We received a copy of a letter today from one of the advocates that was sent to the Montana Law and Justice Chairman Senator Jim Shockley.
James B. Cox
2822 Poly Drive
Billings, MT 59102
September 19, 2012
Senator Jim Shockley, Chairman
Law and Justice Interim Committee
P. O. Box 201706
Helena, MT 59620-1706
Dear Senator Shockley,
This concerns and extends verbal comments I made as a Montana citizen and taxpayer in the Law and Justice Interim Committee hearing of September 7, 2012, concerning the role of Montana Department of Corrections (MDOC) contractors. I have helped several parolees trying to meet their conditions, but I do not attach records I verbally alluded to as I do not have individuals’ permission who are still susceptible to retaliation. However, my comments do not pertain only to certain individuals, but rather to MDOC contracting supervision and incarceration functions to profit-making private entities.
About six months ago I asked that Department for a copy of such contracts citing Montana Code Annotated 2-6-102, but have not received those public records. Of course, private entities have no responsibilities under that statute, nor does our Right to Know affect them which is secured by the Montana Constitution. In that hearing, I heard a Craig Thomas speak in praise of the existing system. As an official of a contractor he may be expected to, but following the hearing I was surprised to be told that he is also the husband of Board of Pardons and Parole member Julie Thomas, being the two halves of a family involvement.
At that hearing, I heard a Ms. Jordan speak about the Montana State Prison (MSP) not allowing her husband into a course which the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) required to grant him parole, and I heard Ms. Osler, Executive Director of that Board state that that didn’t matter as the Board could deny him parole regardless. I have records of an instance in which a prisoner was required to take courses, and was allowed to take them by MSP, and passed them, but was granted parole only on condition that he retake those courses from a MDOC contractor upon conditional release. He did so, but when he was not able to make a payment to the contractor due to hospitalization, he was expelled the very next day, his parole officer arrested him, and the Board of Pardons and Parole revoked his parole and returned him to prison for the sole reason of that expulsion without considering the reason for it. That is, the parolee was essentially renting his conditional freedom from the contractor, that contractor relying upon the parole officer and BPP to enforce collection.
In that hearing, Ms. Osler said that any early conditional release from prison, regardless of the conditions imposed, is a favor to the prisoner by the Board at its sole discretion, and must remain so discretionary for “independence,” and also said that despite broad immunity from requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act, in fact the Board and parole and probation officers who carry out its mandates do in fact obey state law in their official acts. That is not accurate. I know of one instance this year that a probationer was held in county jail for over five months without the hearing required by MCA 45-23-1012 until he finally petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, after which he was transferred to the custody of a contractor, as his employer would not fire him so that he was not in violation of his probation by not maintaining full time employment, and his landlord would not evict him so that he was not in violation of his probation by failure to maintain a fixed residence. From that contractor, he was moved to the custody of another contractor, where he is now, still without a public hearing, attending groups assigned by that contractor, under threat that he can be jailed again for failure to make required payments for them. Although his employer would not fire him, still he lost over half a year’s wages through this. Also, although his landlord would not evict him, the county publishes the jail roster and his apartment was burglarized while he was jailed. He heard of it from a neighbor but has not been able yet to return to the apartment to inventory the residue of his belongings there and make out a police report of the loss. In the Law and Justice Interim Committee hearing, Ms. Osler spoke about open and public hearings, but this instance shows that that is false, and also that it is false about probation officials obeying Montana laws in their official duties.
(This is aside from the revolving door by which MDOC officials, such as ex-Montana State Prison Warden Mahoney, go immediately to jobs with MDOC contractors in violation of MCA 2-2-105. That statute carries no penalty for violation, but even with that free pass for violators, I can find no record of any MDOC employee or ex-employee being prosecuted for violating it.)
Ms. Osler also brought to the hearing a thick folder of potential reasons to deny parole to a continuing prisoner, but no record that the Board of Pardons and Parole actually considered that material. Again, she spoke about public access, but to get access to the one proceeding I was allowed to attend, the prisoner had to timely refuse to waive a hearing and immediately named me to attend, I had to learn of that timely and tell the Board I would attend if approved, and I had to be approved and listed with prison guards to be admitted. Having arrived at the prison in Deer Lodge a bit early after traveling from Billings, I even was made to wait outside the prison grounds until just before the precise time that the prisoner was scheduled to be heard, lest in addition to attending his hearing through the above process, I overhear another prisoner’s hearing as a member of the public. I was not allowed to attend two hearings here in Billings; I have not even been allowed to see a copy of the procedure to apply to attend, even citing MCA 2-6-102.
