Started by a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken investors in the early 1980s, CCA quickly grew into the largest private prison operator in the world.


Colorado’s For-Profit Prisons a Bad Bet, Says Ex-Employee Turned Author

Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 8:26 a.m.

By Alan Prendergast

After it was taken over by a private-prison operator in 1996, the Bent County Correctional Facility soon doubled its capacity — and then doubled it again, to more than 1,400 inmates.

Sue Binder’s quarrel with the private-prison giant Corrections Corporation of America began shortly after she started to work at one of CCA’s cut-rate hoosegows in southeastern Colorado. It continued for thirteen years, right up until Binder resigned in 2015 from her job as a mental-health coordinator at the Bent County Correctional Facility — and got shorted on her last paycheck in a dispute over medical leave.

Started by a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken investors in the early 1980s, CCA quickly grew into the largest private prison operator in the world. But it’s also been dogged by bad press about poorly trained staff, inadequate medical care, outbursts of violence and riots, and studies that indicate turning to the private sector to manage inmate populations doesn’t really save money. The company recently changed its name to CoreCivic as part of a rebranding effort.

But whatever it calls itself now, it’s safe to say that working for CCA made an indelible impression on Binder, who became convinced that management at the Bent County lockup was more interested in keeping the place as full —and profitable — as possible than in helping inmates prepare for release or treating staff fairly. She decided to write a book that would encompass not just her experiences, but how the private corrections industry works. The result is Bodies in Beds: Why Business Should Stay Out of Prisons (Algora).

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“The longer I was there, especially the last four or five years, the more I became disillusioned,” says Binder, who now works at a community mental-health center in Lamar. “I can’t say I was burned out, but I was becoming more aware of what was happening behind the scenes at the company I worked for. At first I thought I would just do my personal story, but then I began researching more and more. It kind of ballooned on me.”

Part memoir, part overview, Bodies in Beds offers unsettling glimpses into what it’s like to work at a private prison — not just as a turnkey, but as someone who’s supposed to offer actual services to inmates. For a while, Binder managed to rationalize her position to herself, figuring that maybe she could make a difference to some of the mentally ill prisoners she saw. But as CCA’s cost-containment strategies kept multiplying the duties and thinning the staff, Binder found herself not only having to screen every new inmate, but divide with just one other mental-health specialist a caseload of more than 400 inmates diagnosed with some degree of mental illness. At the same time, she was asked to meticulously document every action she took — a request that was supposed to help her get more staff, but was actually used to justify the status quo. On a good day, she was lucky to spend a few minutes each with maybe ten or twelve inmates between mounds of paperwork.

“I felt like I’m not helping these guys very much,” she says. “We were pushing these inmates through like cattle. What could have been thirty or forty minutes with them, trying to help them, I saw that not happening. Some of them have opportunities and should be out of prison — but we need to give them help.”

After a 2004 riot at CCA’s badly understaffed Crowley County Correctional Facility, the Colorado Department of Corrections stepped up its monitoring of private-prison operators. But whistleblowers like Binder are not all that numerous; most staffers at the company’s facilities live in remote areas, with few economic opportunities, and need to hold on to their jobs. Once Binder realized that her job was more about providing the appearance of mental-health services rather than the services themselves, she began to prepare an exit strategy.

In her current position as a behavioral-health specialist at the High Plains Community Health Center, Binder occasionally runs across former Bent County inmates. “About half my caseload are people on probation, so I continue to work in the system,” she says. “Now and then you see somebody where you think, maybe you made a little difference. That makes it worthwhile.”

CONTINUE READING…

Green is the new orange: Barren County’s sustainable jail garden


  • BY WILL PERKINS wperkins@glasgowdailytimes.com
  • Sep 22, 2016

Jail garden project

GLASGOW – With the sun beating down on their faces and fresh air filling their lungs, Barren County Detention Center inmates Melissa House and Andrea Borgemenke shoveled dirt into a wheelbarrow.

When it was full, they wheeled the dirt over to a large mound in the new addition of the BCDC garden.

House and Borgemenke were among eight female inmates participating in the first public workshop of the Breaking Ground: A Sustainable Jail Garden/Food Justice Project on Thursday. Community members and college students joined the inmates in creating the new garden beds.

“We’re all pitching in helping to get this built so we can go ahead and plant the vegetables and everything else that needs to be planted in the beds,” Borgemenke said. “I’m excited about it.”

House said the gardening project has been a really good experience.

“I come to jail and I come out an environmentalist,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about gardening and I’m gonna’ grow my own vegetables and go from there.

“I know I can get it right when I go home. I don’t have to second guess or question anything.”

The jail garden project began in January after Nicole Breazeale, assistant professor of sociology at Western Kentucky University-Glasgow, approached Barren County Jailer Matt Mutter about starting it.

