Thursday, March 25, 2010

Postcards from Prison

Jails Use Mail Restrictions to Combat Contraband and Lower Costs

Starting April 1, prisoners in a central Florida jail will see big changes in one of the ways they communicate with friends and family.

The Alachua County Jail, which holds 950 inmates, is instituting a new "postcards only" mail policy, which restricts inmates to sending and receiving postcards that meet certain requirements.

It's a major change from the previous policy, which allowed inmates to write full-page letters sealed in envelopes, with no limit on the amount of pages. The only exceptions to this new rule will be privileged or legal mail.

Alachua follows the lead of jails in Arizona, Oregon, Missouri, Michigan, Colorado, Kansas, and other parts of Florida, including the Manatee County Jail, just south of St. Petersburg.

Manatee began a postcards-only policy last June, and spokesman Dave Bristow calls it "a big success.

"It has really cut down on work load, and that's what we were trying to do," Bristow added.

Alachua County spokesman Eugene Morris said the policy will help improve security while saving the jail money.

"We have a concern about contraband being introduced that may be coming through the mail," Morris told

Contraband is less likely to enter the jail on postcards than in envelopes, but because of an incident in which an inmate received drugs through the adhesive on a stamp, the policy adds an extra measure of protection: No stickers or adhesives, including stamps. Plain white, pre-paid-postage only. No drawings, no photographs.

Morris said the new policy will speed up the process of sorting through the estimated 400 pieces of mail moving in and out of the jail on any given day.

Despite county officials' satisfaction with the policy, several inmates and their family members are not happy with the restrictions. They say the policy infringes on their First Amendment rights. A group of Manatee County inmates and their families have filed a class-action lawsuit against the jail.

Katherine Earle Yanes, an attorney hired by the families, said the plaintiffs want to end the policy and declare it unconstitutional. Yanes added that they want to "set a precedent so that it would not be able to be instituted at other facilities."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Young men 'are victims of jail cycle'

Research shows need for training and detox to stop pattern of re-offending.

Men in their late teens are the most neglected section of the prison population despite being the most prolific re-offenders in the country, a new study will reveal tomorrow.

In 2004 around 19,000 18-to-20-year-olds went to prison at a cost of $35,000 each per year. Many receive sentences of a year or less which, in practice, means only a few months served in jail. Seven out of 10 are back in prison within two years. According to the report, Out for Good, written by Finola Farrant for the Howard League for Penal Reform, these brief periods of incarceration mean that young offenders lose jobs, apprenticeships, girlfriends, family contacts, children and often a place to live. Inside, they are offered little in the way of effective detox programes or constructive help with education, training, social skills and anger management.

'Prison is a place of aggression in which a young adult learns even more about selfishness and violence as forms of survival,' said Farrant. 'Instead of reflecting on the impact on their victims and communities, many come to blame their victims for their incarceration. Prison infantilises these 18-to-20-year-olds at a crucial moment in their development. A vital opportunity to recast themselves as men with a non-criminal future is lost.'

Farrant interviewed 86 young offenders, aged between 18 and 20, over two years. They were re-interviewed just prior to release and seen again after release. Three-quarters of their offending was related to alcohol or drug misuse (some spending between $80 and $1,500 per day on drugs); 60 per cent had previous experience of custody; 30 per cent were fathers or about to become fathers; 24 per cent had been in care; and 20 per cent had been homeless at the point of imprisonment.

Lee, 19, said: 'I went into care when I was nine years old. My mom was drinking... my brother got adopted out. I started drinking right heavy. My dad was violent... Had my daughter when I was 16 but I haven't seen her for months. My mom died while I were inside and they wouldn't even let me go to the funeral.'

A number of reports have dwelt on recurring patterns in the prison population - illiteracy, self-harm, chaotic childhoods, mental ill-health, racism and physical and emotional abuse all figure prominently. The need for training, education, housing and employment to help with resettlement has been made repeatedly. Out for Good argues that practical help for 18-to-20-year-olds is lacking but, unique among recent reports, it also says that more needs to be done to show young offenders that 'being a man' does not have to involve living a life of crime. The government has set a target of reducing re-offending by 10 per cent by 2010.

Farrant said: 'They [young offenders] explain involvement in crime as a way of gaining respect. Yet, in interviews, many also expressed a desire for something better - one said "I know I'd stay out of trouble if I was up in the morning and going to work, that would be the thing".' None of the young men in the final interviews had been encouraged to apply for employment or training while in prison.

