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History > 2009 > USA > Justice > Jail, prison (I)




Jack Newbrough and his wife, Heidi,

with a photo of his stepson, Guido,

who died of an untreated infection while in detention.

Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times


Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions

















New York

Finds Extreme Crisis

in Youth Prisons


December 14, 2009
The New York Times


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 foster care.

“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 findings.

“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 developmental disabilities.

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 teenagers require.

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 judge.

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 rehabilitation programs.

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 force.

“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 serious crimes.”

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.”

    New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons, NYT, 13.12.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/14/nyregion/14juvenile.html






Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands


October 24, 2009
The New York Times


FLORENCE, 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 the condemned.

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 each prisoner.

“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.

    Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands, NYT, 24.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/24/us/24prison.html






Months to Live

Fellow Inmates Ease the Pain of Dying in Jail


October 18, 2009
The New York Times


COXSACKIE, 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 facilities.

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. Lape said.

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 make.”

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.”

    Fellow Inmates Ease the Pain of Dying in Jail, NYT, 18.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/health/18hospice.html






Weighing Prison When the Convict Is Over 80


October 10, 2009
The New York Times


In a case involving an 87-year-old man convicted of racketeering, a federal judge in Manhattan rejected a plea for leniency last year, giving the man a five-year sentence. The judge in this case had a special perspective: He was 84 himself.

But in another case this spring, an 85-year-old man who admitted providing sensitive military information to Israel was spared prison by a judge, who cited the man’s advanced age and said sending him to prison would “serve no purpose.”

In the 12 days they spent deciding the fate of Brooke Astor’s son, Anthony D. Marshall, the jurors said they did not make much of his age. But now that Mr. Marshall, who is 85 and had quadruple bypass surgery last year, has been found guilty of a variety of charges, his age can be expected to have some bearing on his sentence — though it almost certainly will not serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Because he was convicted of first-degree grand larceny, which is a felony, Mr. Marshall faces at least a mandatory sentence of one year behind bars (the most would be 25 years). But given his age and his physical ailments — he missed several days of the trial because of his health — and various possible legal options, it seems reasonable to question how much time Mr. Marshall will spend as an inmate.

In Mr. Marshall’s case, Justice A. Kirke Bartley Jr. of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, who is scheduled to sentence Mr. Marshall on Dec. 8, has relatively little wiggle room to keep Mr. Marshall out of prison because of the state’s mandatory guidelines.

Mr. Marshall’s grim reality is nothing new; courts are regularly confronted with the recently convicted who are octogenarians, and who often have ailments associated with that age.

But judges in New York have not been reluctant to impose real prison time on elderly defendants, like John J. Rigas, 80, who received a 15-year sentence, later reduced to 12, for his part in the Adelphia fraud case.

“Here’s why age should be considered,” said Gerald L. Shargel, a lawyer who represented Oscar S. Wyatt Jr., 83, who received a year and a day for violating the rules of the United Nations oil-for-food program. “It’s a pretty cruel end to a life if a person’s going to die in jail, when you don’t have a family member, a loved one, to hold your hand or see you through it,” he said.

For Justice Bartley to spare Mr. Marshall prison time, he most likely would have to throw out the jury’s verdict in the interest of justice, a step that judges almost never take.

Mr. Marshall’s lawyers are expected, at the very least, to ask Justice Bartley to allow their client to remain free until all appeals are exhausted. Beyond that, there is not much Mr. Marshall’s defense team can do other than hope that an appellate court finds in his favor.

“You can be sure that we’re looking into all the avenues that can be pursued,” said Kenneth E. Warner, one of Mr. Marshall’s lawyers.

Mr. Marshall’s best chance to avoid prison probably would have been a plea deal before trial, but there were never any serious negotiations.

As an inmate, Mr. Marshall may still be able to spend some nights in his own bed. If he receives the minimum sentence, he would be immediately eligible for the work release program, which allows inmates to spend a certain number of days each week out of prison so they can work, said Linda M. Foglia, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Correctional Services.

Mr. Marshall, who would most likely be placed in a minimum- or medium-security prison with barracks-style housing that holds up to 60 inmates, would be one of the oldest prisoners in New York: Fewer than 1.5 percent of the state’s inmates are older than 65, according to Ms. Foglia.

In the past, some judges have taken creative steps to spare an elderly defendant.

Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan, said that in one of her cases, the Rockefeller drug laws required her to sentence a man in his 80s to 15 years to life for a low-level offense. So she asked the prosecutors if they would consent to vacating the verdict and allow the man plead guilty to a lesser charge for a shorter sentence. They did, she said. But that was a “highly unusual” move, said Ms. Snyder, who would not address the Astor case specifically.

John W. Moscow, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said he decided against trying Clark Clifford, who was indicted in the B.C.C.I. case, because he was 86 and had had quadruple bypass surgery, and his doctors said he could not spend more than two hours a day in court. But Mr. Moscow said he would not feel sorry if Mr. Marshall had to serve some time.

“Tough,” Mr. Moscow said. “The law does not make an exception for him.”

Leonard F. Joy, the federal defender in New York, said that for the oldest defendants even a short prison term “may very well be a life sentence.”

“Of course, when you get to be that age, you ought to know better,” added Mr. Joy, who is 79.

The age issue arose in May when a federal judge in Manhattan was asked to spare an 85-year-old New Jersey man from going to prison. The defendant, Ben-Ami Kadish, hobbled into the courtroom and admitted providing classified United States military documents to an Israeli agent in the early 1980s. (He pleaded guilty to a lesser offense.)

His lawyer, Jack T. Litman, cited Mr. Kadish’s poor health and other factors. “He is in the very twilight of his life, and to separate him from his wife even for a short period of time would be devastating to both of them,” Mr. Litman argued.

The judge, William H. Pauley III, saying that prison “would serve no purpose,” fined Mr. Kadish $50,000.

In the case of Ciro Perrone, a captain in the Genovese crime family, the 87-year-old mobster confronted a judge not much younger than he was.

Mr. Perrone had been convicted in a racketeering case, and faced about six years in prison.

His lawyer asked for one year, citing Mr. Perrone’s age and health, and noting that Mr. Perrone’s wife had Alzheimer’s disease. In court papers, federal prosecutors in Manhattan called the proposed sentence “ludicrously lenient.”

The judge, Robert P. Patterson Jr., 84, imposed a five-year sentence. Then he addressed the defendant.

“Let me just say, Mr. Perrone, I’m not too young either,” the judge said. “And I have a wife who suffers from Alzheimer’s, so I know what you go through.”

But he said this type of crime was serious, and warranted a “significant enough sentence” to deter such conduct.

“Having said that,” Judge Patterson said, “I feel for you and I wish you the best.”

    Weighing Prison When the Convict Is Over 80, NYT, 10.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/nyregion/10astor.html






Susan Atkins, Manson Follower, Dies


September 26, 2009
The New York Times


Susan Atkins, a member of Charles Manson’s murderous “family” who spent the last four decades in prison for her role in one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century, the killings of the actress Sharon Tate and seven others in 1969, died Thursday at a women’s prison in Chowchilla, Calif. She was 61.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections, told The Associated Press that the cause was brain cancer.

Before being moved to a medical clinic at the California Central Women’s Facility in Chowchilla a year ago, Ms. Atkins had been incarcerated at the California Institution for Women, in Corona. .

