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Sara Mayeux

Archive for the ‘Legislation Watch – State’ Category

No Surprise: California Journalists Go with Fearmongering Instead of Contextualizing Recent Parole Reforms

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As I’ve noted before, California’s parole system is widely misunderstood by citizens throughout the state and too often the California press only exacerbates the confusion. Here’s the latest in the long line of fearmongering articles about released prisoners who go on to do bad things. In this case, the ex-prisoner in question is Alexander Diaz, a 36-year-old Cuban national released from Delano State Prison earlier this year who went on to steal a delivery van and drive it into a police officer on a motorcycle. Pursuant to recent reforms, Diaz had been among the recently released prisoners put on “non-revocable parole” (translation: no parole officer, no parole conditions, but still no Fourth Amendment rights), rather than full parole supervision:

On Tuesday, Diaz appeared in Alameda Superior Court for a preliminary hearing on charges of attempted murder and auto theft. If he is convicted, Diaz could return to prison for a long time.

Obviously, Diaz made a deplorable series of decisions that resulted in a terrible accident. (Thankfully, the police officer survived after intensive surgery for a compound leg fracture.) But is parole reform to blame? Here’s what’s not mentioned in the article: Read the rest of this entry »

California: Gov. Schwarzenegger Vetoes Ban on Shackling Pregnant Women

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Earlier this week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 1900, which would have banned the shackling of incarcerated women who are pregnant, absent a security risk. The bill was supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and had passed without any “no” votes in the state legislature. Here is a response from Karen Shain of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

California Readers: Help End Shackling of Pregnant Women

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will soon be presented with AB 1900, which would extend California’s current prohibition on shackling inmates during labor to also limit the use of restraints on pregnant women while they are being transferred, except in cases of a clear security or flight risk. The bill has the support of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among a host of other groups. The ACLU of Northern California’s Reproductive Justice Project has a form email you can send here urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the bill into law.

New York Passes Legislation to End Prison-based Gerrymandering

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Yesterday, the New York State Senate passed a bill to count prisoners in their home communities during next year’s legislative redistricting process — rather than counting prisoners where they are incarcerated, which inflates the districts in which prisons are located at the expense of other districts. The bill had already passed in the State Assembly and now goes to Gov. David Paterson for his signature. New York is the third state to pass legislation this year addressing prison-based gerrymandering, after Maryland and Delaware.

From the Prisoners of the Census blog:

The new law will help New York correct past distortions in representation caused by counting incarcerated persons as residents of prisons, such as the following:

  • Seven of the current New York State Senate districts meet minimum population requirements only by claiming incarcerated people as residents.
  • Forty percent of an Oneida County legislative district is incarcerated, and 50 percent of a Rome City Council ward is incarcerated, giving the people who live next to the prisons more influence than people in other districts or wards.
    • Written by sara

      August 4, 2010 at 7:49 am

      Delaware Becomes Second State to Address Prison-based Gerrymandering

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      Delaware’s Senate and House have passed legislation that would count prisoners at home for redistricting purposes. Now, the signature of Governor Jack Markell is the only remaining step to turn Delaware’s HB384 into law. Delaware will become, after Maryland, the second state in the nation to address the democracy-distorting practice of using prison populations to artificially inflate electoral districts. The Delaware law only applies to redistricting, and will not affect state or federal funding allocations.

      From the Prisoners of the Census blog:

      “Delaware’s legislation recognizes that prison-based gerrymandering is a problem of fairness in redistricting. All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts have large prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison distorts the principle of one person, one vote, and we applaud the Delaware General Assembly for enacting this common-sense solution,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

      The problem is national as well. One state assembly district in New York includes 7% prisoners; a state house district in Texas includes 12% prisoners; and 15% of one Montana state house district consists of prisoners imported from other parts of the state. Prison-based gerrymandering was not a serious problem when the prison population was tiny, but the 2010 Census will find five times as many people in prison as it did just three decades ago.

      Written by sara

      July 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm

      What We Talk About When We Talk About Private Prisons

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      As I noted in an earlier post, the Hawaii Legislature and Governor Linda Lingle are mired in battle over whether the state should send auditors to the private prison in Arizona where Hawaii sends most of its inmates. In this op-ed, Kat Brady tallies at least five inmate deaths at the Saguaro prison in the past two years and accuses the Corrections Corporation of America of falsifying internal audit reports to downplay troubling incidents. Like any good corporate spokesperson, CCA operations VP Ron Thompson took to the op-ed page to defend his employer against such claims. From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

      For more than a decade, CCA has partnered with Hawaii to relieve prison overcrowding. In doing so, CCA has provided cost-effective prison space and services that include meaningful rehabilitation programs to help inmates stay out of prison once released. … To ensure that we are accountable, Hawaii’s contract with CCA sets requirements for services and performance. One requirement is accreditation by the American Correctional Association – the nation’s highest standard of professional correctional services. This means that in addition to oversight from Hawaii officials – who have full access to our prisons – we are also audited and inspected by an independent team of professional experts.

