U.S. Prison Agency Wasted $1.7M in Construction, IG Says

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons spent more than $1.7 million to construct an entry building at the Danbury federal prison in Connecticut that was no longer necessary, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General says. The watchdog unit said the spending was part of a $28 million contract to Sealaska Constructors LLC for construction at Danbury.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), spent more than $1.7 million to construct an entry building at the Danbury federal prison in Connecticut that was no longer necessary, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General reports. The Justice Department watchdog said the spending was part of a $28 million contract to Sealaska Constructors LLC for construction at Danbury.

The inspector general said the misspending resulted from “weaknesses in… project planning.” It said the prison agency “had not anticipated significant problems with its plan to convert … Danbury’s existing federal prison camp to a facility with a higher security level.”

By the time BOP identified the problems and implemented an alternative plan, the money had been wasted, the inspector general said. “In our judgment, the unnecessary construction of the entry building, as well as the delay in adding the Programs Building could have been avoided or minimized with better BOP planning, coordination, and communication,” the report said.

The watchdog made eight recommendations for BOP to improve its contract administration.

This summary was prepared by Ted Gest, TCR Washington Bureau Chief


from https://thecrimereport.org

BOP Failing to Address Needs of Female Inmates, Says DOJ Watchdog

A report released by the Justice Department cites the Bureau of Prisons for not adequately addressing the needs of female inmates when it comes to trauma treatment, pregnancy programming, and hygiene; noting that oversight of policies, including those regarding strip searches, are conducted remotely– with no on-site visits to ensure compliance.

A report released by the Justice Department cites the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for not adequately addressing the needs of female inmates when it comes to trauma treatment, pregnancy programming, and hygiene. It says oversight of policies, including those regarding strip searches, are conducted remotely– with no onsite visits to ensure compliance.

The DOJ Office of Inspector General review, sparked by concerns from members of Congress and special interest groups, examined the BOP’s management of female inmates between 2012 and 2016–  and criticized the agency for only recently beginning to take steps to formalize oversight and compliance of a Female Offender Manual published in 2016. As of June, these efforts were still not fully implemented, according to the report; currently, any program reviews the agency does conduct are held entirely offsite.

The new manual served an update to the policy first created in 1997 on management of female inmates, and incorporated specific “gender-responsive language on how BOP should classify and designate female inmates; discipline female inmates; provide gender-responsive programming; and address birth control, pregnancy, child placement, and abortion. ”

Much of the 2016 manual focused on mandatory training for all staff in trauma-informed correctional care; however, the BOP did not require the same training for executives responsible for policy and decision-making, according to the report.

Research shows at least 90 percent of women and girls behind bars have experienced trauma prior to incarceration; the most prevalent kind being repeated sexual violence, followed by domestic violence, according to the report.

The Resolve program, offered at 14 of BOP’s 15 female institutions, provides targeted care for those with trauma-induced mental illness. The IG interviewed several participates who said it had been helpful in dealing with past events, and preparing for release.

But the program is understaffed to the extent that it only serves 3 percent of the female inmate population, according to the report; six institutions have intake waiting lists of over 150 women. Additionally, the program is only available in English. According to a warden and a chief psychologist at two institutions, the need for Spanish-language programming is dire. “There’s horrific history, but we just can’t get to them,” said the psychologist.

As of 2016, women made up 7 percent of incarcerated adults; the majority are held in either low or minimum security facilities. Management of these inmates falls under the Women and Special Populations Branch, which oversees numerous special populations.

The report also found the pregnancy program to be underutilized, in part due to social worker vacancies, and because staff weren’t aware of the eligibility criteria for the program. BOP institution staff were also unaware of Washington State’s Residential Parenting Program; and as a result, only 6 inmates participated between 2012 and 2016.

