Tag Archives: Cruel

Maximum stints in solitary cut, but Waupun inmates left in dark

Waupun Correctional Institution officials failed to notify inmates for months that Wisconsin had dramatically lowered the maximum time in solitary confinement for rule violations, Department of Corrections records and interviews show.

One inmate, Markell Simon, charged he was tricked into agreeing to six months in seclusion because he was unaware the DOC had cut maximum sentences by 75 percent for individual offenses — from 360 days to 90 days. Another inmate, Hurcel Staples, who was released from Waupun Oct. 6, also told the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that he had never been notified by prison officials of the changes in solitary confinement.

Records released to the center by the DOC in December show Waupun officials were told to post a copy of the new policy for inmates on Aug. 13 — 10 weeks after it had been enacted. The center had filed a public records request on Sept. 29 seeking verification that Waupun inmates had been notified of the new approach to solitary confinement.

DOC spokeswoman Joy Staab declined to answer a question about why Waupun inmates were not notified of the new policy when it was enacted June 1, saying only that staff implemented the changes at that time.

Wisconsin is among several states, including New York, that are reducing use of solitary confinement, largely in response to lawsuits and research showing that spending up to 23 hours a day with little or no human contact and little constructive activity can cause lasting psychological damage. A top United Nations official has said more than 15 days in isolation is tantamount to torture.

Wisconsin’s new policy has reduced the number of prisoners in so-called restrictive status housing by more than 200, from 1,098 at the beginning of 2015 to 892 as of Dec. 31, Staab said.

Waupun inmate Simon said in a Sept. 21 letter to the center that he voluntarily agreed to serve 180 days in solitary confinement “only because I was under the assumption and understanding that if I went to my hearing and contested the time, I would be risking receiving 360 day(s)” — the former maximum penalty. In fact, under the new policy, Simon’s maximum punishment for assault, disruptive conduct and disobeying orders could have been as little as 120 days.

Part of DOC’s new policy involves “one-on-one negotiations between an officer and an inmate,” a top DOC official told the center in a July interview. The DOC’s mental health director, Dr. Kevin Kallas, said the agency was encouraging such negotiations so discipline “could take effect now and start now rather than needing to wait for some formal process for every little thing.”

But for at least two and a half months, Waupun inmates were at a distinct disadvantage: They were not notified that maximum terms had been sharply reduced. In addition, mitigating factors, such as a documented history of mental illness, can reduce time in solitary while enhancers, such as repeat violations, can add time to the punishment, according to the new rules.

DOC records show Simon pleaded guilty in July, agreeing to serve 180 days in solitary for assault, disobeying orders and disruptive conduct after fighting with two other inmates. Under the new policy, the maximum penalty without enhancers for Simon’s offenses would have been between 120 and 180 days, depending on whether disruptive conduct was treated as a “lesser included offense” to assault that does not carry additional time.

Records provided by the DOC show at least two other inmates also may have voluntarily agreed to longer-than-maximum punishments.

Simon said he found out about the new policy through news coverage around Aug. 25 while he was still in isolation. He found the revelation “shocking.”

“In my opinion, the Waupun administration is attempting to circumvent the new policy changes made by Madison by preying on the ignorance of the inmates incarcerated here,” wrote Simon, who is serving a two-year sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm. “None of us were aware of these revisions because there was never a memo or mention of them whatsoever by the administration.”

Staples told the center he also was unaware of the new policy while he was incarcerated at Waupun.

“They didn’t let me know any of them (changes),” Staples said. “I saw something on the news that the DOC made an agreement about how they’re going to do segregation.”

Waupun warden led changes

The lack of notification is noteworthy given that then-Waupun Warden William Pollard was co-chairman of the work group that devised the new DOC policy. Pollard, who is now the warden at Dodge Correctional Institution, has since been replaced by Brian Foster, former warden of Green Bay Correctional Institution.

In 2014, the center documented dozens of allegations of physical and psychological abuse of prisoners in solitary confinement by correctional officials at Waupun, 55 miles northeast of Madison. Corrections officials have said the inmates are lying.

Asked why Waupun failed to notify inmates of the rule changes in a timely way, Staab responded in an email, “This policy for staff to follow was implemented immediately upon completion in June.” She made no mention of inmate notification.

Staab did not answer when asked via email what steps, if any, Waupun had taken to modify disciplinary sentences that were meted out before inmates were made aware of the new policy.

The email and disciplinary records showed that Oct. 19, three weeks after the center’s public records request, Pollard did overturn two disciplinary actions taken in July and August for inmate Demetrius Thompson.

Pollard wrote that officials had failed to consider mitigating circumstances as required under the new rules that would have resulted in shorter terms in isolation. Sentences can be shortened for factors including a documented history of mental illness or if the inmate stopped the misconduct after directed by staff.

In one of those cases from July, the records show, Thompson had agreed to 150 days in solitary — 60 days longer than the maximum amount for any one offense. No other details of either incident were included in the DOC records.

