Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility: The Mysterious Phantom Prison

     Mount McGregor is a mountain in Saratoga County in upstate New York. In 1913, in the mountain town of Moreau, the state built a tuberculosis treatment retreat called The Sanatorium On The Mountain. The facility closed in 1945 and re…

     Mount McGregor is a mountain in Saratoga County in upstate New York. In 1913, in the mountain town of Moreau, the state built a tuberculosis treatment retreat called The Sanatorium On The Mountain. The facility closed in 1945 and remained unused until the New York Department of Corrections, in the 1970s, converted the abandoned complex into a medium security prison for men. The McGregor Correctional Facility, because of a series of prison escapes, became known as "Camp Walkaway." In 2014 the state closed the penitentiary.

     The Grant State Historic Site sits on the grounds of the empty prison. The main tourist attraction on the site is Grant's Cottage where Ulysses S. Grant spent the last weeks of his life finishing his memoir. Grant died of throat cancer in 1885. (To this day, Grant's memoir is considered the gold standard in the genre.)

     On July 23, 2014, a WNYT-TV crew led by reporter Mark Mulholland showed up at Grant's Cottage to film a piece in honor of his death 129 years ago. The next day, the television crew returned to the historic site to finish the project.

     As the TV crew shot footage of Grant's Cottage that just happened to include, in the background, a view of the former prison, a New York state collections officer drove up to inform Mulholland that he was not allowed to film anything on Mount Gregor. The officer, who identified himself as Lieutenant Dom, said, "No filming."

     The stunned reporter replied, "We're doing a story on Grant's Cottage."

     Lieutenant Dom, apparently under the illusion that the television people were on the mountain to clandestinely film and do a story on the closed prison, said, "You're up here for different purposes. You'll have to leave the mountain."

     "Are you telling me we can't visit a historic site?"

     "You can visit but you can't film at Grant's Cottage," the officer replied.

     When reporter Mulholland and his colleagues tried to film the cottage from another spot, other corrections officers came onto the scene and blocked their access to the site.

     As Mulholland and his crew started to drive off McGregor Mountain they were stopped by a state trooper who demanded they turn over the footage they had shot of Grant's Cottage. Mulholland couldn't believe a state police officer wanted to confiscate their footage of a public tourist attraction.

     The reporter, after making calls to his TV station and other officials with the state, left the mountain with his Grant's Cottage footage.

     A few days later, a spokesperson for the New York Department of Corrections told a WNYT-TV correspondent that Mulholland and his people had "blatantly disregarded a state police officer who informed them they were trespassing." Moreover, according to this corrections bureaucrat, "department regulations state that photographs and video taken on prison grounds require prior permission." This policy, according to the spokesperson, was for the "safety of all staff, visitors and prisoners."

     It didn't matter that the prison seen in the background didn't have prisoners or institutional visitors. Perhaps the corrections officials were worried that the TV crew was doing an expose about a vacant prison that still employed 76 corrections officers.



How Florida Prisons Use Solitary Confinement

A six-year study of Florida prisons finds that age and gender are more significant than race in determining which inmates receive the harshest punishment that authorities can mete out for violating the rules.

Younger inmates of Florida prisons are more likely to be confined to solitary cells, regardless of their race or ethnicity, according to a six-year study of punishments for disciplinary infractions in the state’s penal institutions.

The study, entitled Solitary Confinement as Punishment: Examining In-Prison Sanctioning Disparities, found that age and gender are more significant than race in determining which prisoners receive the harshest punishment that authorities can mete out for violating the rules.

The study authors said their findings offer “little support for the hypothesis that minority males, or young minority males, are sanctioned more harshly than other inmates.”

At the same time, they cautioned that the study “should not be construed to suggest that racial and ethnic disparities do not exist in prisons.”

The study examined how authorities at state prison facilities dealt with 89, 133 inmate disciplinary infractions from January 1, 2005 to December 30, 2011.

It found that males were more likely than females to be placed in solitary confinement as disciplinary punishment during that six-year period, and that younger females are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement than older female inmates.

The research, published online this month on Justice Quarterly. was conducted by Joshua C. Cochran of the University of Cincinnati; Elisa L. Toman of Sam Houston State University; and Daniel P. Mears and William D. Bales of Florida State University.

