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Woman Challenges Murder Conviction, Scent Lineup
ē by Susannah Jacob
ē April 17, 2012
Lawyers for an East Texas woman convicted of the 2004 murder of a high school
custodial worker will argue to the state's highest criminal court on Wednesday
that the 24-year-old woman should be exonerated in a case they say is based
largely on unreliable evidence from a scent lineup.
Megan Winfrey is serving a life sentence plus 45 years for the murder of Murray
Burr, 51, who worked at Coldspring High School, which Winfrey attended at the
time of the murder. Burrís body was found in his trailer home on Aug. 7, 2004.
He was stabbed 28 times in the head, neck and face.
Less than a month after the murder, the San Jacinto County sheriff called in
Deputy Keith Pikett, a self-trained canine handler from nearby Fort Bend County.
Pikett brought in his well-known bloodhounds. They sniffed the clothes Burr wore
when he was murdered. Then they smelled samples from Megan Winfrey, her brother
and other potential suspects. The dogs ďalertedĒ to the smells of Megan Winfrey
and her brother, indicating their scent profiles matched what was on Burrís
clothes. The dogs later alerted to their fatherís scent as well.
There was no eyewitness and no physical evidence linking the Winfreys to the
crime scene. Investigators tested dozens of DNA samples, but they all excluded
Winfrey, her brother, Richard Winfrey Jr., and their father, Richard Winfrey
Sr., were charged with conspiring to murder and rob Burr.
The senior Winfrey, the first in the case to face trial, was found guilty, but
his conviction was overturned and her brother was acquitted after courts
determined the dog sniffing evidence ó the linchpin of the stateís case ó was
not sufficient to establish guilt. In her father's case in 2010, the Court of
Criminal Appeals ruled that alone or as primary evidence, scent-discrimination
lineups are insufficient support for a conviction.
All three of the Winfreys were charged separately and represented by different
legal counsel. Megan Winfrey remains in a Gatesville prison. Her lawyers, who
are appealing her case to the Court of Criminal Appeals, say in legal filings
that she is innocent and should be acquitted like her father and brother.
Shirley Baccus-Lobel, who is representing Winfrey, refused to comment in advance
of the hearing.
San Jacinto County District Attorney Richard Countiss inherited the Winfrey case
when he took office in 2011. He said the evidence used to convict Megan Winfrey
was stronger than the case against her father and brother because the scent
lineup was used in conjunction with ďher own words and conduct,Ē as he argued in
a brief to the court.
ďCertain things she said, certain things she did, all point to her being a
participant in the killing,Ē Countiss said in a phone interview.
In his brief, Countiss points to Winfreyís alleged statement to a boyfriend
calling Burr ďan easy lick.Ē He said Winfrey also shaved her pubic hair when she
learned that law enforcement officers wanted a sample, and that she ďtried to
establish an alibi as soon as she knew law enforcement officers had arrested her
ďThat evidence is in the record in her case, in her fatherís, itís not,Ē the
prosecutor said in the phone interview.
Unjust crack penalties continue to plague defendants
By Editorial Board
April 18, 2012
IN 2008, Edward Dorsey Sr. was charged in federal court with peddling 5.5 grams
of crack cocaine. Mr. Dorsey eventually pleaded guilty but would have to wait
two years before being sentenced. The delay seemed fortuitous for Mr. Dorsey: In
2010 the president signed into law the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which
dramatically reduced the penalties for crack cocaine and eliminated mandatory
minimum sentences for those caught with less than 28 grams of the drug.
The change brought some measure of sanity to draconian crack laws that often
required inordinately long sentences for low-level and nonviolent offenders.
Congress rightly acknowledged the unfair impact that such penalties had on young
African American men ó those most often charged with crack offenses ó compared
to the white or Hispanic defendants who were more often arrested for powder
cocaine offenses and thus subject to far more lenient penalties.
Mr. Dorsey was not able to avail himself of the reduced penalties. Federal
courts concluded that, because he was charged and convicted before the FSA took
effect, he would have to be sentenced under the old scheme. Because of prior
convictions, Mr. Dorsey was hit with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. His
case and that of another defendant sentenced under the now-repudiated sentencing
standards were heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Mr. Dorsey and hundreds of defendants such as him must contend with a legal
provision that requires lawmakers to ďexpressly provideĒ for retroactive
application of a new law. Congress did not make such a declaration when drafting
Yet the Supreme Court has determined in other circumstances that explicit
directives ó or as it put it in one case, ďmagical passwordsĒ ó on retroactivity
need not be present. In those cases, the justices factored in legislative
history and the reading of the new law as a whole to determine Congressís
intent. ďFairĒ or ďclearĒ implication of that intent, the justices have said,
can sometimes be enough. In this case, Congress directed the U.S. Sentencing
Commission to fast-track new guidelines so that they could be applied as soon as
The legal precedents may, in the end, not favor Mr. Dorsey, but moral
imperatives do. It is simply wrong to sentence a defendant to a penalty that
Congress and the president have already determined is grossly unfair and
racially discriminatory. Former federal judges Paul Cassell, a George W. Bush
appointee, and Clinton nominee Nancy Gertner offered compelling insights about
the damage to the justice system, should individuals continue to be imprisoned
under the discredited rules. ďMany Americans, particularly in minority
communities, have come to regard the federal criminal justice system with
suspicion because of the ill-founded crack/powder disparity,Ē they wrote in an
amicus brief to the Supreme Court. ďThat harmful perception will continue and,
indeed, be strengthened if this Court refuses to immediately apply Congressís
If the justices conclude that the law demands Mr. Dorsey and others like him
must be sentenced under the old regime, Congress should step in quickly to
correct the problem.
After 21 years in prison, freed inmate sues SF
The Associated Press
Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2012 | 09:26 PM
SAN FRANCISCO -- A man who served 21 years in prison before his murder
conviction was overturned is suing San Francisco.
The San Francisco Chronicle (http://bit.ly/IZFY0x) reports that 44-year-old
Maurice Caldwell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city Monday.
He claims police built a case against him based on an unreliable witness.
The suit seeks unspecified damages and names the city and several police
officers as defendants.
Caldwell was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for a 1990 drug-related
killing in San Francisco.
A judge set aside Caldwell's conviction after legal advocates argued he had
ineffective counsel during his trial.
The judge ordered a new trial, but later ruled that Caldwell couldn't be tried
again because evidence in the case had been destroyed. He was released last
Read more here:
Today was Prisoners' Day in Palestine. Thousands
turned out for rallies in the West Bank and Gaza and students
occupied the BBC in Scotland! Go to http://sfbayview.com/2012/3500-palestinian-prisoners-in-israel-on-hunger-strike-on-prisoners-day/|
Lots of ideas here for actions we can take in support of our
California prisoners. We could declare a Prisoners' Day. We could
occupy major media headquarters demanding better coverage. We
could rally in Sacramento to demand passage of the bill that would
allow the media into the prisons.
Until our hunger strikers' demands are met, we need to turn up the
heat, so let's hit the streets on April 19 and 24. (See the Bay
View online calendar for details). If they can do it in occupied
Palestine, where demonstrating is often lethal, we can do it too.
Yes, rallies take a lot of work, but they're a great way to draw
more people to the cause and spread the load. Humble thanks to all
who are already working so hard.
-- Mary Ratcliff
SF Bay View
Playing Dirty in the Big Easy
New Orleans prosecutors have a checkered history of trying to win-at-all-cost.
Now a couple lawyers are trying to hold them accountable.
By Emily Bazelon|Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2012, at 4:56 PM ET
A year ago, the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million jury verdict for a man
named John Thompson. He won the money after being exonerated for a crime that
put him in prison for 18 years, including 14 on death row. Thompsonís case is a
totemic story of wrongful conviction: The state of Louisiana, where he was
tried, had blood work that pointed to a different perpetrator. When the evidence
came to light after 11 years of appeals and seven execution datesóthanks to a
defense investigatorís last-ditch effort to go through old police recordsóa New
Orleans prosecutor came forward to say that a colleague had hidden the blood
analysis five years earlier. Thompson was eventually freed, and he sued the New
Orleans district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., for failing to train his
prosecutors about their obligations under the Brady rule. This is the 1963
Supreme Court holding that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory
evidence: everything they know that suggests the defendant may be innocent.
Thatís how Thompson won $14 million. Until Justice Clarence Thomas took it away
from him, in a decision Dahlia Lithwick called ďone of the meanest Supreme Court
decisions ever.Ē In a 5-4 split, Thomas held that Connick couldnít be
responsible for one bad act by a single prosecutor. Thompson lost because, in
the majorityís eyes, he hadnít shown a pattern of office failure. To five
justices, it somehow wasnít enough, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out
in dissent, that there was evidence that a handful of prosecutors were involved
in dissembling about the evidence against Thompson (and not only about the blood
workóthere was also an eyewitness identification that didnít match his
description that wasnít shared with the defense). Nor did it matter to the
majority that the Louisiana courts had overturned four other convictions because
of Brady violations under Connickís watch. Or that the Supreme Court had
overturned another New Orleans death sentence for the same reason and would soon
reverse yet one more.
Along with pure head-scratching injustice, Connick v. Thompson has done damage
by making it much harder to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct. As a
group of Yale Law School students (one of whom is taking a class Iím teaching
this semester) pointed out last fall in theYale Law Journal, defendants canít
sue prosecutors personally, because they have immunity. Itís practically unheard
of for prosecutors to be criminally prosecuted, even for blatant wrongdoing. And
yet prosecutors abuse their power with some frequency: A 2003 study by the
Center of Public Integrity, which the students cite, found more than 2,000
appeals since 1970 in which prosecutorial misconduct prompted dismissals,
sentence reductions, or reversals.
If district attorneys canít be sued personally, and if their offices now canít
be sued either, what do you do about the bad apples who hide evidence and
otherwise railroad defendants? After all, these lawyers are a problem not just
for their adversaries, but also for the majority of prosecutors who
conscientiously go by the rules.
Thereís one other route to accountability: filing a complaint with the state bar
association against a prosecutor saying theyíve broken the rules of ethics for
lawyers. The state bar can impose discipline like suspension or disbarment. Bar
complaints are rarely brought against prosecutors, though. Of the 2,000-plus
appeals tracked by the Center for Public Integrity, only 44 involved
disciplinary action against prosecutors. One of the main reasons, the student
authors of the Yale Law Journal article argue, is that ďthose who are in the
best position to discover prosecutorial misconductójudges, prosecutors, and
defense attorneysóroutinely fail to report it.Ē
Itís easy to understand why. These are people who have to work together over
time, who are repeat players in the same system. Itís hard to blow the whistle
on a member of your professional community, even an adversary. But that is now
happening in two troubled New Orleans cases. Itís a surprising and aggressive
play by a couple of defense lawyers who say that almost a decade after Harry
Connick Sr. left office, DAs in New Orleans are still breaking the rules, still
hiding evidence that casts doubt on the guilt of the people theyíve accused.
One of the defense lawyers to file a bar complaint is Ben Cohen, who works for
LouisianaísCapital Appeals Project. He represents Jamaal Tucker, who was charged
with second-degree murder. The charges against Tucker were based on two sources
of evidence: the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Morris Greene, who said
Tucker confessed the murder to him, and a witness to the killing, Joseph Allen.
After a jury convicted Tucker, the judge threw out the verdict because
prosecutors hadnít followed his order to turn over the witnessesí criminal
records. Tucker was tried again. This time, Allen told the jury he couldnít
recall the shooting, and the jury deadlocked. The New Orleans district
attorneyís office charged Allen with perjury. Tucker was tried a third time, and
at this point Allen testified against him again, along with Greene. Tucker was
convicted and sentenced to life.
Afterward, Cohen sent a defense investigator to a post-conviction hearing for
Morris Greene. Heíd been convicted of armed robbery in a neighboring parish and
sentenced to a mandatory 15 years. When he testified at Tuckerís trial, Greene
had said he expected nothing in exchange for his testimony. "No, I haven't been
promised or offered anything,Ē he told the jury. ďI caught my charge in
Lafayette Parish. It has nothing to do with Orleans Parish. Orleans district
attorney can't do nothing for me, man.Ē But at the post-conviction hearing,
Greene was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to the robbery and his sentence
was reduced to time served after a Lafayette prosecutor said he was ďamenable to
amendingĒ Greeneís sentence ďas a result of phone conversations with the
district attorney from Orleans Parish, which is Cannizzaro.Ē
Thatís Leon Cannizzaro, who became the DA for New Orleans in 2009. Joseph Allen,
whoíd also testified at Tuckerís trial that he had no expectation of leniency,
got a deal, too, on his perjury charge and was released. Because of the deals,
Cohen asked for a new trial for Jamaal Tucker. The judge ordered Cannizzaro and
the prosecutor who tried Tucker, Eusi Phillips, to appear before him to explain
themselves. On the eve of his date in court, Cannizzaro agreed to toss Tuckerís
murder conviction. And his office turned over to Cohen a piece of evidence the
defense had never seen before: A letter from Greene to Phillips. Greene wrote
that he wanted Crime Stopper reward money for testifying against Tucker and that
he wanted his time cut. He said, ďI know that as far as getting my time cut, you
canít make any promises before the trial, but I am entitled to the reward.Ē
In a letter to the editor published in the Times Picayune, Cannizzaro denied
withholding evidence against Tucker or two other defendants whose lawyers have
made that claim. ďMy office has railroaded no one,Ē he wrote.
But Greeneís letter is ďclassic Brady material,Ē Cohen points out. ďIn some ways
the money Green asked for is even worse than expecting a deal.Ē The prosecutorsí
failure to turn over this evidence is at the heart of Cohenís bar complaint
against Cannizzaro and Phillips. Cohen also says Cannizzarro broke the ethical
rules by making ďinaccurate or misleadingĒ public statements about Tuckerís
When I called Cannizzaro to ask about the bar complaint, spokesperson Chris
Bowman said it was against office policy to discuss pending cases. (Never mind
that Cannizzaro talked about Tuckerís case before agreeing to a new trial; at
that point, the case was closed, Bowman said.) Eusi Phillips wrote a response to
the Louisiana Attorney Discipline Board. Without addressing the Crime Stopper
reward, Phillips said he never promised Greene a lighter sentence, and that it
was ďunclear what discussions were hadĒ between Canizzarro and the Lafayette
prosecutors. Phillips also said that his supervisor reviewed the entire file for
Tuckerís case before trial and didnít tell him to hand over Greeneís letter.
