Friday, September 28, 2012

Man cleared of murder, freed after 19 years in prison

A former gang member sentenced to life in prison for a murder he didn't commit walked out of prison Monday after 19 years, reports NBC Los Angeles. John Edward Smith, now 37, had always maintained his innocence in the drive-by killing, but it wasn't until advocacy group Innocence Matters took up his case in 2009 that things began to change. Turns out, the sole witness whose testimony convicted Smith admits he lied under police pressure. Smith, who is black, was at his grandmother's house when the killing took place. "I had days when I was really frustrated, but I knew I couldn't stop," Smith told the Los Angeles Times, adding that he was dazzled by the lights of downtown. The LAT adds this odd footnote: Smith's exoneration took place just before singer Chris Brown's probation hearing, so the celeb himself happened to be in the courtroom. He applauded along with Smith's family when the judge delivered the good news. Newser FACTS & FIGURES The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, at 743 per 100,000 people. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics Historically, the current U.S. incarceration rate is comparable to the record-high Soviet Union's levels before World War II. The Soviet Union's incarceration rates from 1934 to 1953 were historically the world's highest for a modern age country. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics However, the U.S. total population incarcerated, on probation or parole, dwarfs that of the former Soviet Union at a staggering total of over 7 million. That amounts to over 2,000 citizens per 100,000 under supervision by the prison system. The Gulag Archipelago Throughout the United States, African-Americans and other racial minorities are systematically excluded from capital juries that typically make sentencing decisions, even in communities with substantial minority populations. USHRN According to a report published by Amnesty International, one in five of African-Americans executed in the modern era were convicted by an all-white jury. Ninety percent of these cases involved victims who were white. USHRN According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics blacks accounted for 39.4% of the total prison and jail population in 2009.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SureShot Books sending books to inmates

SureShot Publisher sends Spanish books and other reading materials to inmates in prisons. NEW YORK, August 28, 2012 – SureShot Books has sent Spanish books, magazines, and other reading materials to inmates in various prisons across the States. The company has been sending inmates books and other reading materials ever since they started the company back in 1990. Sending magazines to inmates, aside from sending books and newspapers, has always been the main aim of the company. The company believes that education is the most important help that can be given to inmates who have to spend their time in jail. By sending these reading materials, they are given the chance to enhance their education through self-learning. Incarceration can always be a time to improve oneself through education. Therefore, sending magazines to inmates, aside from other reading materials, can help inmates equip themselves with new knowledge that will help them acquire new skills that they may be able to use by the time they are released from prison. Because a lot of these inmates don’t have English as their main language, Spanish books are also provided. It is the belief of the company that no one should be barred from being able to read because they aren’t that well-versed in English. It is the goal of the company to give hope to these inmates. Through improving themselves while they spend their time in prison, they may be able to better themselves and be able to re-integrate back into the society once they have spent their time in jail. By giving them the chance to attain new skills through education and reading, they are given the chance to learn new skills that will help them get new job and work opportunities in the outside world. Family members and friends are also encouraged to help further the inmates’ education by sending them these reading materials via online purchases through the company. They may be able to send their incarcerated loved ones with books, magazines, newspapers, and even greeting mementos via ordering online. Even inmates can order via the company and have these materials sent directly to their loved ones in the outside world. Sending magazines to inmates and other reading materials can be a big help for them. Rather than spending time in despair, they can focus their attention in reading and discovering new interests and widen their education by spending time reading. About SureShot Books SureShot Books is a company that has been created during the nineties with the main goal of helping the families of inmates get the means of improving themselves through education and reading. A complete library equipped with Spanish and English titles alike have been put together so that inmates are given the access to as much materials as possible. Newspapers and magazines from all over the country can also be accessed through the website. Contact: SureShot Books Publisher’s 15 North Mill Street Nyack, Ny 10960 888.608.0868

Friday, September 14, 2012

Released from prison, many former Indiana offenders struggle to start their lives over

MUNCIE, Ind. — On the day the prison gates open allowing a former offender to begin his or her life over, many genuinely believe they will never, ever return to the correctional institutions that had been their home for months or years. That's easier said than done. "You can't find a job. You have a hard time finding a place to live. You don't trust anyone. All you have are the people you were hanging around with before and your demons. For me, that's alcohol, drugs and women," said Donald Thompkins, an ex-offender living in Muncie. "You have to find something to give you hope. Something that will help you change your environment." For Thompkins, that release has been his art, a talent he realized he had when he was young. But he understands not everyone leaving prison knows they have a value for something other than a life of crime. Each year, slightly more than 200 former offenders are released from the Indiana Department of Correction to return to Delaware County. On average, close to 900 of the county's residents at any given time are ex-offenders, a large number of whom have been convicted for drug-related crimes. Most of them return to a correctional facility within three years, according to state and national data, shocked their promise never to return has dissolved. The After Doing A Prison Term, or ADAPT, program in Muncie attempts to break the prison cycle by providing these men and women with resources they need to make a life for themselves outside of a state institution. Associated with the Muncie Alliance for the Prevention of Self-Abuse, the ADAPT project uses tough love techniques to educate ex-offenders about their value and the need to create a new environment for themselves if they hope to stay out of prison. The idea came to H. Royce Mitchell, bishop at Deliverance Temple church, in the 1980s when he began doing prison ministry and realized he was seeing some of the same men year after year. "When you'd speak to them, they first saw themselves as the victim. They had a hard time taking responsibility for their actions," Mitchell said. "But then there was some truth to what they're saying. Some employers weren't open to hiring them and they had a lot of time on their hands with nothing to do." Myra Hatfield left Rockville Prison in October 2009 and spent months without a job. The recession played a role in her struggles, she said, but she couldn't find someone "to give me a chance." "I know I'm really good at administrative work. I know I am," she said, through tears. "I made some mistakes, but I want to give back to society, to other people needing help when they leave prison, who want to stop drinking and doing drugs. I just can't get a chance." The ADAPT program keeps a list of "felony friendly employees," local business owners and nonprofit organization that will work with ex-offenders. They also encourage program participants to return to school to gain the skills needed in the 21st century workplace. Thompkins, who has been to prison three times and to jail "more times than I can count," plans to enroll in Ivy Tech Community College in January. He's been performing odd jobs since leaving Putnamville Correctional Facility on 2008. He's found his art — especially sculptures and carvings — have given him the chance to release his anger. The ADAPT program has assisted in growing his interests, as has the 12-step programs that have kept him clean and sober "and out of prison," he said. "But sometimes I wonder how long I should pay my debt to society," he said. "I wonder when I will actually become a member society, ready to participate in a community. I've made mistakes, I know that, and I've paid my debt. But I'm ready to change. I just need society to let me do so." ___ Information from: The Star Press,

