This week saw the defeat of all the proposed national legislation for gun control. It was a battle well fought and won. Our President, on the other hand, saw it has a disgrace.
Many people question my stance on gun laws and gun control because, after all, guns are the reason my son is in prison. It is really quite simple. None of the proposed gun legislation would have stopped the young man from committing the crimes that caused my sons incarceration. None of the proposed gun legislation would have prevented Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora or Virginia Tech. Not one.
The other reality is this, although we are greatly affected emotionally by sudden violent attacks, more people die everyday from prescription drugs (about 270 per day), 25,580 people died from traffic accidents in 2012 and an estimated 98,000 people die every year from medical malpractice related issues. The difference? No one focuses on the greatest issues or causes of death in the United States, only the most dramatic.
The other reality? Criminals always have a way to get a gun. Changing laws concerning gun control will not change the ability of a criminal to get a gun. Let's take a look at the recent murder of Tom Clements, the Director of Prisons in Colorado. The man accused of his death, the death of another man and eventual demise of himself was a former offender. He did not purchase a weapon. Yet he had one. It was not his access or lack of access that brought about this crime. It was the mental instability of this former offender, exacerbated by 8 years of solitary confinement and torture that lead to the crimes he committed.
Let's look at Virginia Tech. The young man responsible for those deaths used a 2 hand guns in the shooting. he was also mentally unsound and had been in and out of treatment since junior high. He had also recently ceased taking Paxal an antidepressant which has severe side effects and can increase a patients propensity to violence and suicide.
We need to address mental health. We need to address family violence. We need to support families who are dealing with these issues that lead to profound acts of violence. This will make a difference....not gun legislation. Here are a couple of articles...one from the President and one from a Colorado Sheriff.
Obama Gun Policy
Colorado Gun Policy
For many of us who advocate for criminal justice, juvenile justice and prison reform, the battle has been long and unending. We have met with lawmakers, approached medical experts, spoken with judges, prison officials and gathered as much information as possible. There are hundreds of strong reports published over the last ten years that present evidence that our current policies and practices do not work.
But we don't have to read reports, we don't have to listen to the testimony of experts and we don't have to look to our lawmakers for guidance. We just need to look in our own back yards. We can see the devastation that violence, incarceration and prison conditions produces. We can see the impact on families, neighborhoods, communities, states and this nation. We can look around and see the need for change but we are not sure how to go about it.
Our "War On Drugs" and "Tough On Crime" policies have not stopped mass murder. These policies have not stopped gang related violence. These policies have not lessened the incidence of addiction or the impact of addiction on our communities. These policies have not worked.
What will? A return to humanity. A return to caring for and finding healing for those among us who have mental illness, addiction problems, whose lives have been plagued with abuse, neglect and violence. We have to decide we want to heal. We have to decide that brokenness and disease are not acceptable and find a way to bring comfort and healing.
We have built huge prison complexes to house those who are broken, sick and misguided. We spend billions of dollars on locking away PEOPLE who need help in finding their way and success in our communities. We have taken rehabilitation, treatment, education and life skills training out of our prisons and leave PEOPLE to rot away in cement cells. We have failed to address restoration, re-payment for harm done and healing for victims through sincere apologies, counseling and support. We have taken away everything that works to restore human lives and communities.
The person who breaks a law or commits a crime has a PROBLEM. Our first concern should be to address the problem of that individual so that they may make reparations for the harm they have done. That is actually a biblical and spiritual principal. We need better mental health care and treatment facilities for the mentally ill. We need to better educate and train our youth so that they realize there is a world outside "The hood" where they can become successful. We need to support families dealing with addiction and provide addiction treatment. We need to address family violence so that violence is not a way of life. We need accountability for our brothers and our brothers need to be accountable. In other words we need to care because every brother that is hurting effects our health and the health of our communities.
It has been a long road and I must say that in the beginning I was seen as a bleeding heart for a hopeless cause. I am happy to say that is no longer the case. A LONG list of support has come out in favor of prison and justice reform. Many of them may surprise you although if you think about it....it shouldn't. They clearly see the impact on their families, their people and their neighborhoods. In this article posted by Prison Fellowship and Justice Fellowship, there is a CALL TO ACTION directed at the Christian community.
Even more powerful is this open letter to President Obama from advocates that state they are ready to support policy changes and conditions of confinement and treatment for offenders. This list includes people like Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Q-Tip, Sean "Diddy" Combs, the Kardashians, Eva Longoria, Demi Moore, Susan Sorandon, Chris Rocke and such spiritual leaders as Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin, Depak Chopra and Rev. Michale McBride. The list of supporters includes lawmakers, actors, musicians, religious leaders, fashion leaders and more. They have joined together as a coalition of advocates to speak for change in our justice system and the prison industrial complex.
Rappers, Stars Ask Obama to Ease Drug Policy, Reform Prisons
We know that our current policies and practices DON"T work. We know that we are not doing the right thing by our brother. We are tired of poor, broken and hurting communities. So isn't it time for change? Join the many voices, educate yourself and bring a change for health and humanity to YOUR COMMUNITY!
