Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘mental health

Drug Courts: Reasons to Be Skeptical

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Reason #1:

  • This American Life reports on a Georgia drug court gone really awry. Like, batshit-crazy awry.

OK, you say, but that’s Georgia. I, a native Georgian, say, OK, you may have a point. What about drug courts that are running as intended? Well… it turns out there’s still reason for concern. To wit:

Reasons #2-4:

  • Drug Policy Alliance issues a new report concluding that drug courts do not reduce incarceration, do not save money, and do not improve public safety. Says DPA’s Daniel Abrahamson: “Drug courts have actually helped to increase, not decrease, the criminal justice entanglement of people who struggle with drugs.”
  • The Justice Policy Institute issues a similar report (PDF) concluding that drug courts are neither the most effective nor the most cost-effective treatment options, and serve merely to widen the net of the criminal justice system. (The report also discusses the proliferation of other specialty courts modeled upon drug courts, like veterans courts and mental health courts.) (h/t: Doug Berman)
  • And that was just in the past week! See also this 2009 statement from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, on how drug courts endanger defendants’ constitutional rightsRead the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

March 29, 2011 at 7:08 am

ACLU: Louisiana Detainee’s Psychosis and Injuries Went Untreated for Five Months

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From the ACLU of Louisiana:

[George] Mason was found incompetent to stand trial and was transferred to Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in January 2010. He arrived in a filthy jumpsuit with a strip of rag tied around his right wrist. A stench issued from his wrist which appeared infected and which emitted a green discharge. The rag was embedded in Mr. Mason’s arm, with skin growing over the rag in places. Mr. Mason also had an ulcerous wound on the right side of his back and fractured ribs. These wounds were obviously long standing and had been left untreated during his months of imprisonment.

Miranda Tait, Attorney with the Advocacy Center states, “Mr. Mason was clearly unable to care for himself or to differentiate illusion from reality. For 5 months, he lived a nightmare locked in a cell 23 hours a day, unable to communicate with anyone or ask for help.”

Mason’s niece has filed suit on his behalf against Tangipahoa Parish — you can read the complaint here (PDF) — alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause (which governs conditions-of-confinement cases for pretrial detainees, rather than the Eighth Amendment), as well as state-law negligence. Here, to me, is the most telling part of the Statement of Facts: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

February 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Georgia’s Governor: Breaking New Ground in Law-and-Order Demagoguery

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So, it used to be that politicians would pair “build more!” talk on prisons with “be very afraid” talk about “criminals.” That combination could be called the “lock ’em up” mode of “tough-on-crime” politics. The new governor of my home state has apparently hit on a new formula. From his inaugural speech:

Presently, one out of every 13 Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control. It cost about $3 million per day to operate our Department of Corrections. And yet, every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of perpetrators are juveniles.

College students should be concerned about their grades not whether they are going to be mugged on their way home from class. Visitors to our cities should be treated as welcomed guests and protected. Families should not live in fear of gang violence and drive-by shootings. But most of all, our dedicated law enforcement officers must not be targets for criminals. Anyone who harms one of them harms us all, for they embody the Constitutional mandate that government provide us with protection and security.

Breaking the culture of crime and violence is not a task for law enforcement officials alone. Parents must assume more responsibility for their children. Communities must marshal their collective wills; civic and religious organizations must use their influence to set the tone for expected behavior.

For violent and repeat offenders, we will make you pay for your crimes. For other offenders who want to change their lives, we will provide the opportunity to do so with Day Reporting Centers, Drug, DUI and Mental Health Courts and expanded probation and treatment options. As a State, we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions. It is draining our State Treasury and depleting our workforce.

So, I’m guess I’m glad Deal is using his mini-bully pulpit to point out that the War on Crime costs a lot of money and doesn’t necessarily deliver commensurate benefits. And in a backhanded way, his mini-sermon about “the culture of crime and violence” at least acknowledges that just passing laws and arresting people doesn’t magically make everyone stop doing things you don’t want them to do.

That said, this is not, by any measure, a model of how elected officials should introduce mass incarceration onto the policy agenda. Deal is still trafficking in the same cartoon of The Criminal that we’ve been hearing about from politicians for basically as long as I’ve been alive, he’s just refining it slightly to exclude “offenders who want to change their lives.” Read the rest of this entry »

California’s Pelican Bay Supermax on Lockdown after Inmate Attack on Guards

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As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

Pelican Bay State Prison was placed on indefinite lockdown Tuesday after at least two inmates, both convicted of crimes in Los Angeles, allegedly attacked three prison guards with homemade weapons, state corrections officials said.

The union representing the state’s 31,000 prison guards said two officers required dozens of stitches after suffering deep slash wounds on their faces. Another officer sustained multiple stab wounds, including one cut through his collarbone. …

Union officials said the prison was designed to house 2,280 inmates, but because of the state’s inmate overcrowding crisis, the prison houses 3,461 inmates.

