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:

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/11/24/bill-clintons-habeas-reform/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/24/judge-mark-jeansonne-and-his-successor/

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/

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

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Oct 022014
 

In the small State of Louisiana (around 4.5 million inhabitants), not a week goes by without at least one rape (or murder or any other criminal) case being discussed in the media – mostly one-sided. One reads headlines as, for instance, „Girl/ woman brutally raped,“ rapist „arrested,“ „indicted,“ „convicted,“ „faces life sentence,“ or „sentenced to life.“ Each time, the full name (and often also a photo) of the suspect is disclosed from day one, although he has not been convicted yet. An arrest in the USA is sufficient to ruin your life forever, no matter whether or not you are guilty, indeed. Suddenly, you have a criminal record and the whole world can read about it on the internet.

On the other hand, there are serial rapists, who may never be caught. One of those was Dennis Rabbitt for almost three decades. Rabbitt, dubbed the “South Side Rapist”, is a white native of St. Louis, Missouri, the “good guy” from the neighborhood, but also a pathological, extraordinary sex offender. He began raping at the age of 17 in the early 1970s and had never been caught until February 28, 1999. He is also an excellent burglar. He realizes opportunities as e.g. open windows immediately. And he used to observe his potential female prey for some time before he eventually entered their homes to rape them at night. He wore socks over his hands and usually forced his victims to bath or shower after the assaults. The age of his more than 100 victims ranges from 14 through 82.

Rabbitt was not indicted, tried and convicted of any sexual assaults committed in Southern Nevada. The statute of limitations for those crimes had run out before he was arrested in New Mexico. For a small part of his crimes, he is serving 6 life sentences in Missouri and will not be eligible for parole for 90 years.

How many innocent men have been in prison for rapes people like Dennis N. Rabbitt did? What is the role of the media here? Some of the problems are:

  • Unfortunately, sensation sells better than quality.
  • The fatal side effect of sensationalism (the opposite of good journalism) is premature reporting.
  • Sensation increases the voyeurism of its consumers at a possibly innocent person’s expense. The press and the media do have an ethical responsibility to respect human rights.
  • Because many facts are not investigated, known or proven yet, a story at an early point of time provides room for gossip and speculation.
  • Law enforcement (prosecutors, sheriffs and judges are elected politicians in the USA!) is under pressure to quickly get someone convicted of the crime,which can cause mistakes, misconduct and corruption.
  • Freeloaders and red herrings might complicate a classic truth seeking investigation.

I would like to suggest that no name and no face is disclosed to the public until someone is found guilty in a court of law. In Germany (the country with the traditionally strictest privacy policy in Europe), names and photos of a prisoner are taboo even after a conviction, because so called (rehabilitated) “criminals” are to be back in society as soon as possible. Rehabilitation and successful integration base on fairness and the chance for a new beginning.

Inspirational source: State of Nevada v. Curtis Downing at http://cases.iippi.org/curtis-lundy-downing/.

On the IIPPI Forum, there is a thread about ethical journalism, especially when it comes to reporting on rape. Amazing how well it matches with the detailed book about Vincent Simmons’ case and the old one-sided stories in the press.

Also see “Giving Rise to Prejudice.”

Although no rape or murder case, this is a local example from Avoyelles Parish how irresponsible the revelation of full names of merely arrested people by the press is: “Man ‘wants life back’ after Grand Jury dismisses charges” by the Avoyelles Today.

This might interest you as well: USA: Almost 50% of all prisoners worldwide are in the “Land of the Free” . Louisiana alone is the prison “nation” number one.

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

Similar article:
Just one example of racial disparity in Louisiana

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Mar 292013
 

One of the indirect but important topics of the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons – Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish” is the scanty health system in the USA – especially for the poor, of course. The wealthy can afford anything anytime anywhere. At the first sight, the health system has nothing to do with the criminal justice system, but it does – indirectly. Example: contraception. Do American minors (age 14 – 18 or 20) have access to “the pill” for free as those in Germany, for instance? What do desperate underage pregnant girls who cannot afford an abortion or are afraid of telling their parents? Sometimes, claiming they were raped seems to be a way out of the “embarrassing” and difficult situation. However, that is usually where the true nightmare begins for all parties: the alleged rape victim and the falsely accused.

Current District Attorney of Avoyelles Parish (Louisiana) and former state legislator, Charles A. Riddle, speaks up for medicaid expansion and healthcare in this YouTube video of March 21, 2013, uploaded by Louisiana Forward.

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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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Dec 062011
 


By Oregonian for Justice

September 7, 2011

I have read this book thoroughly and though it is hard for people to admit, especially those who work for the system, errors are made every day. Mr. Simmons never received a fair trial. Fairness is the cornerstone of the American criminal justice system. Thank the Lord for people like Katja Pumm, who see things for how they truly are. Even though she is not from the USA, she knows our system is broke and needs fixing. She simply requests a proper trial. It seems like that is like asking for the Sun and Moon! Mr. Simmons proclaims his innocence. He is innocent until, and only until, he is PROVEN guilty in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt. Ms. Pumm provides us plenty of reasonable doubt in her debut book, but above all, she clearly shows that Mr. Simmons was denied a fair trial. Until he has a fair trial, he is still innocent. Keep up the great work, Ms. Pumm!

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Nov 232011
 

book cover Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons

Book Cover

 Alexander Cameron of Virginia (USA) writes concerning the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish”:

“… exculpatory evidence can sometimes become the victim of ‘willful blindness’ and the modus operandi for this style of blindness is money and I’m more than certain you are in full possession of the following knowledge:
Once it has been estabilshed in a court of law that the State (i.e. the Prosecutor) or one of its expert(s) witnesses have engaged in unlawful conduct to procure a conviction, that conviction and any other conviction that particular public official was involved in must be overturned or retried which will cost the State millions not-to-mention the civil suits that are sure to follow, therefore, it’s a no brainer from the perspective of the State: ‘It’s cheaper to keep’em’ i.e. let (him) die in prison before we take responsibility.”

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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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