If Illinois defendants never told jury of their own abuse, now a second chance
Injustice Watch by Olivia Stovicek
Willette Benford spent 24 years in prison, convicted of murder after she ran over Patricia Phillips in 1995.
Benford said the crime occurred as she fled the anger of her girlfriend, whom she contended had abused her for most of the previous two years. But based on her trial attorney’s advice that it might prejudice the jurors, the defense never presented evidence of the many months of domestic violence she experienced.
“Back then, homophobia was more prevalent than it is now,” Benford said in a recent interview. “He said there were certain things that we shouldn’t talk about. So we didn’t talk about it.”
But on Feb. 6, Benford walked out of prison, decades shaved from her 50-year sentence, the first person granted a new sentencing hearing following a recent change in Illinois law that establishes domestic violence as a mitigating factor to be considered in sentencing.
Dear Governor Pritzker,
We applaud the interest you have shown in reforming the Illinois prison system. You have said that you place much of your focus on “not just avoiding recidivism and reducing the prison population by perhaps having different sentences, but also keeping people out of prison in the first place.” We implore you to remember that these are deeply related; the welfare of people currently incarcerated impacts their loved ones who remain at home both in their absence and their eventual return to their communities. How people are treated while in prison has human repercussions that powerfully impact recidivism rates and also the opportunities of those close to them, most importantly, their children.
As you move to appoint the next Director of Corrections, we urge you to consider candidates who are skeptical about current uses of segregation (also called solitary confinement) for adult prisoners. It is inspiring to realize that heads of correction in three states have spearheaded and effectively implemented strict limits on segregation. Significantly, such efforts have indeed often been led by prison officials themselves, giving the lie to those who maintain that curbing solitary endangers prison staff or removes a necessary disciplinary option. A limit of 15 consecutive days on segregation has been adopted by legislators in New Jersey and Canada; that would be a laudable goal for Illinois.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry of IL : Steering Committee
CC: Lieutenant Governor Stratton
The following is supplemental and anecdotal evidence of the success other states have achieved in this matter:
In 2015, the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the leading organization for the nation’s prison and jail administrators, called for sharply limiting or even ending solitary confinement for extended periods. Since the ASCA was largely responsible for past increases in the use of solitary confinement, this represents a significant change of course. Colorado, Mississippi, and Maine serve as successful examples where changes launched by the executive branch of state government, with the help of progressive Directors of Corrections.
Colorado, under the supervision of their director of corrections Rick Raemisch, has led the way nationally in implementing the most aggressive limits on solitary confinement. Raemisch’s agency has limited the use of solitary confinement in Colorado to 15 days at a time. As Raemisch writes, “The problem is that [solitary confinement] was not corrective at all. It was indiscriminate punishment that too often amounted to torture and did not make anyone safer.” Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2012, noted what his department had accomplished: “The Mississippi Department of Corrections administrative segregation reforms resulted in a 75.6% reduction in the administrative segregation population from over 1,300 in 2007 to 316 by June 2012.” Commissioner Joseph Ponte of Maine was inspired by Mississippi’s solitary reform efforts. Once he heard the story of Epps’s success, he felt, “if he can do that in Mississippi I know we can do that in Maine.” The Department of Corrections in Maine overhauled its use of long-term isolation without being ordered to by a judge or a piece of legislation. Maine, too, can serve as an example for what is possible in solitary confinement reform.
As you know, the 2015 settlement of the federal lawsuit concerning the use of segregation in Illinois juvenile prisons requires that the juvenile prisoners spend at least eight hours per day outside their cells and that young people in isolation continue to receive education and mental health services. Adults in prison, many of whom are young themselves, deserve the same opportunities for growth and healing. When changes in segregation policy can be enacted by Directors of Corrections, as has been accomplished in Colorado, Maine and Mississippi, Illinois should not have to wait for another lawsuit to do what is right, and what is most effective for rehabilitation purposes—by limiting the use of solitary confinement.
