ARIZONA

Arizona recently “refurbished” its gas chamber built in 1949 which has not been used since 1999. The plan is to execute prisoners with cyanide and other gases. This is the same gas combination (Zyklon B) used by the Nazis to murder more than one million men, women, and children during the Holocaust. Is this worthy of a democracy?

Lethal injection is the death of choice for Arizona prisons and the state has paid over $1.5 million on lethal injection drugs despite its Department of Corrections facing a budget crisis. Executions have been on hold in the state since the lethal injection execution of Joseph Wood was badly botched in 2014. Now the state plans to offer a choice . . . gas chamber or lethal injection.

Arizona last used its gas chamber for the execution of Walter LeGrand in 1999. At that time The Tucson Citizen reported “agonizing choking and gasping” during the execution. It took LeGrand eighteen minutes to die.

Frank Atwood and Clarence Dixon are the next people to be executed in Arizona and while their lawyers attempt to raise legal arguments the two men have a choice to contemplate. Which way will they choose to die if their appeals fail? In my opinion, both are cruel and unusual punishments for us to inflict upon other human beings.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

TEXAS

The state of Texas put Quintin Jones to death on May 19, 2021, without any media witnesses present to observe the execution. Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its death penalty statute in 1976 Texas has put to death 571 individuals. This is the first time there were no media witnesses. 

Officials blamed the problem on “miscommunication” by inexperienced members of the execution team. Some of the new personnel who had not been a part of an execution before simply forgot to summon the media into the waiting/witnessing area they said. My question is, why were inexperienced people in charge of an execution? What else might they have forgotten to do? No wonder we read about botched and painful experiences of those being executed!

According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), Texas law authorizes five media witnesses to observe each execution specifying that one witness must be from the Associated Press (AP). Later AP coverage of the event highlighted the importance of media witnesses in revealing problems such as have been seen in AL, AZ, OK, and OH where inmates were seen gasping for breath for several minutes or writhing in pain. Per DPIC Executive Director, Robert Dunham, “If the state with the most experience in executing prisoners lacks the competence to carry out this most basic execution function, what does that tell us about what else in the execution process states and the federal government can’t be trusted to perform properly?”

Qintin Jones

Photo by DPIC

Quintin Jones’ case had already attracted national attention because his was a resumption of state executions which had been on hold during the pandemic, but also because the victim’s family had requested clemency. That and a petition with more than 150,000 signatures didn’t convince Gov. Greg Abbott to grant clemency to Mr. Jones. 

Death Penalty Cost

Have you ever considered what it costs to carry out an execution? Have you given thought to the fact that you and I pay for our fellow citizens to be executed? That’s right, it is tax payer money which makes it possible to take the life of a convicted prisoner.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons spent nearly $4.7 million dollars on the five executions carried in July and August 2020. With an average annual federal incarceration cost of $37,449.00, the burden to U.S. taxpayers for each execution exceeded the price tag of incarcerating a federal prisoner for 25 years.

Source: ACLU

Writers In Prison

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in prison? In solitary confinement? On death row? Now you can know those things and much more about a prisoner’s life by reading what prisoners write at https://prisonwriters.com. “Prison Writers . . . . Where Prisoners have a Voice” is an internet site of writings by people who are currently incarcerated. The articles are about all aspects of life before and after imprisonment. They are edited by professional volunteers and writers are paid $10 for each piece that is published on the website.

Please check out this link and read such articles as these popular ones:

  • I Was Repeatedly Raped in Prison
  • Best Prison Slang Words You (Hopefully Won’t) Need to Know
  • Love in Prison: 12 Tips to Dating A Prisoner 
  • Remember Amy Preasmyer? She Writes Us From Solitary
  • Life Behind Bars As A Convicted Sex Offender

Authors’ photographs and sometimes a bio accompany many of the articles written by inmates.

COVID19 in Prison

Each day we hear statistics regarding the number of COVID 19 cases and deaths occurring. We hear local, state, national and global figures. Our reactions vary depending on our own experiences with the pandemic. Unfortunately, we can become indifferent to the barrage of numbers unless it has affected us personally.

Numbers we don’t often hear are relative to how many cases and deaths take place in prisons. The incidence of COVID among prisoners is one in five. There have been over two thousand deaths which is 51% more than the general population. Each person who dies in prison leaves behind family who care about them. These loved ones need the same support and care that any grieving person needs, but it is difficult to receive due to the stigma of imprisonment.

A group of family members and other survivors have gone together to prepare a crowd sourced memorial for those who die in prison. Please review these obituaries, read about those who have died while locked away and look at their faces. They are our fellow human beings. Let’s spend some time honoring these lives lost. https://www.mourningourlosses.org

The Death Penalty

In July of 2020, President Trump reactivated capital punishment for federal crimes. This declaration was in spite of a lack of public support for the death penalty. There had not been a federal execution for 17 years, but he made up for lost time by executing more than three times as many as the federal government had put to death in the previous six decades.. Thirteen people have been executed in these few months, three during the lame duck period of his administration. For the first time in history the US government executed more citizens than did all states combined.

Twenty-two states do not have the death penalty. They are: Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as the District of Columbia.

