The Law and People Accused of being Sexual Predators

November 17, 2020

As some of you may know, IAHR is a participant in the ReThink Justice DC Coalition. ReThink participants advocate for reforms for issues related to the D.C. jails, such as re-entry services for returning citizens, halfway houses, taking back DC control of its legal system, and planning for replacement of the jail. Galen Baughman was one of the original organizers First Friday of what became the ReThink Justice DC Coalition. He was the group’s first administrator, until his incarceration in Virginia three years ago based on a technical violation of his parole. I visited Galen several times while he was incarcerated in the Arlington, VA jail.  

Galen remained incarcerated for nearly three years while awaiting the trial and disposition of the Virginia Attorney General’s petition to have him civilly committed. In August 2020, the court released him to intensive supervision, including 24/7 monitoring and prohibitions on the use of most forms of social media and communication, pending appeal of his civil commitment order.

Galen is now facing lifetime incarceration as a so-called “sexually violent predator (SVP),” even though he has never been accused of an act of violence and his only conviction dates back over 15 years ago. The Attorney General’s office of the state of Virginia is trying him to get him civilly committed to a state mental hospital prison for an indefinite period of time.

The case of Galen Baughman highlights how our society through its laws fails to discriminate among people who are accused of being sexual predators. Yes, there are people incarcerated who have committed serious crimes through sexual abuse. But there are others who are accused and convicted of sexual acts that are not violent at all but are punished severely. Galen Baughman is an example of someone who is being unjustly pursued by the Attorney General of Virginia. This Washington Post article tells Galen's story very well. 

Fortunately, his appeals case has attracted a good deal of national support.

The recent support for Galen’s appeal case comes from the Center for HIV Law and Policy who recently filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia in support of Galen. The brief describes the deep homophobic bias embedded in the civil commitment assessment process and in the drive to confine him in the absence of credible evidence.

CLICK HERE to VIEW an article about brief


Election Reflections

Thursday, November 5, 2020

I was a 14 year old high school freshman when JFK was inaugurated on a very cold January day. I remember Robert Frost trying to read a poem in the bitter cold while his glasses got fogged up. But I also remember Kennedy's stirring words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."  It seems that half of the voting populace has turned Kennedy's works inside out and upside down. It seems the motto of those who voted for President Trump and his Republican supporters and allies is "I don't want anything from the country, and I don't want to do anything for the country." They don't want the government to guarantee a right to all Americans for health care, they don't care if immigrants and the poor suffer, and they certainly think that there is not any endemic or structural racism in the country. Wallace Shawn, the actor and author, wrote very insightful essay on this point in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. Shawn contends that previous generations of Americans bought into and accepted the idea that what made American special were our democratic ideals and our concern for the oppressed.  Today, he argues, half of the country has given up on our ideals and regards the U.S. as no different than any other country. "We are not special; we do bad things like everyone else. Get over it and don't think we can become better"---is the belief.  It makes sense then that Vice-President Biden's campaign argument that he was fighting for the soul of America did not move or persuade half of the country.  We have become two nations: one half believing in trying to realize our ideals and the other half saying we never really believed in those ideals. 

Parole, Probation, & Mass Incarceration

November 3, 2020

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) publishes timely essays, reports, and briefings on a whole host of issues facing U.S. prisons and jails. Last week (October 28), PPI published an eye opening report on how parole violations is an important factor in increasing the prison population. PPI did an analysis of parole and probation in the District of Columbia to show just how parole and supervision violations can cause a returning citizen to go back to prison.  Returning citizens who are being supervised because they are on parole or probation can be sent back to prison for violating anyone of these rules:

Burdensome conditions of release

In D.C., people under supervision can get a technical violation for behaviors such as:

  1. Not reporting to their CSO
  2. Not allowing a CSO to visit their home
  3. Leaving the “judicial district” without permission
  4. Not working regularly
  5. Not attending training, school, or drug treatment
  6. Not notifying their CSO of a change of address or employment
  7. Going to places where illegal substances are sold, used, stored, or administered
  8. Associating others who are “engaged in criminal activity” or have felony convictions
  9. Not notifying, within 2 days, their CSO of a new arrest or mere questioning by police
  10. Acting as an informant or special agent for law enforcement without permission
  11. Not adhering to any other general or special conditions, like curfew or GPS monitoring
  12. Not submitting a sample for drug testing
  13. Not paying fees that are a condition of release

According to the PPI report, 1 and 7 held in the DC Jail are due to violations for one or more of the above rules.  According to PPI, "Nationally, 45% of annual prison admissions are due to supervision violations, and 25% are the result of “technical violations” — noncompliant but non-criminal behaviors, like missing meetings with a parole officer. The sheer number of people held in jail for mere violations of supervision exemplifies the gross overuse and misuse of incarceration in the U.S."

