Ex-MS Prison Chief Epps Gets Nearly 20 Years for Bribes

Chris Epps was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to just shy of 20 years in prison and fined $100,000 for running one of the largest and longest criminal conspiracies in the state’s history. He told the judge, “It comes back to greed. I made some stupid mistakes I will regret for the rest of my life.”

Chris Epps rose through the ranks from prison guard to the longest serving corrections commissioner in Mississippi’s history. It was said he could sell ice to Eskimos and for years had lawmakers and governors eating out of his hand with his folksy, straight-shooting style and deep knowledge of the state prison system he ran, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. Yesterday, a shackled Epps with graying hair, looking nothing like the man who wore expensive suits and drove a Mercedes, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate to just shy of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for running one of the largest and longest criminal conspiracies in the state’s history.

Epps, 56, who had overseen the incarceration of thousands of inmates in his 12 years as corrections commissioner, will now become a prisoner himself. His fall from grace began in 2014 when a 49-count federal indictment accused him of taking at least $1.4 million in bribes and kickbacks to steer more than $800 million worth of state prison contracts. Epps pleaded guilty in February 2015 to bribery and filing a false income tax return. “This is not a simple crime,”  Wingate said. “This is the largest graft operation in the state of Mississippi, definitely the largest I have seen. Mr. Epps betrayed the state of Mississippi.” Epps said, “It comes back to greed. I made some stupid mistakes I will regret for the rest of my life.”


from https://thecrimereport.org

LA Sheriffs, DAs Blocked Some Justice Reforms

State legislators are backing lighter sentences for nonviolent convicts, but sheriffs and prosecutors lobbied against benefits for those serving time for violent offenses. “We can’t just open the floodgates,” said East Feliciana Sheriff Jeff Travis.

A Louisiana criminal justice overhaul that would benefit nonviolent offenders is on the verge of passage, but elected sheriffs and district attorneys blocked more-sweeping bills that would have eased penalties for violent criminals, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sheriffs are going along with lighter sentences for nonviolent offenders, but they argue that reducing penalties for some felonies and making long-serving offenders eligible for parole would endanger public safety and dishonor their victims. More than 42 percent of Louisiana prisoners commit another crime within five years. “We can’t just open the floodgates,” said East Feliciana Sheriff Jeff Travis, who formerly worked for the state prison system.

Law and order isn’t the only guiding principle. Louisiana sheriffs get $24.39 a day from the state to house each inmate. Less state revenue to house inmates means fewer corrections jobs and less cheap inmate labor. Sheriffs and prosecutors lobbied hard against some of the 10 bills backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. They won key concessions, including that most of the 5,000 offenders serving life sentences will continue to be ineligible for parole. The original bills were projected to cut the prison population by 13 percent and save $305 million over 10 years. The $24.39 per diem—which hasn’t budged since 2008—leaves little money, if any, for rehabilitation programs. “Lock and feed,” Louisiana Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc calls it. “They basically spend a few years up there learning how to be a better criminal.” Another pending bill would invest 70 percent of the estimated savings into rehabilitation programs for prisoners and support services for victims.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Maine Governor Will Release ‘Lower-Risk’ Inmates

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who once joked about using the guillotine to execute drug dealers, plans to release an unknown number of “lower-risk” prisoners from the state’s correctional facilities. LePage has announced plans to close on prison, but an inmate advocate says the facility is one of the few that help transition prisoners back into society.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who once joked about using the guillotine to execute drug dealers, plans to release an unknown number of “lower-risk” prisoners from the state’s correctional facilities, reports the Associated Press. State prisoner advocates applauded the idea, while some fellow Republicans questioned it. Maine is seeing a drug crisis that law enforcement officials say is fueling crime and a rise in drug overdose deaths. LePage’s proposal is in sharp contrast to his history of tough talk on crime. Some Republicans worry about the impact releasing some prisoners would have on local communities.

