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
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions
Finds Extreme Crisis
in Youth Prisons
December 14, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
ALBANY — New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken, with young people
battling mental illness or addiction held alongside violent offenders in abysmal
facilities where they receive little counseling, can be physically abused and
rarely get even a basic education, according to a report by a state panel.
The problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked
New York’s Family Court judges not to send youths to any of them unless they are
a significant risk to public safety, recommending alternatives, like therapeutic
“New York State’s current approach fails the young people who are drawn into the
system, the public whose safety it is intended to protect, and the principles of
good governance that demand effective use of scarce state resources,” said the
confidential draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The report, prepared by a task force appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and led
by Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, comes
three months after a federal investigation found that excessive force was
routinely used at four prisons, resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones
and shattered teeth.
The situation was so serious the Department of Justice, which made the
investigation, threatened to take over the system.
But according to the task force, the problems uncovered at the four prisons are
endemic to the entire system, which houses about 900 young people at 28
facilities around the state.
While some prisons for violent and dangerous offenders should be preserved, the
report calls for most to be replaced with a system of smaller centers closer to
the communities where most of the families of the youths in custody live.
The task force was convened in 2008 after years of complaints about the prisons,
punctuated by the death in 2006 of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old boy at
one center after two workers pinned him to the ground. The task force’s
recommendations are likely to help shape the state’s response to the federal
“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Mr. Travis
said in an interview on Friday. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in
the juvenile justice field.”
New York’s juvenile prisons are both extremely expensive and extraordinarily
ineffective, according to the report, which will be given to Mr. Paterson on
Monday. The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters
of those released from detention are arrested again within three years. And
though the median age of those admitted to juvenile facilities is almost 16,
one-third of those held read at a third-grade level.
The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or
others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks,
the report found.
In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent
there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug
possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even
though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth
population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.
Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less
restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children
entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than
half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have
Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the
prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ
psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill
While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly
all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor,
cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks.
“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their
young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment
needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and
youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts. “In some
facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.”
Even before the task force’s report is released, the Paterson administration is
moving to reduce the number of youths held in juvenile prisons.
Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services,
the agency that oversees the juvenile justice system, has recommended that
judges find alternative placements for most young offenders, according to an
internal memorandum issued Oct. 28 by the state’s deputy chief administrative
Ms. Carrión also advised court officials that New York would not contest the
Justice Department findings, according to the memo, and that officials were
negotiating a settlement agreement to remedy the system.
Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson, said the governor “looks
forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force as we continue our
efforts to transform the state’s juvenile justice system from a
correctional-punitive model to a therapeutic model.”
The report contends that smaller facilities would place less strain on workers,
helping reduce the use of physical force, and would be better able to tailor
New York is not unique in using its juvenile prisons to house mentally ill
teenagers, particularly as many states confront huge budget shortfalls that have
resulted in significant cuts to mental health programs. Still, some states are
trying to shift to smaller, community-based programs.
The report by New York’s task force does not say how much money would be needed
to overhaul the system, but as Mr. Paterson and state lawmakers try to close a
$3.2 billion deficit, cost could become a major hurdle.
Ms. Carrión has faced resistance from some prison workers, who accuse her of
making them scapegoats for the system’s problems and minimizing the dangerous
conditions they face. State records show a significant spike in on-the-job
injuries, for which some workers blame Ms. Carrión’s efforts to limit the use of
“We embrace the idea of moving towards a more therapeutic model of care, but you
can’t do that without more training and more staff,” said Stephen A. Madarasz, a
spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents
prison workers. “You’re not dealing with wayward youth. In the more secure
facilities, you’re dealing with individuals who have been involved in pretty
Advocates have credited Ms. Carrión, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov.
Eliot Spitzer, with instituting significant reforms, including installing
cameras in some of the more troubled prisons and providing more counseling.
But the state has a long way to go, many advocates say.
“Even the kids that are not considered dangerous are shackled when they are
being transferred from their homes to the centers upstate — hands and feet,
sometimes even belly chains,” said Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a
report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New
York City Affairs at the New School.
