SPLC: Alabama prisons must address staffing needs and accept monitoring of failing mental health treatment

article published 10/20/2017 & originally posted here
An Alabama Prison
An Alabama Prison

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) must conduct a meaningful analysis of the staffing it needs to address an unconstitutionally inadequate level of care for prisoners who have mental illnesses, according to a brief filed in federal court yesterday by the SPLC.

ADOC will likely need more than double its current level of correctional staffing and nearly triple its mental health staffing, according to the brief. Additionally, the court should appoint security and mental health monitors to ensure that ADOC is carrying out the court-approved remedies, the brief states.

The filing is in response to a plan that ADOC proposed to the federal court last week, claiming that it would increase spending for mental health care workers – and would double staffing in those positions – but only if the state legislature provides enough funding next year.

“Compliance with the U.S. Constitution is not optional, and the state can delay no longer. Mental health staffing is woefully inadequate in ADOC prisons, and the flagrant constitutional violations that result must be addressed immediately in order to protect prisoners with mental illnesses from an ongoing risk of serious harm,” said Maria Morris, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “ADOC’s plan to remedy these glaring staffing deficiencies is vague, unsubstantiated and incomplete. It must address these issues now.”

The filing is the latest development in the SPLC’s ongoing litigation against ADOC for failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care for people in its custody. U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson issued a sweeping, 302-page ruling in June declaring the mental health care system in Alabama prisons “horrendously inadequate.”

The court specifically found that “persistent and severe shortages of mental-health staff and correctional staff” are among the overarching issues that contribute to the inadequacy of mental health care in ADOC prisons.

The court also found that ADOC’s mental health caseload is substantially lower than the national average, and that this failure to identify prisoners with mental health needs is the result of a number of factors, including “insufficient mental-health staffing.”

Recruiting and retaining adequate staff will take time and funding, but ADOC already has the authority and funding to hire some correctional staff right now. For example, ADOC does not need legislative approval to fill its existing, authorized staffing levels.

“Throughout this case, the court has repeatedly made it clear that lack of funds is not an excuse for ADOC’s failure to provide constitutionally mandated care to prisoners with mental illnesses,” Morris said. “ADOC officials have known for years that they need more staff, but they have delayed addressing the problem. Now, they want to delay even further, leading to more pain, suffering and possibly even death.”

Morris said: “The state has an immediate duty to hire enough qualified staff to address the crisis in care for the mentally ill. Over the long term, however, the only solution to this and other problems in the Alabama prison system is to decrease the prison population by getting people the help they need to stay out of prison in the first place. The state should ensure that people with mental illness get treatment, instead of just locking them up and throwing away the key.”

 

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Attorneys say Alabama prison plan inadequate, vague

The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s plan to improve correctional and mental health staffing in state prisons is vague and inadequate, attorneys for inmates told a federal judge last week.

The attorneys for inmates criticized the state’s proposal submitted to U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.

“Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and Associate Commissioner Ruth Naglich appear not to recognize that they have been found to be running a correctional system that provides horrendously inadequate mental health care,” wrote Maria Morris, an attorney representing the inmates.

Thompson ordered Alabama to overhaul conditions in June after finding that psychiatric care of state inmates is so “horrendously inadequate” that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. One of the inmates committed suicide days after testifying in federal court about his treatment in prison.

Thompson ordered the state to submit a plan to address shortages of correctional and mental health staff.

The Department of Corrections told the judge in a filing this month that it was increasing staff and conducting a comprehensive analysis to determine security staffing needs, and had begun some of those steps before Thompson’s ruling.

Inmates’ attorneys argued the state should have deadlines for increasing staff and benchmarks for caseloads or the plan “will remain nothing more than words.”

Thompson scheduled an Oct. 30 hearing on plaintiffs’ request for additional information about the state’s plan.

Cost of incarceration in the U.S. more than $1 trillion

article originally posted here by By Neil Schoenherr

More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime

mass incarceration in the United States

The cost of incarceration in the United States exceeds $1 trillion, or six percent of gross domestic product, and dwarfs the amount spent on corrections alone, finds a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

“The $80 billion spent annually on corrections is frequently cited as the cost of incarceration, but this figure considerably underestimates the true cost by ignoring important social costs,” said Carrie Pettus-Davis, assistant professor at the Brown School and an expert on incarceration.

