Ohio Prison Reform, Pulled in Two Directions

From: The Crime Report
By Matt Kelley
Tuesday, May 31

Smart criminal justice reform doesn’t happen overnight. Parallel proposals in Ohio present tidy examples of the right and wrong ways states are seeking to reduce crime, shrink prisons and save taxpayers money.

Let’s start with the good news. A bill that would help Ohio shrink populations at overcrowded state prisons and create new sentencing options for non-violent crimes, including drug treatment and expanded parole passed May 4 with almost unanimous support by the Ohio House of Representatives

Under the bill, the racist disparity between crack and cocaine sentences would be wiped out. New prisoners would be able to earn sentence reductions through participation in education and treatment programs. The bill is now awaiting a vote by the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. John Kasich deserves credit for supporting this fix, as do lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Smart criminal justice reforms are no longer political kryptonite. States like Ohio, which are facing budget pinches, are finally realizing that the “tough on crime” approach is expensive and only perpetuates cycles of poverty and crime.

Other states have shown huge reductions in recidivism (not to mention cost savings) by diverting people convicted of non-violent crimes (like drug offenses) to treatment and community parole instead of long stays in a lockup. Kentucky and Texas are examples of unlikely places where these reforms have taken root.

Unfortunately, another proposal gaining traction in Ohio calls for a vast expansion of prison privatization, which could do far more harm than good. Politicians still sell the idea of private prisons as a frugal fix with little downside, and Kasich is going for a big sale in Ohio, with six state prisons up for sale to the highest bidder.

The governor and his allies argue that private prisons could save taxpayers as much as 20 percent over state facilities, but fuzzy math and experiences in other states call those lofty goals into question.

Frugality aside, it’s not a good idea to place security and rehabilitation in the hands of profit-driven shareholders.

CCA and its peers do offer some education and treatment, and the state can mandate some of these services. But these companies are notorious for offering the bare minimum in order to maximize profits. Corrections officers and police unions (out to protect their jobs, of course) have protested Kasich’s plan, saying it will cost the state jobs and raise security concerns.

Kasich’s interest in private prisons shouldn’t be shocking.

The Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s biggest private prison operator, was a big donor to the Republican Governors’ Association in 2010 races (when Kasich was elected). Once he took office, Kasich named Gary Mohr, a former managing director at CCA as the state’s corrections director. The revolving door turns the other way too, and in January CCA hired Kasich’s former congressional chief of staff as a lobbyist

Kasich should quit his corporate-friendly crusade for private prisons and focus on the positive court and prison reforms moving through the legislature. “Smart on crime” policies are taking root across the country, and the bill passed by Ohio’s House is a very encouraging start in the Buckeye state.

If Ohio lawmakers can keep their priorities straight, the state could be in for a reduction in both spending and crime.

Matt Kelley is the online communications manager at the Innocence Project and has written on criminal justice reform at change.org and other sites. He welcomes comments from readers.

Jeffrey Deskovic – Petition for Reforms

eforms Pertaining To Interrogations

(False confessions have accounted for 25% of the 208 DNA exonerations)

1. All interrogations should be videotaped, from beginning to end, which would prevent police from omitting abuse tactics they use from their testimony. It would allow a complete and accurate record of who said what, when, and what context. It would also protect honest police officers from false allegations of coercion.

1. 2. The use of the polygraph, lying to suspects about having evidence that they don’t have, prolonged interrogations over many hours should be outlawed because such tactics have been linked to false confessions. False confession studies show that these convey to suspects that no matter what, they will be arrested for something they did not do, it is just a matter of whether they will make it worse on themselves by lying through maintaining innocence.

2. 3. Interrogation of the mentally ill and/or retarded should only take place with a lawyer present because mentally ill and retarded people try to compensate for their deficiencies by being compliant.

3. 4. Before confession evidence is allowed into a trial, a pre trial hearing on the issue of whether a confession is truthful should be conducted, akin to a Wade hearing in which identification accuracy is reviewed, because confession testimony is devastating to defendants, resulting in a conviction 80% of the time, and the current pretrial hearing on voluntariness is not enough, since cases in which confessions have been proven to have been false based on DNA, judges have not suppressed such evidence.

Reforms Pertaining To Eyewitness Identification

(Misidentification has been the cause of wrongful convictions in 75% of the 208 DNA exonerations)
4. 5. Sequential lineups and photo arrays should be used, rather than showing many people at once to allow victims to focus intently on each photo or person.

