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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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Bradley Manning: Get Him a Nightshirt

Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, the commander at the Military brig at Quantico says Bradley Manning will continue to be stripped of his underwear at bedtime because he is on a prevention of injury watch (which is different than a suicide watch.)

He is given two blankets. What can he do with a pair of underpants that he can't do with a blanket? And what prompted this? According to Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, on his blog today, events went like this. Manning was told his petition to be moved out of maximum custody had been denied due to the prevention of injury watch. Manning, who has been a model detainee, asked what he could do to change it. He was told there was nothing he could do, because of the perception he was a risk of self-harm:

PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were "absurd" and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.


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DOJ Issues Rules on Prison Sexual Abuse

The Department of Justice today announced new rules for the Bureau of Prisons and other correctional agencies for addressing and preventing sexual abuse of inmates.

The Justice Department today released a proposed rule that aims to prevent and respond to sexual abuse in incarceration settings, in accordance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). Based on recommendations of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC), the proposed rule contains four sets of national standards aimed at combating sexual abuse in four types of confinement facilities: adult prisons and jails, juvenile facilities, lockups and community confinement facilities.

A 60-day public comment period will follow publication in the Federal Register, after which the department will make revisions as warranted and the standards will be published as a final rule. The department expects the final rule will be published by the end of the year.

The standards will be immediately binding on the federal Bureau of Prisons upon publication. States that do not comply with the standards may lose five percent of the funds they would otherwise receive for prison purposes from DOJ.

There are separate standards for each of the four categories of facilities: [More...]

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Colorado Inmates Train Wild Horses for Border Patrol

The Denver Post has an article on Project Noble Mustang. Wild mustang horses are rounded up and trained by inmates for months and then deployed along the nation's border to catch drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants.

[A]gents now use the prison-trained mustangs to catch illegal immigrants every day. Rafael V. Garza, horse patrol commander for the Border Patrol in the Laredo, Texas, sector, said in the first year of service, his nine mounted agents caught 500 illegal immigrants. "It's the intimidation factor," Garza said.

It sounds like a great program for the inmates, who get valuable life skills from it. I just wish the horses were used for a purpose other than rounding up suspected lawbreakers. Like what? Hippotherapy. More here and here.

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