PRISON MINISTRY NETWORK NEWS is a service of the Prison ingMinistry Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Val Hymes is the coordinator of the Task Force and editor of Prison Ministry Network News.

VAL HYMES is a "retired" journalist who covered local, state and national government, law enforcement, the courts and politics for 35 years and has been a freelancer ever since, She continues to advocate for criminal justice reform in Maryland and in Washington, working with secular and religious organizations to make reentry back to families and to the community a real possibility. For news, follow For resources and information,

To download a detailed guide on establishing a camp for children of the incarcerated, click here: Grace Camping Ministry Guide.


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Big State Wins Big Savings, Safety

Texas— often winning bragging rights for all things big— is now bragging about its smaller prison costs and crime rates.

This tough-on-crime state, saysThe Washington Post, is ahead of all other states that have adopted more alternatives to traditional incarceration and is ahead in reducing the number of prisoners it supports.

It all started in 2006 as the state prepared to build more prisons and more beds. Instead, Reid Wilson reports that they replaced that plan with new inpatient and outpatient substance abuse programs, sentencing alternatives such as pretrial diversion programs that kept minor offenders out of prison, and options to house parole violators at temporary holding sites that aren’t as harsh as prisons.

The legislature funded programs instead of prisons, said The Pew Charitable Trust. According to Wilson, “The results have been dramatic: prison population has decreased by about 5,000 inmates. And while the state still executes more people than any other--10 so far this year-- crime rates have fallen markedly, recidivism is down and the state was able to close a prison the first time in 166 years. They estimate that this big state has saved big as well: $3 billion estimated so far.

Reprieve for 4 on Death Row in MD?

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said, “It Is a “legal and factual impossibility” to execute the prisoners now on death row because Maryland no longer has regulations in place on how to administer lethal injections. Since the death penalty was abolished by the last session of the General Assembly, the state cannot develop new regulations on carrying out executions. Keeping the men on death row, therefore, “violates their due-process rights,” he explained.

The state is asking an appellate court to resentence one of the four men to life in prison without the possibility of parole, according to The Washington Post.

Gansler added, “People should understand life without parole is a death sentence. You are dying in jail.”

Holder launches racial bias initiative

In the wake of the Ferguson Justice Department investigation, Atty. Gen. Eric H Holder Jr. announced a new federal program in five yet- unnamed cities to study racial bias and build trust among law enforcement agencies, the communities, faith-based groups and organizations.

Holder is recognizing problems between police and local residents as a topic of national importance, according to The Washington Post, sparked by the slaying of Michael Brown by a white police officer. He said he hoped the program, supported by $4.75 million grant to five communities, help defuse future confrontation.

“We cannot allowed tensions, which are present in so many neighborhoods cross America, to go unresolved,” Holder said. “We have an essential obligation and unique opportunity to ensure fairness, eliminate bias and build community engagement."

in addition to police training, the program will help communities reduce bias and ease perception of unequal treatment in the local court system. A board of advisors will include national law enforcement officials and faith-based and community leaders. Holder said this represents a major step forward in resolving long-standing tensions in many of America’s immunities.

Following his retirement Holder plans to create a center to continue the work.

Return of the Electric Chair ?

The House of Delegates in the State of Virginia overwhelming voted Jan. 22 to make the electric chair the preferred mode of execution if chemicals are not available for lethal injection. Since European manufacturers refuse to sell them for executions and a U. S. supplier stopped production in 2011, many states are having trouble finding the means to kill prisoners. “It’s barbaric,” said one delegate.

The Washington Post story does not mention any consideration of repealing the death penalty.

Disparities, Mandatory Minimums
‘Sledgehammer justice’ decried yet continued

When the president, judges, Republicans, Democrats, conservative columnists and liberal editorial boards all complain about prisoners behind bars for harsh, mandatory sentences in what has been called “sledgehammer justice,” it would seem that something would be done about it. Well, a lot is being said and done, sort of.

The president commuted the sentences of eight people Dec. 19 who were “sentenced under an unfair system” ? the disparity between harsh mandatory sentences for crack and lesser sentences for powdered cocaine. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 “narrowed the disparity,” said the president, but many more than eight men and women are in for decades and life without parole.

An editorial Dec. 24 in the Washington Post said, “It was long past time the president acted – and it remains long past time for many others enduring excessive sentences in Federal prisons.” The editorial board calls for congressional action as did the president, and there is some movement.

“The push is being led by the Senate,” reports The Root , where Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has partnered with staunch members of the Tea Party, like Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on legislation that would give judges room to mete out prison sentences in many drug cases, the AP reports. At the same time, a right-left coalition is also pushing for changes in the House.”

But the Post also calls on President Obama to use his clemency power to free others now who have served unfairly for many years.“The president has the unrestricted authority to grant clemency to federal convicts.”

Obama seems to agree that he can do more. “Together, we must ensure that our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and that our justice system keeps its basic promise of equal treatment for all.”

Less than a week later on Dec. 25, conservative columnist George F. Will wrote that the attorney general and Senators Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., “are questioning the regime of mandatory minimum sentences, including recidivism enhancements, that began with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. Meanwhile, the human and financial costs of mass incarceration mount.” Recidivist enhancements increase criminal sentences for prior convictions in federal cases.

It’s time to get serious about real justice.

U.S. Attorney General Holder:
Fix Prison System Now

Attorney General Eric Holder’s strong speech for prison and criminal justice reform and his instructions to federal prosecutors not to charge drug offenders under mandatory minimum statutes to give judges more discretion, marks the first indication of an official national recognition that the system doesn’t work.

The country with only 5 percent of the world’s population has 25 percent of the prisoners – more than any other nation. Of the 219,000 people behind bars in federal prisons almost half of them are there because of drugs.

The attorney general began hoping for change when he was a trial judge in Washington D,.C. He told how he came to write that speech in an interview with Daniel Klaidman of the Daily Beast:

“I saw an ocean of young men come before me, who should have been the future of my city, destined to serve long jail terms and then spend their lives dealing with all of the negative consequences of being an ex-offender,” Holder recalled.

Critics say there’s not much he can do about the nearly 2 million men, women and children who are locked into the state and local systems.

But Holder told The Daily Beast said he intends to take his show on the road. In September, He said he will draw attention to not only federal reforms but new state efforts to plug the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Holder will begin traveling around the country to spotlight innovative state and federal programs that are reducing prison overcrowding, easing recidivism rates, and restoring a measure of fairness to a creaky and beleaguered justice system.”

5,000 inmates in Maryland’s prisons don’t belong there, judge says

Some 5,000 inmates in Maryland’s prisons don’t belong there, said Anne Arundel County Associate Circuit Court Judge Philip T. Caroom.

These inmates are, in effect, attending “crime school” and are more likely to commit crimes again when released, Caroom said during a meeting of the Greater Annapolis Interfaith Network.

He said the number of inmates could be reduced by doing risk assessments and determining needed services — such as education, job training, family mediation, and drug and mental health treatment — before sentencing.

“Ideally, what would work,” the judge said, “is screening for risk and an individualized plan. In Maryland, they put you in prison based on how dangerous they think you are.”

Caroom said he was not speaking for the courts. “This is one person’s view about the criminal justice system.”

But he added that he has a “fair amount of experience in the system.”

