JACKSON, Miss. — Nov 6, 2014
By JEFF AMY Associated Press
Associated Press (via ABC)
Former Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps has been charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a businessman connected to several private prison companies.
Epps is accused of receiving more than $700,000 from 2008 to 2014.
The 49-count federal indictment also charges Cecil McCrory of Brandon with paying Epps to obtain contracts for himself and other companies. It was unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Jackson. McCrory and Epps were scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Keith Ball on Thursday.
From: SF Bay View, September 26, 2014
by Amy Buckley
On July 18, 2014, I was told to pack and was transferred to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Miss. Since I was not informed as to why I was being transferred, I have surmised that it was for medical purposes because I had abnormal results on some recent lab work.
I originally left this compound on Sept. 24, 2010, with the hope of never seeing it again, but here I sit. I wish I could say that things here have improved. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
CMCF is the processing center for all men and women coming into the prison system. This facility also houses just over 2,300 men long-term and less than 1,000 women who are compound-restricted due to medical conditions such as AIDS, pregnancy and heart problems and those with life sentences. Sadly, this is one of the worst – it is the worst for women – facilities in the state.
Conditions here are deplorable. There are 116 women per open zone (dorm) and no air conditioning. Lice, boils, staph infections, scabies and AIDS are rampant. The food is barely edible. Medical care is insufficient to non-existent. Mold grows on the shower walls and no matter how many times you scrub it off it grows right back. These are simply a few of the problems here.
Since arriving here on Friday, I have yet to be seen by a case manager and have not been issued any clothes. For five days now I have been wearing the same jumpsuit I was made to put on for being transported.
I approached Lt. Bates several times attempting to ask about getting clothes, only to be swatted away like I was a pesky fly. I also approached the case manager, Ms. Gattis, who said she would see me later but failed to do so. I have also written both of the above and received no response.
Without seeing the case manager, I cannot use the phones to contact my family because I have to fill out a phone list and get a PIN number to do so. Ms. Gattis would also be able to address any issues and concerns that I have at this time. To add to this incompetence, I have yet to see a doctor to find out what, if anything, needs to be done concerning my medical needs.
Being back here saddens me because I see the condition of some of these women. Many walk around like zombies, drugged out of their minds and seemingly unaware of their surroundings.
It is easier for a person to see the prison psychiatrist and get any psych drug available, even if they do not need it, than it is to see a nurse or medical doctor when one is truly ill. Many are denied medical care until hospitalization is the only option left and others die waiting to see a doctor.
I know how easy it is to get stuck on this compound, lost in this broken system, forced to work in inhumane conditions without pay or be written up for refusing to work until you land in Max. Despite being prisoners of the state of Mississippi, we have the right to receive prompt medical treatment, clean clothes to wear, a clean and safe living environment and access to our families, i.e., phone calls and visits.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections may not care about my health, but my health is important to me and my family. When I came into this system I was healthy and I plan to leave healthy! I will not give up until I receive the medical care I deserve. The beast will not win!
I will not give up until I receive the medical care I deserve.
Send our sister some love and light: Amy Buckley, 150005, CMCF-2A B-Zone 162, P.O. Box 88550, Pearl, MS 39288. Transcribed by Adrian McKinney from handwritten letter.
Amy has cervical cancer – write the Parole Board to release her
Amy Buckley is known across the country as a wise and courageous advocate for women prisoners. This is the Bay View’s most recent letter from Amy, postmarked July 30. Activist Twitch Entropy reports hearing from Amy that as of Sept. 6, despite an apparent diagnosis of cervical cancer, she still hasn’t seen a doctor, though she’d been in severe pain for a week. She hopes the cancer will be arrested with a hysterectomy.
Back home, her father is suffering from advanced mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer, and her son needs her. So her aunt is gathering parole support letters.
Your letter should be addressed to State of Mississippi Parole Board, Attn: Steve Pickett and Parole Board Members, 660 North St., Suite 100A, Jackson, MS 39202. Don’t mail it direct to the board but rather to Amy’s aunt: Trish Gray-Lee, 862 Jolly Road, Columbus, MS 39705. Amy deserves a special dispensation for her own and her father’s medical crises, justifying a supervised medical release, Twitch suggests.
Please listen to the recording of August 8th FREE ALABAMA-MISSISSIPPI MOVEMENT’S blogtalkradio show as we continue our “HANDS OFF OF OUR WOMEN AT TUTWILER” series ahead of our “MARCH ON TUTWILER” AND rally at the State Capitol on August 23, 2014, beginning at 11 a.m.
Also, we will get an update on our FAMILY… in Georgia, and learn about new developments and oppressive tactics that are being carried out by the State against the Men and Women who want their FREEDOM over there also.
“MISSISSIPPI BROWN” will be back again and we look forward to another great show.
By Jody Owens II, Managing Attorney – Mississippi
As the managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office, I’ve seen the terrible toll the state’s broken criminal justice system has taken on its communities.
