Absent Compassionate Release, Austerity Helps Some Terminally Ill Prisoners Obtain Freedom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entrance to the clinic at the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island in Queens, New York. (Photo: Librado Romero / The New York Times)
Patricia Wright is 60 years old, legally blind and wheelchair-bound. She also has Stage 4 cancer, which has spread to her breasts and to her brain. In November 2011, doctors removed one of three tumors from her brainstem and placed a steel plate in her head. It was Wright’s seventh surgery that year alone.
If Wright were anyone else, she would go home and recuperate among family and loved ones. But she is in prison, having been sentenced to life without parole in 1997. Instead of having a loved one bring her home, Wright was handcuffed, shackled and returned to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) at the Central California Women’s Facility prison.
If the idea of battling cancer behind bars is not appalling enough, Wright never should have been convicted and incarcerated. The San Francisco Bayview reports that when Wright’s former husband was found dead in 1981, she was not a suspect. However, in 1995, her brother Larry, who was facing a ten-year sentence in a maximum-security prison for child abuse, told police that Wright was responsible for the murder. In exchange, his sentence was reduced to two years imprisonment with five years of parole. After his release from prison in 2000, Larry wrote a detailed letter stating that he had lied about his sister’s involvement in the death of her husband. The absence of DNA evidence linking Wright  to the killing has led the Innocence Project in New York City to take on her case .
In September 2010, California passed Senate Bill 1399, a medical parole process to reduce the cost of expensive medical care and around-the-clock armed guards for incarcerated people who are permanently medically incapacitated. However, people sentenced to death or to life without the possibility of parole remain ineligible for medical parole. Thus, as Wright’s son Alfey Ramdhan pointed out in an appeal in the San Francisco Bay View, her only chance to spend her remaining days with her family is if Gov. Jerry Brown grants her executive clemency or compassionate release.
However, Wright has two prior felonies from 15 years earlier when Ramdhan, then age 7, stole two 99-cent toys and a hand towel from an open house. Although the items stolen were valued under $400, these two actions were classified as felonies. Given that Wright’s conviction in her ex-husband’s death is considered a third strike  under California’s three-strikes legislation, Brown’s office has been reluctant to grant her clemency. 
Wright is not the only terminally ill person behind bars fighting to spend her remaining days with her loved ones outside of prison. In 1985, Charisse Shumate was sentenced to 15 years to life for killing an abusive partner in self-defense. She entered the Central California Women’s Facility with sickle cell anemia and Hepatitis C, neither of which were adequately treated by the prison’s medical system. She lost sight in one eye when the doctor waited five days to treat a sickle-cell-anemia related disorder. Beverly Henry, Shumate’s friend and a prison peer educator, stated that ten years after entering prison, Shumate was diagnosed with cancer, which also went largely untreated. Even as her own health deteriorated, Shumate became an advocate for women’s medical needs. In 1995, she became the lead plaintiff in Shumate v. Wilson, a class-action lawsuit against the  California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) about their life-threatening health care.
In 2000, she testified before state lawmakers at a special session on conditions in women’s prisons. She helped others with sickle cell anemia understand the disease and the necessary treatments. In an email to me, Beatrice Smith-Dyer, another one of Shumate’s friends, stated that Shumate also advocated for the right to compassionate release for any prisoner with less than a year to live, introducing them to outside advocates who fought on their behalf.
According to Cynthia Chandler, co-founder of advocacy group Justice Now and the attorney who represented Shumate, Shumate was originally reluctant to be the poster child for her own cause. When Shumate did apply for compassionate release, the parole board instead recommended her for clemency, which required the governor’s approval. The board’s decision defused the activism around her case. “There was the appearance that they had done something,” Chandler stated in a recent phone conversation. “There are always these manipulative ways that the prison system undercuts compassionate release.” Then-governor Gray Davis refused to approve the application and Shumate spent the last days of her life in the SNF until her death on August 4, 2001.
As a prison peer educator, Henry regularly visited the SNF. She reported that women are locked into their rooms for most of the day and are only allowed outside for the occasional shower, recreation time or visits – and even those cannot be assured. Henry told me that only a couple of women were assigned the job of wheelchair-pushers for the 15 to 20 women in the SNF, even though many were wheelchair-bound. “If five visitors arrive on the same day, maybe only three women can get their visits because staff won’t assign additional women to push them out for their visit,” said Henry.
In addition, SNF staff forbade peer educators from helping women with basic tasks such as combing their hair. “That’s not your job,” they were told when they tried to help women like Sally, who was paralyzed after a back injury was mistreated. SNF staff also accused peer educators of upsetting the women. “We upset them because we talked to them about what they shouldn’t accept,” Henry explained.
Beatrice Smith-Dyer has other chilling stories from her time at the SNF. Smith-Dyer began working at the SNF in 1996, first as a peer counselor, then in 2000 as a hospice volunteer. “[At the time] there was one doctor assigned to the SNF. If he or she was an ass, the woman [patient] was treated really badly.” Women were handcuffed and shackled when they were brought to outside hospitals, often causing them to fall when they tried to enter or leave the prison van. Smith-Dyer described the last days of a woman who was transferred from the California Institute for Women so that she could die at the SNF. “She lay unconscious for one month before she died, shackled to a bed with two correctional officers next to her bed. Wright is only hanging on by a thread,” she wrote in an email. “All it takes is the paperwork sitting on a desk for too long.”
