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Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Punishment/Prisons


All articles with the "Prisons" tag.

Published: Tue, 17 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 17 Oct 2017 14:30:39 -0400


Judge Threatens Arizona Prison Officials With Contempt For ‘Pervasive and Intractable Failures’

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

A federal judge said Tuesday he is considering holding Arizona prison officials in contempt of court for their "pervasive and intractable failures" to abide by a 2014 agreement to improve care of inmates in the state prison system. Three years ago, the Arizona Department of Corrections agreed to settle a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and several other law firms by taking steps to improve medical care inside its prisons. The lawsuit, filed in 2012, followed media investigations and persistent allegations of fatally inadequate medical care by the department's medical provider, Corizon. Prison officials have been accused of defying court orders and intimidating inmate witnesses as they resisted complying with the settlement. An increasingly exasperated U.S. Magistrate Judge David K. Duncan issued an order Tuesday calling on the department to show why it should not be held in civil contempt for failing to meet the guidelines and benchmarks in the agreement. Duncan's order came after he hauled Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan into his court in August to address allegations that guards were retaliating against inmates who testified about poor conditions inside the state's prisons. When Duncan ordered the department to stop any such retaliation, Ryan sent an email to his staff saying the ruling was "disappointing," and that they "deserved better." In another court filing in September, an ACLU lawyer says she overheard an Arizona correctional officer say to several fellow officers, "Those fucking ACLU lawyers. Who the fuck do they think they are telling us what we can and cannot do to inmates? I can do whatever I want, whenever I want." "All of this disrespect for the rule of law," Duncan fired back, "is something I have never experienced or seen in nearly 30 years of being a lawyer, or in 16 years as a judge." If Ryan is held in civil contempt, he would join the company of former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow Arizonan and one of America's most anachronistic and cruelest lawmen. President Trump pardoned Arpaio this summer after he was found guilty of both criminal and civil contempt of court. Andrew Wilder, a spokesperson for the department, says in a statement to Reason that it is "firmly committed to holding its current contracted health care provider, Corizon, accountable for its contractual responsibility to provide inmates the constitutionally-mandated health care to which they are entitled." "Moreover, ADC already has taken significant and concrete actions to encourage Corizon to meet the specific performance measures under the Parsons Stipulation," Wilder continues. However, in 2016, when the ACLU and other lawyers for the plaintiffs filed complaints that the Arizona Department of Corrections had failed to comply with the settlement, local media outlet 12 News reported that it was still being "inundated with emails and phone calls from families of prisoners alleging their loved ones are not getting the treatment they need." The news outlet 12 News published an investigation in 2014 revealing that, despite Corizon's $125 million annual contract with the state, Arizona inmates faced disastrous delays in physical and mental health treatment. Separate reports by doctors touring Arizona prisons also found stomach-churning conditions and neglect. Courthouse News, summarizing the reports, described it as "an understaffed system in which an inmate died with infected lesions swarmed by flies, a man who ate his own feces was never seen by a psychiatrist, and a woman swallowed razor blades while allegedly under constant watch." One of the doctors described a 30-year-old inmate who was given less than a year to live after extreme delays in detection and treatment of testicular cancer led to the disease spreading to his internal organs. Corene Kendrick of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, California, told the Phoenix New Times this week that her office is still getting "dozens of letters each week" from prisoners suffering from serious medical co[...]

I Became a Pot Felon at 18. I'm Owed More Than an Apology.

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 14:15:00 -0400

When asked why I advocate for legalization of recreational drugs, I give a simple answer: Because the government doesn't know what's best for me or others. But there's another reason, and it's far more personal. Twenty-five years ago, as a college freshman, I was arrested by undercover cops for selling $80 worth of marijuana to fellow students. I was convicted of two felonies: distribution and possession of a narcotic. I spent a month in jail.

Long after the ordeal, I feel resentment at the United States government and the old conservative guard who still mostly run it. It's important to understand that becoming a felon, even for a minor non-violent crime, is no small issue when you're 18 years old. In addition to the government taking away your voting and gun rights, and forcing you to submit to random drug tests, a felony makes it extremely difficult to ever get a normal job. A criminal rap is a serious and derogatory social badge.

You'd think there would be some consolation that since my run-in with the law in 1992, America has been slowly withdrawing from its conservative anti-drug fervor. Currently, 28 states allow medical marijuana use, and eight states now have made recreational use legal. Eventually, pot will likely become legal everywhere, including $80 amounts to students on college campuses.

