Florida prisons are unsafe. One reason: The guards. | Editorial The brutal beating of a mentally and physically disabled inmate at the state’s largest women’s prison raises new concerns. The Department of Corrections says it needs more money to pay guards.
This editorial in the Tampa paper, although about a particularly brutal attack, is just the latest about America’s huge, counter productive problem of prison abuse. The “we need more money to pay guards” line is the oldest in the book, and a red herring. NOTHING WILL CHANGE UNTIL THE CRIMINALS IN UNIFORM – THE GUARDS – ARE IMPRISONED FOR THEIR CRIMES!
The good news is that once again there is a spotlight on the issue.
SPEAK OUT ABOUT PRISON ABUSE – I HAVE BEEN DOING SO FOR 8 YEARS NOW!
Excerpts from the Article:
Let’s stipulate that prisons can be dangerous places for both inmates and guards. But there can be no excuses for the brutal beating last month of a mentally and physically disabled woman by guards at the Lowell Correctional Institution that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Investigations are under way, and perhaps this horrific attack is the one that finally leads to lasting reforms in Florida’s prisons.
A federal civil rights lawsuit alleges that in August four male prison guards at Lowell attacked Cheryl Weimar, a 51-year-old inmate suffering from mental illness who also had a hip condition. As the Miami Herald reported, Weimar complained she was in pain and unable to clean a toilet. The lawsuit says the officers slammed her to the concrete floor and beat her, then dragged her outside where the beating continued outside the range of security cameras. Her lawyer says Weimar’s neck was broken and she is now a quadriplegic hooked to a breathing tube. There is nothing in this description of events that remotely justifies such violent, inhumane treatment.
The Department of Corrections’ response? Corrections Secretary Mark Inch allowed “that preliminary reports from this incident are concerning.”Concerning? The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating, but the guards have not been suspended or sent home. Inch said in a statement two days after the attack that the guards involved were reassigned to positions that do not have contact with inmates until the investigation is completed. Reassigned? That hardly seems commensurate with the seriousness of the situation, particularly given the indefensible track record at Lowell.
The stat e’s largest women’s prison already is under investigation by the Justice Department, which notified former Gov. Rick Scott last year it was looking into conditions there. That investigation focuses on inmates who have been sexually assaulted by corrections officers. A 2015 Miami Herald report described deplorable conditions at the prison and detailed instances of inmates being forced to have sex with prison staff in return for protection from other officers and for necessities such as sanitary napkins and toilet paper. This latest assault suggests little has changed in the prison’s culture even with a new corrections secretary in place under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Of course, the state has not been eager for the public to see much about the attack on Weimar, who the Herald reported declared a mental-health emergency that should have triggered medical intervention under the prison policy instead of a brutal beating. The newspaper reported her lawyer finally was allowed to take pictures of Weimar’s injuries after the Department of Corrections prohibited her from taking them for two weeks.
Florida’s criminal justice system has many issues. The nation’s third-largest prison system has nearly 100,000 inmates, and too many are locked up too long for nonviolent crimes. While Lowell is run by the state, there are too many prisons run by private companies that aren’t saving taxpayers money. The corrections system already costs taxpayers $2.7 billion a year and faces soaring health care costs for an aging prison population. And Inch candidly told state lawmakers last week there is “an issue of culture” within his department. He asked for $29 million next year to start reducing 12-hour shifts for guards, plus another $60 million for modest raises to try to reduce high turnover among prison guards.
The bottom line: Florida’s prison system is one hot mess that has not been effectively addressed by previous governors.
The first priority should be clear: There can be no tolerance for corrections officers who sexually assault and physically attack inmates. The federal and state investigations at the women’s prison in Lowell should be thorough, and they should hold accountable anyone who condones or participates in such violence. Remember, the attackers being paid with public money and acting on behalf of the state and all Floridians.
Yes, California was one of the first states on the “tough on crime” bandwagon, with awful results. They now are starting to “get it”: enhanced sentences do not reduce crime nor keep us safer.
This is telling: “Law enforcement fought us tooth and nail” … as I have warned for years, for every 1 person arrested, 29 benefit financially, so they lobby mightily and donate to lawmakers’ campaigns to save their useless jobs, trying to prevent needed changes. cops, prison guard unions, all the companies contracting with prisons, etc.!
“The California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California State Sheriffs’ Association all fought the bill.” … sure they did … job preservation! These moves by D As’ Associations really piss me off as a former prosecutor. The prosecutor’s job is to be FAIR, not just to lock up people.
Excerpts from the Article:
Asia was only 3-years-old when her parents went to prison, convicted on first-time drug charges. She would spend the next four years waiting for her mother, Ashleigh Carter, to be released, allowed only short visits every few months. Meanwhile, Asia and her disabled grandmother — both of whom had been in Carter’s care — struggled in her absence. They lived in a shelter after surviving a violent break-in. Asia struggled with self-esteem, was bullied by other kids, and grappled with the fear and trauma that comes with family separations.
Asia and her mother shared their stories with California lawmakers this year, in support of a Senate Bill 394, which enables parents and primary caregivers for a child under the age of 18 who are charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors to opt into programs instead of imprisonment.
It is one of several newly passed criminal justice reform bills now awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.
Senate Bill 136, which puts an end to sentence enhancements that automatically add an extra year for anyone convicted of recommitting a felony for which they had already served time
AB 1331, which will increase research and improve record-keeping in the criminal justice system
AB 32, which effectively ends the era of California’s reliance on private, for-profit prisons, including ICE detention centers.
Building on a series of reforms enacted in recent years that aim to reduce numbers in the state’s overcrowded and overwhelmed prison system, the changes mark a shift away from the tough-on-crime punitive policies of the past.
Roughly 80% of prisoners have had their sentences enhanced, and for more than a quarter of those, it has happened multiple times. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 11,000 people currently behind bars have had an arbitrary year added to their sentences because of the enhancement laws.
The practice comes at a high cost — the state spends roughly $80,000 a year to lock up a prisoner, a figure that multiplies as enhancements are added. Senate Bill 136 ends the practice, and according to an analysis by the Department of Finance, California will save $20.5 million in the first year of implementation. The savings are projected to increase each budget year to $43 million in 2021-22 and $68.5 million in 2023-24.
Passage was hard-won. SB 136 achieved a narrow victory, passing 41-37 in the Assembly, and 22-16 in the Senate.
“Law enforcement fought us tooth and nail,” Wiener said, adding this was only the second time sentence enhancements have been repealed in the state. A similar bill, introduced last session, didn’t pass.
“I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like it,” said Assemblymember Jim Cooper, a Democrat representing the Sacramento area, who did not vote for the bill. A former captain for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, Cooper scored an 85% rating from the National Association of Police Organizations for pushing back against several reforms that would get people out of prisons.
