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Illustration: Evangeline Gallagher

special to ProPublica


Conditions at Mississippi’s Most Notorious Prison

Violate the Constitution, DOJ Says

“The problems at Parchman are severe, systemic,

and exacerbated by serious deficiencies

in staffing and supervision,”

the report said.


April 21, 2022    12:30 p.m. EDT



















The C Yard

at the California Institution for Men state prison in Chino.


Photograph: Joseph Rodriguez

Elderly and Imprisoned: ‘I Don’t Count It as Living, Only Existing.’


Oct. 21, 2023




















Prison Painters


Date taken: 1958


Photograph: Francis Miller


Life Images

http://images.google.com/hosted/life/l?imgurl=2c89aff45b94288b - broken link
































podcasts > before 2024
































































































































































































































American correctional facilities










Mississippi's penitentiary system / prisons




















USA > prisons        UK / USA





















































how-an-aspiring-musicians-words-led-to-prison-time - June 15, 2020







































100000005198256/prison-addiction-parenting.html - Oct. 15, 2017




















































a stint in prison










maximum-security state prison










Mississippi’s Parchman state prison


violate-the-constitution-doj-says - April 21, 2022








maximum-security state prison >

Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights










U.S. federal prisons > budget


The federal government

spends $7 billion a year

to incarcerate about 200,000 inmates.











Archives From Prisons in New York Are Digitized    July  6, 2014

















USA > prison > rape        UK / USA





















Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003










be physically abused










USA > prison > murder        UK / USA










prison sexual assault victims










imprisoned sexual assault survivors

















state prison














U.S. prison populations    2012-2015


The number of inmates

in state and federal prisons

decreased by 1.7 percent,

to an estimated 1,571,013

in 2012

from 1,598,783

in 2011,

according to figures released

by the Bureau of Justice Statistics,

an arm of the Justice Department.



the percentage decline

appeared small,

the fact that it followed

decreases in 2011 and 2010

offers persuasive evidence

of what some experts say

is a “sea change” in America’s

approach to criminal punishment.













https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus14.pdf - 2014
























mass incarceration








































mass imprisonment / incarceration






















A cell at the Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center

where kids are sometimes kept in isolation


Photograph: William DeShazer

for ProPublica


This Youth Detention Center Superintendent

Illegally Locks Kids Alone in Cells.


No One Has Forced Him to Stop.


The Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center

has been punishing kids with seclusion

more than any other facility in Tennessee.


And as the laws and rules on how to treat kids changed,

the facility failed to keep up.


November 16, 2023



























youth incarceration rates in the United States


gap between

black and white youth confinement










state juvenile facility










youth detention facilities










facility > youth detention center > Tennessee >

Richard L. Bean Juvenile Service Center


tennessee-juvenile-detention-oversight-bill-fails - April 25, 2024


knoxville-detention-center-illegally-locks-kids-alone-in-cells - November 16, 2023








juvenile detention










youth prison


































juvenile justice system

in Rutherford County, Tennessee


Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center,

a two-tiered jail for children

with dozens of surveillance cameras,

48 cells and 64 beds.


black-children-were-jailed-for-a-crime-that-doesnt-exist - Oct. 8, 2021








Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center >

classroom for young offenders










county jail > juvenile wing


















be incarcerated




















incarcerated people


corrections-officers-misconduct-prisons-illinois - June 10, 2022










USA > prison ship        UK










prison garden


















access to communications


JPay - owned by

the prison communications firm

Securus Technologies,


























On Sept. 10, 1971,

striking inmates

at the Attica State Prison

protested brutal treatment

they had endured at the hands

of corrections officials.


Three days later,

the authorities stormed the prison

with deadly consequences.









































story.php?storyId=1128640 - September 7, 2001


story/story.php?storyId=1068891 - January 8, 2000





Attica! - Dog Day Afternoon (3/10) Movie CLIP (1975) HD

































Folsom State Prison    San Francisco, California




















Pelican Bay State Prison, California












Los Angeles jail system > abuse

















USA > The world's biggest prison system        UK










The Deerfield Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich.










corrections officers










corrections staff / employees / officers > misconduct


corrections-officers-misconduct-prisons-illinois - June 10, 2022








city jail








1975 > widelux views of an Arkansas prison farm

Bruce Jackson









prison policy










state prison










USA > Louisiana’s ‘Angola’ prison        UK / USA


Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola,

the nation’s largest maximum penitentiary





















private prison business










private prison











privately run

Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.










Pontiac Correctional Center in central Illinois


corrections-officers-misconduct-prisons-illinois - June 10, 2022















jail population > overcrowding












overcrowding > California's overcrowded prisons














California prison crisis










prison crisis










adult prison




















The sentencing project













serve prison time for felony fraud








the right to vote

disenfranchise > felon disenfranchisement laws

























behind bars



















prison bars


















cell door
















lock up

















be locked up










prison guard














USA > guard        UK










prison supervisor        USA




















eye scanner


















juvenile boot camp



















 Inmates watching television

at Angola State Penitentiary, Louisiana, 2002.


Photograph: Gilles Mingasson

Getty Images


Let Prisoners Take College Courses

SundayReview | Opinion


APRIL 4, 2015

















be jailed without trial










be incarcerated









































































































































When Love Transcends Prison Bars,

A Couple Finds Each Other Through Letters

NPR    3 April 2021





When Love Transcends Prison Bars,

A Couple Finds Each Other Through Letters

The Picture Show        NPR        Video        3 April 2021


How do you tell the story of absence?

How do you visualize the space occupied by longing?

These were the challenges in creating Sheila & Joe,

a film about two people separated by incarceration who met,

fell in love and committed their lives to one another

through letters.



















Prisons and Prisoners




























































California > San Quentin
































louisiana-plan-to-imprison-people-longer-imperils-sickest-inmates - March 28, 2024







































































































































































trans inmates        USA




















































USA > prison labor        UK / USA














forced labor






























prison beating











































convicted terrorists are already held in U.S. prisons        2016












guards > restraint






guards > brutality
















sexual offenders






inmate > Affordable Care Act






The San Quentin News        California


Founded in 1940 and then revived

as a serious journalistic enterprise

six years ago,

the monthly News, which bills itself

as “The Pulse of San Quentin,”

is the state’s

only inmate-produced newspaper

and one of the few in the world.


The paper’s 15 staff members,

all of them male felons,

write from the unusual perspective

of having served

an estimated 297 ½ years collectively

for burglary, murder,

home invasion, conspiracy

and, in one case, a Ponzi scheme.


























inmates’ spouses > conjugal visits










computer-based video visitation










video visitation










in-person visits












 calls from prison > costs of phone calls behind bars


































America's elderly prisoner boom

The Economist    18 June 2015





America's elderly prisoner boom

Video        The Economist        18 June 2015


Thanks to ultra-long sentences,

America's 2.3m prisoners are getting older.


Under the 'Gold coats' programme in California,

younger inmates look after elderly ones


















older inmates










older prisoners










elderly prisoners




watch?v=jXnQz2CqzYg - E - 18 June 2015








aged and infirm prisoners










die in prison

















comforting a death in prison












helping dying inmates > redemption










convict / con


















juvenile convicts










juvenile offenders



























The Road From Prison to Rehabilitation    2011


Delancey Street Foundation

in San Francisco

is one of a number of programs

that offer training and support

for ex-prisoners re-entering society.


The foundation

provides a place to live,

marketable skills and jobs

in a number of businesses

owned by the group.

















go on a hunger strike






























































prison furlough

















mental illness in prisons










inmates with disabilities and mental illness










suicide watch


























My Life After Charles Manson

NYT    5 August 2014





My Life After Charles Manson

Video    Op-Docs | The New York Times    5 August 2014


Forty-five years ago,

Patricia Krenwinkel killed for Charles Manson.


Now she provides

an emotional account of her life from prison.


Produced by: Olivia Klaus

Read the story here: http://nyti.ms/1obohk1

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video



















A Family's Sentence:

Dealer Serving Life Without Having Taken One

NYT    2013




A Family's Sentence:

Dealer Serving Life Without Having Taken One

Video        The New York Times        December 21st, 2013


Jesse Webster has been incarcerated 18 years for dealing cocaine;

his family hopes President Obama will commute his sentence.









































be sentenced for life

prisoners sentenced to life without parole

as juveniles










USA > serve life        UK










serve a life sentence in prison

with no chance of release










serving life sentences at Angola prison, in rural Louisiana,

with little to no hope for release


opinion/louisiana-angola-prison-mass-incarceration.html - NYT video








life terms



























Hard Time











young lifers






















































Dementia behind Bars

NYT    February 27, 2012



The Vanishing Mind > Dementia behind Bars

Video    New York Times    February 27, 2012















































engineer an elaborate escape from N



























escaped prisoner




















prison break

















clamber his way out of the Chester County jail




















be on the run










hide out






























pen in


















halfway houses




colorado-halfway-houses-prison-community-corrections - September 16, 2022










Corpus of news articles


Justice > USA > Prison, jail >


Prisoners, inmates




Justice Dept.

Seeks to Curtail

Stiff Drug Sentences


August 12, 2013

The New York Times



WASHINGTON — In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration will move on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, is expected to announce the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder is planning to justify his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

“Although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “It imposes a significant economic burden — totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Mr. Holder will also introduce a related set of Justice Department policies that would leave more crimes to state courts to handle, increase the use of drug-treatment programs as alternatives to incarceration, and expand a program of “compassionate release” for “elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and have served significant portions of their sentences.”

The policy changes appear to be part of Mr. Holder’s effort, before he eventually steps down, to bolster his image and legacy. Turmoil over the Congressional investigation into the botched Operation Fast and Furious gun trafficking case ensnared him in the Obama administration’s first term, and more recently, controversy has flared over the department’s aggressive tactics in leak investigations.

In recent weeks, he has also tightened rules on obtaining reporters’ data in leak cases and started an effort to strengthen protections for minority voters after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The move continued an assertive approach to voting rights and other civil rights enforcement throughout his tenure.

Mr. Holder’s speech on Monday deplores the moral impact of the United States’ high incarceration rate: although it has only 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners, he notes. But he also attempts to pre-empt political controversy by painting his effort as following the lead of prison reform efforts in primarily conservative-led Southern states.

Under a policy memorandum being sent to all United States attorney offices on Monday, according to an administration official, prosecutors will be told that they may not write the specific quantity of drugs when drafting indictments for drug defendants who meet the following four criteria: their conduct did not involve violence, the use of a weapon or sales to minors; they are not leaders of a criminal organization; they have no significant ties to large-scale gangs or cartels; and they have no significant criminal history.

For example, in the case of a defendant accused of conspiring to sell five kilograms of cocaine — an amount that would set off a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence — the prosecutor would write that “the defendant conspired to distribute cocaine” without saying how much. The quantity would still factor in when prosecutors and judges consult sentencing guidelines, but depending on the circumstances, the result could be a sentence of less than the 10 years called for by the mandatory minimum law, the official said.

It is not clear whether current cases that have not yet been adjudicated would be recharged because of the new policy.

Amid a rise in crime rates a generation ago, state and federal lawmakers began passing a series of “tough on crime” laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession. But as crime rates have plummeted to 40-year lows and reduced the political potency of the fear of crime, fiscal pressures from the exploding cost of building and maintaining prisons have prompted states to find alternatives to incarceration.

Driven in part by a need to save money, several conservative-leaning states like Texas and Arkansas have experimented with finding ways to incarcerate fewer low-level drug offenders. The answers have included reducing prison terms for them or diverting them into treatment programs, releasing elderly or well-behaved inmates early, and expanding job training and re-entry programs.

The policy is seen as successful across the ideological divide. For example, in Texas, which was an early innovator, taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars on what had been projected as a need to build prison space. With crime rates remaining at generational lows, the space is no longer necessary.

Several years ago, a group called Right on Crime formed to push what it calls the “conservative case for reform.” Its Republican affiliates include Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor; Edwin R. Meese III, an attorney general during the Reagan administration; and Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker.

“While the federal prison system has continued to slowly expand, significant state-level reductions have led to three consecutive years of decline in America’s overall prison population — including, in 2012, the largest drop ever experienced in a single year,” Mr. Holder’s speech says. “Clearly, these strategies can work. They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it’s past time for others to take notice.”

Still, in states that have undertaken prison and parole overhauls, the changes were approved by state lawmakers. Mr. Holder’s reform is different: instead of going through Congress for legislation to modify mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he is invoking his power of prosecutorial discretion to sidestep them.

Earlier in Mr. Obama’s presidency, the administration went through Congress to achieve policy goals like reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder forms of cocaine. But it has increasingly pursued a strategy of invoking unilateral executive powers without Congress, which the White House sees as bogged down by Republican obstructionism.

Previous examples, like Mr. Obama’s decision last year to issue an executive order allowing immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to remain without fear of deportation and to work, have drawn fire from Republicans as “power grabs” that usurp the role of Congress.

Mr. Holder’s speech marches through a litany of statistics about incarceration in the United States. The American population has grown by about a third since 1980, he said, but its prison rate has increased nearly 800 percent. At the federal level, more than 219,000 inmates are currently behind bars — nearly half for drug-related crimes — and the prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above their official capacity.

