The Heir, the Judge and the Homeless Mom: America’s Prison Bias for the 1%

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The Heir, the Judge and the Homeless Mom: America’s Prison Bias for the 1% A DuPont trust-fund creep gets probation. A black woman looking for a job cries in jail for a week. Something’s wrong here
By Sadhbh Walshe
April 06, 2014 “ Information Clearing House – “ The Guardian ” — In 2009, when Robert H Richard IV, an unemployed heir to the DuPont family fortune, pled guilty to fourth-degree rape of his three-year-old daughter, a judge spared him a justifiable sentence – indeed, only put Richard on probation – because she figured this 1-percenter would “not fare well” in a prison setting .
Details of the case were kept quiet until just the other day, as Richard’s ex-wife filed a new lawsuit accusing him of also sexually abusing their son. Since then, the original verdict has been fueling some angry speculation – shock, horror – that…

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Mississippi scheduled to execute first woman in 70 years

Mississippi scheduled to execute first woman in 70 years

Michelle Byrom to die by lethal injection for killing her husband in 1999, despite her son having repeatedly confessed to his murder
Michelle Byrom, Mississippi
Michelle Byrom. Prosecutors claimed she was attempting to collect $350,000 from her husband’s estate. Photograph: Mississippi department of corrections
Mississippi is planning to execute a woman for the first time in 70 years, despite someone else having repeatedly confessed to the murder that she was convicted of orchestrating. Michelle Byrom is due to be killed by lethal injection as soon as Thursday for hiring a man to shoot dead her abusive husband, Edward, at their home in Iuka in June 1999. Prosecutors claimed that she was attempting to collect $350,000 from his estate and life insurance policy. Byrom’s son, Edward Jr, was the star witness for the prosecution at her trial. He said that he was part of the plot and that his friend Joey Gillis fired the shot. He and Gillis were convicted of lesser charges relating to the killing and were jailed. They have both since been released. Yet Edward Jr also confessed before the trial that he had carried out the killing alone, following years of abuse from his father, according to a state-appointed psychologist. He reiterated this in two letters to his mother in prison that have been published by her lawyers. “Mom, I’m gonna tell you right now who killed Dad, cause I’m sick and tired of all the lies,” Edward Jr said in one letter. “I did. And it wasn’t for the money, it wasn’t for all the abuse to me, it was because I can’t kill myself.” The psychologist, Dr Criss Lott, has now said in a sworn affidavit that he told the judge in Byrom’s trial about Edward Jr’s confession. And Byrom’s former lawyers – who gave her what one Mississippi supreme court justice later described as the most “egregious” representation that he had ever known – decided to not to submit the confession letters as evidence in her trial. “No one could consider this justice,” said Warren Yoder, the ‎executive director of the Public Policy Centre of Mississippi, who is assisting Byrom’s defence. “We believe that the case must be sent back for a retrial, at the very least”. Mississippi’s attorney general had slated 27 March – Thursday – as Byrom’s execution date. However, the state supreme court has not yet ruled on her final petition for a new hearing. Byrom’s defence team says it is possible but unlikely that the court would effectively rubber-stamp her execution at such short notice. Instead, she may be made to wait to learn the new date on which she is scheduled to die. Byrom’s attorneys are requesting a hearing that could lead to a new trial on the basis that such important evidence was not heard at her original trial. They have also complained that she repeatedly received inadequate counsel from her former lawyers. Byrom has said she was sexually abused by her stepfather as a girl. More than 40 years ago, she embarked on a relationship with Edward Sr, when she was 15 and he was 31. The couple married eight years later, by which time Byrom had given birth to Edward Jr. Byrom’s lawyers said that she was physically and emotionally abused by her husband throughout their marriage, and that he forced her to have sex with other men. Edward Jr referenced Edward Sr’s drinking and violence in the letters to his mother, and recounted how he was told by his father that he was a “lazy, good-for-nothing, little shit that was just a mistake to begin with”. A psychiatrist recruited by Byrom’s defence team diagnosed her with “borderline personality disorder, depression, alcohol dependence, and Münchausen syndrome, which caused her to deliberately make herself sick, for example, by ingesting rat poison”. Byrom was in hospital after ingesting rat poison on 4 June 