Resuming parole hearings is not enough

By Beth Shelburne April 24th 2020

On December 18, 2019, I watched Alabama’s parole board deny relief to every case it considered that day. It was the last day of parole hearings for the year, and I decided to observe the process in action after monitoring the data for months as paroles plummeted like an elevator with snapped cables. Under new leaders appointed by Governor Kay Ivey, the number of scheduled parole hearings dropped by more than half compared to the year before and parole grants fell to a new low of 15 percent.

I watched the three board members deny release to people convicted of both violent and nonviolent offenses, to people whose families practically begged for parole and promised to provide a stable home, and to people who were within six months of reaching the end of their sentences. I wondered why those cases were even scheduled for hearings when there are thousands of people with long-term sentences that could be considered. Between cancellations and fewer hearings under this regime, the backlog of parole-eligible people inside Alabama prisons has ballooned to over 4000.

Only two victims out of the 18 cases scheduled that day spoke out against paroling the person who committed a crime against them, but an officer with the attorney general’s office voiced opposition in 15 of the cases. The officer began testimony against each person with the same boilerplate introduction- “We are here to protest the parole of this inmate-” never saying the person’s actual name. She pointed out their prison disciplinary infractions with no context, and went over facts from their criminal cases like she was retrying the crime in court.

In one case, she argued against paroling a man who had served over 11 years for third-degree robbery. She casually mentioned that he agreed to a plea deal after first being charged with a more serious crime, suggesting that he was more dangerous than his record indicated. A parole hearing is not the place to relitigate criminal cases, or bring up accusations against someone that didn’t pan out in court. But apparently everything in these hearings is fair game, even holding people to a standard beyond their actual convictions.

The officer with the attorney general’s office sat at a table with members of a victim’s advocacy group, who accompanied the crime victims during testimony. On the table sat cups, a pitcher of ice water and a box of tissues. Conversely, the friends and loved ones who supported parole sat at an empty table across the room. There was no one to gently usher them through the intimidating process of speaking out in support of someone who has committed a crime. Many who advocated for parole stumbled through their statements, then silently filed out of the room after hearing the decision, shoulders hunched, faces cast down. It was an exercise in shaming, much like incarceration itself.

Whether we like it or not, parole is an integral part of Alabama’s criminal sentencing structure. We have indeterminate sentences, which means judges almost always impose a range of time someone must spend in prison, with parole being the most tangible way to cut that time and return to one’s family and community. Ideally, parole gives incarcerated people something to strive for, an incentive to stay out of trouble and participate in rehabilitative programs. It should be the vehicle to pull people out of incarceration, but our current parole apparatus finds new ways to punish, to demoralize, to take away the one thing left to cling to in the dark: hope.

It has always been difficult to make parole in Alabama, but never more so than today. We are one of only two states that does not allow the person being considered for parole to participate in their own hearing. Our system has always been fraught with politics, cloaked in opacity. In 2019, Alabama received an F in a study by the Prison Policy Institute that graded fairness in state parole systems. That failing grade was before Governor Ivey appointed Charlie “lock-em-up” Graddick as executive director for the agency, with a salary of $172 thousand a year, $68 thousand more than his predecessor.

For months after Graddick began, the agency doubled as a tough-on-crime propaganda machine, issuing a daily list of parole candidates it referred to as “murderers, rapists and robbers,” along with sensational details of their crimes lifted from media reports. Press releases on parole results included celebratory headlines- “Board denies parole for 14 violent felons.” The inflammatory rhetoric calmed down only after lawmakers questioned why the very agency that decides who gets out of prison seemed intent on making everyone in prison look as terrible as possible.

This board has denied parole in 85 percent of cases, only granting 133 paroles out of 866 cases considered so far this fiscal year. In the last fiscal year, 1,337 paroles were granted out of 4,270 cases considered, and those were the lowest numbers in 15 years worth of data. This board seems particularly hellbent on denying parole for anyone serving time for a violent offense, even when they’ve served decades in prison and demonstrated rehabilitation. Multiple studies show people typically age out of criminal behavior and there’s little public safety benefit in long-term sentences. Additionally, a 2018 study on recidivism by the U.S. Department of Justice found released property offenders are much more likely to be arrested than released violent offenders.

Mr. Graddick recently announced parole hearings will resume in May after canceling hundreds of hearings due to concerns about COVID-19. But it’s not enough to just resume hearings. To mitigate the swelling backlog, the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles must aggressively increase the number of scheduled hearings. Since November, current leadership has slated an average of 173 parole hearings a month, less than half the average number of monthly hearings in fiscal year 2019. If an estimated 300 people become eligible for parole each month, the board would need to hear approximately 460 cases per month for the next 2 years just to catch up. Right now 141 hearings have been scheduled for the entire month of May.  

The urgency to fix this crisis is truly a matter of life and death and all state leaders should insist that no more time be wasted. The state needs to establish an infrastructure, so all sides are supported in the parole process, not just crime victims and law enforcement. Alabama needs to provide a prison system that allows people to work toward achievable parole goals, instead of allowing unmitigated violence, corruption and apathy. And lastly, leaders must restore a meaningful chance at parole by demanding that the parole board evaluate people according to who they are now, not who they were when they committed their crimes. Every person waiting for a parole hearing, along with each person denied relief is yet another Alabamian at risk of having a prison sentence turn into a death sentence in the most overcrowded, violent prison system in the nation, which now faces the additional threat of COVID-19.

