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."

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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.   

Prosecutorial Misconduct

September 17, 2020

Both the Washington Post and the NY Times published major news stories on government misconduct which has led to innocent people being convicted and incarcerated or to be falsely accused.  This morning's Washington Post has an article on page 2 titled: Study: 54 percent of exonerees faced misconduct.  The study was commissioned by the National Registry of Exonerations.  It reviewed 2400 exonerations between 1989 and 2019. Close to 80% of exonerees were originally convicted of violent felonies. Of the 2400, 93 were sentenced to death and later cleared of any wrongdoing prior to their executions. The study found that police and prosecutors rarely faced any consequences for their misconduct.  

Police and Prosecutor misconduct is one of the many terrible injustices that too often goes on routinely in the United States. But what really makes me angry is that both police and prosecutors are never punished in any way for holding back exculpatory evidence or for perjury. Too often we hold only some people accountable for crimes--often poor people--while we turn the other way when people in power commit crimes. This is why so many people have so little confidence in our criminal justice system.  

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Deerfield and Fluvanna Correctional Centers

September 16, 2020

This week we learned of two serious outbreaks of Covid-19 at two Virginia prisons. The most serious outbreak was at Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron, VA. According to news reports, 407 inmates have been infected with the coronavirus, 22 have been hospitalized and 2 people have died. At Fluvanna Women's Correctional Center in Troy, VA, 41 inmates have been infected with no deaths reported. These reports indicate how serious the threat of Covid-19 is to prison populations in Virginia, Maryland, and in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. According to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, only one half of all the state prison systems require staff to wear masks and only one-third of all states require inmates to wear masks. Virginia is one of the states that requires both inmates and staff to wear masks. However, Maryland does not require either staff or inmates to wear masks. 

Even with the wearing of masks, Virginia has experienced serious outbreaks of the coronavirus in two major prisons. Virginia has been very slow to release inmates who are over 60, who have serious underlying medical conditions, or are within a year of release. If more people could be released even under house arrest monitored electronically, prison officials would have more flexibility to separate prisoners and enforce social distancing. In too many prisons, social distancing is inconsistent at best.  

IAHR is monitoring both outbreaks through correspondence with inmates. As more becomes known, we will keep you posted.  


Curtis Flowers Goes Free!

September 9, 2020

We advocates of criminal justice reform note with bittersweet satisfaction that Curtis Flowers was released the other day in Mississippi.  Mr Flowers is a black man who was tried 6 different times for a ghastly and brutal murder and served 23 years in prison.  You can go to CNN, Law & Crime, or the Washington Post to read details about Mr. Flowers' ordeal.  I, however, would like to focus in on Doug Evans who tried Mr. Flowers 6 different times.  Mr. Flowers was condemned by the Supreme Court of the United States for discriminating against Mr. Flowers by striking every potential African-American witness from the jury pool. During each of these trial--several which ended as mistrials--there was not one African American on the jury!  The Supreme Court decided that Mr. Evans purposely excluded black Americans in order to get a favorable verdict.  Yet Mr. Evans never was held accountable for his deliberate attempts to pervert justice.  We want justice for the victims of violent crimes. But too often, there is no justice, no accountability for the prosecutors who hide exculpatory evidence from the defense, who know that police are committing perjury, or who stack the jury against the accused. Everyone needs to be held accountable, including the police, the prosecutors, and the correctional officers.   

Letter from Prison

September 4, 2020

Today, we posted our monthly letter from Marqui Clardy who is incarcerated in a Virginia prison. I urge you to read his letter which is entitled "Herd Immunity." In my previous blog, I incorporated data recently gathered by the Marshall Report that described that over 100,000 incarcerated people had been infected with the coronavirus. In Mr. Clardy's letter you will see how slow and lax measures helped spread the virus through much of the prison that he resides in. It seems that "herd immunity" has been the de facto way of containing the virus in at least one prison.  

Coronavirus in State and Federal Prisons

September 1, 2020

Last week the Marshall Report issued a new report on the ravages of the coronavirus in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  It is not a pretty picture.  The report begins this way: 

By Aug. 25, at least 108,045 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 6 percent increase from the week before.

New cases among prisoners reached an all-time high in early August after slowing down in June. The growth in recent weeks was driven by big jumps in prisoners testing positive in Florida, California and the federal Bureau of Prisons as well as outbreaks in Arkansas, Hawaii and Oklahoma.

Cases first peaked in late April, when states such as Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas began mass testing of prisoners. Those initiatives suggested that coronavirus had been circulating among people without symptoms in much greater numbers than previously known.

The report ranks the prison systems of all the states along with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).  The BOP ranks third with 12,525 cases.  Virginia ranks 10th with 2,621 cases.  Maryland ranks 25th with 695 cases.  Another important statistic is the number of cases per 10,000 prisoners.  Virginia has 917 cases per 10,000 prisoners while the BOP has 810 cases per 10,000 prisoners.  Maryland has 364 cases per 10,000 prisoners.  

