Monday, June 25, 2012

Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles

Today the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in the combined cases of Miller v. Alabama (10-9646) and Jackson v. Hobbs (10-9647). The majority opinion, written by Justice Kagen and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, stated that "mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments.'"  See reports from Jurist, The New York Times, the Chicago TribuneCNN JusticeHuman Rights Watch, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Felony Disenfranchisement

The Sentencing Project recently published Felony Disenfranchisement: An Annotated Bibliography (March 2012).  The document covers the past twenty years of disenfranchisement studies and analysis which, it is noted "examine disenfranchisement from a variety of perspectives – law, social science, history, and journalism [and] provide new estimates of the statistical impact of disenfranchisement, assess legal and moral perspectives on the policy, and place the issue in a comparative international context."  Links are provided to a number of the articles cited in the online version.  The information for the bibliography was compiled by Benjamin Bronstein, Jerome Pierce, and Achilles Sangster II.  Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, was the editor.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

“Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences”

On June 19, 2012, Professor Michael B. Mushlin submitted the following testimony in the Hearing before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights (Chairman: The Honorable Dick Durbin, Ranking Member: The Honorable Lindsey Graham):

Thank you for holding this important hearing and inviting testimony. My name is Michael B. Mushlin. I am a Professor of Law at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York. I am the author of Rights of Prisoners,1 a four volume treatise, and a member of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Legal Status of Prisoners. I am also a co-chair of the American Bar Association, Subcommittee on Implementation of the ABA Resolution on Prison Oversight,2 and have served as chair of the Committee on Correction of the New York City Bar Association, the Correctional Association of New York and the Osborne Association, an organization that provides training and support programs for people in jail and prison or who are being diverted from imprisonment. Currently, I am a vice chair of the Correctional Association of New York, a 168 year old organization endowed by New York law with the authority to visit New York State Prisons with the responsibility to report on their condition to the New York state legislature. With colleagues, including Prof. Michele Deitch of the University of Texas, I participated in the organization of two national conferences on prison reform, the first Prison ReformRevisited: The Unfinished Agenda held at Pace Law School and the second, OpeningUp a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight held at the University of Texas. Both conferences drew together professionals from all segments of the criminal justice and corrections fields to discuss improvement to the operation and oversight of the American prison system. For seven years, I was staff counsel and then the Project Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society. I also served as staff counsel with Harlem Assertion of Rights Inc., and was the Associate Director of the Children’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. For the 2012/13 academic year, I will be a Visiting Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School.

I first confronted conditions in solitary confinement units over thirty years ago when I served as trial counsel in a federal civil rights case involving Unit 14, the solitary confinement unit at Clinton prison in upstate New York close to the Canadian border. What I saw there was deeply disturbing. Inmates were locked for 23 hours each day into small windowless cages for months and years on end. No programs or activities were provided to them. Without access to any meaningful activity, they were separated from one another spending almost all of their time entirely by themselves. During that one precious hour per day when a Unit 14 inmate could leave his cell there was only one place to go: a small space directly behind his cell called a “tiger cage.” The tiger cage was a small empty space with a barren floor surrounded on all sides by high concrete walls which were not covered by a roof. An inmate could walk only a few steps in one direction before turning. If he looked up he could glimpse a bit of the sky but nothing else of the outside world.3

Working on that case I witnessed firsthand the awful consequences of subjecting human beings to solitary confinement. I will never forget looking into the eyes of those inmates struggling to maintain a foothold on reality and sanity. Afterwards, when visiting other solitary confinement units, no matter where, I see that same pained, desperate stare. I have seen it so often, and in so many different places, that I have come to recognize it instantly as the gaze of a tortured person.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Aging prisoners

The ACLU has just released a compelling report, At America's Expense: The Mass Incarceration of the Elderly.  Some of the facts:
  • In the U.S., 246,600 prisoners are 50 or older;
  • The annual cost of incarcerating someone 50 or older is $68,270 a year - twice as much as an average prisoner;
  • Even if released elderly prisoners rely on the government for healthcare and other aid, states will still save at least $28,362 a year for each prisoner; and
  • Risk of recidivism is minimal as evidenced by a study of N.Y. prisoners which found that the 3-year recidivism rate for those released at ages 50-64 was 7%, and only 4% for those 65 and older.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Welcome to the readers of Prison Law Blog

This blog will be taking up where the well-respected Prison Law Blog left off and will endeavor to add as much to the conversation.  My goal is to provide information on developments in prisoners' rights law, as well as a forum for discussing the constitutional rights protecting, or failing to protect, the incarcerated.  Those in America’s prisons and jails have the right to be free from "cruel and unusual punishment" and, as Justice Thurgood Marshal stated:
The [Eighth] Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ruiz v. Brown

The amended complaint in the federal class action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constituional Rights and several other advocate and legal organizations on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent more than 10 years in solitary confinement, some more than 25 years, is available on the CCR website.  Other CCR prisoners' rights cases have included: Al-Jundi v. Estate of Oswald, filed in 1974 by survivors of the Attica uprising, Byrd v. Goord, challenging New York DOCS collect-call only telephone policy, and NLG and CCR v. Johnson, challenging the Virigina DOC decision placing Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook on a "disapproved publications list."

Arizona's deadly prisons

Bob Ortega, senior investigative reporter at the Arizona Republic, has recently written a series of articles on "a prison system that houses inmates under brutal conditions that can foster self-harm, allows deadly drugs to flow in from the outside, leaves inmates to die from treatable medical conditions and fails to protect inmates from prison predators."  The individual articles cover the high number of deaths, including suicides, the struggle to control the availability of drugs in prison, the inadequate medical care prisoners receive, and the deaths that result from increasing inmate-on-inmate violence.