The California prison guards’ union (CCPOA) gets a lot of bad press — not all of it undeserved — but it’s worth keeping in mind that CCPOA has been a vocal opponent of the appalling levels of overcrowding in California’s prisons. CCPOA intervened in Plata v. Schwarzenegger — on the side of the plaintiff prisoners. In other words, CCPOA filed a brief before the Supreme Court asking the Nine to uphold the prisoner release order. From the CCPOA brief, which is available via SCOTUSblog here (PDF):

During the course of this litigation, the State of California has not disputed that its correctional facilities have long failed to provide these minimal levels of mental health and medical care to the 160,000 inmates being held within them. Nor does the State dispute that overcrowding contributes significantly to these failures.

CCPOA’s members play an integral role in nearly every facet of prison health services. … [D]espite their best efforts, CCPOA’s members cannot adequately perform these duties given the current state of overcrowding. Based on its members’ experience with the day-to-day realities of overcrowding and the resulting medical deficiencies in California’s prisons, CCPOA took the extraordinary step of intervening in the three-judge court remedial proceedings on the same side as the plaintiffs.

It’s unusual for prisoners’ rights lawyers to sit at the counsel table next to lawyers for the prison guards’ union, but there you have it: That’s how it’s been throughout the Plata v. Schwarzenegger litigation. Overcrowded prisons are not just unsafe for inmates. They’re also unsafe for guards.

After Inmate Suicides in New York and Ohio, Calls for Probes into Local Jails

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After a Nassau County inmate with a history of mental illness committed suicide last week — the county’s fourth inmate suicide in 12 months — a state legislator and inmate advocates are calling for a federal investigation:

“Given the fact that the feds have had involvement in the facility, it makes sense for them to take a look at what is or is not going on that might be helpful,” said Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), chairman of the Assembly’s committee on correction.

The U.S. Justice Department had closely monitored the jail both for overcrowding and, more recently, after finding gross civil rights violations stemming from the 1999 beating death of an inmate and problems with [Nassau University Medical Center]’s inmate medical care.

The DOJ’s earlier monitoring efforts in Nassau County were concluded in 2005.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Ohio is seeking information about procedures at the Summit County Jail after an apparent inmate suicide:

[Michael Carl] O’Neill, 51, was taken off life support Tuesday, about two days after he jumped from a second-story ledge from a visitation area inside the jail. The Akron man was being held over the weekend on public-drunkeness-related charges and was assigned to a cot in the open area.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Alexander expressing concern of potential overcrowding issues. The group is seeking the department’s policies on inmate housing and any mental health evaluation given to O’Neill.

”Housing inmates in a large common area typically used for other purposes raises red flags over potential safety flaws and indicates that the jail may be dangerously overcrowded,” ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman said Friday.

Written by sara

January 10, 2011 at 7:54 am

Drug Courts Don’t Necessarily Keep People Out of Jail

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Though often framed as an alternative to incarceration, drug courts can actually expand the incarcerated population. In her article for The Nation‘s War on Drugs issue, Tracy Velazquez explains how:

Without drug courts in the mix, some addicts might have received the help they needed without getting involved in the justice system. Before, if a person was arrested for possession, the prosecutors might have dismissed charges, put him in touch with a social worker or issued a warning or referral for treatment. A clear and growing demand for community treatment might have pushed policy-makers to expand resources. Now well-meaning police, prosecutors and judges send people to drug court, and given the lack of other options, people are often grateful for the opportunity to get treatment.

The real catch, though, is that generally a person must plead guilty to participate, with the conviction reduced or overturned only if he or she is successful. Disobeying court rules or experiencing a relapse—which is a natural part of recovery—can result in jail time. And when people fail drug court, they face traditional sanctions. In this way, participants become vulnerable not just to incarceration but to the pervasive aftereffects of a criminal conviction—which can include difficulty finding employment, being banned from benefits like public housing and food stamps and denied the right to vote.

For some individuals, drug courts may be helpful, but we shouldn’t mistake them for a ceasefire in the War on Drugs. If drug addiction is a public health and/or public safety problem, then a better solution to that problem would be to expand access to free or low-cost community-based drug addiction and mental health treatment and to implement harm-reduction initiatives at the local level, rather than arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating addicts at the state and federal levels, which is much more costly, much less effective, and much more corrosive of civil liberties.

Written by sara

December 15, 2010 at 12:31 pm

The Right-wing Case for Criminal Justice Reform

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The newly launched touts itself as “the one-stop source for conservative ideas about criminal justice.” A project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in collaboration with Pat Nolan’s Prison Fellowship, the site calls for greater accountability, transparency, and cost-effectiveness in the criminal justice system and a reduced reliance on incarceration. Among the signers of the site’s “Statement of Principles” are Newt Gingrich, former Attorney General Ed Meese, former “Drug Czar” Asa Hutchinson, and Bush’s former faith-based programs czar John DiIulio.