A new study, “The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.,” led by doctoral student Michael McLaughlin, with assistance from Pettus-Davis, draws on a burgeoning area of scholarship to assign monetary values to include costs to incarcerated persons, families, children and communities, which yield an aggregate burden of $1.2 trillion dollars.

Carrie Pettus-Davis
Carrie Pettus-Davis

“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs,” said Pettus-Davis, director of the Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice and co-director of the Smart Decarceration Initiative.

“More than half of the costs are borne by families, children and community members who have committed no crime,” she said.

The scale of incarceration in the U.S. over the past 40 years is unprecedented, Pettus-Davis said. The prison population grew seven-fold as this country became the world leader in incarceration.

“Researchers have devoted considerable effort to estimating the cost of crime, but no study has yet estimated the aggregate burden of incarceration,” Pettus-Davis said.

“Recent reports highlighting the costs to incarcerated persons, families, and communities have made it possible to estimate the true cost of incarceration,” she said. “This is important because it suggests that the true cost has been grossly underestimated, perhaps resulting in a level of incarceration beyond that which is socially optimal.”

 

Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017

By Aleks Kajstura October 19, 2017 and originally published here

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.

This report provides a first-of-its-kind detailed view of the 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States, and how they fit into the even larger picture of correctional control. Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report. This report, done in collaboration with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, finally provides similar data on women incarcerated in the Unites States. We break the data down to show the various correctional systems that control women, and to examine why women in the various systems of confinement are locked up:

Graphic showing how many women are locked up in the United States
Graphic showing how many women are locked up in the United States

In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails.

The explanation for exactly what happened, when, and why does not yet exist because the data on women has long been obscured by the larger picture of men’s incarceration. The disaggregated numbers presented here are an important first step to ensuring that women are not left behind in the effort to end mass incarceration.

Women are disproportionately stuck in jails

A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.

Avoiding pre-trial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women. The number of unconvicted women stuck in jail is surely not because courts are considering women, who are generally the primary caregivers of children, to be a flight risk. The far more likely answer is that incarcerated women, who have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail. A previous study found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071. And among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). When the typical $10,000 bail amounts to a full year’s income, it’s no wonder that women are stuck in jail awaiting trial.

Even once convicted, the system funnels women into jails: About a quarter of convicted incarcerated women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.

So what does it mean that large numbers of women are held in jail – for them, and for their families? While stays in jail are generally shorter than in stays in prison, jails make it harder to stay in touch with family than prisons do. Phone calls are more expensive, up to $1.50 per minute, and other forms of communication are more restricted – some jails don’t even allow real letters, limiting mail to postcards. This is especially troubling given that 80% of women in jails are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children. Thus children are particularly susceptible to the domino effect of burdens placed on incarcerated women.

Women in jails are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.

Ending mass incarceration requires looking at all offenses

The numbers revealed by this report enable a national conversation about the policies that impact incarcerated women held in various facilities, and also serve as the foundation for discussions to change the policies that lead to incarcerating women in the first place.

All too often, the conversation about criminal justice reform starts and stops with the question of non-violent drug and property offenses. While drug and property offenses make up more than half of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, the chart reveals that all offenses, including violent offenses that account for roughly a quarter of all incarcerated women, must be considered in the effort to reduce the number of incarcerated women in this country. This new data on women underlines the need for reform discussions to focus not just on the easier choices but on choices that can lead to impactful policy changes.

The tentacles of mass incarceration have a long reach

Even the “Whole Pie” of incarceration above represents just one small portion (16%) of the women under correctional supervision. Again, this is in stark contrast to the general incarcerated population (mostly men), where a full third of those under correctional control are in prisons and jails.