There are many education tools on our web site FreeJonny as well as The Sentencing Project, The Pendulum Foundation and The Campaign For The Fair Sentencing Of Youth.
We are also happy to speak to your church, club or organization concerning prison reform policies, justice reform and juvenile justice reform Contact Us and we can get started.
A few months ago there was hope for juveniles who have been sentenced to Juvenile Life Without Parole or the equivalent too a life sentence. Legislation was being crafted to undo the harsh, cruel and unusual punishment of life sentences for juveniles. Colorado was once again heading towards juvenile justice reform which would change the opportunities for juveniles in conflict with the law.
All of that came to an end with the untimely death of Tom Clements, the director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The Governor concluded that this was not the time for juvenile justice reform legislation. It had been a very volatile year for Colorado legislators with the gun reform legislation, civil union bill and a host of other major changes. While this did not further the position of juvenile justice reform advocates, the reality of the loss of Mr. Cements raised a host of questions.
First Gov. Hickenlooper was grappling with the loss of a friend and colleague potentially at the hand of another friends son. This became very personal and, as with any person, Gov. Hickenlooper needed to step back and review the facts. The failure on the part of parole and probation to monitor Evan Ebel gave him the freedom to move about and possibly commit horrible crimes. At the same time, it was a well publicized fact that Evan Ebel suffered greatly from long term incarceration in solitary confinement and was released directly to the streets. Something that Tom Clements focused on changing. Now the Governor needed to look at the whole system to evaluate how to move forward and bring lasting change. The hope is that Governor Hickenlooper will see the value in the work of Tom Clements and continue his vision for reform and rehabilitation to the prison system in Colorado.
At the same time the Governor must grapple with the fact that his state currently has a few hundred individuals serving illegal prison sentences based on the Supreme Court of the United States Rulings on Graham and Miller which declare life sentences for juveniles to be cruel and unusual punishment. the implications for state policy are that if a state does not take factors related to youth into account when imposing harsh sentences they are in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. There has been talk of law suits against the state based on human rights issues. There whispers of different ways to hold the state accountable on this issue, much like the law suits that brought about change to the over use of administrative segregation and solitary confinement in this state. It may not be necessary to bring about sentencing reform for juveniles.
Shortly after these events a Colorado Appellate ruling was published that declared a virtual life sentence of 112 years for a juvenile offender was unconstitutional according to the eighth amendment of the constitution and the recent SCOTUS rulings of Graham and Miller. Further, this ruling addressed the meaningful opportunity for parole, the fact that Colorado had developed the Youthful Offender System for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, and the evidence that juvenile offenders can be rehabilitated. This ruling has set the stage and given legal precedence for future legislation in Colorado.
While our lawmakers and our Governor could not find the strength or tenacity to bring Colorado into compliance this year, it may be for the better. The next bill introduced may be powerful enough to bring about another sweeping change to juvenile justice in our state. If lawmakers can find the guts and the conviction to make changes that will better our communities and get juvenile offenders back into juvenile courts and juvenile facilities......where they belong. It may also be the catalyst for change in our prison system. Maybe once again we will focus on programs, rehabilitation and re-entry so that those individuals released from prison have a chance at success.....another change that is necessary to strengthen our communities. We can only hope. We live to fight another day.
Around the end of March, in another landmark, hasty and cowardly decision, the Colorado legislature decided to table the proposed bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado. After 9 hours of testimony, and strong legislative support, our Governor stated that he was not in support of the bill and therefore it was tabled.
The issue of the death penalty is a very volatile topic and usually provokes strong argument from both sides. In recent months several states have moved to abolish the death penalty. Why the change now? I can only speculate, however, there has been much publicity over the wrongful convictions of inmates who were currently on death row. How can we, as a nation, justify putting a man to death who may very well be innocent? That is a very logical, powerful and reasonable argument. There is yet a NEW VOICE that has risen that may surprise you. That is the voice of victims families who DO NOT WANT THE DEATH PENALTY. In an interview one man, who's son was killed on the job, told the reporter that in the beginning he wanted the death penalty for his sons murderer. As the years passed and his anger subsided, he realized that the death of one man does not atone for the death of another man. "There is no eye for an eye. It don't make it right and it don't pay for my sons life. Nothing can pay for that."
Many, with strong religious convictions, have sought spiritual counsel and found that their is nothing in most religions that support taking a man's life.
In Colorado two of the three men on death row are responsible for the death of Representative Rhonda Fields son and future daughter in-law. Ms. Fields was quoted, ""I don't think the death penalty should be repealed."
I listened to a few hours of the hearings on the death penalty bill. In the time frame that I listened, no one spoke against the repeal of the death penalty. No one. Many legislators wanted to take time to find out what their constituents desired. Many of those constituents had already spoken through petitions, letters and support of the death penalty bill.
