Showing posts with label Prison. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Prison. Show all posts

May 29, 2020

Two Years in Prison For Two Men Accused of Having Sex with Each Other in Turkmenistan

A screen showing a portrait of Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov inside the terminal of the newly built airport in Ashgabat
Click to expand Image
A screen showing a portrait of Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov inside the terminal of the newly built airport in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, September 17, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters
In Turkmenistan, men who have sex with men continue to be arrested and imprisoned on sodomy charges.
In mid-March independent media in the region reported the arrest of a popular entertainer as well as those of numerous other men who move in Turkmenistan’s show-business world. Some were able to secure their release. On May 7, a Turkmen court sentenced the entertainer, and several others to two years’ imprisonment on sodomy charges.
Turkmenistan is one of sixty-nine countries in the world that outlaw consensual sexual intercourse between men. Article 135 of the criminal code stipulates penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment for sodomy and 5 to 10 years if repeated. This blatantly discriminatory law, that violates Turkmenistan’s international human rights obligations, enables police to subject gay and bisexual men to harassment, including with the purpose of extortion, humiliation, and abuse.
Human Rights Watch documented a 2013 case in Turkmenistan, where medical staff collaborated with law enforcement officials to conduct an anal exam on an 18-year-old man accused of homosexual conduct. While not evidence of a pattern, the case raises the possibility that forced anal examinations have been or are being used against others charged with sodomy in Turkmenistan.
Such examinations have no medical justification, are cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and may amount to torture. They violate the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both ratified by Turkmenistan.
Last year, in an extremely rare headline-grabbing instance, a gay man came out publicly despite hostile social attitudes and bullying by his family. He went missing after he came out, and then briefly resurfaced in the media before going silent again.
In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Committee flagged criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct as “unjustifiable” and urged the Turkmen government to repeal it. Turkmenistan prides itself on its good standing in the United Nations. The government should immediately dismiss all charges against the men convicted under these laws and release them.
Turkmenistan should also repeal article 135 of the criminal code and protect people from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

March 10, 2020

Just Now}} Inmates in Italy Take Over Prisons Setting Fires and Braking The Infirmaries For Drugs Because The Scare Of Corona

{{VICE News }} 
Italy’s coronavirus lockdown has triggered violent protests in prisons across the country, as inmates fear a devastating outbreak behind bars.
Eleven people are dead after protests erupted in 27 prisons Monday. Inmates took staff hostage, launched mass breakouts, lit fires, and scaled the roofs of prisons. Most of the deaths appear to have been overdoses of methadone looted from prison clinics, but at least one was from smoke inhalation, according to Francesco Basentini, the director of the Italian prison system. The riots began Saturday in the city of Salerno, when news leaked that the government was imposing an unprecedented lockdown of the country’s north, impacting about 16 million people, or a quarter of the Italian population. With the number of confirmed cases continuing to soar, the emergency quarantine was extended to the entire country Monday night.
The lockdown led prison authorities to cancel family visits and day releases, which sparked an angry response from prisoners. Inmates also called for an amnesty to allow them to serve their sentence from home during the coronavirus crisis, and urgent action to reduce overcrowding, amid fears that the virus could sweep through the jails. Italy’s jail system is designed to hold about 51,000 inmates but houses about 10,000 more than that, resulting in chronic overcrowding.
Further protests were reported Tuesday, including in the southern city of Campobasso, where inmates set fire to mattresses to demand increased communication with their families during the crisis, and at Palermo's Pagliarelli jail, where inmates overran sections of the jail and climbed on the roof.
In Modena, in the north, inmates took two guards hostage, stole their keys, and rampaged through the prison. They also looted methadone syrup from the infirmary. Eight inmates from the prison are reported to have died, and six are in serious condition. At least three guards and a number of health workers were also injured in the violence. Three other inmates were reported to have died of overdoses at a prison in Rieti province, after inmates briefly took control of the facility.
In the southern city of Foggia, inmates occupied the entire compound Monday before launching a mass jailbreak, the Justice Ministry said. After tearing down a gate, about 50 inmates fled the complex. About 30 were rounded up nearby and returned to the jail, but about 20 others stole staff cars to flee.
In Melfi prison, which has about 200 inmates, prisoners took four guards and five health workers hostage for about 10 hours, before releasing them and returning to their cells late Monday. Four prison officers were also taken hostage in Bologna, where 350 inmates occupied two sections of the jail.
In Milan’s San Vittore prison, prisoners scaled the roof after seizing keys to the complex, holding a banner reading “indulto” — Italian for “pardon.” Footage from the scene showed fires burning inside the building. Outside, police clashed with inmates’ relatives, who had gathered to protest the situation.
And in the Rebibbia and Regina Coeli prisons in Rome, inmates lit fires and raided a pharmacy. Almost all of the 27 affected jails have sustained serious damage, according to the Justice Ministry.
“The situation is catastrophic,” Aldo Di Giacomo, spokesman for the prison officer union SPP, told Italian news agency Adnkronos. He said the guards had warned their bosses that the situation was likely to explode due to tensions over the coronavirus. He said the army needed to be called in to guard the prisons, which he believed should be completely sealed off for the rest of the lockdown, with inmates confined to their cells.
Prisoners’ rights advocates have called for a more sympathetic response for inmates during the outbreak, saying they are terrified and confused by the virus, and that inadequate testing has been conducted in jails. Inmate advocacy group Antigone has called for the government to allow more prisoners to serve their sentences on house arrest for the duration of the crisis.
“If people outside are scared, imagine what it’s like inside,” spokeswoman Susanna Marietti told the DPA news agency.
But Italy’s hardline opposition leader Matteo Salvini said there should be no concessions made to the rioting inmates. “To handle this serious emergency of the detention centers, you need the iron fist of an Extraordinary Commissioner who brings back order and respect for the law,” he tweeted.
Cover: Inmates stage a protest against new rules to cope with coronavirus emergency, including the suspension of relatives' visits, on the roof of the San Vittore prison in Milan, Italy, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni

August 27, 2019

The U.S. Does Not Follow The Law on Prison Suicides by Not Counting Them


Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide in a federal prison in lower Manhattan triggered an investigation and the reassignment of two corrections officers, as well as the head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, by Attorney General William Barr. 
But it also shined a light on a problem: The federal government has no idea how many prisoners take their own lives in federal and state prisons, even though it’s required by law to keep track. 
The government is obligated under the 2013 Death in Custody Reporting Act to collect and disclose information from law enforcement agencies and states on all deaths in custody, including suicides and deaths during an arrest. 
The bill, which was passed in 2014 following Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, required the Justice Department to analyze the national data and issue a report by 2016 with suggestions for reducing these deaths.
But that never happened, in part because the Justice Department shuffled the data-collecting responsibility around to different bureaus, causing delays and leaving experts and policymakers with little information on how common prison suicide is. 
“I don’t understand why, as we sit here in the second half of 2019, the most recent data we have on deaths in custody is from 2014,” said David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “But I can tell you that has a serious impact on our ability to diagnose and address the problem of prison suicides.” 
Today, nearly five years after the bill passed, no new data on prison suicides is available and the Justice Department has not written the report. The department won’t start collecting the information until the fiscal year 2020 at the earliest, according to a December 2018 Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report.  
There are some available statistics that show the prevalence of suicides in certain prisons or states. The Bureau of Prisons, which operates the facility where Epstein killed himself, had 27 inmate suicides in the fiscal year 2018, a five-year high, according to USA Today
Across the country, states including Texas and Utah have passed death-in-custody reporting legislation in recent years in response to an increase in prison deaths. Texas had a 10-year high of 40 inmate suicides in 2018, according to state records obtained by the Associated Press. Utah’s first deaths in custody report show that suicides accounted for over half of the 71 deaths that occurred in county jails from 2013 to 2017.
But there is no comprehensive national data.
The data could help illuminate any possible relationship between prison suicides and factors such as the types of crimes people are charged with, inmates’ ages, and whether inmates were placed on suicide watch and for how long.  
Collecting and publishing the required data and report would allow legislators and criminal justice experts to study prison suicides and make targeted policy recommendations to reduce these deaths, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va), the bill’s sponsor, said. 
“You can’t have accountability unless you have a count.”
“You can’t have accountability unless you have a count,” Scott said. “The bill gave two years to get a report done, and they haven’t started counting yet. It just seems to me that it cannot possibly be that complicated to collect the data.” 
Before the Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics collected data from states on a voluntary basis. After the bill’s passage, the bureau developed a methodology to expand the data collection to federal agencies, according to the inspector general’s report. 
The bureau collected at least one year’s worth of the required data from 104 federal law enforcement agencies by the end of 2018, the inspector general found. This data is incomplete, however, because the Department of Justice does not know how many agencies in the United States have law enforcement abilities.
The inspector general concluded that the lack of knowledge makes it impossible for the department to comply with the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act, because it doesn’t know exactly how many suicides occur in the custody of federal law enforcement agencies. 