Twenty-one at the time of the killings, Ms. Atkins was the best known of the three young women convicted with Mr. Manson. Her grand jury testimony helped secure an indictment against Mr. Manson and several adherents — among them Ms. Atkins herself — in what came to be known as the Tate-LaBianca murders, a killing spree spanning two consecutive August nights.

On Aug. 8, 1969, acting on Mr. Manson’s orders, Ms. Atkins and several “family” members broke into Ms. Tate’s home near Beverly Hills. In the early hours of Aug. 9, they killed five people: Ms. Tate, who was eight and a half months pregnant; Abigail Folger, an heiress to the Folger coffee fortune; Jay Sebring, a celebrity hairstylist; Voyteck Frykowski; and Steven Parent. Ms. Tate’s husband, the director Roman Polanski, was abroad at the time.

On Aug. 10, also at Mr. Manson’s direction, Ms. Atkins and several associates murdered Leno LaBianca, a wealthy supermarket owner, and his wife, Rosemary, in their Los Angeles home.

The motive for the killings was not immediately apparent. Several of Mr. Manson’s followers later testified that he had ordered them in the hope of starting an apocalyptic race war, which he called Helter Skelter after the Beatles song.

The murders and the ensuing seven-month trial drew the fevered attention of the news media. They were the subject of a best-selling nonfiction book, “Helter Skelter” (Norton, 1974), by the prosecutor in the case, Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry. They also engendered a spate of movies, songs and even an opera.

Susan Denise Atkins was born on May 7, 1948, in San Gabriel, Calif., and reared mainly in Northern California. The middle of three children, Ms. Atkins has said publicly that both her parents were alcoholics and that she was sexually abused by a male relative when she was a girl.

A quiet, middle-class girl, Susan sang in her school glee club and church choir. When she was a teenager, her mother died of cancer. Afterward, Susan’s father, financially depleted by his wife’s illness, moved the family frequently, often leaving Susan and her younger brother with relatives as he looked for work.

At 18, Susan quit high school and left home, winding up in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. She supported herself through odd jobs like secretarial work and topless dancing. Soon afterward, she met Mr. Manson and joined his band of adherents, who settled for a time at the Spahn Movie Ranch, a dilapidated former film set north of Los Angeles. As a member of the “family,” Ms. Atkins was given a new name, Sadie Mae Glutz.

In 1968, Ms. Atkins gave birth to a son. Mr. Manson — who by all accounts was not the father — had her name the child Zezozose Zadfrack Glutz. While he was still a baby, the child was removed from Ms. Atkins’s care and later adopted.

The first murder in which Ms. Atkins was involved was that of Gary Hinman, a friend of Mr. Manson’s. On July 25, 1969, according to news accounts, Mr. Manson dispatched Ms. Atkins and other followers to Mr. Hinman’s home to demand money. After torturing Mr. Hinman for several days, one of the group, Bobby Beausoleil, killed him. The Tate-LaBianca murders took place two weeks later.

In October, Ms. Atkins was arrested for the Hinman murder. In jail, according to Mr. Bugliosi’s book and other accounts, she boasted to cellmates of having stabbed Ms. Tate, tasted her blood and used the blood to write the word “Pig” on the front door of the house.

Ms. Atkins, Mr. Manson and other “family” members were charged with the seven Tate-LaBianca murders. In December, Ms. Atkins testified before a grand jury that she had stabbed Ms. Tate repeatedly as she begged for the life of her unborn child. Ms. Atkins later recanted the confession.

The trial began in June 1970. On Jan. 25, 1971, after deliberating for nine days, the jury found Ms. Atkins, Mr. Manson and Patricia Krenwinkel guilty of the five Tate murders. It also found the three of them and Leslie Van Houten guilty of the two LaBianca murders. (Another “family” member, Charles Watson, was convicted separately of all seven murders.) In other trials, Ms. Atkins, Mr. Manson, Mr. Beausoleil and Bruce Davis were convicted of Mr. Hinman’s murder.

Mr. Manson and the three women were sentenced to death. In 1972, after the death penalty was temporarily abolished in California, their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment.

In 1974, Ms. Atkins became a born-again Christian, according to her memoir, “Child of Satan, Child of God” (Logos International, 1977; with Bob Slosser). She denounced Mr. Manson, formed a prison ministry and did charitable work of all kinds. She was denied parole 11 times.

In 1981, Ms. Atkins was married in the prison chapel to a flamboyant Texan named Donald Lee Laisure. Mr. Laisure, who said he first met Ms. Atkins in the mid-1960s, described himself in interviews as a multimillionaire; he spelled his surname with a dollar sign in place of the “s.”

Mr. Laisure also told reporters that Ms. Atkins was his 29th wife, in some accounts, his 36th. The marriage was dissolved after a few months. In 1987, Ms. Atkins married James W. Whitehouse, who is now a lawyer.

    Susan Atkins, Manson Follower, Dies, NYT, 26.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/26/us/26atkins.html






Op-Ed Contributor

The Recession Behind Bars


September 6, 2009
The New York Times

Lancaster, Calif.

EVERY weekday morning the prison’s not on lockdown, the yard holds its collective breath waiting for the pale-orange package cart to appear through multiple layers of chain-link and razor-wire fences. For most prisoners, this lumbering vessel is their only tangible, physical connection back to the free world. The last couple of years the cart has arrived less often and with visibly lighter loads.

We get broadcast television, so the state of the economy outside is no secret. Our families and friends tend to come from the segments of society that are the worst off in the best of times, and worse off still in times like these. Our mothers and fathers, wives and children, those to whom the ties that bind haven’t been unbound by the course of our lives, tell us how hard it is out there.

The first inkling of financial difficulties in here surfaced in the chow hall. All of a sudden prison officials became concerned about our overeating. In the last couple of years, our brown plastic trays have started to look and feel a lot emptier. Even the old staples, beans and rice, shrank into bite-sized portions. Luxury items like frosted cake and meat cut from the carcass of a once-living thing vanished. The new menus, chock full of potatoes and meat substitutes, seem right out of a Spartan’s cookbook.

Prison is a world reflected in a looking glass, however. The past 25 years were generally prosperous for California; the economy boomed and fortunes were made in the sunny San Fernando Valley. But during this time, the lives of prisoners became much drearier. We were forced into demeaning uniforms, with neon orange letters spelling out “prisoner,” and lost most of the positive programs like conjugal visits and college education that we had had since the ’70s. Money was flowing outside the prison walls, but new “get tough” policies against criminals were causing our population, and our costs, to soar.

It is a quirk of California politics that it is among the bluest of states but has some of the reddest of laws. No politician here ever lost an election for being too tough on crime or prisoners. Consequently, all through the ’80s and ’90s billions of dollars were poured into a historic prison-building boom. Private airplane pilots tell me it’s easy to navigate at night from San Diego to Los Angeles and on up the Central Valley to Sacramento by simply following the prisons’ glowing lights. Good times in the free world meant, in here, ever-longer sentences, meaner regulations and ever-decreasing interest in rehabilitation. “Costs be damned; lock ’em up and be done with it” became the unofficial motto of the Department of Corrections.

The last time I received a visit from my family, in early July, the air-conditioning in the visiting room had been broken for more than a month. This matters because my prison is in the high desert north of Los Angeles. Temperatures here in the summer commonly rise above 100 dusty, windy degrees. Pack 150 people into an airless room and you’ve got the makings for human meltdown. Two industrial-sized fans only made a hot situation noisy, too.