When I called Phillips for comment, he said, ďIím not going to be interrogated,Ē
and hung up.
For Ben Cohen, whatís at stake here is what he sees as the gap between
Cannizzaroís claims of having cleaned up the DAís office and how Cannizzaro
actually does business. ďConnickís office was characterized by ambivalence and
laziness,Ē Cohen says. ďThey couldnít be bothered to look in the file: They were
overworked and they were ambivalent about whether they had to comply with Brady.
Cannizzaro is a win-at-all-costs prosecutor. His people aim as close to the line
as they can get, and when you do that, you miss it.Ē
Cohen brought his bar complaint after a veteran New Orleans defense lawyer, Sam
Dalton, brought a similar complaint against Cannizzaroís office for withholding
evidence in the case of Michael Anderson, yet another convicted murderer who got
a new trial. Daltonís complaint, like Cohenís, is pending. ďSam has been
fighting for poor people since before I was born,Ē Cohen says. ďHe brought his
complaint so other people would have the courage to do this. Iím not in New
Orleans criminal court on a daily basis because I mostly do appeals and
post-conviction work. Cannizzaro doesnít have the power to punish my clients by
refusing to plea bargain. I felt like, if I didnít bring a bar complaint, how
could I ever ask that of a public defender who is in court every day?Ē
Thereís a broader solution to the problem of withholding evidence: Laws or
policies that require prosecutors to share the entire case file with the
defense. North Carolina and a few other states and cities have laws like that,
and theyíve gotten good reviews. Louisiana legislators soon plan to introduce a
reform bill of their own. Cannizzaro, not surprisingly, opposes the idea of open
Iíll follow up on the bar complaints and the proposed reform bill, which Iím
especially interested in given New Orleansí checkered history. What happens next
should be about restoring faith in the system. ďEverybody knows that someone got
paid to testify against Jamaal,Ē Cohen says. ďItís indifference to accuracy that
really causes communities to lose trust.Ē Rhetorically, at least, Cannizzaro
sees danger here, too. ďLook, it does me absolutely no good to cheat in order to
get a conviction,Ē he said in a recent interview. ďAlthough it might be good at
the outset, the truth always comes out in the long run.Ē
Report: Youths in Texas lockup extort each other
Updated 12:10 a.m., Thursday, April 19, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) ó Students at a youth lockup in Central Texas are coercing
and extorting each other for cigarettes, drugs and money, a state ombudsman has
Youths at the Giddings State School, about 50 miles east of Austin, are being
"bought and owned" by fellow students, according to ombudsman Debbie Unruh in
her nine-page report. She also said youth ringleaders are "controlling the
culture" on the Giddings campus and staff lack control over the students, the
Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/HR47rB ) reported.
According to Unruh's report, students refuse to leave security detention because
they fear for their safety. Extortion of food also is common.
The report outraged Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jerry Madden, who led the
effort in 2007 to overhaul the state's juvenile corrections system in the wake
of abuse scandals. Texas Juvenile Justice Department officials said they are
addressing issues raised in the report.
"This situation is totally unacceptable and unbelievable, after everything we've
been through with this agency," said Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate
Criminal Justice Committee. "Youths are obviously in danger there, when you have
a state report saying they are being bought and owned, bullied, are afraid ó at
an agency that was supposed to have been cleaned up, that has gotten tens of
millions of dollars in the past few years so things like this won't happen."
Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said it "doesn't
appear we're controlling the youth there." He added that the "victimization of
youth" has to be "stopped immediately."
The Juvenile Justice Department was created after the Legislature voted last
year to merge theTexas Youth Commission, which had run the prison system for
teenagers, and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, which had been in charge
of county-run, youth probation programs. Texas' corrections system for youths
has undergone major reforms since neglect and sexual abuse allegations surfaced
The issue of youths being "bought and owned" at the Giddings State School was
not reported previously, said Juvenile Justice Department spokesman Jim Hurley.
He said department leaders are confident that the youths living at Giddings are
"safe and secure."
Whitmire said the Senate Criminal Justice Committee plans to hold a public
hearing next month.
"If the people who are running this agency can't stop this, then we need to get
some people in there who can," Whitmire said.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com
Forensic techniques are subject to human bias, lack standards, panel found
By Spencer S. Hsu, Published: April 18
In Hollywood, the moment the good guys trace a hair, a bullet fragment or a
fingerprint, it‚Äôs game over. The bad guy is locked up.
But the glamorized portrait is not so simple in real life.
Far from infallible, expert comparisons of hair, handwriting, marks made by
firearms on bullets, and patterns such as bite marks and shoe and tire prints
are in some ways unscientific and subject to human bias, aNational Academy of
Sciences panel chartered by Congress found. Other techniques, such as in
bullet-lead analysis and arson investigation, survived for decades despite
poorly regulated practices and a lack of scientific method.
Even fingerprint identification is partly a subjective exercise that lacks
research into the role of unconscious bias or even its error rate, the panel‚Äôs
328-page report said.
‚ÄúThe forensic science system, encompassing both research and practice, has
serious problems that can only be addressed by a national commitment to overhaul
the current structure,‚ÄĚ the panel concluded in 2009.
Now, Congress and the Obama administration are trying to regulate forensic
science to help establish standards. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick
J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Commerce, Science and Transportation CommitteeChairman John
D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) are weighing legislation that could subject
techniques to greater scientific scrutiny and help establish their ranges of
A Leahy bill would create a new office of forensic science in the Justice
Department. Rockefeller is preparing legislation to expand the role of the
National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and
Technology in setting scientific standards and research goals.
The Obama administration is also looking to ‚Äústrengthen the linkage between
cutting-edge science .‚ÄČ.‚ÄČ. and the forensic tests used by law
enforcement,‚ÄĚ said Rick Weiss, spokesman for the White House Office of Science
and Technology Policy.
Police and law enforcement agencies have rebuffed recommendations to remove
crime labs from their control.
Since 2002, failures have been reported at about 30 federal, state and local
crime labs serving the FBI, the Army and eight of the nation‚Äôs 20 largest
Advances in DNA testing are exposing errors at unexpected rates. In November,
researchers with the Urban Institute reported that new DNA testing appeared to
clear convicted defendants in 16 percent of Virginia criminal convictions
between 1973 and 1988 in which evidence was available for retesting.
A 2009 study of post-conviction DNA exonerations ‚ÄĒ now up to 289 nationwide
‚ÄĒ found invalid testimony in more than half the cases.
‚ÄúThere are just too many related problems for this to be dealt with ad hoc,‚ÄĚ
said Brandon L. Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of
More DNA testing alone is not the answer, experts say. Biological evidence
historically is collected in fewer than 20 percent of criminal cases. Other
questioned forensic techniques are used far more often, with mistakes harming
defendants and crime victims whose true assailants remain at large.
The National Academy of Sciences report cited the lack of effective standards
for examiners, laboratories and court testimony. It also criticized Justice
Department agencies for a dearth of research into problems and for being ‚Äútoo
wedded‚ÄĚ to the status quo to be trusted to lead reforms.
‚ÄúThis is our generation‚Äôs sole opportunity‚ÄĚ to get arguments out of the
adversarial system and resolved through science, said Thomas L. Bohan, who was
president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 2010. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a
shame they couldn‚Äôt have done a good job 10 or 20 years ago.‚ÄĚ
Arson investigation is an example of how research has dramatically improved
Since 1990, the number of U.S. structure fires attributed to arson has dropped
by half. One reason is that scientific test burnings have disproved the notion
that some burn marks could be caused only by liquid accelerants.
Meanwhile, scientific doubts have festered for decades with fingerprint
examination. While fingerprint analysis is one of the most valuable and
frequently applied investigative tools, its accuracy has not been scientifically
FBI examiners claimed until recently that they can match fingerprints to the
exclusion of any other person in the world with 100 percent certainty using a
method with an error rate essentially of zero. The academy report found that
assertion was ‚Äúnot scientifically plausible‚ÄĚ and had chilled research into
In 1999, a Justice Department official, Richard Rau, told a federal court that
the department delayed such a study because of the legal ramifications. As
recently as last year, Pennsylvania State University researcher Cedric Neumann
was denied a department grant to determine potential fingerprint error rates
using closed cases.
Neumann declined to comment for this article.
A person familiar with the episode blamed a polarized climate in the adversarial
legal system, saying, ‚ÄúFew agencies in the forensic-science community want to
be the first ones associated with an error rate.‚ÄĚ The person spoke on the
condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive federal research funding decisions.
Meanwhile, errors occur. In 2004, DNA for the first time exonerated a person
convicted with a fingerprint match and, separately, the FBI made its first
publicly acknowledged fingerprint misidentification. Brandon Mayfield, a
Portland, Ore., lawyer, mistakenly was arrested in connection with the terrorist
train bombings in Madrid that killed 191 people. The FBI apologized.
Since then, the Justice Department has begun research to try to quantify how
complete a fingerprint must be to properly declare a match; how different
conditions may affect the reliability of examinations; whether computers can do
such work; and how to present forensic testimony about probabilities to judges
and juries. The FBI has also required ‚Äúblind verification‚ÄĚ of results by
agents unfamiliar with initial examinations.
The bureau said that skilled analysts are extraordinarily accurate, at least
when they know they are being tested. An FBI study with Noblis Corp. last year
found that when 169 examiners compared thousands of fingerprints and decided
there was enough information to declare a match or not, they were correct 99.8
percent of the time.
Still, the Mayfield case highlighted the need for research into real-world
conditions. A 2006 study by a London-based scientist, Itiel E. Dror, asked
experts to analyze fingerprints that, unbeknownst to them, they had analyzed
earlier in their careers. This time, however, examiners were given biasing
statements, such as that a suspect had confessed or that a suspect was locked up
at the time of the offense. In 16.6 percent of cases, examiners reversed earlier
Crime lab directors and prosecutors welcome calls for more money for research
and to improve examiners and facilities. But with budgets tight at all levels,
Washington has few other tools to prompt 350 state and local labs across the
country to improve.
Because techniques have not been scientifically proved does not mean they do not
work, defenders say, and mistakes can be handled traditionally through
‚ÄúIn the real life of the criminal justice system, we need more resources for
those who are on the front lines,‚ÄĚ said Scott D. Burns, executive director of
the National District Attorneys Association. Noting that prosecutors handle 20
million non-traffic cases a year, Burns said, ‚ÄúThe sky isn‚Äôt falling, and we
usually get it right.‚ÄĚ
Pete M. Marone, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science and
chairman of the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations, urged Congress not
to ‚Äúreinvent the wheel‚ÄĚ by abandoning all existing accreditation standards
or groups such as the one he represents.
‚ÄúDon‚Äôt judge forensic science today based on errors from 30 years ago,‚ÄĚ
Marone said. ‚ÄúWhat we need is someone setting a research agenda and direction.
.‚ÄČ.‚ÄČ. We need leadership.‚ÄĚ
Video of response to Kent Scheidegger and the CJLF
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- A Central Valley man has made it his mission to get
executions resumed in California. He's taking legal action to force the
Department Of Corrections to take the necessary steps to execute the man who
murdered his sister.
"I no longer drive through the city of Lodi with grapevines because I get sick
to my stomach," Bradley Winchell said. "I am asking this court to set it right."
Winchell says he's been waiting more than three decades for closure. His sister,
Terri, was brutally murdered and raped in 1981 in a Lodi vineyard. Her killer,
Michael Morales, sits on San Quentin's death row and is one of 14 inmates who
have exhausted all their appeals.
But just as Morales was about to be executed in 2006, a judge granted a
reprieve, allowing Morales's lawsuit to move forward after he claimed the
three-drug lethal injection method was cruel and unusual punishment.
Winchell just filed a lawsuit of his own saying he's waited long enough; he
wants the state to resume executions by moving to a one-drug process currently
used in other states.
"I consider 31 years excessive delay, injury not only to myself but my family,"
California's death penalty has been criticized for many years. Delays often
result in decades passing before an execution is carried out.
"It's a sad state of affairs when those officials with the duty to execute the
law care so little about the rights of victims that victims have to sue to force
them to do their duty," Criminal Justice Legal Foundation spokesperson Kent
Opponents of California's death penalty have trying to get rid of it for years,
citing a report that found it costs taxpayers $184 million a year to operate.
They say if Winchell and his attorneys want to change the three-drug protocol,
they can formally ask the Department Of Corrections.
"If they want to re-write procedure and want to do what the Criminal Just Legal
Foundation says, then they need to put that in the procedure, submit it for
public comment," Campaign to End the Death Penalty spokesperson Christine Thomas
said. "They need to do a hearing and do exactly what they did to set up the
Corrections can't comment because it hasn't been served with the lawsuit, but
Winchell's attorneys say they've been unsuccessful in trying to the agency use
the one drug method.
Winchell thinks the courts are the only way to let his sister rest in peace.
"This will add a little bit of closure if we do get the executions back on
track," he said.
Five states in as many years abolished the death penalty. Next week, opponents
of the death penalty are expected to announce that they've qualified an
initiative to do the same and let California voters decide.
Analysis says Calif. prison medical costs too high
By DON THOMPSON
Published: Thursday, Apr. 19, 2012 - 4:31 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 19, 2012 - 5:12 pm
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- As the state prepares to resume control of inmate medical
care, it must find ways to reduce costs that are triple the national average,
the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said Thursday.
The federal receivership that has been in place since 2006 has greatly improved
the medical care of state prison inmates but also has caused costs to soar,
according to the report. California spends $16,000 per inmate for health care
services, compared to an average of $5,000 in other states.
The analysis was released less than two weeks before the state and attorneys
representing inmates must report to a federal judge with recommendations on when
the receivership should end and whether it should maintain some oversight role.
The Legislature should create an independent board to monitor prison medical
care to make sure conditions do not deteriorate once the state retakes control,
the report said. It also recommends that the state experiment with contracting
for medical services to cut costs.
The state should rely more on telemedicine so physicians in urban medical
facilities can treat inmates without physically traveling to remote prisons. The
analysis also found that the receivership has not been consistent in using
management safeguards that are designed to hold down medical spending.
The receivership already is following many of the recommendations outlined in
the report, said Nancy Kincaid, spokeswoman for the receiver's office.
The receivership began emphasizing telemedicine a year ago, Kincaid said. She
acknowledged that while medical staff in some prisons follow the receivership's
uniform policy for controlling medical costs, those in other prisons must do a
The receiver, J. Clark Kelso, uses private contractors when they are cheaper,
she said, but is limited by a prohibition in the state constitution on using a
contractor if a state employee can do the job.