So all is well, right? Wrong.

Millions of other minor drug offenders like me are left holding the bag. It wasn't just the defamatory criminal sentence many of us received. The government confiscated my Jeep Comanche and my beloved Honda motorcycle during the ordeal. What little money I had I spent on lawyers and judicial filings in our convoluted court system. My total financial loss a quarter of a century ago was $20,000 dollars. Had I been able to invest that money in the stock market, for example, I'd have over $100,000 now.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that 8.2 million people in America were arrested between 2001 and 2010 for marijuana offenses. The Washington Post says at least 137,000 people sit in US jails on any given day of the week for weed.

Now that the country is on its glacial way to likely legalizing marijuana and taxing the sale of it like it does beer, where is the official apology, to me and all those others? For many of us, an apology—and the government's inevitable mea culpa when they likely make pot legal across the land—won't be enough.

Some of us also want compensation for the financial damage forced upon us—for the literal theft of our property. Maybe that means a class action lawsuit insisting on government reparation for all damage caused, maybe in the form of tax credits or proceeds from the sale of unused Federal land, so as not to abuse the American taxpayer further over the drug war. It's safe to say—given the damage caused and the lives affected—such a suit would likely be in the billions of dollars.

Whatever happens, don't expect minor drug offenders to forget the harm Uncle Sam has caused now that smoking a joint is finally becoming legal and acceptable.

Brickbat: The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A federal appeals court has reinstated a $2.3 million award to Marlow Humbert, who was held in solitary confinement in a Baltimore jail for over a year after being arrested for rape. DNA tests cleared the man of the crime within a month of his arrest, but police did not share the results of those tests with prosecutors for 11 months.

Bill Introduced in Congress to Ban Shackling and Solitary Confinement of Pregnant Women

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 17:30:00 -0400

Two Democratic senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, introduced legislation Tuesday to improve the treatment of female inmates in federal prisons, including banning solitary confinement and shackling of pregnant women. The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), would also increase visitation rights for inmates, provide free telephone and video conference calls, and require federal prisons to provide tampons and sanitary napkins to inmates free of charge. Women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S prison population. The female prison population has grown by 700 percent since 1980, Booker said at a press conference Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill. But they struggle to maintain contact with their children because of exorbitant prison phone fees, receive proper medical care, and maintain their basic dignity, forcing them to "have to make difficult choices whether to get price gouged to communicate with family or buy basic health products,' Booker said. "If you listen to their testimony," Booker said, "it brings a shame to what's happening in the U.S., and it violates our common values and principles." Women in prison have higher rates of mental illness, drug dependency, and histories of sexual and physical abuse. The vast majority of them are also mothers. "Over half of women in prison and 80 percent of women in jail have children," Warren said. "The majority of women in prison, as Sen. Booker said, are themselves victims of physical or sexual abuse. It means we're talking about women who have already faced enormous challenges in their lives, who are trying to hold families together, and who end up incarcerated." One of those women was Andrea James, now the executive director of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls. In 2009, James was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison for a nonviolent crime. She had a five-month-old child at the time. "When I entered that prison in Danbury, Connecticut in 2010, I was coming in as a former criminal defense attorney," James said at the press conference. "I didn't think there was anything else anybody could tell me about how broken our criminal justice system is. I was stunned and heartbroken at what I encountered walking into that federal prison crammed full of 2,000 women." Booker and Warren's bill does not currently have any Republican co-sponsors, although Booker said he is reaching out to GOP senators who haveregularly joined him on criminal justice bills in the past. The bill's main priority of maintaining connections between incarcerated mothers and their families is an issue that should appeal to conservatives, Booker and Warren said. The federal Bureau of Prison announced in 2008 it would stop shackling women while they were giving birth, but it still otherwise allows the practice. While the bill would only apply to the federal prison system—which currently holds about 12,500 female inmates, most of them for drug crimes—the senators and advocates like Jessica Jackson Sloan, the national director of the criminal justice reform group #Cut50, hope it would set an example for states and counties, where the shackling of women in labor still occurs. "The fact that we are taking one of the most joyous moments of their life—the moment you give birth and become a mother—and shackling them during that moment, ripping the baby away, and not even providing a way to even begin to foster this child that they've just spent nine months growing and bringing into this world, is shocking and disturbing and disgusting," Sloan says. "We know there are models out there, like overnight visitation pilot programs, that have shown to have a meaningful impact on the long-term bond between mother and child, and even the mother's recidivism rate and ability to get back on her feet after incarceration and turn her life around." Much of the growth in the female inmate popu[...]

