Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years

August 30, 2012

We’ve written at length about the case of Troy Anderson, a prisoner with mental illness who has spent more than ten years in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. This past April, a Federal District Court in Denver heard a case brought on Anderson behalf by students at the University of Denver Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic. As we wrote, “it was his untreated mental illness that first landed him at CSP, Anderson contends, and now the same symptoms are keeping him there indefinitely. Without proper treatment, he is unable to convince corrections officials that he’s fit for the general prison population. This catch-22, his lawyers say, condemns him to an effective life sentence under conditions that are increasingly being denounced as a form of torture—particularly when applied to mentally ill prisoners.” The suit claimed that Anderson’s treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and its guarantee of due process. Among other things, his lawyers pointed out that it has been more than a decade since Anderson had “felt the sun on his back.”

Westword‘s Alan Prendergast, who has also followed the case closely, reported earlier this week on the judge’s ruling in the case:

In what amounts to a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute “a paradigm of inhumane treatment” and must change — notably, so that inmates locked down in their cells 23 hours a day can have at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. “The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does forbid inhumane conditions,” U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson wrote in an order issued last Friday.

CSP has an interior courtyard that could be modified to permit outdoor exercise for inmates, Jackson notes. But since it opened in 1993, the state supermax has permitted its high-security inmates only to exercise in an odd-shaped room on each tier equipped with a chin-up bar; small holes allow some fresh air from outside to reach the room. Calling CSP “out of step with the rest of the nation” — even the notorious federal supermax in Florence allows its inmates outdoor recreation in individual cages — Jackson declared that prison officials must provide its charges with “meaningful exposure” to natural light and air.

Jackson’s ruling came in the case of Troy Anderson, 42, a mentally ill inmate serving an 83-year sentence stemming from two shootouts with police. He’s one of ten inmates who have been at CSP for ten years or more with hardly any exposure to the outdoors (except during transport to court) during that time. His lawsuit, filed with the aid of student lawyers from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, challenged several aspects of life at CSP, from mental health treatment to the policies that have kept him from progressing to a less restrictive prison, as unconstitutional…

On other issues, the judge ordered a fresh look at Anderson’s medication issues and mental health treatment. He adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward new policies that are supposed to address other inmate concerns about how inmates receive bad behavior reports, known as “negative chrons,” that can prolong their stay in solitary confinement without a clear appeal process.

At Anderson’s trial, other inmates testified about suicidal thoughts brought on by the severe isolation and being deprived of any exposure to the outdoors. “I go to bed crying sometimes because I feel I have no hope of being outside of that cell any more,” one said.

A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: Troy Anderson v. Colorado DOC



Death of Hunger-Striking California Prisoner Sparks New Outrage Over Inmates’ Suffering

Uploaded by Linda Mackenzie on August 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm Like Share Thanks! Share it with your friends!


democracynow.org – Questions are mounting over the state of CaDeath of Hunger-Striking California Prisoner Sparks New Outrage Over Inmates’ Suffering Uploaded by Linda Mackenzie on August 30, 2012 at 2:44 pm Like Share Thanks! Share it with your friends! democracynow.org –

Questions are mounting over the state of California’s prison system following the death of a hunger-striking inmate protesting conditions behind bars. Christian Gomez, 27, died at Corcoran State Prison, just six days after he and about 30 fellow prisoners began refusing food. Gomez was one of thousands of California inmates who have staged hunger strikes in 12 prisons since July after the US Supreme Court ruled that California prison overcrowding was causing “needless suffering and death” and ordered the state to reduce its number of prisoners.

We speak with Gomez’s sister Yajaira Lopez, and to attorney Carol Strickland of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “When he did get [to Corcoran State Prison], he did explain to us that he was participating in a hunger strike,” Lopez says. “They were fighting for fair treatment.”

California’s prison system following the death of a hunger-striking inmate protesting conditions behind bars. Christian Gomez, 27, died at Corcoran State Prison, just six days after he and about 30 fellow prisoners began refusing food. Gomez was one of thousands of California inmates who have staged hunger strikes in 12 prisons since July after the US Supreme Court ruled that California prison overcrowding was causing “needless suffering and death” and ordered the state to reduce its number of prisoners.

We speak with Gomez’s sister Yajaira Lopez, and to attorney Carol Strickland of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. “When he did get [to Corcoran State Prison], he did explain to us that he was participating in a hunger strike,” Lopez says. “They were fighting for fair treatment.”



