Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts, prisons and jails are overcrowded. In the first quarter of 2006, the jail populations alone were at 163 percent of their capacity. Over the past six fiscal years, the budget for the DOC has increased by $135.9 million, yet adequate capacity remains a problem. It is clear that a new approach is needed to address overcrowding.
Many of the inmates in the correctional facilities are drug offenders and people with mental illnesses. It is estimated that nearly one in six inmates committed their crimes to support a drug addiction. More than 16 percent of jail inmates suffer from some sort of mental illness, 70 percent of whom were arrested for nonviolent offenses.
When someone is picked up on the streets intoxicated, why are we paying $43,000 per year per person to lock them up rather than providing them with treatment services? At a recent forum I attended, then-DOC Commissioner Dennehy reported that there are approximately 250 people civilly committed every day, with no criminal charge whatsoever, who are there for one reason only: because there aren’t enough detox and treatment beds.
It’s too easy to simply lock these individuals in our jails. They belong in treatment for their illnesses, not in expensive, overcrowded facilities with inadequate services.
All residents are guaranteed basic rights and deserve basic human dignity. This includes people who are free citizens, people who have been victims of crime, the families and children of those imprisoned, and yes, even the people who are imprisoned in our state and county systems.
We have all read the headlines.
• Prisoners being driven mad to the point of suicide by isolation and deprivation.
• Prisoners being held longer than the time they were committed to serve.
• Medical care has been withheld, leading to prisoner illness and death.
I say we have all read the headlines, but in fact there are many stories that are left untold and need to be told. There are people here to testify that can share those stories with you and can give you a real picture of what is going on to their loved ones who are imprisoned.
When our colleagues in the DOC or county corrections share their concerns about overcrowding, we need to ask ourselves whether building more jails and prisons is the answer. I believe it is not. The more we build, the easier it is to simply lock people up without ever asking whether that is an effective way to make our communities safer.
This bill establishes a five-year moratorium on the construction or expansion of jails and prisons. During this time, a special commission will be appointed to study issues and make recommendations related to overcrowding, the effectiveness of incarceration on issues such as mental illness and substance abuse, and alternatives to sentencing for more cost-effective means to reduce overcrowding and ensure public safety.
It is clear that our current strategies for reducing overcrowding are not working. New jails and new prisons are not the answer. More money for the Department of Corrections is not the answer. Incarcerating more of our citizens who are in need of forms of treatment is not the answer. We need to reduce the harmful effects of drug use on our society through preventative substance abuse treatment, not incarceration. We need to better fund treatment for the mentally ill, many of whom are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. We need to understand that overcrowding cannot be solved by building more correctional facilities, and that it requires a fundamental reexamination of why our facilities are overcrowded to begin with.
I ask for your support and favorable passage of this legislation. Thank you for your attention and consideration.
Carl Sciortino, D-Medford, represents parts of Somerville in the House of Representatives. This was testimony given before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
LE ROI BRASHEARS
Washington state is the third most prolific incarcerator of blacks for drug offenses in America. Even though blacks constitute only 3 percent of our population, 51 percent of all people sent to state prisons for drug offenses are black.
Regional studies such as Professor Katherine Beckett's masterful and meticulous "Race and Law Enforcement in Seattle" show, however, that blacks simply do not sell or consume illicit drugs in proportion to the disparity with which they are arrested and/or incarcerated for drugs.
In fact, in Washington, blacks consume illicit drugs at rates slightly under that of whites.
The "crack thang" does not account for the disparity. The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that 65 percent of crack users are white. However, 90 percent of federal crack cocaine defendants are black.
Richard Pryor's dark ironic humor said it best. "Go in there looking for justice," Pryor mused, "and that's all you'll find -- 'just us' (blacks)."
In Seattle in 2001, 2,181 blacks (51.9 percent of drug arrests for that year) were arrested for drug offenses, although African Americans are only 8.4 percent of Seattle's population. Contrast that with 1,798 arrests of whites (42.7 percent of the year's drug arrests) that constitute 73 percent of Seattle's population.
The 2001 report titled "Equity and Representation in Washington State: An Assessment of Disproportionality and Disparity in Felony Sentencing" revealed that King County African American males were sentenced to prison for drugs at a rate almost 25 times higher than white males. Same crime, more time.
African American women fared a bit better; they received drug-related prison sentences at a rate 20 times higher than that for white women. Same crime, more time.
The report also revealed that of all sentences received by King County African American men and women, respectively, 45.4 percent and 46.5 percent of the sentences were for drugs.
In fact, drug-related prison sentences actually have made a significant dent in the overall African American population of King County. We imprison 237 of every 10,000 King County African Americans over drug charges versus just under 10 of every 10,000 King County whites.
This means that more than 10 percent of King County African Americans are serving drug-related prison sentences versus one half of 1 percent of whites.
Why the disparity? One answer, according to a recent Brandeis University survey, is the fact that Seattle police, like officers in other major cities, target poorer neighborhoods where visible retailing occurs with "buy and bust" techniques.
This excludes police focus on affluent areas where people comfortably sell and smoke their crack, snort their powdered cocaine, ingest their methamphetamines, Ecstasy and marijuana safely cloistered inside their houses and condominiums.
The ugly and unpleasant fact is that we practice selective class- and race-based law enforcement in Washington. The institutionally racist practice also corrupts police, as evidenced by the recently exposed actions of Seattle police fabricating evidence and reports in order to keep their drug arrest numbers high.
In 1980 when the War on Drugs took on a focus on incarceration, Washington state did not increase its incarceration rate as sharply as the rest of the country. In fact, to this day, we continue to run about five points behind the national average.
There's no question that race-based bias in policing, sentencing and corrections, blacks were primarily targeted to the exclusion of whites and that only two states jail more of their black citizens than we do.
More prisons are not an answer. As a precious public safety resource, we actually have misused our corrections system by filling up prisons with poor, non-violent drug users instead of violent criminals. We must change that flawed, despicable and thoroughly discredited paradigm.
We need broad ongoing reform, especially in law enforcement.
Most of all, we must all act to end this dreadful systematic racist oppression. Based on our principles of citizenship, if you do not act for change, it certainly makes you a knowing participant -- and apparently a willing one -- in our state's fundamentally racist system.
Le Roi Brashears is president of Financial Adviser Communications Inc., and active in several Washington state social justice organizations.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
We have learned that 26-year-old Ohio State Penitentiary prisoner, Daniel McCauley, committed suicide last weekend. Daniel was a contributing author to Prisonersolidarity. Fellow inmates described him as a decent and generous person who cared about others. Daniel's crime was committed at the age of 16. Deeply and sincerely regretful, this young man dreamt of a society that would give youth offenders a second chance, rather than allowing them to "rot" behind bars, at a supermaximum security facility.
We are re-posting Daniel McCauley's Prisonersolidarity essay, in honor of his memory and his dream. Please circulate widely.
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Saving Our Youth
By Daniel McCauley, Prisonersolidarity.
Aug. 10, 2006
My name is Daniel McCauley and I'm a lifer at Ohio's only "super-max prison," the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. I started my sentence at the young age of 16 after the youthful mistake of drinking beer, doing drugs, and running with the wrong crowd. One fateful night I was with a couple of childhood friends when someone came up with the idea of breaking into an unoccupied house. "Just some troubled youths being troubled youths." Someone ended up being in that supposedly unoccupied house, and the intended "breaking in and entering" became much more. It led to the aggravated crimes of burglary, robbery and murder.
