Monday, January 31, 2011
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants the new governor, a fellow Republican, to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life without parole.
At his swearing-in ceremony Pfeifer told reporters, "I think the time's right on this. You have Republicans in every direction. With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."
Pfeifer called capital punishment a lottery.
He's right. Too often those who end up on death row are poor, people of color, and have mental illnesses or extremely low IQs.
Right now, Ohio has 157 inmates on death row. Of those, 43 were sentenced before a 1996 law gave juries the option of life without parole.
Here's the race breakdown according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: 81 are African American, 69 are Caucasian, four are Hispanic, two are Arab Americans and one is a Native American. Only one person on death row is a woman.
Across the country, we've seen over 100 men walk off death row because eyewitnesses lied or were mistaken, because the DNA didn't match, because police, prosecutors or lab techs made mistakes or mishandled evidence.
There have been 266 post-conviction DNA exonerations, according to The Innocence Project. Across the country, 138 death row inmates have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five have been in Ohio.
Kenney Richey spent 21 years on Ohio's death row. He is now a free man. An appeals court found his attorney was inept and the arson expert who testified in the case was no expert.
Joe D'Ambrosio was on Ohio's death row for 20 years. A judge ruled that prosecutors in Cuyahoga County withheld 10 pieces of evidence in his trial. He is now a free man.
We know we can't trust Ohio's justice system 100 percent. Just ask Michael Green, Donte L. Booker, Jimmy "Spunk" Williams, Brian Piszczek and Clarence Elkins. They were also wrongfully convicted.
And there are unresolved questions in other cases.
Tyrone Noling is still on death row for the 1990 murders of an Atwater Township couple. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. He was convicted based on what his three buddies said. They have all since recanted.
Arthur Tyler is on death row for killing a produce vendor. Minutes after the man was shot, another man confessed. He told friends, his mom, police and signed a confession. Then he got a deal with prosecutors and fingered Tyler.
Eleven years ago, the governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions after the death sentences of 13 people were overturned. Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted all 167 inmates on death row. The committee he appointed to study the justice system came up with 85 suggested reforms.
Those reforms include having the police pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry even after a suspect has been identified, having all homicide suspect interrogations videotaped, not allowing the death penalty be considered for any murder convictions based on the testimony of a single eye-witness or accomplice, having all police, judges, prosecutors and attorneys working on capital cases get better training about the risk of false testimony by jailhouse snitches, the handling of forensic evidence, the risk of false confessions.
Unfortunately, we can't find and fix every flaw in the justice system.
Pfeifer is right. We need to do what Illinois did. Its House and Senate just passed a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Ohio should do the same.
Terry Collins watched the state of Ohio kill 33 men.
Every time he drove to work for each execution he wondered:
What if this one isn't guilty? What if somebody missed something? Are we really sure? What if we're wrong this time?
Collins retired last year as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. He worked in the prison system for 32 years. He served as the warden of three prisons, Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville and Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe.
When Collins started working in the prison system in 1977, Gary Beeman was on death row. Beeman was exonerated in 1979.
"We have the greatest justice system in the world, but we're all still human," Collins told me. "As great as the system is, there can still be mistakes made. If you execute somebody, you cannot correct that mistake."
Across the country, we know of at least 138 mistakes that got corrected before it was too late. That's how many men have been exonerated from Death Row. Six were from Ohio: Beeman, Dale Johnston, Timothy Howard, Gary Lamar James, Derrick Jamison and Joe D'Ambrosio.
I called Collins after reading an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Columbus Dispatch. Collins is against the death penalty even though he carried out the law. He's watched 33 men die in the death chamber. He's also walked free men out of prison.
One man had served 10 years for a crime he didn't commit. It's hard to shake that joyful yet haunting scene in the prison lobby when an innocent man walks out of prison into his family's arms, a free man.
It frustrates Collins to read bloggers and hear comments from people saying they'd willingly do the executing.
Jan. 25: Retire Ohio's death penalty: Paul E. PfeiferJan. 26: Ohio switching to a new drug for lethal injectionsJan. 21: Ohio should abolish the death penalty: Regina BrettJan. 21: Lethal injection drug maker halting productionJan. 20: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants to scrap the death penaltyNov. 29: Tennessee justices halt executions over 'death by suffocation while conscious'More about death penalty
"It's one thing to say that, it's another to do that," Collins said.