The Death in Custody Reporting Act gives the DOJ the ability to withhold grant money from states that do not submit the required information. Short of that, the Bureau of Justice Statistics was going to use information from open sources, like news reports, and local law enforcement agencies to count deaths under states’ jurisdictions. 
But it never used that approach. In the fall of 2016, because of statutory reasons, the Justice Department tasked a different bureau — the Bureau of Justice Assistance — with collecting the state data.  That bureau then took almost two years to come up with a plan that resembled a previously used method that only captured half of all deaths, according to the inspector general report.
The inspector general’s office concluded that because of this flawed approach, the Justice Department might not get the quality of data that fulfills the intent of the law. 
Now the Justice Department will not begin collecting the necessary state data until 2020 at the earliest because of the delays, according to the inspector general’s office. Once it starts, there’s still the question of what will happen with the required report. 
As of August 2018, the DOJ had no plans to write the required report or release the data it will collect. By not writing the report, the department is limiting its ability to reduce deaths in prisons and jails, the Inspector General concluded.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance did not respond to requests for comment. 
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ most recent data shows 621 reported suicides in jails and prisons in 2014. Because states reported data voluntarily, the count is not comprehensive, Scott said. 
The bureau still collects the information and is working on releasing its 2015 and 2016 data, but staff turnover has slowed progress, Justice Department spokesperson Tannyr Watkins wrote in an email.  
Given the lag between data collection and publishing, years might pass before the Justice Department releases new national prison suicide data collected under the Death in Custody Reporting Act. 
High-profile deaths like those of Epstein and Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in a Texas jail cell in 2015, three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, lead to pointed investigations that might clarify circumstances around those deaths, but miss bigger trends. 
In Epstein’s case, data could have helped to implement changes in prisons that might have avoided his death, Fathi said. Epstein had been recently taken off suicide watch and was in solitary confinement, which are risk factors for inmates committing suicide, but without data it’s difficult to know just how common these factors are. 
“Jeffrey Epstein is obviously a uniquely unsympathetic person, but he was someone whose life the government was obligated to protect during his incarceration,” Fathi said. “Although this case is obviously unique in some ways, in other ways it is typical of the utterly avoidable suicides that happen in our prisons and jails literally every day.”

March 9, 2017

Oklahoma Prisoner Blackmail Scams Gay Men at the Tune of $125K

 Sean Siwek, scammer, blackmailer

An Oklahoma prisoner posed as an Elyria man in an elaborate scheme to blackmail gay men across the country by threatening to expose their sexuality and falsely claiming that the men had offered to have sex with minors.

The prisoner, Sean Siwek, was sentenced Tuesday to two years and three months in federal prison and ordered to repay $124,990 to various victims, according to Bob Troester, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in the Western District of Oklahoma.

According to court documents filed in the case, Siwek was being housed at Lawton Correctional Facility, a private medium-security prison in Lawton, Okla., when he and other co-conspirators, who weren’t identified in the indictment, hatched their scheme.

Using a voice-based dating service, Siwek and others created messages that were the equivalent of personal advertisements that they used to find men across the country, including in Colorado, Maryland, Ohio and Oklahoma, prosecutors said.

Siwek and those working with him would get messages from legitimate users of the dating service and then contact them separately using illicit cell phones that had been smuggled into the prison.