“If this bill is signed by the governor, it will potentially give those repeat offenders a pass on that one-year enhancement,” he said. “Judges are in a much better position to make a decision on that than the legislature.”
Movement away from ‘three strikes’
California voters overwhelmingly approved one of the nation’s first “Three Strikes and You’re Out” laws in the mid-’90s, which landed some in prison for life if they were charged after having two previous conviction. By 2007, the state counted more than 173,000 prisoners, a 740% jump in just three decades.
After a series of lawsuits, in 2009 federal judges ruled that the state’s system was so overcrowded it was unable to provide constitutionally required care for prisoners. By 2011, when the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered the state to bring its numbers down, the prison population was at 162,000, close to 180% of what the system was designed to hold.
Now, prisons are holding at roughly 135% of capacity. Officials credit policy changes with the drop. The state successfully enacted several reforms, through both the legislature and the ballot box. Proposition 57, which provided incentives for rehabilitation program participation inside prisons, alone resulted in a reduction of 10,600 in the average daily prison population over the next three years, due to good time, early-release credits.
Advocates emphasize that there’s also been changes in the way criminal justice is discussed — and that’s largely what is driving the shifts in policy.
“A lot of the prior law and order and criminal justice policy comes from faulty storytelling,” said Erin Haney, Senior counsel at #cut50, explaining that now they are working to change the narrative. “We are now starting to look at what justice means, and that is very different than solely relying on our long history of thinking of justice as exclusively punishment.”
Carter, a partner with the group’s Empathy Network, an initiative that gives a platform to those impacted by the incarceration system, used her story to advocate for Senate Bill 394.
“When my daughter Asia was born I held her in my arms, looked her in the eyes, and swore to her that I would protect her with every fiber of my being,” Carter said through tears during her testimony during a California Senate Public Safety Committee hearing. “I promised her that she had nothing to be afraid of because Mama would take care of her and never leave her side — and I lied.” It’s been 10 years since, but they say their family still hasn’t recovered. That’s why Carter said she decided to share her story, in an effort to convince lawmakers to give parents — and their kids — a chance at a better life.
Senate Bill 394, The Primary Caregiver Pretrial Diversion Act, enables parents and primary caregivers for a child under the age of 18 who are charged with nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors to opt into programs instead of imprisonment.
Authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat who represents the East Bay, the bill is intended to help the millions of children negatively impacted when a parent goes to prison, and ensure families aren’t separated by the system. It would create a pretrial diversion court that redirects parents or caregivers with dependent children into programs, including counseling, drug, and alcohol treatment, and career, parenting and financial classes to help them get back on track.
The California District Attorneys Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California State Sheriffs’ Association all fought the bill.
“I think we are moving in a positive direction,” Wiener says, adding that, over the past few years the legislature has achieved important reforms. “We have made a lot of changes — but we have a lot more work to do.”
It’s called cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the 8th Amendment. It is also “deliberate indifference to a serious medical need”, and inmates can sue. AND IT IS COMMON.
When I was in, a nurse who had gotten to know me, and who knew I would be writing my book, told me that she got orders from her boss (the “health care” provider at the time, since replaced twice) to arbitrarily terminate any two medications for any inmate receiving 4 or more meds per month … just pick two and stop providing them, to save money.
Excerpts from the Article:
A group of inmates is suing the New York state prison system over its efforts to crack down on prescription drug abuse, saying they are being forced to live with chronic pain because some medications have become too difficult to get behind bars.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court Monday, takes aim at a policy launched in 2017 that requires an extra layer of approval by senior prison system medical staff before inmates can get prescriptions filled for commonly abused and overused drugs.
In reality, those approvals are rarely given, the lawsuit said, leading to hundreds of prisoners being cut off from drugs used for legitimate medical reasons.
“The wholesale denial of these medications especially effects an already vulnerable population: one that includes patients with severe spinal and neurological issues, phantom pain from amputations, multiple sclerosis and serious, chronic pain,” the lawsuit said.
Eighteen prisoners are listed as plaintiffs in the suit. Many complained about restricted access to two drugs, the opioid painkiller tramadol, sold under the brand name Ultram, and the nerve pain and anti-convulsant medication gabapentin, sold under the brand name Neurontin.
Gabapentin isn’t a controlled substance on the federal level, but a growing number of states have taken steps to more closely monitor its use because of evidence it is being used by huge numbers of opioid addicts to make their high more potent. It is increasingly being discovered in the blood of people who have fatally overdosed on opioids. Simultaneously, it has become one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S.
Health officials in several countries have also documented widespread abuse of gabapentin in jails. The New York lawsuit includes several prisoners who say they need the drug and other painkillers for legitimate reasons
The suit said one of them, Angel Hernandez, 57, had been taking Ultram and Neurontin for years to control pain, numbness and a burning sensation from a degenerative spine problem and other ailments but was cut off from both drugs in 2017. His “medical records are full of his complaints of severe and unmitigated pain and suffering. Nothing was done,” the lawsuit said.
Another plaintiff in the suit, Wayne Stewart, 40, said he had chronic pain after injuries from a shooting in 2003 that left five bullets lodged in his body, including his head and the base of his spine. The gunshot wounds left him paralyzed from the waist down. He has also suffered from a pelvic bone infection. The suit said Stewart’s prescription for extended-release morphine was discontinued in favor of a far less potent dose of Percocet, which contains the opioid oxycodone. Then the Percocet prescription was also discontinued without cause. “To this day, Mr. Stewart continues to live with chronic, untreated pain,” the lawsuit said.
Pain management in prisons and jails is complicated due to concerns of prescription diversion and misuse, said Lipi Roy, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone.
Troubled companies made him billions. A prison phone investment made him enemies – This Guy is Bad News – kra
This guy, Tom Gores, and other owners of private prisons and private companies providing “services (classes, courses, treatment programs, probation) to the justice system are … as I have said for years … a disaster. They are focused on profit, not helping the individual nor society!
All studies show that inmates who have more contact – visits and/or calls – with friends and family are LESS LIKELY TO RE-OFFEND.
Obama had seen the evil in these price-gauging companies, and was phasing them out of all federal prisons, when tRump, jackass that he is, reversed that policy so that his donors and buddies who own the companies can make more money!
These companies also are moving from exorbitant phone rates to providing inmates with “free” tablets, then charging them for everything they do on them.
This makes sense: “The group’s report recommended abolishing commissions at jails and state prisons, eliminating excessive fees and making low rates the highest contract priority — or better yet making phone calls free so prisoners can maintain closer contact with families, considered one of the best ways to reduce recidivism.”