Justice Dept. Seeks to Curtail Stiff Drug Sentences,






In Texas,

Arguing That Heat

Can Be a Death Sentence

for Prisoners


July 28, 2012

The New York Times



HOUSTON — Last summer’s record-breaking heat wave had a grim impact on Texas, playing a role in the deaths of roughly 150 people. Many of them were found in their homes or apartments, but a few were discovered somewhere else — in their prison cells.

Ten inmates of the state prison system died of heat-related causes last summer in a 26-day period in July and August, a death toll that has alarmed prisoners’ rights advocates who believe that the lack of air-conditioning in most state prisons puts inmates’ lives at risk.

The 10 inmates were housed in areas that lacked air-conditioning, and several had collapsed or lost consciousness while they were in their cells. All of them were found to have died of hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees, according to autopsy reports and the state’s prison agency.

Other factors contributed to their deaths. All but three of them had hypertension, and some were obese, had heart disease or were taking antipsychotic medications, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate heat.

One inmate, Alexander Togonidze, 44, was found unresponsive in his cell at an East Texas prison called the Michael Unit at 8 a.m. on Aug. 8 with a body temperature of 106 degrees, according to prison documents. The temperature in his cell, taken by prison officials 15 minutes after he was pronounced dead, was 86.2 degrees and the heat index was 93 degrees.

Five days later, at the nearby Gurney Unit prison, Kenneth Wayne James, 52, was found in his cell with a body temperature of 108 degrees. His autopsy report stated Mr. James most likely died of “environmental hyperthermia-related classic heat stroke,” noting several risk factors, including Mr. James’s chronic illness and use of a diuretic, and the lack of air-conditioning.

“We were looking for him to come home in a few months,” said Mary Lou James, the mother of Mr. James, who had been charged with injuring a child and was serving a five-year sentence for violating probation. “I think that’s just awful, to have a place like that where you don’t have any air. I don’t think human beings should be treated in that manner.”

Officials with the prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said 12 inmates had died of heat-related causes since 2007. The debate over the lack of air-conditioning in the prison system has intensified in recent weeks, after lawyers from the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued the agency in federal court over one of the inmate deaths from last summer. They also plan to file additional wrongful-death lawsuits.

Of the 111 prisons overseen by the agency, only 21 are fully air-conditioned, and inmates and their advocates have argued that the overheated conditions during triple-digit summers violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Prison officials dispute those claims, saying that the health and well-being of the inmates are their top priorities and that the autopsies of the 12 inmates who died list a variety of contributing factors to their deaths. They said they take steps to help inmates on hot days, including restricting outside work activities and providing extra water and ice.

“It is unknown whether the lack of air-conditioning was a contributing factor in the offender deaths,” Jason Clark, a prison system spokesman, said in a statement. “Texas experienced one of the hottest summers on record in 2011. It was an unprecedented event affecting the entire state and much of the southern and eastern United States. T.D.C.J. took precautions to help mitigate the impact of temperature extremes on offenders and staff. The agency continues to do so.”

But a corrections supervisor who works at a prison where one of the 12 inmates died said the number of heat-related fatalities was a cause of concern, as was the larger number of inmates and corrections officers who require medical attention because of the heat.

At least 17 prison employees or inmates were treated for heat-related illnesses from June 25 through July 6, according to agency documents. Many of them had been indoors at the time they reported feeling ill.

At the Darrington Unit near Rosharon on June 25, a 56-year-old corrections officer fainted in a supervisor’s office and was taken to a hospital. Heat exhaustion was diagnosed. At the four-story Coffield Unit near Palestine, where one inmate died of hyperthermia last August, dozens of windows have been broken out — prisoners slip soda cans or bars of soap into socks and throw them at the windows, hoping to increase ventilation.

“I’m supposed to be watching them, I’m not supposed to be boiling them in their cells,” said the corrections supervisor, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “If you’ve got a life sentence, odds are you’re going to die in the penitentiary. But what about the guy who dies from a heat stroke who only had a four-year sentence? His four-year sentence was actually a life sentence.”

One of the 10 inmates who died last summer, Larry Gene McCollum, 58, a prisoner at the Hutchins State Jail outside Dallas, had a body temperature of 109.4 degrees. Nine days before his death in his cell, the indoor temperatures at Hutchins were routinely recorded by prison officials and ranged from 100 degrees to 102 degrees, according to agency documents.

Those temperatures exceed those allowed by a state law requiring county jails to maintain temperature levels between 65 and 85 degrees in occupied areas. But the law applies only to county jails, not to state prisons.

“After this many deaths, prison officials obviously know this is a problem,” said David C. Fathi, director of the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, in Washington. “Prisons aren’t supposed to be comfortable, nor are they supposed to kill you.”

State Senator John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he was not alarmed by the number of deaths, noting that the overall state inmate population exceeds 150,000. Keith Price, the former warden of the Coffield Unit, agreed.

“Just from a statistical standpoint, that’s really not significant, particularly when you consider the population,” Mr. Price, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at West Texas A&M University, said of the 12 deaths. “Many inmates are poorly equipped to manage their lives and thus make poor decisions. I do not believe it is up to the taxpayers to provide air-conditioning for inmates when some simple self-discipline would avoid many of these problems.”

Prison officials said that air-conditioning had not been installed in many buildings because of the additional construction and utility costs, and that retrofitting them would be an extraordinary expense.

Prisoners’ rights advocates said that treating inmates who become ill from the heat is just as costly, and that retrofitting entire buildings was not the only possible solution. They said allowing medically high-risk inmates to spend time in air-conditioned areas would be one improvement.

In Texas, Arguing That Heat Can Be a Death Sentence for Prisoners,
NYT, 28.7.2012,






William Heirens,

the ‘Lipstick Killer,’

Dies at 83


March 7, 2012
The New York Times


William Heirens, the notorious “Lipstick Killer” who in 1946 confessed to three horrific murders in Chicago and then spent the rest of his life — more than 65 years — in prison despite questions about his guilt, was found dead on Monday in the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. He was 83.

He was pronounced dead at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, where an autopsy was to be performed, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. Mr. Heirens was known to have had diabetes.

Mr. Heirens’ notoriety stemmed from the separate killings of two women, Josephine Ross and Frances Brown, in 1945. At the scene of the second murder, that of Miss Brown, someone had used lipstick to scrawl on a wall: “For heaven’s sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.”

The reports of a “lipstick killer” terrified Chicago as the press took note of other unsolved murders of women. Then, about two weeks after the Brown murder, on Jan. 7, 1946, a 6-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her bedroom at her North Side home. A ladder was found outside the window. The police later determined that the killer had strangled her and taken the body to the basement of a nearby building, where it was dismembered. Her head was found in a sewer; other body parts were found scattered about the neighborhood.

The newspapers called the killing the crime of the century, and though the police questioned a parade of suspects, there was no arrest.

Almost six months later, Mr. Heirens (pronounced HIGH-rens), a 17-year-old student at the University of Chicago, was apprehended at the scene of a burglary in the girl’s neighborhood. The police charged him with the murder after determining that his fingerprints were on a $20,000 ransom note that had been left behind at her home.

While he was in custody, The Chicago Tribune, citing what it called “unimpeachable sources,” reported that Mr. Heirens had confessed to the Degnan murder. Four other Chicago newspapers published similar articles, basing them on The Tribune’s account. The outcry against him mounted.

Mr. Heirens, who said he was beaten and given “truth serum” in jail, disputed the newspaper accounts, saying he was about to sign a confession in exchange for one life term but rebelled at “being forced to lie to save myself.” He was then charged with the Brown and Ross murders, saying they had incriminating physical evidence against him, including crime-scene fingerprints and a handwriting analysis. Offered three consecutive life terms in exchange for a guilty plea, he accepted, on the advice of his lawyers. Later he said he had done so only to avoid a death sentence if he had gone to trial.

“I confessed to live,” he said.

When he did confess, his memory seemed ragged. Time after time during the plea bargaining, prosecutors brought up details from The Tribune article, which he then incorporated into his testimony. Mr. Heirens recanted his confession soon afterward and maintained his innocence for the rest of his life while being denied parole or clemency numerous times. He questioned the validity of the fingerprints and other evidence, as have public interest lawyers who supported him.

In one clemency petition in 2002, his lawyers from the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions alleged more “prosecutorial misconduct, incompetent defense counsel, unprecedented prejudicial pretrial publicity, junk science, probably false confessions and mistaken eyewitness identification.” But others could not ignore his detailed admissions of guilt, even if he had retracted them. “He is the yardstick by which all evil is judged,” Thomas Epach, a Chicago police official, said at the 2002 clemency hearing.

Suzanne Degnan’s family fought all efforts to release him. Betty Finn, Suzanne’s older sister, said at the 2002 hearing, “Think of the worse nightmare that you cannot put out of your mind, you’re not allowed to put out of your mind.”

William George Heirens was born on Nov. 15, 1928, in Evanston, Ill. His father’s flower business failed, and the family teetered on the edge of poverty. In interviews, William said that his parents had fought frequently and that he had burglarized houses to relieve the tension he felt at home. He did not try to sell the things he stole, he said.

He was placed in two Roman Catholic youth detention centers. At the second, he proved to be an excellent student, skipping his senior year of high school. He was admitted to the University of Chicago at 16, with plans to major in engineering. In interviews, Mr. Heirens said his mother had led him to believe that sex was dirty. When he kissed a girl, he said, he would burst into tears and vomit. He said one reason he broke into houses was to play with women’s underwear.

In the burglary in which he was arrested, the police testified that he had aimed a gun at an officer and twice pulled the trigger, but that the weapon misfired. He was additionally convicted of assault with the intention of killing a police officer.

After Mr. Heirens went to jail, his parents and brother changed their names to Hill. He left no known survivors.

While serving one of the nation’s longest prison terms, Mr. Heirens became the first prisoner in Illinois to earn a degree from a four-year college. He also managed the prison garden factory and set up several education programs. In recent years, his diabetes damaged his eyesight, and he used a wheelchair. He told The New York Times in 2002 that he had learned that prison friendships were fleeting.

“Most of them, you hear for a little while, and then they kind of fade out,” he said. “Usually when they get out, they try to forget they were ever in.”

    William Heirens, the ‘Lipstick Killer,’ Dies at 83, NYT, 7.3.2012,






Life, With Dementia


February 25, 2012
The New York Times


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Secel Montgomery Sr. stabbed a woman in the stomach, chest and throat so fiercely that he lost count of the wounds he inflicted. In the nearly 25 years he has been serving a life sentence, he has gotten into fights, threatened a prison official and been caught with marijuana.

Despite that, he has recently been entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility. He and other convicted killers at the California Men’s Colony help care for prisoners with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, assisting ailing inmates with the most intimate tasks: showering, shaving, applying deodorant, even changing adult diapers.

Their growing roster of patients includes Joaquin Cruz, a convicted killer who is now so addled that he thinks he sees his brother in the water of a toilet, and Walter Gregory, whose short-term memory is ebbing even as he vividly recalls his crime: stabbing and mutilating his girlfriend with a switchblade.

“I cut her eyes out, too,” Mr. Gregory declared recently.

Dementia in prison is an underreported but fast-growing phenomenon, one that many prisons are desperately unprepared to handle. It is an unforeseen consequence of get-tough-on-crime policies — long sentences that have created a large population of aging prisoners. About 10 percent of the 1.6 million inmates in America’s prisons are serving life sentences; another 11 percent are serving over 20 years.

And more older people are being sent to prison. In 2010, 9,560 people 55 and older were sentenced, more than twice as many as in 1995. In that same period, inmates 55 and older almost quadrupled, to nearly 125,000, a Human Rights Watch report found.

While no one has counted cognitively impaired inmates, experts say that prisoners appear more prone to dementia than the general population because they often have more risk factors: limited education, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, depression, substance abuse, even head injuries from fights and other violence.

Many states consider over-50 prisoners elderly, saying they age up to 15 years faster.

With many prisons already overcrowded and understaffed, inmates with dementia present an especially difficult challenge. They are expensive — medical costs for older inmates range from three to nine times as much as those for younger inmates. They must be protected from predatory prisoners. And because dementia makes them paranoid or confused, feelings exacerbated by the confines of prison, some attack staff members or other inmates, or unwittingly provoke fights by wandering into someone else’s cell.

“The dementia population is going to grow tremendously,” says Ronald H. Aday, a sociologist and the author of “Aging Prisoners: Crisis in American Corrections.” “How are we going to take care of them?”

Some prison systems are confronting that now. Many would like to transfer demented inmates to nursing homes, but their often-violent crimes make states reluctant to parole them and nursing homes reluctant to take them.

New York has taken the top-dollar route, establishing a separate unit for cognitively impaired inmates and using professional caregivers, at a cost of about $93,000 per bed annually, compared with $41,000 in the general prison population. Pennsylvania and other states are giving mental health workers special dementia training.

