Monday, May 12, 2008

Children go to jail, for lack of options

Children go to jail, for lack of options
By Robin Dahlberg and Amy Reichbach May 12, 2008

TWO YEARS ago, a 15-year-old named Maria was arrested for bringing a small fingernail file to school.

For eight weeks, she was held in a secure juvenile detention center awaiting trial. She was strip-searched upon entering the facility. She was housed with children who were drug-addicted, mentally ill, and charged with far more serious crimes than she was. The doors and windows of the facility were locked. And her ability to move around inside the facility was limited.

Maria was not jailed because she was a flight risk, or because she was a danger to her community. She was jailed because, having been raped by a family member before her arrest, a Massachusetts Juvenile Court judge felt she could not live at home safely. And the Commonwealth had no other place to put her. There were no readily available placements in either the Commonwealth's child welfare or mental health systems.

Maria's case is extreme, but she is hardly the only Massachusetts child to be jailed inappropriately while awaiting trial for a minor offense. Our organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, recently examined documents from the Department of Youth Services and interviewed dozens of professionals in the juvenile justice system. From the interviews, we found that hundreds of children who should be in the Commonwealth's child welfare and mental health systems are being jailed because Massachusetts has failed to provide these systems with sufficient resources.

Although these children have been charged with minor, nonviolent criminal acts, they are neither flight risks nor dangers to their community. Last year, for example, almost half of the 5,400 children who were locked up had been charged with misdemeanors. Most were eventually released back into their communities after their cases were resolved. Yet each child spent an average of 25 days in lock-up before an alternative placement was located or the child was permitted to return home.

Adding insult to injury, the Commonwealth's failure to adequately fund its child welfare and mental health systems falls heavily on the shoulders of youth of color. Although children of color comprise slightly more than 20 percent of Massachusetts's population between ages 7 and 17, they account for 60 percent of all children detained before a trial.

We are failing our children if we are locking them up for weeks at a time because we have nothing else to offer them. We are also threatening public safety. National research demonstrates that secure detention is one of the most accurate predictors of future criminal behavior. It further demonstrates the detention environment exacerbates behavioral problems, mental health issues and educational difficulties, and that detained youth are more depressed, angry, and dysfunctional when they are released than when they entered.

Massachusetts has already taken some important steps to limit the use of pre-trial juvenile lock-ups. The Commonwealth's Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee has publicly announced that one of its priorities reducing the number of youth of color in detention facilities. The Department of Youth Services is spearheading an effort supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to develop alternatives to detention.

But we must do much more. We must invest in creating alternatives to jail for youth like Maria. Massachusetts should increase the availability and accessibility of placements for adolescents in both the Commonwealth's child welfare and mental health systems. In addition, it should develop community-based programs to supervise children who need such supervision in order to return to their families. And the Massachusetts Juvenile Court should use these resources, limiting secure pretrial detention to those children who are flight risks or dangers to their communities.

The current approach is not working. By creating effective alternatives to pre-trial lock-up and reserving secure detention for the relatively small number of children who truly need it, Massachusetts can invest our scarce tax dollars more wisely. We can keep our kids in school rather than in lock-up and, in so doing, make our communities safer in the long run.

Robin Dahlberg is a senior staff attorney with the national ACLU Racial Justice Project. Amy Reichbach is the racial justice advocate for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The more we imprison, the less we vote

The more we imprison, the less we vote
By Conor Clarke and Greg Yothers May 5, 2008

FOR THE past 12 weeks, we have both been students in an Amherst College class on citizenship. Unlike most college courses, however, this one isn't held in a classroom. Each week, as part of the nationwide program Inside-Out, we meet for 2 1/2 hours in the dimly lit visiting room of the Hampshire County Correctional Facility. Half the students in the class are from the college; half are inmates at the facility.

It is a class on citizenship with a cruel irony: Because of a 2000 amendment to the Massachusetts constitution disenfranchising incarcerated felons, half the students in the class cannot vote. In about a week, all of the Amherst students will leave for the summer; many will volunteer for a presidential campaign. This November, like most adult citizens, they will walk to a local polling station or cast absentee ballots from the comfort of a college dorm. The students inside the facility can't.

American incarceration has received a lot of attention recently. Last month, The New York Times reported that one in every 100 American adults is in prison, the highest rate in the world by a wide margin, and about six times higher than the world median. This drive to incarcerate has been rightly and roundly criticized as too expensive (it costs more per capita to imprison than educate) and too harsh, since the vast majority of inmates are serving time for nonviolent crimes. But amid the controversy over price and punishment, it tends to be forgotten that incarceration imposes a cost on American democracy: The more we imprison, the less we vote.

Why should that be the case? In early 2000, before the amendment passed, Governor Paul Cellucci told Bryant Gumbel of CBS News that disenfranchisement was necessary to ensure that felons did not damage the political process. Cellucci said, after a group of Massachusetts prisoners tried to organize a political action committee in 1997, he "thought that this was a little bit ridiculous, that prisoners would actually politically organize and try to lobby against the very laws that put them in prison to protect the people of this state." The clear implication was that, once you've broken the social contract, you've proved yourself unfit for any social contact, including the right to vote.

But our experience in class suggests that the opposite is true. We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America's role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can't.

Yes, going to prison necessarily entails the loss of liberty. But the right to vote is in many ways more important than the right to walk freely down the street: Voting is the most basic check against the coercive power of the state. The places where that coercive power is most starkly exercised, such as prisons, are also the places where that most basic of checks becomes more important. The fact that prisoners have a big stake in governmental choices isn't an argument in favor of disenfranchisement; it's an argument against.

And because the vote is so essential to democratic citizenship, it is also an important part of reintegrating inmates with society. Prisons separate and divide, but at their best they also prepare inmates for life after imprisonment. Rebuilding civic engagement is perhaps the most important part of that process.

There are more than 25,000 inmates in Massachusetts correctional facilities, and more than half are racial minorities. Almost all of them will, at some point in the future, exit their cells and return to their homes and families. It would be better if they returned as voting citizens.

Conor Clarke is an Amherst College student; Greg Yothers is an inmate at the Hampshire County Correctional Facility.

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Packed Prisons

Packed Prisons
The how and why of overcrowding

The US prison population grew eight-fold since 1970; more than 2.3 million people are incarcerated nationally. The rising numbers aren't proportional to population growth; the Pew Institute recently reported that for the first time in history, more than one in every 100 Americans is incarcerated. Don't like those odds? One in 30 men aged 20 to 34 is locked up, and that jumps to one in nine for black men. People of color make up 70 percent of the prison population, the reverse of the US race ratio outside prison walls.

The Massachusetts prison population grew by 3 percent since 2006, and overcrowding is pandemic. Two years ago, Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities were at 134 percent capacity. Now they've reached 143 percent. But that's merely a median ... MCI Framingham, the state's largest women's prison, is at 323 percent capacity. Only two of Massachusetts' 22 facilities are not spilling over capacity.

"Overcrowding means the facility population is greater than the design capacity," says DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin. "We turn single cells into doubles, provide more beds in a dormitory."

Hakim Cunningham was recently incarcerated in Massachusetts. "They were putting two or three people to a cell together," he says. "In Concord CI, they have people sleeping on the gym and rec areas in cots."

Such solutions are dangerous, says Joel Pentlarge, acting executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates reforming the state's justice system. "Those cells are very small—typically under 80 square-feet. They're designed to hold only one prisoner," he says. "Those conditions escalate prisoner-on-prisoner violence."

Why is the prison population climbing, and why are people of color disproportionately incarcerated?

The relationship with Massachusetts' crime rate is tenuous; the prison population has climbed steeply since the late 1970s, but crime has wavered up and down, with peaks in the mid '70s and early '80s, and a steady decline since 1990.

Thomas Nolan, a professor of criminal justice at Boston University and retired Boston Police officer, says the rise in imprisonment corresponds with the war on drugs. "What we're seeing nationally, as well as in Massachusetts, is an incremental, long-term trend to incarcerate people, particularly for drugs," he says.

Nolan joined the Boston Police Department (BPD) in 1978, and saw the shift in national priorities play out locally. "In the mid '80s, police departments in urban areas devoted more time and attention to drug enforcement than ever before. Historically, a department goes where the federal funding goes. In the 80s it was the war on drugs, in the '90s it was community policing," he says. "In the 70s we had a small, centralized city drug department of half a dozen officers. Now, every district has its own drug unit. Roxbury even has two of them, a day shift and a night shift. And there's still a city-wide unit. So you've got 100 officers whose sole purpose is enforcement in the war on drugs."


Phillip, who asked that his real name not be used, has been shooting heroin since he was 16. He grew up in Cambridge public housing. Both his parents were junkies; his mother died of AIDS in 1997, his 65-year-old father is still in a methadone clinic. His father's face is scarred from "an incident when he fell asleep on a radiator because he was so high."