To make matters worse, while my co-defendant and I awaited our hearing (to be bound over and tried as adults), we escaped from the Juvenile Justice Center. We were so out of control and homesick that we ran. We were captured and re-arrested three hours later.
During my short and troubled lifespan I've made mistakes that I've come to regret deeply. But the greatest mistake, which I'm forced to live with day after day, is the knowledge that I was involved in the taking of another human being's life. This is something I will not be able to compensate for as long as I live. I mourn daily the death of that innocent victim and can only imagine the loss and pain that the victim's family has had to endure. No matter what side you view if from it is and always will be an incredibly tragic event for all who were involved.
But the youth that I was yesterday is not the man that I have become. Today I find myself in control of my thoughts and actions. Still, I am not perfect and have gotten into minor trouble while serving my time. But when you throw a kid into a rainstorm, he is bound to get wet.
As I sit here today, at the age of 25, and take the time to repent and think about the senseless pain I've caused others (my family included), I find myself wanting to make things right. Now that I've grown up and become wise enough to think for myself, I want to give something back to humanity. In fact, I feel it is my obligation. I've lost a lot through thoughtless action, so hopefully I can somehow use my voice/pen to stop someone else from making the same mistakes - mistakes that would cost him and others a great deal of unwarranted grief.
I see kids every day, coming to prison at age 16 and younger, making their own costly mistakes, and then doing 15, 20 even 30 years to life. Speaking from experience, I can understand how some of our youth can get out of control and have no sense of positive direction. And that's only the surface of the problem. What I can't understand, however, is how society can so easily give up on its youth. Why do we pin such outrageous sentences on them, with the intention of supposedly teaching them a lesson? It's plain to see that this vindictive method is not solving youth crime. Prison should be about reform, and not mere punishment, at least for its youth. Our youth need to be given the proper tools, to think rationally for themselves, so they can become productive members of this same society that has allowed them to be thrown away. In my opinion the best tool you can give a prisoner is a good education. Unfortunately, instead of adopting education as a rehabilitative approach for our youth, our leaders spend hundreds of thousands of dollars locking up juvenile offenders for almost an eternity. If the courts and politicians would spend that money on our troubled youths' educations, they could change the lives of many lost souls.
Aren't we still human, after all? To err is human. No human is infallible. It's essential that people begin to see us as humans and not animals or unsympathetic monsters. Why are we so focused on severely punishing our youth? Life goes on, people learn and change. They don't stay in one moment of time. I myself have changed. Many youth grow up and no longer have the passion for crime and all the troubles that come with it. Yes, we have committed a crime and are in prison. But if we could live a productive life in society, why not give us another chance at life? Following a personal transformation and decision to help others, I think the system should evaluate a prisoner's change seriously consider granting freedom.
The individual is able to change when given the tools to do so. Allow us the opportunity to help others, rather than mercilessly housing us in prisons, to rot. It may take different amounts of time for people to change for the better. But the one thing that does not change is our outrageous prison sentences. Beyond our youthful mistakes, it is the system itself that holds us back. Let us save our youth by extending to them the tools they need to prevent them from drowning in self-destruction.
Daniel McCauley #355-364
OSP - 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown, Ohio 44505
I appreciate your taking the time to read my testimony and hope that I may help at least one person to learn from the mistakes that I've made, and not end up where I am. If you would like to correspond with me or if there is anything else I can tell you that may help, please feel free to write to me. If you'd like to receive a response, just include a pre-stamped envelope with your return address on it. Again thank you for listening to what I have to say, and don't ever give up.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Broken criminal records
May 22, 2007
PEOPLE CONVICTED of crimes in Massachusetts aren't exiled to faraway Devil's Island or Siberia, and the vast majority of those sent to prison in the state do get out at some point. So then what? Ex-cons are less likely to fall back into crime if they can establish law-abiding lives upon their release.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the current criminal offender record information system, better known as CORI, have become obstacles to rehabilitating offenders. Recently, a task force convened by The Boston Foundation and the Crime and Justice Institute made a series of valuable recommendations on how to improve the status quo. As the Patrick administration ponders potential changes to the CORI process, the task force's report should be the starting point for discussion.
The CORI system, originally intended as a tool for law enforcement, is now used extensively by private employers. Yet some information is entered incorrectly, and the system spits out lots of raw data that are easily misread. A case that never ends in a conviction can generate a CORI file of daunting length.
Ensuring the accuracy and relevance of data available to police and employers is vital. The task force calls for a verification system that would use fingerprints to make sure CORI data is associated with the right person, and for simplifying the format of reports that go to users outside law enforcement, such as potential employers. These reforms should be no-brainers. This page would go a step further and allow the typical private employer access only to convictions and open cases.
The unruliness of CORI data dovetails with the reluctance of many employers to hire ex-offenders. Such hesitation is encouraged by regulations of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Department rules severely limit the ability of the department or its contractors to hire ex-offenders for jobs involving "potential for unsupervised contact" with patients or clients. The logic is obvious: Nobody has a divine right to work in the health field, children must not be entrusted to the care of sex offenders, and people with convictions for beating or scamming the elderly should not work in nursing homes.
'If anything comes out, you're out.' Yet the list of offenses that triggers hiring restrictions is long; it includes everything from murder to making annoying phone calls. Under the rules, more serious charges warrant "lifetime presumptive disqualification" from employment. But even that list covers a broad variety of incidents -- lousy judgment calls as well as outright villainy. As the task force report notes, an assault and battery conviction can stem from striking a helpless senior citizen or from a long-ago bar fight. Ex-offenders are allowed to challenge the presumption that they pose a threat, but the process can be complex and expensive.
Overbroad or not, the rules are hugely influential, because they apply directly to more than 1,000 employers, and many other companies follow them voluntarily. Furthermore, HHS explicitly states that its restrictions can be applied even to employees who don't have unsupervised contact with patients. As a result, people with CORI records of any sort can have trouble getting hired in any capacity in a major field of the state's economy. The mere existence of a record is a deal-breaker for many employers, said task force member Benjamin Thompson, executive director of the Boston unit of the job-training nonprofit STRIVE, at a forum earlier this month. "People don't read CORI reports" in detail, he said. "If anything comes out, you're out."
Yet some healthcare jobs can be suitable for ex-cons. Not every job in the field involves easy access to pills or regular contact with clients. Some jobs even draw on the experience of ex-prisoners, who can be effective in persuading others to stay clean.
Wisely, the task force urges HHS to take a nuanced approach -- to base hiring criteria upon the circumstances of an ex-offender'
Public safety first It's possible to oversell the benefits of reforming the criminal-records system. The task force report treats the issue as a way to expand the state's labor supply, and it recommends that economic-developmen
The barriers to re entry are high. Of the Massachusetts inmates released in 1999, 44 percent had a new conviction within three years. But some offenders do find their way back into society. Consider Thompson, the task force member who served time in New York for armed robbery more than three decades ago but later earned a graduate degree from Harvard and served as penal commissioner under Ray Flynn, former Boston mayor. To maximize ex-offenders' chances of finding steady work, the state needs an accurate criminal-records system and regulations that allow employers the flexibility to examine individual applicants on their own merits.