Since 1991, Caroom has held judicial and master positions involving juvenile, criminal and civil cases. In 2010, he was appointed chairman of the Appellate Court’s Ad Hoc Committee on Sentencing Alternatives, Re-entry and Best Practices.

“What we have currently in Maryland state prisons is about 23,000 inmates and 9,000 more in jails — nearly equal to the entire population of Annapolis,” Caroom said.

He cited reports that some incarcerated African-American and Latino youths are learning how to be gang members, to get and deal drugs, or to assault officers and other inmates.

Studies and polls, Caroom said, indicate that the “war on drugs” is a failure, “mandatory minimum sentences are unfair” and disparate sentences are handed down depending where the crime takes place.

“The importance of knowing if someone is high-risk or low-risk is incredibly important,” the judge said. “If you put someone who is low-risk in prison with other people who are high-risk, you can double their risk of recidivism. If they are low-risk, we shouldn’t send them to prison at all.”

Drug courts, mental health courts and prison jobs help, but “there are not enough resources or slots,” Caroom said. “Probably more than 50 percent of the inmates have nothing to do. The result is the time spent in prison is wasted.” “It does not need to be that way,” he said.

He said that states like Oregon and other countries, including those in Scandinavia, have smaller prison populations, better services for inmates and much lower recidivism rates.

“I am personally in favor of paroling people who are elderly and frail and a low risk,” Caroom said. He applauded tax incentives for employers who hire ex-offenders.

He said the interfaith group members can help by urging the state legislature to adopt a plan or authorize a task force to study ways to reduce the prison population and to find the funds for job training, drug treatment and community-based services.

Caroom also urged support of legislation to remove the state requirement for listing criminal records on job applications.“Some states, like California,” he said, “give released prisoners certificates of rehabilitation.”

Unusual Supreme Court Split Allows
Collection of DNA During Arrest

Alito: Most important criminal procedure case in decades.”

The Supreme Court June 3 agreed to let police continue taking DNA swabs during arrests. The Maryland case involved a man arrested for assault in 2009 whose DNA revealed an unsolved rape case six years earlier.

The 5-4 decision grouped strange bedfellows of conservatives and liberals. Dissenting were Scalia, Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagan. Voting to concur were Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer

During the initial arguments before the court in February, Justice Alito voiced the opinion that this was the most important criminal procedure case the court had taken up in decades.

Wisconsin Faith Communities Tackle How to Cut Prison Population in Half

Faith--based groups in Wisconsin are determined to cut the prison population in half in three years. Journalist, ordained minister and columnist with the Capital Times Phil Haslanger writes:

“Half of the people behind bars in Wisconsin are there for nonviolent crimes. Half of them have issues with drug and alcohol abuse and/or mental illness. And most of them are going to return to our communities at some point.”

The Rev. Jerry Hancock, a former assistant district attorney and a former assistant attorney general, and now an ordained minister, said if Minnesota can do it, so can Wisconsin.

“We need treatment on the front end to keep people out, help on the back end to keep people from going back into prison after release and a way to allow people in prison to earn their way out. If we did all three of those things, we could solve this in three years.”

The effort, called the 11X15 Campaign, begins with rallies, meetings and marches by coalitions and networks of congregations led by clergy who have worked in and observed the criminal justice system in their earlier careers.

Las Vegas Cuts Offender Recycling with Buddy Programs for Employers

A police officer, an ex-offender and an Urban League Champs program have cut the recidivism rate in Las Vegas to 26% down from the state’s 40%, the rate at which released inmates return to Nevada's prisons within three years.They have done it by making themselves advocates or “buddies” willing to vouch for ex-offenders to employers

Chad Baker, a Metro Police officer in West Las Vegas, has been mentoring former inmates for two years at the Urban League. He grew frustrated arresting the same people all the time in the department’s Bolden Area Command.

As a mentor, Baker seeks to mend relationships with ex-offenders and help them find employment at nearby businesses, such as grocery stores.“It’s one thing for an ex-offender to go into a business to try to get a job,” he said. “It’s another when an ex-offender walks in while a Metro Police officer is by their side.”

Jon Ponder started Hope for Prisoners after he was released from a Pennsylvania prison in 2009. He credits his time served in federal prison for a bank robbery with helping him turn his life around and understand what inmates need for successful transitions into society.

“My entire time in prison, I didn’t go to prison,” he said. “I went to school. I used every bit of time in prison to learn and grow.”

Long-term success ultimately hinges on a person’s desire to change, said John Butler, outreach coordinator for the Urban League’s RExO Champs program.

”They have to be able to obtain and secure (jobs) on their own, which is part of that self-sufficiency,” he said. “We guide and advocate for them.”

Justice cites overcrowding; ignores mandatory minimums, drug policies

In an editorial, The New York Times said the Justice Department in its recent annual report failed to mention mandatory minimum sentences and its effective drug policies when it noted that the 218,000 federal prison inmates and a budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.”

The already-taxed Bureau of Prisons network swelled to 39 percent above capacity through last September, and is expected to surge to more than 45 percent above its limit in 2018, says the Government Accountability Office report, titled "Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure."

There is no evidence that long mandatory sentences deter crime, says The Times, and “…there is very good evidence that older prisoners (45 and up) are the least dangerous…”

Report of Flawed Forensics Spurs Review of Thousands of Criminal Cases

By Val Hymes

A newspaper story last spring about defendants convicted on faulty forensic evidence has led to a review of tens of thousands of criminal cases by the Justice Department and the FBI.

The Washington Post reported in April that the “Justice Department had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases."

The cases, from 1985 or earlier, will be examined in concert with The Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

In June, the Supreme Court said prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing. “ The decision was based in large part,” said a Washington Post editorial, “on the assertion that federal judicial intervention was unnecessary because the great majority of state legislatures already had passed laws to give prisoners adequate access to the revolutionary technology.”

While 47 states allow some statutory access to DNA testing, the laws are limited and sketchy and motions for testing are often denied, even where the inmate offers to pay for it and the test could confirm guilt or innocence.

Leahy Plan for DOJ Forensics Unit

In January, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced the Criminal Justice and Forensic cience Reform Act (S.132) It will establish an Office of Forensic Science within the Department of Justice.

It also will establish a Forensic Science Board comprised of scientists, practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys and other stakeholders to make recommendations in research priorities, standards and best practices; establish committees of scientists to be overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology which will examine each individual forensic science discipline to determine research needs and help set uniform standards.

A Rare Agreement: Right and Left Together on Criminal Justice Reform

A column in The Washington Times, published a column says “Left and Right agree on criminal justice reforms.”  Escalating costs are leading voices from both sides of the aisle to call for an overhaul of the systems that now costing many states more than colleges. The writers urge Congress to follow the examples of states like Georgia, South Carolina, Kansas and Ohio. They have increased drug treatment inside and moved nonviolent prisoners into programs outside prisons.

'We will keep fighting’
Senate Justice Reform Measure Fails
As Republicans Cite 'States Rights'

Although some Republicans using states’ rights arguments, blocked passage of legislation that could begin the reform of the criminal justice system, Senator James Jim Webb (D.VA) said he is not backing down.

