Cases against NJ Weedman up in smoke. Prosecutors cite changing views of marijuana

Updated 9:11 AM; Posted Jun 6, 3:15 PM

Ed "NJ Weedman" Forchion reacts to someone who beeped their horn in support as he talked in front of his shuttered restaurant Friday, May 25, 2018 in Trenton, a day after he was acquitted of witness tampering and was released from jail. (Kevin Shea | For NJ.com)

Above:  Ed “NJ Weedman” Forchion reacts to someone who beeped their horn in support as he talked in front of his shuttered restaurant Friday, May 25, 2018 in Trenton, a day after he was acquitted of witness tampering and was released from jail. (Kevin Shea | For NJ.com)

By Paige Gross   [email protected],   For NJ.com

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday it will be dropping most of the remaining drug and related charges against Edward “NJ Weedman” stemming from a 2016 raid on his Trenton restaurant.

What is not dismissed will be downgraded to municipal court, where jail time is unlikely.

But Forchion’s not seeing this as all good news. 

Late last month, Forchion was found not guilty by a jury on third-degree witness tampering charges – a case that also grew from the drug raid.

The marijuana activist spent about 15 months detained in the Mercer County jail during two trials, and was set free hours after he was acquitted.

The prosecutor’s office said the decision to not move forward in prosecuting Forchion came after considering the shift in climate of marijuana legislation in New Jersey.

“They’re about 10 years too late,” Forchion said of a change in public opinion of marijuana. 

The office also considered the changes in law regarding the state’s bail reform – an issue Forchion railed against during his time in jail.

“I’m half-way happy and half-way mad,” he said Wednesday night. “Now the state just drops the charges, and I’ve already spent 16 months in jail. I had 42 charges against me total. It was a campaign of terror by the police department.”

NJ Weedman spent 400-plus days in jail. Turns out he was not guilty

Can he get anything for all the time he spent locked up?

“These factors call for an adjustment in the way the office most appropriately uses its resources and assistance from other law enforcement agencies in order to prioritize detention cases such as murders, attempted murders and violent crime,” the prosecutor’s statement said.

“The fact that the defendant has served more than a year in prison while these cases were pending was also taken into consideration,” it continued.

In all, Forchion had been indicted in 2016 and 2017 and was facing 11 charges related to narcotics dealings and cyber harassment. The prosecutor’s office has dismissed most of the charges, and downgraded five to “disorderly persons offenses,” all of which will be tried in Trenton Municipal Court.

The state is currently wrestling with ideas of how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people who have been charged with marijuana crimes. Some legislators are considering expunging low-level convictions, but aren’t yet sure of the logistics.

“After a review of the defendant’s pending cases,” the prosecutor’s office said in its statement, “We feel the downgrade and dismissal of the charges is an appropriate resolution.”

Paige Gross may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

CONTINUE READING….

Does America Need Another Prison? It may be this rural county's only chance at survival

By Jon Schuppe Mar 22, 2018

A view of Letcher County from the top of Pine Mountain

WHITESBURG, Ky. — If it wasn’t for his family’s bond to the mountainside where he grew up, Aaron Boggs might have fled by now.

His home is Letcher County, a rugged and remote part of eastern Kentucky sustained for generations by a coal industry that now hardly exists. He remains here out of a sense of duty, but now the prospect of a big new federal project is giving him hope that the area might have an economic future after all.

The project would be a prison.

Starving for jobs, the county has asked the federal government to build a penitentiary here, on the site of an abandoned mountaintop strip mine.

“Having that kind of thing come in, it could symbolize a change in the economy and maybe turn the tide and everything will go back to what it — halfway, at least — to what it was when the coal mines were here,” Boggs, 21, said.

He works at a restaurant while completing college, and envisions himself commuting to the prison from the converted trailer where he lives with his 19-year-old wife, on land still tended by his grandfather. “Hopefully, if the prison does go in, I can get a job there and it will be secure and I’ll be making enough to provide for us where we don’t have to struggle.”

