Archive for prison

Prison Guard Beats Inmate And Illinois Must Pay

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prison violence

The headline in HuffPo reads:

James Degorski, Man Who Killed 7 At Brown's Chicken Restaurant, Awarded $451,000 In Civil Suit

So I was interested to see how a convicted killer was awarded money. Could it be related to his murdering 7 innocent people? I didn't think so but I had to read on.

CHICAGO (AP) — A former handyman serving life in prison for the 1993 murder of seven people at a suburban Chicago restaurant has been awarded nearly a half-million dollars in a civil lawsuit in which he alleged a jail guard punched him in the face.

Degorski, now 41, accused a Cook County Jail guard of punching him and breaking his cheekbone and eye socket in 2002.

As it turns out, this was really not about the inmate's crime, but about the inmate's treatment. His abuse. His being deprived of his civil rights.  Degorski's attorney put it this way:

"I think it's a beautiful day for civil rights when a jury can put aside emotions and say we are all entitled to our civil rights," she said. "It's about protecting the constitutional rights of the least among us."

Well, I'm not so sure that it's a beautiful day, but I do feel strongly that we have constitutional rights which, contrary to popular opinion, are not relinquished when someone's sentenced to prison.

Why should we care, or more importantly why should a jury care to the tune of nearly half a million bucks?

Simple. We have the eighth amendment which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The jury heard the facts, the details of this brutal attack on a brutal man who was in his care. Yet a prison sentence doesn't give the guards the right to dispatch their own kind of justice. Guards are there to serve the justice system, not create their own. And this guard evidently thought he could. Now the state must pay, which means the people of Illinois have to cough up half a mil for this crime.

If it seems like I'm taking the side of a killer, you're wrong. I'm taking the side of justice. We can't allow people behind bars to become animals, pets, treated unkindly by brutal guards. If we do, there's no chance at rehabilitation. I don't think prison should become a vacation spot, but basic human rights shouldn't be denied, either.

This prisoner who was beaten could just as easily been incarcerated for fixing the books at a financial institution or possession of a controlled substance. His crime got him put there for just punishment, not to become a guard's punching bag. But this guard took justice into his own hands, abused it and a jury found him guilty. Hopefully he will lose his job for this. But most certainly, the good and innocent people of Illinois will be covering the tab. Perhaps that's the real injustice in this case.

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Education for Prisoners Is A Breaking Bad Thing For New York GOP

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Prisoners Education

Breaking Bad

Yikes. With all the people in our prisons, it seems a shame that we don't try to educate them so when they're released, they have a fighting chance to  make it in the world and not slip into recidivism. Isn't that a good thing? We pay millions, if not billions a year in the States to house, feed and restrain prisoners. Should we make it more likely that we'll be safe when they are released?

Let's ask NY Republican Congressman, Jim Tedesco:

via HuffPo:

"This is definitely ‘Breaking Bad’ by potentially turning a bunch of Jesse Pinkmans into Walter Whites -– all on the taxpayer’s dime,” Tedisco said. “Soon we will be the only state where honesty and hard work are trumped by being a bad criminal. Only in New York. When can New Yorkers wake up from this nightmare?”

I think the Congressman's been spending too much time watching TV. Maybe a little more time reading pending bills and acting upon them for the best interest of his constituents might be in order.

Sadly Tedesco isn't alone in this. He has other Republican allies:

Tedisco's opposition resonated with several other lawmakers, including Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson).

"In a world of finite resources, where we are struggling to find funding for education for our kids, the last thing New York state should be funding is college tuition for convicts," Ball said in a statement.

It seems doing nothing to protect the public when inmates are returned to society is the Republican stance. Hell with education. Let's just give the inmates nothing constructive to do, dim all hopes for a future when they get out and let them discuss how they can become Walter Whites and Jesse Pinkmans because they won't be studying math, English, history, science, law or anything else constructive. The purpose of prison is supposed to include rehabilitation, noy just provide a shelter and free food. Let's get something for our money.

Inmates were once eligible for college tuition assistance, but the program was halted by former Republican Gov. George Pataki. That's now hopefully going to be reversed with the program the Republicans hate but the current Democratic Governor, Mario Cuomo is pushing.

According to Cuomo, the initiative would actually bring down inmate costs. He pointed to state data showing New York already spending $60,000 on every individual inmate and $3.6 billion in total costs to operate prisons annually.

"However, it costs approximately $5,000 per year to provide one year of college education for one inmate," Cuomo said Sunday. "Current studies have shown that by earning college degrees, inmates are far less likely to return to prison."

Here's wishing him luck -- which translates to more safety and productivity for our society. When will Republicans ever learn?