I am pleased to say that 5 years ago I organized a BOYCOTT of prison phones in Delaware, which succeeded in lowering rates. YOU SHOULD DO THIS WHEREVER YOU LIVE = Mail about 100 post cards to inmates, telling them the dates – one whole month – of the boycott ( at least 2 months out, giving them time to spread the word statewide), explain that no inmate should make any call during the month of x, 2020, unless ABSOLUTELY necessary! The resultant loss in revenue to the companies WILL get their attention!
Excerpts from the Article:
Tom Gores has made himself one of the richest men in Los Angeles buying castaway, often obscure businesses that he overhauls and unloads for big profits. That formula worked to perfection, for example, when his private equity firm acquired steel distributor PNA Group for an $18-million investment, cleaned house, made related acquisitions and sold the bulked-up company for more than $300 million, not including debt.
But with his latest purchase of a troubled asset, the 55-year-old billionaire has found himself in a harsh spotlight. The $1.6-billion acquisition of Securus Technologies has put Gores in control of a leading provider of telephone services to inmates— and a poster child for an industry widely condemned as a racket, given rates that can top a dollar a minute.
The Beverly Hills private equity titan has waded into a campaign against mass incarceration and what activists call the “prison industrial complex” — companies that operate or service correctional facilities, profiting off disproportionately poor and minority prisoners and their family members.
The decision to acquire the company in 2017 has raised eyebrows since the Detroit Pistons owner seemed an unlikely buyer. The prior year he drew glowing headlines for leading a campaign to raise at least $10 million amid the water crisis in Flint, Mich. — a majority black community where he grew up that has been devastated by auto-industry consolidation. And he’s been praised for his commitment to Detroit, where he’s funded charities and relocated the Pistons, a shrewd business move after a lengthy exodus to the suburbs led by prior ownership.
Gores, in an interview with The Times, said he knew his firm was courting “headline risk” when it decided to acquire Securus, but he saw the company as a solid business where Platinum could act as a “change agent.” He admits being taken aback by the activists’ campaign.
Platinum says it has begun reforms at the suburban Dallas telecom, replacing top management and reducing already declining phone rates by 14% in the last year to an average of 15 cents per minute, inclusive of all fees. Gores also said that his investment was not predicated on expensive calls, since rates were already coming down given the “public discussion” about them. Rather, he pointed to Securus’ computer tablets that allow inmates to make phone calls, take degree classes, enjoy entertainment and look for a job.
“We saw a lot more things than the rates,” he said. “The technology in this space is behind.”
.But impatient critics charge Platinum has not moved fast enough during its nearly two years of ownership, and Securus is still charging outrageously high rates — with a 15-minute call costing more than $10 at hundreds of jails — while profiting off additional fees.
It’s not a new controversy. Inmates, families and advocacy groups have for decades protested the high price of calls, typically paid by family members who open online accounts with Securus and other telecoms.
Facing pressure, the Federal Communications Commission in 2013 capped charges at 21 cents per minute for interstate calls from all types of facilities, though fees for simply adding money to an account can add to the cost. Charges have come down sharply in some state prisons. Securus signed a contract with Illinois that charges inmates less than a penny a minute for U.S. calls.
But there has been less headway at county and city jails where officials often rely on a share of call revenue to help fund their department. This common practice can account for 90% of the cost and is called a commission — but critics dub it a kickback and regressive tax that prison telecoms promote because it provides an incentive to inflate rates.
The company is making profits, the investment company — Platinum — is making profits and then you have the states and counties that are turning this into a revenue source.
With annual revenue of nearly $700 million, Securus is the second-largest prison telecom by market share, serving 3,400 correctional facilities and handling some 240 million calls last year. It also charges some of the highest rates, according to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, which surveyed more than 2,000 local jails in 2018. The data show that 226 of the 250 most expensive jails had contracts with Securus, with three in Arkansas charging $24.82 for a 15-minute call.
“They are selling the equivalent of a luxury product,” said Wanda Bertram of the Prison Policy Initiative, adding that the company is willing to “jack up phone rates” to appease sheriffs who want higher commissions.
The group’s report recommended abolishing commissions at jails and state prisons, eliminating excessive fees and making low rates the highest contract priority — or better yet making phone calls free so prisoners can maintain closer contact with families, considered one of the best ways to reduce recidivism.
University of Baltimore law school professor Daniel Hatcher said that prison telecoms are just another example of private companies that partner with public agencies to extract revenue from the poorest citizens for services that should be funded by taxation.
“The company is making profits, the investment company — Platinum — is making profits and then you have the states and counties that are turning this into a revenue source,” said Hatcher, whose book “The Poverty Industry” highlighted such arrangements.
The companies that operate private prisons have long been controversial and have been thrust into the spotlight for running facilities holding undocumented immigrants caught up in President Trump’s border crackdown. They are the subject of divestment campaigns, but activists say that even vendors providing phone and other services should have no role in the system because they have a financial incentive to promote incarceration.
Bianca Tylek is executive director of Worth Rises, a nonprofit campaigning against Platinum and other private equity firms.(Kwame Owusu-Kesse)
“There is a difference between businesses that have a few ethical, questionable deviations and a business that at the root, at the core, is unethical, where there is not a redeemable piece of the business left when you fix it,” said Bianca Tylek, a Harvard Law School graduate and founder of Worth Rises, a New York nonprofit campaigning against Platinum and other private equity firms.
The stated mission of Worth Rises is to “dismantle the prison industrial complex,” but Tylek has lobbied for practical reform including legislation that would either lower the cost of calls or make them free. Her group found a receptive ear with presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who signed legislation that this year made New York the first major city to make jail phone calls free. The city got its costs with Securus down to 3 cents a minute. Worth Rises also is pushing reform bills in the state, Massachusetts, Connecticut and elsewhere.
Diane Lewis, 53, a Connecticut mother whose son served 11 years in state prison, said she struggled to afford calls that cost about $4 for 15 minutes. Sometimes family members ran up $200 monthly bills from Securus.“Talking to my son took priority over every bill in my house. Were there times the lights were off? Yeah. Were there times the gas was off? Yeah, but when he came out he was connected to his family. He knew when there was a new baby, when somebody died. That makes a huge difference,” said Lewis, who makes $49,000 a year working for a program that helps place former inmates in jobs.
If the Connecticut bill is signed into law, the state would be the first to make phone calls free for state prisoners, but past efforts have run into bureaucratic opposition because the state receives commission revenue now totaling about $7.5 million a year, said state Rep. Josh Elliott, who is carrying the bill. “That goes toward paying probation and parole officers and services. We are not taxing people for that,” he said.
In California, it costs $1.23 to make a 15-minute phone call from a prison, which puts the state in the middle of the pack. San Francisco this summer moved to become the nation’s second major city to provide free jail calls. There is also a bill in the Legislature that would require county jails to end commissions and lower their rates.