“We will keep fighting,” he said, “for a comprehensive review of the justice system, with the help of the thousands of sheriffs, police, mayors and justice advocates who have joined us in pressing for reform.” Out of a needed 60 the vote was 57-43. The legislation passed the House last year.

It would establish a bipartisan National Criminal Justice Commission to recommend reform and has the support of more than 100 organizations including The Heritage Foundation and law enforcement groups.

See Politico’s take at

250th Convict Exonerated
Through DNA Testing

The Innocence Project on Feb. 3 announced the 250th exoneration of a prisoner through DNA testing.

Freddie Peacock, 60, of Rochester, N.Y., was convicted in New York in 1976 of a rape he didn't commit based on a false eyewitness identification and a false confession that police claim he made during an interrogation. Peacock, who has severe mental illness, was freed in 1982, but continued the fight to clear his name..

His fight to clear his name after release is the longest of any DNA case so far. He spent the last 28 years pushing for complete exoneration, even turning down chances to end his parole. Finally, with the help of the Innocence Project, his name has been cleared.

A report issued by the Innnocence Project “250 Exonerated – Too Many Wrongfully Convicted -- describing the 250 cases -- may be found at

Its findings conclude that :

• There have been DNA exonerations in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

• 76% of the wrongful convictions involved eyewitness misidentification.

• 50% involved unvalidated or improper forensic science.

• 27% relied on a false confession, admission or guilty plea.

• 70% of the 250 people exonerated are people of color (60% are black; nearly 9% are Latino; 29% are white).

The National Coalition Against the Death Penalty (NCADP) points out that 17 percent of the exonerated were serving under threat of the death penalty. "While exonerating 250 citizens, the cases also identified 90 real perpetrators and 40 of them were convicted of subsequent crimes."

In December, James Bain, 54, was exonerated in Florida after spending 35 years in prison for the rape of a child and Donald Eugene Gates, 58, was freed in Arizona after serving 28 years in prison for rape and murder.

Congress Begins Fight to Restore
Ex-Offenders' Voting Rights

Justice advocates, unhappy that an estimated 5.3 million Americans cannot vote or participate fully in civic life because of a criminal conviction, are pressing for Congressional action to establish a federal standard restoring voting rights in federal elections. Sen Russell Feingold  and Rep. John Conyers introduced the Democracy Restoration Act as S.1516 and H.R. 3335.

The provisions of the Democracy Restoration Act would:
• Restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4 million Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community.
• Ensure that probationers never lose their right to vote in federal elections.
• Notify people about their right to vote in federal elections when they are leaving prison, sentenced to probation, or convicted of a misdemeanor.

Passage of the Democracy Restoration Act would:
• Create a uniform standard across the country in federal elections.
• Strengthen our democracy by creating a broader and more just base of voter participation.
• Aid law enforcement by encouraging participation in civic life, assisting reintegration, and rebuilding ties to the community.
• Facilitate election administration by streamlining registration issues and eliminating the opportunity for erroneous purges of eligible voters.
• Eliminate the confusion about who is eligible to vote.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's School of Law, 35 states continue to disenfranchise people after release from prison.

Virginia Ex-Offenders May Vote Next Year

Virginia 's governor has urged all ex-offenders who served time for nonviolent crimes to ask for a return of their voting rights. The Sentencing Project reports that Gov. Tim Kaine said in a broadcast interview with WSLS 10 he cannot by law restore voting rights across the board; it must be done one by one by name. He maintained that he has restored the rights of all nonviolent ex-offenders who applied and that those convicted for a violent felony require an investigation.

Here's a link to the story by the Sentencing Project:

It should be noted that Robert McDonnell, who will take office as governor in January, has a voting record in the state legislature far to the right of many of Gov. Kaine's political views, so the future of the program may be in question.


Innocent Man Executed -- The Fallout

News reports that Texas executed an innocent man in 2004 have led to bipartisan discussions and support for forensic reform--scientific standards nationally. The New Yorker magazine ran an extensive, detailed story about the father who was put to death for setting a fire that killed his three children. It turns out he was convicted on faulty evidence, according to arson experts and the story, ”Trial by Fire” by David Grann.

But the former prosecuto,r who is now a judge, still believes Cameron Todd Willingham was guilty. He told a Nightline interviewer "without question" the scientific evidence was not valid, but went on to claim that Willingham was “likely a devil worshipper and was therefore guilty.”

Gov. Rick Perry recently fired the head (and two members) of a special commission he had appointed to investigate the case two days before a report by a fire expert was due to be delivered. The Innocence Project called it a Nixon-like “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Justice Scalia: “not a single case…the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops.”  NCADP Campaign: The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty quotes Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia when he wrote in 2006 that "there has not been ‘a single case - not one - in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."”

The NCADP calls on everyone to get out the word that the state of Texas has executed an innocent man. Suggestions and references to a report about Willingham and three other innocent men are found here:

To find state NCADP

Science-Based Federal Forensic Standards Supported

A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing showed that bipartisan support exists for science-based federal forensic standards. Senators also focused on the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences to establish an independent, science-based entity to oversee forensic science research and standards.

Chairman PatrickLeahy noted that one in five labs do not meet accreditation standards set by the National Academy of Crime Lab Directors. "We cannot allow these nationwide deficiencies in forensic sciences to continue."

Feds Require Inmates Who Plead Guilty to Waive DNA Tests

The Washington Post reports that the attorney general has ordered a review of the Bush administration policy that was apparently initiated to get around The Innocence Protection Act of 2004 allowing federal inmates to seek post conviction DNA tests to prove their innocence.

"The waivers are filed only in guilty pleas and bar defendants from ever requesting DNA testing, even if new evidence emerges," Jerry Marcon wrote in an Oct. 11 story.


DNA Test Exonerates 241st After 23 Years; Episcopal Church Urges Inmate Testing

The Innocence Project has announced the exoneration of another innocent man – held for 23 years in Texas for a rape he did not commit. DNA tests proved Ernest Sonniers’ innocence and identified the two men who committed the 1986 rapes. He was released Aug. 7.

In June, the Supreme Court said prisoners do not have a constitutional right to DNA testing. “ The decision was based in large part,” said a Washington Post editorial, “on the assertion that federal judicial intervention was unnecessary because the great majority of state legislatures already had passed laws to give prisoners adequate access to the revolutionary technology.”

While 47 states allow some statutory access to DNA testing, the laws are limited and sketchy and motions for testing are often denied, even where the inmate offers to pay for it and the test could confirm guilt or innocence.

At this writing, 241 wrongly incarcerated individuals have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 16 who were on death row. In almost 40 percent of the cases, the real perpetrator has been identified by DNA.

In July, the Prison Ministry Task Force of the Diocese of Maryland drafted a resolution for introduction at the Episcopal Church's General Convention that urges the church and all Episcopalians to “call on their legislators and members of Congress to ensure that all those accused and convicted have broad access to DNA testing, not only to exonerate those who are innocent but also to identify the true perpetrators of crimes they have been accused or convicted of.” It was sponsored by three bishops and was enacted.

Passage of the resolution means the church’s government relations office in Washington can go to work lobbying for appropriate legislation before congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, is author of the Innocence Protection Act that is part of the Justice For All Act of 2004, which is up for reauthorization. It provides grants to the states that protect crime scene evidence and make DNA testing available to prisoners. The IPA would save innocent men and women from execution by making available to those on death row adequate counsel and DNA testing.