But some struggling prison systems, including those in Louisiana and California, are taking a less expensive but potentially riskier approach. They are training prisoners to handle many of the demented inmates’ daily needs.

“Yeah, they did something horrible to end up here,” said Cheryl Steed, a psychologist at the California Men’s Colony, where prisoners who help inmates with dementia are called Gold Coats because their yellow jackets contrast with the standard-issue blue. But without them, she said, “we wouldn’t be able to care for our dementia patients very well.”

After escorting Joaquin Cruz to an appointment, James Evers, a Gold Coat, was returning him to their adobe-colored cellblock when they encountered corrections officers strip-searching inmates for missing tools.

Mr. Cruz, 60, who barely recalls that he is in prison for killing someone who sold him fake cocaine, grew confused and resistant when guards tried searching him. “He has Alzheimer’s,” Mr. Evers managed to explain. “It’s not that he’s refusing to do what you’re asking.”

At the prison, shadowed by seacoast mountains, Gold Coats are paid $50 a month and have better knowledge of impaired prisoners’ conditions than many prison guards. Gold Coats, trained by the Alzheimer’s Association and given thick manuals on dementia, were the first to notice when Mr. Cruz began putting his boots on the wrong feet and “started pulling down his pants and going to the bathroom wherever he was,” said Phillip Burdick, a Gold Coat who is serving a life sentence for beating a man to death with a hammer.

Gold Coats report these changes, often at weekly support group meetings with Dr. Steed. They identify “different tricks and strategies to get guys to do what they need to do,” she said.

Before the program was started in 2009, demented inmates frequently caused fights, hitting those they considered threatening or disturbing other prisoners by encroaching on their turf. “The whole atmosphere was hostile,” said Bettina Hodel, a psychologist who started the program and once narrowly avoided being struck herself. Now, Gold Coats absorb much of that behavior.

“I been swung at, got a big fat lip, and my glasses have been broken,” said Ramon Cañas, a Gold Coat who killed a hitchhiker who stole his car. He said Gold Coats — there are currently six of them for about 40 inmates — often wear surgical gloves because they are exposed to “a lot of body fluids.”


Protecting the Vulnerable

But they also protect demented inmates from prisoners who try assaulting, abusing or robbing them. When Steven Berry, a Gold Coat, caught two inmates picking a demented prisoner’s pockets, he barreled toward them. “Got the stuff back,” reported Mr. Berry, a former Navy signalman who killed his sister-in-law and tried to kill his wife.

Gold Coats get harassed and called snitches for seeming to side with prison officials and because of the perks they receive. In the dining hall, to help dementia patients who, as Mr. Burdick says, “start forgetting basic things like what is a spork for,” Gold Coats sit with them at special “slow eater” tables, where meals are allowed to stretch beyond the usual 10 to 12 minutes.

When a prisoner tried stealing a patient’s dessert, Mr. Montgomery, one of the Gold Coats, snarled, “You got to give him his cookie back.”

“Who are you, the PO-lice?” the inmate barked. Mr. Montgomery retorted, “Yes, I’m the PO-lice!”

More inmates have dementia than prison officials realize, experts say. Prison routines can mask symptoms like forgetfulness. Corrections officers are used to punishing aggressive inmates, not evaluating them for Alzheimer’s.

“Not responding to questions appropriately, being belligerent — it’s just considered bad behavior,” said Sharen Barboza, director of clinical operations for MHM Services, a prison mental health provider that trains prison officials.

New York’s Unit for the Cognitively Impaired, begun five years ago, has so far cared for 84 inmates, but “there’s a number of people in the system that we really haven’t tapped,” said Paul Kleinman, the program’s psychologist. “They’re not being identified properly.”

Alzheimer’s currently affects 5.4 million Americans, a number expected to double by 2040. Experts believe that Alzheimer’s disease in prisons could grow two or three times as fast, said John Wilson, senior clinical operations specialist for MHM, because “protective factors that might mitigate developing dementia are slim to none in prison — things like complex jobs, rich social environment, leisure activities.”

Realizing that California, with nearly 13,000 inmates 55 and older, could not adequately care for demented prisoners, Dr. Hodel, when she was starting the Gold Coat program, asked the regional chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to train inmates to help. The chapter’s area director, Sara Bartlett, worried that she and Arlene Stepputat, then the program director, would not be safe as “women in a man’s prison.” She doubted whether violent felons could provide sensitive care.

Both women were surprised that inmates seemed more receptive, with less-complicated emotional ties to the patients than many of the people they trained to care for relatives at home. “They were much easier to work with,” Ms. Stepputat said.

Heriberto G. Sanchez, chief psychologist of the California Men’s Colony, said prisoners “were appreciative that someone from the outside world thought they could do this.” One wrote in an evaluation, “Thank you for allowing me to feel human.”

The prison requires that Gold Coats have “a clean behavior record for about 5 to 10 years,” Dr. Steed said. So far, only one Gold Coat has been removed, because “he had problems” with dementia patients’ messy eating and other behaviors, Dr. Hodel said.

For inmates, the job has attractions. It pays better than other prison work and polishes a prisoner’s record.

Two Gold Coats have received parole.

One of them, Shawn Henderson, who got 25 years to life for a 1985 double murder and was twice denied parole, was released last February. Doing a job where “you get spit on, feces thrown on you, urine on you, you get cursed out” helped teach him to cope outside prison, said Mr. Henderson, 46. “Now when I come into an encounter like that on the street, I can be a lot more compassionate,” he said. “And I don’t look at telling authorities as snitching anymore.”

Gold Coats conduct exercise classes and run meetings designed to stimulate memory and lessen disorientation. They escort inmates to doctors, acting as their intermediaries.

And they often need to be deft. One 73-year-old inmate stands by a gate most mornings, waiting for his long-dead mother to pick him up. Sometimes he refuses to shower, afraid of missing her. Mr. Evers coaxes him inside, telling him that his mother “wants you to shower before she gets here.”

More subtlety is required for Mr. Gregory, 71, who is serving a life sentence for brutalizing his girlfriend with a switchblade — throwing her body parts in the trash and getting caught, he said, when “I went right back to the room that I killed her in and had sex with another” woman. He does not believe he has dementia, but his gradually accumulating symptoms include breaking a mop over an inmate’s head and writing to outside agencies under the delusion that he will be granted parole.

To assist Mr. Gregory, Samuel Baxter, a Gold Coat who fatally shot a co-worker, firing six times, gently reminds him about bed making and schedules. “You have to allow Mr. Gregory to come to you,” Mr. Baxter said.

There are limits to what Gold Coats can do. They can file patients’ fingernails, for instance, but not clip them because that constitutes a professional caregiving responsibility that cannot legally be delegated to inmates. And there are indignities, like cleaning up after inmates who urinate on the floor.

“A year ago,” Mr. Baxter said, “I couldn’t have said, ‘You know what man, I’m going to go help this grown man get in the shower,’ ” and “get in there and help these guys wash theirself off.”

Gold Coats say they are moved by the work. “I’m a person who was broken,” said Mr. Burdick, who during 35 years in prison lost a wife to AIDS and a 16-year-old daughter to suicide. Dementia patients often “don’t even say thank you,” he said, but “they just pat me like that and I know what that means.”

Mr. Cañas said: “I didn’t have any feelings about other people. I mean, in that way, I was a predator.” Now, he said, “I’m a protector.”

Still, the Gold Coats have not figured out how to help Leon Baham.

When Mr. Baham, 71, received a dementia diagnosis a year ago, a psychiatrist, Dr. Russell Marks, noted that he pined for his wife “almost as though at moments he didn’t realize” that his crime had been “murdering the woman he was tearful about.”

In a recent interview, Mr. Baham recalled the murder hazily: “Blood everywhere. She said, ‘Sweetheart.’ ”

He has repeatedly been placed in the crisis center, once after “he urinated on the floor, he was banging his head on the cage, he needed a spit mask to prevent his spitting on others,” and he was “threatening to kill persons that he believed stole his watch,” Dr. Marks said.

After trying to enter the wrong cell, he told Dr. Steed, “I’m going to kill myself,” adding, “I don’t want to live this way.”

He was sent to a psychiatric hospital, returning less depressed. But he often sits confused in the yard. “I forget why I was going out there,” Mr. Baham said. “I’m slipping a little bit.”

Still, he resists the Gold Coats’ help and believes that he would have to pay them. Oblique assistance, like Mr. Burdick bringing him a jacket, is all he accepts so far.

“I don’t need them, you know,” Mr. Baham said.


‘I Was a Monster’

The compassion Secel Montgomery is required to show in his job as a Gold Coat was nowhere to be seen in the killing he committed in 1987. He wanted money for alcohol, and when his former sister-in-law refused, “I knocked her unconscious, tied her up and stabbed her.” Then he washed his hands and called his wife for a ride.

He grabbed things that had his fingerprints on them, but left his infant nephew there alone. “I figured that’s kidnapping,” he explained.

Mr. Montgomery, sentenced to 26 years to life, spent 17 years in a high-security prison for “disobeying orders,” he said. He made contraband alcohol called “pruno.”

Only in 2000, after Mr. Montgomery, 47, was found with marijuana, accused of threatening a prison official and locked in the “hole,” did he decide to change. “I was a monster,” he said.

Families of demented inmates seem unperturbed that prisoners like Mr. Montgomery now have so much responsibility. Laura Eklund, Mr. Cruz’s niece, said prison officials have asked if his relatives wanted him paroled, but the family has declined. “To be honest, the care he’s receiving in prison, we could not match,” she said.

When Mr. Cruz spies his own reflection, he often believes it is his brother Sergio. To keep him from getting agitated, his cell mirror has been covered with tape. But now when he looks into a toilet, he calls: “Hey, my brother, he’s down there. I can’t get him out.”

Mr. Montgomery said he tries to reassure Mr. Cruz, but if Mr. Cruz is locked in his cell, Mr. Montgomery — still a prisoner, after all — cannot enter even if he is allowed out of his own cell. He will call to Mr. Cruz through a tiny window in the thick metal door. “All I can do is say, ‘Cruz, come here, come here, come here,’ but he’ll stand there,” staring helplessly into the toilet and agonizing. “ ‘See, see, look, see.’ ”

Life, With Dementia, NYT, 25.2.2012,






Texas Prisoner Burials

Are a Gentle Touch

in a Punitive System


January 4, 2012
The New York Times


HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — Kenneth Wayne Davis died at 54 as not so much a man but a number: Inmate No. 327320.

Mr. Davis was charged, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated for capital murder by the State of Texas after taking someone’s life on Nov. 19, 1977. But when he died in November 2011, Texas seemed his only friend. His family failed to claim his body, so the state paid for his burial.

On a cold morning in this East Texas town, a group of inmates bowed their heads as a prison chaplain led a prayer for Mr. Davis, his silver-handled black metal coffin resting on wooden planks above the grave the prisoners had dug for him. Wearing sunglasses, work boots and dirt-smeared white uniforms, they might have resembled painters were they not so solemn, holding their caps and gloves in their folded hands.

They were Mr. Davis’s gravediggers but also his mourners. No one who knew Mr. Davis bothered to attend his funeral, so it was left up to Damon Gibson, serving 14 years for theft, and the rest of the prison crew to stand in silence over the grave of a man they had never met. Then Mr. Gibson and the others put their gloves on and lowered the coffin into the ground using long straps, providing him eternal rest in the one place in Texas where murderers and other convicts whose bodies are unclaimed can be interred, remembered and, if but for a few moments, honored.

On this day, Mr. Davis’s funeral was one of seven at the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery, the largest prison graveyard in the country, 22 acres where thousands of inmates who were executed or died while incarcerated are buried. All of them went unclaimed by their relatives after they died, but the cemetery is not a ramshackle potter’s field. It is a quiet green oasis on a wide hill near the campus of Sam Houston State University, with rows of small crosses and headstones, at the center of which stand a decorative brick well and a white-painted altar bearing a cross. The last years of these inmates’ lives were spent under armed guard behind bars and barbed wire, but there is no fence along Bowers Boulevard here, and no one keeps watch.

Walking along the hill beneath the pine trees, stepping between the rows of hundreds of identical white crosses and tablet headstones, you think of Arlington National Cemetery. But if Arlington is for heroes, the Byrd cemetery is for villains.

The concrete cross marking the grave of Duane Howk lists his name, inmate number and date of death in June 2010 but says nothing of the offense for which he was serving a life sentence, aggravated sexual assault of a child. The serial killer Kenneth Allen McDuff, executed in 1998 for strangling a 22-year-old pregnant mother of two with a rope, had gained notoriety for being the only inmate in United States history who was freed from death row and returned years later after killing again, but he lies beneath a nameless cross reading 999055.

The state’s prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has been the steward of the cemetery since the first inmates were buried there in the mid-1800s, maintaining and operating it in recent decades as carefully and respectfully as any religious institution might.

An inmate crew from the nearby Walls Unit prison cleans the grounds, mows the grass and trims trees four days per week. The inmates dig the graves with a backhoe and shovels, serve as pallbearers and chisel the names on the headstones by hand using metal stencils and black paint. The cemetery was named for an assistant warden at the Walls Unit who helped clean and restore the graveyard in the 1960s, and even today, the warden or one of his deputies attends every burial.