"There were a couple of times when my father would come into school inebriated and tell the teacher, 'Phillip has to go, he has a doctor's appointment,'" he says. "We'd walk out, and I'd say, 'Do I really have a doctor's appointment, Daddy?' and he'd say, 'No, I just thought you'd like to get out of there.' And I'd say, 'School's what I look forward to. It's the best part of my day.'"


While the percentage of people of color in Massachusetts prisons doesn't reach the national figures, they're still overrepresented. Hispanics make up 21 percent of prisoners in a state where they comprise 7.9 percent of the population. Nationally, Latinos make up 20.5 percent of prisoners, and 14.8 percent of the general population.

"It's not that these people are more likely to commit an offense," says Nolan. "They're just more likely to get caught and subsequently incarcerated."

National figures from 2000 indicate whites make up 72 percent of all drug users, yet blacks are five times as likely to get arrested on drug charges.

Their neighborhoods are policed more, according to Nolan. "Law enforcement is concentrating its efforts in communities of color," he says. "Historically, that's where law enforcement has devoted its resources. Law enforcement is going to tell you they go where the crime is, and it would be fruitless to focus elsewhere."

The BPD failed to respond to questions about their policies.

Katrina Christensen, a coordinator with the Cambridge Needle Exchange, says economic prejudices exist as well. "There's a stigma on a person sleeping on the street," she says. "There are many professionals out there who use, and people say, 'Oh, that's OK. They're doing well.' Well, what does that mean? That someone who's struggling to get by is useless?"

Pentlarge says the mentally ill are also more susceptible to getting mixed up in the criminal justice system. "When we closed down mental institutions in the '80s, prisons became the place of last resort for the seriously mentally ill," he says. With 15 suicides in the last three years, Massachusetts has the highest prisoner suicide rate in the country. Last year, the DOC hired suicide prevention specialist Lindsay Hayes to do an independent review of the phenomenon. Diane Wiffin says the DOC has implemented most of Hayes' recommendations.

Pentlarge insists prisons aren't designed to deal with mental illness. "A person might be seriously delusional," he says. "The prison's first response is to put them in solitary, which is where the majority of our prisoner suicides occurred."


Phillip started using because everyone around him was. But he couldn't afford it. "A lot of drug addicts resort to stealing to support their habit," he says. "The effect of the heroin will wear off, and it's a serious drag. When heroin addicts withdraw, they become ill."

In 1979, Phillip was convicted of armed robbery. He walked into a store, and the clerk welcomed him perkily. "I thought, 'I can't believe I'm about to do this. This isn't me.' I pulled out the gun, and she freaked," he says, dragging his fingers down his cheek. "It's hard for me to live with the fact that I traumatized this woman. I wasn't going to hurt her, but she didn't know that." He squats on the floor, placing his hand by his face. "She was just like this. It stays with me."

He went to prison when he was 17, and grew up inside those walls.


In 1994, the Gun-Free Schools Act mandated that states adopt legislation requiring the one-year expulsion of students who brought drugs or weapons to school. Massachusetts' statute allows for permanent expulsion and doesn't require any alternative education for expelled students.

Amy Reichbach, an advocate with the Massachusetts ACLU, says such measures are used mostly at schools with few alternatives. "Schools are under-resourced, and may not be able to offer counseling and the extra costs of different educational needs," she says.

Since the busing riots in the 1970s, Boston public schools have Boston School Police in their halls. Today, they employ 84 such officers, who don't carry weapons but have full arrest powers on school property.

Reichbach says transgressions the school traditionally dealt with are now met with harsher penalties or given to law enforcement. "There's a perception out there that this just affects kids bringing weapons," she says. "But they can get expelled for other misbehavior, like disorderly conduct. They can get arrested for disturbing a school assembly." Any student facing criminal charges (including offenses that occurred off school grounds) can also be suspended.

Tami Wilson studies this "school-to-prison pipeline" at Harvard's Charles Hamilton Institute. "This is happening more often than we think, though it varies by school district," Wilson says. "Five urban school districts in Massachusetts with a large population of children of color, immigrants and children eligible to receive free lunch were responsible for 103, or over half, of all school exclusions." Students of color make up approximately 20 percent of the state's student population, but represent over 55 percent of school exclusions. The state's dropout rate has also risen, reaching 3.8 percent.

In Massachusetts, 70.4 percent of prisoners never completed high school.

Aaron Tanaka, of the Boston Workers' Alliance (BWA), a nonprofit for underemployed workers, sees crime as a product of poverty. "About 12,000 Boston youth aren't in school," he says. "They don't have options in the mainstream economy, so they get involved in illicit activity, like drug trade or sex work."


Phillip's done several stints since his initial sentence; mostly petty thefts and drug charges. "You always come out worse than you came in," he says. "You come out with so much anger, your self-esteem plummets because you're used to being treated like you're worthless, like you have no value. People talk like I'm an evil, vile human being."

Now he's homeless. He can't get public housing or a job with his record. "Idle time for a drug addict is very dangerous," he says. "You can imagine."


Pentlarge says the state must find alternatives to incarceration. "Part of the reason we've so overcrowded is we're treating a disease as a crime," he says. "If we treated it like alcoholism, we'd ultimately save some money."

Nolan thinks there's been a shift in societal conception. "People lose their sense of relativity. We panic when we see the number of homicides reach 60, but forget that in the '80s, it hit triple digits," he says. "We have a harsh and punitive attitude toward those who violate laws. I think we should be targeting addiction and everything that goes along with it. Prisons serve no purpose other than warehousing people and taking them off the streets for a period of time."

Approximately 97 percent of prisoners face eventual release. A 2006 report from Brandeis University estimates at least 39,700 people in the state are in critical need of drug treatment, but aren't receiving it. The Pew Center recently found that in the last 20 years, Massachusetts' spending on corrections grew 127 percent, compared to a 21 percent increase for public higher education. For every dollar spent on a state college, 98 cents is spent on prisons.

The governor's extensive bond bill plan for infrastructure repairs includes $2.5 billion for prison repairs and expansions. It's in committee right now, but results are due in June. Rep. Carl Sciortino Jr., D-Medford, backed a bill placing a moratorium on prison construction for the next five years, and creating a committee to investigate incarceration trends. The bill's essentially dead for the session.

Wilson says that her final report on Massachusetts' school-to-prison pipeline will offer alternatives to punitive measures. "We're looking into restorative justice and peer mediation programs," she says. "Say a student commits some type of offense. Instead of shipping them off, they'd have to own up to what they did. An apology is made, and students work together to find ways to rectify the situation. It's more of a healing process, it's inclusive and the offense itself is addressed."

Such approaches to criminal justice exist in many court systems worldwide, and are being explored in some US states. Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida and Tennessee have passed legislation allowing for out-of-court reparation programs, particularly for juvenile offenders. No such legislation exists in Massachusetts.

For now, Wilson is focusing on the statistical landscape of the problem. "But as we look at data, it's important we make the connection that these are actual people with real potential," she says.


Phillip is still using. Over the course of the interview at the Cambridge Needle Exchange, he verged from tangential diatribes, to holding his eyelids open with his fingers, to scratching his arms, looking around the corner.

He says he'd like to get clean and councel other junkies. But it's not so easy.

"It's a mess of a life," he says. "You're defeated without hope. But I have hope."

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Publisher drops book ban lawsuit against Mass. prisons

NOTE: PLN is continuing its lawsuit against the MA DOC, as issues related to damages and attorney fees are still not resolved. PLN is ably represented by NPAP attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton.

Publisher drops book ban lawsuit against Mass. prisons

By Associated Press Wednesday, May 7, 2008

BOSTON - State prison officials have decided to allow a publisher of legal self-help books to distribute its materials in Massachusetts prisons.

The decision comes after mail-order publisher Prison Legal News sued Department of Correction Commissioner Harold Clarke. The Seattle-based publisher claimed Clarke was banning its publications in state prisons by refusing to add it to a list of approved vendors who can send books to prisoners.

DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said Prison Legal News was added to the approved distribution list on May 1. She said Clarke, who became head of the state’s prison system late last year, is in the process of examining all its policies and practices "to determine whether any changes would be useful or beneficial."

Prison Legal News publishes a monthly journal of court decisions and other news affecting the rights of prisoners. It also distributes books on inmates’ legal rights.

Editor Paul Wright said he’s pleased with the DOC’s decision.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Prison Legal News Files First Amendment Lawsuit Against Massachusetts Corrections Officials for Banning It from Selling Books to State Prisoners

For immediate release:
April 23, 2008


Prison Legal News Files First Amendment Lawsuit Against Massachusetts Corrections Officials for Banning It from Selling Books to State Prisoners

Boston, MA – Prison Legal News (PLN), a non-profit publisher and bookseller, today filed a lawsuit in United States District Court in Boston against Corrections Commissioner Harold Clarke, former Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy, and others for banning books from PLN in Massachusetts prisons. PLN distributes books to prisoners in the other 49 states and to those in the federal prison system. Massachusetts, which permits only a handful of "approved vendors" to send books to prisoners, is the only state correctional system that refuses to allow PLN to send books to prisoners.