Senator Leahy’s comment about the Supreme Court ruling: This decision only creates new procedural roadblocks and unnecessary hurdles to getting at the truth in this and many other cases.  As Justice Stevens wrote in dissent, ''The DNA test [the defendant] seeks is a simple one, its cost modest, and its results uniquely precise . . . . Yet [the state] refuses to allow [the defendant] to test the evidence at his own expense and to thereby ascertain the truth once and for all.'  To overcome this result, I will continue to work to make modern DNA testing available whenever possible to strengthen our criminal justice system."     

The Innocence Project is building a petition to call for an independent federal agency to oversee forensic science following a recommendation by the National Academy of Science that Congress create a National Institute of Forensic Science. A bill is expected in September or October.

The Justice System Is Sending
Entire Communities Back to Prison

But States Seek Ways to Reverse Revolving Door

(See entire program and transcript at

The criminal justice system is sending whole communities back to prison and jail, says Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly’s  May 22 feature broadcast over the PBS network.  And how some states are taking new approaches to reverse the revolving doors by rewarding with tax dollars parole and probation departments that reduce the prison population. 

Correspondent Phil Jones visited Brownsville in Brooklyn, N.Y., where community activists, including the Justice Mapping Center, are pushing for new approaches.

 ERIC CADORA (Director, Justice Mapping Center): The current overuse and overdependence on criminal justice is a complete failure. It's having no impact on these issues of public safety and crime. That's not to say there isn't a need for a level of criminal justice. But this radical overuse is not accomplishing those goals. Cadora said he found about 150 blocks in New York City where the authorities were spending more than a million dollars a year just to send people back and forth from prisons upstate to the neighborhood than back to prison again.  

GREG JACKSON (Community Activist): Incarceration is not just the individual going to jail, but it's the whole family going to jail, for Brownsville. Everybody's suffering from it.  There are no reentry programs to help them get jobs or kick drug habits or find housing -- especially when felons are not allowed to live in public housing.

Mr. CADORA: Let us take the investments that had been built up over the years from criminal justice, redirect them to investments in civil institutions in those neighborhoods -- better schools, better health care, better mental health support, and so on. In many of the states where the Justice Reinvestment initiative has taken root, prison populations are either dropping or the trend line in growth has been radically reduced, and that's from Connecticut to Kansas --liberal to conservative. In Kansas, when they found that 60-65 percent were being sent back to prison because of a parole or [probation revocation, the legislature turned it around.

JONES: That was the case in Kansas, so legislators passed a new law -- a new direction -- committing taxpayer dollars to cities and communities that change parole and probation regulations that'll reduce the prison population by 20 percent.

Mr. CALDORA: That's kind of what the reinvestment project is about. It's about saying, “Look, if you can reduce it, we'll give you the money to keep reducing it.”

New Policy In Md. for Parole, Probation Violators

 Frank Dunbaugh, director of the, Maryland Justice Policy Institute, has been saying that for years. And he repeated it to the Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services Gary D. Maynard, at a meeting several early this spring. Maynard's reply was that he is putting into place a new policy. When ex-offenders violate parole or probation, they will be turned over to the Department of Parole and Probation for discipline and not sent back to the prison facilities.

Sen. Webb Calls America's Criminal
Justice System a 'National Disgrace'

Bill Calls for Commission to 'Reshape' System

Sen. James Webb (Democrat of Virginia) has introduced the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 to “bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.”

He said, “ America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation's prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

”We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration.

“The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 will create a blue-ribbon commission to look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom. I believe that it is time to bring together the best minds in America to confer, report, and make concrete recommendations about how we can reform the process.

“Why We Urgently Need this Legislation:

-- With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses 25% of the world's reported prisoners.

-- Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.

-- Four times as many mentally ill people are in prisons than in mental health hospitals.

-- Approximately 1 million gang members reside in the U.S., many of them foreign-based; and Mexican cartels operate in 230+ communities across the country.

-- Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard and often nonexistent, undermining public safety and making it extremely difficult for ex-offenders to become full, contributing members of society.

Fact Sheet --

"WHAT'S WRONG WITH OUR PRISONS?" asks Senator Webb on the front cover of Parade Magazine March 29. The issue is worth tracking down at your library because he dominates the issue with the subject of the lead article, "Why We Must Fix Our Prisons."

. Religious Community Leads Fight
To Repeal the Death Penalty

Churches Use High Tech to Reach State Legislators

By Val Hymes

The Episcopal Church is not only taking to the streets to fight for an end to the death penalty; it is now fighting smarter.

Legislation in at least 11 states calls for a repeal of the death penalty and two others want a moratorium with a study, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Bills are moving forward in New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, Montana and Nebraska. Bills also have been introduced in New Hampshire, Washington, Connecticut, Illinois and New Hampshire. Maryland’s bill was amended to restrict the use of the death penalty.

Alaska, on the other hand, has a bill in to reinstate the death penalty and Georgia is trying to broaden its reach. A bill passed by the Virginia Assembly specifying additional offenses as eligible for the death penalty was recently vetoed by Gov. Timothy Kaine.

In Maryland, Bishop Eugene T. Sutton marched with other religious leaders and the governor through the streets of Annapolis to the State Capitol to call on the legislature to repeal the law. The Senate, however, scratched the repeal and called for more proof of guilt for death sentences. The bishop said that will not stifle his opposition.

“I vow to continue the struggle to end the death penalty without restrictions,” he said. “If the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s has taught us anything, it is that nonviolence is still the most powerful weapon that we have to deter the evil of violence and murder…more powerful than the electric chair, more effective than a lethal injection. State-sponsored killing is not going to end the cycle of violence that we all decry.”

At the same time, Episcopalians were urged to contact their legislators and they are doing it across the nation.

“The religious community across the board has taken up the mantle on this issue,” said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to End the Death Penalty (NCADP). “They are stepping up their moral leadership, encouraging their parishioners to put their faith in action.”

It is made easy for them to contact their legislators and governors by going to the Web site of a local affiliate. In Maryland, it’s Citizens Against State Executions (CASE) and clicking on “Take Action.” In New Mexico, it’s the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty (NMCADP); in Colorado, Coloradans Against the Death Penalty (CADP). NACDP has affiliates in every state and works closely with them when legislation is pending.

This new bolder activism was reflected in a 2007 “Clergy Voices” survey of mainline Protestant clergy by Public Religion Research released March 6. It found that 81 percent of the Episcopal clergy surveyed supported an end to capital punishment, compared with 66 percent overall. The national church has formally opposed the death penalty for the last fifty years.

The Roman Catholic Church, said Rust-Tierney, has responded with the Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty. “We are using technology to make it easier” for people to speak to their lawmakers and governors.

Maryland ’s bill is “a significant step,” she said. “Narrowing the death penalty is a recognition that we need to change, that it doesn’t work. It is a serious indictment of the death penalty.”

As it moved – no longer a repeal -- to the Maryland House of Delegates, Bishop Sutton’s words echoed outside the State House, “I implore all of our legislators, follow your conscience.”


