “started pulling down his pants and going to the
bathroom wherever he was,” said Phillip Burdick, a Gold Coat who is serving a
life sentence for beating a man to death with a hammer.
Gold Coats report these changes, often at weekly support group meetings with Dr.
Steed. They identify “different tricks and strategies to get guys to do what
they need to do,” she said.
Before the program was started in 2009, demented inmates frequently caused
fights, hitting those they considered threatening or disturbing other prisoners
by encroaching on their turf. “The whole atmosphere was hostile,” said Bettina
Hodel, a psychologist who started the program and once narrowly avoided being
struck herself. Now, Gold Coats absorb much of that behavior.
“I been swung at, got a big fat lip, and my glasses have been broken,” said
Ramon Cañas, a Gold Coat who killed a hitchhiker who stole his car. He said Gold
Coats — there are currently six of them for about 40 inmates — often wear
surgical gloves because they are exposed to “a lot of body fluids.”
But they also protect demented inmates from prisoners who try assaulting,
abusing or robbing them. When Steven Berry, a Gold Coat, caught two inmates
picking a demented prisoner’s pockets, he barreled toward them. “Got the stuff
back,” reported Mr. Berry, a former Navy signalman who killed his sister-in-law
and tried to kill his wife.
Gold Coats get harassed and called snitches for seeming to side with prison
officials and because of the perks they receive. In the dining hall, to help
dementia patients who, as Mr. Burdick says, “start forgetting basic things like
what is a spork for,” Gold Coats sit with them at special “slow eater” tables,
where meals are allowed to stretch beyond the usual 10 to 12 minutes.
When a prisoner tried stealing a patient’s dessert, Mr. Montgomery, one of the
Gold Coats, snarled, “You got to give him his cookie back.”
“Who are you, the PO-lice?” the inmate barked. Mr. Montgomery retorted, “Yes,
I’m the PO-lice!”
More inmates have dementia than prison officials realize, experts say. Prison
routines can mask symptoms like forgetfulness. Corrections officers are used to
punishing aggressive inmates, not evaluating them for Alzheimer’s.
“Not responding to questions appropriately, being belligerent — it’s just
considered bad behavior,” said Sharen Barboza, director of clinical operations
for MHM Services, a prison mental health provider that trains prison officials.
New York’s Unit for the Cognitively Impaired, begun five years ago, has so far
cared for 84 inmates, but “there’s a number of people in the system that we
really haven’t tapped,” said Paul Kleinman, the program’s psychologist. “They’re
not being identified properly.”
Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.4 million Americans, a number expected to double
by 2040. Experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease in prisons could grow two or
three times as fast, said John Wilson, senior clinical operations specialist for
MHM, because “protective factors that might mitigate developing dementia are
slim to none in prison — things like complex jobs, rich social environment,
Realizing that California, with nearly 13,000 inmates 55 and older, could not
adequately care for demented prisoners, Dr. Hodel, when she was starting the
Gold Coat program, asked the regional chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to
train inmates to help. The chapter’s area director, Sara Bartlett, worried that
she and Arlene Stepputat, then the program director, would not be safe as “women
in a man’s prison.” She doubted whether violent felons could provide sensitive
Both women were surprised that inmates seemed more receptive, with
less-complicated emotional ties to the patients than many of the people they
trained to care for relatives at home. “They were much easier to work with,” Ms.
Heriberto G. Sanchez, chief psychologist of the California Men’s Colony, said
prisoners “were appreciative that someone from the outside world thought they
could do this.” One wrote in an evaluation, “Thank you for allowing me to feel
The prison requires that Gold Coats have “a clean behavior record for about 5 to
10 years,” Dr. Steed said. So far, only one Gold Coat has been removed, because
“he had problems” with dementia patients’ messy eating and other behaviors, Dr.
For inmates, the job has attractions. It pays better than other prison work and
polishes a prisoner’s record.
Two Gold Coats have received parole.
One of them, Shawn Henderson, who got 25 years to life for a 1985 double murder
and was twice denied parole, was released last February. Doing a job where “you
get spit on, feces thrown on you, urine on you, you get cursed out” helped teach
him to cope outside prison, said Mr. Henderson, 46. “Now when I come into an
encounter like that on the street, I can be a lot more compassionate,” he said.
“And I don’t look at telling authorities as snitching anymore.”
Gold Coats conduct exercise classes and run meetings designed to stimulate
memory and lessen disorientation. They escort inmates to doctors, acting as
And they often need to be deft. One 73-year-old inmate stands by a gate most
mornings, waiting for his long-dead mother to pick him up. Sometimes he refuses
to shower, afraid of missing her. Mr. Evers coaxes him inside, telling him that
his mother “wants you to shower before she gets here.”
More subtlety is required for Mr. Gregory, 71, who is serving a life sentence
for brutalizing his girlfriend with a switchblade — throwing her body parts in
the trash and getting caught, he said, when “I went right back to the room that
I killed her in and had sex with another” woman. He does not believe he has
dementia, but his gradually accumulating symptoms include breaking a mop over an
inmate’s head and writing to outside agencies under the delusion that he will be
To assist Mr. Gregory, Samuel Baxter, a Gold Coat who fatally shot a co-worker,
firing six times, gently reminds him about bed making and schedules. “You have
to allow Mr. Gregory to come to you,” Mr. Baxter said.
There are limits to what Gold Coats can do. They can file patients’ fingernails,
for instance, but not clip them because that constitutes a professional
caregiving responsibility that cannot legally be delegated to inmates. And there
are indignities, like cleaning up after inmates who urinate on the floor.
“A year ago,” Mr. Baxter said, “I couldn’t have said, ‘You know what man, I’m
going to go help this grown man get in the shower,’ ” and “get in there and help
these guys wash theirself off.”
Gold Coats say they are moved by the work. “I’m a person who was broken,” said
Mr. Burdick, who during 35 years in prison lost a wife to AIDS and a 16-year-old
daughter to suicide. Dementia patients often “don’t even say thank you,” he
said, but “they just pat me like that and I know what that means.”
Mr. Cañas said: “I didn’t have any feelings about other people. I mean, in that
way, I was a predator.” Now, he said, “I’m a protector.”
Still, the Gold Coats have not figured out how to help Leon Baham.
When Mr. Baham, 71, received a dementia diagnosis a year ago, a psychiatrist,
Dr. Russell Marks, noted that he pined for his wife “almost as though at moments
he didn’t realize” that his crime had been “murdering the woman he was tearful
In a recent interview, Mr. Baham recalled the murder hazily: “Blood everywhere.
She said, ‘Sweetheart.’ ”
He has repeatedly been placed in the crisis center, once after “he urinated on
the floor, he was banging his head on the cage, he needed a spit mask to prevent
his spitting on others,” and he was “threatening to kill persons that he
believed stole his watch,” Dr. Marks said.
After trying to enter the wrong cell, he told Dr. Steed, “I’m going to kill
myself,” adding, “I don’t want to live this way.”
He was sent to a psychiatric hospital, returning less depressed. But he often
sits confused in the yard. “I forget why I was going out there,” Mr. Baham said.
“I’m slipping a little bit.”
Still, he resists the Gold Coats’ help and believes that he would have to pay
them. Oblique assistance, like Mr. Burdick bringing him a jacket, is all he
accepts so far.
“I don’t need them, you know,” Mr. Baham said.
‘I Was a
The compassion Secel Montgomery is required to show in his job as a Gold Coat
was nowhere to be seen in the killing he committed in 1987. He wanted money for
alcohol, and when his former sister-in-law refused, “I knocked her unconscious,
tied her up and stabbed her.” Then he washed his hands and called his wife for a
He grabbed things that had his fingerprints on them, but left his infant nephew
there alone. “I figured that’s kidnapping,” he explained.
Mr. Montgomery, sentenced to 26 years to life, spent 17 years in a high-security
prison for “disobeying orders,” he said. He made contraband alcohol called
Only in 2000, after Mr. Montgomery, 47, was found with marijuana, accused of
threatening a prison official and locked in the “hole,” did he decide to change.
“I was a monster,” he said.
Families of demented inmates seem unperturbed that prisoners like Mr. Montgomery
now have so much responsibility. Laura Eklund, Mr. Cruz’s niece, said prison
officials have asked if his relatives wanted him paroled, but the family has
declined. “To be honest, the care he’s receiving in prison, we could not match,”
When Mr. Cruz spies his own reflection, he often believes it is his brother
Sergio. To keep him from getting agitated, his cell mirror has been covered with
tape. But now when he looks into a toilet, he calls: “Hey, my brother, he’s down
there. I can’t get him out.”
Mr. Montgomery said he tries to reassure Mr. Cruz, but if Mr. Cruz is locked in
his cell, Mr. Montgomery — still a prisoner, after all — cannot enter even if he
is allowed out of his own cell. He will call to Mr. Cruz through a tiny window
in the thick metal door. “All I can do is say, ‘Cruz, come here, come here, come
here,’ but he’ll stand there,” staring helplessly into the toilet and agonizing.
“ ‘See, see, look, see.’ ”
The New York Times
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Tex. — Kenneth Wayne Davis died at 54 as not so much a man but a number: Inmate
Mr. Davis was charged, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated for capital murder
by the State of Texas after taking someone’s life on Nov. 19, 1977. But when he
died in November 2011, Texas seemed his only friend. His family failed to claim
his body, so the state paid for his burial.
On a cold morning in this East Texas town, a group of inmates bowed their heads
as a prison chaplain led a prayer for Mr. Davis, his silver-handled black metal
coffin resting on wooden planks above the grave the prisoners had dug for him.
Wearing sunglasses, work boots and dirt-smeared white uniforms, they might have
resembled painters were they not so solemn, holding their caps and gloves in
their folded hands.
They were Mr. Davis’s gravediggers but also his mourners. No one who knew Mr.
Davis bothered to attend his funeral, so it was left up to Damon Gibson, serving
14 years for theft, and the rest of the prison crew to stand in silence over the
grave of a man they had never met. Then Mr. Gibson and the others put their
gloves on and lowered the coffin into the ground using long straps, providing
him eternal rest in the one place in Texas where murderers and other convicts
whose bodies are unclaimed can be interred, remembered and, if but for a few
On this day, Mr. Davis’s funeral was one of seven at the Captain Joe Byrd
Cemetery, the largest prison graveyard in the country, 22 acres where thousands
of inmates who were executed or died while incarcerated are buried. All of them
went unclaimed by their relatives after they died, but the cemetery is not a
ramshackle potter’s field. It is a quiet green oasis on a wide hill near the
campus of Sam Houston State University, with rows of small crosses and
headstones, at the center of which stand a decorative brick well and a
white-painted altar bearing a cross. The last years of these inmates’ lives were
spent under armed guard behind bars and barbed wire, but there is no fence along
Bowers Boulevard here, and no one keeps watch.
Walking along the hill beneath the pine trees, stepping between the rows of
hundreds of identical white crosses and tablet headstones, you think of
Arlington National Cemetery. But if Arlington is for heroes, the Byrd cemetery
is for villains.