Wright’s now-adult children, Mistey Ramdhan and Alfey, and her sister Arletta, are fighting to keep that from happening. With the advocacy group California Coalition for Women Prisoners  (CCWP), they have mounted a campaign for Wright’s release. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes (FACTS) and Change.org have also joined the campaign.
Releasing people suffering from life-threatening or terminal health conditions has happened in other instances. In Mississippi, sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott were sentenced to two consecutive life terms for a 1993 robbery in which $11 was stolen and no one was hurt. Like the case of Wright, their arrest and incarceration were based on accusations that were later recanted: two of the three teens who had actually committed the robbery testified against the sisters in exchange for two-year prison sentences.  According to The Huffington Post, in 1998, one of the men who had originally testified against them signed an affidavit swearing that the Scott sisters were not involved with the crime. That affidavit, as well as two others that pointed to the sister’s innocence, were submitted for post-conviction relief by their attorney. 
Like Wright, the Scotts’ wrongful conviction was followed by a life-threatening medical condition and inadequate health care. James Ridgeway and Jean Casella reported in Solitary Watch that in 1997, Jamie Scott was diagnosed with kidney problems, but received minimal treatment. In 2010, both kidneys began shutting down. She was sent to the prison infirmary. A week later, she was taken to the hospital, where doctors inserted a shunt into her neck so that she could receive dialysis through a catheter. She was then returned to prison where she endured faulty or missed dialysis sessions, infections, and other complications. Her sister Gladys offered to donate a kidney, but was told by prison staff that prisoners did not qualify  as organ donors and that a transplant would be too expensive. 
Throughout the sisters’ incarceration, their mother Evelyn Rasco fought to free them. She wrote to the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Jesse Jackson, the Innocence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Nancy Lockhart, who was working at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at the time, was the only one to positively respond, promising Rasco that she would continue with the case until the sisters were exonerated. Together, they formed The Committee to Free the Scott Sisters. Both continued to reach out to organizations and individuals, slowly building a grassroots campaign to free the sisters. In addition, Lockhart mounted a campaign using social media platforms, as well as the more traditional on-the-ground techniques. “Global support grew well into the thousands. I would estimate at least ten thousand,” Lockhart wrote in a recent email.
In June 2010, supporters rallied outside the Department of Justice , connecting the extreme sentence of the Scott sisters with the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans nationwide.
In September 2010, over 200 supporters marched  to the steps of Mississippi’s State Capitol in Jackson, demanding freedom for the Scott sisters.
Public pressure paid off, at least in part. That December, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the sisters’ life sentences  on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie. Lockhart – who had no part in negotiating the parole terms and whose continuing goal is full exoneration – along with other supporters, questions the ethics of forcing Gladys Scott to barter a body part for freedom. She and other supporters also note that Barbour granted them parole for life rather than a pardon, which would expunge their felony convictions. “He said they didn’t admit their guilt,” their attorney Chokwe Lumumba explained in a recent phone call. “But they’re not guilty, and the testimony against them was recanted.” Lumumba points out that, of the seven people that Barbour had pardoned before paroling the Scott sisters, six were white, all were men, and almost all had been convicted of, and had confessed to, killing their wives or girlfriends. The Scotts are black women.
Barbour’s motive was purely economic. In his statement, Barbour noted, “Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.” He later told WMPR Radio , “Did you know it costs us $190,000 a year for dialysis for just one patient alone? Mississippi’s taxpayers ought not to be paying for that.”
Barbour is not the only one to view releasing terminally ill people from prisons as a cost-saving measure. In January 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that J. Clark Kelso, the federal receiver appointed to oversee California’s prison health system, suggested that legislators consider early release of chronically sick prisoners as a quick way to cut ballooning prison costs. Like Barbour , his motive is financial, not compassionate.
Chandler, who has been working around compassionate release since the 1990s, notes that financial arguments are more likely to be heard these days. In 1997, when California’s legislature passed Assembly Bill 29 , codifying compassionate release, it deliberately excluded people imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.  “There was an expectation that people like Patricia would die in prison,” Chandler stated. She recalled that, in 2007, when advocates and allies tried to lobby for a compassionate release bill that would clarify and streamline the process for terminally ill people, no legislator would consider it until the word “compassionate” was removed. “No one wanted to seem overly compassionate towards ‘those people’ [meaning family and community members of prisoners],” she noted. In response, advocates shifted the focus of the bill to preserving public safety while saving money. The Fiscal Savings and Medical Release Bill, with no mention of compassion, passed in 2007.
Deirdre Wilson, coordinator for CCWP, told me that even with this bill, “It’s still insanely difficult to get people out on compassionate release.”
“There’s still a lot of stigma against people in prison,” said Wilson. “It’s been normalized for us to treat people in prison as less than human. The only argument that some people will hear is the economic one because the compassion is not there.”
When asked about changes in the decade between the campaigns for Shumate and Wright, Henry observed: “It’s the same story. They want to wait till the last minute to release them, but they actually don’t want to release them.”
If Henry were able to speak directly to the prison authorities and the governor about Wright, she would say, “Whatever time she’s got left, let her spend it at home.”