Val Hymes is coordinator of the Prison Ministry Task Force, Diocese of Maryland. To locate state affiliates:

Clergy Fights Death Penalty
With Internet and the Pen

The church waded into the death penalty issue with op-ed pieces in The Washington Post by the Bishop of Maryland, Eugene Taylor Sutton, and the Bishop of Washington, John Bryson Chane: “A Moral Test for Maryland Legislators”, and in the Baltimore Sun by the Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, John R. Rabb, and the Bishop of Easton, James “Bud” Shand.: “Execution Isn't Path to a Peaceful Society.”

An interfaith group of clergy – Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish -- also spoke out at a a news conference Jan. 14 and signed a letter to the governor and General Assembly urging the end of the death penalty, saying, “Common to all of us are the sanctity of life and forgiveness.”

There were 37 executions in the nation last year. New Jersey repealed the death penalty late in 2007. Death penalty repeal efforts were narrowly defeated in Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico last year. Those states are trying again this year..

The Numbers Climb;
The Problems Grow

5.1 million on parole or probation

By end of 2006, one in every 31 adults: 7.2 million were in the adult correctional population;.. At the end of 2007, 5.1 million adults were out on parole or probation. Now, at the end of 2008, how many will go back inside? RTwo-thirds arfe expected to be rearrested within three years, and they will be responsibler for 10 million new crimes by 2013. In 2009, 700,000 will be released and 3.5 million will return to their communities over the next five years .

WASHINGTON - The U.S. adult correctional population -- incarcerated or in the community -- reached 7.2 million men and women, an increase of 159,500 during the year(2006), the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today in a new report. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 1 in every 31 adults, was in the nation's prisons or jails or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.

The number of men and women who were being supervised on probation or parole in the United States at year-end 2006 reached 5 million for the first time, an increase of 87,852 (or 1.8 percent) during the year.  A separate study found that on December 31, 2006, there were 1,570,861 inmates under state and federal jurisdiction, an increase of 42,932 (or 2.8 percent) in 2006.

During 2006 the number of inmates under state jurisdiction rose by 37,504 (2.8 percent). The number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction rose by 5,428 (2.9 percent).

In 2006 the number of prisoners in the 10 states with the largest prison populations increased by 3.2 percent, which was more than three times the average annual growth rate (0.9 percent) in these states from 2000 through 2005. These states accounted for 65 percent of the overall increase in the U.S. prison population during 2006. The federal system remained the largest prison system with 193,046 inmates under its jurisdiction.

Collateral Consequences and Barriers:

Ex-offenders are finding still that felony convictions throw up a dozen barriers in many communities.

The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution  hosted Dec. 5 at the National Press Club a policy discussion on the challenges of prisoner reentry, featuring remarks by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and a keynote address by U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.). The event also included a policy roundtable with a diverse group of experts on the need for a national prisoner reentry strategy.

One idea is to put ex-offenders into a year of transitional employment in community service.

Relief from Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions State by State: The Sentencing Project has listed some of the consequences and how to mitigate them. Talk to your legislators about what you find in your state.

Reentry is spreading across the country as states recognize that the cost of corrections can exceed the cost of colleges

A Google “reentry” alert in one day brought up programs in Rhode Island, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Minnesota that work to provide jobs, drug counseling, housing and mentors to ex-offenders.

Edited by Val Hymes
Updated 12/14/2014

A Pardon Is for Turkeys

Turkeys visiting The White House for Thanksgiving apparently stand a better chance of receiving a presidential pardon than human prisoners.

Two Law professors wrote in an article in the Washington Post that the current pardoning process is badly broken. It can take four years or longer; it can require seven levels of bureaucratic approvals and even then rarely happens.

Presidents, including Obama, rarely grant pardons unless they are recommended by a member of Congress or someone else politically important. And President Obama, they say, is worse than previous presidents. The most successful clemency move was Gerald Ford’s pardoning of 21,000 deserters and draft dodgers -- successful because few remember it.

The president has created the clemency project 2014 to encourage defense attorneys to determine if an inmate has served 10 years in federal prison for a nonviolent crime and has no other disqualifying problems, such as gang connections.

The professors recommend that a bipartisan board such as those in many states recommend pardons. The turkeys pardoned at the White House had no comment.

'Ban the Box' Effort Spreads

More than 60 local governments — cities and counties— have voted to ban the box on job applications, eliminating the requirement to spell out criminal convictions until later in the job process. Also 13 states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have done the same, although in some cases it applies only to those convicted of nonviolent crimes. In some cases, the box will not be banned for jobs in public safety, or those involving children.

According to the Washington Post, one in four adults have a criminal record. Some of the recent laws also apply only to government jobs.

Warden wants churches to step up to ease reentry

Colorful Warden urges urban churches to step up for prisoners’ reentry and their children.

Burl Cain, the Warden f once the once” bloodiest prison in America” at a restorative justice conference in Dallas called on urban churches to act as “agents for change” for prisoners and their children, helping them to reintegrate into society and recognize their moral responsibilities to their families and communities.

“We want to make the urban church into the agent for change it ought to be. He told the Associated Baptist Press.

Burl Cain has seen transformation occur inside Angola — a 73 percent decline in violent incidents — since he arrived in 1995 at what was called “the nation’s bloodiest prison.”
H e concluded that traditional approaches in the correctional system had failed, and he committed to trying something different at Angola.

he concluded in 1995 that traditional approaches in the correctional system had failed, and he committed to trying something different at Angola.
“I don’t do traditional. If it doesn’t make sense, I don’t do it,” Cain told the conference.

Angola sought to give hope and purpose to inmates serving life-without-parole sentences by equipping them to serve as teachers in a wide variety of educational and vocations classes — from auto mechanics to welding, to carpentry, to culinary arts.

The programs went a long way toward changing the attitude of men serving life sentences, and the job placement rate for ex-offenders in the program rose. Still, Cain realized rehabilitation requires a change of heart.

“If you teach people skills and trades without the moral component, you just made a smarter criminal. You have to change the person. Criminals are selfish people. They don’t care about you or your feelings. They do what they want and take what they want. Moral people do not do that. So, the cure for that problem is the moral component, and that’s found in religion.”

Cain worked with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Leavel College to launch an extension center at the prison that offers Bible college degrees.

Some jails ignore shackle law

A new Maryland law signed in April outlaws the shackling of pregnant women prisoners in labor or while giving birth. The state was joined soon after by Minnesota and Massachusetts. Some 18 states have similar laws, but in fact prisons and jails are still doing it citing security needs.

National corrections and medical organizations also oppose the shackling. We need to question and check on the policy in our communities. Ask the women. – Val Hymes, Diocese of Maryland.

How Churches Hold
The Balance ot Power

“The 14th Amendment, when combined with the War on Crime, has paradoxically disenfranchised vast swaths of the population and given the rural, white areas surrounding the prisons unforeseen political power. ..”

The Sentencing Project alerted us to this article by Heather Ann Thompson in The Atlantic
that says the result is a criminal justice system “that is highly resistant to reform.”

Inmate Phone Cost Caps
Took Effect Feb. 11

The FCC order reducing high inmate telephone rates becomes effective Feb. 11 unless litigationby the prison phone industry opposing it is successful, reports National CURE director CharlesSullivan.

The FCC had voted after a hearing marked by family pleas and tears Aug. 9, 2 to 1, to stop phone companies and prison systems from overcharging families of prisoners for interstate calls.