The concrete cross marking the grave of Duane Howk lists his name, inmate number
and date of death in June 2010 but says nothing of the offense for which he was
serving a life sentence, aggravated sexual assault of a child. The serial killer
Kenneth Allen McDuff, executed in 1998 for strangling a 22-year-old pregnant
mother of two with a rope, had gained notoriety for being the only inmate in
United States history who was freed from death row and returned years later
after killing again, but he lies beneath a nameless cross reading 999055.
The state’s prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has been
the steward of the cemetery since the first inmates were buried there in the
mid-1800s, maintaining and operating it in recent decades as carefully and
respectfully as any religious institution might.
An inmate crew from the nearby Walls Unit prison cleans the grounds, mows the
grass and trims trees four days per week. The inmates dig the graves with a
backhoe and shovels, serve as pallbearers and chisel the names on the headstones
by hand using metal stencils and black paint. The cemetery was named for an
assistant warden at the Walls Unit who helped clean and restore the graveyard in
the 1960s, and even today, the warden or one of his deputies attends every
“It’s important, because they’re people still,” said the warden, James Jones.
“Of course they committed a crime and they have to do their time, and
unfortunately they end up dying while they’re in prison, but they’re still human
In a state known for being tough on criminals, where officials recently
eliminated last-meal requests on death row, the Byrd cemetery has been a
little-known counterpoint to the mythology of the Texas penal system. One mile
from the Walls Unit, which houses the state’s execution chamber, about 100
inmates are buried each year in ceremonies for which the state spends
considerable time and money. Each burial costs Texas about $2,000. Often, as in
Mr. Davis’s case, none of the deceased’s relatives attend, and the only people
present are prison officials and the inmate workers.
Though all of those buried here were unclaimed by relatives, many family members
fail to claim the bodies because they cannot afford burial expenses and want the
prison agency to pay the costs instead. The same relatives who declined to claim
the body will then travel to Huntsville to attend the state-paid services at the
“I think everyone assumes if you’re in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the
worst of the worst,” said Franklin T. Wilson, an assistant professor of
criminology at Indiana State University who is writing a book about the
cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is
more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”
Prison officials have verified 2,100 inmates who are buried at the cemetery, but
they say there may be additional graves. Professor Wilson recently photographed
every headstone and estimated that there were more than 3,000 graves.
In some ways, the cemetery and the funerals held there lack precision and
formality. Coffins are transported from the altar at the center of the cemetery
to the gravesite on a trailer hitched to the back of a green John Deere tractor.
Names and words are misspelled on a few headstones and markers. Relatives have
brought portable stereos to play music during the funerals, blaring rap songs
and AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.” Most days, after the inmate crew has returned to the
prison, the cemetery is a deserted, lonesome place. Of the thousands of graves,
only a handful have flowers on them.
“You’ve got guys here who died in prison and were buried out here, and they
could have made a difference someplace, even if it was only in a small community
somewhere,” said Jim Willett, director of the nearby Texas Prison Museum and a
retired Walls Unit warden who attended nearly 200 graveside services. “These
guys didn’t just mess up their lives. There’s their family and other families
that got messed up because of some screwup that they did, and then they wind up
On the day of Mr. Davis’s interment, three burials had family members present,
and four did not. Vandals had entered the cemetery and set a large brush pile on
fire, filling the morning air with smoke. Neither Mr. Gibson nor the inmate
workers knew any of the men they were burying. “It has made me a better person,”
said Mr. Gibson, 38, a father of two from Houston. “It has made me reflect on
the things I’ve done. I don’t want this to be me.”
Two of the seven inmates who were buried, including Mr. Davis, were serving life
sentences for murder, and the others had been imprisoned for drunken driving,
theft, assault, sexual assault of a child or burglary when they died. Mr. Davis
spent nearly 34 of his 54 years behind bars. In the ground in Huntsville, he was
finally free of his prison uniform. The funeral home that handles inmates’
burials put him in dark pants, a white shirt and a tie.
October 10, 2011
The New York Times
By PETER APPLEBOME
PHILADELPHIA — The television crew had him up at dawn doing the Rocky
fandango, dashing up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and
dancing around in triumph like another over-the-hill, underdog pugilist who had
made it big.
Cliché or not, it is hard not to imagine the familiar trumpet score along with
the thwock, thwock, thwock of fists on punching bags as Dewey Bozella trains for
one of the least likely boxing matches in history.
After 26 years in New York State prisons, and two years after he was exonerated
of murder, Mr. Bozella will make his professional boxing debut on Saturday in
Los Angeles, at age 52, on the undercard of the light-heavyweight champion
Bernard Hopkins. (A mere 46 himself, Mr. Hopkins became the oldest fighter to
win a major world championship this May.)
Mr. Bozella’s other fight, in which he is seeking compensation for the half of
his life he spent behind bars, may be even more daunting than chasing victory in
the ring. But for now, Mr. Bozella is focused on what he says will be his one
and only professional bout.
“I want to go out there and give 100 percent and then move on with my life,” he
said. “This is not a career move. It’s a personal move and a way to let people
know to never give up on their dreams. My favorite quote is ‘Don’t let fear
determine who you are and never let where you come from determine where you’re
going.’ That’s what this is about.”
The product of a violent broken family and a hard life on the streets, Mr.
Bozella was a troubled 18-year-old in 1977 when Emma Crapser, 92, was murdered
in her Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home after returning from playing bingo. Six years
later, based almost entirely on the testimony of two criminals who repeatedly
changed their stories, he was convicted of the murder.
There was no physical evidence implicating Mr. Bozella. Instead, there was the
fingerprint of another man, Donald Wise, who was later convicted of committing a
nearly identical murder of another elderly woman in the same neighborhood. Mr.
Bozella was retried in 1990, and was offered a deal that would let him go free
in exchange for an admission that he committed the crime. He refused. A jury
convicted him again.
At Sing Sing, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College and a master’s
from the New York Theological Seminary. And he boxed in the prison’s “Death
House,” once the scene of electrocutions, then a boxing ring, where he became
Sing Sing’s light-heavyweight champion. At parole hearings, he repeatedly
refused to express remorse for the crime he did not commit. He would get out one
way, he said, either in a box or as an exonerated man. The box seemed more
In the end, he was saved by a miracle. The Innocence Project, a legal clinic
dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, believing in his case but unable
to pursue it absent DNA evidence, referred it to the law firm WilmerHale.
Lawyers there eventually found the Poughkeepsie police lieutenant who had
investigated the case. He had retired, and Mr. Bozella’s was the only file he
had saved. It included numerous pieces of evidence favorable to Mr. Bozella that
had not been turned over to his lawyers. On Oct. 28, 2009, he walked out of the
courthouse in Poughkeepsie finally a free man.
He struggled to find work, eventually counseling former convicts while teaching
boxing at a Newburgh, N.Y., gym until ESPN became interested in his story. In
July, at its annual ESPY Awards, he was given its Arthur Ashe Courage Award,
whose past recipients have included Muhammad Ali, Pat Tillman and Nelson
Mandela. The offer to box professionally came as a result of that appearance.
But when he took the rigorous California State Athletic Commission test on Aug.
24 to get licensed to box in the state, he failed. After Labor Day, he began
working out in Philadelphia with the trainers for Mr. Hopkins. They were
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to kill this old guy,’ ” said Danny Davis, one of Mr.
Hopkins’s trainers. “There’s no way this guy can make it through my training.”
But Mr. Bozella got tougher, leaner and more nimble, dropping 10 pounds in
little more than a week. He sparred with, and took serious lumps from, a
world-class fighter: Lajuan Simon, a middleweight title contender. Mr. Bozella
took the test again on Sept. 29. This time he passed.
Officials said Mr. Bozella was believed to be the oldest fighter ever licensed
to box in California. Fighters that age are extremely rare but hardly unknown.
“The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists,” by Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, has
a section on “Boxing’s Greatest Methuselahs” that includes Mr. Hopkins; Jem
Mace, the legendary 19th-century English boxer who fought at 59; and Saoul
Mamby, a former junior welterweight titleholder who fought in 2008 at the age of
60, making him the oldest fighter ever to appear in an officially sanctioned
Mr. Bozella, a cruiserweight — between light-heavyweights and heavyweights —
will not be fighting for a championship; he is taking on Larry Hopkins, 30, of
Houston, who is 0-3 as a professional (and is not related to Bernard Hopkins).
His purse in the pay-per-view bout will be in the very low four figures.
But even if hype and marketing are as much a part of boxing as quick feet and
sharp jabs, Mr. Bozella said the bout was anything but a stunt.
“You’ve seen the workout I went through, the pain, blood and bruises I’m
getting,” he said after four rounds sparring with Mr. Simon last week. “No one’s
giving me nothing for free. I can go out there and get knocked out, or I can
knock the other guy out. It’s that simple.”
Mr. Bozella hopes to open his own gym as a way to mentor youngsters, but beyond
its Hollywood touches, his feel-good story turns cloudier. The day after he
passed the boxing test, a federal judge threw out his lawsuit against Dutchess
County and the City of Poughkeepsie over the evidence that was not turned over
to his lawyers.
The decision was primarily based on a controversial Supreme Court ruling in the
case of Connick v. Thompson. By a 5-to-4 margin, the court, in a decision
written by Justice Clarence Thomas in March, threw out a $14 million jury award
to a former death row inmate freed after prosecutorial misconduct came to light.
The decision stated that only a pattern of misconduct in properly turning over
evidence could warrant financial compensation, no matter how egregious the
misconduct against a single defendant.
“I’m not going to disrespect the courts,” Mr. Bozella said. “I’d just like the
justice system to be fair. Same thing with boxing. If the judges are fair, then
the real winner wins. Just be fair. That’s it.”
September 28, 2011
The New York Times
By JENNIFER MEDINA
LOS ANGELES — One inmate said he was forced to walk down a hallway naked
after sheriff’s deputies accused him of stealing a piece of mail. They taunted
him in Spanish, calling him a derogatory name for homosexuals.
Another former inmate said that after he protested that guards were harassing a
mentally ill prisoner, the same deputies took him into another room, slammed his
head into a wall and repeatedly punched him in the chest.
And a chaplain said he saw deputies punching an inmate until he collapsed to the
ground. They then began kicking the apparently unconscious man’s head and body.
The examples are just a fraction of dozens of detailed allegations of abuse in
Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers, according to a report
that the American Civil Liberties Union is expected to file in Federal District
Court here on Wednesday. The Los Angeles County jail system, the nation’s
largest, is also the nation’s most troubled, according to lawyers, advocates and
former law enforcement officials.
“This situation, the length of time it has been going on, the volume of
complaints and the egregious nature are much, much worse than anything I’ve ever
seen,” said Tom Parker, a retired F.B.I. official who led the agency’s Los
Angeles office for years and oversaw investigations into the Rodney King beating
and charges of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. “They are
abusing inmates with impunity, and the worst part is that they think they can
get away with it.”
