Entries in Prisoners (8)


Supreme Court Upholds Jail Strip Searches

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Strip searches will remain a regular part of the jailing process in the U.S. after the conservative majority of the Supreme Court voted five to four on Monday that people can be "required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed" for literally any offense.

In its ruling, the high court determined that the 13 million people admitted to jails annually must submit to a strip search if required, regardless of what crime they've allegedly committed, even when there's no suspicion that they're carrying contraband such as weapons or drugs.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that courts cannot criticize the policies of corrections officials who have to be concerned with public health and information about gang affiliations in addition to weapons and drugs being possibly smuggled into jails.

The case centered around the 2005 arrest of New Jersey resident Albert W. Florence, who was arrested on an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine that, as it turned out, was paid.

Florence was stripped search in two jails in two counties and made to stand naked in front of a guard who told him to move intimate parts of his body.  Florence later said, "It was humiliating.  It made me feel less than a man."

Speaking for the dissenting judges, Justice Stephen Breyer of the court's liberal wing, said strip-searches were "a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy" and should be used only when there is cause to do so.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Indiana Jail Loses Three Prisoners in Six Weeks

Kevin Horan/Stone(LAPORTE, Ind.) -- The county jail in LaPorte, Ind., is having such trouble keeping track of prisoners that three inmates have been mistakenly released in the last six weeks.

In the latest incident, St. Louis police arrived to claim Jervon Martin–held for drug and resisting arrest charges–only to find the LaPorte jail had released him due to a “paperwork mistake.” Martin is still at large.

In late January, Kevin Coleman tricked a guard into believing he was another prisoner and was allowed to walk out of jail.  In February, Johnnie Kirkwood was mistakenly released instead of another inmate with the same last name. Both were apprehended within 90 minutes, according to the sheriff’s office.

In a statement, LaPorte County Sheriff Mike Mollenhauer said “all three incidents occurred due to jail staff failing to follow proper procedure.”  Mollenhauer complained his “over-populated” jail was staffed by an inadequate number of “over-worked” employees.

The Indiana sheriff fired one jail guard, demoted another, and reprimanded a third connected to the incidents.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mississippi Ends Decades-Old Mansion Trustee Program

iStockPhoto/Thinkstock(JACKSON, Miss.) -- Mississippi’s new governor has abolished a decades-old practice that involves inmates working at the governor’s mansion. The program sparked national debate after former Gov. Haley Barbour decided to pardon four trustees convicted of murder in early January, along with some 200 other people.

Gov. Phil Bryant’s office said that state prison trustees stopped working at the governor’s residence as of Thursday.

Mississippi was one of the last states where the program was still thriving. South Carolina ended its trustee program in 2001, after inmates were found to be having sex in the governor’s residence. North Carolina has a similar program that uses inmates for upkeep of a part of the governor’s residence.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Family Fears Revenge from Killer Pardoned by Haley Barbour

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(JACKSON, Miss.) -- People in Mississippi are angry about former Gov. Haley Barbour's decision to pardon about 200 of the state's prisoners. It seems that the pardon no one can forgive is that of David Gatlin.

Gatlin shot his wife dead with their son in her arms and walked out of jail a free man last week, the beneficiary of one of the pardons or early releases granted by the former governor during his final days in office.

Gatlin was freed before the courts could step in and halt the release, and now no one knows where he is.

His wife’s sister worried he’ll come back to the family to finish the deed. She said Barbour is a coward for freeing these men and then disappearing.

It’s now clear that Gatlin and three other convicted murderers were given a get-out-of-jail-free card because they worked in the governor’s kitchen and washed his cars.

Lawmakers are now looking for ways to limit the power of the pardon and, at the same time, block those four pardons and nearly 200 others.

“The public doesn’t get it. I don’t get it either,” said attorney Mark Mayfield. “Haley has done a lot of great things, but I’m afraid that in the large measure this will tarnish his image as he goes forward.”

Barbour, an outspoken tough-on-crime crusader, never has been afraid to speak his mind -- until now.

ABC News went looking for the former governor at his new law firm, trying to get an answer for the frightened families crying for a reasonable explanation. Instead ABC was shown the door.

