Exile to the Desert: 3 more years of CCA’s abuse.

Shame on the state of Hawaii for continuing this contract after all the abuses (including torture and the sexual assault of a prisoner by a guard) that have occurred in Saguaro Correctional Center in the prison town of Eloy under CCA’s watch. The people of the Islands should oppose this vociferously…your prisoners are just in for more abuse at the hands of Arizonans – especially your Indigenous. In fact, following this news article is a link to a decent piece by a friend of mine, Frank Smith from Private Corrections Institute, who’s an expert on the private prison industry. He did some extensive research into the experience of Native Americans in private prisons – it’s worth reading.

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State Signs New Three-Year Arizona Prison Deal

Hawaii Reporter

June 23, 2011

BY JIM DOOLEY – The state has signed a new, three-year contract with Corrections Corporation of America to house up to 1,900 prison inmates at private prisons in Arizona.

The price carries a one per cent increase over the curent contract with CCA, which expires at the end of the month. The Department of Public Safety will pay CCA $63.85 per inmate per day. The old rate was $63.22.

CCA is believed to have submitted the sole bid for the contract.

The new deal, which carries two possible one-year contract extensions, was signed as Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration is making plans to end the longstanding policy of imprisoning Hawaii inmates in out-of-state facilities.

Public Safety officials are drawing up a plan for the return of out-of-state prisoners, but its completion is sometime in the future and will depend on construction of new correctional facilities here and development of new community-based programs for men and women now locked behind bars.

The Hawaii State Auditor said in a report issued late last year the total cost of the private prison program more than tripled since 2001, from just under $20 million to more than $60 million.

The per-day charges under the new contract would total some $44.3 million, although there are millions the state must pay in associated costs which the contract with CCA doesn’t cover.

The actual number of Hawaii inmates now held at CCA’s Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy, Arizona is now believed to have dropped under 1,800 as the state has stepped up efforts to bring certain categories of prisoners home.

Some 60 Hawaii inmates are also being held at CCA’s Red Rock Correctional Facility, next door to the Saguaro complex.

————————–Native Americans in Private Prisons——————

Native Americans in Private Prisons.

Arizona Prison Watch
Friday, December 3, 2010

The following is the intro to a piece written by my friend Frank Smith, an expert on private prisons with the Private Corrections Working Group (where I dig up all those rap sheets on prison profiteers). Here’s the testimony he gave to the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons several years back – which makes some good points still relevant to the violence and abuse of prisoners at CCA’s Idaho Correctional Center, among other places.

Follow the link for the full text of the article, which I found posted to a great website on Lenape (Delaware Indian) culture and issues. The article was originally published as a chapter in the book “Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization and Human Rights” (Elizabeth Alexander, et al), a worthwhile text for any library on crime and punishment.

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Incarceration of Native Americans and Private Prisons
By Frank Smith

Introduction

There are currently slightly over two million inmates in local, state and federal jails and prisons. Of these, some 1.6 percent are Native Americans and Hawaiian Natives; in Federal institutions, Native Americans constitute 2 percent of the population, since the U.S. government is involved in criminal justice enforcement on reservations. Because approximately 6 percent of all U.S. inmates are held in private prisons, the total number of Native Americans in these for-profit prisons is comparatively rather small. For that reason, this article presents a picture of the conditions in which Native Americans are held given that limited experience.

Historical Perspective


In order to achieve an informed understanding of the current situation with regard to Native Americans in prison, it is necessary to place it within a larger historical and sociological context. While most residents of the US have the notion their country was founded on the principles of justice and freedom, closer examination reveals that perception is not accurate, particularly in the case of Native Americans.1

The more progressive of our founding fathers whom we remember so fondly as protectors of these ideals include Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Paine consistently referred to Indians as “savages”, and used them as a negative comparative stereotype. Jefferson considered his contemporary Indians to be hindrances to colonial progress. The US only granted Natives citizenship in 1924, five years after women and 59 years after Black males were allowed to vote.

African Americans have undoubtedly been pervasively discriminated against in US history–their dehumanization was even embodied in the Constitution. Schoolchildren learn of the more egregious Supreme Court-approved violations of the rights of Blacks such as the Dred Scott decision or Plessy v. Feurgeson,2 and that the Civil War was fought in part over slavery.