Siwek would falsely tell those he got into contact with that he was a male prostitute interested in having sexual relations with men who were married or had girlfriends.

“After establishing a rapport with a legitimate user and arranging to meet for sex, Siwek or another coconspirator called that legitimate user, claiming to be a law enforcement officer, and fraudulently represented that the legitimate user had agreed to have sex with a minor, which was a crime,” the indictment in the case said. “Siwek and his coconspirators then falsely represented that they would publicize the legitimate user’s sexual orientation and bring criminal charges against him, or cause such charges to be brought, unless the legitimate user paid them.”

Prosecutors detailed how Siwek and his allies were able to convince an Ohio man to give them approximately $86,840 between October 2011 and February 2012 through the scheme.

Siwek created a profile claiming to be a 24-year-old from Elyria and ended up communicating with the Ohio man, and the two eventually arranged to meet “for a good time sexually,” prosecutors wrote.

The next day, Siwek called from the prison and claimed to be the 24-year-old man’s father but said the person who the Ohio man had been communicating with was actually 15.

Siwek demanded $500 and the Ohio man bought two debit cards and provided the information over the phone to Siwek. In a later call, Siwek told the Ohio man to expect a call from an FBI agent.

When the “agent” called, he told the victim that he had committed a crime by arranging to have sex with a minor and threatened to charge the Ohio man unless he was paid.

Over the next few months, Siwek and his co-conspirators demanded additional money, including for bribes to a fake judge and to get others to keep “quiet.”

Court records show Siwek pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and false impersonation of a federal officer two years ago. Troester said Siwek will receive credit for all the time he’s served behind bars while awaiting sentencing.

Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or

February 26, 2017

Trump/Sessions Turn Back The Clock for Abusive-Costly Private Prisons

The Justice Department's plan to phase out its use of private prisons — the result of declining inmate populations and concerns about safety and security — ended this week without ever really taking effect. 
The reason is a new administration that has called for a crackdown on what it sees as a rise in crime. 
That crackdown could lead to more arrests, which in turn could result in more people in prison. Which, presumably, is why Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a six-month-old Obama administration directive that sought to curtail the government's use of private prisons

Image: Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice in Washington

Attorney General Jeff Sessions holds a meeting with the heads of federal law enforcement components at the Department of Justice in Washington on Feb. 9, 2017. Susan Walsh / AP

Sessions said in a Feb. 21 memo that the Obama move had "impaired" the U.S. Bureau of Prison's "ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system." 
Those "needs" are not yet clear. Asked for an explanation, a Justice Department spokesman said only that Sessions' move "returns discretion to the professionals at BOP who are in the best position to evaluate their needs." 
The memo itself suggests that the attorney general is concerned about running out of available space in the 122 prisons the BOP runs itself — although current trends run opposite. 
The number of people in federal prison has been declining since 2013, and the 189,078 currently there is the lowest in a decade. That includes 21,366 people in private prisons, just 12 percent of the total population. 
Compared to the more than 2 million people estimated to be behind bars across the American justice system, the private prisons under BOP contract play a bit role in a system that contributes to one of the world’s highest incarceration rates.

So, why does Session's memo matter? 
Here are some additional points to put the issue in context: 

The relationship goes back decades 

The Bureau of Prisons first turned to privately operated prisons in 1997 to help alleviate overcrowding. The partnership grew steadily, focusing primarily on low-security inmates designated as "criminal aliens" — non-citizens who've committed a crime — with less than eight years left on their sentences. In fiscal year 2014, the contracts were worth about $639 million, up from $562 million in fiscal year 2011. 

Private prisons mostly benefit two publicly traded companies 

Those companies are CoreCivic (which until recently was known as Corrections Corporation of America), and The Geo Group. The two companies, both generous contributors to President Trump, run the majority of the BOP's contracted prisons, as well as dozens of other facilities used to detain immigrants who are in the country illegally. 
The companies' fortunes climb and fall with federal criminal justice policies. Their stocks plunged after Obama's deputy attorney general issued the phase-out memo on Aug. 18, and shot up after Donald Trump, who'd called for more private prisons, won election on Nov. 8. Since then, companies' share prices have been steadily rising — and they enjoyed a bump from Sessions' memo. 

