California's 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that inmates can have a small supply of marijuana behind bars but "smoking or ingesting cannabis in prison remains a felony.” The ruling overturned convictions of five inmates busted for possessing marijuana in prison. From KTLA:
“The voters (who in 2016 passed Proposition 64 legalizing marijuana) made quite clear their intention to avoid spending state and county funds prosecuting possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and quite clear that they did not want to see adults suffer criminal convictions for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana,” Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Leonard Tauman said in an email. The appeals court “quite properly honored what the electorate passed..."
While prison officials can still punish inmates for violating the rules, “this ruling will prevent inmates from having years added to their sentences for simple possession, reducing overcrowding and saving $50,000-75,000 a year in unnecessary costs,” said Assistant Public Defender David Lynch.
image: Ahston / CC BY 2.0
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Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections is planning to ban free book donations to inmates by mail, claiming that this is a "primary avenue for drugs" to enter prisons. But the move coincides with a renewed push to get prisoners buying into a pricey prison eBook system that offers low-end tablets for $150 and eBooks no cheaper than $3 a read.
"Effective immediately, the DOC will begin to transition to ebooks coupled with bolstered DOC library system featuring centralized purchasing and ordering process," the DOC announced at its website. "No books or publications will be shipped directly to an inmate. ... [we] will no longer accept books donated directly to individual inmates.”
Presented as evidence by the DOC was a letter from a prisoner it said "describes how to smuggle drugs through a popular book donation program." As the Prisoners Lit Project and others pointed out, though, the letter didn't say anything at all about drugs: "the poor guy just wanted a dictionary!"
The project describes itself as an all-volunteer grassroots group that sends free books to prisoners in the United States. It sends 30-40 packages a week to prisoners—no drugs included—and plans to fight what it sees as an "unfair and shortsighted change" that will effectively end the program.
"Banning books from 'books to prisoners' organizations is inhumane," it wrote.
Another similar organization, Book' Em, said it mails hundreds of book packages to prisoners and would push back against the policy.
A third, Books to Prisoners, said that Pennsylvania prisons' libraries are underfunded and often inaccessible and challenged the DOC's claims otherwise. Read the rest
Former prison inmate Josh of Lockdown 23and1 teaches the proper way to make prison pizza using only ingredients that an inmate might easily be able to acquire: saltines, Ritz crackers, ramen, tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni, Slim Jims, and pickles.
(via Laughing Squid)
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Earlier this month, California Senator Kamala Harris dropped a tantalizing truth bomb during a speech: many official flags in use in California were made by state prisoners. Via Mother Jones:
Harris was referring to the visit she made to the Central California Women’s Facility in July, a visit on which I tagged along. It was a surreal experience to watch dozens of women, mostly women of color, at work stations inside of the country’s largest prison for women, laying out and printing fabric and then dyeing it royal blue. It was just as surreal, if not more so, to hear prison officials point out that these flags would one day fly atop every state and federal building in California, describing this with something almost adjacent to pride.
• There’s a Pretty Good Chance Your American Flag Was Made by a Prisoner (Mother Jones)
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A dozen prisoners at Jasper, Alabama's Walker County Jail escaped on Sunday and one is still at large. One of them used peanut butter to change the number above his cell door and then called for the guard, a new employee, to open it. The number the prisoner changed it to was actually the door to the outside.
"And unknowingly to (the guard), he hit that lock and out the door they went," said Walker County Sheriff Jim Underwood.
Eleven of the escapees were nabbed within eight hours. A manhunt is underway for the twelfth.
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Meanwhile, as of right now, the Walker County sheriff said officials would look again at placing a young person in an control area to make decisions for 140 inmates. The camera system also needs to be equipped with more monitors, he added.
Despite the current sticky situation, the sheriff said he doesn't have plans to put any dietary restrictions in place in the future.
"They love peanut butter sandwiches," said Underwood.
A UK weapons company called Drone Defence has sold an anti-drone product to Les Nicolles prison on Guernsey that will use 20 nonspecific "disruptors" to do something to drones that will stop them from overflying the prison and smuggling in contraband. Read the rest
The Flexi-Pen is the writing utensil of choice in prisons because it can't be used to shiv someone. I bet it's fun to fidget with too. Amazon sells a five pack for $13.
The Flexi-Pen is made with a soft rubbery material that bends under the slightest pressure, making it nearly impossible to do lethal damage with it. It's as close to a stab-resistant, non-lethal weapon you can get, while still providing the subject with a workable ballpoint pen to write with.
It's ideal for use in interview rooms, holding cells, and in any prison or jail environment. You go to great lengths to confiscate any potential weapon when taking a prisoner into custody, so why would you want to hand him one afterward?
5pk Prison Pen Flexible Ball Point Writing Pen Tool - Non Lethal (Amazon) Read the rest
Six weeks after Mother Jones published its explosive undercover expose on the abuses, shortcomings and waste in America's vast private prison system, the Department of Justice has issued a ban on renewal of federal private prison contracts (where they are not able to do this, officials are told to "substantially reduce" the scope of those contracts), with the goal of "reducing -- and ultimately ending -- our use of privately operated prisons." Read the rest
U.S. military officials are preventing imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning from having contact with her legal team or her friends, following unconfirmed reports that she was hospitalized after a health crisis. Read the rest
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
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
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
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
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.
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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
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
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