How to Make an Asylum-Seeker Request Her Own Deportation

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 16:00:00 -0400

As undocumented immigrants contend with a new directive from the upper echelons of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that calls for the apprehension of all immigrants without proper paperwork—not just those with criminal records—one detainee is hoping simply to stay alive as her case winds its way through the U.S. immigration system. Brenda Menjivar Guardado, a 21-year-old El Salvadoran national, asked a federal immigration judge to deport her last month. She doesn't actually want to go back to El Salvador, according to her attorney. In fact, when she was initially detained in May of this year by Customs and Border Protection, she requested asylum. But Guardado's priorities changed when Immigration and Customs Enforcement took away the insulin she'd been using to treat her type-1 diabetes. As her blood glucose skyrocketed, the U.S. suddenly became a more dangerous place than the country she fled. "Brenda is convinced she's going to die," Whitney Drake, her attorney, told me last week. "She's terrified." Guardado's ordeal began May 30, when she was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For the four days she was in CPB custody, she was allowed to keep the insulin medication she'd brought to the United States. Like all type-1 diabetics, Guardado was using a combination of fast-acting and long-acting insulin drugs to mimic a normal pancreas and manage her blood glucose levels. Without access to both formulations, it would be nearly impossible to keep her glucose from going too high, leading to a potentially fatal condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. The problems started when Guardado was transferred into the custody of ICE on June 3. "They threw out her medication," Drake says. She was processed at Laredo Processing Center, and then transferred to Hutto on June 8. After tossing her medication, someone at either Laredo or Hutto began giving Guardado a long-acting insulin, but not the short-acting formulation type-1 diabetics generally take before and after meals to counter whatever sugars are in their food. Drake, who works for an immigration nonprofit called American Gateways, visited Hutto, which exclusively houses immigration detainees, on June 22. Guardado approached her asking for help. By this point, her glucose was out of control. A healthy person's blood glucose floats between 75 and 100. Diabetic ketoacidosis can start with an elevated blood glucose level of 250. The day after she appealed to Drake for help, Guardado's blood glucose was in the upper 400s. Drake immediately began contacting medical professionals outside ICE, which provides medical care at Hutto, for advice. An endocrinologist she spoke to said Guardado was in mortal danger. So Drake request that ICE release Guardado. That request was denied. By June 29, which is the last time Drake spoke to Guadardo, the young woman had dropped her asylum request and asked her immigration judge to deport her. She didn't want to go home, but she also didn't want to die in a U.S. immigration detention facility. Hutto Detention Center and Laredo Processing Center are both operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corp of America). According to a spokesperson, CoreCivic doesn't provide medical care at Hutto; ICE Health Service Corps does. While CoreCivic does provide medical services at Laredo Processing Center, a CoreCivic spokesman told me to take my query to ICE. "[Ms. Guadardo] is receiving medical care that is consistent with the requisite standard of care for people with her condition," an ICE spokesperson told me via email on July 7. On July 8, an outside observer met with Guadardo in Laredo on Drake's behalf. "Brenda said she's being treated well and is starting to feel better," Drake told me on Sunday. "Brenda saw a nurse and doctor immediately upon arriving at the Laredo ICE facility. She's being given fruits and vegetables, and her blood-sugar levels are coming down. I do not have updated information on what type of i[...]

Brickbat: Should I Not Have Done That?

Wed, 05 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Federal prosecutor Erin Tomasic has resigned after admitting she listened to recordings made of conversations between inmates at Leavenworth Detention Center and their attorneys that were made without the knowledge of either the prisoners or their attorneys. Tomasic had previously told the judge handling an investigation of the recordings that she had not listened to them. Many of the inmates at the detention center are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of any crime.

