Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Armenians in California Prisons

If you want a unique and revealing view of a culture -- look at it from a prison. Hetq Online - Armenian Investigative Journalists is hosting a series of articles by its editor in chief, Edik Baghdasaryan, on Armenians in America. This includes the 18,000 Armenians in California prison, a number that other Armenians found surprising. One important perspective was that of a prison chaplain:

Chaplain Bedros Hajian told us about the Armenian convicts in various detention centers. He then took us to his office in the largest prison complex in California. The representatives of different religious communities have separate rooms in American prisons, where they meet members of their congregation. Bedros Hajian is not from the Armenian Apostolic Church, he simply preaches the Bible in prisons and works mainly with Armenians.

When I asked Bedros how many Armenians there were in this prison, he looked at his computer screen, opened the prison website and told me, “Name a letter.” I said, “K.” He entered the letter K in the search box for first and last names. A list of prisoners came up matching the search criteria. Within a few minutes, we managed to count dozens of Armenian last names. You can find out about the criminal history and prior convictions of each prisoner by clicking on his last name. The main crimes committed by Armenian convicts include drug sale, prostitution (male), theft and credit card fraud. There are an especially large number of young people in the prison. Starting out as drug users (Armenians here also use the English word drug ), they are soon forced to turn to crime to support their habit.

“There is a drug user in every family, but usually the parents don't know,” Bedros Hajian maintained. He believes drug abuse is the biggest problem in the Armenian community. “There is one way to solve this problem, which is by having Armenian leaders, party heads, the Church and other organizations take the lead. The political parties say that they are political structures and don't deal in social issues. I say, ‘Fine, suppose we free Western Armenia, who's going to live there – drugs users?' The youth here are put on drugs at school on purpose, so that they can be controlled. All the Armenian organizations must unite to fight against this problem. The only way is for everyone to admit that such a problem exists and to work against it. They don't even want to admit that this problem exists,” said Hajian.

I asked Armenian convicts in various prison whether representatives of our church visited them and they said no. The Armenian Apostolic Church in California, where there are around one million Armenians, deals mainly in baptisms, birthdays and memorial services here as well. Our talk with the Prelate of the Western Diocese in the USA, Father Hovnan Terteryan, revealed that the Church is truly disconnected from the Armenians serving time in the state's prisons. “Those numbers are exaggerated, I think there are around 300-500 Armenians in prison here,” said Father Hovnan. When we said that that was not the case, and that we were ready to present the names of thousands of Armenian prisoners, he gave in somewhat and said that they used to have someone visiting convicts, but could no longer afford it with the current number of priests. He then also said that they were training someone, who would then be sent to prisons.
The facility pictured appears to be LA County Jail, the largest jail in the world, but not a prison as stated in the article.


News: 5/23/2007


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Churches asked to remember prisoners

We are nearing the end of the worldlwide Week of Prayer and Transformation (5/14-20) celebrated annualy by Prison Fellowship. For example, churches in the Cayman Islands were asked to pray for the men and women currently in prison, in that country and worldwide:

According to recent (worldwide) statistics, 67% of released prisoners will likely commit new crimes and return to prison within three years.

Pastor Alson Ebanks, Chairman of PFCI, said, “These people will one day be part of our community, so the support and encouragement they receive from the community is crucial.”

The Week of Prayer and Transformation aims to remind both the church and community of their vital roles in restoring prisoners so they are productive members of society.

This week, Prison Fellowship Cayman Islands will be joining with local churches and community members to highlight the opportunities to help all those affected by crime, including prisoners, prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners, corrections and criminal justice officials, prison chaplains and victims of crime.

“We are pleased that the Cayman Islands will be a part of this worldwide effort,” said Pastor Ebanks

Local churches being encouraged to remember prisoners, their families and all those affected by crime during their weekend worship services.

There are 15 local churches that work actively with PFCI, and many others that minister to the prisoners on a weekly basis. PFCI hopes this participation will increase during the Week of Prayer and Transformation.
(Cayman Net News)


Friday, May 18, 2007

Rockland jail chaplain suspended without pay, faces charges

Rockland County (New York) Jail Chaplain Rev. Teresa Darden Clapp has been suspended without pay and charged with eight administrative infractions handing out anti-Muslim tracts to jail inmates. Suzan Clarke of the Lower Hudson Valley Journal News reports that Clapp was served notice of the charges yesterday:

Clapp was suspended with pay in April after she distributed religious cartoon booklets that condemned Islam and contained derogatory depictions and descriptions of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.