5. 6. Everyone in the array and/or lineup should resemble each other, so that no one sticks out and to improve on the accuracy of identifications.

6. 7. The victim should be told that the perpetrator may not be present, so as to prevent victims from having undue confidence that the perpetrator is there, thus leading to a misidentification.

7. 8. Victims should be told that the investigation will continue if they don’t make an identification so that they don’t feel pressured into making an ID, lest the guilty party escape justice.

8. 9. The officers conducting the lineup should be in the blind as to who is suspected, so as to prevent inadvertent cues or clues from being given.

10. Confidence statements should be taken, in which a victim states, on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident they are about their identification, to give courts and juries further insight into an identification

9. 11. The lineup or photo array should be taped, to ensure its integrity.

Reform Pertaining To Incentivized Witnessing

Incentivized witnessing has been the cause of wrongful convictions in 15% of the 208 DNA exonerations
10. 12. The practice of incentivized witnessing, in which a witness’s gets a reward for testifying-whether a lesser prison sentence, having charges dropped, or just getting financial compensation should be ended; those who have evidence should come forward on a moral basis rather than being rewarded for doing so, because when desperate prisoners have been caught red handed for committing a crime and they have no truthful information to trade on, they falsely implicate others.

Reforms Pertaining To Evidence
11. 13. There should be a standardized evidence preservation system to ensure that evidence is preserved and available for inspection and testing. Right now there is no such system and the first obstacle for the wrongfully convicted is whether the evidence can be located and whether it has been destroyed. If it has, the innocent remain incarcerated with no way to prove innocence.

12. 14. It should be a crime whenever police and prosecutors purposely withhold evidence. History shows that with no personal penalties, morality alone is not enough to restrain some rogue policemen and prosecutors

Reforms Pertaining To Public Defenders

Without quality attorneys, unsaddled with the current disadvantages that public defenders have as opposed to the prosecution, innocent defendants will continue to be wrongfully convicted, and cases will not have just and fair outcomes.
13. 15. There should be one standardized system of defense for the poor statewide, as advocated for in The Spangenberg Group’s report for Chief Judge Judith Kaye on The State of Indigent Defence in New York, because such centralization would allow for more internal oversight, accountability, and review of public defenders. It would allow for more quality control.

14. 16. Those public defenders who have been found to have performed sub-standard performance for indigent defendants should no longer be employed by the state to do so. Because to do so would be to set the stage for future inadequate performances by that lawyer thus resulting in defendants, who are presumed innocent, to be victimized.

15. 17. The defense and the prosecution should have an equal and adequate budget to hire experts and other necessary personnel to assist in the preparation of cases rather than the defense having an extremely limited budget while the prosecution has a huge budget, because on such an unequal playing field, no confidence can be placed on the outcome of court proceedings or verdicts.

16. 18. Public Defenders should have the same size staff as The District Attorneys to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by sheer manpower. Each side should have enough personnel to adequately prepare a case.

17. 19. There should be a limit to the amount of cases each public defender is allowed to take on at one time. In the Bronx, NY, for example, it is not unusual for a public defender to have 120 cases at the same time. Overburdening a public defender prevents him or her from giving each case the time, preparation, and investigation it deserves.

18. 20. Public Defenders should be given pay equal to that of prosecutors, because otherwise the best legal talent will go to one side. Further, quality lawyers should not be discouraged from being public defenders by being given less pay, especially given the astronomical loans that young lawyers have as a result of going to law school.

19. 21. Indigent Defendants should be provided with court appointed attorneys to handle post conviction 440 motions, so that they can have competent legal representation, rather than trying to represent themselves against trained and seasoned prosecutors.

Reforms Pertaining To DNA
20. 22. Allow all of the wrongfully convicted to prove innocence with DNA, even in cases where defendants have pled guilty, because some judges have interpreted the law to prevent such defendants from having access to DNA. In 11 cases nationwide innocent defendants have falsely pled guilty, often as a result of fear of a higher sentence. Allowing the testing causes guilt to be confirmed or innocence to be established.

21. 23. Give Judges the authority to order crime scene DNA comparisons to DNA Databases; currently the law does not explicitly give them that authority, and whether the testing goes forward or not often relies on the discretion of the prosecution, whereas the power belongs in the hands of the judge.

22. 24. Current law allows judges the authority to order DNA in those cases in which DNA could affect the outcome, it should be that in any case in which there is testable material, a test should be done; because DNA will always be germane to guilt or innocence.

