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Articles by Matthew Clarke

University of Texas Researcher Makes Data on In-custody Deaths Comprehensible

by Matt Clarke

All law enforcement agencies, jails and prisons in Texas are required by state law to report in-custody deaths, but the raw statistics are not easily understood. That shortcoming prompted University of Texas Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis postdoctoral fellow Amanda Woog to create the Texas Justice Initiative – an electronic data set that spans the years 2005 through 2015 and contains interactive search criteria such as the name, race, age, demographics, and time and cause of death for people who died in-custody.

“We can’t have an informed conversation about who’s dying at the hands of police, or who’s dying in jails, if we don’t literally know who’s dying and how they’re dying,” said Woog. “I think this information can help us get to the bottom causes of mortality in the criminal justice system and with that lead us to solutions.”

Those are laudable goals. One of the factors that has hampered recent nationwide discussions about unjustified police shootings is a lack of statistical data concerning such incidents. The only other state with a similar compilation of death statistics is California, which has a population 50% greater than Texas but about ...

Three State Supreme Courts Rule on Post-release Issues for Sex Offenders

by Matt Clarke

In six separate opinions, the Supreme Courts of Kansas, Ohio and Colorado ruled on issues related to sex offender registration and probation requirements.

In a trio of decisions handed down on April 22, 2016, the Supreme Court of Kansas held the 2011 amended version of the Kansas Offender Registration Act (KORA) could not be applied retroactively to increase the mandatory registration term of a defendant whose offense was committed prior to the 2011 amendment.

In 2001, Promise D. Redmond pleaded no contest to one count of indecent solicitation of a child 14- to 15-years-old. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the sentence was suspended and he was placed on parole. Under the 2001 version of the KORA he was required to register as a sex offender for ten years.

The amended 2011 KORA required sex offenders to register for 25 years. Redmond stopped registering after ten years, and the state charged him with three counts of violating the 2011 KORA. Redmond moved to dismiss the charges and argued application of the amended 2011 KORA was an unconstitutional ex post facto violation.

The trial court granted the motion and the state appealed. The Kansas Supreme Court ...

$103,000 Settlement Between Colorado Town and ACLU Over “Pay or Serve” Jail Policy

by Matt Clarke

On May 4, 2016, Colorado Springs officials signed off on a $103,000 settlement that will end the practice of municipal judges converting fine-only violations of municipal ordinances into jail time for indigent defendants.

In a longstanding practice known as “pay or serve,” Colorado Springs municipal judges would sentence defendants unable to pay fines incurred for violating city ordinances to jail time, then credit the fines at the rate of $50 per day spent in jail. That practice resulted in hundreds of people being incarcerated solely because they were too poor to pay fines for non-jailable offenses, essentially creating a debtors’ prison.

The ACLU of Colorado became aware of the town’s “pay or serve” policy and launched an investigation. It discovered over 800 cases in which people had been sentenced to jail for failure to pay fines for non-jailable offenses between January 2014 and October 2015. Some were sentenced to months behind bars, and many were incarcerated for violations they did not commit.

The most egregious case was that of Shawn Hardman, who spent almost 100 days in jail for multiple violations of a city ordinance against soliciting near a street or highway. However, the citations ...

Texas Lawyer Quits with 0-34 Record of Losses in Death Penalty Cases

by Matt Clarke

If you were on trial for your life, you would want the best possible lawyer. That would exclude Houston, Texas attorney Jerry Guerinot, 71, who has a great deal of experience but a very poor track record. Guerinot lost all 34 capital cases he defended at trial, and in August 2016 announced he was no longer taking such cases.

Not all of Guerinot’s clients who faced capital punishment reside on death row. Thirteen received life sentences in plea bargains or jury verdicts. Two had their death sentences commuted to life after the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendants who were younger than 18 at the time of the offense could not be sentenced to death. One is awaiting retrial. Ten have already been executed.

“People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty,” observed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Guerinot’s dismal record in death penalty cases reflected a failure to “conduct even rudimentary investigations,” according to an article in the New York Times titled “A Lawyer Known Best for Losing Capital Cases.”