The charges were the recommendation of the special attorneys hired by the county's Law Department to look into the issue.

The report and recommendations by Kevin J. Plunkett and Darius P. Chafizadeh of the firm Thacher, Proffitt and Wood in White Plains were submitted late Monday afternoon, Kralik said.

Citing privacy requirements in an ongoing personnel matter, Kralik said he could not divulge the specifics of the 10-page report on the advice of counsel.

However, he said, Clapp will face eight administrative charges: two charges of gross misconduct, one of official misconduct, three of misconduct and two of gross negligence. He also said he could not discuss what each charge entailed.

Clapp has until May 24 to answer the charges and will likely face an administrative hearing to determine her culpability within the next 30 days.


News: 5/18/2007


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

News: 5/15/2007


Opinon: 5/15/2007


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Communion wine decision pleases Catholic Bishop

Catholic officials are pleased with a decision to once again allow communion wine in New Zealand prisons, according to a Catholic Communications press release. Recently, Department of Corrections had held that such wine was prohibited by the 2004 Corrections act, prohibiting the celebration of Mass in prisons.

Acting General Manager Public Prisons Service, Paul Monk said that the prohibition of Communion wine in prisons was an "unintentional consequence" of the Act, and that the consumption of a small amount of Communion wine would not affect the good order of a prison. "In fact it will support the invaluable role that the Church plays in the rehabilitative process of some of our prisoners," he said.

Mr Monk confirmed the exemption will allow the consumption of Communion wine as soon as possible, while Corrections looks at how a more permanent amendment to the Act can be made.

On behalf of the Catholic Church's prison chaplaincy, Bishop Barry Jones of Christchurch, said that all the New Zealand bishops are delighted that this difficulty has been worked through. "It is good to know that the prison service realises that the Church is able to offer help to some prisoners in their rehabilitation programme," he said.
(via Scoop)


News: 5/13/2007 (Weekend)


Opinion: 5/13/2007 (Weekend)


Prisoner Free Exercise Cases Are Plentiful This Week

Professor Howard Friedman has posted this week's prisoner free exercise cases on his blog, Religion Clause.


Babies Behind Bars

Amanda Evans of WCIA News in Champaign (Illinois) reports on a new program at the Decatur women's prison. The star of this show is Mason, son of inmate Tami Cain:

He's the first baby born behind bars and he'll stay with mom until she walks free.

"I have an overwhelming urge to completely change my life and not come back here."

Tami Cain has been here for three months on drug charges. She fits the strict criteria to keep her baby because this is her first time in prison and she's set to go home in less than two years.

Those behind the live in nursery say it's giving these inmates the motivation to be good moms and good citizens.

Warden Mary Kepler says, "It gives them responsibility there isn't somebody else that's going to take the baby and look after it."

Baby Mason doesn't know he's in prison. He just knows he's with mom and Tami wants to keep it that way.

"The road that I was on was not the right one and I was gonna end up here over and over again. I've completely changed and having him helped even more."

For those who worry about babies in prison, the Illinois Department of c=Corrections says it reduces the number of re-offenders and helps the children stop the cycle.


A sort of homecoming

Mothers Day -- a difficult time for incarcerated women. Charles McCarthy of the Fresno Bee reports on the program that brings children and their mothers together at California prisons. Tammy Price is serving her time at Valley State Prison for Women (one of two women's prisons in Chowchilla) and her child was one of more than 400 who made the trip this time:

Price said Friday was just the second time in nine years that she has seen her son, Preston Price, 17. And she has three years remaining on her prison sentence.

"It's a blessing from God to be able to see him," said Price, 43.

The buses were part of a program -- called Get On the Bus -- that this year brought 650 youngsters aboard 36 buses to visit their moms behind the barbed wire in Valley State, the Central California Women's Facility and three other facilities in Southern California.

At Valley State, it was a long-awaited morning for 140 inmates as their children, many accompanied by grandparents, filed into the prison's visiting center.

Many of the visitors wore souvenir purple T-shirts, which also helped the prison staff identify them in the crowded center and on the lawn outside.

The Mother's Day bus program was founded by Sister Suzanne Jabro of the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. She also founded a smaller Father's Day visitation last year. Both programs are a collaboration with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and both continue to grow.

When the first Mother's Day visitation bus left Southern California in 2000, seven children were aboard to visit their mothers behind prison walls. Last year, buses took 595 children -- plus sponsors -- from all over California.