And government agencies, including HHS, need to be willing at least to hear low-risk offenders out. At the CORI forum, Parole Board chairwoman Maureen Walsh put the issue succinctly. "If we're going to tell people to take a risk on hiring people, we as the state have to do it. If the state itself isn't doing it, how do we dare ask other people to do it?"
Gaining sympathy for offenders is never easy. But public safety demands an honest effort to get ex-cons into steady jobs.<
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Michael Cutler: Gov. Patrick, fix Bay State drug policy
Friday, January 12, 2007
DRUG ABUSE presents such danger to public health and safety that it requires its own war, the War on Drugs. The tangible results of three decades of this war are a quadrupling of nonviolent prisoners, resulting in a steady diversion of state funds from drug treatment and to the prison system. No price is too dear for our health and safety, but health and safety are expensive to maintain.
The cost of our current abuse-prevention system, when measured in the lives lost to prison and a chronic lack of treatment available to a growing user population, is painful for its victims and expensive for taxpayers to bear. When the policy stakes and costs are high, leaders demand an accounting, to ensure progress on important policy objectives and to control the costs of a critical program.
For the mounting costs of this policy, the evidence of improvement in our health and safety is scant. Our existing arrest-and-imprisonment policy's impact on neighborhood safety, the incidence of drug abuse and adolescent access to toxic drugs (and nontoxic marijuana) has been a failure by any reasonable definition.
Despite such indisputable failure, state political leaders such as attorney generals and most district attorneys uniformly have opposed legislative reform of this failed policy. Given the unsustainable costs in lives and money to maintain a war policy yielding dubious benefits, leaders should promote to the public the need for change, demanding visible improvement to health and safety to justify the war's costs in lives and money.
Many responsible leaders, including the late Massachusetts and U.S. Atty. Gen Elliott Richardson, as well as Watergate prosecutor Sam Dash, newscasterWalter Cronkite and former Secretary of State George Schultz, have denounced current policy for causing more harm to individuals and communities than the illegal drugs that the current policy seeks to interdict. Leadership heeds the wisdom of experts and hears the growing discontent of policy victims and former supporters. There is a way to achieve the objectives that current policy fails to deliver.
A growing number of states, several with Republican leadership, are changing course from strict criminal prohibition of illegal drug use (including re-commitment for non-abstinence) to policies emphasizing honest education and abuse treatment instead of detention. These reforms reserve criminal intervention for crimes of violence, and reserve treatment resources for abusers rather than "mere users" whose use is not disabling.
The objective of reform policy is improvement rather than perfection, recognizing the values of stability, safety and self-supporting conduct can be reached short of zero-tolerance abstinence. It is beyond reasonable dispute that drug abuse is a treatable disease with relapse being a frequently expected symptom that cannot be eliminated by imposing or threatening imprisonment. Current policy ignores this reality. Leadership is recognizing and acknowledging reality, however uncomfortable.
Mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders should be eliminated (as other states have done), returning sentencing discretion to judges, reducing the life-disabling impacts of prison and freeing the prison budget to fund more outpatient treatment. Mandatory sentences already being served also must be changed, to allow the same parole eligibility as non-drug nonviolent offenders.
Given the 10-fold difference between the cost of imprisonment and community-based treatment, and the documented reduction in recidivism rates for treatment compared to prison, budgetary savings are inevitable. A prime use of these saved funds should be their diversion to secure drug abuse and mental-health treatment on demand. Everyone seeking treatment regardless of income or insurance should have access to effective outpatient or residential (if necessary to protect public safety) care, with care-providers paid an adequate wage to develop continuity of care for indigent patients.
Government data establish that improved access to treatment not only reduces the incidence of abuse significantly, but also dramatically reduces the cost of government services from levels formerly consumed by stabilized abusers. This strategy will save more lives and money than our war policy.
One definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior but expecting different results. We have spent good money after bad trying to arrest and imprison our way out of the problem of drug abuse.
Governor Patrick, by changing course you have an opportunity to lead us to a promised land of safer neighborhoods, healthier families, less drug abuse and lower state budgets. Your leadership can save lives and money.
Michael D. Cutler is a lawyer with 33 years' experience in the public and private sectors. His practice focuses on murder appeals, mental-health commitments and the impact of criminal- justice and public-health strategies on drug abuse and mental illness.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
By Jim O'Sullivan
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON
MAY 10, 2007 - Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi denounced the state's mandatory minimum sentencing laws Thursday, painting a target on a controversial and nearly two-decade-old component of the state's criminal justice system.
During a press conference announcing $15 million in anti-crime funding, part of an $88.9 million supplementary budget Patrick filed Thursday, the three Beacon Hill leaders separately voiced opposition to the sentencing structure, which requires minimum penalties for certain crimes, many of them drug-related and based on amounts sold or proximity to school zones.
DiMasi, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, began the discourse, using his turn at the podium to launch an indictment of the system. "I think that we've made mistakes in the past in how we approach the crime problem, especially youth programs or youth crime .. I mean, mandatory minimum sentences, for instance, I don't think are working and we're paying for the mistakes that we had in the past, and I will say that publicly," DiMasi said.
Patrick, whose campaign public safety message last year focused on prevention over punitive enforcement, said he also opposes the mandatory minimums, adding that Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke is studying the issue, and that he hoped to hear from his anti-crime council on the matter.
"I think anybody who's actually practiced in court on the defense and the prosecutor side has concerns about the systemic impact of warehousing as a strategy to fight crime," said Patrick, himself a former defense attorney and federal prosecutor.
Murray agreed, saying, "We're taking juveniles, kids who haven't figured out how it's put together, haven't got the education, haven't got the support at home, and we're putting them into correctional facilities, and they're coming out with a stigma that they'll never get rid of. And they'll never get a job, and they'll never get a driver's license, and we're going to keep them in poverty and we're going to keep them into a criminal mindset."
The supplementary budget rolled out during a press conference would fully fund the Shannon Grant program, a popular anti-gang initiative for city youth programs, add $4 million to hire 70 new Boston police officers immediately, and provide $3.6 million in emergency payments for dairy farmers.
Patrick, who left the Shannon Grant program out of his budget for next fiscal year, said he'd been persuaded that its title represents "magic words" in the State House.
The three-headed blasting of the state's criminal justice laws was unplanned, aides said, and only DiMasi elaborated. Holding court with reporters later, the North End Democrat used the example of a teenager serving a stiff jail sentence for selling a bag of marijuana six blocks from a school at night.
"He may be more dangerous getting out than he was going in, and that could've been prevented," DiMasi said, calling the policy "short-sighted."
DiMasi said he prefers "presumptive sentencing," which provides ranges that allow for mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
House Minority Leader Bradley Jones said public opinion sides with the required minimum sentences, and said DiMasi has spent far more time as a defense attorney than prosecutor.
"And my guess is the defense side of the equation paid him far more than the prosecution side ever paid him," Jones said, in a telephone interview.
Jones said he supports the concept of minimum mandatories, but would be open to reductions for specific crimes.
