House kills study to reduce solitary confinement in prisons

From: Washington Post:
feb 6 2012
By Anita Kumar

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed a bill that would have required the state to study ways to limit the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, especially of those who are mentally ill.

Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) proposed the bill after visiting state prisons last fall, including Red Onion in Southwest Virginia, to examine how their most violent inmates are treated.

The House killed the bill in its Rules Committee. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to be heard, but it’s unlikely that the House would change its position.

Virginia, one of 44 states that use solitary confinement, has 1,800 people in isolation, a sizable share of the estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.

As more becomes known about the effects of isolation — on inmate health, public safety and prison budgets — some states have begun to reconsider the practice. Among them is Texas, which, like Virginia, is known as a law-and-order state.

Read the rest here:

New Ohio criminal sentencing bill to save millions by letting inmates out early, sending low-level felons to prison alternatives

From: Plain Dealer:
By Joe Guillen, The Plain Dealer, 27th June 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Nonviolent felons will be sent to rehabilitation facilities instead of prison, and some inmates will be released sooner under an overhaul of Ohio’s criminal sentencing laws aimed at easing prison overcrowding and saving the state money.

Republican Gov. John Kasich will sign the massive bill this week. The dramatic changes drew strong bipartisan support — a rarity so far this year — in both the House of Representatives and Senate, which approved the legislation last week.

“These proposals will begin to address the problem of low-level offenders cycling through the prison system while reserving scarce and expensive state prison beds for violent and predatory offenders,” Gary Mohr, director of Ohio’s prisons system, testified before a Senate committee last month.

Critics, however, said the bill is soft on crime, a short-sighted fix to help deal with the state’s budget crisis. Others worry that communities do not have the resources to house offenders sent to halfway houses and other diversion programs instead of prison.

Undisputed is the need to ease prison overcrowding. Ohio’s prison population this month is 50,561, significantly above the corrections system’s capacity of 38,389.

The criminal sentencing reform package is designed to reduce the prison population by keeping low-level offenders out of prison — placing them instead in halfway houses or community-based correction facilities — and creating new pathways for certain inmates to shorten their sentences.

The reforms also eliminate disparities in punishments for crack cocaine and powder cocaine offenses while making it easier for former prisoners to find jobs.

The changes are expected to save the state more than $46 million over the next four years, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat, said the goal is to reduce recidivism, cut back on spending and change the behavior of those who break the law.

“We are not just dealing with the state’s pocketbook,” Smith said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “We are dealing with real people, real problems and their futures.”

Details of the bill

• Generally requires judges to sentence nonviolent fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenders to alternative facilities, such as community-based correctional facilities and halfway houses, rather than prison.

• Allows the release of nonviolent felons who did not commit a sexually oriented offense if they have served more than 80 percent of a prison term of one year or more. First- and second- degree felons released under this provision would be put on parole and monitored with a GPS device.

• Increases the threshold — from $500 to $1,000 — for theft offenses to be considered a felony.

• Provides an alternative to prison for felony offenses for not paying child or spousal support.

• Eliminates the distinction between criminal penalties for drug offenses related to crack cocaine and powder cocaine. New punishments for cocaine offenses reflect a middle ground between the two current penalties.

• Expands an earned credit system in which inmates can shave days off their sentences. Certain prisoners could earn up to five days of credit per month for completing education and rehabilitation programs. The old system permitted only one day of credit per month. Sex offenders and violent felons would not be able to shorten their terms, and no prisoner could reduce a sentence by more than 8 percent.

• Requires the state’s prisons system to review the cases of inmates who are 65 or older and eligible for parole — paving the way for a new parole hearing and possible release.

Sources: Ohio Legislative Service Commission, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction

Read the rest here.

Check for information on jails in Ohio here:

AB 136 vetoed by Sandoval: no help for non-violent prisoners

From LVRJ (Ed Vogel, June 16th 2011):

–Assembly Bill 136, which would have allowed certain felons to earn credits to reduce their sentences by acquiring vocational skills and passing drug treatment programs. Violent and sex offender would have been excluded. Nineteen of the 26 Republicans opposed the bill.

Sandoval said the bill would allowed “dangerous criminals to be prematurely released from prison” and increased the risk of Nevada citizens. He added the bill sent a message to offenders that the state was “soft on crime.”

