New York — ( AP) The author of “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971” has sued New York’s prison authorities for banning the book in the state’s prisons. The Pulitzer Prize–winning book describes the 1971 revolt of inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility. H eather A nn T hompson, the author of the book and a University of Michigan professor, published the story in 2016. “People have a right to read, and people have a right to history,” the author said in a press release. The state’s Department of Corrections’ policy is to “encourage incarcerated individuals to read publications from varied sources if such material does not encourage them to engage in behavior that might be disruptive to orderly facility operations,” the AP reports.
Texas — (The New York Times) The Supreme Court has ruled that John Henry Ramirez may not be executed by the state of Texas unless his pastor is allowed to be present to pray with him and lay hands on him during the execution. Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote the majority opinion, saying that while such practices could be restricted, they may not prohibited outright. “We agree that the government has a compelling interest in preventing disruptions of any sort and maintaining solemnity and decorum in the execution chamber,” wrote Roberts. However, the state can accomplish that by setting limits on the process, he continued. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissenting, “It grants equitable relief for a demonstrably abusive and insincere claim filed by a prisoner with an established history of seeking unjustified delay.”
Louisiana — (AP) The Angola Prison Rodeo will return in April after a two-year absence due to COVID-19. The popular rodeo takes place at the state penitentiary, and proceeds are used for programs to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter society, according to the state corrections department. Tickets sell for $20 and all seating is reserved.
Louisiana — (AP) The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections resumed contact visits at the state’s prisons in March and April. “Maintaining in person connections with loved ones is critical to a person’s success in prison,” said the agency’s news release. Visitors older than 13 must show proof of vaccination and test for COVID-19 before contact visits. Masks are suggested but not mandatory. Social distancing will be required between people from different families but family members can still hug. Face-to-face visits between incarcerated persons and their attorneys have also resumed.
South Carolina — (AP) Those who are condemned in the state of South Carolina can now choose death by firing-squad instead of by the electric chair, after lawmakers tweaked state law. The state’s inability to purchase the necessary drugs negates a third option of death by lethal injection. “The death penalty is going to stay the law here for a while,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian. If we’re going to have it, it ought to be humane.” Harpootlian said that death by firing-squad is “the least painful” execution method currently attainable. A court previously halted two executions because the condemned did not have a real choice between the electric chair and a firing-squad, since no firing-squad existed. In response, the state Corrections Department formed a firing squad and prepared an execution chamber for the purpose.
Maryland — (Washington Post) The Maryland Legislature is considering reforming the law that excludes ex-offenders from serving on juries. Maryland’s rules are among the most restrictive in the country. Among those who cannot serve on juries include some who have been convicted of misdemeanors and others with charges pending, but who have not yet been convicted. Over the last three years, the bill to reform this law has faltered due to disagreements over whether all ex-offenders should be allowed to serve. The Democratic majority seeks to restore enfranchisement to all ex-offenders. Republicans want to exclude certain types of ex-felons from re-enfranchisement. The matter is considered an issue not only of re-enfranchisement but also of social justice. Changing this law would diversify the pool of potential jurors in the state: more than 70% of Maryland’s incarcerated persons are Black in contrast to 31% of the state’s population.
Pennsylvania — (AP) The state of Pennsylvania plans to speed up its clemency application system by putting it fully online by the end of 2022. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman said that the purpose is to reduce the time needed to turn around an application to a year or less, cutting years off the process. Fetterman described the current paper-based system as inefficient. The AP referred to clemency as “an emerging cornerstone of the nation’s criminal justice movement.” As Lieutenant Governor, Fetterman chairs the state’s Board of Pardons. Under his leadership the agency has become a tool for criminal justice reform, addressing decades of systems and laws that resulted in large prison populations with an unbalanced racial mix.
Oklahoma — ( AP) Gov. Kevin Stitt named retired district attorney Cathy Stocker to Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board in March. Stocker served as district attorney for five different counties over 30 years. She will replace Kelly Doyle, who recently resigned abruptly. The five-member board will now include two former prosecutors. Another recent appointment, Edward Konieczny, is a former police officer and one-time president of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma. Stitt is up for reelection this year and has been attacked by dark-money groups accusing him of being soft on crime.
Vermont — (AP) The state’s Corrections Commissioner, Nicholas Deml, announced in March that the superintendent of the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport has been placed on administrative leave. The superintendent of Vermont’s largest prison is not expected to return to the post. The assistant superintendent will take on the position on an interim basis. “The Vermont Department of Corrections is committed to changing the culture of corrections, adapting to new realities, and ushering in a new era of leadership and commitment to our team,” Deml said in a written statement.
Indiana — (PBS News) Indiana legislators are set to reverse a 2013 reform effort that was intended keep low-level, nonviolent offenders out to the state’s prisons. The plan was to divert such offenders to local mental health and addiction treatment programs. But such programs proved unavailable in many counties. As a result, local jails are overcrowded. The state’s prison system says it does have the needed programs, and the bill would give judges discretion to commit low-level felons to state prisons. However, former offender Angela Phelps said that the wait to enter the prison system’s programs makes it unlikely that a low-level felon will enter a program before their release date. “From my standpoint, you’re not going to get treatment,” said Phelps.
Ohio — ( Statehouse News Bureau) A state senator has proposed sweeping legislation to address a variety of criminal justice issues that have been debated in the state’s courthouse for years. The more than 1,700-page bill would increase rehabilitation programming in exchange for early releases, establish record-keeping laws for prison body cameras, and increase the ability to expunge criminal records. By combining various concerns in a single package, the senator hopes to bring interested parties together in a single forum to break the logjam. The proposed reforms are intended to allow incarcerated residents of Ohio to get back on track after being locked up for years.