PLN distributes books and other written materials concerning the legal rights of prisoners and the conditions affecting prisoners. It is the sole distributor of some of these books. PLN distributes the Prisoner Diabetes Handbook free upon request. PLN also publishes a monthly magazine, Prison Legal News.

"Commissioner Clarke claims that improving prisoners' literacy is a priority in his administration, but banning books from Prison Legal News is designed to maintain an illiterate and uninformed prisoner population," said Paul Wright, the editor of Prison Legal News.

The lawsuit alleges that the policy banning PLN from sending books to Massachusetts state prisoners is unconstitutional. PLN seeks an order declaring the policy to be unconstitutional, preventing the defendants from maintaining the policy, and an award of damages and attorney's fees. PLN is represented by Boston attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton of the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C.

PLN has successfully vindicated the free speech rights of itself and its prisoner subscribers on numerous occasions around the country. Currently seven states operate their prison mail systems under PLN consent decrees, injunctions or both. Jails in three states operate under similar court orders.

PLN Editor Paul Wright can be reached at 802-257-1342 or and see www.prisonlegalnews.or..

Attorney Howard Friedman can be reached at 617-742-4100.

Friday, February 29, 2008

New High In U.S. Prison Numbers

New High In U.S. Prison Numbers
Growth Attributed To More Stringent Sentencing Laws
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008; A01

More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.

The report compiled and analyzed data from several sources, including the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and Bureau of Prisons and each state's department of corrections. It did not include individuals detained for noncriminal immigration violations.

Although studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect may be less influential than changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents and the proportion of young people in the population, report co-author Adam Gelb said.

In addition, when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by nonviolent criminals -- who make up about half of the incarcerated population -- less-expensive punishments such as community supervision, electronic monitoring and mandatory drug counseling might prove as much or more effective than jail.

For instance, Florida, which has almost doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, has reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level.

"There is no question that putting violent and chronic offenders behind bars lowers the crime rate and provides punishment that is well deserved," said Gelb, who as director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project advises states on developing alternatives to incarceration. "On the other hand, there are large numbers of people behind bars who could be supervised in the community safely and effectively at a much lower cost -- while also paying taxes, paying restitution to their victims and paying child support."

Sociologist James Q. Wilson, who in the 1980s helped develop the "broken windows" theory that smaller crimes must be punished to deter more serious ones, agreed that sentences for some drug crimes were too long. However, Wilson disagreed that the rise in the U.S. prison population should be considered a cause for alarm: "The fact that we have a large prison population by itself is not a central problem because it has contributed to the extraordinary increase in public safety we have had in this country."

About 91 percent of incarcerated adults are under state or local jurisdiction. And the report also documents the tradeoffs state governments have faced as they devote larger shares of their budgets to house them. For instance, over the past two decades, state spending on corrections (adjusted for inflation) increased 127 percent; spending on higher education rose 21 percent.

Five states -- Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware -- now spend as much as or more on corrections as on higher education. Locally, Maryland is near the top, spending 74 cents on corrections for every dollar it spends on higher education. Virginia spends 60 cents on the dollar.

Despite reaching its latest milestone, the nation's incarcerated population has been growing more slowly since 2000 than it did during the 1990s, when harsher sentencing laws began to take effect. These included a 1986 federal law (since revised) mandating prison terms for crack cocaine offenses that were up to eight times as long as for those involving powder cocaine. In the 1990s, many states adopted "three-strikes-you're-out" laws and curtailed the powers of parole boards.

Many state systems also send offenders back to prison for technical violations of their parole or probation, such as failing a drug test or missing an appointment with a supervisory officer. A 2005 study of California's system, for example, found that more than two-thirds of parolees were being returned to prison within three years of release, 40 percent for technical infractions.

"We're just stuck in this carousel that people get off of, then get right back on again," said Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, who as New York City police commissioner in the 1990s oversaw a significant reduction in crime.

Because of these policy shifts, the nationwide prison population swelled by about 80 percent from 1990 to 2000, increasing by as much as 86,000 a year. By contrast, from 2007 to 2008, that population increased by 25,000, a 2 percent rise.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently issued decisions giving judges more leeway under mandatory sentencing laws, and a number of states -- including Texas, which has the country's second-highest incarceration rate -- are seeking to reduce their prison population by adopting alternative punishments.

Last year, Maryland officials began developing a new risk-assessment system to ensure that low-level offenders are not kept in jail longer than necessary, said Shannon Avery, executive director of a policy planning division of the state's Department of Public Safety.

"That's what you have to do when you don't have enormous amounts of tax dollars available for building prisons," she said.

Among the early innovators that states can look to is Virginia, which overhauled its system for sentencing nonviolent offenders in the mid-1990s. Although the state's incarceration rate remains relatively high, Virginia has managed to slow the growth of its prison population substantially and reduce the share of its budget spent on corrections while still reducing its crime rate.

State judges use a point system to weigh factors believed to predict a lawbreaker's likelihood of becoming a repeat offender or otherwise pose a threat to public safety. Those deemed low risk are given alternative sentences. As a result, the share of Virginia prison beds occupied by nonviolent convicts has dropped, from 40 percent in 1994 to 23 percent in 2007.

"The idea is to make a distinction between the people we're afraid of and the ones we're just ticked off at," said Rick Kern, director of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission. "Not that you shouldn't punish them. But if it's going to cost $27,500 a year to keep them locked up, then maybe we should be smarter about how we do it."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Interview with Paul Wright on Prison Profiteers

This is the video of the interview Paul Wright did with KEXP radio in Seattle last month about his new book, "Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration". The video also aired on community access TV in Seattle. It has now been posted on Youtube. It is 30 minutes long.

If you would like to check out the book, more information and ordering information is available at:

Paul Wright, Editor
Prison Legal News
972 Putney Rd. # 251
Brattleboro, VT 05301

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Commutation plea carries a political risk for Patrick

Commutation plea carries a political risk for Patrick
Killer's request OK'd by Parole Board
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff

NORFOLK - Arnold King's supporters say he is the model prisoner.
In 36 years behind bars, he has earned undergraduate and master's degrees, published articles, mentored fellow inmates, and counseled high school students about the pitfalls of drugs and violence.

But it was the reason he ended up in prison that will forever define his life. On Oct. 20, 1971, King, then 18 years old and high on marijuana and alcohol, stuck a gun in a car window on Newbury Street and fired a shot into the head of John Labanara, a 26-year-old campaign aide to Mayor Kevin H. White of Boston. King was convicted of first-degree murder eight months later and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Now, after two-thirds of his life behind bars, King is asking for a second chance. He is the first inmate whose plea to be set free has made it to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick, and his attempt has met with the unanimous approval of the state Parole Board.

His request for a commutation - a reduction in sentence - along with the Parole Board's support, marks the first test of whether Patrick's attitude toward prisoners will be different from that of his Republican predecessors, who last commuted a sentence 11 years ago. It also forces the governor to wade into what has been a political minefield.

"In this society, everybody gets a second chance," said King, 55, in a recent interview in a bare conference room at the Bay State Correctional Center, a medium security prison.

"I think what I want people to understand is there is a possibility for change," King said. "I want to portray myself not as a teenage killer, but as a person who has done a lot of work and tried to make myself a better person. I think I have done that, and other people think I've done that."

King's supporters include the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus, academics, ministers, and community leaders, among them Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr., Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, and former Boston mayoral candidate Mel King. But Labanara's family, Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley oppose King's release.

Labanara, a graduate of Boston University and Suffolk Law School, had just passed the Massachusetts bar exam and was coming from a celebration with friends when King shot and killed him during an attempted robbery.

"He snuffed out a life that was full of promise and hope for no reason whatsoever," said Stephen Bowen III, a close friend of Labanara's who worked with him on political campaigns. "For all those people who have sympathetic ears to Arnold King, let them have one of their children killed on the happiest day of their life and call me and tell me they forgive."

The state's six-member Advisory Board of Pardons, which is also the Parole Board, cited King's "exceptional strides" and sent his commutation petition to Patrick's desk Dec. 18 with a unanimous recommendation that he accept it. The governor's approval would move it to the Governor's Council for a final decision.

As the governor addresses the issue, the specter of Benjamin LaGuer looms large. LaGuer is a convicted rapist whom Patrick and many other community leaders rallied behind until DNA tests linked him to the crime. Patrick's actions - he donated money to LaGuer's defense - proved a controversial issue during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

Since then, Patrick has cautiously approached criminal justice issues, emphasizing his belief in rehabilitation, while not wanting to appear soft on crime. He declined through a spokesman to talk about his views on commutations and pardons. A statement released by his press secretary said: "The Governor is inclined to believe that offenders should serve their sentences in full. There is, however, a process in place where it is the responsibility of the Board of Pardons to review individual cases and make recommendations. The Governor will take advice from the Board under advisement and will make his own decision on a case by case basis."

Commutations and pardons are politically risky, and politicians over the last 20 years have been generally unwilling to grant any leniency for inmates, according to Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist.