“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”
New York Finds Extreme
Crisis in Youth Prisons, NYT, 13.12.2009,
Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands
October 24, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
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
“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,
Months to Live
Fellow Inmates Ease the Pain of Dying in Jail
October 18, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN LELAND
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
Mr. Roberts recalled a day when Mr. Jacobs, then more coherent, had started
crying. Mr. Roberts held his patient and tried to console him. Then their
experience took a turn unique to their setting, the medical ward of a maximum
security prison. Mr. Roberts said he told Mr. Jacobs to “man up.”
Mr. Jacobs, serving two to four years for passing forged checks, cursed at him,
telling him, “‘I don’t want to die in jail. Do you want to die in jail?’ ”
“I said no,” said Mr. Roberts, who is serving eight years for robbery. “He said,
‘Then stop telling me to man up,’ and he started crying. And then he said that
I’m his family.”
American prisons are home to a growing geriatric population, with one-third of
all inmates expected to be over 50 by next year. As courts have handed down
longer sentences and tightened parole, about 75 prisons have started hospice
programs, half of them using inmate volunteers, according to the National
Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Susan Atkins, a follower of Charles
Manson, died last month in hospice at the Central California Women’s Facility at
Chowchilla after being denied compassionate release.
Joan Smith, deputy superintendent of health services at the Coxsackie prison,
said the hospice program here initially met with resistance from prison guards.
“They were very resentful about people in prison for horrendous crimes getting
better medical care than their families,” including round-the-clock
companionship in their final days, Ms. Smith said.
The guards have come to accept the program, she said. But still there are
challenges unique to the prison setting. Some dying patients, for example,
divert their pain medication to their volunteer aides or other patients, who use
it or sell it, said Kathleen Allan, the director of nursing. She added that
patients can be made victims easily, “and this is a predatory system.”
But she said the inmate volunteers bond with the patients in a way that staff
members cannot, taking on “the touchy-feely thing” that may be inappropriate
between inmates and prison workers.
At Coxsackie, 130 miles north of New York City, administrators started the
hospice program in 1996 in response to the AIDS epidemic using an outside
hospice agency, then changed to inmate volunteers in 2001. The change saved
money and was well-received by the patients.
Perhaps more significant, said William Lape, the superintendent, was the effect
the program had on the volunteers. “I think it’s turned their life around,” Mr.
John Henson, 30, was one of the first volunteers. When he was 18, Mr. Henson
broke into the home of a former employer and, in the course of a robbery, beat
the man to death with a baseball bat. When he entered prison, with a sentence of
25 years to life, he said, “I thought my life was over.”
At Coxsackie he met the Rev. J. Edward Lewis, who persuaded him to volunteer in
2001. “You go in thinking that you’re going to help somebody,” Mr. Lewis said,
“and every time they end up helping you.”
Before hospice, Mr. Henson said he had given little thought to the consequences
of his crime. Then he found himself locked in a hospital room with another
inmate, holding the man’s hand as his breathing slowed toward a stop.
Like many men in prison, the dying man had alienated his family members, who
rejected his efforts to renew contact. In the end, he had only Mr. Henson for
companionship. When the prison nurse declared the man dead, Mr. Henson broke
down in tears.
“They just came out,” he said. “I don’t even know why I was crying. Partly
because of him, partly because of things that died within me at the same time.”
Mr. Henson, dressed in prison greens and with his blond hair buzzed short, spoke
directly and without hesitation.
“I was just thinking about why I’m in here and the person’s life that I took,”
he said. “And sitting with this person for the first time and actually seeing
death firsthand, being right there, my hand in his hand, watching him take his
last breath, just caused me to say, ‘Wow, who the hell are you? Who were you to
do this to somebody else?’ ”
Ms. Allan, the nursing director at Coxsackie, said that with a number of inmate
volunteers, “You can identify in each of these guys something inside them
driving them to do this. It’s a desire to redeem themselves, so even when it
gets hard they’re able to plow through it. “
She added, “I think Mr. Henson made me a better mother.”
Benny Lee, 38, has spent half his life in prison for manslaughter, and for most
of that time, he said, “the only thing I regretted was getting caught.” Four
months ago he began as a hospice volunteer, feeling he needed a change. “I’m
trying to offer some payback,” he said.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Lee was scheduled to sit with Eddie Jones, 89, who
was dying from multiple causes. Mr. Jones, who was convicted of murder at age
70, said, “I can talk with them better than staff members, because staff members
have their minds made up about how things should be.”
