Archive for October, 2013

October 26, 2013

A memory of a warden who did the right thing.

Diann Rust-Tierney
Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty
Donald Cabana, a former Mississippi prison warden who presided over executions, was not the usual ally for me and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. But Donald Cabana loathed the death penalty. As I mark his passing and celebrate his life, he died this month at 67, I think about the vantage point from which he formed his opinions about capital punishment.

Cabana worked in prisons and corrections for more than 25 years in Massachusetts, Florida, Missouri and Mississippi. He was a seasoned traveler in places that many have opinions about but relatively few have firsthand knowledge of or experience with. He punished, counseled and cared for the people and the families that most people forget or wish never existed. He also supervised, cared for and counseled the people who must work in the most hopeless and saddest of places, our nation’s prisons and death chambers.

And that was the first point that he often made so eloquently. As a longtime corrections official, he was a man committed to holding people accountable for their actions, but he recognized the human folly of believing that we could ever pay back the harm caused by executing a murderer. Moreover, he believed it is the frailty of human nature that defies our efforts to be absolutely certain that the person we punish with death is not innocent. It is one thing, he would say, to pass a law about the death penalty, which in theory would punish the worst of the worst. It is another thing to actually do it and get it right. He once told lawmakers in Minnesota who were considering the reinstatement of the death penalty there, “Americans do not have the right to ask me, or any prison official, to bloody my hands with an innocent person’s blood.”

I first learned about Donald Cabana when I watched the BBC documentary 14 Days in May. In it, he served as an odd kind of tour guide in the strange world of Mississippi’s death row and the last two weeks of the life of condemned prisoner Edward Earl Johnson. I watched Donald Cabana go about his business at one time preparing to exact Mississippi’s ultimate punishment with chilling precision while at the same time, comforting and praying with the family and the man he was preparing to execute. Edward Earl Johnson maintained his innocence until the very end.

Donald Cabana will be remembered for his evolved opposition to capital punishment. He spoke eloquently about the risk of executing the innocent and the dehumanizing nature of the practice. However, his equally important critique of the death penalty — the devastating impact it has on the people who work in our prisons — does not get the attention it deserves.

Corrections workers must carry out the unenviable task of leading a man or woman to their death. Without emotion they attend to the last matters of business for the condemned. Perhaps they arrange a last phone call to a mother or escort a son from his last visit with family. They are both guard and caretaker.

While some might think Donald Cabana courageous for exposing the flaws in the capital punishment system, I think him most brave for exposing the way in which capital punishment left him broken.

In his memoir, Death at Midnight: The Confession of an Executioner, and at many public appearances, Donald Cabana spoke personally of the toll that every execution had on him and his family. He often said, “There is a part of the warden that dies with his prisoner” during an execution. He was an early voice challenging the unfairness of society imposing on literally a nameless and faceless public servants the weight and brunt of a collective desire for this uniquely severe punishment. He spoke candidly of the price that executions exacted on his health and the health of others.

His candor, I think encouraged others, to speak about the oppressive nature of having to weigh the need to pay your mortgage and put your kids through school against the terrible job requirement of going to work some evenings to kill another human being. Regardless of the crime for which the condemned were sentenced to die, Donald Cabana would tell us unapologetically it hurt. He and others took on this grave responsibility without benefit of mental health services or public understanding of the psychological impact of their job. Stories of prison workers who turn to substance abuse and even suicide because of this burden persist in the corrections field.

Fortunately, there is a growing cadre of wardens and former executioners who speak tirelessly and work diligently for an end to capital punishment. Their testimony is a critical component of the debate.

Today, when I think about Donald Cabana and his powerful testimony against the death penalty and his own brokenness as a result, I am reminded of the story of the cracked pot.

Donald Cabana’s grace in sharing the way in which he was harmed by the death penalty allowed the Light to shine through his cracks. For that we are most grateful and indebted to him.

We pledge that we will follow that light and finish this work.

