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OK Woman Sentenced to 12 years for $31 Marijuana to Get Early Parole Hearing

Good news for Patricia Spottedcrow of Oklahama, whose travails I described here. The Oklahoma Board of Pardons and Paroles has agreed to early consideration of her parole, possibly in April.

Patricia pleaded guilty and received a 12 year sentence for selling $20 of marijuana to a police informant at the home she shared with her mother and possession of marijuana in the presence of a child. The severity of her sentence caused her case to receive national media attention. Spottedcrow, age 25, has four children, no prior convictions, was broke and had recently lost her home. cently lost her home. The two children present in the home, one of whom was a 10 month old infant, did not witness the transaction according to Patricia. [More...]

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Honduras Prison Fire Kills Hundreds of Inmates

Update: Conditions at the Honduran prison.

More than 350 inmates at the Comayagua Prison Farm, 45 miles north of the Honduras capital Tegucigalpa, have been trapped and killed in a fire. At least 300 inmates are still missing and presumed dead. Around 475 inmates were able to get out. It is the largest and worst prison fire in Latin American history.

Danilo Orellana, director of the Honduras prison system, told The Associated Press inmates said the fired was started by an inmate who lit his mattress on fire. He said another theory is there was an electrical short. He ruled out claims that a prison riot was to blame. [More...]

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Florida Senate Rejects Bill for Private Prison Complex

The Florida Senate today put the kabosh on Republican plans to turn 30 state prisons into the largest private prison complex in the country. Florida incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates, making it the third largest incarcerator in the country (Only Texas and Calfornia have more inmates.).

As the ACLU says:

If lawmakers want to save money in our prison system, they should reform mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs and re-visit parole policies that feed the addiction to incarceration and throw people into the revolving door that is our prison system. Privatization schemes, often coupled with inflated claims of cost savings, distract policymakers from an inescapable truth: The best way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people we imprison.

The profit motive is a huge part of the problem.

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The 12 Best Federal Prisons to Do Time

CNBC has a slideshow of the 12 best federal prisons to do time, as compiled by Alan Ellis, criminal defense attorney and co-author of the “Federal Prison Guidebook.”

The slideshow takes forever to click through, so I'll just list them, along with any unique features Alan notes. CNBC says the list is not in any particular order. For the uninitiated, FPC means Federal Prison Camp (least restrictive), FCI is Federal Correctional Institution and USP is US Prison (most restrictive, except for SuperMax.) [More...]

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New Report: Number of Aging Prisoners is Soaring

Human Rights Watch has released a new report, “Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States."

Aging men and women are the most rapidly growing group in US prisons, and prison officials are hard-pressed to provide them appropriate housing and medical care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Because of their higher rates of illness and impairments, older prisoners incur medical costs that are three to nine times as high as those for younger prisoners.

By the numbers: [More...]

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Jury Awards $22 Million to Pre-trial Detainee For Inhumane Treatment

Steven Slevin, 57, was arrested for a DUI and related minor offenses in New Mexico in 2005. He spent two years in solitary at the Dona Ana County Detention Facility. He was not provided mental health or medical care. Even his request to see a dentist was refused -- resulting in him being forced to pull his own tooth.

A federal jury has awarded him $22 million for the inhumane treatment. [More...]

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Miss. Court Blocks Some of Barbour's Pardons

The Attorney General of Mississipi succeeded today in having a state court judge block 21 of the 200 pardons granted by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour:

A Mississippi judge has temporarily blocked the release of 21 inmates who'd been given pardons or medical release by Republican Haley Barbour in one of his final acts as governor. Circuit Judge Tomie Green issued an injunction late Wednesday at the request of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood.

AG Hood said the pardons violated the state constitution by not giving notice the inmates had applied for relief.

Harbour has now explained his actions: [More...]

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U.S. Prison Population Drops to 1.6 Million

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released two new reports on prisoner population in 2010. The total number of prisoners has declined for the first time in 40 years. But while the number of state prisoners declined, the number of federal prisoners increased.