This session there is a bill, HB 182, that would limit solitary confinement to not more than 10 days in any 180 day period while also guaranteeing prisoners in solitary access to classes, recreation, visits and group therapy. Whether or not this bill becomes law, the support of the new head of IDOC and of you, Governor Pritzker, is crucial to getting Corrections staff trained and on board for significant prison reform and for success in implementing any changes in corrections policies.
International law also recognizes the importance of limiting solitary confinement. In 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) released a report reviewing U.S. compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That report cites the excessive use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails as a violation of the Convention Against Torture and suggests major reforms. Meanwhile, in New Jersey and in Canada, officials have decided to abide by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (also known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”). These rules prohibit solitary confinement (defined as isolation of a prisoner for more than 22 hours per day without meaningful human contact) that is longer than 15 consecutive days (Rule 43 and 44). In 2016, New Jersey lawmakers voted to stop isolating prisoners for as long as 23 hours a day for months or years on end after deciding it was abusive and it hampered their return to society. Now, use of solitary confinement is a last resort in New Jersey, limited to no more than 15 days at a time. In addition, a physician, clinical psychologist or psychiatric nurse monitors anyone subject to solitary confinement. In 2017 the Canadian federal government decided to phase in a cap of 15 days of solitary confinement.
As the Vera Institute of Justice noted in its 2018 annual report: “Every day, approximately 60,000 people are held in solitary confinement in America’s prisons, and since the 1980s, our prisons and jails have increasingly relied on this cruel practice to maintain order. But solitary can damage, sometimes irreparably, people who experience it for even brief periods of time, and it stops incarcerated people from developing the skills they need to successfully return to their communities.”
On a practical level, segregation is also expensive to administer. Solitary confinement has been shown to exacerbate mental illness and incite inmates to repeated self-harm, including suicide attempts. It should not greatly surprise anyone that when people are isolated in small cells for 23 hours per day, they begin to behave like animals. “If you treat people like animals, that’s exactly the way they’ll behave,” said Mississippi DOC Commissioner Epps, in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He added that transitioning prisoners in Mississippi’s Unit 32 out of solitary confinement “...worked out just fine. We didn’t have a single incident.” As the ACLU noted, “solitary confinement jeopardizes our public safety, is fundamentally inhumane and wastes taxpayer dollars. We must insist on humane and more cost-effective methods of punishment and prison management.”
In sum, changing how solitary confinement is used is imperative for the mental and physical health of prisoners, for the well- being of their families and the communities they will re-enter, and for the safety of all prisoners and correctional staff. Whatever the eventual fate may be of HB 182, we urge you to be inspired by states from Colorado to Maine and to appoint a Director of Corrections for our state who has demonstrated a commitment to prison reform, specifically enforcing a maximum of 15 days in solitary confinement per year, or, as Representative Ford's legislation mandates, a maximum of 10 days in solitary confinement per 180 days."
***** References ******
Brian Mackey, Here and Now, “J.B. Pritzker Interview – On Criminal Justice, Higher Ed, Taxes, And Legislative Ethics,” npr Illinois, Jan 13, 2019, Feb 20, 2019, http://www.nprillinois.org/post/jb-pritzker-interview-criminal-justice-higher-ed-taxes-and-legislative-ethics#stream/0
Timothy Williams, The New York Times, “Prison Officials Join Movement to Curb Solitary Confinement,” Sept, 2, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/03/us/prison-directors-group-calls-for-limiting-solitary-confinement.html
Rick Raemisch, Speak Freely, “Why I Ended the Horror of Long-Term Solitary in Colorado’s Prisons,” ACLU, December 5, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement/why-i-ended-horror-long-term-solitary-colorados-prisons
Vera Annual Report, “Embracing Human Dignity,” Vera Institute of Justice, 2018, Feb 20, 2019, https://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/annual-report-2018-embracing-human-dignity/legacy_downloads/embracing-human-dignity-annual-report-2018-2.pdf
Alex Friedmann, Prison Legal News, “Solitary Confinement Subject of Unprecedented Congressional Hearing,” Prison Legal News, Oct 15, 2015, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2012/oct/15/solitary-confinement-subject-of-unprecedented-congressional-hearing/
ACLU, “We Can Stop Solitary,” ACLU, Feb 20, 2019, https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement/we-can-stop-solitary
The Jail Healthcare Crisis
The New Yorker by Steve Coll
The opioid epidemic and other public health emergencies are being aggravated by failings in the criminal-justice system.