The system has a long history of accusations of abuse and poor conditions. The
A.C.L.U. filed a federal lawsuit 35 years ago, and an agreement eventually
allowed the organization to place monitors inside the jails. But those monitors
say that they receive six or seven complaints a week now, primarily from the two
large jails in downtown Los Angeles that house thousands of men. The F.B.I. has
also begun to investigate several episodes in the jails.
Sheriff Lee Baca has repeatedly dismissed any suggestion of a systemic problem
in the jails, saying that all allegations of abuse are investigated and that
most are unfounded.
This week, The Los Angeles Times reported that F.B.I. agents sneaked a cellphone
to a prisoner as part of an investigation. Sheriff Baca reacted to the
investigation angrily, saying that the agency did not know what it was doing and
was putting prisoners and guards in danger.
Sheriff Baca discussed the matter with a Justice Department official in a
meeting on Tuesday. Nicole Nishida, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, said that the
department thoroughly investigated all complaints of abuse that it received and
that most were unsubstantiated.
With California under an order from the United States Supreme Court to shed
thousands of inmates from the state prisons, county jails are expected to
receive many more inmates in the next year, which could aggravate overcrowding
and other problems. Officials from the Sheriff’s Department have said that they
will not place inmates from the state in the Men’s Central Jail, which they
concede is an antiquated building.
But lawyers from the A.C.L.U. say that the Los Angeles County system is, in many
ways, even worse than the state prisons that have been found unconstitutional.
They say that many complaints are never properly investigated, and that often
the very guards accused of abuse are in the room when an inmate is interviewed
about the complaint.
In the last several months, the civil rights group has amassed 70 declarations
from former prisoners and civilians who witnessed beatings. The statements
suggest few patterns — the complaints span all times of day and multiple units
in the jail. But, the A.C.L.U. says, the guards do seem to use the same terms
repeatedly, shouting, “Stop resisting!” and “Stop fighting!” while they hit
inmates, even when inmates are not moving or are in handcuffs.
Paulino Juarez, a Roman Catholic chaplain who has worked in the jail since 1998,
was visiting an inmate’s cell early one morning in February 2009 when he heard
several thumps and gasps in the hallway. When he moved to the cell door, he saw
three deputies hitting a man and yelling, “Stop fighting!”
“But he wasn’t fighting; he wasn’t even defending himself,” Mr. Juarez said in
an interview. “When they saw me, they froze. I was frozen, too. I didn’t say
anything. I was too shocked, and I was terrified.”
Mr. Juarez filed a report with the Sheriff’s Department but did not hear
anything about it for several months. More than two years later, during a
meeting with his supervisor and Sheriff Baca, Mr. Juarez was told that the
department found that the inmate had resisted going into his cell. There was no
record of Mr. Juarez’s report, although a guard indicated in the file that the
chaplain had exaggerated what he had witnessed. He was told that the inmate,
whose name he did not know at the time, had later been released.
“I really don’t trust anymore,” Mr. Juarez said. “They always say inmates are
liars and nobody believes them. But I saw them treated like this.”
While the sheriff has repeatedly dismissed complaints from prisoners, the number
of civilians who have witnessed beatings has steadily increased, showing the
brazenness of many of the guards in the jails, said Peter Eliasberg, legal
director for the A.C.L.U. Foundation of Southern California.
This year, Esther Lim, the current monitor for the A.C.L.U., said she saw
several deputies beat a man inside the Twin Towers jail, next door to Men’s
Central, as if he were a “human punching bag.” The attack was widely reported in
the local news media, and at the time a spokesman dismissed it, saying that Ms.
Lim should have reported it sooner and that the inmate was attacking the
Mr. Eliasberg and Ms. Lim said that inmates who were beaten were routinely
placed for several days afterward in isolation, known as “the hole,” and were
often accused of assaulting the guards.
The A.C.L.U. plans to call for a wide-ranging federal investigation, and for
Sheriff Baca to resign.
SAN DIEGO — The other day, at the sprawling state prison here, Linda and
Alfred Tay sat in a cramped, windowless room, just feet from the man serving
time for murdering their son.
Quarters are close at parole hearings.
They listened as the inmate made his case for parole. And then, exercising their
rights as victims under California law, the Tays made their own case, pleading
with the parole board not to grant freedom to the man who killed their son. It
was the second time they had gone through this painful ritual.
“We constantly have a shadow hanging over our lives,” Ms. Tay told the
commissioners. “When you suffer such a horrific crime, there is never closure.”
The rights of families like the Tays to be heard has been a fundamental tenet of
a movement since California passed its first victims’ bill of rights three
decades ago — a model that has been followed by states across the nation.
Until recently, most of these parole hearings — however difficult they may have
been for the family members — had little practical importance: inmates serving
life sentences for murder were virtually never set free. Even on the rare
occasions when the parole board granted a release, California’s two previous
governors — Gray Davis, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican —
almost invariably overturned it.
But now, with a United States Supreme Court mandate in May to reduce the
populations of California’s overcrowded prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown has thus far
upheld 207 of the parole board’s 253 decisions to release convicted killers.
Already this year, more release dates granted to killers have been allowed to
stand than in any year since governors got the power to reverse them.
As a result, these hearings have taken on a new urgency for victims’ family
members — many of whom have seen themselves as the last line of defense between
a killer and freedom — because inmates are now more likely than ever to be
For some family members, attending the hearings is cathartic, offering a voice
to those who feel powerless in the wake of crimes that have upended their lives.
But even as victims have gained the right to be heard, the laws have also
created unintended consequences — sometimes dividing families or resurrecting
traumas year after year.
“The emotional experience is beyond words,” said Harriet Salarno, who has spoken
at nine parole hearings, beginning in 1993, for the man who killed her daughter
32 years ago. “I’ve thought about not going many times. But I was fearful he
would get out.”
Despite an increased possibility of parole, the emotional and financial burdens
of attending hearings are too overwhelming for many families. Brandi Cambron,
29, testified last year against parole for her mother, who was convicted of
murdering Ms. Cambron’s younger brother. But she did not return this year from
her home in Virginia for the hearing near Los Angeles.
“As much as it’s fulfilling to go there and speak and be heard, it also reopened
all these old wounds that I’d worked so hard to close,” she said.
California has led the way in passing victims’ rights laws. It became the first
state to allow victims’ families to speak at parole hearings, and in 1982 passed
a victims’ bill of rights — one of the first major pieces of such legislation in
the country. More than 30 states have amended their constitutions to include
Parole commissioners and victims’ rights advocates say that victim statements
can have a major influence. They put a human face on a murder victim, who is
often referred to only as “the deceased” during a parole hearing, and make it
that much more difficult for the board to grant release.
Some victims who survived murder attempts show their scars — missing limbs or
disfiguring burns — while relatives detail the emotional trauma they have
“You need to be there so the board understands what this has done to your life,”
said Nina Salarno Ashford, a lawyer with Crime Victims United, a group that
helps represent some victims at parole hearings.
Ms. Salarno Ashford said the increase in parole grants upheld under Governor
Brown makes it all the more important for victims to attend hearings.
“The governor seems not to be taking a hard-line stance as Davis or
Schwarzenegger did,” she said. “It really highlights the necessity for victims
to go to these hearings, so the parole board can feel the full impact of the
Like many such advocates, Ms. Salarno Ashford’s involvement with the issue is
personal: her sister Catina was murdered in 1979. Harriet Salarno, her mother,
quit her job and founded Crime Victims United, and the group has been one of the
foremost opponents of the plan to reduce prison overcrowding by releasing
Few victims’ families — around 8 percent — actually attend parole hearings. But
for those that do, the process, however painful, can also be restorative.
Some victims eventually even stop opposing an inmate’s release. Katie James,
manager of victims’ services for the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation, said those cases showed how well the process could work for the
“When the family goes to multiple hearings over a long period of time, they kind
of get to know the inmate,” Ms. James said. “They get to see a gradual change in
the offender. They’re never going to forgive what the inmate did, but they can
be O.K. with what the parole board decides.”
Most victims, however, never reach that point. For some, the hearings become an
obsession. They skip happy events in the lives of their living children — high
school or college graduations — to honor a dead child at a parole hearing. For
older victims, hearings can take a toll on their health, Ms. James said.
“For some families, the hearings eat away at them, and destroy their other
relationships,” she said. “We try to encourage them to have a balance and let
someone else go instead. But some feel like it has to be them.”
If nothing else, as the Brown administration allows more inmates sentenced to
life to be paroled, more victims will be spared the pain of returning year after
year to parole hearings. But more families will also watch killers win release
dates, as the Tays did. Ms. Tay said she was considering writing to the
governor, in the hope that he would reverse the decision. “I would keep going
forever if I could,” she said.
Perhaps no one has gone to as many parole hearings as Debra Tate, the sister of
Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 in the Manson Family killings. She has, by
her own count, spoken at dozens, perhaps even a hundred parole hearings: almost
every one of those held for the Manson killers since the mid-1990s.
So far, only one of the members of Charles Manson’s murderous cult has died:
Susan Atkins, in 2009. A few weeks before Ms. Atkins’s death, Ms. Tate spoke at
her final parole hearing. On the day Ms. Atkins died, Ms. Tate wore all black,
in memory of the murder victims.
“I cried one long alligator tear,” Ms. Tate said at the event. “It’s still a
life lost. She had nieces and nephews. It’s never just about one person.”
Over the course of 40 years, the two women had become part of each other’s
But Ms. Atkins’s death was not a relief, Ms. Tate said. “There are still so many
hearings to go to.”
The New York Times
By TINA ROSENBERG
the United States will release nearly three-quarters of a million people from
prison, a record high. Nationally, 2.3 million people are in prison in the
United States, and 95 percent of them will, at some point, get out and go home.
Society has a strong interest in keeping them home — in helping them to become
law-abiding citizens instead of falling back into their old ways and returning
to prison. But American programs for newly released prisoners echo the typical
follies of our criminal justice system: our politicians usually believe that
voters only want the emotional satisfactions of meting out maximum punishment,
even if these policies lead to even more crime.
The usual package granted to someone released from prison in New York state is
$40, a bus ticket and the considerable stigma that follows an ex-offender. Since
prisoners are often held far away from their families and states charge
astronomical rates for prison phone calls, prisoners often lose touch with their
loved ones and may not have anyone to take them in when they get home. They may
arrive in their home cities with no plans, other than — worrisomely — those
hatched with fellow prisoners. They have little prospect for jobs or housing.
Since many don’t get effective drug treatment in prison, they might still crave
a fix, which costs money. It is little wonder that some former prisoners fall
back into crime within hours or days.
Returning prisoners need many things: stable housing, drug treatment, job
training, G.E.D. (high school equivalency) classes, parenting lessons, anger
management. But even the handful of people who do worry about ex-offenders
rarely mention what may be the most crucial need of all: a better class of
Former prisoners go back to their old neighborhoods and meet up with their old
gang, or new people of the only type they may be comfortable with — criminals.
But what people need is to stop hanging out with associates who tempt them with
promises of easy money or drug-filled nights. They need to start hanging out
with people who think about the consequences of their actions, who value
legitimate jobs, sobriety and family — people who go to their A.A. meetings and
G.E.D. classes, who are trying to rebuild their lives.