Wrongful convictions: One of Florida’s greatest shames

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Dillon

Testimony from now-discredited dog handler John Preston helped convict William Dillon (above in 2008) and others. (George Skene, Orlando Sentinel file)

 

Last week, Florida finally made amends for wrongly imprisoning a Brevard County man for 27 years.

With cameras rolling, Gov. Rick Scott apologized to Bill Dillon for the corrupt process that led to his conviction and signed a bill compensating Dillon with $50,000 for each year stolen from his life.

It was justice due … and delayed.

Yet this ugly chapter of Florida’s history is not over. Because dozens of other men were also convicted by the same fraudulent witness who helped imprison Dillon.

And the state isn’t doing a thing to right those wrongs.

In fact, as Dillon drove home from Tallahassee on Friday, he was unable to revel in the end of his three-decade-long nightmare. Instead, he found himself thinking about all the others whose cases were never properly vetted.

“They deserve to have their cases checked out,” he said. “My goodness, they deserve at least that much.”

They are the dozens of men also convicted with the help of John Preston.

Preston was a dog handler — the guy Brevard County authorities called in the 1980s when they couldn’t make a case legitimately.

Preston who would say whatever they wanted him to.

He once claimed that his German shepherd picked up a suspect’s scent in the middle of a lake. Another time, he claimed the dog caught a scent in the middle of a busy highway — months after the crime had been committed.

No other dogs could do such things. And it turned out that Preston’s couldn’t either.

A judge later exposed him as a fraud. In a court-supervised test, the dog could do virtually none of what Preston had claimed.

The judge would later say that Preston, now deceased, was retained “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions about cases.”

As horrifying as that may sound — that cops and prosecutors knowingly conspired to use bad evidence to convict people — it was actually pretty simple.

Most of the cases involved horrendous crimes, such as rapes and murders. In Dillon’s case, a man had been stabbed to death and his body left in the woods. Jurors were eager to make someone pay — and ready to believe anyone who would help them do that.

Along with the bogus testimony from Preston, Brevard authorities also relied upon witnesses who would later be discredited as well. (Two recanted their testimony. One had sex with an investigator.)

“I never got over how easy it was for them to do it,” Dillon recalled Friday. “Or how long it took for them to be found out.”

After Preston was exposed, some of the men began filing appeals with the help of nonprofit groups such as the Innocence Project.

So far, three men whom Preston helped convict have been freed from prison — after spending, collectively, more than 50 years behind bars.

An appeal is under way for a fourth.

Dillon and justice advocates are convinced there are more.

But Florida officials have never conducted a comprehensive investigation into all of Preston’s old cases.

Instead, they have relied on individual defendants to file their own appeals … something that took Dillon and one of the other exonerees more than two decades on their own.

State Attorney Norm Wolfinger turned his back on this matter long ago. Former Gov. Charlie Crist did the same.

The promise was supposed to rest with Attorney General Pam Bondi. When campaigning, she vowed to look into all of the Preston cases — for the sake of those still behind bars, as well as those who served their sentences but still carry the stain of a felony conviction.

No one wanted Bondi or anyone else to push for mass exonerations — just to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all of the cases in which Preston was involved.

But after Bondi got elected, her interest waned.

It’s probably not surprising. The plight of the wrongfully convicted isn’t sexy. Their lobby isn’t powerful. The volunteer activists and lawyers don’t cut campaign checks.

And rarely does the public champion the cause.

Fighting for the wrongly convicted is simply the right thing to do … which apparently isn’t reason enough.

Dillon said Friday that he was heartened by Gov. Scott’s full-throated apology on behalf of a state that did him wrong.

So perhaps Scott can do what all the others have not: call for a thorough investigation to study the legitimacy of all of the Preston convictions.

And maybe members of the public one day will encourage him to do so — and for Bondi to keep her word.

For I’m reminded of the comment from Martin Luther King: “The problems today are not the evil actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good.”

You can reach Scott’s office at 850-488-7146 or flgov.com/contact-gov-scott and Bondi’s office at 850-414-3300 or myfloridalegal.com/contact.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/os-scott-maxwell-dillon-wrongful-conviction-030412-20120303,0,3502561,full.column

The caging of America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.

Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.—more than were in Stalin’s gulags. Photograph by Steve Liss.

A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic—the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction? There’s a fairly large recent scholarly literature on the history and sociology of crime and punishment, and it tends to trace the American zeal for punishment back to the nineteenth century, apportioning blame in two directions. There’s an essentially Northern explanation, focussing on the inheritance of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, and its “reformist” tradition; and a Southern explanation, which sees the prison system as essentially a slave plantation continued by other means. Robert Perkinson, the author of the Southern revisionist tract “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire,” traces two ancestral lines, “from the North, the birthplace of rehabilitative penology, to the South, the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline.” In other words, there’s the scientific taste for reducing men to numbers and the slave owners’ urge to reduce blacks to brutes.

William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protégé Madison was writing ours.

The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. Even clauses that Americans are taught to revere are, Stuntz maintains, unworthy of reverence: the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” was designed to protect cruel punishments—flogging and branding—that were not at that time unusual.