An Israeli immigrant, Gores was born in Nazareth to Maronite Christian parents who moved to the Flint area when he was 4. He worked in his dad’s grocery growing up and put in a stint as a janitor to pay his way through Michigan State University. Worth an estimated $4.1 billion, according to Forbes, Gores has had a remarkable rise since moving to Los Angeles in 1988 to run a lumber-logistics software company founded with his brother Alec, with whom he learned the mergers-and-acquisitions business.
Gores split from his brother and founded Platinum in 1995. Alec Gores has his own L.A. private equity firm and is worth an estimated $2.2 billion. The larger Platinum, with $13 billion under management and a portfolio of 40 firms, is housed in opulent Beverly Hills offices once the headquarters of talent agency MCA. Gores’ home is a $38-million showpiece in the ultra-exclusive Beverly Park neighborhood in Beverly Hills. A third brother, Sam, founded and runs talent agency Paradigm.
Greif said that Platinum’s acquisition of Securus was a “high-visibility, high-risk” decision given the transformation of prison businesses into the category of a sin industry like tobacco. The circumstances surrounding the deal didn’t help. The acquisition closed less than a year after President Trump’s appointee to lead the Federal Communications Commission abandoned an Obama-era effort to impose caps on in-state calls, a priority for activists since about 80% of calls are local. Prison telecoms, including Securus, had sued to block the caps and had scored a victory in appeals court.
Then, just months after the deal closed, Platinum attempted to buy the third-largest prison telecom. The merger with ICSolutions was right out of the private equity industry’s playbook, but it infuriated activist groups, which blanketed the FCC docket in opposition, arguing that Securus had a history of flouting regulations and that the deal would lead to even higher rates.
In a surprise, the agency nixed the acquisition, prompting Platinum to abandon the deal. Tylek said the decision energized the activist community and made Platinum realize they wielded real power. “That opened their eyes,” she said.
In February, activist groups sent letters to Platinum and other private equity firms with holdings in prison service companies asking to meet with them and demanding that they exit those investments. One of the groups, the American Federation of Teachers, also issued a report that warned public pension fund managers that investing in private equity firms with such holdings could result in lower returns because of the growing backlash against the prison industry.
A month later, Worth Rises demanded Platinum implement a series of “operational reforms” and exit the Securus investment by the end of next year.Among the demands were free phone calls for all juvenile inmates, flat rates for all call types, a $5 price cap for a 30-minute video chat and free app options for all tablet content.
Barnhill told The Times that Platinum agrees rates are too high but reforming the company will be a slow process involving contract-by-contract negotiations as it attempts to wean corrections agencies off commissions. One method is requiring Securus to offer every agency it serves a commission-free contract option.
Tylek acknowledged the goal is to make companies such as Securus “toxic assets,” but said Platinum still needs to move faster on reforms, which she said have come only under the most extreme pressure. “They continue to promise action, but the longer it takes for our communities to see relief, the more their promises are sounding like marketing,” she said.
Activists plan to next target Apax Partners, a London firm that is raising money and owns electronic-monitoring company Attenti. Instead of freeing prisoners from jail or prison, critics say these companies actually widen the net of incarceration by encouraging monitoring. But Tylek said Worth Rises “will continue to be a thorn in Platinum Equity’s side,” focusing especially in Detroit, where Gores is a prominent local figure. “We will go at every available public pressure point, and if that means leveraging their public face with the Pistons we will do that,” Tylek said.
Mayor Mike Duggan, who has effusively praised Gores for bringing the Pistons back to the city, declined to comment for this article, with a spokesman saying that he has never heard of Securus.
During the height of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, when the NFL quarterback was drawing massive attention for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality, Gores stood out when he said he would support his players if they wanted to do so themselves.
But the optics of an investment in a prison telecom are worsening as consensus grows that mass incarceration — with an estimated 2.2 million people in U.S. jails and prisons — has contributed to poverty, destroyed families and eaten into government budgets at all levels.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has had to repeatedly defend himself on the presidential campaign trail for his backing of 1994 tough-on-crime legislation that critics say contributed to the problem. And bipartisan legislation that could cut the prison terms of some federal offenders even drew President Trump’s signature this year.
Gores maintains the outcry has energized him, and he promised to get more personally involved in managing Securus, something typically left to Platinum’s operations staff. He also offered to sit down face to face with activists to help improve the company.
“There are not a lot of things that get me too excited, but this is in a way something where I can get inspired to make a difference to a lot of people,” he said. “I am a kid who grew up in Flint and started with nothing, and if I could figure that out and get where I am today then I can figure this out, and I am going to make a difference.”
California bans private prisons – including Ice detention centers Bill removes profit motive from incarceration and marks latest clash in state’s battle with Trump over treatment of immigrants
This is great news for the inmates, for California, and for America! See numerous articles – scores of them – on this website about what a disaster private prisons are!
Excerpts from the Article:
The private prison industry is set to be upended after California lawmakers passed a bill on Wednesday banning the facilities from operating in the state. The move will probably also close down four large immigration detention facilities that can hold up to 4,500 people at a time.
The legislation is being hailed as a major victory for criminal justice reform because it removes the profit motive from incarceration. It also marks a dramatic departure from California’s past, when private prisons were relied on to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.
Private prison companies used to view California as one of their fastest-growing markets. As recently as 2016, private prisons locked up approximately 7,000 Californians, about 5% of the state’s total prison population, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. But in recent years, thousands of inmates have been transferred from private prisons back into state-run facilities. As of June, private prisons held 2,222 of California’s total inmate population.The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, must still sign AB32, but last year he signaled support for the ban and said during his inaugural speech in January that the state should “end the outrage of private prisons once and for all”.
Currently, one company, the Geo Group, operates four private prisons in California under contract with the California department of corrections and rehabilitation. The contracts for these four prisons expire in 2023 and cannot be renewed under AB32, except to comply with a federal court order to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.
In addition to signaling a major criminal justice reform, AB32 also has become a flashpoint in California’s fight with the Trump administration over the treatment of immigrants. The bill’s author, the assemblymember Rob Bonta, originally wrote it only to apply to contracts between the state’s prison authority and private, for-profit prison companies. But in June, Bonta amended the bill to apply to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s four major California detention centers.
Bonta’s amendment, say immigrant rights advocates, appears to have caught Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (Ice) and the private prison companies at a moment when their current contracts are expiring. The result is that instead of slowly phasing out immigration detention centers as their existing contracts expire years down the road, most will face closure next year – unless Ice and its private prison contractors find a workaround.
“I think Geo Group is realizing their scheme to circumvent state law is putting them in a place where they could end up being be nailed,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration attorney and the regional director for the Northern California Rapid Response & Immigrant Defense Network.
