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DNA Frees Death-Row Inmates, Brings Others to Justice April 24, 2009

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After five years on Louisiana’s death row, Ryan Matthews received a second chance at life. He was exonerated last year with the help of DNA evidence. "He was 17 years old at the time of his arrest and is borderline retarded," said Martha Kashickey, the public-education associate for the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University’s law school in New York City.

"Post-conviction DNA testing on the mask the perpetrator left at the scene both exonerated Matthews and revealed the identity of the actual perpetrator," Kashickey said from New York City.

The Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports that 13 other death-row inmates have also been exonerated with the help of DNA evidence.

"The assumption was that they were guilty [because] they were found guilty, unanimously, by a jury," said Richard Dieter, president of the DPIC. "But sometimes DNA kind of pierces through that and says that, despite what a witness says he saw, this person was not the one who left this evidence at the scene."

While many death-row inmates await only their execution, others hope for new tests that could spur their release.

"People are on death row sometimes as long as 15 or 20 years, so there are still quite a few people who were convicted at times when DNA testing wasn’t prevalent [or as reliable as it is now]," Dieter said.

In 2004 the U.S. Congress passed legislation that encourages all states to enable post-trial DNA tests. The legislation also provides funding for such tests.

"Half of the [U.S.] states have processes to allow [DNA] testing" even after the appeals process is exhausted, Dieter explained.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesperson Tela Mange notes that her agency’s crime lab has handled 49 such inmate requests (not all of them death-penalty cases) for DNA retesting. A significant percentage of the inmates have been exonerated.

"Eight tests were inconclusive, and there were nine individuals that were excluded as donors of the biological evidence left at the scene," Mange said from her Austin office.

Increasingly Turning to Genetic Evidence



Re-imagining Jail Design: How Can Innovation Reduce Jail Populations and Benefit Communities? April 22, 2009

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Rising jail populations, the continuing construction of new jail facilities, and the costs associated with both raise many urgent questions for policymakers:

* What should go into the planning, designing, and building of jail facilities?
* What should county and city officials, local sheriffs, and jail administrators seek to put into—and get out    of—these new facilities?
* What is the relationship between jail design/construction and community alternatives to incarceration?
* How does the administration of quality programs and services, such as mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and educational, vocational, and reentry programs, affect the design of the jail?

Please join us for an informative panel discussion of these and other questions. Light refreshments will be served.

Michael Jacobson, Director of the Vera Institute of Justice and former Corrections Commissioner of New York City

Art Wallenstein, Director, Montgomery County, MD, Department of Correction and Rehabilitation

Laurence Hartman, Vice President and Senior Designer with HDR Architecture, Inc., in Chicago, IL, and Chairman of the American Institute of Architects’ Academy of Architecture for Justice Advisory Group

Jason Ziedenberg, Department of Community Justice, Multnomah County, OR, and former Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute

Kelly Rowe, Chief Deputy, Lubbock County, TX, Sheriff’s Office

Steve Rosenberg, President of Community Oriented Correctional Health Services

Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project

Jocelyn Fontaine, Research Associate, Urban Institute

Mike Jackson, Correctional Program Specialist, National Institute of Corrections

Moderated by
Alex Busansky, Director of the Vera Institute of Justice – Washington DC Office

Sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation.

Monday, May 4, 2009
2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

The National Press Club
First Amendment Lounge
529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20045

Please RSVP here by Friday, April 24


Passage of Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Changes Further “Smart on Crime” Sentencing Trend April 19, 2009

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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a national advocacy organization dedicated to reforming mandatory minimum sentencing laws, today applauds New York state leaders responsible for approving legislation that substantially overhauls and reforms New York’s Rockefeller drug laws, once the toughest in the nation. FAMM also congratulates the efforts of families, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals and advocates who made these changes possible.

The agreement, included as part of the New York budget bill, now awaits Governor David Paterson’s signature.  It will restore judicial discretion in many drug cases, expand drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration, and provide retroactive sentencing relief for people serving prison time for low-level drug offenses.  It also allows approximately 1,500 people incarcerated for low-level nonviolent drug offenses to apply for resentencing and increases penalties for "drug kingpins" and adults who sell drugs to young people.

Deborah Fleischaker, director of state legislative affairs of FAMM, issued the following statement in response to today’s news:

"New York’s decision to eliminate its draconian Rockefeller laws marks a step toward policies that are both tough and smart on crime. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws are a driving force in skyrocketing prison populations.  Many states and the federal government followed New York’s lead and enacted mandatory minimums in the 1970s and 1980s, believing these "one-size-fits-all" sentences would dry up the drug supply and eliminate drug addiction.  Sadly, mandatory minimums in New York and elsewhere have the opposite effect, filling our prisons with drug addicts instead of drug kingpins, and causing the erosion of faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system because of severe racial disparities caused by these laws.

