1. South Dakota — (AP) The state has doubled down on mass incarceration as virtually all of a recently authorized $390 million investment in its prison system will go to construction of more prisons. Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed the legislation in March. Legislators expressed strong support for the spending as the bill moved through the legislative process. Rapid City will receive $60 million to build a new women’s facility while $54 million will finance a men’s prison in Sioux Falls. The largest portion of the funding, $270 million, will fund additional men’s prisons in the future.
2. Arkansas — (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced the state will respond to overcrowded local jails by expanding the bed capacity of its prison system. Sanders announced plans in March to spend an estimated $470 million for prison construction and to add $31 million in annual operating costs. The plan will add 3,000 beds to the system’s existing 13,436. The state’s sheriffs signaled to lawmakers last year that the situation in local jails had reached a crisis point. Attorney General Tim Griffin said the additional bed space would help free jails to hold more people convicted of misdemeanors. At the same time, policies governing parole releases will be more stringent.
3. New Mexico — (CNN) New Mexico has joined at least 24 other states and the District of Columbia in banning life sentences without parole for offenders who committed their crimes under the age of 18. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the bill in March. The wave of state laws banning the practice follows a Supreme Court ruling in 2021 that made it easier to issue such sentences. Democratic state Sen. Kristina Ortez was a sponsor of the bill. “When children commit serious crimes, they should be held accountable, but they should not spend their entire lives in prison without a chance for redemption,” Ortez said in a Facebook post. Republican legislators argued against the measure, saying that it will allow serious crimes to go unpunished.
4. Arkansas — (AP) A lawsuit alleging that detainees of the Washington County Jail in Fayetteville were subjects of a COVID-19 drug treatment experiment without their knowledge will move forward, ruled a federal judge. Dr. Robert Karas allegedly gave the prisoners ivermectin, a drug approved to treat various ailments including lice, worms and skin conditions, but not to fight COVID-19. “The incarcerated individuals had no idea they were part of a medical experiment,” a news release from the Arkansas ACLU said. Medical staff told the inmates that the treatments consisted of steroids, antibiotics and vitamins. Detainees were unaware of the drug’s potential side effects including skin rash, nausea and vomiting.
5. New York — (New York City Council) Speaker Adrienne Adams and Criminal Justice Chair Carlina Rivera issued a statement March 16 reaffirming their commitment to closing the Rikers jail system according to a previously established timetable. “New York City is required by law to close Rikers by 2027, and the City Council remains committed to ensuring this Administration adheres to that deadline,” the members wrote. The statement included reference to procurement of contracts for borough-based jails and expressed concern that such arrangements “align with the mandate for Rikers’ closure.” The council members also expressed concern that “inconsistent statements from the Administration over the past days have unacceptably created questions where there should be none — Rikers must close by 2027.
6. New York — (AP) A class-action lawsuit claims that the state’s prison officials routinely violate limits on the use of solitary confinement established by a 2021 state law. Those rules limit isolation in most cases to three consecutive days or six days within a 30-day period. Longer periods of segregated isolation can be legal in response to “heinous and destructive” behavior on the part of the incarcerated subject. Even in those cases, solitary confinement is limited to 15 consecutive days or 20 days within a 60-day period. The suit claims officials are extending segregation without meeting the narrow criteria.
7. West Virginia — (AP) A non-believing inmate sued state correctional officials for requiring religious-based programming as a condition of release from incarceration. Among the programs cited in the complaint are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous, described as “infused with Christian practices,” including the Lord’s prayer. Attorneys with American Atheists represent Andrew Miller, who is serving a non-determinative sentence at the Saint Mary’s Correctional Center and Jail. American Atheists advocates for atheists rights and for separation of church and state. The organization’s president said that the rights of non-Christians “do not get set aside simply because a person is incarcerated.” A corrections spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation.
8. Wisconsin — (AP) Gov. Tony Evers has issued 933 pardons during his term, more than any other Wisconsin governor. Among these are the 159 incarcerated people pardoned April 7, mostl of them low-level offenders. “Each pardon recipient’s journey is unique, and each deserves the opportunity for a new start,” said Evans. His Republican predecessor, Scott Walker, didn’t pardon anyone during his two terms in office. Pardons do not erase criminal convictions, but they do restore certain rights.