Graphic showing the correctional control of women
Graphic showing the correctional control of women

The picture of women’s incarceration is far from complete, and many questions remain about mass incarceration’s unique impact on women. Based on our analysis in this report we know that a quarter of incarcerated women are unconvicted. But is that number growing? And how does that undue incarceration load intersect with women’s disproportionate caregiving burdens to impact families? Beyond these big picture questions there are a plethora of detailed data points that are not reported for women by any government agencies, such as the simple number of women incarcerated in U.S. Territories.

While more data is needed, the data in this report lends focus and perspective to the policy changes needed to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.

Read about the data

This briefing uses the most recent data available on the number of people in various types of facilities and the most significant charge or conviction. Because not all types of data are collected each year, we sometimes had to combine differing data sets; for example, we applied the percentage distribution of offense types from the previous year to the current year’s total count data. To smooth out these differing levels of vintage and precision among the sources, we choose to round all figures in the graphic. This process may, however, result in various parts not adding up precisely to the total.

  • Jails: Calculated based on the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail Inmates in 2015, Table 3 (average of yearend 2014 and midyear 2015). The Bureau of Justice Statistics has stopped collecting data on the conviction status of women in jails in 2009, so we calculated the breakdown based on 2009 data published in the Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013 – Statistical Tables. Our analysis of offense types is based on the Survey Of Inmates In Local Jails, 2002. See below and Who is in jail? Deep dive for why we used our own analysis rather than the otherwise excellent Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis of the same dataset, Profiles of Jail Inmates, 2002. While this methodology section illustrates the pervasive dearth of women’s criminal justice data, this 2002 data continues to be the most recent data available of its kind without regard to gender breakdown, until the Bureau of Justice Statistics begins administering the next Survey of Inmates in Local Jails in 2018.
  • Immigration detention: Calculated based on the United States Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Requesters, Immigration Detention: Additional Actions Could Strengthen DHS Efforts to Address Sexual Abuse, which reports that women made up 9% of the 2012 fiscal year detainee population, and the total number of detainees (41,000) comes from page 7 of Report of the Subcommittee on Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities, December 1, 2016, by the Homeland Security Advisory Council. In November 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was seeking additional (but unspecified) incarceration capacity, so this 41,000 number has likely already grown. The impact of the current administration’s increased ICE activities on the total population, let alone women, is not yet known.
  • Federal: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2015, Table 10, reports percentage breakdown of offense types for the convicted population as of September 30, 2015, and the total population of women reported in Table 2, for December 31, 2015. We did not attempt to separate out convicted and unconvicted from the federal slice of the pie and instead proportionally applied the offenses for the convicted population to the unconvicted population.
  • State Prisons: Prisoners in 2015, Table 2 provides the gender breakdown for the total population as of December 31st, 2015, and Table 9 provides data (as of December 31, 2014) that we used to calculate the ratio of different offense types.
  • Military: The latest gender breakdown we could find was in Correctional Populations in the United States, 1998, Table 8.5, which reported the number of prisoners under military jurisdiction, by officer and enlisted status, gender, race, and Hispanic origin, for December 31, 1998. We calculated the number of women for our military slice by imputing the percentages from 1998 to the numbers reported in Prisoners in 2015, Appendix Table 7, which gives the number of people incarcerated in by each branch of the military, but does not provide a gender breakdown.
  • Territorial Prisons (correctional facilities in the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and U.S. Commonwealths of Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico): Calculated based on World Prison Brief data reporting the most recent data available, ranging from 2007 (Northern Mariana Islands) to 2015 (Puerto Rico).
  • Youth: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Easy Access to the Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, reporting data for 2015. To keep things comparable with the other parts of the pie, we choose to include only those youth in detention centers, long-term secure facilities, and reception/diagnostic centers. We did not include other placements outside the home.
  • Civil Commitment (At least 20 states and the federal government operate facilities for the purposes of detaining people convicted of sexual crimes after their sentences are complete. These facilities and the confinement there are technically civil, but in reality are quite like prisons. People under civil commitment are held in custody continuously from the time they start serving their sentence at a correctional facility through their confinement in the civil facility.): The Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network conducts an annual survey, and the civil commitment data came from an email with SOCCPN President Shan Jumper on May 11, 2017, estimating that there were 6 or 7 women total, nationally (based on the SOCCPN 2016 Annual Survey). And according to the Common Questions about Civil Commitment as a Sexually Violent Person (Adopted by the ATSA and the Sex Offender Civil Commitment Programs Network Executive Boards of Directors on October 13, 2015), there are “a few women throughout the country who have been committed.”
  • Indian Country (correctional facilities operated by tribal authorities or the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs): Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Jails in Indian Country, 2015, Table 5, reporting data for midyear, 2015.
  • Probation and Parole: Our counts of women incarcerated and under community supervision are from Correctional Populations in the United States, 2015, Appendix Table 3, reporting data for December 31, 2015. In order to break out community supervision between Probation and Parole, we used Probation and Parole in the United States, 2015 for the percentage of women in the Parole and Probation population. (Table 6 for Parole and Table 4 for Probation) and applied that ratio to the totals reported in CSAT (these numbers are the numbers that appear, rounded, in table 1 of CPUS). We then adjusted those numbers to ensure that people with multiple statuses were counted only once in their most restrictive category. (Because gender-specific data on people with more than one correctional status was not available, we reduced the number of women on probation and on parole by the ratio (3.54% for parole and 1.64% for probation) we used for Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017). For readers interested in knowing the total number of people on parole and probation, ignoring any double-counting with other forms of correctional control, there are 113,200 women on parole and 947,400 women on probation.