“It’s an educational project,” Breazeale said. “I’m teaching undergraduates and incarcerated women together inside the facility, teaching them about food and food injustices.

“And then there’s a little bit of outside work where we’re learning about agricology as one way to get more control over our food system.”

Breazeale said her Food, Community and Social Change students and the inmates are learning different types of sustainable agriculture techniques from local farmers in the region.

The BCDC inmates have already been eating vegetables produced from the garden.

Borgemenke said they “get to take the vegetables that are out here and mix them in with the food they serve in the jail.”

The BCDC currently has 30 garden beds, and on Thursday they were working on adding an additional hugelkultur mound, which has wooden logs underneath dirt, leaves, manure and hay. The wood acts as a sponge that retains rainwater.

“You don’t have to water these raised beds and they’re way more productive,” Breazeale said. “And you don’t have to add fertilizer or anything.”

Permaculture designer Timothy Kercheville stood on a huge mound of dirt and shoveled it into a wheelbarrow while he wore a giant smile. He said they use experimental techniques and standard raised beds and that this garden project has influenced others in the region.

“The success of this project has already outgrown into the SOKY Community Gardening Initiative,” he said. “There’s a series of 10 community gardens in the Barren River counties that were funded by the Barren River Health Department.

“So this community garden over here at the jail has spread already across the 10 counties. And that’s just after one semester.”

Sierra Morris, a sophomore nursing major at WKU-Glasgow, said she attended the workshop so she could learn more about hugelkultur and use the techniques in her own garden in Logan County.

“I’ll probably end up coming back because everyone is so nice,” she said. “And it’s just really fulfilling whenever you do hard work.”

WKU-Glasgow junior Chloe Hurt was in Breazeale’s initial class that started the project during the spring semester.

“I don’t think anyone really knew what it was going to turn into,” she said. “We just kind of started from a great idea. We had tremendous community support and it was really amazing to see how many different parts of the community came together to support.”

BCDC chief deputy Tracy Bellamy said the project has made a positive impact on the inmates.

“It’s taught ’em a resource that they can use,” he said. “It’s something being productive versus them sitting inside the cells.

“We encourage everyone (in the community) to be a part of it and see what they’re doing.”

CONTINUE READING…

MotherJones.Com "My four months as a private prison guard", by Shane Bauer


Have you ever had a riot?” I ask a recruiter from a prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
“The last riot we had was two years ago,” he says over the phone.
“Yeah, but that was with the Puerto Ricans!” says a woman’s voice, cutting in. “We got rid of them.”
“When can you start?” the man asks.
I tell him I need to think it over.

I take a breath. Am I really going to become a prison guard? Now that it might actually happen, it feels scary and a bit extreme.

Read Why Our Reporter Worked at a Prison

From the editor: Why we sent a reporter to work as a private prison guard

I started applying for jobs in private prisons because I wanted to see the inner workings of an industry that holds 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners. As a journalist, it’s nearly impossible to get an unconstrained look inside our penal system. When prisons do let reporters in, it’s usually for carefully managed tours and monitored interviews with inmates. Private prisons are especially secretive. Their records often aren’t subject to public access laws; CCA has fought to defeat legislation that would make private prisons subject to the same disclosure rules as their public counterparts. And even if I could get uncensored information from private prison inmates, how would I verify their claims? I keep coming back to this question: Is there any other way to see what really happens inside a private prison?

 

CONTINUE READING….

Outrageous Sentences for Marijuana


By THE EDITORIAL BOARDAPRIL 14, 2016

 

Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain, was arrested in July 2011 for growing three dozen marijuana plants for his own medicinal use behind his son’s house in Dothan, Ala., where he lived. For this crime, Mr. Brooker was given a life sentence with no possibility of release.

Alabama law mandates that anyone with certain prior felony convictions be sentenced to life without parole for possessing more than 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of marijuana, regardless of intent to sell. Mr. Brooker had been convicted of armed robberies in Florida two decades earlier, for which he served 10 years. The marijuana plants collected at his son’s house — including unusable parts like vines and stalks — weighed 2.8 pounds.

At his sentencing, the trial judge told Mr. Brooker that if he “could sentence you to a term that is less than life without parole, I would.” Last year, Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called Mr. Brooker’s sentence “excessive and unjustified,” and said it revealed “grave flaws” in the state’s sentencing laws, but the court still upheld the punishment.

On Friday, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether to hear Mr. Brooker’s challenge to his sentence, which he argues violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. The justices should take the case and overturn this sentence.

Life without parole, second only to the death penalty in severity, should never be a mandatory sentence for any crime, much less for simple possession of marijuana, which is not even a crime in many parts of the country. If this punishment is ever meted out, it should be by a judge who has carefully weighed the individual circumstances of a case.