Mr. Lee said he does not know how Mr. Jones’s death will affect him. “I’m hoping
it will have an effect, period,” he said. “Growing up and in prison, I put up
walls. But I have to be more emotionally receptive to these guys. This is going
against everything I’ve tried to do. But I realize it’s a change I have to
Mr. Lee said hospice was forcing him to learn to trust people.
“It’s helping me mature,” he said. “My views of life and death are changing. I
was unsympathetic when it comes to death. I’ve had friends die, and I was
callous about it. Now I can’t do that. I’ve come to identify with these guys,
not because we’re inmates, but because we’re human beings. What they’re going
through, I’ll go through.”
Fellow Inmates Ease the
Pain of Dying in Jail, NYT, 18.10.2009,
Weighing Prison When the Convict Is Over 80
October 10, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN ELIGON and BENJAMIN WEISER
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Weighing Prison When the Convict Is Over 80,
Susan Atkins, Manson Follower, Dies
September 26, 2009
The New York Times
By MARGALIT FOX
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
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
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,
The Recession Behind Bars
September 6, 2009
The New York Times
By KENNETH E. HARTMAN
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
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
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
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
The Recession Behind
Bars, NYT, 6.9.2009,
California State Assembly Approves Prison Legislation
September 1, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
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
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
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
“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
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
“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,
Assembly Approves Prison Legislation, NYT, 1.9.2009,
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
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
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
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
Croton on Hudson, N.Y.
Aug. 26, 2009
The writer is professor emeritus of psychology, John Jay College of Criminal
Reforming New York’s
Juvenile Prisons, NYT, 31.8.2009,
Hawaii to Remove Inmates Over Abuse Charges
August 26, 2009
The New York Times
By IAN URBINA
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
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
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
The move by Hawaii authorities is just the latest problem for Kentucky prison
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
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,
4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force
August 25, 2009
The New York Times
By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
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
The report, made public on Monday, came 18 months into a major effort by state
officials to overhaul New York’s troubled juvenile prison system, which houses
children convicted of criminal acts, from truancy to murder, who are too young
to serve in adult jails and prisons.
Investigators found that physical force was often the first response to any act
of insubordination by residents, who are all under 16, despite rules allowing
force only as a last resort.
“Staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of
force, departing from generally accepted standards,” said the report, which was
given to Gov. David A. Paterson on Aug. 14.
“Anything from sneaking an extra cookie to initiating a fistfight may result in
a full prone restraint with handcuffs,” the reportsaid. “This one-size-fits-all
approach has, not surprisingly, led to an alarming number of serious injuries to
youth, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures”
(bone fractures caused by twisting).
In a statement issued on Monday, Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office
of Children and Family Services, which oversees the juvenile prisons, said that
the administration had inherited a youth justice system “rife with substantial
systemic problems” but acknowledged that efforts to overhaul it had so far
“We have made great strides,” said Ms. Carrión, “but much more still needs to be
In one case described in the report, a youth was forcibly restrained and
handcuffed after refusing to stop laughing when ordered to; the youth sustained
a cut lip and injuries to the wrists and elbows. Workers forced one boy, who had
glared at a staff member, into a sitting position and secured his arms behind
his back with such force that his collarbone was broken.
Another youth was restrained eight times in three months despite signs that she
might have been contemplating suicide. “In nearly every one of the eight
incidents,” the report found, “the youth was engaged in behaviors such as head
banging, putting paper clips in her mouth, tying a string around her neck, etc.”
The four centers cited in the report are the Lansing Residential Center and the
Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center in Lansing, and two residences, one for
boys and one for girls, at Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown.
Officials at the centers also routinely failed to follow state rules requiring
reviews whenever force is used, the report said. In some cases, the same staff
member involved in an episode conducted the review of it. And even when a review
determined that excessive force had been used, the staff members responsible
sometimes faced no punishment.
In one case, a youth counselor with a documented record of using excessive force
was recommended for firing after throwing a youth to the ground with such force
that stitches were required on the youth’s chin. But after the counselor’s union
intervened, the punishment was downgraded to a letter of reprimand, an $800 fine
and a two-week suspension that was itself suspended.
