Red Tape, Schmed Tape

Talked to Russ on the phone yesterday after a long hiatus. He used up all of his phone time and money trying to keep in touch with his family during his mother’s last days. So he’s been trying to keep phone calls, which cost him a pricey $0.32/minute, to a minimum since then.

He said he’s been working on his appeal to the parole board (a separate and lesser process than his appeal of his conviction) and he finally got a copy of the parole packet the USDB sent off to Washington. He had been eagerly awaiting this packet.

If you haven’t been able to keep up with this whole post-conviction judicial process (and let’s face it – I can barely follow it even when I hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak), here’s a quick synopsis:

Russ went through a local parole board at the USDB before the federal board met in D.C. to discuss his parole. Along with various letters and documents that Russ gathered for his parole board, the USDB sent a packet that included their own paperwork and recommendation. When he stood before the local board they told him he wouldn’t know their recommendation immediately, but following his federal parole board he’d get a copy of it. Well, he did. Except the entire thing was blacked out and redacted, so he has no idea what the local board actually recommended. So that’s helpful.

ImageEven less helpful: the USDB didn’t include copies of Russ’ most recent documentation. A big part of the parole process is accepting responsibility for one’s crime (we discussed his parole process here, here, and here). But the federal board saw paperwork that said Russ hadn’t accepted responsibility for his crime and had as a consequence, “refused” treatment. In fact, Russ has accepted responsibility for his crime and has completed all treatment available to him. He’s put his name on the waiting list for treatments not yet available. (That’s another story – the system is so back-logged that he’ll have served his full sentence before a slot opens up for his “mandatory” treatment. But if he’s paroled, he’ll be able to enroll in the same treatment in the civilian world almost immediately.)

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the red tape bamboozle may increase his chances at successfully appealing his parole.

Happy Halloween!

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A Day in the Life…(part one)

I wake up to a soldier knocking on my cell door. It’s 1331 (1:31 p.m. for you non-military chapter17figure48types). The soldier is one of my treatment counselors for the Reasoning & Rehabilitation (a.k.a. R&R – but obviously not the good kind) treatment program I’ve been attending for the past few months. The classes are two days a week for about six months. I wasn’t on the pass roster today so I thought the class had been cancelled – apparently not. Now I’m late for a treatment. I get up and take a leak in my trusty toilet/sink combo unit. I pee into the toilet sideways so my back faces the door, not wanting to give anyone a free look at my junk. Some genius designed the pod so that, when squared to the toilet, taking a piss allows everyone in the common room to take stock of your delicate bits. I wash my hands and find that my towel isn’t dry. The steamer in the laundry is down. I hate getting up this early on a work day. I decide to make a quick breakfast before I go to treatment. I put a packet of oatmeal, a scoop of peanut butter, and some sunflower seeds into my special version of tupperware – a small, round container left over from a special order of christmas cookies. I put two scoops of freeze dried Folger’s coffee into my cup and push the button on my cell intercom. The guard in the control booth comes across the intercom – “Control.” I ask him to pop the lock on my door. The door opens with a harsh, metallic click. I make my way groggily to the opposite wall of the pod’s common area where the hot water pots are. I put a little water into my oatmeal and coffee cup. I sit at one of the metal four-person tables that are bolted to the floor throughout the common area. My treatment group might be waiting on me, but I decide to take a few minutes. I need this coffee – this freeze dried coffee. Prison_Furniture_Supervison_Model I put my bowl back in my cell and walk over to the side door that connects my pod to the medium custody pod next door. Between the two pods are a couple of offices and a classroom used for group treatment. I push the intercom button next to the door. “Control.” I tell the guard I’m going to treatment. “Go get your blouse.” I’m wearing my white under shirt with my brown uniform pants. This is a first. I’ve gone to treatment without my over shirt on before. Ugh – but not a huge deal. So I go back and get it. I finally get into the R&R classroom and I see that four people are still missing. both guys from N pod are missing. They must still be on lock-down for the two fights that happened last week. One guy walks in shortly after me and the facilitator says that we need to begin. Today’s class is about controlling our emotions. One of the guys argues for a while about people not being able to control their emotions, only their reactions to emotions. We list what makes us angry and share our top three triggers. Thankfully, class ends quickly, the counselors seem to have some place to be and our late start meant they couldn’t conduct a full session. I go back to my pod and see they’re issuing monthly rations a day early. I’m glad – I’m running pretty low on coffee. I sign for my rations and put them in my wall locker in my cell. I’m pretty well-stocked on rations now – after spending almost $80 (the maximum allowed) for the first time. A couple of guys in the pod ask me to play dominos with them. I play for about 45 minutes before I go over to the phone to make a call to a friend. I talk for the full 30 minutes allowed at a cost of about $10. What a rip-off. This phone card company gouges us like crazy. Still, it’s cheaper than the company we used when I first arrived here. By the time I finish with my phone call, it’s 1550 (3:50 p.m.) and they’ve announced work recall. All the day-time workers (the majority of the population) start streaming back into the pod. the noise level picks up and the prison news gets spread. Word has it that one of the more childish and annoying inmates was taken to the SHU (special housing unit – a.k.a. max security) for horsing around with another inmate and bumping into a guard. The guy annoys me, so I’m not too torn up over the news. More to follow. xoxo — Russ

