Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On October 27th, Take a Stand!

Dear activists, colleagues and friends,

It has been over 4 and a half years since the invasion of Iraq. 3,835 U.S. soldiers and over 1 million Iraqi citizens have lost their lives. U.S. taxpayers have spent over $600 billion on this war with no end in sight.

This Saturday, October 27th, you can take a stand. United for Peace and Justice is coordinating over 150 peace groups across the country for demonstrations in 11 cities.

Boston, Chicago, Jonesborough Tennessee, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Seattle.

There are also events in
Fairbanks, Tucson, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Denver, Kapaa Hawaii, Des Moines, Smithfield NC, and Oklahoma City.

We made a video to help get the word out. Watch it here and recruit your friends to come:

Please come! Four years ago this month we documented the lies that led us into this war in "Uncovered: The War on Iraq," and last year we took on the mercenaries, cost-plus contracts, Blackwater and Halliburton in "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers." Both of these stories are now widely known in the broader media thanks to your efforts in screening the films and organizing with them.

This new video is about getting people into the streets and DOING SOMETHING.

See you on Saturday!

Robert Greenwald, Jim Miller, and the Brave New Foundation team

P.S. Click that forward button!

Brave New Films is located at 10510 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232 and

Call In for CORI Reform

Call In for CORI Reform (pt 1)!
October 22nd - October 31st

GOOD JOBS can break the cycle of poverty, violence, and incarceration in our communities. BUT the CORI – our state's criminal record check system – stops thousands from obtaining decent work. The time for change is NOW.

Over 600 people came to the State House last month in support of CORI reform. The Governor's Office is deciding whether to act on the CORI issue.

Please support the movement and call your officials today.
(617) 725-4005


The violence that plagues our streets has put our communities in crisis. CORI is a barrier to jobs, education and housing for both youth and adults.

People with CORIs are being discriminated against, and the waiting period to seal a CORI is too long.

We are counting on you to act now. Don't forget about your community.


(617) 635-4500


As you know, the CORI is creating crises in our neighborhoods. Without jobs, the violence will continue.

Thank you for speaking out for CORI reform.

Please support the "Public Safety Act" (H. 1416) and use your power as mayor to win reforms now.

Call (617) 427-8108 or email for more info or to let us know that you called.

This "CORI Call-In" is co-sponsored by the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, Jobs With Justice, Community Change, Inc., Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Neighborhood Advancement, Community Labor United, Boston Mobilization, and Dorchester People for Peace

Friday, October 19, 2007

King Commutation Hearing

Warm Greetings! Thanks so much for the love and support and preparing for the October 25th hearing. We are almost there now. A lot of folks are committed to attending while others have written inspiring letters to the Advisory Board of Pardons. Attached are the bios of some of the folks who will be present. City School, What's Up Magazine and Project Hip Hop will be there as well. If you haven't decided yet, please consider the positive impact of your presence and join with us in this effort.

One Love,

The Commutation Project

P.S. PLEASE note all attendees at the hearing will be searched. The following items are NOT allowed in the hearing room: overcoats, hats, gloves, umbrellas, sunglasses, food or drinks, gum chewing, cell phones, cameras.

Friday, October 12, 2007

March for P.E.A.C.E.

Join Survivors, Peace Activists and concerned citizens of all ages as we March for P.E.A.C.E.

Roxbury Crossing to the State House
Saturday October 13th, 2007
1:00 PM

o CORI Reform
o PowerBuilders P.E.A.C.E. Fund
o Green-collar Jobs not Jails

Co-sponsored by:

The Live for the Future Campaign, The Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy, City Mission Society, Reach Out 2007

For more information, call 617-969-6378.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

King Commutation Hearing

In two weeks, Thursday October 25, @ 10:00 am, we will be at 12 Mercer Street in Natick for the commutation hearing. This audience will include elected officials from the state house and city hall, several clergy, university professors, people of various communities, and lots of family members and friends.

State Rep Gloria Fox and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree lead this effort to break the chains, which surround the ankles of Arnie King. Will you be there? Reverend Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church will be present, Dr. Sven Bursell, and a host of other Metro Boston professors will provide testimony. The staff of What’s Up Magazine, the City School, and Project Hip Hop will be heard. People will be traveling from up and down the east coast and beyond to be there too.

Over 130 folks attended the 2004 hearing and we’re hoping for a larger turnout in two weeks. So if you can attend, and maybe bring a friend or two, we will appreciate joining our arms together that morning, or send a prayer with a kind thought for positive results.

