Follow by Email

Thursday, September 16, 2010

18 Year Old Tried To Kill Himself 4 Times

HELENA — An 18-year-old Montana State Prison inmate who claims he has been treated inhumanely is asking a district court judge to step in to keep him from returning to a solitary cell and other treatment he and his lawyers say is deplorable and scarring.

Raistlen Katka testified Tuesday that he has attempted suicide four times in part due to his treatment at the prison. According to Katka’s attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, an injunction is needed to stop the irreparable harm being done by the prison.

A hearing was held before District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock to give Katka and the prison a chance to argue their cases.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Corrections and the state in December on behalf of Katka, alleging he had been treated illegally and inhumanely. The situation be-came so dire, Katka testified Tuesday, that he twice attempted to kill himself by biting through the skin on his wrist to puncture a vein.

“My thought process was if I don’t die, at least I’ll get out of my cell for 30 seconds,” Katka testified.

Katka is being housed at the Montana State Hospital pending the ruling on the injunction. Testimony will continue today.

Attorneys representing the state said the confinement in the prison’s maximum-security unit helped to protect Katka and other inmates in addition to preserving order at the facility.

Katka had been at the prison since February 2008 after he pleaded guilty to two felony counts of assault on a peace officer stemming from a physical altercation with two correctional officers at Pine Hills Correctional Facility for juveniles. After the altercation, he was sentenced to five years under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. He was convicted as an adult after waiving his right to transfer the charges to youth court.

Katka and his attorneys say his treatment at the prison has exacerbated his mental illness, which includes depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are asking that Katka not be subjected to solitary confinement, not be disciplined with acts such as the removal of personal property from his cell and be transferred to another facility where his needs can be better met.

Maxon Davis, a Great Falls attorney representing the state, argued Katka was a danger to himself and others and that was evident by his criminal history, including violent crimes, dating back to the age of 10.

Katka said he didn’t tell prison officials about his suicidal thoughts for fear of punishment.

At the prison, Katka’s available mental health treatment consists of a staff member knocking on his door once a week and asking if he has any concerns, according to his attorneys, and then he must answer by yelling within earshot of other inmates.

“I think the state has proven in this case that they are not willing or able to provide the mental illness treatment he needs,” said Andree Larose, a Helena attorney representing Katka. “He needs a chance and that chance can’t come from the prison treating him like an animal.”

Katka said much of his time at the prison he was in a solitary cell with only a mattress and blanket and dressed in a smock.

The lawsuit was originally filed when Katka was 17 years old and he was listed as “Robert Doe.”

Jennifer Giuttari, ACLU of Montana staff attorney, said she heard about Katka’s plight in letters from his fellow inmates saying they had heard the teen crying out for help and were concerned. His mother and aunt also wrote to the ACLU asking for help.

Juveniles Held In Solitary Confinement

While there are no concrete numbers, it’s safe to say that hundreds, if not thousands of children are in solitary confinement in the United States–some in juvenile detention facilities, and some in adult prisons. Short bouts of solitary confinement are even viewed as a legitimate form of punishment in some American schools. In several posts over the next week, Solitary Watch News will be covering the story of children in lock down. In this first post, we address teenagers in solitary confinement in adult prisons.

* Henry Weinstein, chair of the APA Caucus on Correctional Psychiatry and a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University, “believes that solitary confinement can have mental health impacts on both healthy people and those with psychiatric illness,” according to the article. “Its effects are likely similar to the mental health consequences of torture, which leave some permanently mentally impaired and others relatively unscathed.”
Different kinds of challenges to solitary confinement, through both lawsuits and legislative efforts. It is scrupulously “balanced,” presenting opinions from some who think that prolonged solitary confinement may exacerbate pre-existing mental illnesses, but does not drive sane people crazy. (They might wish to conduct the experiment suggested by one prisoners in Illinois Tamms SupprtMax “Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.”)

Now 29, Manuel has spent half his life in a concrete box the size of a walk-in closet. His food comes through a slot in the door. He never sees another inmate. Out of boredom he cuts himself just to watch the blood trickle. Attorneys who advocate on behalf of prisoners call Manuel “the poster boy” for the ill effects of solitary confinement….