“He doesn’t even pick the low-hanging fruit which is hitting him in the head as he ...

$25,000 Federal Jury Award in Suit over Teenager Raped in Oklahoma Jail

by Matt Clarke

On March 2, 2016, a federal jury awarded $25,000 to a woman who had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by a Tulsa, Oklahoma jailer when she was a minor held at the Tulsa County jail.

LaDona A. Poore was 17 years old when she was incarcerated at ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds $2.85 Million Award in Suit over Jail Prisoner’s Death

by Matt Clarke

On November 29, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury award of $1.5 million for pain and suffering and $917,000 for wrongful death in a lawsuit brought by survivors of a prisoner who died after being held for four days in an ...

Incarceration Nations: A Journey to Justice in Prisons Around the World, by Baz Dreisinger

Incarceration Nations by Baz Dreisinger (Other Press, 2016). 325 pages, $19.00 (hardcover).

When John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Baz Dreisinger began her two-year pilgrimage to prisons around the world, she probably told herself she was seeking the best practices in each penal system to help her understand what might be done to reform the mass-incarceration-driven justice system that prevails in the United States. It certainly seemed to come as a surprise when she concluded that reform may not be the answer at all – reform is too insufficient a concept, and wholesale replacement should be the goal.

That was not the only surprise Dreisinger confronted in her stirring hybrid of memoir and scholarly treatise, which never fails to portray the essential humanity of prisoners, victims and ordinary citizens in exquisite prose. Despite her expertise as a founder of John Jay’s Prison-to-College Pipeline program, which brings college classes into New York prisons and the formerly incarcerated into John Jay as students, Dreisinger was unprepared for the national philosophy of forgiveness and re-acceptance into the community practiced in Rwanda. A greater surprise: such compassion is even extended to the tens of thousands who took ...

Flooding Forces Evacuation of Over 4,000 Texas Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

Historic flooding along the Brazos River in southeast Texas last year forced the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to evacuate three facilities near Rosharon that housed more than 4,000 prisoners.

The evacuations began on May 29, 2016, when the Stringfellow and Terrell Units were evacuated, according to TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark. Those units contained around 2,600 prisoners, most of whom were sent to facilities north of Houston, about 100 miles away. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.63].

An altercation occurred at the Luther Unit when, after the power failed, evacuated prisoners refused to return to their assigned areas. Guards deployed chemical agents on around 50 prisoners who failed to follow orders, Clark said. No guards were injured, he added, and there was “no public safety threat,” but three prisoners were taken to the hospital – one for stitches and two for unidentified reasons.

About 150 trustees were evacuated to the Ramsey Unit which is located on the same large prison farm complex as Stringfellow and Terrell. The current Ramsey Unit was built on higher land after the original flood-damaged Ramsey Unit was demolished. Ironically, the Stringfellow Unit was constructed on the flood-prone site of the ...

Stipulated Order Desegregates Arizona Prisons; $195,000 in Attorney Fees Awarded

by Matt Clarke

Decades after prisons in the Deep South were desegregated by the federal courts, a federal judge has approved a stipulated order desegregating housing and job assignments in Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) facilities. The February 5, 2016 order by U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson also ...

Missouri Prisoners Vexed by Bills for Incarceration Costs

by Matt Clarke

Current and former Missouri state prisoners have been experiencing “sticker shock” as they are presented with bills for the cost of their incarceration.

The Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA) has been around since 1988, but wasn’t seriously enforced until 2006. Under MIRA, prisoners can be billed for the full past and future costs of their incarceration if it is believed they have the ability to pay 10% of the cost of two years in prison (about $2,200 annually). The statute allows state officials to seize 90% of a prisoner’s assets or income stream to satisfy the debt. With the costs of incarceration so high, such debts can be significant. [See: PLN, April 2014, p.28].

A hypothetical prisoner serving a ten-year flat prison term would be liable for the entire cost of his incarceration – around $220,000 – should he have approximately $4,400 in assets. And state officials could move to collect the full amount even after he is released. Pensions and government benefits are not exempt, which can leave former prisoners with insufficient funds for housing or even food.

For example, when he was released after serving a four-month “shock” sentence for drunk ...


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