Two of Ice’s largest immigrant detention centers in California are operated by the Geo Group through complicated contracts that use cities as middlemen. The city of Adelanto signed an agreement in 2011 with ICE to hold up to 1,300 immigrant detainees facing deportation. Adelanto then subcontracted the prison operations to Geo Group. “What Ice does is they locate in these very poor and remote areas,” said Lizbeth Abeln, of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “The private prison comes in and lobbies and promises jobs, and tax money.” According to a report by the California state auditor, this complicated subcontracting model allowed Ice and Adelanto to forgo competitive bidding for the center’s operations subcontract.
A similar process unfolded just north of Bakersfield in McFarland, where in 2015 the city agreed to serve as the middleman for the Geo Group, which operates the 400-bed Mesa Verde detention facility. Geo Group expanded the Adelanto center in 2015 to 1,940 beds, making it the second-largest adult detention center in the country, and with the Trump administration’s crackdown against undocumented immigrants, another 1,000-bed expansion is planned.
But these complicated contracts were outlawed last year. Under the state Dignity Not Detention Act, cities and counties, including Adelanto and McFarland, were barred from signing new agreements with Ice or amending existing contracts to permit expansion. An immigrant detainee reads through paperwork in a general population block at the Adelanto detention facility.
“To expand their detention center, Geo Group and Ice would have to cut their ties with the city of Adelanto,” said Jose Servin, the communications coordinator of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. Geo Group asked both cities to break off their Ice contracts and the cities agreed. Ice then provided Geo Group with temporary contracts to operate Adelanto and Mesa Verde. Both agreements expire next March, after AB32 is expected to go into effect. “My understanding is AB32 would prevent new contracts for these facilities,” said Panah. “The fact they’re on a one-year bridge, it won’t allow them to move from the one-year contract to a longer-term contract.”
CoreCivic operates the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego under a direct contract with Ice and is building a 512-bed expansion to house immigrant detainees, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. But its Ice contract expires in June 2020.
In recent years, contracts with California’s prison authority have amounted to as much as 12% of CoreCivic’s total revenue, more than any other state prison authority in the US, according to SEC filings.
CoreCivic and Geo Group spent $130,000 during the first six months of this year lobbying the legislature and governor against AB32.
On 6 September, AB32 was amended to allow Geo Group, CoreCivic and other for-profit prison companies to continue operating after 2020, but only to help the state comply with a court-ordered prison population cap. Otherwise, the use of private prisons for state inmates is to be fully phased out by 2028.
“We have to worry about all the people who are detained right now,” said Servine. “Where will they end up?”
For every article I post about prison abuse and its insane cost – YOUR tax money wasted – there are at least 5 or 6 more that I have read. No point in posting all of them! This case involved “failure to protect”.
Excerpts from the Article:
On Oct. 23, 2017, Rodrick Roman Castro, an inmate at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, was questioned about allegations a former cellmate of his had been involved in drug dealing. The next day, the 34-year-old Castro was found dead in his cell, stabbed 92 times in the neck and torso with an ice pick.
Now, the state of California has agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a federal wrongful death lawsuit that alleges prison officials left Castro unguarded in an unlocked cell despite knowing that he was surrounded by associates of his former cellmate.
“Correctional officers and corrections staff and supervisors … knew that violence occurs when housing cooperating witnesses with suspects and members of different gangs together or housing inmates affiliated with rival gangs together,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Long Beach attorney Alexis Galindo on behalf of Castro’s family. The suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento, alleges that when Castro was questioned about a drug-selling conspiracy involving a previous cellmate at Salinas Valley State Prison, officials allowed his current cellmate to witness the interrogation. The next day, the lawsuit says, the cellmate was escorted out of the cell “and within minutes Rodrick Roman Castro was murdered in the cell.”
But Galindo confirmed the amount of the settlement and wrote in the lawsuit that video recordings from inside the prison “show that the suspect inmates had begun planning and orchestrating the attack” shortly after Castro was interviewed by a correctional officer.
“The preparation (included) moving contraband from one area of the unit to another, including an item that appears to resemble the murder weapon, an ice pick found at the scene,” the suit says, adding that guards did not monitor the live video that could have prompted intervention before Castro was killed.
The suit also alleges officials announced Castro’s slaying publicly before notifying his mother, Virginia.
Castro was serving a 10-year, eight-month sentence for attempted second-degree murder and carjacking out of Los Angeles County at the time of his death.
More than a year after Castro’s slaying, San Joaquin County prosecutors filed a murder charge against Jose Almaraz, another inmate at the Tracy prison. That case is pending, Assistant District Attorney Kristine Reed wrote in an email.
America’s Jails Are Pretending the Opioid Crisis Doesn’t Exist Correctional facilities refuse to provide medically assisted treatment for opioid withdrawal and people are dying at alarming rates as a result.
Another article which reminds me of the many times I SAW guards walk right by the cell of someone who clearly was in agony, ignoring his requests to get to the infirmary, and laughing as they strolled on. I really must devote more time to writing my book; it is such a slow process, but I do think it will raise a bit of a ruckus when published.
Excerpts from the Article:
When Matthew Herring was arrested in 2016 for a probation violation and sent to Dutchess County Jail* in upstate New York, he brought his medication with him. Herring, 22, had struggled with an opioid addiction for eight or nine years at that point, and had been in and out of jail since 2011, his mother Patricia Herring said. So he stashed an FDA-approved treatment drug called buprenorphine in his body to soften a painful withdrawal.
When the guards found it, however, he was thrown into solitary confinement for four days, where he suffered from withdrawal, his mother said. “They don’t have any compassion,” Herring said of her son’s treatment by correctional officers. “He’s puking his brains out, they’re laughing.”
Then, 72 days after his release from jail, Matthew died from an overdose. Herring asserts the lack of treatment on the inside played a role. “He was sick and suffering,” she said. “He was never offered medical treatment that he as human being deserved.”
People recently released from incarceration in the United States suffer alarmingly high rates of overdose deaths. A Massachusetts study found overdose deaths went up a staggering 120 percent the two weeks after release compared to the general public.
Opioid withdrawal is extremely painful and in some cases fatal; people have died in jails as a result of extreme dehydration linked to withdrawal, which causes diarrhea and vomiting. Yet only three percent of state and county correctional facilities across the U.S. carry any of the three FDA approved drugs for opioid addiction treatment: methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine. Often when the drugs are available, it’s left up to law enforcement to decide who has access.
Overdose deaths went up a staggering 120 percent the two weeks after release.
