Arizona woman cleared after 22 years on death row: ‘This is not happiness’

Arizona woman cleared after 22 years on death row: ‘This is not happiness’

Debra Milke describes her release as ‘bittersweet’ after 25 years served for the murder of her son, in a case that rested on the work of disgraced detective

Debra Milke Phoenix

Debra Milke speaks in Phoenix. Milke spoke out for the first time after spending two decades on death row in the killing of her son. Her case was dismissed earlier this week. Photograph: Matt York/AP

An Arizona woman who spent 22 years on death row after being convicted of conspiring to murder her son in a case that rested on the work of a detective with a history of misconduct says regaining her freedom was vindicating but bittersweet.

On Monday, a judge formally dismissed murder charges against Debra Milke, ending what her lawyers called a “living nightmare” that spanned nearly half her life. After her son was found dead, the now-discredited Phoenix police detective Armando Saldate claimed Milke confessed to arranging her son’s murder, even though there was no witness or recording. …

In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

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In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

In less than 40 years, 124 countries have abolished the death penalty – and here’s why the rest should end it too

Bali Nine drug trafficking duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran will face a firing squad. Photo: Getty Images

Marched in handcuffs across the tarmac by a group of heavily armed officers wearing balaclavas and thick helmets, the bare faces of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran appeared even more tragic.

The blurry images showing them being taken onto the plane headed for Nusakambangan Island Prison highlighted the inhumanity of the fate that Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo is adamant they will face.

After more than 10 years in prison, they are among the next group whom…

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New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant, Incarcerated Women

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New York Is Illegally Shackling Pregnant, Incarcerated Women

The state of New York is illegally shackling incarcerated women during childbirth, according to a new report on reproductive justice from the Correctional Association of New York.

“Women continue to be shackled on the way to the hospital (even when they are in labor), during recovery (even within hours after giving birth and for long periods of time), and on the way back to the prison (even with waist chains just days after having a C-section),” the report said. New York passed an anti-shackling statute in 2009, but according to the Correctional Association, “23 of 27 women the CA surveyed who gave birth after the law went into effect said they were shackled at least once in violation of the statute.”

In many ways, the state of New York is abusing pregnant, incarcerated women all over again, given that 90% of all incarcerated women experienced sexual and physical abuse before heading to prison, according to the report.

Every year nearly 2,000 women give birth in America’s prisons and jails. Being jailed is a traumatic experience for women in and of itself, given the lack of training and concern for incarcerated women. But “this trauma is compounded by the lack of supportive services to help women grapple with the issues that led them to prison and the challenges they face once inside, including being separated from their families,” the Correctional Association said. Dani McCalin, writing at Truthout, reported that, “Women who are not pregnant use newspaper and magazines while on their periods because they are not provided an adequate number of pads.”

Now, couple pregnancy with incarceration and one can only imagine the horror that pregnant inmates face. In New York, pregnant women complained that prison officials did not provide them with enough food, adequate prenatal care, vitamins, heat, ventilation or privacy. The report highlighted how such an environment left many women “feeling depressed and ill-equipped to find stable homes for their babies.”

Clearly, the shackling of pregnant of women is an incredibly painful experience. “Shackling causes physical and psychological pain. It heightens the risk of blood clots and limits the mobility that someone needs for a safe pregnancy and safe delivery. It can cause fetal death”, the Correctional Association’s Tamar Kraft-Stolar said. 

Shackling can also cause pulled groin muscles and the separation of pubic bones. And because of the potential for injury, many states have restricted the practice. Yet some states, such as California, Texas, and New York, have struggled to fully ban such inhumane treatment, according to the New York Times. But the fact that many prison officials maintain the idea that it is okay to shackle pregnant women, speaks to a broader hatred and lack of compassion for women generally.

“We need to stop sending pregnant women to prison in the first place. It’s unacceptable that the law is being violated, but we need to stop locking up so many women, especially so many pregnant women”, said Kraft-Stolar.

Photo: Yanina Manolova/AP

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Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley officially commutes death sentences

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Outgoing Gov. Martin O’Malley officially commutes death sentences

Commutations signed for Vernon Evans, Anthony Grandison, Jody Lee Miles, Heath Burch

Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O’Malley


Gov. Martin O’Malley

ANNAPOLIS, Md. —Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has officially commuted the death sentences of four inmates who had been sentenced to die before Maryland banned capital punishment in 2013.