Please let us know as soon as possible one way or the other if you will attend.

Thank you for your ongoing support!


The Arnold King Commutation of Sentence Working Group

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Breaking Point

Premieres Sunday, Oct. 7, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, Discovey Channel

What does the California prison system have in common with Harvard University? It costs precisely as much to house, feed and guard one prisoner for one year in a California state prison as tuition, meals and housing cost for a student enrolled for one academic year at Harvard. As far as California taxpayers are concerned, it gets even worse. Their prison system is so overcrowded that it’s reached a breaking point. Either the state finds a long-term solution or the federal courts have warned they’ll begin ordering the release of inmates, just to ease the crush.

In this two-hour broadcast, Ted Koppel examines how California got to this point and presents an inside view of the crisis through in-depth interviews with inmates, guards and prison officials at California State Prison Solano in Vacaville.

Designed to accommodate no more than 100,000 inmates, California’s prisons now hold 173,000, each at an annual cost of $43,000. How did things get so out of control? Mandatory sentencing is a big part of the answer. When California voters threw their support behind a get-tough-on-crime bill that came to be known as "Three Strikes and You’re Out," the state prison system filled up and is now overflowing.

While shooting, Koppel spent a number of days among the general population at Solano. His reporting focuses on the inhabitants of H Dorm, where inmates are stacked in triple-deck bunk beds on an old indoor basketball court. Correctional officers are so badly outnumbered that prison officials keep inmates segregated by race and gang affiliation in a desperate effort to avoid friction and maintain control. Even so, Solano still sees three to four race riots a year. Using smuggled cell phones, gang bosses continue running criminal operations on the street from behind prison walls. At the same time, they’re running drug and prostitution rings inside Solano.

Koppel will introduce viewers to many of Solano’s inmates, including Travis Tippets, Joseph Mason and Brian O’Neal. Having completed a six-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, Tippets is being released from Solano and sits for a brief "exit interview" with Koppel. The last time he was paroled, it took Tippets less than a day to get arrested and sent back. Knowing that a third strike could land him back in prison for life, Tippets finds out how hard it is to get a job with no skills and a criminal record.

Joseph Mason is a third-striker. He’s been arrested and convicted three times for nonviolent burglaries and he won’t be eligible for parole until 2019; the ultimate irony is that he voted for the three strikes law. Brian O’Neal is also a nonviolent repeat offender. He has been to prison 11 times and nine of those sentences were for
violating parole. Koppel’s cameras track O’Neal’s 11th release from prison as his pregnant girlfriend picks him up and the two drive out of Solano. Within weeks, O’Neal is arrested again for violating his parole.

Women’s prison crisis costing state millions

New lockup likely as population soars; many inmates denied training,

By Laura Crimaldi
Sunday, October 7, 2007

The state’s major prison for women is overflowing with inmates, and correction officials are scrambling to find beds, cover soaring medical costs and provide training and detox for cons before they are set loose.

MCI-Framingham is “bursting at the seams,” said Mary Beth Heffernan, undersecretary for Criminal Justice at the Executive Office of Public Safety, which runs prisons. “They don’t get the programming that these women need.”

The number of inmates has risen by 11 percent since 2003, from 970 to 1080, and a top public safety official says a costly new facility for women is all but inevitable.

In the same four-year period, the budget for Framingham - the state’s principal prison for women - rose by 17 percent, from $26.9 million in 2003 to $31.4 million in 2007. Longer prison terms and crowded county jails account for the high capacity - nearly double what the site is intended for.

During a recent tour, female inmates were seen living six to a room in modular units, sharing tiny bathrooms. In another modular unit, about 68 women live in a large room furnished with bunk beds. Quarters there are so tight that arguments erupt over such trivial issues as personal hygiene, snoring and gossip, DOC officials said.

“If the county prisoners returned to the counties, the inmate population would be 215,” said Superintendent Lynn Bissonnette, who started her career at MCI-Framingham as a correction officer. If that were to happen, “we could do wonderful things” toward rehabilitation, she said.

In the first three months of 2007, there was an average daily population of 231 inmates awaiting trial, which is 361 percent of the design capacity for pretrial prisoners of 64 beds, according to a quarterly DOC overcrowding report.

The inmate population at the 452-capacity prison has swelled so dramatically because it is the repository for pretrial and sentenced female offenders from Worcester, Middlesex, Essex, Plymouth and Norfolk counties, where there are no facilities for women.

