Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘illinois

New York Times: “Prisons Rethink Isolation”

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In light of the recently filed lawsuit against Arizona alleging overuse of solitary confinement, the New York Times has some timely reporting on other states that have decided to reduce their use of isolation as punishment — including Mississippi, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Washington State, and most recently, California:

The efforts represent an about-face to an approach that began three decades ago, when corrections departments — responding to increasing problems with prison gangs, stiffer sentencing policies that led to overcrowding and the “get tough on crime” demands of legislators — began removing ever larger numbers of inmates from the general population. They placed them in special prisons designed to house inmates in long-term isolation or in other types of segregation.

At least 25,000 prisoners — and probably tens of thousands more, criminal justice experts say — are still in solitary confinement in the United States. Some remain there for weeks or months; others for years or even decades. More inmates are held in solitary confinement here than in any other democratic nation, a fact highlighted in a United Nations report last week.

In particular, the article discusses the evidence that prolonged isolation can cause and/or exacerbate mental illness:  Read the rest of this entry »

Downsizing the Prison Population, in California and Beyond

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As we begin 2012, it looks like California is on track to meet its court-ordered benchmarks for reducing the state prison population. KALW/The Informant notes:

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, readying its January 10 report to the federal court in the Northern District of California, announced it’s currently operating at 169.2 percent of its designed capacity. That number nearly hits the 167-percent figure the court demanded California meet by December 27, 2011.

In actual numbers, that means that the prison population has fallen by about 8,000 inmates since October–and should continue to drop at its current rate of about 900 a week.

The population decline is enabling CDCR to shut down “ugly beds” — the double- and even triple-bunk beds crammed into gymnasiums that became notorious through widely circulated photographs and video footage at the height of California’s overcrowding crisis. (Here are some photos of gyms and day rooms in the process of being converted back to recreational use.) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

January 3, 2012 at 7:25 am

Federal Judge: Illinois Supermax Procedures Violate the Fourteenth Amendment

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An Illinois federal judge has ruled that the procedures (or lack thereof) for sending prisoners to the Tamms supermax violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process guarantee. At Tamms, all prisoners are kept in solitary confinement. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells and, as “recreation,” are allowed one hour to walk around alone in a steel cage. U.S. District Court Judge G. Patrick Murphy ruled this week that before inmates can be sent to Tamms, they must be afforded notice of why and a hearing at which they can challenge their transfer. Culminating ten years of litigation brought by Chicago’s Uptown People’s Law Center, Judge Murphy’s ruling emphasizes that it extends only to procedural issues and not to conditions in the prison, which he describes as “clean, excellently administered, and well staffed.” However, a local newspaper’s investigative report last year found that Tamms is often used as a de facto asylum for mentally ill inmates, and that many have been held in solitary confinement there for over 10 years. Psychiatrists suggest that solitary confinement longer than 90 days produces mental breakdown, and some argue it is tantamount to torture.

H/t: Solitary Watch, where you can find more information about this case.

“Illinois inmate died in agony while pleading for help”

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That’s the headline of this AP report on a 36-year-old federal inmate who bled internally to death from a burst spleen — caused by complications with cancer, though he also suffered from hepatitis and HIV — just 18 days after arriving at FCI Pekin. Here’s the crux of the article: according to the coroner, the only medication in Adam Montoya’s system at the time of death was “a trace of over-the-counter pain killer.”

That means Montoya, imprisoned for a passing counterfeit checks, had been given nothing to ease the excruciating pain that no doubt wracked his body for days or weeks before death.

“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” Coroner Dennis Conover said. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”

The FBI recently completed an investigation into Montoya’s death and gave its findings to the Justice Department, which is reviewing the case. If federal prosecutors conclude that Montoya’s civil rights were violated, they could take action against the prison, its guards, or both. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, saying that the matter was still being investigated.

The coroner said guards should have been aware that something was seriously wrong with the inmate. And outside experts agree that the symptoms of cancer and hepatitis would have been hard to miss: dramatic weight loss, a swollen abdomen, yellow eyes.

During Montoya’s final days, he “consistently made requests to the prison for medical attention, and they wouldn’t give it to him,” said his father, Juan Montoya, who described how his son repeatedly punched the panic button. Three inmates corroborated that account in interviews with The Associated Press.

Illinois Study: Prison Education Programs Are Withering Away

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The above video features interviews not just with former Illinois inmates, but also with corrections officials on the value of prison education programs, in light of the fact that 90% of inmates are eventually released. The John Howard Association recently released a study showing that Illinois has allowed its prison vocational and educational programs to wither away over the past decade, despite research showing that men and women who participate in such programs are less likely to commit new crimes after release. Also check out the recently redesigned JHA website. Founded in 1901, JHA is the oldest prison reform group in Illinois.

Written by sara

June 11, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Illinois Experiments with Prisons Devoted Entirely to Substance Abuse Treatment

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The Crime Report has posted this article about an interesting prison experiment in Illinois: a medium-security facility dedicated entirely to substance abuse issues. Admittance to the Sheridan Correctional Center is voluntary, and those convicted of murder or sex offenses are ineligible. Inmates spend three hours a day in treatment, in addition to job training and other activities. To me, the most interesting quote in the story was this one, highlighting the difference between this prison model and the more bare-bones, human warehouse model that has become common around the country:

Brian Boothe, 36, a drug offender from Bloomington, knew he was in a different prison setting when he attended his first counseling session.