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Kitzhaber could Commute Sentences of all 34 (1 Woman) Death Row Inmates before Leaving office (poll)

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Kitzhaber could commute sentences of all 34 death row inmates before leaving office (poll)

The death chamber at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian)

With the rapidly approaching departure of Gov. John Kitzhaber, conjecture is flying about what he might do with the 33 men and one woman on Oregon’s death row.

Before he leaves…

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Women in New York State Prisons Face Solitary Confinement and Shackling While Pregnant or Sick

Women in New York State Prisons Face Solitary Confinement and Shackling While Pregnant or Sick

RJ-Report-Cover-JPEG-231x300What does solitary confinement have to do with reproductive justice? Quite a lot, says a new report about reproductive health care in New York’s women’s prisons. The Correctional Association of New York, a criminal justice policy and advocacy organization, released Reproductive Injustice: The State of Reproductive Health Care for Women in New York State Prisons. The report is a culmination of the organization’s five-year study of the state’s women’s prisons, including in-person interviews with over 950 incarcerated women and 1,500 mailed-in surveys.

New York State incarcerates nearly 4,000 women each year. On any given day, the New York Department of Corrections and Community Service (DOCCS) imprisons 2,300 women, for which it is responsible for providing health care, including reproductive health care. But that care is “woefully substandard,” charges the report. The Correctional Association found that DOCCS systemically offered substandard medical treatment, inadequate access to gynecological care, poor conditions for pregnant women, and insufficient supplies of feminine hygiene products and toilet paper. In addition, pregnant women are routinely shackled during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery, in violation of the state’s 2009 law.

Solitary confinement exacerbates these problems. Approximately 1,600 people are placed in solitary confinement in New York’s women’s prisons each year. On any given day, 100 women are held in solitary confinement. Until recently, no exceptions were made for pregnant women. But even women who are not pregnant have found that solitary confinement further obstructs their ability to access reproductive health care. “Solitary is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it impedes access to critical OB care and prevents women from getting the regular exercise and movement that are vital for a healthy pregnancy,” the report states. In addition, many pregnant women already experience stress and depression, feelings intensified by isolation. For pregnant women, the additional stress of being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day lowers their ability to fight infection and increases the risk of preterm labor, miscarriage, and low birth weight in babies.

Among the women surveyed by the Correctional Association, the three most common charges for isolation were, in order, disobeying a direct order, creating a disturbance, and being out of place. “It’s one of the clearest examples of how the prison system is a system of punishment and only uses punishment to address behaviors that need intervention and support,” Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project and the author of the report, told Solitary Watch.

DOCCS has two forms of solitary confinement—the Special Housing Unit (SHU), which is used to punish more serious rules violations, and keeplock, for less serious infractions. People placed in keeplock are usually confined to their own cells; if they live in a dorm setting, they are sent to a separate keeplock unit. SHU cells are in a separate area. In keeplock, individuals are allowed to keep their possessions while those in SHU are denied almost all of their property and receive only the minimal number of state-issued items. People generally spend no more than 60 days in keeplock, whereas people can spend months, years or even decades in the SHU.

Whether in SHU or keeplock, people are confined to their cells 23 hours each day. They cannot participate in programs, receive packages, or use the phone except to make legal or emergency calls. In addition, they are limited to one non-legal visit per week and three five to ten minute showers per week. They often have difficulty accessing doctors. When they are visited by medical staff, they are frequently forced to shout their concerns through a locked metal door, allowing people in neighboring cells and nearby staff to hear.

Until 2014, no written policy regulated pregnancy and solitary confinement. But as part of the settlement for the class-action lawsuit Peoples v Fischer, DOCCS issued a memo establishing a “presumption” against SHU placement for pregnant women unless a watch commander believes she poses “an immediate and substantial risk [to herself or others]…or an immediate and substantial threat to the safety and good order of the facility,” which remain left to the discretion of prison staff and officials. The memo does not restrict pregnant women from being placed in keeplock, instead suggesting it as an alternate placement for pregnant women who receive a SHU sentence.

The Correctional Association identified seven women held in solitary while pregnant between 2009 and 2012. All had problems accessing prenatal care from isolation. In one instance, a woman spent four weeks in keeplock where her complaints of bleeding were ignored. After the Correctional Association intervened, she was given medical attention and diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy, in which the pregnancy occurs outside the womb and, if unaddressed, can be fatal.