October 20, 2013

U.N. torture investigator seeks access to California prisons

Solitary confinement
October 18, 2013, 3:49 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — The United Nations’ lead torture investigator says he is worried about increased use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and wants access to California lockups to ensure that prisoners’ rights are being protected.
“We should have more justification” for putting prisoners in isolation, Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur (reporter) on torture told The Times’ editorial board Friday. He called for greater scrutiny of prison systems that routinely put inmates in solitary confinement.
“We should put the burden on the state that this is the proper way to do things, and we should all be a lot more skeptical,” Mendez said.
Experts say California currently has some 10,000 inmates in isolation units, where prisoners connected to a gang can be held indefinitely, even decades. The practice sparked a 60-day prison hunger strike during the summer.
Mendez said he has agreed to investigate the cases of individual prisoners kept in the state’s isolation cells, to make sure they are being treated according to international law. He asked in May to inspect California prisons, but his request must be cleared by both the U.S. State Department and Gov. Jerry Brown, and Mendez said he has had no response.
Brown’s press secretary said he was unaware of Mendez’s request. A spokeswoman for the State Department confirmed the request and said the agency is “open to continuing to discuss” a possible visit.
“The conditions for visits to detention facilities in the United States are all determined on a case-by-case basis,” Laura Seal, the spokeswoman, said.
Mendez said he wants access to any part of any prison he chooses and the freedom to speak with inmates of his choosing. “Sometimes you negotiate all the way to the cell door,” he said.
California corrections officials say the state’s isolation units are not the same as solitary confinement because some prisoners have cellmates and all can call out to other inmates nearby, even if they cannot see them.
Mendez raised concern about any policy that keeps prisoners in their cells more than 22 hours a day with little social contact, for months or years at a time.
He said solitary should be used as discipline for only the most serious infractions, with safeguards that allow for independent review. Isolation should be unrelated to the crime for which an inmate was sentenced and never used as a means to carry out a sentence.
He also said mentally ill prisoners should not be isolated.

October 15, 2013

Guns and Hospitals strange bedfellows.

Cerberus Capital: Profiting From Guns and Gun Violence
Posted: 10/09/2013 8:12 pm

Many successful businesses benefit from vertical integration and supply chain management. By controlling markets and inputs of a product you can limit competition, keep costs low and profits high. But when it comes to the health industry, the idea of hospitals having an interest in deadly firearms and ammunition, a major source of injury and death, makes even the most hardened Wall Street executives feel uncomfortable.

Annually, the American gun industry has firearm and ammunition sales that total an estimated $4 billion. While this sales number is relatively low firearm injuries and death remain very high. Every year over 30,000 Americans, including approximately 3,000 kids, are killed from firearms. In addition, thousands of Americans are injured and not killed in gun-related incidents, at a rate of about 23/100,000 individuals. Should the same group of individuals profit when a gun is sold and when a gun is used to hurt someone? That is exactly what Cerberus Capital Management is doing.

According to the Cerberus website, Stephen Feinberg founded Cerberus Capital Management in 1992 after spending several years with Gruntal & Co. Feinberg prides himself on being private and values that quality in others. At a shareholder meeting in 2007, Feinberg was quoted as saying, “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” Kind of frightening coming from the managing director of the largest conglomerate of firearms and ammunition in the U.S.. This value for privacy makes sense when you examine the web of companies Cerberus has created and their conflicting missions.

Cerberus entered the gun market with the purchase of Bushmaster in 2006. From there, Cerberus founded the Freedom Group and purchased Remington, at the time Remington was the largest domestic producer of shotguns and rifles. Freedom Group moved on from there, acquiring other firearm-industry companies including ammunition, silencer and body armor producers ( DPMS/Panther Arms, Marlin, H&R, The Parker Gun, Mountain Khakis, Advanced Armament Corp., Dakota Arms, Para USA and Barnes Bullets). By Freedom Group’s own account, they are the largest manufacturer of commercial firearms and ammunition. In the second quarter of 2013 alone, Freedom Group and its affiliates had net sales totaling $353 million. Some gun industry experts suggest that their domestic retail product share is around 20 percent.

Freedom Group is the owner and manufacturer of many of the guns used in recent high profile mass shootings. For example, the Washington Naval Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, used a Remington 870 shotgun, the D.C. snipers and Newtown, Conn., Sandy Hook Elementary School shooters both used a Bushmaster AR 15 assault rifle and the Webster, New York shooter used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle when he killed volunteer firefighters responding to a fire.

After establishing its presence in the firearm industry, Cerberus moved on to a variety of other industries. Operating under another affiliate, AB Acquisition, Cerberus acquired the Supervalu, Inc. grocery store chains, including Shaws, Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Oscos and Star Market. In addition, in 2010, Cerberus acquired Caritas Christi Health Care for $830 million and reorganized under the name “Steward Health.” According to Steward Health’s own claims, the organization has over 17,000 employees and providing health services to over 150 communities. Each year the organization serves over one million patients in the New England area. In addition, Cerberus bought an interest in Covis Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, in 2011.

