1. Oregon — (The Associated Press) A U.S. judge has dismissed habeas corpus petitions of about 200 people currently and formerly incarcerated at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institution in Oregon. The petitions sought release or sentence reductions claiming the prison administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was inadequate. Judge Stacie Beckerman ruled that the habeas petitions would be better suited as part of a civil rights lawsuit. Beckerman expressed sympathy for “Petitioners’ difficult experiences at Sheridan during the pandemic, [but] the court cannot conclude that merely alleging that no conditions of confinement could satisfy the 8th Amendment is sufficient to confer habeas jurisdiction under circumstances such as those present here.”
2. New Mexico — (AP) The ACLU and Disability Rights New Mexico have sued the state’s Corrections Department to ensure inmate access to opioid withdrawal medications. The suit argues that failure to provide such medications amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Constitution as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a news release, the ACLU said, “Without access to their doctor-prescribed medication in prison, people with opioid use disorder suffer painful withdrawal and face high risk of relapse, overdose, and death — both while they are in prison and upon their return home.” New Mexico has been a leading innovator in the fight against drug use and addiction, including distribution of overdose antidotes and legal immunity for people involved in seeking treatment for overdoses for themselves or for others.
3. New York — (New York Times) District attorneys in several boroughs of New York City — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx — are seeking dismissal of hundreds of convictions associated with discredited p olice officers d ating back decades. H undreds of additional cases tied to the officers are under scrutiny. The officers involved in arrests and investigations that led to the convictions under review engaged in official misconduct and c rimes r elated t o t heir p olice w ork. P olice Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell said in a statement, “There is zero tolerance in the NYPD for corruption or criminal activity of any kind by any member of the service. Those who betray their sworn oath to serve and protect the public have no place in the NYPD.”
4. Vermont — (AP) The Vermont Department of Corrections will digitalize its paper-based grievance system to address deficiencies detailed in a state auditor’s report. The digitalized system will be available to the state’s incarcerated population on the tablets they already use for entertainment, education and communications. “These changes will increase accountability and transparency across Vermont’s entire correctional system,” said a statement from Corrections Commissioner Nicholas Deml. The auditor’s report said that the system lacked complete information and executive level oversight. “It can be tempting to brush off prisoners’ complaints in light of the actions that led to their incarceration,” said Auditor Doug Hoffer in a statement. “But c orrectional officials universally agree that a fair and effective grievance system is critical to maintaining a safe environment behind prison walls.”
5. Connecticut — (WSHU Public radio) The state’s Office of Policy and Management released statistics in December revealing that crime overall, and violent crime specifically, declined between 2020 and 2021. Marc Pelka, an undersecretary of the agency, presented the data to the state’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, indicating that the decline was a continuation of a trend that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. “It seems that the pandemic onset accelerated trends that were already in motion in the state. It did not involve any sort of sharp upward or downward turning in the opposite direction, said Pelka. He told the committee that violent crime in the state is down 43% in the last 10 years, 27% in the last five and 9% between 2020 and 2021. He described Connecticut’s violent crime rate as about half of the national rate. “Very positive news there,” said Pelka.
6. Massachusetts — (Reuters) An investigation conducted over a period of several years by the United States Department of Justice has led to a settlement agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Correction to reform how the system cares for detainees with serious mental health issues. The agreement also covers supervision of those considered at risk of harming themselves. A Yale School of Medicine psychiatry professor, Reena Kapoor, will independently monitor compliance with the agreement. “Statistics show that far too many of the incarcerated population suffers from significant mental health and substance-use disorders, among other severe things,” said Kapoor. Correction Department Commissioner Carol Mici said in a statement that the department is “deeply committed to the health and well-being of all entrusted to our care.”