“It’s important, because they’re people still,” said the warden, James Jones. “Of course they committed a crime and they have to do their time, and unfortunately they end up dying while they’re in prison, but they’re still human beings.”

In a state known for being tough on criminals, where officials recently eliminated last-meal requests on death row, the Byrd cemetery has been a little-known counterpoint to the mythology of the Texas penal system. One mile from the Walls Unit, which houses the state’s execution chamber, about 100 inmates are buried each year in ceremonies for which the state spends considerable time and money. Each burial costs Texas about $2,000. Often, as in Mr. Davis’s case, none of the deceased’s relatives attend, and the only people present are prison officials and the inmate workers.

Though all of those buried here were unclaimed by relatives, many family members fail to claim the bodies because they cannot afford burial expenses and want the prison agency to pay the costs instead. The same relatives who declined to claim the body will then travel to Huntsville to attend the state-paid services at the cemetery.

“I think everyone assumes if you’re in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the worst of the worst,” said Franklin T. Wilson, an assistant professor of criminology at Indiana State University who is writing a book about the cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”

Prison officials have verified 2,100 inmates who are buried at the cemetery, but they say there may be additional graves. Professor Wilson recently photographed every headstone and estimated that there were more than 3,000 graves.

In some ways, the cemetery and the funerals held there lack precision and formality. Coffins are transported from the altar at the center of the cemetery to the gravesite on a trailer hitched to the back of a green John Deere tractor. Names and words are misspelled on a few headstones and markers. Relatives have brought portable stereos to play music during the funerals, blaring rap songs and AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.” Most days, after the inmate crew has returned to the prison, the cemetery is a deserted, lonesome place. Of the thousands of graves, only a handful have flowers on them.

“You’ve got guys here who died in prison and were buried out here, and they could have made a difference someplace, even if it was only in a small community somewhere,” said Jim Willett, director of the nearby Texas Prison Museum and a retired Walls Unit warden who attended nearly 200 graveside services. “These guys didn’t just mess up their lives. There’s their family and other families that got messed up because of some screwup that they did, and then they wind up like this.”

On the day of Mr. Davis’s interment, three burials had family members present, and four did not. Vandals had entered the cemetery and set a large brush pile on fire, filling the morning air with smoke. Neither Mr. Gibson nor the inmate workers knew any of the men they were burying. “It has made me a better person,” said Mr. Gibson, 38, a father of two from Houston. “It has made me reflect on the things I’ve done. I don’t want this to be me.”

Two of the seven inmates who were buried, including Mr. Davis, were serving life sentences for murder, and the others had been imprisoned for drunken driving, theft, assault, sexual assault of a child or burglary when they died. Mr. Davis spent nearly 34 of his 54 years behind bars. In the ground in Huntsville, he was finally free of his prison uniform. The funeral home that handles inmates’ burials put him in dark pants, a white shirt and a tie.

Texas Prisoner Burials Are a Gentle Touch in a Punitive System,
    NYT, 4.1.2012,






Exonerated of Murder,

a Boxer Makes a Debut at 52


October 10, 2011
The New York Times


PHILADELPHIA — The television crew had him up at dawn doing the Rocky fandango, dashing up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and dancing around in triumph like another over-the-hill, underdog pugilist who had made it big.

Cliché or not, it is hard not to imagine the familiar trumpet score along with the thwock, thwock, thwock of fists on punching bags as Dewey Bozella trains for one of the least likely boxing matches in history.

After 26 years in New York State prisons, and two years after he was exonerated of murder, Mr. Bozella will make his professional boxing debut on Saturday in Los Angeles, at age 52, on the undercard of the light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins. (A mere 46 himself, Mr. Hopkins became the oldest fighter to win a major world championship this May.)

Mr. Bozella’s other fight, in which he is seeking compensation for the half of his life he spent behind bars, may be even more daunting than chasing victory in the ring. But for now, Mr. Bozella is focused on what he says will be his one and only professional bout.

“I want to go out there and give 100 percent and then move on with my life,” he said. “This is not a career move. It’s a personal move and a way to let people know to never give up on their dreams. My favorite quote is ‘Don’t let fear determine who you are and never let where you come from determine where you’re going.’ That’s what this is about.”

The product of a violent broken family and a hard life on the streets, Mr. Bozella was a troubled 18-year-old in 1977 when Emma Crapser, 92, was murdered in her Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home after returning from playing bingo. Six years later, based almost entirely on the testimony of two criminals who repeatedly changed their stories, he was convicted of the murder.

There was no physical evidence implicating Mr. Bozella. Instead, there was the fingerprint of another man, Donald Wise, who was later convicted of committing a nearly identical murder of another elderly woman in the same neighborhood. Mr. Bozella was retried in 1990, and was offered a deal that would let him go free in exchange for an admission that he committed the crime. He refused. A jury convicted him again.

At Sing Sing, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Mercy College and a master’s from the New York Theological Seminary. And he boxed in the prison’s “Death House,” once the scene of electrocutions, then a boxing ring, where he became Sing Sing’s light-heavyweight champion. At parole hearings, he repeatedly refused to express remorse for the crime he did not commit. He would get out one way, he said, either in a box or as an exonerated man. The box seemed more likely.

In the end, he was saved by a miracle. The Innocence Project, a legal clinic dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, believing in his case but unable to pursue it absent DNA evidence, referred it to the law firm WilmerHale. Lawyers there eventually found the Poughkeepsie police lieutenant who had investigated the case. He had retired, and Mr. Bozella’s was the only file he had saved. It included numerous pieces of evidence favorable to Mr. Bozella that had not been turned over to his lawyers. On Oct. 28, 2009, he walked out of the courthouse in Poughkeepsie finally a free man.

He struggled to find work, eventually counseling former convicts while teaching boxing at a Newburgh, N.Y., gym until ESPN became interested in his story. In July, at its annual ESPY Awards, he was given its Arthur Ashe Courage Award, whose past recipients have included Muhammad Ali, Pat Tillman and Nelson Mandela. The offer to box professionally came as a result of that appearance.

But when he took the rigorous California State Athletic Commission test on Aug. 24 to get licensed to box in the state, he failed. After Labor Day, he began working out in Philadelphia with the trainers for Mr. Hopkins. They were skeptical.

“I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to kill this old guy,’ ” said Danny Davis, one of Mr. Hopkins’s trainers. “There’s no way this guy can make it through my training.”

But Mr. Bozella got tougher, leaner and more nimble, dropping 10 pounds in little more than a week. He sparred with, and took serious lumps from, a world-class fighter: Lajuan Simon, a middleweight title contender. Mr. Bozella took the test again on Sept. 29. This time he passed.

Officials said Mr. Bozella was believed to be the oldest fighter ever licensed to box in California. Fighters that age are extremely rare but hardly unknown. “The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists,” by Bert Randolph Sugar and Teddy Atlas, has a section on “Boxing’s Greatest Methuselahs” that includes Mr. Hopkins; Jem Mace, the legendary 19th-century English boxer who fought at 59; and Saoul Mamby, a former junior welterweight titleholder who fought in 2008 at the age of 60, making him the oldest fighter ever to appear in an officially sanctioned bout.

Mr. Bozella, a cruiserweight — between light-heavyweights and heavyweights — will not be fighting for a championship; he is taking on Larry Hopkins, 30, of Houston, who is 0-3 as a professional (and is not related to Bernard Hopkins). His purse in the pay-per-view bout will be in the very low four figures.

But even if hype and marketing are as much a part of boxing as quick feet and sharp jabs, Mr. Bozella said the bout was anything but a stunt.

“You’ve seen the workout I went through, the pain, blood and bruises I’m getting,” he said after four rounds sparring with Mr. Simon last week. “No one’s giving me nothing for free. I can go out there and get knocked out, or I can knock the other guy out. It’s that simple.”

Mr. Bozella hopes to open his own gym as a way to mentor youngsters, but beyond its Hollywood touches, his feel-good story turns cloudier. The day after he passed the boxing test, a federal judge threw out his lawsuit against Dutchess County and the City of Poughkeepsie over the evidence that was not turned over to his lawyers.

The decision was primarily based on a controversial Supreme Court ruling in the case of Connick v. Thompson. By a 5-to-4 margin, the court, in a decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas in March, threw out a $14 million jury award to a former death row inmate freed after prosecutorial misconduct came to light. The decision stated that only a pattern of misconduct in properly turning over evidence could warrant financial compensation, no matter how egregious the misconduct against a single defendant.

“I’m not going to disrespect the courts,” Mr. Bozella said. “I’d just like the justice system to be fair. Same thing with boxing. If the judges are fair, then the real winner wins. Just be fair. That’s it.”

Exonerated of Murder, a Boxer Makes a Debut at 52,
NYT, 10.10.2011,






In California,

Victims’ Families

Fight for the Dead


August 19, 2011
The New York Times


SAN DIEGO — The other day, at the sprawling state prison here, Linda and Alfred Tay sat in a cramped, windowless room, just feet from the man serving time for murdering their son.

Quarters are close at parole hearings.

They listened as the inmate made his case for parole. And then, exercising their rights as victims under California law, the Tays made their own case, pleading with the parole board not to grant freedom to the man who killed their son. It was the second time they had gone through this painful ritual.

“We constantly have a shadow hanging over our lives,” Ms. Tay told the commissioners. “When you suffer such a horrific crime, there is never closure.”

The rights of families like the Tays to be heard has been a fundamental tenet of a movement since California passed its first victims’ bill of rights three decades ago — a model that has been followed by states across the nation.

Until recently, most of these parole hearings — however difficult they may have been for the family members — had little practical importance: inmates serving life sentences for murder were virtually never set free. Even on the rare occasions when the parole board granted a release, California’s two previous governors — Gray Davis, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican — almost invariably overturned it.

But now, with a United States Supreme Court mandate in May to reduce the populations of California’s overcrowded prisons, Gov. Jerry Brown has thus far upheld 207 of the parole board’s 253 decisions to release convicted killers. Already this year, more release dates granted to killers have been allowed to stand than in any year since governors got the power to reverse them.

As a result, these hearings have taken on a new urgency for victims’ family members — many of whom have seen themselves as the last line of defense between a killer and freedom — because inmates are now more likely than ever to be paroled.

For some family members, attending the hearings is cathartic, offering a voice to those who feel powerless in the wake of crimes that have upended their lives.

But even as victims have gained the right to be heard, the laws have also created unintended consequences — sometimes dividing families or resurrecting traumas year after year.

“The emotional experience is beyond words,” said Harriet Salarno, who has spoken at nine parole hearings, beginning in 1993, for the man who killed her daughter 32 years ago. “I’ve thought about not going many times. But I was fearful he would get out.”

Despite an increased possibility of parole, the emotional and financial burdens of attending hearings are too overwhelming for many families. Brandi Cambron, 29, testified last year against parole for her mother, who was convicted of murdering Ms. Cambron’s younger brother. But she did not return this year from her home in Virginia for the hearing near Los Angeles.

“As much as it’s fulfilling to go there and speak and be heard, it also reopened all these old wounds that I’d worked so hard to close,” she said.

California has led the way in passing victims’ rights laws. It became the first state to allow victims’ families to speak at parole hearings, and in 1982 passed a victims’ bill of rights — one of the first major pieces of such legislation in the country. More than 30 states have amended their constitutions to include similar measures.

Parole commissioners and victims’ rights advocates say that victim statements can have a major influence. They put a human face on a murder victim, who is often referred to only as “the deceased” during a parole hearing, and make it that much more difficult for the board to grant release.

Some victims who survived murder attempts show their scars — missing limbs or disfiguring burns — while relatives detail the emotional trauma they have endured.

“You need to be there so the board understands what this has done to your life,” said Nina Salarno Ashford, a lawyer with Crime Victims United, a group that helps represent some victims at parole hearings.

Ms. Salarno Ashford said the increase in parole grants upheld under Governor Brown makes it all the more important for victims to attend hearings.

“The governor seems not to be taking a hard-line stance as Davis or Schwarzenegger did,” she said. “It really highlights the necessity for victims to go to these hearings, so the parole board can feel the full impact of the crime.”

Like many such advocates, Ms. Salarno Ashford’s involvement with the issue is personal: her sister Catina was murdered in 1979. Harriet Salarno, her mother, quit her job and founded Crime Victims United, and the group has been one of the foremost opponents of the plan to reduce prison overcrowding by releasing inmates.

Few victims’ families — around 8 percent — actually attend parole hearings. But for those that do, the process, however painful, can also be restorative.

Some victims eventually even stop opposing an inmate’s release. Katie James, manager of victims’ services for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said those cases showed how well the process could work for the families.

“When the family goes to multiple hearings over a long period of time, they kind of get to know the inmate,” Ms. James said. “They get to see a gradual change in the offender. They’re never going to forgive what the inmate did, but they can be O.K. with what the parole board decides.”