The PPI report reveals why bringing parole back under local control of the DC government is so important. Currently, parole is supervised by the U.S. Parole Commission and the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency of the District of Columbia, otherwise known as CSOSA.  By bringing parole back under the authority of the DC government, advocates and activists hope to have a hand in creating a Parole Board in the District whose focus will be on rehabilitation, providing medical and psychological care for those who are in need, and supporting returning citizens to return to the community.  We are working on a Parole Commission that will not set up returning citizens for failure by being overly punitive for violation of technical or supervisory rules. Click here to read the PPI Report, Technical difficulties: D.C. data shows how minor supervision violations contribute to excessive jailing.

What Incarcerated People Think

October 29, 2020

Here is a summary of an article from the Marshall Report. They surveyed incarcerated people asking them what interventions would have kept them out of prison.  What would it take?  Here is their answer:

Our second survey of incarcerated people this year asked what interventions would have helped them stay out of prison. Their number one response: mental health counseling. A close second: access to affordable housing. Formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be homeless than those who have never been to prison. Meanwhile, almost 90 percent of incarcerated Black men support the idea of moving funds from the police to social services like mental health or after-school programs. Three-quarters of incarcerated White men agree, including 64 percent of Republican White men. That’s amazing. In the general population, only 5 percent of Republican White men want to move funds away from the police. Published together with Slate, this story and our previous survey in March are the first comprehensive efforts to ascertain the political opinions of people behind bars. Read some of their responses here.

When advocates and activists speak about "defunding the police", one of things they mean is transferring money from law enforcement to support an array of mental health services. The percentage of incarcerated people with some mental health illness is significant. We have seen this year what happens when the police are called to intervene with a person on the street who is threatening and out of control. Force is applied and sometimes the offender is killed. This is what happened this week in Philadelphia.  An out of control man who was threatening others with a knife was shot and killed by police officers.  The victim had a long history of mental illness. Trained mediators were needed to calm the threatening man. Instead force was applied and another black man is dead.  

Reginald Dwayne Betts' NY Times Essay on Criminal Justice

October 27, 2020

In the Sunday, October 25 NY Times Magazine, Reginald Dwayne Betts wrote a compelling essay on the messiness, the conflicting feelings that he and many others have about the criminal justice system. Mr Betts was convicted at the age of 16 for carjacking and served time in Virginia prisons for nine years. After he was released his mother confided in him that she was attacked and raped while waiting for a bus. Mr. Betts had to confront his conflicted feelings: his own experience of the harshness and brutality of incarceration when just a teenager while at the same time wanting justice for his mother. Justice for his mother meant a harsh and uncompromising sentence for her attacker.  

Mr Betts is a celebrated poet and author. Here is a summary of some of his accomplishments taken from his website: 

Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three acclaimed collections of poetry, the recently published Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. When awarded Betts the PEN New England Award for poetry for his collection Bastards of the Reagan Era, judge Mark Doty said:

“Betts has written an indelible lament for a generation, a necessary book for this American moment.”

His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.

The significance of Mr. Betts' recent NY Times essay is his confronting wanting punishment for a person who clearly did a terrible and harmful act and at the same time wanting to reform if not radically change how we punish people who commit violent crimes. His essay reminded me of how I felt about the murder of George Floyd. I wanted Officer Derek Chauvin to be sentenced to life imprisonment. Yet as I thought about the calls for the maximum penalty for Officer Chauvin, I also remembered my belief that most people should not be in prison for the rest of their lives. I remembered that I believe that people can change, that a person who committed a crime at the age of 30 or 40 is not the same person when he or she reaches the age of 65. What would it take for us to act mercifully toward Derek Chauvin or for the rapist who attacked Mr. Betts' mother?  What does it mean to act mercifully/. These are questions we need to confront and answer.   

BOP Halfway House in DC

October 23, 2020

This property (3701 Benning Road NE) was recently bought by CORE DC for the purpose of developing a halfway house that would serve DC residents released from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  For many years HOPE Village located in Southeast DC was the halfway house that DC residents returned to from the BOP.  HOPE Village was privately run and managed. Over the years the feedback from returning citizens was overwhelmingly negative about conditions at HOPE Village and the the services they received. For years, advocates in DC urged the BOP to end its relationship with the private owners and offer a contract to a different vendor who had a proven track record of running halfway houses. When the coronavirus hit, HOPE Village was unable to provide safe space for its residents and it closed in April, 2020.  CORE DC another private vendor who manages a halfway house for returning citizens in Brooklyn, NY was awarded the contract for DC. Advocates have been encouraged by CORE DC's presentations and looked forward to CORE DC building a half way house on Benning Road (picture above)

But now a new obstacle has arisen. Members of the community through their ANC have filed an application to designate the building as an historic landmark. This application prevents CORE DC from beginning to develop the property for a halfway house. The DC Historic Preservation Review Board will review this application on November 19.  It is hard not conclude that several factors are prompting this application for historic status. Members of the community don't want returning citizens near them. They complain that the facility will be too large because it will house up to 300 residents. Additionally, real estate developers and local politicians see this property as place to develop. If the Historic Preservation Review Board accepts the application for historic status or even if it takes it time to make a decision, DC may never have a half way house.  The BOP will decide to find another site outside of the District. DC residents returning home will find themselves once again displaced. 