“It looks like a prison facility but what threw me for a loop was when somebody called me a ‘client.’ Just that respect alone woke me up,” said Boothe, who is set to be released later this year and is considering a career as a counselor.

Also of interest is this companion piece, in which Edith Brany-Lunny describes the challenges she faced in reporting and writing this story.

Written by sara

March 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm

DOJ Plans to Buy Illinois Prison Whether or Not It’s Approved for Terror Detainees

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According to Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch, the Obama Administration will move forward with plans to purchase a prison facility in rural Thomson, Ill., whether or not Congress approves the transfer of Guantanamo detainees there. The DOJ has asked for $237 million in appropriations in next year’s budget to buy and begin using the facility to hold high-security federal inmates. Rep. Don Manzullo (R – IL), who represents northern Illinois in Congress, publicly supports the new federal prison as a way of creating jobs, but has been critical of plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees there, ostensibly for safety reasons.

Here I’ll just note a few related points; make of them what you will: 1) As I noted the other day, prisons actually haven’t been found to boost local economies, or to create as many jobs as hoped; 2) I’ve never quite understood why people are so worried about bringing the remaining Guantanamo detainees into the U.S., considering that the federal supermax in Colorado already holds some pretty dangerous folks; 3) Is this the start of a federal prison mini-boom? As the Pew Center on the States reported this week, although state prison populations have fallen in over half the states, the federal prison population is growing:

The survey found that the federal prison population continued to grow, rising by 6,838 prisoners, or 3.4 percent, to an all-time high of 208,118. Expanded federal jurisdiction over certain crimes and increased prosecution of immigration cases account for much of the increase.

Mass Incarceration and the War on Terror

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A common criticism of the Bush Administration was that, in prosecuting the War on Terror, the administration turned its back on fundamental American ideals such as due process, the right to counsel, and habeas corpus. (See, for instance, Jane Mayer’s indispensable expose The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, Doubleday, 2008.) Yet, in a recent article in the NYU Review of Law and Social Change, Georgetown law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. suggests that the War on Terror was not so much a reversal, as the logical extension of the War on Crime in the era of mass incarceration. The full cite is “Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible,” 33 NYU Rev. L. & Soc. Change 331 (2009). From the introduction (pp. 332-33):

While I share much of the criticism of how we have waged the war on terror, I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values. …

By pursuing certain policies and using particular rhetoric domestically, I suggest, we have rendered thinkable what would otherwise have been unthinkable. Moreover, as the world’s largest jailer, we are increasingly desensitized to the harsh treatment of criminals. We have come to accept such excesses as casualties of war—whether on crime, drugs, or terror. Indeed, more than that, we no longer see what we do as special, different, or harsh. Certain practices have become what [NYU sociology professor] David Garland calls “the taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy.” In part for this reason, despite the mounting evidence regarding secret memos, inhumane prison conditions, coercive interrogations, and interference with defense lawyers, the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror went largely unchecked and unchanged.

Forman argues that by placing all the blame on isolated Bush Administration officials, we avoid confronting our own responsibility (p. 339): Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

February 16, 2010 at 7:56 am

Census Bureau to States: Count Prisoners Where You Want

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The U.S. Census Bureau has agreed to release 2010 population data in a way that will give states the option of whether or not to count prisoners as residents of the county where they’re incarcerated. Although it’s too late for prisoners to be counted at their home addresses in the 2010 Census, this announcement paves at least some of the way for reforms being urged by civil rights groups around the country to eliminate the practice of so-called “prison gerrymandering.” The New York Times reports:

A number of states — including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin — are weighing legislation requiring that prisoners be counted at their last known address — for purposes of reapportionment, a change that would likely favor larger and mostly Democratic cities.

In New York, the change could prove pivotal because of the see-saw fight for control of the State Senate and the fact that the state faces the loss of at least one Congressional seat after the 2010 census.

“Most people in prison in America are urban and African-American or Latino,” Representative William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat who is chairman of the census subcommittee, wrote the bureau, but the 2010 census “will again be counting incarcerated people as residents of the rural, predominantly white communities that contain prisons.”

Other groups that have lobbied for the change include the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. and Demos, a research and advocacy organization.

The New York Times editorialized its approval of the Census change here; I previously blogged about the issue here.

Written by sara

February 11, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Prison Controversies at Issue in Illinois Governor Race

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Controversies over prisons near and far may be at issue in the upcoming Illinois gubernatorial campaign, at least for Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn. From a recent AP report:

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is in danger of losing in the primary because of his association with disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was expelled from office.

Quinn twice ran as lieutenant governor on the same ticket as Blagojevich. He has also taken heat for proposing a tax increase to clean up the state’s financial mess and for working with Obama to move terror suspects from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to an Illinois prison. His effort to cut costs by letting some nonviolent inmates out of prison turned out to include releasing violent offenders – some of whom have been accused of serious new crimes.

Written by sara

January 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm

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