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An Honest Mistake?

Mr. Ellis Elliot awoke to thunderous pounding on the metal door of his New York apartment, located in the Bronx. Terrified, he jumped naked from his bed and grabbed his unlicensed .25-caliber pistol from his night stand.

He shouted, "Who is it? Who is it?"

The door was caving in so he fired a warning shot. A barrage of gunfire followed. Ellis Elliot dove for cover. Only after the blaze of gun fire did the police announce themselves.

According to the New York Times, Elliot replied, "Yessir! Please don't shoot no more. I didn't know you were the police. I've never done nothing wrong in my life."

This raid took place on February 27, 1998. The police were looking for a drug dealer. Ellis Elliot isn't a drug dealer and the police later said that it was an "honest mistake."

What happened before that admission? Not the admission of Elliot, that he had never done anything wrong, the "honest mistake" admission by the police.

Mr. Elliot was dragged naked into the fourth-floor hallway. He was cuffed and addressed as "nigger" along with other racial slurs. Ellis Elliot begged for clothing and was told, "You're nothing but an animal, nigger. You don't deserve any clothes."

He was escorted down the stairs to the third floor while the police destroyed his apartment and his belongings. When Elliot was given clothing, it was his girlfriend's clothing. And so, that is what he wore when the police took him out on the street to the gathering crowd. And that is what he wore to the 44th Precinct.

Ellis Elliot was handcuffed with his hands behind him and wearing women's clothing he was placed in a jail cell. Early afternoon the following day he was released to walk home in his girlfriend's clothing.

This is what our government calls the War on Drugs­­this is what the soldiers in the war call an "honest mistake."

Tell Me . . . Where are we Heading?

By Nora Callahan

In Florida, not so long ago, in February last in fact, a five year old girl and a six-year-old boy were turned over by school officials to law enforcement officials. Separate instances, different schools, same scenario.

The children were both arraigned on felony charges­­felony charges of battery. It would appear that both of the children fought, scratched and kicked their teachers. In the scuffle to subdue, a few attempts to bite the subduers played into the ruckus as well.

I have been privy to similar scenes, a few times in my life. I've spent a lot of time around children. Children have been known to do this. What I have never seen before is police summoned to deal with a very young child throwing a temper tantrum, be it kicking or biting, or not.

The six-year-old boy, Justin began a pharmaceutical regime of Ritalin November last. Five-year-old, Chaquita was named in an arrest warrant when her parents ignored a request to seek counseling for their child.

David Correa, POW sent me the news articles from Florida papers asking the question, "Tell me Nora, where are we heading?"

I'll answer the question posed to me with brevity for it needs few words to answer fully. We are becoming a society that is becoming dependent on law enforcement to solve all of our social problems.

Now it is my turn to ask a question.

It that really what we want?

McPrison Raises Its Standards

From The Nation, January 5, 1998

The Corrections Corporation of America has quietly emerged as the McDonald's of private prisons. CCA is now worth $3.5 billion, is among the top 5 performing stocks on the New York Stock Exchange and accounts for nearly half of the 77,000 prisoners who've been purchased for housing by private corporations.

Much of this success is due to the philosophy of co-founder Thomas Beasley, who says in the prison business, "You just sell it like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers."

This refreshing candor has of course invited criticism that private prisons cut too many corners and lower their standards to increase profits.

Fortunately, a spokeswoman for CCA named Susan Hart has shown that the high standards of our penal system are being upheld, at least in their hiring practices for guards. In her words: "It would be inappropriate, for certain positions, (to hire) someone who said, 'Yes, I beat a prisoner to death.' That would be a red flag for us." But just for "certain positions"...

Visit The Nation Magazine website

They are Looking for a Few Good Cities

The Marines, who look for a few good men are now looking for a few good cities. Tim Jones, spokesman for the Marines' Warfighting Laboratory is sure that urban elemanets can't be replicated on a military installation.

