October 20, 2014


Commentary: Is the exoneree movement leaving women behind?

By: Alison Flowers

Courtesy of Tia Pearl Del Prete
The first photo of Jennifer Del Prete and her daughter Tia after being released from prison.

The innocence movement has largely left women behind. While men and women count themselves among the lawyers and crusaders who free the innocent, exonerated American women are few – 111 in all.

Women tally fewer than eight percent of the 1,368 known U.S. exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations. So far this year, 32 men have been exonerated and only five women. The gap last year was even greater: 81 men and nine women.

To be sure, fewer women enter prison than men. The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that women make up less than 7 percent of the prison population.  But for offenses where the stakes of innocence are higher—violent crimes that typically carry longer sentences—they are more evenly distributed between men and women. In 2011, 37 percent of women prisoners and 54 percent of men prisoners were serving time for violent offenses.

While most exonerations involve a crime where someone else is responsible, this often does not hold true in women’s cases. For the majority of female exonerations, no crime occurred in the case at all. Many wrongfully convicted women are simply guilty of being present when something went wrong. And proving their innocence is another matter. Unlike hundreds of men’s cases, DNA evidence rarely signals a woman’s innocence, playing a role in only seven known female cases.

Follow the stories of three Illinois exonerees through their wrongful convictions, releases and struggles to put their lives back together as free men.

In 2011, I researched cases for the Medill Justice Project, a journalism organization at Northwestern University where students investigate potentially wrongful convictions. The project has contributed to the exonerations of several prisoners – all male.

Out of the hundreds of letters I received from prisoners seeking help, women penned a few of them. Their cases would grip me.

One day I was talking to a lawyer about his former client, a male prisoner claiming innocence. The case wasn’t very strong, he told me. I asked if there was someone whose case I should consider instead.

“Jennifer Del Prete.”

She was a suburban Chicago mother of two serving a 20-year sentence for murder.

When the lawyer told me hers was a shaken baby case, I cringed. Our project had a policy not to take such cases. They pose many challenges – the topic of alleged baby murder being foremost. Difficult to investigate, they hinge on medical evidence, science and rivaling expert witnesses. But given the growing skepticism around criminal convictions based on shaken baby syndrome as a diagnosis, I proceeded.

I reached one of Del Prete’s lawyers by phone. She immediately told me: “This is the case that keeps me up at night.”

After vetting her case further, I pushed our project to investigate. Months later, a team of students were assigned to it. They filed public records requests and sought medical evidence. Now, about two years later, Del Prete, 43, has returned to her children.

Released April 30 in a rare order, she is free on bond while a state appeal persists. This comes in the wake of a 97-page ruling in January in which a federal judge wrote no reasonable jury would have found Del Prete of murder had all the evidence been known today.

The key evidence in Del Prete’s case was a piece of paper: a 2003 letter that had never been turned over to her lawyers. In the note, a police detective warned the medical director who examined the infant (she later became the prosecution’s expert witness) that the forensic pathologist had significant doubts about shaken baby syndrome. The letter was buried in a hefty package of police records. I took a first pass at the stack, halting when I read the letter.

It became clear that Del Prete, like many other wrongfully convicted women, was the victim of a tunnel-vision investigation turned situational prosecution. Since her trial, medical evidence has shown the 3 ½-month-old under her care had pre-existing conditions mimicking shaken baby syndrome.

Del Prete now awaits exoneration. She joins a sorority of other wrongfully convicted women who have carved out a space for themselves in the innocence community. The nascent Women’s Project, part of the flagship Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, exclusively represents women prisoners and monitors cases across the country.

Earlier this year, the project hosted the largest gathering of female exonerees, many mothers or caretakers. In more than half of known female exonerations, the women were convicted of killing a family member or loved one. Kristine Bunch, an Indiana mother exonerated of murdering her 3-year-old son after an accidental home trailer fire, put it this way: “As soon as you walk in those doors, you’re labeled a baby killer.”

For 10 years, Del Prete has suffered this label. But the label that matters the most remains. She is the woman whose case keeps people up at

October 15, 2014



(BlackMediaScoop) A Florida woman who claimed to be a victim of abuse was sentenced to 20 years behind bars . . .

http://www.blackmediascoop.com/court-overturns-marissa-alex . . .