The federal government has predicted that private prison populations will drop 

Even before the August Obama administration memo, the Justice Department saw a weakening reliance on private prisons. The memo's author, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, noted that the BOP was already cutting contracts with for-profit companies, so much so that it planned to stop sending inmates to three private prisons, shrinking the private-prison population to less than 14,200 by May 1 — less than half of what it was in 2013. 

There are a lot of documented problems with private prisons housing federal inmates 

Yates' memo followed a report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General that said privately run prisons had more safety and security incidents — including more assaults by inmates on each other and by inmates on prison staff — than those operated by the Bureau of Prisons. The companies, GEO and CoreCivic, responded in letters that the discrepancies were attributable to the fact that they primarily housed a wide array of foreign nationals, including gang members. 

Image: Officers stand on the roof of and outside the gates at the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss., during an inmate disturbance at the prison, May 20, 2012.

Officers stand on the roof of and outside the gates at the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss., during an inmate disturbance at the prison, May 20, 2012. Lauren Wood / AP

In December, just before the Obama administration left power, the inspector general released another report, which focused on CoreCivic's prison in Natchez, Mississippi, where a May 2012 prison riot, triggered by complaints of poor conditions, ended with a correctional officer's death. The December report found the prison "was plagued by the same significant deficiencies." CoreCivic responded that it had corrected many of its problems, and took issue with some of the methods used by government auditors. 
Investigative journalists have uncovered other alleged abuses. A series in the Nation documented dozens of deaths that the magazine attributed to substandard care. And a reporter for Mother Jones went undercover as an officer at a private prison in Louisiana, vividly detailing many of the problems documented by the government audits.


October 26, 2015

Inmates Touching At NY Rikers Isl. Prison is Now Forbidden, Experts Criticize it


Xena Grandichelli, a trans woman, spent four months at Rikers Island in the men's jails. There, she was physically attacked and sexually assaulted. Staff then placed her in protective custody, which amounted to being locked in a solitary cell 23 and a half hours a day. But what broke her, she recalled, was being denied a visit with her sister.

"The only thing we have from the outside world is our family," Grandichelli said. "When they take that away, it dehumanizes and breaks you."
Grandichelli filed an appeal, challenging the denial. She won, but it was one month before she was allowed to see her sister again. Meanwhile, she became depressed. "I went in with no history of mental health [issues]," she remembered. "But I came out with major depression. I had to be on medication." She was released in January 2015 after all charges against her were dropped. Today, she still needs medication to control her depression.

Grandichelli is now an intern at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, an organization that works with trans and gender non-conforming people in New York City. On Friday, she was one of 40 people who showed up to an auditorium across the street from Bellevue Hospital to testify against the proposed rule change [PDF] being considered by the Board of Correction, which sets minimum standards and guidelines for the city’s jail system, including Rikers Island.

The proposed rule would allow the Department of Correction to deny visitors based on family relationship and/or past criminal convictions as well as drastically limit physical contact during visits. The denial can be appealed, but a decision may take up to fourteen business days.

The rule change would affect the 10,000 people held at Rikers Island each day. Approximately 85 percent are awaiting trial, as in Grandichelli's case. Although absent from Friday's hearing, Joseph Ponte, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, has stated at previous meetings [PDF] that the rule change is necessary to help reduce violence at Rikers.
Grandichelli wasn't the only speaker who had spent time at Rikers. Barry Campbell is now the assistant to the CEO of the Fortune Society, which works with people returning to New York City from jails and prisons.


"Ninety percent of people who come out of Rikers are angry," he said. Recalling his own time on the island, he told Gothamist, "It's like a pressure valve. I had a lot of pent-up anger. You're always on alert, always in protective mode. But on a visit, I can be human. I can touch, feel, show emotions."
He also remembered that men who were not allowed physical contact during visits left the visiting room even angrier. That anger—and the behaviors from prison—accompany the person upon their return to their community. "If the new rule goes through, people will be coming home even angrier."
In December, when the Board of Correction held a public hearing about a proposed rule that would both create the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit and limit time spent in segregation, the Department of Correction filled half the auditorium with nearly 60 uniformed correctional officers, DOC commissioner Joseph Ponte and Correction Officers' Benevolent Association president Norman Seabrook. All were absent from Friday’s hearing.

