Incarceration

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Will Foster is Back in Prison in Oklahoma and Needs Your Help

Will Foster’s nightmarish saga continues. Foster, you may recall, is the medical marijuana patient who was sentenced to 93 years in prison for growing a few plants in 1997. Thanks in no small part to a publicity campaign by Stopthedrugwar.org, Foster’s sentence was eventually reduced to 20 years, and he was paroled to California. After three years on parole, California officials decided Foster no longer needed supervision, but Oklahoma officials disagreed. When Foster was arrested in California for driving on an Oklahoma drivers’ license, Oklahoma issued a parole violation extradition warrant, but Foster filed a successful writ of habeas corpus to quash that warrant. Then, last year, Foster was arrested on bogus marijuana cultivation charges--those California charges were dropped after he spent a year in jail--and Oklahoma again sought his extradition as a parole violator. Oklahoma officials took Foster from the Sonoma County Jail in California, and he is now residing in prison in Oklahoma until 2011--or 2015, as Oklahoma parole officials are now claiming. In Oklahoma, the governor ultimately decides on whether to revoke parole or not. Foster had an administrative hearing Tuesday, which unsurprisingly found he had indeed violated his parole (by refusing to sign paperwork agreeing that his sentence had been extended). An executive hearing will take place sometime in the next one to three months, then that decision goes to the governor for approval or rejection. Foster and his supporters are urging the public to write to the parole board to ask it to recommend pardoning him or commuting his sentence, and to write or call the governor asking for the same thing. Key points: * Foster is a non-violent medical marijuana patient seriously ill with rheumatoid arthritis; * Foster plans to return to California and never set foot in Oklahoma again; * The after-the-fact extension of his sentence from 2011 to 2015 is unfair and unwarranted; * It does not make fiscal or budgetary sense for the state of Oklahoma to spend thousands of scarce public dollars to incarcerate Foster again for this non-violent offense. I just spoke to the parole office in Oklahoma, and they don’t yet have the information in their system required to send letters to parole board members, so instead, fax your concise, respectful letters to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board at (405) 602-6437. Mention Foster’s full name, William Joseph Foster, and his prisoner number, ODOC #252271. Fax your letter to Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry at (405) 521-3353 or, better yet, call his office at (405) 521-2342. In either case, mention Foster’s full name and prisoner number, and be polite. Drug War Chronicle will continue following Foster’s saga. Look for a feature article on the latest twists and turns on Friday.

Medical Marijuana: Will Foster Extradited to Oklahoma

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is behind bars in Oklahoma after being picked up last Friday by Oklahoma law enforcement officials. He had been held at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 15 months as he fought bogus marijuana cultivation charges there -- he was a registered patient with a legal grow -- and, after the California charges were dropped, on a parole violation warrant from the Sooner State.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/willfoster.jpg
Will Foster (medicalmarijuanaofamerica.com)
Foster had been arrested and convicted of growing marijuana in Oklahoma and sentenced to 93 years in prison in the 1990s. After that draconian sentence focused national attention on his case, he was eventually resentenced to 20 years in prison. He later won parole and moved to California, where he served three years on parole and was discharged from parole by California authorities.

That wasn't good enough for vindictive Oklahoma authorities, who wanted to squeeze more years out of Foster. He refused to sign Oklahoma paperwork requiring him to return there to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He also refused to sign paperwork that extended his original service. Oklahoma authorities issued a parole violation warrant, and the governors of both states signed it.

Foster had sought to block extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus -- he had won a similar writ against Oklahoma earlier -- but that effort failed last Friday, and Oklahoma authorities were there to whisk him away. Foster is scheduled to be held at the Tulsa County Jail before being assigned to a prison in the Oklahoma gulag.

Efforts by Foster supporters to secure his release continue and are now focusing on Oklahoma parole authorities and the state governor. For more information about the Foster case, see our Chronicle story here and Ed Rosenthal's blog here.

