Prison Talk

We firmly believe that even though a prisoner's body is locked up, their mind can always be free to travel the world and learn about anything they are interested through the magic or books.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lakers' Jordan Hill pleads no contest to assault, avoids prison

The Lakers avoided one potential headache before the start of training camp when Jordan Hill pleaded no contest to assault charges Thursday in Houston in a move that will allow the reserve power forward to avoid prison. According to Associated Press, Hill must pay a $500 fine, undergo domestic violence counseling, make a $100 donation to a violence fund and avoid any contact with his former girlfriend, who had accused him of choking her in February at a time when Hill played for the Houston Rockets. As part of the arrangement, the charge was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. Hill could have faced up to 10 years in prison had he been convicted of a felony offense. Hill appeared in a Houston courtroom alongside attorney Rusty Hardin Jr., who successfully defended Roger Clemens in his recent perjury trial. Hill’s former girlfriend, Darlene Luna, was represented by high-profile attorney Gloria Allred, perhaps best known for representing Nicole Brown Simpson’s family during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Neither Hardin nor Allred could immediately be reached for comment by The Times. According to the AP, Luna sobbed on the witness stand and said Hill hit her legs with his fists, pulled her off a couch and put her in a chokehold from behind. She intends to file a civil suit against Hill, the AP said. "Jordan simply wanted to put this behind him to play basketball,” Hardin told the wire service. “The alternative is to have this be pending until the season is over and have a trial sometime next year.” Hill, a productive reserve with the Lakers after being acquired from Houston in a midseason trade involving Derek Fisher, has two years and $7 million left on the contract he signed with the team this summer. [UPDATE: Hardin told The Times in a phone interview that Hill’s conviction will disappear from his record if he demonstrates good behavior during his one-year probation. “Jordan decided to kind of put this all behind him so he could play basketball without any distractions,” Hardin said of the no-contest plea. Hardin also confirmed that Allred handed him an envelope containing notice of a possible civil action. Allred declined to say whether her client, who has lived in Los Angeles for about eight years, would file a civil suit. “If any person inflicts violence on a woman and it’s unlawful, the victim has a right to be compensated,” Allred said, speaking generally about civil litigation. “No victim should bear the cost of her injuries to herself. They should be borne by the wrongdoer who inflicted those injuries.” Asked if her client was pleased with the outcome of the criminal proceedings, Allred said, “She would have liked him to plead guilty instead of no contest to indicate he would take full responsibility and be accountable for what he has done.”]

