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Articles by Bill Barton

Michigan Permits Prisoners to Seek Financial Assistance for College

In October 2019, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a 2020 budget that allowed prisoners to seek college financial aid through a state program that had long been out-of-bounds to prisoners.

The Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) reimburses tuition expenses for Medicaid-eligible students at participating private and public colleges. The 2020 budget allocates $64.3 million to TIP, administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury (DOT).

“It makes a statement saying that education changes lives,” said Terrell Blount, a program associate for the Vera Institute of Justice. “It reduces recidivism. Everyone agrees people should be held accountable for what they’ve done or committed, but that doesn’t mean that they should be deprived and have their educational opportunity taken away from them.”

Blount said the expansion of eligibility is a “big win” for Michigan, which is now among 18 states that allows aid to imprisoned students.

According to Kyle Kaminski, of the Michigan Department of Corrections, “there are currently four Michigan colleges that offer credit-bearing postsecondary education courses in Michigan prisons: Jackson College, Mott Community College, Delta Community College and Calvin College.

“In the winter semester 2019, Kaminski said, 770 incarcerated students participated in for-credit classes, not including correspondence ...

D.C. Juvenile Offender Finally Released After 26 Years Behind Bars

David Bailey was a reckless and violent 17-year-old when he shot and killed two people outside a Washington, D.C. night club. He was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 35 years to life.

According to The Appeal, “both of Bailey’s parents struggled with heroin dependency, according to court documents, and he was born opioid-dependent, which resulted in long-term symptoms. His father was violent toward his mother and as an infant he was passed between homes. He dropped out of school at age 13 and latched onto older children and adults who spent their days on the streets. He began selling marijuana and crack cocaine.”

During 26 years in prison, Bailey was written up for only one argument and one physical fight. Otherwise, his record was basically clean. He learned to read and write on his own, and obtained his GED. Programs aimed at rehabilitation were part of his day-to-day life while locked up, and he did his best to provide emotional and financial support to his two daughters.

James Zeigler, Bailey’s attorney, said he “had taken anger management courses, reformed his erratic behavior, and turned his life around.”

Citing modern neuroscience, the Supreme ...

Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders DOC to Free Terminally Ill Prisoners After DOJ Investigates Mistreatment

On January 28, 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) voided several regulations used by the state Department of Correction (DOC) to justify denying 29 petitions by prisoners for medical parole, also known as “compassionate release.” The ruling came in a case by one of a number of prisoners who alleged prison officials wrongfully rejected their applications for medical parole. 

The SJC ruling followed the start of an investigation by the civil rights unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston that is focused on abuse of elderly and ill prisoners, and abuse of solitary confinement, in the state’s prisons. The ruling came two years after the state legislature provided for the release of terminally ill or permanently incapacitated prisoners.

DOC and Governor Charlie Baker “have embraced a policy of what we call delay, deny until they die,” said Ruth Greenberg, an attorney for a number of plaintiffs, who specializes in post-conviction releases.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruling provides immediate relief to 73-year-old Joseph Buckman, who was convicted of his wife’s 1997 murder and now suffers metastatic lung cancer. Greenberg’s other client in the case, Peter Cruz, died at age 61 of renal disease before the ruling ...

Former Captain at Louisiana Private Prison Sentenced for Conspiracy to Violate Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

by Bill Barton

Roderick Douglas, 38, of Monroe, Louisiana, was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy with five other guards at Richwood Correctional Center (RCC) to violate the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Douglas was sentenced June 5, 2019, by U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana, for his actions in the October 2016 incident at RCC, a privately run federal prison near Monroe.

“Correctional officers deserve our respect for the jobs they do, but we must also hold them accountable when they willfully break the law and cover up the abuse of inmates,” U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said. “The defendant in this case ignored his role as a caretaker for prisoners and violated the rights of those he was sworn to protect. My office is committed to upholding the laws of our land and the rights of all.”

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband, who joined Joseph in making the announcement, said, “This blatant abuse of power will not be tolerated by the Department of Justice. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the commitment of the Civil Rights Division to vigorously prosecute those who inflict cruel and unusual ...

Virginia Governor Suspends Policy After Eight-Year-Old Strip Searched During Prison Visit

On December 6, 2109, Governor Ralph Northam suspended a Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) policy that authorized strip searches of minors.

An 8-year-old girl had been subjected to a strip search November 24, 2019, at Buckingham Correctional Center (BCC) in Dillwyn, before authorities allowed the child to visit her father.

“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as governor but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam told a local newspaper. “I’ve directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures.”

Even under then-existing rules, it appears that the incident in question was not allowable.

DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney wrote, “It is deeply troubling and represents a breach of our protocol. We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible. Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case, the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t the minor’s parent or legal guardian. The staff member ...

California’s New “Progressive” Governor Seeks to Halt Parole for Some Murderers and “Serious” Offenders

Then convicted Newport Beach sex offender Trenton Veches won parole in mid-March 2019, it was granted despite opposition by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has otherwise displayed a progressive criminal justice reform position, including his controversial death penalty moratorium announced in March. But since taking office in January 2019, the governor has attempted to stop at least 33 parole cases wherein a “serious offender” has been granted release, according to documents provided by the governor’s office.

“Parole hearings usually take place in front of a two-person panel,” explained Newsom’s spokesman, Brian Ferguson. “The governor can’t revoke these paroles but can ask the state’s 15-member Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) to review them.”

Newsom has also stopped 46 paroles for murderers using “a different process that allows him to act unilaterally through executive powers,” Ferguson added.

“Each case that comes before the governor is evaluated on its own merits and receives careful review and consideration,” he said.

The 45-year-old Veches was convicted by a jury in a high-profile 2007 case – while working as a supervisor in a municipal youth recreation program, he “liked to suck on the toes of young boys” – and sentenced to two concurrent ...

Illinois Prisoner Locked Up Decades Without a Conviction or Sentence

On October 11, 1982 Terry Allen was arrested and charged with sexual assault, after he allegedly forced a woman he’d just met at the McDonalds where she was employed to drive him in her car to a secluded spot and perform oral sex on him.

But in lieu of facing a criminal trial, he was offered civil commitment by prosecutors. Allen’s attorney told him if he underwent civil commitment “it would likely only last six months to a year.” Instead, Allen has remained in prison in Illinois for 36 years without a criminal conviction, or a release date specified, and — as of publication time — he is still incarcerated.

In their efforts to have him civilly committed, prosecutors hired two psychiatrists to determine if Allen met the criteria of being a “sexually dangerous person” (SDP). They then relied on what Allen told those doctors to move toward civil commitment instead of a criminal trial. Believing he needed to convince the psychiatrists that he was an SDP in order to avoid being locked up for a lengthy sentence, Allen told the psychiatrists that he’d forced a number of women to perform sex acts with him – something ...

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, ...