Drug War Chronicle will continue to follow the Foster case. Look for a feature article next week.

Will Foster Extradited to Oklahoma

Medical marijuana patient Will Foster is en route to prison in Oklahoma after being picked up Friday by Oklahoma law enforcement officials. He had been held at the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, for the past 15 months as he fought bogus marijuana cultivation charges there--he was a registered patient with a legal grow--and, after the California charges were dropped, on a parole violation warrant from the Sooner State. Foster had been arrested and convicted of growing marijuana in Oklahoma and sentenced to 93 years in prison in the 1990s. After that draconian sentence focused national attention on his case, he was eventually resentenced to 20 years in prison. He later won parole and moved to California, where he served three years on parole and was discharged from parole by California authorities. That wasn't good enough for vindictive Oklahoma authorities, who wanted to squeeze more years out of Foster. He refused to sign Oklahoma paperwork requiring him to return there to serve out the remainder of his sentence. He also refused to sign paperback that extended his original service. Oklahoma authorities issued a parole violation warrant, and the governors of both states signed it. Foster had sought to block extradition by filing a writ of habeas corpus--he had won a similar writ against Oklahoma earlier--but that effort failed on Friday, and Oklahoma authorities were there to whisk him away. Foster is scheduled to be held at the Tulsa County Jail before being assigned to a prison in the Oklahoma gulag. Efforts by Foster supporters to secure his release continue and are now focusing on Oklahoma parole authorities and the state governor. For more information about the Foster case, see our Chronicle story here and at Ed Rosenthal's blog here. Drug War Chronicle will continue to follow the Foster case. Look for a feature article next week.

Europe: British Prisons Install Methadone Vending Machines

In a bid to promote opiate maintenance therapy behind bars, the British government has begun installing methadone vending machines in the country's prisons. Justice Minister Phil Hope told parliament last week that 57 vending machines have been installed so far.

The machines allow prisoners to receive an individualized dose of methadone by giving a fingerprint or an iris scan. The machines are paid for by the Department of Health and will cost about $6.5 million dollars, about 10% of the department's prison drug treatment budget. The target is to have the machines in half of Britain's 140 prisons.

According to the latest available prison population statistics, in 2007, nearly 6,400 of Britain's 81,000 prisoners were there on drug charges, with slightly more than half of them charged with simple drug possession or possession with intent to distribute. The official statistics provide no breakdown of which drugs were involved.

"Methadone dispensers are a safe and secure method for providing a prescribed treatment," said a health department spokesman. "They can only be accessed by the person who has been clinically assessed as needing methadone and that person is recognized by a biometric marker, such as their iris."

Providing methadone to addicted prisoners allows them to manage their habits without resorting to illicit heroin supplies within the prisons. But the opposition Conservatives were quick to try to score political points, claiming that the Labor government would rather "manage offenders' addiction" than end it.

"The public will be shocked that Ministers are spending more on methadone vending machines than the entire budget for abstinence based treatments," said Dominic Grieve, the Conservative shadow justice secretary. "Getting prisoners clean of drugs is one of the keys to getting them to go straight. We need to get prisoners off all drug addiction -- not substitute one dependency for another. The government's approach of trying to 'manage' addiction is an admission of failure."

The Conservatives are hammering away at Labor any way they can as they prepare for national elections sometime in the coming months. Attacking enlightened approaches to inmate drug addiction is just another arrow in their "tough on crime" quiver.

No More $$$ = No More Prisons

Amidst the surging debate over our nation's draconian drug policy and general over-reliance on incarceration, there is one important factor that even the most diehard law & order ideologues can't just brush aside…

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Michigan officials said Friday that the state is closing three prisons and five prison camps in hopes of narrowing a $1.4 billion budget gap for fiscal 2010.

If you can't afford to maintain giant iron cities full of people that must be fed, clothed and monitored 24-7, then you have to stop building them and start closing down the ones you have. This reality is finally beginning to sink in across the country:

Michigan is not alone in turning to its prison system for savings. Some 25 states cut spending on corrections in fiscal 2009 and another 25 are proposing to do so in fiscal 2010, as they struggle to address massive budget shortfalls.

