in light of minnesota’s anticipated $7 billion state deficit, agency heads and administrators are scrambling to minimize cuts to their units. mark brunswick of the strib reports on how the state department of corrections used dramatic video evidence to resist cuts:

Dealing with a current $10 million budget cut, Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian has made an impassioned pitch about the perils of slicing any more funding … In the last six years it has had $85 million in operational cuts and reduced staff by over 300 positions. Double bunking to save money at prisons in St. Cloud and Stillwater have proved problematic. Cuts in recreation time for prisoners has led to violence, according to the department… To make her point, Fabian presented video footage taken from prison security cameras, showing a guard head-butted unprovoked, another guard sprayed with hot water and honey and then assaulted, and inmate fights in cell block areas where responding guards are armed with nothing more than a chemical irritant…

while i’m upset to see such dehumanizing conditions for both correctional officers and inmates, part of me wishes that the university could safeguard our interests by showing legislators our own dramatic footage of overstuffed classrooms and crumbling infrastructure. nevertheless, my university experience also makes me somewhat sympathetic to corrections administrators — across-the-board freezes and budget cuts hurt lean units (such as MN DOC and my home department of sociology) more than fat ones. if a department is already running near peak efficiency, even a minor cut carves muscle and bone from the operation.

while i’ve argued that the u.s. overincarcerates its citizens, my home state continues to maintain a relatively lean prison system. this makes it difficult to cut costs (e.g., via early release programs) without jeopardizing public safety. with the national imprisonment rate at 509 per 100,000, most states are incarcerating hundreds or thousands of prisoners who might be good candidates for early release or community supervision. minnesota is currently reserving incarceration for the .19% of the population that tends to persist in more serious or frequent criminal activity — this is less than half the rate in neighboring wisconsin and less than one-fourth the rate of high-incarceration southern states.

while i’m sympathetic to the difficulties of cutting minnesota corrections expenditures below current levels, i’d hate to see any department’s video sway the legislators — especially in light of the governor’s proposed 11% cut to higher education, health care, and other state units.

this one is personal for me.  philip scott cannon is one of the men i have been working with in my inside-out classes at the oregon state penitentiary.  last week, it was exactly 10 years since his arrest for three murders that took place on a stormy november night in oregon.  scott was convicted based on circumstantial evidence and ballistic evidence that since has been widely discredited (proclaimed “bad science”).  he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  scott has proclaimed his innocence all along; during his incarceration, he has become a thoughtful and influential leader in the penitentiary.  he is an invaluable asset to my inside-out courses, but i would much rather see him out in the community.

in the years after his trial and conviction, a lot has happened.  as reporter thom jensen explains:

Then there is the prosecution’s key witness, Bimla Boyd.

Boyd owned the property where the murders occurred. Two of the victims, Kinser and Osborne, were her personal caretakers.

Since the 1998 murders, two more people have died at Boyd’s home under suspicious circumstances. In 2001, her estranged husband, Charles Boyd, died from a drug overdose.Weeks later, Boyd turned up in a Marion County court with Charles Boyd’s Last Will and Testament, a document that awarded Bimla Boyd everything. The will was witnessed and signed by Boyd’s new caretaker, 54-year-old Robert Daniel Spencer.

In 2002, Spencer died in Boyd’s home from a single gunshot to the head. Boyd was arrested for the murder and pleaded guilty to manslaughter after convincing prosecutors she killed Spencer because he was molesting her 14-year-old daughter. Boyd could be released from prison as early as April 2009.

there’s more to the story, including a witness who casts doubt on bimla boyd’s story but who was never questioned by detectives and never had the opportunity to testify at the trial.  with this additional evidence and renewed attention on the case, scott is hoping for another chance.  as jensen reports:

Right now Scott Cannon is asking for what is called Post Conviction Relief. If the court grants his request, it could overturn his life sentence for a lack of evidence.

But for now, Oregon attorney general spokesman Jake Weigler said his office is sticking to the case against Scott Cannon.

“Before you let somebody out of jail, you want to make sure that they didn’t do it,” Weigler said.

Scott Cannon says he thought you were supposed to prove someone is guilty before you put them in prison.

please follow this link to read or watch the whole story for yourself.  and then let’s all hope for justice.

a local pubcrim note from andy sagvold at the council:

Do you work with or know women with children whose father is incarcerated?

This Parenting Class is a wonderful opportunity for mothers and their children impacted by incarceration. The class is FREE! Also, structured child care, food and transportation to and from the class is provided at no charge. The purpose of the Community Parenting Class is to support the unique challenges of parenting while the father of the children and/or the mother’s significant other is incarcerated.

The next Community Parenting Class starts on August 20th (please see and distribute attached flyer)!! The Council on Crime and Justice would appreciate your help in spreading the word about these classes. Please forward this email on to others that may be interested and/or work with women who are impacted by incarceration. This Parenting Class is in its sixth series, having provided support and parenting education to over 60 mothers in our community! This series of classes will be held at the Council on Crime and Justice (822 South Third St, Mpls MN 55415) and registration can be completed by contacting Karen at (612) 353-3022.

the bureau of Justice statistics has released mid-year 2007 numbers for prison (1,595,034) and jail (780,581) incarceration. the data continue the trend of recent years: correctional populations continued to grow in 2007, albeit at a slower rate than in the 1980s and 1990s. [click charts for data]

according to bjs, african american males comprised 35.5 percent of the inmates held in u.s. prison and jails. about 4.6 percent of all african american males were in prison or jail on 6/30/2007, relative to 1.7 percent of hispanic males and 0.7 percent of white males.

