Friday, June 29, 2007

News from the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons

One year ago, members of Vera's Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation on our then-newly published report, Confronting Confinement.

This June, on the first anniversary of that Senate hearing, Senators Richard Durbin and Tom Coburn, M.D., sent a letter to their colleagues urging them to re-read our report, saying, "the information and recommendations of the Commission are no less relevant than at their release." You can read their entire letter here.

Today, the Commission is continuing to assist government leaders, corrections administrators, and advocates in taking steps to improve the lives of those who work and live in correctional facilities across the nation.

Here are some highlights of recent developments:

  • Citing the Commission's recommendations, the New Mexico House passed a memorial directing the state's attorney general to convene a task force to consider the creation of an independent entity to oversee the status and conditions of New Mexico's correctional facilities.

  • Three Commissioners testified in April before the Pennsylvania House & Senate Judiciary Committees about the importance of creating safe and healthy correctional facilities.

  • The Commission submitted a letter in support of a bill to create an Office of Corrections Ombudsman in the Washington State Senate.

  • The Commission sponsored two roundtable discussions in Washington, DC, focusing on strategies for implementing the Commission's recommendation to extend Medicaid and Medicare to eligible prisoners, and on the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

  • In April, the Commission's final report, Confronting Confinement, was favorably reviewed by the New York Review of Books.
What was true last year remains true today: what happens in jail and prison doesn't stay there. It is in the interest of everyone's safety and health—not only those who work in prisons, but also those who are sent to prison and the communities they return to upon release—that we continue to present these important issues and recommendations to decision makers in Washington, DC, and around the country.

Thank you for your support—past, present, and future—which helps to make this possible.


Alexander Busansky
Executive Director, Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons
Director, Washington DC Office, Vera Institute of Justice

Confronting Confinement is available at the Commission's web site,

Thursday, June 28, 2007

City Budget Update: Why Councillors Arroyo, Yoon, Turner & Yancey voted no.

Danielle Williams (Arroyo), (617) 635-3115
Mary Grissom (Yoon), (617) 635-4217
Ken Yarbrough (Yancey), (617) 635-3131
Lorraine Fowlkes (Turner), (617) 635-3510


Four Councillors Oppose FY08 City Operating Budget (Boston, MA) Today, Boston City Councillors Felix D. Arroyo, Sam Yoon, Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner voted "No" on the proposed Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2008 in the City of Boston.

The Councillors voted "No" because the proposed operating budget only included short-term funding and support for youth opportunity programs and combating the youth violence crisis. The Councillors detailed their top priorities as follows:

1) Summer jobs - The FY08 operating budget included slightly more than $4 million in city operating funding for 2007 summer jobs. With summer already upon us, the Youth Fund infrastructure limits the City's ability to significantly expand the summer jobs program for this year. However, the Councillors asked for a commitment to increase city operating support for summer jobs by $3 million for FY09, bringing the total city commitment next year to $7.3 million. They also asked the City to extend summer job eligibility to 14-year olds for next summer. These requests were rejected by Mayor Menino and his Administration. "Although government cannot do this alone, we feel the city should be a primary guarantor of summer youth employment. We must commit to erasing the gap between the number of jobs available and the number of young people who want and are eligible for a summer job," said Councillor Chuck Turner

2) Year-round/school-year jobs - $400,000 has already been committed by a private foundation this fiscal year for year-round/school-year jobs. This amount of funding will provide for approximately 150 of these jobs this year. The Councillors asked the Administration to commit to providing 350 additional year-round/school-year jobs beginning this September and ending in June 2009. This would have required an increase in the FY08 budget of $920,000 for the Youth Fund. As with the summer job program, the Councillors sought future growth in this program including a commitment of $2.7 million in FY09 to fund 1000 year-round/school-year jobs. These requests were also rejected. "It is essential that we provide school-year and year-round jobs to supplement the summer jobs program if we truly want to reduce violence and provide real opportunities for our City's young people," said Councillor Sam Yoon.

3) Grants to Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) - Mayor Menino recently committed $300,000 of city operating funds to support CBOs for summer anti-violence programming. The Councillors acknowledged the commitment of $1.25 million in state and private funds as well. However, they sought an additional $1.2 million in city operating funds which they felt should be committed this year to support CBOs, given the essential work they are doing in the community to develop young people and to prevent violence. They asked the administration for a commitment of city operating funds, rather than a commitment to continue private fund-raising, in order to ensure predictability of funding, and therefore (as with youth employment) budgetary "institutionalization." The Councillors also asked that an additional $1.5 million in new grants be committed for FY09. This would bring the total commitment to $3 million for FY09 -- $1.5 million for continuation grants and $1.5 million in new grants. "Earlier this year, I proposed a new $5 million grant program for community based-organizations. I continue to believe that a significant level of new financial support for local organizations and their efforts is one of the best ways to provide the youth programming needed to reduce youth violence, drug abuse and suicide," said Councillor Felix D. Arroyo.

4) Street Workers - This Spring, the City Council passed a Resolution calling for hiring up to 300 additional Youth and Street Workers. The proposed FY08 operating budget included an increase of just ten new Street Worker positions, bringing the total citywide to thirty. However, the Councillors remain concerned that the Street Worker program is chronically under-funded and that morale is being impacted by the small number of Street Workers compared to the size of the population in need of their outreach. Almost 10,000 high school drop-outs, among thousands of other at-risk youth, cannot be served by such a small number of Street Workers. Therefore, the Councillors asked for at least an additional 25 Street Workers, at a cost of $1 million to be added to the FY08 budget, bringing the total to 55. They also asked for a commitment of an additional $1 million to hire an additional twenty-five Street Workers in FY09, bringing the total to 70. Finally, the Councillors asked that any additional street workers be assigned to geographical areas in our city that include the highest concentration of high-risk youth. These requests were again rejected and not included in the passed FY08 operating budget. "The effective use of street and youth workers not only prevents violence and encourages productive lifestyles, it would reduce long-term need for increase enforcement and the need for excessive police overtime, which last year cost taxpayers more than $28 million," said Councillor Yancey.

The FY08 City operating budget was approved by a vote of 9-4, with Councillors Arroyo, Yoon, Yancey and Turner voting "No." By announcing their intention to oppose the proposed operating budget, these Councillors sought additional negotiations with the Administration on the Operating Budget and inclusion of funding for these youth opportunity and youth violence reduction programs.

Item of Interest

Read Earl Ofari Hutchinson on "The War on Drugs is Still a War on Blacks":

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

States seek alternatives to more prisons

By John Gramlich, Staff Writer

With swelling prison populations cutting into state budgets, lawmakers are exploring ways to ease overcrowding beyond building expensive new correctional facilities.

