A prisoner talks with his wife in California

The DC department of corrections this year eliminated all face to face visitations, in favour of a video only programme.
Published in Current Events

RICHMOND — About four dozen prisoners at Virginia’s only super-maximum prison began a hunger strike Tuesday, demanding an end to what they call poor conditions, ongoing abuse and the practice of  solitary confinement.

Published in Current Events

Posted at 05:43 PM ET, 03/20/2012 By Anita Kumar

A trio of Virginia legislators is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the state’s use of solitary confinement in prisons, especially of those who are mentally ill.

Published in Prison Legal News
Gary Mead, executive associate director for ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations touring the new facility with the press..

KARNES CITY, Texas (AP) – A 608-bed facility unveiled Tuesday in Texas represents what federal officials say is a centerpiece of the Obama administration's pledge to overhaul America's much-maligned system for jailing immigration offenders.

Published in Current Events
V.20 No.35 | September 1 - 7, 2011
Feature Archive
By Marisa Demarco

Folks met up at La Plazita Institute in the South Valley and split into groups to offer narratives about New Mexico’s prison system. Photo By Eric Williams

It started with a chess game. Volunteer radio DJ Nick Szuberla challenged the Wallens Ridge State Prison to offer up its most skilled inmate for a match.

Nick Szuberla of Thousand Kites

Nick Szuberla of Thousand Kites. Photo by Eric Williams

The game took five months to complete. Szuberla would announce his move over the airwaves each week. Then a letter would make its way to the station from the prison in Wise County, Va., issuing a counterstrike.

The DJ lost to Big Daddy Duke.

"Holler to the Hood," Szuberla's hip-hop program, was the only one like it in central Appalachia's sea of bluegrass. Back when the 1,200-bed prison opened in April 1999, prisoners were shipped into Virginia from around the country—and the number of people listening to the community radio show increased dramatically. "We were a friendly voice in an unfriendly situation," he says. The request line lit up. Letters started pouring in from prisoners—some of them describing human rights abuses. "We got a couple hundred in the first few weeks of the prison opening," Szuberla says.

The Literacy Project in a meeting to discuss inmates and families concernsPhoto by Eric Williams
Nick Szuberla and the Media Literacy Project collected stories that will be shared on community cable channel 27, KUNM and at kitescampaigns.org.

Coal mining was the major employer in that region for decades. As the process became more mechanized, the local economy tanked. To shorethings up, states in the area built prisons as a form of economic development. Hence: Wallens Ridge, Virginia's second major supermax prison. Szuberla's from nearby Whitesburg, Ky., a town that's not even twice the size of the prison's population. (About 2,100 people live in Whitesburg, according to the 2010 Census.)

With this newfound audience reaching out to him, Szuberla organized a day where families and friends of prisoners could call and be broadcast on the radio. He wasn't sure what to expect. As the day began, some people rang the station to say they were upset about the show. Correction officials disliked it, too, and were vocal about it on the airwaves: The prisoners don't deserve this, they said.

Then kids started calling in. Their families couldn't afford the prison's phone rates, so they hadn't spoken to their parents in months. Family members from other states began offering shout-outs to incarcerated relatives whose locations were unknown. The nearest bus station to the prison is about three-and-a-half hours away, and the nearest airport is about the same. Spouses, mothers, grandmothers—hundreds saturated the airwaves with messages for their faraway loved ones in lockup.

Published in Prisoner Support

"Our crime rate continues to plummet."

Bob McDonnell on Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 in Bill-signing ceremony

At a ceremonial signing of seven bills strengthening Virginia’s prisoner re-entry laws, Gov. Bob McDonnell touted the state’s achievement in combating crime over the years, offering tough talk for would-be offenders.

"There’s no place in society for those people that want to violate the rights of others," McDonnell said. "They need to be taken off the streets and incapacitated for a significant amount of time. That’s why we abolished parole 15 years ago. Then you can see the enormous positive results in Virginia as our crime rate continues to plummet."

Is Virginia’s crime rate in a free fall? We decided to take a look.

Published in Prison Legal News
Virginia comowealth attorney giving lecture to school kids
Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Underwood speaks to Paula Williams' eighth-grade class at Azalea Gardens Middle School in Norfolk on Monday, June 6, 2011. "It's so easy to make a bad decision," Underwood told them. (Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot)

By Sarah Hutchins

Norfolk, Virginia - On a rainy night in 2006, Jade Young and a friend stood watch at a bedroom window as two other friends terrorized and robbed a 90-year-old man.

They tied him up with phone cords and stole his money, liquor, prescription medications and guns. It was only after he broke free and hobbled across the street with his walker that police were notified.

Young, 17 at the time, served 14 months in a juvenile detention center for robbery and statutory burglary. She was treated as an adult and has an adult felony record. The three others involved went to prison.

Young's story was a wake-up call for Norffolk Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Underwood, who prosecuted the case. Underwood said Young, who e-mailed him in 2008, didn't understand how different her life could be after committing a crime.

"You may have put me behind bars," she wrote to Underwood, "but you made me realize that I need more from life than crime." Her words, Underwood said, "made all the difference in the world."

"She's the reason we come to schools now," Underwood told a class of eighth-graders at Azalea Gardens Middle School on Monday.

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