She disputed the report's comparisons with costs in other states, contending
that many others don't count their administrative, information technology or
contract costs in their accounting.
"Eighty cents of every dollar is spent on inmate direct care. Everything he's
done is done with an eye to increasing efficiency ... and saving taxpayers'
money wherever he can," Kincaid said.
The legislative analyst called a recent 7 percent decline in inmate health care
costs "encouraging," but said the proposed prison medical budget for the fiscal
year beginning July 1 is still 42 percent higher than it was before the
Ending the receivership could save money in the "low tens of millions of dollars
annually," the analysis estimated, because the state could consolidate what
currently are two duplicate bureaucracies overseeing the prison medical system -
one for the court-appointed receiver and the other for the California Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Read more here:
Texas explores California solution to smuggled cell phones in prison
By Mike Ward
Updated: 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Published: 8:17 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, 2012
It's not often that Texas looks to California for much of anything, except to
relocate corporate jobs. But a new Golden State deal to curb calls from prisons
on smuggled cellphones has state officials exploring a similar system.
Instead of jamming cellphone calls around prisons as Texas officials had earlier
proposed, the California system would block outgoing cell calls, Web access and
text messages by managing the cellphone signals at prisons ó and allowing only
signals from approved numbers to go through.
Jason Clark, a spokesman for the state Department of Criminal Justice, confirmed
Wednesday that the agency is working with Century Link ó the private company
that operates pay phones inside Texas' 111 state prisons ó to evaluate a similar
system for installation in Texas.
"The system would be a managed-access system and does not jam cellphones," Clark
said. "Managed access intercepts the outgoing calls and only allows calls from
approved numbers. This is legal," Clark said, noting that the Federal
Communications Commission prohibits jamming. Texas and other states sought
legislation to overturn the prohibition, but cellphone companies ó worried about
interference with nonprison signals ó blocked the proposals in Congress.
Smuggled cellphones in Texas prisons have posed a security risk for the past
decade. The situation drew headlines and triggered a weeks-long lockdown of the
entire state prison system in late 2008 after a death row convict made
threatening calls to a state senator and a reporter.
Efforts to curb cellphone smuggling into prisons have come up short, even though
the state has spent millions of dollars on screening devices, surveillance
cameras, detection devices and even phone-sniffing dogs.
Clark said Texas prison employees last year seized 904 cellphones in prisons or
headed there, down from 1,480 three years ago. Prison officials attribute the
decline to $60 million in security upgrades.
By contrast, California last year confiscated 15,000 cellphones at its 33
prisons. That's up from just 1,200 five years ago, according to officials.
Dana Simas, an information officer for the California Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation, said that under a new contract, Global Tel Link has agreed
to spend as much as $35 million to install new equipment at each prison within
the next three years. The first California unit is to get the gear by October,
The company will pay all costs, Simas said, because it will get the revenue from
the pay phones inside prisons that will once again be in demand.
The way the new system works: Each prison will get its own cell tower that will
allow prison officials to control all incoming and outgoing calls. All others
will not go through.
"After this system goes in, smuggled cellphones will be nothing more than
glorified paperweights," Simas said. "A couple of years ago, there were long
lines at the pay phones ó hours long. By this year, no one was using them, there
were so many smuggled cellphones."
California officials said they happened on the idea of tying cellphone smuggling
to the pay phone contract when it came up for renewal last year.
In March 2011, Texas prison officials tested a managed-access system at the
Stiles Unit in Beaumont ó a top location for smuggled phones ó but decided not
to purchase the gear because of its $2.5 million-per-prison cost.
Global Tel Link and Century Link did not respond Wednesday to messages for
Like most other states, prison officials in Texas and California for several
years have been battling a steady flood of smuggled cellphones ó easily
concealed devices that have been linked to murders, criminal activity by gangs,
smuggling, violent assaults on guards, escapes and even a prison riot or two in
After news broke about Texas' death-row caller, Richard Tabler, prison officials
imposed a statewide lockdown of all prisons and spent weeks searching every
cell. More than 500 additional cellphones were found, including two dozen more
on death row.
California, with 138,000 convicts compared to Texas' approximately 155,000, has
had similar headlines. Charles Manson, the notorious murderer, has been caught
twice with contraband phones, officials said.
In announcing the deal on Monday, California Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate
said the "groundbreaking and momentous technology" will allow his system "to
crack down on the smuggled phones."
In Texas, state Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the committee that supervises
the prison system and the lawmaker who received the 2008 call ó and later a
death threat ó from Tabler, said Texas' move toward curbing smuggled cellphones
is long overdue.
"Our administration should be getting right on that," he said after learning
about the California contract. "They should have been more proactive."
"We need to get these cellphones out of there, and we don't need to wait until
the next time somebody on death row calls me."
Contact Mike Ward at 474-2791
Cellphones in Texas prisons
Year | Number seized
2011 | 904
2010 | 1,193
2009 | 1,480
Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Why Are Prisoners Committing Suicide in Pennsylvania?
Matt Stroud April 18, 2012
Research support for this article was provided by The Investigative Fund at The
Nation Institute and the Puffin Foundation.
By the time John McClellan Jr. was found dead inside Pennsylvania‚Äôs State
Correctional Institution (SCI) at Cresson last May, he had long been categorized
as ‚Äúspecial needs‚ÄĚ for his history of addiction and mental instability. Yet
prisoners and staff say the 42-year-old inmate was not living in one of the
facility‚Äôs treatment units but in the Restricted Housing Unit, or
RHU‚ÄĒotherwise known as solitary confinement.
Two months earlier, McClellan had written a letter to his father, a Philadelphia
police officer, saying that five correctional officers had assaulted him, then
filed false charges against him. John McClellan Sr. had already contacted an
attorney; threats and abuse from guards were allegedly so frequent his son kept
a makeshift calendar on legal-sized notebook paper to keep track. A former SCI
Cresson prisoner, Tim Everard, who says he spent time in a neighboring RHU cell,
recalls seeing guards kicking the younger McClellan‚Äôs cell door, calling him
names and goading him to kill himself. When Everard told the manager of the ward
that McClellan seemed suicidal, Everard says she brushed him off, saying of the
impulse to commit suicide, ‚ÄúIf he‚Äôs going to act on it, he‚Äôs going to act
On December 1 the Justice Department announced an investigation into SCI Cresson
as well as SCI Pittsburgh in response to allegations of prisoner abuse. Since
then, another inmate, who reportedly asked repeatedly for and was denied mental
health treatment, has committed suicide inside SCI Cresson. An investigation by
The Nation uncovered details of the claims at the center of the probe, through
interviews with current and former Department of Corrections (DOC) employees,
who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. At least three sources
with knowledge of the mental health procedures at SCI Cresson have provided
corroborating evidence to the Justice Department, claiming that they were
threatened with physical harm or false charges by prison authorities if they
Filed under the 1980 Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, more than
thirty similar investigations have been launched by the Justice Department since
1996. Most involve jails holding pretrial prisoners, and at least ten involve
claims of insufficient mental healthcare. The process is generally diplomatic
rather than prosecutorial; the DOJ publicly releases findings and suggests
changes. Institutions usually agree to abide by the recommendations. The DOJ can
sue those that don‚Äôt; in extreme cases this can lead to a court order forcing
a prison to operate under the supervision of a Special Master (as in the case of
California, where the state‚Äôs entire prison healthcare system was put into
The investigation into SCI Cresson could have important implications beyond
Pennsylvania. In addition to determining whether it ‚Äúprovided inadequate
mental health care to prisoners who have mental illness [and] failed to
adequately protect such prisoners from harm,‚ÄĚ according to the DOJ‚Äôs
official release, investigators will also consider the practice of subjecting
mentally ill prisoners to ‚Äúexcessively prolonged periods of isolation, in
violation of the Eighth Amendment,‚ÄĚ with its ban on cruel and unusual
punishment. Even if the particular abuse leveled at McClellan is found to be an
aberration, holding mentally unstable prisoners in solitary confinement is a
common practice in prisons and jails across the country. With major studies
showing that prolonged isolation can aggravate‚ÄĒand even contribute to‚ÄĒmental
illness and a small number of states moving to reduce their reliance on the
practice, the DOJ investigation could be a significant step toward banning
solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners.
* * *
SCI Cresson was a tuberculosis sanitarium from 1912 through 1956, then a mental
institution until 1982, when it was shuttered and abandoned. It reopened as a
state penitentiary five years later. Today it is a medium-security facility
housing some 1,624 prisoners whose crimes range from murder to drunk driving.
Fourteen percent are locked up for parole violations.
Located ninety miles east of Pittsburgh, the prison complex sits off an old
highway just outside the small town of Cresson (population: 1,711), known for
its coal yards, mineral springs and lumber. Dense forest surrounds everything,
including the prison, whose old brick buildings might seem peaceful if they
weren‚Äôt surrounded by razor wire and thirty-foot fences.
Historically, Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of the use of solitary
confinement, and it has continued to experiment with new forms of isolation. In
2000 the Pennsylvania DOC introduced the Long Term Segregation Unit, or LTSU, to
house its most dangerous and disobedient inmates. Based on a similar program
introduced in 1989 at California‚Äôs Pelican Bay State Prison, the LTSU held
inmates in single cells, isolated for at least twenty-three hours a day bereft
of any property, including reading material. The treatment was supposed to last
for thirty-six months at the most, with officials vowing to send LTSU prisoners
back to the general population when their behavior improved.
A 2004 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review quoted DOC sources citing the
extreme unruliness of LTSU prisoners‚ÄĒ‚Äúthe worst of the worst,‚ÄĚ
‚Äúdespicable inmate[s]‚ÄĚ who ‚Äújust seemed to be incorrigible‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒand also
quoted attorneys and advocates concerned about the effect on vulnerable inmates.
‚ÄúIt raises the question of mentally ill [prisoners] in this unit whose
conditions are made worse by long-term isolation,‚ÄĚ one lawyer said.
As Pennsylvania implemented the LTSU program, mental health experts warned that
such sustained isolation could cause significant mental problems. In a 2003
report in Crime and Delinquency, Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote, ‚ÄúThere is not a single published
study of solitary or supermax‚Äďlike confinement in which nonvoluntary
confinement lasting for longer than 10 days‚Ä¶failed to result in negative
Lawsuits filed by prisoners supported this. In 2000 inmates at SCI Pittsburgh
sued the DOC, claiming that long-term isolation caused mental health issues to
get worse and, in some cases, to arise out of nowhere. In a 2003 ruling inRivera
v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the state Superior Court determined
that it was ‚Äúnot clear‚Ä¶whether the mental and emotional conditions
demonstrated in the LTSU contribute or cause the extreme behavioral issues that
landed these inmates in the LTSU or whether those types of conditions are in
part caused by long periods of solitary confinement in such a unit.‚ÄĚ But an
appellate court later decided that the LTSU‚Äôs failure to address mental health
issues did not violate the Eighth Amendment.
Nevertheless, about five years after it was implemented, the LTSU program was
replaced with a new program explicitly designed to treat mental illness in
prisoners with behavioral problems. Dubbed the Secure Special Needs Unit or
SSNU, it was unveiled at SCI Cresson. Officials denied requests for information
about this change, but a source close to the transition said it looked as though
the DOC ‚Äúactually wanted to make a positive change and to bring some treatment
for people with serious mental health issues.‚ÄĚ
Testifying before Pennsylvania‚Äôs House Judiciary Committee in August 2010, DOC
deputy secretary Michael Klopotoski drew a distinction between SSNUs and other
specialized housing units‚ÄĒspecifically, the RHU (where McClellan was found),
the Special Management Unit (SMU) and the Special Needs Unit, for mentally ill
prisoners without behavioral problems. Whereas RHUs were designed ‚Äúto securely
house an offender who receives disciplinary sanctions‚ÄĚ and SMUs ‚Äúto securely
house an offender who exhibits behavior that is continually disruptive, violent
and dangerous,‚ÄĚ SSNUs were designed to ‚Äúprovide a [prisoner] who has
identified significant mental health concerns‚Ä¶the opportunity of a specialized
treatment program to assist him/her in returning to a general population.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs supposed to last up to eighteen months‚ÄĒ‚Äúunless extended by the SSNU
The SSNU is a five-phase program that gradually rewards prisoners with group
sessions, time in chow halls and increased access to their property in exchange
for good behavior. Phase 5 is solitary confinement; it includes
twenty-three-hour-a-day isolation, minimal if any privileges and access only to
‚Äúbasic personal hygiene items.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúPhase 5 is generally the starting point for an offender in the SSNU,‚ÄĚ said
Klopotoski, explaining that a prisoner will stay there until he or she ‚Äúhas
remained misconduct free for a sufficient period of time.‚ÄĚ The end goal is
Phase 1; inmates who reach it can leave the SSNU and return to the Special Needs
Unit. Sources say this is where McClellan was supposed to be.
But psychologists who have worked in the SSNU at SCI Cresson say that
corrections officers (COs) or unsympathetic members of the SSNU Treatment Team
can easily stall a prisoner in Phase 5, meaning that some prisoners remain in
solitary confinement indefinitely.
* * *
There are conflicting reports about the degree of McClellan‚Äôs mental problems.
One prison psychologist said he was schizophrenic. Another said he was merely an
addict. His father did not believe he was mentally ill at all. His attorney
What is known is that McClellan was hooked on crack cocaine at 20 years of age.
He committed small-time robberies and accrued a lengthy rap sheet. The last
judge who sentenced him, for posing as an undercover police officer and stealing
$180, seemed frustrated by his inability to avoid trouble. ‚ÄúThe defendant
has‚Ä¶had plenty of adult time to seek help and to have straightened himself
out,‚ÄĚ wrote Judge Amanda Cooperman, sentencing him to five to eleven years
despite guidelines that prescribed a maximum of eighteen months.
The elder McClellan said his son‚Äôs last prison stint didn‚Äôt become
particularly difficult until 2007, when he was at a Philadelphia-area facility
designed for drug rehabilitation. He got into an argument with a guard, who,
according to McClellan Sr., discovered that the younger McClellan‚Äôs father was
a police officer. The guard reportedly shared this information with his
co-workers as well as with other prisoners. Fearing this could put him in
danger‚ÄĒin the words of the elder McClellan, ‚ÄúWho knows if I put one of these
guys behind bars?‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthe younger McClellan requested a transfer to another
prison. There, according to his father, he again encountered a retaliatory CO
who reportedly shared the names, addresses and occupations of certain family
members with his colleagues and threatened to hurt them. The younger McClellan
sent letters to his father saying he filed grievances against the CO and was
rewarded with additional time in the RHU.