United States private prison industry

Posted on April 27, 2012 by  copied


This video from the USA is called You Go To Prison, They Get Paid.By Dina Rasor, Truthout in the USA:

Prison Industries: “Don’t Let Society Improve or We Lose Business”

Thursday, 26 April 2012 10:20

One out of every 100 people in the United States is imprisoned. Even though we are 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the prisoners in the world. We are number one in the world in the number of people we imprison – we even beat China. A normal reaction to this situation would be to try to reform our laws, our judicial system – including sentencing – our prison system and our society so that we would not have the disconcerting distinction of being the number-one jailer in the world.

Instead, in the past decade, there has been a movement to privatize more and more of our state and federal prisons to save money (which has not materialized) and ease overcrowding under the pressure of the courts. This has led to a wide world of influence peddling, self-dealing and lobbying while preying on a captured group of people to fill prison beds. Just as I have feared that privatizing the logistics of war will encourage private war-service industries to lobby for a hot war or long occupation to keep their industries viable, there has emerged a group of prison industries, state and federal legislators, and other players who will continue to benefit from our disgraceful ranking as the world’s largest warden.

There are two very large and influential prison companies in the United States who are manipulating the system to make sure they have plenty of business: The GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). In the first part of this two-part series, I will explore The GEO Group’s influence peddling; next week, I will look at CCA.

If you have any doubt in your mind that improving society and lowering the number of prisoners in our country (normally considered a worthy social goal) is a threat to the prison industry business, all you need to do is to read about that concern in The GEO Group’s 2011 annual report:

In particular, the demand for our correctional and detention facilities and services and BI’s [a prison industry company Geo acquired in 2011] services could be adversely affected by changes in existing criminal or immigration laws, crime rates in jurisdictions in which we operate, the relaxation of criminal or immigration enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction, sentencing or deportation practices, and the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws or the loosening of immigration laws. For example, any changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.

This is an industry that needs misery, long sentences, rounded-up undocumented immigrants and increasing crime to flourish. In order to keep the prison beds filled, The GEO Group and others have paid out millions of dollars to lobbyists, federal and state legislators, and governors to allow our immigration problem to go unsolved, to make sure that no drugs are decriminalized and that an ineffective War on Drugs continues, and to make certain that long term prison sentences, like California’s three-strikes-and-you’re-imprisoned-for-life laws, keep a steady flow of revenue and profits flowing to their shareholders. They are also hoping that our national drop in crime is just a temporary trend.

According to California-drug-treatment.com: “Justice statistics also show that 47.5 percent of drug arrests in 2007 were for marijuana offenses. Also, almost 60 percent of state prison inmates who are serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity.” One can imagine that The GEO Group and others in the industry would be very concerned about the myriad of legislative bills and ballot initiatives floating around the country that threaten to legalize marijuana and reduce their number of paying “beds.”

America’s Top Prison Corporation: A Study in Predatory Capitalism and Cronyism. Dina Rasor, Truthout: “This week, I will tackle the largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and its unprecedented proposal to buy prisons from money-strapped states, as well as how CCA has gamed the system with trips through the revolving door, self-dealing and influence peddling. Just to set the stage as to how large the prison population is in the United States: our prison population is the highest in the world; one out of 100 US residents are in prison”: here.

Isn’t It Criminal to Put People in Prison so Corporations and Individuals Can Make a Profit? Here.

The Unbelievable Brutality Unleashed on Kids in For-Profit Prisons: here.

How America’s Largest Private Prison Operator Plans to Beat Corporate Income Tax. Christopher Francis Petrella, Truthout: “Although many on the left have rightly repudiated the myriad manifestations of prison privatization characterized, in part, by involuntary prison labor, ongoing health and safety violations, corporate financing and even ‘the New Jim Crow,’ few, if any, have called attention to the relatively obscure relationship between private prison companies and their IRS corporate classification filing status. Surprisingly, IRS filing designations might offer the public its clearest glimpse into the intentions of private prison companies behind closed doors”: here.

Yana Kunichoff, Truthout: “Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has ample reasons to pat itself on the back: … several of its facilities got over 98 percent ratings for ‘safety and security’ and it rounded off 2011 with a net income of $40.5 million in earnings. But below the spin is a different reality for the company and the prisoners that it oversees – food riots and abuse scandals”: here.