An average of 3.5 prisoners on death-row have been proved innocent. Since 1976 more than 171 people have been exonerated. Those statistics alone should be enough to stop the death penalty in this country. The number of executions since 1976 is 1,531. How many of those people were innocent?

For more information on this subject see the website for the Death Penalty Information Center at: https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/state-and-federal-info/state-by-state

Thorough statistics are available at DPIC Fact Sheet at: https://documents.deathpenaltyinfo.org/pdf/FactSheet.pdf

Photos by Pixabay

According to the ACLU which obtained documentation through the Freedom of Information Act, the first two months that the death penalty was re-instituted the expenses were over $4.7 million. This included all expenses for staff brought in from other federal prisons so they could learn how to carry out lethal injection. I was surprised to learn that the federal government pays all expenses for victims’ families to travel by air to witness the execution. In addition their hotels and food are covered as well as any expenses while they are in town. Other expenses include security for protestors who gather at the time of the execution.

“The Second Grave”

“The Second Grave” by Carl Wedekind

Attorney Wedekind writes about violence in Kentucky’s history beginning in 1742 and through the end of the twentieth century. His purpose is to demonstrate that as the state has transitioned from the days of lynchings, duels and family feuds abolishing capital punishment should naturally follow.

The reasons most often given in favor of the death penalty are:

  1. Executions will deter murder by others in the future
  2. Society’s sense of justice demands executions
  3. Victim’s families loss and grief requires executions for justice and closure
  4. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money to keep a murderer locked up for life with free room and board
  5. Rehabilitation of a murderer is unlikely or impossible

The author addresses each of these and gives both examples and statistics to disprove each. He is for the abolishment of capital punishment and presents a strong case.

Because this book is dated (copyright 1999) I started to not review it here, but after more thought I changed my mind. It is still relevant to the discussion of capital punishment and the history of Kentucky is similar to that of other states. The truths apply universally and over time.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the subject of capital punishment whether for or against. It will also be of interest to any Kentuckian.

Mississippi Prison

Several weeks ago we explored the subject of “Corrections” https://crookedcreek.live/?s=corrections here on Crooked Creek. Several readers had important comments to make on the subject. Recently I read a story about a prison in Mississippi which I may not have believed had it not been published by The Marshall Project. The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. It strives to educate regarding the state of criminal justice. 

Mississippi has long been known as a troubled prison system. The particular privately operated institution described in a report by Joseph Neff and Alysia Santo is Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. The report is accompanied by a security videotape of an attack on a prisoner which resulted in his death four days later. You can view that disturbing video at  https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/06/26/corporate-confession-gangs-ran-this-private-prison

1140xOn January 31, 2018, twenty-six-year-old Brad Fitch arrived at the prison. The video shows him being chased, then attacked by two inmates, one of whom had a handmade knife. Fitch was stabbed ten times and died at a hospital. In spite of the video showing his killers, no one has been charged for the murder. It turns out the men were just doing their jobs.

An internal audit revealed that this privately run prison was so short on employees (guards) that the warden, who has since resigned, used inmate gangs to control the prison population. Fitch and his killers were actually members of the same gang, called Simon City Warriors, a white gang affiliated with the Gangster Disciples. The killers caught on security cameras were settling a score with Fitch from two years before. 

As we learned before many, if not most, prisons have trouble hiring and retaining people for low paying, dangerous jobs. Wilkinson has a turnover rate of 90% and even though they have raised the hourly wage to $11.25 per hour more than a third of its positions are vacant.

I encourage those of you interested in the subject of criminal justice to read the entire Marshall Project report at the link listed above.

“America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” George W. Bush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decades Behind Bars – Book Review

“Decades Behind Bars – A 20 Year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons”  by Gaye D. Holman

This book is written by a professor of Sociology who spent decades teaching college-level courses to prisoners in Kentucky. She also teaches a “Corrections” course at Bellarmine College through the Veritas program. This is where I met Holman, a bright and warm individual who has a passion for criminal justice.

(See “Corrections” 1-3 earlier in this blog)

Her book is excellent on two levels. First, she follows fifty prisoners for twenty years who had been convicted of felonies. Her study of these fifty men began in 1994 when they were her students in college degree programs which she coordinated for a local college. When she followed up on these men seventeen were still imprisoned after twenty years. Her interviews with most of the original fifty and excerpts from their letters are very enlightening and sometimes heartbreaking. Holman helps the reader to see this population as humans rather than just prisoners.

Secondly, the author includes interviews with many who are involved in the criminal justice system so there is much more than just her opinions and the prisoners’ side of things. She quotes correction officers, wardens, Parole Board members, chaplains, and others.

Gaye Holman, now retired, remains involved with ex-offenders helping them to successfully re-enter freedom.

The book includes a very helpful glossary of prison terms along with chapter notes and bibliography. I recommend this book if you are interested in the subject of criminal justice.

IMG_8803

“A duty to the public must be to stop prisoners reoffending through successful rehabilitation.” Sadiq Khan

Corrections 3

Murder

I ask you to think about this terrible word, one that strikes fear in most of us. Can you imagine living near a murderer? What about having a person convicted of murder as a friend or family member? Should those who have committed murder ever get out of prison? Should they even be allowed to live? Can a person who has committed murder ever be a worthwhile citizen?