larry oakes of the strib offers a well-researched look at sex offender civil commitment in minnesota. a few bullets:

  • 19 states and the federal government now detain former prison inmates for indefinite involuntary treatment.
  • the state now has the highest rate of sex offender civil commitments, locking up 544 men and 1 woman.
  • minnesota numbers have spiked dramatically since a heinous 2003 case.
  • it costs $134,000 per inmate per year in the minnesota sex offender program, relative to $45,000 per inmate per year in state prison, $15,000 per year for outpatient treatment, $10,000 per year for gps monitoring, and $4,000 per year for electronic home monitoring.
  • recidivism has dropped dramatically. as a 2007 state department of corrections report concludes: “due to the dramatic decrease in sexual recidivism since the early 1990s, recent sexual reoffense rates have been very low, thus significantly limiting the extent to which sexual reoffending can be further reduced.”

here’s the lead:

In the 14 years since Minnesota’s Sexually Dangerous Persons Act cleared the way for the state to detain hundreds of paroled sex offenders in prison-like treatment centers, just 24 men have met what has proved to be the only acceptable standard for release.

They died.

“We would say, ‘Another one completed treatment,'” said Andrew Babcock, a former guard and counselor in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP).

conor clarke and greg yothers offer a nice boston globe op-ed on felon voting — the more we imprison, the less we vote. here’s the bit i like:

[O]ur experience in class suggests that the opposite is true. We all write the same papers, read the same material by John Locke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and are all equally engaged in debating and discussing everything from the role of the good citizen to America’s role in the world. There is no reason to think inmates are uniquely unqualified to wield a vote, and no reason to think they can’t.

Yes, going to prison necessarily entails the loss of liberty. But the right to vote is in many ways more important than the right to walk freely down the street: Voting is the most basic check against the coercive power of the state. The places where that coercive power is most starkly exercised, such as prisons, are also the places where that most basic of checks becomes more important. The fact that prisoners have a big stake in governmental choices isn’t an argument in favor of disenfranchisement; it’s an argument against.

the smoking gun reports on an arkansas man who is suing the benton county jail for not providing him with sufficient food. broderick laswell (left) says he dropped from 413 pounds to 308 pounds after only eight months in the jail. He has filed a federal lawsuit charging that the jail fails to provide inmates with enough food.

while many will no doubt dismiss these claims from such a still-large man, this seems like a scary weight drop over such a short period — 13 pounds a month or about .44 pounds per day. whenever one visits a prison, inmates will share some shocking food stories. for example, one young man told me he found a single glove and a rat in his food (reminding me, of course, of this #1 hit).

while the quality of prison food is usually unimpressive and sometimes downright shameful, most institutions at least deliver 2000+ calories per day. to the best of my knowledge, however, they are not mandated to deliver any more calories to a 6’10” 400-pounder than to a 4’10” 100-pounder. the issue of weight loss is bigger for prisons than for jails, since prisons tend to keep people far longer. inmates with funds, of course, can often supplement their diets by purchasing snacks in the institution. if mr. laswell is convicted of the murder charge on which he is being held, his weight will likely stabilize over a long term in an arkansas state penitentiary.

there’s another fine adam liptak piece on punishment in today’s times. as is by now well-documented, these united states have the highest incarceration rate in the world.

one of the cited lawprofs pointed to democracy as the reason for high u.s. incarceration rates. yeesh — i get the whole “lack of civil service institutional buffer” thing, but c’mon. fortunately, marc mauer pointed out that each of these semi-united states have wildly divergent incarceration rates: minnesota (with a rate of 300 per 100k) looks more like sweden (80 per 100k) than like texas (1000 per 100k). would anyone but a carpetbagging dallas stars fan suggest that texas is 3.3 times more democratic than minnesota? or, worse, that texans are 12 times more democratic than swedes?

via michael bischoff:

I’d like to ask for your help in recruiting formerly incarcerated participants for some listening sessions that the Council on Crime and Justice is helping organize. The participants will get a $25 gift card. I’m attaching a flyer about the sessions, which gives more details. Please post the flier, and please also help us personally recruit people that you think would be a good fit for it.

These listening sessions will collect input about how neighborhoods can engage more fully in prisoner reentry. The attached flier is for 2 sessions for North Minneapolis residents that were formerly incarcerated. There will also be sessions in Frogtown (St. Paul) and Rochester, and we’ll send those flyers out as the sessions are scheduled. In each location, there will be 2 listening sessions with individuals who have been formerly incarcerated:

Group 1: Participants must have been previously incarcerated in a Minnesota State Prison and have encountered successes in re-entering your home community.
Group 2: Participants must have been recently released from a Minnesota State Prison and currently be under supervision.

This project is being done in partnership with the New Living Way Christian Center, the MN DOC, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Governor’s Office on Faith and Community Service. Later this year there will be community forums in North Minneapolis, Frogtown, and Rochester to discuss the findings.

Thank you for your help in inviting people to these groups. I think this process will be very useful for all of us that are working in reentry. When you have people that want to sign up for the sessions, please have them contact the Council’s Research Department at 612-353-3003.

Thank you!

the chronicle of higher education offers a fine article on some of the difficulties facing prison researchers. the minnesota department of corrections and the university’s internal review board have been very supportive of my research, so i’m counting my blessings.