Executions take a toll on the staff. No one is assigned to the execution team; it's made up of volunteers.
"Often their own families don't know they're on that team," Collins said. "It's not an easy job to prepare somebody to be executed."
He's against capital punishment for many reasons:
The state doesn't always put the worst of the worst on death row. Sometimes the worst offenders get plea bargains and lighter sentences.
The death penalty doesn't make people safer. "Having a death sentence hasn't stopped people from killing and viciously harming people," Collins said. There is no statistical data to prove it deters crime, he added. In prison, those serving life terms are the least likely to violate prison rules, according to Collins.
Life without parole is cheaper than the death penalty, he said. The trial would cost less without the death penalty phase. There wouldn't be endless appeals, attorneys and judges to pay. There wouldn't be a special death row unit to maintain.
Life without parole could actually be easier on victim's families. They don't have to return to court for endless appeals and suffer the roller coaster ride of stays of executions.
Collins believes a life sentence without the possibility of parole should replace the death sentence. An inmate would never have the chance to leave prison.
Instead of bragging about being tough on crime or criticizing others for being soft on crime, Collins believes it's time we got smart on crime.
"Putting people in prison for the rest of their life without the possibility of parole is not soft on crime," he said. "That penalty is severe enough."
Anyone who thinks life in prison isn't that bad has never been in prison, Collins said.
"The greatest freedom we have is our freedom. You take that away, we tell you what to eat, what to wear, who can visit," he said. "I've never had anybody come to me and say, 'Let me in the door.'"
Both articles by Regina Brett
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Monday, January 24, 2011
Ask for the max on corrections reform: The State can Spend less, still protect the public, and turn lives around.
Today, two Senate committees that deal with criminal justice policy and spending will hear from reformers advocating that Florida join a national movement toward what has been called Smart Justice. On Tuesday, the members of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice will get the same message. Among the statistics they will hear are:
In 2000-01, 38 percent of new prison inmates had been convicted of crimes less serious than a third-degree felony, which comes with a maximum 5-year sentence. It is the least serious felony. Anything less is a misdemeanor. In 2008-09, 47 percent of new inmates had been convicted of those less serious crimes, many of them non-violent.
Most incarcerated juveniles are guilty of nonviolent or property crimes. Forty percent of juveniles are in custody for probation violations.
Half of Florida's prison inmates read at a sixth-grade level or lower. The number of mentally ill inmates has tripled in the past 15 years.
Roughly one-third of inmates who are released return to prison within three years. That rate has varied little over the past decade. But only 1 percent of the Department of Corrections budget is spent on programs to reduce what is called recidivism.
Gov. Scott's CEO-like approach to state government won't work in all cases. With criminal justice, however, his like-minded transition team zeroed in on these deplorable numbers and spent nearly 150 pages blasting the Department of Corrections. This business-oriented approach can reverse the get-tough political approach that created the problem.
Beginning in 1983, with the establishment of sentencing guidelines and the elimination of parole, Florida has focused on putting people in prison. Next came habitual offender laws and the elimination of "gain time" - earlier release because of good behavior. In 1995, the Legislature required that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Then Jeb Bush brought 10-20-Life for crimes with a gun.
And while Florida's crime rate has fallen over the past decade, other states have adopted Smart Justice policies, saved money and seen crime rates continue to decline. Ironically, a leader in this reform has been Texas, hardly known as a criminal-coddling state. A former Texas legislator will be in Tallahassee this week to explain how he spearheaded the reforms.
Florida TaxWatch calculates that flexibility in the 85-percent rule could save $53 million a year. A slight change in sentencing guidelines could save $31.4 million. Greater use of electronic monitoring could save $43 million. More effective rehabilitation, including increased use of faith-based prisons, could cut recidivism.
Gov. Scott has appointed two reformers to lead the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. While stressing that "our first job is public safety," Rep. Baxley said, "I'd like to put a sign on the prison door that says 'Don't Come Back.' ' To make that happen, smart and justice must go together in Florida.
- Randy Schultz, for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Fueled by the war on drugs and “tough on crime” demagoguery, the U.S. prison population has surged over the past three decades, to the point that roughly one out of every 100 Americans is incarcerated – and one out of 32 is under some form of correctional supervision. As it stands now, an African-American male is more likely to be convicted of a felony than to graduate college.
