UK: Hewell Prison the worst in Britain – Murder, suicide, blunders and escapes

15 February 2015
Reblogged from: Birmingham Mail
Written by Nick McCarthy

Redditch jail comes in for heavy criticism following catalogue of catastrophe

Campaigners have branded a crisis-hit Midland prison as one of the worst in Britain.
HMP Hewell, on the outskirts of Redditch, has been hit by rocketing death rates and chronic overcrowding.

It is the prison where evil Leo Barnes managed to hang himself last month – in the middle of his trial for the murder of helpless pensioners Cynthia Beamond and Philip Silverstone.

But that was just one of a catalogue of problems at Hewell since it was officially opened on June 25, 2008.

There have been suicides, blunders, escapes – and even a MURDER.

In fact, the Howard League for Penal Reform has recorded one murder and four suicides at Hewell in the last 12 months alone.

And the charity has revealed that Hewell was running at more than 25 per cent above its capacity in November – the same month a scathing report was published following by HM Inspector of Prisons.

The report found that the use of force at the prison was increasing, 40 per cent of cells were overcrowded, and almost one in five prisoners had developed a drug problem whilst behind bars.

Read the rest here.

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons

Opinion
in: CS Monitor

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons
Finally, America is beginning to tackle overcrowded prisons, prompted by financially strapped states that can no longer afford them. The road to prison reform, and less crowding, includes revamping ‘three strikes’ laws, as in California, and limiting pre-trial detention.

By Arjun Sethi / December 29, 2011

Necessity can spur novelty. Even political novelty. As the need for fiscal austerity grows, an unlikely alliance has emerged between policymakers and public advocates who have long sought criminal justice reform. These policymakers are realizing what advocates have reiterated for years: The nation’s addiction to incarceration as a curb on crime must end. The evidence is staggering.

In California, 54 prisoners may share a single toilet and 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium supervised by two or three officers. Suicidal inmates may be held for protracted periods in cages without toilets and the wait times for mental health care sometimes reach 12 months.

Citing these conditions and more, the Supreme Court ruled in May that California prisoners were deprived adequate access to medical and mental health care in violation of the Eighth Amendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the early release of tens of thousands of inmates.

Prison overcrowding is ubiquitous and shows few signs of abating: Between 1970 and 2005, the nation’s inmate population grew by 700 percent. Besides impeding access to health care, overcrowding also creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions, diverts prison resources away from education and social development, and forces low- and high-risk offenders to mingle, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Expect additional lawsuits. That’s why a consortium of states, including Illinois, Texas, and my home state of Virginia, submitted an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of California.

America’s overreliance on incarceration has also impeded the rights of criminal defendants. TheSixth Amendment guarantees legal representation to individuals charged with a crime. Yet, because of the crushing volume of cases, indigent defense programs often suffer from inadequate staffing, funding, and supervision.

In Kentucky, a public defender may represent more than 450 clients in a single year. In Miami, Florida, the annual case load is nearly 500 felonies and 2,225 misdemeanors. The consequences include wrongful incarceration, wrongful convictions, and guilty pleas when meritorious defenses are otherwise available.

Civil rights groups in Michigan and New York have already brought lawsuits seeking an overhaul of their states’ indigent defense systems. These lawsuits might be a harbinger for the future: States unfaithful to the promise of the Sixth Amendment may be forced to increase funding and restructure legislative priorities.

Protecting prisoners and criminal defendants is not just about fidelity to the Bill of Rights. It is about recognizing that they are acutely vulnerable because they do not have access to coalitions and political networks capable of effecting change. Affording them protection is consistent with the enduring constitutional principle that political democracy alone cannot adequately protect the rights of certain groups of people.

First, revamp habitual-offender laws, now in effect in more than 20 states, which regularly yield perverse sentences.

California’s three-strikes law, for example, was passed during the paranoia that followed the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a long-time violent offender, and is so egregiously punitive that nonviolent petty theft may serve as a “third strike.” Leandro Andrade, a father of three, who never once committed a violent felony, received two sentences of 25 years-to-life for stealing children’s videotapes, including “Free Willy 2” and “Cinderella,” from Kmart. A new ballot initiative in California, “The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012,” seeks to change this law.

