Tag Archive for violence

Federal Intervention Requested at Orleans Parish Prison

Behind BarsTuesday evening the Southern Poverty Law Center filed for a preliminary injunction against the New Orleans sheriff’s office. This filing pointedly requested the intervention of a federal judge due to the severity of the allegations. 

This action come a mere one month after the SPLC  filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman over unsafe and unconstitutional jail conditions.  Allegations that were supported by a Department of Justice inspection a few weeks later that found “inadequate staffing levels in jail facilities, pervasive violence and substandard mental health care.”

These findings were hardly shocking to anyone who was paying attention back in 2009 when prior DOJ investigations revealed a similar level of unconstitutional activities. In the intervening time, to the intense frustration of advocates, there was practically no public communication from the feds or local authorities about how to resolve the problems.

This latest filing by the SPLC requests U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to both grant investigating attorneys “expedited discovery” and hold a hearing about the conditions in jail within the next 90 days. (It is worth noting that Gusman’s office had asked last month for an extension of the original lawsuit.)

As if the findings prompting the lawsuit were not enough, reports are now filtering in about escalating violence in the facilities under scrutiny – violence that seems to have a level of retribution in its make-up.

Laura Maggi, a reporter for The Times-Picayune, brings us the unpleasant details:

Since the lawsuit, there has been an ‘uptick’ in violence, while inmates who need mental health care continue to be neglected, wrote Katie Schwartzmann, managing attorney for the law center. For example, the filing accuses jail deputies of anally raping an inmate with an object, beating up another shackled inmate and failing to protect three inmates attacked by other inmates.

One of the original plaintiffs, inmate Kent Anderson, signed an affidavit that deputies have threatened him since the lawsuit, saying they could move him back to a jail facility where he believes isn’t safe. ‘Since my lawyers filed the lawsuit, things have been hell for me. Deputies tell me, ‘You want to complain about things? You want to tell your lawyers? We’ll send you back to Old Parish Prison,” according to the affidavit.

Our justice system is flat out broken, there is no other way to truthfully describe it. Conditions of overcrowding and violence are found across the nation, and often in facilities housing not only male offenders, but also those incarcerating women and youths.The situation in Orleans Parish Prison is a horrible reminder of this fact.


Southern Poverty Law Center sues Polk County Sheriff for abusive conditions

SPLC_LogoPolk County Sheriff Grady Judd is on the hot seat facing accusations that children held in his county’s adult jail have been consistently subjected to abuse, neglect and violence.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) filed a class action lawsuit against Judd (Case Number 8:12-cv-00568-SDM-MAP, filed in the United States District Court Middle District of Florida/ Tampa Division) that describes brutal treatment and condition in the jail. Among the disturbing allegations are incidents such as:

  • Draconian punishment for even minor infractions of the rules. One example cited was spraying them with harsh chemicals for taking too long to get dressed.
  • Incidents of both physical and verbal abuse by guards. One noted example was a a guard twisting a teenager’s arm behind his back and threatening to break it.
  • Failure to provide adequate educational services.
  • Failure to provide adequate rehabilitative services.

That is an amazing array of negatives, particularly since the facility has only been housing children for six months, since October of 2011. Why are they doing so? Because of SB 2112, passed by Florida lawmakers last Spring. SB 2112 allows counties to place children as young as eight years old in adult jails, and they have.

Three quarters of the the youth arrested in Polk Country are brought in for minor infractions – misdemeanors and probation violations mostly – yet over 100 children are incarcerated there under the supervision of guards that have no expertise or training on how to work with children.

So far Polk is the only county in Florida that detains youth charged as juveniles under adult jail standards rather than Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) standards. The situation there reflects the damage that SB 2112 has done in basically reversing over 40 years of work creating protections for children that adult jails cannot provide.

It’s almost as though Sheriff Judd wants to breed more crime and criminals, a view the SPLC website seems to agree with me on:

Decades of research shows that exposing children to adult jails leads to more crime, not less. Based on this research, states around the country have passed legislation prohibiting the placement of children in adult jails. Florida legislators bucked this promising trend when they passed a law that could funnel more children into adult jails throughout the state of Florida.

‘The abuse suffered by the children of Polk County should serve as a cautionary tale for counties throughout the state of Florida that are considering housing children in adult jails.’ Galloni said. ‘This lawsuit demonstrates that incarcerating children in adult jails is bad public policy that inflicts incalculable harm on children, results in negative public safety outcomes and exposes taxpayers to tremendous legal liability.’

We will be following this story closely, and will hopefully be bringing you a few interviews with some of the folks behind the SPLC lawsuit in the near future.

