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Articles by Jordan Arizmendi

Colorado Becomes Seventh State to Prohibit Jailing Immigrants for ICE

by Jordan Arizmendi

On June 20, 2023, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a new law to “eliminate involvement in immigration detention” by local governments in the state. When it takes effect in 2024, House Bill 1100 will terminate detention agreements with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Teller ...

After Stripping Crucial Jail Services, NYC Splurges on $90,000 in Submachine Guns for Rikers Island Guards

by Jordan Arizmendi

According to a purchase order posted online by the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services on June 22, 2023, the city Department of Correction [DOC] paid a southern New Jersey gun distributor $91,171.50 for MP5 submachine guns for guards at its Rikers Island jail complex. ...

Prolonged COVID-19 Visitation Restrictions Net Georgia Jails Over $1.5 Million in Telecom Kickbacks

by Jordan Arizmendi

According to a report by the Georgia Current on April 14, 2023, jails in several of the state’s coastal counties were still profiting by extending COVID-19 visitation bans, forcing detainees and their loved ones to use more expensive phone calls or video calls to stay in touch.

When the report was published, over three years after the start of the pandemic, hundreds of detainees at the Chatham County Detention Center (DC) in Savannah were forced to choose from a menu of high-cost communication options: $1 to send out a tweet-sized text; $3 to make a 15-minute phone call; a whopping $8 to make a 20-minute video call. As a result, a detainee without a fat wad of cash is out of luck if he wants to speak to his wife or see his baby. Restrictions do not apply to visits with an attorney.

In-person visitation had resumed at the Glynn County DC. But there was still none at lockups in the other five counties: Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Liberty and McIntosh. In 2021 and 2022, these jails made at least $1.5 million in kickbacks from fees collected for phone and video calls, as well as text messages.

At ...

Biden Commutes 31 Federal Drug Sentences

by Jordan Arizmendi

On April 29, 2023, Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) reduced the federal prison sentences of 31 people, each serving time on home confinement for nonviolent drug-related convictions. The commutation of sentences was one component of a strategy to help people transition from incarceration to employment, the White House said.

The sentences commuted included men and women convicted of drug possession in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. Most of the convictions involved methamphetamine, but some were for possession of cocaine, heroin or marijuana. The 31 individuals were kept under home confinement until June 30, 2023, when their punishments ended. They were also not required to pay the remainder due of their fines, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

“These individuals, who have been successfully serving sentences on home confinement, have demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation, including by securing employment and advancing their education,” the White House said. “Many would have received a lower sentence if they were charged with the same offense today, due to changes in the law, including the bipartisan First Step Act” passed in 2018 under former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R).   ...

Connecticut GOP Lawmakers Force Governor to Replace Pardon Board Chair, Stopping All Commutation Hearings

by Jordan Arizmendi

A spate of Connecticut commutations in 2022 didn’t come close to resolving the backlog in applications, only one of which had been granted in two years. But it piqued the ire of reactionary GOP lawmakers, like state Sen. John Kissel, who loudly called on Gov. Ned Lamont (D) to “stop this right now.” On April 10, 2023, Lamont caved to that demand, replacing Board of Pardons and Paroles (BOPP) Chairman Carleton Giles.

By then, Kissel and fellow Republican lawmakers had staged a bizarre press conference in March 2023, littering a stage with cut-up mugshots of prisoners who had received clemency. Where the face should be, however, text spelled out the crimes for which each had been convicted, the length of his sentence and how many years had been subtracted from it.

Connecticut is one of just six states that vests clemency authority in an independent body. As the new chair of BOPP, Jennifer Medina Zaccagnini also chooses which board members hear commutations, a power Kissel and his fellow Republicans accused Giles of abusing – even though Giles is a former cop. Within days of her appointment, Zaccagnini announced an indefinite hold on all future clemency actions in ...

Flooding Causes Evacuation of 1,075 Detainees from California Jail

by Jordan Arizmendi

On New Year’s Day January 2023, as storms swelled California’s Cosumnes River near Sacramento, officials at the county’s Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (RCCC) evacuated all 1,075 detainees, as well as all staff, to other nearby lockups.

The Sacramento County Sherriff’s Office said that an emergency operation center was activated to assess flood risks and monitor conditions near the jail. After initially waiving aside the risks “[a]s weather conditions worsened and road conditions eroded,” jail officials finally decided to evacuate as “the impending threat of flooding at the facility grew by the hour.”

Down the road in Corcoran, two state prisons – California State Prison-Corcoran and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Substance Abuse Treatment Facility – sat two miles from the rising waters of Tulare Lake. Between the prisons and the lake, an extensive irrigation system maintained by one of the largest cotton producers in the world, J.G. Boswell Company, resulted in more flooding.