Call Your Governor to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 in Jails and Prisons

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Detainees in Module I at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
We need governors to act immediately so that we can protect the lives of people who are currently incarcerated in prisons, jails and detention facilities across the country.  The Innocence Project has signed on to a letter issued by a coalition of organizations calling on governors to act immediately to help protect people in prisons and jails and the larger community. We ask you to call your governor by filling out the form above and you’ll be connected.

Below are a few of the most vulnerable people who need relief:

  • Prioritize the immediate release of the elderly and medically vulnerable, including individuals who are pregnant or who have asthma, chronic illness, lung disease, or heart disease.
  • Release anyone who is within 18 months of his/her release date.
  • Urge a hold to all new state prison sentences for anyone who is currently not detained.
  • Release all people held on probation and parole technical violation detainers or sentences. Ensure no new jail or prison sentences based on technical violations.
  • Ensure that all people released from prison have a transition plan that includes seamless access to medical care and health-related services.
  • Ask parole boards to release all individuals who are currently on parole and develop an emergency process that can expedite parole hearings.
  • Create a framework that facilitates the expedient release of as many incarcerated individuals as possible.

Alabama Has the Deadliest Prisons in the Country. It Says It’s Looking for Reforms.

Governor’s panel to release suggested fixes; lawmakers to consider bills addressing corrections system

Sandy Ray held photos of her son, Steven Davis, during a press conference at the Alabama State House in Montgomery on Dec. 4, 2019. PHOTO: KIM CHANDLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—One afternoon in October, the warden at the prison where Sandy Ray’s son was serving time called to say he was hospitalized in critical condition, she recalled. He had fought with correctional officers who accused him of rushing at them with handmade weapons, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections.

When Ms. Ray arrived, her 35-year-old son, Steven Davis, lay in bed unconscious, his face swollen and disfigured, photos she took show. “He was unrecognizable,” Ms. Ray said in an interview after a demonstration for prison reform where she spoke publicly. “He looked like a monster.”

Mr. Davis died the following morning, and a medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by blunt-force injuries to his head. The state corrections department said the matter remains under internal investigation and has been referred to a district attorney, who will decide whether charges should be filed.

 

The case illustrates the challenges Alabama officials face as they seek to overhaul the state’s violent, overcrowded and understaffed prison system. Pressured by a Justice Department investigation and a federal lawsuit, Alabama has made some strides adding correctional and mental-health staff in recent years. But inmate homicides and the prison population are rising.

Other states are grappling with troubled prison systems as well. Recent rioting and fights in Mississippi’s correctional institutions have left seven inmates killed since late December and triggered a lawsuit backed by rap artists Jay-Z and Yo Gotti over prison conditions. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Thursday the state would implement several measures to address the problems, including screening for gang affiliations. Florida lawmakers also are weighing criminal-justice proposals to address staffing shortages, inmate assaults and other issues.

Pushed to the Brink

Though Alabama’s in-house prison population declined for years, it recently has crept up again, while assaults in correctional institutions continue generally to climb.

Graph showing the the capacity of Alabama's prisons designed for 12,000 and now housing over 27,000 and the rate at which assaults of every kind have increased significantly
Graph showing the the capacity of Alabama’s prisons designed for 12,000 and now housing over 27,000 and the rate at which assaults of every kind have increased significantly

When the Alabama legislature convenes on Feb. 4, addressing the prison crisis is expected to be one of its priorities. Lawmakers say they plan to consider a number of bills and seek additional funding, guided in part by recommendations due to be released soon by a criminal-justice panel formed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

“We’ve done a great job of identifying the issues,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris England, a member of the panel. “But if we can’t muster up the political will to actually invest in the system, then all this is meaningless.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center and others sued Alabama in federal court in 2014 over alleged failures to address the medical and mental-health needs of prisoners. Three years later, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found the correctional system’s handling of those needs “horrendously inadequate” and criticized severe staff shortages. He later ordered the state to hire more than 2,000 additional correctional staff by 2022.

Separately, the Justice Department last year issued the results of its investigation of Alabama’s men’s prisons, saying conditions there likely violated inmates’ constitutional rights. “An excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse and prisoner deaths occur within Alabama’s prisons on a regular basis,” the report said.

This undated image released by the Alabama Department of Corrections last April shows illegal contraband from the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The homicide rate in Alabama’s prisons—already the highest in the U.S., according to the Justice Department—is increasing. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 11 inmates were killed—more than in any year on record in the corrections department’s available data, which goes back two decades. In October, another three inmates were killed.

Faced with the possibility of a Justice Department lawsuit, the state is in continued discussions with the agency over how to address the problems cited, said a spokeswoman for Ms. Ivey. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The governor’s criminal-justice panel is expected to release its recommendations this week. They are likely to include proposals such as expanding pretrial intervention programs to keep people from entering the system and bolstering training programs for inmates due for release, said Republican state Sen. Cam Ward, a member of the panel.

Ms. Ivey also is pursuing a plan to build three new prisons that would replace around a dozen old facilities and allow for improved mental-health, vocational and other services. The arrangement calls for a private contractor to build the prisons and lease them to the state. Proposals by four developer teams are expected by spring.

“Our infrastructure was not designed to rehabilitate. It was designed to warehouse,” said Jefferson Dunn, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections. “We’re trying to update that.”

The state has made gains in prison mental-health staffing, increasing the number of contracted positions to 263 in September 2019 from 212 in December 2017.

Yet the number of correctional officers and supervisors only began increasing notably in the third quarter of last year. As of September, the tally reached 1,659, still far short of the target number of 3,826 under the federal judge’s order.

The state’s record-low unemployment rate of 2.7% makes it challenging to lure applicants.

