New CA Rules Aim to Cut State Prison Population

Inmates will be able to reduce terms up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs.

California corrections officials adopted new rules that aim to trim the state’s prison population by 9,500 inmates in four years, the Associated Press reports. They include steps like reducing inmates’ sentences up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs such as alcohol and substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice, and parenting classes. Virtually any inmate except those on death row or those serving life-without-parole sentences is eligible.

It’s the latest step in a long drive to lower the prison population dramatically in response to federal court orders in lawsuits by prison advocates. The changes follow voters’ approval of Proposition 57 in November. The initiative lets certain felons seek parole more quickly and gave corrections officials broad discretion to grant early release credits. “I think that it’s a monumental change for the organization and I think across the state, across the nation, I don’t think that anybody has altered how they are incarcerating offenders as much as what Prop 57 does,” said Corrections Secretary Scott Kernan. The goal, he said, is to encourage inmates to start “doing something with their incarceration and not just sitting on their bunks.” Police and prosecutors fought the ballot initiative, arguing that it will release dangerous offenders sometimes years earlier than called for in their sentences. It will put convicts more quickly into county probation systems that already are stretched.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Tablets for Inmates Could Bring Education, Entertainment

Indiana will provide its inmates with tablets. That could help reduce recidivism, but the cost might be paid for by prisoners using the devices for games, movies and music.

A plan to put a tablet in every Indiana inmate’s hands could help offenders stay connected with their families and improve their education, which are important ways to keep them from returning to prison. The plan is also raising questions about fairness, the Indianapolis Star reports. Could a technology company providing specialized tablets for prison environments take advantage of captive buyers to charge high prices for games, movies and music? Those are some benefits and possible pitfalls of an Indiana Department of Correction technology proposal. The proposal also calls for a secure network and electronic kiosks across the prison system’s 23 facilities. Offenders will be able to use the tablets to access their classwork and self-help materials 24 hours per day. They could more easily order from the commissary, and sift through legal research.

They also could use their tablets to pay for entertainment, with that money going to a private company while the state keeps a 10-percent cut. That’s how the state expects to pay for the tablets. Officials hope that a vendor will front the costs so taxpayers don’t have to. Then the vendor would be reimbursed and earn a profit, as inmates buy music and movies. William Wilson, a prison official, emphasized that any fees collected would be used to reduce the reliance on tax dollars. Charging fees that inmates couldn’t afford would defeat the purpose of the proposal. Officials also expect to use entertainment to reward good behavior. For example, an offender could be encouraged to stop racking up conduct reports in order to play more games. The tablets most likely wouldn’t be the iPads or Kindles you see at home. Companies develop tablets and software for use in prisons and jails. They still have touchscreens and apps, but the devices come with much more security and features that can be controlled by prison officials.

 

from http://thecrimereport.org

No Criminal Charges In FL Inmate’s Hot Shower Death

Corrections officers who locked a schizophrenic inmate in a hot shower at Florida’s Dade Correctional Institution and left him there for nearly two hours until realizing he was dead committed no crime, concludes Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. The inmate’s relatives say they were “appalled” by the long investigation.

A 101-page investigation concluded that corrections officers who locked a schizophrenic inmate in a hot shower at Florida’s Dade Correctional Institution and left him there for nearly two hours until realizing he was dead committed no crime, reports the Miami Herald. The report from Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said the death of Darren Rainey, 50, was an accident, the result of complications from his mental illness, a heart condition and “confinement in a shower.” At least six inmates claimed that the shower was rigged so corrections officers controlled the temperature and were able to crank it up to scalding or down to an uncomfortably frigid spray, using it as punishment to control unruly inmates, most of whom suffered mental illnesses. The state attorney’s two-year probe decided that the inmates’ statements were not credible.

Milton Grimes, the attorney representing Rainey’s siblings, suggested the report’s release late on a Friday, on St. Patrick’s Day, was meant to limit public scrutiny of the clear “inadequacies” of the investigation. “We are appalled that the state attorney did not look deeper into this case and see the criminality of the people who were involved,” Grimes said. “A lot of evidence was tampered with because the people there who had an interest did not want it to come out,” said Harriet Krzykowski, a former mental health counselor at the prison. The report gives no indication that crime scene investigators turned on the shower to see how hot it ran. Other than two prison officers, a nurse and a paramedic, no one was interviewed by police until two years later, when the Herald began raising questions about the case. One fact is undisputed: Rainey’s skin was peeling off his body when he was pulled out of the shower.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Want to Buy A Former NY Prison? It’s a Tough Sell

States are finding stunning views and good locations are not enough to overcome the baggage that comes with former prison sites. Massive, thick-walled cell blocks, dormitories and infirmaries tend to be too expensive to tear down and too restrictive to turn into viable enterprises.