The next day I asked one of the administrators what could be done to get the air-conditioning fixed, and he told me an amazing story. The free-world contractor who services the prison’s air-conditioning systems had refused to come out to replace the part that was broken, because the state owed the company tens of thousands of dollars in back fees and could pay only in i.o.u.’s. There would be no cool air until the state’s budget negotiations were concluded.

Now that the economy is suffering, there is talk of reforming the prisons, of reviving the discredited concept of rehabilitation, of letting some prisoners out early. Some people have even mentioned doing away with the death penalty because of the exorbitant cost to the state of guaranteed appeals. For those of us who have endured a generation of policies intended explicitly to inflict pain, this has a surreal quality to it. After all, it was only a year ago that the state authorities were planning the next phase of prison expansion. Obviously, all the passionate arguments that have been made about the moral wrongs of mass incarceration, of disproportionately affected communities, of abysmal treatment and civil rights violations were just so much hot air. Only when society ran out of ready cash did prison reform become worthy of serious consideration. What this says about the free world is unclear to me, but it doesn’t feel like a good thing.

The talk in here contains an element of schadenfreude. When the TV shows legislators complaining about how deep in the hole the state budget is, laughter fills the day room. Our captor turns out to be simply inept.

From the four-inch-wide window in the back of my cell, I watched, for seven years, the construction of a housing tract across the street — a subdivision we call Prison View Estates. We marvel at the hubris of building chockablock stucco mini-mansions within shouting distance of a maximum-security prison. Today, a year after the gaudy balloons from the grand opening deflated, the row of houses directly across from my window looks to be unoccupied.

From my cell I can also observe the inner roadway on which prison vehicles pass. A fleet of new, shining-white super-security transportation vans still drives by daily. Leviathan hasn’t quite adjusted to the Golden State’s diminished firmament.


Kenneth E. Hartman, the author of the forthcoming “Mother California: A Story of Redemption Behind Bars,” was sentenced in 1980 to life without parole for murder.

    The Recession Behind Bars, NYT, 6.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/opinion/06hartman.html






California State Assembly Approves Prison Legislation


September 1, 2009
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — The California State Assembly narrowly passed legislation on Monday to reduce the state prison population by 27,000 inmates and the state corrections budget by about $1 billion.

After several hours of debate in Sacramento, the bill passed 41 to 35, without any Republican support and only about half of the Democratic majority.

The bill was significantly weaker than a version that the State Senate passed last month. It will shorten sentences for some nonviolent prison inmates who participate in rehabilitation programs, reduce parole supervision for some infirm and nonviolent offenders, and increase monitoring for parolees with violent criminal records.

Law enforcement groups played a central role in pushing Democrats to strip the bill of provisions that would have reduced sentences for some nonviolent offenses and would have established a public safety commission to redo prison sentencing guidelines.

Those excised proposals reduced the savings of the bill for the strapped state by about $220 million, and the prison population reductions by about 11,000 inmates, said the speaker, Karen Bass, a Democrat who led negotiations last week to remove the provisions.

The two houses will now have to reconcile the sizable differences between the two bills. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, initially supported the more sweeping Senate bill.

California’s prisons now hold about 155,000 inmates, about twice the number they were designed to hold. The system is so overcrowded that a federal court imposed a cap and ordered the state to reduce its prison population by more than 40,000 offenders. Contributing to the prison population glut is the large number of failed parolees; 70 percent of parolees return to prison before completing their supervised release programs.

At the forefront of the law enforcement groups who played an important part in shaping the bill is the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a 30,000-member prison guard union with one of the most powerful voices in state politics.

Law enforcement groups say they consider the Senate version of the bill to be a risk to public safety, especially in light of several recent killings in which parolees are accused. One print advertisement paid for by the prison guard union pictured two dice in midroll and a caption that accused Mr. Schwarzenegger of making risky decisions about parole reform that would lead to innocent lives being lost.

“For the past few years, you’ve been quietly dumping more and more parolees on the street, with less and less supervision and no business being free,” the caption read. “Now 17-year-old Lily Burk is dead.”

Ms. Burk’s body was found in her car at the edge of downtown Los Angeles in July; the police hours later arrested Charles Samuel, a state parolee, on suspicion of her murder.

The prison guard union and the governor have been at odds since contract negotiations broke down in 2007, when Mr. Schwarzenegger rejected demands for pay raises at the state’s 33 prisons.

Last year, the union threatened to finance a recall campaign against Mr. Schwarzenegger similar to the one that eventually led to the ouster of his predecessor, Gray Davis, in 2003.

The union also criticized Mr. Schwarzenegger for proposing the layoff of 1,300 correctional officers.

The union declined to comment for this article.

Legislators had their own reservations about the bill.

In Monday’s debate, several brought up recent revelations that Phillip Garrido, paroled for 1976 crimes of kidnapping and rape, is accused of abducting an 11-year-old and imprisoning her in a backyard encampment for 18 years. And they warned that men like him would be unleashed on California’s streets if the bill passed.

“What this bill will do is move unrehabilitated felons into your communities,” said Jim Nielsen, a Republican.

Isadore Hall III, a Democrat who represents South Los Angeles and Compton, said that Republicans who warned about increased crime and compromised public safety as a result of the bill were using “swift-boat scare tactics.”

“This bill is not about violent crime,” he said. “This bill is about nonviolent, non-sex offenders.”

    California State Assembly Approves Prison Legislation, NYT, 1.9.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/us/01prison.html







Reforming New York’s Juvenile Prisons


August 31, 2009
The New York Times


To the Editor:

Re “4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force” (front page, Aug. 25):

The report by the United States Department of Justice that the constitutional rights of youth incarcerated in New York State’s institutional facilities have been violated places an intensive spotlight on the serious deficiencies of our state’s juvenile justice system.

The members of the Task Force on Transforming New York’s Juvenile Justice System, appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson, recognize the significant progress made in the last two years under the leadership of Gladys Carrión, commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, but much still needs to be done.

Our report, due by the end of the year, will look at conditions of confinement — the topic of the Justice Department investigation — but will also examine ways to expand alternatives to institutional placement, ensure that confined youth transition successfully to their communities upon release, and reduce the disproportionate incarceration of youth of color.

As the Justice Department report confirms, the current system needs a complete overhaul — it does not serve youth well, does not provide a safe workplace for its staff, and does little to promote public safety. Jeremy Travis

New York, Aug. 26, 2009

The writer, chairman of the Governor’s Task Force on Transforming New York’s Juvenile Justice System, is president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

To the Editor:

Our failure to provide adequate mental health services to youths in detention signals a growing danger we cannot afford to overlook, even in our present cash-strapped state.

If the primary goal of our juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate young offenders, many of whom enter the system with significant mental health and behavioral problems, it is incumbent upon us to meet these needs as a matter of human rights, yes, but also to prevent the devastating future costs of untreated mental health problems and escalating criminal behavior.

Following the examples of states that have developed more comprehensive, coordinated strategies, New York needs to prioritize its need for a system of mental health care for juvenile justice-involved youth as well as for youth who have yet to come in contact with the justice system. We as a society cannot bear the cost, both human and monetary, of foreclosing on their futures altogether.

Janice L. Cooper

Susan Wile Schwarz

New York, Aug. 25, 2009

The writers are, respectively, interim director and research analyst, National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

Your article spotlighted how juveniles behind bars are subjected to serious injury by prison personnel. Yet equally disturbing but underreported is that the same investigation found that these children aren’t only being physically abused, they are also being overmedicated.

In a flagrant exploitation of imprisoned children’s rights, the investigation found that the continuing and voluminous practice of dispensing psychiatric drugs to child inmates represents “substantial departures from generally accepted professional standards.”