Second, implement misdemeanor reform by decriminalizing offenses such as feeding the homeless, dog-leash violations, and occupying multiple seats on the subway. Such reform is vital: between 1972 and 2006, misdemeanor prosecutions rose from 5 million to 10.5 million.

Third, limit the use of pre-trial detention. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s prison population haven’t been convicted of a crime – they are awaiting trial. Many are arrested for low-risk offenses such as disturbing the peace or traffic violations, and they languish in jail because they can’t afford bail. Releasing these individuals would not jeopardize public safety and would reduce overcrowding and public defender case loads. Just this year, Kentucky terminated pre-trial detention for numerous drug offenses and mandated citations rather than arrests for certain misdemeanors.

Fourth, impose nonprison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations like missing a meeting or court appearance. This would dramatically ameliorate overcrowding and excessive case loads given that over a third of all prison admissions are for such types of violations. Texas is leading the charge here, and through such measures has significantly reduced its inmate population.

The spirit that animates the Sixth and Eighth Amendments is human dignity. A recognition that no matter the crime or harm, criminal defendants and prisoners retain a dignity that must be respected.

Thirty years ago, a group of inmates claimed they were deprived of this dignity and, in what has since become a subject of fascination in American pop culture, rioted at Attica Correctional Facilityin New York. The ensuing violence and its death toll serves as an ominous reminder that Americamust pursue criminal justice reform if it is to honor this dignity.

Arjun Sethi is an attorney.

http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/1229/Four-ways-to-relieve-overcrowded-prisons

California organizations outline smart, safe prison population reduction strategies

by Emily Harris
Via the SF Bay View
June 18th 2011

Oakland – In response to the May 23 Supreme Court ruling on California prison overcrowding, a statewide alliance of over 40 organizations known as Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) is pushing the state to take up a number of strategies that would make substantial reductions in the prison population while potentially freeing up billions of dollars for programs and services devastated by California’s budget crisis.

CURB, which works to both shrink California’s prison population and end costly prison and jail construction, released “The Budget for Humanity” in March of this year. “The Budget for Humanity” outlines a series of smart and safe strategies that California could push forward to reduce the prison population in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. These strategies include:

– Reforming drug sentencing laws by making possession of small amounts of drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
– Eliminating return-to-custody as a sanction for administrative and technical parole violations.
– Making low-level, non-violent property offenses misdemeanors instead of “wobblers” which can be charged as a felony.
– Repealing or amending the three strikes law so that the second and third strike must also be classified as “serious or violent.”
– Providing education and/or job training to every person in prison.
– Expanding “good time” credits.
– Providing independent community-based drug, mental health treatment and reentry services to people coming home from prison.
– Releasing or discharging all people who are terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated by expanding medical parole and utilizing compassionate release.
– Releasing elderly prisoners.
– Paroling term-to-life prisoners who are parole eligible.
– Amending or repealing juvenile life without parole convictions
– Releasing people who are “mentally ill” to community-based mental health treatment programs.

CURB points out that most of these strategies have been safely and sustainably implemented in other states across the U.S. Additionally, CURB’s Budget for Humanity argues vehemently against jail and prison bed expansion to address overcrowding. CURB calls prison and jail construction a “false solution” to the Supreme Court ruling and continues to criticize the billions of dollars of prison construction spending authorized by California’s controversial AB 900 lease revenue bond.

To view CURB’s 50 ways to reduce the number of people in prison in California visit http://curbprisonspending.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/50waysCurb.pdf.

Emily Harris is statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). She can be reached at (510) 435-1176 or emily@curbprisonspending.org.

Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons aren’t rehabilitating inmates

Want to lower the prison population? Don’t build more beds, build lives
Emily’s Post: Wisconsin’s overcrowded prisons aren’t rehabilitating inmates

Isthmus Daily Page

Emily Mills, 03/04/2010

A new report says that Wisconsin needs to spend $1.2 billion to upgrade its prison facilities, including adding 8,900 beds to help with overcrowding.

