Criminal justice reform: Hillary Clinton wants to end private prisons; Judge Alex Kozinski wants to end wrongful convictions; NH Prisoner 67546 wants his name back.
A few weeks after I posted “Criminal Aliens: The ICE Deportation of Augie Reyes” last May, a former agent for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) posted a thoughtful comment. My post recounted the nightmarish situation faced by my friend, Augie, upon his release from prison. Having served 24 years in prison for a crime committed as a teenager, Augie was deported at age 43 to Honduras, a land he had not seen since childhood. Augie’s return to his native land should have taken hours – days at most – but it turned into a grueling three month ordeal as Augie became one of the thousands of ICE detainees shuffled around the country to private, for-profit prisons at a cost to American taxpayers of $127 a day per person.
The former ICE agent who commented on my post asked that I not judge her colleagues at ICE too harshly for the plight that post described. In my reply, I explained that the problem is more systematic than just ICE’s handling of the matter. Augie, like others among our friends who have paid their debt to society, did not contest his deportation, but in the entire 24 years he spent in prison, absolutely no one did anything whatsoever to prepare him for his eventual deportation to straighten that path.
Augie was held hostage to a simple half-hour phone call to his consulate so that travel documents could be issued enabling him to finally board a plane. While waiting to make that phone call, Augie languished for months in a private prison in Louisiana, not knowing where he was or when he would be going home. In the midst of that debacle, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan issued an opinion in another case stating that non citizens who commit a crime on U.S. soil are subject to “swift removal.” A TSW reader and advocate for criminal justice reform sent my post to Justice Kagan asking if this is what she meant by “swift.”
This story has been a learning curve for us behind these stone walls. Augie’s experience of simultaneously adjusting to both freedom and another country and culture after 24 years in prison has taught us important lessons that will help others among our friends before they are subjected to that same ordeal.
The good news is that I have heard from Augie recently, and he is doing well. In a message sent to TSW last week, he spoke of his plans for the future instead of just his ongoing recovery from the past. His biggest complaint was that while enduring his nightmare transition, he missed the final episode of Downton Abbey. Some deprivations are just too much to bear!
What helped him get through this transition, he wrote, was the bond of connection provided by being able to see These Stone Walls and read about the people who were part of his life for 24 years here. He especially liked “For Pornchai Moontri, A Legion of Angels Victorious” because he played on Pornchai’s team last year. People who don’t know better just can’t imagine that someone in prison might find in this horror some friends worth having, only to be deprived of them in freedom. Few people out there want former prisoners among their friends.
HILLARY CLINTON AND PRIVATE PRISONS
The other good news is that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering an end to the two-billion-dollar-a-year practice of using private prison contractors to house immigrant detainees. This comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S Bureau of Prisons to end the use of private prisons-for-profit to house federal prisoners. This is perhaps the most effective step toward prison reform in a long time.
Like much of the free world, I watched the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26. Mrs. Clinton said something remarkable. She called upon state prisons throughout the country to follow the federal government’s lead to end the use of private prisons. Mrs. Clinton cited a very important point: that the lives of young Americans facing prison should not be in the hands of those whose primary concern is their profit margin and shareholders. Mrs. Clinton is right about this.
In the days after the debate, there was a noticeable drop in the stock market value of the two largest private prison companies, GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. Their stock value fell even further with the announcement a few days later that Homeland Security is also considering ending the use of private prisons. A terrible abuse in an already abusive institution seems to be coming to an end.
Calling upon state prisons to engage in humane measures and meaningful reforms was once a standard for the political left, but it was abandoned decades ago. Hillary Clinton may not know this, but in Senator Bernie Sanders’ “progressive” home state of Vermont a decade ago, hundreds of state prisoners were awakened in the night, chained up aboard chartered busses, and driven to an airport where they boarded a plane for transfer to a private prison in Oklahoma.
The Vermont prisoners were uprooted without warning, cast off some two thousand miles away from their families who first learned of the mass prisoner transfer when they arrived to visit their husbands, fathers and sons on the following weekend. Ten years ago in New Hampshire, Republican Governor Craig Benson tried to do the same, but the community outcry was swift and great so the idea was scrapped.
Hillary Clinton’s new found concern for the plight of prisoners was hopeful news as I listened to the debate. However, she neglected to mention that it was her husband’s policies of the early 1990s that vastly expanded the private prison industry. I wrote of this recently in “Hillary Clinton v Donald Trump: The Burden of a Vote.”
The Clinton Crime Bill and subsequent legislation drastically increased prison sentences in the 1990s, eliminated Pell grants for prisoner education and job training, made it far more difficult for prisoners to earn sentence reductions through rehabilitation, and instituted severe limits on state prisoners seeking to have wrongful convictions reviewed by federal courts. The criminal justice reforms put into place by President Bill Clinton came from purely political motives that sought to cover a history of misconduct by masking it in a “tough on crime” aura.
Those who paid the highest price were not the real criminals. The motif of “arrest, convict, imprison” spawned by the Clinton administration resulted in a system so overwhelmed that 97% of its defendants had to be offered plea deals. The guilty took them. For the truly guilty, plea deals work well. The innocent who could not fathom taking them – and I am one of them – often went to prison for decades where they watch the truly guilty come and go, and then come back again and again.