Several data definitions and clarifications may be helpful to researchers reusing this data in new ways:

  • To avoid double-counting women held in local jails on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, U.S. Marshals Service, state, and other prison authorities from being counted twice, we removed the 7,763 women from the jail population reported by the BJS and from the numbers we used to calculate the number of convicted women in local jails. Our calculation for the number of women held in such arrangements was based on data reported for the total number of people held in jails for federal and state authorities in Appendix Table 2 of Prisoners in 2015, and total number of people held in jails for ICE, from page 7 of Report of the Subcommittee on Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities, December 1, 2016, by the Homeland Security Advisory Council and the 2002 Survey Of Inmates In Local Jails, 2002, where our analysis showed that about 8.5% of those held in such arrangements were women.
  • Because we removed ICE detainees and people under the jurisdiction of federal and state authorities from the jail population, we had to recalculate the offense distribution reported in Survey Of Inmates In Local Jails, 2002 who were “convicted” or “not convicted” without the people who reported that they were being held on behalf of state authorities, the Federal Bureau of Prisons or U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Our definition of “convicted” was those who reported that they were “To serve a sentence in this jail,” “To await sentencing for an offense,” or “To await transfer to serve a sentence somewhere else”. Our definition of not convicted was “To stand trial for an offense,” “To await arraignment,” or “To await a hearing for revocation of probation/parole or community release”.
  • We also accounted for women held in federal pre-trial detention who are confined in facilities other than federal and state prisons. We found 1,536 women held by, or for, the U.S. Marshals Service. Census of Jails: Population Changes, 1999-2013 Table 13 reports that 848 women are in Federal Bureau of Prisons detention centers and we estimate that another 688 are in private facilities contracted out to the U.S. Marshals Service. We included these 1,536 women total in the Federal Prisons slice of the pie.
  • Additionally, a significant portion of the jail population is not in fact under local jurisdiction, but is in a local jail under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service. This population, which in 2013 was 26,176 for both men and women consists of both people who are awaiting trial, and those who are convicted but have not yet been sentenced, so they appear in both the convicted and unconvicted local jail slices. This is part of why, for example, our total pie chart shows 1,000 people “serving” sentences in jails for murder when murder is typically an offense that warrants much longer sentences than would be served in a jail. We have not yet developed a way to separately identify and describe this population, let alone disentangle which portion of the reported numbers is women. (Similarly, in 2013, the Marshals Service had about 10,000 people – mostly in states that do not have separate jail systems – in state prisons for the same reasons.) We hope to, in future versions of this report, develop more detailed ways to display and describe this population.
  • Lastly, the youth slice does not include 333 girls held in adult jails and prisons. There are 300 girls under the age of 17 held in local jails (calculated by comparing the adult female and total female population reported in Table 3 of Bureau of Justice Statistics Jail Inmates in 2015 [https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ji15.pdf]), and 33 girls under the age of 18 held in state or federal prisons (as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics Quick Table, Reported number of inmates under age 18 held in custody in federal or state prisons [XLS], December 31, 2000-2015).
  • Separately, note that we did not include a breakdown of the slices by race or ethnicity, because that data does not exist. All together, however, incarcerated women are 53% White, 28.6% Black, 14.2% Hispanic, 2.5% American Indian and Alaskan Native, 0.9% Asian, and 0.4% Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander.