The prison population in our state is somewhere around 22,000. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “In 2008, over 7.3 million people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at year-end–3.2% of all U.S. adult residents or 1 in every 31 adults.”

The U.S. has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. Even taking into consideration those countries that don’t properly report the number of people it locks up, the numbers in America are staggering. Prison overpopulation has become a very real, very urgent problem in most states, so I can’t say that it’s a surprise to hear about it happening right here in Wisconsin.
That it’s not unexpected, however, doesn’t make it any less appalling.

The problem, of course, is that this is a complicated problem with a dizzying array of contributing factors. And everyone has a different opinion about how to best go about solving it. Some folks who fancy themselves real hard asses like to talk about privatizing the prison system to reduce costs, as well as throwing the biggest book at even the most non-violent of offenders. Others fall on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

Me? I land somewhere decidedly in the middle. I think we put too many people in jail, and I think we operate our jails too much like points-of-no-return as opposed to the houses of reform they were supposed to be.

In terms of population, this is definitely a case where less is more.
The fact that some one million inmates are in for non-violent offenses, too, offends me. Simply having the bad fortune of living with or visiting someone involved in the drug trade can be enough to put you behind bars for the better part of your life. It just doesn’t make sense. Don’t believe me? Read a few of the personal stories listed on the Families Against Mandatory Minimums website.

Our sentencing rules need serious reform. So do our attitudes about things like marijuana, as well as toward addiction in general. Throwing people with a disease, or a relatively harmless plant, into jail is both unjust and wasteful. Taking a long, hard look at our sentencing policies would likely go a long way toward putting a dent in our bloated prison population.

What might also help is a solid early release program for non-violent offenders who do deserve some jail time. Gov. Doyle attempted to do that when he passed Wisconsin Act 28 as part of last year’s budget. The provision was ostensibly supposed to create a system of early-release in order to help stem the increases in inmate population we’ve been seeing in recent years.
And while it does end the double-bunking policy that has caused so much trouble (a good move), it still misses the mark. The problem with the act was that it attempted the early release policy without much structure or forethought.

As pointed out at the time by Zachary Wisniewski at Blogging Blue, the types of offenses now eligible for early release simply don’t make sense:
…under the new early release provisions, an individual convicted of aggravated battery to an unborn child is statutorily eligible to earn early release from prison as well as an early discharge from extended supervision once released from prison, while an individual convicted of a nonviolent offense such as misconduct in public office is not eligible for early release from prison or an early discharge from extended supervision. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing misconduct in public office – or any other felony, for that matter – aren’t serious offenses, but they’re certainly not as seriously assaultive as a crime like aggravated battery to an unborn child.

There’s a full list of the other offenses that fall under the new early release program at the same post linked above. They include things like stalking, false imprisonment, and physical abuse of a child. Those are decidedly not non-violent offenses and I have no idea how they ended up on this list.

But say we did (eventually) get the early-release program right. That’s not enough. We need to couple that with comprehensive rehabilitation and reentry programs that help people returning to society with things like education, job preparedness, finding a place to live, etc. Just turning people out onto the streets does little to nothing to prevent recidivism—which, after all, is supposed to be the point of putting people in jail for less than a life sentence.
Thankfully, there are such programs in place in many of our state’s detention facilities: everything from a successful MATC accredited horticultural program to high school equivalency programs and even a prison library program.

Kyle Nabilcy, a prison librarian, has witnessed the success of the program first-hand. “Anecdotally,” he notes, “I can tell you that very few of the men who have worked for me as inmate clerks have returned to a similar or higher security level of incarceration, or reoffended. I can only think of two out of probably 30-35 in almost seven years.”

Nabilcy also went on to suggest a different use for any state funds earmarked for prisons. “I would love to see some of that money going into improving the technological infrastructure of DOC. More and more of the educational programs are digital, and our resources are getting more and more out of date every day.”

