PrisonWatchTM vs. Timesizing®
Prison stories - Oct-Dec/2002
[Commentary] ©2002 Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080 - HOMEPAGE
12/31/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
12/26/2002 2 prison items, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Closed doors, open season, book review by Thomas Main, WSJ, D4.
Ten prisoners in a Philadelphia prison sued Mayor Wilson Goode in the early 19890s claiming that conditions there violated their rights. The result was a consent decree, in 1986, that limited the number of prisoners who could be held in the city's jails.
[Ah, misleading wording. The decree probably ruled against crowding in the city's jails, and the city responded stupidly by releasing dangerous criminals instead of anticipating the jail-building boom of the 1990s.]
And the result of the decree itself? "A blood-chilling crime wave," write Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod.
[The crime wave was not the result of the decree but of the city's stupid response to it.]
In 18 months, "police rearrested 9,732 defendants released 'because of' the consent decree [our quotes - ed.]."... This is only one of the hair-raising stories in "Democracy by Decree," a critique of astonishing efforts to govern society through the miracle of what the authors call "institutional reform litigation."...
[One wonders what this critique has to do with democracy, but if the rest of the examples in the book are as sloppy as the first, we have other priorities....]
12/19/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- [some good news]
Michigan to drop minimum sentence rules for drug crimes - Plans to give judges more discretion in tailoring punishment to fit the crime, AP via NYT, A20.
[This development in Michigan was mentioned in a list in the article on 12/19 below and today we have a whole article on it - it was the most important item on that unprioritized list.]
- [and some more good news that should have been unnecessary]
Correctional Services sells prison, WSJ, A7.
Correctional Services Corp. sold a 600-bed Florence, Ariz. prison and all its assets to the Industrial Development Authority of the County of Pinal for about $10m in gross proceeds....
[Would Pinal be Florence's county by any chance? And would this therefore be the beginning of the end of the stupid idea of privatizing prisons and trying to run them on a for-profit basis?]
The company said it expects to finish its analysis of underperforming facilities by the end of the fourth quarter.
[And what, pray tell, is an "underperforming prison facility"??? What a bizarre warping of the American Way.]
Correctional Services will continue to manage the facility under its renewed contract with the Arizona Dept. of Corrections.
[Pathetic. This is like farming out contracts on garbage collection. We gonna farm out tax collection next, like the Roman Empire?]
12/16/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- [another bizarre chapter in prison career (or career?) of The Land of the Free -]
Inmates go free to reduce deficits - States can't pay tab on years of tough law enforcement, by Fox Butterfield, NYT, front page.
LEXINGTON, Ky...- They began walking out of the Fayette County Jail here [yesterday] afternoon, the first of 567 Kentucky state prison inmates that Gov. Paul Patton abruptly ordered released this week in a step to reduce a $500m budget deficit. Gov. Patton said only nonviolent offenders were being given the early mass commutation. But those let out [yester]day included men convicted of burglary, theft, arson and drug possession, some of them chronic criminals....
[The drug possession charge is just a result of America's failure to learn from the success of taxation and education (the war on smoking) and the failure of criminalization (Prohibition). The other charges are a bit worrying.]
It is a quandary that confronts an increasing number of politicians across the nation in this time of deficits.
[And short-sighted plutocrats.]
After three decades of building ever more prisons and passing tougher sentencing laws, politicians now see themselves as being forced to choose between keeping a lid on spending or being tough on crime. As a result, states are laying off prison guards, or giving prisoners emergency early releases like those in Kentucky. Some states have gone so far as to repeal mandatory minimum sentences or to send drug offenders to treatment rather than to prison in an effort to slow down the inflow of...inmates.
["The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
(Murder in the Cathedral," T.S. Elliott)
However, there's the wrong deed for the wrong reason too -]
And in other locales, prosecutors or courts have placed a moratorium on misdemeanor cases like shoplifting, domestic violence and prostitution.... The pressure to change stems from the math. Since the early 1970's, the number of state prisoners has risen 500%, making corrections the fastest growing item in most state budgets. With more than 2 million inmates currently in state and federal prisons and local jails, the bill for corrections reached $30 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Nicholas Turner, director of national programs at the Vera Institute of Justice in NY, a research organization...noting that most of the states making fundamental changes are controlled by Republicans, said: "This seems like one of those Nixon Goes To China things. After years of being tough on crime, only Republicans have the credentials to change prison policy."
- To cope, Iowa has laid off prison prison guards.
- Ohio and
- Illinois have closed prisons.
- Arkansas and
- Texas, along with
- Kentucky, have discovered loopholes that allow them to release convicted felons early, getting around the strict truth-in-sentencing laws and no-parole policies passed in the 1990's that were supposed to prevent such releases....
