Prison inmates in California can now marry same-sex partners

The Prison Enquirer

From the article: “Effective immediately, all institutions must accept and process applications for a same sex marriage between an inmate and a non-incarcerated person in the community, in the same manner as they do marriages between opposite sex couples,” M.D. Stainer, director of the Division of Adult Institutions, stated in the memo.”

Gay inmates, however, cannot marry each other.
Read more here.

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Inmate Suicides in South Carolina Prisons

The Prison Enquirer

I think Castro has prompted a lot of interest in inmate suicide in general.  This article discusses suicide in SC prisons.  Since 2000, SC experienced 38 suicides.  In the same time period, 24 inmates were the victims of homicides.  The homicide number seems a bit high to me, because we definitely have a higher suicide to homicide ratio in Ohio.

Read more about SC prison suicides here.

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California prison hunger strike called off

The Prison Enquirer

From the article: “Inmates in several prisons were demanding an end to long-term solitary confinement and a halt to what is known as the “debriefing” policy, in which inmates are required to provide information on prison gangs to get out of solitary.”

Not sure how to feel about this.  On the one hand, I don’t support hunger strikes and I definitely don’t want inmates to endanger their lives.  I also think that giving in to the hunger striker demands (as we have done in Ohio) encourages people to hunger strike and perpetuates the problem.

On the other hand, kind of feel bad for the inmates that they fought the system…and lost.

Read more here.

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California Prisoner Hunger Strikes Won’t Stop Until Authorities Listen

Wilbert Rideau, one of “America’s most reformed criminals,” recently wrote an op/ed piece for The New York Times. Rideau overcame the odds and eventually won his release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, based on an unconstitutional all-white jury. Read more about Mr. Rideau in his great work In the Place of Justice. I was also lucky enough to have him guide a tour of the facility in 1999, as part of a Corrections criminal justice class at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, taught by a LA corrections expert and friend Burk Foster. Also, feel free to subscribe to the prison publication that Rideau helped revive and bring to national prominence, The Angolite, here.

Mr. Rideau discusses  a topic that I’ve always wanted to research and write more about: prisoner protest. He focuses on the current hunger strike taking place in California by more than 30,000 inmates who are refusing to eat. Their major complaints focus on conditions within the prison and the unbridled use of solitary confinement. He approaches questions that many outside of a prison’s walls might ask when observing these protests: why? What do these prisoners think they are going to accomplish? Do they think anyone cares about their issues?

What these people don’t realize is that there are people that do care about these prisoners’ conditions behind prison walls. Those people wear black robes and they head our nation’s highest courts, at the circuit court of appeals level and even at the Supreme Court. The constitution has, at numerous times in the past, provided the foundation for judges to declare conditions at certain prisons unconstitutional. At one point in our nation’s history, around thirty-five prisons, as well as the prison system of Puerto Rico, was under federal scrutiny. My research focuses on the courageous work of three federal court judges in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana in helping create constitutional prison farms during the 1960s and 1970s.

It was the work of the federal courts that helped create what Mr. Rideau considers to be one of the safest penitentiaries in the United States. This is quite a change from a prison that Collier’s once considered the nation’s bloodiest just a few decades earlier. Prisoners protest because they don’t feel like they have any other way to communicate their issues to authorities. Louisiana’s Department of Corrections has helped create a safer prison by giving prisoners a way to directly communicate to the warden to address their grievances. It’s human nature; when people are suffering, they want to be heard.

If prison authorities do not understand why thousands of inmates not directly affected by solitary confinement would join the protests, at great risk to themselves, they have only themselves to blame. They are victims of their own censorship.

If they were to listen to the inmates, they would understand that protests are almost always the product of what prisoners perceive to be officials’ abuse of arbitrary power. They are generally done by men made desperate by the lack of options to address their grievances. At the heart of the problem is a lack of open communications and freedom of expression.

