Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Archive for the ‘Random Asides’ Category

“Desperate Housewives” Tackles the Issue of Prisoner Reentry… (Not Kidding)

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So, I think I may be the only person who still watches “Desperate Housewives,” the hot debut of 2004 that has more recently made an art form of jumping approximately three sharks per episode. In fairness, I actually had stopped watching it for a few years after college, but have returned to it since coming back to school. Spending all day reading books about slavery, prisons, rape, murder, etc. as I tend to do for my day job as a history grad student can really drive you to mindless television on your off time. Also, I actually kind of think it’s a good show, but that’s probably why I’m not a television critic for my day job.

Anyway, improbably enough, this whole season “Desperate Housewives” has been running a prisoner reentry subplot. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by sara

December 14, 2010 at 8:07 am

Marion Jones’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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I don’t watch fake news, so I missed this, but apparently Marion Jones talked prison reform in her recent interview with Jon Stewart:

It’s interesting, cause you never know where life is going to take you. Ten years ago, I would have never thought that I’d be an advocate for prison reform… If you don’t equip the people who are in prison with the resources to get an education, so that when they get out they can be successful–they’re gonna wind up right back in prison, or wind up being your neighbor. Or worse, maybe marrying your daughter or your son.

The Case of the Inmate and the Extra Pancakes

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From the Cincinnati Enquirer:

While serving a jail term for stealing money from a concession stand, Heriberto Rodriquez took a job dishing out food in the Hamilton County jail kitchen so he could get out early.

He was fired from that job – which gave him three days credit for each day in jail – because he ladled out too much food, an act that helped a judge decide Wednesday to have pity on Rodriquez and free him.

Rodriquez was supposed to give Hamilton County Justice Center inmates two pancakes each but he was caught giving several twice that much. …

“Go home,” [Judge Melba] Marsh said. “Get your big box of Aunt Jemima and eat all you want, Mr. Pancake.”

Written by sara

November 7, 2010 at 10:13 am

Ohio Newspaper to Pregnant Mothers: Don’t Go to Prison If You Don’t Want to Be Shackled

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As a reluctant connoisseur of anonymous Internet comments, I have noticed that versions of the same comment sprout up like weeds at the end of any article regarding prison or jail conditions: “If inmates don’t want to be treated this way, maybe they shouldn’t commit crimes!” Well, readers of today’s News-Herald needn’t leave such comments, because the editorial board has beaten them to it:

While we support greater accountability and consistency, and while we don’t feel women should be shackled to the extent they suffer lasting hip and back injuries while giving birth, as an Arkansas women alleges in a lawsuit, we feel the better way for mothers to avoid these problems is simply to stay out of prison in the first place.

You know, I’m sure the mothers in question also “feel” that it would have been “better” “simply to stay out of prison in the first place.”

Written by sara

October 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

The Long Reach of Legal History

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The reach of the conversation astonishes me. One letter: “I am a Lifer at Avenal prison in California and saw the article and reference to you in a WSJ which a prison guard had discarded.”

— University of Denver law professor Tom Russell, whose paper on desegregation at the University of Texas spurred a national debate that led to UT acting to re-name a dormitory that was named for a Klan leader.

Written by sara

July 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm

The New York Times Swings at the L.A. County Justice System—and Whiffs

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I get it, even the New York Times needs page views now and then; and I know, Friday evenings aren’t the height of the news cycle. But even still, this is front page news (ok, well, homepage news)?

Meanwhile, I clicked on the NYT topic archive for “Los Angeles, Calif.” going back as far as October 2009 and found not a single article in that time span on the Los Angeles County criminal justice system’s actual problems. From a May 2010 ACLU report: Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Lohan’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform (???)

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Thanks to the intrepid journalists over at, here’s an excerpt from a letter sent by Michael Lohan’s lawyers to the Los Angeles judge who’s overseeing his daughter Lindsay’s probation for a DUI conviction:

Your Honor is aware that because of the current overcrowding in Los Angeles jails, misdemeanor, non-violent offenders like Lindsay serve only a fraction of their terms. In Lindsay’s case, her last term of incarceration lasted only 84 minutes. This not only made a laughingstock of our criminal justice system in the eyes of the world, … but taught her that jail is a revolving door and poses no real threat or deterrent. Overcrowding has not diminished in the last few years since this first incident, and thus we’d expect a similar very brief term of actual confinement.