Being tough on crime is not enough.  States must figure out how to protect public safety, without wasting thousands of lives and millions of dollars.  By repealing the Rockefeller drug laws, New York has just taken an enormous step toward finding that balance.

New York has joined the growing wave of states that recognize the harm caused by mandatory minimum sentencing.  From Michigan’s elimination of most of its drug mandatory minimum laws, to Nevada’s decision to repeal mandatory sentencing enhancements, to Pennsylvania’s decision to have its Sentencing Commission study the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences, states are waking to the idea that mandatory minimum sentences lead to bloated budgets, fail to protect public safety, and are bad criminal justice policy.

Contrary to the claims of those who oppose these reforms, removing the mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes is not "soft on crime."  Politicians need to concern themselves with crafting smart criminal justice policies, instead of settling for the expensive and unworkable status quo.  The New York reforms, though long overdue, are good news for New Yorkers and the rest of the nation.  A recent report by Pew Center on the States shows why.   One in 31 Americans are under some form of criminal justice control – in prison, on probation or on parole – and one in 100 are in prison or jail.  The cost of this overreliance on corrections is staggering – last year it was the fastest expanding major segment of state budgets, and over the past two decades, its growth as a share of state expenditures has been second only to Medicaid. State corrections costs now top $50 billion annually and consume one in every 15 discretionary dollars."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports fair and proportionate sentencing laws that allow judicial discretion while maintaining public safety. For more information on FAMM, visit www.famm.org .


Oregon Prison Population Expected to Grow Due to Measure 57 April 17, 2009

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A state report issued this week projects that Measure 57, the crime-sentencing measure approved by voters in November, will add 1,600 inmates to Oregon’s prison population by 2013.

The measure took effect Jan. 1 and requires sending repeat property and drug crime offenders to prison.

The state’s prison population was expected to grow at an annual rate of 2 percent to 3 percent through mid-2010.

But with Measure 57, growth is expected to exceed 5 percent through mid-2011.

The 2008 Legislature placed Measure 57 on the ballot as a cheaper alternative to a tougher sentencing measure sponsored by former lawmaker Kevin Mannix. But it contained no funding mechanism to pay for additional prison beds.


Clock Repair Makes Time Pass For Pendleton Inmates April 15, 2009

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Time comes in two forms for a handful of inmates at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. There’s the time they serve — and the time they keep.

Serenaded by chimes, gongs and cuckoos, prisoners in the Clockmakers and Repair Training Program spend their days in the unlikely company of grandfather clocks and other antique timepieces.

And now they’re gaining a reputation as among the few who can fix stately tower clocks like the ones in London’s Big Ben and Portland’s Union Station.

"Nobody knows clockmaking to the extent that we learn to be clockmakers," says inmate Michael S. Teague, 59, who will graduate from the 21/2-year program Tuesday with six other inmates at the medium-security prison. "Anybody can buy a clock. But who can repair them?"

Inmate Jeff Halladay, 49, a graduate who mentors others in the program, says working in the clock shop "is a great way to make time count for something."

The program began 13 years ago almost by a fluke. Gary Kopperud, a master clockmaker in Pendleton, drove to the prison to install a timepiece in a grandfather-clock cabinet that inmates were assembling. The clock was to be raffled to raise money for a community organization.

While there, an inmate asked Kopperud about clock repair. Soon, Kopperud was volunteering to teach inmates the skills he began learning from his father at age 10. Now 63, he launched the program and still oversees it.

The prison shop fills a gap. Clockmakers and restoration experts began vanishing from the American scene in the 1980s, Kopperud says. The few left typically have backlogs of a year or longer.

Adding to that, he says, the nation is suddenly awash in boomers sentimentally attached to weight-driven and spring-wound clocks that once ticked and chimed in the homes of parents or grandparents. "They want them to run," he says.

Plus, says Kopperud, almost nobody west of Minneapolis repairs and restores tower clocks. The Seth Thomas clock company in Connecticut counts 3,000 remaining nationwide. Some no longer run, "and people have given up because nobody knows how to fix them," he says.



DNA Clears Conn. Man Jailed For 20 Years April 4, 2009

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A Connecticut judge dropped murder charges Thursday against a New Britain man who served 20 years in prison after being convicted of killing his pregnant girlfriend.

Miguel Roman’s family and friends cheered Thursday as Judge David Gold dismissed the charges. Roman had been sentenced to 60 years in prison for the 1988 murder of his girlfriend, 17-year-old Carmen Lopez, but recent DNA tests showed could not have been the killer.

"I’m glad to have everything finished," Roman said after the hearing. "I’ve got my freedom, and that’s it."