PLEASE CONTINUE READING THIS STORY

Watch: Hoping for a prison

The East Mississippi Correctional Facility Is ‘Hell on Earth’

By Carl Takei, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality

March 5, 2018

E. Mississippi Correctional Fire

At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, where Mississippi sends some of the most seriously mentally ill people in the state prison system, even the most troubled patients are routinely ignored and the worst cases of self-harm are treated with certain neglect. The conditions at EMCF have cost some prisoners their limbs, their eyesight, and even their lives.

In 2013, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and prisoner rights attorney Elizabeth Alexander filed a class-action complaint on behalf of all the prisoners held at EMCF. As the case heated up, the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP joined as co-counsel, providing major staffing and support. Despite years of attempts by Mississippi to derail the lawsuit before our clients even saw the inside of the courtroom, the case will finally proceed to trial Monday.

The lawsuit against EMCF describes horrific conditions at the facility: rampant violence, including by staff against prisoners; solitary confinement used to excess, with particular harm to prisoners with mental illnesses; and filthy cells and showers that lack functional toilets or lights. It also sheds light on a dysfunctional medical and mental healthcare delivery system that puts patients at risk of serious injury and has contributed to deaths in custody.

Nowhere was this institutionalized neglect more clear than in the life, and death, of T.H., a patient at EMCF with a history of severe mental illness and self-harm. On Jan. 31, 2016, T.H. stuck glass into his arm. Instead of sending him to the emergency room, a nurse merely cleaned the wound with soap and water. The following day, he broke a light bulb and inserted the shards into his arm. This time he required eight stitches.

Less than two weeks later, he cut himself with a blade hidden in his cell and then tried to hang himself. It was only later that month, after he reopened his arm wound with more glass, that mental health staff finally placed him on special psychiatric observation status.
Yet, because he wasn’t properly monitored, T.H.’s series of self-injury continued unabated until April 4, 2016. Early that afternoon, he stuck his arm, dripping in blood, through a slot in his cell door and asked to see the warden. A lieutenant saw T.H.’s bloodied arm, but, rather than call for emergency assistance, simply left the area. Two hours later, T.H. was observed unresponsive on the floor of his cell.

E. Mississippi Correctional Blood on the Door
In response, the prison warden opted to call for a K-9 team to enter the cell with dogs before letting medical professionals examine the patient. By then it was too late — T.H. was dead, having strangled himself with materials from inside his cell. He never once had a proper suicide risk assessment or any treatment to address his self-harm.

The lackadaisical and unconstitutional approach that EMCF staff takes toward prisoner healthcare cost T.H. his life and has caused well-documented suffering among countless other mentally ill prisoners. And it all happens in the context of a prison rife with violence, where security staff often react with excessive force to mental health crises and allow prison gangs to control access to necessities of life, including at times food.

The Constitution requires that if the state takes someone into custody, it must also take on the responsibility of providing treatment for their serious medical and mental health needs. This means, among other measures, hiring qualified medical staff to provide necessary care for people with mental health disorders, creating systems for access to care so sick patients can see a mental health or medical clinician, and making sure that medical care is provided without security staff impeding it.

The ACLU and our co-counsel are fighting to ensure that such care is available at EMCF, where the state of Mississippi has continued to lock some of the most vulnerable prisoners in dangerous and filthy conditions and deny them access to constitutionally required mental health and medical care.

I witnessed those conditions firsthand when I visited EMCF in January 2011 with fellow ACLU attorney Gabriel Eber and two medical and mental health experts. At that time, we were horrified to discover that Mississippi’s designated mental health prison was closer to a vision of hell on earth than a therapeutic treatment facility.

When I walked into one of the solitary confinement units, the entire place reeked of smoke from recent fires. I tried to speak to patients about their experiences, but I could barely hear them over the sounds of others moaning and screaming while they slammed their hands into metal cell doors.

Despite repeated warnings from nationally renowned experts brought in to assess conditions at the prisons, a meeting with top Mississippi Department of Corrections officials, and an offer by the ACLU to help MDOC pay to diagnose and fix the problems at EMCF, Mississippi officials permitted these conditions to continue unabated. Rather than take responsibility for fixing this prison, these officials merely switched contractors. In 2012, they swapped out private prison giant GEO Group, Inc. and replaced them with another private prison company, Management & Training Corp., which is perhaps best known for its horrific record of abusing and neglecting immigrant detainees. The state has also switched prison medical contractors multiple times, with little improvement from one to the next.