The federal inquiry began in December 2007 following a spate of incidents at
some of the 28 state-run juvenile residential centers, which house about 1,000
In November 2006, an emotionally disturbed teenager, Darryl Thompson, 15, died
after two employees at the Tryon center pinned him down on the ground. The death
was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict the workers. The boy’s
mother is suing the state.
During the same period, a separate joint investigation by the state inspector
general and the Tompkins County district attorney found that the independent
ombudsman’s office charged with overseeing youth prison centers had virtually
ceased to function. In a report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil
Liberties Union issued in September 2006, New York’s youth residential centers
were rated among the worst in the world.
Those scandals spurred a drive within Ms. Carrión’s department to overhaul the
system. It reconstituted the ombudsman’s office and issued clearer policies on
the use of physical force, leading to a sharp drop in instances where restraints
Under the overhaul, officials have also sought to close underused centers and
redirect resources to counseling and other services, though they have faced
fierce resistance from public employees’ unions and their allies in the
Legislature. A task force appointed last year by Mr. Paterson is set to issue
further recommendations by the end of this year.
“The problem is the unions and some of the staff they represent,” said Mishi
Faruquee, director of Youth Justice Programs at the Children’s Defense Fund-New
York, and a member of the task force. “They are very entrenched in the way they
do things and the way they have been trained to do their jobs,” she said. “They
have been very resistant to changing the policy on the use of force.”
In a statement, Stephen A. Madarasz, director of communications for the Civil
Service Employees Union, which represents many of the workers at the centers,
said union officials had not had an opportunity to review the full report.
The federal report revealed that despite efforts to overhaul the system,
problems at some of the centers remained so severe that residents’
constitutional rights were being violated. Under federal law, New York has 49
days to respond with a plan of action to comply with the report’s
If the state fails to do so, the Justice Department can initiate a lawsuit that
could result in a federal takeover of the state’s juvenile prison system.
Even as the four centers singled out in the report relied excessively on
physical force, federal investigators found, they failed to provide youths with
adequate counseling and mental health treatment, something the vast majority of
residents require. Three-quarters of children entering New York’s youth justice
system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have diagnosed
psychological problems and a third have developmental disabilities, according to
figures published by Office of Children and Family Services.
“The majority of psychiatric evaluations at the four facilities did not come
close to meeting” professional standards, investigators determined, and
“typically lacked basic, necessary information.”
4 Youth Prisons in New
York Used Excessive Force, NYT, 25.8.2009,
Rioting Inmates Set Central Ky. Prison Ablaze
August 22, 2009
Filed at 12:08 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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
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
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,
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
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,
Life Terms Hits Record
July 23, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
Calif. — Mary Thompson, an inmate at the California Institution for Women here,
was convicted of two felonies for a robbery spree in which she threatened
victims with a knife. Her third felony under California’s three-strikes law was
the theft of three tracksuits to pay for her crack cocaine habit in 1982.
Like one out of five prisoners in California, and nearly 10 percent of all
prisoners nationally in 2008, Ms. Thompson is serving a life sentence. She will
be eligible for parole by 2020.
More prisoners today are serving life terms than ever before — 140,610 out of
2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons across the country — under
tough mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and the declining use of parole for
eligible convicts, according to a report released Wednesday by the Sentencing
Project, a group that calls for the elimination of life sentences without
parole. The report tracks the increase in life sentences from 1984, when the
number of inmates serving life terms was 34,000.
Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences are Latino or black, the report
found. In New York State, for example, 16.3 percent of prisoners serving life
terms are white.
Although most people serving life terms were convicted of violent crimes,
sentencing experts say there are many exceptions, like Norman Williams, 46, who
served 13 years of a life sentence for stealing a floor jack out of a tow truck,
a crime that was his third strike. He was released from Folsom State Prison in
California in April after appealing his conviction on the grounds of
The rising number of inmates serving life terms is straining corrections budgets
at a time when financially strapped states are struggling to cut costs.
California’s prison system, the nation’s largest, with 170,000 inmates, also had
the highest number of prisoners with life sentences, 34,164, or triple the
number in 1992, the report found.
In four other states — Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada and New York — at least
one in six prisoners is serving a life term, according to the report.
The California prison system is in federal receivership for overcrowding and
failing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, many of whom are elderly
and serving life terms.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week repeated his proposal to reduce the inmate
population through a combination of early releases for nonviolent offenders,
home monitoring for some parole violators and more lenient sentencing for some
felonies. But there are no credible plans to increase the rate at which
prisoners serving life sentences are granted parole.