Another request I have made citing that statute concerned a requirement by a probation officer in Billings that a probationer participate in a program to which he was not sentenced, in which failure to make required payments results in jailing for periods of time which commonly cause loss of employment and even residence, which may then be used as reasons to move to revoke his probation. Thus, the problem is not only the Board which adds to judges’ sentences to profit contractors; the problem extends down all the way to non-supervisory parole and probation officials in the field. They conceal it by violating MCA 2-6-102; requests I have made for copies in accordance with that statute have been forwarded to the MDOC Chief Legal Counsel, Ms. Koch, who has not only not provided the a copy of records I have requested from a parole officer here, Ms. Melia, and from a probation officer, Ms. Aggers, and from their supervisor, Regional Administrator John Williams, Ms. Koch has also told me by letter that I must make any requests for copies of MDOC public records to her alone, that requests for copies of public records that I make to the officials who hold them “will be considered harassment.” That is, MDOC is treating the Right to Know secured by the Montana Constitution as though public requests under it were motions for discovery in litigation–to be denied unless MDOC be ordered by a judge to comply.
This was not the intent of the Montana Constitution securing to us the Right to know; it was also not the intent of the Legislature in enacting. Rather, Ms. Koch’s acts and neglects reflect the intent of MDOC to evade those protections. That abuses us citizens. In the hearing, Ms. Osler maintained that BPP protects citizens, but this lawbreaking shows that it actually protects MDOC contractors. Using BPP and local parole and probation officials to enforce payments to those contractors also abuses us taxpayers as we provide the funding for incarcerations.
In a further instance showing the support MDOC gives its contractors, when a prisoner of MDOC applied under the Interstate Compact to serve his conditional release time outside of Montana, officials in the Montana State Prison where he was would not process his application as he did not have the required processing fee and they would not allow me to send it to him there. Therefore, I sent the fee direct to the processing official in Helena, but the cashier’s check I sent was not cashed and the application was not processed. I am told, but have no proof, that under that Compact, only the gaining state can deny an application, not the losing state, so I asked Ms. Koch–at her direction–for a copy of public records which would show that, citing MCA 2-6-102. She would not provide them. She wrote instead that MDOC does not make money from conditional releases. No, its contractors do: a prisoner conditionally released to the supervision of another state does not provide income to MDOC contractors for fees, required courses, etc.
In addition to helping parolees and probationers trying to meet their conditions by providing transportation, help finding jobs, etc., I have also had several–one at a time, of course–as house guests while they accumulated the money to pay a rental deposit somewhere and accumulated the household goods they needed to move in, and also I have been able to give references to prospective landlords for them. In letting one so stay in my house, I learned of a further corrupt practice: He was directed by his “PO”–as he referred to her, so that I don’t know if he was on parole or probation–to take a job at a fast food outlet owned or managed by a ex-supervisor of conditionally released offenders. He would not apply because he told me, and showed me in his papers, that if he did, he would not be allowed to get a better job without that PO’s permission; instead he applied for jobs fitting to his skills. When his PO had him arrested for not having a job, I had in my house evidence of his job search, which I would have presented had he had a public hearing.
Instead, that PO told me by phone that although he was jailed, my house was still his residence until he got her permission to change it, and therefore she could search my house and seize whatever she wanted. As he had a key to my house when arrested, to prevent confiscation and destruction of evidence, I changed the locks. She did not break in, and the outcome for him was that he had no violation hearing which I could attend; instead he was transferred from the jail to the custody of a MDOC contractor elsewhere in the state, and I still am storing for him property he left in my house when he was arrested.
Now a similar situation has arisen again: When I picked up a conditionally released prisoner at MSP, as soon as he got into the car I asked to see his conditions. He looked through the two boxes he was given, but they were not there. Arriving in Billings, he could not get a copy from the Probation and Parole office either; instead he was given new conditions to sign. As one of them was that he make his residence available to a PO, and as I have in the house much evidence of matters I mention above, I did not let him reside here, but instead I (and others) paid to get him a motel room immediately and then an apartment.