Advocates agree the main roadblock to more states providing medically assisted treatment (MAT) to incarcerated people is stigma associated with drug use. Many correctional employees view the treatments as just another avenue for addiction, or argue it will be traded illicitly on the inside. While the National Sheriff’s Association recently released a guide to using MAT in jails, a 2016 survey of correctional officers in nine states found that officers viewed MAT as a “treatment of last resort” rather than evidence-based medicine.
There are also cost issues: sheriffs in county jails in New York said it would be hard to provide the drugs without substantial funding, though advocates have countered that the cost of not giving treatment could be higher, due to hospital visits and return jail visits. Nonetheless, the budget cuts across both public and private health care providers for incarcerated people can cut deep.
But plaintiffs who were denied treatment have been mounting successful lawsuits, strengthening the case for the treatments nationwide: an April ruling in Maine and a ruling in Massachusetts last December both held that keeping someone from medication assisted treatment violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. A bipartisan Senate bill introduced by Senators Markey and Murkowski would fund $50 million of grants for MAT in jails and prisons.
Progress is slow. Bills in the NY State Legislature would have made the treatments available to everyone in the state’s prisons and county jails, but the proposal faltered at the end of 2019’s legislative session. Instead, Governor Andrew Cuomo expanded opioid treatment in prisons and jails across the state: with $4 million distributed to counties and $1.2 million to state prisons under the latest state budget. Some programs will also provide Naloxone, an overdose prevention drug, to those returning home.
The reach of those programs is limited: MAT is only available at eight of New York’s 54 state prisons, and only in interventions like parole diversion, pregnant women and people serving short sentences. These pilot programs are seen by advocates as far too gradual for the full-blown epidemic inside the state’s prisons and jails.
In the meantime New York’s county jails can still punish people for bringing the potentially life-saving medication into jail with them. In January, the Ulster County Sheriff’s office announced on its Facebook page the “arrest” of someone already incarcerated after a cell search turned up Suboxone, the brand name for buprenorphine. It was the second such arrest in six months, and Ulster County has seen its opioid death rate go up 345 percent between 2010 and 2018. This is why, a few months after the Sheriff announced that arrest, county executive Pat Ryan announced federal funds would be used to provide MAT, including in Ulster County Jail—a sea change from their approach earlier in the year.
New York’s county sheriffs still have wide latitude to punish people who smuggle the treatments inside. “They operate like fiefdoms,” said Dionna King, New York Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The sheriffs have a lot of autonomy.”
Jails can still punish people for bringing the potentially life-saving medication into jail with them.
One formerly incarcerated person—who wanted only to be identified as “Joseph” for fear of retribution—said that bringing opioid treatment drugs inside an institution is a common precautionary measure. Some heavy opioid users don’t leave the house without tabs of Suboxone stashed in their bodies. “Motherfuckers don’t leave their house unless they have 10 Suboxone stuck in their ass. That’s how it is with us,” he said. “It’s basic medical attention they just deny us.”
“All I’m asking for is general medical care, man,” he said he told the guard. “These people just looked at me like I’m a junkie.” He said he was brought to a hospital for his withdrawal symptoms only through a nurse’s intervention. Earlier this year, Albany County announced it would offer all three MAT drugs in their jail.
In Rhode Island, the only state that offers all three FDA approved drugs to incarcerated people, there has been a similar trend. Dr. Josiah Rich, a Brown University professor of medicine who helped implement the state’s plan, said he had heard plenty of incidents in which people smuggled buprenorphine into the jails. Suboxone, the brand name version of buprenorphine, is distributed on small tabs that can be hidden easily. He had heard cases of people slipping tabs inside crayon wrappers or under a stamp. But after treatment was offered in Rhode Island prisons, overdose deaths reduced 61 percent, and trading drugs in the facilities went down.
Patricia Herring, like many advocates, wants opioid addiction to be treated as a disease, not criminalized, and for more treatment to be made available in the community as well in jails. She said she finds herself wondering why her son was punished for bringing in a substance that wouldn’t have harmed anyone.
“Punishment is not the cure for the disease,” she said. “At all.”
If you know anything about our criminal justice system you know that, second only to the “war on drugs”, the privatization of it is the worst calamity to befall justice in America! See the comments by our friend, Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center.
Excerpts from the Article:
The state of Michigan would be prohibited from housing its inmates in private prisons under a bill filed by state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. Irwin told The Center Square that the private prison industry was inherently immoral because their financial incentive doesn’t match with the rehabilitation goal of the criminal justice system.
Irwin said that Michigan’s prison population has declined from a high of about 53,000 to around 38,000, and he is pushing to continue that trend through criminal justice reform.
Irwin pointed to substance abuse of crystal methamphetamine and opiates as fueling incarceration rates, especially among women in rural areas.
“I think that ending the War on Drugs is the biggest thing we could do to continue driving down our prison expenditures and continue to progress toward treating people like human beings and not locking them up for a private, victimless behavior,” Irwin said.
Michigan’s only private prison, North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, won a 10-year federal contract earlier this year to house people who immigrated illegally to the United States.
Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told The Center Square that the American private prison industry exists only because public prisons, jails and detention centers “don’t physically have enough space to lock up all the people we want to lock up.”
Friedmann cited a 2016 “In the Public Interest” report that suggested, in general, private prisons have higher recidivism rates than public prisons because of a profit motive. That translates to less experienced employees and a higher staff turnover rate, he said, which means you have less stability compared to public prisons.
Friedmann said that some private prisons avoid effective methods to break addiction such as Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT), the standard of care outside prisons and jails because some of those facilities don’t like to use narcotic medication such as methadone.
Throwing drug addicts in prison won’t help them unless they first address their medical issues, he added.
“I think when people are making these decisions, they’re not really based on sound research,” Volokh said. “If you did try to base it on sound research, it’ll be kind of depressing because you’d say, well, there’s just a lot we don’t know.” Volokh’s article suggested changing private prison contracts to be contingent on results such as recidivism rates, in-prison violence and healthcare outcomes.
The bill follows the Michigan Joint Task Force that’s analyzing cheaper alternatives to incarceration as Wayne County builds a $533 million jail, according to Crain’s Detroit Business, and Macomb County considers building a $371 million jail.
Michigan taxpayers in 2017 paid $478 million on county jails and other corrections costs representing 23 percent of county spending.
What a monster we have created. 3,100 companies that profit from the criminal justice system! READ this article to see the depth of the problem. And THE problem is that all of those profiting are opposing needed changes!
See some of the many ways that privatization is destroying justice.
See some of the preposterous lies from the profiteers!
Virtually none of these fucking companies even existed when I was a prosecutor and defense attorney (’73 to ’83) and the system worked well!
Excerpts from the Article:
A report released by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in February 2019 spotlighted several major private equity firms that invest in and profit from the private prison industry, which the organization says continues to fuel mass incarceration in the U.S.