Read more

IAHR's Letter to the DC Jails and Justice Task Force-Local Control

October 14, 2020

Recently, I submitted the letter below to the DC Jails and Justice Task Force, Local Control Committee. The letter supports the Mayor and the DC Council taking back control of parole which has been in the hands of the U.S. Parole Commission for the last 23 years. The President of the United States appoints people to be Commissioners on the U.S. Parole Commission. The Commission is not accountable in any way to the residents of the District. The letter below outlines the important values and principles that should be the basis for a DC Parole Commission.   

October 12, 2020

To: DC Jails & Justice Task Force, Local Control Committee

Re: Local Control of the U.S. Parole Commission

Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) supports the District taking control of the U.S. Parole Commission at the end of its 2 year mandate from Congress in 2022. 

IAHR has been an active participant in both the DC Reentry Task Force and ReThink Justice DC coalition for the last five years.  IAHR participated in the discussions that led to the publication of The Parole Revocation Process in DC: What DC Could Accomplish with Local Control.

IAHR also was involved in the creation of the Report, “Establishing Principles for the Creation of a Local Paroling Authority in Washington, DC.”

IAHR especially supports the following recommendations of these two reports:

  1. Not allowing the paroling authority to incarcerate an individual for “technical” violations;
  2. Reduce jail incarceration during the revocation process.
  3. Minimize reliance on incarceration as a sanction.
  4. Involve community, advocacy and subject-matter expert participation in revocation hearings.
  5. Mandate data collection and transparency.
  6. Reduce time on supervision for parolees and individuals on supervised release.
  7. Adjust the hearing schedule to reduce jail incarceration and encourage alternatives to revocation and incarceration.

IAHR also strongly believes that the Parole Commissioners should be drawn from the residents of the District of Columbia and appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the DC Council.

Read more

As N.Y.C. Jails Become More Violent, Solitary Confinement Persists

October 13, 2020

In this morning's NY Times, there is a news article about Rikers Island, the New York City Jail. The city has done a remarkable job of reducing dramatically the number of incarcerated men and women at Rikers.  This chart shows the reduction in numbers at Rikers Island:

Year Total Incarcerated In Solitary
2013 62,955 5,472
2014 58,206 4,992
2015 52,040 3,214
2016 49,575 2,444
2017 46,142 1,729
2018 37,972 1,758
2019 31,480 1,703
2020 7,214 935
A couple observations. County, Regional, and City Jails can reduce their populations dramatically.  It is striking that NY City was able to reduce the population at Rikers over the course of nine years from over 60,000 people to 7,214 people. It is not hard to conclude that most of the people released were not judged a threat to themselves or to the public.
On the other hand, it seems that Rikers did hold onto people who were judged a threat to public safety or to themselves; thus the need between 5 and 7% of those remaining to be placed in solitary confinement. The article does not give any figures about the average or median length of stay which is critical. It is one thing if a person is put in isolation for a day or two; it is another if that person is in isolation for weeks or even months.  
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Covid-19 Outbreaks in Virginia State Prisons

October 9, 2020

Gay Gardner, IAHR's Virginia Advisor, has been reporting that there has been a serious outbreak of Covid-19 at the Fluvanna Women's Prison in Virginia.  In late September it was reported by the Fluvanna Review that "at least 115 inmates and 10 staff members at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW) have tested positive for COVID-19  since early September, and two are currently hospitalized."  Needless to say women with underlying medical conditions are frightened about the prospect of coming down with the virus.   

Cynthia Scott and Melissa Atkins are two women with underlying medical conditions at Fluvanna Women's Prison that Gay has been in touch with and has tried to help.  They've been going through an especially hard time during the COVID pandemic. They and their families have posted a petition on urging Governor Northam to grant them immediate release.  Please consider signing their petition and sharing it with others.

In addition, it was reported today in the South Boston News & Record and Mecklenburg Sun that there has been a renewed flare up of the virus at the Baskerville Correctional Center. "As of Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Corrections reported 87 offenders who have contracted COVID-19 are being housed at the Baskerville prison. Four employees there also have been infected. One employee — 66-year-old prison warden Earl Barksdale — has died of the disease.

One offender at the multi-custody facility is currently hospitalized, but the other 86 infected inmates are housed either at the prison visitor center, or inside another pod designated as a quarantine area for those with the virus."

Read more

31 Have Died from Covid-19 in Virginia Prisons

September 29, 2020

I was away last week for some time off which I really needed.  This morning's news article in the Richmond Post-Dispatch reports that 31 incarcerated people have died in Virginia State Prisons! 17 have died at the Deerfield Correctional Center, which houses many geriatric prisoners. There has also been an outbreak at the Fluvanna Women's Prison with 115 cases. Fluvanna is the largest women's facility and houses the most seriously ill prisoners.  The 265 active Covid-19 cases at Deerfield account for over half of the 474 total cases reported in Virginia State Prisons. Deerfield has a large geriatric population. More of these men should have been released when the pandemic hit last spring.  Instead, Virginia has released a relatively few prisoners. Certainly the older prisoners at Deerfield would not pose a threat to public safety. Not enough has been done to release prisoners from facilities that are hothouses for the coronavirus.