Thursday, November 09, 2006

Prisons, showcase of unfairness

The children of Colorado's jails
By Vera Frankl

Erik Jensen (Pendulum Foundation)
Jensen is currently pursuing an appeal against his sentence
Every day, tens of thousands of children around the world wake up behind bars.

As part of a three-part series, Vera Frankl examines the fate of some of the young people locked up for life in the US state of Colorado.

Over 40 of the children currently behind bars in Colorado have no hope of ever being released. They were sentenced, while still under 18, to life without parole - in violation of international human rights law.

"After we got convicted, I guess I was still in shock," says Erik Jensen, who is one of these.

" But once the initial flurry is over, it's just despair. You feel like anything I do is for nothing."

Law changes

When Jensen was 17, he helped a friend of his to cover up the murder of his own mother.

Trevor Jones (Pendulum Foundation)
Jones's family say he has changed massively in prison
Jensen's friend had suffered years of physical and sexual abuse before the murder, including being raped by his own parents, although jurors trying Jensen were not told that. He was sentenced to life without parole.

"Once the prosecutor says that child is going to be filed on as an adult, that's the end of the story. Once that happens, no judge can stop it, no legislator can stop it, it just goes," said Jensen's father Curt.

"And the rest of society doesn't realise that we've changed the laws in this country, so that there is no other country that matches it in terms of what we do to our juveniles. None. Zero. In the world."

Thirty years ago, it was almost unheard of for children under 18 in the US to be tried and sentenced as adults.

But that changed after an upsurge in teenage violence across the country in the 1980s.

More than 40 states adopted laws which made it easier to try children as adults.

Tougher penalties were also introduced, which often included mandatory sentences for certain crimes.

Mandatory sentence

In Colorado, this has meant children as young as 14 have been jailed for life. Some have been sent to Limon prison, 70 miles east of Denver, which has a reputation as one of the toughest jails in the state, the scene of riots, rapes and murders.

It's easy for people to say 'you're being very harsh', but I have to sit down with the victim's family and say, 'I know that your child's dead, but this guy's going to be out on the street in five years'
Dave Thomas, Colorado District Attorneys Council
For nine years it has housed Trevor Jones, a one-time petty criminal and drug dealer who was jailed at 17 when a con trick went badly wrong, resulting in the accidental shooting of another youth.

As with the Jensen case, the local district attorney chose to try Jones not as a juvenile, but as an adult.

Although the jury accepted that the killing was accidental, Jones was found guilty on charges that, in Colorado, carry a mandatory sentence of life without possibility of parole.

"The attorney general kept arguing, 'this is a tragic case, but the law's the law'," said his father John.

"There's a problem with the law. If nobody cares that it's tragic on both sides, if nobody cares what really happens, these laws just don't make any sense."

Once a child is charged with a crime, the district attorney or prosecutor usually has just 72 hours to decide whether that child should be tried as a juvenile or as an adult.

And many in Colorado argue there is nothing wrong with that.

Among them is Dave Thomas, head of the Colorado District Attorneys Council.

He said his "underlying belief" is that the prosecutors use good judgement when they look at these cases.

"Yes, there is a huge difference between treating them as a juvenile and treating them as an adult.

"I think you have to believe that a public official will make good choices."

Second chance

But Mary Ellen Johnson, director of the Pendulum Foundation - which lobbies on behalf of juvenile criminals - says she does not believe it should be down to a district attorney to decide a child's fate, as they are political figures.

"Other states give kids a second chance," she said.

"The difference between those other states and Colorado is that they go before a judge, and the judge says 'you're rehabilitatable, I'm going to stick you in the juvenile system.'

"In Colorado, the district attorney makes the choice. It's up to the district attorney who's voted in by the people ­ it's a political office and so it's a slam dunk for a district attorney. He'll try these kids as an adult."

But Dave Thomas argues that it is precisely this that makes the system work.

"There is that public pressure, that's why they are elected, that's why they're in a position to make decisions," he said.

"They are the voice of the people, and so they need to be sensitive about how the public feels about crime and what should happen to crime.

"It's easy for people to say 'you're being very harsh.' But when I have to sit down with the victim's family and say, 'I know that your child's dead, but this guy's going to be out on the street in five years' - that's very difficult."

The above from the BBC found here on the web

* * * *

Call That Justice
First broadcast October 2006

A picture of a child behind bars

Every day, tens of thousands of children around the world wake up behind bars. Many of them will have committed no offence. BBC investigates children's rights in justice systems around the world.

Almost every country in the world has committed itself to respecting the human rights of children. But in reality, the signatures on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are not worth the paper they are written on.

There is overwhelming evidence that countries in both the developed and developing world are guilty of child abuse on a massive scale. These are not isolated incidents, but rather an every day occurence.

For many of those children, being sent to jail spells the beginning of months and sometimes years of suffering. Often denied legal representation or contact with parents, they are forced to share cells with hardened adult criminals.

These are the children the world forgot. In many places, violence, sexual abuse and even torture of juveniles is commonplace.

This hard-hitting three-part series uncovers a global scandal about the neglect and abuse of children's rights within the justice system, around the world.

Part One: Pakistan

Six years ago, the government of Pakistan introduced new laws to protect the rights of children in conflict with the law.

Yet far from obtaining justice, many such children still fall prey to physical and sexual abuse at the hands of police and adult prisoners.

They are victims of a justice system that is inefficient, corrupt and uncaring.