They may have read the Emancipation Proclamation and even the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The sordid history in America of slave owning, in the north and south, of lynching, of Jim Crow, is discussed in most schools. The role of such historic figures as Frederick Douglas or Sojourner Truth is widely recognized. Martin Luther King Jr., is certainly better known than many mediocre presidents. Selma, Alabama, and Little Rock, Arkansas are familiar mileposts, as is Brown v. Board of Education. Students may even understand the meaning of racial profiling, of the immensedisparity between sentencing for crack cocaine, more prevalent in inner-city neighborhoods, and powdered cocaine, more favored by wealthier uburbanites.

They may possibly be aware that a Black adolescent has perhaps a 50 times greater chance of being placed in an adult penal institution than a white youth who has been charged with exactly the same crime,3 and that perhaps one of three young Black men has been subjected to some criminal sanction, such as probation, parole, jail or prison.

Yet how many Americans, young or old, fully understand that this same disenfranchisement; this same disproportionate treatment by the criminal justice system, has affected Native Americans since the Articles of Confederation were signed? How many realize that broken treaties have been the order of the day for over two hundred years? Do they know that the early settlement of this nation involved pushing indigenous peoples into ever smaller, less habitable reservations?

How many school children are taught the cruel facts behind the genocidal removal of the inhabitants of the post-Revolutionary Southeast? There is hardly a Native American tribe that does not have a history of broken treaties and persecution. What this long, troubled relationship between European Americans and Natives constitutes is deliberate disregard for and discrimination against Native culture. Theft of lands, exiles, dispossessions, and a prevailing condemnatory and paternalistic attitude provide the background for the problems of Native Americans in prisons, both public and private, today. It particularly pervades the conditions of confinement of Indians in private prisons…

Prisoners Post: to the CEO of CCA, Damon Hininger.

Hope some of Hawai’is legislators are paying attention to this – look at what you really get for your dollar in Arizona.

This is a courageous, frank letter from a prisoner of the Corrections Corporation of America and the City of Eloy out at the Saguaro Correctional Facility (where 18 prisoners are suing for torture, and one is suing a guard for sexual assault).

I sure hope Thad was right when he guessed that the CEO may actually answer his letter, though, if he’s right about all this, then they’ll be sure to send someone to his cell to harass and write him up, at the very least.

Keep us posted on how you’re faring in there, Thad. We still want to see you make it out of there soon. He makes a hell of a lot of money off of prisoners like you behaving yourselves, so I’d think he’ could afford the grace to listen...

– Peg

“Prisoners Have Families, Too”.
Maricopa County Jail: Tent City.

Phoenix, AZ. (April 6, 2011)

PS: Here’s the follow-up post to this letter. Thad got harassed alright – he was hit for another year by the parole board after they had already given him an out date, thanks to a personal call from the good warden at Saguaro after this post went up. As far as I’m concerned, they’re corrupt through and through in Eloy, Arizona: the City of God.


————————————————

To The CEO of CCA:
Damon Hininger

Corrections Corporation of America

10 Burton Hills Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37215

Phone: (615) 263-3000; (800) 624-2931
Fax: (615) 263-3140

Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex an Interview with Victoria Law

Thursday, November 11, 2010
Resisting Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex
–An interview with Victoria Law
By Angola 3 News

Victoria Law is a longtime prison activist and the author of the 2009 book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women (PM Press). Law’s essay “Sick of the Abuse: Feminist Responses to Sexual Assault, Battering, and Self Defense,” is featured in the new book, entitled The Hidden 1970s: Histories of Radicalism, edited by Dan Berger.

In this interview, Law discusses her new article, which provides a history of radical feminist resistance to the criminalization of women who have defended themselves from gender violence. Furthermore, Law presents a prison abolitionist critique of how the mainstream women’s movement has embraced the US criminal justice system as a solution for combating violence against women.

Previously interviewed by Angola 3 News about the torture of women in US prisons, Law is now on the road with the Community and Resistance Tour.

Angola 3 News: In your essay “Sick of the Abuse,” you write that “a woman’s right to defend herself (and her children) from assault became a feminist rallying point throughout the 1970s.” You focus on the four separate stories of Yvonne Wanrow, Inez Garcia, Joan Little, and Dessie Woods. All four women were arrested for self-defense and their cases received national attention with the support of the radical women’s movement. Can you briefly explain their cases and why they were so important for the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s?