‚ÄúEvery time he wrote up a grievance, it got worse,‚ÄĚ his father said. ‚ÄúThey
would come back, write him up for something and put him in the hole sixty days
at a time.‚ÄĚ
The same thing happened as McClellan approached parole eligibility, with guards
reportedly manufacturing charges to keep him in solitary confinement. The parole
board would deny his release, the elder McClellan said, ‚Äúbecause of the
write-ups, because when he was in the hole he was seen as a disciplinary
By the time the younger McClellan arrived at SCI Cresson last spring, he was
convinced he was going to die. He told his father that COs had threatened to
kill him and make it look like a hanging. His mental state was gradually
deteriorating, and he was reportedly on medication, although it is not clear
what he was prescribed.
McClellan Sr. recalls telling his son on the phone, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not going to
happen. They‚Äôre not going to lose their job because they want to get rid of
you.‚ÄĚ But his son insisted, ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre going to hang me.‚ÄĚ
On May 6, 2011, McClellan was found hanging in his cell. The DOC did not release
details, but his father says administrators told him he had hanged himself from
the ceiling sprinkler system.
The elder McClellan has a hard time believing his son was capable of committing
suicide. ‚ÄúIf he did, the point is that maybe he just had enough. Maybe he just
couldn‚Äôt take it anymore‚ÄĒthe abuse, the harassment. I don‚Äôt know if I‚Äôd
be able to handle it either.‚ÄĚ
Sources collaborating with the DOJ investigation don‚Äôt believe that McClellan
Jr. was murdered. But they do believe that a pattern of sustained abuse,
compounded by extended periods of isolation and a lack of oversight among
administrators, led a vulnerable inmate to take his own life.
* * *
While a number of officials oversaw McClellan as he deteriorated, one in
particular has been repeatedly identified by sources as neglecting his duties at
best or, at worst, purposely mistreating unstable prisoners. That man is SCI
Cresson‚Äôs chief psychologist, James Harrington.
Harrington has been named as a defendant in at least ten civil rights cases
filed by prisoners in Pennsylvania‚Äôs Western District since 1995. All but one
have been dismissed, a number of them on technicalities like missing a filing
deadline. But two pending suits filed last year allege that Harrington was
complicit in the abuse of mentally ill prisoners. One source with knowledge of
psychology procedures at SCI Cresson cites a behavioral plan, co-created by
Harrington and implemented last year, prescribing ‚Äúsuch barbaric treatment as
removing [a prisoner‚Äôs] mattress for extended periods of time as a viable
means of obtaining behavioral compliance.‚ÄĚ In one complaint filed in June
2011, the plan was described as ‚Äúrelying heavily upon extended
isolation‚Ä¶essentially designed to simply break the inmate down to where he is
‚Äėwilling‚Äô‚ÄĚ to cooperate. This could take ‚Äú2 years or more.‚ÄĚ
Damont Hagan, who spent time in SCI Cresson between 2010 and 2011, filed a suit
in October claiming that Harrington refused to approve his mental health
treatment unless he stopped filing grievances over abuses in the SSNU. Another
prisoner, Christopher Balmer, claimed that despite being diagnosed with
borderline personality disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, he was transferred
by Harrington and other administrators from the SSNU to the RHU, where he was
saddled with enough continuous solitary confinement time to stretch into the
year 2039. In his complaint, Balmer wrote that solitary confinement causes him
to feel suicidal and that ignoring his mental health problems amounts to
‚Äúdeliberate indifference to serious medical need.‚ÄĚ
Hagan‚Äôs and Balmer‚Äôs cases were publicized by the Pennsylvania-based Human
Rights Coalition, a prisoner advocacy group whose members contacted state
legislators, the DOC‚Äôs internal affairs investigation unit and the DOJ.
Lending weight to their claims is the suicide of another prisoner at SCI Cresson
in March. James Willett, 24, was found dead while living in the general
population. A source with knowledge of psychology procedures at SCI Cresson says
Willett‚ÄĒserving a seven- to fourteen-year sentence for rape‚ÄĒhad
‚Äúrepeatedly requested‚ÄĚ mental health treatment but those requests were
denied. A DOC press release said the county coroner‚Äôs office and the state
police would conduct an investigation.
Willett‚Äôs suicide offers further evidence of what insiders say is the total
corruption of the mental health treatment program at the prison under
Harrington, who, according to the June complaint, has shown ‚Äúprofound willful
indifference‚ÄĚ toward the ‚Äúsuffering of lower functioning or profoundly
emotionally disturbed inmates placed under his care.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThe SSNU should be moved out of SCI Cresson,‚ÄĚ the source says. ‚ÄúThey have
destroyed it. The [psychology department at SCI Cresson] needs to be flushed and
started over with new staff.‚ÄĚ
The role of James Harrington is particularly revealing in the case of former SCI
Cresson prisoner Tracey Pietrovito. Tried at 18 for arson and murder, the young
man with an IQ of 70, according to witnesses from local hospitals and social
service providers, was a classic ‚Äúunwanted child,‚ÄĚ shuffled through as many
as forty foster homes. Accused of torching a YMCA in the middle of the night,
Pietrovito was held responsible for the deaths of four people, including a
volunteer fireman. In 1988, Judge Albert Stallone sentenced him to life plus
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know if Tracey ever got a break in life from anyone,‚ÄĚ Stallone
said tearfully, according to the Reading Eagle, ‚Äúbut perhaps he is getting one
from me today.‚ÄĚ That ‚Äúbreak‚ÄĚ amounted to a chance at freedom. Stallone
speculated that, ‚Äúin 17, 18, or 19 years, when the Board of Commutations feels
this man is ready to be released,‚ÄĚ Pietrovito would be set free.
That never happened.
Today, Pietrovito is 44. A SCI Cresson psychologist says that in addition to his
developmental problems, he has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and
antisocial personality disorder. Sources told the DOJ last year that Pietrovito
was languishing in Phase 5, with no sign of being moved out. His mattress was
removed, so he slept on concrete. He was stripped of his clothing and shoes and
issued a nylon ‚Äúanti-suicide smock‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒa tear-resistant garment with an open
Sources say that while Pietrovito had tried to commit suicide in the past, he
wasn‚Äôt suicidal when he was placed in Phase 5. He would sometimes become
unreasonably angry and yell, but he hadn‚Äôt said he pondered killing himself.
Yet, rather than allow him access to the anger management sessions that are part
of Phase 5, Pietrovito was kept in solitary confinement 24/7, overseen by guards
who simply did not want to deal with his mental illnesses.
Further details of Pietrovito‚Äôs confinement approach descriptions of torture.
Sources say that guards would refuse to provide him with toilet paper for
significant periods‚ÄĒforcing Pietrovito to wipe himself with his hand‚ÄĒand
then refused to provide him with soap before he ate his meal, served without
utensils. The only window in Pietrovito‚Äôs cell, they said, could not be
properly shut, and temperatures frequently approached freezing. Pietrovito also
said that he was afraid to eat because COs who slid his meals into his cell
would sometimes hint that they‚Äôd put feces in his food‚ÄĒa common allegation
among prisoners subjected to solitary confinement throughout the state. When
Pietrovito refused to eat, COs would file exaggerated or false disciplinary
reports, extending his time in the hard cell.
A former SCI Cresson psychology staff member reported that Harrington had been
made aware of these allegations but that he responded with indifference. And the
same source who described the ‚Äúbarbaric‚ÄĚ behavioral plan Harrington helped
devise wrote to the Pennsylvania Department of State last summer to complain
about the treatment of Pietrovito, which included being mocked for his low IQ.
At one of the monthly review sessions that are part of the SSNU protocol,
Harrington also reportedly refused to go forward until Pietrovito agreed to sing
‚ÄúI‚Äôm a Little Teacup‚ÄĚ to entertain the group. (Harrington did not respond
to letters or to voice messages left at his home.)
Pietrovito was transferred to a different prison in August. Asked about the
allegations, Susan Bensinger, a DOC press secretary, said the DOC is ‚Äúalways
reviewing policies and procedures to ensure [prisoners] are receiving proper
mental healthcare.‚ÄĚ But the former SCI Cresson psychologist says, ‚ÄúThis is
like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.‚ÄĚ Indeed, sources point to a culture
of fraternization and blurred professional boundaries among prison
administrators. Of the four people who oversee the prison‚Äôs mental health
unit, two of them are a married couple and the other two have been friends since
grade school. Following the complaints about Pietrovito‚Äôs treatment, the COs
were merely reshuffled‚ÄĒmoved from the SSNU into the RHU where the younger
McClellan and Balmer were housed.
* * *
DOC denied multiple requests to tour SCI Cresson‚Äôs SSNU, without explanation.
The Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association declined to comment on
the DOJ investigation. And Pennsylvania‚Äôs Open Records Office denied requests
for information about training or instructions provided to COs before they work
full time with mentally ill prisoners. However, course descriptions available
online confirm what many DOC employees have said: there is a single training
course required for all COs assigned to work in an SSNU to ‚Äúprovide an
overview of the continuum of the mental health services delivery system in the
PA DOC.‚ÄĚ It lasts only six hours.
Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley known for his
expertise on the effects of solitary confinement, says that this is
insufficient‚ÄĒand also typical. ‚ÄúIt is standard procedure to have COs with
very inadequate mental health training,‚ÄĚ he says. (In Pennsylvania, COs are
required to hold a GED and to pass the state‚Äôs civil service exam to qualify
for work.) The lack of training leads to escalating conflicts.
‚ÄúSomeone cuts themselves or gets unusually vocal or begins to act otherwise
irrationally, and they‚Äôre seen as malingering. Those prisoners, they‚Äôve
never done that before. But it‚Äôs a bizarre symptom of solitary confinement.
Instead of getting treatment‚ÄĒwhich is what they need‚ÄĒthey‚Äôre punished
further and accused of faking an illness or a symptom.‚ÄĚ
Stuart Grassian, a Massachusetts-based psychiatrist who has interacted for years
with prisoners in solitary confinement settings, concurs.
‚ÄúNearly every prison has one paradigm,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúIf you take a rational
actor who can respond to rational forms of punishment, that actor may stop doing
what you want them to stop doing if they‚Äôre punished‚Ä¶. But most [prisoners]
are there because of a mental illness or an addiction. These people are
impulsive, often emotionally out of control and with cognitive impairments. So
that familiar prison paradigm often doesn‚Äôt work with these people. But
unfortunately that‚Äôs often the only tool prisons have. So it‚Äôs like that old
saying, If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.‚ÄĚ
The result, he said, is a revolving door for solitary confinement; prisoners act
out, get thrown in the hole, act out again, get more time in the hole‚ÄĒand so
on. ‚ÄúTo change that,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚Äúyou need a total paradigm shift.‚ÄĚ
Such a shift seems unlikely to come from the courts. In the 1982 Pennsylvania
case Hewitt v. Helms the Supreme Court upheld solitary confinement, ruling that
prisoners have no special right to be incarcerated in a prison‚Äôs general
population. Another important decision came down in Madrid v. Gomez in 1995,
which resulted in the removal of mentally ill prisoners from solitary
confinement at Pelican Bay. Conditions there hovered ‚Äúon the edge of what is
humanly tolerable for those with normal resilience,‚ÄĚ the court ruled.
But as Simon van Zuylen-Wood pointed out in The Nation last year, ‚ÄúSince the
passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, which limited the courts‚Äô
ability to challenge prisons‚Äô authority, deference to prison officials has
been the norm. Courts have been reluctant to tell states how to run their
Still, as the same article points out, some civil rights advocates believe that
now is the moment to take on solitary confinement in court.
* * *
The DOJ probe could lead to such a case. Federal investigators have toured SCI
Cresson and interviewed current and former SSNU prisoners. Although the DOC has
said it will cooperate fully, it may object to a basic claim: solitary
confinement, in the hairsplitting definition of one DOC press secretary, means
‚Äúan individual has no contact with other individuals.‚ÄĚ By that logic, none
of the inmates at SCI Cresson qualify, given their regular contact (abusive or
not) with guards.
A legal clash could be significant. Human Rights Watch has estimated that up to
19 percent of US prisoners ‚Äúhave psychiatric disorders‚Ä¶and another 15 to 20
percent require some form of psychiatric intervention‚ÄĚ in prison. A 2010 HRW
report gave similar estimates for those in solitary confinement.
It is often estimated that about 25,000 prisoners are living in solitary
confinement, but Jean Casella and James Ridgeway, who run SolitaryWatch.com,
have noted that this number counts supermax prisons without including the many
different isolation units in state prisons, like the RHU and SSNU at SCI
Cresson. They put the nationwide total closer to 80,000.
‚ÄúThe DOJ investigation has the potential to further expose the utter
depravity‚Ä¶of the prison system,‚ÄĚ says Bret Grote of the Human Rights
Coalition. The use of punitive isolation at CSI Cresson, he says, fits
‚Äúsquarely within the norm for how solitary units are run throughout
[Pennsylvania], where instances of cruelty and insanity are deliberately
multiplied by government employees as a matter of policy.‚ÄĚ
Families of California Prisoners Respond to Controversial Reforms of Solitary
APRIL 20, 2012
by Sal Rodriguez
The following is a response by California Families to Abolish Solitary
Confinement (CFASC), an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the use
of solitary confinement in California prisons, to the recent revision of gang
validation policies. Gang validation is the primary means by which the over
three thousand inmates in Security Housing Units (SHU) are placed in solitary
confinement, most for years and many for decades. Pelican Bay SHU inmates
responded to the reforms, which include the implementation of a step-down
program and a transformation in the security point system, with a counter
proposal three weeks ago.
LOS ANGELES (April 16, 2012) ó We live in a state whose citizens are more
morally outraged about the confinement of chickens and dogs than of human
beings. We are the families of thousands of loved ones who have been
incarcerated indefinitelyósome for decadesóin Californiaís ďsupermaxĒ segregated
and administrative housing units. Solitary confinement, even for short periods,
has been known for centuries to cause irreparable physical and psychological
damage: torture. Yet California continues to condone this practice in violation
of both Constitutional and international law against the use of this and other
inhuman and degrading treatment.
