Thursday, March 21, 2013

ignored life and death at Canaan

Something I noticed in the article discussed in my previous post: it contained no expression of sympathy for the inmate killed at Canaan in January. He was 29-year-old Ephraim Goitom. 

The slain inmate was as helpless--and his murder as undeserved--as the correctional officer who was killed. The murdered CO, 34-year-old Eric Williams, left behind friends and family. How they must ache for his loss...but don't forget that Ephraim Goitom, too, left behind family and friends. His friends in prison must be frightened to have seen how easily his life was taken.

COs choose to work at the prison. They can go home after their shift, they can have dinner with their families, they can go on vacation, they get paid to be there. And if those benefits are seen as inadequate in the face of the danger the CO faces, he can work elsewhere. 

The inmate may have "chosen" to be there by committing a crime, but he cannot choose to leave. He is stuck in a dangerous environment, helpless against threats.

Criminals are sentenced to time in prison; they are not sentenced to endure physical threats in addition to incarceration. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is supposed to provide a safe environment for them. 

An inmate's life is as valuable, as worthy of grief and mourning, as worthy of notice as other lives. To ignore an inmate's murder because he was only an inmate is despicable. 

life and death at Canaan

Canaan, the high security federal prison in Pennsylvania, has been in lockdown since February 25 when an inmate allegedly murdered a correctional officer. Reports from the prison, through phone calls to family members, are that, in the unit where the CO was killed, the cells have been stripped of all personal belongings. Books, magazines, radios...all removed. Other reports say the prison will remain in lockdown until sometime this summer. There is cruel uncertainty for families and friends trying to learn if inmates are safe--from each other and from the angry and frightened correctional officers.

Canaan is a troubled prison.
Since the facility opened in 2005, more than a dozen inmates have been charged with assaulting correctional officers or attacking each other. In the last three years, three inmates have stabbed other inmates to death. The latest victim was 29-year-old Ephraim Goitom in January...
So far this year, inmates at Canaan have been especially ruthless, perpetrating the first inmate-on-inmate murder, the first assault on a guard with a weapon and recently the first homicide of an officer out of all the 114 facilities in the Bureau of Prisons...
On top of all that, the Canaan community is also mourning the death of a CO who killed himself soon after the funeral of the murdered CO. It sounds like a miserable place to work. 
"If you're not scared when you go to work, you're not right," one correctional officer said. "These inmates are there for a reason. If you don't watch your back, you're going to be in trouble."
Darrell Palmer, the president of the union representing correctional officers at Canaan, put it this way:
"Imagine what it would be like if you came to work and they put you in this cell block with 130 criminals and they gave you a set of keys and a radio and said, 'Run it.' And there's murderers, drug dealers, rapists and even terrorists. And you're going to deal with them for eight hours, five days a week. People in the public don't realize what it's like." 
Correctional officers often work alone at Canaan, leaving them vulnerable to attack. The murdered CO was working alone when he was killed.
It does not make sense, correctional officers and their union officials contend, to assign one guard per 100-plus inmate housing unit. But that has been the norm since 2005, when the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided to assign only one officer to each cell block, instead of two, to save money. 
That decision has cost lives, some say.
The solution seems to be to put two COs on duty at a time. That's what the correctional officers union is pushing. They could be right but that is an expensive solution. 

Another idea would be to lower the prison population among Bureau of Prison facilities and spread inmates out so the COs aren't responsible for so many inmates at once.

Keeping non-violent offenders and first-time offenders out of prison if at all possible has a number of benefits: Fewer low-level criminals "graduate" from prison with an education in high-level criminal skills; fewer low-level offenders spend years isolated from society, making it harder for them to re-integrate when they complete their sentence. Fewer families broken up, fewer families in economic distress. More room in prison for those who do need to be there, a better workload for the COs, and a considerable cost-savings for the federal government.

Judging by the article linked above, which includes not even a hint that the inmates may have a perspective worth hearing, no one will consider the possibility of lowering the population of federal prisons. Especially not the correctional officers union...which benefits from hiring more correctional officers.

I challenge journalists to find the other side of the story: the inmate experience. Why is there so much violence in a single prison? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

sex offenders = revenue stream for Michigan

A Michigan state senator has come up with a way to increase state revenue.
A bill to be considered this afternoon by the Senate Judiciary Committee would require offenders listed on the registry to pay $50 each year. Under current law, people pay the $50 fee just once when they are first registered.
Fifty dollars here, fifty dollars there, and pretty soon Michigan is talking about real money.
The change would be a boost to the fund that helps establish, run and enforce the sex offender registry. Current law raises about $160,000 a year through the fees. But if offenders were required to pay fees annually, up to $700,000 a year could be raised, according to an analysis from the Senate Fiscal Agency...
The current fee structure covers only a fraction of the cost of running the sex offender registry. The Senate Fiscal Agency analysis says it costs roughly $1.2 million a year to run the registry at the state level, with $600,000 of that money needed to maintain the database.
If Michigan spends $1.2 million each year to track its 42,000+ registered sex offenders, how much is spent among all fifty states to maintain all fifty registries? And we aren't even touching on what we spend to maintain the national registry.
“It is very important for people to know if somebody is living in their neighborhood who could possibly be a danger to their children or grandchildren,” Jones [the fear-mongering state senator who sponsored this bill] said.
Hard to argue with this. It is important for people to know if somebody in the neighborhood could be a danger to children so let me help clarify things for those people who don't know the answer to this question: Yes, there are people in your neighborhood who could be a danger to children and most of these dangerous people are not listed on the sex offender registry. Most sex offenders are first-time offenders and most do not commit another sexual offense. 

The new offenders have to come from somewhere else--your family, your neighbors.  

If bills like this are enacted, states would have a financial interest in increasing the numbers of sex offenders on the registry...which helps put the final paragraph of the story in perspective:

The measure is separate from a bill approved by the Legislature earlier that would lead to more sex offenders being listed on Michigan’s public online registry. Gov. Rick Snyder announced Tuesday that he has signed that bill into law.
More sex offenders means more $50 fees paid but it also means more offenders to track, more GPS monitors to purchase, more officers to check the monitors, more officers to do the monitoring, more staff needed to manage the registration process...leading to a need for even more sex offenders.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

building new parks to drive out sex offenders

Los Angeles must have money to burn. They are creating parks in neighborhoods that have too many registered sex offenders.
Officials say since state law bars registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a park or school, offenders who live near the new parks will be forced to move.
"[Sex offenders] do have rights, their constitutional rights, but our children have the rights to be safe as well," said Cristina Garcia, parent.
Yes, we all want our children to be safe. Thank goodness mine can be safe without violating the rights of other people.
Of registered offenders, only a tiny percentage will reoffend with a sexual offense so the ones to watch for are the ones who haven't been caught yet...and they aren't on the registry. 
The new parks do nothing to make children any safer than they already are.