As a result of its findings, the IG made a list of ten recommendations to ensure that BOP practices are in line with policies adopted two years ago:

  1. Fully implement ongoing plans to create a permanent program review for the Female Offender Manual that includes in-person visits and an institution-specific rating.
  2. Determine the appropriate level of staffing that should be allocated to the Women and Special Populations Branch based on an analysis of its broad mission and responsibilities.
  3. Ensure that all officials who enter into National Executive Staff positions have taken appropriate, current training specific to the unique needs of female inmates and trauma-informed correctional care.
  4. Identify ways to expand the staffing of the Resolve program.
  5. Improve the communication of its pregnancy program availability and eligibility criteria to relevant staff and pregnant inmates to ensure consistent understanding across BOP institutions.
  6. Improve data tracking to allow it to more easily identify inmates who are aware of, interested in, eligible for, or participating in pregnancy programs, as well as to assess barriers to participation.
  7. Clarify guidance on the distribution of feminine hygiene products to ensure sufficient access to the amount of products inmates need free of charge.
  8. Improve the availability of female staff at locations in female institutions where inmate searches are common, through the establishment of genderspecific posts or other methods.
  9. Establish policy that determines how long sentenced inmates can be confined in a detention center, or ensures that the conditions of confinement and inmate programming at a detention center more closely approximate those of a non-detention center when sentenced inmates are housed there.
  10. Explore options to procure female Special Housing Unit space closer to Federal Correctional Institution Danbury.

The full report, Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Management of Its Female Inmate Population, can be viewed here.


from https://thecrimereport.org

Solitary Used More Often for Inmates with Mental Illness: Study

The odds that mentally troubled prisoners will be sent to solitary confinement for misconduct are 36 percent higher than for those without mental illness, according to a University of Massachusetts study of data from a 2004 national survey.

Inmates with mental illness are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement than other inmates, and are more likely to be punished with administrative segregation compared with other less disciplinary actions, according to a study published in the Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Kyleigh Clark, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2004 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Facilities, which questioned inmates on a wide range of topics including their behavior, criminal histories, personal backgrounds, and experiences within and outside of prison.

The survey also specifically asked inmates whether they have been diagnosed by a medical professional prior to incarceration with various mental disorders: depressive, psychotic, personality, manic/bipolar, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or any other disorders.

The researcher compared the experiences of those with mental illness to those without them and found that even though both groups most often lose privileges for misconduct, the odds of those with a mental illness being put in solitary confinement for misconduct are 36 percent higher than those without mental illness.

Furthermore, those with mental illnesses are 40 percent less likely to be given other, less severe disciplinary action, 27 percent less likely to lose privileges or be confined to their own cell, 23 percent less likely to be given extra work, and 19 percent less likely to be given bad time.

It is not clear why inmates with mental illnesses are disproportionately placed in solitary confinement, but one possible explanation the author suggests is that prison management may be paying more attention to those with mental illnesses, or more attention to the actions of those with mental illnesses, and this in turn results in more infractions and harsher punishments.

Relatedly, people with mental illness are viewed as dangerous to themselves and to others, the author explained.

“[And] because many institutions suffer from a lack of resources, space, and staffing, isolation of mentally ill prisoners can be seen as the only viable option in dealing with these inmates,” Clark added.

About 37 percent of inmates have mental illness, according to U.S. Department of Justice.

The researcher excluded inmates in federal facilities due to possible unmeasured factors in those prisons that may affect their use of segregation, such as intuitional structures. The sample was further restricted to those who committed at least on misconduct during their incarceration and were not missing data for mental illness and disciplinary action

The author argued that despite news stories outlining the problematic use of isolation for mentally ill inmates, the issues had not been extensively researched until now.

He said future research should investigate whether imposing solitary confinement on mentally ill inmates, even ostensibly for their own protection, is ultimately “counterproductive.”

“Multiple studies have shown that those with mental health problems may be more susceptible to the negative effects of solitary confinement, thereby creating a cycle in which mentally ill offenders are put in solitary confinement due to their mental illness, which is made worse by isolation, leading to further or worsening symptomatic behavior,” he wrote.

“Although solitary confinement may be considered a more economical or practical choice for containing these inmates, better mental health care can be more cost effective in treating their behavior.”

A copy of the study can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR News Intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Silicon Valley Leaders Assail AZ Prison Population

Reform group says Arizona, with the nation’s fourth highest imprisonment rate, can save money by imprisoning fewer people for nonviolent crimes.