In March 2012 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)
came out with its long-awaited proposal to overhaul its use of prolonged
solitary confinement to manage gangs and violent prisoners. Families, lawyers,
prisoners and activists had hoped that after two peaceful hunger strikes in 2011
engaging 12,000 prisoners protesting CDCRís illegal practices, the Department
would follow several other states that have successfully and significantly
reduced their use of solitary confinement and instituted effective
rehabilitation and re-entry programsóand at great savings to overstressed state
By definition ďtortureĒ is the intentional infliction of severe mental or
physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of state authorities for a
specific purpose: With CDCR, this purpose is to extract information about gang
activities, real or fabricated. There is nothing in these new proposals that
leads any of us to believe that a sincere reform of CDCRís extremist policies is
at hand; in fact, the language is more obscure, the policies more layered, and
the prisonersí demands for decency and rehabilitation virtually ignored. Amnesty
International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture among others
issued immediate statements repudiating this document as not going far enough to
address the inhumane conditions that have persisted in California prisons for
decades. If anything, much of the new document appears even more Draconian. We
are very concerned for our loved ones inside this prison within the prison.
Prisons are by nature closed systems, yet they are funded by taxpayers and are
public institutions whose function is to oversee the deprivation of liberty, an
extreme use of power against an individual. Our loved ones are human beings
first and prisoners second. Too many have endured retaliation, arbitrary
interpretations of CDCRís regulations code, poor food, medical negligence, and
an inability to program out of solitary unless they self-incriminate, snitch, or
die. This is not to ignore crime and punishment, but we believe the public
interest in law and order can best be served through standards of morality and
All California communities are stakeholders in what happens in our prisons
because many of these inmates will eventually return to society. Even if our
stateís citizens may not generally be sympathetic to prisoners, we must hold our
public institutions to high ethical standards, including assuring that both
prisons and communities are safe.
Gov. Jerry Brown and Secretary of Operations Matthew Cate recently applauded
CDCR for removing the last ďbad bedsĒ in prison overcrowdingóa move to eliminate
degrading and inhuman conditions, creating a more effective penal regime that
honors dignity and human rights. This thinking must now be transferred to
prisoners in solitary. Californiaís version of supermax is extreme on every
level, involving more prisoners for more of their sentences under worse
conditions. Many states are revisiting their use of solitary confinement, but
given Californiaís documented tendency to create torturous conditions under the
justification of security, large-scale use of solitary confinement in this state
Substantial, meaningful and ethical revision of the CDCR proposals will be a
large step toward restoring basic justice in California, with no less concern
for the real issue of public safety. We believe Californiaís faith communities
have a considerable stake in this humanitarian reform and we ask your
participation in our efforts to raise awareness and end torture in California
Contact information: California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement
(CFASC), 8018 E. Santa Ana Canyon Rd. Suite 100 #213, Anaheim, CA 92808-1102;
Posted on Friday, 04.20.12
Florida group to end Miss. prison contract
BY JACK ELLIOTT JR.
JACKSON, Miss. -- GEO Group, which operates detention and correctional
facilities, will no longer manage the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in
The Boca Raton, Fla.-based company said Thursday in a news release that the
prison located in the Lost Gap community off Interstate 20 has been "financially
GEO chairman/CEO George C. Zoley said the company told the Mississippi
Department of Corrections it will discontinue the contract July 19.
"We value our long-standing public-private partnership with the State of
Mississippi. Regrettably, we have decided to discontinue our management contract
for the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, which has been financially
underperforming," Zoley said in a statement.
In July 2010, GEO announced it had renewed its contract and would manage the
prison through March 15, 2015. GEO said it expected the contract to generate
about $21.7 million in annual revenue. The company has managed the prison since
Department of Corrections officials had no immediate comment Friday.
The prison opened in 1999. It has a capacity of 1,500 beds for minimum, medium,
close and maximum security male inmates. It primarily houses inmates needing
help with mental disabilities.
The prison is one of five privately-run prisons in the state. The others are the
Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs, the Tallahatchie County
Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility
in Walnut Grove and the Wilkinson County Correctional Center in Woodville.
Corrections Corporation of America, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., manages
the Woodville and Tutwiler prisons. GEO manages the other two.
The Walnut Grove facility is presently under a federal court order to remove
juvenile inmates amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse.
Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps has said his plan is to send the
17-and-younger inmates to Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin
County by Oct. 1. He said there are about 1,000 vacant beds at that prison now,
so there is no need for a new building.
Walnut Grove also houses adults. They would remain there under a settlement that
ended a 2010 lawsuit.
Walnut Grove opened in 2001 in Leake County to incarcerate juveniles who were
tried and convicted as adults. It was run by the private prison firm Cornell
Companies Inc. until Cornell was acquired by the GEO in 2010.
The company has declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The Marshall County facility opened in 1996. It has a capacity for 1,000 medium
security male beds. Tallahatchie County opened in 2002 with a capacity of 2,800
beds. Wilkinson County opened in 1998 with a capacity of 995.
A sixth privately-run prison, the Delta Correction Facility, which was managed
by Corrections Corporation, closed in January.
Read more here:
How America Came To Torture Its Prisoners
I read nearly 140,000 formerly classified documents about Americaís abuse of
prisoners since 2001. Here is what I learned.
By Larry Siems|Posted Friday, April 20, 2012, at 1:37 PM ET
It began with one document.
On Sept. 17, 2001, six days after the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C.,
President George W. Bush sent a 12-page Memorandum of Notification to his
National Security Council. That memorandum, we know now, authorized the Central
Intelligence Agency to set up and run secret prisons. We still donít know
exactly what it says: CIA attorneys have told a judge the document is so
off-limits to the courts and the American people that even the font is
classified. But we do know what it did: It literally opened a space for torture.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuitóa lawsuit the New York Times has
calledďamong the most successful in the history of public disclosureĒówe now
know much of what happened in those secret spaces the Bush administration
created. Under that litigation, theAmerican Civil Liberties Union gathered
nearly 140,000 formerly classified documents from the Department of Defense, the
Justice Department, and the CIA that detail the abuse of prisoners in U.S.
custody in the ďWar on Terror.Ē My job, as the author of the
websitewww.thetorturereport.org and then of the book The Torture Report: What
the Documents Say About Americaís Post-9/11 Torture Program, was to dig through
that incredible trove of documents and figure out for myself what, exactly, my
country had done.
Here is what I learned.
Our highest government officials, up to and including President Bush, broke
international and U.S. laws banning torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment. Worse, they made their subordinates in the military and civilian
intelligence services break those laws for them.
When the men and women they asked to break those laws protested, knowing they
could be prosecuted for torture, they pretended to rewrite the law. They
commissioned legal opinions they said would shield those who carried out the
abuses from being hauled into court, as the torture ban requires. ďThe law has
been changed,Ē detainees around the world were told. ďNo rules apply.Ē
Then they tortured. They tortured men at military bases and detention centers in
Afghanistan and Iraq, in GuantŠnamo, and in U.S. Navy bases on American soil;
they tortured men in secret CIA prisons set up across the globe specifically to
terrorize and torture prisoners; they sent many more to countries with
notoriously abusive regimes and asked them to do the torturing. At least twice,
after the torturers themselves concluded there was no point to further abuse,
Washington ordered that the prisoners be tortured some more.
They tortured innocent people. They tortured people who may have been guilty of
terrorism-related crimes, but they ruined any chance of prosecuting them because
of the torture. They tortured people when the torture had nothing to do with
imminent threats: They tortured based on bad information they had extracted from
others through torture; they tortured to hide their mistakes and to get
confessions; they tortured sometimes just to break people, pure and simple.
And they conspired to cover up their crimes. They did this from the start, by
creating secret facilities and secrecy regimes to keep what they were doing from
the American people and the world. They did it by suppressing and then
destroying evidence, including videotapes of the torture. They did it by denying
detainees legal process because, as the CIAís Inspector General put it in a 2004
report, when you torture someone you create an ďEndgameĒ problem: You end up
with detainees who, ďif not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information
about the circumstances of their detention.Ē
They managed all this, for a time, through secrecyóa secrecy that depended on
the aggressive suppression of two groups of voices.
Over and over again, in Afghanistan and Iraq, in GuantŠnamo, in secret CIA black
sites and at CIA headquarters, in the Pentagon, and in Washington, men and women
recognized the torture for what it was and refused to remain silent. They
objected, protested, and fought to prevent, and then to end, these illegal and
immoral interrogations. While the president and his top advisers approved and
encouraged the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every agency, at every
The documents are full of these voices. In fact, it is thanks to these
dissenters that much of the documentary record exists. From emails among FBI
agents sharing their shock over scenes they had witnessed in interrogation
booths in GuantŠnamo, to letters and memoranda for the record, to major internal
investigations, the documents show that those who ordered and carried out the
torture did so despite constant warnings and objections that their actions were
ineffective, short-sighted, and wrong. It is no wonder that so many of these
documents were suppressed.
Alongside the dissenters, another group of voices surfaces in these
once-classified materials: the men we tortured. Theirs are the voices the entire
system of incommunicado detention and closed tribunals was constructed to
censor, and it worked: To this day, few Americans can identify more than a
handful of detainees by name. Fewer still know how far from the ďworst of the
worstĒ the vast majority of those we tortured turned out to be.
Torture dehumanizes. But that only extends a process of dehumanization that must
take place in order for abuse to happen: It is impossible to torture those whose
humanity we recognize. In joke-filled letters to their attorneys, in frank and
vivid testimony in tribunal transcripts, in startlingly naive and in powerfully
emotional exchanges with interrogators, images emerge not of the maniacal and
monolithic and monstrous, but of distinct and recognizable individuals. To hear
these voices is to begin to reverse the terrible dehumanization the documents
Last month, I was once again in a federal courtroom in New York, watching one of
the last chapters in the remarkable Freedom of Information Act saga that has
unearthed those 140,000 torture documents. The argument that day centered on
whether the CIA would finally be required to release a single photograph of Abu
Zubaydah, who was captured 10 years ago last month and who became the first
subject of the Bush administrationís experiments with ďEnhanced Interrogation
The CIA has gone to extreme lengths to conceal images of Abu Zubaydah and his
treatment first in a secret CIA dungeon in Thailand and later in another CIA
black site in Polandólengths that include destroying 92 videotapes of his
interrogation and torture. It has paid no price for destroying those tapes, or
for holding Abu Zubaydah for more than four years in its network of secret
prisons, or for his well-documented White House-orchestrated torture, which
included 83 episodes of waterboarding, the last one overseen by a Washington
official who flew to the black site because the administration refused to
believe his interrogatorís conclusion that he was not withholding information.
The court has not yet ruled on the question of the photograph. But there is
little reason to believe the CIA will now be required to turn over a picture
that very well may offer graphic evidence of abuseóand at the very least would
drive home the simple fact that the target of so much calculated and extreme
mistreatment was a single, and at the time utterly defenseless, human being.
But we should hardly need that photograph. We already have Abu Zubaydahís own
descriptions of his ordeal, in his statement to the International Committee to
the Red Cross and in his testimony (still heavily redacted) to the GuantŠnamo
tribunals. Those descriptions match exactly the treatment the CIA proposes and
Bushís lawyers approved in the infamous Aug. 1, 2002 torture memos. We donít
have the videotapes, but we do have the list of cables that flowed back and
forth between the Thai black site and Washington reporting on the progress of
Abu Zubaydahís interrogation. And we have the CIA Inspector Generalís appalled
reaction after he flew to Thailand to view those tapes.
It is one thing to be in the dark; it is another thing to have the record of
what happened in the darkness right in front of us, and fail to reckon with it.
That, sadly, is the situation in the United States today.
In March, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that prosecutors in
Poland have charged the countryís former top intelligence official with
depriving Abu Zubaydah and others of their freedom and allowing corporal
punishment in the secret prison the CIA set up and ran near the village of
The CIA shipped Abu Zubaydah from Thailand to Poland on Dec. 4, 2002. When he
arrived in Szymanyóhooded, diapered, shackledóand stepped onto the tarmac with
his armed, CIA-contracted escorts, he was setting foot in a country with one of
the newest constitutions in the world, a nation that in the moving words of that
documentís preamble, remains ďmindful of the bitter experiences of the times
when fundamental freedoms and human rights were violated in our Homeland.Ē
Ratified in 1997óbarely five years before the CIA's plane landedóPoland 's
constitution declares simply, ďNo one may be subjected to torture or cruel,
inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The application of corporal
punishment shall be prohibited.Ē
That the United States operated secret prisons anywhere on earth just so we
could place our prisoners and jailors outside the reach of U.S. laws prohibiting
torture is outrageous, of course. But thereís something especially perverse
about basing one of these facilities in a country whose ďbitter recent
experiencesĒ include first Nazi occupation and extermination camps and then four
decades of communist oppression. Out of those experiences, the people of Poland
created a state that embraces, without reservation, the absolute ban on torture
and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the first thing the United
States does is degrade that state by setting up and running a secret torture
chamber on Polish soil.
How would Americans feel if we learned our government had secretly allowed a
foreign government to violate some of our most basic laws and fundamental
principles on American soil? Shouldnít we be just as outraged to know our
government conspired to violate those laws and principles abroad? That it did so
in secret no longer absolves us: Plenty of the record is public now; now we
know. And with Polandís former spy chief under indictment for facilitating the
CIAís torture, and with similar investigations under way in several other
countries, we, and the world, will soon know more.
A version of this article first appeared in the Dissident Blog on April 17,
I was in the Texas Prison System during the 1970's until the 180's, they were torturing prisoners then and we weren't terrorist! I was stripped naked, handcuffed to shower steam pipes, left hanging there for 12 hours, beaten by six prison guards with 2' pieces if waterhose until I passed out. Cigarettes were put out on my back side while I was out and thrown into solitary confinement for 30 days on three spoons of vegtables once a day. I ended up having to have my eyelids lanced so I could see again, three broken ribs, broken wrist, broken colar bone. Yes we've been torturing prisoners here in American much longer than post 911!
Esteban Rogelio Garcia,
Author of the United States Jailhouse Lawyer's Manual (Authorhouse 2006-2012);
Co-author of Ruiz vs. Estelle,
1972-85 Prison Reform Civil Rights Case;
Founder/CEO of the Texas-Missouri Writ Writer's Associations;
U.S. Prison Reform Coalition
Man convicted of murder who proclaimed his innocence to be freed
Frank O'Connell spent more than 25 years in prison for the 1984 shooting of a
South Pasadena man. A judge found that his right to a fair trial had been
violated when exculpatory evidence wasn't disclosed at his original trial.
By Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
April 21, 2012
Frank O'Connell sat in the same Pasadena courtroom where more than a quarter of
a century ago he was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he insists he did
In front of him, a new judge on Friday delivered the words he had long awaited:
He could go free on bail.
Behind him, his relatives sobbed with relief. His lips trembling and with tears
in his eyes, O'Connell turned to look at his son, who was just 4 when a judge
convicted him of gunning down a maintenance man at a South Pasadena apartment
Nearby, O'Connell's mother blew kisses at him. Then he was embraced by one of
the attorneys on a legal team that had worked for 15 years to win his freedom.
"I'm going home," said a still-handcuffed O'Connell as he walked past
photographers in the packed courtroom.
The scene capped an emotional hearing that followed L.A. County Superior Court
Judge Suzette Clover's decision last month that O'Connell should receive a new
trial. The judge found that sheriff's detectives during his first trial had
failed to disclose evidence pointing to another possible suspect and may have
improperly influenced witnesses.
On Friday, Clover repeated that O'Connell's right to a fair trial had been
violated in 1985 when the "evidence was withheld from both the [prosecution] and
the defense that goes directly to the issue of Mr. O'Connell's guilt or
innocence." Back then, O'Connell had opted for a judge to determine his guilt
rather than a jury, and the evidence that was used to convict him "has now been,
to some degree, called into question," Clover said.
Over the objections of the district attorney's office, which had argued that the
conviction should stand, the judge set O'Connell's bail at $75,000 ó the same
amount as during his original trial.
"I'm just on cloud nine," said his mother, Rosemarie, as her family waited in
hopes of his quick release. "I've always known that he's innocent.... I'm going
to hug him. I'm going to not let him go."
Prosecutors, however, are still reviewing whether there is enough evidence to
retry O'Connell for the shooting of Jay French. French's relatives attended
Friday's court hearing with photos of him smiling with his own son on his lap.
They said they believed O'Connell was guilty and hoped prosecutors would retry
the case. The district attorney's office is expected to announce a decision by
"He's going to be out, but Jay's gone," said French's niece, Gina DeVito
French's wife, Gina French, rushed to his side shortly after the gunshots on
Jan. 5, 1984. She recalled on Friday how her dying husband told her that he
believed his ex-wife, Jeanne Lyon, had something to do with the shooting. Lyon
and French were embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their son, Jay Jr.
Then pregnant with the victim's son, Gina French attended Friday's hearing with
the boy, Bryan, now 27.
"The pain will never stop," she said.
O'Connell's family expressed sympathy for French's relatives but said they had
lost O'Connell for nearly three decades as a result of his wrongful conviction.
"Our nightmare is over, but theirs is not," said one of O'Connell's sisters,
Kathy Baker. "You only dream about this day, but you never believe it will
Detectives focused on O'Connell as a suspect after learning that he had recently
had a romantic relationship with the victim's ex-wife, who was never charged in
the case and denied any involvement in the killing. O'Connell, a former football
star at Glendora High School, also matched the description from witnesses of a
tall, slender blond gunman.
The prosecution's star witness was Daniel Druecker, a tenant in the State Street
apartment complex where the shooting occurred. Druecker identified O'Connell as
the gunman from a photo lineup and testified that he was sure O'Connell was the
At the trial, Judge Sally Disco described the case against O'Connell as
"overwhelming." Among the evidence she highlighted was a police sketch of the
gunman based on Druecker's description that Disco said bore a "striking
resemblance" to O'Connell. She sentenced him to 25 years to life.
But O'Connell never wavered in maintaining his innocence. His cause was
eventually taken up by Centurion Ministries, a nonprofit organization that
advocates for the release of inmates it contends were wrongfully convicted.
Last year, Druecker returned to court and testified that he had barely caught a
glimpse of the gunman's profile and had not been wearing his glasses. He said he
felt pressured and intimidated by the investigators and the justice system and
therefore never admitted that he really didn't know whether O'Connell was the
man he had seen.
In her ruling, Clover described the sheriff's identification procedure with
Druecker as "suggestive" and faulted detectives for not turning over notes from
their investigation. Those notes revealed that another boyfriend of the victim's
ex-wife was suspected of trying to kill French four years earlier. That man was
described as tall with sandy or blond hair.
The judge also cited several sworn declarations presented by O'Connell's defense
from people who said the victim's ex-wife confessed to being involved and said
O'Connell was innocent. Lyon, the victim's ex-wife, could not be reached for
O'Connell posted bail but had yet to be released as of Friday night.
Another of his sisters, Libby Carrasco, said he planned to bring his mother
flowers and chocolates, go to the beach and Disneyland, and visit the grave of
their father, who died in 1994.
"It's unbelievable," she said. "I can't wait to hug him."
Times staff photographer Irfan Khan contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
'Barefoot Bandit' held in solitary at Washington prison
April 21, 2012
SEATTLE (AP) Ė The youthful thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit" is being held
in solitary confinement at a Washington state prison, a situation his lawyer
Twenty-one-year-old Colton Harris-Moore has been placed in the intensive
management unit at Walla WallaState Penitentiary, where convicts facing the
death penalty are housed, the Department of Correctionsconfirmed Friday.
Spokeswoman Selena Davis said it is standard to place high-profile inmates in
such confinement for their own protection.
"You're there by yourself," Davis said. "No one can pose a threat to you."
His Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne, insisted Friday that Harris-Moore
neither needs nor wants such protection. He noted that prior to being
transferred to state prison, Harris-Moore was held at the Federal Detention
Center at SeaTac, where he was in the general population.
Harris-Moore was sentenced in December to seven years in state prison for dozens
of crimes, including burglary and identity theft, stemming from his sensational
two-year run from the law in stolen boats, cars and airplanes. A self-taught
pilot, he was finally apprehended in a hail of bullets in the Bahamas in 2010,
after he crash-landed a plane stolen from an Indiana airport.
Harris-Moore has been in solitary confinement at Walla Walla since April 11, and
he will remain there pending a final decision on his prison placement, expected
in about seven weeks, Davis said. Harris-Moore is allowed out of his cell five
times per week, for an hour each time, plus three 10-minute showers per week.
He's allowed to have books, but no television or radio.
His Seattle lawyer, John Henry Browne, said Friday it's absurd that a nonviolent
felon like Harris-Moore is being held in conditions akin to those of the worst
killers, and he's concerned about Harris-Moore's mental health. Because
Harris-Moore is allowed out of his cell only five times per week, he has at
least once been locked up for 72 hours with no recreation time, Browne said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press
Failures at the FBI crime lab
By Editorial Board, Saturday, April 21, 1:23 AM
KIRK L. ODOM was incarcerated for 20 years and Donald E. Gates for nearly 30 for
crimes they did not commit. Santae A. Tribble spent 28 years behind bars, even
though DNA evidence now shows he almost undoubtedly was not the culprit.
All of the men were erroneously convicted in the District, in part, on the basis
of forensic evidence analyzed by the FBI. Problems within the FBI lab,
particularly with hair-sample analysis, were well known to the agency and the
Justice Department; a task force spent some nine years reviewing cases after a
whistleblower revealed possible shortcomings.
In a series of articles, The Postís Spencer S. Hsu and a team of reporters
documented how the Justice Department failed to notify lawyers representing
prisoners whose fate hinged on the FBI analysis. Some prisoners spent years
behind bars before becoming aware of the lab issues.
The problem continues to this day. The full results of the Justice Department
task forceís investigation have not been made public. Even when the task force
discovered flaws in a case, the information was turned over only to prosecutors,
who were then left to decide whether the results needed to be brought to the
attention of defense lawyers. In addition, the task force reviewed only cases
involving one FBI analyst whose work was called into question; The Post
identified cases where other analystsí work resulted in convictions of innocent
The FBI argues that hair-sample analysis ó in which samples from a suspect are
analyzed microscopically and compared with samples found on a victim or crime
scene ó is a vital and legitimate tool. Advances in DNA testing, which allows
for genetic analysis of evidence, ďshould not be perceived as diminishing the
value of prior practices and testimonies,Ē according to an FBI statement.
Administration law enforcement officials say that all hair samples collected
after 1996 have been subjected to DNA testing, when possible; they point out
that such testing is sometimes off limits because of the size or condition of
the sample. ďIn cases where microscopic hair exams conducted by the FBI resulted
in a conviction, the FBI is evaluating whether additional review is warranted,Ē
the statement said.
This does not go far enough. The agency should not be considering ďwhether
additional review is warrantedĒ but how such a review should be conducted;
members of the defense bar should be part of these discussions. Any review
should, as a start, include DNA testing of hair samples in all cases that ended
in conviction ó regardless of which analyst performed the work ó for which the
defendant is still imprisoned or on parole. The Justice Department should make
its task force results public; if such broad disclosure presents privacy or
security problems, the department should at least make all FBI forensic analysis
and task force material available to defense lawyers.
The failings documented by The Post point to the need for better scientific
standards in forensic testing and a more open process for the disclosure of
evidence and information in criminal proceedings. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
is weighing legislation to expand the role of the National Science Foundation
and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to set such standards.
Congress also should change the law regarding discovery. Prosecutors should not
be deciding which pieces of evidence seem exculpatory and must be turned over to
the defense. They should be required to open their files to defense lawyers,
with exceptions for witness protection or national security.
Mother of Jose Padilla Appeals Torture Lawsuit to U.S. Supreme Court
April 23, 2012
ACLU Suit Seeks to Hold U.S. Government Officials Accountable For Torture of
American Citizen Jose Padilla
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@...
NEW YORK Ė The mother of a U.S. citizen accused of being an ďenemy combatantĒ
and the American Civil Liberties Union today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to
reinstate a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other
officials for their roles in the torture of her son in a South Carolina military
In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower
courtís dismissal of the case brought by Estela Lebron on behalf of her son,
ďIf the appeals courtís ruling is allowed to stand, government officials will
have a blank check to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even
the brutal torture of an American citizen in an American prison,Ē said Ben
Wizner, the ACLU attorney who argued the case before the Fourth Circuit. ďIt is
precisely the role of the courts to ensure that allegations of grave misconduct
by Executive Branch officials receive fair adjudication. That vital role does
not evaporate simply because those officials insist that their actions are too
sensitive for judicial review.Ē
Padilla was taken from a civilian jail in New York in 2002 by military agents,
declared an ďenemy combatantĒ and secretly transported to the Naval Consolidated
Brig in Charleston, S.C. He was imprisoned without charge for nearly four years,
subjected to extreme abuse and was unable to communicate with his lawyers or
family for two years. The illegal treatment included forcing Padilla into stress
positions for hours on end, punching him, depriving him of sleep and threatening
him with further torture and death.
ďTell me where in the Constitution it says that torturing Americans is
acceptable,Ē said Lebron. ďYou donít even treat an animal the way my son was
treated. If they can do this to Jose, they can do it to anyone. Iím going to
continue fighting until justice has been done for my son.Ē
Attorneys on the case are Wizner, Alexander Abdo, Jameel Jaffer, Hina Shamsi and
Steven R. Shapiro, of the ACLU; Jonathan Freiman, Hope Metcalf and Tahlia
Townsend of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale
Law School; and Michael OíConnell of the law firm Stirling & OíConnell.
Todayís appeal filing is available at:
More information about the case is available at:
Calif. prison overhaul would save $1.5B a year
By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press
Monday, April 23, 2012
(04-23) 13:32 PDT Sacramento, Calif. (AP) --
California prison officials released a wide-ranging reorganization plan Monday
that calls for halting a $4 billion prison-construction program and bringing
back all inmates held out of state.
The master plan outlines the department's recommendations for ending years of
federal court oversight, overcrowding, poor inmate medical and mental health
treatment, and soaring budgets.
It came at a time when the nation's largest state prison system is being
transformed by ongoing state budget deficits, federal court orders and a
realignment ordered by the governor that shifts its focus to the most violent
and dangerous offenders.
The changes are possible because of a state law that took effect Oct. 1 that
shifts lower-level offenders from state prisons to county jails. That shift is
the main consequence of a federal court order requiring the state to reduce its
prison population as a way to improve inmate medical care.
"It's a massive change to our system," Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate said
at a Capitol news conference.
Lowering the inmate population eliminates the need for $4.1 billion in
construction projects and will let the state Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation reduce its annual budget by $1.5 billion, officials said.
The plan calls for returning to state prisons by 2016 about 9,500 inmates who
are currently housed in private prisons in other states. That alone would save
the state $318 million a year.
But prison officials also acknowledged for the first time that they will not
meet a June 2013 deadline ordered by federal judges for reducing the state's
prison population to end poor medical and mental health care.
The corrections department said it will ask federal judges to allow the state to
keep an additional 6,000 inmates behind bars, exceeding the limit set by a
special panel. The court's order was upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court,
but the high court also gave the state leeway to negotiate the final inmate
Prison officials likely would have to continue housing inmates in private
prisons out of state if the court rejects the state's higher goal for its inmate
population and orders it to meet next year's deadline.
The federal courts had ordered the state to reduce its inmate population by
40,000 from the record high of 173,479 in 2006, ruling that jamming inmates into
triple bunks, day rooms, gyms and other areas was preventing the rapid and
efficient delivery of medical care. The corrections department has shed a little
more than 20,000 prisoners so far.
While it argues against building new prisons, the corrections department is
going with a separate plan to build medical and mental health facilities to
accommodate the mandates of a federal receivership that has been in place since
2006. That includes a new prison hospital in Stockton to treat inmates requiring
long-term medical care and intensive mental health treatment.
The state and attorneys representing inmates have a deadline next week to
recommend to a federal judge how and when to end the receivership.
"It's our goal to get out of all of our health care-related court oversight by
the end of 2013," Cate said.
Complying with the court oversight of inmate medical and mental health treatment
is just one of the challenges facing the state prison system. Equally
problematic is California's ongoing budget crisis.
The Legislature has cut tens of billions of dollars from higher education,
health care, social services, state parks and other core functions during the
recession, a time when state prison costs have soared.
California's prison costs rose from 3 percent of general fund spending in 1980
to 11 percent in 2009. If the master plan released Monday is implemented, that
would fall to 7.5 percent, according to the report.
Without the realignment moving lower level offenders to county jurisdiction, the
state would have had to build up to nine prisons to avoid the kind of
overcrowding the federal courts have said must end.
County officials have expressed concern over the realignment plan because the
state has not guaranteed them the money to pay for it. Gov. Jerry Brown wants to
place that guarantee in the state Constitution as part of a tax-hike initiative
he is proposing for the November ballot.