The petition was filed in 2003 by a grandmother who was paying almost $100 a month to talk to her grandson. Now free, he attended the ruling and wiped tears from his eyes as applause greeted the decision to limit charges to 21 and 25 cents.

The leader of this decade-old reform effort was the new interim chair, Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Senator James Clyburn of North Carolina. She took on the state’s prison phone rates several years ago and won.

The FCC promised to take up the issue of intrastate rates as well.

From the Outrageous-Justice Files
Two years in solitary without trial

A man who was driving his friend's car across the country in 2005 was arrested for a DUI and car theft in New Mexico. Stephen Slevin and his attorney say he then spent nearly two years in solitary confinement without physical or mental health care.

On March 5, he accepted a $15.5 million settlement from county officials despite a court’s ruling last year that the $22 million awarded him by a federal court was not excessive. He just wanted to end the fight that started with his arrest eight years ago.

Opponents of $70M Youth Jail Win

The state of Maryland has decided not to build a $70 million youth jail in Baltimore. The problems of housing juveniles with adults and charging juveniles as adults and how to housethem in prison have been a serious concern.

Now the state is planning to rehab a pre-release center for youth offenders with counseling, treatment, education and recreation facilities, and is looking for a former school for more space.

'Pipeline to Prison' Going Public

Getting the word out about the “family-to-community-to-school pipeline” to prison is finally out in the open.

Churches, especially urban churches, have feared it for decades.

The Metropolitan AME church in Washington held a rally in Washington, D.C., March 28 to decry the work of the prison industrial complex creating “a pipeline straight from our schools, our communities and our families to prison,” speakers said.

“We must reclaim our young.”

Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline -- Some Answers

The Children's Defense Fund is working nationally to find ways to break that cycle.

As Congress considers re-authorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), CDF President Marian Wright Edelman looks at several promising approaches across the country that are changing the juvenile justice paradigm from punishment and incarceration as a first resort to prevention, early intervention and rehabilitation.

California Voters Strike Down
1994 Three Strikes Law

Californians have finally reformed the three strikes law that has cost the state hundreds of millions a year and packed the prisons with more than 9,000 nonviolent offenders. Where a petty crime in the past ---including stealing a slice of pizza – has earned sentences of 25-life, the offenders may now show they are not a danger to society and ask a court for a lower sentence. It will not affect those convicted of violent crimes. Twenty-six other states have a three strikes law, but none of them involve petty crimes, says Slate.

Private Prisons Spend $45 Million
On Lobbying, Donations,
Make Billions on Immigrants

According to the Associated Press, writes ThinkProgress, “In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry's profits.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.

Lack of DNA Evidence Exonerates
The 300th Innocent Man

After he confessed, Damon Thibodeaux was convicted of the rape and murder of his teenage step-cousin and sentenced to death, spending 15 years locked in a cell 23 hours a day in the Louisiana prison at Angola.
He was innocent. The victim, 14, was not raped. Thibodeaux, now 38, confessed after nine hours of interrogation.

“In Thibodeaux’s case,” writes the Washington Post, “the absence of any incriminating DNA evidence became as powerful an argument for his innocence as any other element of the case.”

The investigation was led by pro bono attorneys, the ACLU and prosecutors. For more,

Inmates Seek 1st Amendment Rights

Six prisoners went to court Aug. 14 to argue that a victims’ rights policy has no teeth and that they have a First Amendment right to promote their peace initiative to slow gang violence through interviews with the media.

The Maryland Dept. of Public Safety and Corrections arguedthat the warden has the power to say no, but the inmates appealed to the Inmate Grievance Office and when denied, went to a circuit court. The judge denied their motions but scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing that could decide whether the policy is "arbitrary and capricious."

Inmates Restore Black Cemetery;
Will Demolish House of Correction

One of the oldest graveyards in the country for African Americans is Baltimore City’s long-neglected Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Known as “The City of the Dead for Colored People,” it overlooks the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. With the governor presiding on May 14, it was rededicated May 14 after four years of restoration work by Maryland prisoners.

More than 40 inmates worked to transform the overgrown, collapsing 34 acres of 55,000 graves. “That’s 55,000 families who are out here now looking for graves of family they couldn’t find in the past,” said Gary Maynard, Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Since 2007, when Maynard became secretary, inmates have taken part in what he calls “restorative justice” projects. The 110 crews of state prisoners have planted 50 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, built a retaining wall along the C&O Canal, and restored the woods north and west of the Antietam Battlefield, among other projects.

Among future plans is the demolition of the abandoned Maryland House of Correction, which can teach inmates skills in lead paint and asbestos abatement.,0,3202153.story

Nonprofits Press Maryland to Give
Abandoned Hospital to Community

The State of Maryland continues to resist taking action that could save a sprawling complex of brick buildings on a landscaped and shaded campus near the State Capital.

Four decades ago across the nation, states began closing their mental hospitals, sending patients to community programs and leaving behind large, tree-shaded campuses with empty brick buildings.

Some became college annexes; others became hospital expansions. But many have stood empty, their roofs caving in, broken windows gaping and historians saddened by the deterioration. Crownsville State Hospital in Maryland, originally built for the “Negro Insane” in 1910 is one of them. Sitting on 500+ acres are 66 buildings – some of them considered worthy of permanent protection.

The state wants a developer to purchase it for real estate tax revenue; the community fears development, traffic congestion and destruction of the rural landscape. But a group of nonprofits have a vision for a “Village of Health, Healing and Hope” – a one-stop center for community, veterans and reentry services, a sports complex, hiking and biking trails and a museum to tell the story of the agrarian community and the “hospital for the negro insane.” It has been a four-year saga of frustration for the volunteers.

Miss America Visits Camp
For Children of Inmates

Miss America 2012, once a child with a father in prison, hasdedicated her platform during and after her reign to promoting mentoring of children of prisoners.

“I’ve been there. I’ve lived it,” said Laura Kaeppeler, 23, of Kenosha, Wis. “A lot of times these children feel this experience that is out of their control defines them. A lot of time, incarceration cycles in families. They don’t think there is another way out for them.”

When she was in high school, her father served a year in prison for mail fraud. He supports her long-term plans to work for children of prisoners. She spent the day at a camp for children of prisoners Aug. 1. She made children of the incarcerated her contest cause because she remembers how it felt when her father was taken away.  She visited Camp Bob at the Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina. See photos, videos:

Since her January crowning, she has met with 200 inmates at Racine Correctional Institution. “No matter what they’re there for,” she said, “they can only move up from where they’ve been. And kids still deserve a relationship with themas parents,” Kaeppeler said. She also met with U. S. Dream Academy officials in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. She hopes to become a partner and spokesman with the academy is a national organization for atrisk children with learning centers in 10 cities.

Although she is an accomplished musician, she plans to seek a law degree in child advocacy. Her organization, Circles of Support, is at

Read more on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link:

Newspaper Honors Lifers' Group
For Gang Peace Initiative

Six lifers and long-termers in a Jessup, Md. prison who created a program to stop gang violence inside and outside prisons have won an Innovator of the Year award from The Daily Record in Baltimore.

