Monday, April 2, 2018

Federal Prison Project in Kentucky Wins Final Approval

Federal officials have approved a long-discussed plan to build another prison in eastern Kentucky, sealing a deal to bring hundreds of jobs to an area hard hit by the loss of coal work.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said he was notified Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Letcher County project had cleared a final hurdle with federal prisons officials. The Republican congressman said the project will be a "long-term economic shot in the arm" for the region.
"With funding in place and the completion of environmental studies, today's announcement is a tremendous milestone for Letcher County and the surrounding area," Rogers said Friday.
Rogers, who has long championed the project in his Appalachian district, said action by the Federal Bureau of Prisons officially signaled its intent to move forward with the project.
The prison is expected to have 300 to 400 employees, Rogers said. A 700-acre site on reclaimed mine land in Roxana was selected for the facility by federal officials.
Next up is land acquisition, which could take about a year, Rogers' office said. Federal officials also will work with local leaders on infrastructure improvements to support the new prison.
Plans call for the facility to house about 1,200 male prisoners.
The announcement comes as the area's economy has been reeling from a big downturn in the coal sector.
"We certainly need the job growth around here since the coal industry has dried up," Letcher County Jailer Don McCall said Saturday in praising the announcement. "I think it's going to be a real economic boost for our little area."
Rogers said the project also will help ease overcrowding at other federal prisons.
It could take four to five years to build the prison, but an estimated 1,000 or more construction jobs will provide a quick boost for the area's economy, Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
The prison project had drawn resistance from some local residents uncomfortable about connecting the county's economy to a prison.
Rogers was the driving force behind landing federal money for the project. He secured an initial $5 million in the federal budget in 2006 to search for potential sites. The veteran congressman steered nearly $500 million needed to build the prison while he was the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Letcher County project marks the fourth prison that Rogers had helped bring to his district during his time in Congress. The others are in McCreary, Martin and Clay counties


Friday, March 30, 2018

Aryan Nations prison gang suspected of sending threat letters


Local media reported on March 16, 2018, that four threatening letters were received at the federal courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee.
Federal authorities have launched an investigation into the letters which included “death threats” to local federal judges, prosecutors and court workers (including the families). The letters also stated there was a bomb in the federal building.
U.S. District Attorney Michael Dunavant said, “we are aware of the threat, and the U.S. Marshals Service and FBI are investigating.” “We take all threats to federal employees and facilities seriously.”
According to the District Attorney, the letters mention various neo-Confederate and white nationalist themes such as “901 Confederates,” “#savethestatues,” “this is a call for Aryan resurgence,” and “they are members of a vanguard of Aryan resurgence and ultimately total Aryan victory.” One letter allegedly mentions, “the inmate is taking every step to recruit anti-government soldiers.” The letters also said that “people are going to kill and torture federal workers and their families.”
The letters are reportedly signed by four identified inmates currently incarcerated at the East Arkansas Regional Unit in Marianna, Arkansas. All four inmates are in prison for committing serious crimes. The name listed on the return address for all four letters is “Arron Lewis.” Lewis, who included his inmate number, was convicted in January 2016 of the 2014 murder of Beverly Carter, an Arkansas realtor. Lewis was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the capital murder charge. The jury also sentenced him to life in prison for the kidnapping charge. Both charges will be served consecutively. Investigators have yet to determine who actually wrote the letters.
District Attorney Mike Dunavant says the U.S. Marshals Service is reviewing and following their normal protocol for heightened security measures for the federal building and personnel. A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Corrections says they are cooperating with the U.S. Marshals Service, and referred any questions about potential charges against the inmates to the feds.
The Aryan Nations is the largest prison gang operating in Tennessee’s state correctional system. Despite having the same name and using similar hate symbology, it’s an entirely separate organization than the former neo-Nazi group called “Aryan Nations” based in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Further, it’s not affiliated with the Idaho-based group’s prison outreach efforts during the 1980s.
The Aryan Nations prison gang has more than 230 members in Knox County, Tennessee, alone, according to a law enforcement source. Other recent estimates put the group’s size at between 900 and 950 total members throughout Tennessee, as of 2016.
Aryan Nations gang members are known for carrying out violent crimes both inside and outside of prison. For example, Ronnie L. Wilson, an Aryan Nations gang member, is accused of shooting a Knoxville police officer on January 11, 2018, during a traffic stop. Wilson was later captured in Blount County a few days later. Also, in June 2014, five Aryan Nations gang members were charged with attempted murder in the horrific beating of a fellow white supremacist. Other members have been charged with murder, burglaries and firearms violations since 2014.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prison Education at Harvard