Sentencing policy can be politically risky terrain, DiMasi noted, with politicians loath to appear to yield to criminals. Attorney General Martha Coakley, who said she supports examining the sentencing laws and suggested parole eligibility incentives as a means of rehabilitating convicts, noted that the push to repeal "min mands" is about a decade old.
Several sentencing reform efforts have been mounted and failed on Beacon Hill over the years.
Later, Murray deferred to Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Robert Creedon, who said his panel would revisit the policy, but, "It's not going to happen soon."
"You've got to look at the whole statutory scheme of mandatory minimums," Creedon said.
Patrick's mid-year spending bill, his accompanying letter to lawmakers said, addresses $70.3 million in "immediate deficiencies."
Rising inmate populations, which a top Patrick aide recently said have contributed to a "travesty" in jail conditions, are behind a request for $17 million more in county corrections costs.
The budget also includes $15.6 million for "unanticipated costs due to the re-procurement of the system of care" at the state's troubled Department of Social Services; and $8 million for snow and ice removal incurred by the late-winter weather.
Mayors and anti-crime activists hailed the inclusion of the Shannon Grant funding, which they said has helped add security to more than a dozen cities where violence has been problematic.
"We were obviously disappointed it wasn't in [the initial round of budget proposals] and I'm thrilled the Patrick administration is supporting the dozens of programs that have worked," said Sen. Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), who helped sponsor the initial program with the now deceased Sen. Charles Shannon (D-Winchester).
Patrick refrained from asking the Legislature to avoid amending his bill, a request he made earlier this year when he filed a $1.5 billion "immediate needs" bond bill. When a reporter asked whether the bill would move through the Legislature on a fast track, Patrick replied, "Less than a week, maybe."
"We never make those presumptions," DiMasi smiled from behind Patrick. "As quickly as possible." Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a vocal supporter of the Shannon Grant program, smiled back, "Come on, Sal."
Friday, May 11, 2007
The United States made a disastrous miscalculation when it started automatically trying youthful offenders as adults instead of handling them through the juvenile courts. Prosecutors argued that the policy would get violent predators off the streets and deter further crime. But a new federally backed study shows that juveniles who do time as adults later commit more violent crime than those who are handled through the juvenile court.
The study, published last month in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was produced by the Task Force on Community Preventive Services, an independent research group with close ties to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After an exhaustive survey of the literature, the group determined that the practice of transferring children into adult courts was counterproductive, actually creating more crime than it cured.
A related and even more disturbing study by Campaign for Youth Justice in Washington finds that the majority of the more than 200,000 children a year who are treated as adults under the law come before the courts for nonviolent offenses that could be easily and more effectively dealt with at the juvenile court level.
Examples include a 17-year-old first-time offender charged with robbery after stealing another student's gym clothes, and another 17-year-old who violated his probation by stealing a neighbor's bicycle. Many of these young nonviolent offenders are held in adult prisons for months or even years.
The laws also are not equally applied. Youths of color, who typically go to court with inadequate legal counsel, account for three out of every four young people admitted to adult prison.
With 40 states allowing or requiring youthful offenders to spend at least some time in adult jails, state legislators all across the country are just waking up to the problems this practice creates. Some states now have pending bills that would stop juveniles from being automatically transferred to adult courts or that would allow them to get back into the juvenile system once the adult court was found to be inappropriate for them.
Given the damage being done to young lives all over the country, the bills can't pass soon enough.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Excerpt from a March 1996 interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal, produced by the Peoples Video Network, conducted by Monica Moorehead and Larry Holmes of Workers World Party and videotaped by Key Martin on Pennsylvania's death row.
Mumia on prisons:
And Still We Rise!
A compelling, theatrical telling of authentic personal stories by
those daunted by the criminal justice system
Sunday, May 20, 2007
6:30pm - Socializing
7:00 - Performance
8:15 - Discussion w/ the performers
Cristina Rathbone, journalist and author of
A World Apart: Women, Prison, and Life Behind Bars
Peter Elikann, prominent defense attorney and author of
The Tough-on-Crime Myth: Real Solutions to Cut Crime
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
21 Stratford St., West Roxbury, MA 02132
By T-Take the #35, 36, or 37 bus from Forest Hills Station to the intersection of Centre and Park streets; walk one block up Park and one block left on Clement to Stratford.
Or take the Needham Commuter Rail line to the Highland stop. The church is directly
behind the station, but you must walk up Park St. and down Clement to get to it.
By car-Click below for a Google map. There is ample street parking.
com/maps? q=21+Stratford+ St,+West+ Roxbury,+ Massachusetts+ 02132,+USA&sa=X&oi=map&ct=title
For further info, call
Bob at 617-780-5062
Brian at 617-504-2031
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Sunday, May 06, 2007
A small garden at the home of Karen Scovil in Malden memorializes her niece, Kelly Jo Griffen, 24, who died at the state prison in Framingham in July of 2003. (Aram Bogosian for the Boston Globe)
Before inmate's death, a delay in care
Framingham records examined
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff | May 6, 2007
The state's official account of Kelly Jo Griffen's death, four years ago in a prison infirmary, describes a swift eight-minute decline, from the first warning sign to lifelessness.
But medical records obtained by the Globe indicate that the medical staff at MCI-Framingham was aware of Griffen's deteriorating condition much earlier that morning of July 23, 2003, and took no action to help her, as she battled the side effects of heroin and alcohol withdrawal. Two hours before a doctor started CPR, a nurse reported that she attempted three times to measure Griffen's blood pressure but could get no reading. She also was unable to detect a pulse.
According to the records, nurse Magdalena Grodzki told Griffen -- whom she described as alert, but shaking -- that a doctor would check her shortly, but there is no indication that he ever arrived.
Since Griffen's death, as she awaited arraignment on a minor drug charge, the system's healthcare provider has ordered staff training in detoxification. But the Department of Correction has never publicly disclosed what happened to the 24-year-old mother from Lynn or launch an investigation into who -- if anyone -- was responsible for her death.
In its only public statement, issued in October 2003, the state program that provides healthcare services in the prisons asserted that the medical staff "immediately provided all necessary care and treatment." In its mortality review, the department commended the staff for its quick response when Griffen stopped breathing.
"She never should have died," said her aunt, Karen Scovil of Malden, who is caring for Griffen's two daughters, ages 7 and 5. "If they had taken her to a hospital or given her fluids and just paid a little more attention to her, her two little kids would have their mom right now. Something is wrong here."
Griffen's death occurred a month before the prison murder of defrocked priest John Geoghan, and gained headlines only after his death raised questions about the safety of inmates in the state's prison system.
Despite a series of commissions and investigations, the Department of Correction remains in turmoil four years later, as it grapples with a high suicide rate and disclosures that inmates have been confined longer than their sentence allows.
The family has filed a wrongful death suit against Grodzki, Nicholas Rencricca, and Khalid Mohamed, the two doctors who were in charge of her care the morning she died. In the suit, lawyer Howard Friedman alleges that Griffen died of dehydration -- after being unable to keep down the medication she was given to calm her withdrawal symptoms. Over several hours, Friedman believes, the dehydration changed Griffen's blood chemistry and triggered a heart attack. A medical examiner's report the day after her death cited cardiac arrest and flu-like symptoms.
