Administrators Fired at Privately-Run Texas Jail

Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

By Prison Legal News

The warden and head of security at the Liberty County Jail (LCJ) in Liberty, Texas have been fired in the wake of allegations that the chief of security sexually assaulted a female prisoner at the facility. The 285-bed jail is operated by the New Jersey-based Community Education Centers (CEC), a for-profit company.

Warden Timothy New and Chief of Security Kenneth Reid Nunn were fired in September 2012, just days after the county received a notice of claim from attorney Paul Houston LaValle on behalf of former LCJ prisoner Brandy Nichole O’Brien. O’Brien had been incarcerated at LCJ for failing to make timely child support payments.

According to the notice of claim, O’Brien “was repeatedly subjected to assault and battery, sexual assault, deviant sexual assault, humiliation, degradation and intentional infliction of emotional distress at the hands of Chief of Security Kenneth Reid Nunn and others” while incarcerated at the privately-run lock-up.

“Further, when Chief Nunn was repeatedly caught violating my client’s rights by other members of the jail staff or sheriff’s office, my client was threatened, coerced and coached on the statements she gave to investigators by Warden Tim New and others,” LaValle wrote.

In a statement announcing the terminations of New and Nunn, CEC said it was working with law enforcement to investigate staff at the jail.

“The allegations, which have just come to the company’s attention, apparently began approximately a year ago when, as a weekender, [O’Brien] encountered the jail’s former employees and began cooperating with law enforcement,” said CEC representative Christopher Creeder.

Liberty County has a $4 million annual contract with CEC to operate the jail. CEC manages eight secure facilities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas, and “provides a full range of therapeutic residential and non-residential reentry services with a documented record of reducing recidivism,” according to the company’s website.

Sources: www.yourhoustonnews.com, www.cecintl.com, www.libertytxsheriff.com

(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)

Prison Closures Cause Economic Turmoil

By Prison Legal News

Shrinking state budgets across the country are leading to prison closures that in turn have a negative impact on communities that depend on the facilities as a source of jobs and revenue. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.1; April 2009, p.1]. Small towns in Kentucky, Georgia and New York are among those facing recent adjustments to this new economic reality, but some local residents and lawmakers have fought back with campaigns to keep the prisons open.

The city of Wheelwright, Kentucky was hit hard by the closure of the 600-bed Otter Creek Correctional Center, a prison owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Officials said over 170 jobs were lost, although CCA pledged to relocate as many employees as possible to other facilities. The company said the June 2012 closing of Otter Creek was necessary after Kentucky did not renew its contact to house state prisoners at the facility.

“A lot of them [the employees] live within the city and a lot of them live in the community, you know,” said Andy Akers, Wheelwright’s mayor. “We’re a tight knit community around here.” Just before the closure of the prison, Akers had predicted a devastating impact on local businesses, fearing the city’s economy would suffer.

“If you don’t have jobs you can’t spend money at them. Money keeps rolling over and over when you spend it,” he said. “I hate to see it closing, but if there’s any way we can help we’re trying.”

Kentucky also declined to renew its last contract with CCA in June 2013, to house prisoners at the company’s 826-bed Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary. State officials said the decision would save $1.5 to $2.5 million per year, and the prisoners will be moved to other facilities. CCA vice president Steve Owen said the non-renewal of the contract, resulting in the closure of the prison, was “disappointing” – though he was likely referring to the economic impact it would have on the company rather than the local community.

Kentucky DOC spokesperson Jennifer Brislin said the state would assist the 166 CCA employees whose jobs were eliminated due to the facility’s closure.

“We understand that this creates uncertainty for them,” she stated. “We’re mindful that this creates an enormous challenge.” However, “It’s just to help with applications and the like,” she clarified. “Obviously, that doesn’t guarantee a job” elsewhere.

Additionally, CCA announced in December 2013 that it would be closing the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville, Georgia due to a decline in the number of immigration detainees held at the facility. The closure will affect around 130 employees.

City Manager Kip Padgett said they “will be exploring all options for future use of the facility”; Gainesville had expected to receive $825,000 in rent from the CCA-operated detention center for fiscal year 2014. The facility also had a $7 million payroll and CCA spent around $295,000 with local businesses.

“It was news to us,” Gainesville Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Hamrick said, in regard to CCA’s unexpected announcement that it was closing the detention center. “Obviously, it is a blow to our employment here. But, hopefully, we can come up with some way to not only absorb the employees that will be laid off but also to find some use for that facility.”