The investigation also found a “pervasive lack of documentation” outlining any rationale for medicating the children. This strongly suggests that the drugs are being used as chemical restraints to control behavior rather than as part of an individualized mental health treatment plan.

Under federal and international law, many psychotropic medications are considered “controlled substances” and when prescribed require adherence to regulatory protocols. These drugs are highly addictive, directly affect the brain and can have serious and sometimes deadly effects. And most are not approved for use in children by the Food and Drug Administration.

Now New York’s Office of Children and Family Services has the evidence it needs to act quickly and assuredly to protect children in its custody from medically unjustified exposure to these dangerous drugs and to the excessive use of force. Angela Olivia Burton

Flushing, Queens, Aug. 27, 2009

The writer is an associate professor at the CUNY Law School.

To the Editor:

The abuse suffered by the adolescents at the residential “treatment”centers (“New York’s Disgrace,” editorial, Aug. 25) is really only the end of a lifetime of abuse and neglect suffered by these children.

From infancy on they have lived in poverty with neglectful and abusive families, lived in substandard housing and neighborhoods, and attended substandard schools. They frequently have been exposed to violence themselves.

They have minimal academic skills. They have in many ways been abandoned by society. The disgrace lies not only in the detention centers but also in our indifference to these adolescents and allowing them to have to endure a lifetime of neglect and failure.

The solution doesn’t lie in fixing the juvenile justice system but rather in preventing these children from getting involved with that system in the first place. This can be done only by providing these children and their families with adequate social support and making use of effective prevention programs. David Brandt

Croton on Hudson, N.Y.

Aug. 26, 2009

The writer is professor emeritus of psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

    Reforming New York’s Juvenile Prisons, NYT, 31.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/31/opinion/l31juvenile.html






Hawaii to Remove Inmates Over Abuse Charges


August 26, 2009
The New York Times


Hawaii prison officials said Tuesday that all of the state’s 168 female inmates at a privately run Kentucky prison will be removed by the end of September because of charges of sexual abuse by guards. Forty inmates were returned to Hawaii on Aug. 17.

This month, officials from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety traveled to Kentucky to investigate accusations that inmates at the prison, the Otter Creek Correctional Center in Wheelwright, including seven from Hawaii, had been sexually assaulted by the prison staff.

Otter Creek is run by the Corrections Corporation of America and is one of a spate of private, for-profit prisons, mainly in the South, that have been the focus of investigations over issues like abusive conditions and wrongful deaths. Because Eastern Kentucky is one of the poorest rural regions in the country, the prison was welcomed by local residents desperate for jobs.

Hawaii sent inmates to Kentucky to save money. Housing an inmate at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua, Hawaii, costs $86 a day, compared with $58.46 a day at the Kentucky prison, not including air travel.

Hawaii investigators found that at least five corrections officials at the prison, including a chaplain, had been charged with having sex with inmates in the last three years, and four were convicted. Three rape cases involving guards and Hawaii inmates were recently turned over to law enforcement authorities. The Kentucky State Police said another sexual assault case would go to a grand jury soon.

Kentucky is one of only a handful of states where it is a misdemeanor rather than a felony for a prison guard to have sex with an inmate, according to the National Institute of Corrections, a policy arm of the Justice Department. A bill to increase the penalties for such sexual misconduct failed to pass in the Kentucky legislature this year.

The private prison industry has generated extensive controversy, with critics arguing that incarceration should not be contracted to for-profit companies. Several reports have found contract violations at private prisons, safety and security concerns, questionable cost savings and higher rates of inmate recidivism. “Privately operated prisons appear to have systemic problems in maintaining secure facilities,” a 2001 study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons concluded.

Those views are shared by Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News, a nonprofit group based in Seattle that has a monthly magazine and does litigation on behalf of inmates’ rights.

“Private prisons such as Otter Creek raise serious concerns about transparency and public accountability, and there have been incidents of sexual misconduct at that facility for many years,” Mr. Friedmann said.

But proponents say privately run prisons provide needed beds at lower cost. About 8 percent of state and federal inmates are held in such prisons, according to the Justice Department.

“We are reviewing every allegation, regardless of the disposition,” said Lisa Lamb, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, which she said was investigating 23 accusations of sexual assault at Otter Creek going back to 2006.

The move by Hawaii authorities is just the latest problem for Kentucky prison officials.

On Saturday, a riot at another Kentucky prison, the Northpoint Training Center at Burgin, forced officials to move about 700 prisoners out of the facility, which is 30 miles south of Lexington.

State investigators said Tuesday that they were questioning prisoners and staff members and reviewing security cameras at the Burgin prison to see whether racial tensions may have led to the riot that injured 16 people and left the lockup in ruins. A lockdown after a fight between white and Hispanic inmates had been eased to allow inmates access to the prison yard on Friday, the day before the riot. Prisoners started fires in trash cans that spread. Several buildings were badly damaged.

While the riot was an unusual event — the last one at a Kentucky state prison was in 1983 — reports of sexual abuse at Otter Creek are not new. “The number of reported sexual assaults at Otter Creek in 2007 was four times higher than at the state-run Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women,” Mr. Friedmann said.

In July, Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii, a Republican, said that bringing prisoners home would cost hundreds of millions of dollars that the state did not have, but that she was willing to do so because of the security concerns.

Prison overcrowding led to federal oversight in Hawaii from 1985 to 1999. The state now houses one-third of its prison population in mainland facilities.

The pay at the Otter Creek prison is low, even by local standards. A federal prison in Kentucky pays workers with no experience at least $18 an hour, nearby state-run prisons pay $11.22 and Otter Creek pays $8.25. Mr. Friedmann said lower wages at private prisons lead to higher employee turnover and less experienced staff.

Tommy Johnson, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, said he found that 81 percent of the Otter Creek workers were men and 19 percent were women, the reverse of what he said the ratio should be for a women’s prison. Mr. Johnson asked the company to hire more women, and it began a bonus program in June to do so.

    Hawaii to Remove Inmates Over Abuse Charges, NYT, 26.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/us/26kentucky.html?hp






4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force


August 25, 2009
The New York Times


Excessive 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 addressed.

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 fallen short.

“We have made great strides,” said Ms. Carrión, “but much more still needs to be done.”

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 youths.

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 were applied.

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 recommendations.

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.”

    4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force, NYT, 25.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/nyregion/25juvenile.html






Rioting Inmates Set Central Ky. Prison Ablaze


August 22, 2009
Filed at 12:08 p.m. ET
The New York Times


BURGIN, Ky. (AP) -- Rioting inmates set fire to trash cans and other items inside a central Ky. prison, and damage to some buildings was so extensive that officials were busing many of the facility's 1,200 prisoners elsewhere, police said Saturday.

By early morning, firefighters had extinguished the fires at the medium-security Northpoint Training Center in a rural area 30 miles south of Lexington, state police Lt. David Jude said.

Eight inmates were treated for minor injuries, and eight staff were also injured in the melee, although none was admitted to the hospital, said Cheryl Million, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Corrections.

Officers in riot gear rushed the prisoners with tear gas about 9 p.m. Friday, and all the inmates were subdued in less than two hours, authorities said.

Six buildings had burned, including a kitchen, medical center, canteen and visitation area. Million also said all dormitories were damaged ''to the extent of being inhabitable,'' except for one 196-bed unit.

A bus carrying some 42 inmates deemed higher security risks left the property shortly after 6 a.m., heading to an undisclosed facility. It wasn't clear how many other inmates would have to be moved.