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital: here.

Christine Cegelis, Truthout: “There is probably no greater waste of our taxpayer money than the increased incarceration of our population. The state of Illinois had a prison population of 7,326 inmates in 1970; in 2012, the number has risen to over 48,000. Over that period of time, the state’s population has grown only by 12 percent. The average cost of incarceration is approximately $30,000 a year, and our Department of Corrections (DOC) has a budget of over $1.5 billion”: here.

Private Prisons Spend $45 Million on Lobbying, Rake in $5.1 Billion for Immigrant Detention Alone. Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress: “Nearly half of all immigrants detained by federal officials are held in facilities run by private prison companies, at an average cost for each detained immigrant is $166 a night. That’s added up to massive profits for Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group and other private prison companies”: here.

Mark Karlin, Truthout: “Michelle Alexander: The mass incarceration of poor people of color, particularly black men, has emerged as a new caste system, one specifically designed to address the social, economic, and political challenges of our time. It is, in my view, the moral equivalent of Jim Crow”:

The Free

by TheAnonPressMost importantly, you’re being urged to realize we’re all brothers and sisters, one species, connected by the basic instincts we have to socialize and protect one another. 2012 is not the year we wake up as a group, or a country, or even a planet, 2012 is the year we wake up as a species. However this can only be done if you want it to be, you hold the power in your hands.

Greetings citizens of the world, you’ve most likely heard of the recent exposure of the global security network called TrapWire. You may have also heard of the recent developments concerning the NDAA (or National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012). As time goes on it gets more evident that our situation is getting worse….

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In Sentencing Criminals, Is Norway Too Soft? Or Are We Too Harsh?

Liliana Segura on August 28, 2012 – 8:34 AM ET

 It’s not very often the concept of restorative justice gets much play outside scholarly publications or reformist criminal justice circles, so first, some credit for Max Fisher at The Atlantic for giving it an earnest look last week. In seeking to explain Norway’s seemingly measly twenty-one-year sentence for remorseless, mass-murdering white supremacist Anders Breivik—a sentence that is certain to be extended to last the rest of his life—Fisher casts a critical eye on the underlying philosophy that animates that country’s sentencing practices, finding it to be “radically different” from what we’re used to in the United States.

When it comes to criminal sentencing, he notes, the United States favors a retributive model—in which an offender must be duly punished for his crimes—over a restorative model that “emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself.” “I don’t have an answer for which is better,” he says at the outset, acknowledging that his own sense of outrage over Breivik’s sentence—like that of many Americans—“hints at not just how different the two systems are, but how deeply we may have come to internalize our understanding of justice, which, whatever its merits, doesn’t seem to be as universally applied as we might think.” This is true, and a promising place to start. The United States is uniquely punitive when it comes to sentencing compared to much of the rest of the world, whether the crime is murder or drug possession.

 Putting aside the death penalty, which lands us in dubious international company, in countries with life sentences on the books, prisoners are often eligible for release after a few decades. “Mexico will not extradite defendants who face sentences of life without parole,” the New York Times’s Adam Liptak noted in 2005 (Most of Latin America has no such sentence). “And when Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, was pardoned in 2000, an Italian judge remarked, ‘No one stays 20 years in prison.’ 

” The same article quoted Yale law professor James Q. Whitman, author of a book comparing US sentencing with Europe. “Western Europeans regard 10 or 12 years as an extremely long term, even for offenders sentenced in theory to life,” he said. Today, there are more than 41,000 people serving life without parole in the United States compared to fifty-nine in Australia, forty-one in England and thirty-seven in the Netherlands. That’s according to a study released this spring, which found that we are “in the minority of countries using several sentencing practices, such as life without parole, consecutive sentences, juvenile life without parole, juvenile transfer to adult courts, and successive prosecution of the same defendant by the state and federal government.”

In the United States, prison sentences have gotten longer and longer—a sea change that Americans have come to accept relatively quickly (largely because the targets have been people of color). Just a few decades ago in high-incarceration states like Louisiana, lifers were eligible for release in ten and a half years. Today in Louisiana, there is no longer parole for lifers, and thus virtually no hope of release, ever. And when it comes to crimes prosecuted under the War on Drugs, three-strikes sentencing and mandatory minimums have not only sent people away for life for minor drug offenses—an anomaly compared to the rest of the world—they have led to a current reality in which the vast majority of people arrested on nonviolent drug charges plead guilty—whether they are or not—in order to avoid such draconian prison sentences, a decision that can have lifelong implications.