The records show that another inmate, Theodore Duerst, agreed July 31 to 90 days in isolation, although the new maximum penalty for his offense, disobeying orders, is 30 days. On Aug. 25, Duerst agreed to a punishment of 120 days for again disobeying orders — four times the maximum under the new rules. Duerst’s offenses were refusing to move into a cell he deemed too hot and refusing to continue rooming with an inmate with whom he had trouble, according to the records.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said the lack of notification of Waupun inmates could provide a basis for shortening their time in solitary.

“A person still in solitary should be able to challenge the continuation of a sentence that is longer than what was authorized at the time the sentence was imposed,” Dupuis said.

The Rev. Jerry Hancock said the incident demonstrates the DOC “is not sincere” in enacting the less punitive rules. He added the lack of notification by Waupun bolsters the call by his faith-based group, Wisdom, for “effective, independent oversight” of the agency.

“It proves conclusively a need for an outside monitor for the … implementation of solitary confinement policies in DOC,” said Hancock, a minister of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ and a former prosecutor. “Without an outside monitor, there is no reason to trust the DOC when it comes to implementing this policy.”

Funding for this report came from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

NY SPCA: 25 dead cats found in plastic bags hanging from trees

About 25 dead cats found in plastic bags hanging from trees in a New York suburb were apparently killed with blows to the head at various times over the past year.

Ernest Lungaro, director of enforcement at the Westchester County SPCA, said necropsies on three of the cats revealed blunt trauma to their skulls.

“Pretty disturbing, smashing their heads in and displaying them like that,” he said. “We have found, in the past, cases where cats were poisoned, but we’ve never seen anything where they’re killing them this violently.”

Lungaro said a baseball bat, two shovels and a metal pipe were found near the scene in a wooded area just off Overlook Terrace in Yonkers, about a mile and a half north of the Bronx. He said investigators were not yet sure that those items had been used in the killings.

It also wasn’t known if the killings were the work of one or more people, he said. Either way, they are disturbing because of studies that indicate a link between the killings of animals and violence against people, Lungaro said.

“The sheer number of cats that were killed with blunt trauma to the head, it’s pretty violent,” he said.

Some of the cats were just skeletons and some had been dead only three days, Lungaro said. The necropsies were done on the most recently killed animals.

The strange scene was discovered last Thursday by a public works crew doing an annual cleanup. The SPCA was called in and counted 25 bodies, Lungaro said.

“We assume there were probably more than that because raccoons or whatever wildlife probably got to a couple of them,” he said.

He said the necropsies suggest the cats were killed before they were put into bags.

Yonkers police and the SPCA are investigating. Lungaro said some people were being questioned but he would not say whether there was a suspect.

He said there are many feral cats in the area and there has been some tension over feeding stations that some residents have established.

“Some people get frustrated with the people who feed them,” he said. He said it was possible the dead cats were put in the trees “to taunt the people that are feeding the cats.”

A Maryland organization called Alley Cat Allies, which supports neutering programs for feral cats, offered a $750 reward for information leading to an arrest

Lungaro cautioned, however, that investigators had not yet established that the dead cats were feral. There has been no string of missing pets, he said, but “we are starting to get calls from people whose pets were lost.”

Merck joins companies phasing out chimp research in labs

Drugmaker Merck & Co. is joining two dozen other pharmaceutical companies and contract laboratories in committing to not use chimpanzees for research.

The growing trend could mean roughly 1,000 chimps in the U.S. used for research or warehoused for many years in laboratory cages could be “retired” to sanctuaries by around 2020.

That’s according to Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society of the United States, which seven years ago began urging companies to phase out all chimp research.

The trend is driven by improved technology, animal alternatives and pressure from animal rights groups, the National Institutes of Health and Congress.

Last June, reacting to an Institute of Medicine study Congress had requested that concluded nearly all chimp research is unnecessary, the NIH announced it would retire and send about 90 percent of government-owned research chimps to the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, La. It’s now home to about 160 chimps, with nearly 60 more to arrive soon.

After several years, the NIH plans to decide whether the remaining chimps in government labs can also be moved to sanctuaries. Roughly 450 other chimps are owned by private labs that do research under contract for drugmakers and other companies.

“It’s been a long road in trying to end the use of chimpanzees in research, and we’re now at a turning point,” Conlee told The Associated Press. “We’re going to keep on (advocating) until the chimpanzees in laboratories are all in sanctuaries.”

Merck spokeswoman Caroline Lappetito said the company, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., decided late last year to stop research on chimpanzees and switch to alternative types of testing.

“The science has advanced, and we don’t really need it,” Lappetito said.

Merck, the world’s third-biggest drugmaker, is the largest to make the switch.

Companies that develop medicines and consumer products such as cosmetics have long used animals to test safety and effectiveness. In the case of experimental medicines, drugmakers must test on animals before the Food and Drug Administration will let them do the human testing needed for approval of a new therapy.