The obsession with due process and the cult of brutal prisons, the argument goes, share an essential impersonality. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on real people. That’s why America is famous both for its process-driven judicial system (“The bastard got off on a technicality,” the cop-show detective fumes) and for the harshness and inhumanity of its prisons. Though all industrialized societies started sending more people to prison and fewer to the gallows in the eighteenth century, it was in Enlightenment-inspired America that the taste for long-term, profoundly depersonalized punishment became most aggravated. The inhumanity of American prisons was as much a theme for Dickens, visiting America in 1842, as the cynicism of American lawyers. His shock when he saw the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia—a “model” prison, at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the country, where every prisoner was kept in silent, separate confinement—still resonates:
I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers. . . . I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.

Not roused up to stay—that was the point. Once the procedure ends, the penalty begins, and, as long as the cruelty is routine, our civil responsibility toward the punished is over. We lock men up and forget about their existence. For Dickens, even the corrupt but communal debtors’ prisons of old London were better than this. “Don’t take it personally!”—that remains the slogan above the gate to the American prison Inferno. Nor is this merely a historian’s vision. Conrad Black, at the high end, has a scary and persuasive picture of how his counsel, the judge, and the prosecutors all merrily congratulated each other on their combined professional excellence just before sending him off to the hoosegow for several years. If a millionaire feels that way, imagine how the ordinary culprit must feel.

In place of abstraction, Stuntz argues for the saving grace of humane discretion. Basically, he thinks, we should go into court with an understanding of what a crime is and what justice is like, and then let common sense and compassion and specific circumstance take over. There’s a lovely scene in “The Castle,” the Australian movie about a family fighting eminent-domain eviction, where its hapless lawyer, asked in court to point to the specific part of the Australian constitution that the eviction violates, says desperately, “It’s . . . just the vibe of the thing.” For Stuntz, justice ought to be just the vibe of the thing—not one procedural error caught or one fact worked around. The criminal law should once again be more like the common law, with judges and juries not merely finding fact but making law on the basis of universal principles of fairness, circumstance, and seriousness, and crafting penalties to the exigencies of the crime.

The other argument—the Southern argument—is that this story puts too bright a face on the truth. The reality of American prisons, this argument runs, has nothing to do with the knots of procedural justice or the perversions of Enlightenment-era ideals. Prisons today operate less in the rehabilitative mode of the Northern reformers “than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South,” Perkinson, an American-studies professor, writes. “American prisons trace their lineage not only back to Pennsylvania penitentiaries but to Texas slave plantations.” White supremacy is the real principle, this thesis holds, and racial domination the real end. In response to the apparent triumphs of the sixties, mass imprisonment became a way of reimposing Jim Crow. Blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites. “The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage,” the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (i.e., actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control.” Prevented from voting, legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, most will cycle back through the prison system. The system, in this view, is not really broken; it is doing what it was designed to do. Alexander’s grim conclusion: “If mass incarceration is considered as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success.”

Northern impersonality and Southern revenge converge on a common American theme: a growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.

Yet a spectre haunts all these accounts, North and South, whether process gone mad or penal colony writ large. It is that the epidemic of imprisonment seems to track the dramatic decline in crime over the same period. The more bad guys there are in prison, it appears, the less crime there has been in the streets. The real background to the prison boom, which shows up only sporadically in the prison literature, is the crime wave that preceded and overlapped it.

For those too young to recall the big-city crime wave of the sixties and seventies, it may seem like mere bogeyman history. For those whose entire childhood and adolescence were set against it, it is the crucial trauma in recent American life and explains much else that happened in the same period. It was the condition of the Upper West Side of Manhattan under liberal rule, far more than what had happened to Eastern Europe under socialism, that made neo-con polemics look persuasive. There really was, as Stuntz himself says, a liberal consensus on crime (“Wherever the line is between a merciful justice system and one that abandons all serious effort at crime control, the nation had crossed it”), and it really did have bad effects.

Yet if, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy. Thirty years ago, crime was supposed to be a permanent feature of the city, produced by an alienated underclass of super-predators; now it isn’t. Something good happened to change it, and you might have supposed that the change would be an opportunity for celebration and optimism. Instead, we mostly content ourselves with grudging and sardonic references to the silly side of gentrification, along with a few all-purpose explanations, like broken-window policing. This is a general human truth: things that work interest us less than things that don’t.

So what is the relation between mass incarceration and the decrease in crime? Certainly, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, many experts became persuaded that there was no way to make bad people better; all you could do was warehouse them, for longer or shorter periods. The best research seemed to show, depressingly, that nothing works—that rehabilitation was a ruse. Then, in 1983, inmates at the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered two guards. Inmates had been (very occasionally) killing guards for a long time, but the timing of the murders, and the fact that they took place in a climate already prepared to believe that even ordinary humanity was wasted on the criminal classes, meant that the entire prison was put on permanent lockdown. A century and a half after absolute solitary first appeared in American prisons, it was reintroduced. Those terrible numbers began to grow.

And then, a decade later, crime started falling: across the country by a standard measure of about forty per cent; in New York City by as much as eighty per cent. By 2010, the crime rate in New York had seen its greatest decline since the Second World War; in 2002, there were fewer murders in Manhattan than there had been in any year since 1900. In social science, a cause sought is usually a muddle found; in life as we experience it, a crisis resolved is causality established. If a pill cures a headache, we do not ask too often if the headache might have gone away by itself.