[Oh great, imprisonment has been our big substitute for war as a way to clear the wage-depressing recession-maintaining labor surplus, the military-industrial complex has been our great substitute for the military-industrial complex since the Cold War. Our slide to the 3rd World speeds up if released prisoners drowning the job market in the early 2000s follow the floods of immigrants of the early 90s, the floods of housewives in the early 80s, and the floods of babyboomers in the early 70s.]
Kentucky's prison population - now mor than 15,000 - has grown faster than the number of state prison beds..\..
- In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating, a "conservative" Republican [our quotes - ed.] who added 1,000 new inmates a year to the state's once small prison system, has asked the Pardon & Parole Board to find 1,000 nonviolent inmates to release early as a result of the state's budget crisis....
- In Virginia Beach, Commonwealth Atty Harvey Bryant, the local prosecutor, has announced that because of state cutbacks to his office's budget, he will no longer prosecute 2,200 misdemeanor domestic violence cases he gets a year.
[Aaah, family values in America, Republicans' favorite!]
- [And finally, common sense -]
Last week the legislature in Michigan, faced with a budget deficit and prison overcrowding, voted to repeal the state's strict mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug "crimes" [our quotes] which have led to even life sentences for possession of cocaine or heroin....
- In Kansas, the Kansas Sentencing Commission will recommend to the Legislature next month a new policy under which people arrested for simple drug possession, with no record of prior arrests for violent crimes or drug trafficking, will be placed in mandatory treatment instead of sent to prison.... About 5,000 of Kansas' 9,000 inmates are projected to be eligible, with the cost for a year in drug treatment about $2,500 compared with $21,000 for a year in prison. ...Kansas had earlier eliminated most drug treatment in its prisons....
[Seems like brilliant world-leading Americans are spending a LOT of time reinventing the wheel = the more common-sense sentencing practice of the 60s, after getting all out-of-breath about "being tough on crime." Wadda buncha putzes. Posing as tuff of crime, too stupid to do the math, and too cheap to pay for it when it comes. "Vutta country."]
- Similarly, in Alabama, where a judge has fined the state for dumping inmates on country jails, a sentencing commission will make reform recommendations to the Legislature early next year to stem the inflow of prison inmates. These mesures include restoring flexibility for judges in making sentencing decisions and placing more offenders on probation or in halfway houses rather than in the state's prisons.
- Idaho and
- Nebraska are all considering some version of these sentencing decisions and placing more offenders on probation or in halfway houses rather than in the state's prisons..\..
[i.e., to be weak on crime at this point. Or, maybe it's just a case of Republicans created the mess, Republicans can clean it up.]
12/13/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- For first time since 1976, drop in inmates on death row, AP via NYT, A21.
The number of death row prisoners dropped last year for the first time since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, the Justice Dept. reported today. The death row population fell to 3,581 in 2001 from 3,601 in 2000, the first year-to-year decrease in 25 years. The 155 defendants sentenced to die last year were...the fewest since 1973. [For example] in 1998, 303 people were sentenced to death, while in 1996 it was 319....
Death penalty experts say juries and prosecutors appear to be exercising greater care in using the death penalty, especially after recent cases in which DNA evidence proved that people had been wrongly convicted. More prosecutors also appear to be accepting plea bargains in which a defendant accepts a sentence of life [imprisonment] without parole..\..
66 people were [actually] executed last year, compared with 85 the year before....
Oklahoma executed the most people...with 18, followed by 17 in Texas and 7 in Missouri. In all, executions were carried out last year by 15 of the 38 states that have a death penalty. The federal government executed 2 men [including] Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber..\..
- 63 men and 3 women were put to death...all by lethal injection.
- 48 were white, 17 were black and 1 was American Indian....
Through Dec. 11 of this year, 68 people were executed...nationwide \of which\ Texas has conducted 33....
12/03/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Conservatives' new cause: Jobs for ex-convicts - Meaningful work [how about just well-paid work?!] is seen as way to prevent former inmates from reverting to crime [ie: "recidivism"] - The right and left agree on something: training ex-inmates, by Steven Greenhouse, NYT, A29.
Welfare-to-work programs have moved thousands of women [sic] from welfare into jobs, and now many conservative groups that championed those programs are trying to apply them to another problematic population: the hundreds of thousands of men [sic] who are released from prisons each year....
[So we put women on welfare (now temporarily) and send men to prison (still temporary though we've tried to make it as long as possible). In other words, prison is "welfare for men" - except, of course, disability - which is unisex (see 9/01-02/2002 #2).]