Nearly three months after her death, UMass Correctional Health -- a program run by the University of Massachusetts Medical School to provide medical services in the prisons -- said that "the immediate cause of her death remains unknown both to us and to the medical examiner."
Lawyers for the defendants declined to comment on the events that led to Griffen's death, as did officials from the Department of Correction and UMass Correctional Health, citing the pending lawsuit. Messages left at the home of the nurse and the offices of the two doctors also were not returned. They all still work in the prison system.
"Our sympathies go out to the family," said James Bello, who represents UMass Correctional Health and two of the defendants, Grodzki and Rencricca. "We continue to believe both nurse Grodzki and Dr. Rencricca acted appropriately in the care and treatment they provided. At the end of the day, if this case were to proceed to trial, we believe the jury would agree."
Mohamed's lawyer, Kurt Schmidt, also declined to comment.
But medical records turned over to her family by lawyers for the state, raise a series of new questions about her care. At 6:20 a.m., the records show, Rencricca's name appears on an order clearing Griffen for a court appearance that day. That was less than an hour after Grodzki was unable to read her blood pressure on three attempts or to find a pulse, and just an hour before she was found not breathing. But the records do not indicate that Rencricca actually saw her until he was summoned to resuscitate her at 7:30 a.m.
And while UMass Correctional Health's own rules, included among the litigation records, require that inmates be transferred to a community hospital if their condition deteriorates during detoxification, Griffen was left in the medical unit at MCI Framingham as her health declined.
In addition, a Globe review of records of the state's Board of Registration in Nursing show that Grodzki, the nurse who cared for Griffen during her final hours, had previously been disciplined for providing substandard care.
Grodzki was placed on probation by the nursing board for six months in 2001 after she gave the wrong medication to an 88-year-old patient at the Providence Extended Care Center in Worcester.
Grodzki was terminated, the nursing board records say, after she gave insulin instead of the blood thinner heparin to the patient, who became unresponsive. The patient was rushed to the emergency room, where he was stabilized.
Correctional Medical Services, which ran the prison health system until 2003, hired Grodzki after that episode. As part of the probation agreement, CMS was required to monitor Grodzki's performance and report back to the board. In December 2001 and March 2002, CMS reported that Grodzki was doing a good job.
Griffen's circuitous trip to Framingham began on Sunday, July 20, 2003, when she was spotted by Lynn police as she walked to the beach with her two girls and mother, according to details provided by the Essex Country district attorney's office, Griffen's aunt, and her lawyer. The police arrested her on an outstanding warrant charging her with leaving the scene of an accident and driving without a license. While at Lynn District Court on Monday, authorities discovered a second warrant -- alleging possession of a syringe -- issued in Salem. Griffen was taken to MCI Framingham for the night so she could be transported to Salem District Court for her arraignment the next morning.
But by the time she arrived at Framingham, Griffen, who also suffered from diabetes and a seizure disorder, was in the throes of withdrawal. According to medical records, she complained of nausea and shakes. The next day a doctor found her too sick to go to court, noting that she was "in severe withdrawal."
Throughout the day, according to the records, she reported feeling "so sick." At 1 a.m., less than seven hours before she died, she told Grodzki she was having a seizure. The nurse reported seeing her vomit. There is no sign in the medical records that a doctor saw Griffen at any time that night.
An inmate in the room with her said Griffen was "sick from the second she got there" and got worse fast.
"She was very, very pale and had to keep getting up to vomit," said Diane Solari, who was also detoxing from heroin. "They were giving her medication for vomiting and diarrhea but whatever she took she threw up immediately five minutes later. Soon she couldn't get up to go to the bathroom and was throwing up in a bucket. I'd empty it and she'd throw up again."
"She was so sick," said Solari, who shared a room with Griffen and two other inmates. "She was begging for an I.V. She must have said it 30 times."
Before sunrise, Solari said, Griffen became too weak to walk and fell on her face trying to get to the toilet. "She was drawn pale, gray. She couldn't stand up," Solari said." She could talk but her mouth was dry. I never saw anybody that sick."
Solari, by now in severe withdrawal herself, was laying on a bed waiting to take a shower. "Someone said, 'She's turning blue.' I looked and Kelly was bluish. I screamed Code 99," she said, the designation for a medical emergency.
At that point, she said, the medical staff "came running." They were not able to revive her.
Since Griffen's death, the Department of Correction and UMass have taken steps to improve the prison medical system, particularly for those detoxing from drug or alcohol addiction, according to inmates and lawyers familiar with the system.
"Until now the department's oversight of the medical providers has been little more than bean counting -- did they file their reports on time?" said Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which represents prisoners. "But things are getting better. They've hired better doctors. We heard from prisoners at Framingham that there is a great doctor who spends a ton of time with each woman."
That provides some solace to Griffen's aunt, who has been clamoring for change since Griffen's death.
"People who have drug habits or mental issues, they don't belong in prisons," said Scovil. "They belong in rehab centers and hospitals. Major changes need to be made. I'm hoping Kelly Jo's death at least brings attention to that fact. Maybe they'll make the changes and save some lives. Too many people are dying."
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
We Call For:
An independent outside investigation of Kelly Jo Griffen's death - to be followed by vigorous prosecution in the criminal and civil courts;
The DoC to provide all legally mandated medical services to prisoners and detainee's as required by the Community Standards statutes, subject to legal enforcement;
Medical staff to comply with standards of humane care of all prisoners as per United Nations Standard Minimum Rules of Treatment of Prisoners, of which the United States is a signatory;
The new provider of Massachusetts prison health care, University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center (UMMMC,) to be autonomous. All new medical staff to report directly to UMMMC. Remove former Correctional Medical Services (CMS) personnel now employed by UMMMC.
Clear demarcation between Department of Correction (DoC) and medical personnel including immediate and full accounting by all agencies involved. (The same officials who chose to not to renew CMS' contract kept all the direct providers in place thereby ensuring brutal medical conditions remain unchanged. Some of these folks are well connected to Sheriff Ashe's House of Correction and helping him to fulfill his dream of a high-tech lock-up for women. His associates claim they want to build the jail as a matter of fairness to women.)
We demand REAL PUBLIC SAFETY:
An independent Citizen Advisory Board to be implemented immediately;
That those involved in abuse and subsequent cover-up be terminated and prosecuted;
No new women's jail in Chicopee;
Drug treatment - not the War on Drugs;
An end to using taxpayer monies to harm the community.
On Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at 1PM in the Massachusetts State House Room A-2, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary will host a public hearing on H 1723, An Act Relative to Incarceration and its Impact on Public Safety.
This bill calls for a five-year moratorium on the construction of new jails, houses of corrections, and prisons. It creates a Special Commission to study and make recommendations for alternatives to incarceration. Read the bill here. http://www.massdecarcerate.org/download/H1723.pdf
What Is Needed Now
Please help by doing one or more of the following:
1. CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS (www.wheredoivotema.com) and ask them to contact judiciary committee members in support of H1723.
2. PROVIDE TESTIMONY (written)** from as many people as possible about the many aspects of why a moratorium is necessary (including economic impact, social impact, impact on youth, CORI, substance abuse, human rights, etc.)
3. ATTEND the hearing. Good TURNOUT is needed to show there is public so that legislators will take us seriously, so that they know that there is public support for this bill.