Victoria Law: Yvonne Wanrow was an American Indian mother of two living in Washington State in the 1970s. In 1972, her 11-year-old son was grabbed from his bike by William Wesler, a known child molester. He escaped and fled to the house of a family friend named Shirley Hooper, whose 7-year-old daughter had been raped by Wesler earlier that year. When Hooper called the police, they refused to arrest Wesler.

Understandably shaken, Hooper called Yvonne Wanrow and asked her to spend the night. Wanrow, who was 5 foot, 4 inches, and had recently broken her leg, brought her gun. At five in the morning, Wesler came to their house. When he refused to leave, Wanrow went to the front door to yell for help. She turned around to find Wesler, who, at 6 foot 2, was towering over her. She shot and killed him.

At her first trial, the judge instructed the jury only to consider what had happened at or immediately before the killing. This omitted (1) Wesler’s record as a sex offender; (2) Wesler’s assault on Hooper’s 7 year old; (3) His attempted assault on Yvonne’s son

Wanrow was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years.

However, various groups and people involved in the women’s movement and the American Indian movement had taken up her cause. They recognized that a woman had the right to defend herself and her family from assault. They held events that raised awareness, educated people, and tied her case into issues of violence against women and the systemic violence against Native people in the US. They also raised funds for her legal defense, which enabled her to have a better defense than she might have been afforded otherwise.

As a result, in 1977, the Washington State Supreme Court granted her a new trial, partially on the basis that the jury should have considered ALL relevant facts when considering self-defense. At her new trial in 1979, Wanrow pled guilty to reduced charges & received a suspended sentence, 5 years’ probation and 1 year of community service. The court decision also established that that women’s lack of access to self-defense training and to the “skills necessary to effectively repel a male assailant without resorting to the use of deadly weapons” made their circumstances different from those of men.

Two years later, in 1974, Inez Garcia shot and killed the man who had blocked her escape from rape. She was arrested and charged with 1st degree (or premeditated) murder. Like Wanrow, her cause was taken up by the women’s movement, which organized teach-ins and fundraisers and galvanized popular support with the recognition that women had the right to defend themselves against rape.

During her first trial, the judge did not allow testimony about the rape as part of the evidence. After her conviction, the women’s movement continued to rally on her behalf and hired feminist attorney Susan Jordan to take over her defense.

Two years later, an appeals court reversed her conviction because the trial judge had instructed the jury not to consider the rape

During the re-trial, Susan Jordan challenged potential jurors about their preconceptions of rape, making the assault an integral part of the case from the beginning. Garcia was acquitted. The entire jury agreed that the rape and threat of further harm were adequate provocation for Garcia’s action.

That same year, Joan Little, a black woman and the only female prisoner in North Carolina’s Beaufort County Jail, killed Clarence Alligood, a sixty-two-year-old white male guard, after he had entered her cell, threatened her with an ice pick and forced her to perform oral sex. Little was charged with first-degree murder which, in North Carolina, carried a mandatory death sentence.

Again, there was a HUGE outpouring of support from various movements, including people and groups in the women’s liberation and Black Liberation movements as well as more mainstream groups. During her trial, Little’s defense exposed the chronic sexual abuse and harassment endured by women in the jail and prison system. Countering the prosecution’s argument that Little had enticed Alligood into her cell with promises of sex, the defense team called on women who had previously been held at the jail. They testified that Alligood had a history of sexually abusing women in his custody.

Little herself testified about Alligood’s assault.

After seventy-eight minutes of deliberation, a jury acquitted Little, establishing a precedent for killing as a justified self-defense against rape.

Dessie Woods was a Black woman in Georgia who shot and killed a man who tried to rape her and her friend while they were hitchhiking. She was sentenced to 22 years. Black nationalist women took up the case of Dessie Woods, framing it as a case of colonial violence. Radical (White) feminists also took up her cause and used it as a way to challenge white feminists to examine not only sexism and patriarchy but also racism and colonialism.

However, unlike the cases of Little, Wanrow and Garcia, the larger White feminist movement(s) did not rally to her cause.

Even though she did not have the massive outpouring of support as the other three women, the prolonged support that she did have eventually won Woods her freedom in July 1981. A lawyer from the People’s Law Center challenged the use of circumstantial evidence and the use of a special prosecutor (hired by the dead man’s family). The U.S. Court of Appeals determined that there had been insufficient evidence to convict and imprison her.