23. 25. Prosecutors should not be allowed to explain away negative DNA Test results at a trial by claiming the victim had a consensual sexual encounter, without first proving that such an encounter took place, because without requiring that a factual background first be established, it would allow prosecutors to mute such evidence.

24. 26. When a prosecutor argues that a rape or other crime was committed by one person, and then a post conviction DNA Test shows the defendant is innocent, prosecutors should not be allowed to then change their theory on appeal and claim that a crime was committed by two people, so as to be able to get around the DNA Test, because to allow otherwise would be a way to get around the power of DNA to prove innocence. Conclusions should be based on what the evidence shows, not by making evidence fit a conclusion.

Reforms Pertaining to Post Conviction Review
25. 27. The Court Of Appeals should review all cases, as a matter of a defendants right, as an additional level of review, with the goal of catching more wrongful convictions.

26. 28. There should be a review apparatus, independent of appeals and a pardon, which can review cases in which a defendant has a colorable claim of innocence, because often the wrongfully convicted have had their appeals exhausted, which shows that appellate review is not enough to protect the innocent, while it is a highly charged political environment for a Governor to issue a pardon. Rather, such a review should be independent of both, and be staffed by wrongful conviction experts, who have the power to overturn wrongful convictions.

27. 29. An Innocence Commission Should be created to study what went wrong in wrongful convictions, so that lessons can be learned from such wrongful convictions, and changes adopted, to try to prevent future wrongful convictions.

Reforms Pertaining to compensation
28. 30. An immediate sum of 15,000 dollars per year of wrongful incarceration should immediately be paid to those who have been cleared of a crime, aside from money awarded as a result of a lawsuit, to meet such immediate needs such as housing, cost of living, mental health services, health insurance, and education. A guilty person on parole currently receives more help than an exoneree, who receives nothing.

29. 31. Compensation Lawsuits should receive fast track processing in court, whereby priority would be given to such cases, because the wrongfully convicted struggle financially after being released, following such incarceration.

30. 32. Bad Case Law stating that if an exonerated person has contributed to his or her own wrongful conviction they are not eligible to receive any compensation should be changed, because the idea that anybody would intentionally get themselves wrongfully convicted, sentenced to prison, only to then clear themselves in order to be in position to then sue is ridiculous. To deny anybody who has been wrongfully convicted, is to add insult to injury.

Reforms Pertaining To The Parole Board which bear upon innocence
31. 33. The Parole Board should not be allowed to deny parole to those who profess their innocence based upon their not taking responsibility for their crimes or expressing remorse, because that does not take into account the reality of wrongful convictions. The wrongfully convicted should not be made to remain in prison, based upon their protestation of innocence. It is a fact that some wrongfully convicted prisoners were previously denied parole after finishing their sentence minimums but before they were cleared, based upon this, whereas they could have at least regained their freedom sooner.

32. 34. The Parole Board should not be allowed to deny parole to prisoners based upon their not completing the sex offender class, because such class requires prisoners to explicitly admit guilt to the other people in the class as well as to the instructors as a condition of completing the class. Such a practice places the wrongfully convicted in the catch 22 of either falsely admitting guilt to try to regain freedom, or to lose a chance at freedom as the price for maintaining innocence.

SIGN PETITION HERE

No change


This letter or essay was taken over from Nevada Prisoner Voice:

The news of the legislators failing to arrest corruption in Nevada prison is not surprising. And I doubt they will until their hands are forced. Either by public outcry, or something else. Were they to start drug testing for guards (inmates are regularly tested) half would quit before the ink dried.

I believe you may have misunderstood some things I wrote you last. Trust I know more than most we can’t do anything without you on the outside. I say the future of prison and judicial reform lies with the convicts themselves, because there are so few of you out there who care.

Society views us as permanent outcasts. There is no interest in us redeeming or educating ourselves. Indeed the state officials, fear mongers they are, say to society that we will only misuse our knowledge, if allowed to educate ourselves to our natural impulses. The reality is that it is they who are afraid. That if we educate ourselves on the truth, we will tear down these walls, put an end to this mad house of misery and pain.

As technologically advanced as we are, we are not an enlightened society. We are a society filled with anger and hatred, built on insecurities.

Nothing happening now is new. England’s penal history gives us a clear view of where we are headed. Poor people desperate to feed their families getting their hands chopped off for stealing a loaf of bread. Today, instead of chopping off our heads, because that wouldn’t be profitable, they’re handing out life sentences like it’s nothing. And the more laws we create the more corrupt we become. Our job, our obligation, those of us who know and can see the truth, is to help people realize no matter how much time in prison you give a person, if the conditions do not change, if the convict remains uneducated, unskilled and unloved, his/her return to crime/prison is inevitable.

