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Sept 6th, 2015


Can the Racial Justice Act Change the Practice of Picking All-White Juries in North Carolina?

Aug 10th, 2010
Cassandra Stubbs, Capital Punishment Project

Last week, five North Carolina death row inmates filed motions seeking to have their death sentences vacated under North Carolina’s new Racial Justice Act (RJA), a law that allows death row inmates to use statistics to show that race played a role in their cases. Buried in the fine print of the inmates’ motions is a story worthy of its own headline: a new study by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) found that prosecutors in North Carolina removed qualified African-American jurors at more than twice the rate that they removed all other jurors.

The MSU study looked the use of “peremptory strikes,” the practice by which attorneys for both sides remove jurors whom they don’t want on the jury. The MSU study found that prosecutors in North Carolina, by overwhelming numbers, don’t want African-Americans on their juries, even if they are not opposed to the death penalty and are fully qualified to serve. Even more revealing, the MSU study found that prosecutors statewide removed African-American jurors at even higher rates in cases where the defendant was African-American: proof that prosecutors are even more intent on reducing the number of African-American jurors if the person to be tried is African-American.

The disturbing results of the MSU study are unfortunately not limited to North Carolina. A report issued by the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama just last month documented racial discrimination in jury selection in death penalty cases across the South.

What is unique about North Carolina is that it is the only state in the country that has a law in place to address the problem of discrimination in the exercise of peremptory strikes. Although the Constitution prohibits racial discrimination in jury selection, the courts have not developed an effective way to stop the problem. In North Carolina, for example, the appellate courts have never reversed a capital case because of discrimination in jury selection.

The country will be watching closely to see if North Carolina’s law can remove the historically fused link between race and jury selection in capital cases. African-Americans were excluded historically from jury service first by laws directly prohibiting their participation, and later by poll taxes, property and literacy requirements. The racially based use of peremptory strikes is the on-going legacy of this history.

Kenneth Rouse’s case will be one of the key tests of the new law’s force. Rouse, one of the first five to file his motion, is one of 33 North Carolina death row inmates sentenced to death by all-white jury. One of the white jurors chosen by the prosecutor to serve on Rouse’s jury routinely referred to African-Americans as “n—–s” and later stated that “bigotry” was influential in his decision to vote for death. In Rouse’s county, the prosecution struck African-American jurors at almost three times the rate it struck all other jurors.

The RJA gives the North Carolina court the power to commute Rouse’s death sentence to life based on the evidence of bias in jury selection in his case. The court’s ruling could be the leap forwarded needed to finally prevent prosecutors from sending home African-American jurors.

(Originally posted to The Seminal.)

Link to ACLU article Here

Handling With Care: Dog Trainer Yvonne Fehr

Read full story on NCOC’s daily blog

Brown Creek Correctional Institution is a medium security prison for adult males. “A New Leash On Life” program allows minimum and medium custody state prisons to partner with local animal shelters and animal welfare agencies to train dogs in preparation for adoption. Inmates are given a chance to serve the community by training dogs to become well-behaved pets. Selected dogs, some of whom are hours away from being euthanized, are placed with inmate handlers in the prison for eight to twelve weeks.

The handlers are responsible for teaching basic and advanced obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition. Dogs are taught to walk on and off the leash and to respond to basic commands. There is a waiting list to become a part of the program. Very strict regulations for participants are employed, any violation of the rules will result in prompt removal from the schedule. The North Carolina “A New Leash On Life”program began at Craven Correctional Institute in 2007 and has since expanded to include Eastern Correctional Institute and now Brown Creek Correctional Institute.

Yvonne began teaching her first series of classes with the program last year. Each class had four dogs and ten trainers, the most recent class has six dogs and fourteen trainers. There are two inmates assigned to each dog, with two alternates that shift positions with the other guys. Yvonne is assisted by Monica Timmons and Donna Miller.

Donna Miller is the Correctional Case Manager and “A New Leash on Life” Coordinator for the Brown Creek facility. She is in charge of supervising the daily operation of the program at that institution. Donna knows the inmates in this facility well, she is there to keep an eye on the handlers and their dogs during the week. These three women work together to direct and supervise the group. Yvonne and Monica come to Brown Creek from Charlotte each week. They meet with Donna and gather the trainers and their dogs into the gymnasium. Once the equipment is brought out and set up, they do on-leash training,agility exercises and obedience training.

