Spotlight on Prisons

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

This is a roundup of news and commentary regarding prisons and prisoners. I have focused to a fair extent (though not entirely) on stories where there is some question of prisoner abuse, or miscarriage of justice.


Thousands of cellphones confiscated in California prisons

by Patrick McGreevy

October 2, 2009

Reporting from Sacramento –  State prison officials have confiscated 4,130 contraband cellphones this year, more than all those seized in the previous three years combined, according to an internal report released Thursday.

The findings sparked concern among legislators that the proliferation of cellphones in state lockups is a growing security problem.


Oregon prison springs eco-saboteur ‘Free’ by mistake, then takes him back

by Bryan Denson

October 2, 2009

The man who drew the longest prison sentence in U.S. history for eco-sabotage walked out of prison this morning. After years of appeals, Jeffrey M. Luers, known to Eugene’s anarchist clan as “Free,” was just that.

But just as quickly, he was sent back to prison.

The Oregon Department of Corrections acknowledged today that it mistakenly allowed Luers to take advantage of a new law, House Bill 3508, which grants reduced sentences for certain classes of inmates. Luers’ sentence for arson made him ineligible for early release, said prisons spokeswoman Jennifer Black, in Salem.


Ex-Ala. judge accused of trading sex for leniency

by Phillip Rawls

October 4, 2009

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Herman Thomas had an enviable political record as a black Democrat elected and re-elected in a county overwhelmingly white and increasingly Republican. The respected circuit judge once was the Democratic Party’s choice to be the first black federal judge in south Alabama.

Then his career collapsed under allegations that he brought inmates to his office and spanked them with a paddle. Later, an indictment accused him of sexually abusing male inmates in exchange for leniency. The trial on charges of sodomy, kidnapping, sex abuse, extortion, assault and ethics violations is set to start Monday.


US Supreme Court to examine terrorism, gun rights


October 4, 2009

The nine justices have agreed to examine 55 cases this term. They will soon decide whether to add to that roster an appeal brought by Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release and are seeking resettlement in the United States.

Another sensitive case likely to be taken up by the court is President Barack Obama’s request to block the release of photos showing detainee abuse at the hands of US personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite a court order demanding the images be made public.


NH tax evader gets 35 years in prison for standoff

By Holly Ramer

October 2, 2009

CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire woman sentenced to 35 years in prison Friday for plotting to kill federal agents during a nine-month standoff at her fortress-like home said she will continue to fight government corruption from behind bars.

At her sentencing hearing, Elaine Brown said the judge’s decision mattered little to her given her age and beliefs.

“I’m 68 years old. I don’t have much time left on this Earth. But I have no doubt I will spend eternity with my husband and a myriad of others who have fought tyranny and oppression,” she said, pausing several times to clear her throat but maintaining a defiant tone.


CANTON – In a new lawsuit filed Friday, three sexual abuse victims assert a former state police investigator has divested property to lessen available funds to pay judgments they won in a previous claim.

Abuse of Female Prisoners  letter to the NYT

by Lisa Freeman and Dori Lewis

October 2, 2009

You are right to call for legislation amending the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We sued on behalf of female prisoners in the New York State prison system who reported that they had been sexually assaulted by staff members, and have been appalled to spend the last six years litigating whether these 17 women – each of whom bravely complained of her abuse to departmental officials – exhausted their administrative remedies sufficiently to satisfy the law.

Local officials rap camp re-use effort Critical of marketing put into Gabriels

By Kim Smith Dedam

October 3, 2009

GABRIELS – Local officials question how much effort the Department of Correctional Services put into marketing closed Camp Gabriels prison for re-use.

“I plan to find out how much marketing DOCS did,” Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) told the Press-Republican.

“It just appears that the state is giving up rather quickly. There has been quite a lot of investment there in recent years; Camp Gabriels has a new wastewater treatment plant and a new water system.


Once accused, always accused Lamar Lewis faced an educator’s nightmare – a charge of sexual abuse

By Elizabeth Leland

October 4, 2009

“I am not a bitter person,” Lamar Lewis says, “but I am very bitter. I still hate to answer my door. I don’t trust women. I live it every single day … I was facing 72 to 84 months in prison, seven years on the registered sex offenders’ list and never ever being able to teach.” Charges later were dropped.


Willingham debate not focused on arson science

Grits for Breakfast

October 04, 2009

In a lot of ways, I wish the Texas Forensic Science Commission had picked another arson case to examine besides Cameron Todd Willingham. Because it’s a death penalty case, the debate quickly devolves into a pointless re-trial of Willingham (retrying his case in the media can neither bring him back nor make him more dead).