An Absurd Conviction Rate?

During my second visit to Russ in prison he told me what seemed like an absurd statistic: that 98% of UCMJ Courts Martial result in convictions. I had a strong suspicion that was a prison lawyer talking and perhaps not based on facts. We talked about it for a while and then moved on to other topics, but when I got home, I did some research. It turns out, Russ’s statistic was a little off…but only by about 4% in 2010.

Click on the image for full source document, see pg. 22.

According to this document published by the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Services, 610 general Courts Martial in FY 2010 resulted in 572 convictions, which works out to a 93.7% conviction rate. I printed out this page and sent it to Russ in a letter.

Of course, my next question was: So what’s the conviction rate for civilian courts? Wikipedia says the US Federal Court conviction rate was “high” at 85% in 1992 and cites an article written by James Coughlan in 2000 which provides a few state conviction rates: “In recent years, the conviction rate has averaged approximately 84% in Texas, 82% in California, 72% in New York, 67% in North Carolina, and 59% in Florida.” But everyone knows Wikipedia is full of faulty information – so let’s look elsewhere.

According to a 2006 article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the federal courts conviction rate was about 90% for defendants who didn’t immediately plead guilty. “Between 2000 and 2005, 99 percent of the 435,000 federal criminal defendants prosecuted nationwide were convicted. The conviction rate was the same for the 2,130 criminal defendants prosecuted during that period in the Western District of Pennsylvania.”

A Texas attorney’s 2010 blogpost states, “From March 31, 2008-March 31, 2009, prosecutors had an 85% conviction rate at jury trials in federal court.” It seems to work in the attorney’s favor that the conviction rate is so high as it probably gins up interest in the work they do, but regardless of their motives, their numbers jive with the statistic cited by Wikipedia.

85% in Texas is high, but it’s still 9% lower than the UCMJ conviction rate. I’m no lawyer, so I can’t say for certain what variables account for such a discrepancy. On my third visit to Russ, we talked again about the conviction rate and my research into comparable civilian court conviction rates. Russ made what I thought was a pretty good point – yes, civilian courts convict at a lower rate than military ones, but it should be the other way around and by a significant percentage. See, in civilian courts, typically the prosecution will not continue to press charges unless they feel they have a preponderance of evidence and a good chance of a conviction, not so in a military court. Courts Martial convene whether the prosecution thinks they have enough evidence to convict or not. The unit commander is the one who decides to try a case, not a lawyer, and his motivation is usually couched in self-preservation rather than achieving a conviction. That is, a commander may a case to trial just so it doesn’t seem as though he is taking justice into his own hands, regardless of the evidence. Normally, I would say that’s a good thing – it should mean that a Soldier gets the benefit of a thorough review of the charges against him rather than being subjected to the arbitrary justice of a commander who may or may not be fair, but is definitely too busy to be bothered with the minutia of legal cases.

From Russ:

I have access to the same statistics that you printed out, just not as current. The 94% conviction rate in FY2010 is a decrease from FY2008, if I’m reading them correctly. Still, I wish I would have known the odds I was up against from the beginning. From what I can tell appeals offer a pretty slim chance of survival as well. That said, I’m keeping the faith.

I’m glad you guys live so close, it was awesome seeing you. Even if I did have to get strip searched afterwards…this place is nuts.