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

New sentencing law takes effect

From: Times Bulletin
29th of Sept 2011
VAN WERT – On Friday, a recently-passed piece of legislation designed to bring down the number of inmates in Ohio prisons will take effect. House Bill 86, also known as Ohio’s Prison Reform Bill makes changes to a wide variety of sentences. Perhaps the most visible are changes to lower level felony drug cases.

“HB 86 set up substantial hurdles to sentencing an offender to prison for a non-violent fourth or fifth degree felony. This would include sentencing of F-4 and F-5 drug trafficking offenders,” stated Van Wert County Common Pleas Court Judge Charles D. Steele in a statement. “If the court believes it has no available community-control sanction sufficient to fulfill the overriding purposes of sentencing, the court must contact the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) for information on available programs. The ODRC must respond within 45 days. The court must defer sentencing up to an additional 45 days to await the ODRC’s response. If no response, the court can proceed to impose a prison term. If ODRC timely responds by giving information for an available program, and assuming no other provision allows prison, the court must impose community control even if the court believes the program is inadequate.”

Steele went on to point out that there are constitutionality questions over this as it relates to the issue of separation of powers when ODRC rather than the court is the determiner of the sentence to be imposed.

If a judge instead decides to impose a jail term locally as part of community control, he faces potential issues with limited space in the Van Wert County Jail. Due to funding issues in the county, the jail can handle only a certain number of prisoners. Another useful option, sentencing an offender to the WORTH Center in Lima, ORDC is pursuing a policy that would allow only what it classifies as “high risk” offenders. Determining the level of risk would not be up to the judge, but instead is to be based on an assessment tool devised by the ODRC.

Also new is the creation of two types of third-degree felonies. The upper-tier felonies of the third degree will now be punishable by a prison term of 12, 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, or 60 months. Lower-tier third-degree felonies are reduced to 9, 15, 21, 27, 33, or 36 months. Currently these crimes are to draw sentences of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 years. Sentences of those already in prison for these crimes will be reduced to conform to the new law.

Other changes made by HB 86:

See: http://www.timesbulletin.com/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=4&ArticleID=168942

Prisons ‘about to blow’?

Violence data part of argument for Senate bill

Wednesday, February 16, 2011  02:55 AM

The Columbus Dispatch

Violent or destructive incidents involving six or more inmates in Ohio prisons have almost quadrupled in just three years.

Such confrontations occurred an average of once every 28 days in 2007, but by last year they were breaking out once every 7.6 days.

That’s keeping Gary C. Mohr, the new director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, up at night.

“Seven days a week, I’m watching these things show up on my Blackberry,” said Mohr, a longtime veteran of Ohio prisons picked by Gov. John Kasich to return to the department. “This is not the same system I left eight years ago.”
State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, also is concerned. “We are sitting on a tinderbox, and it’s about to blow.”

Seitz and Mohr cited the statistics yesterday in testifying in support of Senate Bill 10, a major overhaul of Ohio sentencing, parole and probation law. Backers say the legislation would save the state $78 million over three years, reduce the prison population to 2007 levels and avoid the need to spend $500 million building prisons.

State prisons now house nearly 51,000 offenders, 33 percent more than they were designed to hold.

At the same time, budget cuts in recent years have forced staff reductions, including removing some corrections officers from cellblocks and dormitories, Mohr said.

Incidents of violence or property destruction, or both, went up correspondingly, he said.

Seitz said he visited a prison recently where he saw two officers, one on each of two floors, in charge of a prison dormitory housing nearly 250 offenders.
The legislation is a combination of reform proposals Seitz tried unsuccessfully to get passed in the last session of the General Assembly, plus a new “Justice Reinvestment” proposal developed by the Council of State Governments. The measure has bipartisan support from officials in all three branches of state government.

Among its many elements, the proposal would provide inmates with the possibility of receiving an “earned credit” reduction of up to 8 percent of their sentence by successfully completing drug-treatment, job-training and education programs. It also would increase the threshold for felony theft charges to $1,000 from $500, provide nonprison sentencing options for nonviolent offenders and revamp the probation system statewide.