But the nightmare might soon be over. Over seven years since we first visited the cesspool that is EMCF, our clients will be allowed in court for the first time, asking that their constitutional rights finally be recognized. That recognition won’t undo the great harms they’ve suffered. But by fulfilling the Constitution’s promise of protection, we can stop new harms and horrors at EMCF, of which there have been too many for too long.

CONTINUE READING…

The East Mississippi Correctional Facility Is 'Hell on Earth'

By Carl Takei, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality

March 5, 2018

E. Mississippi Correctional Fire

At the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, where Mississippi sends some of the most seriously mentally ill people in the state prison system, even the most troubled patients are routinely ignored and the worst cases of self-harm are treated with certain neglect. The conditions at EMCF have cost some prisoners their limbs, their eyesight, and even their lives.

In 2013, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, and prisoner rights attorney Elizabeth Alexander filed a class-action complaint on behalf of all the prisoners held at EMCF. As the case heated up, the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP joined as co-counsel, providing major staffing and support. Despite years of attempts by Mississippi to derail the lawsuit before our clients even saw the inside of the courtroom, the case will finally proceed to trial Monday.

The lawsuit against EMCF describes horrific conditions at the facility: rampant violence, including by staff against prisoners; solitary confinement used to excess, with particular harm to prisoners with mental illnesses; and filthy cells and showers that lack functional toilets or lights. It also sheds light on a dysfunctional medical and mental healthcare delivery system that puts patients at risk of serious injury and has contributed to deaths in custody.

Nowhere was this institutionalized neglect more clear than in the life, and death, of T.H., a patient at EMCF with a history of severe mental illness and self-harm. On Jan. 31, 2016, T.H. stuck glass into his arm. Instead of sending him to the emergency room, a nurse merely cleaned the wound with soap and water. The following day, he broke a light bulb and inserted the shards into his arm. This time he required eight stitches.

Less than two weeks later, he cut himself with a blade hidden in his cell and then tried to hang himself. It was only later that month, after he reopened his arm wound with more glass, that mental health staff finally placed him on special psychiatric observation status.
Yet, because he wasn’t properly monitored, T.H.’s series of self-injury continued unabated until April 4, 2016. Early that afternoon, he stuck his arm, dripping in blood, through a slot in his cell door and asked to see the warden. A lieutenant saw T.H.’s bloodied arm, but, rather than call for emergency assistance, simply left the area. Two hours later, T.H. was observed unresponsive on the floor of his cell.

E. Mississippi Correctional Blood on the Door
In response, the prison warden opted to call for a K-9 team to enter the cell with dogs before letting medical professionals examine the patient. By then it was too late — T.H. was dead, having strangled himself with materials from inside his cell. He never once had a proper suicide risk assessment or any treatment to address his self-harm.

The lackadaisical and unconstitutional approach that EMCF staff takes toward prisoner healthcare cost T.H. his life and has caused well-documented suffering among countless other mentally ill prisoners. And it all happens in the context of a prison rife with violence, where security staff often react with excessive force to mental health crises and allow prison gangs to control access to necessities of life, including at times food.

The Constitution requires that if the state takes someone into custody, it must also take on the responsibility of providing treatment for their serious medical and mental health needs. This means, among other measures, hiring qualified medical staff to provide necessary care for people with mental health disorders, creating systems for access to care so sick patients can see a mental health or medical clinician, and making sure that medical care is provided without security staff impeding it.

The ACLU and our co-counsel are fighting to ensure that such care is available at EMCF, where the state of Mississippi has continued to lock some of the most vulnerable prisoners in dangerous and filthy conditions and deny them access to constitutionally required mental health and medical care.

I witnessed those conditions firsthand when I visited EMCF in January 2011 with fellow ACLU attorney Gabriel Eber and two medical and mental health experts. At that time, we were horrified to discover that Mississippi’s designated mental health prison was closer to a vision of hell on earth than a therapeutic treatment facility.

When I walked into one of the solitary confinement units, the entire place reeked of smoke from recent fires. I tried to speak to patients about their experiences, but I could barely hear them over the sounds of others moaning and screaming while they slammed their hands into metal cell doors.