All this ought to make the publication of Franklin E. Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe,” a very big event. Zimring, a criminologist at Berkeley Law, has spent years crunching the numbers of what happened in New York in the context of what happened in the rest of America. One thing he teaches us is how little we know. The forty per cent drop across the continent—indeed, there was a decline throughout the Western world— took place for reasons that are as mysterious in suburban Ottawa as they are in the South Bronx. Zimring shows that the usual explanations—including demographic shifts—simply can’t account for what must be accounted for. This makes the international decline look slightly eerie: blackbirds drop from the sky, plagues slacken and end, and there seems no absolute reason that societies leap from one state to another over time. Trends and fashions and fads and pure contingencies happen in other parts of our social existence; it may be that there are fashions and cycles in criminal behavior, too, for reasons that are just as arbitrary.

But the additional forty per cent drop in crime that seems peculiar to New York finally succumbs to Zimring’s analysis. The change didn’t come from resolving the deep pathologies that the right fixated on—from jailing super predators, driving down the number of unwed mothers, altering welfare culture. Nor were there cures for the underlying causes pointed to by the left: injustice, discrimination, poverty. Nor were there any “Presto!” effects arising from secret patterns of increased abortions or the like. The city didn’t get much richer; it didn’t get much poorer. There was no significant change in the ethnic makeup or the average wealth or educational levels of New Yorkers as violent crime more or less vanished. “Broken windows” or “turnstile jumping” policing, that is, cracking down on small visible offenses in order to create an atmosphere that refused to license crime, seems to have had a negligible effect; there was, Zimring writes, a great difference between the slogans and the substance of the time. (Arrests for “visible” nonviolent crime—e.g., street prostitution and public gambling—mostly went down through the period.)

Instead, small acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the N.Y.P.D. began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened—“hot-spot policing.” The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk”—“designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins,” as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it—that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling.” This was not so much racial, since in any given neighborhood all the suspects were likely to be of the same race or color, as social, involving the thousand small clues that policemen recognized already. Minority communities, Zimring emphasizes, paid a disproportionate price in kids stopped and frisked, and detained, but they also earned a disproportionate gain in crime reduced. “The poor pay more and get more” is Zimring’s way of putting it. He believes that a “light” program of stop-and-frisk could be less alienating and just as effective, and that by bringing down urban crime stop-and-frisk had the net effect of greatly reducing the number of poor minority kids in prison for long stretches.

Zimring insists, plausibly, that he is offering a radical and optimistic rewriting of theories of what crime is and where criminals are, not least because it disconnects crime and minorities. “In 1961, twenty six percent of New York City’s population was minority African American or Hispanic. Now, half of New York’s population is—and what that does in an enormously hopeful way is to destroy the rude assumptions of supply side criminology,” he says. By “supply side criminology,” he means the conservative theory of crime that claimed that social circumstances produced a certain net amount of crime waiting to be expressed; if you stopped it here, it broke out there. The only way to stop crime was to lock up all the potential criminals. In truth, criminal activity seems like most other human choices—a question of contingent occasions and opportunity. Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes. Close down the open drug market in Washington Square, and it does not automatically migrate to Tompkins Square Park. It just stops, or the dealers go indoors, where dealing goes on but violent crime does not.

And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave,” Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly M.B.A. profs; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the S.E.C. busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology.

Social trends deeper and less visible to us may appear as future historians analyze what went on. Something other than policing may explain things—just as the coming of cheap credit cards and state lotteries probably did as much to weaken the Mafia’s Five Families in New York, who had depended on loan sharking and numbers running, as the F.B.I. could. It is at least possible, for instance, that the coming of the mobile phone helped drive drug dealing indoors, in ways that helped drive down crime. It may be that the real value of hot spot and stop-and-frisk was that it provided a single game plan that the police believed in; as military history reveals, a bad plan is often better than no plan, especially if the people on the other side think it’s a good plan. But one thing is sure: social epidemics, of crime or of punishment, can be cured more quickly than we might hope with simpler and more superficial mechanisms than we imagine. Throwing a Band-Aid over a bad wound is actually a decent strategy, if the Band-Aid helps the wound to heal itself.

Which leads, further, to one piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two. Would we actually have more fraud and looting of shareholder value if the perpetrators knew that they would lose their bank accounts and their reputation, and have to do community service seven days a week for five years? It seems likely that anyone for whom those sanctions aren’t sufficient is someone for whom no sanctions are ever going to be sufficient. Zimring’s research shows clearly that, if crime drops on the street, criminals coming out of prison stop committing crimes. What matters is the incidence of crime in the world, and the continuity of a culture of crime, not some “lesson learned” in prison.