"One unintended consequence of the welfare-to-work program was it empowered women while a lot of men disappeared and went to jail," said Lee Bowes, CEO of America Works, which runs one of the nation's most successful welfare-to-work programs. "Now we're trying to do something to help the men"..\..
The organizations, run by religious conservatives and crime-fighting conservatives, believe that the welfare-to-work model - a mix of tough love and true training - may reduce recidivism and move many of the roughly 550,000 men released from prison each year nationwide into meaningful employment....
[Let's cut the "meaningful" crap and switch to "market-demanded" employment. Then we can work on timesizing some discipline into CEOs so they centrifuge enough of their profits to switch from parasitic to self-supporting in terms of maintaining an employment base that supports their own consumer base.]
Former prisoners are attracting more attention partly because a record number of them are being released, about 1,600 a day, the direct result of the national prison population's climbing to a record in recent years, nearly 2m [nope, 2.1m - see 7/31/2002 #1].
[which in turn is the direct result of the obsessive-compulsive-perfectionistic national zero-tolerance, mandatory-sentencing drug war which should have been avoided by looking at the failure of Prohibition in the 1930s and the ongoing success of the war on nicotine. In short, criminalization doesn't work but taxing a drug for its costs does.]
One statistic has especially pressed conservatives and liberals alike to assist this group: nearly 2/3 of ex-offenders are arrested again within 3 years of release, meaning they committed hundreds of thousands of new crimes....
[Interesting term, "ex-offenders." Apparently it's Politically Correct, possibly because it implies a certain amount of faith.]
Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Assoc., a NY nonprofit agency that was a pioneer in assisting ex-offenders, said prisons did a bad job preparing inmates for work.... Like the Osborne Assoc., the Center for Employment Opportunities in Manhattan takes ex-offenders to drug programs, implores judges to ease child support payments and asks parole officers to change appointments so they do not conflict with a parolee's work hours. "These guys are coming home with an incredible number of obligations," said Mindy Tarlow, the center's executive director. "They need to report to parole officers and get drug tests. They have curfews."...
One religious group that embraced the cause of former prisoners is the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization, which has job programs in NY and 8 other states. After the Institute placed several dozen former Rikers Island inmates in jobs, NYC's HR Administration gave it a 5-year contract to train and place at least 200 ex-offenders a year..\..
On a recent Monday, a dozen newly released prisoners, all men, headed to the 12th-floor Manhattan office of America Works to ask for job-hunting leads and to attend a 3-day workshop....
America Works places ex-offenders in janitorial jobs as well as in light-industrial, restaurant and telemarketing jobs. Company officials note that many fast-talking ex-offenders excel at telemarketing.
To many companies, these workers are not threatening; 75% of ex-offenders were not in prison for violent crimes and 1/3 were in for drug offenses, up from 11% in 1985.
Nevertheless, job placement efforts face considerable barriers, among them fears of former prisoners and laws barring ex-offenders from various occupations..\..
William Eimicke, a Columbia University professor of management...recently completed a study of job programs for ex-offenders for the conservative Manhattan Institute. [His] study found that of 891 ex-offenders who signed up for the 3-day workshop at America Works, 501 finished it and 389 were placed in jobs. Of those, 42% kept their jobs for at least 6 months.
Noting that NY State spends about $30,000 a year to keep someone in prison, his study said such job-placement programs could save the state millions of dollars a year by reducing recidivism, the rate at which ex-convicts return to prison, and thus cutting prison costs..\..
In NYC, 2 Republican mayors - Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg - have awarded record amounts of money for job programs for former prisoners. John DiIulio, a Democrat who was the director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the current Bush White House, is pressing Congress for a 10-fold increase in spending on job programs for ex-offenders..\..
"The [550,000] prisoners released each year, if not the biggest problem on the social agenda, has to be in the top 5," said...Eimicke....
[Ooh, a version of The Big Question - What is the biggest problem on the social agenda? What are the top 5??]
12/02/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Alabama: 'Unsafe' women's prison, AP via NYT, A26.
A federal judge ruled that Alabama's prison for women was overcrowded, understaffed and unsafe and gave state officials 4 weeks to come up with a plan to solve the problem. The judge, Myron Thompson of Federal District Court in Montgomery, said Gov. Don Siegelman and the prisons commissioner, Mike Haley, had until Dec. 30 to submit a plan to relieve the "unconstitutionally unsafe conditions" at the Tutwiler prison for women. His ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of 15 inmates at Tutwiler. The prison was built in the 1940s to hold a maximum of 364 inmates and now houses 1,017.
11/29/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Learning behind bars, letter to editor by Ann T. Moore of NYC, NYT, A24.