The only real solution to crime is judicial/prison reform and early prevention. Putting an end to the disparities in the education system. The quality education and programs available to children in affluent communities, and the lack there of in poor communities. A new curriculum to install pride and self worth based on good deeds rather than materialism, and appreciation for all peoples, encouraging leadership and innovation. Right now many young people, especially of color, can’t relate to what’s happening in the schools, which in reality is only giving them enough to be good workers for rich people. We have billions of dollars to bail out these fat cat corporations, and billions more to manufacture these bullshit wars/nation building. Then we have money to create more (relevant) programs for young people in the hood.

Fix this broken juvenile/foster care system. Give grants to community organizers, and more job training. These are the types of things that will cut down on crime free health care for our citizens, free education.

Being uneducated does not equal ignorance or lack of comprehension. Level of education does not determine a person’s worth. I know many men in these pens who have no education, but they are hungry to learn.

The question is who will teach them. It hurts my heart to see so many young people taught so many lies. That their worth in this world relies on the material. How to prey on each other rather than embrace each other. That our women are bitches, undeserving of respect or love. It hurts to know I am a citizen of the richest nation on earth. Living next to one of the poorest, an example of man’s cruelty to man. The people of Haiti are suffering horribly, and we do nothing. I noticed there were some new comments with the piece about the gang trial. Some of those comments are very telling to the ignorance and deep-seated hatred so many people carry inside. They need someone to blame, someone to feel better than. This is the psychosis of a capitalist society. Which is really an expression of man’s insecurities. Why would one man want more than he needs to live and provide for his family. Why do people create items of luxury that serve no purpose other than to scream out, “I have more than you, I am better than you.” The machine spits out misinformation, and by the insecurities of man, his ignorance, he is manipulated.

Ely State prison — a.k.a. — “the cemetery,” is the worst prison in Nevada. There is no regular every day pissing on the guards. The convicts here do not condone such vile acts. On the rare occasions when it does happen, more than not it’s an act of desperation. Locked behind these doors 24/7 the guards feel free to disrespect and dehumanize these men. Just in the time I’ve been in the unit I’ve lost all contact with my daughter because the guards are too lazy to pass out the phone. And if you complain, well, you don’t get the phone or anything else. I could write you a laundry list of all the games and psychological bullshit these guards do every day, that we must deal with.

For those ignorant enough to say well that’s what you deserve for breaking the law, well, I’m in prison for something I didn’t do. But that’s irrelevant. My response is this: just as we are men, we are human beings. When you treat human beings like animals, in time they will begin to act as such. And what happens to the sadistic boy who teases the tiger in its cage. Pokes it with his stick, throws rocks and firecrackers. To the boy it’s only a game. But when the tiger leaps the walls of its cage, then we all learn it’s not a game. People must realize these are human beings were talking about. Most of them will get out of prison one day. And when that day comes, who do you want to see, the man or the tiger. So the people should be concerned what’s happening in these prisons, how these men (human beings) are being treated. Prison is their punishment, not death by 1000 cuts, or medical neglect, or to be driven to insanity.

Imagine the madness it takes for a man to handle his own feces, to collect his own urine, and to mix this vile concoction together and throw it on somebody. Imagine the desperation. Again, this does not happen often. And if we were not locked in the cells 24/7, it would not happen at all. The older convicts wouldn’t allow it. But when it does happen, just like any other act of violence against prison staff, 99.9% of the time it is “not” unprovoked.

Corruption among the guards. Many of them who participate in gang activities or show sympathies toward white racist groups like the skinheads, etc. They were not somehow brainwashed or recruited. They came into the job with that. And they don’t smuggle in drugs out of fear or coercion. They do it out of greed! A house and nice car aren’t enough. They want a bigger house, nicer car, the latest high-powered rifle to hunt and kill defenseless animals for sport. They talk about it every day, what animals they killed, their guns, the latest thing to dress up their trucks. In the worst economy in our lifetime these guards have good paying, secure jobs. But all they do is complain all day and sit on their asses. I’ve never seen people get so much for so little and complain about it. Not that there are no decent people working in these prisons. But they are often manipulated by the us versus them argument. When they do tell the truth or speak out on behalf of the inmates, they end up either fired or ostracized.

Marritte Funches 37050
P. O. Box 1989
Ely, NV. 89301

P. S.
Peace is not the absence of trouble.