Oct 082012
 

The 40-year old “War on Drugs” neither has been effective, nor is it really a war on the root of the problem. It is a war on the people. The chapter “Politics, Drugs, Dollars, Pleas and Snitches” in the book Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons – Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish very briefly explains why this policy has greatly failed and continues to fail. However, the new documentary The House I Live In goes into deep detail. It is a comprehensive review of the criminalization of drugs,  the federal and state criminal justice systems, the mandatory minimum sentencing scheme and America’s prison industrial complex. This film won the Grand Jury Prize of 2012 for documentary at the Sundance Film Festival and has been in the theaters since October 5, 2012.

One of the alleged rape victims in Vincent Simmons’ criminal case and her 18-year old cousin admitted to police that marijuana was an issue that certain night in question back in 1977. It was one of the many facts the prosecutors withheld from the defense, the judge and the jury.

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Aug 302012
 

prison tower

Louisiana State Penitentiary tower.

Once again, a hurricane dominates the happening in Louisiana. Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac causes prison inmate evacuations in Orleans, Terrebonne and St. Bernard parishes. Crowded correctional facilities as the Louisiana State Penitentiary get even more crowded. Pardon hearings and weekend visitations are cancelled. See the news from the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

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Jun 262012
 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling of June 25, 2012, in Miller v. Alabama entitles juveniles serving a mandatory life term without the possibility of parole to be granted a new sentencing hearing.

“Held: The Eighth Amendment forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders. Pp. 6−27.”

More at http://www.iippi.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=13745

Christi Lynn Cheramie, now in her 30s and a model prisoner, was 16 years old when she pleaded guilty to second degree murder in Avoyelles Parish.  

This might interest you as well: How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

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Jun 122012
 

Communicating through the internet, i.e. emails, with federal prisoners in the USA has been possible for 6 years. Now, a privately held South Florida for-profit-company by the name of JPay Inc. makes this faster and (not for free but) cheaper correspondence also available to state prisoners in more than 30 states.

Even Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections has opened up to the cyberspace and its advantages for some months. “JPay Inc. provides cost free technology solutions to our nation’s prisons and jails,” according to its profile on a social network. In other words: it is “cost free” to the taxpayer because only those who make use of JPay’s service do pay the fees.

Depending on the state and facility, the offered service varies. Theoretically, a JPay customer can send money and emails to an inmate, attach photos or a 30-second videogram, chat using a video visitation, and buy phone time. Louisiana allows emails with attachments and money sending via the internet.

Prisoners now also have more often the option to submit their pro se motions to the courts electronically instead of through the US Mail. In Louisiana, authorities expect the Prisoner Electronic Filing Project to save the taxpayers US$ 50,000 a year. A new computer program connects the clerk’s office of the federal court in Baton Rouge with the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP). Around 35% of all civil suits filed in the nine-parish Middle District of Louisiana are from LSP-inmates.

Be aware that there are laws that criminalize the use of social networks by prisoners and people released on parole! Anyone can easily and anonymously report a convicted offender who violates this law. However, many prisoners are permitted to make use of services as JPay, Access Corrections, Corrlinks, or the like.

Related story:
The Hidden Cost of JPay’s Prison Email Service
May 5, 2015
By Dave Maass
“JPay […] is charging inmates and their families an unusual fee to stay in touch: the intellectual property rights to everything sent through its network.”
www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/hidden-cost-jpays-prison-email-system

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Jul 102011
 

U.S. Prison Population_2008

U.S. Prison Population in 2008. Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate.

The number of faces behind bars is increasing everywhere on the globe. Due to the collapsing penal system in the USA, the government is forced to enact laws that provide for the early release of elder, non-violent offenders. Yet, those released individuals remain on probation and, therefore, in the system. The higher the prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population), the more likely innocent inmates are confined. Louisiana alone is the prison “nation” number one.

When one compares the U.S. states with each other, and the USA with other countries (the poor and the rich), one realizes that the incarceration rate is not only the consequence of crime, politics and the lack of equalization of wealth, but it is also a matter of culture. The social focus in the USA is the South, once known for plantations and slavery. Nowadays, it is still the “Bible belt” that clings to the death penalty. Its “correctional” facilities on large grounds and the often brown and black people in prison clothes working the fields remind of old times.