Besides Alabama, only South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi have such laws; in Mississippi, possession of barely one ounce of marijuana is enough to trigger a mandatory sentence of life without parole for someone with prior convictions for certain felonies. Almost everywhere else, public attitudes and policy toward drugs in general, and marijuana in particular, have changed significantly. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, and four states, along with D.C., have fully legalized its possession for recreational use. In most states, the maximum sentence for possessing less than three pounds of marijuana is at most five years.

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As Marijuana Goes Mainstream, California Pioneers Rot in Federal Prison


Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes opened a dispensary in Modesto. Now they’re doing 20 years in federal prison. Their families want them home.

By Angela Bacca / AlterNet

April 13, 2016

Behind the headlines about President Obama’s historic visit to federal prisons and highly publicized releases of non-violent drug offenders, the numbers tell a different story. Despite encouraging and receiving more clemency petitions than any president in U.S. history—more than the last two administrations combined, nearly 20,000very few federal prisoners are actually being granted clemency.

Nowhere is this irony more glaring than in the world of legal cannabis. Cannabis is now considered the fastest-growing industry in the nation, yet remains federally illegal. The sea change from the Department of Justice since 2009 has allowed state-legal cannabis industries to thrive. Federal solutions seem to be around the corner and for the first time cannabis businesses are being publicly traded and receiving legal Wall Street investment.

Ricardo Montes and Luke Scarmazzo are two of the 20,000 federal prisoners appealing to President Obama for clemency. They have exhausted their appeals and are serving 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for openly running a dispensary in the early days of California’s pioneering medical cannabis law. The irony isn’t lost on them that their crimes are now legal and profitable, but their appeals for clemency aren’t based on justice anymore—they just want to be home with their kids. Their daughters, Jasmine Scarmazzo, 13, and Nina Montes, 10, are appealing directly to President Obama to release their fathers via a Change.org petition.  

Nina and Jasmine

Nina Montes is in fifth grade. She is a straight A student who loves math and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She was just four years old when her dad went to prison. “All I remember is the cops coming and taking him away from me on my birthday,” Nina says. She has always dreamed that her father would be released on her birthday, May 15.  

“It is really sad and it makes me cry [when I visit my dad in prison],” Nina says. “I cry when the time is over and we have to go because we only get three hours, maybe two.”

Nina gets to visit her father once every two months at FCI Lompoc, a five-hour drive from her home in Modesto, Calif.

“All I know is he made a mistake and I don’t think he should be owing that [much time],” Nina says.

Federal prisoners must purchase minutes in order to use phones. They are allowed up to 300 a month and calls are limited to 15 minutes each. Ricardo Montes says he tries to call every other day, sometimes every day, but he has to share his limited phone time between his three children.

“I try to speak to all of them, Nina is the oldest so I have more of a conversation with her. She is at the age now where I can actually explain why I am here,” Montes says. “She didn’t know for a long time. She really doesn’t understand when I explain to her what I did. She’s like, there are still other dispensaries open, why aren’t they going to jail? I told her I have no answer for that.”

Jasmine Scarmazzo is in the eighth grade and loves to debate. Inspired by her father’s case, she says she wants to be a criminal attorney when she grows up. She is increasingly confused as to why her dad is still in prison.

“There were so many tears,” Jasmine says, remembering the day Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced. “My mom said, your dad got 20 years in prison; I didn’t really comprehend how long that was, I just knew I wasn’t going to see him for a long time. I knew why [he was going to prison]—because of the dispensary—but I was so confused, why is he going to prison if he is helping people?”

Jasmine remained confused until about the age of 8, when she started learning more about federal and state government in school and how it applied to her father’s case.

Over the years legal dispensaries have popped up, not just in Modesto, but across the country. Today marijuana companies are publicly traded and driving legal and profitable Wall Street investment in a handful of states.

“It makes me feel confused, once again, as to why our system is only holding certain people who are doing the same thing in 2016 and are free, and my dad’s in prison,” Jasmine says.  

“Being in prison makes us miss the small normal things that a father and daughter share,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “I don’t get to be there to encourage her successes or console her when she fails or has a bad day. I don’t experience the little things like what she doesn’t like for breakfast or who her friends are. These are attributes that a dad should know and often take for granted, but because of our limited communication, I have to rush to talk to her about the larger mile-markers in life.”

Crime and Punishment

Scarmazzo and Montes opened the California Healthcare Collective in 2004, when they were both 23 years old. Although California became the first medical cannabis state by voter initiative in 1996, dispensaries didn’t begin to appear until the early 2000s, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. The state legislature passed S.B. 420 in 2003 to provide basic guidelines for state-legal medical cannabis cultivation and distribution. After the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2004, more dispensaries began to open, but mainly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. CHC was the first in the Central Valley and served a patient base accustomed to driving an hour or more west to San Francisco and Oakland to obtain safe access under the law.

Montes says there was a clear need for a dispensary in the Central Valley. One local doctor writing cannabis recommendations had said up to 70 percent of his patients, many with cancer, were making regular trips to the Bay Area to access cannabis.

