Cecily McMillan (OWS Activist) Released from Rikers Island: Uses Platform to Challenge Systemic Injustices Incarcerated Women Face Daily

This is from: SparrowMedia, July 2nd 2014

[NEW YORK, NY] Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street.

This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012.

The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST:

“Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

“Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Rikers isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed are aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restoring dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

“First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.

“The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently. About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

“After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

“Our next demand is that Corrections Officers should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

“Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

“Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower re-incarceration rates.

“We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are given. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

“Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of jail has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the resilient community I have encountered in a system that is stacked against us. The only difference between people we call “law-abiding” citizens and the women I served time with is the unequal access to resources. Crossing the bridge I am compelled to reach back and recognize the two worlds as undivided. The court sent me here to frighten me and others into silencing our dissent, but I am proud to walk out saying that the 99% is, in fact, stronger than ever. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this earth.”

Cecily McMillan is a New York City activist and graduate student wrongfully imprisoned for felony assault of a police officer after an incident at an Occupy Wall Street event on March 17, 2012. Officer Grantley Bovell grabbed her right breast from behind and lifted her into the air, at which other officers joined Officer Bovell in beating McMillan until she had a series of seizures. She was convicted on May 5th after a trial in which Judge Ronald Zweibel disallowed key pieces of evidence from the defense. On May 19th she was sentenced to a 90-day sentence and 5 years of probation after a large public campaign for leniency, which included an appeal to the judge signed by 9 of the 12 jurors, who thought she should be given no further jail time. The sentence on this charge is typically a term of 2-7 years of incarceration.

It takes one Shift to Ruin a Future

We received the following reality-check from someone caring for a person in prison:

To the Reader:

My friend in a Colorado prison wrote this essay. Candy is grandmother, not a master criminal, and sees what is happening. As a troubled teenager, she first went into a system that did not want to prevent crime, only to punish after its commission. 

She asked me to help her show people how the government is wasting our tax dollars and ignoring chances to prevent recidivism. Employees who don’t care what happens as long as they get a paycheck, are as detrimental working in prisons as in any business. Would you want them working for you? They are.

IT TAKES ONE SHIFT TO RUIN A FUTURE

By Candy Ra Coppinger

There are many lives sitting here in prison today. All have made bad choices. Many still do. Many come from all sorts of dysfunctional backgrounds—all sorts of abuse. We cry out for help.

The system places people in power or authority to see to our well-being. You may ask, “Are they still being neglected and abused behind the walls?” There is the aggressive, controlling officer who downgrades you; the one who uses unnecessary physical force on you. How about the officer, who, as a woman was having a violent seizure, was screaming and cussing at the individual on the floor with convulsions? Or the one who knows you are having a conflict with another inmate, instead of trying to diffuse it, keeps the strife going? What about the officer who brings in contraband to exchange for sex with a prisoner?

Your taxes are supposed to provide better medical care, education, and security. Instead, the administrative offices here were redecorated. You should see the beautiful cherry desk in the warden’s office. They can’t afford medical staff or teachers.

A COPD hearing is the due process given to inmates who break facility rules. The Colorado Code of Penal Discipline has rules that cover violations from not making your bed, to smoking a cigarette, to bartering and trading items you purchased from the commissary. Do you have any idea how many people are convicted at these hearings by an anonymous “kite?” (An unverified note saying, “Inmate #123 is guilty, but I can’t testify in public.”) So much for trying to do right if someone dislikes you.

Many inmates have no outside financial support. All inmates are required to work. The average 40 hour per week job pays $12.60 a month. Twenty percent of the $12.60 goes toward paying restitution and/or child support. That leaves approximately $9.00 on which the inmate must live for a month. If you have a civil case, such as a tort or a lawsuit pending, that takes another 20%. Don’t have a medical emergency. There goes another $5.00. Need hygiene items? What happens to the personal care products that religious organizations donate? Items must be purchased from the canteen. With little money, their convenience store prices redefine the term indigent.

Official policy says having affirmative family support is important. Explain this to your 75 year old grandmother who had her letter returned because she forgot to put the unit number on the envelope. Then, you recall the night when your spouse got drunk and loud. The neighbors called the police. Now, you can’t correspond or visit with him because of the domestic violence dispute. That you’ve been married for ten years and he’s trying, alone, to raise your two children doesn’t matter. If you can’t write him, what makes you think you can parole home to your spouse and children? It’s hard to maintain family support when you can’t communicate.
All the instability you had growing up—the inconsistency of what you could do or not—don’t worry. You’ still have all that instability and inconsistency in prison.

Everything depends on who, what, when, where and how. Right and left do not connect. Once you settle into a room with people with whom you’re compatible, you’ll get moved to a room that is chaotic. What is stability? Where do we get it?