Especially in rural areas where jobs are rare, each employee at local jails or the Department of Corrections, their families and friends enhance the lobby of the prison industry. They need convicted people to make a living and they cannot have an interest in a decrease of the prison population. Better basic education in the country and more alternative jobs would improve the chance for innocent prisoners to be heard and listened to by voters, and thus, by politicians as judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, legislators and governors.

The Innocent in Prison Project International (IIPPI) compiled information from the U.S. Census 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the International Centre for Prison Studies. Today, on July 10, 2011, IIPPI provides and illustrates the data in graphics. Read on at http://www.iippi.org/pdf/population_poverty_prisoners_usa2011_statistics.pdf .

The U.S. Census of 2010 published a map on January 6, 2014, which shows how many prisoners are housed in each of the counties (Louisiana: parishes) throughout the USA. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/business/prisoners/index.html?template=iframe

The World Incarceration Rate graphic of 2014 by the Prison Policy might interest you as well. It does not necessarily mean that other countries or nations are more “human” than the USA (several are definitely not!), but this graphic by the Prison Policy gives a feeling of how many people are incarcerated by (U.S.) state compared to all other countries in the world. Go to the site, click on the graphic to enlarge, and see it all! Go to www.prisonpolicy.org/global/

Here is another data point: the incarceration of women in the USA and its global context. “Only 5% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women.”
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/

Update of February 2015:
Report by the VERA Institute of Justice: “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Missuse of Jails in America
Report by the Brennan Center for Justice: “Louisiana Fact Sheet-What Caused The Crime Decline?

Law Professor Bill Quigley at the Loyola University New Orleans names 40 reasons why minorities are mayorities in jails and prisons. (June 2, 2015)

How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

This might interest you as well: Routine Character Assassination of Innocents

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Jun 072011
 

Yesterday, a 13-12 vote by the 25 members of the House Appropriations Committee defeated House Bill 545 (by Representative Henry Burns), the prison sale and privatization bill. Experts believe it is “unlikely that the Senate will put it back in.”

Representatives who voted against the sale and privatization of prisons in Louisiana were:
James Armes III, D-Leesville;
Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles;
Mickey Guillory, D-Eunice;
Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette;
Chris Hazel, R-Ball;
Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville;
Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte;
Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans;
Tom McVea, R-St. Francisville;
Gary Smith, D-New Orleans;
Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge;
Charmaine Marchand-Stiaes, D-New Orleans
and Patrick Williams, D-Shreveport.

Representatives who voted in favor of the sale and privatization were:
James Fannin, D-Jonesboro;
Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette;
Charles “Bubba” Chaney, R-Dry Prong;
Patrick Connick, R-Harvey;
Paige Cortez, R-Lafayette;
Noble Ellington, R-Winnsboro;
Joe Harrison Jr., R-Napoleonville;
Tony Ligi, R-Metairie;
James Morris, R-Oil City;
Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs;
M.J. “Mert” Smiley, R-St. Amant;
and Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central.

There is still a US$27.5 million hole in the budget and Department of Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc sent layoff notices to wardens at the Avoyelles Correctional Center (Cottonport), C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center (DeQuincy), J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center (Pineville), and Forcht Wade Correctional Center (Angie). The layoffs of the 1,144 staff would be effective July 17, 2011.

Several legislators call this threat “a political tactic to scare prison workers into supporting the privatization plan,” reports NOLA.com/ The Times-Picayune.

House Bill 416 by Representative Joe Lopinto, R-Metairie and House Bill 414 by Representative Joe Lopinto and Moreno aim at reducing the world’s highest incarceration rate in the State of Louisiana. NOLA.com/ The Times-Picayune reports that George Steimel (lobbyist for the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) said, “We’ve failed to take the first step if we don’t adopt these (two bills).”

One reader commented that Louisiana’s tax payers need to get rid of mandatory sentences and three-strike laws for non-violent offenders.

On June 1, 2011, Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Burl Cain asked the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice to embrace House Bill 138  by Representative Patricia Smith to lower the costs for older inmates with health problems, reported The Advocate.

The legislative session adjourns by 6 p.m. on June 23, 2011.

This might interest you as well:

USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free”

How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)

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May 292011
 

State prison inmate crews and Department of Correction officers have been involved in sandbagging operations. The government of Louisiana announces in a press release of May 26, 2011, that prisoners in the work release program “have filled/ placed more than 538,000 sandbags to date.”