Perched atop an Adirondack mountain, a 325-acre site for sale seems to have everything a developer could want: spectacular views, a man-made lake, and proximity to the tourist destination of Saratoga Springs. The property on Mount McGregor was also a New York state prison, and if history is any guide, it will be a tough sell, the Associated Press reports. States have found out the hard way that stunning views and good locations are not enough to overcome the baggage that comes with former prison sites. Massive, thick-walled cell blocks, dormitories and infirmaries tend to be too expensive to tear down and too restrictive to turn into viable enterprises.

At least 22 states have closed or announced plans to close 94 state prisons and juvenile facilities since 2011, and only a handful have been sold or repurposed, says The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform advocacy group. “This is new territory in a lot of respects,” said the group’s Nicole Porter. “This will require some creativity from developers for what to do with these spaces.” Mount McGregor Correctional Facility, on the market for a second time in two years, is among 13 prison and incarceration camps in New York that have closed since 2011. Only four have been sold. A few states have seen successes. In Virginia, a former District of Columbia prison built in the 1920s has been sold to Fairfax County, which is overseeing redevelopment that will include more than 270 single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. In Tennessee, the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, closed in 2009, is being turned into a whiskey distillery and tourist attraction.

from http://thecrimereport.org

NY Inmate Says Gov. Cuomo Inspired His Beating

Prisoner files suit, charging that he was “brutally interrogated, beaten and suffocated by correction officers” after Gov. Andrew Cuomo taunted him over the escape of two convicted murderers in 2015.

An inmate who says he was beaten and suffocated by guards after two prisoners escaped from an upstate prison in 2015 is filing a lawsuit contending that Gov. Andrew Cuomo personally incited his attackers, the New York Daily News reports. Patrick Alexander, 36, says after fellow convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt cut their way out of their cells à la “The Shawshank Redemption,” Cuomo visited his nearby cell and taunted and cursed at him during a “photo op.” Cuomo sarcastically told Alexander the noise from the escape “must have kept you awake with all that cutting,” the lawsuit claims. “Let me guess, you don’t know f—-ing nothing,” the governor told him and gave him “a tough guy look,” the lawsuit claims.

Alexander claims he knew nothing about the escape. “A few hours later, Alexander was brutally interrogated, beaten and suffocated by correction officers concerned and angered that their own incompetence and corruption might be exposed,” his lawsiuit claims. In addition to Cuomo, the lawsuit names correction officers and state troopers as defendants. “We feel that Cuomo indirectly green-lighted correction officers to abuse and assault inmates in order to quickly identify the location of the escapees,” said Alexander’s lawyer, Leo Glickman. “This is simply baseless and bizarre,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Louisiana Could Reduce Inmates, Save $150M: Report

The state’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force made its formal proposal, which is expected to be introduced as a package of criminal justice reform legislation this spring. Louisiana has the world’s highest incarceration rate, 816 for every 100,000 residents as of 2015.

Louisiana, a state with the world’s highest incarceration rate, could shed 13 percent of its prison population and save $150 million in the process over the next 10 years, leaders of a criminal justice task force are announcing today, reports The Advocate. Reducing the prison population would require massive structural reforms — some of which have already proven to be controversial — which will include overhauling sentencing, expanding probation and parole eligibility, revising drug penalties, and easing some of the financial burdens on convicts.

The recommendations were released today after a year of meetings by the Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which was tasked with reducing the prison population and recidivism in Louisiana. The recommendations are expected to be introduced as a package of criminal justice reform legislation this spring. (A preliminary version of the proposal was reported last week by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.) Louisiana has the highest per-capita prison population in the U.S., calculated in 2015 to be 816 people for every 100,000 residents — a number that’s double the national average. The task force found Louisiana locks up more nonviolent criminals than most states. The panel also found that sentence lengths were getting longer for nonviolent offenders between 2010 and 2015, and that the Parole Board was reviewing almost half as many cases as it did in 2015 than it did 10 years prior.

 

from http://thecrimereport.org

Four More Texas Prisons Could Close In Budget Cut

The shift would mark the largest such move in state history, closing as many prisons in the next year as the state has shuttered in the past five. More than 2,700 prison beds could be taken off line, reducing the size of Texas’ prison system to about 145,000.

Four Texas prisons could be closed or mothballed as Senate and House budget writers move to downsize state spending drastically and save more than $40 million in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice budget, the Houston Chronicle reports.  If it becomes part of the final state budget as legislative leaders have recommended, the shift would mark the largest such move in state history, closing as many prisons in the next year as the state has shuttered in the past five. It marks a tangible effect of the state’s budget woes, with budget writers looking for $4 billion to cut.