The authors called for further research to examine the effectiveness of solitary confinement and how it can help or harm those who are disproportionally punished.

“There is, too, a need for policies and oversight that can ensure that prison punishments are fair, warranted, and effective—and that, at the same time, solitary confinement in general occurs in a way that also is fair, warranted, and effective,” the authors concluded.

This study is available for purchase. Journalists can receive a full copy by contacting Victoria Mckenzie at A summary is available here.

This summary was prepared by Davi Hernandez, an intern with The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Decreasing Criminality and Parole and Probation

Observations Offenders will not change until they are personally ready for change. Major events like parenthood, a job or treatment seemed to have little impact unless the offender was ready for change. Parole was not only a failed deterrent for many, but it was a direct impediment to successful reentry. Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. […]

Observations Offenders will not change until they are personally ready for change. Major events like parenthood, a job or treatment seemed to have little impact unless the offender was ready for change. Parole was not only a failed deterrent for many, but it was a direct impediment to successful reentry. Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. […]


Average Bail for Pretrial Detainees in NYC Doubled to $16,800, Report Finds

The new study released by John Jay College of Criminal Justice also says the average length of stay for pretrial detainees has increased from 40 to 55 days between 2000 and 2015— even as the number of detentions has dropped.

The average cash bail set for pretrial admissions in New York City has doubled from $7,800 to $16,800 in the past 15 years, and the pretrial length of stay has increased significantly from 2000 to 2015—even as the admissions for pretrial detention decreased by almost half, according to a new study on pretrial detentions in New York City.

The report, released today by the Misdemeanor Justice Project (MJP) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the average time in detention has gone from 40 to 55 days.  

The study also indicates a dramatic change in the criminal profile of detainees over the 15 year period.  While the number of those detained on drug felony charges dropped, violent crime charges increased, representing the highest crime category by 2015.

John Jay President Jeremy Travis and Professor Preeti Chauhan presented key findings of the study this morning at a forum co-sponsored by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City.

“Understanding trends in custody is complex and impacted by the characteristics of those coming through the front door of corrections,” said Professor Chauhan.  “In this report, we examine trends in bail amount, length of stay and discharge status by charge level and category, demographics and borough, and seek to provide background information about how the pretrial admissions population has changed over time.

“We hope this report adds to a better understanding of those detained pretrial in New York City; an understudied group.”

Key findings of the report include:

  1. The average pretrial length of stay increased significantly, from 40 days to 55 days. The average pretrial length of stay for felony admissions increased from 62 days to 80 days and for misdemeanor admissions from 13 days to 17 days.
  2. For pretrial admissions, the charge categories with the largest increases in pretrial length of stay were violent crimes, burglary, and weapon charges. The average pretrial length of stay for violent crimes increased from 89 days to 119 days (a 34.9 percent increase), for burglary increased from 71 to 96 days (a 35.1 percent increase), and for weapon charges increased from 40 to 72 days (a 78.4 percent increase).
  3. The average bail amount set for pretrial admissions more than doubled, from approximately $7,800 to $16,800. Average bail amounts increased for felony admissions ($12,600 to $26,000) and misdemeanor admissions ($1,500 to $2,100).
  4. For pretrial admissions, the highest proportion of discharges were for bail paid, 30.3 percent in 2000 and 35.4 percent in 2015.  Discharges for ROR, the second highest proportion of discharges, accounted for 23.3 percent in 2000 and 21.5 percent in 2015. The average length of stay for these discharge categories increased from 10 days to 14 days and 30 days to 36 days, respectively.
  5. Pretrial admissions that resulted in a transfer to state prison had the highest bail amount set and highest average length of stay. Notably, the average bail amount set this category increased from $22,560 to $74,253, an almost three-fold increase (229.1 percent); and the average length of stay increased from 170 days to 284 days, a 66.4 percent increase.

With funding by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, this is the sixth report prepared by the Misdemeanor Justice Project, a research initiative at John Jay College headed by Preeti Chauhan that includes faculty, graduate students and staff. Previous MJP reports have focused on trends in police enforcement practices and trends in corrections.

The full report is available here.


Friends in Court: The Growing Impact of ‘Participatory Defense’

A burgeoning national movement trains families of poor defendants in the skills needed to defend their loved ones. . The Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, now operating in 12 cities, claims it has already “transformed the landscape of power in the court system.”