In 1991, when Manuel arrived at the prison processing center in Central Florida, he was so small no one could find a prison uniform to fit him, Ron McAndrew, then the assistant warden, recalled. Someone cut 6 inches off the boy’s pant legs so he would have something to wear. “He was scared of everything and acting like a tough guy as a defense mechanism,” said McAndrew, now a prison and jail consultant in Florida. “He didn’t stand a chance in an adult prison.”

Within months, Manuel was sent to Apalachee Correctional Institution in Jackson County, which McAndrew called “one of the toughest adult prisons in the state.” At Apalachee, the boy mouthed off to other inmates and correctional officers and made obscene hand gestures, racking up disciplinary infractions that landed him in solitary.

On Christmas Eve 1992, he was allowed to make one phone call. He called Debbie Baigrie, the woman he had shot. “This is Ian. I am sorry for all the suffering I’ve caused you,” she remembers him saying. They began to correspond regularly. Baigrie said she was impressed with how well he wrote.

She asked prison officials to let him take the General Educational Development test and take college courses. “I got a second chance in life. I recovered and went on,” Baigrie said. “I wanted Ian to have the same chance.” But the rules of solitary forbade Manuel from participating in any kind of self-improvement or educational program. Instead, he sat in his cell day in and day out, without reading materials or human interaction, racking up more infractions for “disrespect,” which only extended his time in solitary.

After several years, Baigrie gave up. “Not because of Ian,” she said, “but because the system made it impossible for him to improve. What does it say when a victim tries to do more for an inmate than the very system that’s supposed to rehabilitate him?”…

“It’s my belief,” [Manuel said at a federal court hearing], “that the reason I haven’t been able to progress off CM (close management) all these years is the way the system is set up. One DR (disciplinary report) will keep you there for six months and those six months add up to years and those years turn into decades.” In the past seven months, prison records show Manuel received three disciplinary writeups: one for not making his bed, another for hiding a day’s worth of prescription medicine instead of taking it, and yet another for yelling through the food flap when a correctional officer refused to take his grievance form. Those reports extended his stay on the strictest level of solitary for nine months.

Manuel told the judge that in isolation he has become a “cutter,” slicing his arms and legs with whatever sharp object he can find – a fragment of a toothpaste tube or a tiny piece of glass….In the past year, Ian Manuel has attempted suicide five times. In late August he slit his wrists. A prison nurse closed the wounds with superglue and returned him to his solitary cell. When the judge asked him why he attempted suicide, Manuel said, “You kind of lose hope.”

>>Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing 13- and 14-Year-Old Children to Die in Prison, described the case of Florida prisoner Ian Manuel, who was “raised in gruesome violence and extreme poverty,” raped by a sibling at age four. “When Ian was 13,” the report continues, ”he was directed by gang members to commit a robbery. During the botched robbery attempt, a woman suffered a nonfatal gunshot wound and a remorseful Ian turned himself in to the police. Ian’s attorney instructed him to plead guilty and told him he would receive a 15-year sentence.” Instead, he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Ian Manuel was also featured in a powerful article by Meg Laughlin, published in 2006 in the St. Petersburg Times, on solitary confinement in Florida, which has the nation’s highest percentage of prisoner’s in lockdown. Laughlin wrote about the nearly 15 years Manuel had spent in lockdown.


Second Class Justice is a first-class new blog published by Stephen B. Bright, who heads the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. It's primary aim is "ending the unfair and discriminatory treatment of people in the criminal justice system by documenting that treatment." It's mission statement continues:

Contrary to the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the laws and the etching “Equal Justice Under Law” on the Supreme Court building, the kind of justice people get in America’s courts depends very much upon the amount of money they have. Poor people are deprived of their liberty – and even their lives – because they cannot afford competent legal representation. The rich and guilty often have a better chance of avoiding conviction than those who are poor and innocent.