As a child growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, Jeremy Laintz travelled widely with his father, an aeronautics engineer at Lockheed Martin, who sometimes took his four kids along on business trips. Family vacations included tours of aerospace facilities and, on one occasion, a trip to watch a space-shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. Laintz’s mother managed a bakery, and Laintz, the youngest child in the family, recalled enjoying a warm home life. He played soccer and football, and spent summers hunting and fishing on a ranch that his family owned in North Dakota. As a teen-ager, though, he slipped into trouble—he was arrested first for driving under the influence, and then, in his late teens, for felony car theft. He spent a year in prison, where he learned to weld, and a few more years in halfway houses. Then, in 2003, he moved to Alaska, where he joined a Christian fellowship and took seasonal jobs welding, repairing roofs, and working in a fish-processing plant. He often made good money, and his life seemed back on track.
Six years later, though, when he was thirty, he returned to Colorado and, while working in a warehouse, tore a tendon in his wrist. A doctor prescribed opioids for the pain, and Laintz immediately started abusing them. Then a friend persuaded him to try heroin, and soon he was addicted. He was arrested on a charge of possession and, while out on bond, in early October of 2016, failed to show up for a court-ordered drug test. He was arrested again and booked into the Pueblo County jail.
Illinois Prison Phone Rates Are Lowest Following Grassroots Activism
Truthout by Brian Dolinar
“There were a lot of times my sons tried calling me,” recalled Annette Taylor, who regularly receives calls from her two sons in prison, “but there was no money on the account.” Those were some of the “hardest calls,” she said. “I would worry something was wrong.”
Families of those incarcerated have long complained about the high cost of phone calls from prison. A national campaign pressured the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene in 2015, but the agency’s regulations have since been reversed by the Trump administration.
In Illinois, the price of prison phone calls was just drastically reduced, making it much easier for Taylor and others like her to stay in contact with their loved ones. Just a few years ago, Illinois had the most inflated rates in the country. According to a renegotiated contract, the cost of a call from prison is now just under a penny a minute. Illinois is now the state with the lowest costs in the country.
North Carolina denies transgender inmate's request to transfer to women's prison
ABC Eyewitness News
LILLINGTON, N.C. --
A transgender inmate convicted of insurance fraud is serving time at a men's prison in North Carolina despite repeated requests to transfer to women's housing.
The News and Observer reports 37-year-old Kanautica Zayre-Brown is believed to be the state's only post-operative transgender prisoner. The state recognizes Zayre-Brown as a man and by birth name, which was legally changed.
Imprisoned as a habitual felon in 2017 after completing a surgical transition, Zayre-Brown is serving up to 9 years and 11 months. Zayre-Brown showers and changes in front of other biologically male inmates, despite having breasts and sex-reassignment surgery. Zayre-Brown said being assaulted is a constant fear.
Black and Pink News
From Pages 39-40
"My dearest family,
I love you all very much and only wish I had pictures of each and every one of you, so I could send you each a personal prayer, that you experience all of the love and affection you deserve every day, for the rest of your life! I want to thank all of you who write to share your stories because they inspire me to persevere and teach me resilience, and I feel empathy and love for all of you who suffer from any form of oppression. Remember, as a member of our Black and Pink family: you are valuable; you are loved; and you are not alone!