Though the construction of prisons continues as states struggle to provide enough beds for those behind bars, legislators increasingly are looking at other ways to free up space and save money, including expanded programs to help prevent offenders from being incarcerated again, earlier release dates for low-risk inmates and sentencing revisions.

Criminal justice analysts point to Kansas and Texas as recent innovators. Both states are putting off building new prisons, focusing instead on rehabilitation and recidivism. At the same time, a new $7.7 billion prison spending plan in California – where overcrowding last year forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to declare a state of emergency – has met with skepticism. Critics call the plan “prison expansion, not prison reform” and say the initiative relies on impractical fixes such as shipping inmates out of state.

State spending on prisons surged 10 percent nationally last fiscal year (see graphic) and growing inmate populations played a lead role in those costs, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Corrections trails only education and health care in swallowing state dollars, and experts say lawmakers are responding to the budgetary pressures by trying more cost-effective approaches.

“We’re seeing more and more states in different regions and with different political leadership tackling this issue and recognizing that the more they spend on prisons, the less they have to spend on health, education and other priorities,” said Adam Gelb, project director of the Public Safety Performance Project.

The project – which, like, is funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts – in February forecast steep increases in incarceration rates and state spending in the next five years unless legislatures enact policy changes.Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) last month signed into law a prison plan that is winning accolades for its creativity. Among other measures, the $4.4 million package provides financial incentives to community correctional systems for reducing prisoner admissions and allows some low-risk inmates to reduce their sentences through education or counseling while behind bars.Under the plan, the state offers grants to localities for preventing “conditions violations” such as parole or probation infractions – a leading cause of prison overcrowding in Kansas and nationwide. To qualify for the grants, communities must cut recidivism rates by at least 20 percent using a variety of support tactics.

The early-release provision would cut time served by 60 days for some offenders who successfully complete programs that decrease their chances of returning to prison. Several other states, including Michigan, Nevada and Washington, recently announced plans to release some low-risk offenders early through similar initiatives, including good-time credits and expanded work-release programs.

Expectations are high in Kansas. State Rep. Pat Colloton (R), who led the push for the legislation in the House of Representatives, said she expects the plan to allow the state to postpone new prison construction until 2016 – though officials had said expansion would be necessary starting in two years.

In Texas, which houses 153,000 prisoners, the Legislature recently approved a plan that lawmakers have characterized as one of the most significant changes in corrections in a decade. The package, part of the state budget awaiting Republican Gov. Rick Perry’s approval, would divert thousands of inmates from prison to rehabilitation facilities, where beds would free up twice a year as offenders get help and re-enter society. Notably, the focus on rehabilitation would put off construction of costly new prisons.

The plan includes a new 500-bed treatment facility for those incarcerated for driving while intoxicated (DWI) – offenders who often have substance-abuse problems but receive no rehabilitation and face stiff sentences without the possibility of parole, according to one state Senate aide.

“We have changed the course of the ship substantially in the state of Texas,” said state Rep. Jerry Madden (R), chairman of the House Corrections Committee and an engineer of the prison plan.

In California, the only state with a larger prison system than Texas, Schwarzenegger this month signed a plan that calls for the construction of 53,000 new beds, with rehabilitation services to accompany the expansion.

Analysts say the plan has the potential to overhaul the state’s prison system by providing inmates new opportunities for education, job training and counseling. But they note that funding for the initiative’s rehabilitation services is far from guaranteed because the state has not yet approved its budget, and many in the corrections community are skeptical that lawmakers will follow through on their promises.

“It’s purely prison expansion. It’s just more business as usual,” said Joe Baumann, a state corrections officer who has worked for 20 years at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.

“The thing that everybody misses is the incarceration rate per 100,000 people.”

Meanwhile, other states are revisiting their sentencing policies. Nevada, facing an explosion in its prison population, recently reinstated a commission – dormant since 2000 – that will make recommendations on changing sentencing laws to help ease overcrowding.At least 22 states revised their sentencing laws between 2004 and 2006 to ease prison overcrowding, according to a study by The Sentencing Project, a Washington., D.C.-based organization that advocates for policy changes.

[pbpboston] Prison Book Program -- July update

Prison Book Program -- July update

Hi all!

Prison Book Program will be open its regular hours for the month of July: Every Tuesday & Thursday evening from 6:30-9:00 p.m. EXCEPT, we will be CLOSED the Fourth of July week (closed Tues 7/3 and Thurs 7/5).

Also, one special Saturday in July -- 7/28 from 10am to 4pm (also, late notice, but we are also open THIS Saturday June 30th from 10am to 4pm).

So come in out of the heat to our coooool basement; bring those paperback books to donate, a couple of friends, and join us to read letters from prisoners' and make up book packages to send out. No experience nor RSVP needed!

Another important announcement:

Prison Book Program is pleased to be the recipient of a grant from the Gardner Howland Shaw Foundation. The Gardiner Howland Shaw Foundation was established in 1959, and funds initiatives that demonstrate a current awareness of important problems confronting our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Thanks to the Shaw Foundation for supplying a much-needed grant to PBP for the second year running!

Thanks, as always, to YOU for your support!

Prison Book Program
c/o United First Parish Church
1306 Hancock Street, Suite 100
Quincy, MA 02169
617-423-3298 (no collect calls)

T: Red Line, Braintree - Quincy Center

We are located in the basement of the United First Parish Church. Our
entrance is on Temple St.

"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who
prepare for it today" - Malcolm X

US prison population jumps by largest margin since 2000

US prison population jumps by largest margin since 2000
Jun 26, 2007, 19:07 GMT

Washington - The number of people jailed in the United States rose 2.8 per cent to more than 2.2 million in 2006, the largest climb in six years, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.
The heavy increases in prison populations since 2000, especially at state and federal levels, means many prisons are operating far over capacity, according to the department's annual report. At the end of 2005, federal prisons were operating on average 34 per cent above capacity, while state prisons were between 1 per cent below and 14 per cent above capacity, the report said. Local, state and federal prisons together held just over 2.245 million people as of June 30, 2006, up 62,000 from the same period a year earlier. The percentages continue to be skewed towards minorities. Black males made up 37 per cent of the country's prison population as of June 2006. About 4.8 per cent of all black men in the US are currently incarcerated - more than 11 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 - compared to 1.9 per cent of Hispanic men and 0.7 per cent of white males, the report said.

© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Forensics chief exits as probes continue

Forensics chief exits as probes continue
Appointed in '05 to fix 2 agencies
By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff June 27, 2007

The state's top forensics official resigned yesterday following a series of blunders in the State Police crime laboratory and the medical examiner's office, making her exit the most prominent in a string of high-level departures from both operations.