Bail Reformers Seek to Keep the Poor from Being Stuck Behind Bars

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Should poverty keep a citizen in jail after an arrest but before conviction, even if the defendant poses no further risk of harm or flight? There is a push on to change the way bail works so that it's less punishing to the poor. The Connecticut legislature passed a bill (at the governor's urging) last week to make bail less oppressive. A measure in California is temporarily stalled while opposing sides hammer out details. The conflict pits civil rights and criminal justice reform advocates against law-and-order politicians who campaign on tough stances and the bail industry which is financially dependent on the revenue generated by the bail process. After some compromise with the bail industry in Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has ushered in modest reforms. Connecticut's bill bars judges from setting cash-only bail and restricts judges from setting bail in many misdemeanor cases, though they can do so for those with a history of not showing up in court or who are flight risks. The law also attempts to hasten the timeframe for bail review hearings, attempting to cut the deadline from 30 to 14 days, so indigent defendants are not stuck in jail as long. Malloy has noted that when poor people are stuck in jail cells solely for having been arrested, it can have huge impacts on their livelihoods, even before they've been convicted or even tried for any crimes: "The fact is that being incarcerated for as few as a couple of days can have a dramatic effect on that person's ability to maintain housing, employment, and contact with their family – all of which are keys to ensuring people lead productive lives and that the cycle of crime and poverty does not perpetuate. This legislation builds upon our dramatic successes in leading the nation towards creating a fairer and more just criminal justice system." Even broader bail reform legislation passed California's Senate but has been held up in the state's Assembly after significant resistance from some legislators and heavy lobbying from the prison industry. The California bill would introduce a county-level pretrial service that would evaluate and help courts determine which criminal defendants are actual flight risks and attempt to create a system through which people are not stuck in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. The goal: Get nonviolent offenders back home and reduce chances they lose their jobs, housing or face other negative consequences simply because they are merely accused of crimes. Such a change necessarily means an industry dependent on people seeking out financial assistance to make bail is going to take a hit. And they're not remaining quiet about it. According to KQED, insurance companies for the bail industry have spent more than $170,000 lobbying lawmakers over the past few months. While debating the bill, Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) warned that people would lose their jobs, and reducing bail demands would "decimate an industry dominated by women and minority owners, and it will cost the state millions of dollars annually in lost taxes." Stone's complaint that defendants should be forced to seek out bail or rot in prison cells in order to keep people in the bail industry employed may not be a particularly compelling argument to many, but California lawmakers do seem concerned about costs. The California Assembly's analysis of the legislation notes that it's going to impose hundreds of millions in costs to create these new county-level pretrial services that the state will be obligated to fund. Yet the analysts don't seem to be able to put any sort of price tag on how much counties will save by having fewer people in their jail cells, labeling the prospect as "unknown but significant." Connecticut is calculating its more modest bail reform will save the state $30 million over two fiscal years. In California, nearly 60 percent of people awaiting trial are behin[...]

Man Free After Serving 25 Years for Murder Linked to Switched Bullets

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 09:59:00 -0400

After 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, charges against Desmond Ricks have been dropped. The Michigan Innocence Clinic showed that his 1992 conviction was based on fraudulent evidence contrived by Detroit law enforcement reported, The Detroit News. Ricks was convicted of second degree murder for the death of his friend Gerry Bennett, who was shot outside of a Detroit burger joint. Prosecutors and police claimed that Ricks killed Bennett in cold blood using a gun that belonged to his mother, Mary Ricks. The Detroit Police Crime Lab, which was closed in 2008 due to an audit that found errors in ballistics testing, claimed to match the bullets from Bennett's body to those in Mary Ricks' gun. His case was referred to the Michigan Innocence Clinic in late 2011. David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, spoke with Reason. He believes evidence shows that the Detroit Police Crime Lab acted fraudulently: "On the same day that the police seized the gun from Mary Ricks, Desmond Ricks' mother, the Detroit Police Crime lab issued a one page report saying that the bullets pulled from Gerry Bennett's body matched that gun and no other gun in the world. And that's simply not possible because we now know what those bullets looked like. They were analyzed by the Michigan State Police and we have photographs of them. They are horribly mangled as you would expect from soft lead .38-caliber bullets that go from a skull all the way to the spine. There are just not enough marks left on the bullets to match them to any gun. So there is no way that those bullets could have been definitively matched to any gun...It's very hard to see how that could have happened otherwise outright fraud." In the original trial, the judge appointed ballistics expert David Townshend to conduct independent analysis of the bullets. Townshend initially verified the Detroit Crime Lab's findings. From prison, Ricks contacted Townshend and asked him to visit him here, even offering the retired Michigan State Police Officer gas money. As explained by Moran, Townshend would conduct his analysis by firing bullets from Mary Ricks' gun into a water tank and comparing those to the autopsy bullets given to him by Detroit police. Townshend was always suspicious of the bullets he received "because they didn't seem like they were mangled enough for having gone through a skull and in the spine. Nor did they have the stains that you would expect to see on bullets that had been pulled out of a dead body" Moran said. After the 2008 crime lab scandal and visiting Ricks in prison, Townshend came to the conclusion that the autopsy bullets were switched with the Detroit Crime Lab's own test bullets. He signed an affidavit in 2015 stating that the bullets he received were not from Bennett's body. Unfortunately, Ricks' case may just be the tip of the iceberg. According to Moran, the Detroit police violated the Constitution frequently in the 1990s by inventing false confessions or arresting and holding witnesses until they implicated a defendant. While the Wayne County Prosecutors Office received a grant to look into other cases that the Detroit Crime Lab may have mishandled, they only searched back to 2003. Moran intends to ask the Michigan Attorney General to launch a full independent investigation into convictions based on crime lab analysis. For now, Ricks told The Detroit News that he is ready to move forward: "There's no excuse for what they did, but I have to move on. I just didn't want to die in prison. Now, I'm just trying to get some semblance of my life back. I just want to pay my taxes and be a good citizen." He is also entitled to $1.25 million from the state.[...]