Yes, readers, the Marines are wanting volunteer American cities to host urban war games because they are convinced that the battlefield of the future is more likely to be on city streets, not the sands of Iwo Jima.

The world is rapidly becoming urbanized and by 2025, about 85 percent of the global population will be living in cities. Conflicts of the future are more likely to be centered in cities.

This news, coupled with the UN special assembly that will be discussing strategy for a global drug war ought to make American citizen's suspicious.

English Judges and the House of Lords Reject Mandatory Sentencing

Last year senior judges and their peers led a sustained attack on the English government's bill to introduce minimum-mandatory sentencing in the British legal system. The bill was to punish what the English refer to a "persistent offenders and serious criminals." The following is a sampling of the opposition and it reinforces the fact that, in England at least, judicial discretion and justice are living terms, not reduced to hollow slogans as they are in the U.S.

Lord Chief Justice Bingham said the crime bill, which seeks to impose mandatory minimum sentences, would undermine justice. In a passionate speech he urged the Home Secretary to give the courts "the power to decline to use sentences which are offensive to their professional and moral consciences."

Discretion was crucial to the work of a judge, he said. "Rules of thumb do not provide an answer to these problems, because the passing of a sentence is not a mechanical task."

Lord Donaldson said that judges "do not contest Parliament's right to tell them what to do, but they are advising what Parliament is proposing is wholly wrong, that it would involve them in being asked to do things which they believe to be wholly unjust."

Lord Carlisle stated that judges should be free to fit the particular punishment to the particular crime. He said, "I cannot see how you advance the cause of requiring judges to impose sentences which they believe to be unjust... This is not a matter of being tough on crime, it is a matter of providing judges with sufficient discretion to allow justice to take place." He added that "Sentencing should not be a matter of party politics; it should be a matter of doing justice between the individual and the state."

Lord Thomas, a Deputy High Court Judge, said that it was "extraordinary" to say that the current system was failing. "There is a paradox. How can it be that the judges of this country can be said to be failing their duty and being a soft touch as we approach an election when all the jails are full?"

Lord Russel, a Liberal Democrat, asked his peers to think of their own children. "I do not believe many of us have disciplined them according to a flat tariff," he said. "Any sentence that is not based on the specific consideration of the circumstances is necessarily unjust."

Lord Gisborough said the Bill as it stood was "very little short of grotesque."

Elderly Prisoner Initiative

The Coalition for Federal Sentencing Reform (a project of NCIA) is currently building a coalition of concerned organizations and citizens to deal with the growing crisis of the elderly in our nation's prisons. NCIA is a nonprofit organization that provides research and services in the criminal justice system.

The number of the elderly in prison has risen dramatically over the last decade from about 9,000 in 1986 to 30,000 in 1996. The system is now reeling from the stress of this phenomenal growth­­estimated to cost over $2 billion per year. While policy makers grapple with the daunting task of financing Medicare and other services for the elderly, they are spending on average $69,000 per year to confine each inmate over 55 years old.

Many elderly inmates enter the system with a chronic and debilitating illness, and suffer a great deal more while in prison as a result of poor living conditions, limited medical care or violence perpetrated by younger offenders. Over half of the elderly inmates are first time offenders, many nonviolent and most could be transferred to supervised release without threatening public safety.

We are currently conducting a national research project on the elderly in prison. We intend to use the findings of this study to advance solutions to the special problems of geriatric prisoners.

We are also collecting personal stories of inmates, family members and loved ones who have been/are affected by this issue. Please send your stories to:

The Coalition for Sentencing Reform
3125 Mt. Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, Virginia 22305

"I am 70 years of age and doing a 77-month sentence for "money laundering" . . . . I am a former attorney . . . . Keep up the good work. You truly understand the problem but getting Congress to come around will be difficult. I am also a member of FAMM and they also do a good job with limited resources but eventually we will prevail."­­Federal Inmate, Texarkana, Texas

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