See the footnotes

  1. Illustrated in our work comparing individual states’ incarceration rates to other countries.
  2. For example, the Vera Institute of Justice has a useful report on women in jails entitled, Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform.
  3. The median annual income for unincarcerated men was $39,600, and $22,704 for unincarcerated women of similar ages.
  4. For a detailed analysis of lengths of stay, see comments submitted to the Census Bureau from the Vera Institute of Justice and the Prison Policy Initiative and Dēmos.
  5. A gender analysis of the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates 2011-12 report is available in the blog post New government report points to continuing mental health crisis in prisons and jails. And for anyone still unsure of the harms of jail, just look at the suicide rates in U.S. jails.
  6. Probation also varies wildly between states.
  7. Reporting from the New York Times,Probation May Sound Light, but Punishments Can Land Hard, captures the typical cascading fees and conditions while following one woman’s navigation of probation.

Acknowledgements

This report was made possible by the partnership of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice, the support of the Public Welfare Foundation, and all of the donors, researchers, programmers and designers who helped the Prison Policy Initiative develop the Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie series of reports.

The ACLU wishes to thank John Cutler, Udi Ofer, and Adina Ellis for their assistance with this report.

About the author

Aleks Kajstura is Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. Her previous publications on women’s incarceration include States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context.

About the Prison Policy Initiative

The non-profit non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative was founded in 2001 to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and spark advocacy campaigns to create a more just society. The organization is most well-known for its big-picture publication Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie that helps the public more fully engage in criminal justice reform.

About the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice

The ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to cut the nation’s jail and prison populations by 50% and challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system. The Campaign is building movements in all 50 states for reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America.

 

Unreliable Convictions

Article originally published here
Beniah Dandridge Exonerated and Released After 20 Years Wrongly Imprisoned in Alabama
Beniah Dandridge Exonerated and Released After 20 Years Wrongly Imprisoned in Alabama

There are more innocent people in our jails and prisons today than ever before. While the rate of exonerations has been increasingly dramatically for several years, and a record 149 people were exonerated in 2015, experts observe that, “ by any reasonable accounting, there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country, and many more that have accumulated over the decades.”

Since 1989, 337 people have been exonerated through DNA evidence, revealing a system replete with defects that have led to tens of thousands of wrongful convictions. Leading causes of wrongful convictions include mistaken eyewitness identifications, false or misleading forensic science, false confessions, and jailhouse informants. Perjury or false accusations have contributed to more than half of wrongful convictions, and nearly half involve misconduct by government officials.

Exonerations continue to expose as junk science a number of forensic techniques—such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis, and shoe print comparisons—that have never been scientifically evaluated or validated. Negligent or corrupt forensic laboratories have been exposed for improperly conducting tests, inaccurately conveying results in trial testimony, and fabricating results. In 2015, EJI won the exoneration and release of Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row after being wrongfully convicted of capital murder based on a faulty bullet match, and Beniah Dandridge, who spent 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted based on a faulty fingerprint match.

The indigent defense crisis undermines the reliability of convictions; overworked, underfunded defense lawyers lack the resources to vigorously test the prosecution’s evidence at trial. Children and people with mental disabilities are especially vulnerable. EJI won the release of Diane Tucker, an intellectually disabled woman wrongfully convicted of murdering an infant, after obtaining medical evidence that proved the baby never existed. Jurisdictions do not uniformly preserve evidence or provide access to forensic testing that could prove an incarcerated person’s innocence, and even when incarcerated people manage to obtain evidence that proves innocence, prosecutors and law enforcement often refuse to re-examine the evidence or re-open the case. Some prosecutors have formed Conviction Integrity Units to prevent, identify, and correct false convictions, but only 24 of these units existed in 2015, and of those, half have not secured a single exoneration.