Most victims, however, never reach that point. For some, the hearings become an obsession. They skip happy events in the lives of their living children — high school or college graduations — to honor a dead child at a parole hearing. For older victims, hearings can take a toll on their health, Ms. James said.

“For some families, the hearings eat away at them, and destroy their other relationships,” she said. “We try to encourage them to have a balance and let someone else go instead. But some feel like it has to be them.”

If nothing else, as the Brown administration allows more inmates sentenced to life to be paroled, more victims will be spared the pain of returning year after year to parole hearings. But more families will also watch killers win release dates, as the Tays did. Ms. Tay said she was considering writing to the governor, in the hope that he would reverse the decision. “I would keep going forever if I could,” she said.

Perhaps no one has gone to as many parole hearings as Debra Tate, the sister of Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 in the Manson Family killings. She has, by her own count, spoken at dozens, perhaps even a hundred parole hearings: almost every one of those held for the Manson killers since the mid-1990s.

So far, only one of the members of Charles Manson’s murderous cult has died: Susan Atkins, in 2009. A few weeks before Ms. Atkins’s death, Ms. Tate spoke at her final parole hearing. On the day Ms. Atkins died, Ms. Tate wore all black, in memory of the murder victims.

“I cried one long alligator tear,” Ms. Tate said at the event. “It’s still a life lost. She had nieces and nephews. It’s never just about one person.”

Over the course of 40 years, the two women had become part of each other’s lives.

But Ms. Atkins’s death was not a relief, Ms. Tate said. “There are still so many hearings to go to.”

In California, Victims’ Families Fight for the Dead,
NYT, 19.8.2011,






For Ex-Prisoners,

a Haven Away From the Streets


January 17, 2011
8:15 pm
The New York Times


This year, the United States will release nearly three-quarters of a million people from prison, a record high. Nationally, 2.3 million people are in prison in the United States, and 95 percent of them will, at some point, get out and go home.

Society has a strong interest in keeping them home — in helping them to become law-abiding citizens instead of falling back into their old ways and returning to prison. But American programs for newly released prisoners echo the typical follies of our criminal justice system: our politicians usually believe that voters only want the emotional satisfactions of meting out maximum punishment, even if these policies lead to even more crime.

The usual package granted to someone released from prison in New York state is $40, a bus ticket and the considerable stigma that follows an ex-offender. Since prisoners are often held far away from their families and states charge astronomical rates for prison phone calls, prisoners often lose touch with their loved ones and may not have anyone to take them in when they get home. They may arrive in their home cities with no plans, other than — worrisomely — those hatched with fellow prisoners. They have little prospect for jobs or housing. Since many don’t get effective drug treatment in prison, they might still crave a fix, which costs money. It is little wonder that some former prisoners fall back into crime within hours or days.

Returning prisoners need many things: stable housing, drug treatment, job training, G.E.D. (high school equivalency) classes, parenting lessons, anger management. But even the handful of people who do worry about ex-offenders rarely mention what may be the most crucial need of all: a better class of friends.

Former prisoners go back to their old neighborhoods and meet up with their old gang, or new people of the only type they may be comfortable with — criminals. But what people need is to stop hanging out with associates who tempt them with promises of easy money or drug-filled nights. They need to start hanging out with people who think about the consequences of their actions, who value legitimate jobs, sobriety and family — people who go to their A.A. meetings and G.E.D. classes, who are trying to rebuild their lives.

How important are the right friends? We know that people get into crime and gangs primarily because their friends do. Hanging around with delinquent friends encourages young people to think of themselves as delinquents, and puts them in a world where criminal behavior is easy to engage in and brings social rewards. We do not know as much about whether pro-social peer groups can turn people away from crime. But it is reasonable to believe that the right peer group can help.

In West Harlem there is a large and beautiful Gothic building overlooking the Hudson River. It is called the Fortune Academy, but it is known to all as the Castle. It is owned by the Fortune Society, a group dedicated to helping returning prisoners succeed with starting new lives. The Fortune Society helps about 4,000 newly released prisoners each year with job training and placement, drug treatment, classes in cooking and anger management and being a father, and G.E.D. studies.

Most of the people who work at Fortune were once themselves drug addicted, homeless or imprisoned. This is important. “The clients can look at the staff and say, ‘a few years ago, that person was where I am,’” said Glenn E. Martin, Fortune’s vice president of development and public affairs. (He himself served six years in prison, and was released nine years ago.) The staff can also see past appearances: “Some others may see a guy with his pants pulled down and his hat on, yelling, and say ‘he’s not ready,’ ” said Martin. “But we’ll talk to him.” The credibility and understanding produced by having a staff of former offenders is important. But about 300 of Fortune’s clients each year get something more: a bed in the Castle, and the chance to start a law-abiding life in the company of other people trying to do the same.

The Castle provides solutions to several of the most important problems facing newly released prisoners. One is housing. Between 10 and 20 percent of people released from state and city prisons and jails have nowhere stable to go — they couch surf with friends or go into homeless shelters. But a stable home is a prerequisite for all the other things needed for a productive life. The Castle can be that home for a few nights or many months, until the person can find work and safe housing he or she can afford.

Anyone newly released from prison with nowhere else to go can apply to live in the Castle. Open beds are filled by the first qualified applicant, but the Castle turns away at least 10 people for every one it accepts. Prisoners throughout New York state apply — because the Fortune Society has physical offices in some jails and prisons, the parole bureaucracy refers them and because prisoners themselves spread the word. “We get several thousand letters a year,” says JoAnne Page, the president and chief executive of the Fortune Society. “We get referrals from people’s mothers.” The Castle has single rooms for residents who earn them; the rest have roommates. It serves meals and has staff on duty around the clock. It has a computer lab, laundry and a cafeteria. Residents are required to go full time to counseling, services such as drug treatment or job placement, or to school.

But perhaps more important than housing, the Castle gives people a new group of friends to identify with. Every Thursday night at 6 the Castle has a group meeting of all its residents. At one recent meeting, people sat around an enormous table and talked about the successes of their week. One woman talked about her job as a janitor at a shelter for women. “It’s a safe place, and clean — that’s because of me,” she said with pride. One man recounted a speech he attended by a political candidate. Another said he opened a bank account for the first time in his life. One woman was applying for jobs and wondered aloud how best to phrase the information that she was a felon. JoAnne Page took the opportunity to deliver one of Fortune Society’s key messages: You are not a felon. You committed a felony and did your time, but that is not who you are. One man announced that the Castle’s chorus was rehearsing and was open to new members. The residents applauded each other fervently.

Delancey Street, in San Francisco, is a very different community with the same purpose. People come to live at the Delancey Street residential building for an average of four years. Each resident is required to get at least a high school equivalency degree and learn several marketable job skills, such as furniture making, sales or accounting. The organization is completely run by its residents, who teach each other — there is no paid staff at all. Teaching others is part of the rehabilitation process for Delancey residents. The residence is financed in part by private donations, but the majority of its financing comes from the businesses the residents run, such as restaurants, event planning, a corporate car service, a moving company and framing shop. All money earned goes to the collective, which pays all its residents’ expenses.

At both Fortune and Delancey, a person emerging from prison is surrounded by a community of people who support him, hold him accountable, teach him skills and model good behavior. Many of the men and women in these programs come to think of themselves as productive members of society for the first time in their lives, and it may also be the first time they ever feel competent at anything besides lawbreaking.

The Delancey Street residence, which began in 1971, has never been formally evaluated. But there is no question that is phenomenally successful. It has graduated more than 14,000 people from prison into constructive lives. Carol Kizziah, who manages Delancey’s efforts to apply its lessons elsewhere, says that the organization estimates that 75 percent of its graduates go on to productive lives. (For former prisoners who don’t go to Delancey, only 25 to 40 percent avoid re-arrest.) Since it costs taxpayers nothing, from a government’s point of view it could very well be the most cost-effective social program ever devised. The program has established similar Delancey Street communities in Los Angeles, New Mexico, North Carolina and upstate New York. Outsiders have replicated the Delancey Street model in about five other places.

While some other Fortune Society programs have been researched and found to be effective, there has been no study of the Castle, which began in 2002. Nevertheless, the Castle is often cited by criminal justice experts as a model for helping ex-offenders. New York State’s Division of Parole gave a special award to the Fortune Society last month, and parole officers who work with Castle residents speak highly of it. “It’s working,” said Otis Cruse, a parole officer who has had the Castle in his jurisdiction. “It has counseling, groups, connections to employment – it’s one-stop shopping. It’s comfortable, quiet, clean and safe — you can sleep without looking over your shoulder. It’s an environment where positive people are doing positive things — you are colleagues in pursuing the same goal.”

There is one possible caveat about the Castle’s effectiveness: most of the people I saw at the Castle were in their 30s or older. Older people who get out of prison, by definition, are more likely than young ones to have served long sentences for serious offenses. And the longer the sentence, the more disconnected and disoriented prisoners are likely to be upon release. So they are important clients for the Castle. But they are also at an age where people are leaving crime on their own, finally ready to accept some responsibility and aware they are not immortal and want a family and a stable life. Crime is a young person’s game. It may be true that many people at the Castle successfully turn around their lives. The question is whether their age would help them to do so in any case.

There are two puzzles here. Delancey Street is now celebrating its 40th anniversary. One would think that by now there would be Delancey 2.0 models sprouting all over. But there are not. A related mystery concerns the idea that underlies both Delancey and the Castle: the importance of pro-social peers. Our guts tell us they matter; we know the effect our friends can have on our behavior. Peer pressure may be the single most important factor getting people into crime — surely it should be employed to get them out again. Yet it is not. Besides Delancey and the Castle, there is probably not a single government agency or citizen group working with former prisoners that lists “clean-living peers” alongside housing, job training and other items on its agenda for what former prisoners need to go straight. These two communities of former prisoners are good projects, but they have failed to have a wider impact. Saturday’s column will look at why this is the case.

Tina Rosenberg won a Pulitzer Prize for her book

“The Haunted Land:

Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism.”

She is a former editorial writer for The Times

and now a contributing writer

for the paper’s Sunday magazine.

Her new book, “Join the Club:

How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World,”

is forthcoming from W.W. Norton.

For Ex-Prisoners, a Haven Away From the Streets,
NYT, 17.1.2011,






The Crime of Punishment


December 6, 2010
The New York Times


In 2005, when a federal court took a snapshot of California’s prisons, one inmate was dying each week because the state failed to provide adequate health care. Adequate does not mean state-of-the-art, or even tolerable. It means care meeting “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” in the Supreme Court’s words, so inmates do not die from rampant staph infections or commit suicide at nearly twice the national average.

These and other horrors have been documented in California’s prisons for two decades, and last week they were before the Supreme Court in Schwarzenegger v. Plata. It is the most important case in years about prison conditions. The justices should uphold the lower court’s remedy for addressing the horrors.

Four years ago, when the number of inmates in California reached more than 160,000, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a “state of emergency.” The state’s prisons, he said, are places “of extreme peril.”

Last year, under a federal law focusing on prison conditions, the lower court found that overcrowding was the “primary cause” of gruesome inadequacies in medical and mental health care. The court concluded that the only relief under the law “capable of remedying these constitutional deficiencies” is a “prison release order.”

Today, there are almost twice as many inmates in California’s 33 prisons as they were designed for. The court ordered the state to reduce that population by around 30 percent. While still leaving it overcrowded, that would free up space, staff and other vital resources for long overdue medical and mental health clinics.

The case will most likely be resolved by a vote of 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote decisive. At the oral argument, he said that “at some point,” the court must say “overcrowding is the principal cause, as experts have testified, and it’s now time for a remedy.” After 20 years of litigation and 70 court orders, that point has come.

At the intense, sometimes testy argument, Justice Samuel Alito revealed the law-and-order thinking behind the California system. “If 40,000 prisoners are going to be released,” he said overstating the likely number, “you really believe that if you were to come back here two years after that you would be able to say they haven’t contributed to an increase in crime?” To Justice Alito, apparently, it was out of the realm of possibility that, rather than increasing crime, the state could actually decrease it by reducing the number of prison inmates.

Among experts, as a forthcoming issue of the journal Criminology & Public Policy relates, there is a growing belief that less prison and more and better policing will reduce crime. There is almost unanimous condemnation of California-style mass incarceration, which has led to no reduction in serious crime and has turned many inmates into habitual criminals.

America’s prison system is now studied largely because of its failure — the result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven ideology. California’s prisons embody this overwhelming failure.

The Crime of Punishment, NYT, 6.12.2010,






Missouri Tells Judges

Cost of Sentences


September 18, 2010
The New York Times


ST. LOUIS — When judges here sentence convicted criminals, a new and unusual variable is available for them to consider: what a given punishment will cost the State of Missouri.

For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.

Legal experts say no other state systematically provides such information to judges, a practice put into effect here last month by the state’s sentencing advisory commission, an appointed board that offers guidance on criminal sentencing.

The practice has touched off a sharp debate. It has been lauded nationally by a disparate group of defense lawyers and fiscal conservatives, who consider it an overdue tool that will force judges to ponder alternatives to prison more seriously.