“We were the only ones open and we helped a lot of patients who were sick and couldn’t travel,” Montes says. “It was actually a good thing for the Central Valley… but [local law enforcement and then-mayor Jim Ridenour] didn’t see us as helping people out, they saw us as young kids making money and selling a narcotic drug. We tried to help people. We paid a lot of sales tax [over $1 million], but in that town it doesn’t matter.”

Modesto is largely an agricultural city located about an hour south of Sacramento, the state capital, and about an hour east of the San Francisco Bay. At 9.6 percent in 2015, the city has nearly twice the national average unemployment. Modesto, and the rest of the Central Valley, has consistently ranked high among the highest unemployment averages in the nation.

At the height of its operation, the collective employed up to 14 people.

“The people of the Central Valley are a hard-working, mostly blue-collar community and they don’t earn very high incomes compared to the rest of California,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “Many didn’t have the extra money to regularly make the 100-plus mile commute [to a legal storefront]. The patients that couldn’t afford to travel to the Bay Area before CHC opened were forced to break the law and purchase their recommended medication from the illicit market. It was a terrible hardship on so many levels.”

The dispensary was legal under state law, but as is it still is today, federally illegal. Although many have interpreted the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to leave the regulation of medicine to the states, the federal government affirmed its dominance over state medical cannabis programs in the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision Gonzalez v. Raich. The federal government argued that because cannabis grown for personal consumption could wind up on the interstate market, the federal government had the authority to enforce federal commerce laws to control state-legal medical marijuana despite voter-approved or supported state legislation.

On Sept. 27, 2006—Jasmine’s fourth birthday—CHC was raided and Scarmazzo and Montes were taken into custody. In 2006, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott referred to the pair as the “poster children” for the problems with medical marijuana.

“These were drug dealers selling marijuana. This case is that simple,” Scott told the press. He cited $9.2 million in gross sales over two years of operation as evidence the collective was operating for-profit, in opposition to S.B. 420, which required medical cannabis collectives operate not-for-profit.

Gross sales paint an inaccurate picture of actual income and are irrelevant to defining a not-for-profit enterprise. Further, they aren’t completely accurate under state law. Gross sales reflect the total revenues generated before expenses such as labor, security, overhead, legal fees, and perhaps most relevant, cost of goods sold. Under California law, collectives can be reimbursed for their expenses and donations are made to continue the service of cultivating and distributing cannabis to patients. Technically, the numbers reflect gross donations made to the collective before expenses.

Despite what federal prosecutors decried as over-the-top executive compensation, it is not illegal or unheard of that a director at a non-profit could make over $100,000 annually in personal compensation while the business remains a non-profit. Top directors at United Way make just as much and are unquestionably considered not-for-profit.

Scarmazzo and Montes were found guilty of conspiracy, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. 

As Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com, “we were also charged with conducting a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE), a Nixon-era drug kingpin offense that carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. No medical marijuana dispensary operator has ever been convicted under this fearsome statute. It has historically been reserved for cartel leaders and international drug kingpins. In fact, the charge is so rarely used that only 0.02 percent of inmates in the U.S., that’s 427 of them, are serving sentences for CCE.”

The FBI defines CCE in terms of membership and leadership, organizations with six or more people, one of which is a primary organizer, involved in organized crime or significant racketeering activity. Scarmazzo and Montes are the only state-legal dispensary owners to be convicted of CCE.

On May 15, 2008—Nina’s third birthday—Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced and taken into custody. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months, Montes to the 20-year mandatory minimum.

Six months later Barack Obama was elected president. Shortly after he took office, in 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder released what is now known as the Ogden Memo, outlining the administration’s position in regards to state-legal medical cannabis; the feds said they were backing off compliant cannabis businesses and non-profits in legal states. The new position seemed to be a complete shift from the George W. Bush administration’s strong position against state legal medical cannabis. Cannabis businesses began to pop up all over California and Colorado.

Since Obama took office, four states and Washington D.C. have legalized adult use cannabis and 24 states have legal whole plant medical cannabis programs. In 2013, shortly after Colorado and Washington voters approved legalization initiatives, the Department of Justice issued the Cole Memo, which stated that, for the most part, the DOJ would not use its resources to enforce federal laws in states that had voted to legalize medical or adult use marijuana. Large-scale grow operations are now legal and profitable in many states. These states have not just legalized and regulated, they have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

Today, Harborside Health Center in Oakland boasts over $25 million in gross annual sales. Blum, also in Oakland, recently became the first publicly traded dispensary with an initial valuation of $21 million based on $14 million in gross annual sales when it was acquired by Terratech Corporation. Privateer Holdings, owners of a portfolio of brands including Leafly.com, received the largest infusion of Wall Street capital of any marijuana business to date, $75 million. According to Weedmaps.com, there are four dispensary storefronts operating in the city of Modesto today and over 30 more mobile delivery services in the area.

Scarmazzo and Montes have watched all the legislative change around them from behind bars.

“I have mixed emotions when I read the headlines regarding legal marijuana,” Scarmazzo says. “On one hand, I’m happy to see the progress that is being made, research being conducted and the injustices being addressed. Marijuana in the context of criminal justice reform is something we desperately need in this country. On the other hand it’s extremely frustrating. With almost a decade served in prison, we’ve seen our freedom taken, our properties forfeited and our families lost, for business activities that are essentially legal now and taking place everyday throughout the country. Yet, we continue to struggle through this lengthy mandatory sentence. It’s hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.”

“It’s upsetting because when I got arrested I was young, I was only 26 years old, I thought I was doing something right by following state law,” Montes says. “So by exercising my rights and going to trial to fight for my innocence, they punished us severely. I have no action, so to me when I see that it’s a kick in the face. What did I do wrong?”

Selective Prosecution

Search the name “Luke Scarmazzo” online and the first thing that pops up is a Youtube video called “Kraz-Business Man.” The video depicts scenes of Scarmazzo in a courtroom arguing that his medical cannabis business is legitimate and in alternate scenes smoking blunts and counting cash. Midway through the video he turns his middle finger to the camera and raps, “Fuck the Feds.” The video was an undeniably dumb move for a man running a state-legal medical cannabis dispensary in unchartered territory in the earliest days of Prop. 215, though hardly a crime. The video was introduced as evidence against Scarmazzo and Montes in court.

Twelve years later, Montes and Scarmazzo are in their mid-30s and their daughters are growing up without them. 

“My daughter, Jasmine, was four years old when I was arrested. Ricardo’s daughter, Nina, was two. Today they are entering high school and junior high school, respectively,” Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com. “They have spent much of their young lives growing up without their fathers. The impact is visible and saddening. According to a 2014 Rutgers University study, one in 28 children in the USA currently have an incarcerated parent. These children have a greater chance of living in poverty and an increased risk of experiencing serious mental-health issues.”

With all appeals exhausted, their only hope of early release is for President Obama to grant them clemency. Their applications are one of over 20,000 the administration has received. Jasmine and Nina hope that by appealing to supporters around the country via the petition they can ultimately reach President Obama.

“My dad is a good man. He made a mistake, but he is very sorry for it,” Nina says. “President Obama has two daughters. I don’t think they would like it if he went to prison for 20 years. His daughters would be miserable and want him home—he would want to come home too. That’s the exact same way I feel.”

“As we do time we realize our mistakes. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; at the time I didn’t understand federal law and how it trumps state law,” Montes says. “Now I understand it’s illegal federally. When I was young I didn’t understand that. We all make mistakes. Hopefully he could forgive our mistakes.”

“I’ve made some big mistakes in the past, ones that have greatly affected those closest to me, and I’m fully responsible for those poor decisions. But I ask for a second opportunity to prove I can make a positive impact, and most importantly, return to being a responsible father to a little girl that means the world to me,” Luke Scarmazzo says.

Sign the Change.org petition, “President Obama, Free Our Dads.”

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in Cannabis Now, SFCritic Music Blog, Skunk Magazine, and West Coast Cannabis, among others. 

CONTINUE READING…

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

 

Ninth Circuit Affirms Convictions of Two Modesto Men for Growing and Selling Marijuana

Modesto Marijuana Collective Owners Convicted

I Am Serving 20 Years For Opening a Medical Cannabis Dispensary

Ex-judge urges Obama to commute harsh sentence he was forced to give


https://i0.wp.com/www.thecannabist.co/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/mandatory-sentence-Weldon-Angelos-federal-judge-paul-cassell-800x496.jpg

A former federal judge in Utah is asking President Barack Obama to commute the sentence for Weldon Angelos, a music producer who was jailed in 2004. Pictured: In this Nov. 15, 2005 file photo, members of Safer Choice stand in protest at a Denver federal courthouse, where the court was hearing an appeal of Angelos’ conviction. (Ed Andrieski, Associated Press file)

 

Ex-judge urges Obama to commute harsh sentence he was forced to give

Weldon Angelos prison sentence: A former federal judge says the 55-year drug sentence he had to hand down is ‘unjust, cruel and irrational’ for a nonviolent offender who was subject to a lengthy prison term for bringing a gun to marijuana deals

Published: Feb 10, 2016, 5:20 pm Comments (6)

By Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A former federal judge who gave a Utah music producer 55 years in prison for bringing a gun to marijuana deals asked the president to commute the sentence Tuesday, the latest appeal in a case held up as an example of problems with mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Paul Cassell, now a law professor, said in a clemency petition letter that he was deeply troubled by the lengthy sentence he was forced to hand down in 2004 to Weldon Angelos, then a 24-year-old father of three.