As the owner of one of the largest networks of hospitals in the New England area, Cerberus, acting through Steward Health, is treating many gunshot victims. Nationally, 16.5 percent of all spinal cord injuries are caused by gunshot injuries. Patients who are shot four or less times spend a median of 2.5-3 days in the hospital. Patients with five or more wounds, or three or more anatomic regions, have a median length of stay of 8 days. This adds up to quite a hefty hospital bill.

According to USA Today and a study by Ted Miller for Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, medical care for fatal gunshot wounds cost an average of $28,700 per patient in 2010. When you add in non-fatal injuries, this price tag reaches an aggregate cost of $3.2 billion annually. In 2010, $1.4 billion of the total gunshot wound health costs were paid by taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid programs. But society pays more for a gunshot wound than just health care costs. Miller’s study estimated that in 2010 the government and, ergo, the American people lost $5.4 billion dollars of tax revenue by gunshot victims missing work, $4.7 billion was paid in court costs, $180 million in mental health care costs for gunshot victims, $224 million in insurance claim processing, and $133 million spent in responding to shootings. However, the cost to the people and relying on government handouts seems to be of little concern to Cerberus. In 2007, the company purchased Chrysler. Shortly thereafter, Chrysler declared bankruptcy and received billions of dollars in bailout money.

Meanwhile the killing and gun sales just keep mounting. While there was talk of selling Freedom Group after the Newtown, Conn. massacre, and embarrassing news stories linking Bushmaster and Steward Health, it appears now that it was only PR talk and that Cerberus and their “family” of gun companies will stay in the highly profitable and integrated “merchant of death” and “provider of health care” businesses. Profits before people seems to be the Cerberus Capital way.

October 10, 2013


~ FedCURE ~

FedCURE is the world’s leading advocate for America’s, ever growing, federal inmate population. On behalf of the Board of Directors, we would like to extend an invitation to each of you to join us in our efforts to reform the federal criminal justice system in the United States. Federal CURE, Incorporated is a nonprofit organization that, inter alia, deals largely with the issues faced by federal inmates and their loved ones.

We are working to enact the BARBER AMENDMENT ~ legislation to establish a hybrid system of parole and increased good time allowances; repeal mandatory minimum sentences; fast track compassionate release for terminally ill inmates; restore PELL grants; and develop ‘White House Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships Reentry Programs,’ for all federal offenders; and promote a system that incarcerates fewer people and provides humane conditions for those who are incarcerated or under post-incarceration supervision via parole or supervised release. Over 60,000 people were released from federal prison last year, of which 20,000 were deported.

The figures are astounding: more than one in every 100 adults in the United States is currently incarcerated and one in 31 adults are on probation or parole. Since 2009, approximately 40,000 federal inmates qualify for Community Corrections Custody (CCC) placement annually, of which twenty (20%) do not go because of lack of bed space, especially, in the jurisdictions where it is needed most. The numbers of eligible inmates has increased and seriously outpaces CCC capacity. In fiscal 2011 the Federal Bureau of Prisons was operating at 38 percent over rated capacity. The trend is anticipated to continue without end. There is no way to build out. The grounded reality facing reentry today is that communities have successfully blocked and or put a halt to new construction of Federal Prisons and Residential Reentry Centers (RRC), formerly known as, Half Way House. We must intervene with policies and legislation that are smart and right on crime. FedCURE’s White House Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships reentry proposal would create almost unlimited bed space. The goal is to maximize the use home confinement for federal inmates reentering the community under current statutory law and bureau policy, which insures public safety. FedCURE estimates this would increase annual CCC capacity 10 to 20 thousand people or more (a 5-10% reduction in the federal prison population). Home confinement can provide unlimited CCC placement capacity at half cost. This would reasonably reduce the federal inmate prison population without jeopardizing public safety.

The groundbreaking Congressional Research Service 2013 Report recommends Congress increase good time allowances and reinstate parole for federal offenders. GAO says a 10% reduction in the inmate population saves $660 million a year. The BARBER AMENDMENT saves $1.2 billion a year on incarceration, that can be redirected within the bureau’s budget to reentry, e.g., housing and employment.