"It seems that in politics today it's not a risk worth taking because of the potential backlash that can happen," said Marsh, citing the oft-referenced 1988 presidential campaign of former governor Michael S. Dukakis. "Whether you stay in office or run for higher office, it certainly will come up again."

Dukakis was lambasted for granting 48 commutations during his first term as governor, including 45 for first- and second-degree murderers. He was also criticized for a state furlough program that allowed inmates to go home for weekends. One inmate, Willie Horton, raped a Maryland woman and stabbed her husband during a 1986 furlough.

During his presidential bid, Mitt Romney, Patrick's Republican predecessor as governor, touted the fact that he had granted no commutations or pardons. Political rivals accused Romney of being inflexible for refusing to pardon a decorated Iraqi war veteran who could not become a police officer because he grazed a classmate with a BB gun when he was 13 years old.

The last commutation in Massachusetts was granted to Joseph Salvati in 1997, amid evidence he had been wrongly convicted of a 1965 murder. His conviction was later overturned.

Since Patrick took office last year, the number of commutation and pardon petitions has spiked, with 131 filed in 2007, compared with 49 during Romney's last year in office. King's commutation request and two pardon petitions were the only ones approved by the advisory board and forwarded to Patrick.

King, whose five prior commutation requests were denied, said he is sorry for killing Labanara.

Three days after he had been paroled from a New Hampshire prison after serving seven months for robbery, King and a friend were planning to rob a drug dealer when they came upon Labanara at 1:30 a.m., King said.

"I was young, on drugs and alcohol, it was more that I was out of control," said King, a high school dropout who was raised in Portsmouth, N.H., and started drinking and doing drugs by the time he was 13.

John Labanara grew up in Belmont, and played hockey at Belmont High and at Boston University. He served in the National Guard.

His mother, Margaret, who was widowed when Labanara was 2 and worked full time as a telephone company supervisor to raise her two sons, was devastated when her son died on what had been one of the happiest days of his life, said Lynne Labanara, widow of Labanara's brother, Frederick, who died in 2006.

"How lucky he is to have the opportunity to do all the things he is doing - and I strongly feel that he should continue to do that in prison," she said.

Labanara's family and friends also voiced concern about the more than 50 disciplinary reports King has received in prison.

"I don't believe he's been rehabilitated one bit," said Bowen, Labanara's friend. "He's just a conman who is . . . trying to get out on the street."

The advisory board denied King's first three petitions, citing his disciplinary record, the nature of the crime, and his failure to accept responsibility for the murder. But, the board voted 3-3 on his fourth petition, and 4-3 in favor of his fifth bid, which was then rejected by Romney.

King said he had difficulty adjusting to prison initially, but changed after getting educated, joining self-help groups, and founding programs that involve counseling high school students and other inmates. It is that kind of counseling work that supporters say is not only proof of his reform, but would make him a valuable resource in the community.

Sam Williams, chief operating officer of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry in Roxbury, says he owes much of his success to King. "There are a lot of men in the community who are doing as well as I am who got taught and were mentored by Arnie," said Williams, who was released from prison in 1996 after serving 11 years for killing a man during a drug deal.

Ogletree, among King's most prominent supporters, said he understands the pain of being a victim because his sister, a police officer, was murdered 25 years ago.

"The fact that he could fall and go all the way to the lowest possible place and have the fortitude to rise above his misconduct and bad judgment to be someone that others look to for advice, for direction, that's why I think he has earned what I hope the governor will grant," Ogletree said.

Bypassing detention centers

Bypassing detention centers
Program aims to keep youths at home, out of trouble
By Maria Cramer, Globe Staff

Isaiah is a soft-spoken sixth-grader with poor grades, virtually no relationship with his father, and a police record that includes attempted breaking and entering and assault and battery - the latter on his mother and sister when he was 11 years old.

He also has something else: a new lease on a young life, courtesy of a juvenile judge.

When Isaiah was arrested last November for trying to break into a friend's house in Dorchester, Judge Leslie Harris could have ordered him to be locked up in a detention center that resembles an adult prison.

Instead, Harris decided on a less punitive option. He referred Isaiah to an innovative program, through which the boy - and about 30 other Boston children charged with serious crimes - lives at home and stays in school. Three to four times a week, the children, who range in age from 11 to 17, go to a community center in Roxbury, where they meet with advocates who make sure they stick to court-ordered curfews and attend school. They receive counseling and take tours of nearby colleges on field trips their advocates hope will expand their world view beyond the street corners that seem to cause them so much trouble.

The fledgling program, known as the Detention Diversion Advocacy Project, was born in 2005 from a concern that too many minority children and teenagers are held at the state's juvenile detention centers. Incarceration at that age, statistics suggest, is even more likely to lead to a life of crime than being in a gang.

The program, which is funded with a grant from the federal Department of Justice and administered by the state, is part of a growing trend in recent years to steer children and teenagers away from detention. In 2006, more than 5,400 youths across Massachusetts were ordered held on charges ranging from trespassing and larceny to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Only about 1,000 of them were eventually found guilty of their charges.

In Suffolk County, about 91 percent of the 1,019 youths detained were minorities. Most of them were black and Hispanic.

"I very seldom have a day where I'm not sending kids to DYS," said Harris, who works out of Dorchester District Court, which refers children to the program. "I also know that locking up kids isn't always the answer. I believe I see kids who are stressed and depressed, and having a program like DDAP can give them individualized attention before they become part of the system."

The state does not measure recidivism among teenagers and children who have been detained, but studies in other states show that youths who are locked up while they wait for their court dates are more likely to drop out of school, become depressed, and meet gang members who will try to recruit them. In Wisconsin, 70 percent of the youths detained were arrested again or returned to a detention center within a year after their release, according to a 2006 study of detention programs by the Justice Policy Institute.

Department of Youth Services Commissioner Jane Tewksbury said the state is in the preliminary stages of developing alternative programs that would focus on keeping children charged with less serious crimes, such as shoplifting, from being held while they wait for their court dates.

"I was aware of the dangers of detention," Tewksbury said. "For us, detention reform really is getting the kids with the less serious offenses out of the system."

Isaiah, who always wears a knit cap and favors baggy Dickies pants, describes his arrests with bravado. He laughed as he recalled one incident two years ago, when he said a zealous officer charged into his grandparents' house and pointed a gun at him and his grandmother. The officer showed up after Isaiah had run away from home following a fight with his mother and sister, who called the police to report the assault.

"Some white guy came in and said 'Freeze,' " Isaiah said, chuckling at the memory. "My grandmother said, 'Is this really necessary? He's only 11 years old.' " When he was referred to the Dorchester-based program, rather than being grateful to be kept out of detention, he was annoyed that his schedule was disrupted and suspicious of his advocate, Deborah Duncan, who remembered an angry boy who just wanted to go home.

" 'Why I gotta do this?' " she recalled him grumbling. "I thought it was going to be a hard one to crack, but he came around."

Isaiah eventually embraced life at the center, showing up almost every day and participating in activities organized by groups like Mission Safe, a nonprofit organization that runs after-school programs for teenagers and middle-school students. Isaiah's family asked that his full name be withheld because he is a juvenile.

Most days after school, Isaiah shoots pool in the basement of the community center or visits Simmons College, where he talks with students about their majors or conducts science experiments.

One Wednesday afternoon, he made ice cream with Boston University students in the community center, though the results were less appetizing than he expected.

"It was watery," he said with a grimace.
He now says he wants to be a police officer, but emphasized that his policing style will be "way different" from some of the officers he has met. He wants to do better in school, though mostly because his mother has promised him a new bike if his grades improve.

"He's very articulate, he has a lot of potential, and I don't want him to give up on himself," Duncan said.

If he is not arrested and shows up for every court date until his case is decided, he will be considered a success story for the program.

The number of detained children in the state has dwindled in recent years, from 6,408 in 2003 to 5,438 in 2006.

But as alternative programs like DDAP struggle to find funding, advocates worry that without them, judges will have no choice but to continue incarcerating children, who can quickly adapt to life behind bars.

"People who are at DYS think they can now handle prison, so they're not afraid of going to prison and they should be," said Harris, the juvenile court judge. "We've developed, in my mind, a bunch of kids who think they've earned their red badge of courage, because they went into the system."

Isaiah, who already has been detained at the Department of Youth Services, shrugged when he was asked if he feared being locked up.

"Not really," he said. "I'll get out sooner or later."

Professor Lee, "Life Without"

This event is this evening--2/27/08 at 6:30 pm.

On February 27, from 6:30 - 8:30 pm at the Museum of African American History, 46 Joy Street, Boston, MA, Massachuesetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Professor Helen Elaine Lee will read from her new novel "Life Without" which chronicles the lives of inmates in U. S. prisons.

The Somerville 5 Need Your Support

Somerville 5 need you to attend Cambridge Juvenile Court tomorrow @ 9:00 am!!