October 14, 2014



 “‘Deadline’ is all the more effective because it is calm, factual and unsensational.”  – Roger Ebert



October 15 – 7:00 PM

What would you do if you discovered that 13 people slated for execution had been found innocent? That was exactly the question that Illinois Governor George Ryan faced in his final days in office. He alone was left to decide whether 167 death row inmates should live or die. In the riveting countdown to Ryan’s decision, Deadline details the gripping drama of the state’s clemency hearings. Documented as the events unfold, DEADLINE is a compelling look inside America’s prisons, highlighting one man’s unlikely and historic actions against the system. 

The Forum Bookstore in the Old Packing House

586 W. First Street

Claremont, CA 91711

October 14, 2014



“The U.S. has a serious female prisoner problem.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, there are 201,200 women incarcerated in the U.S. — almost one-third of the world’s documented female prison population as of 2013.

An infographic designed by Niall McCarthy, charted by Statista, shows how the population of women prisoners in the U.S. compares to those in other countries — and the results are pretty shocking.

women in prison

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimumshave led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families — 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.”


October 14, 2014


The Marshall Project – by top journalists, about the U.S. court and prison systems

October 14, 2014


California Wants to Reduce Prison Overcrowding, Yet Keeps Women Locked Up

By Jessica Pishko Oct 13 2014


Nonviolent female prisoners. Image courtesy of Last Gasp

In 2011, under mounting pressure to decrease the prison population, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) created the Alternative Custody Program (ACP). It’s a program designed to forge a path for low-level female inmates to return home (under electronic surveillance), care for their children, and reintegrate into their communities. The policy is currently the subject of a lawsuit that it discriminates on the basis of sex, but in theory, it seems like a prison authority might have finally gotten something right.

That’s what Cynthia thought when she appeared before the panel (called an Institution Classification Committee in CDCR lingo) after applying for ACP. After getting her paperwork straightened out and applying three times, she was told she was denied. She needed a teeth cleaning before her application could be processed.

Another woman was denied because of a computer error: Her dentistry was up to date, but a bureaucrat hadn’t changed her status, so she remained behind bars.

In the offices of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), letters (which you can read here) have piled high from women who want to return home to their families and amend for their crimes. But very few of the eligible inmates are given a real chance to take advantage of the opportunities that ACP promised. In one of the letters, an inmate named Anna wrote: “I know I’ve made mistakes in my life, but I’m ready for a change. Yes, I’ve been in and out of prison, but don’t only look at my record, look at what I did and all my programs.” Anna is currently in prison for identity fraud. She has not been released.

Michelle, who has four children at home, was denied ACP because of a mistake in classification—her crime was embezzlement, but it was mistakenly classified as “violent,” rendering her ineligible. Misty Rojo, the program coordinator at CCWP, has received reports from women who were denied release because they had a pit bull as a pet and because they received medication for a treatable medical condition like high blood pressure.

Before the women are released under ACP, they’re subject to a pre-release interview that includes sensitive questions about their histories of abuse and other mental anguish. The Justice Department has determined that at least half of all female inmates have been victims of physical or sexual abuse and one-third have been raped prior to incarceration, and appearing to harbor lingering psychological trauma from this abuse can prevent release. Even worse, the people asking these questions aren’t licensed therapists, according to Rojo, and they intentionally ask questions that cause the women to break down into tears then accuse these women of being “mentally unstable,” which means they are not eligible for release.

That’s what happened to an inmate named Theresa, who wrote a letter to CCWP explaining that she “was not prepared for what took place in my ACP classification hearing.” Theresa met all of the criteria for ACP and had no disciplinary actions. She participated in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and anger management. But in her hearing she was asked about her suicide attempts as a minor as well as her childhood and adult molestation and rape. She felt blindsighted by the process and dejected at the result, which was a denial of her ACP application.

These stories help to illustrate why out of the estimated 4,000 women eligible for ACP, only 420 have been released in the three years the program has been active. (The CDCR told me that it did not keep track of how many ACP petitions were denied.) California’s prisons are overflowing—so why would the state try to keep its women inmates behind bars? It could have something to do with California’s Governor Jerry Brown making deals with private prison contractors to build more facilities to house these women.

Women are one of the fastest-growing segments of America’s prison population, and more than half of these women—at least in California—are non-violent offenders. Women, along with gender-nonconforming inmates, are also some of the most vulnerable inside prison; rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence are higher among women than men. Even further, it’s estimated that 75 percent of incarcerated women are the primary caretakers of their children, meaning that their imprisonment leaves a trail of disaster for their families.