The resignation of LaDonna J. Hatton as undersecretary of forensic sciences comes amid four investigations into the alleged mishandling of DNA test results in about two dozen unsolved sexual assault cases at the crime lab and another inquiry into the disappearance of a body
from the medical examiner's office.

Hatton, 46, was appointed by the Romney administration in 2005 to fix the long-troubled agencies but had struggled with one crisis after another over the past six months. She will leave in August to become general counsel to the State Police.

"There is no perfect time to leave a job with as many challenges as undersecretary for forensic sciences, but I know that this is the right decision and the right time for me personally and professionally," Hatton said in a statement issued by Kevin M. Burke, public safety secretary.

The announcement follows the resignation in March of the civilian head of the crime lab, Carl Se lavka, and the suspension last month of the chief medical examiner, Dr. Mark A. Flomenbaum.

Although the upheaval put Hatton under scrutiny, Burke had vigorously defended her supervision of the lab and medical examiner's office. He told the Globe on March 15 that she had nothing to do with the problems that have roiled both operations and that she was playing a crucial role in addressing them.

"If I had four more LaDonna Hattons, I'd be very pleased," he said.

Yesterday, Burke said Hatton's work "has laid the foundation for the next phase of improvements that need to be implemented."

A spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, Charles McDonald, said that Hatton's departure was voluntary and that Burke, a former Essex County district attorney, will consult with the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association on choosing a replacement. He gave no timetable for appointing a successor.

Hatton, who was paid $125,000 a year, was appointed by the Romney administration despite having little expertise in forensics and was reappointed by Governor Deval Patrick in January.

Burke said she was staying through July to assist with the completion of analyses of the crime lab and medical examiner's office by Vance, a Virginia-based private consulting company. Vance is scheduled to complete a $267,000 top-to-bottom review of the crime lab by Saturday. The company recently began a separate analysis of the medical examiner's office.

Hatton, a former legal counsel to Boston Police Commissioner Paul Evans and Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, told the Globe yesterday morning that she would discuss her departure later in the day but did not return subsequent phone calls.

In the statement issued by Burke, she acknowledged that her resignation comes at a delicate time but said she looked forward to returning to the practice of law.

"There are still many challenges facing the [office of chief medical examiner] and crime lab, but with strong support from Governor Patrick and Secretary Burke, the important changes that have been identified will be made," she said.

Since January, the crime lab has been buffeted by disclosures about the mishandling of DNA test results, which led to investigations by the State Police, FBI, Vance, and the state inspector general's office.

All the investigations are looking into problems with evidence compiled in the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, the FBI-funded computer network that serves as the registry of 3.1 million DNA samples of convicted criminals and arrested individuals that have been collected by law enforcement nationwide. CODIS matches crime-scene DNA to genetic profiles in the database.

Robert Pino, a 23-year civilian employee of the lab who testified in more than 240 criminal cases and helped set up the state's portion of the FBI database, was fired April 13, three months after the agency suspended him for allegedly mishandling test results.

On March 9, Selavka, director of the lab since July 1998 and one of Pino's supervisors, resigned under pressure.

The State Police investigation has found several kinds of problems, including that Pino told law enforcement officials about 13 positive DNA matches in unsolved sexual assault cases after the statute of limitations had expired, too late for the cases to be prosecuted.

In another eight cases, the statute expired because the lab took too long to check DNA from the crime scenes against samples in the database, according to a State Police affidavit filed in February.

The medical examiner's office faced its own crisis in mid-March, when an increase in the number of autopsies caused unclaimed bodies to pile up in the agency's overcrowded Boston headquarters in the South End and in a refrigerated truck parked behind the building. In addition, the plumbing system had clogged, resulting in pools of blood on the autopsy room floor, and basic supplies, including body bags and toe tags, had run out periodically.

On May 3, the Patrick administration suspended Flomenbaum for the misplacement of the body of a Cape Cod man who was mistakenly buried in another man's grave and had to be exhumed

Last week, the Patrick administration restricted a longtime pathologist at the medical examiner's office, Dr. William M. Zane, from examining any potential homicide victims because he made an autopsy error that forced prosecutors to downgrade murder charges against twin brothers from Ayer, who were convicted of manslaughter.

Flomenbaum said in a phone interview from home that he was unaware of Hatton's departure and declined to comment further. Zane did not return a phone call to his office.

Geline W. Williams, executive director of the state's district attorneys association, which has pushed since at least 2000 for improving forensic services relied upon by prosecutors, said both the crime lab and medical examiner's office are victims of years of underfunding and neglect. The state only began addressing those deficiencies in the past few years, she said, and whoever succeeds Hatton will face many of the same challenges.

"The record is clear that the state's forensic services across the board were neglected for almost two decades," she said. "You can't turn that around overnight."

State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, who cochairs the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said Hatton's new job provides a good opportunity for her and for Patrick.

"This is an important chance for the Patrick administration to take a fresh look at these two agencies that have not been without their problems," he said.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

NY state to stop prison phone profiteering


Legislation Will Permanently Disconnect Unfair Rates

June 21, 2007, New York, NY--The New York State Senate and Assembly reached agreement at the end of this year's legislative session on legislation that would treat prison telephone service as a right, not as a revenue generator.

"Words cannot describe what this victory means to me--unless they are written on a phone bill that I can now afford to pay," said Cheri O'Donoghue, whose young son is incarcerated in New York State. "It is such a relief that I can now talk to my son more frequently without financial hardship."

For more than ten years, families of inmates have had no choice but to pay phone rates 630 percent higher than normal consumer rates to speak with their loved ones in New York State correctional facilities. In January, Governor Spitzer announced that New York State would forego its nearly 60 percent share of the obscene mark-up. But the corporate mark-up on the contract remained, still more than 200 percent higher than regular consumer rates.

In March, the contract was extended for one year as advocates continued discussions with elected officials and staff to ensure that future telephone systems focus on keeping families together, not on turning a profit. The new contract will take place on April 1, 2008.

The agreed-upon bill centers on one common theme: "that when determining the best value of such telephone service, the lowest possible cost to the telephone user shall be emphasized."

"Today, New York provided strong leadership by setting an example that every other state needs to follow," said Annette Warren Dickerson, campaign coordinator for the NY Campaign for Telephone Justice on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). "Telephone companies have to stop considering the families of prisoners as if they were captive customers. We thank the bill sponsors for passing this legislation and we thank the Governor for his continuous support."

More than 80 percent of the State's prisoners come from poor New York City neighborhoods, according to the Albany-based Center for Law and Justice. With two-thirds of the prison facilities located three hours or more from New York City, telephone calls become a critical means for families to keep in touch.