In the event Lindsay is found to be in violation, Michael renews his request that the Court order Lindsay into an inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. We have previously written to the Court regarding a very private facility in New York — so private, that the public is unaware rehab takes place there.

Of course, the letter is only intended to help one particular celebrity defendant but I don’t see why it wouldn’t apply to, well, almost everyone else facing L.A. County jail time on a drug or alcohol probation violation. Too bad they don’t all have access to super top secret rehab facilities — what is this place — the Bat Cave? In any event, apparently Michael’s pleas were unavailing as the Los Angeles Times is now reporting that Lindsay’s been sentenced to jail for 90 days.

Adventures in Orwellian Doublespeak, California Prisons Edition

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Quick background: Corrections officials distinguish between three ways of measuring prison capacity: “design capacity,” “operable capacity,” and “safe and reasonable capacity.” You might think, from the titles, that the final measure would be the least crowded, but you’d be wrong…

“Maximum ‘safe and reasonable’ capacity” does not take into account “the need for humane conditions” incorporated into design capacity, or the need for programming space incorporated into both design and operable capacity. More important …, that classification does not take into account the space or facilities required to provide medical or mental health care.

(Coleman/Plata Opinion and Order, Aug. 4, 2009, PDF p. 42)

Just for those keeping score at home, the California Department of Corrections has determined that its prisons have a “safe and reasonable capacity” of 179% of “design capacity” (PDF p. 42). In recent years the prisons have held as much as 200% of design capacity at their peak, a figure brought down to about 196% by “shipping several thousand prisoners to Mississippi and other contract states” (PDF p. 42). In 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued an Emergency Declaration stating that the state’s prisons had become places ” ‘of extreme peril’ that threaten ‘the health and safety of the men and women who work inside [severely overcrowded] prisons and the inmates housed in them'” (PDF p. 7). So, that’s at 200% of design capacity. But somehow if we got down to 179%, that would be “safe and reasonable.”

Written by sara

April 1, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Sincerely, Prisoner 85255

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“The lights of the prison have gone out now,” wrote Stephen J. Hanrahan, Prisoner 85255, from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. “In this, the quiet time, I can’t help but feel, that my thoughts and the thoughts of my countrymen will ever reach out to that light on an Arlington hillside for sustenance. How far that little light throws his beam.”

— From today’s New York Times report on a new published collection of condolence letters written to Jackie Kennedy.

Written by sara

March 9, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Lawyers for Animals? Weird Maybe, But Nothing New

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In general, I try to keep this blog on-topic, but if my dear readers will permit a brief digression away from prison policy, I couldn’t resist posting about this Wall Street Journal article on a pending Swiss referendum to provide for court-appointed lawyers for animals. The article portrays this development as a pretty wacky idea and I’m sure that’s how it will be spun in the mainstream media. I can only imagine what Fox News will make of this, considering the hubbub in recent days about lawyers who represent people. And, hey, I don’t necessarily have a strong view on whether animals should have legal representation; maybe it is wacky.

However, putting on my historian’s hat, I never want to miss an opportunity to note that the notion of involving animals in the human court system is not a 21st century invention of lefty animal rights vegetarians. Rather, it has a long pedigree in the annals of both Anglo and Continental law. Animals and even insects used to be routinely tried for murder, sued for ruining crops, and more. (See this Cabinet Magazine article.) Many representative cases are delightfully described in the 1906 classic, The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, now conveniently available via Google Books. The New York Times Magazine had an article a few years ago that touched on this topic:

On Sept. 5, 1379, a trio of French pigs, agitated by the squealing of a piglet, bowled over their keeper’s son, who died shortly thereafter of the injuries. As E. P. Evans recounts in his 1906 monograph, “The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals,” “the three sows, after due process of law, were condemned to death” along with several other pigs who had “hastened to the scene of the murder and by their cries and aggressive actions showed that they approved of the assault.” (The accomplices were later pardoned.)

Written by sara

March 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

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