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Rise of Private Prisons in the United States

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This guest post is contributed by Rebecca Gray, who writes for Backgroundchecks.org. She welcomes your comments at her email id: GrayRebecca14@gmail.com.

Private Prisons Barbed Wire

Credit: Daniel Kalinski (via Flickr)

While the number of people wanting to go prison has most certainly not increased in recent years, the numbers for people who want to build prisons has. According to Global Research, “Ten years ago there were only five private prisons in the country, with a population of 2,000 inmates; now, there are 100, with 62,000 inmates. It is expected that by the coming decade, the number will hit 360,000, according to reports.” Something happened in the last decade to spark such a rise in private prisons, but what was it?

Simply put, there is money to be made in the private prison industry. Just as Starbucks and Wal-Mart build stores to sell their products and drive revenue, private prisons operate the same way. Since the private prison industry in the U.S. began in the 1980s, companies like Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut have built prisons and run them as publically traded companies. Like any other profit-seeking business, the more “customers” these prisons get, the more money they make.

Global Research points out that “private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one.” Because U.S. prisons are continually overcrowded—there were 1,571,013 prisoners in the U.S. in 2012, a whopping 25% of the world’s inmates—the population in private prisons has only increased. In other words, when justice gets outsourced, companies like CCA and their stock holders benefit. Prisoners, on the other hand, probably don’t benefit regardless of where they do time, but comfort is not the point of a prison sentence.

The key word for private prisons is “business.” In their own words, CCA stated “our primary business strategy is to provide quality corrections services, offer a compelling value, and increase occupancy and revenue.”As such, they design prisons to run as efficiently as possible by holding as many prisoners as they can, but with the fewest numbers of guards on the payroll as possible. Just as Starbucks wants to sell more cups of coffee, CCA wants to sell more orange jumpsuits, jail cells, and fewer personal liberties. Boasting an increase of 500% in their profits over the last 2 decades, CCA has clearly found a business model that works.

Although the number of prisoners held in the US penal system is slowly decreasing, private jails continue to see a rise in “customers” overall. Although it is difficult to tell exactly where private prisons are headed in the future, one might assume that, with Federal and State Governments striving to cut costs, private prisons will probably become even more popular. As long as private prisons continue to offer financially viable alternatives, penal administrators will likely continue to "buy-in" to the for-profit incarceration model.

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What Is The Purpose of Prison, Punishment Or Rehabilitation?

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Prisonw398h248

Why do we send people to prison? One reason is punishment for committing a crime. Another is to rehabilitate those who committed the wrongdoing. What good is locking someone up if they're just going to come out and commit the same or worse crimes? And so, that leads me to this report from ABC News 10 San Diego:

The part that interests me is the rehabilitation part of incarceration. If someone does time and then gets out of the slammer and commits another crime, then their initial stay behind bars was a failure in my eyes. We paid to feed, clothe and house them. Then we send them out to re-commit those crimes or maybe worse, new crimes they learned about while behind bars. In that case, we got nothing in return but more crime. So we didn't do our job.

Now you take Judy Lynn Hayman. She was 23 years old when she escaped from a Midwestern prison 37 years ago. Yesterday she was captured in San Diego where she lived a crime free life for THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS.

Hayman pleaded guilty in June 1976 to a larceny charge in Wayne County, Mich., and was sentenced to serve between 16 months and two years in custody, according to prison officials there.

Ten months later, she escaped from the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility. She remained a fugitive until this week, using various aliases.

Let's consider whatever she did was wrong, non-violent, but wrong. She pleaded guilty and served 10 months time -- perhaps enough for her particular non-violent crime of larceny. Unfortunately, her sentence was for a minimum of 16 months, so her early departure wasn't condoned.

Prison was too barbaric and cruel to her. She felt she was ready to reintegrate into society as a law abiding citizen. She couldn't take it any longer and she took a huge chance and broke out. We may think she was free, but think again.

She lived not only the remainder of her sentence but the ensuing 35 or so years constantly looking over her shoulder, the fear of being discovered and re-apprehended for who she really was, an escaped con. That's a hefty weight to bear. Living in fear can be even more of a punishment than a physical prison.

During that time she gave birth to, raised and supported a son -- he's living crime free so obviously she was a good and strong influence on him and his character or he'd be doing time in a cell like his mom once did.