But critics — prosecutors especially — dismiss the idea as unseemly. They say that the cost of punishment is an irrelevant consideration when deciding a criminal’s fate and that there is a risk of overlooking the larger social costs of crime.

“Justice isn’t subject to a mathematical formula,” said Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County.

The intent behind the cost estimates, he said, is transparent: to pressure judges, in the face of big bills, into sending fewer people to prison.

“There is no average case,” Mr. McCulloch said. “Every case is an individual case, and every victim has the right to have each case viewed individually, and every defendant has that right.”

Supporters, however, say judges would never focus exclusively on the cost of a sentence or turn their responsibilities of judgment into a numerical equation.

“This is one of a thousand things we look at — about the tip of a dog’s tail, it’s such a small thing,” said Judge Gary Oxenhandler, presiding judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court and a member of the sentencing commission. “But it is almost foolish not to look at it. We live in a what’s-it-going-to-cost? society now.”

The shift here comes at a dire time for criminal justice budgets around the country, as states try to navigate conflicting, politically charged demands: to keep people safe and also cut costs. Michigan has closed prisons. Arizona considered putting its prison system under private control. California has searched for ways to shrink its incarcerated population.

Legal scholars predict that policies similar to the one in Missouri — which, unlike some other measures, might encourage cutting costs before inmates are already in prison — may soon emerge elsewhere.

Months ago, members of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, a group of lawyers, judges and others established by state lawmakers years ago, voted to begin providing judges with cost information on individual cases.

Judge Michael A. Wolff of the State Supreme Court, chairman of the sentencing commission, said judges had been asking for such data. By last month, Judge Wolff said, the computer algorithm was up and running, and the commission made note of it to the legal community in its August newsletter, “Smart Sentencing.”

The concept is simple: fill in an offender’s conviction code, criminal history and other background, and the program spits out a range of recommended sentences, new statistical information about the likelihood that Missouri criminals with similar profiles (and the sentences they received) might commit more crimes, and the various options’ price tags.

Judge Wolff said that some judges might never look at the price tags (though they are available to anyone, and some defense lawyers have begun mentioning them) and that judges ultimately did whatever they wished (within statutory limits) on sentences. Missouri’s sentencing commission makes recommendations only. And as Judge Wolff sees it, sentencing costs would never be a consideration in the most violent cases, just in circumstances where prison is not the only obvious answer.

“This is just more information,” Judge Wolff said.

Fewer than half the states have sentencing commissions like Missouri’s. In many cases, the commissions grew out of concerns, starting in the late 1970s, about racial and geographic disparities in sentences.

Now, however, the groups find themselves also weighing fiscal issues, like everyone else. Consider the theme of a meeting of the national association of sentencing commissions in August: “Sound Sentencing Policy: Balancing Justice and Dollars.”

Leaders of several commissions in other states said they had yet to consider a plan like Missouri’s. Some voiced concern about the ramifications, the methodology — even the price tag of calculating sentencing price tags.

Lots of states measure the costs of imprisonment and of new criminal laws, but on a generic scale. Many states, for instance, calculate the average cost of housing a prisoner, but that is rarely mentioned with down-to-the-dollar figures for a specific person as a judge picks a sentence.

To some, the concept sounds crass, and carries the prospect of unwanted consequences. Might a decision between life in prison and a death sentence be decided some day by price comparison? (Absolutely not, Missouri officials say, and besides, the computer model does not attempt to compute the cost of capital punishment.) Could the costs of various sentences become so widely known as to affect the decisions of jurors?

Numerous legal experts on sentencing issues said Missouri’s new policy made sense. Economic considerations play roles in all sorts of legal decisions, Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor at New York University, said, so why not let judges understand the cost of their choices?

Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at The Ohio State University, said: “One of the flaws in the operation of our criminal justice system is not only the failure to be attentive to cost but an arrogance that somehow you can never put a price on justice. Long missing has been a sober realization that even if we get significant benefits from incarceration, that comes at a significant cost.”

Others, like Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah, argue that Missouri’s plan counts certain costs but fails to measure others — the societal price, for instance, if someone not incarcerated commits another crime.

“No one can put a price tag on being a victim,” said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association.

Still, money worries loom. This year, in an annual address, even the chief justice of Missouri’s Supreme Court, William Ray Price Jr., warned that the system would be threatened if budget cuts persisted.

“Perhaps the biggest waste of resources in all of state government is the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders and our mishandling of drug and alcohol offenders,” he said.

Mr. McCulloch, the prosecutor, said the state’s prisons were filled with anything but harmless people. “You show me the college kid with a perfect record and a dime bag of weed who has been sent to prison, and I’ll get him out,” he said. “Find me him.”

When Missouri lawmakers meet next year, Mr. McCulloch says that he expects he and others may push to abolish the sentencing commission.

Emma Graves Fitzsimmons

contributed reporting from Chicago.

Missouri Tells Judges Cost of Sentences,






5 Inmates Hurt

in Calif. Prison Riot


August 28, 2010
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Prison guards shot into a crowd to stop 200 rioting inmates Friday night at Folsom State Prison, wounding five, the authorities said Saturday.

Another two inmates were injured by other prisoners during the riot, which began at about 7 p.m. in the main exercise yard and ended after 30 minutes. A prison spokesman, Lt. Anthony Gentile, said officers fired after other efforts to break up the riot failed.

“We tried to control the situation with chemical agents dispersed over the crowd,” Lieutenant Gentile said Saturday. “We fired several rounds of rubber bullets and that didn’t stop them from fighting.”

None of the inmates suffered life-threatening injuries, and none of the 45 to 50 officers who responded were hurt.

All seven of the injured inmates were listed in stable condition late Saturday, Lieutenant Gentile said.

The prison, made famous in the Johnny Cash song “Folsom Prison Blues,” could remain on lockdown for the next several weeks during an investigation. That means inmates will not be allowed to have visitors, use the exercise yard or attend work training, Lieutenant Gentile said.

The prison has been hit with sporadic violence in its 130-year existence.

Most recently, eight inmates were injured in October after a fight involving about 120 prisoners erupted in a dining hall at the prison.

In April 2002, 24 inmates and one guard were injured during a riot.

Opened in 1880, Folsom is California’s second oldest prison, primarily housing medium-security inmates. The prison also operates a minimum-security unit and a transitional treatment facility.

The facility’s Web site said it had 3,540 inmates and a custody staff of 643. It is located about 20 miles east of Sacramento.

5 Inmates Hurt in Calif. Prison Riot, NYT, 28.8.2010,






New York

Finds Extreme Crisis

in Youth Prisons


December 14, 2009
The New York Times


ALBANY — New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken, with young people battling mental illness or addiction held alongside violent offenders in abysmal facilities where they receive little counseling, can be physically abused and rarely get even a basic education, according to a report by a state panel.

The problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked New York’s Family Court judges not to send youths to any of them unless they are a significant risk to public safety, recommending alternatives, like therapeutic foster care.

“New York State’s current approach fails the young people who are drawn into the system, the public whose safety it is intended to protect, and the principles of good governance that demand effective use of scarce state resources,” said the confidential draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times.

The report, prepared by a task force appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and led by Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, comes three months after a federal investigation found that excessive force was routinely used at four prisons, resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones and shattered teeth.

The situation was so serious the Department of Justice, which made the investigation, threatened to take over the system.

But according to the task force, the problems uncovered at the four prisons are endemic to the entire system, which houses about 900 young people at 28 facilities around the state.

While some prisons for violent and dangerous offenders should be preserved, the report calls for most to be replaced with a system of smaller centers closer to the communities where most of the families of the youths in custody live.

The task force was convened in 2008 after years of complaints about the prisons, punctuated by the death in 2006 of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old boy at one center after two workers pinned him to the ground. The task force’s recommendations are likely to help shape the state’s response to the federal findings.

“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Mr. Travis said in an interview on Friday. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in the juvenile justice field.”

New York’s juvenile prisons are both extremely expensive and extraordinarily ineffective, according to the report, which will be given to Mr. Paterson on Monday. The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters of those released from detention are arrested again within three years. And though the median age of those admitted to juvenile facilities is almost 16, one-third of those held read at a third-grade level.

The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks, the report found.

In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.

Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have developmental disabilities.

Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill teenagers require.

While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor, cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks.

“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts. “In some facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.”

Even before the task force’s report is released, the Paterson administration is moving to reduce the number of youths held in juvenile prisons.

Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, the agency that oversees the juvenile justice system, has recommended that judges find alternative placements for most young offenders, according to an internal memorandum issued Oct. 28 by the state’s deputy chief administrative judge.

Ms. Carrión also advised court officials that New York would not contest the Justice Department findings, according to the memo, and that officials were negotiating a settlement agreement to remedy the system.

Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson, said the governor “looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force as we continue our efforts to transform the state’s juvenile justice system from a correctional-punitive model to a therapeutic model.”

The report contends that smaller facilities would place less strain on workers, helping reduce the use of physical force, and would be better able to tailor rehabilitation programs.

New York is not unique in using its juvenile prisons to house mentally ill teenagers, particularly as many states confront huge budget shortfalls that have resulted in significant cuts to mental health programs. Still, some states are trying to shift to smaller, community-based programs.

The report by New York’s task force does not say how much money would be needed to overhaul the system, but as Mr. Paterson and state lawmakers try to close a $3.2 billion deficit, cost could become a major hurdle.

Ms. Carrión has faced resistance from some prison workers, who accuse her of making them scapegoats for the system’s problems and minimizing the dangerous conditions they face. State records show a significant spike in on-the-job injuries, for which some workers blame Ms. Carrión’s efforts to limit the use of force.

“We embrace the idea of moving towards a more therapeutic model of care, but you can’t do that without more training and more staff,” said Stephen A. Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents prison workers. “You’re not dealing with wayward youth. In the more secure facilities, you’re dealing with individuals who have been involved in pretty serious crimes.”

Advocates have credited Ms. Carrión, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with instituting significant reforms, including installing cameras in some of the more troubled prisons and providing more counseling.

But the state has a long way to go, many advocates say.

“Even the kids that are not considered dangerous are shackled when they are being transferred from their homes to the centers upstate — hands and feet, sometimes even belly chains,” said Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”

    New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons, NYT, 13.12.2009,







May Put State Prisons

in Private Hands


October 24, 2009
The New York Times


FLORENCE, Ariz. — One of the newest residents on Arizona’s death row, a convicted serial killer named Dale Hausner, poked his head up from his television to look at several visitors strolling by, each of whom wore face masks and vests to protect against the sharp homemade objects that often are propelled from the cells of the condemned.

It is a dangerous place to patrol, and Arizona spends $4.7 million each year to house inmates like Mr. Hausner in a super-maximum-security prison. But in a first in the criminal justice world, the state’s death row inmates could become the responsibility of a private company.

State officials will soon seek bids from private companies for 9 of the state’s 10 prison complexes that house roughly 40,000 inmates, including the 127 here on death row. It is the first effort by a state to put its entire prison system under private control.

The privatization effort, both in its breadth and its financial goals, demonstrates what states around the country — broke, desperate and often overburdened with prisoners and their associated costs — are willing to do to balance the books. Arizona officials hope the effort will put a $100 million dent in the state’s roughly $2 billion budget shortfall.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said State Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican who supports private prisons. “If we were not in this economic environment, I don’t think we’d be talking about this with the same sense of urgency.”

Private prison companies generally build facilities for a state, then charge them per prisoner to run them. But under the Arizona legislation, a vendor would pay $100 million up front to operate one or more prison complexes. Assuming the company could operate the prisons more cheaply or efficiently than the state, any savings would be equally divided between the state and the private firm.

The privatization move has raised questions — including among some people who work for private prison companies — about the private sector’s ability to handle the state’s most hardened criminals. While executions would still be performed by the state, officials said, the Department of Corrections would relinquish all other day-to-day operations to the private operator and pay a per-diem fee for each prisoner.

“I would not want to be the warden of death row,” said Todd Thomas, the warden of a prison in Eloy, Ariz., run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The company, the country’s largest private prison operator, has six prisons in Arizona with inmates from other states.

“That’s not to say we couldn’t,” Mr. Thomas said. “But the liability is too great. I don’t think any private entity would ever want to do that.”

James Austin, a co-author of a Department of Justice study in 2001 on prison privatization and president of the JFA Institute, a corrections consulting firm, said private companies tended to oversee minimum- and medium-security inmates and had little experience with the most dangerous prisoners.

“As for death row,” Mr. Austin said, “it is a very visible entity, and if something bad happens there, you will have a pretty big news story for the Legislature and governor to explain.”

Arizona is no stranger to private prisons or, for that matter, aggressive privatization efforts (recently, the state put up for sale several government buildings housing executive branch offices in Phoenix). Nearly 30 percent of the state’s prisoners are being held in prisons operated by private companies outside the state’s 10 complexes.

In addition, other states, including Alaska and Hawaii, have contracts with private companies like Corrections Corporation of America to house their prisoners in Arizona.