–Senate Bill 188, which would have allowed prison wardens to establish 84-hour work schedules for correctional officers in each two-week pay period. Employees would have worked 12-hour shifts, three days one week, four the next. The prison employees union has been seeking these shifts for several years.

The governor said prison wardens already have the authority to experiment with variable work schedule, and 12-hour shifts have been considered.

“Senate Bill 188 unnecessarily encroaches upon managerial authority in an agency facing unique employment challenges and severe budgetary restraints,” Sandoval said.

Every senator, including 10 Republicans, voted for the bill, while 12 of the 16 Assembly Republicans opposed it.

Since most of the governor’s vetoes were made after the close of the Legislature at 1 a.m. June 7, votes by the Legislature to override his vetoes will not be made until the next session in 2013.

Before adjournment, legislative leaders decided not to conduct override votes on four vetoed bills. That means those bills officially are dead.
Soft on crime? Nevada? This Bill was supposed to even exclude violent offenders. Has Gov Sandoval ever spoken with those who have been wrongly convicted? Or those who are stuck for years on end in a box with nothing to better themselves with? And does the governor think that people who committed a violent offense will rehabilitate themselves, be cured, be forgiven?

This Bill was even meant for those who have been convicted of a non-violent crime!

The risk to the Nevada citizens is that the people inside prisons are NOT reformed, are NOT able while inside to create a life away from joblessness, desperation, illnesses that are not (being) cured. Governor Sandoval creates more dangerous situations himself, plus those who opposed this bill.

Dear People, wake up and embrace those inside of good will and who want to be reformed, who ask for a change and who are willing to change. Punishing a person is not something we should do or tolerate for the rest of their lives. They must be reformed and cured and healed and returned to us. we must create the right environment here, and not wait ’til it is too late (when hatred has grown too much, or when death has arrived).

And for those inside on false convictions, false testimony, false witnesses, because of over-eager prosecutors, snitches, corrupt servants, surely there must come a day soon when this nightmare is over!

In strength, with Human decency and dignity…

Bill about prison overcrowding passes the Senate

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Oct 15, 2010

Prison overcrowding. Also passing the Senate was a bill championed by Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf (R., Montgomery) addressing Pennsylvania’s swelling prison population.

The legislation would let someone who violates parole on a technical point or minor infraction be placed in a community-based or other alternative corrections facility rather than being sent back to state prison.
Another provision would let the state parole board release certain inmates to complete their prerelease programs outside prison. Currently, officials say, such programs can keep inmates in prison beyond the date when they would otherwise be eligible for release.
Rendell has said he would review the bill.

CORI (Criminal Record) Reform Passes. (Next step lessening the time to seal reconrds)

Criminal records bill gets House OK
Would limit access to job seekers’ past
The Boston Globe
By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff | May 27, 2010

House lawmakers yesterday approved legislation long sought by Governor Deval Patrick that would limit employers’ access to the criminal records of job applicants, a change that supporters said would make it easier for former convicts to find work and avoid a return to crime.

Moments after the bill passed, on a 138 to 17 vote, a throng of former offenders and activists who had been watching from the House gallery spilled into the halls of the State House, cheering and chanting. The bill was a priority for many of Boston’s ministers and others who work to reintegrate former offenders into society.

“It’s so nice to have a voice that’s heard,’’ said Cassandra Bensahih, an aspiring medical secretary from Worcester who said she had served six months for a drug offense.

“I’m not asking for a handout,’’ said Bensahih, a mother of three who said she had been turned down for jobs and for housing because of her record. “I’m just asking for a chance to prove myself. This is the chance.’’

The bill is a version of legislation that passed the Senate in November. Under both measures, felony convictions on a person’s record would be sealed and unavailable to prospective employers after 10 years, instead of 15 years under current law. A House-Senate conference committee must now iron out differences between the bills.

Misdemeanors would be sealed after five years, rather than 10 under
current law. Some crimes, such as murder and manslaughter, would neverbe sealed to employers. The House legislation, unlike the Senate
version, requires that sex offenses never be sealed, House lawmakers

Both measures prohibit job applications from including questions about a person’s criminal record, although employers are free to ask about that during job interviews. That was known as the so-called “ban the box’’ provision and was seen as vital to giving former offenders a chance at finding work.

The measure cleared the House without any debate, after lawmakers spent more than five hours behind closed doors hashing out disagreements. The vote fell largely along party lines, although six
Democrats joined the majority of the House’s 15 Republicans in opposing the bill.