Ramon Vasquez was facing the threat of a lifetime in prison when he stood trial for a 2008 murder he didn’t commit.

“The only number I heard in court, was ’80 years.’ Like, I might get 80 years if I was convicted,” recalled Vasquez, a San Jose, Calif. delivery-truck driver.

Vasquez, then 29, knew the evidence proving his innocence was out there. But neither the expensive private lawyer his family initially hired but couldn’t afford nor the court-appointed he wound up with (who urged Vasquez to plead guilty so he’d be eligible for parole within about eight years) seemed willing to go get it.

Being cleared of those false charges, ultimately, was the result of work by the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, a decade-old endeavor whose website says it has “transformed the landscape of power in the court system.”

It’s achieved that by training the relatives and other supporters of working-class and poor defendants—those wrongly and rightly accused—in how the courts work and how to help build a legal defense for their loved ones.

The innovative approach is called “participatory defense,” which has spread from its Silicon Valley base to 11 other locales nationwide. Using that model, Vasquez’ wife and in-laws were schooled in gathering evidence and personal stories and, alongside the Justice Project, helped win a dismissal of those charges against Vasquez.

In 2010, a San Jose judge ruled that Vasquez had nothing to do with the fatal shooting.

Ashoka Fellow Raj Jayadev, who created the participatory Justice Project, said it had, by December 2016, helped the falsely accused and the convicted who might have wound up with longer prison sentences avoid more than 3,000 years of prison time.

There’s a dollars-and-cents value to that, added Jayadev, noting that states spend on average $31,000 a year incarcerating a single inmate.

But apart from prison savings, those efforts deliver more important payoffs to poor and working-class accused persons and their families, who often get less justice from courts where money and personal connections disproportionately hold sway, he told The Crime Report.

The project teaches laypersons basic skills that high-priced criminal investigators employ to get richer clients a fairer hearing in court: tracking down crucial evidence, providing the biographical details that shape how defendants appear in the eyes of a judge and jury, and so on.

The Justice Project is an offshoot of an earlier program pioneered by the 41-year-old Jayadev, called Silicon Valley De-Bug, which uses social media and other digital programming to challenge police profiling, wrongful killings, assaults and arrests.

Raj Jadayev. Photo by Silicon Valley De-Bug

“Our organization already knew what to do out on the streets,” said Jayadev, reflecting on De-Bug’s pre-Justice Project endeavors.

“But, after that, we were relinquishing power, arguably, at the most critical moment, which is when a case hit the courts. We knew how to call out an officer or hold a press conference. But, when someone came and said, ‘I have a case in court next week,’ we sort of sat on our hands.

“Our thought was, ‘We’re not lawyers. That is not our arena to make change …’ ”

Since its launch, the project has slowly expanded. In February 2017, Brooklyn N.Y. became the latest jurisdiction to host the training program.

In Vasquez’ case, without the additional help he received from his Justice Project-trained family members, his fate seemed foreordained.  Police, prosecutors and the arraignment court judge initially refused to believe that, as he testified, he had been home watching TV with family and friends on the night of murder in question.

“They called it a soft alibi. They said family and friends were willing to lie for you. I was flabbergasted by what was going on. I was just blind-sided,” Vasquez told The Crime Report.

“ … At my arraignment, they put me with two co-defendants I had never met in my life. They were, like, 18 and 19 or 20—and I was 28. I had been working at Coca-Cola 10 years. I had two kids … And they were saying I was the shooter.”

But unbeknownst to Vasquez, while he was jailed, his relatives started attending the regular Sunday meetings of the Justice Project’s San Jose contingent. Those meetings double as legal trainings and a support group for relatives of the accused.

“Going through the adjudication process breaks people,” Jayadev said. “Someone whose son is facing charges is not sleeping, not eating. People lose jobs and relationships as a result.

“We give them a place to come and not be judged.”

And, more essentially, he added, the training helps them transform what often is their sense of being powerless against the criminal justice system into concrete action.

That’s critical, he said, considering that working and non-working poor and lower middle-class defendants, in particular, have disproportionately relied on court-appointed lawyers and public defenders who too often,  have lacked resources to mount an adequate defense or were indifferent to well-representing their clients. While the Justice Project does not pay for, say, court transcripts that families might request, it does, on their behalf, request waivers of some court fees, Jayadev said.