Despite repeated warnings from nationally renowned experts brought in to assess conditions at the prisons, a meeting with top Mississippi Department of Corrections officials, and an offer by the ACLU to help MDOC pay to diagnose and fix the problems at EMCF, Mississippi officials permitted these conditions to continue unabated. Rather than take responsibility for fixing this prison, these officials merely switched contractors. In 2012, they swapped out private prison giant GEO Group, Inc. and replaced them with another private prison company, Management & Training Corp., which is perhaps best known for its horrific record of abusing and neglecting immigrant detainees. The state has also switched prison medical contractors multiple times, with little improvement from one to the next.

But the nightmare might soon be over. Over seven years since we first visited the cesspool that is EMCF, our clients will be allowed in court for the first time, asking that their constitutional rights finally be recognized. That recognition won’t undo the great harms they’ve suffered. But by fulfilling the Constitution’s promise of protection, we can stop new harms and horrors at EMCF, of which there have been too many for too long.

CONTINUE READING…

40 YEARS FOR MARIJUANA IS NOT JUSTICE

GRANT CLEMENCY TO OUR SON EDWIN RUBIS – 40 YEARS FOR MARIJUANA IS NOT JUSTICE

Untitled

Jeremy Malone Huntsville, AL

Our son, Edwin Rubis, is serving a federal sentence of 40 years for a non-violent marijuana offense. [www.marijuanaliferproject.org/federal-prisoner-edwin-rubis-is-serving-life-for-marijuana/

At age 29, our son, while battling drug addiction, associated himself with drug couriers, and was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. After his arrest, his court-appointed attorney advised him, along with us, that he needed to provide information on others in the drug trade. Edwin could not provide such information. Therefore, he was quickly deemed “uncooperative”, and the judge gave him a harsh sentence – 40 years.

Edwin has been away from us for the last 19 years.

During the course of time, we have adamantly petitioned, and at times cried, for his early release, at every level of the court system. Sadly to say, we continue to struggle, missing him, with no positive resolution to obtain his freedom. Edwin’s children need him. We need him. Our son is not a terrorist, a rapist, a gang member, nor a violent individual to continually be kept in prison for decades for distributing marijuana. While imprisoned, Edwin has taken diligent steps to better himself. He has achieved numerous rehabilitation programs from the psychology and religious departments. He has graduated from college with a degree in Religious Education; and he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling and Therapist Certification. In addition, he serves as a mentor to others, under the supervision of the head chaplain. He is also working as a G.E.D. and E.S.L. tutor in the education department, at his present institution of confinement, helping others further their education. In addition, Edwin also finished a 2 year dental apprenticeship from The Department of Labor, and worked as a dental assistant for the last 7 years in the medical department.

We love our son, [uncle, father, and brother]. We wish for him to receive another chance at life. But our dream for him to be reunited with us, can not be accomplished without your full support.

Please help us obtain our son’s freedom by signing this petition urging President Donald Trump to grant our son clemency or a pardon.

Edwin is a changed man. He has been fully rehabilitated and deserves a second chance at life.

Sincerely, Maria Roque – and – Family.

PLEASE CONTINUE READING AND SIGN THE PETITION TO FREE THIS MAN NOW!

40 YEARS FOR MARIJUANA IS NOT JUSTICE

GRANT CLEMENCY TO OUR SON EDWIN RUBIS – 40 YEARS FOR MARIJUANA IS NOT JUSTICE

Untitled

Jeremy Malone Huntsville, AL

Our son, Edwin Rubis, is serving a federal sentence of 40 years for a non-violent marijuana offense. [www.marijuanaliferproject.org/federal-prisoner-edwin-rubis-is-serving-life-for-marijuana/
At age 29, our son, while battling drug addiction, associated himself with drug couriers, and was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. After his arrest, his court-appointed attorney advised him, along with us, that he needed to provide information on others in the drug trade. Edwin could not provide such information. Therefore, he was quickly deemed “uncooperative”, and the judge gave him a harsh sentence – 40 years.

Edwin has been away from us for the last 19 years.