In Avoyelles Parish, the areas around Spring Bayou, Big Bend, and Brouillette are the most affected by the flood. But due to low rainfall amounts, the rivers are not as high as previously expected, and water levels are falling. Many Avoyelleans are relieved.

The Mississippi River flooding forced between three and four thousand people in Louisiana to evacuate their homes. About thirty families have found refuge in the mobile housing units of Magnaville (aka Canadaville) near Simmesport in Avoyelles Parish. Magnaville originally served as a shelter for hurricane Katrina evacuees of New Orleans from 2005 through 2010.

Photo Gallery: Aerial View of Cenla Flooding (The Alexandria Town Talk)

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May 192011
 

(c) Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press, LSP inmates arrive at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel on May 9, 2011.

(c) Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press, LSP inmates arrive at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel on May 9, 2011.

Vincent Simmons, 85188, is temporarily housed at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center  because the Louisiana State Penitentiary (LSP) has been evacuated partially since May 9, 2011, due to the (potential) flooding along the Mississippi River. To locate a LSP inmate by phone, please call 225-383-4580.  

According to projections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the river will crest at 64.5 feet (19,66 m) on Sunday, May 22, 2011 at

(c) Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press, A camp at the LSP alongside an inner levee on May 9, 2011

(c) Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press, A camp at the LSP alongside an inner levee on May 9, 2011

the Louisiana State Prison (Angola). Twelve miles of levees ranging from 68 feet (20,73 m) to 72 feet (21,95 m) high surround the 18,000 acres prison ground (comparable in size with Manhattan) of seven formerly consolidated plantations. There are patrols around the clock at Angola. Some inmates remain there to provide support for the facility explains the website of the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC). 

Since Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the Louisiana DOC has some practice in transporting large groups of inmates from one facility to another. But the state’s oldest and only maximum security prison “Angola” with a population of 5,108 detainees has never been evacuated before. It is a historical event and something new to all parties. 

The Louisiana Department of Corrections  informs: 

  • Visitation and outside activities at Louisiana State Penitentiary, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Avoyelles Correctional Center, Dixon Correctional Institute and Rayburn Correctional Center   are cancelled until further notice.
  • Court hearings for DOC offenders assigned to state correctional facilities scheduled for May 9th – June 17, 2011 have been continued and will be rescheduled at a later date.
  • Parole Board hearings scheduled for May 10th – June 3rd, 2011 have been postponed and will be rescheduled at a later date.
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May 102011
 

Emergency for Louisiana_May 2011

Emergency for Louisiana in May 2011

On May 6, 2011, the President of the United States of America declared emergency for Louisiana due to the threat of a flood disaster that might equal the catastrophe of 1927 when “the Mississippi River remained at flood stage for a record 153 days.” .

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that federal aid has been made available to the State of Louisiana to supplement state and local response efforts in the area struck by flooding beginning on April 25, 2011, and continuing.

Affected are the parishes of Avoyelles, Ascension, Assumption, Catahoula, Concordia, East Carroll, Iberia, Iberville, LaSalle, Madison, Pointe Coupee, East Baton Rouge, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tensas, Terrebonne, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana (where the Mississippi River surrounds the Angola Prison on three sides).

THREE VIDEOS:

http://youtu.be/qYqGF227GkU Video by Christianna Garrett, May 7, 2011


Slideshow by Charles Addison Riddle, III, whose grandfather was the Red Cross Chairman during the great flood of 1927.

http://youtu.be/McjgSp9zlfQ Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 (CNN film)

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May 092011
 

prison tower

Louisiana State Prison tower

As administrations of former Louisiana Governors, also incumbent Governor Jindal has made a growing economy in the rural state his priority number one. The Republican tries to create new jobs by attracting investors, i.e. companies, to Louisiana, and his promise to “veto any tax increase that comes to [his] desk” is his bait. Jindal explains that higher “taxes kill jobs and opportunities.”

Jindal’s intention aparently is to make Louisiana a tax haven for businesses hoping they will employ (more) people from Louisiana. Halliburton, headquartered in Houston, Texas, is his latest acquisition for his re-election campaign. (Governor Jindal’s term expires on January 9, 2012.) In the first week of April of this year, Jindal’s administration announced that Hulliburton would open a manufacturing facility in Lafayette, Louisiana. The company will produce “complex machined components for oilfield service operations” and create 150 direct and 350 indirect jobs, writes Governor Jindal on his blog.  Louisiana’s most profitable branche is the oil industry. Thus, Jindal presses for the permission of drilling from the federal government despite the oil spill one year ago.