The master plan released Monday also calls for closing the California
Rehabilitation Center, a 3,900-inmate medium security prison in the Riverside
County community of Norco, a building that opened in 1928 as a luxury hotel and
served as a Naval hospital before the state took it over.
Closing the prison would save about $160 million a year in operating costs.
Louisiana: Prison Conditions Draw Threat
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
Published: April 23, 2012
In a sternly worded letter delivered to the Orleans Parish sheriff on Monday,
the federal Department of Justicethreatened litigation if ďurgent and
substantial actionĒ were not taken to address widespread constitutional
violations at the Orleans Parish Prison. Last November, as Mondayís letter
publicly disclosed, federal officials sent the sheriff a draft consent decree,
an agreed-upon but judicially mandated blueprint for comprehensive reform. The
letter charged that the sheriff, Marlin Gusman, had ďfailed to seriously
negotiateĒ since then, and that problems found in a federal investigation into
the jail over two years ago ďhave persisted or have worsened.Ē In response to
growing criticism, Sheriff Gusman announced the closing of one of the largest
buildings at the jail complex two weeks ago.
APRIL 24, 2012
Prosecutor Misconduct & the Obama Administration
by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.
One of the issues driving protesters participating in the April 24, 2012 Occupy
The Justice Department demonstration is an issue that U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder knows well: prosecutorial misconduct.
Holder knows this misconduct issue well because he has criticized it during
congressional testimony, in fact as recently as March 2012 when he was
commenting on a special prosecutorís report castigating the wrongdoing of
That wrongdoing, Holder acknowledged, unlawfully tainted the corruption
investigation and 2008 trial of the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who was
convicted of corruption in his home state of Alaska.
Protesters, including fiery Philadelphia activist Pam Africa, want Holder to
take action against the prosecutorial misconduct evident in scores of unjust
convictions that have led to the wrongful imprisonment of political prisoners
across America, most of them jailed for two or more decades.
Those political prisoners Ė ignored domestically while exalted abroad Ė include
Native American activist Leonard Peltier, Puerto Rican Nationalist Oscar Lopez
Rivera, the Cuban 5, author/activist Mumia Abu-Jamal and other former Black
Panther Party members like the Omaha Two (Ed Poindexter and Mondo W. Langa).
Demands of the Occupy The Justice Department protesters include the immediate
release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the freeing all political prisoners, ending of the
racist death penalty and the ending solitary confinement and torture.
Individuals and incidents underlying those demands are within the purview of
USAG Holder to investigate and/or to act immediately to resolve.
April 24th is the birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most recognized U.S.
political prisoner worldwide.
Abu-Jamal, for example, was the subject of two demonstrations held recently
outside the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany, one of which included extending a
2,200-foot banner around that embassy building.
Pam Africa is the head of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia
Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia-based organization at the center of the
international movement seeking Abu-Jamalís release.
Africa is the dynamo who most Philadelphia police, prosecutors, politicians and
many pastors love to hate because of her strident advocacy on behalf of both
imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and the MOVE members sentenced for a fatal
The advocacy of Pam Africa on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal Ė helping construct
support networks while confronting incessant opposition Ė contributed to the
climate where U.S. federal courts late last year finally killed the death
sentence Abu-Jamal received following his controversial 1982 conviction for
killing a policeman.
Abu-Jamal is now fighting against a life-without-parole sentence, which was
automatically imposed when the death sentence was invalidated.
That elimination of Abu-Jamalís government-sanctioned murder chagrined powerful
figures across Pennsylvania and around America who had shamefully bent and
broken laws (deliberately sabotaging court proceedings) in their various failed
efforts to execute Abu-Jamal, known widely as the Voice-of-the-Voiceless.
While winning freedom for Abu-Jamal and the MOVE 9 is a prime focus of Pam
Africaís advocacy work, she is frequently found on Ďfront-linesí nationwide
fighting for and end to the mistreatment of people regardless of their color and
ďPam Africa is in each and every struggle for social justice in Philadelphia,
the U.S. and abroad. Itís not just Mumia,Ē said Latino activist/writer Berta
Joubert-Ceci, who recently chaired a program featuring former U.S. Congresswoman
Cynthia McKinney in West Philadelphia.
Dr. Claude Guillaumaud, a professor in France who has known Africa for 20-years,
said sheís ďhad time to appreciate her warm personality and total commitment to
the cause of Mumia and the fight against racial discrimination and the barbaric
Temple University African-American history professor Dr. Tony Monterio first met
Pam Africa during an ugly June 1979 incident in South Philadelphia where local
police beat Africa. Philadelphia police pummeled her with nightsticks with one
stick-strike knocking out some of her teeth.
The scholar in Dr. Monterio sees Pam Africa as a unique figure whose
contributions locally, nationally and internationally merit both examination and
ďSheís made history but she didnít set out to make history. She started
initially just to do the right thing,Ē Monterio said during a recent interview.
Monterio is a force behind two recent events honoring Pam Africaís
accomplishments. He has initiated a process for what he envisions as a study of
Africaís life works.
Prosecutorial misconduct is a core element in the Abu-Jamal case, albeit a
festering injustice ignored by state and federal courts that have refused to
grant legal relief to Abu-Jamal despite granting new trials to others where the
evidence of prosecutorial misconduct was far less grievous than that evident in
the Abu-Jamal case.
One example of prosecutorial misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case occurred during
his 1982 murder trial, when the prosecutor perverted a comment Abu-Jamal made
over a decade earlier when responding to a reporterís question about the
December 1969 murder by Chicago Police of Chicago Black Panther Party leader
The police assassination of Hampton, later linked to the FBIís infamous
COINTELPRO campaign, outraged many at the time, including leaders as diverse as
the then head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins and former U.S. United Nations
Ambassador and Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg.
Hamptonís assassination, later documented by congressional and other
investigations, was a part of a joint police-FBI campaign to slay BPP members
which led to 28 BPP deaths between January 1968 and December 1969.
As a teenaged BBP member, Abu-Jamal told that reporter that Hamptonís murder
proved that ďpowerĒ comes from the barrel of a gun.
But the 1982 trial prosecutor shifted the context of Abu-Jamalís comment from
applying it to the police killing Black Panthers to a supposed proclamation of
Abu-Jamalís intent to kill police. It was one of many factual
mischaracterizations that millions worldwide constantly cite when charging
Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.
That improper perversion of Abu-Jamalís 12-year-old comment made when he was
just 15 helped sway jurors to send an award-winning journalist with no criminal
record to death row. That same prosecutor had improperly excluded blacks from
Abu-Jamalís trial jury despite their having declared their willingness to impose
a death penalty if warranted by the arguments at trial.
Not only was the prosecutor, Joseph McGillís, twisting of Abu-Jamalís comment an
improper tactic. It violated associational rights granted under the First
The U.S. Supreme Court gave new hearings in the early 1990s to two convicted
murderers Ė- a white racist prisoner gang member in Delaware and a white devil
worshipper in Nevada -Ė while denying comparable relief to former BPP member
Abu-Jamal three times on the exact same issue.
USAG Eric Holder, shortly after taking office in January 2009, went to court
successfully to request dismissal of Sen. Stevensí conviction, after finding
that the federal prosecutor in that case withheld evidence of innocence from
Stevensí defense team and also tampered with witnesses and documents.
The recent release of the special prosecutorís report in the Stevens case
confirmed prosecutorial misconduct and wrongdoing that were also clearly rampant
in the case of Abu-Jamal and other U.S. political prisoners.
The Occupy The Justice Department demonstrators are raising the issue of
Holderís credibility and of the ethical integrity of the Obama Administration in
acting to dismiss the wrongful conviction of ex-Senator Stevens while ignoring
the continued imprisonment of U.S. political prisoners who were also victims of
misconduct by police and prosecutors.
On December 9, 2011 Ė- one day before the U.N. annual Human Rights Day Ė- Noble
Peace Prize Laureate and noted anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu
asked America to ďrise to the challenge of reconciliation, human rights and
justiceĒ in calling for the ďimmediate releaseĒ of Abu-Jamal.
Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Canít Be Happening and a contributor
to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK
Press. He lives in Philadelphia.
Smaller prison system in California faces hurdles
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
California's prison system may be headed in a remarkable direction. Serious
challenges remain, but the state corrections empire intends to get smaller,
cheaper and possibly better for inmates.
The reversal has a number of causes. Federal courts are demanding that state
lockups be less crowded and unhealthy. Gov.Jerry Brown is eager to save money
from a system whose costs have soared to nearly 8 percent of the state budget.
Also, crime rates have diminished across the board. That shift gives the public
a breather from safety worries that fueled tougher laws, longer sentences and
billions spent on prison construction.
These factors lie behind a major overhaul of corrections policies designed to
save billions and remake the sprawling 33-prison system. The changes would halt
some prison construction projects, shutter one facility and bring back some
9,500 inmates from out-of-state lockups. A proposal for a new inmate medical
prison would go forward to meet legal challenges. In addition, months-old
"realignment" policies that have shipped some 20,000 low-risk inmates to county
facilities would continue.
A smaller prison system - down from 140,000 inmates to just more than 110,000 -
still isn't guaranteed. Federal judges, who oversee prison health care, need to
be convinced that the new system will mean better mental health and medical
treatment. The reduced population would still be larger than the level ordered
by other court decrees and far above original designed capacity, as prisoner
rights groups note.
Another factor will be the state's powerful prison guards union, which has grown
in size and influence through two decades of prison building and steady support
for state officeholders. For now the labor group is noncommittal on the
reductions unveiled on Monday by corrections chief Matthew Cate, though the plan
was careful to include an end to using out-of-state private prisons, a practice
the guards union has long opposed.
Finally, there's a political threshold of legislative approval and a public vote
in November on taxes favored by Brown that include money for local jails where
many inmates are being sent. Plenty remains to be done to remake the corrections
bureaucracy, especially around the hot-button issue of crime and punishment.
Still, if all these obstacles are overcome, it could be a new era for the state
prison system. Some $30 billion over the next decade could be saved. Crowding
and poor medical and health care could be improved.
Any of these improvements would be a major achievement for what has become a
broken and costly public obligation.
This article appeared on page A - 13 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Unwise outsourcing of prison health care
April 25, 2012
BY DANA COPE
Hiring private contractors to take over the stateís prison health care system is
a bad move for North Carolina and for all of us in the state who pay taxes.
Privatization wonít save money, and if other states are a guide, initial
low-ball bids and multiple malpractice suits will push the stateís costs even
Deliberate understaffing at Central Prison has led to many negative outcomes.
But it looks like the Perdue administration would rather scapegoat 2,500 prison
medical professionals than acknowledge its own culpability and fix the problems.
Letís call this privatization proposal what it is Ė either a leadership failure
or a sweetheart deal for a private prison contractor with job promises to
high-ranking lame-duck politicians and political appointees looking for a
parachute because the boss decided to forgo another term.
Privatization almost never works with large government tasks. Just look at
government contractorsí waste and fraud in Iraq or the horrible problems in
private prisons in Ohio or Tennessee. Privatization will put a sign at our
borders telling out-of-state companies to come on in and haul away piles of
Despite the lack of evidence in other states that outsourcing saves money, the
Department of Public Safety decided to look at privatization as a way to cut
costs. But significant cost saving from privatized prison medical care is
illusory, according to Alex Friedman, an editor at Prison Legal News. States
that have turned medical care over to for-profit companies find themselves in
the middle of negligent care lawsuits. Itís happened in Florida, New York and
The Perdue administration views privatization as a fig leaf to cover up its
incompetent management of the system. Eager to look like itís doing something Ė
anything Ė to fix the problem, the governor asked for privatization proposals
from companies big enough to handle a system that now spends $244 million caring
for 40,000 prisoners in 70 facilities.
But the companies big enough to handle North Carolinaís system arenít good at
it. Corizon Healthcare might bid, but the two companies that merged to create
it, Correctional Medical Services, Inc. (CMS) and Prison Health Services (PHS),
have been under investigation in several states. A recent report on their
handling of services in Idaho said it constituted ďcruel and unusual
Private prison companies make money by keeping costs down among a set of
patients who, on average, are sicker than people who are not in prison. These
companies misrepresent medical records, fail to treat common problems that lead
to more significant problems and treat problems incorrectly. The business model
is to put off care until the person is out of the system, where someone else
foots the bill. Thatís a win for the company.
But that win is a problem for states with privatized prison care and would be a
problem for North Carolina, too. Ex-convicts with medical problems end up
getting their care paid for by the taxpayer.
Even if we get past the moral issue of not giving proper medical care to a
22-year-old diabetic serving a one-year sentence for passing bad checks (which
happened in Arizona), we still foot the bill for the leg amputation once he gets
out of prison. The private prison medical company scores that a success Ė thatís
money out of our pockets, not theirs.
Even the state of Texas Ė where privatization is a hallowed word Ė caught
itself. Republican legislators in Texas took time to see all the problems with
outsourcing prison medical care. So, this year, after Gov. Rick Perry pushed,
lawmakers pushed back. The impetus? Perry had received an influx of campaign
contributions from private prison lobbyists and CEOs.
A similar story is about to happen here. Now that the governor has signaled she
will explore privatization, look for job promises from prison medical care
companies to political appointees and lucrative lobbying contracts for
well-connected Democratic operatives with ties to the governor. It will be hard
for appointees with pending job losses to resist giving in, despite the evidence
that taxpayers lose when prison health care is turned over to big business.
North Carolina can and should say ďNoĒ to privatizing prison medical care.
Turning prison medical care over to big business will make taxpayers sick.
Dana Cope is executive director of the State Employees Association of North
Read more here:
EDITORIAL: THE NEXT D.A.
California's justice revolution
L.A. County's next D.A. should present well-thought-out policies for re-creating
the justice system and making the reforms stick.
April 25, 2012
California is on the verge of a justice revolution. Realignment, as it is known,
is a set of changes thrust upon the state by our collective inertia: Prisons had
become so overcrowded as to violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against
cruel and unusual punishment, and Californians demonstrated no will to pay more
money for more prisons. As a result, the courts ordered the prisons to reduce
their inmate population by 30,000 over the next two years. So Gov. Jerry Brown
and the Democratic-controlled Legislature quickly and somewhat carelessly
adopted realignment, which transfers responsibility for many felons who have
completed their prison time, and many newly convicted felons, from the state to
the counties. In the process, the shift clears a festering multimillion-dollar
problem from the state's books.