The first three cases were groundbreaking in that they established legal precedents stating that women had a right to defend themselves (and their children) from sexual assault. In the case of Inez Garcia, her lawyer Susan Jordan extended the legal interpretation of “imminent danger” beyond the immediate time period, thus laying the groundwork for battered women’s defense—that a woman who kills her abuser is acting in self-defense even if she is not under attack at that time.

A3N: What impact did activism have in these four cases?

VL: The activism and organizing around those four cases enabled the women to have better legal defenses than they would have otherwise been afforded. For example, $250,000 was raised for Joan Little’s defense. Almost $39,000 was spent on social scientists who devised an “attitude profile survey:” designed to detect patterns of (racial) prejudice. The defense used their findings to win a change of venue from conservative/racist Beaufort County to Raleigh, which was key in her acquittal. Without the money garnered by supporters, Joan Little, a poor Black woman, would never have been able to have that kind of legal support. Instead, she would have been convicted and executed.

A3N: How are things different today, in 2010?

VL: We don’t see the same outpouring of support for women arrested for self-defense today. We can look at the case of the New Jersey Four, who are four Black lesbians arrested and incarcerated for defending themselves against a homophobic attack on the street. Their case has garnered support from groups working around incarcerated women’s issues and queer issues, but it hasn’t been taken up as widely as, say, the case of Joan Little or even Dessie Woods. Women who are incarcerated for defending themselves against partner violence receive even less public attention and support.

A3N: Shifting our focus to the issue of domestic violence, you write that the early women’s shelters formed by the radical women’s movement in the 1970s “utilized the self-help methods, egalitarian philosophies, and collective structures that had developed within the women’s liberation movement, striving to be democratic alternatives in which women had the space to safely communicate, share experiences, examine the root causes of the violence against them, and begin to articulate a response. However, these efforts received nowhere near the amount of attention, publicity, and support that the women’s movement paid to Wanrow, Garcia, Little, and Woods.”

Why do you think these projects, as well as court cases where women defended themselves from intimates, did not receive the attention they deserved?

VL: Then (and now), people saw battering as a “personal” issue and were reluctant to get involved. Some felt that marriage (or partnership) somehow condoned abuse. Others felt that this was not an issue that a movement could be built on. Perhaps it was also recognized that the issue could divide a movement. After all, when reading histories of revolutionary groups during the 1960s and 1970s, we see that abuse and misogyny often went unaddressed.

A3N: What did these radical activists identify as the “root causes” of violence against women were? What is your personal opinion regarding these root causes?

VL: Radical activists identified society’s misogyny and patriarchy as root causes of violence against women. They pointed out that women are most often the ones who are attacked and abused because they are often the ones with less power (both physically and in terms of resources).

I strongly agree with this analysis and feel that only when we radically transform societal attitudes around gender and power will we be able to have a world without gendered violence.

A3N: The number of battered women’s shelters grew (by 1982, there were an estimated 300-700 shelters nationally), but you write that “the increased interest in the issue by those who did not identify with the women’s liberation movement resulted in a watering down of the radical feminist analyses that led to the first refuges for battered women. These emerging institutions emphasized providing services without analyzing the political context in which abuse occurred. There was a shift from calling for broad social transformation to focusing on individual problems and demanding greater state intervention.”

How do you think this watering down and shift towards greater state intervention has since played out in later decades, leading up to today?

VL: Today, abuse is treated as an individual pathology rather than a broader social issue rooted in centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. Viewing abuse as an individual problem has meant that the solution becomes intervening in and punishing individual abusers without looking at the overall conditions that allow abuse to go unchallenged and also allows the state to begin to co-opt concerns about gendered violence.

For example, 29 states have some form of mandatory arrest policy in a DV call. There is also the possibility of dual arrests (in which both parties are arrested). In addition, many states now have “no-drop prosecution” in which the District Attorney subpoenas the battered spouse to testify with threats of prosecution if she recants or refuses.

The shift towards greater state intervention has also resulted in resources such as battered women’s shelters mirroring some of these same abusive practices (such as isolating the survivor). It also ignores ways in which the state inflicts violence upon women. I would greatly recommend the INCITE! anthology, entitled The Color of Violence, which explores various aspects of violence against women.

A3N: If you were dialoguing with those sectors of today’s anti-violence movement that embrace the criminalization approach, what are the key points you would make in arguing that prisons are not the answer? What do you think is the best way to reduce and prevent violence against women both inside and outside prisons?

