Monday, October 19, 2015

Correctional Officer Saves Inmate!

Sergeant Daniel McConnell (center) received a commendation on Sept. 29 for actions that officials say saved the life of an inmate at Northwest Florida Reception Center.Special to the NewsSergeant Daniel McConnell (center) received a commendation on Sept. 29 for actions that officials say saved the life of an inmate at Northwest Florida Reception Center. McConnell was presented the honor by NWFRC Warden David Maddox (left) and Colonel Eddie Jones.
  • CHIPLEY - A Washington County correctional officer's quick action is being credited for saving the life of an inmate at the Northwest Florida Reception Center (NWFRC) in Chipley.
    Sergeant Daniel McConnell, who is assigned to the facility's Emergency Response Team, responded to a call regarding an unresponsive inmate in Dormitory A of the prison's main unit around 11:22 p.m. on Sept. 6.
    Upon his arrival, McConnell determined the inmate wasn't breathing and had no pulse and began to administer CPR until medical staff arrived. The inmate was later transported to an area hospital, where staff stated the inmate wouldn't have made it without McConnell's training and quick thinking.
    "While the officers working at Northwest Florida Reception Center wear many hats and juggle a multitude of responsibilities, their job first and foremost is to ensure the safety and security of inmates, staff, and the community," said NWFRC Warden David Maddox.
    McConnell received a commendation for his live-saving measures from Warden Maddox on Sept. 29, but co-workers say the sergeant remains humble.
    "It's just part of my job," he said.

  • American Jail Association - AJA

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Future Jails May Look and Function More Like Colleges

Image KMD Architects
An artist's rendering of the redesign for Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility in San Diego County, California. (KMD Architects)

With its grassy fields, brightly colored walls, and wide open spaces, the Las Colinas Detention and Re-Entry Facility in San Diego County, California, looks more like a college campus than a jail for women. Communal buildings have large windows to allow in plenty of natural light, and designers have replaced stainless-steel furniture with items made from wood and softly colored plastic. Outside, walking paths guide inmates from one building to another, and the central quad lets inmates interact with each other.

For this particular jail, which in 2014 replaced a bleak and overcrowded facility built in the 1960s, the county and the designers looked to higher-education campuses for inspiration. It’s certainly a different way of thinking about adult correctional facilities. But with traditional designs heavily focused on punishment and failing to reduce the rate of recidivism, this new approach could be a model for the future.

“All that reflects what their daily lives would be when [the inmates] return to the community,” says Jim Mueller, who was the principal in charge of the project at KMD Architects. “The intent was to replicate, as much as possible, the demands and responsibilities they would face out in the community within this particular facility.”

The facility has three kinds of housing: maximum-security, medium-security, and low-security units, in which women sleep in cubicles instead of cells—much like a dorm. “[The county’s] thought was that the facility should incorporate a step-down process,” Mueller says. Inmates are first housed based on their risk levels, but “the various types of vocational and educational programs create an incentive for them to improve on their behavior and move to less and less restrictive environments.”

Just like a college campus, there are different buildings for different purposes. There’s a dining hall, a building for medical and mental health services, and another for recreation and education. And inmates are typically escorted by deputies.

Las Colinas, which cost the county $268 million, is among the first adult jails in the U.S. to try out such a design. The first phase of the project has only been operational for a year, but officials say both inmates and staff have reported positive responses.

Mueller says this concept of giving inmates fewer restrictions and more freedom to move around within the confines of a facility isn’t particularly new. It’s been used in the design of juvenile detention facilities for more than a decade. “There has always been a thought that since these are juveniles, their behaviors can be changed,” he says. “At the adult level, it was thought that they’ve established their sociological, psychological, and behavioral personalities to the extent they’d be less open to rehabilitation.”

The dining hall at Las Colinas uses large windows to brighten up the space. (KMD Architects)
Wooden and plastic furniture replace steel to give the housing unit more homey feel. (Lawrence Anderson Photography, Inc./Courtesy of KMD Architects)

The U.S. has, by far, the largest incarcerated population in the world, with nearly 1 out of every 100 adults in prison or jail, according to the National Research Council. And even when adults are released, many end up back in jail or prison.

“The counties can no longer look at it just as a jail,” Mueller says. “They have to look at a continuum of services. So once these people get out of the incarcerated environment, at the community level they have to provide follow-up services. Because if you just put an inmate out on the street, his likelihood of re-offending is still fairly high.”