You may ask how these kinds of things ruin a future. They are keeping a person in his or her distorted thinking. They are continuing the cycles that led many to incarceration: instability, inconsistency, lack of communication. Every time you cut educational programs, or use that funding for something else, you are taking away a person’s opportunity to grow and become a productive member of society. When you can’t or won’t provide an individual adequate medical care, is that not telling him or her they don’t matter? Are we not continuing to keep these individuals from having the hope and desire to have a better life within the legal parameters of our society? When you hire substandard employees, you are placing lives in their hands.

Ask yourself, is that shift I’m running ruining a future or raising prospects for a better future?

CRC 5/12/13

Write to Candy for support:

Candy Ra Coppinger #59072
La Vista Correctional Facility
PO Box 3
Pueblo, CO 81002
USA

Also posted on Prison Watch for Imprisoned Women

Jail postcard-only policies should be ‘returned to sender,’ says new report

Press Release: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/postcards/pressrelease.html

Easthampton, MA — Local jails should think twice before cutting off letters from home, says the research think tank Prison Policy Initiative in a new report, “Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 7, 2012
Contact:
Leah Sakala
(413) 527-0845
lsakala@prisonpolicy.org

Easthampton, MA — Local jails should think twice before cutting off letters from home, says the research think tank Prison Policy Initiative in a new report, “Return to Sender: Postcard-only Mail Policies in Jail.”

The report argues that the growing jail trend to ban letters and restrict mail to only postcards deters communication that is essential for keeping people from reoffending after release. “Letters are one of the three main ways that people in jails maintain family ties. Phone calls are outrageously expensive, and limited visiting hours often make letters the only viable way to stay in touch,” said Leah Sakala, the report’s author and a policy analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “The social science research is clear — people in jail need to maintain strong outside ties to keep from coming right back after they’re released.”

Sheriffs often claim that restricting incoming and outgoing mail to postcards will reduce the time it takes to screen for contraband, but, Sakala said, “the public must insist that sheriffs balance vague claims of cost savings against the very expensive risk that individuals whose community ties have been jeopardized by the postcard-only policies will return to jail.”

The report demonstrates, often with examples from successful lawsuits, why postcards are inadequate substitutes for letters. Not only does communication via postcard cost 34 times as much as via letter, but banning envelopes forces people to choose between exposing personal information to anyone who sees the postcard or not communicating at all. “Requiring family members who want to stay in touch to pay extra and expose private information ensures that they are punished, too,” Sakala explained. “The security practices of all state and federal prisons show that correctional facilities can effectively screen mail without resorting to postcard-only policies.”

The report also finds that postcard-only mail rules contradict the best practices outlined by major professional organizations, including the American Correctional Association and the American Jail Association.

The postcard-only policy trend began five years ago with controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and caught on at first among administrators of small county jails. Today, dozens of jails in at least 13 states have instituted postcard-only policies. Most recently, the San Diego County Jail embraced the policy in September, and the Sacramento County Jail is set to enforce its own version on February 10. Also last fall, a prison in New Mexico was poised to be the first state prison to implement a postcard-only restriction, but at the last minute the state Department of Corrections intervened and indefinitely postponed the policy.
A federal trial is currently underway in Oregon to determine if the Columbia County Jail’s postcard-only policy violates the free speech rights of incarcerated people and those who correspond with them. While the trial is ongoing, the judge has already issued a preliminary injunction against the jail’s postcard-only policy.
The report calls for jails with postcard-only policies to rescind them, and calls on state and federal agencies to refuse to contract with facilities that have postcard-only policies.

The report is available at http://www.prisonpolicy.org/postcards .

State prisons rethink solitary confinement

This is an article from the Seattle Times:

Washington’s prisons are at the forefront of a new approach to solitary confinement, finding that a new focus on rehabilitation may calm some inmates’ behavior in prison and prevent violence once they are back on the street.

By Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times, January 7, 2013

CLALLAM BAY CORRECTIONS CENTER — Being alone in your own head 23 hours a day in a 48-square-foot poured-concrete cell makes, inmates say, the mad madder and the bad even worse.

“One guy told me he had, like, 15 faces on tissue paper, and he had names on them,” said inmate Michael Richards, who spent about seven of the last 11 years in solitary confinement at Clallam Bay Corrections Center. “He’d say, ‘Hey Bob, good morning.’ He’d talk to them through the day, just to keep that contact, because he couldn’t talk to anyone else.”

For centuries, solitary confinement has been the big stick of prisons, the harshest means to deter rule-breaking.

But the benefits are being reconsidered, and Washington state is at the forefront of a national re-examination. Instead of facing nothing but forced solitude, Washington inmates in solitary units — called Intensive Management Units, or IMUs — are increasingly being let out for hours to attend classes, see counselors or hit the gym.