Though changes to sentencing guidelines in the past decade helped reduce the prison population, it has been climbing for more than a year. In October, the most recent reporting period, Alabama’s inmate population in prisons operated by the corrections department was 21,081, at 170% of facilities’ capacity.

Leesha Thomas, who has a husband and three brothers in Alabama prisons and regularly speaks with them, said the atmosphere inside is volatile. Clashes erupt constantly, she said, and inmates equip themselves with handmade weapons to defend themselves.

“It’s either fight and defend yourself, or they’re going to jump on you, rape you and take all your food,” Ms. Thomas said.

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com

Article originally published here 

 

Set Our Women Free!

Set Our Women Free!
Set Our Women Free!

Over the last 5 or 6 years we’ve seen Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioners, come and go, we’ve seen State Governors come and go, we’ve seen a lurch towards the extreme political & evangelical right challenging long standing laws protected under Federal law, we’ve seen lawsuits filed by the SPLC, EJI & ADA gain traction in the Federal court, with Judge Myron Thompson ruling that ADOC must immediately hire hundreds of extra correctional officers and improve the mental health care for inmates, we’ve heard Gov. Kay Ivey claim that she will fix the prison system by appointing a management team and building huge new prisons at a cost of approximately $1 Billion to private companies, and then lease them back at a cost of approximately $80 Million per year to us the taxpayers.

The state also hired an attorney that exasperated many during the inaugural meeting of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, when the attorney representing the state denied that state prisons are overcrowded, you really couldn’t make this up, and oh the taxpayers are paying him too.

Prison overcrowding is well-documented by the Alabama Department of Corrections as well as the United States Department of Justice investigations that threaten a prison takeover unless changes are made swiftly. At the December 4th 2019 Study meeting, many friends and family members of those incarcerated were there as well as members of the ACLU, and Alabamians for fair justice, that were allowed to address the panel and tell their stories of how there loved ones have been over charged, over sentenced, by over zealous prosecutors and judges and then warehoused in these hell hole prisons, to try and survive being raped, extorted, pimped out, beaten, stabbed and in many cases now, even murdered.

Jefferson Dunn, The current Commissioner of ADOC who incidentally had no prior correctional experience before being appointed as the head of the Alabama Department of Corrections, looked out of his depth and uncomfortable at the statements of these people that were relaying what they and their loved ones have endured during their incarceration, and he lacked cognitive responses to their questions. The retired Alabama Supreme Court Justice Champ Lyons seemed completely out of touch with reality when he asked one speaker if she was saying that Alabama prisons have a drug problem, to which literally every person in the room physically gasped or shouted are you serious? He then asked, well then how do the drugs get into the prisons, to which he was told the officers are the ones that take them in, along with phones and other contraband that they make hundreds of dollars on, by selling them to inmates.

ADOC has not been able to retain or recruit enough officers, indeed they have now resorted to training a new class of officers that do not have the full training or authority as that of a fully qualified corrections officer, these are known as “Basic” correctional officers.

Gov. Kay Ivey has appointed a retired and somewhat notorious Judge as head of the Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles and as such the rate at which eligible inmates are now paroled is at an all time low, compounding the fact that the already dangerously over-crowded prisons, will continue to see the prison population grow.

When do any of these people ever go into a prison? What exactly are we paying them for? Why has Jefferson Dunn never gone unannounced to any of the facilities that he is responsible for, to see how they really work? Its no good, him or any of the other commissioners going there on a scheduled tour like in the women’s facilities, where the women will have been made to paint the walls, clean everywhere and sit on their beds out of site whilst the commissioner strides around and is then never seen or heard of again? Why have none of the commissioners ever rolled their sleeves up and really gotten to grips with what is going on within the prisons and attempted to remedy the situation?

We are sick and tired of seeing our loved ones continually punished by the system. The “punishment” imposed by the court, is the loss of liberty, it did not state that they would be subject to abuse of every kind, demeaned, degraded and dehumanised and treated worse than second class citizens, it didn’t state that us family members would be humiliated by officers, discriminated against or would have the huge cost of phone calls and video visitation thrust upon us in an effort to maintain critical contact with our loved ones, or the heavy cost of commissary prices and hygiene or food packages. As women, they are often sentenced harsher and actually serve more time than a man would if convicted of the same crime. The hypocrisy is breathtaking where in Alabama, justice treats the rich and guilty better than they do the poor and innocent. Our public officials that are supposed to serve us, for too long have used their belief systems to sway political opinion and claim some moral righteousness to hand out Biblical justice, an eye for an eye right? Many people feel the same until they have a loved one that becomes involved in the system, then they see how Alabama justice really works.

The powers that be, want their transgressions and sins overlooked, all the way up to the highest levels of power in the land, they want to be forgiven and given a second chance, but they don’t want to extend the same courtesy to our loved ones that are sat behind bars. They will spend millions of dollars filing politically charged and frivolous lawsuits pretending to protect Alabamians rights, when in fact as shown in the Federal courts, they are not protecting our rights so much as they are pushing their beliefs and agenda upon us, and despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that ADOC receives per year from the Federal government and numerous other revenue sources, but they haven’t spent anything on maintaining the facilities, or on making improvements that may benefit the inmates, so where exactly has the money been going?

Their idea of justice is my idea of a one sided dog and pony nightmare where prosecutors can lie, withhold evidence, commit all kinds of ethics violations and even in the case of the 20th judicial district, according to a study by the EJI, put more people on death row than the states of Maryland, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado combined, even though it had a population of less than 100,000 at the time of writing, and no one in the Government thought to question why? No one stopped to wonder if maybe something is wrong in Houston County, or maybe they just have the worst population in the state? No one apart from the Equal Justice Initiative apparently took the time to measure the impact that this kind of “justice” would have long-term on the prison population. How many other counties operate the same way? Those prosecutors and judges won’t be held personally liable for any wrongdoings, but a poor defendant that can’t afford effective counsel, most certainly will be.

The Alabama criminal justice system needs complete reform.

Look i digress, my point has been that back in 2003 Tim Roche studied and then compiled a report which showed how the ADOC could safely release literally hundreds of women from ADOC’s work release facilities, even those branded with the political term “violent offender” which is extremely misleading, the report and recommendations are just as relevant today as they were back then, in my opinion the measures are even more desperately needed now.

Taking note of Mr Roche’s now 17 year old recommendations makes complete sense and it is truly baffling to try and understand why the ADOC would not use their discretion to move these hundreds of women through the system and allow them back into the community. Even the so called “violent offenders” are some of the most trusted, and hard working women that have been incarcerated for 10-15 years or more, often these women went into the criminal justice system having suffered domestic mental, physical and sexual abuse, they are most likely to have been suffering from depression or other mental illness and abuse alcohol or other substances, some are addicted to pain medication, they are strip searched frequently, have low self esteem and continually beaten down by the system, post conviction relief is extremely difficult with the statute of limitations, its also very expensive and as usual, its the poor that stand less chance of seeing any real kind of fair justice.

I wonder if any of those commissioners have ever stood and watched hundreds of women stand in line to use the only microwave in a facility, or stood in line to get a cold shower with brown water, or to hear the constant din of officers barking commands over the loud speaker, living in these conditions warehoused in dorms, packed in like sardines, seeing the known drug dealers have an easy life, when a woman that has kept her nose clean and done what’s she’s been told to do and followed the rules, gets routinely woken in the night for a complete shake down and strip search or be told she can no longer wear a pair of coloured socks, shows that it is incredibly frustrating for those that have made the effort to stay citation free and to improve themselves over the time of their incarceration. It is truly a wonder to me that these women haven’t committed the violent crimes such as occurs in the mens prisons, surely that alone is testament to how far many of the women have come in rehabilitating themselves. The long timers are the ones that keep some kind of stability and order, and for those long timers that have an impeccable institutional record having being forced to live in conditions that they’ve been subjected to, they deserve to be paroled as soon as they are eligible. Set Our Women Free!    .

I can see how releasing to either community custody or paroling these women who are statistically speaking, the least likely to ever reoffend, would benefit the over all prison system. It would make sense and free up a complete facility or two, and the correctional officers that are attached to those could be redeployed to bolster numbers at the mens prisons where the rapes, beatings, murders etc, are occurring, surely, reducing the prison population starting off with the women is the common sense way to go, so if i can see it, and other tax paying citizens that have their loved ones incarcerated can see it, then why can’t or won’t the Governor, the Commissioner for ADOC or the parole board or any of those other parties that have a vested interest in keeping Alabama’s prisons the most deadly and unconstitutional in the entire country?

Read Tim Roche’s full report and recommendations from 2003 here  and see if you can understand or comprehend why ADOC has never acted on it, because i can’t.

 

We need YOU at the Alabama State House

This summer, Governor Kay Ivey commissioned monthly study group meetings to address the groundswell of issues within the Alabama prison system. However, although these meetings began in June, there has never been an opportunity for directly impacted people to speak.

But on Wednesday, December 4, this finally changes.

This December meeting will give formerly incarcerated people a chance to speak directly to Alabama lawmakers about how they have been negatively impacted by the state’s prison system.

Join us at the Alabama State House in support of the brave people calling on Alabama lawmakers to reform our state’s prisons.

GOVERNORS STUDY GROUP MEETING

Alabama is experiencing a prison crisis, and we’re calling on lawmakers to end it.

Wednesday, December 4, 10 a.m.
Alabama State House
11 S Union St.
Montgomery, AL 36130

Please note: This link will take you to a third-party website, Facebook.com

 

Together, we must demand that our elected officials commit to a much-needed overhaul of the Alabama prison system.

We can, but we need your support, too.

Help us fill the room,

Jasmine Peeples
Digital Media Strategist, ACLU of Alabama

Real leaders invest in PEOPLE, NOT PRISONS.

Alabama has 28,296 people in prison.
We can reduce that number.

Imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to crime, which traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities. It should be the last option, not the first. Yet Alabama has one of the most overcrowded systems in the country, and in April 2019, the Department of Justice released a report calling the conditions in the men’s state prisons to be so bad that it is “likely unconstitutional.”

JUST LOOK AT THE FACTS:

  • In Alabama, the incarcerated population has skyrocketed since 1980, growing five-fold as of 2017. This growth is forcing state-run prisons to operate at 164% capacity, which ranks as the most overcrowded prisons in the country.

  • Most of the people in Alabama county jails have never been convicted of a crime — more than 70% are awaiting trial.

  • In addition to the rate of incarceration, which ranks third nationally in the rate of people imprisoned, Alabama also has around half of people in Alabama’s prisons serving a sentence of 20 years or more.

  • One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino boys, compared to one of every 17 white boys. At the same time, women are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States, and Alabama ranks sixth nationally for the rate of women imprisoned.

  • Alabama’s prison system costs taxpayers $478 million of its general fund on corrections in 2016, which is a 126% increase since 1985. This money should be spent building up, not further harming our communities. Investment, not incarceration, is how we improve safety.
    Originally published by the ACLU here

As Governor Ivey recently experienced with the fierce opposition to the building of a new Mobile Bay Bridge, that would have placed additional expenses to the daily commuter in the form of tolls, Governor Ivey is advocating the building of 3 huge private prisons to be built and run by companies which will cost tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars per year, but won’t fix the underlying cause of the overcrowding and mass incarceration.

The violence, rape and sexual assault, the lack of medical, mental and dental health care that has been grossly inadequate for decades, the lack of sentencing reform to reduce the overall prison population shows a clear lack of desire or vision and many studies have been presented to the Alabama Department of Corrections and the legislature for years but largely went ignored.

The answer is not to tax the citizens of this state and expand the industrial for profit prison complex when the Federal Government has already stated that Alabama’s prisons violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.”

We need to speak out loud and clear like the residents of Baldwin and Mobile Counties, so that Governor Ivey understands that we the people want a common sense approach and politics out of the criminal justice system, and we want reform, not more prisons. Simple.

Don’t worry ladies, we haven’t forgotten about you!

Most of the recent talk has been about the mens prisons in Alabama and the unconstitutional conditions within as well as the rape, stabbings extortion etc that goes on, on a seemingly regular basis, what hasn’t had a lot said about it is the subject of the women in Alabama’s prisons. You see, we spoke with the Department of Justice several years ago, and they, the DoJ assured us that the women’s prisons were being investigated as well. We passed to them many letters that were written by the women incarcerated in these facilities. Most people know about how bad Tutwiler women’s prison is, but most have not heard about Montgomery Women’s facility which is located behind kilby mens prison and the Birmingham work release centre.
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
Inmates sitting on their bunks in a dorm in Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka. (Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com)
Montgomery Women’s Facility is basically a metal cow shed with no Air Conditioning that holds 300 women, its a medium custody facility, they have had frequent overspilling of raw sewage in the bath rooms, and although the health department has been called numerous times, the guards there do not let the officials in to inspect it, until its all been cleaned up by the women. The 300 women are warehoused in a large dormitory, like i said its a metal building with no A/C which is brutal to live in during the summer in Alabama, surrounded by swampland the flies and other insects are everywhere, we heard too, that recently the whole facility was without toilet paper for weeks on end.

Have you ever been inside a women’s prison and heard the constant screaming and shouting? The din of voices competing to be heard above the others in a confined space? Or seen 300 women lining up to use one microwave oven to heat the food that they’ve purchased from a vending machine rather than eat what is prepared by other inmates at the canteen or to see them stand in lines for their medicine to be handed out, toothless, raggedy looking and rapidly aged in excess of their years.

Women that request a dental visit may end up waiting months for an appointment, those women in Birmingham are taken to St Clair mens prison for a dental appointment, many are too scared to go to St Clair and suffer agonising abscesses until it bursts and self medicate with regular Tylenol purchased from a vending machine, given the recent revelations of the conditions in St Clair, i can’t say that i blame them, i wouldn’t want to go there either, usually the only treatment they’ll be given is a tooth extraction. If the woman’s family has dental insurance for her and are willing to pay, then there is a local dentist that can be utilised, but again this can take many months before such an appointment is booked and the woman is escorted there due to the lack of officers and an apparent unwillingness of these same officers to have any sense of urgency when it comes to inmate care.

If the women have a low enough custody level then some women can be housed in Birmingham’s work release centre. This facility is pretty run down, but the conditions are far more preferable than either of the other 2 facilities, it also holds about 300 women. An inmate in Alabama that is allowed to work in the community (lowest custody level, can wear civilian clothes, they go to work everyday in fast food restaurants, they work in hotels etc) will have 40% of their wages taken by Alabama Department of Corrections for fines, restitution etc, they are expected to pay $5 daily for the van rides to and from their place of work, they pay for their own laundry costs too, Women that are allowed to work on road crews picking up litter etc (Minimum out custody, still wear white prison uniforms) earn $2 per day. All women pay high costs for canteen goods. Prices are marked up at least 75% plus cost, if they put in a sick call they are charged $4 co-pay, and any resulting medicine they are also charged for, what we would pay pennies for in a local store, the women are charged in dollars. Of course most of the charges are born by the families that support these women by providing money on their books, when you add to that 21 cents per minute for phone calls and $20 for 30 minutes video visitation that is of a poor quality and constantly drops connection, having a loved one in prison is extremely expensive.

Women commit crime for very different reasons than men do, many studies from all over the United States and indeed all over the world bear this fact out, in addition many of these women struggle with poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and long term physical and sexual abuse, its mainly women too that commit heat of passion crimes. Unfortunately many courts in the Deep South, do not take these mitigating circumstances into consideration during trials and sentencing.

Women are seemingly given stiffer sentences and actually end up serving more time, than men do for committing similar crimes. The imprisonment of a woman that has children, has a far more detrimental effect than if its the man that is imprisoned. The consequences for those kids too, can be just as life changing. Many studies have shown that women, especially those convicted of a violent crime, do not go on to reoffend with a violent crime. ADOC could safely release literally hundreds of women that have served well over a decade in prison, many having already served decades.

Many of these so called violent offenders have historically been denied any chance at working in the community or from work release participation because of “administrative” or “politically” motivated decisions, yet it is these very women that have served long sentences that are frequently the most cooperative, hardest working and motivated people that pose no reasonable threat to public safety despite the nature of their crimes, which was born form the circumstances mentioned earlier.

Many studies have been completed specifically for ADOC to use as a guide to reducing the prison population, but ADOC would rather move Women form one facility to another, even driving them around in vans whilst the Federal investigators were likely to have stopped by, in an effort to show the facilities as less crowded than they really are. ADOC back in the early 2000’s paid a private prison in Louisiana £2.6 Million to house 300 female inmates from Alabama in an effort to show fewer numbers of female inmates on their books.

