Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: New England Jails

"Weeks after court ruling, inmates still living on death row" by Pat Eaton-Robb Associated Press  September 20, 2015

HARTFORD — Former death-row inmates in Connecticut may soon be living under less restrictive prison conditions than other inmates convicted of similar crimes, legal experts say.

Connecticut’s Supreme Court last month declared capital punishment unconstitutional in the state, striking down part of a 2012 law that had allowed the death penalty only for those already facing execution.

That statute replaced what had been known as ‘‘capital felony’’ with a new crime, ‘‘murder with special circumstances.’’ Under the new law, anyone who is convicted of what would have previously been a death-penalty eligible crime is now sentenced to life in prison under conditions mimicking death row.

That means being held in a single cell for 22 hours a day, being escorted by at least one staff member, and placed in restraints when moving outside that cell. Of the two hours considered ‘‘recreation,’’ one would typically be spent indoors, in an area that houses a law library and a phone. The other would be spent alone in a cage outside in a courtyard. There would be no physical contact with other inmates.

Ironically, the 11 inmates currently housed on death row may soon be escaping those conditions.

Those inmates must now be resentenced to life without parole under the old capital felony statute, which existed when they were convicted, their attorneys say.

Though the Correction Department has leeway in the conditions imposed on individual inmates, someone sentenced to life without parole under the old statute was typically placed in the general population and allowed to be out of a cell six to seven hours a day with other inmates. They also have access to the prison commissary and gym.

‘‘At some point, the death-row inmates are going to be let into general population,’’ said attorney Mark Rademacher, who successfully argued for the abolishment of capital punishment as the attorney for Eduardo Santiago and currently represents death-row inmate Russell Peeler Jr. ‘‘I don’t see how the state could oppose that.’’


"Prison e-mail improves communications for Vermont inmates" by Dave Gram Associated Press  September 20, 2015

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s prison system is rolling out special e-mail and video visitation services for inmates, which advocates and corrections officials see as a boon but are raising concerns in some states where they are already in place about the cost to prisoners and other issues.

Vermont inmates at a private prison in Michigan with which the state has a contract, as well as in-state prisons in Newport and St. Johnsbury, recently were allowed to begin using the new e-mail system, said Mike Touchette, director of facility operations for the Corrections Department.

Inmates can go to a kiosk to use the system or can buy an electronic tablet that allows them to communicate with the system, which is run by JPay, a private company providing the prison e-mail service.

JPay also offers a video service — at $9.95 for a 30-minute session. Inmates also can download songs and ebooks.

Touchette said kiosks have been installed in all seven of Vermont’s prisons.

At the St. Johnsbury prison, superintendent Alan Cormier said, the electronic communications are especially helpful to inmates with families out of state. And he said the games, music, and videos inmates can get through the system can cut down on boredom.

The system is different from e-mail services offered to the general public outside the facilities in several respects, Touchette said. One is cost; senders pay 40 cents per e-mail.

The costs, which are higher in some states, trouble some inmate advocates, who say they can burden often low-income families.

The new tools are not without critics, who cite the costs, the fact that some jails are pushing to eliminate in-person visits in favor of video visits, and technical difficulties.


Could be a problem:

"Prisoners in Ga. used cellphones to run crime rings" Associated Press  September 24, 2015

ATLANTA — Gangs at some Georgia prisons have been using cellphones to traffic drugs, smuggle in contraband, steal identities, and, in at least one case, to arrange a violent attack on an inmate suspected of snitching, according to federal indictments unsealed Thursday that target a dozen people who officials say were involved in two prison-based crime rings.

The inmates used prison employees to smuggle cellphones and other contraband into the prisons, two indictments say. They then used the phones to communicate with networks of other inmates, friends on the outside, and prison staff members.

‘‘The one commonality that runs through it all is the ready access to and use of cellphones and smartphones by the inmates that allowed them to continue their victimization of citizens and the community even while they were behind bars,’’ US Attorney John Horn said. The investigation is ongoing, he said.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, more than 7,000 cellphones were confiscated at Georgia prisons, either from inmates or from people trying to smuggle them in, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Homer Bryson said. Since July 1, more than a thousand have been seized.

Since Bryson became commissioner in February, 50 people, including 22 corrections staff members, have been arrested trying to bring contraband into prisons, he said.


Just kill 'em all.

NDU: Kelly Gissendaner is 1st woman executed in Ga. in 70 years