To be fair, Fisher is not talking about US-style drug sentencing—or sentencing as it exists on the ground here at all. But he should have, because the fact that there are nonviolent drug offenders serving the same amount of time as convicted murderers in the United States is rooted in a Frankenstein version of the very retributive model he is writing about. The War on Drugs was ostensibly designed to harshly punish those responsible for massive harm to our communities (while in practice, ensnaring low-level offenders who harm no one, except possibly themselves).

Mandatory sentencing statutes, supposedly devised to fulfill a retributive ideal, have instead tied the hands of judges when it comes to imposing fair, proportionate sentences, leading to systemic perversions of justice. It is the reason New York has had to roll back its notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws. It is the reason the Supreme Court recently struck down mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile offenders.

And it is the reason our prison system is so disproportionately comprised of African-American men, who are perceived to be the most dangerous criminals in our society, and the most deserving of harsh punishments. But in a brief paragraph defining retributive justice in theory without addressing how it works in reality, Fisher doesn’t acknowledge any of this.

“At its foundation,” he writes, “…retributive justice is about enforcing both rule of law and more abstract ideas of fairness and morality. Crimes are measured by their damage to society, and it’s society that, working through the court system, metes out in-turn punishment…. In a retributive system, the punishment fits the crime, and 21 years in a three-room cell doesn’t come close to fitting Breivik’s 77 premeditated murders.” Even if you agree that Breivik’s twenty-one-year-sentence in a “three-room cell” with a TV, etc., is a grossly inadequate way of dealing with his barbaric actions, the notion that a retribution-based system hands out sentences that “fit the crime” is wildly and tragically false if the United States is your guide. In the United States, grandmothers are sentenced to life for first-time drug offenses. Mothers who fire a “warning shot” in self-defense at an abusive husband get twenty years in prison. Teenagers who kill their abusive pimp get sentenced to life without parole. Kids who commit crimes at 14 have been condemned to die in prison—getting raped along the way—with no consideration for their age, mental health or abusive upbringing.

People land on death row for failing to anticipate that an accomplice in a crime might kill someone—and people are executed for killings committed by others who then go free. The American model—which Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently summed up by musing, “I thought that modern penology has abandoned that rehabilitation thing”—is a system rife with injustice. But Fisher is less interested in confronting the problems of our criminal justice system than he is in getting to a harder, more abstract truth about Norway’s “gentler system,” which, he acknowledges, manages to “reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism”—three whopping accomplishments we might learn from. But “even if we accept all of the data suggesting that society as a whole is better off under a Norwegian-style restorative model,” he says, “those numbers don’t account for the more abstract, difficult-to-define sense of justice as its own inherent good.” There is, he says, “a basic human need for justice and fairness,” as evidenced by one study on the “moral outrage felt by those who witness transgressions” and another showing that “people who believe they’ve witnessed injustice become less happy.

” With Breivik in mind, he concludes, “Norwegian-style restorative justice subverts those human desires for justice and fairness.” Norwegians, of course, including survivors and their family members, seem to have widely accepted Breivik’s sentence, suggesting that the system has actually fulfilled their desire for justice and fairness (a fact Fisher acknowledges and finds “jarring”). “That’s how it should work,” one survivor of the massacre said of the sentence. “That’s staying true to our principles and the best evidence that he hasn’t changed society.” Like victims’ family members who oppose the death penalty in the face of a system that seeks to convince them that executions are for their own good, these voices should be amplified, not dismissed. There is little within the US system that fulfills this human desire for justice and fairness.

It is a system dramatically out of step with the rest of the world, one that overwhelmingly and disproportionately punishes the most vulnerable for some of the most innocuous crimes.

Theory aside, the American prison system is staggering proof of just how pathetically we have failed at defining—and delivering—“justice” using a retributive model. Fisher does grant that “the retributive approach absolutely has its pitfalls,” citing articles about solitary confinement and the plight of mentally ill prisoners in the United States, but, he maintains, “at least it’s meant to be just.

” Whether you think our system as it stands was ever about good intentions—a notion facing considerable backlash right now—this is bewildering if you care about. “