A criminal-justice reform group is adding its voice to a chorus criticizing Arizona’s swelling prison population, the Arizona Republic reports. FWD.us, a bipartisan political group founded by Silicon Valley leaders, issued a report Tuesday saying Arizona has the nation’s fourth highest imprisonment rate, behind Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi. Arizona can enact reforms to reduce incarceration and save taxpayer money while also reducing crime, the group argued.

“Arizona’s imprisonment crisis removes thousands of people from the economy and costs taxpayers more than $1 billion each year, preventing the state from investing in other critical priorities like education, social services for families, and child safety,” FWD.us said. Arizona reduced its incarceration rate to match Utah’s, the state could save enough money to cover a 20 percent raise for teachers, the researchers calculated. The report argues an increase in crime is not driving the expansion of Arizona’s prison population. FBI data shows property and violent crimes have decreased by 44 percent and 12 percent respectively since 2000. The number of people moving to Arizona isn’t the primary factor either, the report said. FWD.us found the state’s prison population grew twice as fast as the state’s general population between fiscal years 2000 and 2017. The number of Arizona inmates went from more than 26,000 to roughly 42,000 during that time, the report said. Among the most serious problems is the spike in people going to prison for non-violent offenses, the group said. The total rose 80 percent between fiscal years 2000 and 2017.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Bill Would Ban Shackling Pregnant Federal Inmates

Bipartisan group of female House members would prevent the use of restraints and solitary confinement of pregnant federal inmates. One ex-prisoner says she suffered a miscarriage while she was shackled.

Former federal inmate Pamela Winn was shackled while she was pregnant. She was injured in a fall, and she suffered a miscarriage during long delays in seeking medical treatment, reports Reason. This week, members of Congress proposed a bill that aims to make sure what happened to Winn never happens to anyone else. Co-sponsored by a majority of Democratic and Republican women in the House, the bill would ban the shackling and solitary confinement of pregnant inmates in the federal prison system. The Pregnant Women in Custody Act, introduced by Reps. Karen Bass (D–CA), Mia Love (R–UT) and Catherine Clark (D–MA), would ban the use of restraints and restrictive housing on female inmates during pregnancy, during labor, and post-partum. It would set standards of care for pregnant female inmates.

“In the United States in 2018, the idea that we would actually shackle a pregnant women to a gurney while she is delivering a baby is really egregious,” Bass says. The federal Bureau of Prisons bans the shackling of female inmates in most instances, but there is no federal law against the practice. It’s banned in all but six states, but the practice reportedly persists even where it’s supposedly illegal. Winn describes her experience as horrific. “During the miscarriage, to hear people trying to figure out if they should call 911 or call the Marshals, that’s reinforcement to me that there should be some sort of protocols in place,” she says. “At that point I was concerned if I was going to live, because I’m bleeding out and these people don’t know even what to do with me.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

PA Limits Inmate Books Amid ‘Growing Drug Crisis’

The state instituted new book, mail, and visitation policies to combat a “growing drug crisis” and protect employees — as well as incarcerated persons — from synthetic substances that are entering prisons via “paper products.” The fallout for inmates may involve privacy issues and alienation from their legal representatives.

The lockdown at Pennsylvania’s state prisons is over, but a number of sweeping policy changes remain, reports BillyPenn.com. The state corrections department  instituted new book, mail, and visitation policies to combat a “growing drug crisis” and protect employees — as well as incarcerated persons — from synthetic substances that are entering prisons via “paper products.” The fallout for inmates is far-reaching, advocates say, from possible privacy issues to alienation from their legal representatives. People in these prisons have also lost access to something much more basic: donated literature.

