1. Texas —
(Associated Press) A federal judge has issued a temporary ruling ordering Texas prison officials to carry out executions of death row inmates only if they grant religious accommodations. The ruling is on the case of Ramiro Gonzales, 39, who asked that his spiritual adviser be present in the death chamber so she can pray aloud, hold his hand, and place her other hand on his chest when he receives the lethal injection. Legal battles over spiritual advisers touching condemned people and praying aloud during executions caused delays in several executions last year. But earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states must accommodate such requests. Gonzales’ attorneys also made a separate request to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for a 30-day reprieve so Gonzales could donate a kidney.
2. Pennsylvania —
(AP) Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman have planned a “one-time, large-scale pardon effort” for minor, nonviolent, marijuana criminal convictions. The pardons would apply to convictions for possession or personal use. The cutoff date to apply for pardon under the program is Sept. 30, coinciding with the governor’s remaining tenure in office. Chris Goldstein, NORML’s Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware regional organizer, lauded the move. “This one-month window, I hope this works, but there could be hundreds of thousands of people that apply,” he said. Jason Gottesman, Pennsylvania’s House Republican Caucus spokesperson opposed the pardons. “This literal get-out-of-jail-free card is outside the normal scope of the pardons process, lacks serious oversight, and does even more to pick winners and losers in the criminal justice reform process,” said Gottesman.
3. New York —
(New York Times) Applicants to become lawyers in New York state must disclose their criminal records completely, including juvenile records and sealed cases. The purpose of the disclosure is to protect the profession from individuals who might seek to damage its reputation. But critics argue that the requirement is most likely illegal and discourages racial diversity. Job applications for other professions in New York, including nurses, teachers, social workers and even bus drivers, ask about open criminal cases, felony, and misdemeanor convictions. Arrests, juvenile cases, and sealed convictions are not included in applications for such jobs. Researchers say the inquiry’s purpose of guarding against bad moral character is not effective. “It’s very unlikely that the information that is produced is going to predict who will later engage in misconduct,” said Leslie Levin, a law professor who conducted a study on the requirement.
4. South Carolina —
(AP) Addiction therapy is going digital at the primary women’s prison in South Carolina. An FDA-authorized smart device will track substance use, cravings and related triggers for eligible prisoners. The 90-day treatment at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution aims to “… increase abstinence and boost participation in cognitive behavioral therapy programs,” reported the AP. The plan is for the treatment to complement medications and in-person therapy. “We are excited to begin this cutting-edge treatment for our female inmates who suffer from addictions,” said South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling in a press release.
5. Nebraska —
(AP) Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services announced Sept. 1 that he will resign his position effective Oct. 7. Gov. Pete Ricketts appointed Frakes in 2015 to deal with the state’s troubled prison system. The system has been plagued with short staffing and overcrowding throughout Frakes’ tenure. Two prisoners died and two staff members were hurt in a prisoner revolt at the Tecumseh maximum security facility less than three months after Frakes’s appointment. Critics condemned Frakes’s $54,000 purchase of foreign-made lethal injection drugs. The state never received the drugs because the federal government declared them illegal and forbade their import.
6. Alabama —
(AP) An anti-death penalty group alleges that corrections officials botched the execution of Joe Nathan James Jr., on July 28. John Hamm, the Alabama Corrections Commissioner, originally told reporters that “nothing out of the ordinary happened.” Later, the state said that problems occurred in establishing an intravenous line, causing a delay in the execution. More than three hours passed between a U.S. Supreme Court denial of a request for a stay and the inmate’s death. A private autopsy indicated incisions in an arm and punctures in both arms that may have been part of a search for a vein. Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham said the three-hour delay and results of the autopsy indicate a “botched execution, and is among the worst botches in the modern history of the U.S. death penalty.”
7. Oregon —
(AP) The personal and medical information of more than 350 incarcerated people was shared by Multnomah County jail staff with the county’s health department and patients’ attorneys, according to a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting. The information included names, birthdates, and photos, as well as medical diagnosis and treatments. The purpose of the sharing was to facilitate evaluation of whether those awaiting trial were sufficiently mentally competent to take part in their own criminal defense. Officials are not able to verify that orders were in place to release information in every case. The Multnomah County Health Department notified affected patients via letter.
8. Connecticut —
(AP) Connecticut’s pardons will once again be treated as legally valid by federal officials under an agreement reached in August. The Trump administration had taken a hard line against the state, sweeping up and deporting people pardoned by the state’s pardons board, arguing that only pardons from governors are valid. “This agreement confirms, with full force of law, what we have known to be true for well over a century — Connecticut’s pardons are legitimate and lawful,” said State Attorney General William Tong. Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, South Carolina and Utah also employ boards to issue pardons, but the Trump administration did not challenge the validity of pardons in those states. “There was no reason for the federal government ever to single out Connecticut and deny our residents the second chance we chose to grant to them,” said Tong. The article noted that Connecticut is more liberal than the other five states.
9. California —
(The Modesto Bee) The state will invest $4.7 billion in support of mental health and substance abuse programs for Californians 25 or younger, reported the Bee. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said that the investment is “the most significant, multi-year overhaul of our mental health system in state history.” The plan includes training and support for 40,000 new mental health professionals among other initiatives. More than 284,000 Californian youth are fighting depression, with two-thirds not receiving treatment, according to data from the governor’s office. Suicide rates for youth between the ages of 10 and 18 were up 20% from 2019 to 2020. “[Over] the last two years, there has been a stacking of stress, the likes of which none of us could have conceived of,” said Newsom. “And that stacking of stress, comes from years and years where we’ve neglected our mental health…”