That has to change.
Indeed, “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” writes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (!) in a recent Op-Ed coauthored by fellow conservative criminal justice reformer Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Writing in The Washington Post, Gingrich and Nolan argue that the over-reliance on incarceration in the U.S. is a problem the new Republican Congress needs to address – for both moral and pragmatic reasons. “We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections - 300 percent more than 25 years ago,” they write. “The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.”
For years, debate over criminal justice policies has fallen into a traditional conservative-liberal trap, with Republicans on the one side calling for ever-more draconian laws to look “tough” on crime, and Democrats … well, doing the exact same thing, though presumably with not quite as much enthusiasm. Democracy!
But Gingrich and Nolan say the time for demagoguery is over, noting that throwing more and more non-violent offenders into prisons doesn't make us safer – more than half of those released from prison head right back within three years – and it's a practice both state and federal governments can ill afford to continue as they struggle with record budget deficits. While locking away prisoners and throwing away the key might make for a good campaign ad, “We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons,” they write, “and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
Gingrich and Nolan's piece is part of campaign launched last month called “Right on Crime” – which includes the likes of former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and the American Conservative Union's David Keene – that seeks to recast the debate over criminal justice policies by showing that even the most conservative right-wingers believe the country's prison building boom has gone too far, making the debate more about pragmatism than ideology. As they write in the Post, “If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”
While not quite ready to do away with the war on drugs, Gingrich and Nolan say it's a waste of taxpayer money to send non-violent offenders to prison, where criminality is often nurtured rather than extinguished. And, notably, they take head-on the argument that the country's prison-building spree over the last few decades is responsible for improved public safety.
“While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years,” they note, “some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.”
Gingrich and Nolan aren't bleeding-heart liberals, and they aren't proposing that murders receive manicures instead of prison time. As conservatives, they're proposing modest, pragmatic reforms to the criminal justice system -- reforms Republicans would do well to consider if they're really serious about cutting the nation's deficit (I have my doubts). And really, if you're so concerned about the growth of state power, nothing says "Big Government" more than locking up a person -- literally taking away all their freedom -- over a non-violent offense that displeases some jerk in Washington.
by Charles Davis
Saturday, January 15, 2011
He was slightly less true to his word, though, when it came to his oft-repeated slogan that "everything is on the table." At least one overfunded, broken government program was allowed to keep its bloated budget without a single cut: the state's billion-dollar death penalty.
Did the governor miss this massive drain on funds, or is there a sacred cow in California's budget after all? Maybe he can be excused on the grounds that there's no "death penalty" line item anywhere in the budget. But, of course, the reason there's no "death penalty" line item is that the $1 billion the death penalty will cost over the next five years is hidden throughout a half-dozen judicial and corrections budget items — any one of which could be trimmed by the governor. Let's go down the line:
There's the $1 million per death penalty trial over and above the cost of non-death penalty murder trials, which comes from county prosecutors' budgets.
Then there's the $63 million per year extra spent housing people on death row and another $60 million spent on their appeals, again over and above the cost of housing and appeals for life without parole. Those costs are tucked away in the budgets for corrections, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and public defense.
Finally, the kicker is the brand new death row facility we're about to build that will cost $400 million.
Over five years, that tally comes to just over $1 billion.
Now, repealing the death penalty in California can only be done at the ballot box, but defunding the whole system can be done with a few strokes of the governor's pen: just ask any senior citizen, recipient of in-home medical care, or single working parent. They'll tell you how powerful that pen can be when it comes to cutting government programs.
Alternatively, if the governor converted the sentences of California's more than 700 residents of death row to life without parole, he'd save that whole billion dollars in one swoop: no more extra housing costs, no more extra appeals costs, no more new death row. That's a lot of money that could go towards much-needed programs and services.
And it's not as if the people of the state are clamoring for more death penalty spending over other issues, like, education, crime prevention, health care, or social safety nets. While Gov. Brown may have assumed that the death penalty really is precious to California voters, his own election proved otherwise. Even after Meg Whitman saturated the airwaves bashing Brown for his anti-death penalty record, Californians still elected the guy. We also voted down a Senate candidate who campaigned on being pro-death penalty, and elected an anti-death penalty attorney general, Kamala Harris, over a prosecutor known nationwide for his aggressive pursuit of death sentences.