The New York Campaign for Telephone Justice works to end the kickback contract between MCI (doing business as Verizon) and the New York State Department of Correctional Services and deliver choice, affordability, and equitable service to the families and friends of those incarcerated in New York State. The campaign is a project of the Center for Constitutional Rights, in partnership with Prison Families of New York, Inc. and Prison Families Community Forum.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a nonprofit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Victims Slammed with Jail Time

June 23, 2007

Lydia Lowe
Zenobia Lai
Lisette Le


A six-person jury delivered its verdict yesterday evening in the case of the "Quincy 4," four Asian Americans charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in an incident involving the Quincy police.

One defendant, Howard Ng, was found innocent of disorderly conduct, while defendants Karen Chen, Quan Thin, and Tat Yuen were found guilty on either or both charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The four were adamant that they were falsely charged after being victims of police brutality in the early hours of April 30, 2006 in front of the Super 88 market on Hancock Street.

The case had attracted local attention when defendant Karen Chen, a former Community Organizer at the Chinese Progressive Association, and eyewitness Joanna Ng filed a complaint of police misconduct with the Quincy Police Department last year. The four defendants continued to attract strong support from the Chinese community throughout a year of pre-trial proceedings and court postponements. During this week's five-day trial, supporters had to sit outside the courtroom for hours because the courtroom was over-packed and the judge would not allow people to stand.

The jury heard from seven witnesses over the course of the five-day trial, including six law enforcement officers and one eyewitness who was a friend of the defendants. The prosecution painted a picture of a drunk and unruly mob which surged against the officers and made them fear for their lives, calling forth several police witnesses to say that the group had yelled profanities and some had swung punches. The defense pointed out inconsistencies in the officers' testimony and between their court testimony and written reports. Most had been asked to write reports after the complaint of police misconduct had been filed. A civilian eyewitness described an unprovoked attack and use of pepper spray by a Quincy police officer, followed by a brutal series of arrests which left Chen with a black eye and bruises and Yuen with a concussion. The prosecution questioned the witness' account as both biased and involving more details than her original complaint.

The racial composition of the jury was five whites and one black, but no Asian Americans, despite the rapidly expanding Asian American population in Quincy. While the four defendants never filed a civil rights complaint, most perceived the situation in racial terms. Supporters of the defendants noted that, upon entering the courtroom one day, a white audience member friendly with police officers commented about the American flag, "At least there's something American in the room."

Following the verdicts, the prosecution requested sentences of 18 months' probation for Chen and two years' probation for Thin and Yuen. Judge Mary Orfanello, instead, slapped Thin and Yuen each with a six month suspended sentence with 10 days of incarceration and two years' probation. Because witnesses had testified that Thin was drunk on the evening of the incident, she further sentenced him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings three days per week for the entire two-year probation period. All three must pay one-time fees as well as $21 per month into the probation system. Thin and Yuen were immediately handcuffed and taken into custody, without even allowing them to say goodbye to family members present. No visitors are allowed during the 10 days. The community audience in the closely packed courtroom was visibly stunned as the judge announced the verdicts and unusually harsh sentences for what are normally considered minor offenses.

All four defendants had earlier been offered a plea bargain agreement known as pre-trial probation, in which they could have voluntarily entered probation to avoid incarceration by writing a letter of apology to the Quincy Police Department and signing an agreement not to sue the department.

"We didn't take it, because we did nothing wrong. Why should we have to apologize to the police for what they did to us?" said Karen Chen.

The defendants expressed gratitude for the community support they received during the trial. Supporters came from within the Asian American community as well as from white, African American, and other immigrant communities. Community supporters will hold a post-trial discussion today and commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death in Detroit by two white auto workers amid rising anti-Japanese sentiment. Chin's two killers were convicted but never served a day in jail.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New NCCD Report on Women in the Justice System


June 21, 2007

Contact: Barry Krisberg
Phone: 510-208-0500 x311

New NCCD Fact Sheet Shows Disparate Treatment of Women among States:

The Nation's Most Punitive States for Women

A new Fact Sheet from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency shows enormous disparity in the way states treat women in trouble with the law. Using the latest available data from prisons, jails, probation, and parole for adult and juvenile women, this concise report shows how differently women are treated depending on the policies and practices of their state of residence.

The disparate incarceration, probation, and parole rates do not correspond to differences in state arrest rates. The most punitive states do not enjoy less crime. In addition the US imprisons more women and girls than any other nation. And within the US, women of color are disproportionately incarcerated compared to whites. Plus the proportion of incarcerated women to men is rising.

Some of the report's main findings are as follows:

· Based on 2005 rates of incarceration in state prison or jail, the most punitive US states for women were Oklahoma, Louisiana, Texas, Idaho, Georgia, and Wyoming. The states with the lowest rates of incarceration were Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

· In a ranking of states by incarceration rates for women, the highest is Oklahoma at 1st; Texas is 3rd, Florida is 15th, California is 27th, Illinois is 43rd, and New York is 45th.

· Almost one-third of all female prisoners in the US were held in three states—California, Texas, and Florida. The states with the next largest female incarcerated population were Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. The states with the smallest female incarcerated population were Vermont, Rhode Island, North Dakota, and Maine.

· Based on 2003 rates of custody (detained or committed) per 100,000 females under 18 years of age in the general population, the most punitive US states for girls were Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, North Dakota, and Florida. The least punitive states were Vermont, Maryland, New Jersey, Maine, Illinois, and Rhode Island.

The imprisonment of women across the United States has repercussions in every aspect of society, including the huge costs of incarceration at the local and state levels, the splitting of communities and families, the tragic disruption at crucial developmental stages in the lives of thousands of children, and the unchecked deterioration of the physical and mental health of women in prison.

This report uses data from state and federal agencies—the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Corrections, US Census Bureau, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, among others.

The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, founded in 1907, is a nonprofit organization which promotes effective, humane, fair, and economically sound solutions to family, community, and justice problems. NCCD conducts research, promotes reform initiatives, and seeks to work with individuals, public and private organizations, and the media to prevent and reduce crime and delinquency.

Fact Sheet:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Indigenous Latin Americans push for change in coca policies

June 18, 2007
By Lisa Garrigues

SAN FRANCISCO - A little green leaf is causing big changes in Latin America.

To the U.S. government, the coca leaf is the central ingredient in cocaine, a dangerous and profitable drug that needs to be eradicated at its source: the coca fields of South America.

But to many Latin American indigenous people, the coca leaf is a medicine which they say should not only be allowed for traditional use, but rather promoted on the international market for its curative benefits.