(He is being allowed to attend safety training at the Job Service to apply for work as a heavy equipment operator–at which he has much experience–instead of immediately taking a minimum wage job, so it may be that my complaints about the situation did some good. However, his employment still may not be secure as heavy equipment operating often entails work at construction and other hazardous sites not readily checkable by officials.)
The various instances I give above are not isolated occurrences, but comprise the majority of my interactions with probation and parole officials as a community volunteer helping a succession of men trying to navigate the minefield of conditional release. I cannot speak of interaction with MDOC contractors as I have not received a single reply from any in response to my requests. It is like asking a stone wall as they have no obligation to respond: the Right to Know secured by the Montana Constitution only applies to governmental organizations and officials, not private entities.
The Montana Department of Corrections uses contractors to do things it cannot lawfully hide itself. The Board of Pardons and Parole and local probation and parole officials use their power to profit contractors by adding to sentences and use their power to incarcerate to enforce payments to those contractors. A large and growing part of the problems brought to light in the hearings is not governmental entities, but rather those contractors.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. I have provided a variety of documentation as attachments to previous comments; I can provide the Legislature more if needed. I hope that these and other comments I heard in the hearings are useful in addressing the abuses.
James B. Cox
We brought you the article from Phil Drake at the Montana Watchdog. http://montanacorruption.org/2012/09/11/law-and-justice-committee-approves-resolution-for-an-in-depth-study-of-montana-board-of-pardons-and-parole/
Now we want to highlight one of our links on here, another advocate, Montana Connections and pass along some more information concerning these issues that have been such a hot topic.
A Newsletter To The Inmates And Public
I want to take a minute to talk to all of you about mandatory parole. The reason we started asking for mandatory parole was because the D.O.C. doesn’t want to consider good time at all. While researching mandatory parole I have found that it might not be to your advantage at all especially if we do away with the parole board. There are too many things that could go wrong if we went to mandatory parole, such as the % of time you would have to serve. Let’s say they went with what the federal prisoners have to do right now 85% that is way more than state prisoners have to do. You guys get consideration after serving ¼ of your time. Granted it’s not working for most Montana prisoners but that is because the Board doesn’t work right. Maybe what we should do is go back to where we started and advocate first to bring back GOOD TIME because when it was first started in MT it did work. Second Parole Board Reform that would make it so they can’t do whatever they please they have to follow some guidance. As usual your input will be the driving force in what we as an organization will advocate towards. If you would like a copy of the 2 drafts that were presented please write and let us know.
Governor Forrest Anderson
I would like to present some facts to the Legislature probably not known to most people. It deals with the corruption, waste, graft and greed of the Department of Corrections. If their budget (and corresponding prisoner incarceration levels) were reduced to what is actually and truthfully needed, that single act would solve the State’s Budget Crisis. The DOC is only interested keeping their beds full and expanding to waste more taxpayer funds. I sent this to Dave Lewis yesterday morning. I am hoping to find at least one member of the Legislature who is brave enough to become involved in the solution and not continue as part of the problem by voting to waste taxpayer dollars through endless funding to the DOC.
In the late 60′s and early 70′s the prison population was way up. A majority of the prison population had been either denied parole or were back in for trivial, technical violations. (Exactly the same situation as today.) The cell house was full and cells were double occupied. The Dorm and other housing areas were full. Forrest Anderson, who had previously been Attorney General, was elected Governor. From his tenure as A.G., knew the problems and the solution. He was well aware of the hateful, spiteful attitude toward prisoners from the staff and administration of the prison and parole board. He fired the Warden, the Director of the Department of Institutions and replaced the members of the Parole Board with instructions to reduce the population down to a level actually needed and to stop the long standing practice of revoking for technical violations. In less than a year, the population went down by about 50%. We need for something like that to happen again.
At one time, the prison was pretty much self-sustaining. It even produced a good share of the food for other state institutions until the crooks decided too much money was being saved by the taxpayers! The dairy produced milk, ice cream, cottage cheese, etc. There was a poultry operation which raised turkeys, and chickens for both meat and egg consumption. There were both beef and hog operations and a slaughterhouse and butcher shop which produced all the meat necessary to sustain the state institutions. They also grew all their own potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. Then, a realization was made that all the millions of taxpayer dollars being saved could better be utilized by buying these products from local vendors. (Think of all the nice presents being received from those vendors for the business directed their way.)