In a brief written statement Wednesday night, Barbour said, “About 90 percent of these individuals were no longer in custody, and a majority of them had been out for years.”

But that was not the case for the murderers who worked at the governor’s mansion. They had been sentenced to life.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Amid Anguish, Mississippi Judge Halts Some Pardons

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(JACKSON, Miss.) -- A Mississippi state judge has temporarily halted the release of 21 of the 200-plus inmates pardoned or given early release by former Gov. Haley Barbour as he left office.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood had requested the injunction against the inmates’ releases, telling reporters he believes some of Barbour’s pardons could have violated the state constitution by failing to give sufficient public notice that the convicts were seeking clemency.

The state constitution requires a public notice about an inmate’s intention to seek a pardon be published for 30 days before the governor can grant one.

Five former inmates, four of them convicted of murder and serving life sentences, have already been released. The state’s top lawyer is asking the court to serve those former inmates notices underlining that their release may be challenged.

The news came as families of loved ones killed, raped or robbed by the men and women set free are speaking out against Barbour’s actions, saying they wish he had spoken to them first.

“I have a lot of feelings,” said Betty Ellis, whose daughter was killed by her estranged husband, David Gatlin, in 1993.

Gatlin received one of the 210 last-minute pardons -- nearly twice the number issued since 1988. Some of the pardons were for prisoners assigned to cook and clean at the governor’s mansion. Four of those inmates were convicted murderers.

“I’ve been mad. I can’t understand how a man that has children of his own could do this,” said Ellis, who marched to the state capital, Jackson, Miss., searching for Barbour.

On the same night Ellis’ daughter was killed in 1993, Gatlin shot Randy Walker in the head and left him for dead. Walker said Barbour’s move has given the state “a black eye.”

“This is going to make national news,” he said.

He too traveled to Jackson, where he spoke with Gov. Phil Bryant, who’d been sworn in just hours before Barbour had issued the pardons and left office.

Although Bryant told Walker that he would not have pardoned convicted murderers, he said, “The constitution gives the governor that authority and that’s his decision to make.”

That is little comfort for Walker’s wife, Crystal Walker, who told Jackson’s Clarion Ledger that both she and her husband now fear for their lives.

“On parole, he’d at least have to check in and have some supervision,” she said Sunday. “Now he could live beside us, or we could run into him at Walmart. You’re always looking over your shoulder.”

Barbour remains a popular leader in the state. He is credited with speeding up the state’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Barbour maintained that freeing those who worked at the mansion was a Mississippi tradition to show them mercy.

But Mark Mayfield, a lawyer, said the public just didn’t get it and neither did he.

“Haley has done a lot of great things,” Mayfield said Wednesday, “but I’m afraid that in the large measure this will tarnish his image as he goes forward.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Supreme Court Struggles with Case on Prison Strip Searches

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Supreme Court justices grappled Wednesday with the use of strip searches by prison officials for newly admitted inmates charged with minor crimes.

At issue is the case of Albert Florence, a New Jersey man who was mistakenly arrested, hauled to two different jails, stripped searched and released six days later after all charges were dropped.

Florence is suing the jails that detained him, arguing that his constitutional rights were violated when he was subjected to strip searching without a reasonable suspicion that he was bringing contraband into the jail.  He argues that detainees that are placed in the general prison population for minor offenses should not be subject to such an invasion of privacy.

During an hour-long discussion, the justices seemed to struggle with drawing a line between an inmate’s privacy rights and the interest prisons have to keep contraband out of the facilities.

Thomas C. Goldstein, a lawyer for Florence, said his client was directed at one jail to remove all his clothing, open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around and lift his genitals.  Goldstein called it an intrusion on his client’s “individual dignity” and said prison officials should only conduct such searches when they believe the inmate could be carrying contraband.

But Justice Anthony Kennedy wondered how prison officials could determine such a suspicion.

“It seems to me,” Kennedy said, “that you risk compromising … individual dignity if you say we have reasonable suspicion as to you, but not as to you. … You are setting the detainee up for a classification that may be questioned at the time and will be seen as an affront based on the person’s race, based on what he said or she said to the officers coming in.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if corrections officers would have to do research on intake into whether the inmate was dangerous.  Justice Kennedy was also concerned that some inmates who were at a jail for minor offenses might, in fact, appreciate the security of an “institution where everyone has been searched.”