In the American criminal justice system, wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.

Article originally published here
American criminal justice system where culpability takes a backseat to money
The American criminal justice system, where the poor are unfairly disadvantaged at every stage of the proceedings.

In the American criminal justice system, wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. Indigent people are unfairly disadvantaged at every step in a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.

In many jurisdictions in the United States, people who are arrested and do not have money to pay bail are jailed while awaiting trial. While some people are denied bail because they are at risk of flight or illegal activity, most are detained solely because they are too poor to pay bail. Pretrial detention interferes with employment, payment of bills, and care giving, and can inflict extraordinary psychological damage. Even for minor offenses, people who are detained pretrial are more likely to be incarcerated and more likely to receive a longer sentence.

Defendants facing a felony charge, those charged with misdemeanors who could be jailed, convicted defendants filing a first appeal, and juveniles charged with delinquency all have a constitutional right to counsel, but poor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads. Defendants too poor to post bail can spend months in jail waiting for a lawyer to be appointed. Many poor people charged with misdemeanors appear in court hearings without a lawyer, where they must make the untenable choice of pleading guilty and being released (burdened by fines, court costs, and other collateral consequences of a criminal conviction that they cannot afford) or remaining in jail indefinitely waiting for a lawyer. Indigent defense in America is so bad that the nation’s top prosecutor, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, declared it is “in a state of crisis.”

It is illegal to imprison people because they are too poor to pay a fine, but shocking numbers of poor people have been jailed for being unable to pay fines and fees incurred for minor infractions and misdemeanors. Courts have contracted with for-profit, private probation companies to collect fines from people on probation. The companies tack on their own fees, often $80-100 a month, which escalate if not immediately paid. Private probation companies profit from requiring probationers to pay for drug treatment, electronic monitoring, and myriad other services they are required to participate in as a condition of their supervision. Impoverished people with fines of a few hundred dollars can end up owing thousands, and if they cannot pay, their probation is revoked and they are jailed.

Jurisdictions in nearly every state impose “pay-to-stay” fees on incarcerated people for everything from medical costs to food and clothing. In the last few decades, additional fees have proliferated, including charges for police transport, case filing, felony surcharges, electronic monitoring, drug testing, and sex offender registration. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia allow fees to be charged for using a public defender. A defendant can emerge from the system owing thousands of dollars in fees.

People leaving prison face huge obstacles to obtaining employment, housing, and other social services; those convicted of felony drug offenses may be barred from receiving federal housing and cash assistance and food stamps. Many also are burdened by staggering child support arrears, drug and alcohol testing fees, parole supervision fees and fees for drug treatment and other programs that are conditions of their parole.

No Warden, No Classification Officer and Now, No Canteen Lady

Montgomery Women’s Facility has been without a full time Warden since Mr Edward Ellington left to take over at Draper Correctional Facility in March 2016. Wardenship passed temporarily to Warden Terrance during which time conditions within the facility took a drastic turn for the worse, Ms Terrance left in August and the Captain has been acting as warden since.

Alabama Department of Corrections staffing woes and their impact, are still negatively felt throughout all aspects of ADOC, it has been reported that at other facilities, Correctional Officers have gone on strike citing the dangerous conditions that are festering as the upper echelons of Alabama Department of Corrections struggle to get a grip on a system that is failing from the top all the way down. Its not just an issue of safety and security, the absence of a classification officer as at Montgomery Women’s Facility increases stress, tension and creates an additional bottleneck in an already dangerously over crowded prison system, people that have served their sentences, especially those that are considered long-timers should be high on the list of priorities as they approach their parole and end of sentence dates.