“If he lets them go into our communities down here, we’ll have to fight back however we can do it,” said Republican Jeffrey Davis, a selectman in Machiasport, which relies on a local minimum-security prison for jobs and services. Davis and union leaders are exploring legal action in light of LePage’s recently announced plans to shut down the facility in that community and release or transfer inmates. Joseph Jackson of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition wants to reduce Maine’s prisoner population. But, he said the Machiasport prison is one of the state’s few facilities that help transition prisoners back into society. He said released inmates will need help with everything from housing to medical care to getting IDs. It’s unknown when or how many inmates will be released, or from which prisons. The administration also has not disclosed how it will determine if someone is a “lower-risk” offender.

from https://thecrimereport.org

America’s Expensive Prisons

Does shrinking the size of prison populations save taxpayers money? Not always, says a study released today by the Vera Institute of Justice. The study found that 25 states increased their spending on prisons even though the nation’s overall prison population has declined.

Does shrinking the size of prison populations save taxpayers money?  Not always, says a study released today by the Vera Institute of Justice.

In a survey of state  spending on incarceration, Vera researchers found that in 10 states where prison numbers declined, overall prison budgets actually increased by $1.1 billion between 2010 and 2015. Overall, 25 states—more than half of the 45 surveyed—reported prison spending increases during that period, even though the number of individuals incarcerated nationwide has been dropping since 2009.

The Vera researchers suggested the increase was due to higher costs related to personnel and health care. Salaries and pensions alone accounted for one-fifth of the total  $8 billion in prison spending in 2015, and health care for an aging prison population (the number of incarcerated individuals 55 and older more than doubled between 2010 and 2013) is swallowing ever-larger amounts of state prison budgets.

States such as California, Colorado and Pennsylvania—which have changed sentencing codes and established other policies aimed at reducing prison populations and providing alternatives to prison—registered some of the highest  spending  increases.

Nevertheless, the authors of the Vera  study said that lowering prison populations was essential to reforming a system that, with some 1.4 million people behind bars at its peak in 2009, leads the world in incarceration rates. (The number of prisoners has declined by about five per cent since then.)

They noted that in 13 states where prison populations dropped since 2010—including New York, Michigan, North Carolina and New Jersey— prisons costs declined by a whopping $1.6 billion, without a corresponding danger to public safety. In fact, crime rates reduced by double-digit figures in some of those states.

“While simultaneously downsizing prison populations and spending is easier said than done, these 13 states prove that it is indeed possible,” wrote Christian Henrichson, Research Director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in his introduction to the report.

“For those who are up to the challenge, this report makes it plain that a large sum of money is on the table.”

The report poses a sharp counterweight to the philosophy espoused by the Trump administration that reforming sentencing guidelines and other efforts to reduce prison populations over the past several years have generated new crime dangers to the nation.

But it also makes clear that the dollars-and-cents argument for cutting prison populations taken by some reformers has limitations. The survey found, for example, that in seven states where prison populations increased between 2010 and 2015, costs still declined by $254 million—largely because of reductions in staffing and budgetary constraints on improving facilities.

The Vera study was prepared by Chris Mai and Ram Subramanian.

A full version is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

LA Still May Have Highest Prison Population After Reform

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards promises to return next year with proposals that would reduce the prison population further. A compromise with prosecutors announced this week made no changes in sentences for violent criminals.

Louisiana appears poised to implement a criminal justice overhaul that Gov. John Bel Edwards calls historic and the biggest step the state has ever taken toward reducing its highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Edwards and the state’s district attorneys announced a compromise that is expected to reduce the prison population 10 percent and save the state $78 million over 10 years, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune The Edwards administration admits the initiative might not drop Louisiana from having highest per capita prison population in the U.S. to the second highest, as he had hoped. The governor’s staff said he plans to come back in 2018 with more proposals to reach that goal. As a candidate for governor in 2015, Edwards pledged to put Louisiana on track to shed its No. 1 national ranking by the end of his first term in office.