The Prison Studies Project partnership with Boston University’s longstanding prison education program and the Massachusetts Department of Correction marks the first time that traditional college students learn alongside incarcerated students as part of a curriculum for college credit. Never before had Harvard University students and men and women enrolled in BU’s program shared a classroom inside the walls of prison. With a one-year HILT grant in 2013, we were able to include graduate students from Harvard Divinity School, which marks the first time in national history, as far as we know, that post-secondary prison education included, inside the prison classroom, both graduate and undergraduate students from a traditional college campus.
With funding, we will be able to sustain and measure the impact of the work we have begun. We have a powerful opportunity to institutionalize innovative teaching and learning at Harvard. To be an active community citizen is to reach out to people who are often denied educational opportunities; Harvard’s support of prison education is invaluable as is the opportunity for Harvard students to learn from peers who are incarcerated.
In 2009, Catherine Sirois and her classmates wrote to the dean of sociology… “…Reading about prison and the rise in mass incarceration cannot compare to the actual experience of entering a prison […] The class was without a doubt the most transformative, eye-opening course any of us has ever taken at Harvard. You can learn a lot from reading informative articles and books, but you will never truly understand the materials you are studying unless you engage with them firsthand.”
One of the classmates from Norfolk, George, also wrote a letter about his experience after the course was finished. When our class met, he had been incarcerated for nearly 40 years. In his words: “Education in isolation does not have the same impact as in an integrated environment. After all, isn’t that what much of the college experience is built around? Bringing people of varying ethnicities, and social classes together, so that individuals may become more aware of the commonalities that make us ultimately the family of [hu]man!. His greatest learning experiences have taken place in an integrated environment. He writes, these experiences have never failed to leave me with a greater sense of self-worth, along with strengthening my sense of connection to the community at large… “Thank you for your efforts in bringing this course into being,” he writes. “I hope this experience marks a return to greater community involvement in education, and rehabilitation, within the incarcerated community.”
Catherine Sirois, a Stanford PhD student in Sociology, who continues to draw on the lessons that she learned nearly 10 years ago at Norfolk prison, writes:“My experience with prison education sparked a desire to more fully understand incarceration in America and to work for change. More than that, the experience underscored the importance of doing this work in collaboration with those who have been most harmed by the injustice of the American punishment system. As a scholar and an educator, I hope to provide transformative educational opportunities beyond the gates (or the palm trees) of the institutions to which we are so privileged to belong. In my experience, extending the resources of our institutions lifts up those who have for so long been denied those resources and makes all of us better students, teachers, and citizens.”
Check out the Beyond the Gates website to see how Harvard has supported prison education from 1833 to now and what more needs to be done to actualize equal access to education.