It is a clear move to the left in prison management, but one that Washington prison managers say is rooted in data. More emphasis on rehabilitation appears to calm behavior in the prison, and cuts violent recidivism on the streets, experts say. It is also a cost-saver: Solitary confinement costs about three times as much as keeping a prisoner in general custody.

At Walla Walla, hard-core gang members assigned to isolation units are chained to classroom desks for nine hours a week. At the Monroe Correctional Complex, a special unit for inmates with mental illness and traumatic brain injuries — who often end up in solitary confinement — is in the works.

At Clallam Bay, once the so-called gladiator ground of the state prison system, the new approach has slowed a revolving door of hardened inmates who returned, again and again, to isolation.

“Now that we’ve got it up and running, to look at it through the rearview mirror, we wonder why didn’t we do this 10 years ago,” said Assistant Secretary Dan Pacholke, a 30-year Department of Corrections (DOC) veteran.

A failed notion

Solitary confinement’s history is a pendulum swing between concepts of punishment and rehabilitation. It was pioneered in the early 1800s so inmates, alone with just a Bible, could repent. It fell out of favor when the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890 found inmates, unreformed, instead grew “violently insane” or suicidal.

It returned to wider use in the 1990s as states, drifting from rehabilitation, built “Supermax” prisons; by 2005, 40 states had at least 25,000 prisoners on lockdown 23 hours a day. A series of recent lawsuits, alleging the practice violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, led to court orders curtailing its use.

Washington avoided such lawsuits but began reconsidering solitary after violent clashes in IMU units at Shelton in the mid-1990s. About 400 of the state’s 17,500 inmates are in such units, which also house death-row prisoners and those in protective custody.

University of Washington professor David Lovell studied solitary confinement in the state under a DOC contract, and found the isolated inmates were most often gang members serving long sentences for violent crimes. Up to 45 percent were mentally ill or had traumatic brain injuries.

And once in solitary, they stayed in — for nearly a year, on average — because prison staff were reluctant to send likely violent inmates back into the general population.

Those who were released often returned, after committing new assaults on corrections officers or other inmates.

Most disturbing, Lovell found a quarter of inmates were released to the streets directly from solitary confinement. Unaccustomed to human contact, they were more prone to quickly commit new violence.

Despite those findings, Lovell, now a criminal-justice analyst in California, said inmates in isolation “are not permanently dangerous.”

“What we found most surprising was how intact many of them were” even after months of solitude, said Lovell. “It shows you that people can get used to anything. I’m not sure how heartwarming that conclusion is.”

“Time to jump”

Roy Marchand, serving 10 years for manslaughter, did 27 months in isolation, but lasted just 30 days before getting into a fight and going right back.

“The minute you think it’s disrespect time or what not, it’s time to jump, because usually the one who jumps first gets on top,” he said.

Life in solitary is spare: no personal effects except what can be posted within a 12- by 18-inch space on the wall; meals slid through a door; and one hour a day for showering or for exercise in a small, walled yard, with two officers in escort.

At Clallam Bay, the path out of isolation runs through the color-coded tiers of the Intensive Transition Program (ITP), housed since 2006 in a unit originally built for juveniles.

About 30 inmates, all volunteers, agree to a nine-month program stocked with coursework such as “moral recognition therapy” and “self-repair,” gradually earning more freedoms.

“Someone needs to say, “I want this,’ ” said IMU supervisor Steve Blakeman, bald and weathered, a corrections officer out of central casting. “The novelty of living in a box has worn off.”

Isolation has a purpose, Blakeman said, comparing it to the “adult version of having to stand in the corner.” But Lovell’s data — especially on the recidivism for those released directly to the street — was important, Blakeman said.

“These are the guys who are going to be in the grocery-store line next to your daughter one day,” he said. “This is an ethic and legal responsibility we have to the community.”

The four-step program starts in an unusual classroom: a row of steel cages, inmates chained to floor-mounted chain hooks beneath metal desks. Earnest Collins, a 24-year-old serving a life sentence for murdering a SeaTac cabdriver, volunteered after two fights earned him trips to solitary.

The program, he acknowledged, also would allow him more visits with his toddler-aged son. Family visits are highly restricted while an inmate is in isolation.

Collins insists he is “open” to change, reading, at Blakeman’s suggestion, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

“I wish life were like ‘The Butterfly Effect,’ ” said Collins, recalling a 2004 movie about a man using supernatural power to alter past events. “I wish I could go back.”

Before the program started, inmates released from isolation returned more than 50 percent of the time. Since then, 131 inmates have graduated; 107 have not returned.