Friday, September 14, 2012

NM eyes reform as some inmates released in error

In this Aug. 6, 2012 photo, corrections officer Xavier Hernandez walks around the grounds of the Central New Mexico Corrections Facility in Las Lunas, N.M. State Corrections Department officials recently ordered a statewide audit of inmate records after officials discovered that a number of inmates had been mistakenly released early.
LOS LUNAS, N.M. (AP) — Christopher Blattner should have been behind bars. Instead, police say, he was behind a gun, firing at officers during a nine-hour SWAT standoff at his Albuquerque home last month. Mistakenly released in February, three years earlier than he should have been, the convicted methamphetamine trafficker was eventually arrested in connection with a new homicide case and questioned about a missing 62-year-old Albuquerque woman. It's a case, New Mexico prison officials say, that highlights the dangers associated with short-staffing and an antiquated paper record-keeping system for tracking sometimes complicated formula changes to inmate sentences based on things like time off for good behavior and sentences for new crimes committed while behind bars. The result: Some inmates in New Mexico are being prematurely released while others are being held long after their full sentences have been served. "To learn that early releases have occurred by mistake on the part of the administration is shocking and unsettling for crime victims," said Victoria Amada, staff attorney of the NM Victims' Rights Project, which advocates on behalf of crime victims. Inmate rights groups, meantime, say many inmates have no idea if they are being released on time, which affects morale and the incentive to rehabilitate. "We were always asking staff and guards, 'When I am getting out? When am I getting out?'" said Julie Gosselin, a 38-year-old who was released on time in May following a drug charge. "When they don't and you don't know you don't know what to do." New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel, who was appointed in October 2011 by Gov. Susana Martinez to take over the department, concedes the department has problems tracking inmate sentences. "It has to do as much with our records still being kept on paper as it does our business model. It's old," he said. Marcantel says he intends to ask lawmakers for money next year to computerize the inmate database. He says he will also ask lawmakers to simplify how good time is calculated, to avoid human error. Additionally, he has launched an aggressive campaign to hire returning veterans to fill more than 600 positions at prisons around the state. Meantime, he says he's joined in on looking through some of the "high stacks" of aging documents with complicated formulas and dates of the state 6,600 or so inmates. "They are stacks high and at times hard to read," he said. Until the audit is complete, it's unclear how many inmates have been released early or kept too long because of documentation problems. But recent news of early releases made it clear that Blattner was not alone. So far, prison officials have identified at least eight inmates incorrectly released. Officials recently discovered, for example, that Zearl Green, 46, was mistakenly released from the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Lunas in June 2007 though he had a judgment and sentence for an additional eight years for possession of deadly weapon by a prisoner. While he was out, Green was convicted in June 2011 for a drug charge. Officials didn't realize the mistake until an audit of that prison was conducted. Last month, prison officials discovered that Anthony Madrid, now 38, was incorrectly released from the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Madrid served about a year and a half for residential burglary but he had a remaining eight additional years left to serve because the time had been added for being a habitual offender. However, the additional eight-year sentence inadvertently had been left out of Madrid's prison sentences calculations. He was re-arrested Aug. 1 within an hour of the discovery. In the case of Blattner, authorities blame a string of bureaucratic errors. Not only was he wrongly released early, prison officials had no idea he had been sentenced five years earlier in a separate drug case but never showed up to turn himself in. New Mexico isn't the only state struggling with antiquated systems and complicated good time laws that contribute to the early releases of inmates from its state prisons. In July, the Wyoming Department of Corrections blamed inadequate policy, staff error and the lack of a single centralized database for the early release of a convicted burglar even after the inmate warned them he had five to seven more years to serve for aiding an aggravated assault while he was behind bars. Last year, the Indiana Department of Corrections blamed miscalculations for the early release of an inmate later accused in the brutal beating death of another man. And the California Department of Corrections overhauled its good time policy after mistakenly releasing a woman convicted of abusing a newborn boy she was babysitting. By the time the mistake was discovered and she was re-arrested, she was pregnant. New Mexico's audit, which began in July, is expected to last three to six months. Until then, the department is releasing bi-weekly updates about inmates released before their scheduled dates. The effort is being hailed by both inmate and victims' rights groups. "There's no real reason why this problem can't be fixed," Amada said. Ann Edenfield Sweet, executive director of the Albuquerque-based Wings Ministry, an organization that supports families of incarcerated loved ones, said she was pleased that prison officials were finally addressing the problem of clearing up time served. "Families just don't know when an inmate is going to be released," she said. "This will help." Marcantel said the revamp of records will also help the department with programs for motivating prisoners to rehabilitate themselves. "We want to make sure we give inmates clear a plan that shows what they need to do to get out and what will happen if they break the rules and have to stay longer," he said. "We want people to do their time then move on with their lives." Send Books to Inmates _______ Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at