1999, when Edward Jr called 911 and reported that his father was dead. When the police arrived, he later said in a letter to his mother: “I gave them a bullshit story after another, trying to save my own ass … I was so scared, confused and high, I just started spitting the first thought out, which turned into this big conspiracy thing, for money, which was all BS.” Recordings of police interviews with Edward Jr have since been lost or destroyed. What in fact happened, Edward Jr said in the same letter, was that “as I sat on my bed, tears of rage flowing, remembering my childhood my anger kept building and building, and I went to my car, got the 9mm, and walked to his room, peeked in, and he was asleep. I walked about 2 steps in the door, and screamed, and shut my eyes, when I heard him move, I started firing.” Byrom’s lawyers stressed in their submission to the court that Edward Jr knew where his father’s gun was kept, led police to the murder weapon, and was found to have gunpowder residue on his palms after the killing, while Gillis did not. They also pointed out that Byrom was questioned repeatedly while she “was hospitalised and being administered a variety of medications” including anti-depressants and alcohol withdrawal drugs, and was told that her son had already told them she hired someone to carry out the murder. “After being warned three times that if she didn’t name someone, her son would ‘take the rap,’ Byrom said she that she spoke with Gillis about killing her husband,” the lawyers said. She later repeated this under further questioning by police. A pharmacologist and toxicologist cited by the defence team testified that there is “a reasonable probability that the statements Ms Byrom made were unreliable, and her decision-making ability would have been markedly impaired” because of the medications. Byrom, Edward Jr and Gillis were charged with a so-called “murder for hire” plot. Prosecutors said Byrom had promised Gillis $15,000 to carry out the killing. In November 2000, Byrom was convicted by a jury of capital murder and sentenced to death. In exchange for a guilty plea and testimony against the other two, Edward Jr was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was released last year. However, Gillis’s lawyers then learned of Edward Jr’s confession to the state psychologist that he had killed his father. Conceding that this could have “seriously compromised” Edward Jr’s testimony against Gillis, state prosecutors agreed to drop his murder charge and strike a deal in which Gillis pleaded guilty to conspiracy and accessory after the fact to capital murder. Gillis was sentenced in 2001 to 20 years with five years suspended. But he was released in 2009. Arch Bullard, then an assistant district attorney, confirmed to the Daily Corinthian, the local newspaper, in March 2001 that the plea deal meant that the record would show that Gillis “was part of the conspiracy but not the person who actually committed the murder”. Yet Byrom, who had already been convicted of hiring him to commit the murder, remained on death row. Richard Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that Byrom’s case was “screaming out for further investigation”. “I think it is one of the most egregious examples of the problems of having the death penalty that I have seen in 20 years in the field,” said Dieter. “The government should stop this because it is an embarrassment to the law. If you want to keep the death penalty, this is not a good example for you”. The actions of Byrom’s former attorneys also harmed her right to justice, according to her new lawyers. After failing to disclose the letters during the “discovery” phase of the trial, they were blocked from using them at all. And they have confirmed that they convinced Byrom to waive her right to sentencing by jury because they were sure her conviction would be reversed on appeal. In fact, it was upheld by a state appeals court and the state supreme court. Last month, the US supreme court declined to hear the case. “Michelle deserves a new trial because the jury that convicted her was never allowed to hear about letters saying things that would have completely undermined the state’s case,” said David Voisin, a consultant on Byrom’s defence team. “And then the same judge that had blocked Edward Jr’s confession to the psychologist was allowed to be her only sentencer”. If the state supreme court rejects Byrom’s final attempt to secure a new trial, and allows state authorities to proceed with their plan to execute Byrom, her attorneys are planning to appeal to Governor Phil Bryant for clemency. Edward Jr could not be reached for comment. When asked by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger earlier this month whether he had killed his father, he replied: “No, sir”. Asked about his apparent confession to Dr Lott, the psychologist, Edward Jr reportedly hung up the phone….