12 states have more than 1000 cases per 10,000 prisoners with Arkansas leading all the states with 3,153 cases per 10,000 prisoners.  Ten states have less than 100 cases per 10,000 prisoners.  

Some of these statistics reflect the level and the intensity of the virus in that particular state. At the same time, we can infer that some states have done a much better job in taking steps at protecting both prisoners and staff.  


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"In the U.S. Guilty means you are a bad person."

August 25, 2020

I just finished reading a book that really impressed me in its format, its content, and its honesty. The name of the book is The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence by Laurence Ralph. Mr. Ralph explores the history and background to the trial of Richard Zuley. Mr. Zuley was a top Chicago policeman and detective for over 30 years. In his role as detective on the south side of Chicago, he often brutalized and tortured people who were arrested and suspected of committing a violent crime. One of his victims, Andrew Wilson, who was convicted of murdering two Chicago policemen subsequently sued Mr. Zuley for damages incurred during his interrogation. Remarkably after two trials, a jury awarded Mr. Wilson $1 million. $900,000 went to his attorneys and $100,000 went to the families of Mr. Wilson's victims. 

Mr. Ralph, who is an ethnographer and a professor at Princeton University, presented this story as a series of letters. The letters are written to the current police chief of Chicago, to the future mayors of Chicago, to Chicago's Youth of Color, to other policemen who knew about the torture but felt powerless to do anything, and to young black activists who brought a petition to the United Nations charging Chicago police with genocide. Through patient and careful research Mr. Ralph discovered that many people within and without the police department knew about Mr. Zuley's torturing suspects. In fact, the torture could not have gone on for so long if people had spoken up. But other officers were intimidated by Mr. Zuley, others just turned away because the people being tortured were "bad people."  

Mr. Ralph has a remarkable discussion with a Guantanamo survivor, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was tortured often and on for 14 years. Incredibly--or not so incredibly, one of Mr. Salhi's torturers was the same Chicago policeman, Richard Zuley. According to Salhi, Zuley told him and another Guantanamo detainee that "it did not matter to him whether the man was innocent or guilty. It didn't matter because to Zuley, this was a bad guy."  "It seems to me, Slahi went on, "that in the U.S., guilty means that you are a bad person. But is it supposed to mean that? In a democratic country, I thought that guilty is supposed to mean that you did this or that crime.  Does it matter from a legal perspective whether you were a good or bad guy? I don't think so. But this `bad guy' mentality is brought up over and over in interrogations (pp.160-161)."

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A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons

August 19, 2020

The Marshall Project is collecting data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons. See how the virus has affected correctional facilities where you live.  The trends are not encouraging. The number of total cases has been rising since the end of June.  At the end of June there were less than 3000 weekly cases recorded throughout throughout the United States. By the middle of August there were 8,745 cases recorded weekly. Please write your Governor and Attorney General Barr telling them that they should release more inmates who are over 60, who have underlying medical conditions, or are within a year of release.  Urge them to be more consistent (wearing masks, sanitation) in preventive measures.  

CORONAVIRUS  UPDATED 5:45 P.M. 08.14.2020

Since March, The Marshall Project has been tracking how many people are being sickened and killed by COVID-19 in prisons and how widely it has spread across the country and within each state. Here, we will regularly update these figures counting the number of people infected and killed nationwide and in each prison system until the crisis abates.

This reporting was undertaken in partnership with The Associated Press.

By Aug. 11, at least 95,398 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 10 percent increase from the week before.

New cases among prisoners reached an all-time high this week after slowing down in June. The growth in recent weeks was driven by big jumps in prisoners testing positive in Florida, Texas, California and the federal Bureau of Prisons as well as outbreaks in Idaho, Iowa, Oregon and South Carolina.

Cases first peaked in late April, when states such as Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas began mass testing of prisoners. Those initiatives suggested that coronavirus had been circulating among people without symptoms in much greater numbers than previously known.

There have been at least 95,398 cases of coronavirus reported among prisoners.

62,102 prisoners have recovered.

Virginia is in 10th in the nation in the number of cases of Covid per 10,000 prisoners in the state prison system.  It has reported 2406 cases and 841 cases per 10,000 prisoners. 

Maryland is 24th in the nation in the number of cases of Covid per 10,000 prisoners in the state prison system.  It has reported 664 cases and 347 cases per 10,000 prisoners.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons in second in the nation (Texas is number one) in the number of cases of Covid per 10,000 prisoners.  It has reported 11, 524 cases and 745 cases per 10,000 prisoners.  

Click here to read the whole article and the breakdown by states.