June 7th

    No Censorship in Texas Prison Ban on Some Books


    (CN) - Texas corrections facilities did not violate the First Amendment by banning certain books that graphically describe rape, child abuse and race relations in the prison system, the 5th Circuit ruled.

    Prison Legal News, a nonprofit advocate of inmate rights, filed suit over five books banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), under a book-review policy that the parties agree is constitutional.

    TDCJ has approved about 80,000 of more than 92,000 books sent to its inmates, according to database records.

    The five banned books challenged by Prison Legal News are "Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis," "Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson," "Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System," "Prison Masculinities" and "The Perpetual Prison Machine: How America Profits from Crime."

    "Women Behind Bars" was initially banned in 2008 because it discusses the history of a female inmate who was sexually abused by her uncle. After the book's author and Prison Legal News protested, however, the head of Texas prison mail approved the book.

    A federal judge previously dismissed the claims as to "Lockdown America" and "Soledad Brother" after finding that no prisoner had requested either book in the relevant time frame. As to the three other books, the court found no First Amendment issue and said that a recent change to the book-review procedures addressed possible due-process issues.

    The New Orleans-based federal appeals court affirmed Friday, noting that Prison Legal News has standing, even with regard to books that it sent inmates unsolicited.

    "Government interference with one's attempt to sell or distribute written material unquestionably satisfies Article III's injury-in-fact requirement," Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote for a three-judge panel.

    The interest of Prison Legal News "in distributing books to TDCJ's inmates - which is precisely the type of interest at the core of First Amendment protections - is more than sufficient to support its standing to sue," she added.

    "The general right to receive unsolicited communications free from government interference is not only well-established, it is also quite valuable, a fact that is particularly apparent in the prison context: prisoners have an obvious interest, for example, in receiving unsolicited mailings from family members attempting to reconcile, ministries reaching out to convicts, and those attempting to offer legal assistance, because prisoners would often be practically unable to initiate such contact themselves," the 32-page decision states.

    But TDCJ had nevertheless been reasonable in its censorship, the court found.

    "PLN has not presented sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on its First Amendment claims," according to the panel, abbreviating Prison Legal News.

    "PLN has, at most, demonstrated that reasonable minds might differ on whether to permit certain books into a general prison population, which is very different from demonstrating that TDCJ's practices and exclusion decisions bear no reasonable relation to valid penological objectives. The principal Supreme Court precedents applicable to PLN's First Amendment claims, which all dealt with facial challenges to prison regulations, emphasize the need for according deference to the judgment of prison administrators, and we conclude that such deference must be at its zenith in the context of challenges to individualized decisions implementing a facially constitutional policy. Any other conclusion would require the federal courts to sit as permanent appeals councils reviewing every individual censorship decision made by state corrections institutions." (Italics in original.)

    Prison Legal News had contended that the TDCJ should let groups appeal for books that may have been banned in the past.

    But the panel said that the "TDCJ must be permitted to pass rules of general application, even ones that limit prisoner rights, without subjecting such rules to repetitive challenges every time they are applied."

    In addition to its advocacy role, Prison Legal News puts out a monthly magazine. TDCJ lets inmates subscribe to the magazine and access most of the books distributed by Prison Legal News.

    No Censorship in Texas Prison Ban on Some Books

    Sending Knowledge to Texas Inmates

    By Nick Swartsell
    Published on: March 29, 2012

    Odierno helps educate prisoners by donating books
    Image provided by Skot OdiernoSkot

    Only his legs are visible as Skot Odierno digs through a huge wooden box outside the squat green building in East Austin that houses the Inside Books Project. The box is packed with donated books for Texas prisoners.

    Scooping up a stack to take inside, Odierno, the project’s volunteer co-coordinator, says the haul of hundreds of books represents about a week’s worth of donations for the nonprofit organization, the only one of its kind in Texas.

    The scene is reminiscent of Odierno’s introduction to Inside Books 12 years ago. “I was Dumpster-diving books a lot at Half Price Books,” says Odierno, 41. “I heard about this and started bringing books. Then I started volunteering with them.”

    Odierno gradually became more involved in the project, and now spends 20 to 30 hours a week helping run the organization. “I work in Zilker Park—that’s my real job,” he says, laughing. “Or the one I get paid for.”