Each year, Philadelphia-based Books Through Bars receives thousands of letters and sends about 7,000 packages containing one to five books each, member Keir Neuringer said. Book ‘Em, run by the Big Idea Bookstore and Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, sends more than 2,000 packages a year. Neuringer called the new policy “wrongheaded,” “regressive,” and “cruel.” In the past, incarcerated persons could individually request free books through Books Through Bars or similar DOC-approved programs. Going forward, it’s “unlikely [these programs] will be donating to individual inmates,” said the corrections agency’s Diana Woodside. Under the new policy, incarcerated persons can purchase physical books through the corrections department or e-books through approved tablets that cost $147 plus tax. (Most people confined to Pennsylvania’s state prisons make between 19 and 42 cents an hour.) There are libraries at each state prison, Woodside noted, and the state plans to expand the selections based on incarcerated people’s requests. The number of periodicals and magazines will also be increased.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Smart Calls Release in Kidnap Case ‘Incomprehensible’

Wanda Barzee, 72, will be released next week after spending more than 15 years in prison for helping to kidnap Elizabeth Smart. Smart was “surprised” and “disappointed” by the decision.

Wanda Barzee, a key player in one of Utah’s most notorious crimes, will get out of prison next Wednesday in an unexpected move by Utah’s Board of Pardons, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Barzee has spent more than 15 years behind bars for helping to kidnap Elizabeth Smart. The board initially denied Barzee an early release date in July, declining to include her eight years in federal prison as time served on state charges and setting a new hearing for 2023. Smart said Tuesday’s reversal left her “surprised” and “disappointed.” The board decided to count the federal prison time to reduce Barzee’s sentence. She admitted to helping her husband, Brian David Mitchell, kidnap then-14-year-old Smart from her bedroom at knifepoint in 2002.

Barzee testified that Mitchell told her God wanted them to kidnap seven young girls to become plural wives as a way of restoring the true church to Earth during an end-of-times battle with the Antichrist. Mitchell raped Smart almost daily during nine months of captivity, which included a journey to California and back to Utah. Smart was rescued — and Mitchell and Barzee arrested — after the three were spotted on in 2003. “It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” Smart said. Barzee, 72, did not attend her June parole hearing. She has refused to meet with a psychiatrist at the Utah State Prison, a mandatory requirement for parole after Barzee pleaded guilty but mentally ill to the attempted kidnapping charge.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Did the National Prison Strike Float Under the Nation’s Radar?

Although inmates in just 16 states reportedly participated in the prison strike that began last month, their complaints deserve a better national hearing than they received, prison reformers tell The Crime Report.

The national prison strike that ended Sunday appears to have escaped the attention of most of the country’s lawmakers. Members of Congress responsible for national prison policy admitted to not knowing anything about the 19-day strike that began last month.

And the topic didn’t appear to have come up in the much-publicized White House meeting last week between President Donald Trump and public figures such as Kim Kardashian, which was ostensibly called to discuss prison reform as well as clemency policy.

Past prisoner actions, most notably the 1971 Attica Prison riot in upstate New York, whose 47th anniversary was marked on Sunday, have garnered major headlines. So why did this one float beneath the nation’s radar?

“That’s because it was a peaceful strike,” said Dr. Breea Willingham, a criminal justice professor at State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

“If people were getting killed inside those prisons, people would have been all over it.”

The relative lack of attention to the strike underlined the continued indifference to widespread claims of abuse and inhumane conditions inside the nation’s prison system, observers and prison activists told The Crime Report.

Last month’s protests mostly took the form of inmates refusing to eat, spend money at commissaries and work—but of there had been violence, similar to the Sept. 9, 1971 Attica Prison uprising, which took the lives of 43 people (including 33 inmates and 10 guards and civilian prison employees), it would probably have further harmed the inmates’ case, said Willingham, whose expertise includes the impact of incarceration on families, and race and crime in the media helped.

“(People) would have said ‘see, this is exactly why those prisoners need to be locked up,’” he said.

Perhaps another reason why the strike didn’t garner increased coverage is because it wasn’t widespread enough. Reported protests occurred in only 16 states and even those did not involve the entire inmate populations.

Strikers in Alabama, for example, were among the strike’s major organizers in the beginning, but they appeared to back down—for reasons that are still unclear.

Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison Legal News suggested inmates there may have felt intimidated by the authorities.

“The reality is the prison officials that run these systems, they run their system by violence,” Wright told The Crime Report. “They’re petty, they’re vindictive, there’s no oversight.

“They can and do retaliate against people, usually for the pettiest and most trivial of reasons, and it’s not like anyone’s going to stop them.”