Alabama has some of the harshest and longest sentences than most other states, it also makes any post conviction relief extremely difficult with its statute of limitations and by having legal documents held by Alacourt online which are very expensive to access. The poor that get entangled in Alabama’s criminal justice system are at a distinct disadvantage. From the moment their mugshot is published, along with headline grabbing bonds being set, many people automatically assume that the suspect must be guilty, and the presumption of innocence therefor has already been eroded.

This is how Alabama rolls when it comes to treating women inmates, its nothing new, it has been like it for a long time, the current commissioners and their predecessors should be asked some very direct and difficult questions such as what exactly have they been doing all these years in a role that is supposed to be overseeing the day to day running of the prison system and why the Federal Government has had to step in and make them do the jobs that they are paid for. We the electorate, the family and friends of those that are held in these atrocious conditions demand to know.

Bill requires jails to provide menstrual products to inmates

 

Bill requires jails to provide menstrual products to inmates
Julia Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka. (Source: WBRC file photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A bill would require jails and prisons to provide female inmates with tampons or sanitary pads.

The Alabama House of Representatives voted 101-0 Tuesday for the legislation that now moves to the Alabama Senate.

The bill by Rep. Rolanda Hollis of Birmingham would write into law that jails and prisons are required to provide the items.

Hollis says she has heard stories of inmates resorting to fashioning their own hygiene items when they could not obtain them.

Department of Corrections Bob Horton says feminine hygiene items are readily available in bathrooms at Alabama’s only prison for women.

The state prison system in 2015 agreed to make the products available and free as part of a wide-ranging settlement agreement with the Department of Justice to improve conditions at the prison.

Originally published here

It’s A Fact: Women & Girls Have Vastly Different Pathways into the Justice System than Men.

The lineup. The pathways of 98% of women to prison carved by lifetimes of sexual and domestic abuse.

​​​​​​
Gender Responsive Justice Systems Matter.
A powerful body of literature reveals important differences in the reasons underlying men and women’s criminal involvement. The research conducted on women’s specific “pathways” into crime indicates that their experiences of victimization and abuse, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse play a key role.
Unless otherwise indicated, the data provided in this table was adapted from the document “Ten Truths that Matter when Working with Justice Involved Women” (NRCJIW, 2012), a cogent and comprehensive review of the research on justice-involved women.
https://cjinvolvedwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Ten_Truths.pdf
The US prison system was designed to house a large male population, and is operated by primarily male officers and officials.  
 
Women represent less than 8% of the total US prison population, and their unique risks, strengths and needs are often eclipsed throughout  systems lacking in gender responsive practices. 
 
Despite this fact, women are the fastest growing prison population:  The number of women in prison grew 800% vs. 400% in the past 30 years.  

Justice-Involved Women:  United States vs Illinois Trending

The following data was developed for the “The Gender Informed Practice Assessment” Report on Logan Correctional Center.
Disproportionate H​​istories of Abuse and Trauma
  •  ​​​The vast majority of women in prison have experienced interpersonal or sexual violence, with estimates as high as 90%.[i]
  • Histories of interpersonal violence are prevalent among both men and women in prison, but rates are much higher among women.[ii]
  • Incarcerated women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report a much higher rate of witnessing violence than the female population in general.[iii]
  • Trauma such as sexual victimization is linked to mental health, substance abuse, and relationship difficulties and contributes to crime pathways for women. Women with histories of abuse and neglect are 77% more likely to be arrested as an adult than their peers who were not abused.[iv]
  • The correctional environment is full practices that trigger women’s past trauma, including pat downs and strip searches, frequent discipline from authority figures, and restricted movement.[v]
  • In Illinois, 98% of incarcerated women in state prisons have experienced physical abuse at some point in their lives; 75% experienced sexual abuse and 85% experienced intimate partner stalking and emotional abuse.[vi]
[i] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
[ii] Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Huq, M. S., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. S. (2014). The Prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2).
[iii] Hackett, M. (2009). Commentary: Trauma and female inmates: Why is witnessing more traumatic? Journal of the American Academy Psychiatry Law, 37(3), 310–315.
[iv] Widom, C. S. & Kuhns, J.B. (1996). Childhood victimization and subsequent risk for promiscuity, prostitution, and teenage pregnancy: A prospective study. American Journal of Public Health 86 (11): 1607.
[v] Miller, N. A., & Najavits, L. M. (2012). Creating trauma-information correctional care: A balance of goals and environment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology.
Benedict, A. (2014).  Using Trauma-informed Practices to Enhance Safety and Security in Women’s Correctional Facilities.  National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women. Retrieved from https://www.bja.gov/Publications/NRCJIW-UsingTraumaInformedPractices.pdf
[vi] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