    The work is worth it to him because of the unique mission of Inside Books, which was founded in 1998. He says books help take the edge off life in the Texas prison system, the second-largest in the nation, with more than 156,000 inmates.

    State prisons have libraries, but inmates have limited, and, in some cases, no access to them. And, Odierno adds, the selection of books is limited. “What we do is send books to individuals so they are their property, and they can do what they want with them,” he says.

    The books also help prisoners pass the time—and learn something, Odierno says. “It might help you educate yourself so when you get released you can get a job.”

    Odierno helps coordinate book mailings twice a week at Inside Books’ headquarters. The space, donated to the group free of charge, looks something like an independent bookstore, with dim lighting and an eclectic array of sagging couches, tables and mismatched chairs. A bar like one you might see at a coffee shop stands along the back wall. A small maze of labeled shelves includes an array of titles. A book about Samoan mythology shares space with a book about the philosopher Kant and some pulp fiction.

    With the cache of books the donation bin has netted, you might expect the shelves to be crammed full, but Odierno and the 10 or so volunteers working on a Thursday night in late February keep the stock moving. The volunteers, including high school students and retirees, hustle to find books that prisoners have requested. Requests range from the practical to the poignant. One inmate asks for trade manuals on electrical work and science textbooks. Another, an aspiring poet, asks for anything about Buddhism.

    One volunteer fields a letter asking only for a book about making pop-up greeting cards. “That’s all he asked for,” the volunteer keeps repeating as she searches the shelves.

    While volunteers pull books and package them, Odierno does paperwork and ping-pongs around the room helping tie up “loose ends.” In an average week, he’ll perform anything from administrative duties to grunt work: hosting fundraisers, coordinating volunteer sessions, sorting books onto library carts and organizing the space Inside Books occupies.

    Odierno says the organization responds to about 700 letters a month. If a specific requested book isn’t available, volunteers will find something on the same subject to send. Some subjects and titles are off limits, due to restrictions placed by the Texas prison system. Books dealing with fighting, gambling, or containing nudity are forbidden.

    The most requested books are dictionaries, and educational books are also hugely popular. The educational aspect of reading is something Inside Books prioritizes, leading to a spin-off called Sending Solidarity, Odierno says. The six-month-old initiative sends books to 140 teenagers in the Clements Unit in Amarillo, an adult prison where educational opportunities are limited.

    Inside Books currently averages a four- to five-month delay between request and delivery. Odierno says there’s a need for similar projects across the state.

    “Right now we’re talking to some people in Dallas who want to start a book project too,” he says. “I don’t know what will come of it, but that’s one thing we’ve always wanted, to get other cities to do this.”

    Sending Knowledge to Texas Inmates


    Prison education struggles amid cuts
    With 25 percent less funding, inmates may have fewer options

    December 3, 2011

    Ex-convict Jorge Renaud discovered philosophy and psychology in classes taught behind the razor-wire fences and cinder-block walls of Texas prisons.

    It changed his life.

    Renaud’s family traveled constantly when he was a child, following the crops to such southwestern farming hubs as Dimmitt and Cactus, he said. At 17, he joined the U.S. Army and spent three years in the service. When he got out in 1977, Renaud turned to making quick money from quick crimes, after he committed burglary of a habitation. It landed him in the state penitentiary.

    “Why does anybody commit a crime? Stupidity, ignorance, irresponsibility,” he said. “I thought I needed material possessions.”

    After he was released in 1980, he committed two aggravated robberies within the next decade and went back to prison.

    That’s when Renaud turned to post-secondary education, with help from the prison education system. He said the classes helped him find his way out of the prison stint.

    “Prison has to offer a hope, a rope to those who are drowning,” he said. “To some people, it’s religion. But even then, you will want to have some critical thinking skills. Where are you going to get that?”

    There are fewer educational opportunities for Texas prison inmates following state lawmakers’ decision to slash the Windham School District’s budget by more than a fourth, from $130.6 million for the 2010-11 academic year to $95 million in 2011-12, district spokeswoman Bambi Kiser said. More than 77,500 prisoners enrolled in classes last year. Established in 1969, Windham is funded by the Texas Education Agency and is overseen by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    She said the district predicted 16,750 fewer offenders will be able to take classes for the 2011-12 school year.

    District officials made the most cuts to schools with student enrollments averaging 40 or older because studies have shown that educational programs are more likely to reduce recidivism for younger offenders, Kiser said.