How important are the right friends? We know that people get into crime and
gangs primarily because their friends do. Hanging around with delinquent friends
encourages young people to think of themselves as delinquents, and puts them in
a world where criminal behavior is easy to engage in and brings social rewards.
We do not know as much about whether pro-social peer groups can turn people away
from crime. But it is reasonable to believe that the right peer group can help.
In West Harlem there is a large and beautiful Gothic building overlooking the
Hudson River. It is called the Fortune Academy, but it is known to all as the
Castle. It is owned by the Fortune Society, a group dedicated to helping
returning prisoners succeed with starting new lives. The Fortune Society helps
about 4,000 newly released prisoners each year with job training and placement,
drug treatment, classes in cooking and anger management and being a father, and
Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times The Fortune Academy in West Harlem.
Most of the people who work at Fortune were once themselves drug addicted,
homeless or imprisoned. This is important. “The clients can look at the staff
and say, ‘a few years ago, that person was where I am,’” said Glenn E. Martin,
Fortune’s vice president of development and public affairs. (He himself served
six years in prison, and was released nine years ago.) The staff can also see
past appearances: “Some others may see a guy with his pants pulled down and his
hat on, yelling, and say ‘he’s not ready,’ ” said Martin. “But we’ll talk to
him.” The credibility and understanding produced by having a staff of former
offenders is important. But about 300 of Fortune’s clients each year get
something more: a bed in the Castle, and the chance to start a law-abiding life
in the company of other people trying to do the same.
The Castle provides solutions to several of the most important problems facing
newly released prisoners. One is housing. Between 10 and 20 percent of people
released from state and city prisons and jails have nowhere stable to go — they
couch surf with friends or go into homeless shelters. But a stable home is a
prerequisite for all the other things needed for a productive life. The Castle
can be that home for a few nights or many months, until the person can find work
and safe housing he or she can afford.
Anyone newly released from prison with nowhere else to go can apply to live in
the Castle. Open beds are filled by the first qualified applicant, but the
Castle turns away at least 10 people for every one it accepts. Prisoners
throughout New York state apply — because the Fortune Society has physical
offices in some jails and prisons, the parole bureaucracy refers them and
because prisoners themselves spread the word. “We get several thousand letters a
year,” says JoAnne Page, the president and chief executive of the Fortune
Society. “We get referrals from people’s mothers.” The Castle has single rooms
for residents who earn them; the rest have roommates. It serves meals and has
staff on duty around the clock. It has a computer lab, laundry and a cafeteria.
Residents are required to go full time to counseling, services such as drug
treatment or job placement, or to school.
But perhaps more important than housing, the Castle gives people a new group of
friends to identify with. Every Thursday night at 6 the Castle has a group
meeting of all its residents. At one recent meeting, people sat around an
enormous table and talked about the successes of their week. One woman talked
about her job as a janitor at a shelter for women. “It’s a safe place, and clean
— that’s because of me,” she said with pride. One man recounted a speech he
attended by a political candidate. Another said he opened a bank account for the
first time in his life. One woman was applying for jobs and wondered aloud how
best to phrase the information that she was a felon. JoAnne Page took the
opportunity to deliver one of Fortune Society’s key messages: You are not a
felon. You committed a felony and did your time, but that is not who you are.
One man announced that the Castle’s chorus was rehearsing and was open to new
members. The residents applauded each other fervently.
Delancey Street, in San Francisco, is a very different community with the same
purpose. People come to live at the Delancey Street residential building for an
average of four years. Each resident is required to get at least a high school
equivalency degree and learn several marketable job skills, such as furniture
making, sales or accounting. The organization is completely run by its
residents, who teach each other — there is no paid staff at all. Teaching others
is part of the rehabilitation process for Delancey residents. The residence is
financed in part by private donations, but the majority of its financing comes
from the businesses the residents run, such as restaurants, event planning, a
corporate car service, a moving company and framing shop. All money earned goes
to the collective, which pays all its residents’ expenses.
At both Fortune and Delancey, a person emerging from prison is surrounded by a
community of people who support him, hold him accountable, teach him skills and
model good behavior. Many of the men and women in these programs come to think
of themselves as productive members of society for the first time in their
lives, and it may also be the first time they ever feel competent at anything
The Delancey Street residence, which began in 1971, has never been formally
evaluated. But there is no question that is phenomenally successful. It has
graduated more than 14,000 people from prison into constructive lives. Carol
Kizziah, who manages Delancey’s efforts to apply its lessons elsewhere, says
that the organization estimates that 75 percent of its graduates go on to
productive lives. (For former prisoners who don’t go to Delancey, only 25 to 40
percent avoid re-arrest.) Since it costs taxpayers nothing, from a government’s
point of view it could very well be the most cost-effective social program ever
devised. The program has established similar Delancey Street communities in Los
Angeles, New Mexico, North Carolina and upstate New York. Outsiders have
replicated the Delancey Street model in about five other places.
other Fortune Society programs have been researched and found to be effective,
there has been no study of the Castle, which began in 2002. Nevertheless, the
Castle is often cited by criminal justice experts as a model for helping
ex-offenders. New York State’s Division of Parole gave a special award to the
Fortune Society last month, and parole officers who work with Castle residents
speak highly of it. “It’s working,” said Otis Cruse, a parole officer who has
had the Castle in his jurisdiction. “It has counseling, groups, connections to
employment – it’s one-stop shopping. It’s comfortable, quiet, clean and safe —
you can sleep without looking over your shoulder. It’s an environment where
positive people are doing positive things — you are colleagues in pursuing the
There is one possible caveat about the Castle’s effectiveness: most of the
people I saw at the Castle were in their 30s or older. Older people who get out
of prison, by definition, are more likely than young ones to have served long
sentences for serious offenses. And the longer the sentence, the more
disconnected and disoriented prisoners are likely to be upon release. So they
are important clients for the Castle. But they are also at an age where people
are leaving crime on their own, finally ready to accept some responsibility and
aware they are not immortal and want a family and a stable life. Crime is a
young person’s game. It may be true that many people at the Castle successfully
turn around their lives. The question is whether their age would help them to do
so in any case.
There are two puzzles here. Delancey Street is now celebrating its 40th
anniversary. One would think that by now there would be Delancey 2.0 models
sprouting all over. But there are not. A related mystery concerns the idea that
underlies both Delancey and the Castle: the importance of pro-social peers. Our
guts tell us they matter; we know the effect our friends can have on our
behavior. Peer pressure may be the single most important factor getting people
into crime — surely it should be employed to get them out again. Yet it is not.
Besides Delancey and the Castle, there is probably not a single government
agency or citizen group working with former prisoners that lists “clean-living
peers” alongside housing, job training and other items on its agenda for what
former prisoners need to go straight. These two communities of former prisoners
are good projects, but they have failed to have a wider impact. Saturday’s
column will look at why this is the case.
In 2005, when a federal court took a snapshot of California’s prisons, one
inmate was dying each week because the state failed to provide adequate health
care. Adequate does not mean state-of-the-art, or even tolerable. It means care
meeting “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” in the Supreme
Court’s words, so inmates do not die from rampant staph infections or commit
suicide at nearly twice the national average.
These and other horrors have been documented in California’s prisons for two
decades, and last week they were before the Supreme Court in Schwarzenegger v.
Plata. It is the most important case in years about prison conditions. The
justices should uphold the lower court’s remedy for addressing the horrors.
Four years ago, when the number of inmates in California reached more than
160,000, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a “state of emergency.” The state’s
prisons, he said, are places “of extreme peril.”
Last year, under a federal law focusing on prison conditions, the lower court
found that overcrowding was the “primary cause” of gruesome inadequacies in
medical and mental health care. The court concluded that the only relief under
the law “capable of remedying these constitutional deficiencies” is a “prison
Today, there are almost twice as many inmates in California’s 33 prisons as they
were designed for. The court ordered the state to reduce that population by
around 30 percent. While still leaving it overcrowded, that would free up space,
staff and other vital resources for long overdue medical and mental health
The case will most likely be resolved by a vote of 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony
Kennedy’s vote decisive. At the oral argument, he said that “at some point,” the
court must say “overcrowding is the principal cause, as experts have testified,
and it’s now time for a remedy.” After 20 years of litigation and 70 court
orders, that point has come.
At the intense, sometimes testy argument, Justice Samuel Alito revealed the
law-and-order thinking behind the California system. “If 40,000 prisoners are
going to be released,” he said overstating the likely number, “you really
believe that if you were to come back here two years after that you would be
able to say they haven’t contributed to an increase in crime?” To Justice Alito,
apparently, it was out of the realm of possibility that, rather than increasing
crime, the state could actually decrease it by reducing the number of prison
Among experts, as a forthcoming issue of the journal Criminology & Public Policy
relates, there is a growing belief that less prison and more and better policing
will reduce crime. There is almost unanimous condemnation of California-style
mass incarceration, which has led to no reduction in serious crime and has
turned many inmates into habitual criminals.
America’s prison system is now studied largely because of its failure — the
result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven
ideology. California’s prisons embody this overwhelming failure.
September 18, 2010
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY
ST. LOUIS — When judges here sentence convicted criminals, a new and unusual
variable is available for them to consider: what a given punishment will cost
the State of Missouri.
For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a
judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than
$37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could
be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive
probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole
afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.
Legal experts say no other state systematically provides such information to
judges, a practice put into effect here last month by the state’s sentencing
advisory commission, an appointed board that offers guidance on criminal
The practice has touched off a sharp debate. It has been lauded nationally by a
disparate group of defense lawyers and fiscal conservatives, who consider it an
overdue tool that will force judges to ponder alternatives to prison more
But critics — prosecutors especially — dismiss the idea as unseemly. They say
that the cost of punishment is an irrelevant consideration when deciding a
criminal’s fate and that there is a risk of overlooking the larger social costs
“Justice isn’t subject to a mathematical formula,” said Robert P. McCulloch, the
prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County.
The intent behind the cost estimates, he said, is transparent: to pressure
judges, in the face of big bills, into sending fewer people to prison.
“There is no average case,” Mr. McCulloch said. “Every case is an individual
case, and every victim has the right to have each case viewed individually, and
every defendant has that right.”
Supporters, however, say judges would never focus exclusively on the cost of a
sentence or turn their responsibilities of judgment into a numerical equation.
“This is one of a thousand things we look at — about the tip of a dog’s tail,
it’s such a small thing,” said Judge Gary Oxenhandler, presiding judge in the
13th Judicial Circuit Court and a member of the sentencing commission. “But it
is almost foolish not to look at it. We live in a what’s-it-going-to-cost?
The shift here comes at a dire time for criminal justice budgets around the
country, as states try to navigate conflicting, politically charged demands: to
keep people safe and also cut costs. Michigan has closed prisons. Arizona
considered putting its prison system under private control. California has
searched for ways to shrink its incarcerated population.
Legal scholars predict that policies similar to the one in Missouri — which,
unlike some other measures, might encourage cutting costs before inmates are
already in prison — may soon emerge elsewhere.