“When California courts sentence somebody to life with parole, it turns out
that’s not possible after all,” said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford law professor
and an expert on parole policy. “Board of parole hearings almost never grant
releases, and that’s the reason that California’s lifer population has grown out
of proportion to other states.”
Margo Johnson, 48, also an inmate at the women’s prison here, has served 24
years of a life sentence for a 1984 murder. She has been recommended for release
four times by the state parole board, but she said that Mr. Schwarzenegger had
rejected the board’s recommendation each time.
“Sometimes I wonder, is it just a game they’re playing with me?” Ms. Johnson
Seven prison systems — Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, South
Dakota and the federal penitentiary system — do not offer the possibility of
parole to prisoners serving life terms.
That policy also extends to juveniles in Illinois, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. A
total of 6,807 juveniles were serving life terms in 2008, 1,755 without the
possibility of parole. California again led the nation in the number of
juveniles serving life terms, with 2,623.
“The expansion of life sentences suggests that we’re rapidly losing faith in the
rehabilitation model,” said Ashley Nellis, the report’s main author.
De Angelo McVay, 42, is serving a life term with no possibility of parole at the
maximum security state prison in Lancaster, Calif., for his role in the
kidnapping and torture of a man.
He said in an interview Wednesday that he had used his 10 years in prison to
reform himself, taking ministry classes, participating in the prison chapel
program, becoming vice chairman of his prison yard and avoiding behavioral
“I’m remorseful for what I did,” he said. “But I got no chance at parole, and I
know guys who have committed killings and they have parole.”
Supporters of longer sentences for criminals, including victims rights
organizations, prosecutors and police associations, often cite public safety,
the deterrent effect of punishment and the need to remove criminals from
But the number of aging inmates serving life sentences has risen sharply as the
sluggish economy has shrunk state budgets. By 2004, the number of inmates over
50 had nearly doubled from a decade earlier, to more than 20 percent, according
to the report. Older inmates cost more because they have more health needs.
California, for example, spends $98,000 to $138,000 a year on each prisoner over
50, compared with the national average of about $35,000 a year.
But Professor Petersilia said she was skeptical that economic arguments alone
would persuade voters to treat inmates serving life terms — most of whom have
committed violent felonies like murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery — with more
“All the public opinion polls say that everybody will reconsider sentencing for
nonviolent offenders or drug offenders, but they’re not willing to do anything
different for violent offenders,” Professor Petersilia. In fact, she added,
polls show support for even harsher sentences for sex offenses and other violent
Burk Foster, a criminal justice professor at Saginaw Valley State University in
Michigan and an expert on the Louisiana penitentiary system, said the expansion
of life sentences started at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the
nation’s largest maximum penitentiary, in the early 1970s, when most people
sentenced to life terms were paroled after they had been deemed fit to re-enter
“Angola was a prototype of a lifer’s prison,” said Professor Foster. “In 1973,
Louisiana changed its life sentencing law so that lifers would no longer be
parole eligible, and they applied that law more broadly over time to include
murder, rape, kidnapping, distribution of narcotics and habitual offenders.”
Professor Foster said sentencing more prisoners to life sentences was an
abandonment of the “corrective” function of prisons.
“Rehabilitation is not an issue at Angola,” he said. “They’re just practicing
lifetime isolation and incapacitation.”
Number of Life Terms Hits Record, NYT, 23.7.2009,
60, 000 Inmates Sexually Abused Every Year
June 23, 2009
Filed at 7:03 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
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:
60, 000 Inmates Sexually Abused Every Year,
In Area Packed With Prisons, a Split on Adding Jihadists
May 23, 2009
The New York Times
By KIRK JOHNSON
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
But when it comes to the idea of transferring those suspected or convicted of
terrorism from the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to federal high-security
prisons like the one just down the road in Florence, as the Obama administration
has proposed, Lyle Jacobson draws the line.
“It would make us a target,” said Mr. Jacobson, an 84-year-old retired
accountant. “I think it’s very dangerous.”
Mr. Jacobson, who said he was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months near
the end of World War II, said he was not so worried about escapes. The prisons
are secure enough, he said, and in fact there have been no escapes from the
Administrative Maximum prison in Florence, the only one in the federal system.