The newspaper selected the Legalese Group, Inc.,(ELG,Inc.,) the only incorporated prisoner think tank in Maryland, for "creating a new program that has helped their communities with imagination and vision,” demonstrating “the ability to see a need and fill it, and the courage to make change happen."

They were slated to be recognized in absentia Oct. 26, at a reception at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore. Jennifer Adkins, the mother of a teenager, Christopher Jones, 14, who was killed by gang members, was asked by the prisoners to accept the award for them.

Adkins and Christopher’s father, a deputy sheriff, had one inside the Jessup Correctional Institute a year earlier to meet with the ELG about its Peace Initiative. At one of the meetings, touched by Christopher’s story, a dozen gang leaders and members stood to pledge a stop to random violence.If we can’t stop the violence in our communities outside prisons,” said Adkins, “then we’ll go inside to find answers.”

The men plan to work with gang leaders in the prison as they move in and out of the corrections system and to redirect gang members to help stop bullying in schools and to volunteer to provide security at community meetings.

JCI Warden John S. Wolfe said, “We have to reach across walls to address these problems. You men have been there. They’re apt to listen to you.”The ELG grew out of a prisoner newsletter, Extra Legalese, that offered legal tips and information about court rulings and law. It led to Legal Awareness Seminars in four facilities in Maryland and to other programs.

A Community Support Coalition, which is helping the ELG, is made up of attorneys, educators,and community and reentry program leaders, including representatives of the NAACP, Fusion, the Justice Policy Institute, Safe Streets Baltimore and the Jericho program.

Prisoners' 'Lifelines' Are Cut
As Libraries' Hours Are Reduced

A Dan Rodricks column in the Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland prison libraries have no money in the budget for new books and now have cut their evening hours at all state prisons.

Many prisoners use the libraries to increase their chances of succeeding when they get out, working on a GED, for example. He writes:

Many who are within a year or two of release use library services to prepare for re-entry -- to get their GED, to improve their vocabularies and language skills. The recidivism rate in the United States varies, from 50 percent to as high as 67 percent in some states, and there are two main reasons for that level of failure: the employment challenge facing ex-offenders on the outside and the lack of preparation for re-entry on the inside.

In Maryland, as in most states, re-entry services remain woefully inadequate for the thousands of men and women up for release each year. And given that we don't invest corrections dollars for better outcomes, the very least we can do is keep the prison libraries well-supplied and adequately staffed. As a knowledge base and information bridge, the prison library is often the only resource the short-timer has.

Prisons are for punishment. Prisons exist to protect the public. But given that so many of their inhabitants eventually get out of them, they should be places of second chances, too,” writes Rodricks.

The Department of Corrections maintains that it has in operation all necessary reentry programs for those due to get out within a year. Shutting down the libraries and cutting all book money is not the way to do it.

The chief librarian, Glennor Shirley, says they are “lifelines” for the inmates. And that includes lifers and long-termers.

'Financial Expediency, Not Justice'
States Move to Ban
Mandatory Minimums

Legislators in Rhode Island this fall Outlawed mandatory minimum sentences. Two other states, Massachusetts and Ohio considering sentencing reforms, according to the Washington Post.

Numbers released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that states are sending fewer people to prison in order to lessen the high cost of their corrections departments.. They are also reevaluating sentencing, parole and drug policies. The irony of these changes was caught by the head of a victims’ organization when he noted that they are economic and not justice reasons.

The good news is that the incarceration rate for African-Americans has dropped, but not far enough. "... The scale of racial disparity in imprisonment still dramatic," said Marc Mauer, The Sentencing Project's executive director.

New Bill Introduced
to Cut Corrections Costs

New bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress Nov. 17 that is designed to cut corrections costs and increase public safety. It's called the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act of 2009.

It would authorize the Attorney General to make grants to state and local governments and tribes to help them analyze criminal justice trends, develop options to reduce expenses and increase efficiency to make communities safer, to put into place better policies and programs, and measuring the impact of these changes.

In 1988 state spending on corrections was $12 billion. The cost had increased to more than $50 billion by 2008, yet most inmates released from state prisons were back inside within three years.

The Council of State Governments Justice Center worked in several states with policymakers on these ideas and saw hundreds of millions of dollars saved in corrections spending. The bills, S. 2772 and HR. 4080 grew out of programs tried in 11 states.

After clicking on the following link, select "Nov. 17 -- Justice Reinvestment Bill."

Prison Ministry Wins Justice Resolutions
At Episcopal Church General Convention

The Episcopal Church holds a General Conventions every three years. Actions approved by the convention or the executive council means the church’s government relations office in Washington can go to work lobbying for appropriate legislation before Congress. A successful resolution in 2006 calling on Episcopalians to actively support reentry legislation helped lead to the passage and signing of the Second Chance Act in 2008.

Despite the huge workload of about 400 resolutions facing them at the July 2009 Convention, the bishops and deputies of the Diocese of Maryland won the successful passage of three resolutions proposed by the Prison Ministry Task Force.

  • B021 urges Episcopalians to press their legislators and members of Congress to ensure that prisoners have “broad access” to DNA testing. It was sponsored by Bishop John L. Rabb, Bishop John B. Chane of Washington and Bishop James J. “Bud” Shand of the Diocese of Easton. Passage permits the church’s Government Relations Office to lobby for appropriate legislation like the reauthorization of the 2004 Justice for All Act providing grants to states for DNA testing programs.
  • C075 includes $75,000 in the budget for the creation and support of more summer camps like Camp Amazing Grace for children of the incarcerated. It was sponsored by the diocese, having been approved at the May Diocesan Convention. [However, the Budget Committee later failed to fund it. " Efforts will be made to ask the Executive Council to restore it if the economy improves.]
  • D095 calls for a Prison Ministry Sunday in all dioceses and congregations, but was amended to ask that they “focus on ways to minister to God’s children behind bars, those returning to the community, and their families and victims.” The title, however, remains “Prison Ministry Sunday.” --- Val Hymes

States, Cities Tell Hill
What They Will Do
Second Chance $$$

 As the full court press for funds for the Second Chance Act came to a head, the chief sponsor, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL), sponsored a special symposium April 1 to highlight what states and cities want to do with reentry funds if they are approved.

The Second Chance State and Local Reentry Initiative Symposium on Capitol Hill focused on half a dozen state and city corrections officials and eight bipartisan congressional supporters. They planned to spell out what they believe those programs in the new reentry law can do to make corrections more efficient and less costly and neighborhoods safer if the money can be found.

Attendees were also to hear from Gary Dennis, the Justice Department point man in the Bureau of Justice Assistance about fund solicitation requirements and deadlines.

The Second Chance Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law in April 2008, authorizes $165 million for programs that will improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state and local levels. While advocates are pressing for full funding, President Obama included $75 million in his budget for SCA.

It all came about because governors and state officials had discovered that corrections were costing them more than colleges and something had to be done to build more prisons or to find a way to stop the revolving door of recidivism. See what NPR says:

Officials taking part in the symposium were: Jerry Madden, Texas State Representative Deanne Benos, Illinois Assistant Director of Corrections, Secretary Rick Raemisch, Wisconsin Department of Correction Commissioner Martin F. Horn, New York City Department of Correction Bonnie Cosgrove, Maryland Public Safety & Correctional Services Dennis Schrantz and Michigan Deputy Director, Planning & Community Development.

