Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘lwop

America’s Prison System as a System of “Permanent Exclusion”

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Continuing what seems to be this week’s theme of LWOP here at the Prison Law Blog, here’s UCLA law professor Sharon Dolovich:

Of the 2.3 million people currently behind bars in the United States, only 41,000 – a mere 1.7% – are doing LWOP. Based on these numbers, one might well regard LWOP as the anomaly, and certainly not emblematic of the system as a whole. … I argue that it is LWOP that most effectively captures the central motivating aim of the contemporary American carceral system: the permanent exclusion from the shared social space of the people marked as prisoners. This exclusionist system has no real investment in successful reentry. … If this project is to be abandoned and its destructive effects reversed, the implicit assumption that individuals who have been subject to criminal punishment have thereby forfeited their status as fellow citizens and fellow human beings must be confronted and rejected.

That’s from the abstract to Dolovich’s new paper, “Creating the Permanent Prisoner,” available on SSRN. It’s from the compilation Life without Parole: America’s New Death Penalty?, forthcoming from NYU Press.

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Written by sara

June 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

California Lifers, Though Eligible for Parole, Are More Likely to Die in Prison

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That’s the conclusion that KALW reporter Nancy Mullane found when she ran the numbers. Kudos to Mullane for her dogged pursuit of this data, employing California’s Public Records Act. I thought I’d provide some additional context, mainly in the form of rounding up some links.

Caveat before I go on: It’s essential to keep in mind, when reading about criminal justice issues, that every state has different laws, policies, and terminology. This post is mainly about California, and in particular, about California prisoners serving life terms with the possibility of parole — which is a subset of the California prison population, mainly convicted of murder. For non-homicide crimes, California offenders are typically sentenced to determinate terms of a fixed number of years. They don’t have to go before the parole board because they’re automatically released, or “paroled,” when their term ends. The terminology is confusing, because the word “parole” is used to describe the release of both subsets of prisoners.

The fact is this: Because of the tough-on-crime turn of the 1980s and ’90s, many prisoners who were initially sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are now effectively serving LWOP or “death-in-prison” terms. It simply became a political near-impossibility to rubber-stamp the release of a convicted murderer. This bait-and-switch has happened in states across the country, though with different legal and administrative underpinnings in each state. In Virginia, parole-eligible inmates claim that the parole board summarily denies parole in every case. In Michigan, it was changes to the composition of the parole board that effectively made parole harder to earn.

In California, the change came in 1988. That year, Golden State voters transferred to the governor the final say on all parole decisions for murderers serving life terms. Read the rest of this entry »

The Looming Crisis in Our Nation’s Prisons: Aging Inmates

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This local article on the rising number of elderly prisoners in Georgia’s prisons highlights an impending crisis for our nation’s prisons (and you thought we already had a crisis!). In recent decades, states have imposed lengthier and stiffer sentences even as parole boards in many states have all but stopped granting parole (see my earlier posts on Michigan and Virginia). Around the country, men and women who were sentenced to very long prison terms in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are starting to reach their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s. Many of our nation’s prisons are ill-equipped to care for young, healthy people, much less the aging and infirm — and considering that prison life itself can exacerbate physical and mental health conditions, it seems like a safe assumption that after 20 or 30 years of life behind bars our aging prisoners are going to require extraordinary outlays, and/or be subject to extraordinary suffering. Already in California, medical care for the state’s 21 sickest prisoners costs an estimated $40 million per year — some of which goes simply to paying the salaries of guards who watch over them 24/7 while they are in the hospital.

I don’t have any idea how states that have been particularly enamored of LWOP and three strikes laws and the rest plan to deal with this problem in coming years. I’d guess the states don’t have any idea, either. In Georgia at least, as the article notes, the state does have something of a safety valve for dealing with its aging prison population, should its prison bureaucracy decide to make use of it:

Georgia’s Constitution empowers the Board of Pardons and Paroles to release any prisoner older than 62 or a younger one who is “entirely incapacitated.” The definition of incapacitated, though, is subject to interpretation.

“Georgia could apply an expansive definition of who is eligible,” said Melanie Velez, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights. “There is a growing number of people who would not pose a threat to society.”

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?

On Reading Graham: Justice Stevens and Thomas’s Ahistorical Historical Assumptions

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Graham v. Florida is, not surprisingly, getting a lot of coverage around the legal blogosphere today. In addition to my earlier links, check out the coverage at Solitary Watch and California Corrections Crisis. Rather than rehash what other blogs have more capably covered, I wanted to highlight one point of disagreement between Justices Stevens and Thomas, which may be of minor import legally speaking, but of great interest to me as a student who divides her time between the law school and the history department.

Justice Stevens, in his brief concurrence, accuses Justice Thomas of embracing a “static” view of the Eighth Amendment in which “cruel and unusual” means forever and always whatever it meant at the time of the founding. Thus, says Justice Stevens, it would be A-OK with Justice Thomas for a state to execute a 7-year-old for stealing $50. I noted above that this point of disagreement is of minor legal import because (pace perhaps Justice Thomas?) the Supreme Court has held in other cases that it’s unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for non-homicide crimes and for crimes committed by juveniles, and moreover, I can’t imagine any state today would actually try to execute a 7-year-old for petty theft. But the putative disagreement is fascinating for another reason, insofar as it betrays some ahistorical assumptions that both Stevens and Thomas seem to be making about history.

Justice Stevens is referring to this footnote in Justice Thomas’s dissent:

Read the rest of this entry »

“The Other Death Penalty”

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That’s how this organization describes LWOP, or life without the possibility of parole. (New Mexico governor Bill Richardson has used the phrase “worse than death“.) In a press release today, The Other Death Penalty Project announces a nationwide letter-writing campaign urging death penalty abolitionist groups

to stop advocating for life without the possibility of parole as a supposedly humane alternative to lethal injection.

The Other Death Penalty Project, a group comprised solely of prisoners serving life without possibility of parole — the other death penalty — categorically rejects this hypocritical position taken by too many death penalty abolitionists. Death at the hands of the state, whether by lethal injection or lethal imprisonment, is the death penalty.

The Other Death Penalty Project, similarly, rejects the proposition that life without the possibility of parole is a necessary first step toward ultimate abolition of the death penalty. The distinction is one of method, not kind. Instead of moving to the elimination of death sentences, this tactic of trading slow executions for quick executions has resulted  in an explosion of men and women sentenced to the slower method.

(h/t: Sentencing Law & Policy)

Written by sara

February 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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