“It works because it’s rational for someone to choose to live in a way that doesn’t have them locked in a hole,” said Lovell. “If you give them the choice, it’s a rational decision to make.”

Mental plight

In prison lingo, they are called “dings” — inmates suffering psychotic episodes, banging on sinks, smearing feces on themselves and their walls, shouting in their solo cells. Inmates with mental illness have historically clustered in isolation units, sometimes because of their behavior, sometimes voluntarily checking into protective custody.

Clallam Bay’s ITP has two staff psychologists, one of the biggest added costs.

Pacholke, the assistant DOC secretary, said the planned isolation unit at Monroe for inmates with mental illness or traumatic brain injuries will include group mental-health care, a result of work with disability advocates. “You want to somewhat create a safe harbor,” he said.
Read the rest here:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020081649_prison08m.html

Redemptive Solitude – A Question of Justice

This is a true and real piece of writing by an expert in the field: Spoon Jackson: “poet/writer/actor and teaching artist and a lover of nature.” Read his blog here and don’t forget to write him with some positive thoughts.

Link to original story

The question of justice and equal treatment for the poor, prisoners and people of color in America is absurd, and all the pundits, lawyers, judges, activists and legal folks know that. Historically, it is a question of power and a question of games.

What is most disturbing to me, is how hard it is for the public in America to see how prison is inherently retributive, evil, unforgiving and a deterrent. When prisons need to be more than just an ugly place. If the public used their senses, empirical and empathic, they would know how important some kind of positive flow is.

If individual members of the public spent a few hours, a night or a day in a cell, perhaps in solitary confinement they would realize how deep the wounds are and go. The public would then see no need to heap punishment upon punishment on people already dispirited and beaten down by their actions and losses in life. Being deprived of family contact, indeed human contact is like being denied sunshine for a life time. The concentration of all this negative energy into one place without any positive outlets for prisoners can be stifling, particularly to the human spirit. It is like a saucer of water in a boiling Mojave desert. God gave Satan a second chance even in hell.

The early Quakers had a proper idea about justice and solitude as a place of redemption. The Quakers in 1826 originally thought when they created the first penitentiary that aloneness with a bible and a tiny sun roof was enough to reform folks.

The solitude could have been productive and redemptive had it been an all inclusive healing form of solitude. Yes, spiritually, meditatively based. They had a proper intent, but the wrong format. The Quakers did not know how prison life was, how it can be a continually expanding pit. They did not know how lifeless solitary confinement can be when orchestrated by politics, government and a justice system that creates a nasty form of isolation. Solitude made out of punishment and inhumanity can never be productive.
No beings, human or not, should be kept in cages without any interaction with other human beings or nature. Such alienation can only lead to
dysfunction, mental and spiritual health problems. Just like the overcrowding of institutions are equally horrible and inhumane.

Respected solitude can be just and enlightening and not much different than monks or nuns, shamans or other folks seeking healing and communion with spirit and self. It can be a means of growth and forgiveness of souls suffering through the solitude.

But, isolation based on revenge, money, punishment and retribution cannot heal people. The solitude must be a blessed space of aloneness, and allow people to meet with people, spirits to meet with spirits, and hearts to meet with hearts. If you take away all that makes one human, how do you expect them to be human, and balance their one foot in darkness and one foot in light.

If the goal of penitentiaries are to redeem, heal and self rehabilitate, the solitude, treatment and justice must be an all inclusive meditative space of realness. The animal inside all humans suffer horribly without human contact and respected space with visits, exercise, meditation, arts, books, education, family, friends and nature to heal and bring about justice in America’s prison system of politics and injustice. Justice must be a living and breathing healing entity, like Mother Earth.

WRITE LETTERS TO: Spoon Jackson B92377, C3-119, CSP-SAC,P.O.Box 290066, Represa, CA 95671-0066, USA

Dispatches from the Inside: Rehabilitation needs are not being met for California prisoners