Britain is going backwards on violence against women

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Britain is going backwards on violence against women

Victims of domestic abuse face devastating funding cuts, while their plight is ignored by our media and political elite
Domestic violence
‘Violence against women is a pandemic, and needs to be treated as such.’ Photograph: Garry Weaser

When Margaret Thatcher’s government took on the miners 30 years ago, she confronted an enemy that was organised: they had collective strength and a voice. The sides were not equal, but the miners’ strike could nonetheless be described as a “war” of sorts. Many of the targets of this government, on the other hand, are deeply fragmented, rarely seen or heard and often airbrushed out of existence by our media and political elite. Women who face domestic violence and abuse are just one chilling example….

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iraq: security forces abusing women in detention


Iraq: Security Forces AbusingWomen in Detention

Torture Allegations Underscore Urgent Need for Criminal Justice Reform

February 6, 2014

What Iraq Should Do

Investigate alleged abuse of women in detention

Prosecute those found responsible for abusing detained women

Repeal provisions that allow arrests based on secret testimony and coerced confessions

What Other Governments Should Do

Condition aid to Iraq, especially weapons and security assistance, on compliance with treaty obligations

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Women incarcerated in the Kadhimiyya women’s prison in 2006. Prior to 2009, Kadhimiyya was the only place in Baghdad where women charged with crimes were incarcerated. Security forces now detain women in prisons and other detention facilities across the country; many remain in detention for months and even years without trial.

© 2006 Yuri Kozyrev / Noor /Redux

Our Report:

“No One is Safe”

The Abuse of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System
February 6, 2014

(Baghdad) – Iraqi authorities are detaining thousands of Iraqi women illegally and subjecting many to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual abuse. Iraq’s weak judiciary, plagued by corruption, frequently bases convictions on coerced confessions, and trial proceedings fall far short of international standards. Many women were detained for months or even years without charge before seeing a judge.

The 105-page report, “‘No One Is Safe’: Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System,”documents abuses of women in detention based on interviews with women and girls, Sunni and Shia, in prison; their families and lawyers; and medical service providers in the prisons at a time of escalating violence involving security forces and armed groups. Human Rights Watch also reviewed court documents and extensive information received in meetings with Iraqi authorities including Justice, Interior, Defense, and Human Rights ministry officials, and two deputy prime ministers.

“Iraqi security forces and officials act as if brutally abusing women will make the country safer,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “In fact, these women and their relatives have told us that as long as security forces abuse people with impunity, we can only expect security conditions to worsen.”

In January 2013, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to reform the criminal justice system, beginning with releasing detained women who had judicial orders of release. A year later, the brutal tactics of security forces remain essentially the same and hundreds of women remain in detention illegally.

As fighting raged between a multitude of Sunni insurgent groups and government security forces in Anbar province in January 2014, Anbar residents expressed their frustration to Human Rights Watch over Maliki’s failure to carry out promised reforms. Residents’ lack of trust in security forces, caused by their policy of attacking residents in Sunni areas, including the abuses of women Human Rights Watch documented, is undermining the government’s military efforts against Al-Qaeda in Anbar, they said.

Many of the 27 women who spoke with Human Rights Watch described being beaten, kicked, slapped, hung upside-down and beaten on their feet (falaqa), given electric shocks, and raped or threatened with sexual assault by security forces during their interrogation. They said security forces questioned them about their male relatives’ activities rather than crimes in which they themselves were implicated. Security forces forced them to sign statements, many with fingerprints, which they were not allowed to read and that they later repudiated in court, they said.