Participants receive teddy bears, T-shirts and travel bags. Volunteers help make it work.
This program has recieved quite a bit of praise over recent years, and an additional service, Chowchilla Family Express, now makes monthly runs from a number of cities. It is operated by the Get on the Bus organization, and funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Friday, May 11, 2007

News: 5/11/2007 (PM)


Opinion: 5/11/2007


News 5/11/2007 (AM)


Thursday, May 10, 2007

News: 5/10/2007 (PM)


Restorative Justice advocate promotes forgiveness and friendship

The Kootenay Advertiser's KERSTIN RENNER reports on a recent presentation by Katy Hutchison of Victoria, who shared the story of the brutal murder of her first husband and her way of finding a gift in that tragedy.

"It's about building safe communities," Hutchison told the audience. "It's about justice." Hutchison talked about something that might be unbelievable for most people: forgiving the man who killed your husband. Not only has Hutchison forgiven, in fact, she has invited Ryan Aldridge to share in her presentation about the importance of choices, responsibility and justice.

Together, they paint a very clear picture not only of what happened on New Year's Eve 1997, but also what led to the tragedy and how both of them - victim and offender - have worked through the healing process together.

It started with first, carefully planned meetings and has ended in a presentation the two are touring across the country, to schools and communities to share the message that restorative justice - when victims and offenders get together in a setting outside of the courts - can lead to healing and even friendship.


When offenders face their victims

Keith Vass writes about the pioneering Nova Scotia restorative justice program, in the Halifax Daily News. He describes a case where a young woman and the owner of property she damaged work out how she can make amends for what she has done, once she has personally taken responsibility for the act and offered apology to the person harmed.

People who work in the program say it can turn around troubled kids, who can atone for what they've done and be left, in many cases, without the stigma of a criminal record. But they warn that growing caseloads - and especially increasing use of the program for serious crimes - may start to detract from the program's promise.

In 2005-06, 668 cases were referred to restorative justice in Halifax Regional Municipality. Province-wide there were 1,619 referrals that year.

The program is credited for a drastic drop in the number of youth cases before Nova Scotia's courts. In 1998, the year before the program was launched, 2,569 youth cases were tried in the province. By 2003 the number was down to 1,706.

Nova Scotia was the first province to create a province-wide restorative justice program for young offenders. It's become a model for initiatives in other parts of Canada and around the world.

When a case is referred to restorative justice, it's handed to one of nine regional community-justice agencies to arrange meetings between offenders and victims. Victims are given the chance to describe how the crime has affected them and to work out how the offender can repair the harm.

The Community Justice Society handles referrals in Halifax. Executive director Yvonne Atwell says 88 per cent of young offenders who go through its program complete the agreements made with their victims.Victims and offenders can reach any agreement they see fit, but written apologies and community service are the most common options. Offenders are also often asked to make restitution payments or charitable donations.

If offenders live up to the agreement, charges will be dropped. If they don't, they'll find themselves back in court facing prosecution.


News: 5/10/2007 (AM)


Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Rockland county jail to hire imam following chaplain's distribution of anti-Islam tracts

Suzan Clarke of the Lower Hudson Journal News continues her coverage of accusations that Rockland County Jail Chaplain Teresa Darden Clapp distributed tracts offensive to Muslim prisoners. It was announced that an Islamic cleric, or imam, will be hired to serve at the jail:

The imam would work one day per week, and additionally as needed for special cases. Those are the same terms governing the way a rabbi and a priest are currently contracted to work at the jail, Undersheriff Thomas Guthrie said today.

Teresa Darden Clapp, an ordained Christian minister and the jail's chaplain, was suspended last month for passing out religious cartoon booklets that condemned Islam and contained derogatory depictions and descriptions of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.

Since the incident, local Muslims have met with jail officials to discuss their concerns about the tract incident. They also alleged that when they tried to come to the jail to minister to inmates, they were treated unfairly by Clapp.

The county has ordered an independent investigation into Clapp's actions.

Jail officials ordered the tracts removed when the learned of the incident through an inmate's complaints.


News: 5/8/2007 (AM)


Monday, May 7, 2007

News: 5/7/2007 (PM)


Survivors (not victims) of crime share struggles at special forum

Black Press reporter Rochelle Baker writes of a recent public forum in Chilliwack (Canada) marking National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. The session featured a variety of presentations, including Jean Cusworth whose 19-year-old daughter Jennifer was murdered Oct. 16, 1993 and the case remains unsolved.

Although she doesn’t know if the offender ever read the letters, and they were painful to write, some good came out of them.

They brought other estranged families together, and on one occasion police read them to a offender who then confessed to the murder of a 16-year-old girl and led investigators to the body.