During the course of time, we have adamantly petitioned, and at times cried, for his early release, at every level of the court system. Sadly to say, we continue to struggle, missing him, with no positive resolution to obtain his freedom. Edwin’s children need him. We need him. Our son is not a terrorist, a rapist, a gang member, nor a violent individual to continually be kept in prison for decades for distributing marijuana. While imprisoned, Edwin has taken diligent steps to better himself. He has achieved numerous rehabilitation programs from the psychology and religious departments. He has graduated from college with a degree in Religious Education; and he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling and Therapist Certification. In addition, he serves as a mentor to others, under the supervision of the head chaplain. He is also working as a G.E.D. and E.S.L. tutor in the education department, at his present institution of confinement, helping others further their education. In addition, Edwin also finished a 2 year dental apprenticeship from The Department of Labor, and worked as a dental assistant for the last 7 years in the medical department.
We love our son, [uncle, father, and brother]. We wish for him to receive another chance at life. But our dream for him to be reunited with us, can not be accomplished without your full support.

Please help us obtain our son’s freedom by signing this petition urging President Donald Trump to grant our son clemency or a pardon.

Edwin is a changed man. He has been fully rehabilitated and deserves a second chance at life.

Sincerely, Maria Roque – and – Family.

PLEASE CONTINUE READING AND SIGN THE PETITION TO FREE THIS MAN NOW!

Kentucky is paying imprisoned people an average of just 9 cents an hour for labor …

Free Kentucky prisoners from toiling for slave wages

By Cameron Lopez

December 01, 2017 05:30 PM

Image result for kentucky prison labor

We have to be blunt about topics that seem too shocking to be true.

Kentucky is paying imprisoned people an average of just 9 cents an hour for labor. These inmates are forced to work for the state. The rate Kentucky is paying them is 1/90th the rate of the minimum wage.

Slavery is labor that is coerced and inadequately rewarded, Kentucky jail labor fits both of those criteria. Slavery is happening in Kentucky.

This doesn’t seem like it should be legal in the United States, but when the U.S. was outlawing slave labor after the Civil War they amended the Constitution. The 13th Amendment says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” That second part of the sentence, “except as a punishment for crime,” allows the prison system to use unpaid labor as long as the person has been convicted. This also allows the justice system to force a person to work even if they don’t want to.

Just because slavery can be legal doesn’t necessarily mean it is happening. Unfortunately for Kentuckians, it is happening. A lot. The 2016 Annual Report by the Department of Corrections says that inmates worked in excess of 6.2 million hours and were paid $540,115. If we value their labor at minimum wage, they produced $45.4 million worth of labor and got paid less than 2 percent of what they deserve.

Some people may have harsh views of criminals, thinking, “well they shouldn’t have done the crime if they didn’t want to face punishment.” Let’s examine this.

We see somebody on TV accused of heinous crimes and think that’s every criminal. But the majority of the state’s prison population — 56 percent, according to the Kentucky Department of Corrections — committed crimes that weren’t violent or sex crimes.

To go even further, America’s, and subsequently Kentucky’s, set of laws that we’re supposed to abide by is so complicated that nobody knows how many criminal laws there are in the U.S. Not “nobody” in the metaphorical sense, literally nobody: no lawyer, no politician, no Supreme Court Justice knows how many laws there are that can be violated criminally.

You could be unknowingly violating the law right now. In fact, you probably are. Civil liberties advocate Harvey Silverglate says the average U.S. citizen commits three felonies a day. So, if you’re stressed today, here’s just a friendly reminder: you or any of your family members could be incarcerated on any day.

The solution to this is actual criminal justice reform and compassion for those incarcerated.

It is not right that people are working for 9 cents an hour, less than a dollar a day. We need to pay them minimum wage, or stop forced inmate labor. It is slavery.

We need criminal law reform so that not everybody is committing multiple felonies a day living their everyday lives. Our goal should be to keep people out of jails, not put more in jails because that next person could be you.

Cameron Lopez is an economics student at the University of Kentucky.

CONTINUE READING…

RELATED…

Kentucky is getting back into the private prison business

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky is getting back into the private prison business.

State officials have signed a contract with CoreCivic to reopen the Lee Adjustment Center in Beattyville. The prison will house about 800 inmates currently housed at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange.