In addition to San Jose and Brooklyn, there are Justice Projects in Birmingham, Ala.; East Palo Alto, Gilroy and Union City, Calif.; Baltimore, Md.; Durham, N.C.; Montgomery County, Pa., near Philadelphia; and Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. Project funders include Ashoka and the Google, Rosenberg and Threshold Foundations.

Also, some defense lawyers pay the Justice Project for biographical videos of defendants that it produces.

Not everyone, some prosecutors among them, Jayadev said, have welcomed his group’s interventions, including how its members show up in courtrooms with families.

But the project also has some enthusiastic supporters inside the legal community.

“They’re not unrealistic about the criminal justice system,” Avi Singh, a Santa Clara County public defender who has defended a client whose family was involved in the Justice Project, said of its efforts.

“There is a lot of space in our system for hope. It can drive outcomes. If you are alone in this system, it can grind you up and it can grind your family up.”

Singh added: “ By getting up close and being able to really examine individuals and their cases, [the Justice Project] is doing something that builds our understanding of people accused of crimes within a context of the places they grow up, the communities they’re in.”

Jayadev, his colleagues and supporters concede that not everyone will avoid a prison sentence, and that some of those who are helped by the Justice Project merit time behind bars.

Nevertheless, he is convinced that this approach is capable of changing “the narrative” of criminal cases and ensuring the poor and other under-resourced defendants get more equal treatment in court.

Katti Gray

“This notion of families and communities having an actual seat at the table is different from the narrative that’s been told to those facing charges and their families but also to prosecutors, to defense attorneys, to judges,” he said.

“What we are doing is something fairly different … What we’re doing is flipping the script.”

Prize-winning journalist Katti Gray, a contributing editor of  The Crime Report, specializes in criminal justice, education and health news. She welcomes your comments.


Offender Recidivism: Do Violent Offenders Recidivate More?

Observations The mast majority of offenders released from prison return to the criminal justice system based on arrests, convictions, and incarcerations. The crime upon conviction just doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference. Age upon release plus criminal history and possibly sex seem to be the main drivers of recidivism. Can prison rehabilitation or […]

Observations The mast majority of offenders released from prison return to the criminal justice system based on arrests, convictions, and incarcerations. The crime upon conviction just doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference. Age upon release plus criminal history and possibly sex seem to be the main drivers of recidivism. Can prison rehabilitation or […]


The Prison Scam That Leads to Violence

Getting a witness to recant testimony is a classic strategy employed by prisoners who have exhausted all their appeals. It never works, says a Washington State inmate—but when that witness is also behind bars, things can get ugly.

There comes a day in every criminal case when police and prosecutors presume there is nothing left for a prisoner to do except serve out the remainder of his sentence.

A jury, unconvinced by his protestations of innocence, has convicted him. Appellate courts have long since rejected arguments that a new trial is warranted based upon claims that his legal rights were violated.  Finally, all of the due process to which a defendant is entitled has been exhausted.

Barring the remote possibility that he will receive a pardon or be granted executive clemency, there is no way for this prisoner to escape the clutches of criminal justice.

But that doesn’t mean he will not try.

In every correctional facility there are small cohorts of prisoners busily devising legalistic schemes to secure their liberty illegitimately.

I have seen such men at work time and again over my 25 years in confinement.  They are cunning and unscrupulous.

Even at such a belated stage of the criminal justice process, these prisoners believe that compromising witnesses is a realistic post-conviction remedy.

Of course, this is sheer fantasy.

Still, this delusion makes them willing to do damn near anything to obtain perjured affidavits from former witnesses recanting their trial testimony.  Then, these prisoners can file legal briefs arguing that this “newly discovered evidence” justifies reversing their convictions and sentences.

I am not revealing a big secret.

In fact, as far back as the Great Depression, the Washington Supreme Court proclaimed, “The untrustworthy character of recanting testimony is well known by those experienced in the trial of criminal cases, and when such evidence is offered, it calls for a rigid scrutiny.”

Given this “rigid scrutiny,” I have yet to see a court hoodwinked by such a scheme.  Nevertheless, countless prisoners continue laboring to present manufactured evidence in a pro se legal brief.