The compromise package also would redirect $184 million from conventional incarceration toward “reinvestment” programs such as prisoner rehabilitation, drug counseling and job training for offenders. Programs that benefit crime victims also would receive a piece of this money. Some reinvestment funding would also go to local sheriffs, who stand to lose funding if Louisiana sends fewer state prisoners to be housed in their jails. Should they be enacted, the changes would affect most prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses such as theft, burglary and drug possession. Some nonviolent offenders already in prison could also become eligible for parole earlier. The negotiated compromise dropped proposals for shorter sentences and other release efforts for violent offenders currently in prison, at the insistence of prosecutors.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Louisiana Deal Bolsters State Criminal Justice Reforms

The state with the nation’s high incarceration rate may be on the way to reducing sentences and the prison population, joining 30 other states that have taken similar actions. In Washington, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has is moving in the other direction, embracing a mass-incarceration strategy.

In Louisiana, with the nation’s highest incarceration rate, this week Gov. John Bel Edwards struck a deal to reduce sentences and the prison population, saving millions annually, the New York Times reports. If legislators approve the changes, Louisiana will be following more than 30 states, including Georgia, Texas and South Carolina, that have already limited sentences, expanded alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment, or otherwise reduced the reach and cost of the criminal justice system. Many states say they have saved money while crime rates have dropped. In Washington, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has charted the opposite course, adopting the sort of mass-incarceration strategy that helped flood prisons in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sessions’ approach conflicted with a wide agreement that criminal justice could be more effective by becoming less punitive to low-level offenders, treating root causes of crime like drug addiction, and reserving more resources to go after violent criminals. Advocates say the Sessions moves have had little effect on state efforts. “There was a lot of speculation that with the rhetoric from the presidential campaign, there would be a drop in momentum, but we haven’t seen that,” said Marc Levin of Right on Crime. “There have been so many successes in the last several years, particularly in conservative states, that it continues to fuel other states to act.” Legislators in a few places, such as Florida and West Virginia, have gone against the tide, pushing for tougher sentencing related to the epidemic of painkiller addiction haunting many communities. This year, Michigan and Georgia, which previously rewrote criminal justice laws, have approved a new round of changes. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican former prosecutor, has emerged as a leader in the prison reform movement. He has backed several rounds of legislation that reduced punishments for low-risk defendants and slashed juvenile incarceration rolls. Before the changes, Georgia prison rolls were projected to top 60,000 last year but now stand at 52,000, saving at least $264 million.

from https://thecrimereport.org

MA Inmate Total Down, Prison Spending Way Up

Think tank MassINC questions why the state spends more money on corrections officers for fewer inmates; suggests more spending on prisoner rehab.

Massachusetts’ inmate population has declined, but the state is still spending more money to operate jails and prisons, mostly to pay corrections staff, according to an independent criminal justice report that questions the state’s spending priorities, the Boston Globe reports. Spending for the Department of Correction and the 14 county sheriffs’ offices outpaced inflation and rose 18 percent from 2011 to 2016, reaching $1.2 billion, according to the report by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth, (MassINC), a nonpartisan think tank.

The prison population, which was at its peak in 2011, declined by 3,000 inmates, or 12 percent, in those same years. The report’s authors questioned whether the state should have been spending the savings it could have realized from the drop in the inmate population on rehabilitation programs, such as drug or mental health counseling, that might help reduce recidivism rates, and possibly result in even more savings. Instead, the state has redirected more money to raise pay for corrections officers or for new hires, accounting for 84 percent of the total growth in spending. The report’s findings are bound to become a point of discussion as Governor Charlie Baker’s administration considers a Justice Reinvestment Initiative that calls for an overhaul of the state’s criminal justice system, particularly in prison release programs.

from https://thecrimereport.org

UT, AR Still Refuse to Adopt U.S. Prison Rape Law

Utah and Arkansas are the only two states not working toward compliance with the 2003 federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. The other states either are complying with the law or are working toward that goal.

Utah and Arkansas are the only two states still not working toward compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Nineteen states have fully adopted standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), according to the U.S. Justice Department’s latest compliance list. Another 34 states and U.S. territories have demonstrated they are working toward compliance. Several states — including Idaho, Alaska and Texas — initially rejected PREA but in recent years agreed to move toward compliance. Kirsten Rappleye, spokeswoman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, said Utah “fully supports the goal of eliminating rape within our correctional facilities,” and the state “implemented many of the stated recommendations prior to the PREA’s passage, and has now implemented the majority of them.”

