1. Texas —
(AP) State prison officials will not adopt specific rules to govern how spiritual advisers may pray for and touch condemned prisoners during executions, the Associated Press reported. Rather, the state will consider condemned prisoners’ requests for prayer and physical contact with spiritual advisers on a case-by-case basis. In March, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Death Row inmate John Ramirez that states must accommodate such requests, while suggesting that officials develop reasonable guidelines. Ramirez’ attorney, Seth Kretzer, criticized the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s refusal to establish the suggested protocols. The department “always wants to keep it a little ambiguous so they can keep the enemy on their toes,” Kretzer said. “They always want to keep you guessing.”
2. Maryland —
(The Washington Post) Classes began Feb. 14 for the first cohort of incarcerated men working toward bachelor’s degrees through Georgetown University at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, MD. The initial group includes 25 men chosen from more than 300 applicants throughout the Maryland prison system. A $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, donations, and a Department of Education Second Chance Pell experimental grant will support the in-person instruction, and officials expect 125 incarcerated students to enter the program during the next five years. The Georgetown Prison Scholars Program offers degrees in cultural humanities, interdisciplinary social science, and global intellectual history. It is “a model for how universities can bring transformative education opportunities into prison and support second chances,” according to a news release from the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative.
3. Massachusetts —
(AP) One of the state’s most notorious and oldest prisons, MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole, is set to close down in three phases over two years, the AP reported. The Department of Corrections cited the state’s falling incarceration rates and very high maintenance costs at the facility as reasons for the planned closure. Massachusetts’ incarcerated population is at its lowest point in 35 years. The nearly 70-year-old facility needs about $30 million in repairs to infrastructure. Cedar Junction, which opened in 1955, houses about 525 incarcerated people and is at 68% capacity. The state’s main maximum-security prison is the more modern Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.
4. Mississippi —
(Reuters) A Justice Department investigation into the Mississippi state prison at Parchman Farm found unsafe conditions that violate the U.S. Constitution and contribute to violence among prisoners, Reuters reported. It is one of four prisons in the state under investigation. There were 10 killings and 12 suicides at Parchman in the last two years. The violence included a riot among prisoners that began Dec. 31, 2019, and lasted for weeks. Among the conditions cited are inadequate mental health care and solitary confinement. The department transmitted its findings to the state in a 59-page letter. Failure to respond to the finding could result in a lawsuit against the state, the department said.
5. Alabama —
(Sun Herald) A former Alabama corrections sergeant will serve two-and-a-half years in prison for assaulting handcuffed prisoners in 2019 at the Elmore Correctional Facility, reported the Sun Herald. Two other former corrections officers and a shift commander failed to intervene. The assaults were punishment for suspected smuggling of contraband into the prison. “The inmates were handcuffed behind their backs, did not resist and ‘posed no threat’ during the assaults,” the Sun Herald reported. A news release issued by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alabama said that the Justice Department “will hold to account officers who brutalize incarcerated persons.”
6. New Mexico —
(Albuquerque Journal) A lawsuit alleges that correctional officers subjected inmates transferring into the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas to “deliberately abusive and intentionally punishing strip searches” in order to “sexually humiliate, intimidate and terrorize” the new arrivals. A “sadistic welcoming committee” received two groups transferring in from the prison in Grant during March and April 2020, said an attorney who filed the suit. “What’s really disappointing to me sitting here today is the fact that we filed a lawsuit against them for similar conduct 10 years ago,” said Matthew Coyte, one of the attorneys representing the current and former inmates. A spokesman for the New Mexico Corrections Department said that the department has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to sexual harassment and abuse.
7. New Hampshire —
(AP) Debate over what to do with the troubled 144-bed Sununu Youth Services Center is complicated by allegations of sexual abuse from nearly 450 former residents spanning more than 50 years. A criminal investigation ongoing since 2019 resulted in 11 arrests of former workers in April 2021. A proposal currently moving through New Hampshire’s House would replace the center with a six-bed facility and restrict which crimes would justify placing children there. The state budget passed in June 2021 called for closing the center by March 2023, but the Legislature extended the deadline to June 2024, with a two-year extension if needed.
8. Florida —
(Tallahassee Democrat) “Icing from a Danish pastry” on the floorboard of Miles Evora’s car, mistaken by Leon County deputies for crack cocaine, led to his wrongful arrest and forceful restraint. Deputy James Dills stopped Evora for rolling through a stop sign, which Evora testified that he did not do. After collecting some of the substance in question, the deputies forcibly restrained Evora, who protested and became physically tense. The deputies then used a Taser on Evora and forced him to the ground. A year later, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that the substance was not crack cocaine, and subsequent testing by an independent entity identified the substance as sugar. A jury subsequently awarded the 51-year-old father of six $269,810 in damages.
9. New York —
(The New York Times) New York City has failed to say how it will address the chaos that has characterized the Rikers jail complex over the last eighteen months, said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a letter filed in federal court. As a result, a receiver may be appointed to run the complex. More than a third of the corrections officers working at the jail are absent daily, leading to inhumane conditions for both incarcerated people prison staff. Due to staff shortages inmates, many of whom are waiting for trial, have frequently had to go without water, food and medical care.