Once again the opinion and desires of the general population of Colorado has been ignored. We no longer want to be responsible for killing anyone, whether a known killer or not. We do not want blood on our hands. There is no eye for any eye. That is a Jewish idiom which simply means reparation for harm done. You cannot repair the harm you have done when you are dead.
Once again our legislature did not represent the will of the people. Once again, when faced with a monumental change that we could be proud of, our legislature shrunk back. Once again we were ignored and now we place the blood on your hands.
The past few weeks have been wrought with sadness and lingering questions over the untimely death of Colorado Department of Corrections Director, Tom Clements.
Although I did not know Mr. Clements personally, I held him in high regard for the compassion and dedication he had to prison reform. Mr. Clements did not advocate the use of solitary confinement and implemented many changes to see that the inmate population held in such torturous conditions was significantly reduced. Mr. Clements was concerned by the number of inmates that were released directly from solitary confinement to community corrections or to the streets. He was aware of the difficult adjustments inmates encountered when they were released from solitary confinement. Not only did he seek to implement behavior modification plans to deter the use of solitary but he also implemented step down practices to ease re-entry into general population.
In an article from the Colorado Independent written by Susan Greene, Tom Clements is quoted, “You have to ask yourself the question – How does holding inmates in administrative segregation and then putting them out on a bus into the public, [how does that] square up?” Clements said.
“We have to think about how what we do in prisons impacts the community when [prisoners] leave,” Clements continued. “It’s not just about running the prison safely and securely. There’s a lot of research around solitary and isolation in recent years, some tied to POWs and some to corrections. My experience tells me that long periods of isolation can be counter-productive to stable behavior and long-term rehabilitation goals."
Unfortunately the plans that Mr. Clements proposed were not supported by the Colorado government. In this testimony from the father of the accused killer of Mr. Clements, we see the impact of solitary on his son. "As early as a year ago, Evan Ebel’s father, Jack Ebel, testified before a committee of the Colorado State Legislature that after years in solitary, his son had trouble communicating during visits. ”Even though he’s well-read and he’s a good conversationalist and gentle — he started out that way, what I’ve seen over six years is he has become increasingly … he has a high level of paranoia and [is] extremely anxious. So when he gets out to visit me, and he gets out of his cell to talk to me, I mean he is so agitated that it will take an hour to an hour-and-half before we can actually talk,” Jack Ebel told legislators. He was speaking in favor of a bill that would have more closely monitored the mental health of individuals in solitary, and required that they spend some time in the general population before their release from prison. (The bill was voted down.)" Read More here from Solitary Watch
There have been several law suits filed in Colorado concerning the use of solitary confinement, the conditions of confinement and the destructive nature of such torturous confinement. Ultimately it is we, the people, who are responsible for allowing these things to happen in our state and we must take responsibility for our ignorance and apathy. Maybe we can justify the course of action by believing that those held behind bars are just too sick and corrupt and therefore such confinement practices must be used. However, it is not true. Anyone deprived in such conditions of confinement will suffer mental breakdown. Here is testimony from a political prisoner held in Iran in solitary confinement. ( Sarah Shroud is a writer, educator and prison rights advocate currently based in Oakland, California. She had been living in the Middle East for over a year, teaching Iraqi refugees and living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, when she was captured by Iranian forces somewhere along an unmarked border between Iran and Iraq in July 2009, and held in solitary confinement for 410 days. She has written for the New York Times, CNN, and Newsweek's Daily Beast and is currently writing a book with Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal about their experience as hostages in Iran.)
"In prolonged isolation, the human psyche slowly self-destructs. On my worst days, I screamed and beat at the walls. I experienced hallucinations -- bright flashing lights and phantom footsteps -- nightmares, insomnia, heart palpitations, lethargy, clinical depression, and passive suicidal thoughts. I would pace my cell incessantly, or crouch like an animal by the food slot at the bottom of my cell door, listening for any sound to distract me. When I finally got books and television, I found it difficult to concentrate. I would sometimes spend an entire afternoon trying to read the same page, until I got fed up and threw my book against the wall.
The only thing I thought about for over a year in solitary was the day that I would no longer have to be alone, but, ironically, it wasn't that simple. When I was finally released, I found it hard to make eye contact or be touched. My breathing remained labored and many of the symptoms I experienced in prison -- insomnia, hypertension, and anxiety -- persisted on the outside. Like many people with post-traumatic stress disorder, I sometimes drank too much to try and escape my symptoms. More than once I became belligerent, dangerously paranoid, or hopelessly depressed -- sometimes walling myself up in my house for days at a time." (read complete story - Solitary Watch Buried Alive)
The Governor of Colorado, in a statement at Mr. Clements memorial service, declared that they would continue Mr. Clements vision and work. Given the track record of the Colorado legislature concerning prison reform, sentencing reform, parole reform and mental health measures......I am not hopeful.
Thank You Mr. Clements for who you were and all you accomplished.
More articles on the atrocity of solitary confinement in Colorado - Fortress of Solitude (2), Confinement on Trial in Colorado, Federal Judge Criticizes Supermax Confinement in Colorado, Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax, CDOC in Need Of Correction
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