Prison Unions Punish California Taxpayers

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 01:00:00 -0400

If you ever wondered what's wrong with California's state government, then mull over this simple example: While California cuts its prison population and staff, it's increasing the amount of money it spends to operate its massive prison system. In the private sector, a decline in the number of "customers" and workers would mean lower overhead. But in state government—or, at least, this state government—the opposite is true. The higher costs are driven by escalating pay and benefit packages negotiated by unions that represent prison guards and other staff. It's an example of how powerful public-sector unions keep the state from getting spending under control, even when the need for such spending plummets. That example comes from a new report by the Vera Institute for Justice. "Despite a decline in both its prison population and the number of prison staff, California's prison spending rose $560 million between 2010 and 2015, primarily because salary, pension and other employee and retiree benefits continued to increase, also a result of union-negotiated increases," explained the New York-based think tank that promotes criminal-justice reform. California is unusual from a national perspective, per the report. Thirteen states have reduced prison populations since 2010, but they've also cut their prison spending by $1.6 billion. Seven states have increased their populations, but have managed to decrease their prison spending, (by $254 million). Fifteen states have increased their prison populations and also increased their total prison spending by a half-billion dollars. California is in an ignominious group of 10 states that saw declines in the prison population since 2010, but which increased spending by $1.1 billion. Furthermore, California's spending increase accounts for more than half of that number. California has by far the costliest system of incarceration in the nation at more than $75,000 per inmate per year—more than triple the average cost of the 18 states with the least-costly rates. Regardless of one's views on prison-reform issues, it's clear that California gets far less bang for its buck than other states. The savings could go to other parts of the criminal-justice bureaucracy, or to other programs or, heaven forbid, back to taxpayers. Instead, the money goes to maintain a system that isn't changing to reflect new realities. The study focuses on the 2010 to 2015 period, and some major prison-related laws—e.g., 2014's Proposition 47, which reduced many felonies to misdemeanors and resulted in further reductions of prison populations—got started toward the end of the study period. Yet, if anything, these disturbing spending trends only accelerated in the ensuing years. "Gov. Jerry Brown's spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes a record $11.4 billion for the corrections department while also predicting that there will be 11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved earlier releases for many inmates," wrote Don Thompson for The Associated Press. "Since 2015, California's per-inmate costs have surged nearly $10,000, or about 13 percent." That's a whopping increase in a short period of time, and even more amazing given that state just raised gas taxes because it claims to be out of cash. Some argue that there was no "safety dividend" from the passage of Prop. 47, the AP article explained. That's an unresolved point. After hitting record lows, crime rates in some big California cities have gone up the past couple of years. There is no definitive data-driven answer to the causes yet, but many conservatives blame Proposition 47 and the governor's "realignment" policies, which fulfilled a federal prison overcrowding order by moving many state prisoners to county jails. Of course, early-release decisions and the like should be driven by public sa[...]