Under the new National Offenders Management Service (NOMS) more is on offer for this group, but many in the penal service say that similar promises have been made in the past with few results.

Farrant said improved training for prison and probation officers was needed. She also called for the creation of advocates to offer sustained support. An advocate, for instance, might have helped Darren, aged 20 and illiterate. At 14, he was introduced to heroin by his uncle. He wants to go on a detox programme, but he said:

'In prison I don't get to see no one so it's got to be when I get out, but I can't write so I can't even make an application...' In frustration, he added, summing up the feeling of many of the young offenders in the study: 'You can't fucking change your life in a couple of months.'

The report makes a number of other recommendations, including greater use of community sentences; family mediation to help mend ruptured relationships; improved access to detox programes; a statutory duty on local authorities to house homeless prisoners on release; and job training inside jail and after release.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mandatory Minimums

1. Mandatory minimums have not actually reduced sentencing discretion. Control has merely been transferred from judges to prosecutors.

Source: Caulkins, J., et al., Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers' Money? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1997), p. 24.

2. "As previously noted, various drug offenses carry a mandatory minimum. For such offenses, the mandatory minimum precludes judges from sentencing at a lower guideline range minimum or from granting a downward departure that might otherwise be available, unless one of two statutory provisions applies. First, a judge may impose a sentence below the applicable mandatory minimum if the government (the federal prosecutor) files a motion with the court for such sentencing relief because of the defendant's "substantial assistance" in the investigation or prosecution of another person. The discretion to make such a motion rests solely with the prosecutor. Second, in the absence of a substantial assistance motion, the "safety valve" provision affords relief from any otherwise applicable mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenders who have minimal criminal history (i.e., no more than 1 criminal history point); were not violent, armed, or high-level participants; and provided the government with truthful information regarding the offense. In these cases, the court is directed by statute to impose a sentence pursuant to the sentencing guidelines without regard to a mandatory minimum."

Source: General Accounting Office, "Federal Drug Offenses: Departures from Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Fiscal Years 1999-2001," GAO-04-105, October 2003, pp. 9-10, from the web at, last accessed Nov. 1, 2003.

3. "Similar to federal sentences overall, of the 69,279 drug sentences for which complete departure information was available, we found that most sentences were within guideline ranges (56 percent). Unlike federal sentences overall, from fiscal years 1999 to 2001, federal drug sentences departed downward more frequently due to substantial assistance (28 percent) than other reasons (16 percent), as shown in table 1. Other reasons that drug sentences departed downward included early disposition, that is, fast track, programs initiated by prosecutors; plea agreements; and judges' consideration of mitigating circumstances."

Source: General Accounting Office, "Federal Drug Offenses: Departures from Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences, Fiscal Years 1999-2001," GAO-04-105, October 2003, p. 11, from the web at, last accessed Nov. 1, 2003.

4. Prosecutors, not judges, have the discretion to decide whether to reduce a charge, whether to accept or deny a plea bargain, whether to reward or deny a defendant's "substantial assistance" or cooperation in the prosecution of someone else, and ultimately, to determine what the final sentence will be.

Source: Caulkins, J., et al., Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers' Money? (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1997), pp. 16-18.

5. "After eleven years, it should be obvious that the system has failed and that it cannot be fixed - even by the Supreme Court - because the criminal justice system has been distorted: the enhanced power of the prosecutor in sentencing has diminished the traditional role of the judge. The result has been even less fairness, and a huge rise in the prison population."

Source: Smith, Alexander, and Polack, Harriet, "Curtailing the Sentencing Power of Trial Judges: The Unintended Consequences", Court Review (Williamsburg, VA: American Judges Association, Summer 1999), p. 6-7.

6. "Most of the judges we interviewed were quite bitter about the operation of the sentencing guidelines. As one of them remarked: 'The people who drew up these guidelines never sat in a court and had to look a defendant in the eye while imposing some of these sentences.'"

Source: Smith, Alexander, and Polack, Harriet, "Curtailing the Sentencing Power of Trial Judges: The Unintended Consequences", Court Review (Williamsburg, VA: American Judges Association, Summer 1999), p. 6.

7. Fifty-five percent (55%) of all federal drug defendants are low-level offenders, such as mules or street-dealers. Only 11% are classified as high-level dealers.

Source: US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (Washington DC: US Sentencing Commission, February 1995), Table 18.

8. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, only 5.5% of federal crack defendants are considered high-level crack dealers.

Source: US Sentencing Commission, Special Report to Congress: Cocaine and Federal Sentencing Policy (Washington DC: US Sentencing Commission, February 1995), Table 18.

9. "Though it is still too early to make a final judgment, RAND found that three strikes and truth-in-sentencing laws have had little significant impact on crime and arrest rates. According to the Uniform Crime Reports, states with neither a three strikes nor a truth-in-sentencing law had the lowest rates of index crimes, whereas index crime rates were highest in states with both types of get-tough laws."

Source: Turner, Susan, RAND Corporation Criminal Justice Program, Justice Research & Statistics Association, "Impact of Truth-in-Sentencing and Three Strikes Legislation on Crime", Crime and Justice Atlas 2000 (Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, June 2000), p. 10.

10. Since the enactment of mandatory minimum sentencing for drug users, the Federal Bureau of Prisons budget increased by more than 1,350%, from $220 million in 1986 to about $3.19 billion in 1997.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1997), p. 20; Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the White House, National Drug Control Strategy, 1997: Budget Summary (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1997), p. 111.

11. The ONDCP in its 2000 annual report detailed administration requests for major increases in funding to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for drug-related prison construction. These include an extra $420 Million in fiscal year 2001, and advanced appropriations of $467 Million in 2002, and an additional $316 Million in 2003 - all drug-related.

Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1997), p. 20; Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the White House, National Drug Control Strategy, 1997: Budget Summary (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1997), p. 111; Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the White House, National Drug Control Strategy: Annual Report 2000 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2000), p. 96.

For a more complete perspective, also read related Drug War Facts sections on Alcohol, Crack, Drug Use Estimates, Gateway Theory, Prison, Race and HIV, Race and Prison, The Netherlands, and Treatment.

The biggest problems are all not address: 1, that the pursuit of personal happiness, a right that should have been included in the bill of rights and not just mentioned in the preamble to the Constitution, has been infringed upon by our drug laws. 2, that the courts have been packed with prosecutors (40%) and fellow travelers, so removing the discretionary powers means little for in 95% of the cases the results would be essentially the same. 3, that the jurisprudence distinction between malum prohibita and malum per se has been violated. The former are regulatory laws; the latter are for causing harm. Thus violating tax and drinking laws is prohibta, and robbery and arson are malum per se. That long periods of incarceration are meted out for the violation of a regulation governing the personal taking of a substance not as pernicious as alcohol is unconscionable.


Women In The California Prisons System

Children & Families

* Roughly 80% of women in California prisons are mothers, and the majority of these women are single caretakers. (Barbara Bloom)

* Due to stringent regulations on the attire of visitors, many family members have been turned away after traveling hours or even days to visit a woman in prison. In one instance a baby was unable to see its mother because it was wearing a denim jump suit. Children have also been turned away for wearing shorts.

* In the California prison system, visitation is a privilege not a right. Prisoners on death row and prisons in California serving life sentences without parole cannot receive unsupervised family visits. Family visits are also not permitted with common law relationships.

* All potential visitors to California prisons must submit a visiting questionnaire that requires the individual to state personal information, including full arrest record and criminal history. Verification time for questionnaires can be lengthy, and if any piece of information proves to be incorrect, access can be denied for up to 6 months.

* Most women in California's prisons are from urban areas of the state. However, the facilities that house the majority of the female prisons are in rural regions of California. Bus service to these locations can be limited and the trip often takes many hours. Chowchilla is home to two female correctional facilities, VSPW and CCWF. Together the populations of these two prisons comprise 62% of the total female prison population in the state. For a Los Angeles family to travel via bus to this location, it would take seven hours and cost $38 per person. If departing from San Francisco, the travel time would be five hours at a cost of $55 per person. The same family traveling by bus from LA to the California Institute for Women (CIW) in Frontera would still have to set aside five hours of travel time.

* The exorbitant cost of the current phone system for California state prisons places another enormous financial burden on inmate families. MCI charges California prisoners $3.00 just to connect collect calls from the prison in addition to high collect call fees. Calls paid by prisoners accrue high surcharges and charge the maximum per-minute rates. Prisoners are not permitted to use discount numbers like 1-800-COLLECT. Though phone companies allege that higher rates are necessary because of the expensive security systems required for prisons, the states also share responsibility for these high rates. Telephone companies are offering higher and higher commissions for states in order to get contracts. In some states, these commissions have gone as high as 60% of the profits earned by the state prison telephone system. The money the state of California receives from charges to prisoners and their families goes directly into the state's general fund and not the Inmate Welfare Fund.