The above from the BBC, click here, for more content

* * * *

The world's biggest prison system
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Washington

About the same time that President Bush was condemning the abuse of prisoners in Iraq as un-American, a year-long inquiry began into the mistreatment of prisoners at home.

The most secure prisons in the US are the notorious Supermaxes

The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons (CSAAP) issues its final report in about eight weeks time, but the testimony of violence, abuse and over-crowding it has already heard has shocked few familiar with the largest documented prison system in the world.

More than 2.1 million people are in jail in the US at any one time; that is about one in 140 Americans, or as many people as live in Namibia, or nearly five Luxembourgs - and it is a number that continues to rise.

One of the biggest drivers of the expanding population are the tough policies brought in over the last 20 years to tackle high crime rates - like the "three strikes" laws that hand out long, mandatory sentences to repeat offenders.

They are tactics the US government says are working - as recent figures have shown violent crime and murder falling.

But critics say that such policies have skewed the US system away from rehabilitation, storing up problems for the future.

End of the road

The most secure prisons in the US are the notorious Supermax facilities, like the correctional complex in Florence, Colorado that houses shoe bomber Richard Reid, and which is also known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies.

USP Florence
USP Florence is known as the Alcatraz of the Rockies

Tightly controlled, technologically advanced and utterly dispiriting, such facilities - and smaller blocks within general prisons - have been a source of controversy for many years.

Bland, bureaucratic phrases like management control or secured housing unit describe regimes where solitary confinement is an almost permanent way of life, with prisoners locked in spartan cells for at least 23 hours each day.

Unfortunately, new prisons are being built to minimize the number of staff, both in architectural design and by using technologies such as remote cameras and sensor systems
Gary Harkins
Prison officer

Built in 1994 at a cost of about $60m, the Supermax in Florence is said to be equipped with 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, motion detectors, pressure pads and gun towers with perfect sightlines across the complex.

Supermaxes are the end of the road for those in the prison system - transfer to an even marginally less restrictive environment can require several years of good behaviour.

To supporters they are the most appropriate way to house the worst of the worst in the prison population, especially those criminals who attacked or killed guards and other prisoners.

To critics, they are a breeding ground for monsters, an affront to human rights tantamount to torture.


Gary Harkins, is an officer at the maximum security Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, and also a member of Corrections USA, a group which represents about 120,000 prison guards and opposes the growing number of private prisons.

US prison
"Get tough" sentencing has increased the US prison population

Mr Harkins says OSP works on a "direct supervision" basis, encouraging officers to have interpersonal contact with inmates.

This, he says, reduces the threat of violence and makes for a safer institution for both inmates and staff, who are armed with only a radio, a whistle, and a pair of handcuffs.

He told the CSAAP inquiry: "Unfortunately, new prisons are being built to minimize the number of staff, both in architectural design and by using technologies such as remote cameras and sensor systems.

"This dehumanizes the inmates and staff alike.

"I also believe that you need to take the effort of actually walking among the inmates and engaging them in conversation.

People believe there is nothing they can do about it, they don't pay any attention to the consequences the treatment of prisoners has when they come out, and they don't participate in the debate
Alexander Busansky
CSAAP director

"Unfortunately, with the drastic cutbacks in educational and vocational programs we are currently experiencing, this is becoming a harder task."

Prisons in the US are run on federal, state and local levels.

The US Department of Justice says it "protects society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure".

"Each federal prison provides services to help prepare inmates to return to their communities as productive citizens," it adds in a statement on its website.

Examples include educational, occupational and vocational training, work programmes and substance abuse treatment.

Roots of problem

America currently stands accused of acting as the world's jailer in its War on Terror. It is under fire for allegedly running secret jails in other countries, far from public scrutiny.

From Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, activists say the US is trampling on human rights in its pursuit of terror suspects.

But the roots of the problem may be closer to home, as suggested by words attributed to former Pennsylvania prison guard Charles Graner - ringleader of the Abu Ghraib abuses - which came out during court testimony.

"The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.'"

No one would suggest Graner represents of the vast majority of prison officers.

But Alexander Busansky, executive director of the CSAAP, told the BBC the US public was largely ignorant of the real state of America's prisons.

"We have to get away from the idea that what happens in prisons stays in prisons. Prisons are public institutions and they must be held accountable."

He said the CSAAP would be recommending expansion of the prison accreditation scheme, increased use of direct supervision in jails and tighter regulation over the use of weapons like pepper spray and stun guns in a bid to end abuses.

"There has been a hardening of attitudes," Mr Busansky said.

"People believe there is nothing they can do about it, they don't pay any attention to the consequences the treatment of prisoners has when they come out, and they don't participate in the debate.

"But prison is a place of opportunity, and it can have a positive impact on people's lives."

CLICK HERE to find the above from the BBC on the web

* * * *

Click link for my other blog here:

I spent 100s of thousands of dollars fixing up rental properties from a boarded up condition in Stafford Springs Connecticut. I beat my body to a pulp after years of fixing up those properties. (Click here for video of properties)

Heroin and Crack Cocaine were being sold near and on my properties. Police refused to help and were threatening me with arrest and worse if I did not keep my mouth shut. I wrote in newspapers and proposed Civilian Oversight of Police. I wrote Bush about the police and being under siege. I ended up being falsely arrested and Connecticut State Police committed perjury to get me sentenced to a year in prison for pepper spraying a mugger, a police informant, that was encouraged to stalk, harass, threaten, and assault me.

Click here for video and post that describes my beefs


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