Once again, prevention and education seem to be the most important tools for fixing the problem.

Are elderly prisoners really a threat to public safety?

Nursing homes with razor wire
Are elderly prisoners really a threat to public safety?
By David Fathi
LA Times
December 23, 2009

Sometime in the 1970s, the United States began a love affair with incarceration that continues to this day. After holding nearly steady for decades, our prison population began to climb as criminal justice policy took a sharply punitive turn, with the massive criminalization of drug use, “three strikes” laws and other harsh sentencing practices. More people were going to prison, and staying there longer. By 2005, the prison population was six times what it had been in 1975.

One little-known side effect of this population explosion has been a sharp increase in the number of elderly people behind bars. According to the Justice Department, in 1980 the United States had about 9,500 prisoners age 55 and older; by 2008, the number had increased tenfold, to 94,800. That same year, the number of prisoners 50 and older was just shy of 200,000 — about the size of the entire U.S. prison population in the early 1970s.

People age 50 or 55 may seem a bit young to be classified as elderly. But because their lives have often been characterized by poverty, trauma and limited access to medical care and rehabilitative services, most prisoners are physiologically older than their chronological age would suggest, and more likely to have disabling medical conditions than the general population. One study cited by Ronald H. Aday in his 1994 article in Federal Probation concluded that the average prisoner over 50 has a physiological age 11.5 years older than his chronological age.

With 1 in 11 U.S. prisoners serving a life sentence — in some states, the figure is 1 in 6 — it’s no surprise that the number of elderly prisoners is skyrocketing. In 2007, the New York Times profiled then-89-year-old Charles Friedgood, a New York state prisoner who had served more than 30 years of a life sentence for second-degree murder. Although he had terminal cancer and had undergone several operations, including a colostomy, he had been denied parole five times before being released in 2007. Friedgood at least had the opportunity to apply for parole; in some states, parole has been abolished, and a life sentence means exactly that.

Being in prison is hard on anyone, but the elderly face special dangers, particularly if they are ill or disabled. Some have complex medical and mental health needs that prisons are ill-equipped to handle. Many prisons are not accessible to persons with mobility impairments; for them, bathing, using the toilet or even getting in and out of their cells can be a difficult, dangerous challenge. And older prisoners are more likely to be robbed, assaulted or otherwise victimized.

Some states have so many elderly prisoners that they have built special facilities to house them. Several years ago I visited the Ahtanum View Corrections Center, Washington state’s prison for the elderly. Everywhere I looked were aged, frail, disabled people, some of whom could barely move without assistance. The prison’s webpage helpfully points out that a volunteer clergy team is available to assist prisoners with “end-of-life issues.”

The main justification for incarceration is to protect public safety. But it’s hard to see the public safety rationale for keeping so many elderly people in prison.

It’s even harder to understand the economic justification. Incarceration is expensive — about $24,000 per year for the average prisoner, according to a 2008 Pew Center on the States report. Keeping someone over 55 locked up costs about three times as much. Given that criminal behavior drops off dramatically with advancing age, this is a major investment for very little return.

As the United States faces its worst fiscal crisis in decades, many states are taking a hard look at their prisons, which consume a large and increasing portion of state budgets. As part of this long overdue re-examination, lawmakers should ask whether so many elderly people really need to be in prison and whether the state should be in the business of operating nursing homes with razor wire.

David Fathi is director of the U.S. division at Human Rights Watch.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-fathi24-2009dec24,0,1216548.story

Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Madison Capital Times: Democrats want to reduce state’s prison population

Democrats seeking to reduce Wisconsin’s prison population are reintroducing a batch of bills vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle this summer. This is a picture of an inmate at a prison in Arizona, which is considering turning over its prisons to private companies. MATT YORK | Associated Press

This summer, Gov. Jim Doyle made a controversial decision to roll back truth-in-sentencing legislation and let up to 3,000 nonviolent inmates out of prison early to save the state the $29,000 or so it cost to house each of them every year. Fellow Democrats in the Legislature hoped that Doyle would also sign into law measures they introduced to further chip away at the state’s burgeoning prison population, but Doyle vetoed many of them.