GOP Maps Out New Ways to Throw People in Federal Prison

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 10:00:00 -0400

New legislation being drafted by House and Senate Republicans would serve essentially as a clearinghouse for their tough-on-crime, tough-on-immigration stances. It would create new mandatory minimums, prepare the feds to imprison thousands more people, find new ways to punish sanctuary cities, and collect biometric and biographic data on anybody immigration takes into custody, regardless of citizenship status. The 333-page "Building America's Trust through Border and National Security Act of 2017" is being assembled by two Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul. Like omnibus legislation, it's a Frankenstein's monster of cobbled-together bills that probably couldn't get passed on their own, certainly not before Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House. A source provided Reason a copy of the draft legislation. Among the measures currently included in the bill's text: The bill includes "Kate's Law," legislation designed to increase federal mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants in crime cases. It's named after Kathryn Steinle, who was killed by a felon who had been deported but returned illegally to the United States. It creates a new mandatory minimum sentences for illegal immigrants who commit crimes. An illegal alien who commits any drug trafficking or violent crime gets a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. If that person had previously been kicked out of the country before for committing a crime, the mandatory minimum sentence jumps to 15 years. In addition, those who continue to return illegally to the United States after being deported (regardless of any criminal record) face 10-year sentences if they get caught. The bill authorizes the construction of "tactical infrastructure"—as in physical barriers or a "wall"—along the southwest border of the United States, and it orders the Department of Homeland Security to get such infrastructure into place by January 2021. It doesn't specifically define what the infrastructure should look like, and it doesn't appear to provide for its funding. (It does call for $33 billion to improve border surveillance.) The bill spends 60 pages authorizing a host of border patrol operations and functions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would see a staff increase of 1,500 special agents, 500 of which would be assigned to the border. The number of ICE investigators would increase by 1,000. The bill offers a host of financial incentives and bonuses to hire and keep border patrol officers. The bill's authors want to fund an increase of "not less than 50 percent per day" over the previous year in the number of prosecutions for illegal border crossings along the Mexican border, and they want to fund all the personnel needs that would entail. The legislation would provide federal grants to border states to assist local law enforcement agents if they help with border control and immigration enforcement. The bill calls for a biometric data collecting system for any person entering and leaving the United States who is not a citizen, and for checking their identities against several databases. (The databases would cover not just suspected terrorists, but also everyone who is in the United States illegally, has violated the terms of their visas, or has overstayed their visas.) It calls for collecting DNA samples from any detained aliens that are subject to deportation. The bill calls for the detention and removal of immigrants who are in the country illegally regardless of any involvement in any other crimes. It also authorizes Homeland Security to detain a deportable alien for removal if he has been tried for a crime, even if he hasn't been convicted. To make space for all these people, it funds an additional 10,000 beds in the federal detention system. The bill denies federal [...]

Documentary on Prison Boom Fails to Provide Facts or Context

Fri, 05 May 2017 14:52:00 -0400

Independent Lens: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes. PBS. Monday, May 8, 10 p.m. Watching The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, I was reminded of an old movie joke. Q. How many surrealist directors does it take to screw in a light bulb? A. November. Airing as part of the PBS Independent Lens documentary film series, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is not really surrealist, just torpid and self-consciously arty. It's the sort of stuporous film in which you get languid shots of trains rolling endlessly along a track, images to which aesthetes can assign virtually any metaphoric value—the inexorable human will to free movement, the industrial world's uncaring despoliation of the environment, the quiet desperation of Americans awaiting delivery of their breakfast Cheerios—without fear of contradiction by actual reported facts, which are few and far between in Twelve Landscapes. Twelve Landscapes is rooted in a clever (conceptually, anyway) attempt to make virtue out of necessity. Making a documentary about America's burgeoning prisons (population 2.2 million and growing all the time) is an exercise in frustration because it's nearly impossible to get cameras inside them. So Canadian filmmaker Brett Story approached from the opposite direction, with a series of vignettes about how incarceration affects the world outside. But lots of thing can go wrong between conception and birth. Story's affection for the tedium of cinema verite, her rejection of journalism for aesthetics, and, most fundamentally, her neo-Marxist certainty that the driving force behind American penology is corporate conspiracy all combine to make large chunks of Twelve Landscapes nearly unwatchable. The fact that a lot of New York City chess hustlers learned their trade in prison (if it is a fact; if Story has any evidence beyond the assertion of a single player, it's not to be found in in Twelve Landscapes) is an interesting tidbit. But the key word is "tidbit"; watching guys stare at chessboards for four minutes is even more excruciating than it sounds. I thought it was interesting to listen to the musings of a California inmate who's part of an all-female forest-fire-fighting crew ("I think of myself as a hero, and [even though the prison rules prohibit me from talking to them] sometimes I can tell that the public does, too") until I learned—and not from the film itself—that she's actually an actress playing a composite character whose lines were collected from many different interviews. Story's refusal to use narration or otherwise provide facts to establish context for her vignettes actually damages her own arguments at times. The fact that people in Wheelwright, Kentucky, think their local prison is an economic boon to their community would have a lot more impact if Twelve Landscapes had mentioned that the surrounding counties host more than a dozen prisons, regional jails, and detention centers, including two supermax facilities; pockets of depressed rural America are becoming unlikely headquarters of the prison-industrial complex, welcoming correctional facilities that the suburbs don't want. Yet even with that detail added, the prison boom in Kentucky is more interesting than significant. Does Story really believe that America's enormous prison population was produced by the tawdry manipulations of powerful Appalachian political forces? A bit of actual reporting might have disclosed that—depending on whose numbers you believe—somewhere between 20 and 50 percent of U.S. prison inmates are incarcerated on drug charges. Even at the low end of that spectrum, ending the drug war would result in enormous savings in both dollars and broken lives. For all its flaws, though, the small-ball approach of Twelve Landscapes sometimes hits the target. There's a fascinating interview with th[...]