In the policy debates over California’s deplorable prison system, women’s prisons have frequently fallen by the wayside. Overcrowding leads to a range of obvious problems, from overuse of solitary confinement and more frequent lockdowns (since there are too many inmates for the staff to control) to a lack of basic supplies and unsanitary conditions. But perhaps the most severe indirect consequence of overcrowding is poor medical care for the inmates. In December 2013, a court-appointed panel of medical experts issued an independentreport condemning the conditions at CCWF a litany of institutional deficiencies.

More shockingly, a recent investigation from this summer by the Center for Investigative Reporting discovered that nearly 150 female inmates were given unauthorized sterilizations between 2006 and 2010 at CCWF, CIW, and Valley State. A new bill just signed by Governor Brown last month supposedly outlaws the practice once and for all.

CCWF and CIW have been the target of scrutiny for poor medical care for nearly two decades, but instead of releasing female prisoners who are unlikely to pose harm—thus, potentially alleviating some of these issues—Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a contract worth $9 million a year with GEO Group, the second-largest private prison contracting company, to take over a prison facility in McFarland, California that will house about 260 women (with an option to double its size). Press releases for the prison claim that the facility will boast services like job training, drug programs, and other therapeutic interventions, although there is no guarantee that transferred inmates will be able to continue any of their current programming.

But the move is not an auspicious one. While the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) doesn’t have the best track record, it looks like a luxury hotel compared to GEO Group, which is the subject of hundreds of lawsuits for violence, mistreatment, and poor medical care in its facilities.

In 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of an epileptic Texas man who died from an untreated seizure while in solitary confinement. GEO Group was called out for the abysmal conditions in a Mississippi juvenile facility by a federal judge, who held that the private company allowed “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.” On top of concerns about privatized prisons, the latest outcry over the proposed McFarland facility crystallizes the ongoing problem of California’s women’s prisons, facilities plagued by scandals and problems that remain largely out of the public eye.

While the GEO contract might temporarily alleviate overcrowding, it doesn’t solve the real problem, which would be to allow the release of non-violent offenders and maintain the programs that help these women reintegrate into their communities. (ACP, by the way, provides no assistance for women seeking employment or housing.)

The popularity of Orange is the New Black has drawn attention to the plight of women in prison. When I talk with people about prisons, I often hear how difficult it is for these women to speak up about their treatment because they have felt so consistently ignored by prison authorities who operate in a system dominated by hyper-masculine principles. The CDCR, like all prison regimes, lacks accountability because their decisions are always shrouded under the guise of “public safety,” something no politician seems bold enough to question.

Women inmates are less likely to riot or institute hunger strikes, which emboldens the CDCR to ignore them because they are less in the public eye—contrast, for example, the very public hunger strikes at Pelican Bay with the relative silence at CCWF. These women suffer from what is called a “double invisibility,” hidden from the public’s eyes because no one will take the time to listen.

Follow Jessica Pishko on Twitter.

October 14, 2014


“Exoneration in California Yesterday”… a Woman! | Wrongful Convictions Blog  10/12/14


“Exoneration in California Yesterday” … a Woman! | innocencemattersblog  10/13/14

October 14, 2014


Action! Join over 41,000 supporters to free Courtney! Please sign and share Petition!