Rather, it is the international attention — a bull’s-eye for terrorists and
their allies — that he fears could be drawn around this part of southeast
Al Ballard is just as vocal and opinionated the other way.
“Bring them on,” said Mr. Ballard, who owns a tea house in town with his wife,
Linda. “I don’t worry a lick.”
Mr. Ballard said the prison in Florence was so well run and secure and isolated
that people here would not notice a thing. “We do need more guards though,” he
In a speech on Thursday, President Obama said it would be safe to transfer many
Guantánamo inmates to high-security prisons in the United States, noting that
the corrections system already holds hundreds of convicted terrorists. A Justice
Department spokesman, Matt Miller, said 216 international terrorists were in
federal prisons, as well as 139 domestic terrorists. All have been convicted and
are in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.
That kind of transfer is not a blasé topic here. Opinions are instant and
strong. And there is a base of experience. Many of the terrorists the president
cited already reside in Florence, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi
Yousef, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Ahmed Ressam, the
“millennium bomber”; Wadih El-Hage, a member of Al Qaeda convicted of the 1998
embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
Nonetheless, when the word Guantánamo comes up, so do questions of politics and
safety, and for some, religion and culture — taut and intertwined and loaded
“People here are good Christian conservatives,” said Tom Baron, who described
himself as a struggling small-business man, co-owner with his wife, Marie, of
Donuts and Dogs, a coffee shop. Mr. Baron said he thought that large numbers of
Muslims — the family members and friends of inmates — would move into town if
the transfer occurred. Property values would fall, he said, and some family
members of terrorists might be terrorists, too.
“That would destroy this community,” Mr. Baron said.
Fine-print legal definitions of who exactly can be labeled a terrorist under
federal law have also become bound up in the debate about transfers. Not all of
those mentioned by the president were actually convicted of terrorism. The
Bureau of Prisons classifies inmates it holds — some of whom might have been
convicted of, say, multiple murder counts — as terrorists if their crimes were
intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or a government by mass
destruction, assassination or kidnapping.
Politics quickly finds a way into the discussion after that. Mr. Obama, though
he carried Colorado as a whole last November, fared badly here in Fremont
County, winning only about a third of the vote.
“I wouldn’t expect people in Fremont County to favor the president’s positions,”
said State Representative Liane McFadyen, a Democrat whose district in Fremont
County includes 12 prisons — eight run by the state and four by the federal
bureau. Ms. McFadyen said she had mostly heard opposition from constituents.
And where politics and local concerns about safety collide, the mix is volatile.
“These people hate America; they truly hate America,” said Glen Morlan, a
disabled welder. “Why would you want to bring them here?”
Mr. Morlan said that he had not voted for Mr. Obama and that he thought the idea
of closing Guantánamo was bad for national security — and the community. And
that makes him dislike Mr. Obama all the more.
Some people do in fact shrug their shoulders about the question of detainee
Sherry Meins, a school aide at Garden Park High School, was enjoying the last
day of school on Friday, sitting outside in the sun on a bench on Main Street.
Ms. Meins said the system of security alerts in town was so elaborate and well
honed as to be almost second nature, so much that she did not think Guantánamo
detainees would change anything.
The schools, she said, regularly practice “lockdowns” that would take place in
the event of an inmate escape. And even if a prisoner did get out, she said, he
probably wanted to get out of town as fast as possible, not hang around Cañon
“Our children our safe,” Ms. Meins said.
Ms. McFadyen, the state representative for the area, said transfers might be
moot anyway unless prisoners already in Florence were moved elsewhere.
“On top of everything else, there’s no room at the supermax,” she said. “It’s
Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.
In Area Packed With
Prisons, a Split on Adding Jihadists, NYT, 23.5.2009,
Missouri System Treats Juvenile Offenders With Lighter Hand
March 27, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
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
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
“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
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
Mr. Decker said that upgrading facilities and training new staff cost more
initially, but that the reforms would reduce recidivism, which would result in
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,
To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies
March 25, 2009
The New York Times
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
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
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
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,
Court Orders California to Cut Prison Population
February 10, 2009
The New York Times
By SOLOMON MOORE
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
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
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,
Another Jail Death, and Mounting Questions
January 28, 2009
The New York Times
By NINA BERNSTEIN
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
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
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
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,