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News in Brief

Alaska: On May 4, 2001, Anchorage superior court judge Elaine Andrews terminated the 20-year-old Cleary conditions case. Andrews ruled that the overcrowding and related problems that were at the root of the class action lawsuit have been resolved. Andrews said she would file an opinion addressing the constitutionality of the Alaska Prison Litigation Reform Act.

Colombia: On May 7, 2001, 200 guerrillas belonging to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), stormed a prison in Calota using machine gun fire, missiles and propane gas cylinders filled with explosives. The latter were used to blast the front gate off the prison wall. No one was killed in the attack but 68 prisoners were liberated, among them FARC members. The prison was largely demolished during the attack.

Three days later, a dozen of the freed prisoners, mostly petty thieves serving short sentences returned to the prison to turn themselves in. Under Colombia law, prison escapees who turn themselves in within 72 hours of escaping are entitled to amnesty. Commenting on the returnees, a prison spokesman said: "They wanted to see their children, have a few drinks. As long as they are all back by 10 PM tonight, they will not be penalized."

El Salvador: In early May, 2001, Antonio Escobar Torres was shot and killed by prison guards at the La Union prison. Torres, convicted the week before of murder, had climbed the prison's wall and razor wire when he was detected and ordered to stop. Instead, he jumped from the wall and was shot and died instantly. Jose Santos Avila was escaping with Torres. He too ignored guards' orders to halt. While not injured by gunfire, Avila fractured his foot when he jumped from the wall. He was recaptured a short distance from the prison.

Massachusetts: In May, 2001, the Governor's Council voted unanimously to refuse a second five-year term to Mary Ellen Doyle on the state parole board. Doyle is a crime victim's advocate whose parents and 15-year-old brother were killed in a 1975 home invasion. Some board members said they voted against Doyle because she lied about her role in the parole hearing of Terrance Milan, one of the men convicted in her family's murder.

Others cited concern about the parole board being stacked with pro police hacks. Law professor Wallace Holohan noted that during parole hearings Doyle would frequently roll her eyes or make facial expressions of disbelief when prisoners testified. The six remaining parole board members now consist of three ex prosecutors and three current or former police officers.

New Mexico: On May 17, 2001, federal prosecutors charged former Wackenhut prison guards Gary Butler, 28; Lt. William Fuller, 37; Lt. Matias Serrata Jr. 29; and Kendall Lipscomb, 25, with beating and kicking a prisoner in 1998 and then covering it up.

The attack occurred at the Lea County Correctional Facility, which is operated by the private, for profit, Wackenhit Corporation. Butler and Fuller are charged with attacking the unidentified prisoner, with Serrata standing by watching the attack and Lipscomb giving false reports and testimony about the attack. Butler inflicted facial injuries on himself to justify the attack.

Oklahoma: On April 23, 2001, $12,000 was discovered missing from a safe in the administrative area of the Corrections Corporation of America run Tulsa jail. CCA warden Jim Cooke asked Tulsa police to investigate the theft. While police were questioning employees, one of the employees went into Cooke's office and confessed to the theft. Police say the employee returned most of the money.

Cooke asked police to drop the investigation but they declined to do so, stating that it was up to the prosecutor to press or drop charges. Larry Merchant, the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority's compliance officer appeared mystified by Cooke's efforts to derail the investigation. Merchant told media: "I'm puzzled, normally employers want to have the laws enforced."

South Africa: In early May, 2001, a cholera outbreak at the Westville prison near Durban left one prisoner dead and 600 sick. The source of the outbreak is unknown but cholera is generally caused by feces contaminated drinking water.

Texas: On April 30, 2001, Richard Obrenovich the San Antonio Police Department's liaison to the Crime Stoppers program, pleaded no contest to stealing at least $6,600 from the program by placing calls to the program's hotline posing as an anonymous tipster. Obrenovich said he was "just borrowing the money."

Using police records, Obrenovich would look up the addresses of probationers with active warrants, then tell the hotline where the fugitives were. For each probationer captured, Obrenovich was paid between $50 and $1,000. He received at least 22 payments in the nine months he headed the program. Both media and police seem to ignore the fact that if Obrenovich was able to locate fugitive probationers rather easily using police records then perhaps police could do the same.

Utah: On January 24, 2001, the state prisons at Draper and Gunnison were placed on lockdown after six Draper prisoners were stabbed. The stabbings were apparently in retaliation for the earlier stabbing of a prisoner transferred from Gunnison to Draper. Prison officials claimed the stabbings are gang related and are duly investigating. The names of the stabbed prisoners were not released by prison officials.

Venezuela: On May 8, 2001, a fight between rival prison gangs at a Caracas prison left six prisoners dead and 25 injured. Most of the deaths and injuries resulted from a prisoner throwing a hand grenade. Prison officials claim to have regained control of the situation. Control is a relative term. In 2000 at least 276 prisoners were killed in riots and gang clashes, making Venezuelan prisons among the most violent in the world.

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