At Friday’s meeting, board member Bobby Cohen noted that he was disappointed by Commissioner Ponte’s absence and was quickly rebuked by the board’s chair, Stan Brezenoff, who called his comment "gratuitous."
The DOC directed Gothamist to the City Hall press office for comment; the Mayor's Office has not yet responded. COBA has yet to provide us with a comment.

Candie Hailey-Means tried to kill herself numerous times during her four years at Rikers. Each time, officers wrote her a disciplinary ticket; for each ticket, she spent 30 days in segregation. "I got over 100 tickets because I cut myself over 100 times," she recalled. Hailey-Means spent over three years in isolation.

Her sister's weekly visits were her only contact with the outside world. "I got to hug somebody. I knew somebody cared," she said. Otherwise, she recalled, "You're in a box by yourself. You have no contact with the outside world." Had it not been for those visits, she said, "I would have tried to kill myself even more." Hailey-Means was acquitted of all criminal charges and released from Rikers on May 1, 2015.

But, she added during her testimony, limiting contact during visits would not stem the flow of contraband onto the island. She recalled an officer drinking on the job—and offering her a drink as well. “That officer is still employed at Rikers."

Johnny Perez, who spent a year and a half at Rikers Island, also challenged the Department's argument that limiting contact and restricting visitors would decrease the flow of contraband at Rikers. “I can't tell you how many times I bought drugs from COs who threatened to beat me up if I didn't pay them on time," he said.

In contrast, visits with his mother reminded him that, despite his incarceration, he was still a son to his mother and a father to his daughter. "The only thing that kept me sane was the connection with my family. Being able to hold your daughter or kiss your mother makes a difference.”

Jennifer J. Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center and a member of the Jails Action Coalition, noted that the Department has instituted searches of jail staff, resulting in arrests and even prison sentences of staff for smuggling contraband. Instead of acting on the proposed rule change, Parish urged the Board of Correction to allow these searches of staff members to continue and see if the rates of drugs, weapons and other contraband decrease during the next six months.

Mayor de Blasio speaking at Rikers next to DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte (Mayor's Office)
The new rule also changes the limitations on punitive segregation, also known as solitary confinement, passed by the Board in January. Under these limitations, if a person has spent 30 days in punitive segregation, he or she must be released from segregation for 7 days before being returned to segregation. Unless he is deemed “persistently violent," no person can be held in punitive segregation longer than 60 days in a six-month period.

The proposed rule change allows the Department of Correction to waive the seven-day break and, if staff determine that the person may endanger others, keep that person in segregation past the 60 day limit.

India Rodriguez remembers her time in solitary confinement. Because she is a trans woman, Rodriguez recalled that she was pressured into the protective custody unit. Like Grandichelli, she soon learned that protective custody meant nearly 24-hour confinement. It also made her vulnerable to sexual violence from staff.

"Today I am free, but I struggle daily with insurmountable emotional traumas," she testified through tears before the Board. "I stand before you today to ask you to abolish solitary confinement. This is a civilized society and it must end."
Few family members made it to the hearing. Some sent statements, which were read by advocates. But Chanel, whose sister has been at Rikers since Labor Day, rushed into the auditorium after work to talk about the importance of visiting—and being able to touch.

Chanel, who asked that her last name not be used or her sister be identified for fear of staff retaliation, visits once a month. Their mother visits once a week, waiting up to three hours for a one-hour visit. "Being able to touch gets me through the week," their mother said. "It's important for everyone involved to be able to touch. Everyone should be able to touch their family member.”

The Board of Correction will vote on the proposed rule change on Tuesday, November 10th.

UPDATE: Monica Klein, a spokesperson for the Mayor's Office, emailed us this statement:
Each of DOC's rule changes is aimed at reducing violence associated with contraband coming into the jails and providing the necessary flexibility to manage a small population of very violent offenders. The goals of the visitation policy is to provide a common-sense approach that reduces drugs, weapons and other contraband from entering the jails while respecting our inmates’ legitimate needs to maintain ties with family members and the community. The department remains at the forefront of national jail reform efforts, thanks to Commissioner Ponte’s plan to remove all inmates age 21 and under from punitive segregation.