In New York, a community group organized to prevent the state from closing the Chateaugay Correctional Facility as scheduled on July 26, 2014, which will eliminate up to 111 jobs with a $5.8 million annual payroll. The Save Chateaugay Correctional Facility Task Force published a 30-page booklet describing the impact the closure will have on the community and Franklin County.

For example, the booklet compares the number of jobs lost in Chateaugay to the equivalent of 6,000 jobs lost in Brooklyn. It also notes that Chateaugay is the state’s newest medium-security prison, and that it will cost less to operate once the facility starts using natural gas instead of fuel oil, taking advantage of a pipeline project in the county.

Chateaugay is one of four prisons scheduled to close under a proposal announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in July 2013, but state lawmakers questioned whether the closures are truly justified. State Senator Kathleen Marchione, who has been critical of the plan, said “misplaced priorities” are to blame for closing 15 New York correctional facilities since 2011. She said she will fight to keep open the Mt. McGregor prison, a medium-security facility located in the legislative district she represents.

“The closure of Mt. McGregor would cost our community 320 public safety positions and hurt the local economy,” Marchione argued. “I disagree with the administration’s closure proposal that would impact the public safety professionals who serve New York with honor and work in some of the toughest, most stressful and dangerous conditions imaginable.”

In addition to Chateaugay and Mt. McGregor, the Cuomo administration has announced the closure of the Butler Correctional Facility in Red Creek and Monterey Shock Facility in Beaver Dams. Closing the four prisons will save an estimated $30 million.

Groups that represent prison employees have mounted opposition to the closures, claiming that shutting down the four facilities does nothing to alleviate the condition of more than 10,000 state prisoners who are still double-bunked due to steps taken by former Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1990s to address prison overcrowding.

The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association called the state’s decision to close the prisons “political posturing,” “insulting” and “a show of disrespect.” The association called on its members to hold rallies, sign petitions and contact their legislators to oppose the closures, urging them to “Stand with your brothers and sisters and stop the closures of more prisons and mental health agencies! Enough is enough! Your facility could be next!”

Local resolutions have been passed by officials in the cities and counties affected by the prison closures, including the towns of Wilton and Chateaugay as well as Chemung, Franklin, Wayne and Saratoga Counties.

Contending that the legislature was blindsided by the Cuomo administration’s plan, Senator Marchione and State Assemblyman James Tedisco both introduced bills that would require approval by state lawmakers before any prisons could be closed. The legislation would also require the state to announce closings at least a year in advance.

Although the four facilities are expected to close as planned, the legislature imposed a two-year moratorium – until July 2016 – on any further prison closures.

Officials with the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) said the crime rate in New York has fallen 13% over the past decade, reducing the need for prison capacity. Further, the state’s prison population has dropped nearly 24% since 1999, from 71,600 to around 54,100.

“As the inmate population has continued to decline, prisons that are no longer needed can close,” stated DOCCS Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci. “By pursuing policies that are tough, smart and fair, we can maintain or improve public safety on the outside, so there is less need to put offenders on the inside, delivering great savings to New York.”

Meanwhile, prison officials pledged to do what they can to soften the impact on state employees. “At the time of the closure announcement there were 673 employees at the four facilities,” according to a DOCCS statement. “As of February 3, 2014, there were 386 staff remaining, and DOCCS personnel have been holding another round of meetings with those staff members to assist in planning their transitions.”

State officials noted that since the closings were announced there has been “a gradual transition of staff to other prisons, other state agencies or retirement.”

Sources: www.wkyt.com, www.floydcountytimes.com, www.pressrepublican.com, www.legislativegazette.com, www.gainesvilletimes.com, www.abc12.com, www.mlive.com, www.corrections.com, Associated Press, www.kentucky.com, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, www.nyscopba.org

(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)

Wounded Warrior

Image courtesy thyblackman

Image courtesy thyblackman

By Anthony Tinsman

Two time combat veteran Roosevelt 'Pokey' Adamson Jr. was facing a life-changing federal conviction in 2007. It wasn't his first offense.  Pokey had previous possession convictions, an offense with a 70.2% re-arrest rate (Department of Justice, 1994). "I had a problem with the man upstairs." He says. Pokey read the bible for the first time in jail, and he had an idea. "Writing is a better way to make a living, cause back in the day I'd say I'd stop the street game, but as soon as it got bad I'd go right back. Writing became my purpose." During this period in Pokey's life his mother passed-away, less than a year later he was sentenced to 22 years.