“I feel very strongly that we should be strengthening the [Criminal Offender Record Information] law and not making it more weak, and I feel that’s what this does, absolutely weaken the CORI law,’’ said Representative James R. Miceli, a Wilmington Democrat, who voted against the bill. “People who have a history might end up in positionswhere they shouldn’t be.’’

House leaders said the bill would reduce crime by giving offenders a second chance. One key supporter was Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat and House chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who said he had long harbored reservations about the legislation.

O’Flaherty said he had worried for years that the bill would make it difficult for public housing officials, who are also governed by the legislation, to screen out former convicts who pose a risk to society.But after studying the issue, he said, he learned that the chance of aconvict reoffending drops sharply after six years, so a 10-year limiton access to their records is reasonable.

The bill “makes a policy acknowledgement about rehabilitation, that turning a corner actually means something in our criminal justice policy,’’ O’Flaherty told his colleagues in the lone floor speech on
the issue.

A jubilant Steve O’Neill, executive director of Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, said, “This is going to change things enormously, because now people get a chance to get their foot in the door and prove who they are and be considered for their merits before their demerits are counted against them.’’

Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has for years pushed for limits in the criminal offender record system and who has testified on the issue at the State House, released a statement praising last night’s House vote.

Read te rest here:

Ohio Learns the Lessons of Wrongful Conviction

By Matt Kelly
March 20, 2010

The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed sweeping reforms addressing the causes of wrongful conviction, setting a new standard for other states to follow in preventing this unimaginable — but very real — injustice.

The bill addresses evidence preservation, eyewitness identification procedures, recording of interrogations and improved access to DNA testing. It gained momentum in the wake of a groundbreaking series in the Columbus Dispatch highlighting cases of Ohio prisoners unable to obtain DNA tests that could prove them innocent.

SB 77 passed both chambers of the Ohio legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support, and Gov. Ted Strickland is expected to sign it into law with a few days.

Ohio Rep. Tyrone Yates, who sponsored the bill in the House, called this bill “one of the most important pieces of criminal justice legislation in this state in a century.”
# The bill puts Ohio out ahead of many other states on four major reforms to prevent wrongful convictions and overturn injustice, including: Requiring the preservation of DNA evidence in serious crimes (such as homicide and sexual assault), because post-conviction reviews can’t be conducted when evidence has been tossed.

# Improving lineup procedures to significantly reduce the chance of misidentification, the leading cause of wrongful conviction.

# Incentivizing police departments to recording interrogations, a safeguard that prevents false confessions and a technique that helps law enforcement agencies conduct more efficient investigations

# Allowing parolees to apply for DNA testing in cases where it could potentially prove their innocence.

The Dispatch series that helped bring about these reforms has also led to two DNA exonerations so far, and other cases are in testing. The Innocence Network announced this week that the series’ two lead reporters, Mike Wagner and Geoff Dutton, will be given the group’s first annual Investigative Journalism Award in April.

With this bill, Ohio moves to the forefront on smart reforms to prevent injustice and improve efficiency in law enforcement and in courts. No one wants the innocent to go to prison. Wrongful convictions destroy lives and communities and leave the real perpetrators of crime on the streets. Kudos to Ohio for learning the lessons of injustice and making these critical changes.

Gov. Jim Doyle signs public defender bill, 30 others

Posted: March 15, 2010

Madison — Poor people will have an easier time getting a public defender under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jim Doyle.

The law changes the eligibility standards for securing public defenders starting in July 2011. The plan will cost the state about $4.1 million a year but will save counties an estimated $6 million a year.
Now, Wisconsin has the nation’s stingiest eligibility standards for getting a public defender, according to the National Legal Aid & Defender Association. People charged with a felony do not qualify for a public defender if, having two children, they are paid $7.25 an hour, have $300 in cash and a car worth $2,000, according to the state public defender’s office.

The bill Doyle signed will allow public defenders for anyone earning up to 115% of the federal poverty guidelines, with up to $30,000 equity in their home, a $10,000 car and $2,500 in other assets.

Judges often appoint private attorneys for poor defendants who don’t qualify for public defenders. Private attorneys cost more than public defenders and are paid by counties rather than the state.

Supporters of the new law say it will save taxpayers $2 million a year when all costs are taken into account.