"It's a trend we'll be seeing more and more of in coming months given the dire revenue situation states are in," said Sujit CanagaRetna, senior fiscal analyst at the Council of State Governments, a research group.

Well, bring it on. This isn't exactly what we had in mind when we started calling for criminal justice reform, but we'll take it.

We should never underestimate the extent to which our hideously bloated prison population owes much of its existence to a reversible pattern of public hysteria and reactionary political idiocy. The number of inmates in U.S. prisons has increased more than five-fold in my lifetime, and I was born in the 80's. It just wasn't all that long ago that our prison population was relatively manageable and there's no real reason we can't return to that. Indeed, we may have no other choice.

NEW REPORT -- A cautionary tale: The impact of incarceration on Baltimore City

JPI header

  

Baltimore City residents share their experiences and hopes for the future

Advocates say new report is "a cautionary tale" for the nation's leaders

 

 

Contact: LaWanda Johnson
202-558-7974 x308
202-320-1029

BALTIMORE, MD--Teens spending their free time comforting parents who have lost their own children to violence; a woman fighting to break the cycle of addiction while fighting to keep her family together; a man struggling to keep his job while trying to comply with parole reporting requirements; a formerly incarcerated single mother making her daughter proud by getting her degree; and a woman grappling with the murder of her son and forgiving his assailant. These are some of the people who share their experiences in a new report, Bearing Witness: Baltimore City's residents give voice to what's needed to fix the criminal justice system, released today by the Justice Policy Institute.  In a brilliant blend of narratives and policy recommendations, Bearing Witness lays bare the facts around crime and punishment in Maryland's largest city, while shining a light on the hope and resiliency of those most affected by decades of failed policies. This report was supported by the Open Society Institute.

"Bearing Witness provides a glimpse not only of the impact the criminal justice system has had on communities, but also on the hope and determination of Baltimore City residents," said Shakti Belway, the author of the report.  "Each person's narrative demonstrates their perseverance in the face of incredible obstacles and their willingness to provide support and opportunity for others in similar circumstances."

Compared to the rest of Maryland, Baltimore City faces a concentrated impact of the criminal justice system. Although home to roughly 600,000 people, in 2006 the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center processed nearly 100,000 arrests and detained 44,825 individuals.  In 2008, 61 percent of newly-incarcerated people in Maryland prisons were from Baltimore City.  This intense involvement has taken its toll over the years on people, families, and neighborhoods.

"We felt that it was important for people most affected by the criminal justice system to have their voices heard, and a chance to talk about what they believe should be done to change the system for the better," said Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. "Their comments and conclusions underscore that more treatment, comprehensive services for families and individuals, and alternatives to incarceration--including those rooted in the principles of restorative justice--benefit people and their communities."

Bearing Witness, a collaborative effort of community members and organizations, not only documents Baltimore City's experiences, it also serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of relying on the criminal justice system to solve social problems.The report identifies five areas that are critical to Baltimore City becoming a safer and healthier community:

  • Women and families have unique needs.  When a woman is sent to prison, her entire family also feels the punishment.  Treatment, interventions, and wrap-around services should be designed with the needs of women and their families in mind. 
  • Parole and probation serve as a revolving door that sends people back to prison.  The parole and probation system is too focused on catching people who are not meeting the conditions of release.  Instead, these systems should concentrate on ensuring that people get the support they need to stay out of prison.
  • A public health approach to drug addiction would eliminate the practice of sending people to prison who, in reality, need treatment.  Community-based treatment options that include the family and are available on demand would make this approach a reality.
  • Expanding opportunities and investing in solutions will preserve public safety and strengthen Baltimore City for years to come.  Rather than putting money into prisons and the criminal justice system, the community would benefit from stronger education and re-entry programs, job training, youth-oriented programs, and other community-based initiatives. 
  • Restorative justice and community conferencing are effective and less costly alternatives to incarceration.  The criminal justice system, as it is currently designed, does not meet the complex needs of victims, the community or the people who caused harm.