Bolivia's Aymaran president, Evo Morales, has led the way in the push to return the coca leaf to its place as medicine, which it held in the Andes for thousands of years.

Since taking office, he has reversed the U.S.-backed ''zero coca'' policy and begun a new program that would eliminate cocaine production but focus on developing coca as a medicinal and nutritional product for the international market, with the goal of eventually declassifying it in the United Nations as a narcotic.

In other countries where coca has formed a part of the traditional diet and culture but is now used to feed the multi-million-dollar cocaine market, indigenous people have found themselves going up against national governments that have historically cooperated with U.S.-backed eradication policies.

In May, indigenous groups in Colombia protested the government's decision to limit the sale of legal coca products like drinks and ointments that had previously been sold in commercial outlets throughout the country to indigenous territories.

''The coca leaf and the traditional products that come from it are aligned with the ancient culture of the indigenous people of Latin America,'' healer Carlos Mamanche recently told the Venezuelan television station Telesur. The medical uses of coca, he said, ''are thousands of years old, older than Colombia, older than the United States who is behind all this.''

U.S. government officials have complained that despite Plan Colombia, more coca destined for cocaine production is being produced than ever before.

On May 14, Native groups in Argentina presented a proposal to the National Congress which would recognize coca on a national level for its ''importance in medicinal, nutritional, ritual, religious and social value.'' They claim corrupt government officials look the other way in sales of large amounts, but sellers of small amounts of coca are penalized.

In Peru, some 60,000 families depend upon coca production -much of it destined for the illegal market - for their livelihood. Efforts by President Alan Garcia to toughen coca eradication policies in April were met by resistance from coca farmers, who blocked roads in protest.

Peru, like Bolivia and Colombia, allows for the cultivation of the coca leaf for traditional and medicinal use.

A 1975 Harvard study found that coca is rich in iron, phosphorous, calcium, vitamin A and riboflavin. In 1995, the World Health Organization recommended further study of its potential health benefits.

Traditionally, coca, a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant, was one of the staples of the Incan and Aymaran culture. Spanish missionaries called the plant an agent of the devil, but Spanish landowners gave coca to the Indians they enslaved to make them work harder.

Today, indigenous people in the Andes continue to consider ''Mama Coca'' a sacred plant, a crucial part of a ceremony and ritual honoring Mother Earth and the spirits of the mountains.

Coca leaves are chewed or allowed to dissolve in the mouth, and are often combined with a mixture of an alkaline substance.

It is also used as a medicinal tea for stomach problems and altitude sickness, and as an anesthetic for wounds.

Critics of the U.S. eradication program say attempting to stop cocaine trafficking and addiction by eradicating coca is like eliminating barley or grapes to stop alcoholism. They emphasize that the coca leaf needs to be considered separately from cocaine in the international arena.

U.S. government officials disagree.

''There's really only one good use for the coca leaf in economic terms, and that's cocaine,'' the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, told The Associated Press.

On his recent visit to Colombia, President Bush promised to add billions more in coca eradication assistance to the $6 billion already spent on Plan Colombia.

The United States consumes about 50 percent of the 600 metric tons of cocaine produced annually.

Source URL:

Hat's off to Drug Policy Alliance!!

Monday, June 18, 2007


The Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy
McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies
University of Massachusetts - Boston


The Massachusetts Women's Legislative Caucus

Invite You

To Attend the Release of a Research Report:


June 26, 2007
State House
Room B-2
(Enter through Bowdoin Street entrance)
2:00-3:30 p.m.
(Refreshments will be provided)

The research examines the effects of changes in Massachusetts welfare policy in 2003 and 2004 that permitted welfare recipients to include education and training in their mandatory work activities.

Welfare recipients, as well as key administrators in welfare, workforce development, and education, contributed valuable information to this study.

--Presentation of Research Findings and Recommendations
--Commentary on the research from key state welfare, workforce, and education administrators
--Opportunity for audience comments and questions

Co-sponsors: Black Legislative Caucus; Boston Legislative Caucus; Support for Outreach: Survivors, Inc.

Please RSVP by June 21th to Alkia Powell, Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, 617-287-5541 or

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Parole Board pick is under fire

Milton officer is called unqualified
By John Ellement, Globe Staff
June 13, 2007

Prisoner rights advocates are mounting a last-ditch effort to derail the nomination of a Milton police officer for a seat on the Parole Board, which critics say already has too many people with law enforcement backgrounds.

The Governor's Council is to vote today on the nomination of Mark A. Conrad, and advocates were using e-mail and telephone calls yesterday to generate opposition to the Milton resident who volunteered during the gubernatorial campaign, doing some advance work for Patrick.

"I have nothing against Mr. Conrad as a person; he sounds like a wonderful person," said Patricia Garin, a Boston lawyer who teaches a clinic on parole for convicted murderers at Northeastern University Law School. "But he does not have the education, training, and experience to do this job."

Public Safety Secretary Kevin M. Burke said Conrad's perceptive nature, experience in law enforcement, and commitment to helping youth through Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan make him qualified for the job. The position pays about $75,000 annually.

Burke said that Patrick, who also lives in Milton, did not promote Conrad's candidacy and that no one from Patrick's campaign organization recommended him for a seat on the seven-member parole board. Burke said that a friend of his, whom he would not identify, brought Conrad to his attention and that he had to persuade Conrad to seek the post.

"There is no campaign connection; there is no promise," Burke said. "It's just a wonderfully qualified individual . . with a gift to listen, to understand people, and to really examine their character."

According to state records and the administration, Conrad owns Wescon Personal Protection Inc., a private security firm based in Randolph. Burke said Conrad did "a small amount" of advance work for the campaign but did not provide armed protection.

Burke said that when he told Patrick about Conrad's nomination, the governor indicated he knew who Conrad was, but "it was clear they weren't close friends."

Conrad could not be reached for comment yesterday. Burke said the police officer, who testified last week at a confirmation hearing before the Governor's Council, would not talk publicly until after the panel decides today.

"He wants his testimony [at the confirmation hearing] to stand on its own two feet," Burke said. "I think that's appropriate."

Garin and Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said the board badly needs new members with backgrounds in mental health and social services to help evaluate prisoners with emotional and psychiatric disorders. They said that the state law creating the Parole Board intends that members have expertise in behavioral sciences. "No one on the Parole Board has the knowledge to be able to assess the potential for successful reentry of a mentally ill prisoner," Walker said.

During Conrad's confirmation hearing last week, Mary-Ellen Manning, a member of the Governor's Council, said she peppered Conrad about his qualifications and the parole philosophy of the new administration.