The point is not whether this woman was right in escaping, but what to do with her now? Should she be charged with unlawful escape and add that onto her prior sentence or should we look at what the purpose was in incarcerating her to start with? She was to be punished, granted. And she did serve 10 months, basically 2/3's of her minimum sentence. But hasn't she proved by her exemplary existence after her escape that she had learned her lesson? Aren't those 30 plus years living in fear worth some credit?

judy-hayman-jpg

I hope the Michigan justice system will take into consideration what for and why they sentence people to jail. I'd prefer a woman or man who's rehabilitated be back on the streets than someone who's served their term and reverts to recidivism. Prison isn't a good environment under any circumstances. Yet it does serve a purpose. But sometimes correctional institutions (notice the word correctional and not punishment) don't do their job. Maybe they did with Judy Lynn Hayman. She's proven she's learned the lesson of her bad ways. I'm hoping Michigan can see that and take it into consideration. We'll see.

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Anti-Pot Chris Matthews Rails Against Alcohol And Tobacco, Too

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MatthewsKennedyw349h222video below at end of post

There's never a time when the unpredictable Chris Matthews isn't opinionated. That's what he's best known for and he's made a niche for himself being just that -- outspoken and oftentimes outrageous -- on his MSNBC show, HARDBALL.  He's so self-inflated in importance he oftentimes loses sight of logic and reason. He's the aging old dog that has been gifted with a relatively meaty bone and doesn't let you get near it with his growling and barking. Even after the bone's been chewed clean of the last hint of anything to eat, even its aroma of past pleasures, he's protective.

Yesterday was a case in point. Now it's a bit unusual for him to disagree, even somewhat reluctantly, with President Obama. He will, from time to time pick around the edges, but as a general rule he allows the President to make his own decisions and justifies them with the Big O's surrounding himself with qualified minions to help him form intelligent choices.

Chris took exception to Obama's coming out publicly and stating what a vast majority of Americans and pillars of the scientific community have been saying for years now. Pot is not good for you in general, but it's no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

That wasn't strong enough this time for Matthews. He decided that scientific evidence isn't good enough in this case. So he traipsed out two of the Kennedy clan -- newer generations of the Camelot crew -- Christopher Lawford and Patrick Kennedy. Both recovering addicts -- but not from pot -- from Alcohol and pills.

In Matthews' mind, and perhaps to these fine, brave gentlemen, one addiction is the same as another. And I'm not sure they're wrong. Addictive personalities can be just as harmful whether the vice is drinking, drugs, sex, video games, pornography, eating, et.al. The bottom line is anything can get you high if abused. That's the point of the book that Lawford was really on the show to promote. He wasn't there as an expert, but rather a survivor who was trying to sell his book, which Matthews gladly promoted at the end of the interview. If that makes you know more than someone else, fine. But surviving a 12 step program doesn't make you a counselor.  It makes you a veteran.

So after all was said and done, Chris, who's about as current as last week's expired milk in your refrigerator, made an anti-pot stand. And I'll applaud him for that -- speaking his mind -- or what's left of it. His ability to idolize Ronald Reagan and his former boss, Tip O'Neill while overlooking all the laws these two men broke, shows that he's still got the '70s going on in his mind. But granting him that clouded thinking, he's now going after pot with a similar cloud around his thinking.

His argument is that pot is a gateway to other vices. Maybe it is, but that's like saying drinking milk leads you to over eating chocolate chip cookies or Oreos. They are really not connected, but you could statistically make an argument.

So if Chris wants to take on the 'pot is bad for you' challenge, saying that it is as dangerous as tobacco and alcohol, then why isn't he pushing for tobacco and alcohol being outlawed? Certainly scientifically we can prove these two substances are dangerous, cause deaths and are gateways to all sorts of crimes and misdeeds, not just death.

Or maybe I missed the point. Perhaps that IS what Matthews on HARDBALL was really saying. Using his own argument, that pot can be addictive and lead to dangerous behavior, tobacco and alcohol should be against the law. If what's good for the goose is good for the gander, than he should be taking his soapbox to Capitol Hill and start rallying Congress for a revisit to the Volstead Act as well as banning all tobacco products. They're as dangerous (or as safe) as marijuana.

What? That's not what he meant? Then what was he doing when he chose to argue against legalization where the usage of cannabis products are monitored and quality is checked? Hundreds if not thousands died from bathtub gin and moonshine during prohibition. That's because there were no quality controls of the products. And to get these elixirs, how many were killed in back alleys or gunned down by the likes of Capone and his lieutenants?

Today we're unfairly incarcerating people, outrageous numbers of minorities, all over a little plant that has still not been proven to be any more harmful than legally obtained alcohol and tobacco. So move the soap box to another corner, Chris. Your arguments to outlaw pot are the same ones to make cigarettes and booze illegal. I don't think you'll want to take to the air to defend that. But you did. And here it is:

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Former Florida GOP chairman now sells La-Z-Boy recliners

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la z boy recliner vintageAllow me to introduce you to Jim Greer. He became the Florida GOP party head in January 2007, former governor (and recent convert to the Democratic party) Charlie Crist's personal pick.