But the philosophy behind realignment is based on more than a decade of
thinking, studying, evidence-gathering and soul-searching over the costly cycle
of crime, incarceration, failure and return to prison. Felons who are yet
salvageable ó whose crimes are neither serious nor sexual nor violent ó can be
supervised, treated and monitored at the local level instead of being housed
with hardened convicts in distant and costly state facilities. Agencies can
assess defendants and separate those who need treatment from those who need to
be under lock and key. The public can be safer, the cycle can be broken, and tax
money can be spent more constructively ó and more frugally.
This revolution will be won, with crime rates continuing to fall and with a
corrections and rehabilitation complex finally worthy of the names, or it will
be lost, with treatment money spent instead on more lockups and with
bureaucratic slip-ups leading to the wrong people going free, based on the
decisions of just a few key Californians over the coming several years. One of
them will be the next district attorney of Los Angeles County.
Nearly half the state's population of addicts, mentally ill and petty offenders
ó foolishly incarcerated in costly and overcrowded institutions ó comes from
this county, as does nearly half the population of California's most dangerous
and violent criminals. The Los Angeles County district attorney will set the
course. Realignment will be the office's centerpiece.
Voters who are sifting through the candidates for district attorney should know
some basics about realignment. The program comes in four parts, all of which
focus on gradually transferring some responsibilities from the state to the
counties: State inmates who were incarcerated for nonviolent, non-serious and
non-sexual crimes leave prison on the same schedule and return to the same home
communities as before, but they now report to county probation officers instead
of state parole agents. Former inmates under supervision who are accused of
violating the terms of their release and who would previously have gone to a
parole board for a decision on revocation now go to court. Former inmates whose
parole is revoked will go to county jail instead of state prison. And new
convicts who formerly would go to state prison to serve their sentences for most
nonviolent, non-serious and non-sexual offenses will now go to county jail, or
to alternative punishment or supervision (some 60 offenses that fall within the
so-called non-non-non group still will result in state prison time).
Voters should expect the six candidates for district attorney to have mastered
the facts of realignment and to be able to present well-thought-out policies for
re-creating the justice system in Los Angeles County and making the reforms
But today, none of the candidates seems completely prepared to grapple with what
to do next. Some repeat falsehoods as if they were gospel: Los Angeles County's
jails are overcrowded (false; they are at about half capacity). California's
recidivism rate is 70% (meaningless, without distinguishing between a new
criminal offense that should land an offender back behind bars and a technical
parole violation, such as failing to report to an agent in time). Realignment
puts parolees on our streets unsupervised (a blatant falsehood). State prisoners
are being released early under realignment (false). But it's true that if
prosecutors, the courts and the sheriff are not careful, they will release
people whom they should keep. And it's true that under realignment, more jail
inmates (as opposed to prison inmates) may be unsupervised upon release.
Alan Jackson has two answers to realignment: repeal it (which is not going to
happen, and Jackson knows it) and allow counties to send prisoners out of state
instead of seeking alternative treatment and supervision for those who can
respond to it. Carmen Trutanich repeats the old saw that "we cannot start
crying, 'The sky is falling.' " We know that, but what would he do as D.A. to
make realignment work? "This is a terrible mistake," Jackie Lacey offers
somewhat wearily. "But it's also an opportunity." Very well, but how will she
respond to that opportunity?
Danette Meyers sees part of the solution in training prosecutors, and her
approach has some promise: seek probation, so that defendants may remain on the
hook until they have completed restitution to their victims. And Bobby Grace
says the district attorney must take a stronger role in seeking funding for
reentry programs that keep the public safe and direct the offender toward a
But we need more from the district attorney candidates. More details, more
facts, more information about the level of their commitment to remaking the
justice system in a way that works. Realignment should be a key issue in this
campaign, along with the others outlined in The Times' "The Next D.A." series:
juvenile justice, three strikes, the death penalty, and public integrity. They
still have a few weeks to make their case.
Defense witness statements could help free inmate
By Ed Meyer
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published: April 25, 2012 - 10:31 PM
Extensive court filings seeking a new trial for Dewey Jones in his 1993 Summit
County murder case claim DNA test results of crime-scene evidence are not the
only potential signs of a wrongful conviction.
The 84-page motion filed in the case by the Ohio Innocence Project also says
statements from a new defense witness will exonerate Jones and implicate another
suspect who was under suspicion early by Akron police.
Dewey Amos Jones III, now 50, was convicted in a March 1995 jury trial of the
murder and robbery of Neal Rankin, a Goodyear retiree from Akron, on Valentineís
He was bound with rope and shot to death at his Independence Avenue home in the
Chapel Hill area of the city.
Brittany Jones, who was 7 years old when her father was sent away for the crime,
said she was ecstatic Tuesday night after reading the full text of the Innocence
ďThe next best thing to the news about the DNA tests,Ē she said, ďis going to be
him walking out of prison.
ďIf his trial had happened today, the case would have been thrown out of court.Ē
Results of the DNA tests, which were conducted by the Cincinnati branch of the
DNA Diagnostics Center in nearby Fairfield, were announced in a Columbus
Dispatch story Tuesday.
The tests found an unknown DNA sample of male blood on a piece of nylon rope
used to tie Rankinís wrists, a knife used to cut the rope and a section of
Rankinís shirt sleeves.
Carrie Wood, the Innocence Project lawyer who is in charge of the defense case,
said none of that crime-scene evidence matches the DNA profiles of Dewey Jones
Wood, however, acknowledged that ďthere is still a long process to goĒ if her
requests for a new trial or vacated conviction are granted.
A decision probably will be made early this summer by Summit County Common Pleas
Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.
Rowlands is not permitted to discuss specifics of the case, but in a meeting in
her chambers Wednesday morning, she outlined the size of the legal task she
faces in making a decision. The preliminary Innocence Project case file is at
least 3 inches thick.
A tentative court schedule calls for the prosecution to file a response to the
defense records by May 24, followed by reply briefs from the Innocence Project
by June 7 and, finally, a decision from Rowlands by July 9.
Wood said she talked to Jones about the DNA findings in a phone interview from
Richland Correctional Institution this week.
ďHis reaction is that heís known all along that they wouldnít find his DNA and
that heís happy weíre finally moving forward in requesting the judge overturn
his conviction,Ē Wood said.
Wood is a Cornell University graduate and a former public defender for the Legal
Aid Society in New York City.
She was one of the Innocence Project lawyers involved in the overturned rape
conviction of Raymond Towler of Cleveland.
The Cuyahoga County case received nationwide attention in May 2010, when Towler
was freed from prison after serving 29 years for the rape of an 11-year-old
Tests of preserved DNA evidence from the girlís clothes showed Towler was not
In this weekís filing in the Dewey Jones case, Wood said that statements by a
new defense witness will ďimplicate Gary RusuĒ in the Rankin slaying.
Months before the arrest of Dewey Jones, Akron police arrested Rusu and two
additional suspects, including Jonesí wife, Lori G. Jones, for the murder.
However, prosecutors dismissed charges against all three in late 1994, within
days of their trials, for lack of evidence.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at emeyer@....
Probation and parole: a study in criminal justice dysfunction
Probation and parole are intended to keep people out of prison, but poor
administration means they just keep refilling it
ē Sadhbh Walshe
ē guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 April 2012 20.30 BST
The 2.3 million or so Americans currently doing time in prison have been getting
a lot of attention of late, mostly because there are far too many of them and
they are costing far too much. Far less attention has been paid to the
additional 5 million Americans on parole, probation or some other form of
correctional supervision. This is unfortunate as this latter group's numbers
have been increasing at a much faster rate and, as it turns out, have been
helping to swell, rather than shrink, the very prison population they are
supposed to reduce.
Parole and probation are intended as alternatives to incarceration for eligible
offenders not deemed a threat to public safety, with parole being granted at the
end of a stint in prison and probation generally in lieu of one. But because the
system, (or, more accurately, lack of a system) is overburdened, underfunded and
haphazardly managed, it frequently functions just as well as a feeder system,
ensuring prison beds do not stay empty for long. In fact, according to a report
compiled by the Pew Center for the States (pdf), parole violators accounted for
over a third of all prison admissions in 2005 and "half the US jail population
is the consequence of failure of community supervision."
This is an unfortunate state of affairs at a time when no one (and no state
budget, certainly) has money to be wasting. The average daily cost of
supervising a probationer in the fiscal year 2008 was $3.42, while the average
daily cost of keeping an inmate in prison is $78.95. Obviously, if the offender
is not a danger, it makes more sense to get him (it nearly always is "him") back
on his feet and as far away from the dependency model that is prison as soon as
Even the so-called "tough on crime" contingent is starting to see that
rehabilitation is a more viable alternative, fiscally at least, than prolonged
incarceration. Yet, in all but a few jurisdictions, little or nothing is done to
help keep probationers on the straight and narrow, or to help former prisoners
reintegrate. In some ways, the system seems guaranteed to fail both them and
There are two ways parolees and probationers end up in prison: committing a new
crime or committing a technical violation of their probation terms. Exact
numbers are hard to come by, but analysts estimate that only about half of
violations are the result of a new crime. Ideally, both scenarios can be
avoided; the former by establishing adequate support systems to help offenders
get jobs and get off drugs; the latter by exercising some common sense regarding
what constitutes a violation.
Offenders who fail to show up at their meetings because they cannot pay the
probation fees should not be sent to prison. Neither should drug-addicted
offenders who cannot participate in the required treatment program because it is
not available in their area; nor unskilled and uneducated offenders who can't
find gainful employment; nor indigent offenders who are unable to establish a
stable residence and support any dependents; nor illiterate offenders who cannot
fill out the right forms. Yet, these kinds of "violations" are often enough to
put people in prison or get them sent back to prison, as this story told by an
"When I was in the halfway house, a very nice man, James, living there was
working at the Sacramento Bee as a janitor. James' wages supported his wife and
children and he was well on his way to a successful re-entry. Because he had
great difficulty with writing and arithmetic, he was late in turning in his
reports to his probation officer three months in a row. One morning when he was
at work, James was thrown over a desk, handcuffed, and dragged off to prison,
costing him his job and leaving his family without his paycheck.
"James had not committed a new crime: he hadn't complied with the paperwork
requirements of his parole. The decision to send him back to prison was a waste
of taxpayers' money, and a tragedy for James and his family."
On the flip side, many offenders can, and do, get away with multiple violations
without sanction, which encourages more bad behavior until the transgressions
reach a tipping point and they get in front of the wrong judge in the wrong
mood, who locks them up for 20 years. It was this inconsistency that led Judge
Steven Alm to set up Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program
(Hope), which has proven to be a highly effective means of reducing recidivism
and getting offenders off drugs. Hope's success relies on the concept of swift
and certain punishment, or "flash incarceration", so that a violation will
result in a few days in prison (or a weekend in prison, if you have a job), but
will spare the offender years or even decades of prolonged and counterproductive
So far, however, other states have been reluctant to adopt Hope's model, even
though it has succeeded in doing exactly probation is supposed to do: keep more
people out of prison.
Interested parties can write to:
PO Box 1466
New York, NY 10150
Or send an email to: sadhbh@...
Please sign this online petition in support of a shareholder resolution that
would require Corrections Corp. of America (CCA) to report on its efforts to
reduce prison rape and sexual abuse at its for-profit facilities.
CCA is strongly opposed to the resolution, and has advised shareholders to vote
AGAINST it. Sign the petition and send a message to CCA that the company needs
to be held accountable for its efforts to reduce incidents of rape and sexual
Also, please distribute the link to the petition widely; let's see how many
signatures we can get!
U.S. Jail Population Declines for Third Consecutive Year
By Bureau of Justice Statistics
Published: Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2012 - 10:11 am
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2012 -- /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. jail inmate
population declined for a third consecutive year, the Justice Department's
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. From June 2010 to June 2011,
the jail inmate population declined 1.8 percent, dropping to 735,601 from
Local jails, unlike prisons, are confinement facilities mainly operated by a
local law enforcement agency. Jails typically hold inmates while they await
court action or serve a sentence of one year or less.
In midyear 2011, the jail incarceration rate dropped to the lowest level since
2002. Jails confined 236 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents in June 2011, down
from 238 inmates per 100,000 in June 2003.
The decline in confined population in the largest jailsóthose with an average
daily population of more than 1,000 inmatesóaccounted for more than half (53
percent) of the total decline of 13,127 inmates that occurred during 2011. An
overall decline was also observed in the jail jurisdictions with an average
daily population of fewer than 1,000 inmates.
Jails were operating at 84 percent of their rated capacity at midyear 2011, the
lowest percentage since 1984. The total rated capacity for all jails nationwide
reached 877,302 beds at midyear 2011, up from 866,782 beds at midyear 2010,
about a 1 percent increase in the number of beds.
At midyear 2011, about 61 percent of inmates were not convicted, but were in
jail awaiting court action on a current chargeóa rate unchanged since 2005.
About 39 percent of inmates were sentenced offenders or convicted offenders
During the 12 months ending midyear 2011, local jails admitted an estimated 11.8
million persons, down from 12.9 million persons admitted during the same period
in 2010 and 13.6 million in 2008. The number of persons admitted in 2011 was
about 16 times the size of the inmate population (735,601) at midyear 2011.
Nearly four in 10 admissions during the last week of June 2011 were to the
largest jail jurisdictions.
Small jail jurisdictions holding fewer than 50 inmates accounted for about seven
percent of all jail admissions. However, the number of inmates admitted to these
jails was about 32 times the size of their inmate population on June 30, 2011.
Jail authorities were also responsible for supervising 62,816 offenders outside
of the jail facilities, including 11,950 under electronic monitoring, 11,369 in
weekend programs, 11,680 in community service programs, and 10,464 in other
pretrial release programs. An additional 17,353 offenders were also supervised
through home detention without electronic monitoring, day reporting,treatment
programs, and other unspecified programs.
The report, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011 Ė Statistical Tables (NCJ 237961), was
written by BJS statistician Todd D. Minton. Following publication, the report
can be found at http://www.bjs.gov. After release of the report, the public-use
data set for the 2011 Annual Survey of Jails will be available at the National
Archive of Criminal Justice Data athttp://dx.doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR33722.v1.
For additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' statistical
reports and programs, please visit the BJS website at http://www.bjs.gov/.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Acting Assistant Attorney
General Mary Lou Leary, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's
capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims.
OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice
Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice
and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of
Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.
More information about OJP can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.
SOURCE Bureau of Justice Statistics
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