In fact, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, among the 400,000 plus prisoners surveyed in 2005, two-thirds were re-arrested within three years of their release. But education programs have been shown to reduce those numbers. So, for the county and the architects behind Las Colinas, it made sense to model the facility after a university campus.

But is this the future of jails, as touted last week by Popular Mechanics? Perhaps. Mueller says his firm has been getting requests from other correctional agencies with similar ideas.

One activist hopes that the future won’t involve any more prisons and jails than the U.S. already has. Raphael Sperry is the president of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit that’s been calling for architects and designers to stop designing correctional facilities and focus on increasing community, public health, educational and recreational buildings.

Instead of jail cells, the low-security housing units look more like dorms. (HMC Architects)
The outdoor area includes an amphitheater for women to sit together. (Lawrence Anderson Photography, Inc./Courtesy of KMD Architects)

Las Colinas is a good step in humanizing incarcerated people, Sperry says, but doesn’t go far enough to reach his group’s goal. “This facility, if it’s operated as intended, would do less to violate people’s human rights than typical American jails and prisons.”

But why not, he asks, build this sort of facility as a community center in neighborhoods instead? “There are different types of buildings to help address problems in the high-crime, high-poverty communities that we need,” he says—buildings and services like the ones provided at Las Colinas.

The problem is, he says, women shouldn’t have to go to jail to get those services. “If you had built those components in their community, you can rapidly fill them up with people who need that kind of work and you could operate it at a fraction of a cost.”

It’s not that the county and the architects disagree with Sperry, says Mueller, but that’s something that needs to be addressed by politicians. In this case, the sheriff’s department is responding to a need to better house and work with women who are already incarcerated.

“It may be the case that if you first recognize their humanity in prison,” says Sperry. “Maybe that’s the only way to recognize that you don’t need to put them in prison at all, but I’d like to see people’s consciousness evolve faster.”

The front entry of Las Colinas. (Lawrence Anderson Photography, Inc./Courtesy of KMD Architects)


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Honors Young Prison Inmates at Boot Camp Graduation

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been putting his Gridiron Gang skills to the test to help real-life prison inmates turn their lives around through a six-month boot camp program. 

Johnson – who is currently filming a documentary called ROCK in a HARD PLACE that will take a look inside the program run by Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department – honored the group of cadets at their graduation ceremony in Miami on Monday. 

"Congratulations," Johnson told the graduates, according to CBS. "We're all very, very proud of you." 

The actor also documented the event on his Instagram writing, "Big day today... 6 months ago these youth offenders all faced prison time anywhere from 5yrs to life for a variety of crimes ranging from armed robbery to attempted murder. In front of the judge on the day of their sentencing they accepted to be placed in an extremely hardcore one of kind bootcamp."

He continued, "I gave them my word on their first night that would be broken down in ways they never knew imaginable... but if they stuck with it and didn't quit, they'd be built back up to become better men." 

The graduation ceremony was also attended by the cadets' families, drill instructors and judges, including Judge Jason Bloch, who praised the program – one of the most successful of its kind in the world – by saying, "Over 90 percent of the people who graduate from this program don't come back into the system." 

Despite the program's low recidivism rate, Johnson said two of the cadets were sent back to prison after they allegedly "committed a crime" midway through boot camp. 

The star expressed his disappoint by taking to Instagram to post a picture of himself standing outside prison cells with a caption that reads, "I'd been following their progress over the past months and today was the day they WOULD'VE graduated and been free young men. Now it's done and they're future is bleak." 

He ended on a positive note, however, adding, "Like we talked about…we get knocked down, we get back up. Lesson learned. Stay strong." 

Johnson said his own past troubles with the law inspired him to shoot the documentary. 

"When I was 13 or 14, I started getting arrested, doing a lot of things I shouldn't have been doing," he said. "And I wanted them to know that life does go on and they're going to have another opportunity."


Friday, August 7, 2015

Bike vs Car Accident Victim Awarded $850,000

Summary: After being hit by a car while biking to work, Holly Lambert was awarded $850,000 in compensation for bills, pain, and not being able to work.

A pastry chef run over on her way to work wins an $850,000 settlement. Holly Melinda Lambert was biking to work at the Big City Bread bakery and café when she was hit by John Kevin Weakley less than a mile from work.