The state has the shameful distinction of having the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation – ranking behind only Louisiana, according to the Department of Justice. The last decade has seen Mississippi’s prison population grow by 17 percent to more than 22,000 prisoners last year.
Many prisoners aren’t hardened, violent criminals. Nearly three-quarters of the people entering Mississippi prisons in 2012, in fact, were nonviolent offenders, according to a task force that examined the state’s prisons. And the system fails them: Almost one in three nonviolent offenders are back behind bars within three years of their release. These statistics paint a grim future of a state with a skyrocketing prison population that costs taxpayers, communities and the people caught in this broken system dearly.
This morning, I was pleased to witness Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant sign groundbreaking reforms into law that can help repair this broken system. As a member of the task force that issued recommendations for reform, I can attest that these reforms address many longstanding issues. They help protect our communities from violent offenders but take steps to prevent low-level offenders from returning to prison.
This is from the series in MotherJones Magazine
“A picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”
—By James Ridgeway and Jean Casella
May. 13, 2013
Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.
While there’s plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We’ve compiled this subjective list of America’s 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy.
We will roll out the final contenders this week, complete with photos and video. Number 9 is a corporate-run facility where children allegedly have been subjected to a heartrending pattern of brutal beatings, rapes, and isolation.
Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (Leake County, Mississippi)
Number of prisoners: Capacity 1,450 (actual population in flux)
Who’s in charge: (current) Lawrence Mack, warden; (former) George Zoley, CEO, the GEO Group; Christopher B. Epps, commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections
The basics: Efforts are underway to clean up and clear out Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which one federal judge called “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts” visited upon children as young as 13. For years, the kids at Walnut Grove were subjected to a gauntlet of physical and sexual assaults, and psychological abuse including long-term solitary confinement. All of this took place under the management of private prison conglomerate the GEO Group.
The backlash: Evidence gathered for a report by the Justice Department and a lawsuit by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” Federal District Judge Carleton Reeves wrote in a 2012 court order. The court found that conditions at Walnut Grove violated the Constitution, not to mention state and federal civil and criminal laws. Guards regularly had sex with their young charges and the facility’s pattern of “brutal” rapes among prisoners was the worst of “any facility anywhere in the nation” (court’s emphasis). Guards also were deemed excessively violent—beating, kicking, and punching “handcuffed and defenseless” youths and frequently subjecting them to chemical restraints such as pepper spray, even for insignificant infractions.
The guards also sold drugs on site and staged “gladiator-style” fights. “It’d be like setting up a fight deal like you would with two dogs,” one former resident told NPR. “They actually bet on it. It was payday for the guards.” Said another: “A lot of times, the guards are in the same gang. If the inmates wanted something done, they got it. If they wanted a cell popped open to handle some business about fighting or something like that, it just pretty much happened.” Kids who complained or tried to report these incidents faced harsh retribution, including long stints in solitary.
Judge Reeves wrote that the state had turned a blind eye to the prison company’s abuses: Walnut Grove’s charges, “some of whom are mere children, are at risk every minute, every hour, every day.” In accord with a court decree, the facility’s youngest residents have been moved to a state-run juvenile facility, and Mississippi canceled its contract with GEO—which still runs some 65 prisons nationwide. The contract was handed over to another private prison company, Management and Training Corporation, which also has been a target of criticism for advocates of criminal justice reform.
Also read: “The Lost Boys,” about what happens when you put kids in an adult isolation facility.
Watch: Local news report on a protest by Walnut Grove parents.
This is reblogged from Lockup Reform:
April 22nd 2013
The 2002 conviction of Jeffrey Havard reeks of WRONGFUL in a really bad, alarming sort of way. The kind of way that caused me to wonder if at this moment I was somehow involved in some sort of freak situation that could earn me a wrongful conviction, landing me in solitary confinement on death row for years on end, all due to some outrageous misinterpretation or spinning of facts as they occurred—all completely out of my control.
I was not familiar with Havard’s case until a colleague and friend, Lori Howard (@LoriHoward16), who is a relentless advocate for the wrongfully convicted (she’s got a one-track mind and a drive I envy, which she claims materialized after coming this close to catching a serious wrongful conviction case of her own five years ago), started sharing bits and pieces of his story with me. Her devotion to freeing Havard inspired me to examine the facts for myself, so guided by Lori, I started reading and reading on the case.