Incarceration: The World Experienced by Child Offenders

Bart Lubow, who directs the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group minces no words when it comes to the subject of juvenile incarceration. WNYC 93.9 FM brings us his comments:

Putting young offenders in correctional facilities, he said, isn’t paying off.

‘It results in extraordinarily high recidivism rates, exposes youth to abuse and violence and does little, if anything, to enhance public safety,’ Lubow said.

Unfortunately there are times when the situation is even worse than that. In Texas Jordan Adams died after being strangled with a sheet at Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center. Another 14 year old was the one holding the sheet at the time.

Here’s some of the news coverage:

This shows another pernicious aspect of our incarceration based approach to juvenile justice. Evidence that has continued to mount pointing out the ineffectiveness of incarceration for quite some time, but examination reveals an array of failings of the most egregious sort.

Many readers will consider this boy’s death a tragic but isolated instance, and thankfully juvenile fatalities of this sort are not what you could call common. That is, of course, shallow solace.

It is not just death that faces incarcerated kids. The vile specter of rape is one faced by 30% of all youth inmates. All of them, both male and female.  The U.S. Department of Justice has provided some truly disturbing figures (as reported by AmplifyYourVoice) :

Rates of reported sexual victimization varied among youth:
– 10.8% of males and 4.7% of females reported sexual activity with facility staff.
– 9.1% of females and 2.0% of males reported unwanted sexual activity with other youth.
– Youth with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual reported significantly higher rates of sexual victimization by another youth (12.5%) compared to heterosexual youth (1.3%).
– Youth who had experienced any prior sexual assault were more than twice as likely to report sexual victimization in the current facility (24.1%), compared to those with no sexual assault history (10.1%).

The violence often found in these facilities, coupled with the frequently inadequate staffing and supervision, is part of the reason that institutions like these tend to produce repeat offenders. Criminal behavior is learned and reinforced in these facilities far more often than not.

When you consider the plight of chidren in these environments it is good to recall the words of  Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy and author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and BORN FOR LOVE: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered:

What we are as adults is the product of the world we experienced as children. The way a society functions is a reflection of the childrearing practices of that society. Today, we reap what we have sown.

Is Oklahoma Slipping Back Into Its Old Ways?

Seal of OklahomaThe Oklahoma Legislature approved House Bill 2028 in 2009. This bill allows the use of pepper spray and electromagnetic shock devices in juvenile detention centers. It was signed into law. The office of juvenile affairs, which requested the bill in the first place, has not yet changed its own rules to allow these measures. Rumor has it that might change soon.

This year that same body approved Senate Bill 247. This bill allows  maximum security spaces to be added to existing juvenile detention centers. It was also signed into law last May.

Why the sudden embrace of such extreme measures?

Multiple violent incidents at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Detention Center in Tecumseh are commonly cited as the cause. One juvenile suffered a brain injury after being beaten in one incident, while in another local law enforcement had to be brought in to preserve order following a violent incident involving multiple juveniles.

The recent outbreak came after the closure of the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility. The youths incarcerated there were transferred

Office of Juvenile Affairs closed the state’s only maximum-security juvenile facility, the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, and transferred some of the youths from there to the state’s two other juvenile institutions.

Tulsa attorney Steven Novick does not think this reaction is justified. This is worth mentioning because Novick is the attorney who spearheaded the 1978 federal lawsuit that began a series of sweeping reforms to the juvenile system.
The suit was filed on behalf of a boy, under the pseudonym of Terry D.,  who described conditions that often included  the use of hogties and days of solitary confinement. After touring one of the facilities Novik deemed the stories well founded.  Barbara Hoberock comments on this in her recent article in Tulsa World:
He said the staff was proud of what it had been doing, adding that staff members were ‘every bit as institutionalized as the kids were. They didn’t see what they were doing as possibly wrong or harmful. That was the springboard.’
The allegations mounted, Novick said, and the suit alleged that children were subjected to abusive use of restraints and solitary confinement and that staff used tranquilizing drugs to control juveniles, rather than treat them.
‘There was compelling evidence to support all those allegations,’ he said. In addition, children who had done nothing wrong – such as victims of neglect – were housed with those who had been adjudicated of crimes, Novick said.

The lawsuit was an arduous battle, leading to a consent decree in 1984 that banned abusive practices and closed many juvenile detention facilities. The case finally reached it’s conclusion in the late 1990s with an order of dismissal outlining guidelines for treatment.

Since the dismissal order Novik believes the system has started moving toward more of a corrections model than a true juvenile justice system. The current bills which would allow pepper spray, tazers, and maximum security spaces would seem to bear that out.