Bribes, extortion, manipulation—all are employed to try and obtain a new trial.

One classic method that I have seen utilized repeatedly to get such evidence I refer to as “Granting Immunity.”  Its success rests upon the foolishness of witnesses who continue to live lives of crime after they assist the government in sending someone up the creek.

All too often prisoners were sold out by accomplices whom the government rewarded by allowing them to remain free.  At other times, the testimony of a prisoner’s criminal associates contributed to his loss of liberty.

Fortunately for prisoners who wish to try their hand at beating the system, the snitches who testified against them are likely to end up in the penitentiary for their own criminal misdeeds.

This is the point at which “immunity” can be granted by either the prisoner who was testified against or his confederates.

The offer is simple: Sign an affidavit claiming to have lied on the witness stand in exchange for not having their corporation with authorities disclosed. Alternatively, suffer ass-whippings and harassment for the rest of their confinement and be shunted to the bottom of the prison hierarchy.

Needless to say, signing a pre-typed affidavit to ensure one’s skeletons stay closeted is the prudent thing to do under these circumstances.

Indeed, were guards to search the legal boxes of prisoners throughout the correctional facility where I am confined, I can guarantee that numerous affidavits signed under duress would be unearthed amongst the documents.

Yet even after all of the efforts to obtain this bogus evidence, the justice system has erected legal barriers to foil the best efforts by the worst of us.

For instance, to obtain a new trial in the State of Washington based upon a witness recanting their testimony the evidence must be credible, it cannot simply be cumulative or impeaching, and, it must be compelling enough to convince a jurist that had the evidence been presented originally it would probably change the results of the trial.

The failure to meet any one of these (or other criteria) is a basis to deny a new trial.  This highlights why such sophomoric plots to deceive the courts are doomed from the start.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am unsympathetic to these prisoners’ motive.

I do morally object to their actions.

However, when police are shielded from real accountability and prosecutors all too often can commit misconduct with impunity, I refuse to condemn prisoners who attempt to beat the system to obtain their liberty.

Jeremiah Bourgeois

Ultimately, these cunning and unscrupulous prisoners are simply a funhouse-mirror reflection of those who are willing to subvert the law in their pursuit of justice.

Jeremiah Bourgeois is a regular contributor to TCR, and an inmate at Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, WA, where he is currently serving 25 years to life for a crime committed when he was 14. He will be eligible to go before the parole board in 2017. He welcomes comments from readers.


The Death Penalty: Execute Them Before They Get Too Fat, Too Good, or Too Stupid

     America’s weight problem has changed the way we live and die and has affected how we punish, or can’t punish, some of our worst criminals. While the U.S. Supreme Court has not prohibited the execution of certain types of murderers, …

     America's weight problem has changed the way we live and die and has affected how we punish, or can't punish, some of our worst criminals. While the U.S. Supreme Court has not prohibited the execution of certain types of murderers, it has mandated that the state must kill condemned prisoners in a "dignified and humane manner." I would argue that how a prisoner is dispatched is less a matter of dignity and humanity than aesthetics. For this reason, death sentence prisoners no longer end up swinging from the end of a rope, being gunned down by a firing squad, or giving off smoke while twitching in an electric chair. These methods, while effective, look unprofessional and barbaric. In states where certain criminals are still executed, the government has to use methods that do not offend our tender sensitivities. The execution business also has to be politically correct. This is why juries have been reluctant to recommend the death sentence for women, people under 21, and folks with low I.Q.s. Of the 3,322 people currently on death row, only 61 are women. Wives convicted of murdering their husbands spend, on average, 6 years in prison. Men who murder their wives are, on average, sent away for 17 years. (In terms of race, 42 percent of the death row population is black, 12 percent Latino, and 44 percent white.)

     Today, death row inmates are killed by lethal injection. This method of execution fits in nicely with our pharmaceutical culture. We take drugs to get well, to sleep, and to get high, so why not use drugs to execute certain murderers in the 32 states where the death penalty is still legal. But now there is a growing concern about executing people with drugs. Over the past twenty years, several death row prisoners have tried to escape their fates by claiming they are too obese to be humanely injected. In Ohio (one of our fattest states), this has been a recurring correctional issue. (West Virginians are fatter than Ohioans, but in that state they have abolished the death penalty. In the Mountaineer State, convicted, overweight murderers probably don't live much longer than those on Ohio's death row.)