One woman entered her meeting with Human Rights Watch in Iraq’s death row facility in Baghdad’s Kadhimiyya neighborhood on crutches. She said nine days of beatings, electric shocks, and falaqa in March 2012 had left her permanently disabled. The split nose, back scars, and burns on her breast that Human Rights Watch observed were consistent with the abuse she alleged. She was executed in September 2013, seven months after Human Rights Watch interviewed her, despite lower court rulings that dismissed charges against her following a medical report that supported her alleged torture.

Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi security forces regularly arrest women illegally and commit other due process violations against women at every stage of the justice system. Women are subjected to threats of, or actual, sexual assault, sometimes in front of husbands, brothers, and children. Failure by the courts to investigate allegations of abuse and hold the abusers responsible encourages the police to falsify confessions and use torture, Human Rights Watch said.

The vast majority of the more than 4,200 women detained in Interior and Defense ministry facilities are Sunni, but the abuses Human Rights Watch documents affect women of all sects and classes throughout Iraqi society.

Both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system. But women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society. Human Rights Watch found that women are frequently targeted not only for crimes they themselves are said to have committed, but to harass male family or members of their communities. Once they have been detained, and even if they are released unharmed, women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who perceive them to have been dishonored.

Iraq’s broken criminal justice system fails to achieve justice for victims either of security force abuses or of criminal attacks by armed groups, Human Rights Watch said. Arrests and convictions Human Rights Watch documented appeared often to have been predicated on information provided by secret informants and confessions coerced under torture.

“We don’t know who we fear more, Al-Qaeda or SWAT,” said one Fallujah resident, referring to the special forces unit that carries out counterterrorism operations. “Why would we help them fight Al-Qaeda when they’ll just come for us as soon as they’re done with them?”

Human Rights Watch reviewed a video in which a man representing himself as a leader of Al-Qaeda asks a crowd of onlookers in Ramadi, “What are we supposed to do when the army is raping our women? What are we supposed to do when they’re imprisoning our women and children?” Peaceful protesters posed these same questions to Iraqi authorities in mass demonstrations that began over a year ago, but Maliki’s promises to address these issues remain unfulfilled.

Women detainees, their families, and lawyers told Human Rights Watch that security forces conduct random and mass arrests of women that amount to collective punishment for alleged terrorist activities by male family members. Authorities have exploited vague provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2005 to settle personal or political scores – detaining, charging, and trying women based on their association to a particular individual, tribe, or sect, Human Rights Watch said.

In the vast majority of cases Human Rights Watch examined, women had no access to a lawyer before or during their interrogation, contrary to Iraqi law when security forces presented them with statements to sign, or at trial, either because they could not afford one or because lawyers feared taking on politically sensitive cases.

In every case Human Rights Watch documented in which women told the investigating or trial judge about abuse, the judges did not open an inquiry. Some dismissed the allegations, saying that they observed no marks on the defendant’s body or that the woman should have made the allegations earlier.

Iraqi authorities should acknowledge the prevalence of abuse of female detainees, promptly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, prosecute guards and interrogators responsible for abuse, and disallow coerced confessions, Human Rights Watch said. They should make judicial and security sector reform an urgent priority as a prerequisite for stemming violence that increasingly threatens the country’s stability.

“The abuses of women we documented are in many ways at the heart of the current crisis in Iraq,” Stork said. “These abuses have caused a deep-seated anger and lack of trust between Iraq’s diverse communities and security forces, and all Iraqis are paying the price.”

Women in Solitary Confinement: “The Isolation Degenerates Us Into Madness”

Women in Solitary Confinement: “The Isolation Degenerates Us Into Madness”

December 11, 2013  By

Central California Women's Facility, where more than a hundred women are held in isolation.

Central California Women’s Facility, where more than a hundred women are held in isolation.

A mass prisoner hunger strike rocked California’s prison system this past summer, drawing international attention to the extensive use of solitary confinement in the United States. Increasingly, solitary is finding its way into the mainstream media and onto activist agendas. Nearly all of the attention, however, has focused on solitary confinement in men’s prisons; much less is known about the conditions and experiences inside women’s prisons.