...Back in the 1970s...the University of Tennessee...at Nashville..\..operated a College Within the Walls at the Tennessee State Penitentiary. I recall hearing the dean...remark that the student with the highest grade point average in the university at the time was an inmate. "It says a lot about the secluded life as an environment for study," he observed.
[The Prison as Monastery theme.]
11/25/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Teaching inmates, letter to editor by Commissioner Glenn Goord of NY State Dept. of Correctional Services in Albany, NYT, A32.
...Education for prison inmates reduces recidivism [= breaking the law again & returning to the 'hoosegow']..\.. Brent Staples [see article below] lauded Boston University for offering college-level courses to...inmates.... But since 72% of incoming inmates in NY lack a high school diploma, I believe that is where limited state tax dollars should be focused.
Gov. George Pataki's support for educational programs has helped to reverse the annual increases in the inmate population that we have seen in virtually ever[y] year since 1973. NY's...inmate programs ha[ve] allowed more than 44,000 selected nonviolent offenders to earn early release from prison since 1995 through their participation in academic, vocational, drug treatment and work programs.
[Should be easy for US prisons to chalk up this kind of good record when our ludicrous national drug laws have incarcerated so many otherwise law-abiding folks.]
10/29/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Prison class: What Ma Barker knew and Congress didn't - The high cost of keeping inmates out of school, 'editorial observer' by Brent Staples, NYT, A24.
The U.S. runs the largest and most expensive prison system in the world. The rate of imprisonment is
The cost of housing this country's inmates exceeds $20,000 per person per year - more than the price of in-state student enrollment at many of the America's best public universities.
- 5 times the rate in Britain,
- 8 times the rate in France and
- 14 times the rate in Japan.
[We've heard $25-30K.]
The inmate population has grown by nearly 80% over the last decade. One of the big problems is that so many of the people who leave prison can't manage to stay out.
[Because they can't manage to support themselves in this hostile downsizing economy, despite waves of work-saving technology which were meant to make self-support easier, not harder.]
Indeed, more than 50% of inmates end up back inside for new crimes within 3 years of being released.
...Educators argue that the problem could be partly solved by educating inmates - and training them for jobs - instead of allowing them to sit idle during their sentences.
[Drop the "education" B.S. and just get focused on training them for jobs.]
Researchers have discovered and rediscovered, over and over again, that inmates who attend vocational training or college classes are more likely to stay out of jail once they leave....
[Here's the argument for "education" as opposed to job training.]
- prison education programs were radically undermined during the 1990's, when Congress made convicted felons ineligible for Pell grants, the federal tuition aid program aimed primarily at the poor.
[This development would have been a lot harder if Pell grants were focused on job training instead of on the covert makework of airy-fairy "education."]
- The government also limited the flow of money to prisons for adult and special education - a move that turned out to be seriously self-destructive.
[How refreshing it would be to see a focus on overtime-targeted on-the-job training to cut through the thick education rhetoric.]
But the value of prison education seems to extend well beyond the job search. Reading, writing and thinking allows many ex-offenders to reflect on their actions instead of living on impulse.
[But then, so does being able to support yourself honestly and easily.]
...Financed by the US Dept. of Education..\..a large-scale study released last year by the Correctional Education Assoc...charts the progress of more than 3,000 inmates across 3 states. The data shows that prisoners who receive vocational or academic training are more likely to remain out of jail, perhaps because they find it easier to get jobs. This information comes at a time when the states have followed the federal government's lead and cut back severely on prison education.
[We should be talking about prison job-training as the cover term instead of untargeted education.]
...Boston University [BU] started its prison education program in 1972 and maintained the commitment even after the federal money began to dry up. ...Beloved BU professor Elizabeth Barker - affectionately nicknamed Ma Barker after the legendary gangster ... first hit upon the idea of starting the prison program when she took BU's GE College Bowl team to practice against the inmate team at a medium-security prison in Norfolk, Mass..\.. After 3 decades, the BU program this year has 125 students in 3 prisons [and] has thus far granted degrees to 218 students. A formal study has yet to be undertaken, but some people believe that nearly all of the graduates who left prison never returned.... The decision to cut back prison education was clearly a mistake. The sooner we undo it, the better off we will be.
10/28/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Prison operator agrees to pay $54 million in 1997 tax case, WSJ, A19.
Corrections Corp. of America, the nation's biggest for-profit operator of prisons,...reached an agreement with the IRS...to settle a dispute over its 1997 federal taxes....
[Want to know what this is all about? We do too, but this article doesn't provide tell us. Instead, it turns to trivia and low-key cheerleading for the company - but that's the WSJ for you.]