There is not a script by which they work.Yvonne created a rough plan before she began working the program, but once she started she ended up working with the guys like she would work with her private clientele. Adjusting the training to the dogs and handlers is important because the animals can have on and off days similar to people. Mental balance is a focus for training. The dogs come into the program from all different kinds of backgrounds, achieving mental balance becomes each handler’s essential goal for their dog. Yvonne says that when the dogs are mentally exhausted, they are allowed to run and do agility obstacles. However,when they are in work mode, tackling new commands or working on behavior becomes the focus of the session. This form of training is only possible with input from Donna and Monica—Yvonne insists that there is noway that she could focus on all of the small behavioral details of all six dogs.

They teach the proper way to handle and work with the dogs. Donna, Monica and Yvonne assess the inmates, as well as the animals to find the right chemistry. During the eight week courses they may change the match up to challenge the animals, perhaps their handlers, too.

The objective is to train these dogs in preparation for transferring them to an adoptive family. The inmates become attached to the dogs, and the dogs become attached to the inmates. The handlers work together in cooperation for the good of the animals. They are responsible for the dogs from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm. The dogs are with them from the time they come out of their comfortable kennels to stay with their handlers throughout the day until they are brought back to their sleeping quarters at night.

Continue Reading…

Ex-NC prison head: I didn’t quit over incident

The Associated Press
Posted: Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The former head of a state prison in North Carolina says he didn’t retire because of the pepper spraying of inmate that’s resulted in disciplinary action against six prison employees.

The Charlotte Observer reported Friday that former prison administrator Rick Jackson says his decision wasn’t related to the pepper spraying of inmate Bill Rayburn at Lanesboro Correctional Institution in Anson County. Jackson says he decided to retire on his own. He declined to elaborate.

Last week, a spokesman for the state Correction Department said the spraying led to Jackson’s retirement. Spokesman Keith Acree says that had been his impression, but he could have been wrong.

A Correction Department investigation found employees violated the agency’s use-of-force policies in their treatment of Rayburn.

Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com

Closing prisons only temporary as prison population booms

Cuts mean fewer prisons and programs
Stricter guidelines result in more prisoners and longer sentences, but North Carolina’s resources are strained.
By Michael Biesecker
News Observer
Aug. 30, 2009

RALEIGH As a result of tough-on-crime sentencing laws approved by legislators 15 years ago, North Carolina’s inmate population is booming and will soon outpace the number of prison beds.
Despite this, the state budget signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue this month orders seven small prisons closed, eliminates 972 corrections jobs and cuts programs aimed at keeping juvenile offenders from becoming hardened criminals.

Administrators say the state Department of Correction can safely absorb the cuts in the short-term by increasing the number of inmates at other facilities. But judges, legislators and others with a stake in the criminal justice system worry that the growth, if unchecked, will soon result in prisons so crowded as to be unsafe for inmates or staff.

Last year, the state budgeted more than $1.5 billion for prisons and probation. That’s 3.5 times what was spent in 1985, when adjusted for inflation. The number of inmates has more than doubled over the same period, from 17,430 to about 39,000. The system has about 20,000 workers, making it the largest employer among state agencies.

“We can’t just keep putting more and more people in prison,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat from Carrboro who co-chairs the legislative committee that oversees justice and public safety. “We can’t afford it.”
At the heart of the issue is the conflict between strained state resources in the worst economic recession in a generation and the unwillingness of legislators to budge on laws that require criminals to serve more time.
The $74 million in budget cuts and prison closures requires the relocation of about 950 inmates and cuts programs that are popular with inmates and the public, such as family visitation, gyms and the community work crews that provide cheap labor for local governments. Money for the crews that collect litter along the state’s highways was also reduced.

The budget also cut $33 million and 122 jobs from the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, eliminating the Governor’s One-on-One program, which provides mentors for at-risk youth. Legislators cut two state-funded wilderness camps for children with behavioral problems. Support Our Students, an afterschool program aimed at keeping youngsters out of trouble, is also being discontinued.
Inmates going to other prisons