Lambert was struck by Weakley in the pelvis and then the car sat on top of her for nearly 20 minutes before rescue crews were able to lift the car off her. Athens-Clarke County rescue workers had to use a hydraulic pump to get the car off her. She suffered severe fractures in both hips, pelvic bones, a broken right upper arm, broken ribs, a closed head injury, and two facial lacerations.

Lambert was in the hospital for three weeks, running her bills over $220,000. The time she spent out of work cost her $27,000.

Her attorneys included medical illustrations to prove her case. One photo had lines pointing to each injury she sustained on her body, covering the page. Other photos were x-rays to show broken bones and hardware needed to repair injuries. She continues to experience pain and has trouble walking. She has not yet returned to work.

Weakley admitted to being in the wrong and was charged with failure to yield right-of-way. He was insured by State Farm.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Worlds Highest Murder Rates

Everyone wants to live in a safe neighborhood. In many parts of the world, however, that's a luxury some people just don't have.

A new report released by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime on Thursday serves as a stark reminder of how drastically murder rates vary from country to country. The Global Study on Homicide 2013 found that nearly half a million people were intentionally murdered in 2012, and killings were largely concentrated in two regions: the Americas and Africa.

UNODC defines homicide as " an unlawful death purposefully inflicted on a person by another person," not directly related to an armed conflict. The data is collected from each country's law enforcement or health authorities, or where this is not available, from World Health Organization estimates.

According to the study, almost half of the 437,000 murders took place in countries with just 11 per cent of the global population. In 2012, the Americas overtook Africa as the region with the highest rate of killings.

global homicide report 2013

Homicide rates, by country or territory (2012 or latest year), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Homicide Report 2013.

Sadly, the concentration of deadly violence in specific parts of the globe is nothing new. Murder rates in the Americas have remained high for decades, around five to eight times higher than Europe and Asia since the 1950s, according to the report.

Tellingly, the U.N. notes that the Americas have a vastly lower conviction rate for murder, at 24 per cent, compared to 48 per cent in Asia and 81 per cent in Europe.

Take a look at the photos below for the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world, and find out which country recorded the most murders in 2012.

  • 10
    10. Colombia
    Getty Images
    As Colombia struggles to end a 50-year internal conflict, the murder rate in the country remains high, at 30.8 per 100,000 in 2012.
    Women march during a rally to demand peace and against discrimination in Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 22, 2013. (EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
  • 9
    9. South Africa
    South Africa is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world, but it has almost halved its murder rate in recent decades. In 2012, South Africa's homicide rate stood at 31 per 100,000 people, compared to 64.5 per 100,000 in 1995. Women take part in a drumming session in downtown Johannesburg, to protest against violence against women and children, March 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)
  • 8
    8. Saint Kitts and Nevis
    Saint Kitts and Nevis has a high proportion of murders relative to its tiny population, 33.6 per 100,000 in 2012. The actual number of homicides recorded was 18. An aerial view of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, Sept. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, file)
  • 7
    7. Swaziland
    Swaziland also has a high proportion of murders relative to its small population, 33.8 per 100,000 in 2012. Voters queue to cast their votes for parliament at a voting station in Nhlangano, Swaziland, Sept. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Mongie Zulu)
  • 6
    6. Jamaica
    Jamaica's fight against drugs and organized crime has reduced the country's homicide rate since 2009, but it remains one of the world's most dangerous countries, with 39.3 murders per 100,00 in 2012. Art student Jason Lorraine stands in front of a mural he designed calling for an end to violence in a corner of Tivoli Gardens, a slum in Kingston, Jamaica, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/David McFadden)
  • 5
    5. Guatemala
    Guatemala, with 39.9 murders per 100,000 in 2012, still struggles to contain the violent legacy of a 36-year civil war. Ixil Indian women and men whose family members were killed in the country's civil war celebrate the judge's guilty verdict for Guatemala's former dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt, Guatemala City, May 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)
  • 4
    4. El Salvador
    Getty Images
    El Salvador's murder rate in 2012 was 41.2 per 100,000, the fourth largest in the world. Masked gang members hand over weapons during a symbolic act for peace at Gerardo Barrios Square in San Salvador, July 12, 2012.
    (Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages)
  • 3
    3. Belize
    Crime-torn Belize had a murder rate of 44.7 per 100,000 in 2012, the third highest in the world. Belizean soldiers are posted in parts of Belize City where gang violence is highest, September 16, 2011. (Nick Miroff/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
  • 2
    2. Venezuela
    Venezuela's soaring murder rate -- which stood at 53.7 per 100,000 in 2012 -- was one catalyst behind the swell of anti-government protests that have rocked the country since early 2014. Demonstrators lie on the ground holding murder statistics at a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, March 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
  • 1
    1. Honduras
    Getty Images
    Honduras' homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 is the highest in the world ... by far. The country's gang violence and penetration by drug cartels puts its murder rate at almost double the next most dangerous country in the world. University students take part in a wake for peace in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on October 27, 2011. (ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Judicial Blindness: Convicted but Innocent

On June 15, 2000, a Bronx, NY jury convicted an innocent man of attempted rape.  There was only one witness—the victim herself.