Teens raped in prison have civil rights, Michigan appeals court rules

The state can be held liable for teens raped in Michigan prisons, after the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled a state law that halted civil rights at the prison gate was unconstitutional.
In a 2-1 decision released Tuesday, a Court of Appeals panel threw out a 1999 law that said the state’s civil rights law, the Elliott Larson Civil Rights Act, doesn’t apply to prisoners.
That 1999 law, aimed at limited the state’s liability in a lawsuit filed by women who had been raped in Michigan prisons, was pushed by then-Gov. John Engler. Engler’s handling of that suit was raised as a concern when he was named interim president of Michigan State University in January, in the midst of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal.
The majority opinion, written by Judge Kirsten F. Kelly, also ruled the state is not immune from liability in lawsuits filed by prisoners alleging violations of their civil rights.
The ruling clears the way for a lawsuit involving more than 900 young men  to move forward. A similar lawsuit filed by women assaulted in prison cost the state $100 million.
“Children in Michigan prisons have protections under the civil rights act. We all win,” Deborah LaBelle, the lead attorney representing the prisoners, told Bridge Tuesday. “Once you decide that people in jail are still people, it leads you to say … the state has to be held accountable for their wrongs; they don’t have immunity for violating their citizens’ rights."
The lawsuit was filed in 2013 with seven unnamed prisoners and former prisoners, and has grown into a class action with more than 900 young men who claim they were harmed, sexually or otherwise, while being forced to live in the general adult prison population. In 2013, the Michigan Department of Correction changed its policies and now segregates teens from adult prisoners.
The lawsuit contends prison officials did not take claims of sexual assault seriously, and created a culture of institutional indifference to assaults.
In 2015, Bridge published segments of video depositions of the unnamed prisoners. The stories of the prisoners, who did not know each other, had a grim and graphic similarity that added credence to their claims of sexual assault by older prisoners.
In his dissent, appellate Judge Peter O’Connell said that “allowing plaintiffs to use the (state civil rights law) in this innovative manner places an impossible burden on public service providers and is antagonistic to current state law.”
Megan Hawthorne, press secretary for Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, representing the state in the case, said the office is reviewing the ruling. 
“After almost two dozen appeals and stays, we want to get to trial,” LaBelle said. 


Monday, March 26, 2018

Drones delivering contraband to prisons a budding problem

PENSACOLA, Fla. — A package of contraband covered in grass clippings that was dropped by a drone at a Panhandle prison is one of the most recent examples of inmates using advanced technology to smuggle illegal items behind prison walls.
The News-Journal reports that authorities are investigating two confirmed drone drops at Florida prisons in the last 30 days. One of those drops was discovered at a Panhandle prison after correctional officers spotted the drone, which was delivering a cellphone and tobacco.
The Florida Department of Corrections declined to specify at which institution the drop happened and would only confirm it happened at a prison in the Northwest region of the state.
Officials say drones plague prisons across the nation, and most corrections departments are trying to keep up with new technology.
"We know that drones are a real issue," FDC spokeswoman Michelle Glady said, adding that aside from the two confirmed sightings, there have been several other suspected drone-related drops.
A drone incidents factsheet provided by the department says the drone was observed by a correctional officer, who saw it successfully deliver contraband inside of the prison.
The correctional officers immediately responded to the area where the drone was spotted and found the package, which contained a cellphone with accessories such as chargers, earbuds and a SIM card, and several grams of tobacco.
The package was covered with dead grass clipping in an apparent attempt to camouflage or conceal the package.
State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said he was made aware of the drone issue during recent tours of area facilities.
"It’s really a high-tech operation and the fact they’re obviously coordinating with people outside to drop these items is scary," Broxson said.
Glady said drone usage is plaguing prisons across the nation, and most corrections departments are trying to keep up with new technology. The department foresees some issues in investigating drone smuggling operations because it can be difficult to determine contraband was dropped by a drone unless correctional officers spot the device in action, she said. Also, a drone operator does not need to be close by to work the device.
Glady said any drone-related contraband cases will be investigated by the department’s Office of the Inspector General and forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office.
"We’ve had two confirmed sightings this year, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in years past, it was completely unheard of," she said.
State lawmakers proposed legislation at this year’s session that would have added prisons and county jails to the list of sites where drone usage is prohibited, but those bills did not pass.


Saturday, March 24, 2018