At the same time, the ugly side of stop-and-frisk can be alleviated. To catch sharks and not dolphins, Zimring’s work suggests, we need to adjust the size of the holes in the nets—to make crimes that are the occasion for stop-and-frisks real crimes, not crimes like marijuana possession. When the New York City police stopped and frisked kids, the main goal was not to jail them for having pot but to get their fingerprints, so that they could be identified if they committed a more serious crime. But all over America the opposite happens: marijuana possession becomes the serious crime. The cost is so enormous, though, in lives ruined and money spent, that the obvious thing to do is not to enforce the law less but to change it now. Dr. Johnson said once that manners make law, and that when manners alter, the law must, too. It’s obvious that marijuana is now an almost universally accepted drug in America: it is not only used casually (which has been true for decades) but also talked about casually on television and in the movies (which has not). One need only watch any stoner movie to see that the perceived risks of smoking dope are not that you’ll get arrested but that you’ll get in trouble with a rival frat or look like an idiot to women. The decriminalization of marijuana would help end the epidemic of imprisonment

The rate of incarceration in most other rich, free countries, whatever the differences in their histories, is remarkably steady. In countries with Napoleonic justice or common law or some mixture of the two, in countries with adversarial systems and in those with magisterial ones, whether the country once had brutal plantation-style penal colonies, as France did, or was once itself a brutal plantation-style penal colony, like Australia, the natural rate of incarceration seems to hover right around a hundred men per hundred thousand people. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get lower in rich, homogeneous countries—just that it never gets much higher in countries otherwise like our own.) It seems that one man in every thousand once in a while does a truly bad thing. All other things being equal, the point of a justice system should be to identify that thousandth guy, find a way to keep him from harming other people, and give everyone else a break.

Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.

“Oh, I have taken too little care of this!” King Lear cries out on the heath in his moment of vision. “Take physic, pomp; expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.” “This” changes; in Shakespeare’s time, it was flat-out peasant poverty that starved some and drove others as mad as poor Tom. In Dickens’s and Hugo’s time, it was the industrial revolution that drove kids to mines. But every society has a poor storm that wretches suffer in, and the attitude is always the same: either that the wretches, already dehumanized by their suffering, deserve no pity or that the oppressed, overwhelmed by injustice, will have to wait for a better world. At every moment, the injustice seems inseparable from the community’s life, and in every case the arguments for keeping the system in place were that you would have to revolutionize the entire social order to change it—which then became the argument for revolutionizing the entire social order. In every case, humanity and common sense made the insoluble problem just get up and go away. Prisons are our this. We need take more care. ♦

When prison illness becomes a death sentence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

wo in every five inmates in US prisons have a chronic medical condition. Terrell Griswold, due for release last year, was one

Terrell Griswold

Terrell Griswold, who died, aged 26, while serving a three-year sentence in Bent County Correctional Facility, Colorado.

On 28 October 2010, Lagalia Afola received a phone call from the Bent County Correctional Facility, a private prison operated by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), informing her that her 26-year-old son, Terrell Griswold, was dead. Terrell was serving a three-year sentence for burglary and was due to be released in early 2011. Sadly for him, and for his grieving family, he never made it home.

The autopsy report stated that Terrell died as a result of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease” and that he had a clinical history of hypertension, for which he refused to take medication. His mother found this conclusion hard to accept and, after months of persistent enquiry, was finally provided with at least some of her son’s medical records. Upon reviewing the records, she discovered that her son had been suffering from a blockage in his prostate that prevented him from urinating properly, causing chronic kidney damage, and which, she believes, ultimately contributed to his abrupt demise.

This blockage in Terrell’s prostate was discovered on 3 December 2009 by Dr David Oba, an attending physician at the CCA prison. The doctor noted at the time that inmate Griswold reported having had problems passing urine for the past two months:

“He has the urge to void but sometimes is unable to void at all, other times he has a very weak stream but is able to void.”

The doctor also noted that he had discussed with the patient that “he may have a chronic sub-acute prostatitis”, which he planned to treat with a 30-day cycle of ciprofloxacin (Cipro). If there was no improvement he wrote that “he may need an eval [sic] with cystoscope with urology.”

According to the records seen (pdf), Terrell was never treated by an urologist during his entire stay at the CCA facility, and it appears he did not receive the Cipro for almost six months. On 27 January 2010, Terrell had a follow-up visit with a nurse. The nurse’s report of the visit reads as follows:

“I/M (inmate) to medical to discuss non-compliance re: HCTZ & Lisinopril. (Both drugs were to treat hypertension and high blood pressure). Per I/M he has the meds in cell but states he forgets to take meds. I/M agrees to take meds as ordered.”

She goes on to write: “I/M also reports he never received Cipro for his urinary problem.” She reviews his charts and confirms that the Cipro was never ordered. Following this visit, there are several “Refusal of Treatment Medical Release Forms” dated 5, 13 and 24 February, 10 and 15 March, which appear to have been completed on Inmate Griswold’s behalf but which he “refused to sign”.

There appears to be no record of any visits with the medical team regarding his urinary complaint for several months. His next visit with a nurse (other than to deal with an issue regarding a swollen knee), according to the records I reviewed (pdf), was on 16 August 2010. The nurse notes again that “I/M non-compliant re: medication regimen. Last pick up 5/14/10.” This note is somewhat at odds with Terrell’s monthly medication records, which list all the medications he is taking each month. In May, June and July, the listed medications include HCTZ, Lisinopril and Cipro. If what the nurse stated on 16 August 2010 was true, that Griswold had not picked up his medications since 14 May 2010, then why did the records list all these medications (including Cipro) for the intervening months?

Whatever the explanation, it is clear from what followed is that Terrell Griswold’s urinary complaint never went away.