Carter G. Phillips argued on behalf of the jails that held Florence.  He urged the Court to show deference to the “good faith judgment of our jailers.”

Justice Stephen Breyer asked Phillips about the fact that there are not a lot of statistics showing that minor offenders are carrying contraband into the jails.  Phillips said that it could mean that the fear of a search served as a deterrent.

The Obama administration is siding with the prisons in the case and urging the court to allow a blanket policy to strip search all arrestees set to enter the general prison population.

“When you have a rule that treats everyone the same,” Justice Department lawyer Nicole A. Saharsky argued, “you don’t have folks that are singled out.  You don’t have any security gaps.”

The case should be decided in the next several months.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Georgia County Considers Using Inmates as Firefighters

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WOODBINE, Ga.) -- A Georgia county looking to save some money is considering using inmates from a local prison to fill out its fire department ranks rather than hiring trained firefighters.

Camden County Administrator Steve Howard told ABC News Tuesday that the Board of Commissioners is looking at a proposal that would use inmates from a nearby prison for firefighting, though he noted that no official proposal had been made nor any vote taken.

The plan, according to the Florida Times Union, would include putting two inmates in each of three existing fire houses,  which could allegedly help save the town $500,000 in fire insurance costs by boosting the town’s fire coverage.  Howard declined to discuss the specifics of the proposal with ABC News.

Under the model used by neighboring Sumter County, the inmates would not be guarded by prison staff while at the firehouse, but instead would be overseen by fire department supervisors who would receive “correctional training.”

The inmates chosen to be part of the program would be low-level criminals, according to the report, with convictions for robbery, theft, or drug charges.  They will be available during all shifts to help fight fires, unlike paid firefighters, who are given time off after working 24-hour shifts, the report said.

As a result, the county could save on the typical costs of about $6,000 to train a firefighter, $2,000 to outfit him, and about $40,000 to pay his salary and benefits.  Camden County’s public safety director said it would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to feed and outfit each inmate, install security measures such as surveillance systems, and provide correctional training for traditional firefighters, the newspaper reported.

The inmates in question have professed support of the plan, according to one commissioner.

“I’ve been told these inmates are very enthusiastic about being a firefighter,” Commissioner Jimmy Starline told the paper.  “It’s an opportunity to break that cycle.  This is not like a chain gang.  Life at a fire station could be a whole lot more pleasant than life in jail.”

But the firefighters are not as happy.  Stuart Sullivan objected to the commission’s plan, telling them it would tarnish the department.

“If you vote to bring these inmates into our working environment, you jeopardize not only the employees’ well-being, but the safety of our citizens,” he said.

Mark Treglio, a spokesman for the National Association of Firefighters, said the proposal could compromise the safety of firefighters, the trust between the department and the community it serves, and the privacy and safety of homeowners.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Overcrowding in California's Prisons Reaches Supreme Court

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will tell the Supreme Court on Tuesday that a federal court order telling the state to reduce its prison population by 40,000 over two years is too drastic, and will endanger public safety.

The controversy arose in 2009 when a panel of three federal judges ruled that crowding in California's prisons violated prisoners' constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.  The panel relied upon the Prison Litigation Reform Act passed by Congress in 1996 that allows federal courts, in certain circumstances, to order caps on prison population to remedy constitutional violations.  With the state appealing, the order has not gone into effect.

California argues to the Supreme Court that the three-judge panel had no jurisdiction to rule on the issue and that it did not give California a reasonable amount of time to comply with previous court orders to remedy the problem.

"The release of these inmates will jeopardize the safety of California residents unless substantial investments in rehabilitation programs for released inmates are made" lawyers for the state argue in court papers.  "There is, however, no guarantee that California, which remains mired in fiscal crisis, has the financial ability to offer those services, or that the political branches would agree to direct available funds to released prisoners rather than other pressing needs."

The case stems from two separate lawsuits that had been wending their way through California courts for years, challenging the health care available in the prison system.

Citing horrific prison conditions, lawyers for the prisoners argue in court briefs that because of overcrowding, the state has failed to meet its obligation "to ensure the safety of guards and prison personnel , the public and the prisoners themselves."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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