     In May 2007, an executioner in Ohio ran into difficulty when he tried to kill, by injection, 38-year-old Christopher Newton. Six years earlier, while serving time for burglary, Newton murdered his cellmate. Now it was his time to go. Because of his weight,which was 265-pounds, it took the executioner two hours and ten attempts to find a receptive vein for the lethal dose of pentobarbital. During the prolonged execution Newton was actually allowed to go to the bathroom. It would be his last bathroom break, however.

     Nineteen-year-old Richard Cooey, in 1986, threw chunks of concrete off a bridge over Interstate 77 near Akron, Ohio. The act caused the deaths of two University of Akron students. As Cooey's execution date drew near, the 5-foot-7, 267 pound inmate alleged that prison food and lack of exercise had made him too fat to painlessly execute. According to the 41-year-old Ohio prisoner, the executioner's difficulty in finding a friendly vein would cause him stress and discomfort. On October 14, 2008, the Ohio executioner, probably under a little stress himself, had no problem introducing the pentobarbital into Mr. Cooey's system.

     In 1983, Ronald Post murdered Helen Vantz, a hotel desk clerk in Elyria, Ohio. A jury found him guilty and a judge sentenced him to death. There wasn't then, nor now, any question regarding his guilt. Because Post didn't exercise and ate too much, he ballooned-up to 400 pounds. In an effort to get control of his weight, Post asked the government to pay for gastric bypass surgery. (Had he been incarcerated in Massachusetts, Post could have gotten his gastric surgery plus, if he wanted, a sex change operation. Ohio is cruel that way.)

     In 1997, claiming that prison health care providers were having difficulty finding his veins for medication, Ronald Post argued that to execute him this way would amount to a violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

     After the federal appellate judge refused to take Ronald Post off death row, prison authorities in Ohio scheduled his execution by lethal injection for January 16, 2013. In November 2012, Mr. Post, claiming to weigh 480 pounds, filed another appeal in which he argued that he had grown so fat his veins were even less accessible. Not only that, the prison didn't own a gurney sturdy enough to roll him into the death chamber. According to Post's attorney, executing his client under those circumstances would comprise "a substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him...." The lawyer added that Mr. Post's execution would consist of "a torturous and lingering death."

     State authorities opposing Ronald Post's attempt to see the other side of January 16, 2013, argued that in fact the death row inmate only weighted 396 pounds. In this case it really didn't matter how much this man weighed. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati had already ruled against Mr. Post on the weight issue. Moreover, the state of Ohio, given all of its resources, could probably find a heavy-duty gurney and an executioner who can locate hard-to-find veins. This killer's execution became a moot issue however when, on December 17, 2013, Governor John Kasich granted Ronald Post clemency on the grounds he had poor legal representation at his trial.

     If our procedurally oriented criminal justice system were efficient and reliable enough to dispatch first-degree murderers within two years of their convictions, death row inmates wouldn't have time to get so fat. After ten or twenty years on death row, many of these inmates also find religion and become different people. The person being executed is not the same person who committed the crime. (The Karla Faye Tucker case in Texas is a good example of this. While on death row, Karla found Jesus. To the dismay of protesting evangelicals, Texas went ahead and executed her anyway. I don't think the state has dispatched a female since.)

     There are death row inmates who, while smart enough to have committed first-degree murder, when it comes time to execute them, are too stupid to kill. It seems cruel and unusual to execute slow-witted killers. So, if a death row inmate isn't fat, or hasn't found Jesus, he can pretend to be stupid. (Hell, who can't flunk an I.Q. test? What's tough is pretending to be smart.)

     The way it's administered, the death penalty isn't worth the effort. If there is anything "torturous and lingering" about the execution process, it's the time and money it takes to dispatch these brutal, inhumane killers. 


Correcting America’s Bail Crisis Isn’t Out of Reach

On any given day, there are about 450,000 people in jail who haven’t been convicted of anything–at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $38 million a day. These men and women sit in jail because they don’t have the money to get out. It’s time to change the system.