Like Mr. Rideau states, these are reasonable requests. Often, these inmates simply want to be informed of why they are in solitary. They want to know when they will get out. They want to know what can be done to make their time in solitary end. They are not complaining because they want to live in the Hilton. They don’t want five-star room service. They simply want a prison experience that falls in line with the protections afforded them by the Eighth Amendment. Nothing more; nothing less.

The community outside of the prison walls also support the prisoners’ protest. Photo courtesy of the L.A. Times.

One can make interesting comparisons when studying the history of prisoners and prison protests when looking at the history of slaves and slave protests. When I think of some of the more popular prison protests, such as Attica, I simply don’t think those sort of protests would happen in the South the way they did then. I think the use of the prison farm in the South recreates the plantation style work system so much that prisoners in southern prison farms, such as Angola, would have to resort to those same sorts of protests slaves utilized during antebellum times: self-injuring to prevent work, breaking tools, resorting to laziness, playing sick, or simply trying to escape. Prisoners, like slaves, are constantly trying to carve out their own sphere within their prison environment. They can only do this by bucking the system, even in a way so trivial as breaking a tool. I hope to do a lot more research in this matter, but these are my thoughts right now. Angola prisoners have resorted to these sorts of protests, the most famous of which being some thirty inmates slashing their achilles’ tendons in 1951.

Sometimes, one resorts to the only tools of protest they have. These California protestors are doing the same. Until the authorities simply stop and listen, the protests will continue.

Federal Prosecutors in New York Secure Death Penalty for Ronell Wilson

Jurors in New York have handed down a rare death sentence to Ronell Wilson, convicted of killing two undercover detectives. What makes this even more interesting is that this was the second death sentence he was given. Federal prosecutors took the trial from the state of New York due to that state’s highest court striking down capital punishment. The US government successfully garnered a conviction and death sentence for Wilson, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it due to the prosecutor informing the jury that if Wilson had any remorse for his crime, he would have taken the stand. Kind of makes the Fifth Amendment pointless if the jury deliberates with this in mind.

His crime was particularly brutal:

On March 10, 2003, Mr. Wilson killed Detective Andrews, 34, and Detective Nemorin, 36, who were participating in a sting operation to buy an illegal gun. He shot each once in the back of the head at point-blank range on a secluded street on Staten Island.

Prosecutors would paint a remorseless picture of Wilson:

Prosecutors argued that prison alone would not do. The prosecutors showed a dramatic video of several guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn storming into a recreation pen to retrieve Mr. Wilson, who had refused to be handcuffed. When the guards emerged from the pen with Mr. Wilson, he smiled.

One of their witnesses described seeing a guard, Nancy Gonzalez, walk away from Mr. Wilson’s cell one day, leaving him there with his pants down and his genitals exposed. Mr. Wilson had several sexual encounters with Ms. Gonzalez, fathering a child, Justus, who was born in March.

The jury, in considering mitigating factors, including

Mr. Wilson’s difficult childhood, during which he shuttled between relatives as his mother, an alcoholic and drug addict, was often absent. He spent years in an overcrowded and squalid home, where the adults who influenced him were criminals.

Life in prison was punishment enough, Mr. Wilson’s lawyers argued, for someone who never really had a chance.

This was a very emotional trial for all involved in New York. Read more about it here, thanks to Mosi Secret of the New York Times.

Generational Similarities that exists within the Penal System

a voice from the inside

I just read an article yesterday that really blew me away. One of the things that I always hear, as most people, is how the various generations in this country are very different. I never understood this and why it is so important for people to hold strongly to those concepts that they identify the most with, within their generations. As apposed to seeking out the things that work and have been successful within all of these generations to make a better society. Well, yesterday I had one of those “aha” moments. One of those moments that spoke to my spirit and soul.

There is an article in The Sun magazine (July 2013) written by Katti Gray called, The Run-One Sentence, that spoke of the story of Eddie Ellis and his journey through a 25 year sentence and what he did with that time and how he lives now…

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