At the same time, renewable energies, as e.g. wind power or solar energy, get momentum in Europe. The automobile industry works hard on improving new types of motors that are independent of fossil fuels. But the thinking in the oil state Louisiana has not changed yet.

Imagine you have lots of oil and nobody needs it! Jobs seem to be a free ticket for nearly everything in politics. As long as something creates jobs, progressive changes are not made, and chances are that it is subsidized by the state, i.e. the tax payers. Another example is the prison industry.

One chapter in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is entitled “Local Prison Industry.” A new discussion about this issue began when Governor Bobby Jindal formally submitted his Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Executive Budget to the Legislative on March 11, 2011. 

There is a US$1.6 billion gap in the Pelican State’s household next fiscal year (2011-2012, beginning on July 1, 2011), unless the government increases taxes or cuts spending. Jindal opposes higher taxes. The consequence is that there must be some savings somewhere. But where? Jindal’s proposal is, among others, to sell three state prisons

1.      the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, Louisiana

2.      the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder, Louisiana (already privately run)

3.      the Winn Correctional Center in Atlanta, Louisiana (already privately run),

and to downsize the J. Levy Dabadie Correctional Center in Pineville, Louisiana, from a 580-bed state facility to a privately run 300-bed prison.

Corrections workers of Avoyelles Parish in particular, spearheaded by former Representative Raymond Laborde (he spoke up for a state prison in his home parish in the 1980s to decrease the locally high unemployment rate), current State Representative Robert Johnson (his term expires on January 9, 2012) and Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles A. Riddle, III, have answered with a protest movement. They rallied and attended a hearing at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. Their slogan is “Save our prison, save our parish.”

The current discussion is “state prisons versa private prisons.”

Arguments pro private prisons:

·         Private prison operators run prisons at a lower daily rate per offender than the state.

·         The sale of the state prisons would help bridge the US$1.6 billion-gap in the household’s budget in the fiscal year 2011-2012.

Arguments contra private prisons:

·         Jindal’s plan does not make any sense to Raymond Laborde who rhetorically asked the Associated Press, “Sell my house today and rent it tomorrow?”

·         Private corporations make profit and can generate huge amounts to contribute to political campaigns. Sponsored, elected officials then can return the favor with policies that benefit the donors.

·         Prison staff is reduced and replaced by high-tech cameras.

·         Telemedicine increases to save transportation costs for ill inmates.

·         Reduced pay and benefits for employees.

·         There are fewer programs to prepare prisoners for life after their release.

·         Private corporations invest less than the state to train their corrections workers.

·         Cuts in state jobs would have a snowball effect in rural Louisiana. It would increase unemployment, have a negative effect on the financial stability of families, and limit their buying power in the community.

However, I believe the State of Louisiana could save much tax money and would not need to privatize state facilities if the actual roots of the problem were solved. The USA, often dubbed the “Land of the Free,” has the highest incarceration rate worldwide, and Louisiana is the number one prison state nationwide. Go figure: Louisiana alone is the number one worldwide! Why is that?

·         Too many things are criminalized in Louisiana.

·         Too many non-violent offenders occupy prison bunks.

·         The penalties often are too long and do not have a rehabilitative effect.

·         The existing penal system is too expensive and eats away funds for social services, basic education, and health care.

·         There is something seriously wrong when politicians use fear of crime and unemployment to incarcerate masses of people at the tax payers’ expense.

There are several facilities in Avoyelles Parish. The collection consists of the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, the Avoyelles Bunkie Detention Center, the Avoyelles Women’s Center in Simmesport, the Avoyelles Simmesport Correctional Center and the main Avoyelles Parish Jail at the Sheriff’s Office in Marksville. Only a juvenile correctional facility and a federal prison are missing yet. But this may change soon. According to an article by The Advertiser, the Lafayette Regional Office of Juvenile Justice announced last Friday that Avoyelles Parish now is one of five interested parishes that would welcome a new facility for troubled Acadiana youth in its area.

The forum of the Innocent in Prison Project International provides much info on the issue Prison Industry here.

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