Close to midnight on 22 October 2010, Terrell declared a medical self-emergency (pdf) and was taken from his cell to the prison clinic. He complained of “diarrhea, dizziness, tingling in his fingers and feet, has an odd smell in nose like bleach or ammonia, feels like his throat is closing up, has acid reflux when awake and pain in epigrastic area.” He did not see a doctor because the doctor was not there; but the doctor did prescribe Bactrim, an antibiotic used to treat infections, over the phone. The nurse noted on her report that inmate Griswold was instructed to take his meds as ordered, told to follow up in 24-48 hours if no better, and was sent back to his cell. She ticked the box that said “no acute distress”.

On 24 October 2010, Griswold got to see the doctor. But according to the records, the doctor performed no tests, did not take a blood pressure reading, and simply wrote the words “UTI” (urinary tract infection) in the assessment section. During this period, Terrell’s cellmate later reported that he was making frequent attempts to urinate.

Three days later, on 27 October 2010, Griswold began vomiting in his cell and was sent to the nurse at 7.30pm. The nurse informed her patient that his antibiotic was making him sick. She ordered him to return to his cell and wrote: “He did not show any outward signs of distress that would have warranted he needed emergency treatment.”

Eleven hours later, at 6.30am, Terrell Griswold was found slumped over his toilet bowl, lifeless. His condition finally warranted emergency treatment (pdf) and the full capacity of the CCA’s medical team kicked in; CPR was administered, the patient was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7.24am. It was noted on his death certificate that his bladder was full of urine.

When a prisoner is deprived of their liberty by the state, they cannot provide themselves with food, water or medical care. For this reason, the state has to assume the responsibility for meeting those basic needs. A private prison that is run for profit has the same obligation to meet these basic needs; otherwise, the prisoner would be deprived of life, a violation of their most basic constitutional rights.

I asked Steve Owen, the senior director of public affairs for the CCA, if he felt that Terrell Griswold had been provided with adequate medical care. He would not comment on Griswold’s specific case, citing privacy reasons, but he sent a fact sheet (pdf), which, he said, “summarizes both the scope and commitment to quality inmate healthcare services that our company provide and to which our government partners hold us accountable.”

The fact sheet claims, among other things, that every CCA facility is equipped with a fully-staffed, state-of-the-art medical clinic, which is available for inmate access 24/7; that all care-related decisions are made solely on a medical basis, entirely independent of impact on CCA profits. It also states that CCA facilities utilize an innovative computer program that automates medical records, pill call and pharmacy services, which reduces paperwork and wait times.

Lagalia Afola wrote to Dr Leon Kelly, the coroner who performed her son’s autopsy, detailing her objection to his initial conclusion that her son had died of “hypertensive cardiovascular disease”. When he reviewed the new information, the coroner issued a revised autopsy (pdf), listing obstructive uropathy as one of the causes of death. Dr Kelly told me that he believed the successive urinary episodes led to kidney failure, which “certainly contributed to [Terrell’s] sudden cardiac death”.

At this point, however, the cause of death is of less concern to Mrs Afola than the fact of it. “My son was sentenced to three years for burglary,” she said. “It was not supposed to be a death sentence.”

According to bureau of justice statistics (pdf), around 4,000 inmates died in prison and jails (both public and private) in 2009; and over half of those deaths were illness-related. A comprehensive nationwide survey on the health and healthcare of US prisoners carried out by Harvard Medical School researchers (pdf) found that over 40% of US inmates were suffering from a chronic medical condition, a far higher rate than other Americans of similar age. Of these sick inmates, over 20% in state prisons, 68% in jails and 13.9% in federal prisons had not seen a doctor or nurse since incarceration.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Andrew Wilper, told me they did not include private prisons in their study because, to the best of his knowledge, there was no data available. In his view, he added, “the private prisons like it that way.”

Interested parties can write to:

Sadhbh Walshe
PO box 1466
New York, NY 10150

Or send an email to:

sadhbh@ymail.com

Women rarely given death penalty in Oklahoma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Officials talk about the history of the death penalty in Oklahoma and famous cases involving the execution of women. Oklahoma is tied with Texas for the most female executions in the nation.

After two years in prison, Nannie Doss told reporters she was bored with life behind bars.

photo - Nannie Doss was sentenced to life in prison in 1955 for the arsenic death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss. <strong></strong>

Nannie Doss was sentenced to life in prison in 1955 for the arsenic death of her fifth husband, Samuel Doss.

More Info

Women and the death penalty

Death sentences and executions of female offenders are rare when compared to male offenders. Women are more likely to be dropped out of the capital punishment system the further the case progresses. Women account for:

about 1 in 10 (10%) murder arrests.

only 1 in 50 (2.1%) death sentences imposed at the trial level.

only 1 in 67 (1.8%) persons on death row.

only 1 in 100 (. 9%) persons actually executed in the modern era.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

Death Penalty Information

The death penalty law was enacted in 1977 by the state Legislature. The method is by lethal injection. The original death penalty law in Oklahoma called for executions to be carried out by electrocution. That law was ruled unconstitutional as it was administered when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.

Oklahoma executed 176 men and three women between 1915 and 2011 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Eighty-two were executed by electrocution, one by hanging (a federal prisoner) and 96 by lethal injection. The last execution by electrocution took place in 1966. The first execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma occurred on Sept. 10, 1990, when Charles Troy Coleman, who was convicted in 1979 of first-degree murder in Muskogee County, was executed.