CoreCivic is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and was previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. It once operated three prisons in Kentucky. But state officials closed the last of its private prisons in 2013 following years of problems, including allegations of sexual abuse and a prison riot in 2004.

The contract will cost taxpayers about $16.8 million a year. Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley said that cost would be offset by the savings from closing much of the 80-year-old Kentucky State Reformatory.

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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…

Justice Department will again use private prisons

By Matt Zapotosky February 23

The Justice Department will once again use private prisons to house federal inmates, reversing an Obama-era directive to stop using the facilities, which officials had then deemed less safe and less effective than those run by the government.

In a one-paragraph memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the previous directive to the Bureau of Prisons to either reduce or decline to renew private-prison contracts as they came due.

“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions wrote. “Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”

The directive marks a significant policy shift from the previous administration, although the practical impact might be somewhat muted.

Most inmates are housed in state prisons, rather than federal ones. Even when the Justice Department announced it would no longer use private facilities, the action only affected 13 prisons, housing a little more than 22,000 inmates. The original directive also did not apply to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Marshals Service detainees, who are technically in the federal system but not under the purview of the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Private-prison operators already stood to benefit substantially from President Trump’s aggressive measures to detain and deport illegal immigrants.

[The Justice Department closed this troubled private prison. Immigration authorities are reopening it.]

As of Thursday afternoon, the Bureau of Prisons had 12 privately run facilities, holding 21,366 inmates. They are run by three private-prison operators: Management and Training Corporation, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, which used to be known as Corrections Corporation of America.

Private prisons have faced significant criticism in recent years from civil liberties advocates and others. Sally Yates, who served as deputy attorney general in the Obama administration, did not mince words in August when she ordered the Department of Justice — of which the Bureau of Prisons is a part — to end the use of private prisons entirely by phasing them out over time.

“They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

The inspector general’s report concluded, among other things, that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

Private-prison operators vigorously disputed that report’s conclusions, and they hailed Thursday’s memo from Sessions as vindication.

[Private-prison industry fights Justice Department directive to end the use of contract facilities]

Jonathan Burns, a CoreCivic spokesman, said the announcement “validates our position that the department’s previous direction was not reflective of the high quality services we have provided to the federal government for decades.” Pablo Paez, a spokesman for the GEO Group, said the company believed the Justice Department’s earlier decision was “based on a misrepresentation,” and it welcomed the reinstatement of “long-standing practice and policy at the Federal level.”

Issa Arnita, a spokesman for Management and Training Corp., said the new directive empowers the Bureau of Prisons “to manage its facilities in a way that provides the greatest value to taxpayers and the inmates in their care.”

The private-prison industry is a formidable one, generating billions of dollars of revenue each year and giving significant amounts to politicians. The GEO Group and CoreCivic, for example, donated $250,000 to support Trump’s inaugural festivities, spokesmen for the companies said. Management and Training Corp. did not, a spokesman said. Separately, the GEO Group, gave $275,00 to the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now, according to FEC filings. One $100,000 donation came a day after the Justice Department announced it would no longer use the facilities.

The Justice Department had believed dwindling prison populations would make it possible for the Bureau of Prisons to end its use of contract facilities, and a Justice Department spokesman said in October that still appeared to be the case. Other agencies, though, did not see it that way, even during the Obama administration.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for example, inked a contract in October to use a New Mexico facility that the Justice Department had moved Bureau of Prisons inmates out of. The facility has a history of questionable deaths and substandard medical care.

A government panel recommended in December that the Department of Homeland Security continue with its use of private immigrant-detention facilities — saying they were the only realistic way to handle the volatile flows at the border. But the panel’s report was the subject of a contentious debate, and more than two-thirds of a broader government group objected to its conclusion.

David C. Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that putting people into for-profit prisons was “a recipe for abuse and neglect,” and the new Justice Department directive seemed to foreshadow the worrisome possibility that “the United States may be headed for a new federal prison boom.” If Sessions believes the Bureau of Prisons could not meet its needs without using for-profit facilities, he said, “you’ve got to wonder what they’ve got up their sleeve.”

Matea Gold contributed to this report.

CONTINUE READING…