''To me it would seem like a pretty daunting task to move that many inmates suddenly from one place,'' Jude said.

Gov. Steve Beshear praised corrections officials and state police for handling the situation without any serious injuries.

''Their work last night in the face of the most trying circumstances was truly remarkable,'' Beshear said in a statement. ''Corrections officials are currently assessing the extent of damage to determine the needs going forward for safely housing prisoners in the coming days and for the long term.''

Some of the inmates would be able to stay at Northpoint, Million said.

''As we continue to assess the situation, other inmates could possibly be transferred,'' Million said. ''Decisions to transfer would be based on facilities security levels and inmates' needs.''

Jude said the prisoners were being kept in an outdoor courtyard surrounded by prison guards. Police formed a perimeter around the outside of the facility to make sure no one escaped.

Portable toilets were brought in, and prison officials were using temporary food stations to feed the prisoners because the fire in the kitchen destroyed much of the prison's food supply.

''Everything seems to be at a calm,'' Jude said. ''They're sitting down, kind of going with the program right now.''

Jude didn't immediately say what caused of the rioting, which began around 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Prison spokeswoman Mendolyn Cochran said Friday the prison had been on lockdown since Tuesday, when one group of inmates assaulted two others, The Advocate-Messenger of Danville reported. Later Friday, some inmates started setting fires in trash cans, she said.

Million wouldn't confirm the report, saying only that some of the fires started in trash cans and that some inmates had access to matches because smoking is allowed in parts of the prison.

The melee in Kentucky comes two weeks after more than 1,000 inmates rioted at the California Institution for Men in Southern California. The prison was designed to hold about half as many inmates, although investigators say they don't know if crowding helped spark the racially charged riot.

Northpoint has more than 1,100 general population inmates housed in six open-bay dormitories, according to its Web site. Another 60 special management inmates are housed in single cells in a separate structure, and 40 minimum-security inmates are housed in another separate structure.

It opened in 1983 and has a staff of 285.

    Rioting Inmates Set Central Ky. Prison Ablaze, NYT, 22.8.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/08/22/us/AP-US-Ky-Prison-Melee.html







12 and in Prison


July 28, 2009
The New York Times


The Supreme Court sent an important message when it ruled in Roper v. Simmons in 2005 that children under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed were not eligible for the death penalty. Justice Anthony Kennedy drew on compassion, common sense and the science of the youthful brain when he wrote that it was morally wrong to equate the offenses of emotionally undeveloped adolescents with the offenses of fully formed adults.

The states have followed this logic in death penalty cases. But they have continued to mete out barbaric treatment — including life sentences — to children whose cases should rightly be handled through the juvenile courts.

Congress can help to correct these practices by amending the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which is up for Congressional reauthorization this year. To get a share of delinquency prevention money, the law requires the states and localities to meet minimum federal protections for youths in the justice system. These protections are intended to keep as many youths as possible out of adult jails and prisons, and to segregate those that are sent to those places from the adult criminal population.

The case for tougher legislative action is laid out in an alarming new study of children 13 and under in the adult criminal justice system, the lead author of which is the juvenile justice scholar, Michele Deitch, of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. According to the study, every state allows juveniles to be tried as adults, and more than 20 states permit preadolescent children as young as 7 to be tried in adult courts.

This is terrible public policy. Children who are convicted and sentenced as adults are much more likely to become violent offenders — and to return to an adult jail later on — than children tried in the juvenile justice system.

Despite these well-known risks, policy makers across the country do not have reliable data on just how many children are being shunted into the adult system by state statutes or prosecutors, who have the discretion to file cases in the adult courts.

But there is reasonably reliable data showing juvenile court judges send about 80 children ages 13 and under into the adult courts each year. These statistics explode the myth that those children have committed especially heinous acts.

The data suggest, for example, that children 13 and under who commit crimes like burglary and theft are just as likely to be sent to adult courts as children who commit serious acts of violence against people. As has been shown in previous studies, minority defendants are more likely to get adult treatment than their white counterparts who commit comparable offenses.

The study’s authors rightly call on lawmakers to enact laws that discourage harsh sentencing for preadolescent children and that enable them to be transferred back into the juvenile system. Beyond that, Congress should amend the juvenile justice act to require the states to simply end these inhumane practices to be eligible for federal juvenile justice funds.

    12 and in Prison, NYT, 28.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/28/opinion/28tue1.html?hpw






Number of Life Terms Hits Record


July 23, 2009
The New York Times


CORONA, 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 insufficient counsel.

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 said.

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 demerits.

“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 society.

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 leniency.

“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 crimes.

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 society.

“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.”

    Number of Life Terms Hits Record, NYT, 23.7.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23sentence.html






60, 000 Inmates Sexually Abused Every Year


June 23, 2009
Filed at 7:03 a.m. ET
The New York Times



WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal commission on prison rape has concluded that the risk of being attacked depends greatly on the type of prisoner, and where the inmate is locked up.

More than 60,000 inmates are sexually abused every year, according to a report being made public Tuesday by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. The eight-member panel was formed under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Based on a 2007 survey of tens of thousands of incarcerated people, 4.5 percent of those surveyed reported being sexually abused in the previous 12 months -- and more prisoners claimed abuse by staff than by other inmates.

Among the key findings of the report aimed at reducing the amount of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse behind bars, the panel found:

-- Who gets abused depends a great deal on where they are incarcerated. Ten facilities studied had high rates, between 9 percent and almost 16 percent, whereas six facilities reported no abuse at all for the past year. The commission said prison management must show leadership in stopping such abuse.

-- Inmates in jails reported fewer instances of rape than in prisons.

-- Inmates who were short, young, gay or female were more likely to be victimized than other inmates.

To fight the problem, the commission says prison authorities should adopt more internal monitoring and external oversight. They also say prison officials need to improve investigation of claims of sexual assault and rape, because currently many victims cannot safely and easily come forward.

After the prison rape report is sent to Congress, the attorney general is to create new national standards for detecting and preventing rape and sexual assault in prisons, jails and detention facilities.


On the Net:

National Prison Rape Elimination Commission: http://www.nprec.us/

    60, 000 Inmates Sexually Abused Every Year, NYT, 23.6.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/23/us/politics/AP-US-Prison-Rape.html






In Area Packed With Prisons, a Split on Adding Jihadists


May 23, 2009
The New York Times


CAÑON CITY, 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 Colorado.

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 added.

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 with emotion.

“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 transfers.

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 City.

“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 full.”


Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.

    In Area Packed With Prisons, a Split on Adding Jihadists, NYT, 23.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/23/us/23supermax.html?hp






Missouri System Treats Juvenile Offenders With Lighter Hand


March 27, 2009
The New York Times


ST. LOUIS, Mo. — VonErrick celebrated his 14th birthday last year by committing a daylight carjacking, beating the driver to the ground. With a long record of truancy, assault, and breaking and entering, he was sent to a state group home — the same home that his two older brothers passed through after their own scrapes with the law.

Both of those brothers are out now. Tory, 16, has A grades and plans to attend college. Terry, 20, has a job and has had a clean record for four years. VonErrick was recently released and immediately started high school.

The brothers say they benefited from confinement in the Missouri juvenile system, which emphasizes rehabilitation in small groups, constant therapeutic interventions and minimal force.

Juvenile justice experts across the nation say that the approach, known as the Missouri Model, is one of several promising reform movements that strapped states are trying to reduce the costly confinement of youths. California, which spends more than $200,000 a year on each incarcerated juvenile, reallocated $93 million in prison expenses by reducing state confinement.