While serving time in Edgefield USP in South Carolina, and Pollack USP in Louisiana, he met author Billy Sims, who publishes as Cordess Sims. His imprisoned publishing history intrigued Pokey and the two became friends. Sims’ books had been exploited for years, including Nikki Turner’s urban genre publishing company, Nikki Turner Presents. With help from family, Sims began self-publishing. His urban detective series 'God Sends' sold on e-book and was a fan blog topic. Due to the popularity of one character, Echoe, Sims wrote 'The Weight Of Echoe' which sold 50,000 copies in the first two weeks. "Watching Sims work was inspiring." Pokey says. Sims wrote and mentored other writers to unwind through his 25 year sentence, but Pokey saw a way to do much more.

Having served in the U.S. military from '88-'92, Pokey had his own war stories. On December 20th, 1989 he was among the first troops of the 82 Airborne dropped into Panama. "They rigged us in flight, the red light came on, we got in line, but I got stuck in the door. They had to cut me loose." He landed a quarter mile off the drop zone in head-high elephant grass. Ready for a fight, Pokey caught the scare of his life when radio chatter crackled on the other side of the grass. "We had a code, but I forgot all that, I just yelled 'Who the hell are you!'". Lucky for him it was an old friend, Scott, from Bravo Battery 319 calling ground support. "I remember Scott yelling, 'Pokey is that you?" He laughs. Pokey also went into combat in 1991, during Desert Storm. The many friends in the Army are a factor in his motivation to write, "I want to stay in contact with them." He explains.

"I've got plans." Pokey showed me his portable office, a well-worn grey mesh gym bag full of typing supplies, and brochures and letters from vendors. He doesn't need eligibility for the Veterans Entrepreneur and Small Business Act of 1999 to empower him, Pokey is working on a personal mission. His first series 'Da Streetz Keep Call'n' is currently being edited and Pokey is negotiating with a publisher, Book Baby. He plans on calling up old friends stationed near Fort Bragg to help promote the books on base and has gathered advertising information from urban magazines in anticipation of the series’ release.

Pokey has two daughters, writing them from prison adds a new dimension to his plans. "Writing letters keeps our relationship alive," he says, "But I want to help them through college, and I've seen what Urban fans can do when they want to support someone. So I have to get their attention." His stack of folders contain typed and hand written pages, and brochures for the wounded warrior project. He plans on donating to them if it is appropriate, "I know I can do this." He hopes for a good reception when his books launch in the fall of next year. Pokey's 11 other manuscripts await publication. "When I'm ready for pre-publication orders I'll get the word out," he says. With this much motivation and clarity you can only cheer him on. When asked how writing has benefited him so far Pokey grins, "It has changed my entire way of thinking."   

***

Submit your stories for consideration. Stories containing writing tips, experiences with writing a book, publishing or promoting books from prison are requested. Submissions should be 500-800 words. Include a signed agreement allowing the editor/author and future publisher to use your story. Send typed or handwritten submission before January 1st to: Mr. O (Attn: Submissions) 649 N. Rupple Rd., Fayetteville, AR, 72704.

_______

Author: 

Anthony Tinsman is a PEN award-winning author and the designer of Take a Load Off, an evidence based prisoner re-entry program taught in federal prison. He is an advisory Board Member to the ICBRP (International Board of Recovery Professionals).

He is serving a mandatory minimum 35-year sentence for Armed Bank Robbery. He is a first time offender.

Tinsman's published work includes Hungry Robot, a children's bed-time story. His next book – Book Of Prosper – is a collaboration with Michael Collins and will be available later this year.

Why Prison Reform Is Good For All Of US

Image courtesy jjie.org

Image courtesy jjie.org

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

According to educator and author, David Chura, advocating for prison reform does not mean “soft on crime.” What it does mean is people who can see the truth are tired of watching the prison system working against crime and safety.

When Chura and other prison reform advocates propose approaches to lower the recidivism rate, they are met with disapproval from skeptics who are not seeing the whole picture. They are being accused of being bleeding hearts that care more about criminals than the safety of society.

Nothing could be further from the truth.    

When Chura writes or gives lectures about his work with minors in prison and describes the dreadful conditions inside prison, he is accused of caring too much about the comfort of inmates and not caring about victims of crime.  

What the general public does not understand is that the general devastated state of the prison system has a profound negative impact on everyone. Inmates who are not rehabilitated end up reoffending, making citizens vulnerable to crime. Correctional officers are working in deplorable conditions that are detrimental to their mental health. Victims of crime are not safe when offenders are not properly rehabilitated and held accountable, and taxpayers are paying for punitive correctional practices that are not working.    