“Elle Farah” was pregnant when she arrived at Albion Correctional Facility for a work release violation. The week before, she had visited the emergency room for what she had thought was a miscarriage. “They told me to wait and come back on Friday [two days later] for a sonogram and a D&C,” she told Solitary Watch. But work release rules dictated that she return to prison on Friday for the weekend and so she missed the appointment. When she was released on Sunday, she had a drink. “After that, I got sick. I was throwing up. I was throwing up on my way to parole [the next day],” she said. At the parole office, she failed her breathalyzer test and was sent to Albion. When her vomiting continued, she wondered whether she was miscarrying. When she told the sergeant that she was pregnant, she recalled that “he was really nasty about it. He said, ‘That’s not gonna get you out of SHU.’” The prison sent her to an outside hospital where she was told that she was having a miscarriage, that doctors could do nothing, and that she simply had to wait.

A prison nurse served as her hearing officer. At one point, Elle recalled, he stopped the recorder and told her that he had looked at her sonogram and, although she had been told that she was miscarrying, the baby looked fine. He then turned the recorder on and sentenced her to 90 days in SHU. She received no additional medical care or extra food. She was able to shower three times a week and exercise by herself in a small outdoor cage.

Because Albion has no facilities for pregnant women, Elle was transferred to Bedford Hills two weeks later. She was fully shackled, including waist chains, for the entire ten-hour bus ride. When she arrived at Bedford, she was placed in SHU. “Even though I was in solitary in both places, I was happy to go from one solitary to another because Bedford’s was a little bit better,” she said. But even with the extra snack that Bedford provides pregnant women (“usually a bologna sandwich,” she recalled, although pregnant women are advised to avoid deli meats which can be life-threatening to a fetus), she remembered that she was always hungry. “I had to wait a long time to eat and there wasn’t a lot of healthy food.”

Even women who are not pregnant face reproductive injustices while in isolation. Donna Hylton was in the SHU at Bedford Hills for three months when she sought care for a burning sensation in her urethra. First, she had to tell the officer that she wanted to sign up for sick call. “You have to yell your business down a corridor full of women,” she explained. Hours later, a male officer arrived and asked, “Who signed up for sick call? Why do you want to sign up for sick call?” The response, Hyton remembered, “felt like a gross violation of my privacy.”

Two days later, a nurse, accompanied by two officers, stopped in front of her cell and spoke to Hylton through the closed door. Two weeks after that, Hylton was placed in handcuffs, ankle cuffs and a waist chain before being escorted to the prison’s medical unit. There, a nurse asked if she had been having sex. “The door was open and a sergeant was right outside,” she remembered. “There was no privacy.” Another week passed before she was once again shackled and brought to the gynecologist, who asked the same question about sex. He did not examine her before prescribing Tylenol.

Finally, the woman in the adjoining cell, Judith Clark, helped Hylton figure out that she had a urinary tract infection triggered by antibiotics for a sinus infection. To access medical care, Hylton once again had to yell down the corridor to sign up for sick call and go through the whole process again. But this time, the gynecologist examined her. Although her waist chain and ankle cuffs were removed, she remained cuffed by one hand during the exam. “”You’re cuffed, you’re chained, you’re strapped. You have to take off some of your clothes while being restrained,” she explained. “Being a [rape] survivor, it was very violating. I was re-traumatized.”

Hylton was taken off the antibiotics for her sinus infection and placed on medication for a urinary tract infection. “But it was only because of Judy that I learned what was causing it,” she remembered. “No one had asked me anything about my medications.”

Hylton’s medical ordeal happened in 1987. Nearly 30 years later, the Correctional Association found that women face the same obstacles. Nearly half of the women surveyed attempted to access gynecological care while in isolation. More than one-third reported that the officers refused to place their names on the sick call list unless the woman described her concern. The practice has caused some women to refrain from seeking medical, particularly gynecological, care while in solitary. Given that the average SHU sentence is about three months and that the average keeplock sentence ranges between 14 and 27 days, not seeking health care can have deleterious, and sometimes long-lasting, effects.

In addition, some women have reported that nurses on sick call rounds dismissed their concerns and refused to allow them to see a doctor. Even when nurses are not dismissive, they must assess the woman through the closed cell door. Women also reported waiting for weeks before seeing a doctor. In the meantime, their symptoms often worsened. Like Hylton, women in the SHU are taken to gynecological appointments in shackles. DOCCS policy is to remove shackles for the appointment at the doctor’s request, but seven of the 25 women who had GYN exams while in isolation reported that they remained in restraints while being examined.

The Correctional Association also has a Prison Visiting Project, which visits and monitors conditions in both men’s and women’s prisons in New York State. Scott Paltrowitz, the project’s associate director, points out that many of these concerns, such as access and quality of medical care, are also experienced in men’s isolation units. “Solitary confinement is torture for all people because of the intense suffering and severe physical and psychological debilitation it causes,” he told Solitary Watch. “The particularly devastating gender-specific impacts on women in solitary highlighted in Reproductive Injustice epitomize the egregious nature of this practice and the extreme punitive approach utilized in New York State prisons. New York needs to end this practice for all people.”