Classification Officers are supposed to interview and assess amongst other things the custodial level biannually, effectively allowing those that have a low enough custody level, to be able to work and be in preparation for their release. Having no classification officer is a serious issue and it keeps women held on higher custodial levels than which they are entitled too, in an already over populated, neglectful and abusive prison system, common sense you would have thought, would be a priority, facilitating the lowering of custodial levels to those eligible, effectively freeing up bed space and hastening the transition back into society, not to mention raising moral, giving hope to those that have often served many years from dubious convictions.

Bear in mind too, that Alabama cases are difficult for many reasons, for example Post-conviction records are exceptionally hard to obtain in Alabama, and there is no specific post-conviction DNA testing statute except in capital cases. New evidence often must be brought before a court within six months of discovery, which can be extremely difficult and at times, impossible. Alacourt.com controls public court records in Alabama and charges exorbitant access fees, making the records virtually inaccessible to those incarcerated or their families which are generally on low incomes, Alabama needs to rethink its policy on locking people up and throwing away the keys, giving fair hearings, trials and sentences would be a great start.

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Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers
Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers

A city ordinance that criminalized the failure to pay a water bill was repealed by the city council in the town of Chickasaw, Alabama, last night in response to a Southern Poverty Law Center letter advising the city’s municipal judge that the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Chickasaw resident Sonya Ayers, 48, was convicted of a misdemeanor and ultimately jailed last year for more than a day after she was unable to pay her city utility bill.

Her water was turned off and she was ordered by the municipal court to pay more than $400 in fines and fees to the city. She also had to pay monthly supervision fees to Judicial Correction Services, a private, for-profit probation company. Ayers could not keep up with the payments and was arrested after failing to appear at a court hearing that she was not informed about.

“Failing to pay your water bill should not be a crime,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC deputy legal director. “Yet this is exactly what happened in Chickasaw with an unconstitutional ordinance that harshly punished people for their poverty.

“The action by the Chickasaw City Council will ensure that residents will not be prosecuted or face criminal penalties when they simply cannot afford to pay for running water in their homes. It’s a step in the right direction.”

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When Defense Lawyers Become Prosecutors

By J. Celso Castro Alves, Truthout | News Analysis

Scales of Justice weigh heavily against Defendants in Alabama

In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilised. In theory, a public defender’s mission includes dedicated advocacy for clients against whom the power of the carceral state is mobilized. However, in practice, defenders sometimes end up working with the forces of power — and against the best interests of their clients. (Photo: Pixabay)

On January 5, 2015, Randall H. McCants Jr. was not alone when Judge James H. Roberts Jr. of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of the State of Alabama opened his courtroom for a plea hearing. “Mr. McCants is present in court with his attorneys, Jim Gentry and Mike Cartee,” he stated. Besides the judge’s reference to McCants’ court-appointed attorneys by their nicknames, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Roberts cited McCants’ constitutional rights before highlighting his defense attorneys’ central task: “Your attorneys are bound to do everything they can honorably and reasonably do to see that you obtain a fair and impartial trial.” McCants answered the judge’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” Even to the charge of capital murder and the question of whether he understood that “the range of punishment is life without parole or death,” McCants responded, “yes, sir.”

According to the nine-page hearing transcript, Roberts knew that McCants had pled not-guilty during his post-arrest arraignment in January 2011. In fact, Roberts acknowledged that McCants’ attorneys had only recently “proposed a plea agreement” for the “lesser offence of murder.” Yet, at no point during the hearing did Roberts wonder about what prompted McCants’ sudden about-face. Did four mysterious years in pretrial detention impact McCants’ decision? Could McCants’ attorneys have coerced him to plead guilty by invoking fear that a greater punishment awaited him at trial? Whether McCants was mentally competent to grasp legal proceedings or understand that he was assuming full responsibility for the accidental death of a Tuscaloosa resident apparently did not cross Roberts’ mind either.

Rather, Judge Roberts proceeded with the plea colloquy by asking prosecutor Jonathan S. Cross to provide “some facts” for the first-degree murder plea. Compliant, Cross stood and delivered some skimpy facts in the most casual and sloppy fashion possible:

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