The new law includes a $55 million program for Adult and Juvenile Offender State and Local Reentry Demonstration Projects, which improve coordination of reentry initiatives and implement evidence-based practices.

The Second Chance Act also authorizes a $15 million program for Mentoring Grants to Nonprofit Organizations, which provide mentoring and other transitional services to adult and juvenile offenders reentering the community.

State and local governments and nonprofit organizations around the country are eager to launch innovative reentry programs, and families and communities are desperate to access the services the Second Chance Act will provide.

Why Was the Second Chance Act So Important?
Read about it here

Shocking New Numbers
On Rise in Prison Costs

1 in 100 Adults Now in Prison
2.3 million behind bars in 2008, most of any nation. – Baltimore Sun

New High in U. S. Prison Numbers
Growth attributed to more stringent sentencing laws -- Washington Post.

All over the country, the report of the Pew Center on the States made the lead story. Talk about “shock and awe.” The 50 states alone spent more than $49 billion on corrections. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending.

The study, done by a recognized organization, notes that the costs of corrections is now $11 billion more than it was 20 years ago, and that fact is making the states consider reentry programs despite the fear of looking “soft on crime.”

Republican support of the Second Chance Act is a sign that this message of cost is a strong one. Read more:

The Barriers Outside

A US News and World Report story by Alex Kingsbury makes it clear that the biggest challenge is the willing coordination of federal, state and community services for those getting out.

There are also “Invisible Punishments – the Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment” as spelled out by co-editor Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project in his book. The magazine notes:

Some states, including New York, have laws restricting employers from considering of criminal records in hiring, but many others do not. Ex-cons are further handicapped because employers can now easily gain access to criminal offender databases when they are performing background checks. The Army, for example, found that more than 8,000 of its new recruits last year had criminal histories. It granted them waivers, but other professions are off limits to ex-cons—teaching and child-care work, of course, but also embalming, limousine driving, firefighting, and haircutting.

Senator Leahy of Vermont, chief sponsor of the Second Chance Act in the Senate, is also concerned about these collateral consequences.

Can a Parolee
Have a Drink?

A court says Pennsylvania cannot bar parolees from alcohol unless their crime was based on it.

Mandatory Minimum
Crack Sentences

The Supreme Court and Sentencing Commission say judges may have discretion in sentences involving crack and cocaine and that it can be retroactive.

The New York Times struck an editorial blow for basic fairness and judicial independence

The Sentencing Project and Marc Mauer deserve a lot of credit for this. They are asking for contributions to continue the fight at:

Shorter sentences?

The JFA Report says major criminologists and penal experts recommend shorter sentences for technical parole and probation violations

“…there is little if any scientific evidence of a causal relationship between crime rates and incarceration rates,” says James Austin, president of the JFA Institute and report co-author. :”There is no evidence that keeping people in prison longer makes us any safer.” And it is “financially wasteful.”

“Unlocking America” calls for improving prison conditions by reducing overcrowding and expanding access to health care, academic and vocational programs and by lifting barriers to employment and restoring voting rights. It also calls for decriminalization of the possession and sale of recreational drugs, and claims that it would generate savings of $20 billion. Today, $60 billion is spent on corrections.

The JFA Institute seeks research-based solutions to criminal justice issues. quotes the Nation of Islam about the report’s findings, especially that blacks and minorities are imprisoned six times more often than whites.

Abdullah Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam’s National Prison Ministry, offered a simple solution. “Give the Nation of Islam three years unhindered to teach the life-giving teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in the country’s prisons. We have a complete program to have our people totally freed to build a reality for ourselves,” he said.

Releasing the Elderly
Being Tried in Midwest

From: Charles Sullivan <>

Guidelines for the Illinois bill include:

*Have to be age 50 and served 25 consecutive years to be eligible to submit petition to the sentencing court. Many researchers use 50 as age to define elderly in prison due to stress, medical care and pre prison life style. Recidivism rate for elderly much, much lower than any other group. Pennsylvania study indicated prisoners with age of those covered by HB 4154 was about 2%,

*Bill includes a provision that a program similar to Impact of Crime on Victims Class (ICVC) program currently used in Missouri prison. Mothers of Murdered Children from metro East Louis area currently do restorative justice part of ICVC program in Missouri and are eager to do the same in Illinois. They are supportive of HB 4254 and will provide testimony as will Missouri prison officials.

*HB 4154 will reduce IDOC expenditure by $70,000 for each prisoner who is released.”

*Identify yourself as a member of Citizens for Earned Release (CER) and mention that our coalition can reach several thousand people. Mention Illinoisprisontalk as internet blog for information as well as CER website.” or

Adult System Said to Worsen
Juvenile Recidivism

A CDC report says juveniles tried as adults and sent to adult prisons come out to commit more violent crimes more often.

And in The Washington Post:

Don’t give up on them

Studies and polls say the public wants juveniles rehabilitated and not tried as adults. In Maryland, 14-year-olds can be handled as adult criminals. Our state is trying what has been successful in Missouri, but it seems to be an uphill struggle. The public wants us to try.

Solutions Include
40-hr. Work Week

The Third Way proposes Required Rehab Programs

The 40-hour Work Week program would require prisoners to spend 40 hours on self-improvement each week. They would take part in individually tailored activities that instill personal responsibility and a strict work ethic. The curriculum could include education, counseling, substance abuse treatment, anger management and skills trainings

Support for prison rehabilitation programs inside climbs from 55 percent to 90 percent when they are defined as a requirement and not a benefit to the prison population.

By a margin of 90 to 6 percent, Americans said they were more likely to support a candidate who says, “Prisoners should be forced to work, get an education and learn skills …


Live from Death Row

150 Hear Troy Davis on Georgia’s Death Row
Three Times Readied to Die

Mike Stark of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) writes:

Last night, over 150 people turned-out at American University (AU) to hear a live phone conversation with Georgia death row prisoner, Troy Davis. The event, a stop of the "Live from Death Row" national tour organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP),  was locally sponsored by AU's Justice Not Jails and Black Student Alliance.  It also featured in-person appearances by Troy Davis' sister Martina Corriea and former death row prisoner and Black Panther Lawrence Hayes (who later told his own story of wrongful incarceration on New York’s death row).

The audience was visibly moved as Troy described his ongoing struggle for justice and the daily horrors of living in death row.  "When Troy told his story, I felt I was back there with him," Lawrence said.

As audience members handed around a model Troy had created of his tiny cell on death row, he described how he refused to abandon hope even during his darkest hours as he endured the macabre rituals and humiliations as he was prepared for execution on three separate occasions. 

He described undergoing dehumanizing medical exams and the sick-routine of having to submit details for his own funeral.  Troy described how he could see the death chamber from his holding cell and during his 'final' visits with family and friends, both he and Martina recalled how correctional staff wept along with the Davis family as they gave were their final goodbyes.

But far from having been beaten down by these inhuman experiences, Troy’s dignified and optimistic voice was an inspiration to everyone in the room.  He was generous in his thanks to all his supporters and reminded the audience that the struggle against the death penalty went beyond the details of his own case….

"The answer [to crime] is not killing," Lawrence instructed the audience, "You need to start with human beings.  When people are taken care of, the rest will take care of itself."