Retired, Unemployed, Bored or Motivated by the pursuit of Justice? Come to court tomorrow!!!
( And for however long the trial lasts! )


The trial for the juvenile defendants in the case will start
Your immediate help is needed:

Thursday, 2/28/08 9:00 AM

Middlesex Juvenile Court, 121 Third St. - Cambridge (brick building, corner of Thorndike + Third Streets, Lechmere Stop on Green Line)

Call, Fax or Write the Judge.
Demand Case be dismissed and all charges dropped!
Chief Justice of Juvenile Court Honorable Martha P. Grace, 3 Center Plaza, #520, Boston, MA 02108; TELEPHONE: 617-788-6550; FAX: 617-788-8965

The Somerville 5 are Black youth who were racially profiled by white Medford police then attacked, beaten, maced and arrested on April 20, 2005. They were charged with numerous crimes and suspended from Somerville High School. They became a symbol across Boston of youth standing up and fighting back against racism and police brutality.

Almost three years later, the Medford cops and Middlesex DA are continuing with their attempts to railroad the remaining 2 defendants, Cassius Belfon and Earl Guerra. Jury selection will start on Wednesday, February 27 and the trial is expected to begin on Thursday, February 28th.

These young men should be allowed to get on with their lives. Both Cassius and Earl will be graduating from high school this year and are looking forward to attending college. Both are active in organized sports and church activities.

The pursuit of this racist vendatta by the Medford Police and DA is an outrage, particularly in light of the fact that the first trial of Calvin Belfon and Isaiah Anderson was rife with conflicting police testimony and lies. One witness for the prosecution turned against them and testified in defense of the Somerville 5, saying she had been coerced and duped. Other witnesses were taken to the police station and threatened. The judge stated in a memo that it was clear that the police initiated the attack on the youths, resulting in the youths being forced to defend themselves.

For one and a half years, the Committee to Defend the Somerville 5, friends, family and supporters picketed, rallied, held press conferences, conducted a national phone/fax campaign, held fundraisers and then packed the courtroom. The judge, the jury, the police and the DA all took note of this. As a result, the DA's plan to lock the youth in prison for 2 years was stopped! But they were found guilty of some charges and given 2 years probation.

Enough is enough! We need to defend our youth! Demand all charges be dropped against Cassius Belfon and Earl Guerra!

Thank you,

Committee to Defend the Somerville 5

c/o The Action Center

284 Amory St.

Jamaica Plain, MA 02130


Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Site for Logging Abuse Complaints on Behalf of Prisoners

Do you have a love one in lockdown? Does he/she complain about physical or mental abuses ? Are they being denied medicines or are locked down in solitary confinement for month on end? Have you complain to the "proper" authorities with no avail..?

Well here is a website to log your abuse complaints and to link with other activism on behalf of prisoners as well.

This is the website to log abuses, name names, and let other know what is happening behind the walls. Find out what is happening in the prison industrial complex that your tax dollars fund without your input.

Torture and death happens everyday right here in the United States Prison System. Get in touch with the truth and let people know that prisoners are still human beings.

Log on to

Please write a letter in support of Arnold King

Please send a letter to Governor Deval Patrick in support of Arnold's commutation

Peace People, here are some points that we discussed at the community meeting at Mel King’s on Sunday (2/4), including some points from the legal team.

We would like you to write a letter in support of Arnold to Governor Deval Patrick asking him to approve Arnold's petition for commutation and forward Arnold's package to the Governor's Council for consideration.

Please address the letter to:

Governor Deval Patrick, Massachusetts State House, Room 360, Boston, MA 02133

Please incorporate into your unique letter as many of the following points as possible:


· People who write support letters to the Governor should state how long they’ve known Arnie.
· Optional…say something about how you met
· If you have, say how many parole hearings you’ve attended.


· People might want to mention that you’re aware of the Governor’s creation of an Anti-Crime Council.
· Of the Governor's direct participation in council meetings.
· Maybe mention some of the things that prompted him to establish the council, and its mission.
· Looking at Arnie’s documented record over the pass 30 years particularly in,
· Education,- Programs-participated in and created-
· Youth councilling
· Arnie, could be appropriate candidate for his muti-faceted Anti-crime council.
· Can quote MA advisory board statement about Arnie, “may very well prevent future crime by his outreach work in the community” or any other quote you feel is relevant.


· Para phase: we are also aware from your guidelines that you recognize the people with the greatest expertise to make an informed judgement on commutation petitions are the members of the parole board.
· That the advisory board has scrutinized Arnie for over twenty years.
· That after four hearings, 1992-2002-2004-2007
· Attendance at the hearings rose respectively from, 45, 75, 130, ~150. Couldn’t count the 2007 hearing since the parole room was filled, the over flow room was filled, the lobby, and hallways. They started telling people as they drove in, there was no more room.
· Arnold's self-development, self-improvement, exceptional strides…
· Arnold's unanimous recommendation for commutation and release.


Final point that the majority of the parole board was appointed by Republican Gov.s, Deval Patrick has only appointed two people of the six…so, they can not say that he is soft on crime if he signs it…He is simple following the process that was set up long before him.

Please write this letter of support as soon as possible and send a copy to Arnold (Bay State Center, P.O. Box 73, Norfolk, MA 02056) and Marva (1511 Athens Road, Wilmington, DE 19803).

Thank you for continuing to support our brother.

Peace and Love,

Kazi Toure and the rest of the King Family

Editor's Note: You may wish to review the Governor's Clemency Guidelines.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The $40M Ripoff

Hello Friends and Allies --- Most of you have followed the escalating rate of prisoner deaths in the Commonwealth's lock-ups.

You probably followed the December 2007 Boston Globe series on alleged suicides in 2006 and 2007. Three times the rate of the rest of the US.

SHaRC takes exception to the way the series played out and how certain state entities collaborated to frame this deadly epidemic.

The Commonwealth- almost to a department- has come up with its own solution to the 'problem' it created and still perpetuates: Residential Treatment Units within the Department of Correction. The agencies are all happy to look for another $40 million to build these specialized units where DOC staff and medical/pysch folks would be specially 'trained' to work with "mentally ill" prisoners.

What could be so wrong about this proposed solution?

In the coming weeks we will publish articles written by prisoners and their relatives. These folks know more than any legislator could ever learn or admit!

You will hear what happens when staff culture turns therapists, doctors and nurses into violent 'predators'.

The first document (below) was submitted by Albert Gagne, a 62 year old man presently incarcerated at NCCI-Gardner.

He responds to representaive Ruth Balser's proposed bill for Residential Treatment Units. Balser is also a pyschologist.

Mass Correctional Legal Services supports this concept, as does the Disability Law Center, the Criminal Justice Policy Coalition and other non-profit advocacy types. It is obvious such entities are not alied with prisoners but with legislators and corrections.


I recently learned that the Legislature has allotted or intends to allot 40 million dollars to the MA Department of Correction to set up mental health tiers (Residential Treatment Units) its prison system, a system that has always and will always be the Number One contributor to mental illness in the United States prisons.

Verbal and physical abuse of prisoners by guards and prison administrators is routine and constant. This is a story for another time. I would like to focus at this point in time on the Massachusetts Mental Health System and my 45 years of experience within this evil and devastating taxpayer-supported horror.

Let me start with my experience at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane from 1963 to 1996. I have had a total of seventeen commitments to this horror chamber and a very well documented horror chamber in fact.

Most of my commitments were to the “Old” Bridgewater State Hospital where for years I was forced to witness and experience some of the most inhumane treatment of mentally ill human beings ever recorded in Massachusetts. Over the years, along with thousands of mental patients I was constantly subjected to vicious physical beatings at the hands of so called “corrections officers.” This happened in view of and with the approval and participation of so-called mental health professionals. Again, these are facts, which are very well documented and undisputable.

In addition to the horror just described, I was unfortunate enough to witness and be subjected to punishments such as: being tied down in four point restraints for weeks at a time while naked and cold; forced to urinate and defecate on myself while being fed through a tube; and hosed down with a fire hose when the smell was overpowering to the guards and staff of so-called mental health professionals.

I was forced to witness lobotomies conducted on wooden tables, constant shock treatments, overdoses of powerful drugs, forced feedings and years of isolation in segregated punishment cells. Some people were held as long as 20, 30, and 40 years. Cells were full of urine, feces and vomit. These conditions were ordered by and/or ignored by so called mental health professionals.

I personally observed the most horrific abuse and brutality of human beings by guards and mental health professionals, including my own, ever documented, and well documented it was.

One need only to visit the archives or observe the film “Titicut Follies”, produced by a Mr. Fredrick Wiseman, which was banned for more than 20 years in Massachusetts because of its horrific contents. I was there when Mr. Wiseman was making this film and even though the prison guards and mental health staff knew they were being filmed, they continued to abuse and brutalize the patients, all in the name and disguise of “treatment.”

For more than 32 years the New Bridgewater State Hospital has existed and to this very day, the mentally ill human beings who have the unfortunate stigma of being civilly committed there are subjected to many of the same abuses and brutality as described above: beatings, restraints, over-medication with powerful doses of drugs; and weeks, months and years of isolation in cells.