“Help Free an Innocent Mom” – COURTNEY BISBEE ! · Change.org |


October 14, 2014


Posted: 13 Oct 2014 09:05 AM PDT

Mississippi Death Row
Sabrina Butler can lay claim to a dubious honor – she is the only female death row prisoner in the United States to be exonerated.
But while she may finally be free, the stain on her character has proven far harder to erase, while adjusting back into normal life is an everyday struggle. Getting compensation is a whole new battle.
“I get to meet other people that are just like me, you know? Well, the guys, rather, because I’m the only female,” Butler said at a meeting in Philadelphia of 30 former death-row convicts who were all exonerated – the victims of false testimonies, judicial errors, wrongful confessions and worse.
“I enjoy these times because I get to see, talk to them, and we’ve all been through the same thing. We don’t have to worry about the judgments and all that when we’re together.”
Butler was a teenaged mother in Mississippi when she was convicted over the death of her baby. It was later ruled that he died in his sleep of a kidney malady. She spent 5 years on death row.
“I was in a cell 23 hours a day but the hardest thing is that you have your day of death approaching and there’s nothing you can do about it,” she recalled.
Damon Thibodeaux was released from death row in Louisiana in 2012, having spent 15 years awaiting death for his supposed rape and murder of a 14-year-old cousin.
“You sit in a cell for 15 years and you adapt to living a certain way in a small confined area. Now you walk out into the world and everything is changed in 15 years… there was no Internet in 1997,” he told AFP.
“Not having anything to walk out to was probably the hardest part, walking out of there with nothing is like stepping out on a very flimsy cardboard bridge – you don’t know if it’s going to collapse or if it’s going to be strong enough for you to get to the other side. It’s been a journey with a lot of unknowns.
“There has been no compensation – sadly, we have to fight for that.”
‘It is a stain’
Since 1973, 146 death row prisoners have been exonerated in the United States.
The latest was on Wednesday when a man convicted of murder and awaiting execution walked free after 9 years behind bars in Texas.
Death penalty opponents say that while Manuel Velez is now a free man, his case again underlines the risk of executing the innocent in the United States.
Those who do have their convictions overturned and return to mainstream society face a litany of difficulties, supporters say.
Most come out with some form of post-traumatic stress, according to the organization Witness to Innocence, which wants the death penalty abolished and provides support to those who are freed from death row. In many cases, they have spent years there awaiting an uncertain future.
“It’s not easy – you have no job, you have no identity, you have no history, you have no retirement, you have no health care, you have no job training, you have no experience in today’s world,” said Thibodeaux, who became a truck driver.
“It is a stain, it’s not easy because all of this is still on your record, plus it’s frightening because you have this 15-year gap – or whatever time you served – you have this big gap in your life where it’s just a 15-year nightmare.
“They stole the best part of your life from you.”
‘Relearning everything’
Steve Honeyman, interim executive director at Witness to Innocence, said being freed is only the start of a long battle, especially when it comes to compensation. Those freed are often broke and jobless.
“Some of them sue the state that they’re in and they get some compensation, but most of them get out and don’t get anything,” said Honeyman.
Randy Steidl languished for 17 years in Illinois prisons, including 12 on death row, before his exoneration in 2004.
“You ever heard the story of Rip Van Winkle, waking up after 20 years, and how the world had changed?” asked Steidl, now on the board of Witness to Innocence.
“That’s how it was. You have to relearn everything – I didn’t even know how to pump gas. Cell phones – I’d never seen a cell phone, never saw a laptop. It was relearning everything.”
Steidl said he doesn’t like the word “compensation.”
“We feel the federal government is personally responsible for our wrongful convictions and spending time on death row in states all across America. Regardless if we had state damages paid for us, we feel that the federal government is responsible for the states’ actions,” he said.
“It’s not just money – it’s health care, mental health care, job training, social security, maybe some cash.
“But at least get a middle-class living after the hell they’d been through, that’s all they’re asking for.”
Source: AFP, October 13, 2014
August 24, 2014

American Death Penalty

US executions face more uncertainty as expert refuses to defend drug protocols

Posted: 23 Aug 2014 04:48 AM PDT

The decision of America’s leading expert on lethal injection drugs to stop offering court testimony has left at least one state without a single witness to defend its execution procedures from legal challenges.
The New Republic reported this week that Dr Mark Dershwitz, citing potential impacts to his profession as a board-certified anesthesiologist, would no longer act as an expert witness on behalf of lethal injection protocols. Dershwitz, also a doctor of pharmacology and professor at the University of Massachusetts medical school, has testified as an expert witness in more than 20 states and for the federal government. In June, he withdrew himself as a witness in a case challenging the execution of Montana’s two death-row inmates – convicted murderers Ronald Smith and William Jay Gollehon.
Smith, a Canadian, was sentenced to die for the 1982 murders of two men who picked him up while hitchhiking, and Gollehon for the 1992 murder of an inmate while incarcerated on two other counts of homicide.
The doctor was Montana’s only witness in a case brought against the state by the Montana American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Smith and Gollehon challenging the state’s execution procedures.
“At this point in time, we do not have another expert witness to replace him,” said Anastasia Burton, deputy communications director for the Montana attorney general. The case is now scheduled to move forward next summer. Previously, it was meant to be heard in September.

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