Now Democrats are re-introducing those measures. It’s unlikely that they will pass as written, but legislators hope they will provide a starting point to keep the debate going, possibly through several legislative sessions. Doyle, after all, has decided not to run for re-election and will only be in office for another year.

“Obviously because these specific proposals were vetoed, we’re going to have to work with everyone to fashion policies that we can move through the Legislature and have enacted,” says Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, chairman of the Assembly corrections committee.

The measures, introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly, are intended to keep inmates from landing back in prison after they have served their prison sentences but while they remain on extended supervision, which has become a key contributor to the prison population explosion. One provision would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime.

According to a study by the Justice Center of the Council on State Governments, a nonpartisan Kentucky-based association, the average stay for such violations in 2007 was 18 months, costing the state $99 million that year.

The Justice Center, which has successfully helped other states, including Kansas and Texas, reduce prison populations, made several other recommendations that Democrats included in the 2009-11 budget. But Doyle vetoed those, saying Department of Corrections officials need a free hand to determine who should get out of prison.

The proposals would have limited the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars, required the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011 and expanded community-based mental health and job placement services.

While Doyle allowed $10 million for community-based services, Democratic lawmakers wanted $20 million more — $8 million to bolster mental health services for severely mentally ill offenders on parole or extended supervision, and $12 million for transitional employment programs — as another means to keep offenders who have been released from re-offending.

“We have to break the cycle of people being released into the community and being unsuccessful and landing back in our prison,” Parisi says. “That’s the main driver of our prison population right now.”

Truth-in-sentencing legislation in 1999 abolished parole and replaced it with extended supervision, making it mandatory for inmates to serve out their entire sentences. Since then, the prison population has grown by 14 percent to about 22,500 and is projected to climb another 25 percent by 2019 if nothing is done to stop it. The further increase is expected to cost the state $2.5 billion in construction and operating costs.

Some Republicans howled at Doyle’s decision to let nonviolent offenders out of prison before reaching the end of their jail terms, but one key lawmaker says such measures were inevitable.

“At the time truth-in-sentencing was passed, and I voted for it, most knowledgeable people felt that there would be some follow-up legislation to prevent that bill from becoming too expensive,” says state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the ranking Republican on the Senate corrections committee.

He says he doesn’t go along with law-and-order Republicans who oppose letting anyone out of prison before their sentences are served. And he says Doyle’s move will allow the Department of Corrections to hold the line on the prison population, but do little to reduce it.

“Something should be done,” Grothman says.

But he doesn’t support proposals that would cost more money. For instance, he says, while inmates with jobs are less likely to re-offend, the $20 million for community-based services is unnecessary. The Department of Corrections, he says, already has enough employees to provide those services now.

“I’m sure Doyle did the right thing in vetoing them,” he says of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals. “Obviously we’re broke.”

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative proposals aren’t the only pending legislation that deal with inmates.
Another Assembly bill would allow felons who have been released from prison to vote while they remain on extended supervision. Currently offenders are barred from voting until they have served out their entire sentence.

Parisi says the measure would save money by eliminating the felon lists that poll workers have to use to verify voter eligibility and also reduce lines on Election Day by making the polling process less complicated.
In addition, he says, studies have shown that former inmates who are allowed to vote tend to be less likely to re-offend.

And there’s also a racial justice component, Parisi says. Wisconsin has one of the nation’s worst track records in disproportionately locking up blacks, who make up nearly half of Wisconsin’s prison population while constituting just 6 percent of the state’s population.

“Since the criminal justice system targets blacks, it also disproportionately disenfranchises them,” Parisi says.
The measure has support among many Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature. All 18 co-sponsors in the Assembly are Democrats as well as four co-sponsors in the Senate. The bill passed the corrections committee on a party-line vote, clearing it for further debate in the full Assembly, but it is unlikely to garner wide bipartisan support.

