Oklahoma’s prison system at a glance

A very short bit of information:

From NewsOK (The Oklahoman)

Published: September 12, 2010

Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of women put in prison, per capita. It is fourth in the nation in the number of men incarcerated, according to figures compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Read more: http://newsok.com/at-a-glance/article/3494056#ixzz0zcfy7KOJ

Idaho Fines Private Prison for Contract Violations

The state is ordering private prison company Correction Corporation of America to pay thousands of dollars and fix problems with drug and alcohol treatment and medical care at the Idaho Correctional Center.

Ten of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the prison near Boise aren’t qualified to provide treatment under CCA’s contract with the state, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Additionally, a medical audit by Idaho Department of Correction officials earlier this year shows the private prison has extensive problems administering medical care, including inadequate records; delays in providing medications, immunizations and mental health care; and a lack of follow-up or oversight when inmates are returned to the lockup after being hospitalized.

The state ordered CCA to provide it with a plan to fix the medical care problems by May 25, but the company has already missed that deadline.

Idaho is also imposing liquidated damages against CCA for violating its state contract by failing to have qualified drug and alcohol counselors. The damages rack up at a rate of more than $2,600 a day; so far, CCA owes the state more than $40,000 for the violations.

“We’re very concerned,” said Rona Siegert, director of Idaho Department of Correction Health Services. “That’s the whole purpose of the audit, to find these things before they get to a level where they’re critical.”

Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA responded to questions about the problems through a prepared statement.

“Regarding the findings of recent medical audits completed by the Idaho Department of Corrections at Idaho Correctional Center, we acknowledge and share the concerns of our government partner and take them seriously. While the identified issues are not at a critical stage, we are working actively and deliberately to quickly and effectively resolve them,” the company said.

CCA also said it is trying to hire qualified staffers for its drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

“Our efforts to recruit qualified and credentialed addiction, alcohol and drug professionals from the available pool of local candidates continue. We are confident that these efforts will result in our company being in compliance in the near term with a fully credentialed Therapeutic Community staff, as local qualified professionals seek employment opportunities.”

Company officials also said several staff members are set to undergo certification testing in the coming months. But Natalie Warner, the Idaho Department of Correction’s contract administrator and quality assurance manager, said that under the schedule CCA provided for its current employees, the last of the certifications won’t be completed until June 2011. Meanwhile, CCA will have racked up more than $100,000 in liquidated damages.


In an April letter informing the private prison company of the issues, Idaho Department of Administration purchasing officer Jason Urquhart said the Correction Department feared that the drug and alcohol program violations could increase costs for the state.

Offenders often are required to complete the Therapeutic Community program to be released, so if the program’s integrity is compromised, offenders may have to stay in prison longer, increasing costs to the state, Urquhart wrote. He went on to say that the parole commission could require offenders to take part in drug and alcohol programs at other prisons — also increasing costs.

The medical audits, completed between February and April, suggest that in many cases, inmates are going without adequate care, Siegert said. Still, Siegert said the Correction Department didn’t know of any inmates who had suffered injury or harm because of the violations.

Among other problems found in the audits, inmates in the prison’s infirmary were sometimes left alone, without any working pager or call-light system to call a nurse or doctor in an emergency. They also were going too long between medical checks by nursing staff, according to the records.

“Our requirement is that a provider makes the rounds every day to see if they’re getting better or getting worse, what their vital signs are,” Siegert said.

Medical test results also languished unread for too long, raising the possibility that serious medical problems weren’t being addressed right away, Siegert said.

If the company doesn’t repair or adequately explain the audit findings, Idaho can impose liquidated damages for those violations as well.

“It’s going to stay on our radar and we’re going to continue watching it very closely,” Warner said.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/06/01/financial/f114357D89.DTL&type=science#ixzz0peqqAWjZ

Man dies of apparent suicide while in custody of Orleans Parish sheriff

A man died in the custody of the Orleans Parish sheriff Friday night, about two hours after he arrived at an intake facility on a charge of heroin possession.

In a news release, Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman called the death of Michael Hitzman, 31, an apparent suicide.

Hitzman is the fourth inmate to die this year while in the custody of the sheriff’s office.

Hitzman arrived at the sheriff’s Intake and Processing Center at about 5 p.m. Friday. He was screened by medical staff, who observed wounds on his forearms consistent with intravenous drug use, the news release said.