      Now, I’m sure there are holes to be poked in Thompson’s argument, but I’m less interested in vilifying CCA, and more interested in interrogating the rhetorical limits of the current debate on private prisons. The argument between these two op-eds takes place in fairly practical, dollars-and-cents terms. Read the rest of this entry »

      Hawaii Legislators Call for Audit of Arizona Private Prison Where Two Inmates Have Been Killed in Four Months

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      After two inmate-on-inmate killings in the past four months — as discussed in this local news report — Hawaii legislators are calling for a state audit of the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., the private prison that Hawaii pays $60 million a year to house 2,000 male inmates. Saguaro is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison corporation (or, as CCA calls itself in a somewhat Orwellian turn of phrase, “America’s Leader in Partnership Corrections”). The article notes that Hawaii used to send its female prisoners to another CCA prison, Otter Creek in Kentucky, but brought them all back after allegations of rape and abuse (I’ve posted before about rape allegations at Otter Creek). Republican governor Linda Lingle has indicated that she may veto the audit bill. The ACLU Hawaii website has information on how you can share your views with Gov. Lingle.

      Apart from the issues with privatization generally, I am curious as to what readers think about Hawaii’s practice of exiling its inmates across the Pacific. Arizona is about a six hour flight from Hawaii, to say nothing of Kentucky. Even assuming an inmate’s family has the money for plane tickets, that’s not an easy trip to fit in on a weekend. According to this local article, Saguaro was built especially for Hawaiian inmates, observes Hawaiian holidays, and employs a “Native Hawaiian Cultural Advisor.” I can’t imagine all of that is too much comfort for inmates’ family members, many of whom must be effectively barred from visiting their loved ones in prison by the 3,000+ mile distance between them. Prior to the Arizona contract, Hawaii was scattering inmates to Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, so consolidating everyone in Arizona was (supposedly) intended in part to make it easier for families to visit. But surely it’s still not that easy.

      Here’s another wrinkle in all this. The first inmate who died was reportedly killed by two fellow inmates who have now been indicted for first-degree murder under Arizona law, and Arizona may seek the death penalty — although Hawaii doesn’t have the death penalty. This is just one of the many jurisdictional knots that arise when states outsource their inmates. To be clear, I don’t see any purely legal reason why Arizona shouldn’t seek the death penalty if authorized under Arizona law, but I thought it was an interesting issue to flag for readers who follow the death penalty.

      At least one inmate (though the quote is anonymous) blames the violence at Saguaro on understaffing. In the same article, Honolulu prosecuting attorney Peter Carlisle apparently blames it on the fact that prisoners are inherently “unstable and dangerous,” which leads me to wonder if Carlisle thinks prisons have any responsibility to keep inmates safe. Tellingly, the article quotes a state estimate that Hawaii saves $43 million by outsourcing imprisonment to CCA. Considering the travel costs that must be involved, I would not be surprised if some of those savings are coming from leaner staffing, although maybe overhead is just exponentially lower in Arizona. Anyway, I suppose these are the sorts of things we might learn if the audit goes forward.

      South Carolina Passes Sweeping Sentencing Reforms

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      Over the past few months I’ve been following the progress of legislation in South Carolina to divert nonviolent offenders out of prison. (My earlier posts on the Palmetto State are rounded up here.) The bill has now become law — Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy has a helpful round-up of coverage.

      Written by sara

      June 4, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Federal Prisons More Crowded, Less Funded; DOJ Lagging on Prison Rape Standards; and More

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      Although I said I wouldn’t be blogging this week, there have been a few must-read news items in the past few days for those interested in prison/jail issues:

      • The Crunch in Federal Prisons“: The Crime Report notes that federal prisons are now at 34% above capacity, but Congress isn’t keeping up with the growth by allocating more funding. The federal prison system now holds over 200,000 inmates, i.e., more than California. Slightly over half of federal prisoners are doing time for drug-related crimes, and most of them are subject to tough mandatory minimum sentences.
      • U.S. Likely to Miss Deadline on Prison Rape Rules“: Attorney General Eric Holder is likely to miss an upcoming deadline to promulgate regulations requiring jails and prisons to adopt best practices for preventing prison rape. Holder says local wardens worry the required changes would be too costly.
      • Delaware House passes bill to count incarcerated people at home“: The Delaware House unanimously passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their home addresses for redistricting purposes. The bill now goes to the Senate. If it passes there, Delaware will be the second state — after Maryland — to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering.

      Protestors Rally at Massachusetts State House against Bill to Charge Jail Inmates Room & Board

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      From the Boston Globe:

      Prisoner advocates rallied in front of the State House yesterday, urging lawmakers to reject amendments to the state budget that would require inmates of county jails or state prisons to pay a raft of new fees, including $5 a day to subsidize the cost of their confinement. …

      Proponents of the legislation said they are acting following a decision by the state’s highest court this year that rejected similar fees imposed on inmates by Bristol County. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that only the Legislature can set such fees. …

      Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a Boston-based civil rights group for prisoners, said the legislation could end up costing the state more money than it raises. …

      Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety, said the administration opposes the proposed fees.

      I posted yesterday on this proposal, but have edited my earlier post to reflect that this budget amendment, although it has passed in the House, still needs to pass in the state Senate to become law. So, readers in Massachusetts, there’s still time to contact your state senators and express your thoughts on this proposal!

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