Passed in 2003, PREA mandated increased sex-abuse training for staff and the ability of inmates to report sexual assault to a rape crisis center or similar organization. It also required prisons be audited for compliance with the law every three years, and created a uniform method to collect data on prison sexual assaults. Federal statistics estimate about 200,000 inmates are sexually assaulted each year. For Utah, refusing to implement the standards has meant losing federal grant money. Last year, $146,132 was withheld in DOJ funds for corrections and law enforcement, juvenile justice and violence against women programs, according to Bureau of Justice Assistance figures. Utah has said that it would not adopt certain requirements of PREA, including a rule that prison workers who entered secure facilities with opposite gender inmates announce their presence. Herbert says PREA’s prison audit structure is overly costly and burdensome for the state.

from https://thecrimereport.org

House Committee Probes Misconduct at Big U.S. Prison

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz cited the case of Antwon Pitt, who while serving a 24-month sentence for robbery at the U.S. Penitentiary in Coleman, Fl., “repeatedly harassed and threatened staffers that he would rape and kill them.” Pitt never was prosecuted, was released and was then convicted of rape. Executives of the prison got tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses.

A House committee will investigate the federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) handling of “egregious” misconduct at the largest government-run detention facility, where the warden and other officials were awarded thousands of dollars in bonuses despite female staffers’ persistent allegations of sexual harassment, reports USA Today. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), highlighted the case of Antwon Pitt, who while serving a 24-month sentence for robbery at the U.S. Penitentiary in Coleman, Fl., “repeatedly harassed and threatened staffers that he would rape and kill them.” Pitt was never prosecuted for his actions against prison staffers. After his 2015 release, he was convicted of raping a Washington, D.C., woman during a break-in at her home. It is unclear, Chaffetz said, whether the prison agency informed local officials in charge of Pitt’s post-release supervision of his misconduct as an inmate.

Chaffetz’s cited reporting by the Washington Post on Pitt’s case and by USA Today, which reported that the BOP paid more than $2 million in bonuses to top administrators across the BOP during the past three years. That included including tens of thousands of dollars to four executives who held senior leadership posts at the Coleman prison where Pitt was serving time. The payments, which included a $34,000 bonus to Coleman’s then-warden Tamyra Jarvis, spanned the time of Pitt’s incarceration and during the course of a sexual harassment lawsuit involving hundreds of current and former staffers, who alleged that prison managers repeatedly failed to protect them from years of horrific sexual harassment and threats from inmates. A $20 million settlement of the legal action is pending before a federal judge. Sandra Parr, a vice president of the national union of prison workers, said the Coleman bonus recipients were made aware of the problems at the prison “but did nothing to fix anything.”



from https://thecrimereport.org

OR Inmates Say They Got Food ‘Not For Human Consumption’

Class action lawsuit accuses the state’s Corrections Department of “deliberate indifference to health and safety.” It charges that before health inspection, officials told inmates to remove moldy, spoiled food, only to return it for inmates after the inspections occurred.

A class action lawsuit on behalf of former and current inmates at four Oregon prisons alleges that the state’s Department of Corrections fed them chicken and fish marked “not for human consumption,” The Oregonian reports. The lawsuit accuses the Corrections Department of civil rights violations and “deliberate indifference to health and safety.” It seeks to compel state prisons to provide adequate nutrition and sanitary food handling. The prisons cited are Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.

Before state health inspections, the suit charges, prison officials directed inmates to clean up kitchens and remove “not for human consumption” food and move green meat and moldy, spoiled food to mobile refrigerator and freezer trucks, only to return the spoiled food to the kitchen after inspection. Inmate Bridgette Lewis worked in warehousing in the kitchen of a women’s prison and witnessed the delivery of food marked “not for human consumption” being prepared and served to her and fellow inmates, the suit said. She was ordered to serve the “substandard food over her objections.” Another former inmate, Tiffanie Lewis, said she worked in the kitchen in 2015 and saw “not for human consumption” bait fish and spoiled milk, meats and produce served to inmates. In stark contrast, she prepared “prime beef roasts” for prison staff. Inmates were often nauseated during and after meals and suffered stomach and intestinal pain and discomfort, the suit says.

from https://thecrimereport.org