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McCrory brokered meeting on contract for friend and campaign donor

From News & Observer/ By Joseph Neff

Last fall, Gov. Pat McCrory personally intervened on behalf of a friend and major political donor who wanted to renew $3 million in private prison contracts over the objections of McCrory’s top prison officials, records and interviews show.

Graeme Keith Sr., a Charlotte developer and retired banker once known as “Billy Graham’s banker,” has aggressively pursued private maintenance contracts in state prisons since 1999. Keith’s contracts at two prisons were set to expire Dec. 31, 2014; a third would have ended four months later.

The governor convened an October 2014 meeting in Charlotte, where, according to a Department of Public Safety memo, Keith told prison officials and McCrory that “he had been working on this project ‘private prison maintenance’ for over ten (10) years and during that time had given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and it was now time for him to get something in return.”

After prison officials said they were uncomfortable with the tenor of the meeting, McCrory ended the meeting and referred the matter to his state budget director. Lee Roberts then worked out an 11th-hour extension that culminated in an exchange of testy text messages among the governor’s top appointees the night of Dec. 30, one day before the contract was to expire.

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ACLU sues Mississippi city over ‘debtors’ prisons’

via jursit.org

by Emelina Perez

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] filed a federal class action lawsuit [complaint] on Wednesday against the city of Biloxi, Mississippi, the Biloxi Police Chief, a Municipal Court judge and Judicial Correction Services, Inc. for allegedly arresting and jailing poor people illegally in debtor’s prisons. The plaintiffs were arrested [press release] for failing to pay traffic fines and held in jail for up to seven days without a hearing and were not informed of their right to counsel. The ACLU argues that the detentions violate citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and the Fourteenth Amendment right to hearings on the ability to pay, which was granted by the Supreme Court in 1983.

Although the US Supreme Court [official website] outlawed the practice of incarcerating people for court-imposed debts over 30 years ago, many local and state governments are still accused of jailing poor people in “debtors’ prisons.” The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Benton County [press release] in Washington earlier this month, claiming it unconstitutionally collects court-imposed debts. In March the ACLU filed a similar suit[press release] against DeKalb County in Georgia. In 2014 the Supreme Court of Ohio [official website] warned state judges to end the policy [JURIST report] of imprisoning people who are unable to pay court fines. The ACLU of Ohio had released a report [JURIST report] the previous year urging the Ohio Supreme Court to bring an end to the debtors’ prisons.

54 Hunger Strike Ends; Day 3 of LaSalle14 Hunger Strike; Retaliation against strikers continues

Via ppnews at freedomarchives.org

October 21st, 2015

54 South Asian detainees, From Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (known as the “ElPaso54”) at the El Paso Processing/Detention Center started a hunger strike at breakfast time on October 14, and ended their hunger stike last night (7 days). All of the strikers were asylum seekers, and have been held for up to 9 or 11 months. The hunger strikers were engaged in a full hunger strike, meaning no food and no water. As of Monday, another hunger strike was launched in LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, by 4 Indian and 10 Bangladeshi detainees (known as the “LaSalle14”).

Yesterday, ICE brought the Bangladeshi Consular Minister Shamsul Alam Chowdhury into the detention facility to pressure the ‪#‎ElPaso54 to break their hunger strike. The Consular spent over 10 hours in the facility pressuring and intimidating the hunger strikers, including threatening that if didn’t “eat now, or I will get your birth certificates from Bangladesh so we can get your travel documents to send you back.” DRUM firmly believes that ICE allowing the Consular to visit asylum seeking detainees is in violation of federal laws (8 CFR 208.6), and further endangers lives by exposing asylum seekers to representatives of the very same government they are seeking asylum from.