"He kept saying to me if I just opened my heart and saw what a good person he was that I would see that he would do a good job," Manning said. "That's an unsatisfactory response when we are dealing with public safety."

Manning would not say how she would vote, but said she expects
Conrad's nomination to be approved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

4th Friday Event

Through Barbed Wire Presents:

And Still We Rise!

A compelling, theatrical telling of authentic personal stories by those directly affected by the criminal justice system

Join us and bring friends on
June 22, 2007, 7 to 9:30 pm
Community Church of Boston

565 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116
(Copley Square T Stop)

Refreshments will be available/Contributions greatly appreciated

Event information: (617) 576-5367
Venue information: Jason - (617) 266-6710;

Please join us every fourth Friday of the month!

Through Barbed Wire was created by Arnie King to (re)establish and maintain ties to our neighborhoods and to offer and provide genuine service to society. Due to the heavy chains around our hands and feet, as well as CORI and other stigmas, such efforts face severe restrictions. These obstacles can be lessened, and eventually eliminated, with virtues of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness flowing through barbed wire into the community.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

2 IMPORTANT Announcements

We have 2 very important SHaRC announcements:

1. Testimony by SHaRC members and others supporting HB1723 (the Moratorium Bill) is now available on our website: There is a linke to the testimony information right from our homepage.

2. A location for our SHaRC meeting on 6/27 at 6:30pm has been confirmed. We will meet at the Community Church of Boston. CCB is located at 565 Boylston St. in the Copley Sq section of Boston.

Please let us know if you have any questions.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Re HB1723 testimony, next SHaRC meeting

Dear friends and colleagues,

The long path we stepped onto 5 years ago--to stop the Chicopee jail for women and to reverse the trend of wasted funds and ruined lives, continues. This is a long term job. On occasion we must stop to catch our breath and then move forward again.

Within a few days testimony in support of H.B. 1723 (a truly historic step), calling for a 5 year moratorium on jail and prison construction and expansion, will be on our web site. We'll let you know when it's up.

Our next SHaRC meeting will take place on Wednesday, June 27th at 6:00 PM (tenative location Community Church of Boston - we will confirm.)

If you'd like to get a jump on getting ready to work on this campaign please see the testimony on the fabulous SHaRC web site. Feedback is appreciated.

Hope to see on June 27th.

For Justice,

Friday, June 08, 2007

Whittier Men's Health Center will host its annual "Healthier Families: Men's Health Summit

On Saturday, June 16th, The Whittier Men's Health Center will host its annual "Healthier Families: Men's Health Summit" at UMass Boston from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

During the event, Haywood Fennel, Sr. of the Clean Slate Project will read from his play "Lights Out" about prison and HIV.

The Summit will honor five men with the Health Champions Award for their tireless efforts to eliminate health disparities among men. This year's recipients are Councilor Chuck Turner; Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, John Auerbach; Chief Financial Officer of Whittier Street Health Center, John Reardon; McKenzie and Associates attorney and Summit Chairman, Joseph D. Feaster, Jr.; and the Mayor of Cambridge, Kenneth E. Reeves.

Workshops during the summit will include: Parenting/Fatherhood, Let's Talk About It- Prostate Cancer, HIV/AIDS Education and Discussion, The Impact of Hip-Hop Culture, Health Reform Presentation, Financial Literacy, Child Support Education and Discussion, and Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) Education.


By Jim O'Sullivan

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 6, 2007….Despite outside lobbying for the appointment of a behavioral scientist to the state Parole Board, the Governor's Council appears likely to confirm next week Gov. Deval Patrick's first nominee, a police officer.

Mark Conrad, like Patrick a Milton resident, won lavish praise from elected officials and other witnesses, and provoked no personal criticism from his opponents.

But several defense attorneys and mental health professionals said the Parole Board should include behavioral scientists instead of another law enforcement official. No behavioral scientist has joined the seven-member board since the Dukakis administration, councilors said.

Also Wednesday, the council approved an early retirement pension of approximately $97,000 per year for a Chelsea judge with coronary artery disease. Marie Jackson, a 27-year veteran of the bench, would have retired at roughly $85,000 per year had she not received approval, her attorney said. Jackson, 59, suffers from several heart conditions.

Answering councilors' questions in the Council Chambers, Conrad said he has "a passion, a zest, a zeal that can't be measured in this room," adding, "You just don't understand how committed I am to this cause."

Conrad said he is empathetic with prisoners, and has a brother who has suffered from mental illness and been in trouble for marijuana possession. "Even as a law enforcement person, I didn't feel that he needed to be locked up," Conrad said.

Conrad's sister, he said, is a prominent Detroit city official, and is a two-time candidate for mayor there.

Conrad said he would make parole decisions based on principles of "fairness," saying, "I'm not going to make the right decision all the time."

Pressed for an express threshold for parole, Conrad said, "There needs to be a sense of remorse, but that should not be the only determining factor."

Patrick, who has worked as both a federal civil rights prosecutor and a defense attorney, was blistered during the campaign for alleged weaknesses in his public safety stances, and responded that as governor he would enact "smarter," more comprehensive policies. The governor backs reform of the state's Criminal Offender Record Information system and wants some minimum mandatory sentencing laws rolled back in favor of stronger post-release supervision for low-level offenders. Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke is studying sentencing issues and Patrick's anti-crime council will report back next month.

Conrad's nomination drew a series of testimonies from several critics who pointed out that the board includes no psychologists, psychiatrists, or criminal defense attorneys. Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), House chair of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said she is "deeply concerned about the composition of the parole board," and believes the state is less safe because of it.

About half of the state's inmates are considered ineligible for parole, Parole Board chairwoman Maureen Walsh said. "That's one of the major issues that faces and haunts the Commonwealth."

Leslie Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said mentally ill prisoners are paroled less frequently, and described cases where people were denied parole then eventually discharged directly to the street, with no supervision.

An ordained deacon at the Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan, Conrad said his life has been shaped by his faith. He grew emotional and paused for several moments when speaking to the council about his mother, who died of breast cancer when he was 14.

Morningstar Pastor John Borders described Conrad with the word integrity, and drew a laugh saying, "He has a dominating presence on his motorcycle."

William Moran, the 18-year-old son of one of Conrad's best friends, said, "He's very respectful, but he doesn't have to say it in order to get it."

Councilor Marilyn Petitto Devaney said that after speaking with Conrad, and without knowing of his religious work, she would have guessed him a minister. "I don't know how you ever got into police work," she said.

Devaney has been in legal trouble lately, with police alleging she flung a shopping bag with a curling iron in it at a store clerk.

Later, Councilor Thomas Foley, former colonel of the State Police, said he was "kind of surprised at some of the comments that have been made in the room."

Before becoming a police officer, Conrad, who also runs a small security firm, worked in employment development.

At least three councilors said during Conrad's hearing that they planned to vote for him, while none openly opposed him.

The vote on Conrad is scheduled for next week. If confirmed, he will serve until June 2012.

One councilor voted against the retirement package for Jackson. Councilor Mary-Ellen Manning said the system is in need of reform and should not be open to special deals like Jackson's. Manning said private-sector workers don't have the opportunity to make "an end run" around the pension system. Devaney abstained from voting, saying she thought the council should be given another week to weigh the matter.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Celebrating Resistance

Honoring the Rosenbergs, celebrating resistance

June 2, 2007
By Pepe Lozano, People's Weekly World Newspaper

In the 1950s, during the height of the anti-communist hysteria led by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, thousands of people, from shop workers to
Hollywood figures, became victims during the Cold War’s initial years.

Hundreds were hunted down by the FBI, deported or wrongfully imprisoned, including Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

Then on June 19, 1953, the Rosenbergs, now remembered as heroes for democracy and peace, were shamefully executed for allegedly giving the Soviet Union the “secret” of the atom bomb.

Their son, Robert Meeropol, now 60 and the father of two grown daughters, says his work today is largely based on his experiences as a child.

Robert Meerepol

In 1990, Meeropol founded the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC), a public foundation providing for the educational and emotional needs of U.S. children whose parents have been targeted for their political activities. Over the years, the RFC has made grants of over $3.5 million to benefit hundreds of children.

This June 19, the RFC will commemorate the 54th anniversary of the Rosenbergs’ execution with “Celebrate the Children of Resistance,” a program of dramatic readings, music and poetry.

The event will take place at the John Hancock Hall at the Back Bay Events Center in Boston. Angela Davis, Eve Ensler, David Strathairn, Howard Zinn and many other notable figures will be featured.

“What we are trying to do with this program is to celebrate the heroic resistance of my parents,” Meeropol said in a phone interview.

Meeropol said he never forgets the words his parents wrote to him and his brother Michael, in their last letter to them from prison, saying that they died “secure in the knowledge that others would carry on after them.”

Today, Meeropol believes RFC recipients and their families are doing just that.

“The progressive community rallied to our aid,” he said. “They may not have saved my parents but they saved my brother and me.”

“We are trying to replicate that today through the RFC,” Meeropol added. “We are trying to make a positive connection between the activists-parents and their children in order to transmit generations of social justice advocates.”

“During the McCarthy era the government said there was an international communist conspiracy out to destroy the American way of life,” he said. “And the only way they could solve this was to increase military spending and instill fear as a scare tactic. Now, the same thing is happening all over, but it’s not a ‘communist’ but rather a ‘terrorist’ conspiracy. This is a false assumption. It was then, and it is now.”

With the Bush administration and the ultra-right, Meeropol continued, “We are living in an oppressive period with a growing attack on the progressive forces.”

Speaking at the event will be Iraq war resister Camilo Mejia, 31, who served in the U.S. military for nearly nine years, including five months in Iraq in 2003, before refusing to return.

Mejia, the first known Iraq veteran to refuse combat, applied for conscientious objector status in 2004. Instead he was convicted of desertion and sentenced to
one year in prison. He was released after serving nine months. Mejia’s 6-year-old daughter Samantha is an RFC recipient.

“When you prosecute an activist, it brings hard times to the family, especially for children like Samantha,” Mejia told the World by phone. “People have to realize
there is a family behind activists, and there should be more groups like the RFC.”

The global war on terror is basically a euphemism to go after the world’s resources, Mejia said. “Sending more troops to Iraq means more death and more violence.”

“We’re not living in a democracy; profit is the top U.S. priority and we can never separate the corporations from our struggles,” he added.

These days Mejia counsels veterans and tours the country speaking at schools, community centers and churches. He is the author of a new book, “Road from Ar Ramadi, The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Mejia.”

Meeropol emphasized that the main message of the RFC and the event is to highlight the child’s point of view.

“We want to take the needs of children into account, not as do-good softies, but we believe this is the way to invest in the continuity of struggle across generations and to embrace the progressive and activist community,” said Meeropol.

For more information, call (413) 529-0063 or visit

Pepe Lozano (plozano, a PWW staff writer and editorial board member, is an RFC beneficiary. Source URL:

Saturday, June 02, 2007

For-Profit Prisons: The Postmodern Plantation?

June 1, 2007

For-Profit Prisons: The Postmodern Plantation?
By Nicole D. Sconiers

Prisons thus perform a feat of magic … But prisons do not disappear Problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business. -- Angela Davis, "Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex"

Braving rush hour traffic and an overly friendly homeless man on the Sidewalk, I finally arrived at the small storefront in South Los Angeles. Critical Resistance, a grassroots organization committed to Abolishing the prison industrial complex (PIC), was in the midst of Their No New Jails meeting. I tiptoed into the room, feeling like a Narc in my Ann Taylor outfit and Coach bag. The issue being debated By this motley gathering of black, white and Latino activists was AB900, a $7.8 billion reform plan Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently Signed into law. The program would create 53,000 new beds in state Prisons and county jails, and some 8,000 inmates would be shipped to Private facilities out of state.

Prior to attending the No New Jails meeting, I compiled my own Dummies Guide to the Prison Industrial Complex. I had a few cousins Behind bars, but my knowledge of the penal system was embarrassingly Limited to 'hood movies and rhetoric spouted by radical intellectuals At open mics. I had to remove my Valley Girl blinders. I needed to Understand why the PIC was branded by many as a postmodern Plantation, and why minorities are viewed as its cash crop.

The prison industrial complex is a group of organizations that act as subcontractors for prisons, such as construction companies, prison Guard unions and surveillance technology vendors. According to The Sentencing Project, the '80s ushered in a new era of prison Privatization. The War on Drugs and tough sentencing laws, like Mandatory minimums and "Three Strikes," saw prison growth skyrocket, Making it difficult to maintain on the local, state and federal Levels. In response to this overcrowding, private investors hopped on The expansion bandwagon with a fervor that would make Starbucks Proud. Private-sector involvement moved from food prep and inmate Transportation to contracts for the management and operation of Entire prisons.

Opponents of the PIC argue that it criminalizes poor and minority Communities and emphasizes profits over rehabilitation. They feel That blacks and Latinos are overly policed to comply with tough-on-Crime legislation, therefore providing "raw material" for already Bulging prisons. Once in the Big House, inmates become a source of Cheap labor, doing data entry, garment and furniture manufacturing,
Contract packaging and telemarketing.