Jury Says Jail Officials Should Face Charges for Prisoner’s Dehydration Death

Tue, 02 May 2017 15:25:00 -0400

A jury is recommending seven Milwaukee County jail employees should face charges for the horrific dehydration death of an imprisoned man denied water for a week in 2016. Terrell Thomas, 38, was imprisoned in a solitary cell with his water deliberately shut off by jail officials, who claimed they had done so because he had attempted to flood a previous cell. But this left him with no water to drink for seven days. His death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners. Prosecutors in Milwaukee County took the unusual step of putting together an "inquest jury" to see if they felt there was probable cause to charge any jail employees with crimes for Thomas' death. A decision by an inquest jury does not bind prosecutors to any sort of action. It's simply an advisory. After hearing testimony for a week, jurors decided that there was probable cause to charge seven corrections officers at the jail with felonies for abuse, neglect, or ill-treatment of prisoners. It will be up to District Attorney John Chisholm to decide whether to charge them or not. He can decide to charge just some of them. He can also decide to charge others beyond these seven. Jail officials had been attempting to portray Thomas' death as a communication issue, with several people testifying that they had no idea that Thomas' water had been shut off in his cell. But on Monday jurors were told that jail officials had subsequently turned water off to other prisoners' cells as a form of punishment. This happened after Thomas died of dehydration. What happened to Thomas might not have been an isolated incident. From The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Earlier Monday the jury heard that in the weeks after Thomas died jail officials ordered the water shut off for two other inmates in the disciplinary pod of the Milwaukee County Jail. Those two inmates were punished for covering their cell windows, jail logs show. A prosecutor called the practice "torture," which was doubly shocking because it followed the death of Thomas. In addition, jail policy allows water to be turned off only when a prisoner has flooded a cell, not as punishment for misconduct. This additional information certainly challenges the claim that Thomas' death was the result of poor communication with no malicious intent. In the meantime, in related news, a captain with the county's corrections department abruptly resigned over the weekend. He was not one of the seven people targeted in the inquest considered by the jury. He testified in the inquest, though, that he saw Thomas' water get turned off and told his commander. He says he received "no directive" from her. She disputed the captain's claims and said he was trying to make her the "bad guy." The commander, Maj. Nancy Evans, is one of the seven people named by the jury as potentially criminally responsible for Thomas' death. And over the weekend, another inmate in the Milwaukee County corrections system died. This was not in the county jail, but the county-run House of Corrections. That death is still being investigated and few details have been released.[...]

Brickbat: Sheriff, Businesswoman

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A federal judge has ruled that Morgan County, Alabama, Sheriff Ana Franklin violated a consent degree when she took $160,000 from the fund to feed inmates and loaned $150,000 of it to a used car lot that later went bankrupt. Franklin said she had received legal advice saying she did not have to obey the consent decree but didn't say who gave her the advice. The county attorney says he didn't tell her that.