DRUM will continue to support the organizing of the hunger strikers and detainees, and uplift their demands and decisions. ICE continues to target those strikers and detainees it believes are isolated. Lead organizer, Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877), who provided interpretation for other strikers, has been moved to solitary confinement again.
There is an online petition by the Not1More Campaign to bring attention to the issue:
http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/asylumseekersdetained/

Follow regular updates at: https://www.facebook.com/DesisRising

54 South Asian Hunger Strikers at El Paso Immigrant Detention Center

via freedomarchives.org

October 19th, 2015

Day 6 of 54 South Asian Hunger Strikers at El Paso Immigrant Detention Center

14 Detainees Launch Hunger Strike in Lasalle Detention Center
Since strike began, 11 detainees released, 6 in critical medical condition, and 1 organizer released from solitary confinement

54 South Asian detainees, From Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (known as the “ElPaso54”) at the El Paso Processing/Detention Center started a hunger strike at breakfast time on October 14. All of the strikers are asylum seekers. Some detainees have been held for up to 9 or 11 months. The hunger strikers are engaged in a full hunger strike, meaning no food AND no water. (Sign the petition to support the strikers)

They have been joined by the launch of a hunger strike in Lasalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, where 4 Indian and 10 Bangladeshi are on hunger strike (known as the “LaSalle14”). The LaSalle14 are coordinating their efforts with the ElPaso54.

The detainees are demanding an immediate halt to deportations, investigations into unfair hearings and interference with their legal cases, release from detention for those granted parole.

As a result of the hunger strike, 11 detainees (6 hunger strikers, and 5 non-striking detainees) were released on Friday night from El Paso.

As a result of calls from concerned community members into the facility and local ICE office, one of the co-lead organizers, Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877), who was beaten up in front of other detainees and kept in solitary confinement for 2 days, was released back to the other hunger strikers.

6 strikers are in critical medical condition, Shamsuddin (A# 202-849-636), Md. Mahbubur Rahman (A# 202-156-816), Delwar Hussain (A# 202-156-197), Md. Aminul Islam (A# 202-155-398), Mohammad Shahjahan (A# 202-155-399), Haji Khiay Mohamed Bilal (A# 202-156-877)

The detainees are coordinating their efforts with DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving, a South Asian immigrant rights organization in New York City. DRUM organizer Kazi Fouzia said “these hunger strikers are strong and well organized. We need to hear their stories and voices and see how this country treats refugees at our borders and in detention centers.”

There is an online petition by the Not1More Campaign to bring attention to the issue:
http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/portfolio/asylumseekersdetained/

Prisoners participating in Bard College initiative to provide them a liberal arts education beat Ivy League students who won national title only months ago

From The Guardian/ By Lauren Gambino

The debating team from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, lost to a group of New York prisoners. Photograph: Lisa Poole/AP

Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York prison inmates.

The showdown took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.

A three-judge panel concluded that the Bard team had raised strong arguments that the Harvard team had failed to consider and declared the team of inmates victorious.

“Debate helps students master arguments that they don’t necessarily agree with,” Max Kenner, the founder and executive director of the Bard prison initiative, told the Guardian. “It also pushes people to learn to be not just better litigators but to become more empathetic people, and that’s what really speaks to us as an institution about the debate union.”

The inmates were asked to argue that public schools should be allowed to deny enrollment to undocumented students, a position the team opposed.

One of the judges, Mary Nugent, told the Wall Street Journal that the Bard team effectively made the case that the schools which serve undocumented children often underperformed. The debaters proposed that if these so-called dropout factories refuse to enroll the children, then nonprofits and wealthier schools might intercede, offering the students better educations. She told the paper that Harvard’s debaters did not respond to all aspects of the argument.

The Harvard team directed requests for comment to a post on its Facebook page that commended the prison team for its achievements and complimented the work done by the Bard initiative.

“There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend, and we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event,” the debate team wrote days after their loss.

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Books kept me alive in prison

books!
The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

2,000 cases may be overturned because police used secret Stingray surveillance

Stingray
A motion filed Friday says the State’s Attorney’s office colluded with police to withhold ‘discovery’ material obtained via Stingrays from defendants

From The Guardian/ by Nicky Woolf

More than 2,000 cases could be overturned in Baltimore as the first motion for a retrial is filed accusing the state’s attorney’s office and the police of “deliberate and willful misrepresentation” of the use of the secret surveillance equipment known as Stingrays.

The motion, which was filed on behalf of defendant Shemar Taylor by attorney Josh Insley in the Baltimore city circuit court on Friday, says the state’s attorney’s office colluded with the police department to withhold “discovery” material from the defendants and the courts about the use of the Stingray device. Taylor was convicted of assault, robbery and firearm possession.

Manufactured by the Harris corporation and around the size of a briefcase, Stingrays are one of a class of surveillance devices known as “cell-site simulators”, which pretend to be cellphone towers in order to extract metadata, location information, and in some cases content from phones that connect to it.