This blog documents examples of second class – and sometimes third world – “justice” for the poor and people of color in the hope that knowledge will someday overcome the indifference, hostility and racism that have affected the criminal justice system throughout America’s history, and bring about a just, fair, humane and reliable system.

Recently, Bright described the case of a juvenile murder suspect who is being held in isolation in a county jail in Tennessee for the sole reason that his family is too poor to afford his bond, set at $500,000.

A 15-year old child, JP, charged with murder, has been locked up in a cell in the Montgomery County in Clarksville, Tennessee since July 2009 with no physical contact from a member of his family and no schooling. His mother is allowed to “visit” him by seeing him twice a week for 30 minutes on a TV monitor. She has not touched her son in over a year. She has not hugged him, or kissed his cheek, or brushed his hair off his forehead. The child has gone for over a year with no physical contact other than a correctional officer holding his arms when they move him.

This is child abuse and neglect. If a parent locked a 15-year old child away for a year with no physical contact, he or she would be charged with child abuse. If the parent refused to let the child attend school for a year, he or she would be charged with child abuse or neglect, a well a violation the state’s compulsory education laws. Yet this is precisely what the officials at the Montgomery County Jail have been doing and intend to continue until trial, tentatively set for March 2011.

The psychological damage that is taking place is incalculable. The child was held in a mental hospital for a week and half immediately after his arrest. He attempted suicide shortly after being arrested while he was in a juvenile detention center. A mental health professional at the hospital prescribed him an anti-depressant. However, once the court ruled that he would be tried as an adult all treatment stopped. Six months after he went to jail, the jail physician, who is not a mental health professional, took him off of the anti-depressant. For a number of months, the child was held in his cell for 23 hours a day, allowed only one hour a day to shower and make phone calls. He is developing quirks, he jerks a lot when he talks, twitches his head.

Unless something changes, JP could spend close to two years in jail before he is tried--in other words, while he remains, in the eyes of the law, innocent of any crime.

Appeal Impacts Parole Eligibility for Juveniles Convicted of Capital Murder Under com/jsp/tx/ PubArticleTX. jsp?id=120247187 4432

September 13, 2010

A Minor Issue: Appeal Impacts Parole Eligibility for Juveniles Convicted of Capital Murder Under Old Law

By Mary Alice Robbins | Texas Lawyer

Chris Meadoux, who turns 20 on Oct. 1, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for slaying two people in 2007 when he was 16 years old. If Meadoux had committed the murders this year, he would have a chance at parole after serving 40 years behind bars because he committed the crime as a minor. However, Meadoux killed the pair before the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 839 in 2009.

Texas' position on permitting parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of capital murder has changed over the years. Prior to 2005, juveniles who committed capital murder could receive the death penalty or a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years. But in 2005, the Texas Legislature changed that law to say all capital offenders could never be released from prison, according to the Senate Research Center's analysis of S.B. 839.

Then in 2009, lawmakers changed their mind and passed S.B. 839, eliminating the sentence of life without parole for juveniles certified to be tried as adults for capital murder. The bill took effect on Sept. 1, 2009, but does not apply retroactively.

According to information provided by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clarke, Meadoux is one of 20 juvenile offenders serving life without parole in this state. Houston criminal-defense solo Brian Wice says there are 19, because an appellate court recently remanded the case of one of his clients for a new trial.

In Meadoux v. State , a case of first impression, Cheves Ligon, of counsel at the Bexar County Appellate Public Defender's Office, will argue on Meadoux's behalf Sept. 15 before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He will try to persuade the court that sentencing a juvenile to life without the chance of parole constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Noting that Meadoux was 16 at the time of the murders, Ligon says, "Someone who was this age when he committed an offense . . . is not developed enough as a person to act with such a degree of culpability that we should place him in jail until he dies."

Referring to the young people now serving life without parole, Bexar County First Assistant Criminal District Attorney Cliff Herberg says, "The juries heard the cases and decided that was the appropriate sentence."

Herberg says the Legislature could have chosen to make S.B. 839 retroactive, but it didn't.

"It's possible the Legislature was quite aware of these cases and decided to let the jury verdicts stand," he says.