* For women released from the California prison system the challenges for them and their children continue. Under new welfare reform guidelines, an individual previously incarcerated is not eligible for public benefits, including housing assistance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Love Can Survive Prison Walls

Believe it or not, love can survive, even if your husband, boyfriend or lover is in prison. My husband and I are prime examples, and not only has ourlove survived, but it has grown stronger with each passing day...with each beat of our hearts. I like the saying, "we are 2 hearts that beat as one."

My husband has been within the prison system for the past 23 months. We have benn married for 4 years, of which 23 months we have been seperated by prison walls. But we have proven that "love prevails," and not even prison walls can keep us apart!

"How do you both do it?" you may ask. It is easy, and in this article, I hope to give you a few basic tips.

First of all, it does help to be madly "in love" with each other! Then, the rest becomes easy!

1. Keep in close contact by the phone. As most prison wives know, prison calls are highly expensive. If you are able to, accept those collect calls. If you are not capable of it, keep in close contact through the mail. I send my husband letters, computer print-outs of articles and information he is interested in, newspaper clippings. I keep manilla envelopes at home and throughout the week I slip things of interest into the envelope...Then I make at least one, if not more trips to the post office to mail letters and envelopes to him. At my post-office I am a well- known face for the past 23 months!

2. Send him lots of cards for holidays, and other times. It helps me to not only think of him while looking for "that perfect card," but he enjoys receiving them, and often shows them to the fellow inmates. Remember that "mail-time' is a very important time of the day when in prison. Some guys never even receive is almost a game or competition with the guys as how much mail they receive....The inmates would always joke around with my husband that his wife was going to cause the mailroom to 'close,' as I was sending him so much mail.
.....Valentine's day is a few days away...I have sent several cards to my husband, and he has sent me 7 cards!....if there are times he cannot buy cards, he makes his own, which are very special to me.

3. Photos...I keep photos of my husband throughout the the bedroom, living room, and kitchen...In the beginning I would go to the refridgerator and hug it, where his picture was...I would talk to his picture. I also carry a pix of the both of us, with our dog , on my keychain. When he first went to prison, I mailed him at least close to 100 pictures of us. He was able to put them in photo albums and he would happily show his pix to the other guys. And yes, my hubby would sleep with those photo books under his pillow, he missed me so much.

4. Share your thoughts, feelings, and emotions on the phone. Tell him if you are lonely...or even is ok to be honest. After all, your husband is in prison, and you are allowed to feel what you feel.....but most of all, tell him you "love him." ...a little "love talk" will get you through those lonely days and nights.

5. Daydream about your husband. Think abotu those past days with him, and think about how the future will be when he gets home. Yes, daydream, and at night dream...and imagine he is still there next to you at night...Think about each other, as much as you can!

6. Keep the household together while he is gone. Also, do something for yourself, to make you a better person...for example, take a college course, or go to adult school...get involved in church activities...join the choir! volunteer work, at the hospital or nursing home...try to put a little sunshine in the lives of others...try not to concentrate on the difficulties you are going through at this time...

7. Look forward to the future, and know that you are getting there, even though it is one step at a time. Be strong and positive that your love will survive......For us, it is easy, because, "we love each other very much...and that is simply that...prison or not"!

I hope this article has made your day a little more positive, and that I helped you through another day....Happy Valentine's Day!.........and don't forget to tell your husband, lover, boyfriend, or whoever else is in your life, "I love you."...Those are 3 very important words!

I am a 51 year old woman, who got married 4 years ago to the "man of my dreams!" I married him knowing fully well he had committed a crime and woud have to serve time in prison. But love does survive, even the toughest of times. I am a retired Registered Nurse, who is now legally blind, and enjoys doing "free-lance writing" at home. I want to make people happy and strong through my "written word."

When you get a chance, please visit my journal, called "Reflections of a prison wife". It is the day to day life of me, a woman whose husband is in the prison system. See just what it is like: the ups, the downs, the laughter, the tears... I have been writing the journal for over a year now, and it has become quite popular: http://JOURNALS.AOL.COM/CRYSTALMOON222/REFLECTIONSOFAPRISONWIFE/