Prosecutors are required to reveal the evidence against defendants in the “discovery” phase of a criminal trial.

However, a Guardian investigation in April revealed a non-disclosure agreement that local police and prosecutors were forced to sign with the FBI before using the Stingray devices, which mandated them to withdraw or even drop cases rather than risk revealing Stingray use. (more…)

2 Men Awarded $750,000 for Wrongful Convictions in 1983 Murder

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From The New York Times

DURHAM, N.C. — One year to the day after a North Carolina judge threw out their wrongful murder convictions, a state commission awarded $750,000 each as compensation to two half-brothers who spent three decades in prison, much of it on death row.

Patrick M. Megaro, the recently hired lawyer for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 51, and Leon Brown, 47, announced the settlement. Mr. Megaro also filed a federal lawsuit against government and law enforcement officials of Robeson County, N.C., for obtaining their convictions through “fraud, perjury, coercion, the willful failure or refusal to investigate exculpatory evidence.”

A pardon by Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina in June made each man eligible for $50,000 a year in compensation from the state, up to $750,000 each. (Without a cap, the compensation for their full 31 years in prison would be more than double that amount.) The maximum was granted to each man on Wednesday by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which oversees workers’ compensation and tort claims. (more…)

Two Years After Hunger Strike, California Settlement May Release 2,000 Prisoners From Solitary

2015_0902solitary2

From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

Attorneys and family members announced on September 1 what they called a “landmark settlement” in the class-action lawsuit Ashker v. Governor of California. The settlement, stated lead attorney Jules Lobel, “is an important step in the growing movement to end solitary confinement.”

The settlement comes after months of negotiations between advocates and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). It also comes after years of agitation, including a lawsuit and three mass prison hunger strikes, aimed at ending California’s practice of placing prisoners in isolation for indeterminate periods of time. Advocates predict that between 1,500 and 2,000 people will be released from isolation in the coming months.

At issue is California’s security housing units (or SHU) and its practice of placing those accused of gang affiliation within these units for an indeterminate time period. Within the SHU, they are locked into windowless cells for at least 23 hours per day. When taken out of their cells – for a shower, a visit or an hour of recreation alone in an exercise pen – they are handcuffed and ankle chained. Two categories of people are placed in the SHU. Those who break prison rules are temporarily sent to the SHU for up to five years. The other category includes those who have been placed in isolation on accusations of gang involvement. For them, there is no fixed end date. Until recently, accusations that have landed them in the SHU often relied on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or associations with others. Until recently, one of the few ways to be released from the SHU was to “debrief” or provide information incriminating others, who are then placed in the SHU for an indeterminate sentence. They are the ones who have written manifestoes, filed lawsuits and repeatedly gone on hunger strike to protest their conditions of confinement.

In California’s Pelican Bay State Prison, 1,134 of its 1,181 prisoners were held in the SHU as of June 2015. Although CDCR insists that solitary confinement does not exist within its prison system, those within the SHU argue otherwise and, in 2012, went to court to prove it. (more…)

The Dystopian Danger of Police Body Cameras

body_camera

From Common Dreams/ By Rachel Levinson-Waldman

Police-worn body cameras are the newest darling of criminal justice reform. They are touted as a way to collect evidence for criminal investigations, oversee and expose abusive police practices, and exonerate officers from fabricated charges. While the nation continues to debate how effective these body cameras are for police departments, less attention has been paid to the appearance of body cameras in other public sectors, most recently in our schools.

Since Michael Brown was shot by a member of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department last summer, at least 16 cities have introduced body camera programs. In the past month alone, at least seven cities have begun studying, initiated, or expanded body camera programs. President Obama has asked Congress to allocate $75 million for technology and training in body-worn cameras, and the Department of Justice recently provided the first $20 million in grants.

As these programs began to proliferate, schools took notice. In Houston, Texas, 25 school officers have started wearing body cameras in a pilot program, and the school district plans to expand the program to all 210 members of the force.

An Iowa school district has even taken this initiative one step further, buying cameras for principals and assistant principals to wear while interacting with students and parents. While the administrator overseeing the program has said the cameras are not intended to monitor every activity, he expressed the hope that any complaint could be investigated through body camera footage, suggesting that principals would need to record early and often. (more…)