"In order to justify something like this, you have to dehumanize Populations," says Austin Delgadillo, lead organizer for the Los Angeles chapter of Critical Resistance. "A lot of the harms that Happen, or the different ways that people struggle to survive that Might not always be legal, push people into the PIC. The PIC is not Really doing anything to help people deal with these issues. It's not
Addressing the root problems of poverty and racism, so it just Becomes this cycle of dehumanization."

It's hard to ignore the racial dimension of the prison populace. By Year-end 2005, there were 2,193,798 people in U.S. Prisons and jails, According to Bureau Justice Statistics, and California currently Houses 173,000 inmates. Blacks have the highest incarceration rates Of any other group. In the Sunshine State alone, African-American men Were jailed at a rate of 5,125 per 100,000 in 2005, compared to 1,142 For Latinos, 770 for whites, and 474 for men of other races. Although Black women have much lower incarceration rates, they are four times As likely to be on lockdown as white women and Latinas. Among African-American women, 346 per 100,000 were behind bars in 2005, whereas Fewer than 80 women per 100,000 are incarcerated among whites, Latinas and other groups.

"It's a modern-day slavery system," says Kemba Smith, an activist, Aspiring lawyer, and former inmate #26370-083. "It's a system that's Against us, that's specifically targeted toward us, starting with Enforcement. Basically, we're the ones who are disproportionately Impacted."

Kemba doesn't fit the profile of most women behind the walls. The Daughter of an accountant and a schoolteacher, she led a sheltered Life nestled in the suburbs of Richmond, Va. Her days consisted of Choir practice, curfews and playing flute in her high school marching Band. As a shy sophomore at Hampton University, Kemba became Romantically involved with Peter Michael Hall, a man eight years her Senior whom she later learned was dealing drugs. Peter used her and Other college students as "mules" – people who carried his money or Weapons. Police say that he ran a $4 million cocaine circuit between New York and Virginia. He was also physically and emotionally abusive.

As authorities started closing in, Peter went on the lam and Kemba became a fugitive with him. In September 1994, broke, six months pregnant, and tired of living on the run, Kemba turned herself in to federal authorities. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a cocaine ring, even though she never sold or used drugs. The next month, Peter was discovered in a Seattle apartment, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. The following April, 23 year-old Kemba, a first time, non-violent offender, was sentenced to 24 and a half years in prison with no chance of parole. That's about four years longer than the average state sentence for murder or voluntary manslaughter.

"I was in a jail cell, six months pregnant, and a U.S. Marshall told me to my face that he knew if I were white, that I probably wouldn't be there," she recalls.

Emerge magazine publicized Kemba's plight, and she became a cause celebre, a walking cautionary tale for the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison system: African-American women. In 2000, she was granted executive clemency by President Clinton after serving six and a half years. Some may dismiss the former inmate as a casualty of the War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing. Yet, critics speculate that there is a definite link between racial profiling and harsh law enforcement practices. Are minorities given stricter sentences because they are profitable as prisoners?

This doesn't mean evil white men are clustered in boardrooms plotting the destruction of communities of color to increase their profit margins, but even the average unbiased Jill can't deny that incarceration is big business. Two publicly traded firms, Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (now the GEO Group) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), dominate the private market. The GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) had approximately 54,000 beds under management as of December 31, 2006 and revenue of $861 million. CCA (NYSE: CXW) boasted $1.3 billion in revenue last year, and it leads the industry with 72,500 beds in 65 facilities. On the CCA Web site, its 2006 annual report predicts a rosy future. "We expect that growth in the projected inmate population and limited development of new prison beds by the public sector will be favorable to the private corrections industry," CCA stated in a letter to its shareholders. "As the industry leader, we believe we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on these trends …"

"Growth in the projected inmate population" will be through the roof by 2011, according to a February report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Philly-based nonprofit research foundation foresees a 13% increase in the American inmate population by 2011. They estimate that $27.5 billion will be spent in new prison construction and operation. Often, as in the case of AB900, that means more dollars will go toward incarcerating inmates than to public universities, not to mention health care and other social services. And does jailing more of its citizens than any other country in the world mean that the U.S. can now enjoy safer streets and reduced crime rates? "It's a tempting leap of logic to assume the more people behind bars, the less crime there will be," said the Pew study. "But despite public expectations to the contrary, there is no clear cause and effect."

If the prison industrial complex is a postmodern plantation, is over-reliance on the Big House unavoidable? Are there viable alternatives to prison overcrowding besides building more beds?

"I think the solution is putting more money into treatment centers, community programs, and free health care and clinics," says Critical Resistance's Delgadillo. Eradicating the PIC doesn't mean letting folks off the hook for their actions, but he believes that a cultural shift needs to happen in the way prisoners are viewed. "I think, definitely, it's important to be out there doing legislative work and doing activist work, but I also think it's important to begin building the kind of world that we want, that we envision, right now in our communities."

Building that world will be a challenge, to say the least. The goal of business is to continually expand, and for-profit prisons aren't going to allow billions to slip through their fingers without a fight. But grassroots organizations like Critical Resistance, and activists like Kemba Smith, have created their own underground railroads, mentally emancipating the masses, reminding us of private prison's human cost. "When people hear about the War on Drugs and prison, they pretty much feel, 'Well, if you did the crime, you deserve the time,'" says Kemba, who speaks to high school and college students throughout the country, warning them about the perils of following in her footsteps. "But when you talk about women and broken families, and the injustices, and the [sentences] given out, that brings in a little bit more humanity and compassion."

Friday, June 01, 2007

CA DOC reduces number of prisoner suicides

Prison Legal News

In California prisons, reducing inmate suicides a rare success

By DON THOMPSON Associated Press Writer

News Fuze

Article Launched:05/27/2007 12:38:22 PM PDT

FOLSOM, Calif.- Every 30 minutes, day and night, guards walk the tiers of the isolation unit at California State Prison, Sacramento, checking inmates to make sure they don't kill themselves.

The guards have been doing so since October, when the prison system instituted a series of reforms to cut the high rate of inmate suicides. The steps were prompted by a federal judge's finding that a disproportionate number of suicides occurred in the isolation cells used to segregate inmates for disciplinary or other reasons.

The measures, which include screening inmates for potential suicidal tendencies and training guards how to intervene, appear to be making a difference.

Last year, a record 43 inmates killed themselves in California prisons. California's rate of 25.5 deaths per 100,000 inmates is nearly double the nationwide prison suicide rate of 14 per 100,000, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half those deaths were in California's isolation units.

Through Friday, 13 inmates had committed suicide, compared with 19 during the same period a year ago. Three were in the segregation units, down from seven in those cells at the same time last year. ...

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