October 5, 2013

Mom’s are to be moved 1000 miles from their homes. Impacts visitation and family unity while in prison.

Federal prison in Danbury to begin transferring female inmates out Monday
By Grace Merritt

Friday, October 4, 2013
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Bureau of Prisons halts Danbury prisoner transfer
11 U.S. Senators question shutting of Danbury women’s prison
1,126 women to be transferred from Danbury federal prison as facility reverts to all male

Over the objection of several senators, the Federal Bureau of Prisons Monday plans to resume its plan to transfer all of the inmates out of the Danbury women’s prison and convert it to a men’s prison.

Bureau Director Charles E. Samuels Jr. said in a letter to the senators Friday that he will lift the suspension on the transfers and begin moving the women to prisons in West Virginia and Philadelphia, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, Alabama or California. He said the bureau is evaluating each inmate’s situation and trying to move the women closer to their homes.

News this summer that the prison planned to convert Danbury to a men’s prison and ship the women to prisons in Alabama and elsewhere raised the hackles of prison advocates and several senators who worried that the inmates would be moved to other parts of the country, making it hard for their families to visit. Fifty–nine percent of the Danbury inmates have a child under the age of 21.

The senators, led by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, wrote to the bureau and asked officials to suspend the plan until the bureau could answer several questions. The senators also questioned the $1.1 million cost of the transfers, particularly at a time when the federal government is shut down.

In Samuels’ response, he said he appreciates their concerns and assured them that the bureau “remains committed to keeping inmates as close to home as reasonably possible in order to assist with maintaining family ties and preparation for reentry.”

He said the department decided to convert Danbury to alleviate overcrowding in men’s prisons, which are 38 percent overcrowded. The bureau said it recently opened a new women’s prison in Alabama, giving the bureau the extra capacity it needed to relieve overcrowding in female prisons. As a result, Samuels said, the bureau would be able close one of the prisons for women inmates – in Danbury – and convert it to a men’s facility.

Beatrice Codianni, a former Danbury inmate who is now editor of a national criminal justice website, was upset by Friday’s news. She called the conversion shortsighted and harmful to inmates and their families.

“Not only are their sentences so obscenely long, now they’re going to rip them away from their families,” she said. “I know the suffering that the women are going through. And all just to make room for men.

“I just think it’s a damn shame that they don’t have the foresight to see the problems that they’re going to cause in the future,” Codianni said.

Piper Kerman, author of the best-selling book “Orange is the New Black,” a memoir about her year serving time in Danbury, was also dismayed.

“I’m appalled that despite calls from the community, U.S. Senators and district court judges for the Danbury FCI plan to be reversed, the BOP seeks to make a devastating displacement for a thousand women and their children. It seems like a classic example of an irrational bureaucratic decision,” Kerman said.

Samuels said the prison bureau had already transferred 98 female inmates out of Danbury the week of Aug. 19 to facilities close to their release residences or to residential drug abuse treatment program. Another 43 will be released by January, and still others who qualify will be moved to the minimum-security camp next to the Danbury prison.

Meanwhile, 391 inmates from the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic states will be moved to facilities in Hazelton, W.Va., and Philadelphia. The bureau estimates this will bring 243 of the 391 inmates closer to their homes than they were at Danbury.

Another 282 inmates from other parts of the country will be moved to Texas, Minnesota, Florida, Alabama or California. The remaining 447 inmates are not U.S. citizens and will be transferred based on factors other than their address, such as security needs, medical needs and overcrowding considerations, he said.

But these answers did not satisfy the nine senators from northeastern states who signed the letter to the prisons bureau. They wrote back Friday with more questions and have asked for a continued delay and a meeting with Samuels.

“We’re asking for a meeting to talk about alternatives that are wiser and fairer,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

Blumenthal said the conversion would be a detriment to the inmates and their families and that he would prefer keeping a female prison in the Northeast.

“I believe very strongly ­- as a former federal prosecutor as well as a senator – that these transfers are very unwise and unfair,” Blumenthal said Friday. “They contradict one of the core purposes of the federal prison system, which is to preserve and enhance families and provide pathways forward to inmates seeking to better themselves and avoid repeating criminal activity.”

It is unclear whether the federal budget standoff will delay the transfers, but that seems unlikely since federal prison staff are exempted from the government shutdown. BOP spokesman Chris Burke said he was not available to comment on the transfers because of the lapse in appropriations.

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