"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

Conn. tries to stop inmates seeking dirt on guards

WEST HARTFORD — Connecticut could join at least a dozen other states by restricting prison inmates from using FOI laws to get personal information to harass or threaten their guards — and, in some cases, prosecutors or other inmates.

Inmates here and around the country have swamped systems with information requests — for guards’ personnel and arrest records, files affecting the inmates’ own legal cases, and details as mundane as meal ingredients. While no Connecticut correction officers have been harmed or harassed because no personnel records have yet been released, prison officials say they are fighting because they view such requests as a threat to the safety and security of staff and at the prisons.

From his cell in a Suffield prison, where he’s serving out an 86-year sentence for sexual assault, Richard Stevenson is trying to learn more about his guards. He’s battled Connecticut’s Department of Correction for the past year, seeking off-duty arrest records of more than 100 guards.

Stevenson, 45, contends he wants the information for a court appeal and a Freedom of Information Commission officer initially okayed his request — but prison officials want it blocked. They claim it will endanger the officers by giving an inmate juicy information he could use against a guard to his advantage.

“When an inmate is requesting information, it’s not for anybody’s good, especially when they’re lifers, for vicious assaults or whatever,” said Jon Pepe, president of AFSCME Local 391, one several union locals representing correctional officers in Connecticut. “These are not good people.”

Washington, Arkansas, Michigan, Virginia, New Jersey, Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Kansas, Alabama, Georgia and Arizona have various laws on the books, some dating back to the mid-1990s, that limit or block inmate access to state open-record laws, according to prison union officials.

None were apparently prompted by violence against guards; most — like Georgia’s, Michigan’s and Texas’ — complained about the harassment potential and the cost and burden of compliance.

In Washington, a law enacted last year followed threats against several prosecutors by an inmate, Allan Parmelee, who is serving 17 years for firebombing his lawyers’ cars. Parmelee had made hundreds of requests for photos, surveillance video or personnel files on judges, prosecutors, prison guards and others he’s encountered in his legal case.

The personnel records requested by prisoners in Connecticut have not yet reached the inmates because of the legal challenges made by the prisons department. However, correction officials point to a recent disturbance after one inmate learned from a local police report he requested under the open records law that another inmate had been an informant.

Connecticut’s full FOI commission recently ruled to release records Stevenson wants, but with the guards’ names redacted. DOC has not yet decided whether to comply.

This case and several others, which pit the prisons department against the FOI Commission, are fueling a renewed push to change state law and curb rising inmate FOI requests for personnel records.

Prison officials say they worry about the possibility inmates could threaten and compromise an officer by telling other inmates about a potentially embarrassing arrest — and that sensitive personal information about staff, such as home addresses and names of family members, could get into the wrong hands.

While there are exemptions in Connecticut’s FOI Act to withhold public employees’ personnel and health records, they’re not airtight. It must be proven that the information would highly offend a reasonable person, and that there’s no public interest in it.

Colleen Murphy, executive director of the state’s FOI commission, said the panel opposes an across-the-board ban on releasing such records to inmates. There are situations, she said, where the information could benefit the inmate and possibly the state as a whole.

“They are uniquely situated to see if there is any wrongdoing going on in the other side of the fence,” Murphy said.

Correction officials claim inmate FOIs are jamming the system, but the FOI commission — which aims to treat inmates as other citizens — disagrees. It says it has seen an increase in its workload, of which inmates’ requests are only about 20 percent and manageable. A significant portion of the requests seek information about inmates’ guards, officials say.

Paul Wright, editor of the Seattle-based Prison Legal News, said Connecticut’s proposed limits are part of “a national clampdown” to isolate prisoners from the outside world.

He questioned whether guard protection is the real issue, since an inmate — or someone acting for him — can already glean information like arrest records from the Internet and newspapers. He suggests prisons officials are really trying to block information that would disclose poor prison conditions.

“This isn’t occurring in a vacuum. It’s kind of a full-court press,” Wright said. “They don’t want to give up the information. They know if they give up the information, it basically gives insight into how poorly run their institutions are.”

Wright knows firsthand the information that an inmate can uncover using open records laws. While serving 17 years of a 25-year term in Washington State for killing a cocaine dealer he was trying to rob, Wright requested documents on all of the doctors working for the state’s prison system.

He learned that some didn’t have medical licenses and many had been disciplined for medical neglect.

“For the most part, the pattern here wasn’t this is Marcus Welby and we have some issues,” said Wright, who moved to Vermont after his release from prison in 2003. “These are crappy doctors.”

In Florida, where FOI laws are among the nation’s strongest, inmates are allowed equal access to public records under the state’s constitution.

“To limit any access to any party or designated group — I don’t think it would fly here in Florida,” said JoAnn Carrin, director of the Office of Open Government.

Kansas Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said his agency has considered banning inmates’ access to information about staff — but questions whether it’s workable.

“If the inmate can’t get it,” he said, “the inmate will have somebody on the outside write in and say, ‘Please send me the information about this staff member or that staff member.”