The sentence he called “unjust, cruel, and even irrational” was the main reason Cassell stepped down from the bench after five years. Angelos got a longer prison term than people convicted of crimes such as kidnapping, rape and second-degree murder, Cassell said.

“When the sentence for actual violence inflicted on a victim is dwarfed by a sentence for carrying guns to several drug deals, the implicit message to victims is that their pain and suffering counts for less than some abstract ‘war on drugs,’” the former judge wrote.

Angelos likely would not face such a harsh sentence today, Cassell said. President Barack Obama has pushed for the reduction or outright elimination of severe mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders. The White House did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Angelos founded Extravagant Records in Utah, producing hip-hop and rap music. He had no criminal record before he was convicted of selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant three times.

Prosecutors said he was a gang member who carried a gun during two of those deals, though he was not accused of using or showing a weapon. Angelos denied being in a gang and having a firearm, but police found several guns while searching his apartment.

He was convicted in federal court of 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering.

The penalty for possessing firearms during a drug transaction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the first offense and 25 years for each subsequent deal. The federal system does not have parole.

It’s not the first time the president has been urged to commute Angelos’ sentence. In 2013, more than 100 high-profile figures petitioned the White House, including an ex-FBI director, prosecutors and celebrities.

Politicians such as Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy also have said the punishment didn’t fit the crime. The conservative billionaire Koch brothers have also taken notice of the case in their push for sentencing reform.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah declined to comment on the case. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund said in 2004: “This sends the message that people who engage in armed drug dealing are going to face very serious consequences.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the sentence, and the U.S. Supreme Court has denied Angelos’ petition for a hearing.

Angelos, now 36, has served more than 12 years in prison, and a presidential commutation is his only option.

His sister, Lisa Angelos, said the clemency letter is a “huge” step that she hopes is a turning point. Weldon Angelos has spent his time in a prison in California earning a business degree, working in the institution’s dental lab and tutoring others, she said.

The expense of traveling there makes it hard for his family to visit, and he recently saw his sons, now 17 and 19, for the first time in years, his sister said.

“He’s missing out on basically their entire lives,” Lisa Angelos said.

CONTINUE READING…

RELATED STORY: 

Jeff Mizanskey, sentenced to life for pot, freed from Missouri prison

Leonard Peltier is residing in a USP Coleman Florida’s iron cage…


 

Friends of Peltier

Leonard Peltier is residing in a USP Coleman Florida’s iron cage with a very dangerous, fast growing aortic abdominal aneurysm threatening his life.

Have you sent a letter to the BOP today?

You may send a letter or fax daily asking them to transfer him to a proper hospital capable of handling this sort of emergency.

Please, in the name of common decency and human rights, write today.

I will write, will you?

Warden Tamyra Jarvis
USP Coleman I
846 NE 54th Terrace
Sumterville, FL 33521
Fax: 352-689-6012

Helen J. Marberry
RO Southeast Regional Office
3800 Camp Crk. Pk. SW
Bldg 2000
Atlanta, GA 30331
Fax: 678-686-1229

Office of the Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534
Fax: 202-514-6620

 

Leonard Peltier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier headshot from FBI Poster - 01.gif

Peltier in 1972

Born
September 12, 1944 (age 71)
Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.

Ethnicity
AnishinabeDakota[citation needed]

Citizenship
United States

Parent(s)
Leo Peltier
Alvina Robideau

Leonard Peltier (born September 12, 1944) is a Native American activist and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM). In 1977 he was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder in the shooting of two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents during a 1975 conflict on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Peltier’s indictment and conviction have been the subject of much controversy; Amnesty International placed his case under the "Unfair Trials" category of its Annual Report: USA 2010.[1]

Peltier is incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary, Coleman in Florida. Peltier’s next scheduled parole hearing will be in July 2024.[2] Barring appeals, parole or presidential pardon, his projected release date is October 11, 2040.[3]

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What Happened To Gynnya McMillen?


A week after Gynnya McMillen died at the Lincoln Valley Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, police have yet to release a cause of death. The 16-year-old girl was found unresponsive in her holding cell on Monday, January 11th.

McMillen had only been in the detention center for 24 hours following an altercation in her home.

“The child was the perpetrator in the incident and the parent did receive minor injuries,” said Kelly Cable, spokesman for the Shelbyville Police De­partment. “We contacted the court-designated worker. The juvenile was transported to Lincoln Village on a charge of assault fourth-degree – domestic violence with minor injury.”

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Trouble Behind Bars: When Jail Deaths Go Unnoticed


 
By: R.G. Dunlop October 5, 2015
Mugshot of Larry Trent taken after his July 5, 2013 arrest by Hazard Police. Trent was booked into Kentucky River Regional Jail for an outstanding bench warrant and on a charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

HAZARD, Ky.—Larry Trent was just one of the 154 or more inmates who died in a Kentucky jail during the past 6½ years.

