Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘federal justice system

Are Federal Prisons Exposing Inmates and Employees to Hazardous Waste?

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FairWarning has this report on an ongoing DOJ investigation:

A government-owned company that runs electronics recycling plants at federal prisons from New Jersey to California is coming under intensified scrutiny for repeatedly exposing prison employees and inmate laborers to excessive levels of lead and other toxic metals.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is expected within days to release its report on a years-long investigation of the recycling operations — including accusations that prison officials ignored basic workplace safety precautions.

Separately, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons has quietly paid about $1 million to settle a grievance over hazardous duty pay for employees of an Elkton, Ohio, prison with one of the recycling plants. On one occasion, an air test at the eastern Ohio institution found cadmium levels 450 times higher than federal safety limits.

And a union for employees at the federal lockup in the central California community of Atwater also is demanding retroactive hazardous duty pay. Barring a settlement, that case is scheduled for arbitration in December.

On another front, lawyers preparing health claims for employees of the prison at Marianna, Fla., last week sued the Bureau of Prisons, claiming it has illegally withheld records about the recycling operation there, including by blaming a loss of documents on Hurricane Ivan.

GAO to Study Price Gouging for Prison Phone Calls

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The ACLU Blog of Rights notes a little-noticed feature of the recently-signed Prison Cell Phone Act:

The bill orders the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the rates that federal prisoners must pay to use ordinary prison phones — and to investigate less expensive alternatives.

The GAO should take a hard look at prison phone rates. The fact is that prisoners who want to stay in touch with their children, parents, and spouses are being gouged. With steep charges to initiate a call, and astronomical per-minute rates, it can cost a prisoner over $30 to make a half-hour call to a loved one. Those who qualify for a prison job often make less than 25 cents per hour — so paying for a brief call to a son or daughter may require more than 100 hours of labor. Read the rest of this entry »

The Former Federal Prosecutor’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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The result of the new law was startling: Thousands of black men received extraordinarily long sentences, yet at the same time, crack prices fell, indicating that supply was growing. In other words, we achieved mass incarceration while failing to address the underlying problem. We were imprisoning the wrong people. Crack is made out of powder cocaine and usually not “rocked up” until the street dealer handles it. Thus, the least culpable and most easily replaceable parts of the supply chain were the ones locked up.

An equivalent plan would be to try to close down America’s Walmarts by arresting the greeters or stock boys.

Mark Osler, former assistant U.S. attorney and professor at Baylor Law School, on the 100:1 crack-cocaine sentencing disparity. Last week, Congress voted to reduce the disparity to 18:1.

Mexico’s Prisons Rife with Corruption, U.S. Prisons Step into the Breach

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You’ll want to read this New York Times article for the salacious lede:

MEXICO CITY — Prisoners in a northern Mexico jail were allowed out at night to carry out murder-for-hire jobs using jail guards’ weapons and vehicles, officials said Sunday, revealing a level of corruption that is stunning even in a country where prison breakouts are common as guards look the other way.

But for students of the U.S. prison system, the real lede is buried at the end:

Mexico’s prisons are known as havens for many criminal groups that operate from behind bars. Prisoners run telephone extortion rings from jail, and drug lords issue orders.

In response, the administration of President Felipe Calderón has extradited a record number of top drug suspects to the United States …

The War on Drugs generates profits for organized crime in Mexico, and it fills prisons in the United States. Sometimes, as here (and and see also this earlier post of mine), it does both of those things at once. Here we have another example of how the War on Drugs can’t be described as a purely American phenomenon, nor can it be separated from Mexico’s struggle to contain drug-related violence; the two nations have become allies in a single, ongoing, and seemingly unwinnable war.

Written by sara

July 26, 2010 at 8:20 am

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.

European High Court: U.S. Prisons Could Violate European Convention on Human Rights

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UPDATE: Lots more details on this case available over at Solitary Watch.

The European Court of Human Rights has issued a preliminary ruling barring the extradition of three terror suspects from the U.K. to the United States, on the grounds that confinement in a federal supermax could violate Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court has requested further submissions before it issues a final decision; the preliminary ruling can be downloaded here. Note that the court rejected the suspects’ arguments that they would not receive a fair trial in the U.S.; it focused entirely on post-trial conditions of confinement, specifically the prospect of long-term solitary confinement and a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Here are the questions on which the court has requested further briefing:

  • Given the length of the sentences faced by Mr Ahmad, Mr Aswat and Mr Ahsan if convicted, would the time spent at a “supermax” prison, the US Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum, Florence, Colorado (“ADX Florence”), amount to a violation of Article 3? Would they have any real prospect of entering the “step-down programme” whereby they would move through different levels of contact with others until they would be suitable for transfer to a normal prison?
  • Does the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution (prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment”), as interpreted by the federal courts, provide protection equivalent to Article 3 of the Convention?
  • If convicted, would the applicants’ sentences be de facto reducible?

“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.

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