10/19/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Iraq's jails, and ours, letter to editor by Mohammed Munib of Garden City NY, NYT, A30.
I was struck by the parallels of two Oct. 23 news articles: "Some Guantanamo prisoners will be freed, Rumsfeld says" and "In opening the gates of its Gulag, Iraq unleashes pain and protest." In both cases, a large number of people were held who had committed no crime except opposition to the "jailing" authority, which locked them up and forgot about any norms of international justice.
Before we embark on a military campaign against Saddam Hussein, we should look in the mirror.
10/01/2002 1 prison item, reported in the Wall St Journal or the NY Times -
- Yearning to vote, letter to editor by Anthony Papa of NYC, NYT, A30.
Re "Former felons have a right to vote" (editorial, Oct. 17):
I was a first-time nonviolent offender who served 12 years under the Rockefeller drug laws of NY state. When I was released on parole, I could not vote. This was a great blow to my self-esteem.
My South Bronx neighborhood was deteriorating, and there were many community issues I wanted to voice my opinion on through the vote. But I couldn't. I felt the pain of felony disenfranchisement and was being further punished for my crime.
[In the long-term future, the vote will probably devolve on the self-supporting. Of course, with shorter hours and high-tech job designers for the handicapped, it will be much easier to support oneself.]
I waited five years until I got off parole to cast my first vote. I felt elated to do so. I was finally accepted, by society in my capacity as a citizen. The right to vote is an important part of the rehabilitation process and should be given to those who have paid their debt to society.
- [here's a situation that shouldn't be prison-like but is -]
New York restricts confinements of mentally ill, by Clifford Levy, NYT, front page.
Officials at state psychiatric hospital in New York ordered social workers this week to stop sending discharged patients to locked units in private nursing homes. The move ends a six-year-old practice that was supposed to help scale back the state's costly psychiatric system but has raised civil rights concerns.
The [Gov.] Pataki administration has allowed as many as a dozen nursing homes to keep discharged psychiatric patients locked away in the units, where they are prohibited from going outside on their own, have almost no contact with others and have little ability to contest their confinement.
The turnabout comes after the U.S. Justice Dept. opened a review of the units to determine whether conditions violate federal laws that protect the rights of people who are institutionalized or have disabilities. The department began the review after an article about the units appeared in The New York Times on Oct. 6. The civil rights issue has arisen because residents of the units had not been deemed by the state to be a danger to themselves or to others and therefore did not meet the typical legal standard used to keep someone in a locked hospital psychiatric ward. The units are not regulated as psychiatric facilities, so the residents do not have the protections of people committed to psychiatric wards: the right to a lawyer and to a hearing to contest having their freedom taken away....
- [another excursion into the land of death penalty debate, because of its insights into prison life and survival therein -]
DNA will let a Montana man put prison behind him, but questions linger, by Adam Liptak, NYT, A18.
BILLINGS, Mont... - A couple of weeks after Jimmy Ray Bromgard was sent to prison in 1987, another inmate broke his jaw in a fight. Mr. Bromgard, then 18, was starting a 40-year sentence for the rape of an 8-year-old girl here. "Crimes of that sort are not well received inside," said Lt. Timothy Neiter, one of his jailers. "His hard time was hard."
Mr. Bromgard is a lanky man with thinning hair now. He has lively eyes, a relaxed manner, a quick sense of humor and more native optimism than most. "I got beat up quite a bit," he said. "But I learned to fight. I guess that's a good thing." He did not sound too sure about that last point.
DNA tests have cleared him, and he is expected to walk out of Yellowstone County Courthouse here on Tuesday morning a free man. He is 33 and has spent almost half his life in prison.... The rape victim's father said he has always harbored some doubts about the case. "When we went through the trial in 1987, there was no evidence in the case that would have convicted Jimmy," he said in an interview. "Then they came forward with the hair"..\.. The manager of the state's crime laboratory at the time...Arnold Melnikoff, played a central role in Mr. Bromgard's case.... He testified that head and pubic hairs found at the scene could not be distinguished from samples provided by Mr. Bromgard.... Mr. Bromgard's lawyers [including] Peter Neufeld, the codirector of the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan..\..say..."Melnikoff simply made up...statistics.... It would appear that he deliberately ignored the scientifically accepted practices to help secure a conviction." \They\ have assembled a peer review committee of forensic scientists, which has issued a report asking for an audit of the hundreds of cases in which [Melnikoff] testified....
For earlier prison stories, click on the desired date -
Sept/99 and before.
Questions? Comments? email firstname.lastname@example.org).
For more information, see our "social software" manual Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at bookstores in Harvard and Porter Squares, Cambridge, Mass.