Hillary Clinton is right to call for an end to private prisons, but it would speak better of her integrity if she told the rest of the story. As a result of the last Clinton administration’s throw-away-the-key policies, the U.S. prison population swelled to 2.2 million, and fed the vast expansion of private for-profit prisons which often require their “customer” states to keep their beds at ninety percent capacity making profit margin, and not justice or public safety, the bottom line.
A FAR BETTER REFLECTION OF SAINT THOMAS MORE
One of the points above – about how the Clinton-era policies made it far more difficult for wrongfully convicted defendants to challenge their convictions in the federal courts – was cited here last week in “Judge Alex Kozinski Speaks Out on Wrongful Convictions.” It was an important post for me because it was the first time I have ever addressed directly and publicly the truths I would testify to in my own defense had any judge ever given me the chance.
I recently read that convicted Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was given an opportunity to testify for ninety minutes before a Pennsylvania judge in a hearing on appeal several years after his convictions for sexual assaults on the Penn State campus. I could not, of course, help but wonder why him and not me.
My appeal efforts have been placed before both state and federal courts in New Hampshire, but not a single judge would agree to hear me or even see me. Courageous witnesses – like Steven Wollschlager who today says he was offered implicit and direct bribes to falsely accuse me, or Thomas Grover’s former drug counselor, Debra Collett, who today says she was bullied, threatened and coerced into altering her testimony – have been simply brushed aside with no opportunity to testify under oath and in the public record.
The courts would not hear Ms. Collett’s statement that Thomas Grover accused so many people during treatment with her that “he appeared to be going for some sort of sex abuse victim world record.” And they never heard that, despite his claims to the contrary, Grover never once accused me during treatment. Ms. Collett today says that my name surfaced only once during Grover’s stay in drug abuse treatment at age 19. He placed my name on his discharge summary as the one person he would call for help in sobriety. This was four years after he claims to have been sexually assaulted, and eight years before bringing that claim.
I recently read something remarkable about the case against comedian Bill Cosby which now appears to be headed to trial in Pennsylvania. In 2005, charges of sexual assault were considered against Cosby, but former Pennsylvania District Attorney Bruce Castor did not proceed with prosecution because of “credibility” issues with the accuser. I was stunned by what I read.
D.A. Castor said that the accuser compromised her credibility when she “went to a lawyer before going to police,” and it “created a credibility issue… that could never be improved upon.” Castor said that this action was “inconsistent with a person who had been sexually assaulted.”
This was stunning for me to read because this was the central issue in my 1994 trial. The credibility of accuser Thomas Grover was the sole “evidence” presented at trial. In my defense, the jury was never allowed to review hard evidence including phone records indicating that Detective James McLaughlin’s very suspect investigation was in part conducted, not from his Keene Police office, but from the office of Thomas Grover’s personal injury lawyer, Attorney Robert Upton, sixty miles away. Ryan MacDonald cited this evidence in “The Father Gordon J. MacRae Story: Injustice in New Hampshire.”
At trial, Thomas Grover testified that he knew nothing of plans to bring a lawsuit against the Catholic Church, but a year before I went on trial in the case, there was Grover and the detective together in the office of the very lawyer who obtained a $200,000 settlement from my diocese.
The fair question of who Grover went to first was essential to determine a financial motive. It was essential for the same credibility issues that the D.A. faced in the Bill Cosby case. At my trial, the question was asked repeatedly, but it was never answered. Grover’s lawyer had retained the services of Pauline Goupil, M.A., a former student of expert witness Leonard Fleischer whose voodoo psychobabble was profiled in “Judge Alex Kozinski Speaks Out on Wrongful Convictions.”
In the courtroom, Ms. Goupil was observed by witnesses openly coaching Grover to sob every time the question was asked. One witness overheard Thomas Grover in the parking lot after his testimony declaring, “I should get an Oscar for that performance.”
But none of this comes even close to Judge Arthur Brennan’s instruction to the jury captured in a Keene Sentinel headline after Thomas Grover’s bizarre testimony: “Judge Tells MacRae Jury to ‘Disregard Inconsistencies’.”
In “Judge Identifies 12 Huge Lies about Justice in America,” a July 2, 2015 article at Business Insider, journalist Matthew Speiser extensively cited Judge Alex Kozinski’s courageous work to expose the truth about the very system of justice over which he presides, and police and prosecutorial misconduct were chief among his concerns.
This is not just fodder for the paranoia of fringe news media. In “Dishonest Prosecutors, Lots of Them,” by the Editorial Board of The New York Times (Sept. 30, 2015) Judge Alex Kozinski was quoted stating that police and prosecutorial misconduct in criminal cases, and especially in the withholding of exculpatory evidence, has reached “epidemic levels” in U.S. courts.
On October 13, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of New Hampshire will once again present the Saint Thomas More Medal. It is presented to a jurist or lawyer who embodies the spirit of Saint Thomas More in courage, dedication, integrity, civility, and compassion toward others. Judge Alex Kozinski, a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would be far more worthy of it than some of its previous recipients.