But that wasn’t the purpose of either the Forensic Science Commission or the expert they hired, who were charged with evaluating the forensic testimony in Willingham’s arson conviction. And that evaluation (pdf), conducted in accordance with current scientific knowledge about fire, arguably has huge implications for some probably-innocent convicted “arsonists” now sitting in prison. If this weren’t a death penalty case where the defendant was already executed, I doubt Rick Perry would have bothered himself to intervene and maybe there’d be a better chance for getting more innocent people out of prison.

World Prison Population List: All nations still incarcerate at lower rates than Texas

Grits for Breakfast

October 1, 1009


* The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).

   * Almost three fifths of countries (59%) have rates below 150 per 100,000.

   * The world population in 2008 is estimated at 6,750 million (United Nations); set against a world prison population of 9.8 million this produces a world prison population rate of 145 per 100,000 (158 per 100,000 if set against a world prison population of 10.65 million).


Ex-Chicago gang boss spends days feeding spiders

By Beth Hundsdorfer

October 4, 2009

Once reputed to be a leader of one of the most violent Chicago gangs, The Two-Sixers, David Ayala now gathers insects to feed the spiders that spin their webs at the edges of his concrete exercise yard at the Tamms supermax prison.

Ayala is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement.

He has not been convicted of any crime during his 26 years in prison. He publicly renounced his gang more than nine years ago. His family claims he’s a changed man.

Critics: Tamms has harmed man’s mental condition


October 4, 2009

Will Tamms supermax prison inmate Donnie White be among the inmates considered for possible transfer after spending years in solitary confinement? That may depend on how corrections officials view his mental state.

Critics believe the strict discipline and isolation White has undergone at the Tamms Correctional Center for the past seven years may have made his severe mental illness, diagnosed in prison a decade ago, worse.

But mental health professionals at Tamms concluded last year that White, 35, no longer is mentally ill and deserves the punishment he’s receiving for continued bizarre behavior, ranging from suicide attempts to setting himself on fire.

Wrongfully convicted man joins prison advisers


October 2, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. –  A wrongfully convicted man has been appointed to a board that advises the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Wilder “Kendric” Berry of Chicago is among members appointed this week to the Adult Advisory Board by Gov. Pat Quinn.

The Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University says Berry went to prison because of a false rape accusation. Released and exonerated, he now works as a paralegal at a Chicago law firm.


Women’s prison: Sex trade Records detail employees taking liberties

by Tim Carpenter

October 3, 2009

“I managed to get pretty much anything into that facility that you could think of through guards or drop-offs along the fence,” said former inmate Kendra Barnes, who served nine years at TCF on aggravated burglary, theft and robbery convictions before paroled in late 2008. “Sex for drugs? Sure.”

Interviews with current and former female prisoners, past and present corrections employees, lawyers, politicians and civil rights advocates as well as a review of hundreds of confidential or public documents related to activities at TCF, including a 150-page transcript of court hearings from the prosecution of Gallardo, point to a workplace culture at the state’s lone prison for women that leaves the door open to misconduct.


How the Feds Imprison the Innocent

by Paul Craig Roberts

October 4, 2009

Authors of serious books seldom have cause to celebrate, but Larry Stratton and I have two reasons to open the champagne. Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, has announced a second printing of the second edition of The Tyranny of Good Intentions, and the noted civil libertarian and defense attorney, Harvey Silverglate, has just published a book covering many of the same legal cases and vetting our conclusion that in the United States every American is in grave danger from unscrupulous prosecutors who target the innocent.


Jailed Honduran farmers on hunger strike for Zelaya

By Noe Leiva and Maria Isabel Sanchez

October 3, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA – Thirty-eight farmers imprisoned by the military-supported interim Honduran regime began a hunger strike Saturday demanding the reinstatement of deposed President Manuel Zelaya.

The protest comes as representatives of Zelaya and the regime led by Roberto Micheletti agreed to restart talks next week aimed at resolving the political crisis, sparked when soldiers ousted Zelaya at gunpoint on June 28 and kicked him out of the country.

Zelaya’s surprise return on September 21 — to the Brazilian embassy, where he is currently holed up — triggered a new wave of protests and a clampdown on civil rights, but also boosted efforts to break the deadlock.


The Forgotten Guantanamo Prisoner Abuse Continues at Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

By Matthias Gebauer, John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

September 21, 2009

US President Barack Obama has spoken out against CIA prisoner abuse and wants to close Guantanamo. But he tolerates the existence of Bagram military prison in Afghanistan, where more than 600 people are being held without charge. The facility makes Guantanamo look like a “nice hotel,” in the words of one military prosecutor.


Zimbabwe 2009: State transformed into an instrument of injustice and Intimidation

By Mutumwa Mawere

October 5, 2009

SOUTH AFRICA – RIVONIA  – On Monday, 28 September 2009, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe confirmed what many with the exception of a few in Zimbabwe have come to accept i.e. that the state has been transformed into an instrument of injustice and intimidation.

