Wyo. bill would end life without parole sentences

By BEN NEARY: from: Associated Press.  – SF Chronicle 
Updated 5:20 pm, Thursday, January 17, 2013
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Under a bill proposed Thursday, Wyoming would no longer have a prison sentence of life without parole — a punishment currently reserved for first-degree murder convictions or repeated sex offenses.

The measure would prohibit such sentences in the future and allow the governor to shorten prison terms for inmates facing such time.

Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, said he raised the plan “for the sake of the state.”

“Right now we have about 21 or 22 people in for life without parole, and there will be more,” Burns said. “And at some point, we’re going to have an aged population of people serving life without parole, and the state’s going to be responsible for their medical care.”

Burns said the plan would give the governor the authority to “basically get rid of the state’s responsibility for these people.”

Cheyenne District Attorney Scott Homar opposes the measure, saying that in some cases, particularly when it comes to sex offenses, “There’s just no question that life without the possibility of parole is the only penalty they should get.”

Linda Burt, with the ACLU of Wyoming, said her group might have concerns with Burns’ bill because it could result in more people receiving death sentences.

Burns spoke at a hearing last week in favor of a separate House bill that would prohibit sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

Wyoming must change its law in regard to juvenile offenders in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that banned mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles.

The pending House bill would specify that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder must serve at least 25 years before they would be eligible for parole.

“You’re not the same person when you’re 17 that you are at 42,” Burns said. “And I don’t think their maturity is formed enough to, frankly, be responsible for the rest of their lives. The fact is, they’re going to serve at least a minimum of 25 years in prison.”

Burns said he expects his fellow legislators will give his bill “a reasonable reflection.” Co-sponsor Rep. Matt Greene, R-Laramie, declined comment.

Homar, the Cheyenne prosecutor, said the Wyoming County and Prosecuting Attorneys Association hasn’t taken a formal position on the proposal.

He said, however, that sex offenders who have been convicted three times have likely committed many more crimes.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Wyo-bill-would-end-life-without-parole-sentences-4203737.php#ixzz2IVaxHEEw

Lifers Giving Back: Hospice in Angola Prison

From Louisiana Prison Watch today. This is what I’ve been trying to get at. We think we have thrown people away with life sentences, but we don’t. We keep them alive, in something of a suspended state of animation for decades, leaving them only the freedom to choose what kind of people they will become as a result of whatever hardships they face from there on out. They don’t ever get “credit” for that – they just are who they are, some innocent, some fully culpable of the crimes they’ve been accused of – some remarkable human beings, regardless. 

We can even learn a little from some of them about mercy and humanity.

I hope the Governor of Mississippi takes that into consideration when deciding what to do with Jamie and her sister – and the rest of his prisoners, as well.

Lifers Giving Back: Angola Prisoners and Hospice.

Came across this, today, looking for Kenny’s address. It’s a reprint from USA today, which I found on the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ website. I don’t want to give the DOC free PR, but I think the story about prisoners being there for eachother needs to be told. I’ll be posting this in a few places today – like Mississippi Prison Watch. Even lifers have something to give that’s worthwhile; when you’re dying, it doesn’t matter so much what someone was convicted of earlier in life – it matters who they have become.


By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
ANGOLA, La. — Ted “Animal” Durbin expected prison life to be about brawls and knife fights — not changing adult diapers or bathing grown men.
Four times a week, Durbin, 51, who’s serving 140 years for armed robbery at Louisiana State
Penitentiary, meets with frail, dying inmates at the prison’s Treatment Center. He bathes them, provides other personal care and often squeezes skeletal hands as their bodies succumb to shriveled livers or stomach cancer. It’s the best job he has ever had, he said.
“I can’t repay society for some of the things that I did,” Durbin said during a recent shift at the prison’s hospice program. “But I can do it right here where I’m at.”
The program at the penitentiary, better known as Angola state prison, is one of a growing number of hospice programs for dying inmates, said Carol McAdoo, a coordinating consultant with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. More than 75 state and federal prisons in 40 states, from California to Iowa to Texas, have hospice programs, she said.
Volunteer inmates shave debilitated prisoners, give them bed baths, help them to the bathroom or clean their rooms. Many of the volunteers are lifers themselves who hope the favor is repaid when they are unable to walk 10 paces to the bathroom.
“I know one day I’m going to be there,” said Scott Meyers, 35, a volunteer at Angola who’s serving 149 consecutive years for armed robbery and second-degree murder. “All I can do is hope there’s going to be someone like me to be there for me.”
The hospice programs underscore the challenges prison officials face in taking care of a rapidly graying prison population. The number of state and federal prisoners age 50 or older has soared from 41,586 in 1992 to more than 167,000 in 2005, McAdoo said. About 3,300 inmates die in prisons each year, she said.
“Tougher sentencing laws have created a huge growth in the number of aging inmates and people who aren’t going to get out before they die,” McAdoo said.
Before the programs, inmates died alone in prison medical wards and often suffered through painful ailments, said Fleet Maull, a former inmate who helped start the nation’s first hospice program at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. The programs also save money by reducing hospital visits, he said.
“When we started, people were being given aspirin for bone cancer,” said Maull, who served 14 years on drug trafficking charges. “Today, people can have a self-administered morphine drip. We’ve figured out how to do these things in a safe and a compassionate way.”
No prison in the USA houses more life-term inmates than Angola, where 3,712 inmates — 74% of the prison population — are serving life sentences, Assistant Warden Cathy Fontenot said. More prisoners die a year at Angola (32) than are paroled (four).
Inmates volunteer for the program, which has served 134 prisoners since it began in 1997. They are taught basic hospice practices and how to counsel a dying inmate. Gary Tyler, 51, who’s serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, joined in 1997 after witnessing four of his friends die.
“I didn’t want the situation I’m in to dehumanize me,” he said. “Everything I thought about life has
changed. This program has reassured me of my humanity.”
Warden Burl Cain created the hospice program after reading about one in the local newspaper, he said. The program has fostered compassion among inmates, he said.
“That’s the real road to rehabilitation: to learn to give to others rather than take from others,” Cain said.
Hospice patients live in six small, windowless rooms in the prison’s Treatment Center. They’re given a hospital bed, a TV with a DVD player and a bedside table.
George Brown, a volunteer inmate, is there often, making sure patients have enough water and are not in pain or in need of bathing. Often, he just sits and listens to them talk — about their families, their crimes and how their lives could have unfurled differently.
Last week, he sat through the night with one patient, Anthony Duke, who was wilting from liver cancer. Brown left him at 2 a.m. Five hours later, Duke was dead.
When an inmate dies, volunteer prisoners wash the body, zip it into a body bag and wheel it to the prison morgue, he said. From there, the body is either delivered to the family or ferried in a horse-drawn hearse to the prison cemetery for burial.
Losing a patient is at once painful and reassuring, said Brown, 49, who’s serving a life sentence for killing two men.
Durbin, who earned his nickname after biting off a man’s nose in a fight, says a prayer each day for 11 months when one of his patients dies. He also collects pictures of all his dead inmates. One day a year, he spreads them across his bed and meditates.
“This program has brought me to my own existence, my own humanity,” Durbin said. “When I was young,I didn’t care about nothing. This gives me something to care about.”