Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘department of justice

The Prison Rape Elimination Act and the Problem of Legislative Deadlines

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Poor Eric Holder: It can’t feel good to know that the ACLU, Focus on the Family, the American Conservative Union, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer, Jim Wallis, Prison Fellowship, the Sentencing Project, the NAACP, and the National Immigrant Justice Center—among others—are all “furious” with you, and all for the same reason. Back in June, Obama’s attorney general missed his statutory deadline to promulgate national standards for reducing prison rape. The standards have been proposed by the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which was convened pursuant to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, and represent what are already best practices at the facilities that have done the most to curtail prison rape. But they still require Holder’s formal say-so to become binding conditions on federal funding for prisons and jails nationwide.

(Incidentally, for a skeptical take on whether such conditions can actually reduce prison rape, especially in light of widespread public indifference to the problem, see this 2003 Slate article by my criminal law professor, Bob Weisberg. Ever-insightful readers: Do you think things have changed since 2003? Just Detention International thinks so: “The standards release was a turning point in the struggle to end sexual abuse in detention. After decades of institutional denial, downplaying, and flippant repetition of stereotypes, government agencies and corrections officials have finally begun to describe the problem of sexual abuse behind bars as a serious violation of human rights … .”)

Yesterday, the above-listed coalition of strange bedfellows issued an open letter urging Holder to promulgate the standards sooner rather than later. In fairness, it’s not that Holder has completely ignored the issue: rather, he says his office needs more time to assess the implementation costs to prisons and jails (as required by the PREA itself), and to ensure that the regulations promulgated “will endure” (PDF link to Holder’s letter). But many advocates view the delay as indefensible foot-dragging in the face of widespread violations of prisoners’ human rights. In any event, this controversy sparked my interest in the broader question of statutory deadlines of this type. What exactly were the terms of the Attorney General’s deadline, and what, if any, are the consequences for Holder’s failing to meet it? If there are no consequences, what was the point of Congress’s legislating the deadline to begin with? I’ll (sketchily) consider these questions after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

More on the Poisonous Punditry Surrounding South Carolina’s HIV-Segregation Policy

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Yesterday I blogged about the latest teapot-tempest in the online echo chamber: outrage over the DOJ’s threatened lawsuit over South Carolina’s policy of segregating HIV-positive inmates (outrage which seems to be motivated by a desire to score political points against the Obama Administration rather than genuine concern for inmates, and which seems to be informed by little to no research into the broader issue of prison transmission of HIV/AIDS). Today I just wanted to highlight one particular passage from J. Christian Adams’s Washington Examiner column:

The DOJ is in a lose-lose situation. Even if DOJ wins a lawsuit, sources tell me South Carolina is simply going to cancel all of the special testing, treatment and counseling, thereby saving the state $2 million a year.

Instead, the state will dump infected prisoners into the general population, and nobody will know they have AIDS. Worse, prisoners who come to prison with HIV/AIDS will never know they have the disease and their lives will be shortened because the testing program will end.

Special counseling would end, too.

First, note how both Adams and his “sources” (seemingly SC’s prison director, Jon Ozmint) conflate mandatory testing, forced disclosure of status, and residential segregation with the far less objectionable — indeed, laudable — practices of providing testing, counseling, and treatment for HIV-positive prisoners. Second, note that Adams’s “sources” have either been unfairly paraphrased or, if paraphrased accurately, are just posturing, because Ozmint surely well knows that the system he oversees has an Eighth Amendment obligation not to exhibit “deliberate indifference” towards prisoners’ known, serious medical needs. While the case law is mixed on prisons’ specific obligations towards inmates diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it’s a safe bet that cutting off literally “all” testing, treatment, and counseling for such inmates would not pass Eighth Amendment muster.

Finally, note how both Adams and Ozmint utterly ignore the real issue here, which is not about medical treatment, but basic principles of fairness and due process: South Carolina’s policy means that, purely by virtue of a diagnosis, HIV-positive prisoners in South Carolina may serve longer and harsher sentences than their non-HIV-positive counterparts who’ve committed similar crimes. As reported by Human Rights Watch: Read the rest of this entry »

DOJ Hands Sheriff Joe an Ultimatum in Ongoing Civil Rights Investigation

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The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has handed Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., an ultimatum: Cooperate with the division’s ongoing investigation into his office’s treatment of immigrants, or face a federal lawsuit. Sheriff Arpaio has previously announced his refusal to cooperate in the investigation, and his office has denied the DOJ access to its facilities, personnel, and requested documents. Among the practices being investigated, as summarized by the Seattle Times:

Arpaio’s office has conducted 17 sweeps in which deputies and “posse” volunteers, focusing on heavily Latino neighborhoods, stop people for sometimes minor violations, such as jaywalking, and then check their immigration status. Prisoners are fed twice a day, sleep in tents with no air conditioning and are issued striped prison uniforms and pink underwear and socks.

Main Justice links to the letter sent to Sheriff Arpaio by Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez. Some highlights:

MCSO’s refusal to cooperate fully with the Division’s investigation makes it an extreme outlier when compared with other recipients of federal financial assistance… Although we would prefer voluntary compliance in this case as well, we will not hesitate to commence litigation on August 17, 2010…

More Government Foot-Dragging on Prison Rape

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The Department of Justice hired consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton to assess the costs and benefits of adopting national standards against prison rape. The Booz Allen crew reported back, as Amanda Hess notes, on only one half of the equation: their 414-page report “includes the costs of the PREA standards, not the benefits—like people not being raped anymore.” (photos below from Just Detention International)

Inspector General: DOJ Not Effectively Monitoring Reentry Programs

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The Department of Justice has distributed tens of millions of dollars to state and local prisoner reentry programs around the country in recent years, but has done a poor job of tracking whether those programs have been successful, according to a recently released audit from the DOJ’s Inspector General. Reviewing federal reentry grants made between 2002 and 2010, the audit found little evidence of DOJ monitoring or follow-up with grant recipients. Because the DOJ did not establish clear standards for data collection, it is difficult to know whether the programs it has funded have reduced recidivism rates. DOJ officials say they have already begun to implement some of the reforms called for by the audit and that future grants will be better monitored. The full report is available via Main Justice at the above link, or as a PDF from the DOJ here.

Federal funding for reentry programs is made under three umbrellas. The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) was established in 2002 as a collaboration between several federal agencies, and has awarded over $100 million in grants. The DOJ’s Reentry Initiative was introduced in President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address as “a four-year, $300 million” grants program “to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.” This program awarded about $33 million in grants between 2006 and 2008. Finally, the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in April 2008, also provides funding for prisoner reentry programs, though so far only about $11 million of SCA grants have been awarded.

“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.

Well, Today’s the Day…

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… the DOJ’s deadline, imposed by Congress in 2003, for adopting national standards for eliminating prison rape. Unfortunately, the DOJ will miss the deadline. Pressured by what The Hill calls the “prison industry” — although, of course, the “prison industry” is ostensibly not an industry but a sector of our democratic system of government — Attorney General Eric Holder is delaying the promulgation of any regulations. In the words of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va):

The longer you delay, the more people will be raped in prison. It’s unconscionable that [DoJ] officials are blocking it now. I don’t know what Holder’s problem is.

Written by sara

June 23, 2010 at 6:06 am

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