Monday, September 10, 2012

The former pastor of a Greenwich church sentenced in July for federal obstruction of justice has reported to a Brooklyn, N.Y., prison, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Michael Moynihan, 59, who was sentenced to five months in jail followed by two years of supervised release, is now at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Located near Gowanus Bay, the prison is classified as an administrative facility, a type of institution intended for the detention of pretrial offenders, dangerous or escape-prone inmates, or for treatment of inmates with medical problems, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Brooklyn facility is capable of holding male and female inmates in all security categories. Moynihan was to report to prison Sept. 3; a prison employee on Thursday would not confirm when he reported. Moynihan resigned from St. Michael the Archangel Roman Catholic Church in 2007 amid allegations he diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in church funds to pay for personal expenses. He pleaded guilty in December 2011 to the obstruction charge, which stemmed from lies he told federal officials investigating the possible misappropriation of funds. He met with FBI agents to provide information about how the funds were spent and, in a December 2010 interview, told agents he had not forged a signature on a letter, although he knew he signed another person's name without the authority to do so, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. An investigation by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport found in 2008 that Moynihan could not account for church money he kept in secret accounts and engaged in a pattern of deception when confronted. Moynihan also provided false and misleading information to accountants retained by the diocese, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Though most of approximately $2 million in expenditures from two accounts went toward documented legitimate expenses or expenses that appeared to be appropriate, Moynihan used about $300,000 in church funds to pay his credit card bills, authorities said. Attorney Audrey Felsen, who represents Moynihan with attorney Mark Sherman, said after Moynihan's sentencing that about $300,000 has not been accounted for to the diocese's satisfaction. Moynihan must pay over $400,000 in restitution to the diocese and must complete 120 hours of community service as part of his sentence.; 203-625-4428 Send Books to Inmates

Friday, September 7, 2012

Hacker who infected 72K computers gets prison sentence

Joshua Schichtel pled guilty for selling botnets to customers "who wanted to infect computers with various different types of malicious software." Now, he's serving a 30-month prison term. After pleading guilty last year to creating a botnet that wreaked havoc on about 72,000 computers, Joshua Schichtel was sentenced to prison today. The Department of Justice announced that Schichtel received a 30-month prison sentence for "selling command-and-control access to and use of thousands of malware-infected computers." Schichtel was a unique hacker. Rather than infecting computers for his own benefit, he instead sold botnets to customers who must have not had the tech know-how to create their own malware. "Individuals who wanted to infect computers with various different types of malicious software (malware) would contact Schichtel and pay him to install, or have installed, malware on the computers that comprised those botnets," the Department of Justice wrote in a statement today. It's not clear how many total customers Schichtel had or how many computers were infected since he was only caught dealing with one customer. This customer paid him a meager fee of $1,500 to get malicious software installed on roughly 72,000 computers. According to Ars Technica, Schichtel has a history of hacking. Before he was caught in the Washington, D.C. area in 2009 infecting the 72,000 computers, he was named in a 2004 complaint for "conspiring to use thousands of infected computers to launch Distributed Denial of Service attacks against e-commerce websites." Those charges were reportedly dismissed because the government didn't get an indictment before deadline. Several botnet creators and hackers have been captured or sentenced in the past year, including the notorious Bredolab virus creator, who was credited with infecting 30 million computers worldwide, and the crew of LulzSec hackers that allegedly broke into corporate networks, stole data, and defaced Web sites. However, cybercrime is still on the rise as lawmakers work to catch up with increasingly creative and complex cyber-schemes. According to a report released this week, any device that connects to the Internet is in danger of some sort of worm, virus, Trojan, or malicious spam. Once Schichtel finishes his prison term, he will also have to serve three years of supervised release.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