Hylton agrees. “No one should be dehumanized in such a fashion.” So does Elle Farah. “Don’t put no pregnant person in SHU,” she recommended, adding, “I hope the whole solitary thing ends. The crime doesn’t justify the punishment.”

“These [stories] are examples of why we need to keep people out of solitary and keep people out of prison altogether,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar. The report is the launching point for the Correctional Association’s Campaign to End Reproductive Injustice, which seeks to raise reproductive health care standards in prison, end shackling during all stages of pregnancy, and push New York to continue shifting away from incarceration by utilizing more alternatives to incarceration and ending the criminalization of social and economic issues.

Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America

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Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America

Ram Subramanian • Ruth Delaney • Stephen Roberts • Nancy Fishman • Peggy McGarry

Local jails, which exist in nearly every town and city in America, are built to hold people deemed too dangerous to release pending trial or at high risk of flight. This, however, is no longer primarily what jails do or whom they hold, as people too poor to post bail languish there and racial disparities disproportionately impact communities of color. This report reviews existing research and data to take a deeper look at our nation’s misuse of local jails and to determine how we arrived at this point. It also highlights jurisdictions that have taken steps to mitigate negative consequences, all with the aim of informing local policymakers and their constituents who are interested in in reducing recidivism, improving public safety, and promoting stronger, healthier…

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The Worst Company in the World Wants You In Prison (with Henry Rollins)

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The Worst Company in the World Wants You In Prison (with Henry Rollins)

Veröffentlicht am 26.01.2015

Henry Rollins profiles Prison Profiteers -six powerful institutions benefiting from locking up too many people for too long. SUBSCRIBE:… WATCH MORE:…

You can fight back. Join us:…

There is a profit incentive to incarcerating people. There are some companies that are showing big profits that will tell you that things have never been better, including:

Global Tel-Link
The GEO Group
The Bail Industry

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Race, Domestic Abuse and a Warning Shot: Marissa Alexander Released From Prison, But Still Not Free

Race, Domestic Abuse and a Warning Shot: Marissa Alexander Released From Prison, But Still Not Free

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Race, Domestic Abuse and a Warning Shot: Marissa Alexander Released From Prison, But Still Not Free

Case illuminates ‘many ills in our justice system,’ activist says

Marissa Alexander gives a statement to the media after her sentencing in Jacksonville, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Alexander, who claimed self-defense after prosecutors say she fired a gun at her estranged husband and his two sons, will be released from prison as part of a plea agreement for time served. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Mack)

Marissa Alexander, a domestic violence survivor and mother of three, was released from prison in Jacksonville, Florida on Wednesday after serving three years for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband. She will serve another two years under house arrest.

“Today, after the sentence given by Judge [James] Daniel, my family and I can move on with our lives,” Alexander said in a statement following the hearing.

Initially facing 20 years in prison under Florida’s “10-20-life” rule, Alexander’s case focused national attention on the treatment of domestic abuse survivors by the justice system, particularly women of color, as well as Florida’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

On Wednesday, her supporters and civil rights advocates—many of whom created the Free Marissa Campaign during her incarceration—said Alexander’s release from prison, while welcome, is not justice.

“One of the biggest issues and injustices Marissa’s prosecution and incarceration illuminates is the criminalization of women who defend themselves,” Ayanna Harris, co-organizer of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, told Common Dreams. “Marissa Alexander was bound at an intersection that illuminated many ills in our justice system, including mandatory minimum sentencing, the criminalizing of those who defend themselves, [and] inconsistent application of Stand Your Ground laws, just to name a few.”

Under House Arrest

“Marissa will be forced to be on strict home detention while being under surveillance for two years,” said Sumayya Coleman, co-leader of the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign. “This is by no means freedom in the sense we feel she deserves.”

While Alexander’s release from prison is a step in the right direction, Coleman said, what is needed next is “a systemic transformation that prevents black women and all survivors of domestic violence from experiencing the hostile and brutal treatment from policing, prosecution, and prison systems that Marissa has endured.”

Under house arrest, Alexander will have to wear an ankle bracelet that monitors her location through GPS tracking. She will be responsible for the $105 weekly cost of using the ankle bracelet, a total of $10,920 over the two years, and will be forbidden from leaving her house except for attending work, church, her children’s

“One of the biggest issues and injustices Marissa’s prosecution and incarceration illuminates is the criminalization of women who defend themselves.”
—Ayanna Harris, Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Now

school, or legal or medical appointments.