Months ago, members of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, a group of
lawyers, judges and others established by state lawmakers years ago, voted to
begin providing judges with cost information on individual cases.
Judge Michael A. Wolff of the State Supreme Court, chairman of the sentencing
commission, said judges had been asking for such data. By last month, Judge
Wolff said, the computer algorithm was up and running, and the commission made
note of it to the legal community in its August newsletter, “Smart Sentencing.”
The concept is simple: fill in an offender’s conviction code, criminal history
and other background, and the program spits out a range of recommended
sentences, new statistical information about the likelihood that Missouri
criminals with similar profiles (and the sentences they received) might commit
more crimes, and the various options’ price tags.
Judge Wolff said that some judges might never look at the price tags (though
they are available to anyone, and some defense lawyers have begun mentioning
them) and that judges ultimately did whatever they wished (within statutory
limits) on sentences. Missouri’s sentencing commission makes recommendations
only. And as Judge Wolff sees it, sentencing costs would never be a
consideration in the most violent cases, just in circumstances where prison is
not the only obvious answer.
“This is just more information,” Judge Wolff said.
Fewer than half the states have sentencing commissions like Missouri’s. In many
cases, the commissions grew out of concerns, starting in the late 1970s, about
racial and geographic disparities in sentences.
Now, however, the groups find themselves also weighing fiscal issues, like
everyone else. Consider the theme of a meeting of the national association of
sentencing commissions in August: “Sound Sentencing Policy: Balancing Justice
Leaders of several commissions in other states said they had yet to consider a
plan like Missouri’s. Some voiced concern about the ramifications, the
methodology — even the price tag of calculating sentencing price tags.
Lots of states measure the costs of imprisonment and of new criminal laws, but
on a generic scale. Many states, for instance, calculate the average cost of
housing a prisoner, but that is rarely mentioned with down-to-the-dollar figures
for a specific person as a judge picks a sentence.
To some, the concept sounds crass, and carries the prospect of unwanted
consequences. Might a decision between life in prison and a death sentence be
decided some day by price comparison? (Absolutely not, Missouri officials say,
and besides, the computer model does not attempt to compute the cost of capital
punishment.) Could the costs of various sentences become so widely known as to
affect the decisions of jurors?
Numerous legal experts on sentencing issues said Missouri’s new policy made
sense. Economic considerations play roles in all sorts of legal decisions,
Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor at New York University, said, so why not let
judges understand the cost of their choices?
Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University, said: “One of
the flaws in the operation of our criminal justice system is not only the
failure to be attentive to cost but an arrogance that somehow you can never put
a price on justice. Long missing has been a sober realization that even if we
get significant benefits from incarceration, that comes at a significant cost.”
Others, like Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah, argue that
Missouri’s plan counts certain costs but fails to measure others — the societal
price, for instance, if someone not incarcerated commits another crime.
“No one can put a price tag on being a victim,” said Scott Burns, executive
director of the National District Attorneys Association.
Still, money worries loom. This year, in an annual address, even the chief
justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, William Ray Price Jr., warned that the
system would be threatened if budget cuts persisted.
“Perhaps the biggest waste of resources in all of state government is the
over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders and our mishandling of drug and
alcohol offenders,” he said.
Mr. McCulloch, the prosecutor, said the state’s prisons were filled with
anything but harmless people. “You show me the college kid with a perfect record
and a dime bag of weed who has been sent to prison, and I’ll get him out,” he
said. “Find me him.”
When Missouri lawmakers meet next year, Mr. McCulloch says that he expects he
and others may push to abolish the sentencing commission.
August 28, 2010
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Prison guards shot into a crowd to stop 200 rioting
inmates Friday night at Folsom State Prison, wounding five, the authorities said
Another two inmates were injured by other prisoners during the riot, which began
at about 7 p.m. in the main exercise yard and ended after 30 minutes. A prison
spokesman, Lt. Anthony Gentile, said officers fired after other efforts to break
up the riot failed.
“We tried to control the situation with chemical agents dispersed over the
crowd,” Lieutenant Gentile said Saturday. “We fired several rounds of rubber
bullets and that didn’t stop them from fighting.”
None of the inmates suffered life-threatening injuries, and none of the 45 to 50
officers who responded were hurt.
All seven of the injured inmates were listed in stable condition late Saturday,
Lieutenant Gentile said.
The prison, made famous in the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues,” could
remain on lockdown for the next several weeks during an investigation. That
means inmates will not be allowed to have visitors, use the exercise yard or
attend work training, Lieutenant Gentile said.
The prison has been hit with sporadic violence in its 130-year existence.
Most recently, eight inmates were injured in October after a fight involving
about 120 prisoners erupted in a dining hall at the prison.
In April 2002, 24 inmates and one guard were injured during a riot.
Opened in 1880, Folsom is California’s second oldest prison, primarily housing
medium-security inmates. The prison also operates a minimum-security unit and a
transitional treatment facility.
The facility’s Web site said it had 3,540 inmates and a custody staff of 643. It
is located about 20 miles east of Sacramento.
December 14, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
ALBANY — New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken, with young people
battling mental illness or addiction held alongside violent offenders in abysmal
facilities where they receive little counseling, can be physically abused and
rarely get even a basic education, according to a report by a state panel.
The problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked
New York’s Family Court judges not to send youths to any of them unless they are
a significant risk to public safety, recommending alternatives, like therapeutic
“New York State’s current approach fails the young people who are drawn into the
system, the public whose safety it is intended to protect, and the principles of
good governance that demand effective use of scarce state resources,” said the
confidential draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The report, prepared by a task force appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and led
by Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, comes
three months after a federal investigation found that excessive force was
routinely used at four prisons, resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones
and shattered teeth.
The situation was so serious the Department of Justice, which made the
investigation, threatened to take over the system.
But according to the task force, the problems uncovered at the four prisons are
endemic to the entire system, which houses about 900 young people at 28
facilities around the state.
While some prisons for violent and dangerous offenders should be preserved, the
report calls for most to be replaced with a system of smaller centers closer to
the communities where most of the families of the youths in custody live.
The task force was convened in 2008 after years of complaints about the prisons,
punctuated by the death in 2006 of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old boy at
one center after two workers pinned him to the ground. The task force’s
recommendations are likely to help shape the state’s response to the federal
“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Mr. Travis
said in an interview on Friday. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in
the juvenile justice field.”
New York’s juvenile prisons are both extremely expensive and extraordinarily
ineffective, according to the report, which will be given to Mr. Paterson on
Monday. The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters
of those released from detention are arrested again within three years. And
though the median age of those admitted to juvenile facilities is almost 16,
one-third of those held read at a third-grade level.
The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or
others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks,
the report found.
In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent
there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug
possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even
though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth
population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.
Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less
restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children
entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than
half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have
Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the
prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ
psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill
While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly
all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor,
cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks.
“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their
young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment
needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and
youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts. “In some
facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.”
Even before the task force’s report is released, the Paterson administration is
moving to reduce the number of youths held in juvenile prisons.
Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services,
the agency that oversees the juvenile justice system, has recommended that
judges find alternative placements for most young offenders, according to an
internal memorandum issued Oct. 28 by the state’s deputy chief administrative
Ms. Carrión also advised court officials that New York would not contest the
Justice Department findings, according to the memo, and that officials were
negotiating a settlement agreement to remedy the system.
Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson, said the governor “looks
forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force as we continue our
efforts to transform the state’s juvenile justice system from a
correctional-punitive model to a therapeutic model.”
The report contends that smaller facilities would place less strain on workers,
helping reduce the use of physical force, and would be better able to tailor
New York is not unique in using its juvenile prisons to house mentally ill
teenagers, particularly as many states confront huge budget shortfalls that have
resulted in significant cuts to mental health programs. Still, some states are
trying to shift to smaller, community-based programs.
The report by New York’s task force does not say how much money would be needed
to overhaul the system, but as Mr. Paterson and state lawmakers try to close a
$3.2 billion deficit, cost could become a major hurdle.
Ms. Carrión has faced resistance from some prison workers, who accuse her of
making them scapegoats for the system’s problems and minimizing the dangerous
conditions they face. State records show a significant spike in on-the-job
injuries, for which some workers blame Ms. Carrión’s efforts to limit the use of
“We embrace the idea of moving towards a more therapeutic model of care, but you
can’t do that without more training and more staff,” said Stephen A. Madarasz, a
spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents
prison workers. “You’re not dealing with wayward youth. In the more secure
facilities, you’re dealing with individuals who have been involved in pretty
Advocates have credited Ms. Carrión, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov.
Eliot Spitzer, with instituting significant reforms, including installing
cameras in some of the more troubled prisons and providing more counseling.
But the state has a long way to go, many advocates say.
“Even the kids that are not considered dangerous are shackled when they are
being transferred from their homes to the centers upstate — hands and feet,
sometimes even belly chains,” said Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a
report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New
York City Affairs at the New School.
“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
Ariz. — One of the newest residents on Arizona’s death row, a convicted serial
killer named Dale Hausner, poked his head up from his television to look at
several visitors strolling by, each of whom wore face masks and vests to protect
against the sharp homemade objects that often are propelled from the cells of
It is a dangerous place to patrol, and Arizona spends $4.7 million each year to
house inmates like Mr. Hausner in a super-maximum-security prison. But in a
first in the criminal justice world, the state’s death row inmates could become
the responsibility of a private company.
State officials will soon seek bids from private companies for 9 of the state’s
10 prison complexes that house roughly 40,000 inmates, including the 127 here on
death row. It is the first effort by a state to put its entire prison system
under private control.
The privatization effort, both in its breadth and its financial goals,
demonstrates what states around the country — broke, desperate and often
overburdened with prisoners and their associated costs — are willing to do to
balance the books. Arizona officials hope the effort will put a $100 million
dent in the state’s roughly $2 billion budget shortfall.
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said State Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican
who supports private prisons. “If we were not in this economic environment, I
don’t think we’d be talking about this with the same sense of urgency.”
Private prison companies generally build facilities for a state, then charge
them per prisoner to run them. But under the Arizona legislation, a vendor would
pay $100 million up front to operate one or more prison complexes. Assuming the
company could operate the prisons more cheaply or efficiently than the state,
any savings would be equally divided between the state and the private firm.
The privatization move has raised questions — including among some people who
work for private prison companies — about the private sector’s ability to handle
the state’s most hardened criminals. While executions would still be performed
by the state, officials said, the Department of Corrections would relinquish all
other day-to-day operations to the private operator and pay a per-diem fee for
“I would not want to be the warden of death row,” said Todd Thomas, the warden
of a prison in Eloy, Ariz., run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The
company, the country’s largest private prison operator, has six prisons in
Arizona with inmates from other states.
“That’s not to say we couldn’t,” Mr. Thomas said. “But the liability is too
great. I don’t think any private entity would ever want to do that.”
James Austin, a co-author of a Department of Justice study in 2001 on prison
privatization and president of the JFA Institute, a corrections consulting firm,
said private companies tended to oversee minimum- and medium-security inmates
and had little experience with the most dangerous prisoners.
