Texas judge orders prison to provide inmates with safe drinking water

texas-prisons

Texas's prison system must provide safe drinking water to its inmates, a judge in Houston federal court ruled Thursday.

The Associated Press reports on a case that saw Texas fight all the way to court to continue supplying arsenic-laden water to prisoners— a position U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison wrote violates "contemporary standards of decency."

In his 15-page ruling, Ellison wrote the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has been "deliberately indifferent" to the ongoing risk inmates at the unit face from prolonged exposure to "extreme heat" and from having to drink arsenic-laden water in order to reduce the risk from the heat. The drinking water at the Pack Unit has contained between 2 and 4½ times the amount of arsenic permitted by the Environmental Protection Agency, the judge said.

The prisoners have "demonstrated that (the prison system's) current and ongoing conduct violates contemporary standards of decency," Ellison wrote.

At least 20 prisoners have died indoors in non-air-conditioned Texas prisons from overheating since 1998, including 10 who died in 2011, Ellison said.

Other than fixing the tainted water, the prisoners asked for temperatures in the Wallace Pack Unit to be lowered to 88°F. See the aerial photo above: suburban Houston is hot, but it is not a desert.

American prisons are hell: violent rape camps operated by the depraved and indifferent, many of them private corporations. And these prisons are in Texas. Read the rest

President Obama issues 61 sentence commutations, only 10,000 more to go

Obama with formerly incarcerated individuals who received commutations from his and previous administrations. March 30, 2016, DC.  With him, former inmates Romana Brant (L) and Phillip Emmert. REUTERS

Today, President Obama met with Americans who have received commutations on prison sentences during his presidency, and under previous administrations. Today, Obama commuted the sentences of 61 more people who were convicted of federal drug and firearm crimes. More than than a third of them were serving life in prison.

Read the rest

Barack Obama ends solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody

High_Royds_solitary_confinement_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1047059

Obama wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post (bio: "Barack Obama is president of the United States") explaining his suite of penal reform policies, which begin with ending the barbaric practice of putting children into solitary confinement, deemed a form of torture, "an affront to our common humanity." Read the rest

What does the prisoner phone-recording leak mean for prisoners and their families?

frequencies-oscilloscope_NEW_1439-440x440

Lisa Rein writes, "On November 12th, The Intercept published a story about one of its SecureDrop uploads: 70 million records of prisoner phone data. The hack exposed that at least 14,000 phone calls between prisoners and their attorneys had been improperly recorded, and neither the calls themselves or the millions of metadata records about the calls were being stored securely." Read the rest

Hack of 70M prisoner phone calls is biggest attorney-client privilege breach in US history

Illustration: The Intercept

An important story out today confirms that SecureDrop, the open source whistleblower leak system originally programmed by Aaron Swartz and maintained by Freedom of the Press Foundation, works.

Read the rest

Five private prison myths that Muckrock will bust with its crowdfunded Freedom of Information Act blitz

flagprison.jpg.1200x400_q85_crop

Michael from Muckrock writes, "MuckRock's crowdfunding campaign to fund a series of FOIA requests and an investigation into America's Private Prison industry is in its last weeks, and the project's reporter, Beryl Lipton, has put together a list factchecking the industry's primary talking points, ranging from how they end up costing tax payers more than traditional prisons to how the industry actively works to build up the market by lobbying against policies that would reduce sentences -- and their margins." Read the rest

Give me blood, cash, or jail time, Alabama judge orders defendants

Photo: The Montgomery Advertiser

What's worse than courts demanding that poor people pay extortionate fines to the state for minor offense? Asking them to literally pay with their own blood.

Read the rest

Mentally ill man jailed over $5 worth of snacks dies in cell after waiting months for mental health care

Jamycheal Mitchell [Facebook]

Man, the first few paragraphs of this Washington Post story about a mentally ill man who died in a jail while waiting for medical care are so devastating. Read the rest

Chelsea Manning threatened with 'indefinite solitary confinement' for expired toothpaste and asking for a lawyer

chelsea
The infractions she's charged with are so minor, it's hard to believe.

Privatized, for-profit immigration detention centers force detainees to work for $1-3/day

"We have a name for locking people up and forcing them to do real work without wages. It's called slavery." Read the rest

How did an Ohio inmate get prison administrators' usernames and passwords?

Lebanon prison, Ohio

Lebanon prison, Ohio

Ohio authorities are investigating how a prisoner obtained a list of the usernames and passwords for prison administrators.

Read the rest

Pennsylvania passes a "Gag Mumia" law to silence prisoner's voices

The "Revictimization Relief Act" allows suits against offenders whose "conduct...perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim," but the fact that it was aimed at silencing jailed activist Mumia Abu-Jamal was never made a secret -- the governor signed it into law saying that it "was inspired by the excesses and pious hypocrisy of one particular killer." Read the rest

Cost of prisons in the US

A quick tour of the Cost of Prisons in the United States map reveals that the prison industry is doing well, especially in California, which has 135,000 people caged at a taxpayer cost of nearly $8 billion ($47,000 per inmate). From Think Progress: "Between 2008 and 2012, the CEO of one of the world’s largest private prison firms earned $22 million in compensation, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. (Thanks, Brian!) Read the rest

Hell on Earth: how to imprison a person for 1,000 years

Philosopher Rebecca Roache led a team of scholars at Oxford to think about the future of punishment. Aeon interviewed her about the project.

Roache: "Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?"

One idea: Give prisoners drugs that make them experience a 1,000-year jail sentence in their mind.

Roache: "There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence. Of course, there is a widely held view that any amount of tinkering with a person’s brain is unacceptably invasive. But you might not need to interfere with the brain directly."

What about an eternal prison sentence, in other words, a Hell on Earth? Who would deserve such a sentence?

Roache: "Suppose there was some physics experiment that stood a decent chance of generating a black hole that could destroy the planet and all future generations. If someone deliberately set up an experiment like that, I could see that being the kind of supercrime that would justify an eternal sentence."

Hell on earth

(Image: Prison cell with bed inside Alcatraz main building san francisco california, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from timpearcelosgatos's photostream) Read the rest

Drone drug deliveries in jail

Drones are being used to drop care packages of drugs into Quebec prisons, according to Stephane Lemaire, president of the province's correctional officers' union. On Sunday, guards at the Hull jail watched a drone flying over the yard but couldn't determine if it delivered any contraband. The Ottawa Sun paraphrased Lemaire as saying, "Officers don't have the right guns to take out drones -- especially near city centres -- and a net or even a jammer that would disrupt the drone's signal would go a long way." Read the rest

Hookers, TVs, and cockfighting found in Mexico prison

State officials inspected an Acapulco, Mexico prison and were surprised to find 19 prostitutes, 100 plasma TVs, two sacks of marijuana, and 100 cockerels for fighting, according to the BBC News. Back in July, inmates of a Sonora jail "were found to be running a lottery to raffle off a luxury cell they'd equipped with a fridge, DVD player and air conditioning." The State Commission for the Defence of Human Rights is apparently concerned that the prisoners appear to be running their own penitentiaries. Read the rest