Here are some excerpts from the website’s portal on prisons: Read the rest of this entry »

Georgia Prisoners Strike for Better Conditions

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The Black Agenda Report, a Georgia-based news site “from the black left,” reported on Saturday that inmates were on Day 2 of a strike (mirrored here at Open Left):

Inmate families and other sources claim that when thousands of prisoners remained in their cells Thursday, authorities responded with violence and intimidation. Tactical officers rampaged through Telfair State Prison destroying inmate personal effects and severely beating at least six prisoners. Inmates in Macon State Prison say authorities cut the prisoners’ hot water, and at Telfair the administration shut off heat Thursday when daytime temperatures were in the 30s. Prisoners responded by screening their cells with blankets, keeping prison authorities from performing an accurate count, a crucial aspect of prison operations.

Although there were some reports of a “media blackout,” the New York Times did report on the strike, here (online only) and here (online and page A13 of yesterday’s newspaper) (and picked up by Slate here), emphasizing the use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the strike. However, most local news outlets reported, via the Georgia Department of Corrections, that the prisoners were not on strike, but rather had been placed on lockdown to pre-empt the strike. Examples of local Georgia coverage portraying the weekend’s events as a lockdown are here at the Rome News-Tribune, here from the AP, here from Atlanta’s WSB-TV, and here from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

With about 52,000 inmates, Georgia’s prison system is not among the largest in the country in absolute numbers. But relative to the state’s population, it has an outsize reach. In Georgia, 1 in 13 adults is either in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole — the highest rate of correctional control in the country. (Nationwide that figure is 1 in 31.) According to the Sentencing Project, over 4% of Georgia adults and almost 10% of African-Americans cannot vote due to felony disenfranchisement laws. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights has been a leading advocate for prisoners in Georgia and its neighboring states.

A few more links and the prisoners’ complete list of demands after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

December 13, 2010 at 10:45 am

Oklahoma! Where… A Lot of People Are in Prison

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If you think California is the only state that fills its prison rec rooms with bunk beds, you haven’t visited Oklahoma:

“I remember when we put in those bunks and were quoted as saying it would be temporary,” Justin Jones, Oklahoma Department of Corrections director, said. “Here we are in 2010, and they are still there, except now they are stacked two high. In the Department of Corrections, temporary is at least 15 years.”

Granted, at “just” 99% of capacity, Oklahoma’s prisons aren’t nearly as overcrowded as California’s. But 99% is far from ideal — prison administrators say that you never want to be that close to full, so you have flexibility to move people around safely and admit newly sentenced offenders sent to you by the courts. (I once heard the job of running a prison compared to running a hotel where you can’t ever hang up a “no vacancy” sign.)

And unlike California, which actually has average per capita incarceration rates for the U.S., Oklahoma leads the nation in locking up women, and also has one of the highest rates of locking up men. Now, with the prison system sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget each year, lawmakers and citizens in the Sooner State are pondering alternatives:

A recent Tulsa World survey also showed strong public support for finding alternatives to incarceration for many nonviolent female offenders and for doing more to help the children they leave behind.

Sen. Brian Bingman, the new Senate president pro tem, said he supports “anything that we can do to keep nonviolent criminals out of prisons.”

Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also said he wants to learn more about the governor’s role in the parole process before deciding whether that requirement should continue.

Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she would consider legislation removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders, adding that for heinous crimes, the governor would have to remain involved.

Fallin also has said that expanding drug and mental health courts would help relieve prison congestion.

h/t: Sentencing Law & Policy

Written by sara

December 7, 2010 at 11:00 am

Rounding Up Commentary on Schwarzenegger v. Plata, Part III

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The commentary keeps rolling in on Tuesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in Schwarzenegger v. Plata, the California prison overcrowding case:

Garrett Epps:

It’s common to speak of this Court as having a “liberal wing” and a “conservative wing.” But this Court has no real liberals on it, in the mold of Earl Warren, William Brennan, or Thurgood Marshall. The “conservative wing” is there, self-assured and aggressive. But arrayed against it is a group of cautious, pragmatic centrists, who are very willing to engage in the kind of calculation [Chief Justice] Roberts was concerned with, and less willing to speak from the heart about individual rights. …

Donald Specter, who has devoted his career to advocating for prisoners, was a most impressive advocate. He was up against Carter Phillips, one of the best Supreme Court lawyers of his generation. Specter matched him blow for blow, and refused to be intimidated by Roberts or Alito; and he did it in a quiet, measured voice, never rattled, never irritated, never intimidated: Mr. Rogers with a law degree.

Jonathan Simon:

I have been arguing for some time that mass incarceration rests almost completely on an exaggerated fear of the risks of homicide that America in general, and California in particular, embraced after the bloody 1970s, and which remains seared into our political consciousness more than thirty years later, despite substantial drops in homicides and violent crime since the early 1990s. You can talk about the war on drugs, tough sentences for burglars, and over imprisonment of technical parole violators; but they all come down to a fear of citizens being murdered by someone that state could have stopped first. …

Of course Californians are already dying of the state’s prison management. According to earlier fact finding by the Judge Thelton Henderson in the medical part of the case (Plata v. Schwarzenegger), a prisoner a week dies of routine medical problems that a constitutionally adequate prison health system could prevent. But those kinds of deaths do not count in twisted logic of governing through crime.

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