 Richard Gilliam
From: KALW, Local Public Radio
August 27th 2012

Richard Gilliam is incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony (CMC).
August 27, 2012
I’m always interested in reports dealing with the state of corrections in California. So I sat on my bunk  with headphones over my ears in anticipation as the weekly morning radio program, The California Report, aired a three-part series they called “Prison Break”. The third installment of the series dealt with the CDCR’s aspirations for rehabilitating those prisoners not affected by Realignment. I’m talking about people such as myself, labeled serious or violent offenders, serving lengthier prison terms. 
The report feature CDCR Secretary Mathew Cate, who stated “We need to provide rehabilitation programs” for these inmates. Well, that’s a no-brainer. It also interviewed Joan Petersilia, a professor of Law at Stanford University, and an acknowledged expert on California penal policy. She agreed with Cate’s assessment, but stated, “I’m not confident” about the outcome of current efforts at rehabilitation. 
The report noted that at Solano prison alone budget cuts reduced the educational workforce from 135 teachers to 32. Prisoners there lamented that there were long waiting lists for programs and jobs, and that only 10-20% of prisoners were having their rehabilitational needs met. Professor Petersilia went on to label the delivery and efficacy of efforts to rehabilitate prisoners as “an experiment”. 
We all know that sometime “experiments” fail. Prisoners are not lab animals to be poked and prodded and experimented upon. We are human beings that suffer from diverse disabilities. These disabilities must be comprehensively addressed and energetically overcome if incarcerated men and women are to function normally when reintroduced into society. What happens if your “Experiment” doesn’t live up to expectations? Do you simply give up? That’s simply not an option. And given CDCR’s minimalist approach to rehabilitation, I’ve no doubt that any pilot programs implemented will fail for lack of enthusiasm. 
Just last year, Mathew Cate stated his intention that community volunteers would be tapped to help fill the void left in program staffing created in the wake of Realignment. But to date there are no more volunteers coming into CMC than when I first arrived. I can count the number of non-custody volunteers that oversee programs such as AA and NA on one hand. An evening literacy program operating when I first arrived, no longer exists because correctional staff are no longer available. This, while San Quentin relies on scores of educators and facilitators to run the dozens of programs in place there. With institutions of higher learning such as Cal-Poly and Questa College literally right outside the prison’s gates, it is not due to a lack of willing personnel that we are starved for programs here. It is due to the administration’s opposition to rehabilitation programming that discourages community involvement. 
Several weeks ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times, concerning the evolving issues in the race for L.A.’s District Attorney. In the article, which spotlighted the ideological shift most of the candidates have made away from “Lock-em’ all up” crime prevention, to a more moderate stance. The article quoted one candidate as saying he would now advocate for substance abuse, anger management, job training and other programs for non-violent offenders. That’s a start. What I’d like to know is, how these candidates plan to help violent offenders once they’re released from prison? It’s issues such as drug abuse, lack of education and job-training and mental health concerns that caused them to offend in the first place. As has been the policy of lawmakers and the CDCR, do we ignore their needs only to be shocked when they commit another serious or violent crime and are imprisoned for even longer next time?
The men and women still in prison need intervention and rehabilitation as much or more than those that commit less serious offenses. The implementation or rehabilitative treatments in all prisons should not be viewed as an “experiment”, it should be the Number One goal and priority of corrections officials. Because in truth it’s not the pot-smoking, hackey-sack playing recalcitrant you need to worry about. It’s the former armed robber coming out of prison without the education, job-skills or psychological treatment he needs to succeed after prison. 

Women’s Prison Inmates Getting Second Chance

This was on a local tv station TV10: this short film about the Women’s prison in Ohio was made focusing on the rehabilitationary programs and job skills that one can learn there. It looks good, but the question is why people inside did not get a chance to go to vocational training schools when they were free, it seems like the wrong way in society. The school-to-prison pipeline without the chance to learn a skill when one was still in school is obvious. Should schools change, and should vulnerable children not be looked after better by us all, with chances for skills and jobs?

A second thought that comes up is: why the life without parole sentences, why keep someone locked up when she is obviously rehabilitated? Prison in that situation serves no purpose anymore when one has rehabilitated oneself.

Also, if there has to be education behind bars, why not college education (because the further-education-sources were taken away long ago)? And preparation for re-entry in society, and some mentoring? Maybe it is there, and of course people do have a responsibility, but so does “society,” and leaning on the prison system to rehabilitate errands seems the wrong way round. But as long as there are prisons, rehabilitation should be the prime goal.

http://www.10tv.com/content/stories/2012/04/25/wbns-10tv-presents-women-behind-bars.html

Wednesday April 25, 2012
There are about 2,300 prisoners who are serving time at the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
 
The women are a statistic for some, but to others they are mothers, sisters and daughters, 10TV’s Angela An reported.
 
Sharon Young knows the prison well.  She was sentenced to Death Row in 1983, when she was 26.

Young, who was drunk at a Cincinnati bar, was offered a ride home by the bar’s owner.
 
“I ended up shooting him and he died,” Young said.

Prosecutors said that the motive was robbery.
 
Young’s attorney appealed her conviction by citing trial errors and won the case, but a second jury trail sentenced Young to life behind bars.  She considers it her second chance at life.
 
The prison’s warden, Ginine Trim, said that the Women’s Reformatory is the place for many women to get their second chance if they want it.
 
“I tell women all the time, we make no excuses,” Trim said.  “You did what you did.  You’re here for a reason.  Now is the time you need to prepare to turn your life around and make the transition from our prison back to the community and your families.”
 