Let me move on now to my experience with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at the Prison Hospital for the Criminally Insane, located in Springfield, Missouri. In June of 1972 I was transferred to the Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute Indiana, for allegedly inciting a riot in March at Walpole State Prison. While at Terre Haute I had altercation with the warden of that prison which resulted in my stabbing him and thus my transfer to Springfield Missouri.

Upon my arrival at this so called Prison Hospital I was placed in a cell block with 6 other prisoners from various U.S. prisons, who were like myself, considered “the worst of the worst” and uncontrollable.

This cellblock was known as the “Behavior Modification Unit” and home to the Federal Bureau of Prisons “S.T.A.R.T. Program.” This was a program of sensory deprivation and brainwashing tactics created for the Federal Government by the Harvard University behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. START’s predecessor was first and ‘successfully’ used against the North Koreans during the Korean War.

I was placed in a small cell and kept in total darkness for 60 days. The entire cell was painted black, including the windows. I could not even see my hand in front of my face. After 60 days some alleged doctor surrounded by guards came to the second tier of the program where I would be afforded light and one book to read each week. I responded by punching him in the mouth. The door was slammed in my face.

About one half hour later the door to the cell was opened and several prison guards, one of whom fired a tranquilizer dart into my chest, confronted me. In less than 30 seconds I was completely helpless and could not so much as blink an eye. (I learned much later that this drug caused a simulation of death.) I was very much aware of my surroundings, was stripped of all my clothing and four pointed in another cell on a bed of springs. (No mattress, no linens, and no blanket)

Later that day a mental health doctor came and sat on the side of the spring bed and made statements such as “You don’t like the way you feel right now do you Mr. Gagne? We can continue to do this for as long as necessary, for as long as it takes and if necessary. We can make you feel a lot worse than you are feeling right now, and so one way or another you are going to obey the rules and if you continue with your resistance things are going to get a lot worse for you. On the other hand, if you obey the rules and change your behavior you will be rewarded.”

To make a long story short this ‘treatment’ lasted some two months. Every three, four or five days they would remove the restraints, give me the first food and water that I had for those number of days and allow me to take a shower, after which I would punch the doctor or guard in the mouth and the entire situation and process would begin again.

This went on for about three months. I lost more than 70 pounds and the drug they used on me rotted out all my teeth. It was not until several months later that I learned all of the other prisoners endured the same torture that I had endured at the hands of these ‘mental health professionals’.

Some three months into this ‘mental health program’, a group of Quakers, led by Ms. Faye Kopp, toured the prison to visit conscientious objectors doing time for resisting the draft, during the Vietnam War. They inadvertently came upon this torture block and were granted permission to tour the block.

When they observed us in the conditions described above they left the prison and contacted the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. The ACLU then contacted their office in Kansas City, which obtained a federal court order to enter and photograph of us in the conditions described above. The ACLU filed suit on our behalf.

The case was tried and the court ruled that they program of torture was unconstitutional, not because it was torture and was on the verge of killing us, but because we did not volunteer to participate in the program! We were subsequently returned to the prisons from which we came. (I believe Ms. Kopp now lives in Vermont and runs a program for battered women.)

All of the facts as described above are very well documented in psychology textbooks and in the archives of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Several years ago PBS Channel 2 interviewed B.F. Skinner’s daughter. When asked what she thought was her father’s greatest disappointment involving his work she stated without hesitation: the behavior modification program he implemented for the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Federal Medical Prison in Springfield Missouri. Unlike his earlier ‘successful’ brainwashing programs in North Korea and later in Vietnam, Skinner’s 1970s U.S. prison experiment in torture and sensory deprivation was ‘unsuccessful’.

She went on to state that as result of this failure, B.F. Skinner was forced to re-write all of his papers and tests on the subject for he had come to find out and realize that unlike the Koreans and Vietnamese, who never experienced the tortures and sensory deprivations that he and his associates imposed upon them, that we seven prisoners had in fact been subjected to not only the same torture, nut even more severe tortures for most of our lives within the prison system. (In my case all my life at home and in juvenile facilities and reform schools prior to and after that age of ten (10) years old.)

So by the time of our arrival at Springfield Missouri, in other words, he and they could not do anything to us that hadn’t been done to us before we came on the scene except to kill us, which if not for Faye Kopp he most likely would have accomplished.

All of these absolutely true facts clearly show that like oil and water, mental health and corrections do not mix. The history of the Massachusetts Department of Correction and Mental Health in the prison context is one of absolute failure and disaster, and extremely detrimental and disastrous for society. Both camps have been and continue to be a failure both individually and collectively. Nothing verifies these points more than the following facts.

In 1986 the Massachusetts Attorney General, Department of Mental Health and Department of Correction were successful in convincing the Legislature to abolish the law, which allowed for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons to an “alleged” treatment center. As a result the DOC was given full operational control of treatment. This decision was immediately challenged by the civilly committed “prisoners” at the Center in two cases in Federal Court Brudger v Johnston and Pearson v Fair and during the trial before Judge David Mazzone, which lasted for several months at great cost to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.

During the trail the then Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Philip Johnston, testified in great length to the following facts:

1.) That there is no such thing as a sexually dangerous person in the clinical world of mental health.
2.) That there was no treatment for sexually dangerous persons that they had no idea why these persons committed sex crimes.
3.) That sex offenders like most criminals suffered from antisocial personality disorder, which cannot be treated.
4.) That it was his opinion that sex offenders should be dealt with within the criminal justice system and not in a clinical manner.
5.) A Dr. Robert Fine, who at that time was Deputy Commissioner of Forensic Mental Health for the MA DMH, echoed this testimony. He is presently a “profiler” for the United States Secret Service.

As a direct result of their hypocritical testimony M cl. C 123-A was abolished and control of the “Treatment Center” given to the DOC. All of this was and is disturbing to say the least, but even more disturbing and outrageous is the fact that before the formal trial started and throughout it’s entirety, the DOC, assisted by DMH, was quietly and quickly as possible releasing sexual psychopaths out of the Treatment Center - despite warnings from various Treatment Center staff that this would end in disaster. The DOC and DMH were attempting to lower the Treatment Center population to a level whereby they could convince the Legislature to close the place for good.

As a direct result of this outrageous contempt for the safety of the general public, and as predicted, innocent human beings, women, children were slaughtered by the likes of Michael Kelly who raped and murdered at least three (3) women after his release. David Brown, also known as Nathan Bar-Jonah, murdered and cannibalized a young Montana boy after his release at the request of Treatment Center Staff. There were many, many, many more incidents.

As soon as these incidents began, the hypocrites in the DOC, DMH, and the Legislature and the press, who had all conspired and championed the abolishment of M.G.L. c. 123A immediately covered their arses (as they are doing once again with their 40 million dollar scam) by demanding for and reinstating M.G.L. c. 123A, calling again for the life time commitment of sex offenders. (All of this was a total contradiction to their previous sworn testimony in Federal Court.)

Suddenly, sex offenders were once again ‘mentally ill’ and could be ‘treated’. (Indeed, the DOC has invented their own treatment for sex offenders including beatings, isolation in isolation cells, constant verbal and psychological abuse both here and at the Treatment Center.) In an effort to provide this charade of treatment they have and continue to hire private contractors who provide treatment which they claim does not exist; so-called therapists and/or clinicians who have no qualifications, licenses or experience in the field of mental health or treatment of sex offenders. This is done with absolute contempt for prisoners and no concern for public safety. This is a matter of record.

Now, in 2008, the DOC and all their lackeys in the press and legislature, as stated above, are pretending to respond to the increasing suicides trying to cover their arses by setting up these phony mental health tiers and blocks – to cover their arses.

First of all, it is totally insane for anyone to believe that the same individuals, who refer to all prisoners as scumbags and maggots and who are the major cause of these suicides through their constant verbal, physical, and psychological abuse daily, weekly, yearly for decades, now suddenly have great concern for ‘mentally ill’ prisoners and wish to provide quality health care and treatment. Indeed, even as I write, the DOC is implementing new rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, here at MCI Gardner which have never been necessary and that are extremely abusive and punitive in nature and spirit. According to former and present DMH and DOC officials, all of us criminals suffer from recognized mental health illness of “anti-social” personality disorder; therefore we are all mentally ill and should be in mental facilities not prisons.

The DOC recently opened an alleged mental health tier here in Thompson Hall, consisting of 21 cells housing 42 prisoners, a very small percentage (4.2) of prisoners in this facility of over 1,000.

This tier separates the 42 mentally ill prisoners from the general population in living quarters only. They are not separate from general population in any other manner. They receive little or no treatment or counseling. It is plain and simple: a total sham. Only a fool would “believe” that 10, 12 or 20 of these tiers or blocks are going to cost 40 million dollars.

From more than 45 years’ experience of being locked up in this state’s prison system I can assure you all that less than 10% of the 40 million dollars will be used to support this scam while the rest will be directed to DOC staffing, security, hiring more unqualified guards and to support the extensive perks they all receive but which are hidden from public scrutiny.