The legislation has critics, including county prosecutors who say it violates the principles of the state’s 1996 “truth-in-sentencing” law. State Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, chairman of the Senate Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee that is hearing the bill, also has a lot of questions.

Yesterday, the Chesterland Republican challenged the idea of diverting low-level felony offenders from prison, or reducing the sentences of those incarcerated.

“Today’s low-level offender is tomorrow’s violent offender,” he said.
The committee also heard testimony from the sponsor of Senate Bill 17, which would allow those with concealed-carry gun permits to bring their weapons into restaurants and bars – as long as they aren’t drinking.

Read the rest here.

NAACP rally focuses on alleged sentencing disparties

From: http://blog.al.com/live/2010/11/naacp_rally_focuses_on_alleged.html

Published: Friday, November 05, 2010
By Kim Lanier, Press-Register

FOLEY, Ala. — About 40 people turned out for a rally and news conference this afternoon to bring attention to alleged disparities in sentencing of blacks convicted of crimes.

“In particular, African-Americans seem be receiving the brunt of it, and no one can answer that question and tell us why,” Benard H. Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, told the crowd gathered in the parking lot of the Baldwin County Satellite Courthouse in Foley.

Read the rest here.

Mother’s Day: Sentencing and the War on Drugs

 

Women in Prison: A Fact Sheet
The Issue: Sentencing and the War on Drugs
The Department of Justice found that women were over represented among low level drug offenders who were non-violent, had minimal or no prior criminal history, and were not principal figures in criminal organizations or activities, but nevertheless received sentences similar to “high level” drug offenders under the mandatory sentencing policies. From 1986 to 1996 the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased ten-fold. Nationally one in three women in prison and one in four women in jail are incarcerated for violating a drug law. (Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Prisoners in 1997)
·  According to The Boston Globe, “nearly 26% of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for  drug crimes are first-time offenders…. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences…. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences.”
·     From 1986 to 1996, the number of women sentenced to state prison for drug crimes increased from 2,370 to 23,700.  (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington DC Prisoners in 1997)
·  In 1986, 12.0% of women in prison were drug offenders. In 1991, 32.8% of women in prison were incarcerated for  drug offenses.  (Women in Prison, Survey of State Prison Inmates, 1991. US Department of Justice, March 1994, NCJ 145321)
The Issue: Sexual Assault and Misconduct Against Women in Prison
The imbalance of power between inmates and guards involves the use of direct physical force and indirect force based on the prisoners’ total dependency on officers for basic necessities and the guards’ ability to withhold privileges. Some women are coerced into sex for favors such as extra
food or personal hygiene products, or to avoid punishment.   
·  Powerlessness and Humiliation
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons. In federal women’s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male.  Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches. Male correctional officials watch women undressing, in the shower or the toilet. Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment
·  Retaliation and Fear
In many states guards have access to and are encouraged to review the inmates’ personal history files (this includes any  record of complaints against themselves or other prison authorities). Guards threaten the prisoner’s children and visitation rights as a means of silencing the women. Guards issue rule infraction tickets, which extend the woman’s  stay in prison if she speaks out. Prisoners who complain are frequently placed in administration segregation.
·  Impunity 
Ineffective formal procedures, legislation and reporting capacity within US jails and prisons account for much of the  ongoing sexual abuse of women. In 1997, according to the US Justice Department only 10 prison employees in the  entire federal system were disciplined, and only 7 were prosecuted. If a prison official is found guilty, he is often simply transferred (“walked off the yard”) to another facility instead of being fired. The inmate may also be transferred. 
The Issue: Medical Neglect of Women in US Prisons
Women are denied essential medical resources and treatments, especially during times of pregnancy and/or chronic and degenerative diseases.
·  Failure to refer seriously ill inmates for treatment and delays in treatment
Women inmates suffering from treatable diseases such as asthma, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, cancer, late-term miscarriages, and seizures have little or no access to medical attention, sometimes resulting in permanent injury or death. Instances of failure to deliver life-saving drugs for inmates with HIV/AIDS have also been noted.  
·  Lack of qualified personnel and resources and use of non-medical staff
There is too few staff to meet physical and mental health needs. This often results in long delays in obtaining medical attention; disrupted and poor quality treatment causing physical deterioration of prisoners with chronic and degenerative diseases, like cancer; overmedication of prisoners with psychotropic drugs; and lack of mental health treatment. The use of  non-medical staff to screen requests for treatment is also common. 
·  Charges for medical attention
In violation of international standards, many prisons/jails charge inmates for medical attention, arguing that the charge deters prisoners from seeking medical attention for minor matters or because they want to avoid work. In some supermaximum prisons, where prisoners cannot work at all, the US Justice Dept. expressed concern that charging prisoners impedes their access to health care.
·  Inadequate Reproductive Health Care
In 1994, the National Institute of Corrections stated that provision of gynecological services for women in prison is inadequate.  Only half of the state prison systems surveyed offer female-specific services such as mammograms and Pap smears, and often entail a long wait to be seen.
·  Shackling During Pregnancy
Shackling of all prisoners, including pregnant prisoners, is standard policy in federal prisons and in the US Marshall Service and exists in almost all state prisons. Shackling during labor may cause complications during delivery such as hemorrhage or decreased fetal heart rate. If a caesarian section is needed, a delay of even 5 minutes may result in permanent brain damage to the baby.
  