There is no barbed wire around facilities like Missouri Hills, on the outskirts of St. Louis. No more than 10 youths and 2 adults called facilitators live in cottage-style dormitories in a wooded setting, a far cry from the quasi penitentiaries in other states. When someone becomes unruly, the other youths are trained to talk him down. Perhaps most impressive, Missouri has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country.

Other states, including Florida, Illinois and Louisiana, have moved in a similar direction, focusing on improving conditions at state facilities to keep young offenders from returning.

Some states have worked at the county level to avoid confinement altogether, keeping youths in their communities while they receive rehabilitative services, which advocates say is a cheaper alternative to residential care.

The two largest state systems, Texas and California, cut long-term youth confinement by requiring counties to house low-level offenders in detention halls. Texas cut its 5,000-youth population by half within two years, while California reduced its population to 2,500, from more than 10,000 in 1997. But critics say that city and county detention programs are uneven and point out that states often do a poor job of monitoring them.

Missouri and other states are using new approaches in the juvenile justice system to try to stem the flow of adults behind bars. Missouri managed to cut its adult population from 2005 through the first half of 2007 by applying techniques from the Missouri Model.

The reforms have begun to have a national impact, with a 12 percent decrease in juvenile offenders from 1997 to 2006, from 105,000 youths to 93,000.

Most of the decline during that period was in state confinements, although some of the decrease is attributed to a 28 percent decline in youth arrests, which reform advocates say proves that there is no detriment associated with fewer incarcerated juveniles.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore has been a leading advocate for ending the confinement of low-risk offenders and placing them in community programs. Since trying the foundation’s approach in 2003, five counties in New Jersey have reduced juvenile detention by 42 percent, to 288 youths from 499.

Three years ago in California, Scott MacDonald, who is in charge of probation in Santa Cruz County, began asking courts to use Casey Foundation methods. Instead of confining every gang member accused of a crime, or every juvenile who failed a drug test, judges now look at a youth’s record and risk to determine whether he should remain free. A youth who fails a drug test, for example, might be ordered to attend substance abuse classes.

“Even if a kid doesn’t follow all of the rules — particularly rules that have nothing to do with crime — we won’t necessarily detain him,” Mr. MacDonald said.

In the 1990s, the Santa Cruz juvenile hall averaged 50 to 60 youths. Now it averages about 20 detainees, most of them under community supervision. More than 90 percent of those in the community programs have not committed new crimes within three years, Mr. McDonald said.

“The question we’re always starting with is, How do we keep them home?” he said.

Isela Gutierrez, a juvenile justice expert with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit group, said one drawback to the Missouri state system was that too many low-level offenders there were being confined, while serious juvenile felons were being sent to adult prisons, where conditions are harsher.

Tim Decker, director of the Missouri Division of Youth Services, said judges preferred to send youths to state facilities — Missouri Hills or the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center, with dorms that have wooden beds, male health and wellness classes, group counseling and game rooms — rather than dismal county lockups or to backlogged community programs.

“Judges have more faith in us,” Mr. Decker said. “So far we’re O.K., but you can’t do what we do with 25 kids in a group.”

Missouri Hills is clean and homey, with plush couches, stuffed animals on the bunks, and a dog rescued from the pound. The violence that plagues many juvenile prisons is also absent.

In a typical juvenile corrections environment, Mr. Decker said, if a youth becomes aggressive “you would have guards drag him into isolation” for three days.

“But,” he added, “the problem is that a young person doesn’t learn how to avoid that aggressive behavior and it will get worse.”

In Missouri Hills, isolation rooms were used only about a dozen times last year, Mr. Decker said, and never for more than a few hours. Pepper spray is banned, and youths are taught to de-escalate fights or apply grappling holds, a form of restraint.

Victoria, 16, who stole her grandmother’s car, her second offense, explained how her housing unit does a “circle-up,” or ad hoc counseling session, several times a day, whenever there is a conflict, like cursing.

“There’s drama all the time,” she said. “It’s like having a bunch of sisters.”

The Missouri system provided triage for an imploding system in Washington, where the juvenile corrections agency was plagued by vermin-infested buildings, overcrowding and chronic violence.

“The kids were stuffing their shirts with paper before they went to sleep to keep the roaches and rats from biting them,” said Vincent Schiraldi, head of the city’s Division of Rehabilitative Services.

With advice from experts in Missouri, Mr. Schiraldi divided platoons of youths into small groups. By October, the number of juveniles reconvicted within a year of release dropped to 25 percent, from 31 percent four years earlier. However, as conditions improved, confinements have risen, even as juvenile crime has declined.

Mr. Decker said that upgrading facilities and training new staff cost more initially, but that the reforms would reduce recidivism, which would result in long-term savings.

VonErrick has been home for a few weeks, and his 18-year-old sister said he seemed calmer and less interested in running with the wrong crowd. Their mother, Rosie Williams, said all three of her sons seemed more focused, and she attributed the changes to the counselors at the state group home.

Ms. Williams, whose husband is in prison, occasionally attended family counseling sessions where she said she learned important lessons as a parent. “Instead of just hollering at them and trying to keep them out of trouble,” she said, “I try to do things with them one on one, to get to know what’s on their mind and what’s going on in their lives.”

    Missouri System Treats Juvenile Offenders With Lighter Hand, NYT, 27.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/us/27juvenile.html






To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies


March 25, 2009
The New York Times


CARSON CITY, Nev. — For nearly three decades, most states have dealt with lawbreakers in two ways: lock more of them up for longer periods, and build more prisons to hold them. Now many governments, out of money and buried under mounting prison costs, are reversing those policies and practices.

Some states, like Colorado and Kansas, are closing prisons. Others, like New Jersey, have replaced jail time with community programs or other sanctions for people who violate parole. Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill this month that enhances the credits some inmates can earn toward release.

Michigan is doing a little of all of this, in addition to freeing some offenders who have yet to serve their maximum sentence. And last Wednesday, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democrat, signed legislation to repeal the state’s death penalty, which aside from ethical concerns was seen as costly.

Being tough on crime and sentencing has long been the clear path toward job retention for state lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats alike. But the economic crisis is forcing them to take a more pragmatic approach as prisoners are increasingly seen less as indistinct wrongdoers and more as expenses that must be reined in.

“When state budgets are flush,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “prisons are something that governors and legislators all support, and they don’t want to touch sentencing reform. But when dollars are as tight as they are now, you have to make really tough choices. And so now things are in play.”

Recessions tend to prompt changes to corrections policies. After the recession at the start of this decade, numerous states enacted laws eliminating some long mandatory minimum sentences; several began to offer early release and treatment options to some drug offenders. Those changes, though, were far less reaching than what is happening now and did little to curb exploding corrections budgets.

In the past 20 years, correction department budgets have quadrupled and are outpacing every major spending area outside health care, according to a recent report by the Pew Center on the States. With 7.3 million Americans in prison, on parole or under probation, states spent $47 billion in 2008, the study said.

Faced with such costs, even states known for being particularly tough on crime are revisiting their policies and laws.

“In Kentucky, our prison budget is approaching half a billion dollars,” said J. Michael Brown, secretary of the State Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. “And as dollars get scarce, it forces a tremendous amount of scrutiny.”

The annual cost to keep someone in prison varies by state, and the type of institution, but the typical cost cited by states is about $35,000, said Peggy Burke of the Center for Effective Public Policy, a nonprofit group that works with local governments on criminal justice matters.