The 500-bed Ware Unit in Colorado City is likely to be mothballed, and he Bartlett State Jail in Williamson County, the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility outside Brownfield and the Bridgeport Pre-Parole lockup northwest of Fort Worth are listed for possible closure. More than 2,700 prison beds could be taken off line in the move, reducing the size of Texas’ prison system to about 145,000 — 10,000 less than its capacity just three years ago. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire said, “The state has excess (prison) capacity at this point, so we can do this without affecting public safety at all.”

 

from http://thecrimereport.org

In Repeat of 2015 Riot, 2 Inmates Killed at NE Prison

Gov. Pete Ricketts insisted the incident at Tecumseh State Prison was not a riot, even though some 40 inmates sets fires, damaged property and killed two fellow inmates. Two convicted sex offenders were killed during a riot at the same prison on Mother’s Day 2015.

For the second time in two years, inmates on Thursday took control of a portion of a Nebraska maximum security prison and killed two fellow inmates, reports the Omaha World-Herald. Gov. Pete Ricketts insisted the state’s troubled and overcrowded prison system is making progress and that the melee at Tecumseh State Prison was not a “riot.” “The loss of life was tragic, but this is a dangerous place,” Ricketts said.

Corrections Director Scott Frakes said staff responded “flawlessly” when they learned at about 1 p.m. that inmates had started a fire in a small yard attached to a maximum-security housing unit. About 40 inmates refused orders to return to their cells. Fights ensued between inmates, and several fires were set inside the housing unit. Security teams clad in riot gear finally entered the housing units at 4:30 p.m., when the two bodies were discovered. The dead men were not identified, and authorities would not say how they were killed. The state patrol will investigate. Two convicted sex offenders were killed during a deadly riot at the same prison on Mother’s Day 2015.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Three Dozen DE Prison Workers Quit After Hostage Siege

A mix of high prison populations and stressful working conditions make it hard to maintain adequate prison staffing around the nation, the Wall Street Journal reports. A hostage standoff left one Delaware prison worker dead.

After a deadly hostage standoff at a Delaware prison this month, about three dozen workers, including nurses and correctional officers, have resigned, increasing pressure on a penitentiary already struggling with staffing shortages, the Wall Street Journal reports. A union representing Delaware prison workers has complained that top state officials haven’t done enough to address chronic prison staffing shortages. Personnel shortages at prisons are a serious challenge around the U.S., raising safety risks. Since the incident that left one correctional officer dead at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, 29 contract medical workers have resigned, including eight registered nurses, 11 licensed practical nurses and three nurse practitioners, said Jayme Gravell, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction. In addition, eight correctional officers have resigned, and 10 officers—six of whom were assigned to Vaughn—have submitted their retirement paperwork, as has one teacher.

The department loses 11 correctional officers a month on average. “These retirements cannot be directly attributed to the hostage event in Smyrna,” she said. A mix of high prison populations and stressful working conditions make it hard to maintain adequate prison staffing around the nation. Homicides among prison workers are relatively rare while violent injuries are more common, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prison workers accounted for one third of all violent injuries among state government workers that year, the bureau said. In Delaware, Republican state Sen. Dave Lawson has proposed using overtime funds to boost pay at the Department of Correction as a way to improve recruitment and retention.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Ex-NC Prison Psychologist Assails Mental Health Care

Psychologist John Schwade maintains that money allocated for mental health reform in 2015 “has not been spent as promised.” State officials deny that but an inmate advocacy group has received almost 300 letters from prisoners complaining about treatment.

In a scathing report to North Carolina lawmakers, a retired prison psychologist contends that the state’s efforts to reform mental health for inmates has instead squandered millions of tax dollars while endangering inmates and prison workers, the Charlotte Observer reports. Psychologist John Schwade maintains that money allocated for mental health reform in 2015 “has not been spent as promised.” He says many of the inmates who most desperately need treatment aren’t getting it. State prison leaders disputed Schwade’s conclusions, saying they have done much to improve care for those with mental illness. “His allegations and conclusions are based largely on conjecture, opinion and untruths,” said Gary Junker, the prisons’ director of behavioral health.

Others who advocate for inmates say that while prison leaders have improved mental health care, far more action is needed. Elizabeth Forbes said her criminal justice reform group NC CURE has received almost 300 letters from mentally ill inmates in three years complaining of problems with their treatment. Some have had to wait months to see a psychologist, she said, while many others have lost access to the medications they need. Prison leaders announced plans to reform mental health care after the 2014 death of Michael Kerr, a mentally ill inmate who died of thirst after spending days lying unresponsive in his cell. In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory asked the legislature for $24 million over two years to improve care of prisoners with mental illness. He got half that.

from http://thecrimereport.org