As extreme weather events worsen, it is imperative that buildings with occupants locked inside must be evacuated to let them survive brutal floods. These are also some of the structures most at risk in storms; land for the two state prisons ...

Prison Looks Different for Two Celebrity Women

by Jordan Arizmendi

On May 30, 2023, over a year after her felony conviction for fraud and conspiracy, Elizabeth Holmes, 39, founder of bogus and bankrupt blood-test maker Theranos, arrived at her home for the next 11 years: the Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Bryan, Texas.

Photographs showed Holmes entered the lockup smiling. The minimum-security FPC-Bryan has been nicknamed ‘Club Fed’ for its relative comfort: Prisoners share four-person rooms, sleep in bunk beds, play Uno late into the night and can purchase hobby items, like crochet needles, from the commissary.

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) established an FPC adjacent to each higher-security penitentiary so that lower-security prisoners assigned to work details could come and go more easily. Each FPC has dormitory housing, a low staff-to-inmate ratio and little to no perimeter fencing. White collar criminals populate most cells.

But Holmes will still make lifestyle adjustments. Instead of her trademark black turtlenecks, she’ll wear khaki pants and shirts. She can have no jewelry, except a wedding band or a religious medallion, and nothing worth over $100. Her work assignment is mandatory and pays $0.12 to $1.15 per hour – not bad for someone with no reported net worth, but a ...

Guantanamo Prison Down to 30 Detainees

by Jordan Arizmendi

My name is Majid Khan, and I am a real person. I am a human being. I am a Muslim man, and I first want to thank God for freeing me.”

With that, the 43-year-old Pakistani was transferred to Belize from the U.S. Military Prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, on February 2, 2023. He pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiracy and murder in the 2003 bombing of the Jakarta Marriiott Hotel, which killed 11 civilians. Military jurors decided to grant him clemency, setting up his release.

His departure left just 32 remaining detainees at the “Gitmo” prison. Khan was the first victim to detail a CIA torture program he endured at the prison, which was established by former Pres. George W. Bush (R) the year after attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., by the al-Qaida terrorist group. Khan, who went to high school in Maryland before moving back to Pakistan and joining al-Qaida, was captured by U.S. forces in 2003 and has spent almost half of his life in U.S. detention.

Bush’s successor, former Pres. Barack Obama (D), broke a campaign promise to close the prison. So far the same is true of his ...

States Take Legislative Action to Address Family Separation by Incarceration

by Jordan Arizmendi

When incarceration begins for a prisoner, a separate punishment also begins for his or her children. On February 27, 2023, Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) published its findings in How 12 States Are Addressing Family Separation by Incarceration – and Why They Can and Should Do More. The report summarizes state laws to alleviate incarceration’s impact on families.

In the federal prison system and five states – Florida, Hawaii, New York, Montana and New Jersey – requirements have been enacted to keep incarcerated parents within geographic proximity to their children. Seven more states – Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, California, Louisiana, Illinois and Tennessee – have passed legislation in which caregiver status is a mitigating factor in sentencing or access to alternatives to incarceration.

Proximity laws ensure a child and an incarcerated parent are never too far apart. After all, the single most important demand in a parent-child relationship is time together. But many states have only one or two prisons for women, often in rural locations far from cities. Also, not every child has someone to make the drive to a parent’s lockup. As a result, if the proximity legislation does not include funding for visitation as well ...

Biden Granting More Pardons Than Trump, Fewer Than Obama

by Jordan Arizmendi

A raft of Presidential pardons for federal marijuana-possession convictions ballooned the total number of clemencies extended to current and former prisoners by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D). But even without those pardons, Biden had by April 2023 far out-paced his predecessor, Pres. Donald J. Trump (R) – though both remain behind the last Democratic President, Barack Obama.

Biden pardoned six people at the end of 2022, including Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas, 80, who was sentenced in 1977 for killing her husband after he beat her while she was pregnant. Another pardon went to Charles Byrnes-Jackson, 77, who pleaded guilty in 1964 to selling liquor without federal tax stamps. Also pardoned was John Dix Nock III, 72, who was sentenced in 1996 for growing marijuana. Another pardon for marijuana trafficking went to Edward Lincoln De Coito III, 50; he was sentenced in 1999. Gary Parks Davis, 66, was pardoned for an over-the-phone cocaine buy that he was sentenced for in 1979. For using ecstasy and alcohol while serving in the Air Force when he was 19, Vincente Ray Flores, 37, was sentenced in 2008. He also was pardoned.

A pardon recognizes both acceptance of criminal responsibility and that ...