The most pervasive cost-saving trend among corrections departments has been to look closely at parole systems, in which it is no longer cost-effective to monitor released inmates, largely because too many violate their terms, often on technicalities, and end up back in prison. In California, among the few states to mandate parole for all convicts, parole violators — not new offenders — account for the largest percentage of inmates entering the system.

New Jersey recently began a program for some offenders on parole with technical violations, like failing to report to a parole officer or changing their address without the officer’s approval. Rather than being returned to jail, those former inmates are sent to a center for a clinical assessment of their risks and needs. With that change, the state is on track to save $16.2 million this fiscal year.

Other states are shortening paroles, or even sentences, to save money.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, is about to sign a bill that makes permanent a pilot program that offers qualifying inmates credit for time served on parole against sentence dates, in part to avoid a pattern of inmates’ choosing to stay in prison rather than risking later parole violations. The trial program saved the state $12 million last year. The state has also adopted a program that gives treatment rather than jail time to select drug offenders.

In California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has called for $400 million to be cut from the state’s corrections budget, officials are seeking to remove low-level drug offenders from the parole supervision system and to provide them treatment options instead.

Like other states making such changes, California is led by a governor who long opposed such shifts in prison policies. But Mr. Schwarzenegger, as well as other leaders and lawmakers who are far more conservative, has come around to a view held by advocates of sentencing and prison reform that longer sentences do little to reduce recidivism among certain nonviolent criminals.

“In California we are out of room and we’re out of money,” said the state’s corrections secretary, Matthew Cate. “It may be time to take some of these steps that we should have taken long ago.”

Several states are also looking at sentencing itself. In New York, for example, Gov. David A. Paterson, a Democrat, has proposed an overhaul of the so-called Rockefeller drug laws that impose lengthy mandatory sentences on many nonviolent drug offenders.

Some states are simply consolidating operations and closing prisons, which is controversial among lawmakers and often riles a community. Colorado, Kansas, Michigan and New Jersey have all shut down or announced the closing of at least one prison. Others are proposing to do so.

Here in Carson City, home to one of the oldest state prisons in the country, the state estimates it would save $18 million a year by closing the prison. But the idea has rattled employees, some of whom have followed their parents’ career paths, and the community, which considers the prison a provider of jobs and an important piece of Nevada history.

“We are the oldest prison west of the Mississippi,” the warden, Greg Smith, said during a tour last week. “And the staff here takes a lot of pride in that.”

The 220-year-old prison is older than the state of Nevada, and the buildings, according to officials, sit on land filled with saber-toothed tiger prints. It first housed men who gave “firewater” to Indians and is where the state’s license plates are made. But the prison’s aging facilities have raised questions about its efficiency compared with modern counterparts.

The lament is similar in Michigan, where three prisons are set to be closed and more are being studied.

“As the economy has worsened, prisons are the modern-day factory in our rural areas,” said Russ Marlan, a spokesman for the Michigan Corrections Department. “We built these prisons in the 1980s, and people were adamantly opposed to having them in their communities. Now we go and try to take them out, and they don’t want them gone.”

Meanwhile, some states that revised parole and sentencing in boom times are fighting a different battle: to hold on to the financing that made those changes possible.

In Kansas, for instance, where drug treatment has replaced incarceration for some offenders and mentally ill offenders have received housing assistance, the prison population fell in recent years, largely because recidivism also declined, said Roger Werholtz, secretary of the Kansas Corrections Department. Now many of those programs have fallen victim to budget cuts.

    To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies, NYT, 25.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/us/25prisons.html?hp






Court Orders California to Cut Prison Population


February 10, 2009
The New York Times


The California prison system must reduce overcrowding by as many as 55,000 inmates within three years to provide a constitutional level of medical and mental health care, a federal three-judge panel tentatively ruled Monday.

Relying on expert testimony, the court ruled that the California prison system, the nation’s largest with more than 150,000 inmates, could reduce its population by shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release, and reforming parole, which they said would have no adverse impact on public safety. The panel said that without such a plan, conditions would continue to deteriorate and inmates might regularly die of suicide or lack of proper care.

“The evidence is compelling that there is no relief other than a prisoner-release order that will remedy the unconstitutional prison conditions,” the panel said in its tentative ruling.

The California attorney general, Jerry Brown, vowed to appeal the ruling.

“This order, the latest intrusion by the federal judiciary into California’s prison system, is a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed,” Mr. Brown said in a statement.

“The court’s tentative ruling is not constitutionally justified,” he said. “Therefore, the state will appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court when the final order is issued.”

The court supported its argument by citing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own support for prison reforms, which he has said would reduce the population by about 40,000 inmates.

“We cannot believe that such support would exist if the adoption of such measures would adversely affect public safety,” the court ruled.

The panel, which is composed of a federal appeals judge for the Ninth Circuit and two federal district judges, estimated the state could save $803 million to $906 million annually if it were to reduce its prison population. It also said it could use that money to shore up local agencies that would serve parolees or probationers diverted from prison.

The ruling left the door open for still more negotiations between the thousands of imprisoned plaintiffs and the state in the court proceedings, part of a series of class-action lawsuits accusing the state of failing to provide adequate health care to prisoners.

Federal judges have already ruled that the state’s failure to provide medical and mental health care is killing at least one inmate every month and has subjected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment, which is prohibited by the Constitution.

In their ruling on Monday, the judges ruled that reducing overcrowding was the only way to reform the prison health care system and encouraged plaintiffs’ and state lawyers to negotiate a way to cut the prison population. The judges also indicated that they would mandate a prison population cap of about 120 percent to 145 percent of the state’s designed capacity.

The judges have been reluctant to order specific reforms, however, and several times during final arguments they asked lawyers for the state what their plans were to reduce the prison population and whether the court had the authority to impose specific remedies.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Don Specter, said the judges, all of whom are known for their liberal rulings, may be reluctant to give specific reforms to the state, preferring the state arrive at its own reduction plan, because the judges’ decision might otherwise be overturned by the United States Supreme Court, which would hear any appeal.

One judge on the panel, Thelton E. Henderson, already appointed a federal receiver to take over the prison health care system. The receivership, which has demanded billions of dollars for new medical facilities, has repeatedly clashed with the strapped state, which recently demanded the dissolution of the court-appointed office.

The California prison system has doubled its design capacity, and some facilities are even more packed than that. Prison gymnasiums and classrooms are packed with three-tier prisoners’ bunks, and lines for prison health clinics often snake 50 men deep. Rehabilitation programs, recreational facilities and health care facilities are all compromised by the crowds of felons.

Lawyers for the prisoners said that despite California’s exceptionally poor conditions, the ruling could have a national impact on prison reform if other inmate lawsuits seek population caps on other overcrowded facilities.

The ruling is also an important success for inmates since the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, which made it harder for prisoners to bring lawsuits and limited court remedies for allegations of prison abuse.

    Court Orders California to Cut Prison Population, NYT, 10.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/us/10prison.html






Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions


January 28, 2009
The New York Times


He lived 42 of his 48 years in the United States, and had the words “Raised American” tattooed on his shoulder. But Guido R. Newbrough was born German, and he died in November as an immigration detainee of a Virginia jail, his heart devastated by an overwhelming bacterial infection.

His family and fellow detainees say the infection went untreated, despite his mounting pleas for medical care in the 10 days before his death. Instead, after his calls for help grew insistent, detainees said, guards at the Piedmont Regional Jail in Farmville, Va., threw him to the floor, dragged him away as he cried out in pain, and locked him in an isolation cell.