The bottom line is this: If a person is mentally ill then for a society’s sake they belong in a mental health facility and as far away from the Department of “Correction” as possible. If there is anything in our society that should be abolished it is the penal and juvenile systems as they currently exist. They are, have always been and will always be extremely detrimental to society.
The billions of dollars on DOC failures would best be spent on the root cause of this insanity, which has been recognized and diagnosed as anti-social personality disorder.

I would like to conclude this statement in this manner. It is no surprise to me to learn that this 40 million dollar scam and cover-up by the DOC, the press and various members of the Legislature is being supported by the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.

I doubt that there is a prisoner in the Massachusetts prison system past and present who does not have anything but contempt for this state and taxpayer-supported agency, since their appearance well over 35 years ago. They continue to earn the dubious distinction as absolute sellouts and have as such contributed to the existing and extensive abuse within the DOC. They have contributed by avoiding and ignoring abuse, brutality and cruelty inflicted on prisoners and the civilly committed mental patients in the custody and control of the DOC.

Prisoners see and believe that MCLS continues to suck-up to the DOC and other state agencies and officials; looking the other way for some 30 years, while the Commonwealth along with its lackeys in the press have run amuck over the civil and human rights of all prisoners in the Commonwealth.

MCLS is careful to pick and choose issues and prisoners that will not jeopardize its funding. Within the prisoner community they have absolutely no credibility, never have and never will. If there is anything in this state that needs to be abolished in addition to the DOC it is Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. They are, have always been and will always be extremely detrimental to prisoners and society as a whole.

In closing, I absolutely defy anyone to disprove a single claim in this document from me as false or misleading.

Respectfully submitted,

Albert Gagne, NCCI-Gardner

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Speak Out Against Raids on Immigrant Workers



Boston May day Coalition
Sergio Reyes

Speak Out Against Raids on Immigrant Workers
Friday, January 25, 2008 - 4pm-6pm
In front of the J.F.K. Building, Government Center, Boston

Boston, Mass., January 10, 2008 – The Boston May Day Coalition attended the seventh World Social Forum convened in Nairobi, Kenya in January of 2007. The delegation distributed and presented a proposal seeking transnational unity in the struggle for migrant workers rights. This international event provided the opportunity for the delegates to establish contact with the many activists who were working in their respective nations on issues regarding repression against migrant workers and related issues, similar to the BMDC work here in the USA.

The International Council of the World Social Forum has agreed that instead of convening its eighth World Forum this year (2008), it will conduct a global week of action ending on January 26. In view of the USA’s war against immigrant workers and particularly “undocumented” workers, The Boston May Day Coalition must respond to the vicious character of recent raids in the state of Massachusetts. The first massive raid was conducted almost a year ago (in March 2007) by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New Bedford. More desolation and raids in the cities of Nantucket, Chelsea, East Boston, Revere, Somerville and most recently Milford followed this initial raid. The Boston May Day Coalition denounces what appears to be a media strategy to justify ICE raids as a search for “criminals”. The Boston May Day Coalition denounces and condemns all ICE raids against immigrants and calls upon people not to be deceived by this strategy.

The BMDC will demonstrate its global solidarity with migrant workers and express its dismay with the failed system of human rights in the USA. The BMDC will also denounce the anti immigrant sentiment projected by the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates as well as the continued repression against undocumented workers. The reality is that approximately 12 million undocumented workers contribute to the wealth of this country and their countries of origin and yet are perceived as criminals.

The BMDC affirms that no worker is illegal and demand that the USA government stop the raids and deportations of these workers, and recognize them as productive contributors to our society and welcome them! The time is NOW to embrace our fellow workers, welcome them into our labor unions and communities.

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Viernes, 25 de enero de 2008, 4pm-6pm
Frente al edificio federal J.F.K, Government Center, Boston

Boston, Mass., 10 de enero de 2008. La Coalición Primero de Mayo de Boston (CPMB) asistió al Séptimo Foro Social Mundial en Nairobi, Kenia en enero del 2007. La delegación distribuyó y presentó una propuesta para buscar la unidad transnacional en la lucha por los derechos de los trabajadores migrantes. Este evento internacional le dio la oportunidad a nuestros delegados para contactar a muchos activistas que trabajan en sus respectivos países contra la represión de los trabajadores migrantes de igual manera que la CPMB lo hace acá en los Estados Unidos.

El Consejo Internacional del Foro Social Mundial acordó que en vez de convenir el Octavo Foro Social Mundial este año 2008, se llevará a cabo una semana global de acción que culminará el 26 de enero. Tomando en consideración la continua guerra contra los emigrantes y en particular los trabajadores migrantes indocumentados, la CPMB responderá en protesta a los ataques recientes en el estado de Massachussets. La primera redada masiva tuvo lugar casi un año atrás, en marzo del 2007, contra trabajadores en New Bedford. La policía de inmigración y aduanas (ICE) continuó las redadas en Nantucket, Chelsea, East Boston, Revere, Somerville y recientemente en Milford. La CPMB denuncia la nueva estrategia de ICE para justificar las redadas. Cada ataque contra los emigrantes ahora se presenta como un operativo para arrestar 'criminales'. La CPMB condena todas las redadas de ICE contra los emigrantes y llama al pueblo a no dejarse engañar por esta estrategia.

La CPMB, de igual manera, expresa su solidaridad con todos los emigrantes victimizados en el mundo y repudia el fallido sistema en los EE.UU. que lo lleva a violar los derechos humanos de los trabajadores migrantes y sus familias. Igualmente denunciamos la propaganda anti-inmigrante proyectada en la campaña presidencial por parte de republicanos y demócratas. La realidad es que cerca de 12 millones de trabajadores indocumentados contribuyen con creces a la riqueza de este país y sus países de origen y sin embargo son catalogados como criminales.

La CPMB afirma que ningún trabajador es ilegal y demanda que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos pare las redadas de estos trabajadores y les de reconocimiento como seres humanos productivos en la sociedad. De tal manera, en vez de perseguirlos se les debe dar la bienvenida! Es tiempo ya que los reconozcamos como compañeros de trabajo, y les demos acogida en nuestras uniones y en nuestras comunidades.

# # #

Sign the on-line petitions to:

1. Stop the Raids and Deportations, and
2. Demand that the U.S. sign the UN Convention on Migrant Workers Rights

Please go to

Powerless in Prison: Sexual Abuse Against Incarcerated Women

Powerless in Prison: Sexual Abuse Against Incarcerated Women
By Nicole Summer, RH Reality Check
Posted on January 15, 2008, Printed on January 23, 2008

"I am 7 months pregnant [and] I got pregnant here during a sexual assault. I have been sexually assaulted here numerous times! The jailers here are the ones doing it!"

-- excerpt from a letter from an inmate in a jail in Alabama to Stop Prisoner Rape.

Surviving a sexual assault and then navigating the health care system to receive adequate counseling and reproductive medical attention is daunting enough for those who walk freely on the outside. For women in prison, these hurdles can seem insurmountable. Unfortunately, sexual assault, particularly guard-on-prisoner sexual assault, is a fact of life for many incarcerated women, and the ensuing implications for their reproductive health are many.

The power dynamics in prison severely disadvantage the prisoner, who is at the absolute mercy of her guards and correctional officers, relying on them for necessities such as food and for the small privileges and luxuries such as cigarettes. Guards have unlimited access to prisoners and their living environment, including where they sleep and where they bathe. With such an imbalance of power, the likelihood of sexual assault increases. Sexual abuse in prison can range from forcible rape to the trading of sex for certain privileges. While the latter may seem consensual to some, the drastic power disparity makes the idea of "consent" almost laughable. In fact, all 50 states have laws that make any sexual contact between inmates and correctional officers illegal, "consensual" or not. "It's always unacceptable and illegal," says Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Stop Prisoner Rape.

While guard-on-prisoner sexual assault is common, putting a number on the instances is difficult because so many assaults are unreported. As with sexual assault on the outside, many survivors in prison are ashamed and embarrassed to come forward, fear that their claim will be hard to prove or fear that their attackers will retaliate. In prison the fear of retaliation is heightened, as the prisoner continues to live with her attacker controlling her daily life. And inmates who report a sexual assault are frequently put in segregated isolation, ostensibly to protect them from retaliation, but this isolation can be emotionally and physically draining, and well, terribly isolating. And many women in prison have been sexually abused in the past, before they were incarcerated, or are accustomed to using sex to get what they want, on the inside or the outside. "A lot of women don't view it as abuse," says Deborah Golden, staff attorney at the D.C. Prisoners' Project of the Washington Lawers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. About 80 percent of women inmates have already experienced some kind of sexual or physical abuse before prison, says Sarah From, director of public policy and communications at the Women's Prison Association.