There are 61 rules at the prison, An reported.  Some of the rules include a mandated three meals a day, except weekends, where the inmates receive only water to drink and have 20 minutes to eat.  Groups are brought in and out, like clockwork.
 
The prison’s top mission is rehabilitation.
 
“We want to provide meaningful and appropriate source of programs that keep people from returning to our facility,” Trim said.
 
The Tapestry rehabilitation program at the prison has a waiting list because of its success.  Once women leave the prison, an alumni support group helps the women stay drug-free.
 
“One of the keys to being successful is you don’t feel like you’re out there standing by yourself or trying to do things alone,” Trim said.
 
Many women pursue an education.  Nearly 25 percent of them take classes and walk away with a GED.



Read the rest here and watch the video if you are interested!

Parole Board Ordered to Apply Retroactively Rehabilitation Factor

Received by email from NYC Jericho:

John Caher, New York Law Journal, December 27, 2011

A judge has ordered the state parole board to retroactively apply a new provision requiring it to consider the rehabilitation of an inmate and not base a denial of release on an offense that may have occurred decades in the past.

The decision, if upheld, could entitle scores of inmates to new parole interviews.

Orange County Supreme Court Justice Lawrence H. Ecker, in what he says is a case of first impression, reviewed a recent revision of Executive Law §259(c), and held that a man who came up for parole before a change in the law is nonetheless entitled to benefit from that law.

The revision requires the parole board to look beyond the instant offense and consider whether the applicant for parole has been rehabilitated.

In Matter of Thwaites v. New York State Board of Parole, 2011 NY Slip Op 21453, Justice Ecker said the board, in denying the inmate’s release, relied on “past-focused rhetoric, not future-focused risk assessment analysis.” He directed the parole board to afford Douglas Thwaites a new interview.

“The court finds the Board’s decision denying parole in this case to be arbitrary and capricious, irrational, and improper based upon the Parole Board’s failure to articulate any rational, nonconclusory basis, other than its reliance on the seriousness of the crime,” Justice Ecker wrote.

Douglas Thwaites was convicted of murder and assault in Brooklyn in 1986 and sentenced to a 25-year-to-life term. Mr. Thwaites, now 67, stabbed his estranged wife nine times, killing her, and also stabbed but did not kill a family friend who attempted to intervene, records show.

The inmate, who was interviewed by the parole board on March 16, 2010, was denied release in a boilerplate decision concluding that “discretionary release is inappropriate at this time and incompatible with the welfare of the community. To hold otherwise would so deprecate the seriousness of your crime as to undermine respect for law.”

The exact language is routinely cited in parole decisions.

Several months after Mr. Thwaites denial, the revision of Executive Law §259(c) took effect. It requires the board to “incorporate risk and needs principles to measure the rehabilitation of persons appearing before the board [and] the likelihood of success of such persons upon release.”

Justice Ecker said there is no question the board did not apply in Mr. Thwaites’ case standards that had yet to take effect. Regardless, he said the “remedial” objective of the legislation requires reconsideration of the inmate’s parole bid.

Mr. Thwaites, a prisoner at the Mid Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, argued pro se.

The state was defended by Assistant Attorney General Jeane L. Strickland Smith. Jennifer Givner, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the decision is under review.

In another parole decision last week, the Appellate Division, Third Department, refused to reinstate an action on behalf of violent felons who contend the parole board has systematically violated state law in routinely denying release to Class A-1 convicts. The same issue was unsuccessfully litigated in federal court.

Graziano v. Evans, 512150, is the state court version of Graziano v. Pataki, 7:06-cv-00480, a Southern District case dismissed a year ago by Judge Cathy Seibel.

Judge Seibel rejected the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims and the state courts have rejected their statutory claims.

The Third Department affirmed Albany Acting Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough in dismissing the state court action.

Justice McDonough had found that the lead plaintiff, Peter Graziano, had and availed himself of an opportunity to challenge his denial of parole, and res judicata bars the subsequent action. The Third Department, in an opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Thomas E. Mercure, agreed.

Robert N. Isseks of Middletown represents the plaintiffs.

Assistant Attorney General Steven C. Wu defended the state.

Prison Visits Make Inmates Less Likely To Commit Crimes After Release, Study Finds

From: Huffington Post:

By John Rudolf
12/7/11
Just a single visit from a family member or a friend can make a big difference in whether or not a prisoner ends up back behind bars after their release, a new study finds.

The study, by researchers with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, determined that prisoners who received at least one personal visit at any time during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony and 25 percent less likely to end up back in prison on a technical parole violation. Data showed that the more visits prisoners received, the lower their chance of re-offending after release.

