Sara Mayeux runs the best prison law blog on the net--the appropriately named Prison Law Blog.
In a recent post, Sara discussed the costs of incarcerating elderly inmates:
Around the country, men and women who were sentenced to very long prison terms in their 20s, 30s, and 40s are starting to reach their 50s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s. Many of our nation’s prisons are ill-equipped to care for young, healthy people, much less the aging and infirm — and considering that prison life itself can exacerbate physical and mental health conditions, it seems like a safe assumption that after 20 or 30 years of life behind bars our aging prisoners are going to require extraordinary outlays, and/or be subject to extraordinary suffering. Already in California, medical care for the state’s 21 sickest prisoners costs an estimated $40 million per year — some of which goes simply to paying the salaries of guards who watch over them 24/7 while they are in the hospital.
I don’t have any idea how states that have been particularly enamored of LWOP and three strikes laws and the rest plan to deal with this problem in coming years. I’d guess the states don’t have any idea, either.
In Illinois, there are some talks of creating a geriatric prison. While this might help streamline scarce resources within the prison system, it fails to address a more profound question. Given the high cost of incarcerating elderly prisoners, what does our state get in return?
Families may have the chance to video visit with loved ones in prison under a program proposed by the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Families and friends of inmates often must travel hundreds of miles for a prison visit. The time and expense prevents many people from visiting an inmate.
To learn more about video visiting, click here.
Despite a powerful endorsement from the Chicago Sun Times and a broad base of support, Jorge Montes has resigned from the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Via Governor Quinn's office:
CHICAGO--(ENEWSPF)--July 31, 2010 - Governor Pat Quinn today announced appointments to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, the newly-formed Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, the Health Facilities and Service Review Board and the East St. Louis Financial Advisory Authority.
Illinois Prisoner Review Board
The Illinois Prisoner Review Board imposes release conditions for incarcerated individuals who are exiting prison, awards inmate good conduct credits, and conducts hearings to determine whether parolees have violated conditions of parole. The board also makes confidential recommendations to the Governor regarding clemency petitions, and notifies victims when an inmate is about to be released.
Current board chair Jorge Montes announced yesterday that he is leaving the commission to pursue other opportunities. Montes will continue to serve the board over the next three weeks to assist with the transition. The new appointees are:
Adam Monreal will serve as the new chairman of the Prisoner Review Board. Monreal lives in Chicago and is currently a supervisor in the Department of Insurance’s Workers’ Compensation Fraud Unit. Previously he served as Assistant to the Mayor of Chicago for Public Safety and as an Assistant State’s Attorney.
Angelia Blackman-Donovan lives in Belleville and is a trial court administrator in the 20th Judicial Circuit. Blackman-Donovan has spent 30 years as a prosecutor, public defender and private attorney.
William Simmons lives in Wheaton and spent 40 years with the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office and the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. He retired in 2008 as Chief of Criminal Investigations.
Hat tip to one of the best blogs on the net--The Agitator
The Chicago Tribune recently ran a piece on the horrifying practice of shackling pregnant incarcerated mothers who are giving birth.
Latiana Walton went through most of her labor at Stroger Hospital with an arm and leg chained to her bed, she remembers.
As contractions surged through her body, she could not move or change position to relieve the pain. A Cook County correctional officer repeatedly refused to remove the restraints, she said, even when a doctor objected, saying that he was unable to administer an epidural.
“I actually said to the guard, ‘Where am I going?’ I’m crying. I’m in pain,” recalled Walton, 26. “‘I’m not going to get up and run out of the hospital.’”
On Aug. 27, 2008, Walton, who had been arrested after she missed a court date on a retail theft charge, became one of an estimated 50 women who give birth every year while in the custody of the Cook County Jail.
Shackling women during labor is illegal; Illinois became the first state to ban the practice in 1999, and nine other states have followed suit. But more than 20 former jail inmates, including Walton, have filed lawsuits since 2008 against the Cook County sheriff’s office, which runs the jail, alleging that they were handcuffed by the wrist or shackled by the leg while giving birth. Most of these women, according to their attorney, had been arrested for nonviolent crimes and were awaiting trial…
Officials at the sheriff’s office say their policy follows the law. A pregnant woman can be restrained, according to the policy, until a medical official confirms that she is, in fact, in labor. “When does’labor’ begin? Our officers aren’t trained to know, the state law doesn’t say, so we rely on medical personnel to advise us,” Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, wrote in an e-mail. “Once a medical person advises us someone is in labor, restraints of whatever sort are removed.”
But the plaintiffs’ attorney argues that restraints were, in his clients’ cases, removed too late or not at all. He contends that sheriff’s officials interpret “labor” as the moments immediately before birth, and that guards sometimes deny requests by doctors and nurses to remove the handcuffs and shackles. “When you talk to these women, they say,’Yeah, when I’m delivering and I’m pushing, that’s what they consider labor,’” said plaintiffs’ attorney Thomas G. Morrissey. “They remain in shackles and handcuffs until the baby is about to be delivered.”
Check out the full story here.