But state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a solo and author of the bill, says, "It was an oversight. In this type of situation, my intent would have been to make the law applicable to this case."

State Rep. Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, House sponsor of S.B. 839, says it was not the Legislature' s intent that juveniles convicted of capital murder before the bill took effect should serve life in prison with no chance for parole.

"That was not the intent of where we are going," McReynolds says.
Cruel and Unusual?

San Antonio's 4th Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's judgment in Meadoux on Dec. 9, 2009, provides the following background on the case: On Jan. 24, 2007, firefighters found two bodies in a locked bedroom at the scene of a house fire. Luis Martinez's and Johnny You's bodies each had two gunshot wounds to the head and a neck laceration. Fire investigators determined the blaze was set intentionally.

When detectives questioned him at the police station, Meadoux initially said he was not involved in the deaths. But Meadoux subsequently said he accidentally committed the murders when he and You fought over a gun and it discharged. Meadoux said he set the fire to cover up the killings.

Authorities arrested Meadoux in August 2007 and certified him to be tried as an adult. After a trial, the jury returned a general verdict, finding Meadoux guilty of capital murder, and the trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole, the automatic sentence at that time.

Among other things in his appeal to the 4th Court, Meadoux challenged Texas' sentencing scheme of automatic life without parole for a juvenile convicted of capital murder. The 4th Court, which ruled against Meadoux on all of his issues, concluded that the Texas sentencing scheme does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment

Justice Phylis Speedlin wrote for the 4th Court, "Given that the legislature chose not to apply the parole eligibility amendment retroactively to juveniles who have already been sentenced for a capital murder, it would not be appropriate for the court to 'judicially amend' the statute." Justices Rebecca Simmons and Steven Hilbig joined in the opinion.

The CCA website shows that Meadoux filed his petition for discretionary review with the CCA Feb. 2, and the court granted review March 24.

In his single ground for review, Meadoux argues that the 4th Court erred in finding that, in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence and statutory changes, a juvenile's sentence of life without parole is constitutional.

Meadoux argues in his brief to the CCA that in determining what is impermissibly "cruel and unusual," the Eighth Amendment takes into account in its proportionality analysis the characteristics of those convicted. In 2002's Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the death penalty was impermissibly cruel and unusual when applied to the mentally retarded, Meadoux notes in the brief.

According to Meadoux's brief, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court found compelling reasons to hold the death penalty unconstitutional as applied to juveniles. Meadoux points out that in Roper v. Simmons ,the Supreme Court determined that juveniles lack maturity and possess an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, have greater susceptibility to peer pressure, and are still creatures in flux who are not yet fully formed.

The state argues in its brief to the CCA that Meadoux failed to present his complaint regarding the constitutionality of the sentencing scheme at trial and therefore waived it on appeal.

In its brief, the state also notes that, although the U.S. Supreme Court "factored age in the gross disproportionality analysis" in May 17's Graham v. Florida, the court restricted its holding.

In its 6-3 decision in Graham , the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishments clause does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for a nonhomicide offense.

With regard to Texas' life-without- parole sentencing scheme for juveniles convicted of capital murder, Herberg says. "We feel like we're well within the holding in Graham. "

Wice says if the CCA finds that the Eighth Amendment prevents life-without- parole sentences for juveniles, Meadoux would be eligible, upon request to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, for commutation of his sentence to life.

Wice represents Litrey Demond Turner, who originally was sentenced to life without parole for capital murder. Houston's 1st Court Appeals remanded Turner's case for a new trial in July 30's Turner v. State. Turner was 15 years old at the time he allegedly committed his crime. [See "1st Court overturns conviction of prisoner who allegedly committed capital murder at age 15," Tex Parte blog, Aug. 3, 2010]

If the CCA rules against Meadoux, he still might have a chance at parole after he serves 40 years. Hinojosa says he plans to file a bill in 2011 that will clarify his intent in S.B. 839.

Notes Hinojosa, "I want to make it clear that this law is retroactive. "
- - - - -
Mary Alice Robbins is on Twitter at www.twitter. com/maryarobbins .