The study tracked 16,000 prisoners over nearly five years, making it the largest such study of its kind, according to Grant Duwe, director of research for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who led the research team. The study will be published in the Criminal Justice Policy Review, a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Duwe said prison officials in Minnesota were already weighing how to apply its results to the state’s corrections policies.

“I think the completion of this study gives us some tangible evidence to show that if we can increase visitation, we can give offenders more of the social support they need to succeed,” he said.

Several previous, smaller-scale studies have found an even larger correlation between prison visitation and inmates’ likelihood of re-offending. But most state prison systems continue to see visitation as a privilege, not a tool to help inmates establish law-abiding lives after their release, Duwe said.

“I think visitation has been largely viewed as a concession that’s given to inmates,” he said. “I don’t know if there has been a great deal of thought given to the public safety benefits that visitation might have.”

As the economic slowdown has bitten into state budgets, some prison systems have already altered visitation policies in order to save money. In Minnesota, a temporary government shutdown earlier this year led to the suspension of all prisoner visitation as a cost-saving measure.

In July, Arizona lawmakers imposed a one-time $25 fee on all adult visitors to inmates. Funds from the fee are to be directed to maintenance of state prisons. Middle Ground Prison Reform, an advocacy group, filed suit against the state, calling the fee an “unconstitutional tax.”

“If this policy results in delaying or diminishing or eliminating prison visitation for anyone, the state is shooting themselves in the foot in terms of rehabilitation,” Donna Hamm, a retired municipal court judge and executive director of the group, said in September, according to the Associated Press. “That’s a very short-sighted view of public safety policy.”

John Kavanagh, the Republican legislator who wrote the provision, scoffed at the idea that the fee would discourage prison visitors, however.

“If a one-time charge of $25 is enough to dissuade you from visiting your loved one, then I’m wondering how much of a loved one he or she is,” he told the Arizona Daily Star.

Duwe declined to comment specifically on the Arizona policy. But he said the results of the Minnesota study clearly suggested that states have a fiscal incentive to encourage visitation, not discourage it.

A single parole violation that returns a released inmate to prison, even briefly, costs upwards of $9,000. A prisoner who commits a new felony and spends additional years behind bars will cost far more.

“The benefits we could see from a reduction in recidivism could vastly outweigh the cost of increasing visitation,” he said.

A few states, such as Idaho and Virginia, are already experimenting with a novel and cost-effective way to boost interaction between inmates and their loved ones: internet-based video visitation systems, which have proven popular with inmates and administrators.

Read the rest here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/07/prison-visits-inmates_n_1135288.html

This should make prison administrators think, prisons ought to do much more in encouraging family and friends to visit their loved ones. It is a free means for ‘rehabilitation.’ But often prisons are built very far away, and having many prisoners earns the prisons more money, and the employees do not want to loose their job. One would nearly think prisons profit from crime, one would think they want it to happen so that more will come to their remote prisons. More prisoners, not visitors, that is… yet,. prisons earm money from visits too (canteen). And from telephone calls…

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children

United States Must Halt Life Without Parole Sentences for Children, says Amnesty International

Human Rights Organization Details Stories of Three Young Offenders From Louisiana, Illinois and North Carolina, in New Juvenile Justice Report
Louisiana Case to be Featured in Amnesty International’s Global Write-a-Thon

November 30, 2011
(Washington, D.C.) — Authorities in the United States must ban the imposition of life without parole sentences against children and review the cases of more than 2,500 prisoners currently serving such sentences to bring the sentences into line with international law, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

“In the United States, people under 18 cannot vote, buy alcohol or lottery tickets or consent to most forms of medical treatment, but they can be sentenced to die in prison for their actions. This needs to change,” said Natacha Mension, U. S. campaigner at Amnesty International (AI).

Children as young as 11 at the time of the crime have faced life imprisonment without parole in the United States – the only country in the world to impose this sentence on children.

Amnesty International’s 34-page report ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, illustrates the issue through the stories of Christi Cheramie, Jacqueline Montanez and David Young.

In the United States, life without parole can be imposed on juvenile offenders as a mandatory punishment – without consideration of mitigating factors such as history of abuse or trauma, degree of involvement in the crime, mental health status, or amenability to rehabilitation.

“We are not excusing crimes committed by children or minimizing their consequences, but the simple reality is that these sentences ignore the special potential for rehabilitation and change that young offenders have,” said Mension.

In May 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said life without parole is “an especially harsh punishment for a juvenile,” as the young offender will serve, on average, more years and a greater percentage of his life in prison than an older offender. “A 16-year-old and a 75-year-old each sentenced to life without parole receive the same punishment in name only,” the Court said.