Nearly all animal experiments in the U.S. involve mice, rats and guinea pigs, although some are done on dogs and great apes, almost always chimpanzees.

But animal research, particularly on primates and pet species such as dogs and rabbits, has long drawn criticism from animal rights groups, including protests outside laboratories and at annual shareholder meetings. Besides calling the practice inhumane, activists often have alleged — and sometimes proven — that animals were being abused.

Many companies previously said it was necessary to test potential medicines and vaccines on nonhuman primates because they needed an animal in which the anatomy and disease course were very similar to that in humans.

That thinking changed as technology allowed researchers to do initial testing via computer simulations, in bacteria or cells, and in animals as small as fish. Many drugmakers also found ways to do testing on far fewer animals and to limit the discomfort of experiments by using painkillers and tranquilizers. And many of the companies pledging not to use chimps in the future never did so.

British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC was one of the first to stop research in chimps, back in 2008.

“Research we did on nonhuman primates was kept to a minimum” even before that, said spokeswoman Melinda Stubee.

Because chimpanzees used for commercial medical research generally are confined in the labs of contract testing companies, Conlee said the Humane Society is trying to convince them that there’s no longer enough demand to continue warehousing chimpanzees for potential future work. She hopes they’ll pay to support those chimpanzees in one of five U.S. accredited sanctuaries for former research chimps.

On the Web…


Top five lesbian love scenes

Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis play bitter ballet rivals in Darren Aronofsky’s trippy “Black Swan.” But the heightened emotion they feel for each other ends up bubbling over into a passionate sex scene that’s had people talking for months before the film’s release.

Well, now “Black Swan” is finally here, so it’s a great opportunity – and not gratuitous at all, really – to take a look at the five most famous lesbian scenes on film. A side note: “Showgirls” might have been a serious contender, but it appeared last week among the five most irresistible guilty-pleasure movies. It is tempting to find a reason to talk about “Showgirls” every week, though…

“Mulholland Dr.” (2001): The first intimate encounter between Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring is soft and sweet … but because this is a David Lynch movie, naturally the relationship between these two women becomes darker and more complicated. Watts, as aspiring starlet Betty Elms (at this point in the film, at least), gets tangled up with Harring’s gorgeous amnesiac Rita. As the two embark on an adventure, playing girl-detective to solve the mystery of Rita’s past, their fear and loneliness lead to a kiss, which leads to one of the loveliest lesbian scenes ever filmed. In a movie full of twists, this is a rare moment of pure, instinctive emotion.

“Wild Things” (1998): It starts out as a face-slapping, hair-pulling cat fight in a swimming pool and ends up in a make-out session, complete with bikinis and T-shirts being tossed aside with sultry music in the background. Denise Richards plays the naughty rich girl and Neve Campbell plays the naughty poor girl; despite coming from opposite sides of the tracks, they manage to get together to concoct some rape accusations against their high school guidance counselor (Matt Dillon). The fact that this takes place in South Florida makes the whole movie feel even more steamy and tawdry. “Wild Things” easily could have made last week’s guilty-pleasure list, too. It’s so multipurpose.

“Bound” (1996): Before The Wachowski Brothers entered the Matrix, the writing-directing duo made their debut with this funny, tense and sexy neo-noir. Jennifer Tilly plays Violet, the seemingly ditzy girlfriend of a mobster; Gina Gershon plays Corky, the maintenance woman in their apartment building who just got out of prison. Violet’s attraction to Corky is instantaneous, and eventually the two cook up a scheme to steal $2 million in stashed cash from Violet’s boyfriend. A ridiculous amount of contrived meetings and flirting leads to an intense – but artfully photographed – love scene between the two women.

“D.E.B.S.” (2004): As if it weren’t enough to have a bunch of beautiful, teenage spies dressed in naughty schoolgirl outfits, their leader (Sara Foster) ends up secretly falling for the deadly criminal (Jordana Brewster) who is their primary target. Writer-director Angela Robinson’s film isn’t exactly great cinema but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously, and features plenty of fun, cheeky moments. (Its tagline: “They’re crime-fighting hotties with killer bodies.”) That’s indeed true of Foster and Brewster, who share a few kisses and teasing moments before their eventual playful and passionate hook-up.

“Cruel Intentions” (1999): The most chaste of the five on this list, but it did earn Sarah Michelle Gellar and Selma Blair the highly coveted “Best Kiss” prize at the MTV Movie Awards. In this prep-school version of “Dangerous Liaisons,” Gellar functions in the Glenn Close role as a conniving and manipulative rich girl who dominates Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Blair is in the Uma Thurman role as a malleable innocent. Since Blair’s character has never kissed a boy before, Gellar’s teaches her what to do during a picnic in Central Park: “I’m gonna stick my tongue in your mouth, and when I do that I want you to massage my tongue with yours.” It all sounds pretty straightforward._

Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.