Last month, 67 percent of the 699 women at the prison were either serving a county sentence or awaiting trial, the DOC said.

Inmates also are showing up with severe medical and mental health problems and more serious detox needs, prison officials said. Costs related to housing pretrial detainees, medical and pharmaceutical services and utilities are the top reasons for budget increases, a DOC spokeswoman said.

Given the overcrowding, programs offered by the prison to prepare women for release carry long waiting lists.

“I think we could have a major impact on our women’s lives if we had them longer,” said Bissonnette. “But we don’t want to incarcerate people just so they can get programming.”

There are 42 women who want to enroll in a new cosmetology training course, which has slots for 12 inmates, she said. There are 109 women on the wait list for First Step, a 35-day substance-abuse program. The Correctional Recovery Academy, an eight-month substance-abuse and recidivism program, has a wait list of 53.

Last week the state Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance launched its search for a consulting firm with correction expertise to get a $1.5 million contract to conduct a master plan with the DOC and sheriffs, said DCAMM deputy director Kevin Flanigan.

The team is expected to be named by December. The process, which will take a year, will consider the maintenance and capacity needs, operational and capital costs and plans for demolition and new construction at county and state facilities, Flanigan said.

“I am hoping and the governor and this administration is hoping that conducting a master plan for correctional facilities will yield a result that we need an eastern Massachusetts women’s facility,” said Mary Beth Heffernan.

The opening of the 210-bed Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee last month has no impact on overcrowding in Framingham because the $26.1 million facility is housing women from an existing site in Ludlow.

Leslie Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, opposes building more prisons and jails.

“We can’t build our way out of this. It’s too expensive and the recidivism rate is too high,” she said. “If prisons worked there’d be a better argument. They do not. They warehouse people for a few years except for those lucky enough to receive training and education. The rest are delivered back to society in much worse shape than when they come in.”

Of the 738 female inmates released by the DOC in 2002, 42 percent were reincarcerated within three years, according to DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin.

“They just become tinderboxes. There is such a high level of mental illness at Framingham compared to other facilities it’s a whole other dimension. It’s a very needy population of inmates. There’s just not enough help to get it done,” said Steve Kenneway, president of the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union. “They need to build more female prisons in Massachusetts.”

Article URL:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Joint Economic Committee Holds Hearing on the Economic Costs of the Surge in U.S. Prison Populations

On October 4, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee held a hearing entitled "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?" The hearing focused on the costs of maintaining a large prison system and the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration. The hearing also covered whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime, and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison reentry programs have been the most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local communities.

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and Committee Vice Chair Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) ran the hearing. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Philip English (R-PA), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) were in attendance.

Witnesses included Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor at Brown University; Dr. Bruce Western, Director of the Inequality and Social Policy Program at Harvard University; Alphonso Albert, Executive Director of Second Chances; Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of the Vera Institute for Justice; and Pat Nolan, Vice President of Justice Fellowship, Prison Fellowship Ministries. To view the full witness list and submitted testimony, click here.

In his opening statement, Senator Webb explored the enormous economic costs of high incarceration rates and the disproportionate impact on minority communities. Witnesses all discussed the multiple challenges related to the return of incarcerated persons from prisons and jails to their communities and emphasized the importance of reentry programs to help curb the economic and social costs of imprisonment.

"Providing employment and training assistance for ex-offenders is critical to reducing barriers to employment, and it benefits families," said Congresswoman Maloney. "That's why I support the Second Chance Act. Putting more resources into creating economic opportunities that provide alternatives to crime would pay dividends in reducing crime and incarceration, while also strengthening families and communities."

In his remarks, Senator Brownback also stressed the importance of community-based reentry services and substance abuse treatment for people returning from prisons and jails. He spoke in support of the Second Chance Act and expressed his desire to see the bill enacted this year.

"We have an incredible opportunity to greatly improve the way in which this nation's prison systems operate," said Senator Brownback. "The Second Chance Act, which is now pending before Congress will certainly bring much-needed change to the American criminal justice system."

Senator Webb and Representative Scott also expressed their support of the Second Chance Act.

For more information on the SCA, please visit the Re-Entry Policy Council website or contact Sara Paterni.


An afternoon of music, discussion, and another step towards "Healing The Hood"

When: October 6, 2007, 2:00-4:00pm
Where: St. Paul's Cathedral
138 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02111
Who: Main speaker T. Rodgers, PhG in Gangology, Author, Actor and South Central Community Leader.

Performing local artists- Boss Youngin, Semi Auto, Miss Aquarius, and (NJ's) Quest Money.

