Posts Tagged ‘death penalty’
A memo dated Friday from Warden David Bobby of the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown outlined six policy changes being made for inmates under the prison’s “administrative maximum security” designation, the most restricted section of Death Row, which houses about 120 prisoners.
Inmates will be allowed “semi-contact” visits with family members, additional recreation time, access to computer-based legal research, phone privileges up to one hour per day and the opportunity to purchase more items from the commissary, including food and clothing. …
Attorneys Staughton and Alice Lynd, who have advocated for the Lucasville inmates, obtained a copy of the memo. They said the state’s capitulation was a surprise.
(h/t: The Crime Report)
Jerry Brown, once the youngest governor in California’s history, will now take office as its oldest. For AG, the Golden State will have Steve Cooley, who’s called for reforming California’s three strikes law (sort of) while overseeing a DA’s office that sent more felons to death row than all of Texas last year. What might all of this mean for prison reform? Rather than speculate myself, I’d actually be curious to hear from readers in comments or via e-mail. UPDATE: When I wrote this post last night the Los Angeles Times had called the AG race for Cooley, but now it looks like Kamala Harris may win by a hair. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, I thought readers might be interested or at least amused in some reminiscences of the (first) Jerry Brown administration. These are from a 1988 oral history given by John Nejedly, former state senator and an architect of California’s determinate sentencing regime, which Brown signed into law (PDF link):
There were a lot of things about him, but if you could show something that was socially wrong, had a fundamental social inconsistency, you could get his attention. He was pretty close to the Jesuits, so I got some people in the Jesuit hierarchy to talk to him about it [prisons], because I went with them over to the same prison on Thursday nights, when we would go over there, and they called him, told him what the problems were. It was a minister, you know, that put that resolution of the Attica thing into place, and he called him …
Not for nothing did they call him Governor Moonbeam:
But it was a much more fluid, flexible, unmanaged system with Brown than it was with Reagan. You could pretty well predict Reagan. But Brown. *** Especially when he got into that screwy presidential campaign; that was bonkers. He was all over the place and he had a good looking dolly going over to Africa with him and he flips from that scene and he goes to New Hampshire and screws that one up. and Illinois. God, it was bananas.
But I liked the guy! If I met him today, I’d invite him to go on a hike. He’s the kind of a person you’d go on a hike with.
Graham v. Florida is, not surprisingly, getting a lot of coverage around the legal blogosphere today. In addition to my earlier links, check out the coverage at Solitary Watch and California Corrections Crisis. Rather than rehash what other blogs have more capably covered, I wanted to highlight one point of disagreement between Justices Stevens and Thomas, which may be of minor import legally speaking, but of great interest to me as a student who divides her time between the law school and the history department.
Justice Stevens, in his brief concurrence, accuses Justice Thomas of embracing a “static” view of the Eighth Amendment in which “cruel and unusual” means forever and always whatever it meant at the time of the founding. Thus, says Justice Stevens, it would be A-OK with Justice Thomas for a state to execute a 7-year-old for stealing $50. I noted above that this point of disagreement is of minor legal import because (pace perhaps Justice Thomas?) the Supreme Court has held in other cases that it’s unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for non-homicide crimes and for crimes committed by juveniles, and moreover, I can’t imagine any state today would actually try to execute a 7-year-old for petty theft. But the putative disagreement is fascinating for another reason, insofar as it betrays some ahistorical assumptions that both Stevens and Thomas seem to be making about history.
Justice Stevens is referring to this footnote in Justice Thomas’s dissent:
That’s how this organization describes LWOP, or life without the possibility of parole. (New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has used the phrase “worse than death“.) In a press release today, The Other Death Penalty Project announces a nationwide letter-writing campaign urging death penalty abolitionist groups
to stop advocating for life without the possibility of parole as a supposedly humane alternative to lethal injection.
The Other Death Penalty Project, a group comprised solely of prisoners serving life without possibility of parole — the other death penalty — categorically rejects this hypocritical position taken by too many death penalty abolitionists. Death at the hands of the state, whether by lethal injection or lethal imprisonment, is the death penalty.
The Other Death Penalty Project, similarly, rejects the proposition that life without the possibility of parole is a necessary first step toward ultimate abolition of the death penalty. The distinction is one of method, not kind. Instead of moving to the elimination of death sentences, this tactic of trading slow executions for quick executions has resulted in an explosion of men and women sentenced to the slower method.
(h/t: Sentencing Law & Policy)
Strange as it may sound — after all, when it comes to prison litigation, inmates are usually the ones suing the state — that’s the headline of this Solitary Watch report. Triggered by a death row prisoner’s earlier lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s execution procedures under state law, the state’s countersuit is a preemptive move to try to keep any more death row inmates from doing the same:
The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections last Friday sued every inmate on death row, in an effort to block any one of them from challenging the state’s lethal injection procedures. Each of the 84 prisoners in the “death house” at Angola State Penitentiary was personally served papers in the suit, said Nick Trenticosta, who has represented numerous clients on Angola’s death row.
Trenticosta, who is also director of the non-profit Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans, knows of no other instance in which a state sued its death row inmates en masse over legal questions relating to their execution. “I’ve been hanging around death penalty cases for 25 years,” Trenticosta said in a phone interview this morning, “and I have never seen anything like this.”
This case will probably make headlines because of ongoing litigation around the country regarding lethal injection procedures, but I wonder if it might have ramifications beyond the death penalty context: Will states start using preemptive countersuits to keep inmates from challenging their conditions of confinement, too? Is there any precedent for this, or has Louisiana stumbled upon a totally novel litigation technique? As always, readers who know more are invited to leave comments.
This spring, UC-Berkeley is web-streaming the lectures for law professor Jonathan Simon‘s undergraduate survey course, “Punishment, Culture, and Society.” An easy and handy way to brush up on your crime and punishment history, even if you’re no longer a college student. Here’s an excerpt from the course description:
This course surveys the development of Western penal practices, institutions, and ideas (what David Garland calls “penality”) from the eighteenth-century period to the present. Our primary focus will be on penal practices and discourses in United States in the early 21st century. In particular we will examine the extraordinary growth of US penal sanctions in the last quarter century and the sources and consequences of what some have called “mass imprisonment.” To gain some comparative perspective the course will also take up contemporary penality (or penalities) in Europe, South Africa, Central America, and Asia, as well as US penality and society at some earlier conjunctures. … The course will examine many examples of penal practices and the ideas associated with them including mass imprisonment, the death penalty, and restorative justice. In the last portion of the class we will examine the recent crisis in California’s juvenile prisons through the lenses both of different social theories and the examples of different national and historical penal patterns.
Over the past 20 years, Texas lawyer David Dow has represented some 100 death row inmates against the state that carries out the highest volume of executions. On NPR’s Fresh Air earlier this week, Terry Gross interviewed Dow about his work and his new memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution (Twelve, 2010). Here’s just one interesting excerpt from an effective interview:
Terry Gross: Now, you’ve spent your 20 years working on death row in Texas, which is famous, for among other things, for having a lot of executions. So what’s unique about working with death row clients in Texas?
Prof. Dow: I have a few cases that I work on in other states and one of the facts that always strikes me when I go to those other states is how different death penalty lawyers are in other states. Even other states that have substantial death row populations, like Florida. Death penalty lawyers in other states are not constantly representing clients who are on the verge of execution. In other states it’s a busy year in the execution chamber if you have five or six executions. In Texas, we might have five or six executions in a month or two.
[Quick housekeeping note for this blog: I'll probably not be blogging much about death penalty issues in general, on the theory that there's only so much one blog can or should try to cover, but I thought this interview was worth mentioning.]