Many of the positions are vacant, but about 620 employees at the N.C. Department of Correction will lose their jobs if other positions for them can’t be found in the system. Inmates at the prisons being closed will be transferred to other facilities. In some cases, cells now used to hold one inmate will be modified to bunk two, while custody classifications at some facilities will be lowered to increase dormitory-style housing.
Jennie Lancaster, chief deputy secretary at the state Department of Correction, said there are limits to how many facilities can be converted to hold more prisoners, especially at the higher security levels.
“We need to run a safe system,” said Lancaster, a former warden who has worked in the state’s prisons for 32 years. “We have said to legislators, we consider this a temporary solution. … The state is going to have to either keep adding prison beds or find a way to slow down growth in the prison population.”
A review by the legislature’s fiscal research office this year projected that by 2018 the state’s prison population will outpace the planned beds by 7,488 inmates. That projected shortfall takes into account 2,268 prison beds scheduled to be added through new construction by 2012 at a budgeted cost of $101 million.
Each maximum-security bed the state adds costs as much as $136,500 in construction, not including the recurring annual expense of feeding and guarding those additional inmates. On average, it costs the state $27,310 a year to keep someone behind bars.

Sentencing guidelines tweaked
Much of the growth in North Carolina’s prison system is driven by two legislative changes made in the mid-1990s as a response to rising crime rates. In 1994, legislators required offenders to spend more time in prison before becoming eligible for parole. Two years later, legislators ended statewide caps on the prison population.

Legislators passed two laws this year sponsored by Kinnaird that will decrease the inmate population in future years by tweaking sentencing guidelines. But a third bill that would have cut the prison terms of many felons by three months and added that time to the length of post-release supervision failed to even come up for a vote.

“The three bills together would have had a tremendous impact, essentially stopping the growth,” Kinnaird said. “But they (legislators) couldn’t go along with that.”
Kinnaird said cuts to juvenile programs and funding for the state’s mental health division could exacerbate the expected growth in inmate population.

“The Department of Correction is very nervous,” Kinnaird said. “Double-bunking sets up a very dangerous situation. You only have to look at California to see the disaster of having 6,000 inmates in facilities built for 3,000. The increased violence becomes harder and harder to control.”
Often cited as a worst-case scenario, the California prison system is one of the most crowded in the nation, with many of its facilities holding more than double the number of inmates they were designed for. A federal court concluded this month that overcrowding and poor health care is resulting in an avoidable inmate death each week. An Aug. 5 riot and fire at a prison outside Los Angeles left 250 inmates injured and 55 hospitalized.

District Court Judge Marcia Morey of Durham said eliminating programs in North Carolina aimed at helping juvenile offenders and at-risk children is short-sighted, and will potentially cost taxpayers far more down the road.
“I think we’re going to pay,” said Morey, who advocates for stronger state services for juvenile offenders. “When you cut community-based services, curfew checks and counseling, you’re going to see the results out the back door. It’s a recipe for increased juvenile delinquency, which will escalate into adult crime.”
Another issue is that more than a third of those entering prison are ex-offenders who either violated the terms of their probation or were arrested on new charges.
Bill Rowe, a lawyer for the liberal N.C. Justice Center, advocates doing more to help those released from prison to find jobs, housing and vocational training.
“The current system of incarceration and re-incarceration is not working and is eroding the safety of our communities,” Rowe said.

Texas worth imitating?
A coalition of groups supporting reform heard a presentation last month by Jerry Madden, a GOP legislator from Texas who helped revamp that state’s corrections system to blunt overpopulation.
Texas is one of nine states in a program run by the national Council of State Governments aimed at lowering prison spending and inmate numbers by investing in programs that improve law enforcement and living conditions in targeted neighborhoods where data show the most crime occurs. Since 2006, Texas has managed to halt growth in its prison population while lowering rates of violent crime.
“I think we came to the conclusion it was smarter and a wiser utilization of our money to invest in programs that can change people’s lives, save taxpayers money and at the same time make the community safer,” Madden said Friday.

N.C. Department of Correction administrators and some legislators say they’re interested in instituting similar initiatives. The new budget allocates $100,000 for studying programs within the state and across the nation that have reduced the numbers of people going to prison.
But reducing sentence lengths for criminals is likely to be a tough sell at the legislature.

‘You can’t just let a lot of folks out’
Sen. Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, said the state needs to spend whatever it takes to build enough prisons to keep up with the number of inmates entering the system.
“There is recognition, even amongst Democrats, that you can’t just let a lot of folks out of prison,” said Berger, the state Senate’s GOP leader. “Many of those people are in prison for a reason, and when they get out early or you reduce sentences, we see examples of folks creating havoc once they’re released.”
Kinnaird said she is hopeful a bipartisan solution can be found before overpopulation becomes a crisis.
“If we can convince a conservative Republican from Texas there is a different way to go, I think we have a very good chance of explaining to people here that we’re approaching this all wrong,” Kinnaird said. “We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”