Pubdate: Fri, 22 Dec 2006
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Ronald Fraser
Note: Ronald Fraser writes on public policy issues for the DKT 
Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization.
Cited: Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Cited: Prison Legal News
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


BURKE, Va. - Locking up nonviolent offenders is not just the most 
expensive form of punishment. Time in a Texas penitentiary or county 
jail also condemns nonviolent men and women to a violent, 
disease-riddled world where many become likely to commit more serious crimes.

In other words, prisons can do more harm than good and destroy rather 
than rehabilitate lives.

Too few leaders in Washington seem to care. One exception, Sen. Sam 
Brownback, R-Kan., recently spent a night in a Louisiana prison to 
publicize that prison's need to start rebuilding lives.

Another advocate for sane prison policies is Julie Stewart, president 
of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a grass-roots, 
Washington-based organization working for sentencing reforms.

That's a good start. But to better understand what awaits nonviolent 
offenders behind prison walls, every member of Congress and every 
Texas legislator should subscribe to the Prison Legal News, a monthly 
publication "Dedicated to Protecting Human Rights." Here is what they 
would find in recent issues.

Physical Abuse. A Colorado jury found several inmates guilty of 
beating another prisoner after his testimony was used to convict them 
of income tax fraud.

While held in the Sherburne (Minn.) County Jail, a motorist arrested 
for not having proof of his vehicle insurance was beaten to death by 
another prisoner.

The state of Michigan agreed to pay $365,000 to a boot camp prisoner 
who was strapped to a restraint chair for six hours and suffered 
kidney and liver failure at the Manistee County Jail. The inmate was 
arrested for violating his parole by returning home one hour late.

The San Mateo County, Calif., will pay $475,000 to settle a wrongful 
death suit brought on behalf of a woman sentenced to 120 days on a 
minor drug charge.

In Oklahoma, an Ottawa County Jail prisoner has been charged with 
manslaughter in the death of another inmate serving time for failure 
to pay child support.

Poor Medical Care. An inmate in the St. Lucie County (Fla.) Jail 
serving a 240-day sentence for peddling marijuana, died from a 
reaction to a drug received from another prisoner. The county agreed 
to pay the man's family $65,000 for negligence.

While serving a five-day sentence in the Portsmouth City (Va.) Jail 
for driving with a suspended license, an asthmatic man died due to 
inadequate medical care. His family has been awarded a $769,000 settlement.

Broward County, Fla., and a private company have been ordered to pay 
$500,000 to a woman who suffered permanent injury from an untreated 
ectopic pregnancy while imprisoned in the North Broward Jail for 
failing to appear in court on a cocaine possession charge.

In Massachusetts, more than 1,400 prisoners are known to be infected 
with the hepatitis C virus, but, due to a shortage of money, only 150 
are on a waiting list for treatment.

Sexual Abuse. Serving time for misdemeanor offenses, three female 
prisoners at the Haltom City (Texas) Jail were sexually assaulted by 
a male guard who demanded sex in return for favors.

In an ongoing case in Georgia, a female guard has been charged with 
forcing a male prisoner to strip and masturbate while she watched. 
through the cell door.

A former state prison guard at the Mount Pleasant Correctional 
Facility in Iowa is guilty of withholding exercise privileges when 
female inmates refused to show him their breasts. A $160,000 
settlement was ordered.

Dumb Rules. A Texas prisoner at the Darrington Unit near Houston was 
sentenced to 40 years for possessing a contraband cell phone, eight 
years more than the 32-year sentence he is serving for auto theft.

Taxpayers get hit twice. Not only do our taxes build and staff these 
prisons, guess who also pays these huge, court-ordered financial 
settlements going to abused prisoners - the taxpayers, of course.

Here is how Julie Stewart sums up prison policies in America today 
and why more than 1 million nonviolent men and women are behind bars: 
"Blame mandatory sentencing laws and the record number of nonviolent 
drug offenders subject to these laws.

One day, I predict, we will look back in horror at the sentences that 
were enacted for low-level defendants, marvel at their cruelty and be 
grateful that we moved beyond this dark period in our history."

This problem concerns more than a few people in Austin and Washington.

Prisons are built and operated, and prisoners are abused, with your 
tax money and mine. That makes you and me morally responsible for 
what goes on behind prison walls - and for finding ways to fix the problem.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake