U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decided that Indiana’s treatment of mentally ill inmates is not constitutional. The issue, again: isolation units. When human beings are separated from all interaction with other humans, they develop symptoms of insanity. When inmates were already having mental troubles, the isolation confounds the problem. And then the inmates are released into society. The judge stopped short of requiring specific cures to the problem but will be monitoring the system.
Policy varies from state to state, from Warden to Warden. Despite the First Amendment, Public Information Officers of prisons can ban the public from knowing what is happening inside prisons, and that can’t be all good now, can it? Jessica Pupovac, investigating prison journalists’ access to prisons for her master’s thesis, uncovered a wild array of policies and yet, and yet taxpayers spend approximately $74 BILLION on state and federal prison systems annually. Yet the public can’t know how the dollars are spent?
The FCC has issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making. OK…. they are taking comments. But still, this is a huge step from a huge agency that can stop the gouging of inmates and their families.
Criminal justice is always at the mercy of legislative budgets. It is also always noticed/ignored/acted on by the legislative body if the committee chair is active and interested. Thus Texas’ new dilemma: who will chair the committee now that Rep. Pete Gallego is in D.C? Gallego’s constituents always came first (not his party affiliations, not special interest groups). So he will be hard to replace, and the current list of possibles does not hold any bright stars. Who cares about criminal justice? One of the representatives needs to stand up and shout an interest, and all the interested parties need time to review the shouter. Soon.
Movies and TV have painted a grim story of male inmates being raped. What many citizens aren’t noticing, however, are female inmates. Passed in 2003 and signed into law by Pres. G.W. Bush, PREA is making major changes in how prisons and staff are held accountable for rape. Prison advocates are hoping that the 8-member commission will require cameras in all areas–including closets–to keep the record straight. No guard wants a false accusation; no inmate should be fearing the staff or other inmates. The more scrutiny in PREA, the better all parties will be.
Massachusetts inmate Edmund LaChance lost his chance to live in the regular population when he threw a cup of pudding. He was kept there indefinitely, “awaiting action status.” Ten months after being sanctioned for the original 14 days, he was released into the general population again. Don’t throw pudding? Don’t have a melt-down and threaten others when you learn of the punishment?
Prison Legal Services in Boston took the pro se case to Massachusetts’s top court–and won. Won! They determined he had a due process right to a hearing rather than a pro-forma review by officials.
Democratic Representative Harold Dutton has filed HB 189, hoping that this year the Texas legislature will ban uncorroborated testimony of jailhouse snitches. The snitching is a terrific tool for prosecutors, so it may be a difficult sell. In the past, Pete Gallejo was in charge of the committee overseeing criminal justice; he has ascended to national Congress. [disclaimer: Pete was not only my student at U.T. Law but was Teacher’s Pet.] Let’s hope Rep. Dutton can open a fruitful debate.
A southern Illinois, all-solitary confinement prison, is reported to have twice the number of guards for the number of prisoners. Since they are in lock-down cells, that work is something the rest of us might sign up for! “Tamms has 208 guards and supervisors in its maximum-security unit, or C-max, to handle 138 prisoners, for a security-staff-to-inmate ratio of 1.5-to-1. At Alcatraz in the 1940s, the ratio was 1-to-3, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.”
Or you might want to sign on a chef/cook: “In addition, there are 16 food supervisors earning an average of $71,600 a year working at Tamms. That’s the same number of food supervisors as at the Pontiac Correctional Center, which houses around 1,700 maximum- and medium-security inmates.”
It’s hard to get your mind around this statistic, but apparently 1 in 8 federal convicts get their sentences reduced for snitching on each other. If they don’t have anything worth snitching about, obviously it’s worth their while to dream something up. But what to do about it? Prosecutors insist they’d never make a case if we eliminate use of snitches. Activists insist on eliminating the use of snitches. Middle ground seems to be to insist on taped recordings of the private conversations if they’re to be used–but that opens yet another can of worms.
Should prisons be required to offer healthful options? How about vegetarian options for those who have lifetime commitments to meatless lives? A court in Missouri has recently turned down a vegetarian’s request to have meatless servings at Buzz Westfall Justice Center. Diabetes and obesity and high blood pressure is creating a prison population that needs extra medical care; prisons need the money to upgrade food choices, period.