On any given day in the United States there are about 450,000 people in jail who have not been convicted of anything. According to the Pretrial Justice Institute, they cost taxpayers about $38 million a day.

Those 450,000 people have been charged with a crime, and all—except for a small percentage facing life in prison—have a right to be free. These men and women sit in jail because they do not have the money to get out, pending trial.

Bail is an age-old tool that allows judges to release defendants pending trial by requiring them to post a certain amount of money as a way of ensuring they’ll return to court. To make bail, defendants post collateral, pay the amount in cash or get a bail piece—insurance policy—from a bail bond company, which typically charges a 10 percent fee.

Let’s do the math.  Mr. Smith gets arrested for assault.  The court sets his bail at $1,500.  The bail bond company needs $150 to post Smith’s bail.  Smith doesn’t have it, so he sits in jail for 75 days awaiting trial.  Smith pleads guilty and is sentenced to time served and released.

Because Mr. Smith didn’t have $150, taxpayers shelled out $85 a day for a whopping $6,375.

Bail serves two purposes: To guarantee that defendants appear for court; and to protect the public from those who are a potential threat.  Proponents of cash bail say the money to post bail often comes from family members, and serves as a deterrent to fleeing.

Bail is not punitive. Although violent crime rates are at historic lows, the Trump Justice Department has made violent crime a top priority.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions would do well to be smart, as well as tough, on crime.  A first step might be setting aside funds for states who commit to reexamining pretrial detention.

A recent study in Maryland found that people arrested in the state from 2011 to 2015 paid combined bail premiums of more than $256 million. Those who use the services of a bail bond company do not get back any of the money paid.  More than 25 percent of that money was paid by people who were acquitted or never faced trial.

Last fall, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh told members of the House of Delegates that judges and court commissioners must take into account the accused’s ability to pay before setting bail. According to the Baltimore Sun, Frosh said that if bail is out of reach for a defendant, the courts would find that unconstitutional.

Two years ago, New Jersey voters changed the state constitution to implement a new bail system that focused on expanding assessments of defendants to determine whether they should be released.  The New Jersey Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act went into effect in January.  The new law will rely on a computerized risk assessment tool to make bail decision and is expected to reduce costs and significantly reduce the state’s jail population.

In New York City, Mayor William de Blasio earmarked $17.8 million to supervise 3,000 defendants in the community who are awaiting trial. The “supervised release” initiative permits judges to release defendants to a supervisory program that allows defendants to remain at home with their families and continue working while awaiting trial.

Those awaiting trial represent 63 percent of the total jail population.  Less than four out of 10 men and women sitting in county and local jails are actually serving a sentence. Those sitting in jail not serving a sentence drain about $14 billion a year from public coffers.

America’s bail system has become a central issue in the fight to reverse mass incarceration. According to NBC News, in courthouses, statehouses and ballot boxes across the country, civil rights lawyers and progressive policymakers are working to curb the practice of demanding money in exchange for freedom before trial.

“The nation needs to reform its bail system. But it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Eliminate cash bail,’ ” Kevin Burke, a Minnesota district judge and past president of the American Judges, Association told Stateline.

According to Burke, judges only get a few minutes to assess a defendant’s case, and often judges set bail without knowing the full circumstances.

“The fear (they have) is ‘I’m going to let somebody go and they’re going to go out and do something terrible, or they won’t come back, so I’ll set bail,.’”  Burke said.

The current bail system denies freedom to thousands of people who are presumed innocent but are financially challenged. Those who sit in jail are at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and their families.

Certainly, it’s unfair to incarcerate someone merely because they cannot afford bail. It is equally unfair to every man and woman in America to spend about $1 trillion, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute on pretrial incarceration, which amounts to about six percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the use of bail has exploded in the past two decades, driving a 59 percent rise in the number of un-convicted jail inmates.

Matthew T. Mangino

Correcting America’s bail crisis is not out of reach.  This isn’t about being tough on crime.  It’s about being fair.  For some, even a nominal bond is out of reach. When an accused has no money, $1,500 might as well be $150,000.

For taxpayers the issue is just as compelling.

If the cost of pretrial detention could be cut in half, taxpayers could save $7 billion a year. In these challenging economic times those dollars are difficult to ignore.

.Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. He welcomes readers’ comments.