T. Rodgers is a non-traditional leader who founded Sidewalk University a community based consulting organization. The organization grew into a strategy that empowers disenfranchised communities.

T Rodgers built his Los Angeles Nation one member at a time. Now he wants to undo the damage and stop gang violence the same way, one human at a time. His unique transformation from Nation leader to community advocate is based upon years of experience in the heart of the gang lifestyle.

This is not just another discussion; it is a gathering of young men and women whose lives have been directed by violence. They are united as part of a greater movement to change the course of their future. From T. Rodgers they are gaining the knowledge that they need to take their lives in a new direction. If given the necessary tools they will make positive change.

Why: T. Rodgers has been providing services across the United States for over 30 years. He has been a trailblazer in the art of empowering individuals with the necessary tools to become S.E.L.F. (Survival Education for Life and Family) sufficient, therefore decreasing negative activities in the communities.

This is a free event, donations are welcome

For More Information Contact:

Louis D. Brown Peace Institute
Mario @ 617-825-2257

Sponsored by: The Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, American Friends Service Committee, ST.Pauls Cathedral, Brightminds Production, Critical Breakdown, Grove Hall Mosque #11, Greater Four Corners Action Coalition

Jail begins releasing inmates to reduce overcrowding

October 2, 2007

WEST BOYLSTON, Mass. --Inmates are being released or transferred from the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction to comply with a federal judge's order to relieve chronic overcrowding at the facility.

Sheriff Guy Glodis has been pushing lawmakers for construction of a new facility, so far without success.

The jail had more than 1,520 inmates as of Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel has ordered that the inmate population be reduced to about 1,250 by December.

Jail officials say none of the 126 prisoners released so far are considered violent. Many are pretrial detainees awaiting trial on such charges as drug possession or theft.

Officials say most of the convicts being released have served at least 70 percent of their sentences.

Court Revisits Sentencing Guidelines

Increased Penalties for Crack Cocaine Disproportionately Affect Blacks
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007; A02

The Supreme Court yesterday struggled with how to give judges discretion in imposing sentences while still maintaining guidelines that seek to minimize disparities in justice.

The arguments received special attention because they marked the first time the court has considered Congress's 1986 decision to punish users and suppliers of crack cocaine more severely than those involved with powder cocaine.

The "100 to 1" disparity -- trafficking in 5 grams of crack cocaine triggers a mandatory five-year sentence, the same punishment imposed for 500 grams of powder cocaine -- results in higher sentences for African Americans, who are more likely to use that form of the drug, than for whites and Hispanics, who are more likely to use powder cocaine.

The larger question of judicial discretion is a quandary that is partly of the court's own creation, as the justices ruled in 2005 that federal sentencing guidelines must be advisory, not mandatory. Since then, federal appeals courts have sought to come up with standards for reviewing sentences that stray from what the guidelines recommend.

"What are the words that should be written, in your opinion, by this court that will lead to considerable discretion on part of the district judge but not totally, not to the point where the uniformity goal is easily destroyed?" Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked one of the lawyers arguing the cases.

After two hours of arguments, such a standard seemed elusive.

The crack case involves Congress's decision, in response to a rising crack epidemic and the death of University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, to impose dissimilar treatment for the drugs in 1986.

Derrick Kimbrough, a Gulf War veteran and construction worker, was arrested in Norfolk with 56 grams of crack cocaine and 92.1 grams of powder cocaine, as well as with a firearm. Under the guidelines, Kimbrough faced a sentence 19 to 22 1/2 years, driven by the increased penalties for crack.

Kimbrough's lawyer noted repeated calls from the U.S. Sentencing Commission to reduce the disparity, and U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson agreed, labeling the longer sentence "ridiculous." He sentenced Kimbrough to 15 years, which he said was "long enough."

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed that decision.

"Judge Jackson did it right in this case," said Michael Nachmanoff, a federal public defender from Alexandria who represents Kimbrough. He said the sentence honors Congress's intent but creates a just punishment.

But Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben said the judge substituted his judgment for Congress's intent and that was a "textbook example of an unreasonable sentencing factor."

It appears that the crack cocaine sentencing guidelines will change regardless of the court's decision. The Sentencing Commission voted in April to reduce the federal minimum sentence for crack, a decision that will go into effect Nov. 1 unless Congress intervenes.

Another sentencing case involves Brian Michael Gall, a former dealer of the drug ecstasy who quit the business and had established a different life by the time he was arrested. A judge gave him probation instead of the three-year prison term called for in the sentencing guidelines.