Roman was convicted of killing Lopez based on circumstantial evidence and testimony from friends and family of the victim, and despite testimony from an FBI investigator about tests that eliminated him as a suspect.

New Haven attorney Rosemarie Paine brought Roman’s case to the attention of the Connecticut Innocence Project, which also helped to free James Calvin Tillman in 2006 after he was imprisoned for a rape he did not commit.

The Innocence Project, which is looking at more than 100 convictions in Connecticut, has access to more sophisticated DNA testing than was available in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"I am an optimist. I think this ultimately says something good (about the judicial system), said Karen Goodrow, an attorney and director of the project.

Tillman was awarded $5 million for his wrongful conviction. Roman’s lawyers said he also will seek compensation.

Prosecutors said investigators were able to obtain DNA from cigarette butts found in Lopez’s apartment and from the two ligatures around her neck. They also learned more from the DNA, extracted from sperm collected from the victim’s body.

Authorities also determined that Roman was not the father of Lopez’s unborn baby. That issue had been used as a motive in Roman’s trial.

Vanessa Roman was 10 years old when her father was sent to prison.

"I always knew he was innocent," she said Thursday. "I never gave up hope, so in my eyes and my hope it was just a matter of when. And now he’s here, so we just take it from here now."

The same DNA tests that exonerated Roman implicated led police in December to charge another man, Pedro Miranda of New Britain. He is accused in the killings of Lopez, 16-year-old Rosa Valentin in 1986 and 13-year-old Mayra Cruz in 1987. Miranda, 51, faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.


Addiction Treatment Can Save State Money In Long Run April 2, 2009

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They took different roads to recovery.

But the stories told by Robert Howe and Deborah "Janie" Marsh at the Capitol last week made one common point to lawmakers looking for cuts — that spending for alcohol and drug abuse treatment is not a losing cause.

At the same time that lawmakers face a big gap between projected tax collections and proposed spending in the next two years — $3 billion and counting — they also have to deal with a ballot measure voters approved four months ago to expand addiction treatment for some offenders and lengthen prison sentences for others.

Howe and Marsh began drinking early — Howe at age 9, Marsh at 12 — and then used methamphetamine.

"My addiction was more than a drug," Marsh said. "It was a life."

Marsh managed to avoid arrest until she was 31, by which time she had no job and her children were with her parents.

While at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Marsh was in the Turning Point program — she said a change in her attitude led to her break with addiction — and she was released in September 2006. She remains under supervision, but she holds a job.

Howe, in contrast, was in and out of jail — but never free of alcoholism, even when he had a son and then a daughter. A member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation, he credits the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest with helping break his addiction.

"I hope my children don’t ever see what I have been through," said Howe, his 9-month-old daughter in a carrier at his feet during part of his testimony.

State Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland, said there was a reason he organized the hearings.

"We cannot look at Oregon’s public safety budget and our human services budget as separate and unrelated," said Shields, who is co-chairman of the public safety subcommittee. "The fact is that they are deeply intertwined, especially when it comes to dealing with substance abuse."

Budget problem

Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s proposed 2009-11 budget for addiction treatment and mental health within the Department of Human Services is $844 million, almost $69 million less than legislative budget analysts estimate is needed to maintain programs.

The proposed budget adds money for Oregon State Hospital staffing — prodded by a federal investigation — but also cuts deeply into state support for community alcohol and drug treatment programs and mental health services. DHS oversees them, but the money goes to counties, health plans, nonprofit agencies, tribes — and the Department of Corrections and the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission, which oversees drug courts.

Kulongoski hopes to offset those cuts with an expanded Oregon Health Plan, which would cover 75,000 more adults. His plan hinges on lawmakers agreeing to increase provider taxes on hospitals and insurers and to use that money to recoup more federal Medicaid dollars.

But a Legislative Fiscal Office analysis said some people still would go without services if they do not qualify for the plan.

A proposed increase in Oregon’s beer tax, proceeds from which are split between addiction treatment/mental health and general aid to state and local governments, would supply more money for all. But the increase in the tax, now the nation’s lowest, faces stiff opposition.

Link to savings

David Rogers, executive director of the Partnership for Safety and Justice based in Portland, said there is another reason for concern.

"These hearings confirm there is a direct link between addiction treatment and mental health services and crime prevention," said Rogers, whose organization supports alternatives to prison. "If we make decisions on funding without understanding those connections, we’re making ineffective decisions about policy that are likely to be costly."

For every dollar spent on treatment, the Department of Human Services estimates savings of $4 to $7 in other costs.

Voters last fall approved Measure 57, which lawmakers proposed as an alternative to an initiative imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences on some property and drug offenders. Measure 57 lengthens prison stays for some repeat offenders but requires drug treatment for others.

"It was a demonstration of public support for Oregon beginning to invest in treatment and proactive approaches to crime prevention," Rogers said.