April 23, 2015

Crisis of Violence in Georgia Prisons

A shocking photo of inmates taken at a Georgia correctional facility could intensify a halting effort in the United States to alleviate poor prison conditions that can lead to unchecked barbarism likened to an American Abu Ghraib.
The picture from Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia, shows three young and shirtless African American male prisoners. One of them is pointing at the camera as though holding a gun, another is holding a makeshift leash, and the third, an 18-year-old, is on his knees, his left eye swollen shut from a beating and the leash lashed around his neck.
The image is shocking on several levels, including its similarity to the Abu Ghraib torture pictures, that a contraband cell phone was used to capture the degradation, and that prison officials didn’t witness the mass beating and subsequent humiliation of a young man serving an eight-year sentence for aggravated assault after first being arrested for armed robbery as a 14-year-old.

Prison-system critics say the image offers poignant insight into a broader problem of prisoner-on-prisoner violence in many U.S. correctional facilities, not just in Georgia, and the extent to which those experiences influence “young men who will be back among us one day,” as Sarah Geraghty, an Atlanta human rights lawyer, put it.
Wide-ranging reaction to the degrading photo also illustrates America’s evolving views about the confluence of punishment and humanity, and the extent to which society tolerates prison violence as a form of deterrence.
“I think this picture can go a long way toward galvanizing a discussion about what prisons are for—particularly, does anybody believe that these men are deterred by prison?” said Jonathan Simon, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
“You have to ask yourself: If the basic story that we tell ourselves is that it’s all about laws and sending people to prison because they violated laws and harmed other people, how can we possibly justify sending them to a place where that is happening to them?” Simon said. “If that’s our idea of punishment, then we have conceded the point that there’s a difference between crime and law.” 

In Georgia, reaction among prison officials to the picture was immediate and strong. The beaten inmate was moved into protective custody, and the state Department of Corrections moved to find and punish the torturers. More broadly, new policies and detection technology have led to mass confiscation of cell phones, which have been tied to violent extortion schemes involving inmates and their family on the outside.
“First and foremost, the Department does not tolerate contraband and takes very seriously its mission of protecting the public and running safe and secure facilities,” spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The problem plaguing the corrections system nationwide is one that the [Georgia DOC] is aware of and continuously works to utilize extensive resources to combat this issue.”
Yet critics say the Abu Ghraib–like photo is emblematic of the kind of violence that regularly occurs in Georgia’s prisons. In a 2014 report called The Crisis of Violence in Georgia’s Prisons, the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta documented dozens of similar ordeals and argued that Georgia has seen an increase in the “number of really brutal incidents.”
Those include a prisoner who was airlifted to a burn center after fellow inmates poured bleach in his eyes and boiling water on his privates. In another case, a prisoner had three fingers severed by an inmate wielding a 19-inch prison-made machete. In another, a prisoner was tied to his bed and beaten, remaining a hostage until guards found him—two days later.
Root causes of such violence include failure of basic security, inadequate supervision, and accessibility to lethal weapons and cell phones, the report concluded.  
But while Georgia’s problems with violent prisons are significant, it’s far from the only state where life inside sometimes devolves into outright blood-sport degradation.
Indeed, it was California that became the poster child for “horrendous” prison conditions, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
In a 2011 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that California prisons overcrowded by long-term incarceration policies violated the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. In 2006, there was one preventable inmate death a week inside California’s sprawling prison complex. The opinion referenced several photos of prison conditions, including a picture of a suicidal prisoner who was “held in...a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic.”
Aside from mandates to slim down California’s prison population, the ruling’s most lasting contribution came from Justice Anthony Kennedy. “Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons,” he wrote.
Kennedy’s stance represented a rejection of what University of Pennsylvania law student Sara Mayeux, in an article for, called “a deeper cultural pathology: the tendency to imagine prisoners as an undifferentiated mass of uncontrollable criminality, not as human beings with organs that fail and extremities that break.”
Still, problems remain deep and endemic in states like Georgia. It’s a system, the human rights report argues, “in which prison officials have lost control.”
Aware of such problems, political leaders in Georgia and other Southern states have begun to recognize that overreliance on incarceration and mass imprisonment has itself become a problem that affects society.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in 2011 that his get-tough-on-crime views had been tempered over time. “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” Gingrich pointed out. “The criminal-justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
Fighting off tears, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012 signed a law to help keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.
Patrik Jonsson is The Christian Science Monitor's Atlanta correspondent, covering the South. He has written for newspapers in New Hampshire, and The Boston Globe
This story was produced by The Christian Science Monitor.