He was one of the former Florida GOP leaders who said that voter suppression was the reason for a new election law.

He was also accused of stealing a couple of hundred thousand dollars from the Republican party using a phony campaign fundraising operation. Then the Palm Beach Post reported that he was suing them back, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.

But oops, the Tampa Bay Times reported that, despite his protesty indignation, Greer had been sentenced to 18 months in state prison plus one year of probation after he pleaded guilty to four counts of theft and one count of money laundering.

There. Now that you know Greer better, let's see how the former GOP official has been spending his time lately. Via the Orlando Sentinel, we discover what Republican felons do post-sentencing. Talk about a career change:

Jim Greer, the disgraced former chairman of the Florida GOP, is now selling La-Z-Boy recliners for $8 an hour plus commission at an Orlando-area furniture store as part of a prison work release program. [...]

But instead of behind bars, he's now assigned to an Orlando work release facility on Mercy Drive. It has no bars and no prison-like security, although, it is fenced.

Would you buy a chair from this schmo?

And as Not-Quite-Inmate GOP Guy pockets $8 an hour plus commission (minimum wage in the state is $7.79), millions of Americans are out of work, are unable to receive unemployment benefits or a decent living wage (thanks to Greer's fellow Republican pals in Congress), and are struggling just to barely get by, get fed, and get through a day.

but wait there's more smaller

Prior to his snazzy new recliner-hawking stint, Greer pulled weeds and picked up trash for six hours a day. That and the La-Z-Boy gig should spiff his political resumé right up.

Greer's lawyer, Damon Chase, said, "He's in a really good place in life, and his family is doing great."

Too bad the same can't be said for all those law-abiding types whose families depend on them for food, shelter, clothing, warmth, and security.

Greer hasn't quite turned over the proverbial new leaf yet, though. He managed to break the rules while incarcerated for breaking the rules. See, he had a $20 bill in his possession, which is a big no-no; he wasn't supposed to have anything bigger than a $5 bill on him. Hey, no problem. They counseled him a little, and he's a new man, enjoying his "good place in life."

Maybe he could talk a few of his Republican lawmaker BFFs into making life easier for the rest of us.

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Education Over Incarceration -- It Works -- Even In Florida

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education over incarceration

Change is in the air and it's a good one. It's taking place in Florida -- well known for the hanging chad ballots and their totally out of whack justice system. This time it's a remarkable turnaround in the education system.

Florida’s Broward County Public Schools system is the sixth-largest district in the country. Like  many other large education systems, it was suffering from a racial gap when it came to graduation. Broward had an incomprehensibly low diploma rate of only 61 percent for black students compared to 81 percent for white students. To find out why, Robert Runcie, the superintendant of schools who once headed a management-consulting firm, went to the data. His goal was to close the racial achievement gap.

From The American Prospect:

“One of the first things I saw was a huge differential in minority students, black male students in particular, in terms of suspensions and arrests,” he says. Black students made up two-thirds of all suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year despite comprising only 40 percent of the student body. And while there were 15,000 serious incidents like assaults and drug possession reported that year, 85 percent of all 82,000 suspensions were for minor incidents—use of profanity, disruptions of class—and 71 percent of all 1,000-plus arrests were for misdemeanors. The last statistic, says Runcie, “was a huge red flag.”

So Runcie and the others on the school board decided to work with the teachers, the police and the campus security to reverse the schoolhouse to jailhouse routine and promote a more tolerant and discretionary system. Officers were given an opportunity to judge the severity of the infractions and in some cases, turn the case over to the school instead of the police and local justice systems.

In most non-violent cases, such as drug use, truancy, spray painting graffiti, a school was just as well equipped to mete out punishment as the expensive and drawn out process of criminal justice.

Broward’s Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline was announced in early November. Instead of suspensions, students can now be referred to the PROMISE program, where they receive counseling for several days and then return to school. A host of non-violent misdemeanors no longer require an arrest, though officers can sometimes override that if they feel it is necessary. The school district’s Office of Minority Male Achievement reviews data to ensure that punishments for minor infractions and racial disparities are on the decline.

Since eliminating the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse program in Broward the program seems to be working. By providing alternatives like counseling, suspensions fell by 33 percent and the anticipated graduation rate increased by 25 percent. This is the kind of program that other schools and other cities should be using as a model, especially urban school districts where dropout rates are exceedingly high - as much as 50%.

The purpose of schools is to prepare kids for a better life -- not one behind bars and in low paying, unskilled jobs.

Finally, something other than good oranges and a great basketball team to report from The Sunshine State.

Say, don't forget to follow me on twitter: @Linzack.

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