The current condition of American prisons do not foster restoration and community safety. Anyone who spends time in an environment that breeds violence is not going to be fit for society. Added to that, many inmates return to society with anger about the inappropriate lengthy time they spent behind bars for non-violent crimes.  Worse yet, innocent people spend decades incarcerated for crimes they did not commit because of incompetent law enforcement, competitive prosecutors, accepting bogus plea-bargains or standing up for the truth and refusing to plea out.      

All of these people, innocent or not, live needlessly in a toxic, overcrowded environment with the smell of clogged plumbing, body odor, and constant shrieking noises. All inmates whether they committed a heinous crime or a minor crime reside under the constant threat of violence and intimidation. The rule “trust no one” is staunchly followed in order to survive the unpredictable setting of prison. If you let your guard down or don’t follow the rules, a small infraction can land any inmate in solitary confinement for months or even decades.

How can anyone justify that inmates are “getting what they deserve” looking objectively at the way the system operates? If you can see through a clear lens --- clear of judgmental debris, how can anyone believe a system that cultivates fear, hostility, and hopelessness can prevent crime? 

The whole situation will continue to be a vicious circle unless everyone gets on board the prison transformation band wagon.

Criminals are not the only victims. Victims of crime are reproduced and continue to suffer when non-rehabilitated offenders are set free to reoffend. Communities are re-victimized and no one feels safe.

Children sentenced as adults and detained in adult prisons compound the problem. Thirty-four percent (34%) more of juvenile offenders who serve time in adult prisons not only return to society more violent than when they went into prison, but are more likely to offend than their peers that remain in the juvenile system.

Recreating a system that is putting everyone in jeopardy is not being “soft on crime”----- it is practical.  

Fixing a broken system does not mean giving inmates “warm fuzzies” and making them more comfortable. The common sense solution is to educate offenders and provide them with skills that will enable strong productive citizens. Reentry programs that support ex-offenders to stay on the straight and narrow road are what is going to keep communities safe rather than a system based on retribution and “it serves them right.”

Financial cynics may complain, but they need to weigh the benefits with the damage that has been going on for too long.

Chura responds to his critics by gently reminding them, “You can call it soft. I call it the only way.”

Racial Justice Act

Governor Pat McCrory / Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com

Governor Pat McCrory / Image courtesy huffingtonpost.com

By Prison Legal News

In June 2013, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation repealing the state’s Racial Justice Act of 2009 (the Act), a controversial law that supporters said was an effort to address racism in death penalty cases. Opponents, however, argued it merely clogged the legal system and denied justice to victims of the state’s 154 prisoners sentenced to death.

“Nearly every person on death row, regardless of race, has appealed their death sentence under the Racial Justice Act,” Governor McCrory said in a statement that accompanied his repeal of the law. “The state’s district attorneys are nearly unanimous in their bipartisan conclusion that the Racial Justice Act created a judicial loophole to avoid the death penalty and not a path to justice.”

The Act was passed following the exoneration of three North Carolina prisoners who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. All were black. [See, e.g.: PLN, Aug. 2010, p.32].

The Racial Justice Act allowed condemned prisoners to challenge a death sentence “sought or obtained on the basis of race” if they could prove that race was a factor in their prosecution, jury selection or sentencing, and to petition to reduce their sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, slightly more than half – approximately 53% – of the state’s death row prisoners are African-American. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that blacks only comprise around 22% of the state’s population.

When the Act was passed in 2009, opponents contended it was a thinly-veiled attempt by a Democratic governor and a Democrat-controlled state legislature to essentially do away with capital punishment. Due to various legal appeals, North Carolina has not carried out an execution since 2006. Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010, and McCrory, a Republican, was elected in 2012.

“It [the Act] tries to put a carte blanche solution on the problem,” said Republican state Rep. Tim Moore. “A white supremacist who murdered an African-American could argue he was a victim of racism if blacks were on the jury.”

Colon Willoughby, the district attorney in Wake County, which surrounds Raleigh, the state capital, said death row prisoners can already petition to reduce their sentences on the basis of racial bias under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. He said the Racial Justice Act “came about and set up new artificial obstacles and barriers that were designed simply to put a moratorium on the death penalty and not to promote justice for anyone.” As a result, he argued, the Act did nothing but clog North Carolina’s courts.

“The premise of it is that somehow, because juries were white, that they discriminated against people, both white and black,” he said. “The whole underlying concept of it is ridiculous.”