An appeals court overturned the sentence, saying such an "extraordinary reduction must be supported by extraordinary circumstances."

The cases are Kimbrough v. United States (06-6330) and Gall v. United States (06-7949).

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

Exoneration Using DNA Brings Change in Legal System

October 1, 2007

State lawmakers across the country are adopting broad changes to criminal justice procedures as a response to the exoneration of more than 200 convicts through the use of DNA evidence.

All but eight states now give inmates varying degrees of access to DNA evidence that might not have been available at the time of their convictions. Many states are also overhauling the way witnesses identify suspects, crime labs handle evidence and informants are used.

At least six states have created commissions to expedite cases of those wrongfully convicted or to consider changes to criminal justice procedures. One of them, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, will hold a hearing this month on remedies for people who have been wrongfully convicted.

Laws in several states, including Illinois, New Jersey and North Carolina, have bipartisan backing, with many Democrats supportive on civil rights grounds and Republicans generally hoping that tighter procedures will lead to fewer challenges of convictions.

“Technology has made a big difference,” said Margaret Berger, a DNA legal expert who is on a National Academy of Sciences panel that is looking into the changing needs of forensic scientists. “We see that there are new techniques for ascertaining the truth.”

Maryland, North Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia passed legislation this year to create tougher standards for the identification of suspects by witnesses, one of the most trouble-ridden procedures.

Nationwide, misidentification by witnesses led to wrongful convictions in 75 percent of the 207 instances in which prisoners have been exonerated over the last decade, according to the Innocence Project, a group in New York that investigates wrongful convictions.

Legislatures considered 25 witness identification bills in 17 states this year, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reported. Five states approved bills, while five states defeated them. Bills are pending in seven states.

“It’s become clear that eyewitnesses are fallible,” said Lt. Kenneth A. Patenaude, a police commander in Northampton, Mass., who is an expert on witness identification techniques.

Two states, Vermont and Maryland, passed laws this year to improve crime lab oversight to eliminate errors and omissions. Maryland recently passed a law that will hold its crime labs to the same standards as clinical labs, a much more rigorous requirement. Other legislative changes to crime lab oversight are pending in 21 states, including New York.

More than 500 local and state jurisdictions, including Alaska, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have adopted polices that require the recording of interrogations to help prevent false confessions, according to the Innocence Project.

The California Legislature also passed a bill this year that requires informant testimony to be corroborated before it can be heard by a jury. Critics say such testimony can be unreliable, especially when it is offered by convicts or suspects in return for leniency. The bill awaits approval by the governor.

Advocates of efforts to use DNA to exonerate those wrongfully convicted say the changes in the state laws are welcome and long overdue.

“The legislative reform movement as a result of these DNA exonerations is probably the single greatest criminal justice reform effort in the last 40 years,” said Peter J. Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project.

But some law enforcement officials oppose some of the changes, saying they create legal minefields for the police and prosecutors. Any deviation from the new standards, no matter how minor, could be taken up by defense lawyers in an appeal, the critics say.

The California State Sheriffs’ Association is fighting two bills there that would mandate electronic recording of interrogations and corroboration of informant testimony. The bills have been passed by the Legislature and are awaiting final approval by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

“Simply put, these two bills create loopholes for defendants to get an edge in court on technicalities,” according to a letter from the sheriffs’ organization to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. The association also opposed a state bill that would create guidelines for suspect lineups.

Even some proponents of the new standards balk at making them state law, insisting they are better dealt with by local law enforcement agencies.

“I’m not fond of legislation,” said Lieutenant Patenaude, the Massachusetts police commander. “I’ve been asked to review bills in several states, and I haven’t seen one that mirrors the best practices that we’ve put out here. I’d like to see police agencies mold the procedures instead of legislatures or courts.”

Studies of wrongful convictions suggest that there are thousands more innocent people in jails and prisons. The Innocence Project, the nation’s most prominent organization devoted to proving wrongful convictions, is pursuing 250 cases and at any given time is reviewing 6,000 to 10,000 additional cases for legal action. Approximately 1 percent of those cases will be accepted, and half of those accepted cases are closed because evidence has been lost or destroyed.

Other smaller efforts to overturn wrongful convictions also receive thousands of letters from inmates.

In a 2005 study, a University of Michigan Law School professor, Samuel R. Gross, estimated that 340 prisoners sentenced from 1989 to 2003 had been exonerated. Of those, 205 were convicted of murder and 121 of rape. Half of the wrongful murder convictions and 88 percent of the wrongful rape convictions included false eyewitness identification, the study found.