·  Lack of treatment for substance abuse
The gap between services available and treatment needs continues to grow. The number of prisoners with histories of drug abuse is growing, but the proportion of prisoners receiving treatment declined from 40% in 1991 to 18% in 1997.  
·  Lack of Adequate or Appropriate Mental Health Services
 48-88% of women inmates suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to sexual or physical abuse experienced prior to coming to prison.  Very few prison systems provide counseling. Women attempting to access mental health services are routinely given medication without opportunity to undergo psychotherapeutic treatment.  
The Issue: Discrimination Based On Gender, Race and Sexual Orientation
The growth in incarceration has had its greatest impact on minorities, particularly African Americans. Women are most vulnerable to different forms of discrimination, including sexual harrasment or abuse. Women that do not fit the “norm”, such as lesbians, are more succeptable to torture and abuse.
Discrimination Based on Race:
·  Over a five-year period, the incarceration rate of African American women increased by 828%. (NAACP LDF Equal Justice Spring 1998.) An African American woman is eight times more likely than a European American woman is to be imprisoned.  African American women make up nearly half of the nation’s female prison population, with most serving sentences for nonviolent drug or property related offenses. 
·  Latina women experience nearly four times the rates of incarceration as European American women.
·  State and federal laws mandate minimum sentences for all drug offenders.  This eliminates the option for judges to refer first time non-violent offenders to drug treatment, counseling and education programs.  The racial disparity revealed by the crack v. powder cocaine sentences insures that more African American women will land in prison.
Although 2/3 of crack users are white or Hispanic, defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession in 1994 were 84.5% African American.  Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory prison sentence for first time possession in the federal system. 
Discrimination Based On Sexual Orientation:
·   Human Rights Watch has documented categories of women who are likely targets for sexual abuse. Perceived or actual sexual orientation is one of four categories that make a female prisoner a more likely target for sexual abuse, as well as a target for retaliation when she reports that abuse.
·  If a woman is a lesbian, her criminal defense becomes more challenging.  Jurors in the US were polled as to what factors would make them most biased against a defendant, and perceived sexual orientation was chosen as the most likely personal characteristic to bias a juror against a defendant, three times greater than race. (National Law Journal November 2, 1998.)
·  The case of Robin Lucas depicts how sexual identity may subject a woman to further abuse or torture by a guard. She was placed in a men’s prison where male guards allowed male inmates to rape her.  The male guards taunted her about her same sex relationship, saying to her “maybe we can change your mind”.  
For more information on issues affecting women in prison and other women’s human rights issues, please visit the Women’s Human Rights Program website at www.amnestyusa.org/women or contact us at AIUSA 5 Penn Plaza-16th floor, New York, NY 10001 or at (212) 633-4292.