This week's Economist has an excellent piece on America's prison problem:
America is different from the rest of the world in lots of ways, many of them good. One of the bad ones is its willingness to lock up its citizens. One American adult in 100 festers behind bars (with the rate rising to one in nine for young black men). Its imprisoned population, at 2.3m, exceeds that of 15 of its states. No other rich country is nearly as punitive as the Land of the Free. The rate of incarceration is a fifth of America’s level in Britain, a ninth in Germany and a twelfth in Japan. . . .
Conservatives and liberals will always feud about the right level of punishment. Most Americans think that dangerous criminals, which statistically usually means young men, should go to prison for long periods of time, especially for violent offences. Even by that standard, the extreme toughness of American laws, especially the ever broader classes of “criminals” affected by them, seems increasingly counterproductive. . . .
Many states have mandatory minimum sentences, which remove judges’ discretion to show mercy, even when the circumstances of a case cry out for it. “Three strikes” laws, which were at first used to put away persistently violent criminals for life, have in several states been applied to lesser offenders. The war on drugs has led to harsh sentences not just for dealing illegal drugs, but also for selling prescription drugs illegally. Peddling a handful can lead to a 15-year sentence. . . .
It seems odd that a country that rejoices in limiting the power of the state should give so many draconian powers to its government, yet for the past 40 years American lawmakers have generally regarded selling to voters the idea of locking up fewer people as political suicide. An era of budgetary constraint, however, is as good a time as any to try. Sooner or later American voters will realise that their incarceration policies are unjust and inefficient; politicians who point that out to them now may, in the end, get some credit.
Check out the full piece here.
A federal judge has ruled that inmates sent to the Tamms Supermax prison have a legal right to challenge their confinement there.
Tamms is regarded by many as the harshest prison operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections. Inmates are held in solitary confinement for months or years and allowed out of their cells for only a few hours a week. They are not allowed to communicate by telephone.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy described inmates as "intensely isolated" and in many instances this causes long term mental problems.
Michael Randle, director of IDOC, has promised to improve conditions at Tamms. The court's ruling extends and makes permanent those changes.
Via Breaking News Center:
Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday named a veteran of the Department of Children and Family Services as the new director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, as he folds Juvenile Justice into DCFS.
Quinn named Arthur Bishop, a DCFS deputy director, who started at the agency in 1995 and now runs its field operations, the department's largest division. In that job, he supervises the department's wide network of caseworkers as well as other employees.
Bishop is an ordained minister but has no criminal justice or corrections background. He will succeed Kurt Friedenauer, who resigned earlier this week amid Quinn's controversial plan to merge the two departments.
"Arthur Bishop has the experience, knowledge and integrity to deliver the treatment and services our youth need," Quinn said in a news release. "This merger will ensure that at-risk youth have access to the services and support they need to become positive, productive members of society and move [the department of juvenile justice] to a child welfare-based system."
Bishop was involved in the case of Baby T, in which Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and his wife, Anne Burke, now a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court, took guardianship of a child who was born with cocaine in his system.
The John Howard Association has released two new reports based on monitoring tours of the state's prisons.
The report on Dixon Correctional Center highlights the need for a secure nursing home to accommodate the increasing number of geriatric inmates in Illinois.
The report on Menard Correctional Center reveals progress in reducing "lockdowns" there and at prisons around the state. In a lockdown, inmates are confined to their cells and visits and other privileges are curtailed.
Look for other reports in the near future as JHA continues its goal of observing and reporting on prison conditions.
This is a smart idea that Illinois should borrow.
The federal agency in charge of helping parolees re-enter society in Washington D.C. has launched an innovative media campaign that "asks area business leaders to articulate what it will take for them to hire offenders."
Here's a summary of the media campaign from the Washington Post:
During a taped segment, which is posted on the agency's Web site and YouTube channel and will air on local television stations, officials from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency discuss the incentives available to businesses that hire individuals who have spent time in the criminal justice system. The agency also asks for comment from employers. There are also six radio segments in the works that will include interviews with both employers and offenders.
"We don't know what the response is going to be; what we're trying to do is crowd source the issue of hiring offenders," said Leonard Sipes Jr., a public affairs specialist with the agency and host of the program. "This project is about tapping into the knowledge of the business community and finding out what their bottom line is ... they know better than anybody else what they need, what they want, who they'll hire and who they won't hire."
Check out the full story here.
Progress Illinois’ Adam Doster makes a good point on how sensible criminal justice reform could save the state a significant amount of money.
Here’s the crux of his argument:
The Land of Lincoln witnessed a 44 percent drop in violent crime and 30 percent dip in property-related crime between 1995 and 2007. Yet, the incarceration rate grew by 20 percent, driven by punitive sentencing laws and stringent efforts to lock up criminals for minor offenses. Indeed, the FY 2009 Department of Corrections' budget was $1.44 billion, greater than all other departments with the exception of human services and health care.
The good news is that smart policy changes could generate huge savings for cash-strapped taxing bodies. On average, about 50 percent of prison inmates in state lockup committed non-violent offenses. The number is even higher (75 percent) at the local level. CEPR estimates that reducing the number of non-violent offenders in our prisons and jails by half -- which would bring the rate back to its historical norm -- would save states and counties $14.8 billion per year. If Illinois trims that inmate pool by half, our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that the state government alone would save roughly $300 million annually -- money that could then be funneled into rehabilitation programs or back into the strained General Revenue Fund.
Check out the full article at Progress Illinois.