“As for death row,” Mr. Austin said, “it is a very visible entity, and if
something bad happens there, you will have a pretty big news story for the
Legislature and governor to explain.”
Arizona is no stranger to private prisons or, for that matter, aggressive
privatization efforts (recently, the state put up for sale several government
buildings housing executive branch offices in Phoenix). Nearly 30 percent of the
state’s prisoners are being held in prisons operated by private companies
outside the state’s 10 complexes.
In addition, other states, including Alaska and Hawaii, have contracts with
private companies like Corrections Corporation of America to house their
prisoners in Arizona.
For advocates of prison privatization, the push here breathes a bit of life into
a movement that has been on the decline across the country as cost savings from
prison privatizations have often failed to materialize, corrections officers
unions have resisted the efforts and high-profile problems in privately run
facilities have drawn unwanted publicity
“We have private prisons in Arizona already, and we are very happy with the
performance and the savings we get from them,” said Representative John
Kavanagh, a Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and
an architect of the new legislation authorizing the privatization. “I think that
they are the future of corrections in Arizona.”
Under the legislation, any bidder would have to take an entire complex — many of
them mazes of multiple levels of security risks and complexity — and would not
be permitted to pick off the cheapest or easiest buildings and inmates. The
state also wants to privatize prisoners’ medical care.
Louise Grant, a spokeswoman for Corrections Corporation of America, said the
high-security prisoners would be well within the company’s management
capabilities. “We expect we will be there to make a proposal to the state” for
at least some of its complexes up for bid, Ms. Grant said.
In pure financial terms, it is not clear how well the state would make out with
the privatization. The 2001 study for the Department of Justice found that
private prisons saved most states little money (there has been no equivalent
study since). Indeed, many states, struggling to keep up with the cost of
corrections, have closed prisons when possible, and sought changes in sentencing
to reduce crowding in the last two years.
As tough sentencing laws and the ensuing increase in prisoners began to press on
state resources in the 1980s, private prison companies attracted some states
with promises of lower costs. The private prison boom lasted into the 1990s.
Throughout the years, there have been high-profile riots, escapes and other
violent incidents. The companies also do not generally provide the same wages
and benefits as states, which has resulted in resistance from unions and
concerns that the private prisons attract less-qualified workers.
Then the federal government stepped in, with a surge of new immigrant prisoners,
and began to contract with the private companies. The number of federal
prisoners in private prisons in the United States has more than doubled, to
32,712 in 2008 from 15,524 in 2000. The number of state prisoners in privately
run prisons has increased to 93,500 from 75,000 in that time.
With bad economic times again driving many decisions about state resources,
other states are sure to watch Arizona’s experiment closely.
“There simply isn’t the money to keep these people incarcerated, and the
alternative is to free many of them or lower cost,” said Ron Utt, a senior
research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group whose work for
privatization was cited by one Arizona lawmaker.
The New York Times
By JOHN LELAND
N.Y. — Allen Jacobs lived hard for his 50 years, and when his liver finally shut
down he faced the kind of death he did not want. On a recent afternoon Mr.
Jacobs lay in a hospital bed staring blankly at the ceiling, his eyes sunk in
his skull, his skin lusterless. A volunteer hospice worker, Wensley Roberts, ran
a wet sponge over Mr. Jacobs’s dry lips, encouraging him to drink.
“Come on, Mr. Jacobs,” he said.
Mr. Roberts is one of a dozen inmates at the Coxsackie Correctional Facility who
volunteer to sit with fellow prisoners in the last six months of their lives.
More than 3,000 prisoners a year die of natural causes in correctional
Mr. Roberts recalled a day when Mr. Jacobs, then more coherent, had started
crying. Mr. Roberts held his patient and tried to console him. Then their
experience took a turn unique to their setting, the medical ward of a maximum
security prison. Mr. Roberts said he told Mr. Jacobs to “man up.”
Mr. Jacobs, serving two to four years for passing forged checks, cursed at him,
telling him, “‘I don’t want to die in jail. Do you want to die in jail?’ ”
“I said no,” said Mr. Roberts, who is serving eight years for robbery. “He said,
‘Then stop telling me to man up,’ and he started crying. And then he said that
I’m his family.”
American prisons are home to a growing geriatric population, with one-third of
all inmates expected to be over 50 by next year. As courts have handed down
longer sentences and tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice
programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, according to the National
Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Susan Atkins, a follower of Charles
Manson, died last month in hospice at the Central California Women’s Facility at
Chowchilla after being denied compassionate release.
Joan Smith, deputy superintendent of health services at the Coxsackie prison,
said the hospice program here initially met with resistance from prison guards.
“They were very resentful about people in prison for horrendous crimes getting
better medical care than their families,” including round-the-clock
companionship in their final days, Ms. Smith said.
The guards have come to accept the program, she said. But still there are
challenges unique to the prison setting. Some dying patients, for example,
divert their pain medication to their volunteer aides or other patients, who use
it or sell it, said Kathleen Allan, the director of nursing. She added that
patients can be made victims easily, “and this is a predatory system.”
But she said the inmate volunteers bond with the patients in a way that staff
members cannot, taking on “the touchy-feely thing” that may be inappropriate
between inmates and prison workers.
At Coxsackie, 130 miles north of New York City, administrators started the
hospice program in 1996 in response to the AIDS epidemic using an outside
hospice agency, then changed to inmate volunteers in 2001. The change saved
money and was well-received by the patients.
Perhaps more significant, said William Lape, the superintendent, was the effect
the program had on the volunteers. “I think it’s turned their life around,” Mr.
John Henson, 30, was one of the first volunteers. When he was 18, Mr. Henson
broke into the home of a former employer and, in the course of a robbery, beat
the man to death with a baseball bat. When he entered prison, with a sentence of
25 years to life, he said, “I thought my life was over.”
At Coxsackie he met the Rev. J. Edward Lewis, who persuaded him to volunteer in
2001. “You go in thinking that you’re going to help somebody,” Mr. Lewis said,
“and every time they end up helping you.”
Before hospice, Mr. Henson said he had given little thought to the consequences
of his crime. Then he found himself locked in a hospital room with another
inmate, holding the man’s hand as his breathing slowed toward a stop.
Like many men in prison, the dying man had alienated his family members, who
rejected his efforts to renew contact. In the end, he had only Mr. Henson for
companionship. When the prison nurse declared the man dead, Mr. Henson broke
down in tears.
“They just came out,” he said. “I don’t even know why I was crying. Partly
because of him, partly because of things that died within me at the same time.”
Mr. Henson, dressed in prison greens and with his blond hair buzzed short, spoke
directly and without hesitation.
“I was just thinking about why I’m in here and the person’s life that I took,”
he said. “And sitting with this person for the first time and actually seeing
death firsthand, being right there, my hand in his hand, watching him take his
last breath, just caused me to say, ‘Wow, who the hell are you? Who were you to
do this to somebody else?’ ”
Ms. Allan, the nursing director at Coxsackie, said that with a number of inmate
volunteers, “You can identify in each of these guys something inside them
driving them to do this. It’s a desire to redeem themselves, so even when it
gets hard they’re able to plow through it. “
She added, “I think Mr. Henson made me a better mother.”
Benny Lee, 38, has spent half his life in prison for manslaughter, and for most
of that time, he said, “the only thing I regretted was getting caught.” Four
months ago he began as a hospice volunteer, feeling he needed a change. “I’m
trying to offer some payback,” he said.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Lee was scheduled to sit with Eddie Jones, 89, who
was dying from multiple causes. Mr. Jones, who was convicted of murder at age
70, said, “I can talk with them better than staff members, because staff members
have their minds made up about how things should be.”
Mr. Lee said he does not know how Mr. Jones’s death will affect him. “I’m hoping
it will have an effect, period,” he said. “Growing up and in prison, I put up
walls. But I have to be more emotionally receptive to these guys. This is going
against everything I’ve tried to do. But I realize it’s a change I have to
Mr. Lee said hospice was forcing him to learn to trust people.
“It’s helping me mature,” he said. “My views of life and death are changing. I
was unsympathetic when it comes to death. I’ve had friends die, and I was
callous about it. Now I can’t do that. I’ve come to identify with these guys,
not because we’re inmates, but because we’re human beings. What they’re going
through, I’ll go through.”
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
physical force was routinely used to discipline children at several juvenile
prisons in New York, resulting in broken bones, shattered teeth, concussions and
dozens of other serious injuries over a period of less than two years, a federal
investigation has found.
A report by the United States Department of Justice highlighted abuses at four
juvenile residential centers and raised the possibility of a federal takeover of
the state’s entire youth prison system if the problems were not quickly
The report, made public on Monday, came 18 months into a major effort by state
officials to overhaul New York’s troubled juvenile prison system, which houses
children convicted of criminal acts, from truancy to murder, who are too young
to serve in adult jails and prisons.
Investigators found that physical force was often the first response to any act
of insubordination by residents, who are all under 16, despite rules allowing
force only as a last resort.
“Staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of
force, departing from generally accepted standards,” said the report, which was
given to Gov. David A. Paterson on Aug. 14.
“Anything from sneaking an extra cookie to initiating a fistfight may result in
a full prone restraint with handcuffs,” the reportsaid. “This one-size-fits-all
approach has, not surprisingly, led to an alarming number of serious injuries to
youth, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures”
(bone fractures caused by twisting).
In a statement issued on Monday, Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office
of Children and Family Services, which oversees the juvenile prisons, said that
the administration had inherited a youth justice system “rife with substantial
systemic problems” but acknowledged that efforts to overhaul it had so far
“We have made great strides,” said Ms. Carrión, “but much more still needs to be
In one case described in the report, a youth was forcibly restrained and
handcuffed after refusing to stop laughing when ordered to; the youth sustained
a cut lip and injuries to the wrists and elbows. Workers forced one boy, who had
glared at a staff member, into a sitting position and secured his arms behind
his back with such force that his collarbone was broken.
Another youth was restrained eight times in three months despite signs that she
might have been contemplating suicide. “In nearly every one of the eight
incidents,” the report found, “the youth was engaged in behaviors such as head
banging, putting paper clips in her mouth, tying a string around her neck, etc.”
The four centers cited in the report are the Lansing Residential Center and the
Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center in Lansing, and two residences, one for
boys and one for girls, at Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown.
Officials at the centers also routinely failed to follow state rules requiring
reviews whenever force is used, the report said. In some cases, the same staff
member involved in an episode conducted the review of it. And even when a review
determined that excessive force had been used, the staff members responsible
sometimes faced no punishment.
In one case, a youth counselor with a documented record of using excessive force
was recommended for firing after throwing a youth to the ground with such force
that stitches were required on the youth’s chin. But after the counselor’s union
intervened, the punishment was downgraded to a letter of reprimand, an $800 fine
and a two-week suspension that was itself suspended.
The federal inquiry began in December 2007 following a spate of incidents at
some of the 28 state-run juvenile residential centers, which house about 1,000
In November 2006, an emotionally disturbed teenager, Darryl Thompson, 15, died
after two employees at the Tryon center pinned him down on the ground. The death
was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict the workers. The boy’s
mother is suing the state.