Over the years, the administration has split positions and jobs so now it takes two or three people to do the exact same thing previously done by one person. This way, all of their friends and relatives can have a state job. Nice for those people but terrible for the taxpayers. The ratio of staff per prisoner is way too high for what is necessary for security and orderly operations. The staff utilizes state equipment for their personal and private use, etc. The above is just the tip of the iceberg. I would be willing to answer any questions or provide additional information. I am also attaching a report from Legislative Services which you may or may not have seen. It helps to demonstrate that the prison population is inflated by the practices and policies of the Parole Board and those practices and policies are contrary to the expectations of our judicial system.
Parole Board Secret Files
I am writing on behalf of my fellow inmates, men and women. After reading the article written by Ms. Terri Braun Wetzel of MWP published by Connections, I was prompted to share my experience regarding parole board concerns. Montana needs an independent advisory screening committee to oversee all BOPP actions. It is only then that they will be accountable to inmates and their families. I have had the same experience when requesting to review my parole file. Inmates should know and beware that the file at the prison is not the same file in front of the BOPP. In many cases like mine, letters of recommendations are missing, certificates of completions are missing or never added by prison personal, and secret written reports are added without the inmate’s knowledge. Years before my first parole was scheduled in 2007, I requested to review my parole file because I suspected certain staff who had antagonized me were telling administration that I was the “Black’s shot caller” on the yard. I was told by a staff that respected me to check and make sure it did not surface into my BOPP file. Craig Thomas denied that request. MSP prison staff often submit reports to the BOPP “FYI” without the inmate’s knowledge. These reports hurt our chances of being paroled. In many cases such as mine, decisions to deny parole are determined before an inmate is even taken before the Board. The date of the decision in my case was made 5 days before my hearing date.
Because the law grants me this privilege, I made another request to review my file after my parole was denied in March 2009. On April 30, 2009 I was called up to review my parole file and I was sick to discover a report submitted against me with my signature on it. I was created by my then unit managers who had practiced retaliation against me for refusing to be a talebearer. They called me into their office one day asking me to sign a blank sheet of paper. I didn’t want to and wanted to know why buy they insisted it was for some routine thing they needed. Reluctantly I complied only to learn they later created a report alleging “prior wrongs” I was never charged with nor found guilty of. However, the BOPP used it against me anyway when I asked them to consider me for early release after their denial. Craig Thomas wrote back when I asked them to consider me for early release after their denial. Craig Thomas wrote back to say that wasn’t a factor and that the BOPP knew what a conviction was verses alleged charges. But when I asked the BOPP to send me copies of the “prior wrong”, the BOPP response was: “that report is noted in the P.S.I. part of the official record”. This proved to me that the BOPP did in fact consider the “prior wrong” in denying me parole, which was based on allegations which were false and never tried or proven in a court of law. The file also included the pre-sentencing investigation documents and photos, but none of the many letters of recommendation from staff and others. Missing also were my many certificates of accomplishment from over the years. I also found a psychological evaluation that twisted my wording out of context, and an impact statement from my victim’s lawyer who had threatened me 10 years earlier. He had said that if I didn’t send him my insurance carrier’s information he would ask the BOPP to keep me until I discharge. If I complied with his request he said he would ask the BOPP to consider granting me parole. They float out refused to produce a copy of the victim’s lawyer’s impact statement. They simply sighted per 46.23.110 for denying me this and other documents I had requested, saying they were not able to locate them.
After being given 30 minutes to view my file, I was rushed off. I requested copies of several documents in order to have someone review them. The BOPP sent me a few of those documents, but all the ones I had found disturbing and that would hurt my chances of getting a fain BOPP hearing, were denied me. Another truth I discovered is that the prison had originally added a point to my reclassification evaluation that kept my custody level higher for several years. I explained it to a staff after discovering this in my parole file the BOPP had. That point was finally dropped last year in 2011.
In 2011 I again requested to see my parole file because of certain concerns occurring at MSP I had been documenting. This request was denied even though I explained that I needed certain documents in order to sue the BOPP for my release, which they denied me in violation of their own rules. Three times they denied my request stating that I could view it when it got closer to my parole date. I have since placed a request for early consideration of a parole date since their denial of me was not valid. However, all my efforts have been rejected.
I urge all inmates, men and women, to find the MCA that compels the BOPP to allow all inmates to view their files long before they come up for parole. There is a form you can file at your local district court that forces the BOPP to grant your request, assuring you the right to review your file – you’ll be glad you did.
