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Articles by Bill Barton

Project Hope Fights to End the Death Penalty ... from Death Row

by Bill Barton

The executive director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, Esther Brown, is a former psychiatric social worker who has been called “the most loyal person I’ve ever met” by a prisoner on Alabama’s death row.

Brown, 85, has been the public face of the organization ...

Many “Violent Offenders” Actually Committed Non-Violent Crimes

by Bill Barton

The conservative Heritage Foundation said in December 2018 that “our federal prisons house thousands of low-level offenders and America must do better.”

According to a survey of laws in all 50 states by The Marshall Project, there are more than a dozen states where people can be ...

South Carolina: Lawsuit Alleges Medical Staff, Guards Negligent in Baby’s Death

by Bill Barton

Sinetra Geter Johnson discovered she was pregnant just two days before she was required to report to prison on a parole violation. In October 2012, she began serving a two-year sentence at the Camille Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. Twenty-four years old at the time, ...

Missouri Sheriff Tells Judge that County Won’t Pay for Prisoners’ Food, Medical Care

by Bill Barton

In April 2019, Clay County Sheriff Paul Vescovo sued the Missouri county’s three-member commission, claiming that it slashed his operating budget by over 40 percent “in retaliation for a criminal referral made two years ago.”

That referral involved assistant county administrator Laurie Portwood, who was accused of ...

Why Not Let Prisoners Vote While Incarcerated?

by Bill Barton

During an Iowa event in March 2019, U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren spoke about felon disenfranchisement, saying that while giving former felons the right to vote is the correct thing to do, extending that right to prisoners is “something that we could have more conversation ...

Massachusetts Prisoners and Visitors Challenge Restrictive Visitation Rules

by Bill Barton 

More restrictive regulations for visits in Massachusetts prisons – originally adopted in March 2018 and later amended effective March 1, 2019 – have spurred at least five lawsuits against the state’s Department of Correction (DOC) by both prisoners and visitors. At stake is restriction of an element of prison life – visitation from a prisoner’s family and friends – which research has repeatedly shown not only reduces recidivism but also makes prisons safer.

Under the new DOC rules, all visitors must be pre-screened. Each prisoner may submit names for pre-screening until his or her visitation list reaches its limit: five (amended to eight in 2019) for maximum-security facilities, eight for medium-security prisons and 10 for minimum-security facilities. Prisoners with large immediate families may petition for special exceptions.

A prisoner may adjust his or her list only once every 120 days as of March 2019, though that was up from twice a year when the new rules took effect in 2018. Prior to that time the DOC allowed an unlimited number of visitors, who were required only to show up at scheduled visitation times, fill out a form, present ID and submit to a search. 

Assistant ...