4. MEDIA COVERAGE including letters to the editor supporting the moratorium bill.
THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE BEEN WORKING FOR, to finally have a legislative forum to present our case for an end to prison and jail expansion in Massachusetts.
**For more information or to provide written testimony, please contact email@example.com or call (617) 372-5760.
Support Massachusetts House Bill 1723
An Act Relative to Incarceration and its Impact on Public Safety
Why Support This Bill?
1. The War on Drugs is waged more harshly against poor communities and communities of color as demonstrated by higher arrest and conviction rates; longer sentences and higher incarceration rates.
2. People struggling with addictions are not criminals. For 80% of people incarcerated in the United States, the crimes for which they have been convicted can be linked to drug and alcohol abuse. Drug addiction is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.
3. Human rights violations ranging from degrading and humiliating treatment by guards to sensory deprivation (internationally recognized as a form of torture) are rampant in prisons and jails. Expansion will exacerbate these problems and will manufacture even more hopelessness and long-term harm. Successful return to the community will become problematic for even more people., 
4. It is our assertion that the mass arrest, jailing, and deportation of immigrant detainees are unnecessary for public safety. These practices fuel expansion of the police and courts and are used as moneymaking schemes for Massachusetts jailors.
5. If we build healthy communities we will not need to build new jails or prisons. Prison expansion draws funds from desperately needed community services. Taxpayer dollars are wasted on perpetuating an ineffective system rife with abuse.
6. Some people argue that building new jails is necessary in order to keep parents close to their children. However, families are best served when parents, the majority of whom have been convicted of non-violent crimes of survival, can remain at home to care for and support their children. Prison expansion, including the creation of "gender responsive prisons" will not reduce the harm done to families by incarceration. It will only bring it closer to home.
7. An end to prison expansion will mean fewer people incarcerated and therefore fewer people with criminal records (CORIs ) who are unable to access affordable housing and living wage jobs. With access to affordable housing and living wage jobs people will no longer be forced into crimes of economic survival and the cycle will be broken.
American Civil Liberties Union-MA* * American Friends Service Committee * Felix Arroyo, Boston City Council * ARISE for Social Justice S BAGLY S Boston Workers Alliance* * Will Brownsberger, 24th Middlesex* * Center for Popular Economics * Chuck Turner, Boston City Council * Citizens for Participation in Political Action * Community Change, Inc. - Boston * Community Church of Boston * Connecticut River Valley Green-Rainbow Party * Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard School of Law * Critical Resistance * Denis e Provost, 27th Middlesex* * Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts * Efficacy - Hartford, CT * Freedom Center * Grammas for Ganja * Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts * Holyoke Girls, Inc. * Jericho - Boston * MA Coalition for Healthy Communities * MA Welfare Rights Union * Peter Kocot, 1st Hampshire* * Out Now * Paloma House * Prison Book Program - Quincy * Prison Book Project-Western MA * Reverend Filipe C. Teixeira, OFSJC, Northeastern Diocese of Saint Francis of Assisi, Catholic Church of America* * Carl Sciortino, 34th Middlesex* * Springfield Catholic Workers * Survivors, Inc. * Through Barbed Wire * Tom Mooney Local Socialist Party USA * Traprock Peace Center * UAW Local 2322 * Western MA International Action Center/Troops Out Now * Women's Fightback Network * Women's International League for Peace and Freedom-Boston
Friday, May 04, 2007
The tragic death of basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s prompted passage of the harsh crack sentencing law. But Bias actually overdosed on powder cocaine. Under the controversial crack laws, people convicted of distribution offenses involving five grams of the drug face five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalty. Similarly, someone convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to get the 10 years.
But while the congressionally mandated sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is extreme, federal sentencing guidelines make it even worse for the low-level offenders caught under the federal crack laws. The guidelines currently call for a sentencing range of 63 to 78 months for five grams and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams. In both cases, the bottom of the guideline range falls above the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress.
In an April 27 meeting, the Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the guideline ranges to 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively. Under this scheme, what is currently the low end of the guideline range will become the top end. According to the commission, 78% of federal crack defendants will benefit from the change, with sentence reductions averaging 16 months. With some 5,000 people being convicted under the federal crack laws each year, the move will have an impact.
That is, unless Congress moves to block it. On four previous occasions, the Sentencing Commission has recommended changes to lessen the gap between powder and crack cocaine offenses, but Congress blocked each of those initiatives. It also punished the commission for its temerity in suggesting that the crack-powder disparity be eliminated in 1995 by allowing the commission to dwindle to one member.
"The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue," said Carmen Hernandez, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL - http://www.nacdl.
"NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission's decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress' direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect," the group said in a press release. "We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled."
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM - http://www.famm.
"This is a pretend reform; it isn't enough," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on freeing drug war prisoners. "This is dramatically less than what the commission asked for in 1994, and it is just heartbreaking that we haven't come any further than this. They think they can throw us a bone and we'll calm down for another 10 years, but we're not going to calm down," she told Drug War Chronicle.
The Sentencing Commission has been cowed by Congress and should be revamped, Callahan said. "We need a brand new, independent commission that can't be intimidated,
A new commission should be modeled on police oversight boards and state sentencing commissions, Callahan suggested. It should include former prisoners and family members, too. "These people need to be on the commission, as do the people who are dealing with all the offenders coming back into the community," she said.
While Congress has for the past two decades given little heed to concerns about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and itsdisproportionate impact on minority communities, there could be some movement this year, said Bill Piper, head of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.
"Rep. Rangel introduced a bill months ago that would eliminate the disparity," he told the Chronicle. "And Sen. Sessions has told the press he will introduce some sort of reform bill at some point. I suspect that now that the full report has come out, there will probably be some hearings. Rep. Conyers has suggested that might happen, but no hearing dates have been set yet," he explained.
"My sense is that the stars are starting to align themselves in a very good way," Piper prophesied. "There is interest in this in both the House and Senate judiciary committees, including among some Republicans. Now, the Sentencing Commission report is in. It is just a matter of when the process will start and finish," he said. "Still, I don't think anyone believes we will see it actually pass this year, and if it did, Bush would veto it."
While it appears unlikely Congress will act to redress the inequities of the federal crack laws this year, it seems equally unlikely to move affirmatively to block the Sentencing Commission's minor sentencing reform. Now, after two decades that have seen thousands of young black and brown people sent up the river for years for picayune crack offenses, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn.
Tom Murlowski, Office Manager
282 West Astor
Colville, WA 99114
(509) 684-1550 (voice and fax)
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Oversight Hearings on Prison Suicide and Prison Mental Health
Tuesday, May 1, 2007 1:00 PM, Room B-1
Testimony of the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition
Reading: The Pain of the Soul letter from prisoner Billy S.
Hello, we are members of the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition. As a grassroots group of family and friends of prisoners, we have a perspective, grounded in experience over many years, that legislators and policy makers lack access to. It is good to be here today. We think the General Court's understanding of suicide and the problems of those deemed mentally ill in Massachusetts prisons has been framed too narrowly, and we fear the proposed solutions will not work. We have an alternative perspective and set of solutions to offer.