According to the release, a physician prescribed an antibiotic and scheduled a follow-up appointment.

Hitzman initially appeared calm but subsequently attempted to leave through the emergency doors and began exhibiting “belligerent, uncooperative” behavior, according to the sheriff’s office.

For his own safety and the safety of others, Hitzman was placed into an individual holding cell at around 6 p.m., the news release said.

At 7:14 p.m., a deputy found that Hitzman had apparently attached his T-shirt to the cell door and strangled himself. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

“At no time during the booking and screening process for this arrest, or any prior arrests, or during any of his prior incarcerations, did Hitzman express or exhibit any suicidal tendencies,” said an e-mail sent by sheriff’s office spokeswoman Mary Martin.

An autopsy is being conducted by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office.

Last month, two Orleans Parish Prison inmates died about an hour apart, though the deaths were unrelated.

About midday on March 30, Shedrick Godfrey, 48, died of an apparent heart attack while working a community service detail with other inmates. About an hour later Chris Blevins, 22, died from a stab wound to the chest suffered during a lunchtime fight with another inmate.

Richard Scearce, 60, who was arrested after a daylong standoff with New Orleans police last fall, died of cardiac arrest Jan. 19 while in custody of the sheriff’s office. Scearce died at the Interim LSU Public Hospital, where he had been transferred for treatment of a urinary tract infection, Gusman’s office said.

Scearce had barricaded himself inside his Uptown apartment Oct. 30 after receiving an eviction notice. He fired an assault rifle several times and set fire to his home, police said.

In December, Gusman and several of his staff members were sued by the father of a New Orleans woman who died in restraints in the jail’s psychiatric unit.

Cayne Miceli, 43, had a history of asthma, panic attacks and depression but was denied adequate medical care after she arrived at the jail in January 2009, the suit alleges. Miceli was arrested after allegedly biting a police officer who tried to remove her from Tulane Medical Center, where she had been treated for an asthma attack.

A U.S. Department of Justice report last year raised numerous concerns about the jail’s medical services.

The report — which Gusman said was outdated and ignored post-Katrina difficulties — mostly singled out the jail’s mental health care procedures. It criticized the jail’s use of restraints on a tier reserved for mentally ill patients and the facility’s procedures for preventing suicide and dispensing medication to inmates.

The report did not criticize screenings for other medical problems at the intake and processing center, and it concluded that other aspects of the jail’s medical care met constitutional mandates.

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

Prison as Punishment, Not for Punishment

Mar 26th, 2010

No one wants to go to prison, but there’s one particular prison in Idaho that’s especially feared. Why? According to the Associated Press, over the past two years, more prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have occurred at this specific prison — the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) — than at the other eight Idaho prisons combined.

During the past two months, ACLU lawyers interviewed over 30 prisoners who were viciously assaulted at ICC. The findings were so damning that a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Boise on March 11. The complaint, which exceeds 80 pages, chronicles more than 20 violent assaults that resulted in broken bones and bloodshed. The complaint does not include a number of victims who are so afraid of being assaulted again that they declined to have their stories included in the lawsuit. Since the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU has been contacted by more than 40 other persons who were assaulted while confined at ICC.

In what is a poorly kept secret, ICC is known throughout Idaho as “Gladiator School.” ICC staff not only condones violence amongst prisoners, it encourages and facilitates it as a management tool. In the United States, individuals are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, but that is not the case at ICC. It is worth noting that of the nine prisons in Idaho, ICC is the only one not run by the state, but rather by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, which boasts of being the largest owner and operator of private correctional and detention facilities in the U.S., has faced hundreds of lawsuits in recent years, including several brought by the ACLU.

Although our class action lawsuit was filed just last week, it appears that officials at CCA know that changes are needed. Mere days after our complaint was filed, CCA replaced the warden and assistant warden, the top two officials at ICC.

The lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief on behalf of all ICC prisoners. The injunctive relief would require ICC to make numerous improvements designed to ensure that prisoners are reasonably protected against assault.

Stephen Pevar, the lead attorney in the case, said: “I consider this case to be one of the most important cases I’ve litigated in my 39 years of practice, if not the most important. No other case of mine remotely approaches the level of profound human suffering that has occurred at ICC — nearly all of which could have easily been prevented by staff.”

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.