March 19, 2015

No Rape Instead Consensual Sex on England and Wales Prisons

‘Sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue,’ said Frances Crook of the Howard League. 
 ‘Sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue,’ said Frances Crook of the Howard League. Photograph: Alamy

Rape is extremely rare in prisons in England and Wales, whereas consensual gay sex, pornography and masturbation is widespread and accepted, according to the findings of the first systematic review of sex between inmates.
The two-year commission on sex in prison, set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform, warns of an “urgent health issue” and calls for “coherent and consistently applied policies which recognise and respond to the reality of consensual and coercive sex in prison”.
The commission was blocked by the Ministry of Justice from interviewing current inmates, so instead based its research on in-depth interviews by a criminologist, Dr Alisa Stevens, with 26 former prisoners who spoke for the first time about their experiences.
Gay and bisexual ex-prisoners reported that while they were able to be open about their sexuality on the wing, they were discreet about their sexual activities and relationships.
They usually had sex in the cell of one of the participants or in the showers during periods of association. Some men who shared cells had sex at night despite official prison policy that men who are discovered to be in a sexual relationship should be separated and not allowed to share a cell.

One heterosexual man said that he had sex with gay or bisexual prisoners “out of necessity” and had resumed exclusive heterosexual relationships since leaving prison: “I’m completely straight. What happened then was just about having my sexual needs met, in a particular time and place where I couldn’t get [heterosexual] sex.”
The researchers found that the availability of condoms and dental dams to minimise the risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections varied widely from prison to prison. Some of those interviewed had been refused condoms while others could get them from healthcare but in circumstances that didn’t allow for any privacy.
The two women ex-prisoners who were interviewed said they had not had personal experience of sex in prison but were aware that “close friendships” were commonplace: “I couldn’t believe how much kissing and cuddling was going on,” said one. “It was a big, big shock, a big culture shock. Someone like me, never been in prison before. I didn’t know where to look half the time!”

The former prisoners insisted that coerced sex was rare behind bars. Three male interviewees disclosed that they had been raped by other prisoners, and three others had been threatened with rape while they were in prison.
One had been raped by five assailants in a cell but was dissuaded from making a formal complaint by a prison officer. He was advised that “grassing” on other prisoners at such an early stage in his long sentence would “mark his cards” for the rest of his time inside.
The researchers also found a tacit acceptance by prison staff of both pornography and masturbation. One interviewee recalled how, feeling “overwhelmed and nervous” on his first night, he asked for a bible. He was told apologetically by an officer that they had no bibles but he could offer him some pornographic magazines to “help you get to sleep”.
Stevens said: “This research has illustrated the urgent need for coherent and consistently applied policies which recognise and respond to the reality of consensual and coercive sex in prison.”
Frances Crook, the director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This final report of the commission shows that sexual activity is widespread in prisons and must be seen as an urgent health issue. The commission has conducted the first systematic review of sex in prison and it is clear important lessons must be learned, and fast.”
A HM Prison Service spokesperson said: “We do not condone sex in prisons or believe that prisoners in a relationship should share a cell. 
“We take the report of any sexual assault incredibly seriously and ensure that victims are supported and protected. Every incident is fully investigated and careful analysis is currently taking place to help understand the reasons behind sexual assaults in prisons.”
The spokesperson said the rise in referring cases to the police showed commitment of HMPS to tackling the issue: “We have introduced a new protocol with the police and crown prosecution service to introduce a new approach to further aid the investigation of crime in prison.”

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