During October’s legislative hearing on solitary confinement in California, lawmakers asked prison officials about women in solitary confinement.  Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stated that 74 women were held in the Security Housing Unit at the California Institution for Women (CIW) and a handful of women were awaiting transfer from the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). CDCR does not separate people in the SHU with mental illness from those without mental illness. CDCR officials did not address the number of people in the Administrative Segregation (or Ad Seg) Unit.

According to CDCR  statistics, as of September 2013, 107 women were held in Ad Seg at CCWF, which has a budgeted capacity of 38. The average stay was 131 days. Twenty women had been there longer than 200 days, two had exceeded 400 days, and another two women had exceeded 800 days. At CIW, 34 women were in Ad Seg with an average stay of 73 days.  Two women have exceeded 200 days.

Lawmakers’ inquiry prompted advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners to send an open letter to Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner requesting that she investigate conditions of solitary confinement in women’s prisons. The group noted that, with the conversion of Valley State Prison for Women to a men’s prison and the transfer of several hundred women to California’s other two women’s prisons, the use of solitary confinement has dramatically increased.

To justify the increase, CDCR has cited “enemy concerns” or a documented disagreement between people that may have led to threats or violence. Those designated as having “enemy concerns” are locked in their cells 22 to 24 hours a day and lose all privileges. CDCR reports do not separate the number of people in Ad Seg or the SHU for rules violations versus those confined because of “enemy concerns.” The California Coalition for Women Prisoners has noted that many of these “enemy concerns” are based on incidents that happened years ago and may not be valid today.

Dolores Canales has a son who has spent thirteen years in Pelican Bay’s SHU. Canales has also had firsthand experience with solitary confinement. While imprisoned at CIW, she spent nine months in Ad Seg, where she was confined to her cell twenty-two hours a day. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard every day. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she recalled. But the isolation still took its toll: “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in,” she described. Even after being released from segregation, Canales was unable to shake that anxiety. She broke into a sweat and panicked each time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules. “I just can’t forget,” she stated years after her release from prison.

Although the spotlight on solitary has focused largely on California, every women’s prison has a solitary confinement unit. Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution for Women has a Closed Management Special Housing Unit (CM SHU) where women are confined to their cells 23 to 24 hours a day. “There is no free movement or social interaction,” reported one woman. “We just sit locked in a concrete and steel room the size of a small residential bathroom.”

In Indiana, Sarah Jo Pender has spent nearly five years in solitary.  “My cell is approximately 68 square feet of concrete with a heavy steel door at the front and a heavily barred window at the back that does not open,” she described. “Walls are covered in white; the paint chipped off by bored prisoners reveals another layer of primer white. No family photos or art or reminder notes are allowed to be taped to the walls; they must remain bare. Our windowsills would be a great place to display greeting cards and pictures, but those are off-limits, too… There is a concrete platform and thin plastic mat, a fourteen-by-twenty inch shelf and round stool mounted to the floor, and a steel toilet/sink combo unit. We get no boxes to contain our few personal items. Everything must fit on the shelf, bed or end up on the floor.”

Her cell is searched daily by guards although, like everyone else in the prison, she is strip searched any time she leaves the unit for a doctor’s appointment or a no-contact visit. When she is taken to the showers, she is handcuffed, then locked into a 3 foot by 3 foot shower stall with a steel cage door for a 15-minute shower. As is the case across the country, visits are conducted behind glass.

Pender was placed in solitary confinement after successfully escaping from prison in 2008. With the assistance of a guard, who had been having sex with her and several other women in the prison, she escaped. After 136 days, she was found, re-arrested and returned to prison, where she began her unending stint in solitary confinement. Because Pender is considered a high escape risk, the administration has taken steps to isolate her even within the segregation unit. “Other women could talk to each other through their doors, but they were instructed to never talk to me or else they’d be punished,” she recounted. “The male guards were never to speak to me unless there was a second guard present, and only to give me orders. Female guards only spoke when absolutely necessary, per orders, except they chatted freely with any other prisoner.”