Rep. Karl Van Roy, R-Green Bay, the ranking Republican on the Assembly corrections committee, was not available for comment. But he told constituents in a statement posted on his website that giving released felons the right to vote would allow them “to forget the reason why they lost their right to vote in the first place.”

“When you choose to commit a serious crime against society and you are found guilty by a court of law, you must forfeit certain rights for a prescribed amount of time in order to repay your debt to society,” he wrote.
Another bill introduced in the Assembly would dent county budgets. It would require that inmate phone charges in county jails not exceed rates charged by the state Department of Corrections.

The bill would come at a time when Dane County has already reduced phone charges for inmates. In 2007, the County Board voted to stop the county from profiting on inmate phone calls, which cost inmates $4.25 for a connection fee plus up to 50 cents a minute. This year, the charges are expected to bring in just over $800,000 for the county, but next year, when the new contract with the jail’s phone service provider, Inmate Calling Solutions, goes into effect, those rates will drop to 33 cents a minute for a local call and the connection fee will be eliminated. That would earn the county about $476,000, the 2010 county budget projects, which officials say is just enough to cover costs.

Under the state bill, the county would have to further reduce its rates to 12 cents a minute for in-state calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls with no connection fee — the rates currently charged by the Department of Corrections.

If passed, the law would have no impact until the county’s new contract with Inmate Calling Solutions expires in 2012.

At a time when the county is already trying to pinch pennies, the bill, which has had a public hearing but not a committee vote, would put a further burden on county taxpayers, according to Capt. Jeff Teuscher, Dane County jail administrator.

“Someone would have to absorb those costs,” he says. “In all likelihood, if that bill would pass, then that will be Dane County taxpayers.”

INMATE LEGISLATION

A series of bills introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly deal with getting inmates out of prison or keeping them from returning after being released. Provisions would cap at 90 days the amount of time an offender would spend in prison for rule violations that don’t constitute a new crime; limit the time offenders spend on extended supervision to 75 percent of the time they spend behind bars; and require the Department of Corrections to reduce recidivism by 25 percent by 2011. Another measure would add $20 million to the budget for community-based mental health and job-training services.

The proposals have virtually no change of passing as written. They were included in the state budget last summer and Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed the limits on prison time, and reduced $30 million Democrats wanted for community-based services to $10 million. But Democrats say re-introducing the bills provides a starting point for compromise measures.

Assembly Bill 353 would allow felons who have been released from prison, but remain on extended supervision, to vote. Currently, offenders are prohibited from voting until they have served their entire sentences.

The measure has Democratic support and passed the Assembly corrections committee on a party-line vote.

Assembly Bill 144 would prohibit county jails from charging inmates more than the state Department of Corrections does for phone calls. The legislation would likely affect revenues at nearly every jail in the state. The office of state Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, the author of the bill, reports that every jail that responded to a survey of phone rates charges more than the new state rates of 12 cents a minute for local calls and 18 cents a minute for out-of-state calls, with no connection fee.

The bill has received a public hearing, and Kessler has added an amendment that would allow current jail phone contracts to expire before the requirement kicks in. But the corrections committee has not voted on the proposal.

Assembly Bill 448 would require those held in a prison, jail or a juvenile facility to pay a portion of medical or dental care, through deductibles, coinsurance, copayments or other charges.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Mark Radcliffe, D-Black River Falls, and has three Democratic and three Republican co-sponsors in the Assembly, plus one Democrat and two Republicans in the Senate. The bill is opposed by Rep. Joe Parisi, D-Madison, the Assembly corrections committee chairman, who is unlikely to allow a hearing on it.

Assembly Bill 345 would prevent the state Department of Corrections from entering into any agreement to house detainees from the Guantanamo Bay naval base. Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, who introduced the bill, says it would make Wisconsin a “Terrorist Free Zone.”

The proposal has Republican support, but Parisi says the legislation is unnecessary since there has been no talk of housing inmates from Guantanamo Bay in Wisconsin’s prisons.