As expected, Mukoko was accused of being involved in a plot to topple President Mugabe and such an allegation need not be investigated in contemporary Zimbabwe before the accused is arrested.  More importantly, such allegations need not be tested before an independent tribunal as required under the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

She is one in many who have faced similar accusations.  In fact, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, (designate) Mr. Roy Bennett, faces similar allegations and notwithstanding the ruling of the Supreme Court, it is unlikely that the state, albeit in the framework of an inclusive government, will be persuaded to change its way of doing business.


Senior judge, Dean Reynolds, slams youths’ treatment

by Debbie Guest

October 5, 2009

WESTERN Australia’s juvenile justice system is in crisis and desperately needs more resources to reduce the number of children being detained, according to the head of the state’s children’s court.

Children’s Court president Denis Reynolds said if the system continued without more prevention and diversion programs, crime rates among children would increase rapidly.

“I think we’re in a position of crisis quite frankly,” he told The Australian. “We can’t keep going the way we’ve been going without the necessary supports.”

Prohibition has failed

by Alan Howe

October 4, 2009

In a little-publicised contribution to Kevin Rudd’s 2020 summit last year, Brisbane doctor Wendell Rosevear, who has worked in the prison system for decades, called for all drugs to be legalised. He believes the billions of dollars spent in Australia on policing, convicting and jailing addicts and their suppliers should be spent on drug intervention and education programs.

“Drugs are illegal, so we put people in jail to solve the problem and we label people who use drugs as bad — it doesn’t make them feel valuable,” he said. “If we think we can just put it out of sight, out of mind, we are actually devaluing people and not solving the problem.”

Given that the West’s various wars on drugs have failed so miserably, perhaps we should look more closely at Rosevear’s proposals.


Venezuelans protest jailing of Chavez opponents


October 4, 2009

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Some 2,000 people marched across Venezuela’s capital Saturday to protest what they say is the persecution of President Hugo Chavez’s opponents.

The marchers called on the Organization of American States to investigate what they consider a deterioration of human rights in the South American country.


More than 2,000 Chavez opponents have gone to trial in the last seven years on charges stemming from participation in protests and roughly 40 are still in prison, according to the Venezuelan Penal Forum, a local human rights group.


Detainee’s Case Illustrates Bind of Prison’s Fate

by Scott Shane

October 3, 2009

It was seven years ago that Mr. Ahmed, then 18, was swept up by Pakistani security forces in a raid on a Faisalabad guesthouse and taken to the prison. It was five months ago that a federal judge, after reviewing all the government’s classified evidence, ruled that his incarceration had never been justified and ordered the government to get to work “forthwith” on his release.

But Obama administration officials were worried. Even if Mr. Ahmed was not dangerous in 2002, they said, Guantánamo itself might have radicalized him, exposing him to militants and embittering him against the United States. If he returned to his troubled homeland of Yemen, the officials feared, he might fall in with the growing contingent of Al Qaeda there, one more Guantánamo survivor to star in their propaganda videotapes.

Detainees Face Severe Conditions if Moved to U.S.

by Peter Finn

October 4, 2009

The Justice Department has begun to hint in court filings that at least some of the defendants in the Sept. 11, 2001, case, as well as other prominent suspects, will be transferred to federal custody in the United States. While lawmakers and activist groups have been consumed with a debate over such a move, little attention has been paid to the conditions that Mohammed and other high-value detainees would face in the United States.

And those conditions, it turns out, would be vastly more draconian than they are at Guantanamo Bay.

Police threaten Cuban journalist with prison

by Marc R. Masferrer

October 3, 2009




Under Raúl Castro, it’s become the Cuban secret police’s trademark way to put the squeeze on the political opposition. It’s not as messy, i.e. as likely to generate as much publicity as just throwing a dissident in jail and throwing away the key, and it gets the intended purpose across.


Hengameh Shahidi’s Precarious Health Condition inside Evin Prison


October 1, 2009

Detained journalist Hengameh Shahidi’s physical and mental states are not stable inside Evin Prison.  Ms. Shahidi was detained shortly after the general election in Iran, and she is now facing health-related issues in prison, such that she is given large doses of tranquilizers; nevertheless, she is suffering from severe insomnia.

Three times every week for a duration of 20 minutes she is allowed outside of her cell for fresh air, and lack of exposure to sufficient sunlight has added to her health complications.


    • Miep on October 5, 2009 at 10:16


    Good through October 7th.

  1. And the “American” Police Force.

  2. You are so brave to read and link. Prisons for profits, imo, is the cherry on a disfunctional justice system.

    It´s not a sexy topic, though

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