VL: The threat of imprisonment does not deter abuse; it simply drives it further underground. Remember that there are many forms of abuse and violence and not all are illegal. It also sets up a false dichotomy in which the survivor has to choose between personal safety and criminalizing/imprisoning a loved one.

Arrest/imprisonment does not reduce, let alone prevent, violence. Building structures and networks to address the lack of options and resources available to women is more effective. Challenging patriarchy and male supremacy is a much more effective solution (although not one that funders and the state want to see).

A3N: Can you please tell us about recent cases of women who are facing charges or have been wrongly convicted for defending themselves?

VL: There’s the case of the New Jersey Four, whom I mentioned above.
http://www.amyewinter.net/nj4/

There’s also Sara Kruzan,(http://www.freesarakruzan.org/) a 31-year-old woman incarcerated at the California Institution for Women. When Sara was 11, she met a 31-year-old man named G.G. who molested her and began grooming her to become a prostitute. By the age 13, she began working as a child prostitute for G.G. and was repeatedly molested by him. At age 16, Sara was convicted of killing him. She was sentenced to prison for the rest of her life despite her background and a finding by the California Youth Authority that she was amendable to treatment offered in the juvenile system.

There’s been a letter-writing campaign to the governor urging clemency. Sara is also up for resentencing and needs letters of support. The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) are working on publicizing and garnering support for her case. However, we’re not seeing a fraction of the support from women’s or other non-prison groups that the cases of Wanrow, Garcia and Little received in the 1970s even though you would think that her story would provoke widespread outrage and calls for release.

I recently received an e-mail from CCWP about Mary Shields, a domestic violence survivor incarcerated for nineteen years on a seven-to-life sentence for attempted murder. This past September, Mary was found suitable for release by the Board of Parole Hearings. In 2006, the Parole Board had also found Mary “suitable for release” but rescinded its decision after Governor Schwarzenegger recommended against release. This time around, the governor has until January (when his term will be up) to either let the Board’s decision stand or recommend that it be reversed and so CCWP is calling for people to send letters supporting Mary’s release.

A3N: Anything else to add?

VL: I want to remind readers that if we’re not coming up with solutions to gender violence, then the fall-back becomes relying on prisons and policing to keep women (and other vulnerable people) safe. It is also imperative to support women incarcerated for killing their abusers as well as to support battered women on the outside and to remember that abuse isolates people.

We should be working to end violence against women without strengthening government control over women’s lives or promoting incarceration as a solution to social problems.

–Angola 3 News is a new project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is http://www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

http://angola3news.blogspot.com/2010/11/resisting-male-violence-and-prison.html

Judge Rules Procedures at Tamms Supermax Violate Constitution

Reblogged from: Solitarywatch
July 21, 2010

Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

A federal judge yesterday ruled that current procedures for sending prisoners to the Tamms Correctional Center in southern Illinois–and keeping them there indefinitely–is in violation of the 14th Amendment to U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process of law. The judge ordered that significant changes be made at the notorious state supermax.

George Pawlaczyk, whose award-winning coverage last year exposed abuses at Tamms, reports in the Belleville News-Democrat:

A federal judge has ruled that even inmates termed the “worst of the worst” by state prison system officials have a constitutional right to a hearing before they are sent to what many consider the harshest prison in Illinois — the solitary-only Tamms Correctional Center.
U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy, sitting in federal court in East St. Louis, has ruled that all inmates transferred to Tamms, the state’s only supermax prison, must be given a swift hearing and told why they are being sent to the lockup, where most prisoners spend 23 hours a day in their cells and are let out only to walk alone in a steel cage.
And all inmates currently at the prison must be given the same type of hearing, which must allow them an opportunity to challenge their transfer. Tamms inmates also must be given 48 hours notice of the hearing after being sent to Tamms, so that they can have an opportunity to prepare to challenge their transfer.