Despite the widespread underreporting, some statistics exist. First, there are about 200,000 women incarcerated in the U.S. (in federal, state, local and immigration detention settings), a number that is growing exponentially and that makes up about 10 percent of the total prison population. Amnesty International reports that in 2004, a total of 2,298 allegations of staff sexual misconduct against both male and female inmates were made, and more than half of these cases involved women as victims, a much higher percentage than the 10 percent that women comprise of the total prison population. It can vary from institution to institution, but in the worst prison facilities, one in four female inmates are sexually abused in prison, says Stannow.

The risk of pregnancy as the result of a sexual assault is, of course, a concern for many survivors, incarcerated or not. But obtaining emergency contraception or an abortion, if one is desired, may be more difficult for women on the inside. Because many inmates do not report the sexual assault immediately (if at all), using emergency contraceptionis usually not possible, if it is even available. While prisoners' rights and reproductive rights organizations report hearing few complaints about emergency contraception being inaccessible to women in prison, they are unconvinced that it is widely available. Golden believes emergency contraception should be made readily available and should be on the prison's prescription formulary.

Unlike access to emergency contraception, access to abortion by inmates has seen its way through the courts. Crucially, women do not lose their right to decide to have an abortion just because they are in prison; rather, the issue is how the prison accommodates (or refuses to accommodate) her decision. "There are constitutional minimums," says Diana Kasdan, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Although the details can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, prisons must provide access to an abortion if one is desired. "Providing access" can range from providing transportation to an off-site medical facility, to allowing for a furlough or to providing abortions on-site, although Kasdan says she has not heard of the latter. A court in Arizona recently ruled that a court order to obtain transportation for an abortion cannot be required, and a federal court in Missouri ruled last year that a prison cannot refuse to pay for the transportation of inmates to receive abortions.

Paying for the abortion itself is yet another issue for women inmates, and it is a patchwork quilt of inconsistency throughout the states. Some state prison systems fund abortions, some states refuse to pay for what they consider "elective" abortions and some states simply have no official written policy, research by Rachel Roth has shown. Only two states specifically mention sexual assault in their prison abortion policies; both Minnesota and Wisconsin allow for government-subsidized abortions when the pregnancy results from a sexual assault. The federal Bureau of Prisons also pays for the abortion in the case of sexual assault.

In prison, the possibility of a coerced abortion can hang over an inmate who discovers she is pregnant as the result of a sexual assault by a guard. In a letter to Stop Prisoner Rape, one inmate writes:

A rumor had spread through the facility that I was pregnant. I'm not sure how the rumor got started, but medical staff came to my cell and forced me to provide a urine sample that they could use to test for pregnancy. They did not ask me any questions, offer me any support, or seem at all concerned for my well-being. That same night, three guards, two female and one male, came into my cell, sprayed me in the face with mace, handcuffed me behind my back, threw me down on the ground, and said, "We hear you are pregnant by one of ours and we're gonna make sure you abort." The two female guards began to kick me as the male guard stood watch. The beating lasted about a minute, but it felt like ten or more. Afterwards, the male officer uncuffed me and they left.

The prisoner's rights as a mother, if she becomes pregnant and chooses not to terminate the pregnancy, are complicated, to say the least. Few jurisdictions allow women to keep their children in prison with them once they are born. Frequently, if there is no family member on the outside to take the child, the child will enter the foster care system, and the state will move to terminate the parental rights of the mother because she is absent. The parental rights of mothers in prison is a fraught and complicated issue, one that goes well beyond the particular problem of sexual assault by guards.

Access to counseling after a sexual assault in prison is virtually nonexistent. An inmate cannot simply call a hotline, since all calls are monitored and she has no privacy. When one inmate sought mental health care from prison services after a sexual assault, she was offered sleeping pills, says Golden. "There's no capacity in prisons for talk therapy," she says. And any counseling inside the prison is not confidential. Some community therapists will come in on visiting days to counsel an inmate, but usually only at the behest of a lawyer, says Golden.

Despite the overwhelming power imbalance, guard-on-prisoner sexual assault is preventable, insists Stannow. Efforts such as making sure the staff is well trained, educating the prisoners about their rights, eliminating impunity for guards and following up on reports of sexual abuse would go a long way toward prevention, she says. Congress had similar goals in mind when it unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003. PREA aims to establish zero-tolerance standards of sexual assaults, to increase data and information on the occurrence of prison sexual assault and to develop and implement national standards for the detection, prevention, reduction and punishment of prison sexual assault. "PREA has been enormously important in ending sexual violence in detention," said Stannow. "Congress made clear that it's a problem that must be addressed." Perhaps most excitingly, PREA created a federal commission to generate binding national standards regarding sexual violence in detention. But "the existence of the law doesn't mean the problem is gone," Stannow continues. "Now we need to make sure that we build on the momentum of the law to make every corrections system in the country acknowledge that sexual violence in detention is a major problem, and does everything it can to end it."

One of the largest obstacles to eliminating prison sexual assault is the "social invisibility" of prisons. The general public neither knows nor cares about the plight of the incarcerated, and thus cannot demand that its government properly protect prisoners' bodily integrity and rights. Perhaps PREA is the beginning of the end of this social invisibility.

Nicole Summer is a writer and lawyer living in New York City.

Justices broaden officers' immunity

Justices broaden officers' immunity
08:34 1/23/2008, Headlines
WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement officers are immune from lawsuits for mishandling, losing or even stealing personal property that comes under their control in the course of their official duties, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 5-to-4 decision. The case was brought by a federal prison inmate, but the ruling was not limited to the prison context. It was an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which applies to federal employees’ liability for damages and generally waives immunity from being sued.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Governor's CORI Proposal TODAY!

Boston Globe Alert - Governor's CORI Proposal TODAY!

Dear CORI Reform Supporters,

The Governor's CORI Proposal is being released today. The proposal is a start, but there are still some major reservations that we have. It is an exciting day, but we have a lot of work ahead of us. Please stay tuned for our response to the proposal and our call for next action steps.

Thank you, Aaron - Boston Workers Alliance


Breaking bars to jobs
By Adrian Walker Globe Columnist / January 11, 2008

Governor Deval Patrick is about to address one of his major campaign promises, and there will be no shortage of strong reaction.

Today, Patrick will unveil his plan to overhaul the state's Criminal Offender Record Information law, better known as CORI. The administration has mapped out its approach largely behind closed doors.

Patrick's proposal was outlined by Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke in an interview yesterday. An executive order will instruct state agencies to consider criminal history only as the last step in the hiring process, as opposed to blanket policies barring hiring offenders. In addition, applicants would be automatically rejected only if their criminal history had direct bearing on the job involved.

"If someone was being hired as a bookkeeper and had a conviction for larceny, that would be relevant," Burke explained. "If someone was being hired for an [information technology] job and had a conviction for assault and battery, you would make a judgment."

Other parts of the plan will require legislative approval. The legislation, also being filed today, would shorten the time records are sealed. Currently, records are sealed for 15 years for a misdemeanor and 20 years for a felony; in Patrick's proposal, those figures would become 5 years and 10 years, respectively.

CORI was a contentious issue during Patrick's campaign for governor. Advocates of changing the law, who were among his earliest supporters, have argued for years that criminal histories unfairly restrict opportunities to secure jobs and housing. They say so many organizations and companies have access to the records that the intended protections have lost their meaning. Defenders of the current law say employers deserve to know whom they are hiring.

Advocates of change seemed unsure how to react. "We're trying to decipher it to see if it really does what we want it to do, to determine if this is something that is really going to help people," said Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods.

Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury said she does not believe the proposal goes nearly far enough. She has argued that juvenile records should be inaccessible but aren't. She also maintained that the proposal does not go to the heart of the issue, which is that people with criminal records have trouble finding work and rebuilding their lives.

"I think those people who have difficulty finding work because of CORI are not going to have much relief after the release of the governor's plan, and that to me is the most unfortunate part of it," she said. "The only real test is whether last year's no becomes this year's yes."

Catherine Hennessey is one of the people who has known firsthand the difficulties of navigating the job market after prison. She served a six-month sentence in 1989 for drug possession and conspiracy. She began working nine years ago for the Cambridge Health Alliance, as a temporary worker in the physical therapy department. But she wasn't hired permanently until four months ago, because the agency, like many health care agencies, had a policy of not hiring ex-convicts.

"It's just not fair to have a lifetime ban in an industry that has so many opportunities," she said yesterday. "When people are trying to rehabilitate themselves, they have no options."

In truth, the proposed measures are a bit timid, especially given Patrick's often-stated commitment to the cause. But it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Not everyone will think so. But it makes no sense to shut convicts out of the job market. The founding idea behind CORI was to allow convicts to lead productive lives after prison. But over several decades it has come to have the opposite effect, partly because the law is so porous.

How the proposed legislation will fare in election year, in a Legislature with plenty on its plate already, is anyone's guess. Its fate will stand as a test of whether Patrick's ability to govern can catch up to the soaring rhetoric that made him governor in the first place.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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Aaron Tanaka
Boston Workers Alliance
51 Roxbury St.
Roxbury, MA 02119

p. 617.427.8108
c. 617.359.0336
f. 617. 442.9404