Arrested on July 5, 2013, in his car outside a Hazard doughnut shop, the 54-year-old Trent told police he drank “about four beers and mouthwash” before driving to the store with his 10-year-old grandson.

Booked into the Kentucky River Regional Jail, Trent couldn’t post bond, so he remained in custody. Four days later, he was dead, allegedly the victim of a fatal beating by two jail deputies.

Within 48 hours of Trent’s death, jail Administrator Tim Kilburn completed a required report for the state Department of Corrections and classified Trent’s death as a homicide. And a few weeks later, the two deputies were charged with manslaughter, accused of killing Trent by “striking, kicking and restraining” him.

The case is still pending, and a federal civil-rights investigation is ongoing. But Trent’s estate already has received a $2.375 million legal settlement — one of the largest in the state during the past 15 years.

The Department of Corrections doesn’t investigate jail deaths. “That would fall to law enforcement,” said department spokeswoman Lisa Lamb.

The department’s responsibilities do, however, include ensuring the safety of inmates and staff, as well as enforcing jail standards, such as those related to training. But DOC documents provided recently to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting give no indication that the department found anything related to Trent’s death that merited its attention.

For example, the documents list Trent’s cause of death simply as an “altercation” in the jail. An internal DOC memo written after Kilburn’s report says little except that Trent “became combative” and that “use of force was necessary” to subdue him. And although the accused killers served as the jail staff trainers, department records don’t indicate a need for more or better training.

Trent’s is by no means the only in-custody death involving a jail inmate that raises questions about the aggressiveness and thoroughness of Department of Corrections’ oversight.

A months-long investigation by KyCIR found that at least several inmate deaths for which the cause is listed in DOC records as “natural, “unknown” or “autopsy pending” appear to have involved jail staff lapses, misconduct or indifference.

And the Department of Corrections’ own findings and follow-up in those cases were sketchy or nonexistent, despite evidence that the deaths were preventable.

Over the next five days, the “Trouble Behind Bars” series will show numerous Kentucky jail inmates have died or been injured because officials at all levels of government failed to ensure their health and safety.

The causes of more than 40 percent of all Kentucky jail deaths in the past 6½ years are listed ambiguously in department records, with the cause of death variously given as “unknown,” “natural” or “autopsy pending” — even though many of those deaths occurred years ago.

When KyCIR recently asked the department for more current, specific information about the unclear, years-old causes of death, DOC responded that it had none.

The department refused to say whether it followed up on jail deaths, and if not, why not.

“The Department of Corrections has been responding to your questions regarding county jails to the best of our ability for the past 10 months,” a DOC statement read. “We do not have anything further to add on this topic.”

In another case, the DOC list of deaths shows that Valerie Jones, a disabled veteran, died of “heart disease” after being jailed in LaRue County in September 2009. But a lawsuit filed by Jones’ family alleged that she was not properly treated for severe pain, and that she was left in her cell when she desperately needed medical attention.

More than five years later, DOC records still list the autopsy in her case as “pending.” The lawsuit was settled in 2011 for $92,859.

Danny Burden in the summer of 2012, less than a year before his death.

family photo

Danny Burden in the summer of 2012, less than a year before his death.

The death of Danny Burden isn’t listed at all in the department’s compilation of jail deaths. Burden was discovered unconscious in the Grant County jail in March 2013 and later died at an area hospital. A civil suit filed by his family and alleging neglect is pending. A state police inquiry found that Burden, a diabetic, badly needed insulin but did not receive it.

The Department of Corrections, however, found nothing to warrant concern — or action. The department would not comment on the omission of Burden’s death from their list of jail deaths.

A KyCIR examination of the Grant County jail, one of the state’s most troubled and the focus of a U.S. Justice Department investigation for more than a decade, shows lax government oversight and little action following Burden’s death and at least two others that seemingly could have been prevented by jail staff.

During the past 6½ years, a Kentucky jail inmate has died an average of about once every 15 days. But in-jail deaths generally are not of interest or concern to the public at large, said Louisville attorney Greg Belzley, who has filed several dozen lawsuits over the past 15 years alleging wrongdoing in connection with inmate deaths.

No lawsuit often means no accountability, Belzley said. When a jail inmate dies, “People may look it and say ‘s—, another one gone, thinning the herd,’” Belzley said. “There is no question that some deaths that aren’t litigated involve wrongdoing that never gets exposed.”

About three-fourths of the state’s jails have incurred at least one inmate death since 2009. Oldham County Jailer Mike Simpson said no one had died in his jail since the 1990s. And while he didn’t think that fatality could have been prevented, he said, “when something like that happens, we all have a little bit of ownership.”

Incomplete Accounting of Deaths

In Kentucky, the DOC’s incomplete death data show that at least 33 of the 154 deaths have been suicides. Suicide is the single-most frequent cause of deaths in jails across the country, and it has been for at least the past 15 years.

That’s at least partly because large numbers of people housed in jails have significant emotional problems, because jail staff often aren’t trained to deal with them, and because jail conditions can exacerbate or trigger those mental-health issues, said Preston Elrod, a professor in the School of Justice Studies at Eastern Kentucky University.

Among the deaths reviewed by KyCIR were two suicides that occurred in 2010 at Grant County’s jail. The Justice Department has asserted in a document obtained by KyCIR that the two suicides there resulted from “serious breakdowns in jail medical care.”

Grant County Detention Center

R.G. Dunlop / KyCIR

Grant County Detention Center

Carl Lewis hanged himself in the jail on April 11, 2010. He had been placed in a cell by himself with a bed sheet, despite the fact that he was deemed a suicide risk and had what the Justice Department later called a “history of suicidal ideation.”

Justice Department documents show Lewis was given antidepressant medication in a quantity “that was likely too low to be effective.” He received no other mental-health treatment in jail, DOJ found.

The jail’s own inquiry into Lewis’ death, by contrast, concluded that “all operational procedures, medical procedures … were followed professionally and correct.” Nor did the state police or the Department of Corrections find any fault with the jail in connection with Lewis’ death, or that of the other Grant County jail suicide in 2010, involving Derrick Rose.

“Any time you have a fatality in a jail, there should be a very careful investigation and assessment of what went wrong, what happened,” said Elrod, the EKU professor. “Unfortunately, in so many instances, the only way you’re probably going to get closer to an understanding of what happened is if there’s a lawsuit where the parties become compelled to produce evidence.”

Judge Raises Questions

That’s what appeared to have happened in the case of Shannon Finn: minimal if any probing by the Department of Corrections, yet significant revelations come out in court.

On March 17, 2009, Finn was arrested and booked into the Warren County Regional Jail for a probation violation. The following day, he began to shake, sweat and act erratically. He was put on a “detox protocol” and given medication for alcohol and drug withdrawal.

Three days later, a deputy found the 34-year-old Finn lying in a puddle of blood and yellow liquid in his isolation cell. Soon after, he was pronounced dead.

(Listen to the radio version of this story on 89.3 WFPL News)

The family filed a civil suit, and a jury exonerated jail staffers at trial. However, U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley concluded in a pretrial opinion that there was ample evidence of questionable conduct.

Among other things, McKinley noted that a jail deputy did not intervene after discovering Finn on his knees, shaking and mumbling. And a nurse neither contacted the jail’s medical director nor sent Finn to the emergency room, McKinley wrote.

Despite jail policy that characterized alcohol withdrawal as a medical emergency, deputies had received no training regarding its symptoms and dangers, according to the judge.

The department’s listing of jail deaths says only this about Finn: "Found unresponsive–KSP (Kentucky State Police) investigating."

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

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Largest Ever One Time Early Release Of Federal Prisoners Coming This Month


By TNM News on October 8, 2015 Latest Headlines, Legal, News Feed

It appears that several federal prisons will be allowing thousands of prisoners, who have committed non-violet crimes, free due to efforts to reduce long prison sentences given to drug offenders Another issue the Obama Administration and U.S. Sentencing Commission are trying to solve is jail overcrowding. This will be one of the largest one-time early releases from federal prisons ever recorded in the U.S.

ABC 7 News reports:

The Department of Justice today confirmed that the doors of federal prisons all over the country will swing open for an estimated 6,000 drug offenders at the end of this month.

It is the largest-ever one-time early release of federal prisoners, and it comes as a result of U.S. Sentencing Commission and Obama Administration efforts to reduce long prison sentences given to drug offenders. It is also part of an effort to cut down jail overcrowding.

It is not just non-violent offenders who are getting their freedom, a Justice Department spokesman said — some of those being released have been convicted of violent crime, along with drug crimes.

But the vast majority are non-violent offenders, officials said. And the sentence reductions were not for the violent portion of offenders’ sentences.

However, all of the prisoners who petitioned for release had to have a public safety determination made by a judge.

The judge could elect to release the prisoner, or to keep him or her locked-up.

About one-third of the prisoners to be released between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 are non-citizens, the Department of Justice said, and they will be turned over to Immigration and Customs officials for deportation.

Most of the former prisoners who are released into the community will still be supervised through a halfway house or home confinement, according to Justice Department officials.

“The Department of Justice strongly supports sentencing reform for low-level, non-violent drug offenders,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in a statement today. “The Sentencing Commission’s actions – which create modest reductions for drug offenders – is a step toward these necessary reforms.”

Yates also emphasized that even with these sentence reductions, the drug offenders in question have served substantial sentences. On average, according to DOJ, each inmate has already served 8.5 years of a 10 year sentence.

A similar program was undertaken in 2007 when inmates were released for sentences for crack were deemed too harsh.

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