Mr. Newbrough, a construction worker who had served jail time for molesting a girlfriend’s young daughter, was found unresponsive in the cell several days later, on Nov. 27, and died at a hospital the next day without regaining consciousness. An autopsy report last week cited a virulent staph infection as an underlying cause of his death from endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves that is typically cured with antibiotics.

Accounts of Mr. Newbrough’s last days echo other cases of deaths in immigration custody, including one at the same jail in December 2006, which prompted a review by immigration officials that found the medical unit so lacking that they concluded, “Detainee health care is in jeopardy.”

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement never released those findings, even when asked about allegations of neglect in that death, of Abdoulai Sall, 50, a Guinea-born mechanic with no criminal record whose kidneys failed over several weeks. Instead, officials defended care in that case and other deaths as Congress and the news media questioned medical practices in the patchwork of county jails, private prisons and federal detention centers under contract to hold noncitizens while the government tries to deport them.

The 2006 report — and a set of talking points the agency produced for its press officers to use when discussing deaths in detention — were only recently obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act; the group provided copies to The New York Times, which first reported Mr. Sall’s death.

“This facility has failed on multiple levels to perform basic supervision and provide for the safety and welfare of ICE detainees,” the six-page report concluded shortly after he died. “The medical health care unit does not meet minimum ICE standards.”

The report said the jail had failed to respond adequately as Mr. Sall grew sicker, and that even when he was found unconscious on the floor, employees “stood around for approximately one minute” before trying to revive him. The jail’s superintendent, who said he never saw the report, adamantly denied those conclusions this week.

But Tom Jawetz, a lawyer with the civil liberties union’s National Prison Project, said the new death at the same jail underscored the lack of accountability in immigration detention nationwide.

“Piedmont is a facility that was understaffed and underresponsive to clear medical needs,” Mr. Jawetz said. “The reports of Mr. Newbrough’s death raise serious questions about whether those failures were ever remedied.”

Asked Monday what measures it had taken after Mr. Sall’s death, the immigration agency promised a response but did not provide one. Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman, said earlier that an investigation of Mr. Newbrough’s death was under way.

The 780-bed Piedmont jail, run by governments of six Virginia counties, typically houses about 300 immigration detainees, and is now down to fewer than 150. But Ms. Nantel denied rumors that the agency was pulling them out, as it did last month at a detention center in Central Falls, R.I., where a Chinese computer engineer’s extensive cancer and fractured spine went undiagnosed until shortly before his death on Aug. 6.

In that case, investigators for the federal immigration agency found that the engineer, Hiu Lui Ng, had been denied proper medical treatment, and dragged from his cell to a van as he screamed in pain six days before his death.

The parallels with detainee accounts of Mr. Newbrough’s treatment are striking to Jeff Winder, an organizer for the grass-roots Virginia group People United, who was contacted by several inmates at Piedmont who also spoke to a reporter. The latest death has heightened the group’s opposition to plans by private developers and city officials to build another immigration detention center in Farmville, with 1,000 to 2,500 beds.

“ICE has no obligation to send detainees there after the next detainee dies,” Mr. Winder said. “Farmville could be left with the reputation as a place where detainees die of medical neglect.”

Ernest L. Toney, the jail superintendent, denied accounts that Mr. Newbrough had been mistreated, saying, “That is not our protocol here.” He referred all other questions about his death to the federal immigration agency.

But Dr. Homer D. Venters, an expert in detention health care who learned about the case from Mr. Newbrough’s family and reviewed the autopsy, said available evidence showed violations of detention standards that let the detainee’s treatable local infections rage out of control. Dr. Venters, a public health fellow at New York University, was critical of the medical care in immigration detention when he testified last year at a Congressional subcommittee hearing, and is on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement advisory group.

“First, Mr. Newbrough’s medical complaints were apparently ignored,” he wrote in a preliminary analysis of the case for Mr. Newbrough’s parents. “Second, Mr. Newbrough was placed in a disciplinary setting while ill and despite having voiced medical complaints. Third, Mr. Newbrough was not adequately (if at all) medically monitored” in the isolation cell.

During those last days, Dr. Venters added in an interview, even guards should have noticed that Mr. Newbrough was in critical condition as the bacteria colonizing his heart broke loose, creating abscesses in his brain, liver and kidneys. “When endocarditis is not treated, it kills people,” he said. With modern hospital care, the death rate is 25 percent or less.

“We were sitting here, powerless,” said Mr. Newbrough’s stepfather, Jack Newbrough, 70, a former Air Force sergeant who met Guido’s mother, Heidi, and Guido, then 2, when he was stationed in their native Germany. “I am just so disappointed in my country, this homeland security system they got set up.”

Mrs. Newbrough, 65, said her son, who had an estranged wife and three American-born children, had quit drinking after serving 11 months for molestation and, on probation, moved back to his childhood home in Manassas, Va., from a trailer park in Stafford. A 1999 article about life in the park, in the first issue of Tina Brown’s Talk magazine, featured him prominently — under the rubric “Dialing America.”

“Nobody knew he wasn’t American,” his mother said. “Even he didn’t know. He found out the day they picked him up here.”

His arrest last February, immigration records show, was a result of Operation Coldplay, which combs probation records to find past sex offenders whose immigration status makes them deportable. Mr. Newbrough had taken what is known as an Alford plea to charges of “indecent liberties with a minor,” and aggravated sexual battery in 2002 — denying his guilt, but acknowledging that prosecutors had evidence that could cause a jury to convict him of molesting his girlfriend’s 4-year-old.

Mr. Newbrough, who spoke no German, would have automatically become a citizen if his American-born stepfather had formally adopted him when he was a child, or if his mother had been naturalized while he was a minor, rather than just four years ago.

While Mr. Newbrough waited at Piedmont for nine months, an immigration lawyer argued that he had derived citizenship from his stepfather. An immigration judge disagreed. The appeal was pending in mid-November when Mr. Newbrough began to complain in phone calls of terrible back pain and stomach aches, his family said. When they urged him to tell the medical staff, they said, he replied: “ ‘I did. They just don’t care.’ ”

Several detainees interviewed by telephone last week said that in the two weeks before Thanksgiving, Mr. Newbrough’s back pain grew so bad that he began sobbing through the night, and some in the 90-man unit took turns making him hot compresses. By the Sunday before Thanksgiving, he was desperate, two detainees said, and banged at the door of the unit’s lunchroom, yelling for help. They said by the time guards responded, he was seated at a table.

“They told him to get up, and he said he couldn’t get up because he was in a lot of pain,” said Salvador Alberto Rivas, who identified himself as Mr. Newbrough’s bunk mate, awaiting deportation to El Salvador. “Because of the pain, he started crying, and he was trying to tell them he had put in requests for medical and didn’t get any. And then one of the guards threw him to the floor.”

“They drag him by his leg, in front of about 30 people,” said another detainee, who gave his name only as Jose for fear of retaliation, adding that many witnesses had since been transferred to other jails or deported.

“We didn’t know that he was dying,” added Jose, who wrote about the case in a letter published online by a Spanish weekly. “They took him to the hole. He was yelling for help in the hole, too.”

That information, he said, came from a detainee in the isolation section at the same time, but since deported, who was so upset by Mr. Newbrough’s death that he left his name and alien registration number — Rene Cordoba Palma, No. 088424581 — in case anyone wanted his testimony.

    Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions, NYT, 28.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/us/28detain.html?hp