Though supporters have collected funds to offset some of the collective costs of Alexander’s house arrest, journalist Maya Schenwar recently explained how these electronic restrictions serve to “prisonize” her home.

“Instead, the ‘guards’ are satellites, their gaze always present, and they don’t even blink,” Schenwar said.

Two other factors in Alexander’s case that cannot be disassociated from her punishment, observers say, are her race and gender. As Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of women’s rights group UltraViolet, and Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, wrote for MSNBC:

Marissa’s early release isn’t true justice. Nor is her close call with a near-life sentence some mishap that could happen only in Florida’s courts.

For four years – three spent in prison and one under house arrest – Marissa had been fighting a losing battle for her freedom. She had three strikes against her the second she pulled that trigger: she is black, she is a woman, and she is a domestic violence survivor.

“It is egregious that many states have adopted Stand Your Ground legislation that is not protecting victims of domestic abuse,” Harris told Common Dreams. “We must examine why states were comfortable with adopting legislation that would protect those who killed others in the name of self-defense, but not those who in protecting their own lives valued the life of those inflicting harm.”

Institutional Challenges

No one was hurt the night that Alexander fired a gun to fend off an attack from her estranged husband, 36-year-old Rico Gray. The bullet ricocheted off the wall behind him and hit the ceiling. She called it a “warning shot.”

The case came shortly after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for murder in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. State Attorney Angela Corey’s aggressive prosecution of Alexander for a lesser charge sparked protests against both the individual case and the larger issues it represented.

During Alexander’s sentencing in May 2012, Florida State Rep. Corrine Brown took part in a courtroom protest, saying State Attorney Angela Corey had overcharged Alexander in a case of institutional racism.

“Where is the compassion? Where is the justice?” Brown said after the sentencing. “It does not stand today in Jacksonville and is unacceptable.”

“Three years is not mercy and 20 years is not justice,” Brown added. “If there ever was a stand-your-ground case, it was this one.”

In June 2014, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a Warning Shot bill into law, extending the protections of Stand Your Ground to those who threatened to use force without falling under the state’s 10-20-life law.

That Scott authorized that legislation, “a bill that was drafted with Marissa in mind, without adding any retroactive language to protect Marissa was another injustice,” Harris said. “To think that if Marissa were to fire the warning shot today, the State of Florida would be prohibited from prosecuting her speaks more about the limitations of the law than Marissa’s actions on August 1, 2010.”

“Where is the compassion? Where is the justice?”
—Florida Rep. Corrine Brown

Moreover, Alexander is now a convicted felon, which takes away her ability to vote in Florida. As Katie McDonough at Salon points out:

And while Jacksonville happens to be one of three cities in Florida that does not require people convicted of felonies to check a box alerting employers of their record on an initial job application, hiring and workplace discrimination against people convicted of crimes continues to harm the ability of women like Alexander to support themselves and their families.

However, Alexander’s case is far from unique. The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, for example, found in a March 2013 study (pdf) that 67 percent of women who were imprisoned in the state for “killing someone close to them were abused by the victim of their crime.” In a separate study, 90 percent of women in one New York prison reported experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

According to Chaudhary and Robinson, two-thirds of all women in prison in the United States are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, and 75 percent are survivors of domestic violence whose abusers were given lesser punishments. The authors continue:

While white women are more often treated as victims in domestic abuse cases and referred to services for help, women of color end up incarcerated as criminals and now make up the majority of the women in prison.

“No, this isn’t justice,” Chaudhary and Robinson write. “And neither is it for the other thousands of black and brown women who decided their lives matter enough to seek an escape from domestic violence, only to be told they’re wrong.”

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Serving Life for Surviving Abuse

Serving Life for Surviving Abuse

Misconceptions about domestic violence can turn the justice system against survivors, often with devastating results.

PeJo/Shutterstock/The Atlantic

On August 3, 1995, 23-year-old Kelly Savage was making last-minute plans to leave her abusive husband, Mark Savage. A few weeks before, Kelly had contacted a battered-women’s organization for advice on how to leave her husband. “Act as normal as possible,” they told her, a common tactic given to women seeking to evade their abusive spouse’s suspicion. For the next few weeks, Kelly quietly amassed what she needed to leave—birth certificates for her two young children (Justin, who was three, and Krystal, who was almost two), medications, and clothes—all of which she hid so that Mark would not find them. She purchased bus tickets to Los Angeles dated the next day, August 4…

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