As of today there are close to 2,300,000 people in prison. The individuals we are talking about today, those who have purportedly committed suicide, have family and friends standing behind them, and we, as SHaRC members, will be here to continuously remind everyone of this. As we look around this room it is apparent that the greatest experts on the issues of suicide in prison are not here--the prisoners themselves! It is essential that any review take into account the voices of those who have been silenced far too long. As the reading we began with stated, these suicides will continue until individuals can have have a sense of empowerment and hope.
2. Role of Prison Conditions in Generating Hopelessness
The current discussion around suicide within the DOC is too narrowly defined. Some suicides will likely prove to be murders. As well, DOC policy and practice creates the conditions which incite and assist suicide. For the record, SHaRC does not believe that all those said to have killed themselves did nor that all deaths as a result of state sanctioned violence have been reported. Further, why does the panel assume that all people who committed suicide were mentally ill?
Psychology and criminal justice point to character to explain why people go to prison and their behavior inside. Rather, it is institutions that shape individuals. Intended as a two week simulation of prison life, the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment "had to be ended prematurely after only six days because, as experiment leader Philip Zimbardo writes, "our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress." This Experiment also illustrates how the "culture of cruelty" --endemic in youth detention centers, mental institutions, jails and prisons--is perpetuated.
While we acknowledge that some behaviors may be diagnosed mental illness, designating and placing the focus on "mentally ill" prisoners allows administrators, guards and staff to evade responsibility for the cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions to which suicidal and other prisoners react. Further, labeling people as "mentally ill" masks "disablement" caused by child abuse, poverty, racism, sexism, etc.. Coping responses to inequality and unhealthy and unsafe conditions must be differentiated from mental illness. Counterproductive measures meted out for such coping responses punishes individuals unfairly for the harms we have inflicted upon them. Vitally important questions are not asked such as why so many are diagnosed mentally ill and how do we restore social policies and practices to alleviate disability while fulfilling human rights obligations, reducing crime rates and ultimately, prisoner suicides.
The International Convention Against Torture governing imprisonment has been ratified by the U.S. From the extremes of sensory deprivation to seemingly mundane daily occurances, prison policy and practice violates human rights. In addition to concerns about our international obligations these violations of rights mean that many leave prison worse off than when they went in. Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is caused by incarceration. 60% of prisoners have been in prison before. They are at even greater risk for further harm, again subjected to "environments of punishment with few opportunities for education, job training, or rehabilitation. The symptoms are most severe in prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and severe institutional abuse."
With regard to the recent investigations into DOC suicides, we must ask if it is advisable to believe that DOC administrators, staff and guards are always truthful? In our experience, collusion among is common in falsifying reports to shift responsibility onto prisoners for DOC wrongdoing. We do not believe that all recent mortality reviews provided to Mr. Hayes are truthful and are dismayed by the lack of skepticism by legislators.
Will the DOC satisfactorily implement whatever recommendations are ultimately settled upon? "Spinning" an allowed gathering as a riot, in direct contradiction to one Harshbarger commission recommendation, the warden of Shirley Medium effectively raised the security classification level 3/4 to 5/6. Prisoner's are now allowed out of double bunk cells for only 1 and 1/2 hours per day. Imagine living with another person, locked in a space the size of your bathroom for 22 and 1/2 hours a day. We have included in our written testimony letters on this subject to various legislators, including Senator Barrios. We learned later that other wardens also effectively raised security levels in this manner. Nothing was done to rectify this disregard of just one recommendation paid for by Massachusetts taxpayers. We also believe that the added duress has contributed to prisoner suicide.
Public servants, including DOC staff and guards, take every opportunity to spin issues, including suicide, for their desired result. Even should we agree that Mr. Hayes' recommendations would solve the problem, which we do not, there would be more than enough available for programs by reallocating funds within the DOC.
With the loss of most programs and privileges during this "tough on crime" era, the DOC, using increasingly punative procedures now has near total control over prisoners. However, labor costs have gone up, as Massachusetts now has one guard for every two prisoners, more than every state but one. Meanwhile, due to the large numbers of non-violent drug war prisoners, the population is less dangerous. It is the violence done and allowed by the Commonwealth which has worsened.
Enforcement of increasingly restrictive policies prohibiting prisoners from suicide, which are the centerpiece of the Hayes report, will only replace symptoms of a failed system with others. More "suicide-resistant" Residential Treatment Units, increased observation of those on suicide watch and pre-service and in-service training time will do nothing to address the causes of prison suicides, some of which we have touched on above.
3. Some Recommendations and Conclusions
We do not believe the prison system can be reformed. Evidence based analysis has led us to conclude that locking people away from their communities causes more harm than it cures. Therefore, we are prison abolitionists.
While we are idealistic, we are also pragmatists. We realize that while we work to make the prison industrial complex unnecessary, we must ensure the safety and well being of those who were sent by society to prison as punishment, not for punishment. Therefore, we recommend a few practical steps to take us all in a new direction.
We call for a 5 year moratorium on prison and jail construction and expansion in Massachusetts, and the establishment of a commission to study and recommend rights affirming changes in policy and practice to eradicate overcrowding, including ending mandatory minimums, as outlined in House bill 1723, the text of which you will find in our supporting documents.
We call for citizen oversight of the Department of Correction, Parole Board, and county houses of correction to ensure accountability and transparency. There must be public oversight of the boards and committees that review disciplinary cases of prisoners or guards, classification of prisoners, sentencing calculations, and parole and probation.
We call for the implementation of the rights affirming recommendations of the 2004 Harshbarger Commission Report, in particular the step-down model of classification to successively lower prison security levels and, and restoration of programs, including education, job training, and work release. We also want to see opportunities for civic engagement.
We call for the immediate closure of Departmental Disciplinary Units, Secured Housing Units, and other forms of isolation and sensory deprivation, including supermax prisons. Under international standards for human rights, extended isolation is banned as a form of torture. (see Kammel and Kerness: "The Prison Inside the Prison").
While we support some of the recommendations of the Hayes report for managing suicidal situations, we also criticize the report for viewing the problem of suicide with such a narrow lens, as indicated earlier.
We reitierate, while a large percentage of prisoners enter prison disabled, many diagnosed "mentally ill", the prison system itself manufactures disability and mental illness. Therefore, in addition to eradicating the harmful "culture of cruelty" inside confining institutions, community harms causing disability must also be discerned and addressed. Yes, prisoners need better care. But so do the communities they come from. Addressing the harms of physical, psychological and sexual abuse by changing harmful relationship models, starting with those between government parties and the people, is essential. To remediate the current harms we must make significant investments in forming caring communities with safe living conditions, single payer healthcare, treatment on demand, individual and group therapy, where basic human needs, which are human rights, are met. We must reduce the over-reliance on medications, many of which also cause harm. With proper allocation of funds and proper citizen oversight, these remedies can become realities for prisoners and our communities. There is absolutely no need, if root causes are addressed, for building costly special residential treatment units or more jails and prisons.
As our final and most important recommendation, we ask that you listen to the real experts on prison suicide, mental health, and safetythe prisoners and ex-prisoners themselves.