Execution Process

Drugs used for lethal injection:

Sodium Thiopental or Pentobarbital — causes unconsciousness

Vecuronium Bromide — stops respiration

Potassium Chloride — stops heart

Two intravenous lines are inserted, one in each arm. The drugs are injected by hand-held syringes simultaneously into the two lines. The sequence is in the order listed above. Three executioners take part with each one injecting one of the drugs.

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“I wish the authorities here would let me be tried in Kansas or North Carolina,” she said. “Maybe they would give me the electric chair.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Oklahoma never executed a woman in the electric chair. The state did make headlines in 2001, however, when it executed three women by lethal injection in the same year.

Would Doss — who confessed to poisoning four of her five husbands in 1954 — or other women convicted of murder decades ago still receive life sentences today?

“Experts have been hesitant to say for sure whether there’s gender bias going on, but certainly women are rarely executed,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Center.

Doss left a trail of murders throughout the South between the 1920s and 1954. Her proclaimed victims included four husbands, her mother, her sister and a mother-in-law. Her first husband escaped a poisoning attempt. Always cheerful, Doss was described by the media as the “smiling granny” and “lonely hearts widow.”

She confessed to the murders after she was arrested in Tulsa in connection with the arsenic death of her fifth mate, Samuel Doss.

Nannie Doss pleaded guilty to a murder charge and was sentenced to life instead of death because a judge thought she was insane, even though medical evaluations proved otherwise.

Mental illnesses

Dieter said women who committed these types of crimes in the early 20th century might have been dealt with outside of the criminal justice system and thought to be mentally unstable.

Walking tour of Jeffrey Dahmer’s hunting grounds causes backlash in Milwaukee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A planned walking tour of the Milwaukee haunts where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer trolled for victims has drawn protests from victims’ family members and others, prompting online deal-maker Groupon to cancel its promotion for discounted tickets.

Critics of the tour, including family members of some of the young men Dahmer murdered, say the it is an attempt to exploit an ugly part of the city’s history and want it stopped before the first sightseers hit the sidewalks.

But tour-organizer Bam Marketing and Media has said it’s not deterred. Each of the company’s first two trips through the Walker’s Point neighborhood, scheduled for Saturday, had nearly reached the 20-person capacity by Thursday, said spokeswoman Amanda Morden.

Walker’s Point Association president Victor Ray said Saturday, or any day in the near future, is too soon. Dahmer’s crimes are just two decades old and many of his victims’ family members are still around, he said.

“I just don’t think this is the right timing,” Ray said. “And a tour of the area is not the right thing to do. It’s sensationalism in its finest.”

Dahmer, a chocolate factory worker, spent years frequenting Walker’s Point-area gay bars. He was arrested in 1991 and admitted killing 17 young men, some of whom he mutilated and cannibalized. He was serving life prison sentences when a fellow inmate beat him to death in 1994.

The apartment building where Dahmer stored body parts eventually was razed. Walker’s Point now sits in the middle of a revitalized section of Milwaukee, with new restaurants and bars in remodeled buildings that once housed the bars where Dahmer went.

Ray said most of dozens of emails he’s received this week have criticized the tour, and there are plans by victims’ relatives and others to protest the first tour Saturday afternoon. Ray said one victim’s mother specifically asked for his group’s help.

“She said ‘Do what you can to stop it,’” Ray said. The woman did not want to be interviewed by reporters.

Morden said Friday they still plan to hold the tour, but she has spoken to police and they will be present. She said they will allow tour-goers to attend another tour if they don’t want to deal with the protesters and expected media, but no one has rescheduled or canceled.

“I fully respect and expect people to utilize their right to peacefully assemble,” she said.

Morden said the Bam Marketing is sensitive to victims’ families, but has not sought their feedback.

“We are not being evasive in any way,” she said. “If there is a concern we would be happy to address it.”

Morden said her group hopes to put a plaque with the victims’ names on one of the businesses in the area as a memorial. She also said a portion of the tour profits will be donated to charity, although a specific one hasn’t been chosen.

Ray called it a token gesture.

“I don’t think that’s going to make a difference to the community,” he said.

Ray met tour group representatives Thursday in hopes of persuading them to call off their plans. But Morden said the group is offering a legitimate look at Dahmer’s crimes from a historical perspective, rather than with macabre fascination.

Groupon had earlier this week offered two tour tickets for $25, instead of the normal $60, for what it called a 1-mile, 90-minute “spine-chilling glimpse” into Dahmer’s life. Only 15 tickets sold before the daily-deal website closed the promotion. Spokesman Nicholas Halliwell said in an emailed statement that it was never Groupon’s intention to offend anyone.

It’s not unusual for gruesome crimes to become part of a city’s lore and draw. There are tours in London about Jack the Ripper, in Los Angeles about Charles Manson, and in Boston about the Boston Strangler.

But the VISIT Milwaukee tourism group won’t be promoting Dahmer.

“We don’t need to give notoriety to an individual like Jeffrey Dahmer who did painful and hurtful things and did nothing to further the community’s image,” spokeswoman Jeannine Sherman said.

Morden, though, compared the tour to a book or documentary, just in a different format.

“Whether we like it or not it’s part of our city’s history,” she said. “It’s part of our nation’s history.”

Sara Drescher, who manages a pub in the neighborhood, sees more of a gray area. She said she supports people being able to start a business but not at the expense of victims’ families.

“It’s a difficult thing, and I don’t know the right way for it to be handled,” she said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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