DNA evidence was used to exonerate 144 of those inmates.

In a 2007 study, Professor Gross analyzed 3,792 death sentences imposed from 1973 to 1989 and found that 86 death row inmates, or 2.3 percent, had been exonerated through 2004

Professor Gross said the total number of innocent prisoners was likely to be far higher. In his view, well-documented wrongful convictions in capital cases provided a window on systemic problems, with even larger numbers of convictions for less serious and less publicized convictions.

“Of the 340 exonerations I looked at” in the 2005 study, Professor Gross said, “96 percent are for rape and murder.” He added: “Does that mean nobody was wrongfully convicted for drug possession, or drunk driving or burglary? Chances are there are many, many more false convictions for lesser crimes.” The most recent prisoner to be
exonerated by DNA evidence was Dwayne Allen Dail, who served 18 years in North Carolina for a false conviction of child rape. Prosecutors had used the victim’s identification of Mr. Dail and hair found at the crime scene to convict him. Years later, after repeated inquires from defense lawyers, the police found a box of additional evidence in the case that contained the victim’s semen-stained nightgown. DNA analysis ruled out Mr. Dail and implicated another man. Mr. Dail was released from prison in August.

The proposed laws on witness identification are intended to reduce cases like Mr. Dail’s by requiring things like sequential photo lineups of suspects, in which police officers show witnesses photographs of one suspect at a time. Studies have shown that witnesses tend to compare photos when they are shown them simultaneously, a tendency that can lead to errors.

The legislation would also create “double blind” systems so that the police officers administering the photo lineups are unaware of the suspects’ identities in order to avoid influencing witnesses.

The North Carolina legislature adopted both lineup procedures this year.

Crimes labs are also getting additional scrutiny in some states.

William E. Marbaker, president of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, an independent accreditation body, said the group had accredited more than 300 crime labs. But some law enforcement agencies are finding that even more oversight is needed.

A two-year review of the Houston Police Department’s crime lab called into question more than 600 cases. The review was initiated after a court found in 2005 that faulty forensic evidence led to the conviction of George Rodriguez in 1987 for kidnapping and assaulting a child. Mr. Rodriguez served 17 years of a 60-year sentence before his release two years ago.

Houston crime lab officials erroneously concluded that hair found at the crime scene belonged to Mr. Rodriguez. The crime lab also failed to rule out Mr. Rodriguez as a suspect after finding that semen collected from the scene matched that of another man.

Eight states — Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming — do not have laws that give inmates access to DNA evidence.

Advocacy groups, including the Innocence Project, said they intend to lobby for the passage of access laws in those states during the next legislative session.

Our penal system, and the uses and abuses of punishment

September 30, 2007

CHRISTOPHER SHEA captures an important truth when he observes that the penal system is not just "a reflection of society, but a force that shapes it" ("Life sentence," Ideas, Sept. 23). The United States has undertaken a vast social experiment of mass incarceration with human subjects, and the limits of damage to individuals and society are not fully known. The use of punishment as the preferred method to address medical problems such as mental illness and substance abuse is one area where reforms of the penal system are overdue. High incarceration rates of these populations represent a failure by society to effectively provide access to treatment before crimes are committed. In both these areas, effective medical treatment is available. From a medical point of view, there are more humane and cost-effective ways to spend limited resources in addressing risk factors to incarceration.


The writers are with the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital.

FOLLOWING RECENT events in Jena, La., Christopher Shea's spotlight on the prison system was welcome.

Indeed, many people, not just "hard-left liberals," have tried for years, with little help from the media, to draw attention to myriad fronts, such as how the drug war is stacked against the poor and people of color, and how courts have been used to hobble political foes going back to J. Edgar Hoover.

As a guard at the Dorchester juvenile lockup, I saw how young people are socialized in jail. Their self-esteem is eroded, they learn dysfunctional behaviors, and then they head back out to teach their peers and children.

By axing mental health, detox, and education programs both inside and out, and blocking legal employment with overbroad CORI checks, we prevent healthy reentry and promote recidivism. Why aren't we focusing on cheaper alternatives to prison that could break the cycle?

Of course, one unspoken barrier to change is profit. Too many politicians and their corporate friends benefit financially. And communities see new prisons as life savers.

How long will we let this myopia and profiteering ruin lives and destroy our society?

Jamaica Plain