Cowlitz County considering forgiving $1 million in inmates’ debts

In a fledgling economy, bureaucracies are desperate to cut costs. Cowlitz County in Washington state is going as far as to forgive approximately $1 million dollars in former inmate commissary debt. The Cowlitz County jail has switched to new automated system that tracks visiting, commissary and messaging transactions. In switching to the new automated system, all of the old inmate debt would have to be reentered. To avoid the pain staking task of tracking down old inmates,collecting fees, and entering them into the automated system the county is considering hiring a collection agency or just forgiving the debt all together. The debate between the two choices has caused controversy in the community, but the administration at the jail insists that forgiving the old debt will encourage inmates and their families to put money in the new automated system. Read more here.

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Bible College Helps Some at Louisiana Prison Find Peace

                                                            Photo Courtsey of Angel Franco of the New York Times

In Louisiana, Angola, the unofficial name for the Louisiana State Penitentiary, strikes fear into the hearts of defendants. Known for it’s violent assaults and for it’s use of solitary confinement, Angola has become known as one of the most notorious prisons in the United States.  When Burt Cain became warden in 1995 he decided to change Angola’s violent reputation. One of the tools Cain used to induce a culture shift was to allow the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to establish a campus on Angola grounds. The seminary offers Bachelors degrees, Associates degrees, and numerous other certificates and enables inmates to become ministers and counselors to their peers.  The introduction of the seminary to the prison may have helped deteriorate the occasions of violence seen at Angola in recent decades, 280 assaults on staff by inmates and 1,107 assaults on inmates by inmates where reported in 1990  and in 2012  55 assaults on staff and 315 assaults on inmates where reported. Read more here.

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These 32 People Are Spending Their Lives In Prison For Nonviolent Crimes

                                                                                                 Photo Courtesy of

 Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is a very controversial topic amongst civil right’s activists. A recent report released by the American Civil Liberties Union may bring new light to the issue.  The report highlights 100 prisoners that are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for non-violent offenses and states that as many as 3,278 prisoners nationwide are serving similar sentences.  It is the belief of the reports author, Jennifer Turner, that the life without parole sentences stem from the “tough on crime laws” from the 1980′s and 1990′s. Read more here

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Inmate claims bias in denial of visits from same-sex spouse

 Discrimination against the LGBT community is apparent in many arenas of American society. Prison is no exception. Chris Yates is a inmate serving a sentence  at the Kansas Department of Correction’s Norton Correctional Facility. Yates is claiming that the Norton Correctional Facility staff is discriminating against him and his co-defendant husband, by not allowing Yates’s husband to come see Yates in prison   The Department of Corrections says that allowing co-defedants to visit each other in prison is “just something we don’t do,”.  Read more here.

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Missouri Switches to New Execution Drug


Photo Courtesy of U.S News on NBC 

 The Missouri Department of Corrections, a state that allows the highly controversial death penalty, is switching from its previous execution drug, propofol, to the widely used  pentobarbital. Limits where being placed on the export quanaities of the Eurpoean made propofol by the European Union. To combat this, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon  is allowing  the state to  construct compounding pharmacies who have the ability to make pentobarbital within its prisons. These pharmacies , however,  do not ahere to the US Food and Drug Adminsitration regualtions Read more here

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 Criminal offenses do not always invole prison or jail  Occasionally a monetary fine is the punishment.  Less fortunate citizens often do not have the resources to pay these fines. A growing trend amongst court systems nationwide is to hire private probation companies to supervise these indigent defedants who in turn charge them daily fees. If a defendant cannot pay, the court systems put them in jail while still making money. Read more about this potential consitituional crisis here.

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Bastoy: the Norwegian prison that works

Arne Kvernvick Nilsen, the governor of the Norwegian Benstoy prison island,  reflects on a long and productive career in human services. Nilsen reveals his philospohy on corrections and rehabilitation which advocates for  a “healing” based  approach instead of a “revenge” based approach. Read more about Arne Kvernvick Nilsen and Benstoy prsion island here

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Judges Order California to Free Prisoners

The ongoing battle between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the federal court system continues  when three federal judges ordered California to start releasing low risk offender immediatley. Read more in the New York Times article “Judges Order California to Free Prisoners”

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Incarceration Rates for Blacks Have Fallen Sharply, Report Shows

Photo courtsey of The Black Educator blog

In the decade starting in 2000 and ending in 2010, the incarceration rate for African Americans dropped, according to a new report released by the Sentencing Project, a prison research and advocacy group based in Washington, DC. Read more in The New York Times story “Incarceration Rates for Blacks Have Fallen Sharply, Report Shows“.

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A disciplinary hearing for a transgender prisoner

At the end of the Spring Semester, just before the exam period, student attorney Fan Li (second from left) represented a transgender prisoner who was facing a “tool to escape” charge. Read more about the disciplinary hearing here.

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