The decision follows a ten-year legal effort by the Uptown People’s Law Center in Chicago, which brought suit on behalf of several dozen Tamms prisoners, and a trial in federal court that ended last December. Pawlaczyk quotes Uptown’s Legal Director Alan S. Mills, who called the judge’s ruling a “significant victory”:

“Everybody who has been sent there (Tamms) up until now, have had their constitutional rights violated and has a right to a hearing, a new hearing, to see whether or not they should have ever been sent there in the first place,” said Mills…
Mills said that inmates can now challenge prison system claims that they violated disciplinary rules at other prisons or any administration claim that warrants being sent to Tamms. And they can require prison officials to state a reason for transfer. They also may challenge department claims that they are members of a gang and that is why they were sent to the lockup.
“Many of these inmates have never been told why they were sent to Tamms,” Mills said. He said these inmates include one plaintiff in the lawsuit who had been at Tamms since it opened more than 12 years ago but was never told why.
Murphy also ordered that inmates who have been at Tamms the longest, and many have been there for more than 10 years, will be placed at the head of the list for the hearings. The judge’s order noted that some inmates were not told why they were sent to Tamms until years later…

Judge Murphy made clear that his ruling “is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation of the 14th Amendment due process rights of IDOC [Illinois Department of Corrections] inmates placed at Tamms, and is the least intrusive means necessary to correct the violation of the federal rights of such inmates.” He stated that “the supermax prison at Tamms is clean, excellently administered, and well staffed.” This despite the fact that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have challenged conditions at Tamms, as has a local activist group, Tamms Year Ten.

New attention was focused on the prison last year, after reporting by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer found nightmarish conditions at Tamms, which is in many cases used as a de facto asylum for prisoners suffering from serious mental illness. [You can read the original series here.] As Pawlaczyk wrote yesterday:

The treatment of Tamms inmates, especially those who were mentally ill, was the subject of a News-Democrat investigative series in August titled “Trapped in Tamms,” which was followed by more than a dozen follow-up stories. The articles challenged the prison system’s claims that Tamms inmates were the worst of the worst, and reported that more than half of the inmate population had not committed any new crimes since entering prison.
The newspaper reported that many mentally ill inmates were sent to Tamms after throwing urine and feces at guards, assaults that are often handled administratively at other prisons. This behavior, according to mental health experts who study incarceration, can often be a sign of mental illness made worse by solitary confinement.

Mud stencil on Chicago sidewalk, by Tamms Year Ten

It remains to be seen how much the new ruling will help such inmates. The court stated that during the newly mandated hearings, prison officials can consider ”the safety and security of the facility, the public, or any person, [and] an inmate’s disciplinary and behavioral history,” in deciding whether an inmate needs to be held at Tamms. Clearly, an inmate’s “behavioral history” can be affected by untreated mental illness.

However, the prisoners in Tamms have more going for them that many of the of other 25,000-odd inmates held in U.S. supermax prisons: They have local muckraking journalists to expose their living conditions; local and international human rights groups taking up their cause; and excellent pro bono legal representation from the Uptown People’s Law Center. All of these watchdogs will, no doubt, be waiting to see what happens at Tamms when the judge’s order goes into effect.

Gaile Owens’ Death Sentence Commuted!

Bulletin from the cause: Abolish The Death Penalty!

Go to Cause

Posted By: Nick Janizeh
To: Members in Abolish The Death Penalty!

Good news! Death sentence commuted in Gaile Owens case

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens who had been scheduled for execution on September 28. She was sentenced to death for soliciting the murder of her husband, but her case garnered widespread publicity because of severe abuse she had endured at his hands.

Governor Bredesen cited similar cases as his reason for granting clemency, stating:
As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Gaile Owens could be eligible for parole as early as 2012.

As always, thank you for your continued support!

Buried in the Bureau of Prisons

David C. Fathi 

Director, ACLU National Prison Project

Posted: June 4, 2010 04:31 PM 

Imagine a country in which prisoners can be denied visits, and even telephone calls, with family members for years at a time. Imagine a country in which government officials can prevent prisoners from telling news reporters about mistreatment or abuse. Imagine a country in which prisoners who are foreign citizens can be denied their right, guaranteed by international treaty, to meet with consular officials from their nation of origin. Unfortunately, that country is not some totalitarian state in the 1950s, but the United States in 2010.
Since 2006, the federal Bureau of Prisons has quietly operated a “Communications Management Unit” (CMU) at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. A second CMU was opened in Marion, Illinois, in 2008. Prisoners in these units face strict limits on visiting and telephone contact with the outside world.

The government has so far been operating these units without regulatory authority, but in April of this year, it belatedly published proposed rules that would authorize their operation. These rules make clear just what the government has in mind: a regime even more draconian than currently exists in the CMUs. Prisoners would be allowed only one 15-minute telephone call per month, with “immediate family members only” (defined to include only parents, spouses, children and siblings); one one-hour noncontact visit per month, with immediate family members; and one letter per week, limited to three pieces of paper, to and from a single recipient, “at the discretion of the Warden.”