Maximum sentence for the minimum crime

Eric Ruder at Socialist Worker.org

March 16, 2010

ROBERT FERGUSON’S nearly eight-year prison sentence in early March
for shoplifting a bag of shredded cheese from a California convenience
store made headlines around the world. How could such a petty crime
trigger such a lengthy sentence? Whether from a moral or public policy
point of view, the outcome seemed absurd.

But the harsh sentence represents only the final–and perhaps not
even the most outlandish–failure of California’s criminal justice to
deliver justice.

At Ferguson’s March 1 sentencing hearing, for example, prosecutors
urged the judge to impose a lengthy sentence because of Ferguson’s prior
convictions. As far as they were concerned, they had already shown
leniency by not seeking a life sentence. Prosecutors had only backed
down after a psychologist’s report concluded that Ferguson suffers from
bipolar disorder, which impairs his ability to control impulses during
manic phases.

Nevertheless, Deputy District Attorney Clinton Parish still asserted
at the hearing that Ferguson is a “career criminal,” pointing to his 13
prior convictions that put him behind bars for 22 of the past 27 years.

Never mind that six prior burglary convictions occurred some 30 years
ago. Or that Ferguson’s misdemeanor assault conviction was for throwing
a soda can at a sibling when he was a teenager.

Or that the only reasonable place for a man suffering from mental
illness is a mental health facility, not the overburdened California
prison system–which a panel of judges two years ago found to be so
overwhelmed that it “worsens many of the risk factors for suicide among
inmates and increases the prevalence and acuity of mental illness.”

Those same judges ordered California to lower its prison population
by more than 40,000 inmates so that the system would not exceed 137
percent of its intended maximum capacity of 84,000.

Two years later, the state of California is still staring at one of
the highest incarceration rates in the nation and a sprawling prison
system that costs the state $10.8 billion–about 10 percent of its
annual budget–to house 170,000 prisoners. Today, California spends more
to lock people up than it does on the University of California system,
once the premier public institution of higher education in the U.S.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT ROBERT Ferguson is only the latest in a long history of
sentencing outrages stretching back to the 1990s, when voters
overwhelmingly passed Proposition 184, mandating a life sentence for
anyone convicted of a third felony.

Other cases that made headlines were the 1994 life sentence for Jerry
Dewayne Williams, who stole a pizza, and a 25-years-to-life sentence
for Johnny Quirino, convicted in 1996 of petty theft of razor blades.

What makes such stories all the more preposterous is the gaping hole
in California’s budget–in part the product of the rise of California’s
prison population in the wake of tough sentencing rules such as
three-strikes. It costs about $49,000 a year to house an inmate in
California’s prison system.

The painful cuts facing practically every social service and public
institution in California have yet to convince politicians and
public-policy makers of the need for a fundamental reform of
tough-on-crime laws.

Between the 1970s and the present, California’s prison population
more than quintupled–from less than 30,000 to around 170,000.

For three decades now, the logic of “getting tough on crime” has
justified harsh sentencing laws, a prison-building spree and worsening
police brutality. Defenders of the system say that such policies are
necessary to deal with the scourge of drugs and violent crime. But they
can only do so by ignoring the facts about drug use and crime.

Thus, law-and-order policies have filled the nation’s prisons with
hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders, disproportionately
Blacks and Latinos, even though whites use illegal drugs at very similar
rates.

In the words of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow:
Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
:

President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in
1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the
war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with
racial politics.

The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican
Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of
crime and welfare to attract poor and working-class white voters who
were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and
affirmative action.

In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House
Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to
devise a system that recognizes this, while not appearing to.”

It’s time to stop the runaway freight train of California’s prison
system–and the whole country’s law-and-order drive that incarcerate
more people than any nation on the planet.