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.

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


See also news, reviews and offerings from around the country on at
Prison Ministry in the Episcopal Church.

You are invited to submit comments and information for inclusion on either site to


Sessions Not Finished with Efforts
to Roll Back Civil Rights Protections

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear he is not finished rolling back DOJ civil rights guidelines issued by President Obama.

Among those were guidelines for avoiding cash bail for suspects unable to pay and to avoid excess fines and fees charged to poor suspects.

Student law centers found in Maryland that lower courts were ignoring the appellate court ruling retaining the Obama guidelines.

In New Jersey, prosecutors warned of a crime wave that never occurred after the courts urged them to consider suspects’ abilities to a pay a cash bail or fines. In California, a retired Superior Court judge called unconstitutional excessive fines and jail time ordered against a driver for failing to pay parking fines. All these hard-on-crime actions by the Department of Justice unfairly affect poor and minorities.

Sessions has rescinded guidelines issued by the Obama administration to stop these violations of civil rights. They are being applied across the country against men women and children who are fined and then taxed with fees to support the justice and emergency systems in their communities.

Current Affairs magazine says these actions are turning judges into debt collectors and local jails and prisons into debtors’ prisons.

Cash Bail Bond System
Is Set Up to Fail

Looking at the incomes of people before they are jailed shows that the system of money bail is set up so that it fails. The ability to pay a bail bond is impossible for too many of the people expected to pay it. Most were living below the poverty line before incarceration.

The income data reveals just how unrealistic it is to expect defendants to be able to quickly patch together $10,000, or a portion thereof, for a bail bond. The median bail bond amount in this country represents eight months of income for the typical .detained defendant.

In Maryland, Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, noted that 8,200 people were held last year in Baltimore because they could not make bail, nor could they work or pay rent or care for their children.

Details of the problem and efforts to address it can be found at

Four states and the District of Columbia have done away with cash bail.

(Thanks for the alert from Peter Wagner’s research clearinghouse of

Census Bureau Residence Policy ‘Distorts Democracy’

The Census Bureau has extended its deadline to Sept. 1 for comments on the continuation of its proposed residence rule that counts prisoners’ residences as the location of their prisons and not their hometowns.

The results mean more representation in Congress and therefore more federal funds for rural areas where most prisons are located and not for urban centers crying out for help.

Details at

Comments should be sent by email to Karen Humes, chief, population division, at or:
United States Census Bureau, 4600 Silver Hill Rd., Suitland, MD 20746

Prison, Jail Commissaries May Merge, Raise Costs to Prisoners

Prison commissary giants’ merger needs antitrust scrutiny to protect inmates and families from higher costs. H. I. G. Capital, owner of Trinity Services Group, plans to acquire the Keefe Group. It is estimated that commissaries throughout the country rake in about $1.6 million in sales every year.

Prisoners are forced to pay for basic necessities out of their own pockets in most cases. Privatization is most common in jails as local governments continue to cut costs.
Families should protest by writing the Federal Trade Commission,
600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20580

Pell Grants for Prisoners May
Be Getting Second Chance

More than 200 colleges have told the US Department of Education they are interested in returning Pell grants to prisoners, which were banned by Congress in the 90s and signed by President Clinton.

US education officials say they will use their “experimental site authority” to give aid to prisoner-students.


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.

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

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."

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.


Edited by Val Hymes
Updated 1/18/2018

Juveniles Sentenced to Life
Deserve Access to Parole

The Supreme Court hasruled that juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole must have access to parole or sentence reduction, based on an earlier ruling that called it cruel and unusual punishment to send a juvenile prison with no chance for parole.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion that those prisoners do not have an automatic right to go free but do have a right to a parole hearing or a new sentence that limits their terms.

“Children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability,” he wrote. “Their hope of some years outside prison walls must be restored.”

The justices abolished the death penalty for juveniles in 2005.
Some of the prisoners affected by this retroactive decision are in their 60s and 70s.

Safe Haven Law Saves Girls

Girls are criminalized and sexually abused without a safe haven law.

More than 73percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced sexual or physical abuse. In some states, more than 80 percentof incarcerated girls have been sexually exploited. They are arrested and punished for being victims of sexual trafficking or running away from abusive foster homes.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute.“ So say the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and the Ms. Foundation for Women in data collected by the Human Rights Project for Girls.

A Naval Academy midshipman, Ethan Hamilton, penned a guest column for The Annapolis Capital calling for Maryland to enact a safe haven law, saying the state is among the top 10 states in the country in human trafficking.

Maryland is “a gold mine” for traffickers because of its access to interstate highways, three international airports and ports. In Maryland, adolescents as young as 16, the legal age of consent, are susceptible to prostitution charges despite federal law that considers them to be victims worthy of protection and assistance.

Gov. Larry Hogan has created a panel to review the merits of state safe haven laws but Hamilton says Washington, D.C., has already shown that these laws are effective and needed. A safe haven law would decriminalize prostitution for those under the age of 18 and would consider them as if they have been exploited and sexually abused, providing treatment and legal assistance. Hamilton calls human trafficking “modern slavery.”

The Washington Post says federal law prohibits incarceration of children on prostitution charges but most states have not enacted such a law.

The Post urges Congress to “bear down on states to change their rules and practices,” and recommends programs like Florida’s PACE program. The Practical Academic Cultural Education program costs less than half of the cost of incarceration to counsel, treat and encourage girls back into school, college or jobs.

Way Paved for New DNA Tests

A federal appellate court ruled in July that inmates convicted on DNA tests may have newer technique testing. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in June that prisoners do not have a Constitutional right to DNA testing … that the states should be allowed to work out the rules for new testing of old crime samples.

The L.A. Times reports that 47 states and the federal government have rules or laws that allow prisoners under some circumstances to obtain DNA tests but there is “no need for a free-standing and far-reaching Constitutional right of access to this type of evidence,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Columbia First to Divest

Led by students, Columbia University separated itself from private prison corporations, sending a message that institutions should not profit from the mass incarceration of people.

The Tribune News Service and the reentry working group reported that Columbia is selling its more than 200,000 shares in one private prison operator and its shares and corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in the US. A student group called Columbia Prison Divest began a campaign in 2014, making Columbia the first university in the nation to do so other colleges and universities are following suit.

Criminal Justice Political Shift
Surfaces in '16 Campaigns

“There has been a seismic shift in criminal justice politics,” said a director of the Brennan Center for justice at New York University School of Law.

“People who once based their campaigns on being the most punitive are now basing them on having the best ideas to reduce mass incarceration.”

The candidates are finally confronting the mass incarceration and injustice issues. Part of it is because crime rates have fallen and because the costs of incarceration have reached billions for the states, but also because of the tragedies in Ferguson, MO., Baltimore and other states.

Read the L.A. Times story:

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.


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 colorful warden of 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.

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.”
e concluded 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 vocational 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 withthe 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.”

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 argue dthat 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

Newspaper Honors Lifers
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 changhappen."

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 toolunteer 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 prisonernewsletter, 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.

'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.

States, Cities Tell Hill
What They Will Do
With 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 risons 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 …