"If the Risk Is Low, Let Them Go": Efforts to Resolve the Growing Numbers of Aging Behind Bars

Reblogged from: Truth-Out
Article by Victoria Law
Jan. 10, 2014

Imagine your grandparents and great-grandparents in shackles or dying behind bars. By 2030, the prison population age 55 and over is predicted to be 4,400 percent more than what it was in 1981. Some state and federal prison systems look at alternatives.

The recent release of 74-year-old Lynne Stewart has made headlines. Stewart, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, was granted compassionate release December 31, 2013, after a protracted struggle by Stewart and supporters across the country. Stewart, whose cancer has spread to her lungs, lymph system and bones, will spend her remaining months with her family in Brooklyn.

But what about the aging and infirm people incarcerated nationwide who lack Stewart’s fame and support? The United States has some 125,000 prisoners age 55 and older, quadruple the number in 1995. Various human rights groups, including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the Vera Institute of Justice have issued warnings about the increased numbers of aging, elderly and incapacitated behind bars. In response to these increases, several states, such as Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, are in the process of building hospice and geriatric units within their prison systems.

But what other solutions are there?

“If the Risk is Low, Let Them Go”

In New York, advocates – including formerly incarcerated people – have launched the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) campaign. More than 9,200 people (nearly 17 percent) imprisoned in New York are 50 or older. While the state’s prison population dropped this past decade – from 71,466 in 2000 to 56,315 in 2011 – the number of people 50 and older has increased by 64 percent.

Lead organizer Mujahid Farid knows the obstacles facing people seeking parole. Farid was arrested in 1978 and sentenced to 15 years to life for an attempted murder. By the time he was eligible for parole in 1993, he had earned four college degrees as well as certificates for numerous other programs. None of these accomplishments mattered. He was denied parole based on his 1978 conviction. Farid appeared before the parole board ten times over the next 18 years before he was granted parole in 2011.

“I realized it wasn’t personal,” he told Truthout. “They’re not looking at your personal development. They’re simply looking at your conviction.” After his release, Farid met with advocates, including other formerly incarcerated people, to discuss how to overcome the hurdle within the parole system. Out of these discussions came RAPP.  Under the slogan “If the risk is low, let them go,” RAPP mobilizes to change the routine in which parole and compassionate release are denied to those who have spent decades in New York’s state prisons.

Read the rest here.

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Comix from Inside: Connecticut artist featured

On the Real Cost of Prisons website, imprisoned artists are featured who have made comix about prison life and criticism of the Prison Industrial Complex. One of the artists is Carnell Hunnicutt, Sr., who is in incarcerated in Connecticut. Check out his great artwork in summarizing books by making comics about them here:

Comix from Inside

His latest work is a reworking of the new book The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander (based on an article written by her in TomDispatch, March 8, 2010).

Carnell Hunnicutt’s work is copyright by him. You can write to ask him directly for permission to reproduce his work. His contact address is on the real Cost for Prisons website.

Conn. prison goats nibble weeds, landscaping costs

Apr. 29, 2010
By PAT EATON-ROBB – Associated Press Writer

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Two members of the work detail at a Connecticut state prison are expected to be penned there for life, working on the fence line to remove weeds and poison ivy. They seem to like the work and actually find the poison ivy delicious.

Nibbles and Bits, a pair of goats, were taken to the Corrigan-Radgowski prison in a rural patch of southeastern Connecticut just over a year ago after being rescued as kids from separate area farms that didn’t want them.

Joe Schoonmaker, the corrections officer who oversees landscaping at the 1,500-inmate prison, heard about the goats and asked the warden.
Prison Goats Prison Goats Prison Goats Prison Goats

“We threw the idea at him that we could use them to get into the hard-to-get areas, like the hillside and the fence line,” he said.

So when it’s impossible or impractical to get a weed trimmer or lawnmower somewhere on prison property, Schoonmaker calls in Nibbles and Bits.

They eat anything, except mountain laurel.

Schoonmaker and Officer Jason Ware pay the $20-per-month cost of feed – oats – from their own pockets.

Everything else the animals need has been built by prisoners or donated. Their pen is a converted shed, just outside the prison fence. It has its own fence, built by inmates from trees that were taken down because they were deemed to be too close to the barbed-wire.

The goats also have their own small recreation yard, which includes a handmade playscape. Every morning, Nibbles gets on one side of a balance board and Bits goes to the other, Schoonmaker said. They meet in the middle and butt heads.

A local vet donates his time. The wood shavings in the pen come from a saw mill.

What the goats don’t require is pay, close supervision or gasoline, Warden Anthony Coletti said. They have saved the prison time, manpower and about $200 a year, mostly the cost of gas.

“Every day they eat their weight in weeds,” Coletti said.

Only minimum security inmates get to work with the goats. Many are nearing the end of their sentences.

“It gives inmates a sense of purpose to care for farm animals,” Coletti said. “And they really learn to care for them and about them. Everyone loves the goats.”

And the goats seem to love the warden, or at least his fleece jacket, which Nibbles tried to have as a snack while posing for a recent portrait.

“I told you, they’ll eat anything,” he said.

For link to article click Here

ACLU-CT Speaks Out for Abolition of Connecticut’s Death Penalty

Andrew Schneider, ACLU-CT Executive Director, advocated for the abolition of the death penalty at the March 4th public hearing at the Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee. The bill, H.B. 6578, An Act Concerning the Penalty For A Capital Felony, would abolish the death penalty in Connecticut. More information on why the ACLU-CT supports banning the death penalty, can be found in the testimony that follows.

TESTIMONY IN SUPPORT OF H.B. 6578

Good afternoon Senator McDonald, Representative Lawlor and members of the Judiciary Committee. My name is Andrew Schneider and I’m Executive Director of the ACLU of Connecticut. I am here today to express our support for Raised Bill no. 6578, An Act Concerning the Penalty For A Capital Felony. Capital punishment, the ultimate denial of civil liberties, is a costly irreversible and barbaric practice, the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment. It’s implementation is grotesquely unfair and it does not deter crime.

Regardless of one’s viewpoint about the morality or constitutionality of the death penalty, most people would agree that if we are going to continue executing people in the U.S., we should be doing it fairly and rationally. However, three factors unrelated to the crime itself greatly influence who gets executed and who does not: race, geography, and poverty.

In Connecticut, seven out of ten or 70 percent of death row inmates are African-American or Latino whereas only 9 percent of Connecticut’s population is African-American and 10 percent is Latino. In fact, the racial disparity of our death row is much higher than that of the country as a whole. The most important factor in levying the death penalty, however, is the race of the victim. Those who kill a white person are more likely to receive the death penalty than those who kill an African-American person or Latino person.

For the full article click Here