Of course supporters have a different view. House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is reported in the Bixby Bulletin as saying:

‘In the grand scheme of things, the proposals before the agency’s board are band-aids to a larger problem,’ Steele said. ‘Eventually, the state needs to address how to create proper space and methods to handle high-risk juvenile offenders. Until that happens, we’ve got to do the best we can with what we have, and I thank the agency, its board members and my fellow legislators for working to do exactly that.’

Hoberock’s article supplies the needed riposte:

Linda Terrell, executive director of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, is concerned that the proposals offered by OJA are more punitive.

‘We need to remember that they are children,’ she said.

Well said, Ms. Terrell, well said. All you need to do is look through our blog posts to see ample evidence that this incarceration based model is more expensive, less effective, and more dangerous than rehabilitation programs that focus on getting the youth integrated back into society.

Oklahoma is clearly taking steps in the other direction.

U.S. Senate Examines Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

MurderThe homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Exposed on the street without shelter, they make appealing targets for the distorted personalities that prey on others. Recently, attacks on the homeless have been on the rise, and it’s finally drawing the attention of those in power.

David Hunt, a writer for Jacksonville.com, reports that, as of last Friday, attacks on the homeless in Florida are now considered a hate crime:

A law passed by this year by the Florida Legislature adds ‘homelessness’ to a list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes enhancement statutes, which already include traits such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Under the law, those who would be facing a year of jail time for battery could face as much as five years if the target of the attack is a homeless person.

Thankfully, this issue is attracting government’s attention not only in Florida. The U.S. Senate held a hearing last Wednesday, examining violent attacks against the homeless. The statistics are truly disturbing, and the trend of violence is increasing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at this testimony reported by Alex Ogle for AFP:

In many cases of the 117 ‘hate attacks’ against those living on the streets or in shelters in 2009, including the 43 murders, violent acts against the homeless ‘was almost a sport’ for attackers who see their victims as ‘unhuman,’ Florida police officer Richard Wierzbicki testified at the hearing.

Simone Manning-Moon, whose older brother Norris Gaynor was beaten to death by three teenagers with baseball bats and a rake handle, told the hearing that he was targeted ‘because he was homeless.’

The Norris Gaynor beating was caught on tape by the surveillance cameras and has led to the conviction of the boys involved. Here is a new report that includes the footage, below:

Now think about the 43 murders cited by Officer Wierzbicki. It makes for a grim picture indeed.

Ogle also reports another unsettling piece of testimony from Capitol Hill:

Homeless people have become a ‘socially acceptable target of aggression,’ noted Brian Levin, advisor to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and director of the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Whether classifying these attacks as hate crimes will make an effective change remains to be seen, but something needs to be done to stem the tide of violence. These are people’s daughters, brothers, mothers, and children that are living on the street, human beings already undergoing harsh trials that do not need to be exacerbated by the threat of injury or death.

Source: “US Senate urged to act on rising attacks on homeless,” AFP via Google News, 09/20/10
Source: “Hate crimes will include attacks on homeless,” Jacksonville.com, 09/29/10
Image by izarbeltza, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Teenage Prostitution: Not As Rare As You Think

PimpsThere are many paths taken by those on the streets. For an unfortunate number of pople, one of those paths is prostitution, and they get started at an earlier age than some of us would think.

In addition, there is another sad aspect to this situation, the human trafficking angle. While some of those turning tricks on the street came to that due to homelessness — the stereotypical runaway comes readily to mind — others are kidnapped from their homes and press-ganged into service.

Let’s take a look into that world for a moment, by looking at this video produced by the Press-Telegram of Long Beach, CA:

Sad and disturbing, like so many examples of the societal breakdown. Twelve years old? I don’t know about you, but I was shocked by that. In addition, I found the comparison of the pimp/prostitute relationship to the classic abusive household’s dynamic to be most interesting.

The problem is not going away, nor are any of its aspects. Only recently, three men were sent to jail for sexual exploitation of a child and sex trafficking of children right here in San Diego, as reported on San Diego 6:

According to evidence presented at trial, they picked up the 14-year-old at a restaurant on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego and drove her to Oceanside, where she was forced to pose for explicit photographs so ‘johns’ could be solicited to engage in commercial sex acts with the child.

The teen was able to escape from the motel room and run to a nearby convenience store to call 911.

Many, many more do not escape. Whether it’s a victim of trafficking or simply someone trying to get off the street, the plight of these poor girls is one that is most certainly worthy of examination. So many of the social ills we examine are intertwined. Violence, homelessness, poor education, people preying on other people, the broken prison system, etc., all demonstrate the interconnected nature of societal problems.

Source: “Man Sentenced for Abducting Teen in Prostitution Scheme,” San Diego 6, 09/13/10
Source: “Human trafficking’s misery hits home,” Press- Telegram, Long Beach, CA, 09/04/10
Image by CommandZed, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Digital Prisoner Tracking: Orwellian Surveillance or a Step Forward?

Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing TimeOne of the persistent issues in the American penal system is that it is massively overcrowded. A plethora of reasons for this abounds, as a simple Google search will show. The solutions have been in shorter supply.

Graeme Wood, a contributing editor for The Atlantic magazine, has a very interesting column in the September issue (available to us now courtesy of the magazine’s website). In it, he looks at the concept of “turning prison inside out” by using electronic surveillance. For those of you who recall the ankle unit worn by Martha Stewart after her trial, that is the kind he talks about.

Should we bring more inmates out of prisons and into society — if they can be properly monitored with an ankle device? Will this have a positive, tangible effect on recidivism? On prison overpopulation? As crime rates have gone down, the average sentence term has grown longer, leaving our penal system overloaded with inmates.

This would not be as large of an issue if inmates were reformed. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case, as Wood notes:

But that isn’t the case either: half of those released are back in prison within three years. Indeed, research by the economists Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago and M. Keith Chen of Yale indicates that the stated purpose of incarceration, which is to place prisoners under harsh conditions on the assumption that they will be ‘scared straight,’ is actively counterproductive. Such conditions — and U.S. prisons are astonishingly harsh, with as many as 20 percent of male inmates facing sexual assault — typically harden criminals, making them more violent and predatory. Essentially, when we lock someone up today, we are agreeing to pay a large (and growing) sum of money merely to put off dealing with him until he is released in a few years, often as a greater menace to society than when he went in.

It would seem that finding alternatives to incarceration makes good economic sense. Could the use of devices like this allow us to ease the pressure on our strained-to-bursting jails and prisons? Wood outlines a tripod of benefits from using the tracking devices, summed up at the end of the following excerpt from his article:

Devices such as the ExacuTrack, along with other advances in both the ways we monitor criminals and the ways we punish them for their transgressions, suggest a revolutionary possibility: that we might turn the conventional prison system inside out for a substantial number of inmates, doing away with the current, expensive array of guards and cells and fences, in favor of a regimen of close, constant surveillance on the outside and swift, certain punishment for any deviations from an established, legally unobjectionable routine. The potential upside is enormous. Not only might such a system save billions of dollars annually, it could theoretically produce far better outcomes, training convicts to become law-abiders rather than more-ruthless lawbreakers. The ultimate result could be lower crime rates, at a reduced cost, and with considerably less inhumanity in the bargain. [Emphasis ours.]

It is a good argument, and Wood presents a lot of upsides to the approach. Still, there are also all the issues endemic to a surveillance society a well. An argument could be made that this is a slippery slope, with the increasing usage possibly hiding just below the horizon.

As it happens often with social justice issues, benefits must be weighed against the more Orwellian factors when considering this situation. Which side do you find more logical? Let us know, leave a comment!

Source: “Prison Without Walls,” The Atlantic, 09/10
Image copyright Susan Madden Lankford, from the book “Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.” Used with permission.

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Education-Based Incarceration in Southern California

Stack of BooksIncarceration is usually considered to be about punishment. Since 2006, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has helmed a plan that adopts a variant view and is aimed at reducing criminal recidivism.

The program, called MERIT (which stands for Maximizing Education, Reaching Individual Transformation), focuses on education-based incarceration. It is designed to help provide reintegration of offenders into their communities in a way that enhances stability for both. Since 2006, 11 classes had graduated from MERIT.

Jim Lynch, reporting for The Century City News, explains the basics of the program:

MERIT is comprised of three unique rehabilitation programs: Bridges to Recovery, a two-phase twelve week domestic violence intervention and recovery program; Veterans Program, a two-phase twelve week program designed to provide incarcerated U.S. military veterans with a sense of regained pride and direction; and the Impact Program, which is a therapeutic treatment program for inmates sentenced by the various drug courts in Los Angeles County.

The curriculum for these three programs provides an educational framework to challenge the negative beliefs and behaviors that perpetuate personal and family dysfunction, including information on the negative impact of violence and the abuse of drugs and alcohol on the individual, the family and the community. The areas of study include personal relationships, parenting, substance abuse prevention, leadership and job skills.

In order to graduate from MERIT, the participants have to complete written assignments and submit an “Exit Plan,” designed to address the challenges they will face in their reintegration into society. Areas such as employment, family, and legal issues, among others, are addressed as participants develop their objectives for their first few months of freedom.

HUMANE EXPOSURES is interested in your thoughts and opinions on this sort of approach to reducing recidivism. Please share them with us in the comments section.

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Source: “Investing in Offenders Through Education Based Incarceration,” Century City News, 08/02/10
Image by Wonderlane, used under its Creative Commons license.

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