These are serious questions and ones we casually ponder at different points in our lives. It might be when a well-publicized murder takes place or when the circumstances are more unforgettable or perhaps when it has been geographically close to us. Today when probably none of those situations are present, let’s answer the hard questions.

  1. Do you support Capital punishment? I never have. During my studies of the criminal justice system over the past several weeks I did not change my mind on this matter.
  2. Do you believe in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole? As a result of these classes, reading, and research, I have changed my mind and no longer believe that this should be a punishment. If there is no incentive for release where is the incentive for rehabilitation? It’s not “corrections.” It’s not “criminal justice.” It is simply punishment.

3. Have you ever been mad or afraid enough to take the life of another person? I cannot say that I have, but I can imagine how this happens. I believe that a good person can do terrible things under certain circumstances and that they, even murderers, can change. It is worth noting that murder has one of the lowest recidivism rates of all crime categories.

I’m not going to go into great detail, but one day in class two men who had been convicted of murder were our guest speakers. Each had committed their crime while very young and each served over twenty years before receiving parole. Both concentrated on getting an education while in prison and they have used those degrees to find work since released. What’s more, both work now to help others in the prison system and their families. They spoke of their crimes, took full responsibility and voiced their regret. I would welcome either as next door neighbors.

3 of 3

fence-2163951_1280

“Why do we incarcerate? Are we afraid or angry?”  Mark Bolton, Corrections Director, Louisville, KY

The SOURCE of most of the information of the past two posts is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.” Today’s post is mostly my personal opinion. 

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay

Corrections 2

Recidivism

Can people change? Experience shows that people can and do change and that formal education is one of the most effective means. In 2011, in KY 1,151 inmates attained their GED in prison while in 2015 that total was down to 126. The difference? As the number of inmates goes up so do costs and education funds are one of the first cut. This is unfortunate considering that statistics show that 5.6% of inmates with a Bachelor’s degree re-offend and 0% of those with a Masters. 

According to a psychologist who works with inmates in KY, other keys to reducing recidivism are family support and treatment for addiction. Families tend to drift away after the first year or two and by the third year, few inmates have visits or any contact with their family. 

Is the justice system just?

“No” is the easy answer. In the general population 86% is white and 11% are black and brown. In prison 64% of the population is white and 34% are people of color.

If the goal was truly to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism would prisoners be released without any money, ID, phone or often even a place to stay? 

Parole

Here’s a case history: WRS, a graduate of Seneca HS in Louisville was 21 when he committed a few robberies and one assault. When he was caught he had an empty gun on his person. He waived a plea bargain of eight years to have his day in court.  He was sentenced to 317 years in prison. Now 29 years later WRS has been turned down for parole four times in spite of a good record in prison. The cost of his incarceration is now over $800,000 and that amount gets higher the older an inmate becomes.

Is this a good investment of taxpayer dollars? Is the fact that WRS is African-American a consideration?

NOTE: In KY Parole Board Members (9) are appointed and must have at least five years experience in Criminal Justice work. Members are paid $1,000 per year. They have few or no policies to follow. For lower level offenses they do not see the inmate in person but review their file. The Board files no monthly or annual reports. Most cases are reviewed by only 3 Board Members. (Per Larry Chandler former Board Member.)

2 of 3

barbed-wire-1408454_1280

“Poor people, people of color – especially are much more likely to be found in prison than in institutions of higher education.” Angela Davis

SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay

Corrections

United States

There are over 2,000,000 people incarcerated in the US. This country has 5% of the earth’s population but 25% of those incarcerated. At least 2,500 children under the age of eighteen are in prison for life without the possibility of parole. 

Kentucky

Kentucky is seventh in the US for the number of people in prison. Thirteen percent of children in KY have a parent incarcerated compared to the national average of 7%. At this time there are  24,000 inmates in thirteen prisons, one which is privately run. The annual cost per prisoner is $25,594.

Of note, from 1985 to 2015 the overall crime rate declined by 19 percent, but during that same 30-year period the number of prisoners rose by 271 percent!

DOC

It’s called Department of Corrections, but is that a misnomer? Can we say there is “correction” when the recidivism rate is 35-40% and by the ninth year as high as 80%?

Purpose

What is the purpose of locking people in prison for years? Four possible motives for incarceration include:

  1. Retribution and punishment
  2. Incapacitation
  3. Deterrence
  4. Rehabilitation

If #1 how long is long enough? For #2 being locked away is the only answer. Number three indicates that the threat of prison prevents crime, but if that is so why do we have more people in prison than ever before? How much rehabilitation (#4) actually happens in prison? How does it happen?

It is easy to take imprisonment for granted. People commit crimes. People pay. It is not that simple. Each case, judge, jury and parole board is different. There is no “one size fits all” in corrections. 

We will discuss this subject further in the next posts.     

1 of 3 on this topic

alcatraz-2161656_1280

“America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” George W. Bush

 

The SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”

Photo and Graphic by Pixabay