In addition to private equity firms, many other businesses have invested in the prison market, according to Bianca Tylek, founder of an advocacy group called Worth Rises, which has compiled a list of 3,100 companies that profit from the criminal justice system – some with familiar names like Amazon and General Electric.
“We’ve underestimated the size of the prison-industrial complex,” Tylek admitted. “Every estimate you’ve seen until now is a conservative one.”
The involvement of private equity firms, which manage large investment portfolios, presents a conflict between the financial and social goals of some investors.
The two largest for-profit prison companies are Nashville-based CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America – with almost 14,000 employees and gross revenue of $1.83 billion in 2018 – and The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, with 22,000 workers and $2.33 billion in revenue last year. Both are publicly traded corporations and their stock has found its way into retirement, pension and hedge funds.
Either by direct investment in for-profit prison companies or through mutual funds or private equity firms, a large number of public pension funds are invested in the private prison industry. That can make it problematic for people whose assets are tied up in private prison companies but who disagree with their business model, political lobbying and campaign contributions, higher levels of violence, poor medical care for prisoners and other issues.
Three of the largest public pension funds in the U.S. have taken action to cut ties with for-profit prison operators: the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. [See: PLN, April 2019, p.60]. The Chicago Teachers Pension Fund and the New Jersey State Investment Council have also voted to divest from the private prison industry.
“Our union members serve tens of thousands of immigrant students in our schools, and we’re committed to taking any and all steps to protect their families from disruption or repression,” said Chicago Teachers’ Union President Jesse Sharkey. “That includes our refusal to support corporations that seek to profit from the national attack on immigrants – the same corporations that continue to profit from the mass incarceration of black people and the harm that continues to visit the families of our black students.”
Nearly 75 percent of immigrant detainees are housed in privately-operated detention facilities, most run by CoreCivic and GEO Group.
The AFT report highlighted seven private equity firms that hold ownership interests in various private prison companies, including Miami-based H.I.G. Capital, LLC, which has around $30 billion in assets under management and indirectly owns Inmate Calling Solutions (ICS), which provides prison and jail phone services. H.I.G. also owns Wellpath, a $1.5 billion prison healthcare provider formed in October 2018 when Correct Care Solutions (CCS) merged with Correctional Medical Group Companies (CMGC). CMGC was originally founded as California Forensic Medical Group, which served numerous county jails in California.
Prior to the Wellpath merger, CCS had been sued more than 140 times between 2005 and 2017. The company also had its contract terminated by Fulton County, Georgia after five prisoners died in less than three months. A video in a Westchester County, New York lawsuit showed CCS staff wheeling a prisoner who had collapsed back to his cell, where he subsequently died from a heart attack.
H.I.G. Capital also owns TKC Holdings, a company that includes Trinity Services Group, which provides prison food services; Keefe Group, which supplies prison commissaries; and ICS.
Trinity took over the contract for food service in Michigan’s state prison system from rival Aramark in 2016, but was terminated two years later. Both companies experienced problems maintaining staffing levels and food quality – there were reports of maggots in meal serving areas as well as misconduct by employees, including smuggling drugs and engaging in sexual relationships with prisoners. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.52; Jan. 2018, p.46; Feb. 2017, p.48].
Since 2017, another private equity firm, BlueMountain Capital Management, has owned prison medical care provider Corizon Health, which serves 180,000 prisoners and generates an estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue. [See: PLN, March 2019, p.61]. Previously, Corizon was majority owned by Beecken Petty O’Keefe & Company.
According to the ACLU, Corizon has been sued more than 600 times since 2011, settling some cases for millions of dollars – including an $8.3 million settlement in a 2015 wrongful death suit in California. [See: PLN, March 2015, p.54]. The company lost its contract with the Arizona Department of Corrections at the end of 2018 due to serious and sometimes fatal neglect of prisoners in need of medical care. [See: PLN, April 2019, p.56].
Platinum Equity, LLC owns prison telecom company Securus Technologies, which it purchased from ABRY Partners. Securus acquired JPay in 2015, and has contracts at 3,400 facilities serving 1.2 million prisoners, who pay some of the highest phone rates in the nation, particularly at county jails. When the FCC capped intrastate (in-state) prison and jail phone rates in 2016, Securus and other companies fought the order, eventually prevailing in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The FCC, under new leadership during the Trump administration, refused to defend its intrastate rate caps in the case. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].
Securus, like other prison telecoms, engages in “commission” kickback arrangements with prisons and jails; it has been accused of illegally recording prisoner-attorney phone calls, has had its customer data repeatedly hacked, and previously required some jails to eliminate in-person visits when contracting with the company for video calling services.
Other private equity firms that own companies which profit from the criminal justice system include:
• American Securities, LLC owns GTL, which provides phone services to over one million prisoners at 2,300 facilities in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico;
• Apax Partners, LLP owns prisoner and parolee monitoring device firm Attenti;
• Bison Capital Asset Management owns Sentinel Offender Services, a pioneer in developing private probation and prisoner case management services; and
• Endeavor Capital owns Aladdin Bail Bonds, a nationwide chain.
Jeff Zanarini, a managing director at H.I.G. Capital, claims the equity firm’s investment in companies that provide criminal justice services is so small that it plays “no role whatsoever in shaping the nation’s jails and prisons.” If anything, he said, H.I.G. is “focused on improving the health and well-being of prison populations, while providing services that are far superior to the available alternatives (i.e., the provision of such services by state and local governments).” He provided no evidence to back up that claim, nor did he address the abysmal track records of companies like Wellpath/CCS and price-gouging by firms like ICS and Keefe Group.
Bianca Tylek said the Corrections Accountability Project, a project of Worth Rises, found that by acquiring and merging local and regional businesses into huge national companies, private equity firms have a profound impact on the private prison industry.
“Without [private equity] shops, these companies could not have become as big and as exploitative as they are today,” she noted.
The American Federation of Teachers cautioned in its report that public pension funds which invest in companies that provide prison and jail services, directly or through private equity firms, risk unnecessary liability and exposure. Previously, the AFT had appealed to teachers’ pension funds to divest stock holdings in companies that operate prisons and immigration detention centers.
How the Dutch Are Closing Their Prisons – The number of prisoners in the country has halved in a decade and experts say alternative sentencing programs can further decrease the number.
I have been expecting this for months. The Europeans are way ahead of us with “what works” in prisons! While we still warehouse and abuse prisoners, Holland, Norway and Denmark make them – most of them – productive citizens. Read this and see how.