How Florida Entraps Pain Patients, Forces Them to Snitch, Then Locks Them Up for Decades

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 09:30:00 -0400

On April 11, 2002, Cynthia Powell entered the criminal justice system for the first time in her life, for what could be the rest of her life. Two detectives for the Sunrise Police Department in Florida had arrested Powell in the parking lot of a Starbucks for agreeing to sell 35 of her Lorcet pills—basically Tylenol with a small amount of hydrocodone—and some of her Soma pills (a muscle relaxant) to an undercover police officer. Powell, a 40-year-old African-American woman, had no prior convictions and no arrest record. Her occupation was listed on the arrest report as "unemployed." On her criminal history sheet, it's listed as "disabled." "Anyone who knows my mother knows she's a sweet lady," Powell's daughter, Jacqueline Sharp, says in an interview with Reason. "Even before she went, people would drop their kids off for her to watch them." In many other states, Powell would have been a candidate for a diversion program or maybe probation. Under Florida's ruthless anti-opioid laws, she received a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison on charges of drug trafficking and possession with intent to sell. As fentanyl and heroin use have spiked across the U.S. in recent years, lawmakers and prosecutors have responded by pushing tough new sentences to crack down on dealers and users. The Pennsylvania Legislature is advancing a bill, pushed by state prosecutors, to restore mandatory-minimum sentences for drug crimes. An Ohio town has started filing misdemeanor charges of "caus[ing] serious public inconvenience or alarm" against overdose victims, simply for receiving treatment from emergency first-responders. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) introduced a bill last year to dramatically lower the weight threshold to trigger a five-year mandatory federal prison sentence for fentanyl possession. And in Florida, where lawmakers seem to have exceptionally short memories, a state senator has introduced a bill, with the backing of the Florida Sheriff's Association and the Attorney General's office, that would create harsh new penalties for fentanyl trafficking. But before legislators pass new laws, they should look at Florida's recent history. Two decades ago, the state enacted strict mandatory-minimum sentences to combat prescription pill abuse. In an effort to shed light on the effect of those laws, Reason pored over the cases of every current inmate in the state admitted for trafficking hydrocodone or oxycodone pills. Those cases, rarely examined at the macro level and never at the individual level, show Florida's war on prescription pain medicine has been an abject failure for 20 years and counting. A Reason analysis revealed that there are more than 2,000 inmates serving sentences in the state for trafficking oxycodone/hydrocodone. Although Florida legislators passed the laws with the intention of going after large-scale traffickers, 63 percent of those currently serving time for pill trafficking offenses are first-time inmates like Powell. Many, like Powell, were set up by confidential informants who started working for the police after their own arrests. The mandatory-minimum sentences stripped judges of their discretion, saddled the state with an aging, expensive inmate population with no possibility of early release, and have been woefully inadequate at getting pills off the streets or treating addicts, many of whom are now turning to more powerful opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Mandatory Minimums Were Supposed to Crack Down on High-Level Dealers To understand why Cynthia Powell is in prison today, and how Florida settled on its approach to opioid use, you have to return to the mid-1990s, when Florida gained a reputation as ground zero of the opioid epidemic. After OxyContin[...]

Journalist Barrett Brown on Prison, Leakers, and Private Intelligence Agencies: New at Reason

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:34:00 -0400

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Barrett Brown was just released from prison last November after four years behind bars for, among other things, posting a series of videos in which he appears to threaten an FBI agent. How things escalated to that point in the first place is a complicated matter involving email hacks, drug addiction, and the murky world of private intelligence contractors.

Often straddling a line between journalist and participant, Brown's rise to prominence tracks that of the hacker collective Anonymous, perhaps best remembered for its campaigns against Scientology. Media outlets characterized Brown, not always entirely to his liking, as the spokesman for Anonymous, and it would be his association with hackers that would later put Brown on the FBI's radar.

For his part, Brown believes that it was his investigation into several private intelligence contractors following the hack of a firm called HB Gary. Brown and his team discovered in the emails that several of the firms had joined together into a conglomerate called Team Themis, and that one of Team Themis' projects was to develop potential lines of attack against critical organizations like Wikileaks and journalists such as Glenn Greenwald.

Brown sat down with Reason TV in the Dallas headquarters of D Magazine, where he now works covering city council meetings, to talk about life in federal prison, the state of the private intelligence industry, what an ever-leakier world means for the future of U.S. politics and culture, and his plans to create a decentralized activism network based on lessons learned from Anonymous meant to shake up media and governmental institutions.

Approximately 19 minutes.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Mark McDaniel and Alexis Garcia. Music by Kai Engel.

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