Needless to say, there is a complete lack of trust in matters concerning the BOPP since they seem to be a law unto themselves, a law that is antagonistic towards inmates. We have a responsibility to do our best to hold them accountable.
Clive Wellington Kinlock, Shelby Correctional
This summer I have been working a lot at the Detention Center in Bozeman where they received a new contract to hold Federal prisoners. I have been learning a lot from the prisoners about federal time and how that system is broken. There was a rumor floating around about a bill that would reduce fed time from 85% to 65%. As I started researching this I found it not to be true however there is a bill going before congress in Nov. addressing good time. An organization called FedCURE is proposing the bill and looking for support of the bill to move forward in the 112th Congress. The bill is called “The Barber Amendment -Increased Good Time Allowances.” The Federal Bureau of Prisons is running at 38% over operating capacity. A 10% reduction in the federal prison population would save taxpayers $1.2 billion dollars per year. The President’s Budgets for FY 2012 and 2013, included 48 to 58 million dollars (respectively) in offsets for a proposed legislative initiative that would have allowed 54 days Good Conduct Time for inmates, as well as for general administrative efficiencies. Neither proposal was passed by Congress. While we compliment the Administration’s “54 day a year” proposal, BARBER goes further to save $1.2 billion dollars annually. Put that against the President’s pay freeze for Federal employees that will save $28 billion over the next five years–the measure is a continuation of the administration’s Accountable Government Initiative, designed to cut cost and save taxpayer dollars. Republican’s and Democrat’s and members of Congress agree that the current prison system is way so ineffective and that we have been wrong on crime for the past 28 years. It has been an escalating burden on taxpayers who are footing the bill for more prisons. The penal model enacted by Public Law 98-473 (Sentencing Reform Act of 1984) of “incapacitation” in lieu of “rehabilitation and reentry” has failed miserably. We can and must do better. Our economic crisis is due in part to the state of our judicial system where so many first time non -violent offenders are given Draconian sentences and no means to redeem themselves. Once in the prison system, they have no reason to desire rehabilitation or work towards early release. Americans want to see results, not stiffer sentences. We can change the way the judicial system enforces punishment and how inmates serve their time in a way that would benefit both the inmate and society. The Barber Amendment would benefit the following:
*The Barber Amendment allows the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to maintain correctional worker staffing and help relieve overcrowding of prisons. *The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a budget that exceeds $6.8 billion dollars a year. After the FBI, the BOP has the largest budget of any unit in the Department of Justice.
*The Barber Amendment saves taxpayers $1.2 billion dollars per year.
* Releasing 10% of the federal prison population pursuant to existing Federal Bureau of Prisons policy and procedures poses no risk to public safety.
* The Barber Amendment – Good Time Allowances rewards those inmates who have shown positive behavior.
* Although early release would not be guaranteed, it would allow a Second Chance to those who prove they are deserving of it.
* The cost to house an inmate for 12 months is almost $30,000.00. Costs rise significantly for all inmates over age 60 and nearly double or quadruple for inmates with medical issues.
* People in prison do not receive the same health care as free people and lengthy non-parolable sentences cause medical emergencies for those in facilities; and huge indigent health care costs upon release.
* The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) is the largest police force in the United States, more then 37,000 employees. The AFGE.org, the FBOP’s labor union, is battling on the Hill to add 15,000 correctional officers because of safety concerns due to overcrowding and budget cuts. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that building additional bed space in prisons will not resolve the systemic issues of the prison system. We cannot build our way out of this.
* The BOP has been triple bunking because of lack of bed space, which heightens tensions and makes it more dangerous for both staff and inmates.
We are asking all of those interested to go online at http://www.fedcure.org/documents/HR1475.shtml sign the petition supporting the Barber Amendment. After signing the petition there is a link to write your congressman, click on that and tell them to support the bill and also to reduce fed time from 85% to 65%. This bill if passed will be retroactive. Thank you so much for supporting our efforts to help all of you.
- We have had many tell us that they would like to go to “Fair Sentencing” and Mandatory sentences along with “Good Time”. We have had officers at the Montana prisons tell us the same thing. “Fair Sentencing” is another major factor to be considered in this whole process. I believe a complete overhaul needs to be done. There needs to be accountability within DOC and BOPP. This is why we have so many organizations that are coming forward, we have a major problem here in Montana. It is time to speak up.