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Vera Institute Testing Safe Alternatives To Segregation In Five Places

The Vera Institute of Justice has chosen five state and local corrections departments to participate in a Safe Alternatives to Segregation initiative aimed at reducing use of solitary confinement and other forms of segregated prisoner housing. State corrections departments in Nebraska, Oregon, and North Carolina, and local departments in New York City and Middlesex County, New Jersey were chosen after a competitive bidding process. Vera says that  over the past three decades, corrections departments increasingly used solitary confinement to punish disruptive but nonviolent behavior, protect vulnerable inmates, or temporarily house inmates awaiting the completion of a facility transfer.

Inmates may be held in segregation for days, years, and in some instances, decades. A growing body of evidence suggests that segregation is counterproductive, Vera says. One report says that nearly every study of segregation’s effects conducted over the past 150 years has concluded that subjecting an individual to more than 10 days of involuntary segregation harms his or her emotional, cognitive, social, and physical well-being. The new initiative expands on Vera’s Segregation Reduction Project, which since 2010 has worked with state and local departments of correctionsate and local departments of corrections in Washington state, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to reduce their reliance on segregation.

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Shock Of Freedom -- The Stories Of Three Released PA Prisoners

In what the Philadelphia Daily News calls the "shock of freedom," released Pennsylvania inmate Clarence Davis experienced a "second childhood" after many years of captivity, struggling to ease back into a world that evolved while he sat frozen in time. Scores of men and women every year go through the same process. Philadelphia's Office of Reintegration Services says 300,000 former inmates live among the city's 1.5 million residents. The Daily News interviewed three of them. In 1988, he was one of the first inmates at his prison to get a four-year degree from nearby Misericordia University. After that, he helped inmates learn to read. He hopes one day to get a job helping other returning inmates connect with services and support groups.

Ed Baker served 25 years in prison until he was released on a wrongful conviction. He took the city's electrician test, and now works at a water pollution control plant. "Jail took a big chunk of my life, don't get that messed up, but I got something out of it and I put it to use to sustain my life," he said. Nick Yarris also spent a quarter-century in prison on a wrongful conviction. These days he spends his time volunteering with the California Innocence Project, which advocates for people who are wrongly convicted, and he lectures about his life story. "I could sit down, beat my head against the wall and be bitter," he said, "or I can use the one tool that could change my life - belief in myself."

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In Praise Of Prosecutors Who Helped Free The Wrongfully Convicted

It's a misconception that prosecutors take the job just to put people behind bars, writes Lara Bazelon of Loyola Law School, a former public defender, in Politico magazine. Bad apples are a minority whose misdeeds attract a disproportionate share of media attention. The vast majority of prosecutors go into this line of work to ensure that people get justice. In a growing number of cases, that means helping to free wrongly convicted felons, Bazelon says. Last year, 125 men and women were released from prison because they were wrongfully convicted, says the National Registry of Exonerations. It's record number for one year. More than half of these cases—67— were overturned because of prosecutors who either cooperated or led the charge to set the record straight and ensure that justice was done.

Says Bazelon, "We should call out bad prosecutors and punish their misconduct, of course. Just as importantly, we should make sure that honorable prosecutors get the attention and respect they deserve." She cites Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, who helped to free seven people in six months, and A.M. Marty Shroud, wrote a "remarkable open letter" to a Louisiana newspaper demanding that African-American Glen Ford “be completely compensated to every extent possible because of the flaws in a system that effectively destroyed his life.” Ford, an innocent man, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury for the 1983 murder of a white businessman. He spent more than 30 years awaiting execution before the truth finally emerged and he was released last year. 

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