In closing, we repeat that our primary goal is to end the abuse of power exercised by the administrators, guards and staff in the DOC and the county "correctional" system. To end this abuse, we want meaningful consequences and effective remedies to put an end to continued rights violations. If all of us are serious about ending this epidemic, we must eradicate every policy and practice that engenders the hopelessness and despair driving prisoners and others to suicide.
[Closing poem by prisoner]
The Cemetery of the Living
The cemetery of the living, this I call the place;
Where my heart beats, my blood flows, yet it has no one to embrace.
Many have visited, not everyone survives;
It's not a horror story, and now I'll tell you why:
Time is hard, lonely, and unforgetful;
The dead rest in peace, but this rest is painful.
I had many by my side, upon entering these walls;
The ones I called my friends were the first who I lost.
My Baby's Mother took my daughter away, I ask why?
Every night I ask God to watch over her, as I cry.
Mom and dad, even they fell apart,
How much more can one take to the heart?
I live but I'm dead, and in this casket I lie.
In prison, the cemetery, I speak of today,
I guarantee my soul will never stay!!
March 9, 2005
Bay State Correctional Center
By KEN MAGUIRE - Associated Press writer
BOSTON--The health care provider for Massachusetts prison inmates acknowledged Tuesday it failed to identify the suicidal history of an inmate when he was given a mental health screening before being sent to a segregation cell, where he killed himself.
There have been 10 suicides, including several in segregation cells, in the past 17 months in the state prison system, which is accused in a lawsuit of inadequate oversight of inmates with mental illnesses.
"There was a medical record that was not reviewed in its entirety, and in that medical record there was reference to suicidal gesturing .. in the past, which would have been information that would have been helpful," Patti Onorato, executive director of UMass Correctional Health, said of one inmate, not identified by name, who committed suicide.
The testimony came Tuesday at a Statehouse hearing examining problems within the Department of Correction, which oversees about 11,000 inmates in 17 facilities.
Gov. Deval Patrick's administration is replacing the DOC commissioner, and is reviewing policies ranging from sentencing to post-release, said Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, undersecretary for Criminal Justice.
"The status quo is unacceptable to this administration," she said. "There's a whole array of things that need to be looked at that we are absolutely having conversations about."
Patrick's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 includes a $34 million increase for the department, most of which will pay for an expanded health care services contract.
DOC Associate Commissioner Veronica Madden said the expanded contract will allow for the creation of a behavioral management unit for maximum-security inmates; the establishment of a residential treatment unit for inmates with mental illnesses; and weeknight and weekend coverage by mental health professionals.
Those changes should reduce the number of suicide attempts, she said.
In addition, a new policy requires that every inmate recommended for segregation--because of violent behavior in the general population--will be screened "to determine if their mental illness impacts segregation.
Fixing the system will be among the priorities for the next department commissioner. The Patrick administration ousted Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy, and named her deputy, James Bender, as acting commissioner. Dennehy has taken a job with the Bristol County sheriff's department.
A federal lawsuit filed in March claims Massachusetts inmates with mental illnesses get inadequate oversight, contributing to an increase in suicide attempts.
The latest suicide was Jarred Aranda, a 27-year-old who was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital. He hung himself in a shower room in March.
That death was the third suicide in Massachusetts state prisons this year, after seven last year. Those are up from one suicide in 2004 and four in 2005.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the Disability Law Center Inc. claims one-quarter of the 11,000 inmates in the state prison system are mentally ill, and criticizes the DOC for keeping hundreds of inmates in isolation for too long.
The state's inmate suicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 inmates during the 10-year-period that ended in 2006, according to a state-commissioned report issued in February. That was nearly twice the rate nationally, according to data for 2002, the report said.
That's not the only problem. The DOC is overhauling the system it uses for tracking sentences following revelations that 14 inmates were confined even after their sentences had been completed.
The department blamed the errors on the complexity of cou! rt decis ions governing the terms of sentences, and refused to say whether any employees had been fired or otherwise disciplined because of the errors, The Boston Globe reported.
Cost estimated in the millions
By Beth Healy and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, May 2, 2007
State legislators, reacting to the recent spate of suicides in Massachusetts prisons, sought assurances from prison officials yesterday that they were taking greater precautions with mentally ill inmates to prevent further deaths.
But public safety officials, who promised more training and better equipped units, acknowledged those changes will cost millions and that money has yet to be approved.
One concrete change for troubled inmates: Those who hurt themselves or try to commit suicide are no longer punished with a disciplinary report in addition to being moved to segregation. In the past, those inmates have been denied telephone calls to family, contact with lawyers, outdoor time, and even clothing and showers.
In segregation, "Almost all prisoners were stripped of their clothing . . . and issued a safety smock," said Lindsay M. Hayes, the author of a suicide study commissioned by the state last year, during testimony yesterday.
Now, mental health clinicians will judge whether each suicidal inmate in segregation can have those rights, Veronica Madden , associate commissioner at the state Department of Correction , told members of the joint committees on Public Safety and Homeland Security and Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
Madden said the department is adopting virtually all the recommendations in the Hayes report. But the biggest change -- the establishment of residential treatment units, or alternative housing units for mentally ill inmates -- can come only if the Legislature approves millions of dollars in its 2008 capital budget to build them. The Correction Department wants to create more than 140 beds for inmates with serious mental illnesses and behavioral problems.
James R. Pingeon , litigation director for Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which represents inmates, said residential treatment units have been proposed before but haven't materialized. The current conditions in segregation, he said, are contributing to the state's high suicide rate.
"Segregation is in itself an extreme stressor that makes it more likely there will be suicides," Pingeon said. Of the 15 suicides in the state over the past three years, he said, seven inmates were in segregation, and five were in cells with segregation-like conditions.
Dr. David G. Power , a Cambridge psychologist who has consulted to the state, described some segregation cells as "gothic" and said mental health watch cells were in "alarmingly poor condition," often dirty, overheated, and with poor ventilation.
"It's difficult to walk through Cedar Junction and not feel like you've descended into Dante's Inferno," he said.
Mary Beth Heffernan , undersecretary for criminal justice in the state's Executive Office of Public Safety, which oversees the Correction Department, tried to assure lawmakers yesterday that $30 million in new funding in the governor's proposed budget would help improve inmate healthcare, including mental health services.
Part of the funding is to go to better training of correction officers, as called for by Hayes, and for overtime. The latest class of officers, which graduated last Friday, received eight hours of training on dealing with mentally ill prisoners, up from four hours in the past, according to Madden. Those officers will be part of a new protocol to check on suicidal inmates every 15 minutes, instead of every half hour, she said.
State Representative Michael A. Costello, cochairman of the Public Safety Committee, asked whether the department would stick to its promises of more training. "I'm hoping that we don't hear back from the DOC that we cut back on training due to financial considerations," he said.
Heffernan pledged that that would not happen.
But the problems of handling mentally ill inmates are deep and extend to the UMass Correctional Health Program, which provides mental health care in state prisons and is bidding to renew its contract. Hayes said, during his investigation, clinicians told him they often had no choice but to approve inmates for segregation -- even those at risk -- because there was nowhere else for them to go.
"Few if any inmates were ever diverted from segregation, because there were no alternative housing options," Hayes said.
When asked by a legislator whether the state has stopped segregating inmates with serious mental illnesses for months and years at a time, Madden said the practice had not stopped.
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- ▼ May (19)