Erroneous eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of all wrongful convictions. Over 75 percent of all DNA exonerations relied on eyewitness identification.  Fourteen years after his conviction, on May 15, 2014, Tyrone Hicks appeared in the Bronx Hall of Justice to have his case dismissed and all charges dropped.

At trial, no physical evidence linked Hicks to the crime. Luckily for him, a few years later, New York Law School students, under the direction of Professor Adele Bernhard, located physical evidence that could be tested for DNA, as technology had improved in the intervening period. The Bronx District Attorney’s Office agreed to the testing, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner compared skin cells scraped from underneath the victim’s fingernails to Tyrone’s DNA. He was excluded.

In February 2014, a Supreme Court Justice granted Hicks’ post-conviction motion to vacate his conviction finding that the DNA evidence would have convinced a jury to acquit— had it been available at trial.

On my first day of the Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic at New York Law School, I was assigned Tyrone Hicks’ case.  By the time I got to know him, all of the legal work was complete.

The Post-Conviction Innocence Project (PCIP) provides an opportunity for law students to represent clients in post-conviction matters.   Supervised by Professor Bernhard, who began the program at Pace University School of Law and then brought it to New York Law School, it consists of eight students, and changes each semester.  Students work in teams of two.   Each team is assigned two cases.

Students from previous semesters asked the DA to test the fingernail scrapings,  and the 440 motion was granted. When the DA appealed, students wrote Hicks’ appeal brief, which was supplemented by an amicus brief from the Innocence Network.

We were waiting for the appellate court decision. My professor warned my partner Khari Moore and me that the wait could be considerable and asked us to familiarize ourselves with the file.  My assignment was to introduce myself to Hicks. Over the course of the semester, I had the pleasure of getting to know Tyrone Hicks, the father, the friend, the Navy vet, and the church volunteer—not the Bronx rapist. Our first phone call was difficult. He was upset because he had to jump through hoops to keep off the Sex Offenders list, for a crime he did not commit.

In South Carolina, where he currently resides, his photograph is published in the local newspaper on a quarterly basis as a sex offender. He moved over 600 miles away and was still ashamed to go out in public for fear of being recognized as a “rapist.” 

I did my best to listen and provide positive advice, although I knew that nothing I said would erase the misfortune he endured.  By the end of the conversation, he was apologizing to me for his outburst.  I assured him I understood his concerns and that I was always available to talk. 

After I hung up the phone, I began to think. How could a jury convict an innocent man with practically no evidence? Even when my mind is at its sharpest, I wouldn’t trust myself to pick a perpetrator out of a lineup. I simply could not wrap my head around the fact that Hicks was convicted based solely on one person’s identification. I did not have to sit with these thoughts too long. 

Mid-semester, the court affirmed the Supreme Court decision vacating Hicks’  conviction. It was now up to the District Attorney to decide if they wanted to retry the case. Immediately I called Hicks.

“I’m a free man,” he exclaimed, and my heart sunk. I had to explain to him that the DA still had the option to retry his case and it would be weeks before we knew their decision. After a month of waiting, the DA decided not to retry the case, and all charges the charges were finally dismissed.

On May 15th, I met Tyrone Hicks in person.

I sat beside him, his family, past students and advocates as the court gave him back his freedom.  While May 15th was a time to celebrate, we will not forget the lessons learned: how a single eyewitness was mistaken and changed a life forever, and how preserving crime scene evidence brought justice.

Hicks served his entire eight year-sentence and was forced to register as a sex offender in both New York and South Carolina. Every day he lived with the label of rapist. Today, Tyrone Hicks is finally free.

 But the possibility that many innocent men like him are still trapped behind bars has set a template for my own future career as a lawyer.

Plotnick Law, P.A. serves clients throughout the Tampa Bay Area including but not limited to; St. Petersburg, Clearwater, & Bradenton

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