As in many jails and prisons, those with mental health concerns are often placed in segregation. “One of them is going to be released to society this month,” Pender wrote. “She has been in solitary for six or eight months because she has repeatedly cut herself with razors, including her throat, several times. Their solution: lock her in a room and don’t give her a razor.”  Another woman spent 2 ½ years in segregation, originally for disruptive behavior. Her stay was extended each time she hurt herself. “She cut her wrists in the shower, they found her, took her to the hospital, stitched her up, put her back in lock and wrote her up for self-mutilation. She ripped the stitches out and got another battery write-up. Threw a mop bucket at the sergeant for another assault write-up and was completely maxed out on her sentence, so they let her go home from solitary. She returned that same year with new charges. She never got therapy while here—or any mental health care that she obviously needed.”

While Pender did not enter with preexisting mental health concerns, years of little to no human contact has taken its toll. At times she feels lethargic and depressed. In 2010, she had a psychotic break, which lasted nine months. Since then, she has been on and off half a dozen kinds of psychotropic medications. “I didn’t need the meds for the two years I spent in godawful Marion County Jail, and didn’t need them for five years at Rockville prison,” she recalled. “But when you lock people in rooms for long periods of time, the isolation degenerates us into madness, or at least depression.”

Others with no preexisting mental health conditions have also been affected. “I watched a woman claw chunks out of her cheeks and nose and write on the window with her blood,” Pender said. “My neighbor bashed her head against the concrete until officers dragged her out to a padded cell. Two other women tried to asphyxiate themselves with shoestrings and bras.” In Florida, faced with the prospect of ten months in CM SHU, a woman attempted suicide. “I had hung myself and was quite dead when the guards cut me down. My heart must’ve stopped because of the loss of involuntary functions, but still they wrapped me in a sheet and rushed me to medical and succeeded in reviving me,” she recalled.

Despite being locked in a cell the size of a bathroom for the foreseeable future, Pender hopes the increased outrage about solitary confinement leads to concrete changes. What would she ask people to do?

They can help by contacting their legislators and judges about their views on long-term solitary confinement. They can help by supporting small groups of activists and organizations who are passionate about this topic. Many people don’t have the desire to donate two hours of their week or month to a group, but what about two hours of their monthly wages? Or the book of stamps and box of envelopes that has been collecting dust since email was invented? There are lots of ways to help change the system. Whatever you choose to do, just DO something. Just having conversations with others about the subject is doing something. Someone else might volunteer to type up and format a newsletter. Help design a website. Circulate the info. Make phone calls to organize events. Anything is better than turning the page to the next article and forgetting about us, leaving us alone in our cells.

TOMORROW: Many women’s prisons utilize solitary to punish those reporting staff sexual assaults or harassment.

We demand the truth about Nadya Tolokonnikova!

We demand the truth about Nadya Tolokonnikova!


Nadya Tolokonnikova is gone.

On October 21, the jailed Pussy Riot member was taken from her prison colony in Mordovia for protesting the jail’s “slave-like” conditions by Russian authorities. While en route to a new prison, the 23-year-old disappeared — and Nadya’s family still has no proof she’s even alive.

At best, Nadya has been cut off from the outside world, the only legal way Putin has left to torture Pussy Riot and their families. At best, Nadya is mutilated or dead — and the least we’re willing to demand is answers.

Don’t let Nadya become another one of Vladimir Putin’s victims. If she’s still alive, raising our voices will help keep her that way, forcing him to reveal her whereabouts and comfort her loved ones. Don’t wait — write Putin’s government today!

PETITION TO VLADIMIR PUTIN: Tell us the truth about what’s happened to Nadya Tolokonnikova, and let her family know where she is and if she’s alright.

Please, free human trafficking victim, Sara Kruzan


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Governor Brown: Please free human trafficking victim Sara Kruzan

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