It’s not clear how many states participated in the strike, and even reported events are being questioned. Vicky Waters, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s press secretary, rejected reported claims that a 26-year-old inmate named Heriberto Garcia went on a hunger strike in Folsom State Prison.

“There were no protests or inmates on strike,” Waters said. “Some misinformation has been reported, but we did not have any hunger strikes, work stoppages, or any participation from inmates across our state prisons.”

Reports, however, suggests that inmates in San Quentin protested with the support of family and allies who stood on the outside, marching and chanting.

Willingham says the attention the strike received shouldn’t have been predicated on the size of the strike, or how many incarcerated people were involved.

“The people who were striking are enough for people to pay attention,” she said. “These are human beings, and they’re fed up.”

The national prison strike was sparked by a deadly riot that killed seven inmates in Lee Correctional Institution in April, and wounded over a dozen more. With the help of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee—a part of the Industrial Workers of the World—strikers published a lists of demands that included the right to vote and immediate improved prison conditions and policies.

“It’s not like what they’re asking for is unreasonable,” Willingham said. “These are basic human rights.”

The U.S. has the world’s largest prison population with 2.3 million people behind bars.

J.Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Inmates in At Least 14 States Took Part in Strike

A nationwide strike by prison inmates was set to end Sunday, 19 days after it began. Since Aug. 21, some prisoners have chosen to forgo meals, organize peaceful sit-in protests, refuse to work and halt commissary spending. Reports of protests behind bars are trickling out from various sources.

A nationwide strike by prison inmates was set to end Sunday, 19 days after it began. Since Aug. 21, some prisoners have chosen to forgo meals, organize peaceful sit-in protests, refuse to work and halt commissary spending. Allies on the outside stood in solidarity with the protest, marching, chanting and pressuring governments to take action against what rally organizers call “modern-day slavery,” reports USA Today. While poor wages for inmates along with racial bias in sentencing and poor prison conditions were among complaints raised by inmates, the impetus for the strike was an incident this year Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, where at least seven inmates were killed.

Reports of protests and other occurrences behind bars have trickled out through videos recorded by inmates, accounts from family members, and statements by prison reform activists and from prison officials. It’s not known how many incarcerated people took part in the boycott. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a labor union for prisoners, said that reports of prisoner participation have come from at least 14 states and one Canadian province so far. USA Today summarizes what is known about inmate actions in California, Delaware, Washington, Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada, New York, and Nova Scotia (Canada).

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-WI Gov Thompson Regrets Role in Prison Boom

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson says he regrets getting caught up in the “hysteria” of locking people up. He wishes he hadn’t built so many prisons. “We lock up too many people for too long. It’s about time we change the dynamics. I apologize for that,” he said.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the author of a new memoir, says that among his regrets is getting caught up in the “hysteria” of locking people up. He wishes he hadn’t built so many prisons, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. “We lock up too many people for too long. It’s about time we change the dynamics. I apologize for that,” said Thompson, the Republican governor from 1987 to 2001, at the Marquette University Law School. Thompson said he’d like to see Wisconsin begin to convert prisons into vocational schools so inmates can get the training they need to get on with their lives and also help solve the state’s worker shortage.

Thompson’s views are hardly universal within the GOP. Current Republican Gov. Scott Walker is a more hard-line conservative on prison and sentencing issues. “I wouldn’t say he’s wrong. It’s just that I have matured over the years and I’ve seen the prison systems inside and out. … I’ve studied it. The way we warehouse prisoners right now is not the right way. … Some people have to be in prison, there is no question about it. But we have too many people locked up that should be rehabilitated, retrained and allowed to get out and take a job. We need the workers,” Thompson said. Walker, who is seeking a third term this fall, has criticized Democrats for advocating large reductions in the prison population. As a legislator in the 1990s, Walker sponsored “truth-in-sentencing” law that ended parole. Thompson signed that law as governor, which meant inmates spent more time behind bars. Walker ended an early-release program established by his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. Walker has criticized his Democratic challenger and state schools Superintendent Tony Evers for his support of early-release programs and other reforms aimed at reducing the prison population.

from https://thecrimereport.org