The total U.S. prison population fell to 1.6 million at year end 2010, a decline of 0.6 percent during the year, the first decline in the total prison population in nearly four decades.

This decline was due to a decrease of 10,881 in the number of state prisoners, which fell to just under 1.4 million persons and was the largest yearly decrease since 1977. The federal prison population grew by 0.8 percent (1,653 prisoners) to reach 209,771, the smallest percentage increase since 1980.

1 in 33 adults, 7.1 million people, were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities at the end of 2010. The reports are Correctional Population in the United States, 2010 and Prisoners in 2010.

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Study Finds Racial Disparity in Presidential Pardons

A new study by Pro Publica finds whites are four times more likely to receive a presidential pardon than minorities.

ProPublica's review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the "attitude" and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

The methodology is explained here.

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Left Behind: No Evacuation Plan for NYC Prisoners

Locked up and left behind. Rikers Island has ten jails on 400 acres and 12,000 inmates. It's built on landfill, which is considered more vulnerable to natural disasters. Yet Mayor Bloomberg announced today there are no evacuation plans for Rikers.

Among the prisoners: Pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime; juvenile offenders and mentally ill inmates.

Does no one remember the prisoners during Hurricane Katrina? [More...]

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New Report : How Private Prisons "Game the System"

The Justice Policy Institute has released a new report on how private prisons game the system, creating a perceived need for their services. How they do it: Lots of money spent on lobbying and campaign contributions.

You can read the full report here. The upshot:

“Research has shown that private prisons do not save taxpayer dollars and can in fact cost taxpayers more than public prisons. Additionally, privatizing prisons may undermine cost effective sentencing reforms and increase recidivism rates. Despite these well­-documented concerns, private prison companies continue to promote policies that put money in their pockets and people behind bars.”

What would be better than private prisons? [More...]

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California's Toxic Prison Conditions

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a ruling by a panel of three federal judge holding that conditions in California's prisons are so horrendous they violate the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The panel had found that overcrowding was a primary cause of the abysmal conditions, and ordered California to reduce its prison population to no more than 137% of design capacity. The Supreme Court's opinion is here. From the opinion:

Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.


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Elderly Non-Violent Drug Offenders Sentenced to Prison

The Oklahoman has an article today highlighting elderly non-violent defendants in drug cases who are sentenced to terms that, due to their age, amount to a life sentence. Often, these seniors' offense is selling their own lawfully obtained precription pills.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman Mark Woodward said the argument is sometimes made that selling prescriptions becomes the only way for the elderly to supplement Social Security benefits and make money.

Check out these photographic exhibitions of aging and ill prisoners: Tim Gruber's Served Out – Aging and Dying Behind Bars and Grace Before Dying [More...].

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Colo. Prison Inmates to Cater High School Prom

A welcome news story to wake up to: Haxtun High School, located in a farm town in Northeastern Colorado, will have its spring prom catered by inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility.

This may be the inmates first catered prom, but the community is used to their catering other functions, including some National Honor Society banquets and town functions. At the latter, they whipped up some tasty cinnamon rolls.

The tradition is not new. This year, the inmates will be cooking around 120 meals, including chicken alfredo, vegetables, salad and cheesecake.

The cooking is not done inside the school, but behind it. Other local communities also use the inmates' catering services, "which is supported by an inmate culinary training program."

Reentry programs are a win-win for all. They teach inmates skills with which to get jobs when they are released, lowering the risk of recidivism, which makes the entire community safer.

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Bureau of Prisons May Recommend More Good Time Credit

For years, there have been rumors that Congress might increase good time credit for federal inmates. None have come to pass.

There is no parole in the federal system. The amount of good time is the same for everyone -- 54 days a year after the first year.

Sentencing Law and Policy reports that one of the speakers at the Sentencing Commission's hearings last week was Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin. After discussing how overcrowded our prisons are, and what can be done to alleviate it, he said that the Justice Department is working with Congress on two proposals. The first would increase the good time from 54 days a year to 61 days (not much of a change.) The second proposal is more promising: [More...]

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