Higher Rates of Reported Mental Illness

  • Nationally, female inmates report higher rates of mental health problems than male inmates (73% of females versus of 55% of males in state prisons).[i]
  • Nationally, women in prison have more frequent suicide attempts than male inmates.[ii]
  • Incarcerated women with a history of trauma and accompanying mental health concerns are more likely to have difficulties with prison adjustment and misconduct.
  • Justice involved women are more likely to experience co-occurring disorders; in particular, substance abuse problems tend to be interlinked with trauma and/or mental illness. The majority of women who suffer from mental illness also have substance abuse disorders.
  • Women experience mental illness differently than men; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and eating disorders are all more prevalent in justice-involved women than in men.
  • The lack of trauma-informed practices and inadequate access to mental health services, combined with the experience of confinement, pose a greater risk of either creating or exacerbating mental health issues among female inmates. Also, correctional policies and procedures – and institutional environments in general – can trigger previous traumatic experiences, exacerbate trauma-related symptoms, and interfere with a woman’s recovery.
  • In Illinois, the percentage of all incarcerated women on a mental health caseload is 58% compared with 25% of all incarcerated men. Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest women’s prison, currently houses an estimated 770 women prisoners diagnosed as Seriously Mentally Ill (SMI). In addition, a study of all women incarcerated statewide indicated that an estimated 60% have suffered from PTSD.[iii]
Note: While data regarding the need to address diagnoses of “Serious Mental Illness” among incarcerated women is compelling, it is important for corrections systems to explore their use of the category “Seriously Mentally Ill” and ensure that 1) appropriate clinical criteria are being used and adhered to when identifying someone as SMI, and 2) gender, culture, trauma, oppression and other factors are thoroughly considered so that women are not inappropriately diagnosed.
[i] US Department of Justice. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates.
 [ii]James, D. J., & Glaze, L. E. (2006). Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates.;  Bedard, L., E. PhD (2008) Women in Corrections. Retrieved from http://www.correctionsone.com/women-in-corrections/articles/1843155-Female-vs-male-inmates-The-rewards-and-challenges-of-managing-both/
 [iii] Reichert, J., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Post-traumatic stress disorder and victimization among female prisoners in Illinois.

 ​​Disproportionate Involvement of Women of Color

  • Nationally, African American women are incarcerated at twice the rate of white women, and rates among Hispanic women are 1.2 times higher.[i] These rates perhaps most dramatically impact younger women: A 2012 study revealed that black females ages 18 to 19 were three times more likely to be imprisoned than white females, and Hispanic females in this age group had imprisonment rates nearly twice those of white females.[ii]
  • In Illinois, most state prison admissions for men and women in general, and particularly those of Color, are from Cook County. A decline in admissions from Cook County between FY2005 and FY2010 resulted in a decrease in the overall proportion of African American women incarcerated in state prisons (from more than 70 percent in the late 1990s to less than 50 percent among the FY2010 female court admissions).  Commensurately, the shift resulted in an increase in the proportion of white females from 20% to nearly 50% in that same period, while Hispanic women experienced a slower, more gradual shift from 2-3% in 1989 to 7.8% today.[iii]
In Illinois, while disproportionality has trended downward, African American women still represent 42% of the women’s prison population, while African American citizens represent only 15% of the Illinois population. Conversely, White women represent 51.4% of the women’s prison population and White citizens represent 73.5% of the Illinois population. [iv]
[i] Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
[ii] US Department of Justice. (2013). Prisoners in 2012
[iii] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
[iv] IDOC Offender 360 Report  (2016).  US Census Data.