“It’s incredibly sad,” countered Democratic state Rep. Rick Glazier, a long-time supporter of the Act. “If you can’t face up to your history and make sure it’s not repeated, it lends itself to being repeated.”

Four prisoners have had their death sentences reduced to life without parole under the Act, all in 2012. In Cumberland County, the court cited a study which strongly suggested racial bias in jury selection. Researchers from Michigan State University who studied North Carolina cases between 1990 and 2010 found that prosecutors removed black citizens from juries in murder trials at more than twice the rate of other races.

“We think that essentially this legislature is sweeping evidence of racial bias under the rug, and it’s really disappointing,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “Instead of looking at the cases that have passed as evidence of the necessity for the law, they have decided that it’s evidence that the law should be repealed.”

Preston and other legal experts said the question now is whether appeals still pending under the now-repealed Act will go forward or be dismissed. “Everyone who has made a claim under the Racial Justice Act is probably going to have to litigate over whether or not they continue to have a claim,” Preston said.

The North Carolina legislature had been chipping away at the law ever since Republican control in the state government grew stronger. In 2012, the state House and Senate overrode then-Democratic Governor Bev Perdue’s veto of legislation gutting the Act, replacing it with an amended law that made it more difficult for prisoners to challenge their death sentences. Instead of using race-related statistics from the entire state or region, appeals under the Act were limited to statistical data from the judicial district where the crime occurred. The amended law also specified that statistics alone were not enough to prove racial bias, and that the race of the victim could not be considered.

The amended Act was written by Republican House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, who touted the measure as a means of ending the lengthy halt to executions in North Carolina.

“With [the] override of the governor’s veto, the end of the moratorium is in sight,” Stam said following the July 2, 2012 vote to amend the Racial Justice Act. “The basic principal of justice is restored: individual responsibility.”

In debate leading up to the vote, local district attorneys and other supporters of the death penalty said changes to the Act would allow defendants to rely less on statistics that could mislead judges into finding that racism played a role in convictions and death sentences.

“I don’t trust statisticians or people who came in after the fact to find some way to get cold-blooded killers off of death row,” said state Senator Thom Goolsby, who is also a defense attorney.

“We should not allow racism to come into our courtrooms,” countered state Senator Floyd McKissick during the veto debate. “Race still impacts the minds and the hearts and the consciences of many people who serve on our juries.”

The Senate easily overrode then-Governor Perdue’s veto, but in the House the vote was 72-48 – exactly the 60% majority needed. After using her veto power, Perdue said she supported the death penalty. “But it has to be carried out fairly – free of prejudice,” she added.

In December 2012, following the legislative amendment to the Act, then-Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Weeks reduced the death sentences of three prisoners – two black and one Native American – to life without parole.

According to the American Bar Association, “Judge Weeks found that the prisoners met their burdens of proof ... through the use of statewide and county-specific statistical evidence, as well as non-statistical evidence. This ‘powerful evidence of race consciousness and race-based decision making’ included hand-written notes from the Cumberland County prosecutor that noted the race of potential jurors who were black, sometimes associating them with drug or alcohol abuse. The prosecutor also repeatedly noted which potential jurors lived in predominantly black neighborhoods.... The prosecutor’s notes did not indicate which potential jurors were white or lived in predominately white neighborhoods. Judge Weeks’ ruling also noted that prosecutors had a ‘cheat sheet’ that instructed prosecutors how to deflect charges of racial bias in jury strikes. In one case, the prosecution struck black jurors at twice the rate of white jurors; in the other two cases, the rate was four times as high.”

The court’s ruling was “based primarily on the words and deeds of the prosecutors involved in these cases,” Judge Weeks said. “Despite protestations to the contrary, their words, their deeds, speak volumes. During presentation of evidence, the court finds powerful and persuasive evidence of racial consciousness, race-based decision making in the writings of prosecutors long buried in the case files and brought to light for the first time during this hearing.”

Now that the Racial Justice Act has been repealed, however, whether death penalty cases in North Carolina will be “free of prejudice” – the phrase used by former Governor Perdue – is again a matter of debate.

On April 14, 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court agreed to hear appeals in the cases of the four prisoners whose death sentences were reduced to life without parole under the Act – Marcus Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine. Prosecutors are seeking to have their death sentences reinstated. The state Supreme Court is composed of seven justices; one is black and the other six are white. Not that race matters, of course.

Sources: www.journalnow.com, Raleigh News & Observer, www.cnn.com, The New York Times, www.wral.com, www.americanbar.org, Associated Press, www.ncapd.org

(Reprinted with Permission from Prison Legal News)