When the CMUs were first established, the government justified them as necessary to monitor the communications of convicted or suspected terrorists. But in a classic case of mission creep, the new regulations provide that a prisoner can be transferred to a CMU if there is “any … evidence of a potential threat to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of prison facilities, or protection of the public, as a result of the inmate’s communication with persons in the community.” Given that most people in BOP custody are already accused or convicted of criminal activity, this standard imposes no meaningful limits; virtually any of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners could be sent to a CMU. In fact the CMUs have already been used to house prisoners who have not been convicted, or even accused, of terrorist activity. And because the CMU transfer decision is made solely by the Bureau of Prisons, with no external review or oversight, prisoners lack a meaningful way to challenge their placement.


These proposed rules represent an unprecedented attack on First Amendment rights, both of prisoners and of those on the outside — family, friends, journalists, clergy, and others — who want to communicate with them. A CMU prisoner who was raised by his aunt or grandmother will not be allowed to receive visits from her, or even talk to her by telephone. A reporter who wants to interview a prisoner alleging mistreatment or abuse won’t be allowed to do so. Never in modern U.S. history have prison officials been given the power to create a class of prisoners who are denied virtually all communication with the outside world.
The proposed rules also violate U.S. treaty obligations. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (PDF), ratified by the United States in 1969, consular officers have the right to visit their nationals who are in prison or detention in a foreign country, for the purpose of arranging legal representation or providing other assistance. Although more than one-quarter of the bureau’s prisoners are foreign nationals, the proposed rules make no provision for the consular visits required by the treaty. Past U.S. violations of the Vienna Convention have resulted in judgments against the United States by the International Court of Justice; the proposed rules make it all but certain that more treaty violations will occur in the future.

The government predictably defends the CMUs as necessary for security. But prison officials already have the authority to control and limit prisoners’ correspondence, telephone calls, and visits, and to monitor those communications to detect and prevent criminal activity. For example, prison staff must approve a prisoner’s visitor lists; they may conduct background checks for that purpose, and may disapprove any visitor. Visiting areas may be monitored. Prison officials may deny placement of a given telephone number on a prisoner’s telephone list if they determine that there is a threat to security. Telephone calls are also monitored. Prison officials have the authority to open and read all non-legal prisoner mail. The proposed CMU rules don’t explain why these existing security measures are insufficient. And they certainly don’t explain how security is meaningfully advanced by preventing a prisoner from calling his grandmother.

The Bureau of Prisons is accepting public comments on the proposed rules through June 7. On Tuesday, the ACLU submitted comments calling for the immediate closure of CMUs. See the instructions for filing comments, and submit your own here.

Don’t Kill Domestic Abuse Survivor Gaile Owens

From Death Penalty Focus

Gaile Owens, a 54-year-old woman and domestic abuse survivor from Tennessee, is scheduled to be executed on September 28.

Owens is seeking to have her death sentence changed to a sentence of life in prison and only Governor Phil Bredesen has the power to grant the request.

The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (NCDBW) and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (TCADSV) have been working together to support Owens. Owens’ supporters say her death sentence should be commuted to life because:

* Owens may be the only prisoner in Tennessee to receive a death sentence after accepting a prosecutor’s offer of a plea agreement for life in prison. In 1985, after years of sexual abuse and severe humiliation by her husband, Owens hired a man to kill him. The prosecutor’s office said Owens could plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. This offer was made with the approval of her husband’s family. Owens accepted the plea. However, when Owens’ codefendant – the man she hired to kill her husband – refused to take the plea, the prosecutors withdrew the offer.

* Owens’ death sentence is excessive. A recent review of nine cases from Tennessee involving women who have killed or hired someone to kill their partners, shows that six have received probation or early parole and that two received life sentences with eligibility for parole. Only Owens has received death

* Owens was sentenced to death by a jury which never heard critical information about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she endured throughout her life, including from her husband. Owens was subjected to physical and sexual violence from a young age. Her husband was but one of the perpetrators of violence against her. When her trial attorneys asked for funds to hire an expert witness with experience in abuse and trauma to evaluate Owens, they were denied.

* The prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. To this date, at least one juror has come forward saying that if she had the information about Owens’ experiences of abuse, she would not have voted in favor of execution. In other words, the proper presentation of this evidence could have resulted in an entirely different verdict and sentence by the jury.