I advocate for criminal justice reform and prisoners’ rights in my own work, but really focus my efforts on people held in prolonged solitary confinement, so this was new territory for me. But as I started processing the information, the facts and the countless stories on Havard, I was appalled. If you’re not familiar with Jeffrey Havard’s case, Bruce Fischer provides a good background on GroundReport. Or here’s the real quick and dirty of it (as posted on the official Free Jeffrey Havard Facebook page):
Backtracking to 2002 when Havard was convicted, it’s important to note two important details, each of which unquestionably impacted the outcome of his case, facilitating Mississippi state’s determination that he is no longer worthy of life. As reported in a recent story on WAPT News:
With these injustices in mind, new information and details have continued to surface in connection with the original evidence incriminating Havard, which has from the start been perceived by many as dubious at best (not even). Recently there has been increased media attention to the already well known, controversial case, including a story published yesterday by The Clarion-Ledger, from which I quote liberally throughout this post:
Now the flimsy evidence used to build a case against Havard—the same evidence on which the great state of Mississippi based its conviction and death sentence of a young man—has been further discredited. As stated by The Clarion-Ledger:
And now I give props to the good people at The Clarion-Ledger for their huge show of support and efforts to finally get Havard the trial he should have had over a decade ago:
The outcome of the new examination? I was very pleased but not surprised at Baden’s conclusions:
Wrapping up, The Clarion-Ledger concludes:
In his latest petition, Havard asks the court for relief of the original conviction and sentence, also requesting “at the very least,” permission to produce evidence raised in the petition during a proposed evidenciary hearing in federal court. I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to deny his hard-earned requests, already paid for in full by Havard personally with over a decade of his life, wasted in the bowels of Mississippi’s penal system—in solitary confinement and on death row, likely wondering if his only ticket out of the hellhole in which Mississippi currently holds him is his own death.
From: Gulf Live, Mississippi Press
Jan. 10th 2013
The sentencing committee meeting was canceled again today, by the way – I have no idea when it’s rescheduled for. I hung out at the Capitol awhile anyway, handing out copies of Tenacious (a zine full of stuff by women in prison) to the women legislators I could find, since it was “Women’s Day at the Legislature” today, and I didn’t think they’d made any arrangements for state prisoners to participate or talk to their legislators. I also left one for Governor Brewer, with an article done by a woman who had cancer while at Perryville a few years back. She’s now with an organization that helps women in prison. I’ll post her story here when I get permission.
I hope those legislators I gave the zines to actually bother to read them. I don’t know when or how they’re going to hear a woman prisoner’s voice address their conditions otherwise. Maybe we should try to get them to hold hearings out at the prisons themselves. Given the Arizona Republic and Lumley Vampire reports on the physical condition of the facilities alone, they should have organized an emergency oversight committee to check it out in person. The legislature is responsible, after all, for compromising the safety of state prisoners and corrections employees in the first place. They’ve now been duly warned that they’ll be held liable for failing to follow up on it.
Anyway, the following article is very pertinent to the work of the House Sentencing Committee – and most of the issues I have with Andrew Thomas’ office. In fact, this is a very good reason why we don’t want that man to be Attorney General. He’ll be putting ten times as many innocent people away, while letting the really guilty ones walk by making questionable deals – like the one that put the Scott Sisters away. The innocent don’t have anything to fear, they think, nor do they have anything to trade. The guilty, on the other hand – the “triggermen” – can trade them.
There’s nothing guaranteed to get you a more severe punishment in America than insisting that you’re innocent and losing to the prosecutor at trial – and they make sure you know that when they make their offer. Their job is to prove guilt, not to find truth – don’t make any mistakes about that. They’re out to get convictions, by and large – not to protect the innocent. Victims are just useful tools to win their cases with, and to use to promote their own tough-on-crime image.
There are a few remarkable exceptions to that rule, of course. Some DA’s have been very committed to investigating reports of wrongful prosecutions/convictions. I hope that’s the beginning of a trend towards more ethical, responsible prosecutorial conduct. I have yet to see evidence of that happening in Arizona, though.
Frontline Interview with
John H. Langbein
John Langbein is a professor of law and legal history at Yale Law School. In this interview, he describes how the plea bargain system pressures people to buckle and accept a plea-even if they are innocent-and how prosecutors, judges and defense attorneys have a role, a stake even, in seeing that this happens. He also talks about the Supreme Court’s indifference to the pressures on a defendant in the plea process, and why he believes the rampant growth of pleas is rooted in the trial system’s failures.
(I have condensed this interview for the sake of this forum. You can view the entire interview on the link I provided below)
Q: “What is wrong with the plea bargain system in our courts today?”
Plea bargaining is a system that is best described as one of condemnation without adjudication. It is a system that replaces trial, which is what our constitution intended, with deals.
Second, those deals are coerced. The prosecutor is basically forcing people to waive their rights to jury trial by threatening them with ever greater sanctions if they refuse to plead and instead demand the right to jury trial.
But every defendant has a right to go to trial; it’s a choice they make to plead guilty.
The problem with choice arguments is that they neglect the main dynamic of plea bargan which is the pressure that the prosecutor puts on you to do it his way.
Plea bargain works by threat. What the prosecutor says to a criminal defendant in plea bargaining is, “Surrender your right to jury trial, or if you go to trial and are convicted of an offense, we will see to it that you are punished twice. Once for the offense, and once for having had the temerity to exercise your right to jury trial.” THAT is a coercive system.