During the same period, a separate joint investigation by the state inspector
general and the Tompkins County district attorney found that the independent
ombudsman’s office charged with overseeing youth prison centers had virtually
ceased to function. In a report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil
Liberties Union issued in September 2006, New York’s youth residential centers
were rated among the worst in the world.
Those scandals spurred a drive within Ms. Carrión’s department to overhaul the
system. It reconstituted the ombudsman’s office and issued clearer policies on
the use of physical force, leading to a sharp drop in instances where restraints
Under the overhaul, officials have also sought to close underused centers and
redirect resources to counseling and other services, though they have faced
fierce resistance from public employees’ unions and their allies in the
Legislature. A task force appointed last year by Mr. Paterson is set to issue
further recommendations by the end of this year.
“The problem is the unions and some of the staff they represent,” said Mishi
Faruquee, director of Youth Justice Programs at the Children’s Defense Fund-New
York, and a member of the task force. “They are very entrenched in the way they
do things and the way they have been trained to do their jobs,” she said. “They
have been very resistant to changing the policy on the use of force.”
In a statement, Stephen A. Madarasz, director of communications for the Civil
Service Employees Union, which represents many of the workers at the centers,
said union officials had not had an opportunity to review the full report.
The federal report revealed that despite efforts to overhaul the system,
problems at some of the centers remained so severe that residents’
constitutional rights were being violated. Under federal law, New York has 49
days to respond with a plan of action to comply with the report’s
If the state fails to do so, the Justice Department can initiate a lawsuit that
could result in a federal takeover of the state’s juvenile prison system.
Even as the four centers singled out in the report relied excessively on
physical force, federal investigators found, they failed to provide youths with
adequate counseling and mental health treatment, something the vast majority of
residents require. Three-quarters of children entering New York’s youth justice
system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have diagnosed
psychological problems and a third have developmental disabilities, according to
figures published by Office of Children and Family Services.
“The majority of psychiatric evaluations at the four facilities did not come
close to meeting” professional standards, investigators determined, and
“typically lacked basic, necessary information.”
Calif. — Mary Thompson, an inmate at the California Institution for Women here,
was convicted of two felonies for a robbery spree in which she threatened
victims with a knife. Her third felony under California’s three-strikes law was
the theft of three tracksuits to pay for her crack cocaine habit in 1982.
Like one out of five prisoners in California, and nearly 10 percent of all
prisoners nationally in 2008, Ms. Thompson is serving a life sentence. She will
be eligible for parole by 2020.
More prisoners today are serving life terms than ever before — 140,610 out of
2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons across the country — under
tough mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and the declining use of parole for
eligible convicts, according to a report released Wednesday by the Sentencing
Project, a group that calls for the elimination of life sentences without
parole. The report tracks the increase in life sentences from 1984, when the
number of inmates serving life terms was 34,000.
Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences are Latino or black, the report
found. In New York State, for example, 16.3 percent of prisoners serving life
terms are white.
Although most people serving life terms were convicted of violent crimes,
sentencing experts say there are many exceptions, like Norman Williams, 46, who
served 13 years of a life sentence for stealing a floor jack out of a tow truck,
a crime that was his third strike. He was released from Folsom State Prison in
California in April after appealing his conviction on the grounds of
The rising number of inmates serving life terms is straining corrections budgets
at a time when financially strapped states are struggling to cut costs.
California’s prison system, the nation’s largest, with 170,000 inmates, also had
the highest number of prisoners with life sentences, 34,164, or triple the
number in 1992, the report found.
In four other states — Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada and New York — at least
one in six prisoners is serving a life term, according to the report.
The California prison system is in federal receivership for overcrowding and
failing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, many of whom are elderly
and serving life terms.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week repeated his proposal to reduce the inmate
population through a combination of early releases for nonviolent offenders,
home monitoring for some parole violators and more lenient sentencing for some
felonies. But there are no credible plans to increase the rate at which
prisoners serving life sentences are granted parole.
“When California courts sentence somebody to life with parole, it turns out
that’s not possible after all,” said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford law professor
and an expert on parole policy. “Board of parole hearings almost never grant
releases, and that’s the reason that California’s lifer population has grown out
of proportion to other states.”
Margo Johnson, 48, also an inmate at the women’s prison here, has served 24
years of a life sentence for a 1984 murder. She has been recommended for release
four times by the state parole board, but she said that Mr. Schwarzenegger had
rejected the board’s recommendation each time.
“Sometimes I wonder, is it just a game they’re playing with me?” Ms. Johnson
Seven prison systems — Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, South
Dakota and the federal penitentiary system — do not offer the possibility of
parole to prisoners serving life terms.
That policy also extends to juveniles in Illinois, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. A
total of 6,807 juveniles were serving life terms in 2008, 1,755 without the
possibility of parole. California again led the nation in the number of
juveniles serving life terms, with 2,623.
“The expansion of life sentences suggests that we’re rapidly losing faith in the
rehabilitation model,” said Ashley Nellis, the report’s main author.
De Angelo McVay, 42, is serving a life term with no possibility of parole at the
maximum security state prison in Lancaster, Calif., for his role in the
kidnapping and torture of a man.
He said in an interview Wednesday that he had used his 10 years in prison to
reform himself, taking ministry classes, participating in the prison chapel
program, becoming vice chairman of his prison yard and avoiding behavioral
“I’m remorseful for what I did,” he said. “But I got no chance at parole, and I
know guys who have committed killings and they have parole.”
Supporters of longer sentences for criminals, including victims rights
organizations, prosecutors and police associations, often cite public safety,
the deterrent effect of punishment and the need to remove criminals from
But the number of aging inmates serving life sentences has risen sharply as the
sluggish economy has shrunk state budgets. By 2004, the number of inmates over
50 had nearly doubled from a decade earlier, to more than 20 percent, according
to the report. Older inmates cost more because they have more health needs.
California, for example, spends $98,000 to $138,000 a year on each prisoner over
50, compared with the national average of about $35,000 a year.
But Professor Petersilia said she was skeptical that economic arguments alone
would persuade voters to treat inmates serving life terms — most of whom have
committed violent felonies like murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery — with more
“All the public opinion polls say that everybody will reconsider sentencing for
nonviolent offenders or drug offenders, but they’re not willing to do anything
different for violent offenders,” Professor Petersilia. In fact, she added,
polls show support for even harsher sentences for sex offenses and other violent
Burk Foster, a criminal justice professor at Saginaw Valley State University in
Michigan and an expert on the Louisiana penitentiary system, said the expansion
of life sentences started at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the
nation’s largest maximum penitentiary, in the early 1970s, when most people
sentenced to life terms were paroled after they had been deemed fit to re-enter
“Angola was a prototype of a lifer’s prison,” said Professor Foster. “In 1973,
Louisiana changed its life sentencing law so that lifers would no longer be
parole eligible, and they applied that law more broadly over time to include
murder, rape, kidnapping, distribution of narcotics and habitual offenders.”
Professor Foster said sentencing more prisoners to life sentences was an
abandonment of the “corrective” function of prisons.
“Rehabilitation is not an issue at Angola,” he said. “They’re just practicing
lifetime isolation and incapacitation.”
Colo. — Prison is a way of life here, and always has been. The old territorial
prison started it all in 1868 at the end of Main Street, anchoring a community
and an economy with its massive tan stone walls and turrets. Generations later,
more than 5,000 inmates in state and federal lockups, from minimum security to
the so-called supermax, ring the town like a bracelet.
But when it comes to the idea of transferring those suspected or convicted of
terrorism from the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to federal high-security
prisons like the one just down the road in Florence, as the Obama administration
has proposed, Lyle Jacobson draws the line.
“It would make us a target,” said Mr. Jacobson, an 84-year-old retired
accountant. “I think it’s very dangerous.”
Mr. Jacobson, who said he was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months near
the end of World War II, said he was not so worried about escapes. The prisons
are secure enough, he said, and in fact there have been no escapes from the
Administrative Maximum prison in Florence, the only one in the federal system.
Rather, it is the international attention — a bull’s-eye for terrorists and
their allies — that he fears could be drawn around this part of southeast
Al Ballard is just as vocal and opinionated the other way.
“Bring them on,” said Mr. Ballard, who owns a tea house in town with his wife,
Linda. “I don’t worry a lick.”
Mr. Ballard said the prison in Florence was so well run and secure and isolated
that people here would not notice a thing. “We do need more guards though,” he
In a speech on Thursday, President Obama said it would be safe to transfer many
Guantánamo inmates to high-security prisons in the United States, noting that
the corrections system already holds hundreds of convicted terrorists. A Justice
Department spokesman, Matt Miller, said 216 international terrorists were in
federal prisons, as well as 139 domestic terrorists. All have been convicted and
are in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.
That kind of transfer is not a blasé topic here. Opinions are instant and
strong. And there is a base of experience. Many of the terrorists the president
cited already reside in Florence, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi
Yousef, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Ahmed Ressam, the
“millennium bomber”; Wadih El-Hage, a member of Al Qaeda convicted of the 1998
embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
Nonetheless, when the word Guantánamo comes up, so do questions of politics and
safety, and for some, religion and culture — taut and intertwined and loaded
“People here are good Christian conservatives,” said Tom Baron, who described
himself as a struggling small-business man, co-owner with his wife, Marie, of
Donuts and Dogs, a coffee shop. Mr. Baron said he thought that large numbers of
Muslims — the family members and friends of inmates — would move into town if
the transfer occurred. Property values would fall, he said, and some family
members of terrorists might be terrorists, too.
“That would destroy this community,” Mr. Baron said.
Fine-print legal definitions of who exactly can be labeled a terrorist under
federal law have also become bound up in the debate about transfers. Not all of
those mentioned by the president were actually convicted of terrorism. The
Bureau of Prisons classifies inmates it holds — some of whom might have been
convicted of, say, multiple murder counts — as terrorists if their crimes were
intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or a government by mass
destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
Politics quickly finds a way into the discussion after that. Mr. Obama, though
he carried Colorado as a whole last November, fared badly here in Fremont
County, winning only about a third of the vote.
“I wouldn’t expect people in Fremont County to favor the president’s positions,”
said State Representative Liane McFadyen, a Democrat whose district in Fremont
County includes 12 prisons — eight run by the state and four by the federal
bureau. Ms. McFadyen said she had mostly heard opposition from constituents.
And where politics and local concerns about safety collide, the mix is volatile.
“These people hate America; they truly hate America,” said Glen Morlan, a
disabled welder. “Why would you want to bring them here?”
Mr. Morlan said that he had not voted for Mr. Obama and that he thought the idea
of closing Guantánamo was bad for national security — and the community. And
that makes him dislike Mr. Obama all the more.
Some people do in fact shrug their shoulders about the question of detainee
Sherry Meins, a school aide at Garden Park High School, was enjoying the last
day of school on Friday, sitting outside in the sun on a bench on Main Street.