Eighteen months after prohibiting this sentence for non-homicide crimes committed by under-18-year-olds, on November 8, 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to consider this issue in relation to crimes involving murder. It will not issue a decision until the second quarter of 2012 at the earliest.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force more than two decades ago, expressly prohibits the imposition of life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offenses, however serious, committed by people under 18 years old. All countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention.

“It is long past time for the United States to ratify the Convention without reservations or other limiting conditions and to fully implement its prohibition on the use of life imprisonment without release against children, including in relation to the cases of those already sentenced,” said Mension.

On November 30, Christi Cheramie, who is serving life without parole in Louisiana, will submit an application for executive clemency with the state Board of Pardons. Christi was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1994, when she was 16 years old for the killing of her 18-year-old fiancé’s great aunt.

She pleaded guilty just before her trial in adult court began, fearing she could be sentenced to death if the trial went ahead. Her guilty plea prevents her from directly appealing her conviction or sentence.

A psychiatrist who saw Christi prior to her trial said that she was a “depressed, dependent, and insecure” 16-year-old who “seems to have been fearful of crossing” her fiancé, who she maintains committed the crime. Christi’s childhood was marked by sexual abuse. At the age of 13, she was hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic after trying to commit suicide on at least two occasions.

After spending half of her life in prison, Christi believes she has changed in many ways. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma, a degree in agricultural studies, and teaches a number of classes at the prison. A warden has stated that she is “worthy of a second chance.” View a video of Christi’s grandmother and her conversation with Christi here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AHsW9YbP1A&NR=1

Christi will be among 15 people for whom Amnesty International activists worldwide will be taking action as part of Write for Rights – the Global Write-a-Thon on December 3 – 11. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide will be educated about Christi’s case and asked to call on Governor Jindal to help. In the United States, more than 35,000 people are expected to participate in this annual event. http://www.amnestyusa.org/writeathon

Additionally, on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, Amnesty International USA, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the Louisiana Interfaith Conference and Citizens for Second Chances will hold an event from 4 to 7 pm with a candlelight vigil, music and speakers focusing on Christi’s case at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, 1313 Esplanade Avenue. For more information visit www.jjpl.org

A clemency campaign is also pending for a second person whose case is profiled in AI’s report. Jacqueline Montanez is the only woman in Illinois serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a crime committed as a child. A victim of child abuse, Jacqueline began abusing drugs and alcohol at the age of nine. Jacqueline’s abuser was her step-father, a gang leader, who also involved her in the drug trade as a very young child and groomed her to be his “little soldier.” After running away from home and joining a rival gang, she and two older women shot and killed two adult male members of her step-father’s gang.

Because she was 15 at the time of the crime and charged with first degree murder, she was automatically tried in adult criminal court. This denied the court system the opportunity of conducting a transfer hearing to determine whether her case ought to have been tried in juvenile court where factors such as her young age, home environment or amenability to rehabilitation would have been considered. Jacqueline was also automatically sentenced to life without parole due to her conviction; the sentencing court had no discretion to consider her history, her age, the circumstances of the offense or her potential for rehabilitation.

Now 35 years old, she expresses deep remorse for her actions and believes that she has grown into a very different person. She has obtained a high school equivalency diploma and has become a certified trainer of service dogs for disabled people. She grieves for her victims and the pain that their families have suffered.

In Illinois, 80 percent of children in prison for life without parole received mandatory sentences; about 82 percent are prisoners of color. That number is even higher in Cook County, where the Montanez case originated. These findings were published by the Illinois Coalition on the Fair Sentencing of Children in its 2008 report Categorically Less Culpable, Children Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Illinois. http://www.law.northwestern.edu/cfjc/jlwop/documents/JLWOP_Report.pdf

Jacqueline’s petition for executive clemency will be submitted to the Illinois governor and the Prisoner Review Board in January 2012.

David Young is one of two teenagers arrested and charged for the murder of Charles Welch in 1997. He was automatically charged in adult criminal court as required by North Carolina law for any criminal offense committed by anyone age 16 or older. Young’s co-defendant, who shot the victim, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 to 23 years in prison. David was convicted of first-degree felony murder and was sentenced to life without parole.

Young grew up in a hostile community environment where his parents abused drugs and his stepfather physically abused him and his mother. Now 32 years old, Young obtained his high school equivalency diploma and is in solitary confinement after being stabbed by two prisoners.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.

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For a copy of the report, ‘This is where I’m going to be when I die’: Children facing life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the United States, email Gwen Fitzgerald at gfitzgerald @ aiusa.org. OR Click here to view the report in PDF.

Photos are available online at https://adam.amnesty.org/asset-bank/action/quickSearch?keywords=newsflash+LWOP. For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.