For advocates of prison privatization, the push here breathes a bit of life into a movement that has been on the decline across the country as cost savings from prison privatizations have often failed to materialize, corrections officers unions have resisted the efforts and high-profile problems in privately run facilities have drawn unwanted publicity

“We have private prisons in Arizona already, and we are very happy with the performance and the savings we get from them,” said Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and an architect of the new legislation authorizing the privatization. “I think that they are the future of corrections in Arizona.”

Under the legislation, any bidder would have to take an entire complex — many of them mazes of multiple levels of security risks and complexity — and would not be permitted to pick off the cheapest or easiest buildings and inmates. The state also wants to privatize prisoners’ medical care.

Louise Grant, a spokeswoman for Corrections Corporation of America, said the high-security prisoners would be well within the company’s management capabilities. “We expect we will be there to make a proposal to the state” for at least some of its complexes up for bid, Ms. Grant said.

In pure financial terms, it is not clear how well the state would make out with the privatization. The 2001 study for the Department of Justice found that private prisons saved most states little money (there has been no equivalent study since). Indeed, many states, struggling to keep up with the cost of corrections, have closed prisons when possible, and sought changes in sentencing to reduce crowding in the last two years.

As tough sentencing laws and the ensuing increase in prisoners began to press on state resources in the 1980s, private prison companies attracted some states with promises of lower costs. The private prison boom lasted into the 1990s. Throughout the years, there have been high-profile riots, escapes and other violent incidents. The companies also do not generally provide the same wages and benefits as states, which has resulted in resistance from unions and concerns that the private prisons attract less-qualified workers.

Then the federal government stepped in, with a surge of new immigrant prisoners, and began to contract with the private companies. The number of federal prisoners in private prisons in the United States has more than doubled, to 32,712 in 2008 from 15,524 in 2000. The number of state prisoners in privately run prisons has increased to 93,500 from 75,000 in that time.

With bad economic times again driving many decisions about state resources, other states are sure to watch Arizona’s experiment closely.

“There simply isn’t the money to keep these people incarcerated, and the alternative is to free many of them or lower cost,” said Ron Utt, a senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group whose work for privatization was cited by one Arizona lawmaker.

    Arizona May Put State Prisons in Private Hands, NYT, 24.10.2009,






4 Youth Prisons in New York

Used Excessive Force


August 25, 2009
The New York Times


Excessive physical force was routinely used to discipline children at several juvenile prisons in New York, resulting in broken bones, shattered teeth, concussions and dozens of other serious injuries over a period of less than two years, a federal investigation has found.

A report by the United States Department of Justice highlighted abuses at four juvenile residential centers and raised the possibility of a federal takeover of the state’s entire youth prison system if the problems were not quickly addressed.

The report, made public on Monday, came 18 months into a major effort by state officials to overhaul New York’s troubled juvenile prison system, which houses children convicted of criminal acts, from truancy to murder, who are too young to serve in adult jails and prisons.

Investigators found that physical force was often the first response to any act of insubordination by residents, who are all under 16, despite rules allowing force only as a last resort.

“Staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force, departing from generally accepted standards,” said the report, which was given to Gov. David A. Paterson on Aug. 14.

“Anything from sneaking an extra cookie to initiating a fistfight may result in a full prone restraint with handcuffs,” the reportsaid. “This one-size-fits-all approach has, not surprisingly, led to an alarming number of serious injuries to youth, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures” (bone fractures caused by twisting).

In a statement issued on Monday, Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, which oversees the juvenile prisons, said that the administration had inherited a youth justice system “rife with substantial systemic problems” but acknowledged that efforts to overhaul it had so far fallen short.

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

In one case described in the report, a youth was forcibly restrained and handcuffed after refusing to stop laughing when ordered to; the youth sustained a cut lip and injuries to the wrists and elbows. Workers forced one boy, who had glared at a staff member, into a sitting position and secured his arms behind his back with such force that his collarbone was broken.

Another youth was restrained eight times in three months despite signs that she might have been contemplating suicide. “In nearly every one of the eight incidents,” the report found, “the youth was engaged in behaviors such as head banging, putting paper clips in her mouth, tying a string around her neck, etc.”

The four centers cited in the report are the Lansing Residential Center and the Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center in Lansing, and two residences, one for boys and one for girls, at Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown.

Officials at the centers also routinely failed to follow state rules requiring reviews whenever force is used, the report said. In some cases, the same staff member involved in an episode conducted the review of it. And even when a review determined that excessive force had been used, the staff members responsible sometimes faced no punishment.

In one case, a youth counselor with a documented record of using excessive force was recommended for firing after throwing a youth to the ground with such force that stitches were required on the youth’s chin. But after the counselor’s union intervened, the punishment was downgraded to a letter of reprimand, an $800 fine and a two-week suspension that was itself suspended.

The federal inquiry began in December 2007 following a spate of incidents at some of the 28 state-run juvenile residential centers, which house about 1,000 youths.

In November 2006, an emotionally disturbed teenager, Darryl Thompson, 15, died after two employees at the Tryon center pinned him down on the ground. The death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury declined to indict the workers. The boy’s mother is suing the state.

During the same period, a separate joint investigation by the state inspector general and the Tompkins County district attorney found that the independent ombudsman’s office charged with overseeing youth prison centers had virtually ceased to function. In a report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union issued in September 2006, New York’s youth residential centers were rated among the worst in the world.

Those scandals spurred a drive within Ms. Carrión’s department to overhaul the system. It reconstituted the ombudsman’s office and issued clearer policies on the use of physical force, leading to a sharp drop in instances where restraints were applied.

Under the overhaul, officials have also sought to close underused centers and redirect resources to counseling and other services, though they have faced fierce resistance from public employees’ unions and their allies in the Legislature. A task force appointed last year by Mr. Paterson is set to issue further recommendations by the end of this year.

“The problem is the unions and some of the staff they represent,” said Mishi Faruquee, director of Youth Justice Programs at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, and a member of the task force. “They are very entrenched in the way they do things and the way they have been trained to do their jobs,” she said. “They have been very resistant to changing the policy on the use of force.”

In a statement, Stephen A. Madarasz, director of communications for the Civil Service Employees Union, which represents many of the workers at the centers, said union officials had not had an opportunity to review the full report.

The federal report revealed that despite efforts to overhaul the system, problems at some of the centers remained so severe that residents’ constitutional rights were being violated. Under federal law, New York has 49 days to respond with a plan of action to comply with the report’s recommendations.

If the state fails to do so, the Justice Department can initiate a lawsuit that could result in a federal takeover of the state’s juvenile prison system.

Even as the four centers singled out in the report relied excessively on physical force, federal investigators found, they failed to provide youths with adequate counseling and mental health treatment, something the vast majority of residents require. Three-quarters of children entering New York’s youth justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have diagnosed psychological problems and a third have developmental disabilities, according to figures published by Office of Children and Family Services.

“The majority of psychiatric evaluations at the four facilities did not come close to meeting” professional standards, investigators determined, and “typically lacked basic, necessary information.”

4 Youth Prisons in New York Used Excessive Force, NYT, 25.8.2009,






Number of Life Terms Hits Record


July 23, 2009
The New York Times


CORONA, Calif. — Mary Thompson, an inmate at the California Institution for Women here, was convicted of two felonies for a robbery spree in which she threatened victims with a knife. Her third felony under California’s three-strikes law was the theft of three tracksuits to pay for her crack cocaine habit in 1982.

Like one out of five prisoners in California, and nearly 10 percent of all prisoners nationally in 2008, Ms. Thompson is serving a life sentence. She will be eligible for parole by 2020.

More prisoners today are serving life terms than ever before — 140,610 out of 2.3 million inmates being held in jails and prisons across the country — under tough mandatory minimum-sentencing laws and the declining use of parole for eligible convicts, according to a report released Wednesday by the Sentencing Project, a group that calls for the elimination of life sentences without parole. The report tracks the increase in life sentences from 1984, when the number of inmates serving life terms was 34,000.

Two-thirds of prisoners serving life sentences are Latino or black, the report found. In New York State, for example, 16.3 percent of prisoners serving life terms are white.

Although most people serving life terms were convicted of violent crimes, sentencing experts say there are many exceptions, like Norman Williams, 46, who served 13 years of a life sentence for stealing a floor jack out of a tow truck, a crime that was his third strike. He was released from Folsom State Prison in California in April after appealing his conviction on the grounds of insufficient counsel.

The rising number of inmates serving life terms is straining corrections budgets at a time when financially strapped states are struggling to cut costs. California’s prison system, the nation’s largest, with 170,000 inmates, also had the highest number of prisoners with life sentences, 34,164, or triple the number in 1992, the report found.

In four other states — Alabama, Massachusetts, Nevada and New York — at least one in six prisoners is serving a life term, according to the report.

The California prison system is in federal receivership for overcrowding and failing to provide adequate medical care to prisoners, many of whom are elderly and serving life terms.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week repeated his proposal to reduce the inmate population through a combination of early releases for nonviolent offenders, home monitoring for some parole violators and more lenient sentencing for some felonies. But there are no credible plans to increase the rate at which prisoners serving life sentences are granted parole.

“When California courts sentence somebody to life with parole, it turns out that’s not possible after all,” said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford law professor and an expert on parole policy. “Board of parole hearings almost never grant releases, and that’s the reason that California’s lifer population has grown out of proportion to other states.”

Margo Johnson, 48, also an inmate at the women’s prison here, has served 24 years of a life sentence for a 1984 murder. She has been recommended for release four times by the state parole board, but she said that Mr. Schwarzenegger had rejected the board’s recommendation each time.

“Sometimes I wonder, is it just a game they’re playing with me?” Ms. Johnson said.

Seven prison systems — Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and the federal penitentiary system — do not offer the possibility of parole to prisoners serving life terms.

That policy also extends to juveniles in Illinois, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. A total of 6,807 juveniles were serving life terms in 2008, 1,755 without the possibility of parole. California again led the nation in the number of juveniles serving life terms, with 2,623.

“The expansion of life sentences suggests that we’re rapidly losing faith in the rehabilitation model,” said Ashley Nellis, the report’s main author.

De Angelo McVay, 42, is serving a life term with no possibility of parole at the maximum security state prison in Lancaster, Calif., for his role in the kidnapping and torture of a man.

He said in an interview Wednesday that he had used his 10 years in prison to reform himself, taking ministry classes, participating in the prison chapel program, becoming vice chairman of his prison yard and avoiding behavioral demerits.

“I’m remorseful for what I did,” he said. “But I got no chance at parole, and I know guys who have committed killings and they have parole.”

Supporters of longer sentences for criminals, including victims rights organizations, prosecutors and police associations, often cite public safety, the deterrent effect of punishment and the need to remove criminals from society.

But the number of aging inmates serving life sentences has risen sharply as the sluggish economy has shrunk state budgets. By 2004, the number of inmates over 50 had nearly doubled from a decade earlier, to more than 20 percent, according to the report. Older inmates cost more because they have more health needs. California, for example, spends $98,000 to $138,000 a year on each prisoner over 50, compared with the national average of about $35,000 a year.

But Professor Petersilia said she was skeptical that economic arguments alone would persuade voters to treat inmates serving life terms — most of whom have committed violent felonies like murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery — with more leniency.

“All the public opinion polls say that everybody will reconsider sentencing for nonviolent offenders or drug offenders, but they’re not willing to do anything different for violent offenders,” Professor Petersilia. In fact, she added, polls show support for even harsher sentences for sex offenses and other violent crimes.

Burk Foster, a criminal justice professor at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan and an expert on the Louisiana penitentiary system, said the expansion of life sentences started at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, the nation’s largest maximum penitentiary, in the early 1970s, when most people sentenced to life terms were paroled after they had been deemed fit to re-enter society.

“Angola was a prototype of a lifer’s prison,” said Professor Foster. “In 1973, Louisiana changed its life sentencing law so that lifers would no longer be parole eligible, and they applied that law more broadly over time to include murder, rape, kidnapping, distribution of narcotics and habitual offenders.”

Professor Foster said sentencing more prisoners to life sentences was an abandonment of the “corrective” function of prisons.

“Rehabilitation is not an issue at Angola,” he said. “They’re just practicing lifetime isolation and incapacitation.”

    Number of Life Terms Hits Record, NYT, 23.7.2009,






In Area Packed With Prisons,

a Split on Adding Jihadists


May 23, 2009
The New York Times


CAÑON CITY, Colo. — Prison is a way of life here, and always has been. The old territorial prison started it all in 1868 at the end of Main Street, anchoring a community and an economy with its massive tan stone walls and turrets. Generations later, more than 5,000 inmates in state and federal lockups, from minimum security to the so-called supermax, ring the town like a bracelet.

But when it comes to the idea of transferring those suspected or convicted of terrorism from the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba to federal high-security prisons like the one just down the road in Florence, as the Obama administration has proposed, Lyle Jacobson draws the line.

“It would make us a target,” said Mr. Jacobson, an 84-year-old retired accountant. “I think it’s very dangerous.”