Why did we vote in Jerry Brown again? Maybe we're ready for some realistic and pragmatic change. Maybe we're ready to prioritize victims, community safety, and health above executions. Maybe we're ready to Cut This. Send Gov. Brown a message that if he's going to cut anything from California's budget, he should cut the death penalty.
Hey Florida, this applies to you as well !
Monday, January 10, 2011
"It should have stopped right there," state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said of the witness identification procedure. "But because of the detective, she continued to look and felt pressured to ID someone." That someone was Todd Patrick Neely. Despite evidence that he was having dinner at a restaurant 12 miles away at the time of the 1986 crime, a judge convicted Mr. Neely of attempted murder and burglary based on Ms. Zavatkay's eyewitness identification and sentenced him to 15 years.
Six months later, an appeals court ordered a new trial for Mr. Neely after ruling that prosecutors improperly withheld information about another suspect. Prosecutors then dropped the charges.
Mr. Neely's case attracted national attention. Yet more than two decades later, most area police and sheriff's departments have not changed the procedures they use to obtain eyewitness identifications. Sen. Negron, who represented Mr. Neely and sits on Florida's Innocence Commission, wants to change that.
When the commission meets today in Jacksonville, Sen. Negron plans to suggest that it review the recommendations issued by the U.S. Justice Department 11 years ago designed to make eyewitness evidence more accurate. As reported by The Post's Susan Spencer-Wendel, the majority of law-enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures. It's time they do so.
The Florida Supreme Court established the Innocence Commission last summer to study of the causes of wrongful conviction and measures to prevent such convictions. A national expert on eyewitness misidentification told commissioners in November that more than 30 percent of all eyewitness IDs are wrong, resulting in a huge number of innocent people behind bars. Gary Wells of Iowa State University said 12 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Florida, but an estimated 200 innocent people probably are still being held.
Sen. Negron will push for a pair of Justice Department recommendations that he believes are most important - "cautionary instruction" and double-blind administration of photo lineups. "Those are the two," he said, "that I think are the most promising to reduce wrongful convictions."
Cautionary instruction involves telling an eyewitness that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup, and that the investigation will continue whether the witness chooses someone or not. Double-blind administration means the person showing an eyewitness a lineup has no idea who the suspect is, which keeps him or her from influencing the eyewitness' choice. Although double-blind administration was not included in the Justice Department's 1999 guide, it was mentioned as a "direction for future exploration and field testing." That future is now.
According to a survey by The Post, only three of 32 area law-enforcement agencies have specific eyewitness ID policies and include key elements recommended by the Justice Department: the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, and the Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens police departments.
Although the Innocence Commission's final report is not due until 2012, Sen. Negron said members can agree to make certain recommendations sooner. If so, he will file a bill for the legislative session. If law-enforcement agencies will not adopt better procedures, the Legislature must act. Given the number of innocent people already exonerated, it's already been too long.
- Rhonda Swan,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Posted: 11:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
Saturday, January 08, 2011
Analysis byAndrew Cohen
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Attorney General Eric Holder today convened the inaugural meeting of the Cabinet-level "Reentry Council" in Washington to identify and to advance effective public safety and prisoner reentry strategies.
In addition to the Attorney General, the council includes Departments of Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan; Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Members also include Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue; Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske; Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes; Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois; and Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jacqueline Berrien.
The council will address short-term and long-term goals through enhanced communication, coordination and collaboration across federal agencies. The mission of the council is threefold: to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; to assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax paying citizens; and to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.
"Reentry provides a major opportunity to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars and make our communities safer," said Attorney General Holder. "More than two million people are behind bars, and 95 percent of them will be released back into their communities. By developing effective, evidence-based reentry programs, we can improve public safety and community well-being."
Among its goals, the Reentry Council will meet semi-annually to leverage resources across agencies to reduce recidivism and victimization; identify evidence-based practices that advance the council’s mission; promote changes to federal statutes, policies and practices that focus on reducing crime; and identify federal policy opportunities and barriers to improve outcomes for the reentry community.
I am pleased to hear that this "Reentry Council" is up and running, and I am hopeful that they can and will get a lot done in the months ahead. And I think it would be especially cool if the Council had a public event with high-profile former felons like Martha Stewart and Michael Vick and Marion Jones to talk about some of their (especially positive and uncommon) reentry experiences.
From the Setencing Law and Policy blog