For more information about Bearing Witness or to schedule an interview, contact Lawanda Johnson at (202) 558-7974 x308 or ljohnson@justicepolicy.org.
 

 

 

The Justice Policy Institute is a non-profit public policy and research institute dedicated to ending society's reliance on incarceration and promoting effective and just solutions to social problems. To learn more about our research and publications visit www.justicepolicy.org

Location: 
Baltimore, MD
United States

Behind Bars in the Land of the Free

The Cato Institute is hosting an online debate/discussion on incarceration, featuring posts from experts with diverse perspectives on the issue. I haven't had time to dig into it yet, but Pete Guither has posted some interesting excerpts and reactions.

Incarceration: Too Many Americans Behind Bars at Too High a Cost, Says Pew Study

American states spent about $52 billion on corrections last year, the vast majority of it on prisons, and that's not smart, the Pew Center on the States said in a report released Monday. As a cost saving measure in a time of fiscal crisis at the statehouses, states should instead emphasize spending on community corrections.

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overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (cdcr.ca.gov)
The study, 1 in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections, reported that one in every 31 Americans is in jail or prison or on probation or parole. That's more than 7 million people under state supervision, and that's more than double the rate 25 years ago. The report adds that the real figure may be closer to 8 million because the numbers don't include people under state supervision in pre-trial diversion programs, such as drug courts.

The rates of correctional control vary by race and geography. One in eleven black adults (9.2%) are enjoying the tender mercies of the state, compared to one in 27 Hispanics (3.7%) and one in 45 whites (2.2%). With one of every 13 adults behind bars or on probation or parole, Georgia has the highest percentage of its population under surveillance, followed by Idaho, Texas, Massachusetts, Ohio, and the District of Columbia.

"Violent and career criminals need to be locked up, and for a long time. But our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost," said Adam Gelb, director of the Center's Public Safety Performance Project, which produced the report.

But while prisons account for about 90% of the overall correction budget in the states, two-thirds of offenders are on probation or parole, not behind bars. Pressures to cut community corrections spending in the current crisis are penny wise but pound foolish, said the report.

"New community supervision strategies and technologies need to be strengthened and expanded, not scaled back," Gelb argued. "Cutting them may appear to save a few dollars, but it doesn't. It will fuel the cycle of more crime, more victims, more arrests, more prosecutions, and still more imprisonment."

The study recommended that states:

  • Sort offenders by risk to public safety to determine appropriate levels of supervision;
  • Base intervention programs on sound research about what works to reduce recidivism;
  • Harness advances in supervision technology such as electronic monitoring and rapid-result alcohol and drug tests;
  • Impose swift and certain sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release but who do not commit new crimes; and
  • Create incentives for offenders and supervision agencies to succeed, and monitor their performance.

The report did not address the role of drug prohibition in swelling the nation's prison population, nor did it question whether drug offenders should be arrested in the first place, let alone placed under state surveillance or imprisoned.

Federal Budget: House 2009 Appropriations Bill Contains Even More Drug War Funding Increases... And a Slight Cut to Plan Colombia

Just two weeks ago, the Congress passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which included $3.8 billion for law enforcement, much of it destined for continuing the war on drugs. On Monday, the free-spending House Democratic leadership was at it again as it unveiled its fiscal year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill, and again there is more money for drug law enforcement.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/plancolombia.jpg
coca eradication in Plan Colombia (courtesy SF Bay Area IndyMedia)
To the undoubted dismay of drug reformers, taxpayer groups, fiscal conservatives, and good governance advocates alike, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program looks to once again get increased funding. The appropriations bill contemplates $2 billion for the Office of Justice Programs, a 16% increase over 2008's $1.679 appropriation. The biggest chunk of that will go to the Byrne JAG grant program.