(This letter is on pages 39-40)
Behind bars: four teens in prison tell their stories
L.A. Youth by Nicholas Williams
When I arrived at Central Juvenile Hall, I was expecting guards, watch towers, basically the setting of the Shawshank Redemption. I was told to wait in a small lobby room, which separated the prison from the outside world. While waiting, I saw a few inmates getting on a bus. They wore handcuffs and carried brown paper bags behind their backs. I wondered what these kids did. I looked at each one, trying to guess his crime. "Maybe he robbed a store, maybe he killed somebody, maybe he was selling drugs." Some people might ask, why would I want to write a story about juveniles in prison? Why would anyone want to read what these criminals have to say? Who cares? It’s easy to judge juvenile criminals as bad kids, but not so easy when you’re looking into the eyes of a teenager who is going to spend life in jail.
I know there are victims of violent crimes whose voices go unheard. But recognize that some people who commit crimes have many reasons behind their actions. It’s a cycle. This is what happens to kids who didn’t have direction or anybody who cared, who had to learn about life the hard way. They were brought up this way so that’s how they’re going to treat others. Sometimes, it’s okay to give a voice to the "villains." They have been victims too.
Illinois Leads Nation In Overcrowded Prisons
Illinois Policy by Bryant-Jackson Green
Illinois prisons held 150 percent of their maximum capacity in 2014, the highest rate of crowding of any prison system in the country, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
If anyone requires proof that Illinois needs criminal-justice reform, here’s a new statistic: Illinois’ prisons were the nation’s most overcrowded in 2014.
Illinois prisons held 16,183 more people than they were meant to hold, according to a September 2015 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS. That means Illinois’ prisons stood at over 150 percent of their intended capacity, a higher rate of overcrowding than any other prison system in the U.S.
Many people view inmates from a very limited perspective, looking at only a single point in their lives. My origami sculpture represents that I am more than a singular point in time. I am so much more that just that one piece. It is a representation of how each piece of my life is intricately woven and interconnected to the others, all interdependent on each other, forming a complex, multidimensional whole.
This sculpture is composed on 60 pieces of folded paper. The composition of this sculpture has symmetry. As a representation of myself, each piece of paper is interconnected to form a dynamic whole that gets its strength using nothing more than its individual pieces to hold it together. Each piece has its own power, each slightly different from the other, but all necessary for the balance and equilibrium of the whole.
The paper colors were chosen to represent the different aspects of my life some very bright and flowery, some contrasting, others complementary. The black piece represents the tragic circumstances that brought me to prison.
It is my hope that this sculpture will help to remind others to acknowledge the full complexity of all the pieces that shape our lives. EVERYONE has a complex life story. None of us should be judged solely by the piece that is the worst thing we’ve done. We are so much more than that.
A little about this origami technique: my paper sculpture was made by assembling folded paper modules into an integrated, 3-dimensional form, a technique that’s known as modular origami. This sculpture is based on a paper crystal design created in 1989 by David Mitchell.
Biography: I am a 61 year-old woman, incarcerated since 1999 for a triple murder. I’m serving a natural life sentence without the possibility of parole. I’m a first-time offender with no criminal history in my background.
As I tried to represent with my artwork, I’ve had a complex and convoluted journey leading to my incarceration. I was diagnosed with major depression and a serious adverse side effect of the prescribed antidepressant played a major role in my crime.
I started doing origami in prison as a creative outlet. I’ve become an origami enthusiast and have shared the joy of origami with other inmates by facilitating many origami activities.
J.B. Pritzker wants criminal justice reform. Here's how it could work.
Herald & Review by Edith Brady-Lunny
SPRINGFIELD — During his campaign for governor, J.B. Pritzker said he heard countless stories of how Illinois' broken criminal justice system has created hardships and heartbreak for those caught in a cycle of detention, poverty and dead ends without opportunity.
As he prepares to take over the reins of the governor's office, Pritzker is moving forward with plans for the Office of Criminal Justice Reform and Economic Opportunity, an agency that will coordinate new and existing efforts to address what's wrong, and strengthen what's right, with the way Illinois handles criminal justice.
The office will focus "on making sure the services people need are being delivered and preventing people from entering the system in the first place," said Pritzker's press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh.
What this is about
Learning asks us to change – so that the world might be a place for all are free to thrive