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jennifer Hudson on family’s murderer: “It’s not his fault”

Proving that she’s a stronger and better than person than most, Jennifer Hudson has revealed that doesn’t blame the man who murdered three members of her family. In a new interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer has spoken about her brother-in-law William Balfour who in July this year was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison for the murder of Jennifer’s mother, brother and her 7-year-old nephew. “I'm not letting him off the hook for anything,” she explains, “I feel like, for the most part, it's not his fault. It's what he was taught. How was brought up. “We tried to offer love, but he was so far gone, he couldn't even see that. A lot of things came out [during the trial] that we didn't even know about from his upbringing. . . He never had a chance. He never had a chance,” Jennifer continued. The singer and actress then went on to suggest that had Balfour had a better upbringing he might not have done what he did, “Had he had the love that my mother gave us, or the background that some have, then he would have stood a chance. How could your heart not go out to that?,” Jennifer concludes. We can only marvel at the level of compassion Jennifer has shown. And if that’s not heartbreaking enough, Jen has also reveled that now Balfour has been sent to jail she can finally visit the graves of her family, who were murdered on 24 October 2008, “I haven't been to the grave site since we buried them, but now I want to go because I feel like, ‘Okay, we've accomplished this. We've done this. We got justice for you. We can't come back here empty handed. So now I feel like I deserve to be able to see them.” Excuse us while we go have a little cry at just how brave Jennifer is.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Prison sex requires consent, court says

The balance of power between prisoners and their overseers is pretty one-sided in favor of the overseers. When an inmate accuses a guard of sexual harassment, a federal appeals court says, the guard must be prepared to prove that whatever happened was with the inmate’s consent. As the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put it this week, “because of the enormous power imbalance between prisoners and prison guards, labeling a prisoner’s decision to engage in sexual conduct in prison as ‘consent’ is a dubious proposition.” The San Francisco-based court reinstated a lawsuit by inmate Lance Wood against the Idaho prison system and a former guard named Sandra de Martin. According to the ruling, Wood, who is serving a life sentence for murder, said Martin “pursued” him after she was assigned to his unit in 2002. They developed what he described as a romantic but non-sexual relationship. A few months later, Wood said he started hearing rumors that Martin was married, which bothered him because he had become strongly religious while in prison. She denied being married, but he asked her to stay away. Twenty minutes later, he said, she entered his cell and put her hand on his groin, and he pushed her away. He said the guard did the same thing another time after a series of what he described as aggressive pat searches, despite his attempts to end the relationship. He finally filed a complaint with a prison officer and was transferred to another prison. Wood’s lawyer said the allegations did not result in any disciplinary action against Martin, who has since left the prison system. Wood’s lawsuit claimed he had been subjected to harassment that violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, since it was inflicted by a prison guard. But U.S. District Judge William Shubb dismissed the suit, saying the alleged groping was part of a “consensual relationship” rather than involuntary harassment. The appeals court had a different perspective. Prisoners have little control over their daily lives, the court said, and depend on prison employees for basic necessities. A guard’s power over an inmate has been compared to the power of an adult over a child, or even of a master over a slave, the court said. At the same time, ”sexual abuse in prison is prolific,” the court said, and most often involves a female guard and a male prisoner, according to government statistics. In the typical sexual harassment case, it’s up to the plaintiff to prove that he or she objected to the sexual conduct. In a prison setting, the court said, sexual contact by a guard with an inmate will be presumed to be unwelcome, and it will be up to the guard to prove consent. In this case, Wood’s allegations, if true, would show that he did not consent, and he is entitled to take his suit to trial, the court said. Judge Betty Fletcher wrote the 3-0 ruling, which can be viewed here: The ruling is “very important in terms of protecting prisoners,” said Wood’s lawyer, Thomas Saunders. Although the facts have yet to be established — both Wood and Martin took polygraph tests and passed, Saunders said — the inmate has “strong evidence of non-consent” and hopes a jury will vindicate his rights. Prison officials could appeal the ruling. Their lawyers were unavailable for comment.