Cusworth said survivors of crime need to be their own advocates.

As the result of active involvement in their daughter’s case, the Cusworths went onto work with the RCMP to provide a victim/survivor perspective to their work and to assist other victims of crime.

While reading her letters, when the grief overwhelmed her, Cusworth had panelist Glenn Fleet continue reading them for her.

Flett, is an offender who spent 25 years behind bars after shooting a manager to death during a robbery at Hudson’s Bay in Toronto.

In 1982 he became a Christian and began to work with other offenders while in jail.
Committed to the concept of restorative justice with it’s goals of empowering both victims, rehabilitating offenders and a safer community, Flett went on to found LINC, Long-Term Inmates Now in the Community.

Flett said it’s important for survivors and offenders to work together because homicide impacts the whole community.

“LINC wasn’t created just for prisoners, but to connect people. I really believe offenders like myself want to be included and want to change given the opportunity. I’m not unique, but I was given unique opportunities.”


Opinion: 5/7/2007


News: 5/7/2007 (AM)


Friday, May 4, 2007

April-May prisoner free exercise cases

Professor Howard Friedman has posted his always useful digest of recent prisoner free exercise cases.


U.S. prisons groom dogs for Iraq war veterans

Jason Szep of Reuters tells us about Edward Parent and Chuck -- Parent is a prison inmate and Chuck is a Labrador retriever he is training to be a service dog for disabled U.S. veterans:

"The Iraq war is going to change the whole demographics of the
disabled population in this country," said Sheila O'Brien, executive director of the National Education for Assistance Dog Service (NEADS), which has trained dogs to assist people who are deaf or physically disabled since 1976.

O'Brien tapped the nation's swelling prison population for help since 1998, after some persuading by then Massachusetts prison commissioner Michael Maloney. She's now convinced inmates can train dogs like professionals and wants to build on the program's 10 prisons by adding three more.

"The prison program just about cuts the time needed for formal training in half." she said.

The number of young, physically disabled U.S. veterans is surging. Already, at least 180,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have applied for disability benefits. O'Brien reckons thousands are wounded badly enough to need assistance.

"We are gearing up to meet that need and one way we are doing that is by doubling the number of puppies that we are placing in prison," she said.

Inmates stay with the dogs 24 hours a day for about a year, meeting with an expert trainer from NEADS once a week and even brushing their puppy's teeth at night, before the dogs enter two months of more advanced training with professionals.

"Chuck is like my son. I treat him as that," said Parent, who is serving a 10-year sentence at the John J. Moran medium security prison in Rhode Island for killing a teenage woman with his car while driving under the influence of alcohol.

"I protect him from other dogs. Other inmates. From himself. I take care of him just as I would my child. I feed him. I bathe him. Everything," he said. "What it's done for me is unbelievable."


Opinon: 5/4/2007


News: 5/4/2007 (AM)


Thursday, May 3, 2007

News: 5/3/2007 (PM)


High hopes for cooperative vegetable patch

Mike Foynes of the Cheboygan Tribume (Michigan) reports that Cheboygan County Sheriff Dale Clermont hopes that a new project will provide both an outlet for prisoners, and food for the needy. Using a plot of land behind a county office building, jail inmates will be able to earn time off their sentences by growing vegetables:

According to Clarmont, jail inmates and Cheboygan County Commissioners have been receptive to the idea.

“There will be fresh vegetables for the needy in our community as a result of this work,” he declared. “We'll try potatoes, onions, beets, corn, tomatoes, the whole gamut. The MSU Extension Office will advise us on what will work best for us. The vegetables will be donated to non-profit charities, primarily the Food Pantry.”

Deputy Kelsey Kennedy donated equipment and labor to start the project by turning over the soil at the site Tuesday.

“We've probably got a quarter of an acre here ready to go,” Clarmont said. “That's a pretty good-sized garden.”
The primary recipient for the food is the community food bank operated by St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Cheboygan.


News: 5/3/2007 (AM)


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

'Mother Teresa of Prisons' Passes Away

Sister Carmelita of St. Anne's Congregation of Chennai, also known as the Mother Teresa of Prisons for her work among the prisoners, died May 1, aged 73 years after a prolonged battle with cancer. The funeral service will take place May 3.

Having served as headmistress in schools run by her congregation in different states across the country, Sister Carmelita had taken up prison ministry in Bangalore after her retirement. An indefatigable champion for prisoners' rights, the Catholic nun arranged lawyers to fight cases of under-trials and help them get parole. She was also involved in the rehabilitation and counseling of prisoners.

Her work included "just listening to the prisoners problems", counseling them, informing the family members about the progress and status of various cases, arranging for lawyers and providing stationeries and toiletries to the jail inmates.In an interview to SAR News last year, Sister Carmelita had said: "When we started my prison mission work, we used to visit the prison daily between 3p.m. and 5p.m. I felt the duration was very short to do anything. It's then that I decided to spend a full day in the prison. The silent pangs of the prisoners made me to take up this ministry."

"Some prisoners tell me that if people like me don't visit them, they would go mad," Sister Carmelita had told SAR News. During her ministry, the nun helped arrange the release of nearly 1200 prisoners.
(SAR News)


News: 5/2/2007 (AM)




Tuesday, May 1, 2007

News:5/1/2007 (PM)


Opinion: 5/1/2007

H/T to Monterey County Herald


Court: N.H. state prison inmate should get kosher diet

AP's Katherine Webster reports that a federal judge has ruled that New Hampshire prison inmate Albert Kuperman, an Orthodox Jew, must be given kosher food, even if he has been caught with non-kosher foods:

Kuperman's lawyers said revoking his kosher diet violated his First Amendment right to practice religion, and U.S. Magistrate Judge James Muirhead agreed.

"If a diabetic inmate were placed on a medically appropriate diet and was then caught purchasing a candy bar from the canteen, the prison would not be justified in removing the inmate from his medical diet and forcing him to eat a high sugar diet for six months for the violation," Muirhead wrote. "Similarly, an inmate eating an extra helping or unauthorized item isn't restricted to bread and water for six months."

Kuperman signed a form acknowledging that the punishment for eating non-kosher food would be a six-month suspension of his kosher diet, but Kuperman testified at a hearing that he bought meat from the canteen for another inmate who was 'strong-arming' him. Kuperman said he did not eat it.

The magistrate's report also said Kuperman was accused of eating non-kosher chicken from the prison kitchen.

Muirhead agreed with Kuperman's lawyer, who argued it served no legitimate security purpose to punish a sincerely religious inmate by barring an essential religious practice.

"Removing an orthodox Jew from a kosher diet serves, religiously speaking, to distance an inmate from his own spirituality and religious practice," Muirhead wrote. "Such a move has a direct negative impact on the inmate's ability to better himself or maintain himself spiritually."


Salem priest to face accusers at trial

Alan Gustafson of the Salem Statesman Journal (Oregon) reports on lawsuits charging that a Catholic priest sexually abused boys while a juvenile corrections chaplain. Fr. Michael Sprauer denies all such allegations:

The priest allegedly molested the boys in segregation cells, his chaplain's office, in a storage closet and in a car that he drove to transport one youth to his sister's funeral.

Sprauer has denied all of the sexual-abuse accusations through his attorney and in a videotaped deposition.

To loyal parishioners, he remains a trusted man of God. Some think the well-known priest is being railroaded by ex-convicts seeking to cash in on bogus allegations.

"They've got nothing to lose and everything to gain," said Kevin Mannix, a former state legislator and long-time parishioner at St. Joseph Church in Salem, where Sprauer remains on the staff as a parochial vicar, assisting the Rev. James Coleman.

Mannix said he has known Sprauer for 20 years. He described him as "quiet, intelligent, diligent and completely dedicated to ministry."

"Yes, I think he's being falsely accused," Mannix said. "The best way to see this resolved is through a fair trial."

By law, it's too late for any criminal investigation or possible prosecution of the sex-abuse allegations against Sprauer. The statute of limitations expired long ago.

But Oregon law allows victims of sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits as long as three years after discovering the impact of abuse on their lives. In some cases, that can mean years, or decades, later.


Funds still needed for jail chapel

Rhonda Pickett of the Mobile Press Register writes that Mobile Couinty Metro Jail Chaplain Charles Fail is trying to raise the $160,000 needed to renovate exisiting space into a chapel for inmates:

Right now the chaplains and the volunteers who work with the jail's ministry have to share space with the jail's maintenance department, which is slated to eventually take over the office area the chaplains now occupy, Fail said.

Those plans show the nearly 2,600-square-foot chapel would include an open seating area with a raised section in the front, an inmate restroom, an office for visiting ministers, office space for the three staff chaplains, a room for volunteers with a kitchenette and a storage closet. There will be two main entrances to the chapel, the plans show.

"We've got to have space for more services," Fail said. "There are several areas of the jail that we haven't gotten to yet to provide religious services. We need the chapel. The whole Mobile community needs the chapel."


News: 5/1/2007 (AM)