California Realignment Picture Comes into Focus

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California became the primary guinea pig in the prison industry after federal judges ordered the cash-strapped state to reduce its prison population within two years, starting in May of 2011, due to unsafe levels of prison overcrowding, a ruling later upheld by the Supreme Court. In the post-financial-collapse world where many states are considering cuts to law enforcement and correctional facilities that would have seemed unthinkable in more stable financial times, all eyes are on the Golden State, and you can bet most politicians will be referencing statistics and stories from California for the next few years while making their arguments for one policy or another. State politicians responded to the judges’ order with realignment, which basically consists of sending “less serious offenders,” those sentenced to less than three years, back to the county level, along with some of the funding the state was using to house them in prison. This policy only applies to offenders convicted after the law was changed. Given that the state couldn’t afford to house all its prisoners with a level of supervision and safety that the feds found acceptable, most observers have concluded that this move will essentially force law enforcement to change priorities on whom they arrest and how they sentence or encourage them to send more offenders to probation or electronic monitoring programs instead of jail. The new law also places these prisoners on probation when released, instead of parole. The main distinction is that small parole violations used to send prisoners immediately back to prison with no new trial, which will no longer be the case. New crimes committed by recently released prisoners will now have to be tried as separate cases. A recent report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice explains the state’s prison population was cut by 39 percent in the first nine months after realignment. This means the state is two-thirds of the way to achieving its mandated goal of reducing the prison population by 40,000 inmates by 2013. The state is clearly making progress in its effort to reduce prison overcrowding, but many people believe this isn’t necessarily a good thing. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, many local law enforcement officials in the state characterized it as a case of accepting a leap in crime rates and a different standard of law enforcement in exchange for budget balancing and keeping the feds off the state’s back. There is little argument about the fact that crime rates go up when more people are released from prison, but what about recidivism rates? You would expect that if the criminal justice system randomly releases certain prisoners because of overcrowding, the rate of successful rehabilitation of prisoners would go down, as the prisoners are serving more of their time in jails or probation programs that weren’t designed to hold them for long periods of times. Interestingly, the first report by the Chief Probation Officers of California, released in late July, indicates that less than four percent of felons failed to report to their probation officers in the first six-month period post-realignment. Comparatively, 14 percent of inmates were listed as fugitives after not reporting to their parole officers under the old system. Marin County Chief Probation Officer Michael Daly told the Associated Press he suspected this change was due to the fact that recently released felons could now earn their release from probationary supervision after only six months of avoiding probation violations, compared to a year-long wait before. Daly argued that this provides a motivation for ex-felons to behave. “We’ve hung out a pretty good carrot there,” Daly commented. There has also been a change in the proactive work done by probation departments. Many departments now contact prisoners nearing release in an effort to prepare them for life outside of jail. Some departments even help inmates secure jobs and/or housing before they exit custody. One interesting side effect of realignment has been the way different judges and district attorneys have responded to it. Law enforcement has usually been thought of as a moral issue rather than a fiscal issue in our country, but now these officials find themselves in a place where the financial well-being of their county might be directly related to how much they throw the book at criminals. Some officials say they don’t think about their county’s bottom line when making decisions about how to charge or sentence offenders, but others say they don’t have a choice. In cash-strapped areas with outdated and overcrowded jails, giving a jail bed to a drug addict may mean having to release a habitual domestic violence offender. Results from the probation study found that judges and prosecutors have increased their usage of sentences where certain offenders begin serving their time in jail, but later move to other programs like house arrest. Although most counties haven’t released their own statistics on things like recidivism rates, San Bernardino County was quick to point out its success in transitioning to the new model. Chris Condon, spokesman for the county’s probation department, said the state recidivism rate was 67.5, while San Bernardino’s was 82.55 percent before realignment. He happily explained the rate was now 22 percent in his county. Interestingly enough, the probation representative said he didn’t think judges or prosecutors in his county were changing their sentencing practices and that most of the improvements were made on the back end, by changing how prisoners were treated when they were released. Condon attributed this success to a combination of having good electronic monitoring systems and other probation tools already in place, along with the department hiring 107 additional employees in the time since realignment was announced. Condon said his county used the funding from the state to add these employees, make sure every substation had a probation officer assigned to it, and increase the size of domestic violence, gang, and sexual violence units. Condon said collaborative agreements with health and human services departments were expanded, in addition to law enforcement. Having survived this particular sea-change, Condon said the next concern on the horizon is that the state might try to move more juvenile corrections responsibilities to the county level. He also commented that crime rates went up overall since realignment began, but there was no direct correlation to the recent changes. Condon said the rise in crime could just as easily be attributed to the bad economy. Meanwhile, the state recently formed a new agency, the Board of State and Community Corrections, to monitor the effects of realignment. The Los Angeles Times predicted that by mid-August one outcome the board might find is that the current rate of prison population reduction won’t get the state to its court-ordered benchmarks on time. Last October, the prison population was falling by 4,000 inmates a month, a rate that has fallen dramatically to less than 1,000 per month. Needless to say, the state is currently on target to miss its prison population benchmark, despite all the changes made so far.