Eve Conant at The Daily Beast reports, “While insisting that they haven’t gone soft on crime, Republican governors and other party leaders are framing solutions to prison overcrowding and punitive sentencing.”
Click here to read the article.
On the heels of last month’s Supreme Court ruling on California’s prison overcrowding, Ohio state lawmakers have approved a bill that would let prison inmates out early and send low-level offenders to non-prison facilities.
Read more here.
Bill Gives Elderly Prisoners a Chance at Parole
Tegan Wendland, WRKF; LRN
The House Criminal Justice Committee approves a bill by Baton Rouge Rep. Patricia Smith giving inmates over the age of 60 an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing.
Angola Warden Burl Cain says the purpose of the bill is to give elderly non-violent prisoners a chance at parole in order to make room for inmates who have been convicted of more violent crimes.
Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton says she’s concerned about the safety of the public. But Burl says he’s confident in the parole board, and they wouldn’t release any prisoner who could potentially be a danger.
He says, of the 72 inmates at Angola over the age of 60, only 10 meet all the criteria to gain a hearing under the conditions set up under the bill.
The measure heads to the House floor for more debate.
Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court recently ruled. California has been ordered to reduce its prison population by more than $30,000 inmates.
Kaia Stern, Director of the Prison Studies Project at Harvard University was kind enough to send us this letter written by Eddie Ellis, the Director or Metro Prison Ministry. The letter addresses the power of language and the desire for those in prison to be identified as people and not the many other terms referring to incarceration.
AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR FRIENDS
One of the primary initiatives of The Riverside Church Metro Prison Ministry is to respond to the negative public perception about people formerly or currently incarcerated as expressed in the language and concepts used to describe us. When we are not called mad dogs, animals, predators, offenders and other derogatory terms, we are referred to as inmates, convicts, prisoners and felons. All terms devoid of humanness which identify us as “things” rather than as people. While these terms have achieved a degree of acceptance, and are the “official” language of the media, law enforcement, the prison industrial complex and public policy agencies, they are no longer acceptable for us and we are asking that you stop using them.
In an effort to assist our transition from prison to our communities as responsible citizens and to create a more positive human image of ourselves, we are asking everyone to stop using these negative terms and to simply refer to us as PEOPLE. People currently or formerly incarcerated, PEOPLE on parole, PEOPLE recently released from prison, PEOPLE in prison, PEOPLE with criminal convictions, but PEOPLE. We habitually underestimate the power of language. The bible says, “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” In fact, all of the faith traditions recognize the power of words and, in particular, names that we are given or give ourselves. Ancient traditions considered the “naming ceremony” one of the most important rites of passage. Your name indicated not only who you were and where you belonged, but also who you could be. The worst part of repeatedly hearing your negative definition of me, is that I begin to believe it myself “for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It follows then, that calling me inmate, convict, prisoner, felon, or offender indicates a lack of understanding of who I am, but more importantly what I can be. I can be and am much more than an “ex-con,” or an “ex-offender,” or an “ex-felon.”
The Riverside Church Metro Prison Ministry firmly believes that if we can get progressive publications, organizations and individuals like you to refrain from using the old offensive language and simply refer to us as “people,” we will have achieved a significant step forward in our life giving struggle to be recognized as the human beings we are. We have made our mistakes, yes, but we have also paid or are paying our debts to society. We believe we have the right to be called by a name we choose, rather than one someone else decides to use. We think that by insisting on being called “people” we reaffirm our right to be recognized as human beings, not animals, inmates, prisoners or offenders.
Accordingly, please talk with your friends and colleagues about this initiative. If you agree with our approach encourage others to join us. Use the new language in your publications, web sites and literature. When you hear people using the negative language, gently and respectfully correct them and explain why such language is hurting us. Please circulate this letter on your various list serves. If you disagree with this initiative, kindly write and tell us why at the above address or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps we have overlooked something.
Please join us in making this campaign successful. With your help we can change public opinion, one person at a time. Thank you so much.
In Solidarity and Love,
The Riverside Church Metro Prison Ministry
In this BBC piece entitled “US children cope with parents behind bars”, Zoe Conway visits a women’s prison near Baltimore in Maryland to find out how one family is coping with the separation.
On August 3rd, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, reforming the notorious “100-to-1″ ratio between crack and powder cocaine into an 18-to-1 ratio.
Families Against Mandatory Minimums reports,”In an Oval Office Ceremony today, President Barack Obama signed sweeping reforms to federal crack cocaine laws, reducing unduly harsh sentences for crack violations and repealing the five-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. This is the first time that a mandatory minimum drug sentence has been repealed since the Nixon Administration.
The new law does not eliminate the mandatory minimum for trafficking crack cocaine, however the infamous 100-to-1 sentencing ratio is now reduced to 18-to-1. Moving forward, 28 grams of crack cocaine will trigger a five-year prison sentence and 280 grams of crack will trigger a 10-year sentence. The law could affect an estimated 3,000 cases annually, reducing sentences by an average of about two years and saving an estimated $42 million over five years. The new law also increases sentences for drug offenses involving vulnerable victims, violence and other aggravating factors.”
For more detailed information about the history of the federal crack disparity and the changes that will result under the new law, go to the following link at FAMM’s website, www.famm.org.
In this documentary, set to be released in 2011, David Kaczynski sets out to tell the story of turning in the most sought after criminal in US history, his brother Ted, the notorious Unabomber. David’s journey intersects with three others, Gary Wright, Bud Welch and Bill Babbitt (and now, a fourth, Bob Curley), who together put a face on the death penalty and unexpectedly place the American justice system on trial.
The film follows the four men as they travel from New York to Texas, from Oklahoma to California on a road that takes them beyond crime and punishment and into their hearts and minds in “An American Journey.”
David is the Executive Director of New Yorkers For Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
See the trailer here http://www.qofj.com/media/AAL/Americanlife.html
Follow the film on Facebook.
Highlighting the fact that women make up 7% of the U.S. prison population, a Forbes.com commentary focuses on findings that the female prison population is growing at twice the rate of their male counterparts.
Click here to read the Forbes commentary.
Flozelle Woodmore, who served 20 years of a life sentence for killing her abusive partner, is among the rare few to have gained freedom after being sentenced to life in prison in California. Woodmore will organize friends and family members of people serving life sentences to advocate for change in the parole system.
In August 2007, after 10 parole hearings (and being found suitable six times), Woodmore was finally released from prison. While in prison, Woodmore obtained her GED, completed a vocational certification program, assisted with creating a battered women group, and became a member of an initiative to support youth at-risk of becoming ensnared in the criminal justice system. Since her release, Woodmore has been active in advocacy campaigns with a range of local and statewide organizations, in an effort tot reduce California’s reliance on incarceration and harsh punishment.
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