Mr. Jacobson, who said he was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months near the end of World War II, said he was not so worried about escapes. The prisons are secure enough, he said, and in fact there have been no escapes from the Administrative Maximum prison in Florence, the only one in the federal system. Rather, it is the international attention — a bull’s-eye for terrorists and their allies — that he fears could be drawn around this part of southeast Colorado.

Al Ballard is just as vocal and opinionated the other way.

“Bring them on,” said Mr. Ballard, who owns a tea house in town with his wife, Linda. “I don’t worry a lick.”

Mr. Ballard said the prison in Florence was so well run and secure and isolated that people here would not notice a thing. “We do need more guards though,” he added.

In a speech on Thursday, President Obama said it would be safe to transfer many Guantánamo inmates to high-security prisons in the United States, noting that the corrections system already holds hundreds of convicted terrorists. A Justice Department spokesman, Matt Miller, said 216 international terrorists were in federal prisons, as well as 139 domestic terrorists. All have been convicted and are in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

That kind of transfer is not a blasé topic here. Opinions are instant and strong. And there is a base of experience. Many of the terrorists the president cited already reside in Florence, including Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Ahmed Ressam, the “millennium bomber”; Wadih El-Hage, a member of Al Qaeda convicted of the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.

Nonetheless, when the word Guantánamo comes up, so do questions of politics and safety, and for some, religion and culture — taut and intertwined and loaded with emotion.

“People here are good Christian conservatives,” said Tom Baron, who described himself as a struggling small-business man, co-owner with his wife, Marie, of Donuts and Dogs, a coffee shop. Mr. Baron said he thought that large numbers of Muslims — the family members and friends of inmates — would move into town if the transfer occurred. Property values would fall, he said, and some family members of terrorists might be terrorists, too.

“That would destroy this community,” Mr. Baron said.

Fine-print legal definitions of who exactly can be labeled a terrorist under federal law have also become bound up in the debate about transfers. Not all of those mentioned by the president were actually convicted of terrorism. The Bureau of Prisons classifies inmates it holds — some of whom might have been convicted of, say, multiple murder counts — as terrorists if their crimes were intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.

Politics quickly finds a way into the discussion after that. Mr. Obama, though he carried Colorado as a whole last November, fared badly here in Fremont County, winning only about a third of the vote.

“I wouldn’t expect people in Fremont County to favor the president’s positions,” said State Representative Liane McFadyen, a Democrat whose district in Fremont County includes 12 prisons — eight run by the state and four by the federal bureau. Ms. McFadyen said she had mostly heard opposition from constituents.

And where politics and local concerns about safety collide, the mix is volatile.

“These people hate America; they truly hate America,” said Glen Morlan, a disabled welder. “Why would you want to bring them here?”

Mr. Morlan said that he had not voted for Mr. Obama and that he thought the idea of closing Guantánamo was bad for national security — and the community. And that makes him dislike Mr. Obama all the more.

Some people do in fact shrug their shoulders about the question of detainee transfers.

Sherry Meins, a school aide at Garden Park High School, was enjoying the last day of school on Friday, sitting outside in the sun on a bench on Main Street. Ms. Meins said the system of security alerts in town was so elaborate and well honed as to be almost second nature, so much that she did not think Guantánamo detainees would change anything.

The schools, she said, regularly practice “lockdowns” that would take place in the event of an inmate escape. And even if a prisoner did get out, she said, he probably wanted to get out of town as fast as possible, not hang around Cañon City.

“Our children our safe,” Ms. Meins said.

Ms. McFadyen, the state representative for the area, said transfers might be moot anyway unless prisoners already in Florence were moved elsewhere.

“On top of everything else, there’s no room at the supermax,” she said. “It’s full.”


Dan Frosch contributed reporting from Denver.

    In Area Packed With Prisons, a Split on Adding Jihadists, NYT, 23.5.2009,






The California Prison Disaster


October 25, 2008
The New York Times


The mass imprisonment philosophy that has packed prisons and sent corrections costs through the roof around the country has hit especially hard in California, which has the largest prison population, the highest recidivism rate and a prison budget raging out of control.

According to a new federally backed study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, the state’s corrections costs have grown by about 50 percent in less than a decade and now account for about 10 percent of state spending — nearly the same amount as higher education. The costs could rise substantially given that a federal lawsuit may require the state to spend $8 billion to bring the prison system’s woefully inadequate medical services up to constitutional standards.

The solution for California is to shrink its vastly overcrowded prison system. To do so, it would need to move away from mandatory sentencing laws that have proved to be disastrous across the country — locking up more people than protecting public safety requires.

In addition, the state also has perhaps the most counterproductive and ill-conceived parole system in the United States. More people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts. In addition, about 66 percent of California’s parolees land back in prison after three years, compared with about 40 percent nationally. Four in 10 are sent back for technical violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.

Later this year, the state is expected to begin testing a new system that redirects the lowest-risk drug addicts to treatment. But that will only work if the state and the counties dramatically expand treatment slots.

The heart of the problem is that California’s parole system is simply too big. Most states keep dangerous people behind bars or reserve parole supervision for the most serious offenders. California puts virtually everyone on parole, typically for three years.

Under this setup, about 80 percent of the parolees have fewer than two 15-minute meetings with a parole officer per month. That might be adequate for low-risk offenders, but it’s clearly too little time for serious offenders who present a risk to public safety.

A good first step would be to place fewer people on parole. The second step would be to reserve the most intensive supervision for offenders who present the greatest risk.

State lawmakers, some of whom are fearful of being seen as soft on crime, have failed to make perfectly reasonable sentencing modifications and other changes that the prisons desperately need. Unless they muster some courage soon, Californians will find themselves swamped by prison costs and unable to afford just about anything else.

    The California Prison Disaster, NYT, 25.10.2008,






Man freed by DNA testing

after 27 years


29 April 2008

USA Today


DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas man who spent more than 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit was freed Tuesday, after being incarcerated longer than any other wrongfully convicted U.S. inmate cleared by DNA testing.

James Lee Woodard stepped out of the courtroom and raised his arms to a throng of photographers. Supporters and other people gathered outside the court erupted in applause.

"No words can express what a tragic story yours is," state District Judge Mark Stoltz told Woodard at a brief hearing before his release.

Woodard, cleared of the 1980 murder of his girlfriend, became the 18th person in Dallas County to have his conviction cast aside. That's a figure unmatched by any county nationally, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal center that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions.

"I thank God for the existence of the Innocence Project," Woodard, 55, told the court. "Without that, I wouldn't be here today. I would be wasting away in prison."

Overall, 31 people have been formally exonerated through DNA testing in Texas, also a national high. That does not include Woodard and at least three others whose exonerations will not become official until Gov. Rick Perry grants pardons or the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals formally accepts the ruling of lower courts that have already recommended exoneration.

Woodard was sentenced to life in prison in July 1981 for the murder of a 21-year-old Dallas woman found raped and strangled near the banks of the Trinity River.

He was convicted primarily on the basis of testimony from two eyewitnesses, said Natalie Roetzel, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. One has since recanted in an affidavit. As for the other, "we don't believe her testimony was accurate," Roetzel said.

Like nearly all the exonorees, Woodard has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. But after filing six writs with an appeals court, plus two requests for DNA testing, his pleas of innocence became so repetitive and routine that "the courthouse doors were eventually closed to him and he was labeled a writ abuser," Roetzel said.

"On the first day he was arrested, he told the world he was innocent ... and nobody listened," Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said during Tuesday's hearing.

He even stopped attending his parole hearings because gaining his release would have meant confessing to a crime he didn't do.

"It says a lot about your character that you were more interested in the truth than your freedom," the judge told Woodard after making his ruling.

Blackburn and prosecutors hailed Tuesday's hearing as a landmark moment of frequent adversaries working together.

Since the DNA evidence was tied to rape and Woodard was convicted of murder, Innocence Project attorneys had to prove that the same person committed both crimes. They said they couldn't have done that without access to evidence provided by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins' office.

"You've got to have very good lawyers with a lot of experience and skill ... working on both ends of this case, hard," Blackburn said. "And you've also got to have government power behind what you do."

Under Watkins, Dallas County has a program supervised by the Innocence Project of Texas that is reviewing hundreds of cases of convicts who have requested DNA testing to prove their innocence.

While the number of exonerations on Watkins' watch continues to grow, he said this one was a little different.

"I saw the human side of it, and seeing the human said of it just gives you more courage to advocate for issues like this," said Watkins, who had breakfast with Woodard on Tuesday morning. "It gives me that resolve to go even further to find out who (the killer) is so that we can get him into custody."

Woodard said his family was "small and scattered," although he pointed out a niece in the courtroom. He said his biggest regret was not being with his mother when she died.

"I can tell you what I'd like to do first: breathe fresh, free air," Woodard said during a news conference in the courtroom after the hearing. "I don't know what to expect. I haven't been in Dallas since buses were blue."

Man freed by DNA testing after 27 years,
dallas-dna_N.htm - broken link






American Exception

Inmate Count in U.S.

Dwarfs Other Nations’


April 23, 2008
The New York Times


The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Q. Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael H. Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s much higher.”

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Mr. Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. “The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism,” said Ms. Stern of King’s College.

Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them “are among the most serious and violent offenders.”

Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.

Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mr. Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia are also disproportionately represented in those nation’s prisons, and the ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.

Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.

“Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are,” Mr. Tonry wrote last year in “Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative Perspective.”

“It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries,” Mr. Tonry wrote. “Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential.”

The American character — self-reliant, independent, judgmental — also plays a role.

“America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on individual responsibility,” Mr. Whitman of Yale wrote. “That attitude has shown up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years.”

French-speaking countries, by contrast, have “comparatively mild penal policies,” Mr. Tonry wrote.

Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and national comparisons can be misleading.

“Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas,” said Mr. Mauer of the Sentencing Project. (Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population; Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at 1,138.)

Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America’s exceptional incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.

“As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being victimized” thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul G. Cassell, an authority on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.

From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and rising in England.

“These figures,” Mr. Cassell wrote, “should give one pause before too quickly concluding that European sentences are appropriate.”

Other commentators were more definitive. “The simple truth is that imprisonment works,” wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. “Locking up criminals for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far offset the costs.”

There is a counterexample, however, to the north. “Rises and falls in Canada’s crime rate have closely paralleled America’s for 40 years,” Mr. Tonry wrote last year. “But its imprisonment rate has remained stable.”

Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.

Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.

Mr. Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville’s work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America’s booming prison population.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was talking about,” he said. “We have a highly politicized criminal justice system.”

Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations’,






Record - High Ratio

of Americans in Prison


February 28, 2008

Filed at 11:12 a.m. ET

The New York Times



NEW YORK (AP) -- For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with alternative sentencing programs.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 -- one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world.

The steadily growing inmate population ''is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime,'' said the report.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft in crime.

''We're seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,'' she said in an interview. ''They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a law-and-order state -- but they also want to save money, and they want to be effective.''

The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than reimprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.

''The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,'' the report said.

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase -- 12 percent -- was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state's crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state's inmate population has increased by 600 percent.

The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State's Public Safety Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.

''For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and convincing return for public safety,'' said the project's director, Adam Gelb. ''More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers.''

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime or in the nation's overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as ''three-strikes'' laws, that result in longer prison stays.

''For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling,'' the report said. ''While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.''

The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails -- a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

The report said the United States is the world's incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.


On the Net:

www.pewcenteronthestates.org .

Record - High Ratio of Americans in Prison,
AP-Prison-Population.html - broken link






Justice Dept. Numbers

Show Prison Trends


December 6, 2007

The New York Times



About one in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or on supervised release at the end of last year, the Department of Justice reported yesterday.

An estimated 2.38 million people were incarcerated in state and federal facilities, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2005, while a record 5 million people were on parole or probation, an increase of 1.8 percent. Immigration detention facilities had the greatest growth rate last year. The number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities grew 43 percent, to 14,482 from 10,104.

The data reflect deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional institutions, with a record 905,600 African-American inmates in prisons and state and local jails. In several states, incarceration rates for blacks were more than 10 times the rate of whites. In Iowa, for example, blacks were imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites, according to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group.

But the report concludes that nationally the percentage of black men in state and federal prison populations in 2006 fell to 38 percent, from 43 percent in 2000. The rates also declined for black women, while rates for white women increased.

Over all, the number of women in state and federal prisons, 112,498, was at a record high. The female jail and prison population has grown at double the rate for men since 1980; in 2006 it increased 4.5 percent, its fastest clip in five years.

The report suggests that state prison capacity has expanded at roughly the same rate as the prison population, with prisons operating at 98 percent to 114 percent of capacity, a slight improvement over 2005.

Still, many prison systems are accommodating record numbers of inmates by using facilities that were never meant to provide bed space. Arizona has for years held inmates in tent encampments on prison grounds. Hundreds of California prisoners sleep in three-tier bunk beds in gymnasiums or day rooms. Prisons throughout the nation have made meeting rooms for educational and treatment programs into cell space.

Private prisons have also been a growing option for crowded corrections departments. And local jails contracted with various government agencies to hold 77,987 more state and federal inmates last year.

Justice Dept. Numbers Show Prison Trends,









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