​​Higher Rates of Substance Abuse & Drug Crimes

  • A large proportion of justice-involved women have abused substances or have engaged in criminal behavior while under the influence and/or to support their drug use.
  • In a 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, over 60% of women reported a drug dependence or abuse problem in the year prior to their incarceration. Moreover, there is evidence indicating that current substance abuse among women is a strong direct predictor of prison readmission.
  • Substance abuse among justice-involved women may be motivated by a desire to cope with or mask unpleasant emotions stemming from traumatic experiences and ensuing mental health problems.
  • Nationally, on every measure of drug use, women in state prisons have reported higher usage (40%) than males (32%).[i] In addition, 25% of female prisoners serve time for drug offenses, compared to 15% of male prisoners.[ii]
  • In Illinois, 85% of women surveyed in state prisons reported periods of regular alcohol and drug use and an average age of onset at 16.3 years old.[iii]
  • In Illinois, nearly the entire increase in court admissions of women to state prisons from FY1996 to FY2005 that led to the skyrocketing prison population were attributed to low-level, Class 4 felonies for drug and property crimes. Conversely, the dramatic 40% decline in female court admissions from FY2005 to FY2010 was also linked to a reduction in court admissions for primarily the same class of low-level drug crimes.[iv]
[i] US Department of Justice (1999). Women Offenders. Note: This is self-reported data. Actual number of offenders with substance abuse histories is approximately 80 percent (national data).
[ii] US Department of Justice. Prisoners in 2013 (2014).
[iii] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and help-seeking behaviors among female prisoners in Illinois.
[iv] Olson, D., Escobar, G. & Stalans, L. (2011) An Examination of admissions, exits and end-of-the-year populations of adult female inmates in the Illinois Department of Corrections, state fiscal years 1989 to 2010. Chicago, IL: Loyola University Chicago, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology
 More Likely to be the Custodial Parent of their Children
  • Nationally, more than 60% of women prisoners are parents, and women prisoners are more likely than men to serve as the custodial parent of their children.[i]  According to a  Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) report, 77% of mothers in state prison who lived with their children just prior to incarceration provided most of the children’s daily care, compared to 26% of fathers. 88% of incarcerated fathers identified the child’s other parent as the current caregiver, compared to 37% of mothers.”[ii]
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that Illinois has the 7th highest number of individuals who have experienced parental incarceration during their childhood, totaling 186,000.
  • Children of incarcerated parents “…display short-term coping responses to deal with their loss, which can develop into long-term emotional and behavioral challenges, such as depression, problems with school, delinquency, and drug use.”[iii]  Children of incarcerated mothers in particular are at greater risk of dropping out of school and academic challenges.[iv]
  • “Preserving a child’s relationship with a parent during incarceration benefits both parties. It also benefits society, reducing children’s mental health issues and anxiety, while lowering recidivism and facilitating parents’ successful return to their communities.”[v]
  • In Illinois, a snapshot of the women incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in October 2015 indicated that 71% of them (1,304 out of 1,835) are mothers of a total of 3,700 children.​
[i] Glaze, L. E., and Maruschak, L. M. (2009). Parents in prison and their minor children.; Ney, B. Ten facts about women in jails. Retrieved from http://www.americanjail.org/10-facts-about-women-in-jails/ 
[ii] Glaze, L. & Maruschak, L. (2008) Parents in prison and their minor children.
[iii] Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K., Hamilton, A., Uddin, M., & Galea, S. (2015). e collateral damage of mass incarceration: Risk of psychiatric morbidity among nonincarcerated residents of high-incarceration neighbor- hoods. American Journal of Public Health, 105(1), 138–143. Retrieved from www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/25393200
[iv] Dallaire, D. H. (2007, December). Children with incarcerated mothers: Developmental outcomes, special challenges, and recommendations. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 28(1), 15–24.
[v] Annie E Casey Foundation (April 2016) “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families & Communities; La Vigne, N. G., Davies, E., & Brazzell, D. (2008, February 12). Family and recidivism. AMERICAN Jails, 17–24. Retrieved from www.vera.org/ les/the- family-and-recidivism.pdf.; The Osborne Association. (2012, May).
Higher Rates of Poverty & Unemployment
  • Economic hardship, lower educational attainment, fewer vocational skills, underemployment, and employment instability are more common among justice-involved women. These factors are particularly problematic when considering that women are more likely to have child-rearing responsibilities, particularly as single mothers.
  • Compared to men, it is more difficult for justice-involved women to obtain and maintain legitimate and well-paying employment that will meet their family’s needs, both before and following incarceration. Research has indicated that programming designed to enhance women’s educational/vocational skills are effective in reducing their risk of recidivism.
  • Nationally, women report greater levels of poverty than men and less employment history immediately preceding incarceration. In addition, those seeking affordable housing and reunification face considerably greater challenges. [i]
  • A study of the Women’s Prison Association found that 60% of women reported that they were not employed full-time at the time of their arrest (compared to 40% of men) and 37% of women had incomes of under $600 in the month leading to their arrest (compared with 28% of men).[ii]
  • A study conducted by the Urban Institute regarding prisoner reentry suggested greater challenges for formerly incarcerated women seeking employment.  A sample allowed comparisons of the statistical differences between male and females in several states, and indicated 61% of males were employed post release vs 37% of women.[iii]
  • In Illinois, 43.8% of women at Logan Correctional Center, the state’s largest prison, do not have a high school diploma or GED; and one study indicated that approximately 58% of women in Illinois prisons were employed either full- or part-time at the time of their incarceration.[iv]
[i] Ney, B. (2015, January 8). Ten facts about women in jails. Retrieved from http://www.americanjail.org/10-facts-about-women-in-jails/ 
[ii] The Sentencing Project (2007). Women in the criminal justice system. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Women-in-the-Criminal-Justice-System-Briefing-Sheets.pdf)
[iii] Returning home: Understanding the challenges of prisoner reentry.  retrieved from http://www.urban.org/center/jpc/returning- home/
[iv] Reichert, J., Adams, S., & Bostwick, L. (2010). Victimization and Help-Seeking Behaviors Among Female Prisoners In Illinois. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.  

Lower Public Safety Risk, Yet Fastest Growing Criminal Justice System Population Nationwide

  • Justice-involved women are less likely than men to have extensive criminal histories.
  • Women typically enter the criminal justice system for non-violent crimes that are often drug-related and/or driven by poverty. Nationally, women in state prisons are more likely to be incarcerated for a drug or property offense than a violent crime: 24% of women have been convicted of a drug offense, compared to 15% of men; 28% of women have been convicted of a property crime, compared to 19% of men; and 37% of women have been convicted of a violent offense, compared to 54% of men.[i]
  • The nature and context of violent crime committed by women frequently differs from that observed in men. When women commit aggressive acts, they typically involve assaults of lesser severity that are reactive or defensive in nature, rather than calculated or premeditated. Compared with men who tend to target strangers and acquaintances, violent acts committed by women occur primarily in domestic or school settings, and are more likely targeted at family members and/or intimates.
  • Women released from incarceration have lower recidivism rates than their male counterparts. This holds true for rearrests, reconvictions, and returns to prison with or without new prison sentences. Moreover, for the small proportion of women who are incarcerated for violent crimes, most do not reoffend with another violent crime.
  • Within prisons, incidents of violence and aggression committed by women are extremely low. Studies indicate that incarcerated women are five times less likely than men to commit such acts – 3-5% of women compared to 17-19% of men.
  • Despite women’s lower level crimes, arrest data from 2010 reveal that the number of female arrests in the United States increased by 11.4% from the preceding decade; this increase is in contrast to a 5% decline for male arrests. During the same time period, the number of women incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities increased by 22%. Women now constitute one-fourth of the probation and parole population, representing a 10% increase over the past decade.
  • In Illinois, 34% of women in state prisons are incarcerated for a violent offense, compared with 43% of male inmates.  Women are also more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime (29% vs 21%) or a property crime (30% vs 19%).[ii]
[i] Carson, E.A. (2015). Prisoners in 2014. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Incarcerated-Women-and-Girls.pdf
[ii] Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice Reform (2015). Illinois prison overview. Retrieved from http://www.icjia.org/cjreform2015/research/illinois-prison-overview.html
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