While the Byrne JAG grants can be used to fund drug courts and drug prevention programs, they are most commonly used to fund multi-jurisdictional anti-drug law enforcement task forces, such as the ones that ran amok in Texas in recent years. Arguing that the spending had not proven effective, the Bush administration attempted to substantially reduce or even zero out Byrne JAG grant funding, but faced constant opposition from "tough on crime" representatives from both parties.

Besides funding the Byrne JAG grant program at higher levels than last year, the appropriations bill includes $550 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which got $1 billion just two weeks ago in the economic stimulus bill. It also includes another $3.2 billion for state and local law enforcement crime prevention grants -- another area where the Bush administration sought and got funding reductions. This grant program was cut from $4.7 billion to $2.7 billion during the Bush years.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/colombiaposter.jpg
anti-Plan Colombia poster (courtesy Colombia IndyMedia)
The Drug Enforcement Administration is also a winner, garnering an $84 million increase over 2008 and pushing its annual budget to $1.9 billion. That includes $73 million earmarked "to fight meth including targeted areas in 'hot spots.'"

And so is the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The congressional response to a federal prison system straining under the results of harsh federal drug law enforcement and sentencing laws is to simply increase the prison budget. Under the bill, the BOP budget would jump nearly 10% to $6.2 billion.

There are also drug war spending increases -- and one notable decrease -- in the State Department and foreign operations section of the appropriations bill. The Merida Initiative to assist the Mexican state in its battle against violent drug trafficking organizations would get $405 million. That's on top of a $465 million emergency appropriation already passed. And the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement -- known colloquially as "drugs and thugs" -- is in line for a whopping 35% budget increase, from $557 million in 2008 to $875 million this year.

The one drug war loser in the appropriations bill is Plan Colombia, known as the Andean Counterdrug Program under the Bush administration. With the US having poured more than $5 billion into the program since 1999, only to see coca production increase, House Democrats are moving to shave just a few dollars from that failed program. Instead of the $405 million the Bush administration requested for 2009 or the $320 million that Plan Colombia received in 2008, the new appropriations bill has only $315 million for the Andean drug war.

There are so Many People in Jail, They Literally Don’t fit

The criminal justice system in California is rapidly approaching a breaking point:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A special panel of federal judges tentatively ruled Monday that California must release tens of thousands of inmates to relieve overcrowding.

The judges said no other solution will improve conditions so poor that inmates die regularly of suicides or lack of proper care.

"There are simply too many prisoners for the existing capacity," they wrote. "Evidence offered at trial was overwhelmingly to the effect that overcrowding is the primary cause of the unconstitutional conditions that have been found to exist in the California prisons." [AP]

Passing harsh laws, capturing offenders and convicting people of crimes is the easy part. What a lot of people don’t get is that the process doesn’t end there. You have to actually do something with the people you’ve decided to remove from society. Keeping massive populations behind bars for years at a time is phenomenally expensive, even if you do an appallingly poor job of it.

It’s utterly disgusting that our drug laws condemn these people to a living hell, all because drugs are supposedly bad for your physical and emotional health. The treatment of our prisoners is disgraceful and the legions of prison-state profiteers who lobby for more jails and tougher laws seldom receive the recognition they deserve in the hierarchy of scum-sucking subspecies destroying our society.

The prison industry will not stop. These people have already created an unbelievable mess and they will fight for more laws and funding no matter how much worse it gets. When human beings start getting sick and dying in our jails, someone outside the criminal justice industry has to intervene, otherwise nothing will be done about it. It shouldn’t even be necessary for judges to compel better prison conditions, but of course it is.

Fortunately, the one inevitable boundary that exists here is the fact that there is simply nothing left to spend on keeping more people in prison. The incarceration industry can’t print its own money. It’s a shame that we couldn’t stall the escalation of our massive prison population with appeals to logic and compassion, but if it takes bankruptcy to abate this then so be it.

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