We have known this for years (see other articles on this website), but because powerful forces oppose change – prison guard unions, private prisons, police unions, thousands of corporations making money off of prison services and “programs” [all of which spend millions of dollars each year on lobbying and campaign donations] our idiot lawmakers do not do what we really need. what WORKS! Yes, i’ll remind you again: in America, for every 1 person arrested, 29 benefit financially … and damn few of them are helping anyone, the individual or society!
Excerpts from the Article:
Walking along the corridors of the creative work space that is housed inside the Wolvenplein prison, reminders of the building’s long history are everywhere. The heavy cell doors with tiny break-proof windows now lead to small offices. When tenants sit outside on their lunch break, they look out on the thick brick walls topped with barbed wire. In the kitchenette, instruction posters next to a large sink offer a step-by-step guide to drug-testing urine samples. For 158 years, this was where the central Dutch city of Utrecht sent its prisoners. And then five years ago – along with almost half of the country’s prisons – it shut down.
Last year, the Dutch government decided to close four more prisons. Some of the now-empty buildings are being sold off, while others offer temporary shelter for refugees. The former Bijlmerbajes prison complex in Amsterdam even housed a Syrian refugee-run pop-up restaurant before it was demolished last year.
A view of the death chamber from the witness room at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility shows an electric chair and gurney August 29, 2001 in Lucasville, Ohio. The state of Ohio is one of the few states that still uses the electric chair, and it gives death row inmates a choice between death by the electric chair or by lethal injection. John W. Byrd, who will be executed on September 12, 2001, has stated that he will choose the electric chair.
A drop in the country’s crime rate in part explains why the Netherlands’ prisons are emptying. A 2016 government study on capacity also noted that a focus on sentencing, with both an increase in shorter sentences and examining how crimes impact society, have helped reduce the prison population, says Wiebe Alkema, spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice and Security.
The Netherlands now has just 61 prisoners per 100,000 people in the general population, ranking among the lowest in Europe. In comparison, the United States has more than 10 times that figure (655 per 100,000), the highest in the world, according to data from the World Prison Brief, an online database hosted by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at the University of London. The Dutch justice department predicts that by 2023, the total prison population will drop to just 9,810 people.
“Compared to the U.S., Dutch judges are much less likely to give a prison sentence. More often they give a financial penalty or community service,” says Hilde Wermink, assistant professor of criminology at Leiden University. “They decide on a case-by-case basis to assess whether a prison sentence is appropriate or in fact harmful.”
Dutch criminology researchers for years have pointed to the effectiveness of alternative sentencing. In 2013, Wermink and colleagues concluded that prison is not an effective way to reduce crime, and a study from last year showed that longer prison sentences in particular are not leading to lower crime rates. Both community service and electronic monitoring yield better results. Although the latter is sometimes seen as a softer punishment, Wermink and colleagues found it actually decreases re-offending rates. A 2015 study compared detainees in Belgium with sentences of between six months and three years, and found that the subjects who completed their sentence at home wearing detectable ankle bracelets were less likely to reoffend than peers who had completed their sentence behind bars.
“We do already know that prison has a negative effect on employability. Often it also destabilizes family situations. And the ‘prison as a school of crime’ theory could have an influence, especially when prison re-affirms someone’s criminal identity.”
For those who do end up in prison, innovative intervention programs are aimed at breaking the re-offending cycle. In the town of Krimpen aan den IJssel, near Rotterdam, the non-profit organization Gevangenenzorg Nederland (Prison Care Netherlands) runs a program that invites future employers into prison to meet inmates. In preparation for release, inmates participating in the organization’s Compagnie (Company) project are allowed to work outside prison, often doing more-meaningful work than the repetitive labor programs inside. They return to cook and do household chores together with other inmates and take part in evening activities before cell doors lock for the night.
Of the 68 inmates who have joined the Compagnie project to date, 43 have successfully moved on and are in stable housing and employment. Hanna Geuze, project coordinator at the Compagnie, credits the humane treatment of inmates as a crucial factor to its success. Participants, called “companions,” must apply for a place on the ward. Once the program team is convinced of an inmate’s sincerity to change and take responsibility for their actions, they are coupled with a volunteer mentor who visits them every two weeks.
“The fact that someone comes in to simply be with you and ask how you are doing is transformative,” Geuze says. “It is a more gentle preparation for life outside.”
At the Compagnie, contact with the outside world is encouraged. Inmates are allowed to Skype home to read bedtime stories to their children and in some way stay connected to family life. Wardens call inmates by their first name rather than surname. To come to terms with their past, inmates attend therapeutic sessions in which crime victims come in to share the impact the offense had on their lives.
Following a successful pilot, the next phase of the project will see open and closed wards mixed for the first time, meaning inmates who already qualify for working outside will live alongside those who are still fully inside. “That requires a lot of trust and responsibility on the part of the participants, but we think it will ultimately aid the transition,” Geuze says. She acknowledges that the relative freedom on the Compagnie ward is too much for some. “Even though our success rates are significantly higher than on conventional wards, we know that some people will drop out,” Geuze says. “To really make an impact and change behavior, we need to work with inmates for a minimum of six months, but ideally much longer.”
And that, ironically, is where the problem lies, says Peter van der Laan, a professor and senior researcher at the Dutch Study Centre for Crime and Law Enforcement. Van der Laan says the average prison time in the Netherlands is much too short to be able to run meaningful reintegration projects. Fifty-five percent of all custodial sentences in the Netherlands are for less than one month, and three-quarters of all sentences are shorter than three months. In practice, this means that pre-trial custody often outlasts the eventual sentence.
“The Dutch judicial approach to prison is that the taking away of freedom itself is the punishment,” van der Laan says. “Therefore, once inside a prisoner should be treated humanely, and his treatment should not be a form of punishment, too.” Yet the first stages of imprisonment can be traumatic, he says, with prisoners facing significant risk of suffering mental health issues.
“When we lock people away for very short periods, they have less or no opportunity to join employment or education programs,” he says. “But there is lots of ‘detention damage’ — even a few weeks can be enough to lose a job, home and social relations.”
Instead, van der Laan says judges should aim to reduce the number of short sentences. “The first consideration is: Is there a direct danger to the general public if this person is not imprisoned? In the vast majority of cases, this is not the case,” he says, noting that many cases involve nonviolent crimes. “If the risk of direct danger is low, they should suspend pre-trial detention where possible.”
To change the public perception of “soft punishment” of criminals, it is crucial that governments and the judiciary explain their approach, van der Laan says. Retribution can be a legitimate punishment, he says, but policymakers must be pragmatic and economical.
“Why do we punish in the first place?” he asks. “If the goal is to reduce crime, we know that prison often does not deliver that. And if delinquents suffer from addiction problems or mental illness, pre-custodial sentencing certainly does not help with that. In these cases, electronic detention combined with mandatory therapy might be much more effective in reducing the chances of reoffending.”