Dec 212014

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963; Photo: Rowland Scherman for USIA

Most people do not agree with keeping innocent prisoners incarcerated. Some of them try to help. But very often, they do not see any positive results after years. Frustrated they move on with their lives and the wrongfully convicted stays where he (or she) does not belong.

What is needed is a real, i.e. effective, concept. And that is pretty much political. Effective campaigns do not get around political campaigns. See all the successful organizations and lobbyists! All of them contact those in power. And who does matter to politicians and legislators? The performance principle governs our civilization, so the strongest usually prevails. Unfortunately, often it is not the morality but the money that convinces.
There is probably hardly anyone (in a powerful position or not) who is not potentially corrupt. It is just a matter of the price. Example: XY wants ZZ to do something, but ZZ does not want to.
XY: How much do you want?
ZZ: Nothing, I’ll not do it.
XY: Come on! …100.00 $? …1000.00 $? …10,000.00 $? …100,000.00? …1,000,000.00 $? …

Human rights activists and civil rights activists seldom have the funds needed to act like XY. Their power is people – especially masses of voters, who are capable of voting out ZZ or his party. Theoretically, those masses one day might found their own party. Or better even: Look what happened in Germany on November 9, 1989 (25 years ago) when the wall and a whole system came down! In the aftermath, the Cold War between the USA and Russia ended in 1991. “We are the people” was the slogan. And people do have immense power, if ignited.

As paradoxical as it may sound, Germany post-World War II (70 years ago) also was the germ cell of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the USA. When black American soldiers freed the German people from its dictatorship, no one of sound mind wanted to be a Nazi anymore. Afro-Americans dated white “Fräuleins” (“Misses”; a term for young, unmarried women, which nowadays is rarely used) and were served in restaurants or bars without problems. At times, they were even more popular than their white comrades, who – due to the color of their skin – still had way more rights in their home country. (The Equal Justice Initiative has released the report entitled “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” There were at least 3,959 victims of “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950 – 540 of them in Louisiana.)

The Germans and the Afro-Americans had something in common: Both were subject to the whims of Caucasian Americans – each in his own way. Thus, they could perfectly identify with each other. Logical consequence: There was no (official) racism or segregation in postwar-Germany. It was the first time that those black Americans experienced equality, felt like respected Americans instead of second or third class citizens.

Among them were Dr. Leon Bass (educator, see video below) and Charles Johnson (lawyer for the NAACP and judge). Former U.S. Secretary of State and retired four-star general Colin Powell would still feel this “breath of freedom” a decade later, when he was stationed in Gelnhausen near Frankfurt. Back in the USA, those same black veterans were the ones who started to fight for their own civil rights. The Civil Rights Movement was born.

If the German nation has learned one thing from the Hitler era and the Holocaust, then it is this: Do not look away! Do not be silent! And act before it is too late! Nowadays Germany is one of the most democratic countries worldwide with politically (relatively) active citizens.

One of the most important steps to take is to make use of the right to vote – always!
In Germany, everyone (including prisoners) 18 (sometimes also 16) years of age and older is eligible to vote on election days and invited by regular mail. One just must bring his or her ID card and the electoral card (personal invitation to vote).

In the USA, one does not automatically qualify to vote. Interested citizens must have registered (applied) to vote 30 days prior to the election. One can do that online on the website of the Secretary of State, depending on where you live. In Louisiana, one may also register personally at the:
• Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles;
• Louisiana Department of Social Services;
• WIC offices;
• food stamp offices;
• medicaid offices;
• offices serving persons with disabilities such as the Deaf Action Centers and Independent Living Offices; or
• armed forces recruitment offices.

Do not just think “Free Vincent Simmons” or hope for “Justice for Vincent Simmons!” It will not alter anything. Be a part of the change and act publicly! Never ever say that you cannot make a difference anyway! Everything is possible on this planet.

This might interest you as well:

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at

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

Feb 132012

Innocence Project Newsletter of February 8, 2012

…With Connick v. Thompson, the U.S. Supreme Court took away one of the only remaining means for the wrongfully convicted to hold prosecutors accountable for willful misconduct. Although all other professionals, from doctors to airline pilots to clergy, can be held liable for their negligence, the Supreme Court has effectively given district attorney offices legal immunity for the actions of their assistants, even when an office is deliberately indifferent to its responsibility to disclose exculpatory evidence.

It is now up to our elected officials to strengthen our existing systems and create new ones if necessary to ensure that prosecutor’s offices are accountable and transparent. Contact your elected officials and demand that they strengthen safeguards against prosecutorial misconduct and protections for the wrongfully convicted in your state.


Barry Scheck
The Innocence Project


Join the campaign by visiting the website at and on Facebook and Twitter.

Jul 292011


Book Cover

There is an interesting discussion with Judge Mark Jeansonne of Avoyelles Parish on the Innocent in Prison Project International forum about Vincent Simmons’ case and the book Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish. Does anyone want to join in and vote on whether or not you want Simmons to be granted an evidentiary hearing or re-trial? Or do you agree with Judge Jeansonne who chose to vote for “Keep Vincent Simmons in prison”?

Judge Mark Jeansonne’s re-election campaign of 2008 received contributions in excess of the contribution limit from family Knoll. See the Louisiana Board of Ethics’ order here.  “Eddie” Knoll and Jeannette Theriot Knoll (the parents of Edward Knoll, Jr., Edmond Knoll, and Triston Knoll) prosecuted Vincent Simmons in 1977.

This might interest you as well:

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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