Ms. Meins said the system of security alerts in town was so elaborate and well
honed as to be almost second nature, so much that she did not think Guantánamo
detainees would change anything.
The schools, she said, regularly practice “lockdowns” that would take place in
the event of an inmate escape. And even if a prisoner did get out, she said, he
probably wanted to get out of town as fast as possible, not hang around Cañon
“Our children our safe,” Ms. Meins said.
Ms. McFadyen, the state representative for the area, said transfers might be
moot anyway unless prisoners already in Florence were moved elsewhere.
“On top of everything else, there’s no room at the supermax,” she said. “It’s
imprisonment philosophy that has packed prisons and sent corrections costs
through the roof around the country has hit especially hard in California, which
has the largest prison population, the highest recidivism rate and a prison
budget raging out of control.
According to a new federally backed study conducted at the University of
California, Irvine, the state’s corrections costs have grown by about 50 percent
in less than a decade and now account for about 10 percent of state spending —
nearly the same amount as higher education. The costs could rise substantially
given that a federal lawsuit may require the state to spend $8 billion to bring
the prison system’s woefully inadequate medical services up to constitutional
The solution for California is to shrink its vastly overcrowded prison system.
To do so, it would need to move away from mandatory sentencing laws that have
proved to be disastrous across the country — locking up more people than
protecting public safety requires.
In addition, the state also has perhaps the most counterproductive and
ill-conceived parole system in the United States. More people are sent to prison
in California by parole officers than by the courts. In addition, about 66
percent of California’s parolees land back in prison after three years, compared
with about 40 percent nationally. Four in 10 are sent back for technical
violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.
Later this year, the state is expected to begin testing a new system that
redirects the lowest-risk drug addicts to treatment. But that will only work if
the state and the counties dramatically expand treatment slots.
The heart of the problem is that California’s parole system is simply too big.
Most states keep dangerous people behind bars or reserve parole supervision for
the most serious offenders. California puts virtually everyone on parole,
typically for three years.
Under this setup, about 80 percent of the parolees have fewer than two 15-minute
meetings with a parole officer per month. That might be adequate for low-risk
offenders, but it’s clearly too little time for serious offenders who present a
risk to public safety.
A good first step would be to place fewer people on parole. The second step
would be to reserve the most intensive supervision for offenders who present the
State lawmakers, some of whom are fearful of being seen as soft on crime, have
failed to make perfectly reasonable sentencing modifications and other changes
that the prisons desperately need. Unless they muster some courage soon,
Californians will find themselves swamped by prison costs and unable to afford
just about anything else.
DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas man
who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit was freed
Tuesday, after being incarcerated longer than any other wrongfully convicted
U.S. inmate cleared by DNA testing.
James Lee Woodard stepped
out of the courtroom and raised his arms to a throng of photographers.
Supporters and other people gathered outside the court erupted in applause.
"No words can express what a tragic story yours is," state District Judge Mark
Stoltz told Woodard at a brief hearing before his release.
Woodard, cleared of the 1980 murder of his girlfriend, became the 18th person in
Dallas County to have his conviction cast aside. That's a figure unmatched by
any county nationally, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based
legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.
"I thank God for the existence of the Innocence Project," Woodard, 55, told the
court. "Without that, I wouldn't be here today. I would be wasting away in
Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas,
also a national high. That does not include Woodard and at least three others
whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons
or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals formally accepts the ruling of lower
courts that have already recommended exoneration.
Woodard was sentenced to life in prison in July 1981 for the murder of a
21-year-old Dallas woman found raped and strangled near the banks of the Trinity
He was convicted primarily on the basis of testimony from two eyewitnesses, said
Natalie Roetzel, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. One
has since recanted in an affidavit. As for the other, "we don't believe her
testimony was accurate," Roetzel said.
Like nearly all the exonorees, Woodard has maintained his innocence throughout
his time in prison. But after filing six writs with an appeals court, plus two
requests for DNA testing, his pleas of innocence became so repetitive and
routine that "the courthouse doors were eventually closed to him and he was
labeled a writ abuser," Roetzel said.
"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and
nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of
Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.
He even stopped attending his parole hearings because gaining his release would
have meant confessing to a crime he didn't do.
"It says a lot about your character that you were more interested in the truth
than your freedom," the judge told Woodard after making his ruling.
Blackburn and prosecutors hailed Tuesday's hearing as a landmark moment of
frequent adversaries working together.
Since the DNA evidence was tied to rape and Woodard was convicted of murder,
Innocence Project attorneys had to prove that the same person committed both
crimes. They said they couldn't have done that without access to evidence
provided by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' office.
"You've got to have very good lawyers with a lot of experience and skill ...
working on both ends of this case, hard," Blackburn said. "And you've also got
to have government power behind what you do."
Under Watkins, Dallas County has a program supervised by the Innocence Project
of Texas that is reviewing hundreds of cases of convicts who have requested DNA
testing to prove their innocence.
While the number of exonerations on Watkins' watch continues to grow, he said
this one was a little different.
"I saw the human side of it, and seeing the human said of it just gives you more
courage to advocate for issues like this," said Watkins, who had breakfast with
Woodard on Tuesday morning. "It gives me that resolve to go even further to find
out who (the killer) is so that we can get him into custody."
Woodard said his family was "small and scattered," although he pointed out a
niece in the courtroom. He said his biggest regret was not being with his mother
when she died.
"I can tell you what I'd like to do first: breathe fresh, free air," Woodard
said during a news conference in the courtroom after the hearing. "I don't know
what to expect. I haven't been in Dallas since buses were blue."
States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a
quarter of the world’s prisoners.
Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection
of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime
and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to
using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And
in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other
Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are
mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.
The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more
than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center
for Prison Studies at King’s College London.
China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant
second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of
thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s
extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out
political activists who have not committed crimes.)
San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of
218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.
The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison
studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751
people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only
adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)
The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with
627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates.
England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.
The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.
There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive
down crime, though there is debate about how much.
Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to
explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent
crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in
combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social
safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected,
another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.
Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of
the world is enormous and growing.
It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison
systems. They came away impressed.
“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the
United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in
1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”
“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with
horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last
year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending
delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”
Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to
which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a
leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and
Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in
London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue
state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western
The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975,
the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It
shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These
numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners
held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)
The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much
easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American
“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc
Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy
group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s
Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still
about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.
But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has
relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery
rates than Australia, Canada and England.
People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to
receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The
United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates
people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Mr. Whitman wrote.
Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison
sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people
in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost
Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. “The U.S. pursues the
war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism,” said Ms. Stern of King’s College.
Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people
involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal
drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey,
for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal
prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them “are among the most
serious and violent offenders.”
Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison
policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the
United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled
based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries
would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so
the total incarceration rate is higher.
Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according
to Mr. Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.
Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the
American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be
imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a
particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia
are also disproportionately represented in those nation’s prisons, and the
ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.
Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.
“Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes
predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are,” Mr.
Tonry wrote last year in “Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative
“It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political
cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries,”
Mr. Tonry wrote. “Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions
with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential.”
The American character — self-reliant, independent, judgmental — also plays a
“America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on
individual responsibility,” Mr. Whitman of Yale wrote. “That attitude has shown
up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years.”
French-speaking countries, by contrast, have “comparatively mild penal
policies,” Mr. Tonry wrote.
Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and
national comparisons can be misleading.
“Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas,” said Mr. Mauer of the
Sentencing Project. (Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population;
Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest
incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at
Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America’s exceptional
incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.
“As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being
victimized” thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul G. Cassell, an authority
on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.
From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of
punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates
predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and
rising in England.
“These figures,” Mr. Cassell wrote, “should give one pause before too quickly
concluding that European sentences are appropriate.”
Other commentators were more definitive. “The simple truth is that imprisonment
works,” wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. “Locking up criminals
for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far
offset the costs.”
There is a counterexample, however, to the north. “Rises and falls in Canada’s
crime rate have closely paralleled America’s for 40 years,” Mr. Tonry wrote last
year. “But its imprisonment rate has remained stable.”
Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the
high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.
Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are
therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally
in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice
professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands
for tough sentencing.
Mr. Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville’s work on American penitentiaries, was
asked what accounted for America’s booming prison population.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was
talking about,” he said. “We have a highly politicized criminal justice system.”
(AP) -- For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American
adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in
inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with
alternative sentencing programs.
The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50
states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than
$11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six
times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.
Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in
U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and
more than any other country in the world.
The steadily growing inmate population ''is saddling cash-strapped states with
soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on
recidivism or overall crime,'' said the report.
Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes
are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections
policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing
soft in crime.
''We're seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,''
she said in an interview. ''They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a
law-and-order state -- but they also want to save money, and they want to be
The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow
the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of
community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than
reimprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and
''The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to
ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less
dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,'' the report said.
According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states
and the federal prison system.
The largest percentage increase -- 12 percent -- was in Kentucky, where Gov.
Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last
month. He noted that the state's crime rate had increased only about 3 percent
in the past 30 years, while the state's inmate population has increased by 600
The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State's Public Safety
Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing
programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.
''For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and
convincing return for public safety,'' said the project's director, Adam Gelb.
''More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for
lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without
being so tough on taxpayers.''
The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a
parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it
said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures,
such as ''three-strikes'' laws, that result in longer prison stays.
''For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling,'' the
report said. ''While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars,
for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.''
The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and
federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost
230 million American adults.
The report said the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead
of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S.
also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of
Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the
rest of the Top 10.
in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised
release at the end of last year, the Department of Justice reported yesterday.
An estimated 2.38 million people were incarcerated in state and federal
facilities, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2005, while a record 5 million
people were on parole or probation, an increase of 1.8 percent. Immigration
detention facilities had the greatest growth rate last year. The number of
people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities grew 43
percent, to 14,482 from 10,104.
The data reflect deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional
institutions, with a record 905,600 African-American inmates in prisons and
state and local jails. In several states, incarceration rates for blacks were
more than 10 times the rate of whites. In Iowa, for example, blacks were
imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites, according to an analysis of the
data by the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group.
But the report concludes that nationally the percentage of black men in state
and federal prison populations in 2006 fell to 38 percent, from 43 percent in
2000. The rates also declined for black women, while rates for white women
Over all, the number of women in state and federal prisons, 112,498, was at a
record high. The female jail and prison population has grown at double the rate
for men since 1980; in 2006 it increased 4.5 percent, its fastest clip in five
The report suggests that state prison capacity has expanded at roughly the same
rate as the prison population, with prisons operating at 98 percent to 114
percent of capacity, a slight improvement over 2005.
Still, many prison systems are accommodating record numbers of inmates by using
facilities that were never meant to provide bed space. Arizona has for years
held inmates in tent encampments on prison grounds. Hundreds of California
prisoners sleep in three-tier bunk beds in gymnasiums or day rooms. Prisons
throughout the nation have made meeting rooms for educational and treatment
programs into cell space.
Private prisons have also been a growing option for crowded corrections
departments. And local jails contracted with various government agencies to hold
77,987 more state and federal inmates last year.