    Texas Panhandle prisons house about 11,250 inmates, and more than half were taking classes last year, according to the Department of Criminal Justice and Windham documents. Of the eight regional units, nearly half have student enrollments averaging 40 or older.

    All of those prison school budgets took significant cuts — the most at the Jordan Unit in Pampa, which was reduced by nearly $292,000, Kiser said.

    The cuts amounted to a streamlined administration, where some principals will supervise more than one school and travel to other campuses about once a week, Kiser said. The budget reduction also means a loss of 271 full-time employees — 22 in the Texas Panhandle units, she said.

    On top of the layoffs, the district’s consumable supplies budget was slashed by about half. These items include pencils, paper and toner cartridges, among other school supplies.

    The Criminal Justice Department denied requests to sit in classes or talk to current prison students about the educational programs.

    Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, who served as the vice chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee from 2004 to 2010, said all state departments had to trim their budgets.

    “Public education is very important in the prison system because it does help when it comes to recidivism,” Seliger said. “But Windham has gotten very expensive per completion.”

    Of all the school district’s students, nearly 7 percent — or 5,287 prisoners — obtained a General Education Development certificate last year, according to Windham documents. Nearly 340 offenders, or 5 percent of students, in the Panhandle prisons received a GED, district documents state.

    “It doesn’t mean we’ve turned our backs on prisoner education,” Seliger said. “We just need to do it as effectively and economically as possible.”

    Lawmakers had to prioritize during the last legislative session, said Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit organization that researches and analyzes criminal justice policies. But, she argued, the district will not increase the number of students obtaining GED diplomas by making it unavailable. The district will only get worse results that way, she said.

    Statewide budget cuts dealt the prison education system another blow. The district did not renew seven college contracts, Kiser said. The higher education agencies offered vocational training and post-secondary education for the prisoners.

    Amarillo College, which provided diesel mechanics and data processing courses, served nearly 50 students a year at the Clements and Neal units, Kiser said. But AC and Clarendon College were among those that did not receive a renewed contract, she said.

    The only college that will now serve the region’s prisons is Western Texas College, based in Snyder, she said.

    Lawmakers also gutted state reimbursable funds — assistance money that prisoners can use for continuing education — by about 42 percent, Kiser said. The funds are similar to student loans in that offenders must pay back what they borrow, and that is returned to the state, she said.

    Renaud, 55, who is slated to receive a master’s of science in social work in May 2012, said most offenders cannot afford continuing education without aid, and the reductions do not bode well for prison recidivism rates.

    “Education helps you better relate to people. It gives you the discipline and communication skills to keep a job,” he said. “Education can give you tools to deal with a moral situation.”

    Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, said there is a need for prisoner education, but officials should look at a different model.

    “Windham has become too top-heavy,” he said. “It has outlived its usefulness.”

    Whitmire said the Criminal Justice Department could do away with administrative costs by outsourcing teaching to area junior colleges.

    Yanez-Correa said the department also needs to maintain prisoner education by exploring innovative ways to get better outcomes.

    The coalition is currently surveying all prisoners who have written to the organization and their families on what has helped them, she said. A lot of them have said the Windham School District has made a positive influence on them, she said.

    “If they don’t have that, what is it that they have?” Yanez-Correa asked.

    Bottom line: It’s a win-win situation to provide a prisoner with education, she said.

    She said educating prisoners is a better return for taxpayers because of its negative correlation with recidivism.

    “You’re either paying now or paying later,” she said.

    Prison education struggles amid cuts

    Wrongheaded ideas about prison school

    Posted Mar. 25, 2011
    By J.R. LABBE

    State Sen. Florence Shapiro is trafficking in false promises if she thinks innovation is the way to get better outcomes while spending less money on educational and vocational classes in the Windham school district.

    When your classroom is a prison and your students are all adults, the rules of engagement change. Dramatically.

    The Plano Republican's Wednesday response to last week's column about funding cuts to the state's prison school district said that Texas education no longer has "to be limited by geography or buildings" and no longer has "to be bound by structures from the past."

    With all due respect to the chair of the Senate Education Committee, most Texans are hoping that geography and buildings provide solid boundaries until such time as inmates have completed their sentences.

    That said, the avenues to education must remain available for those who seek the skills needed to change their lives upon release. Sadly, Texas doesn't have a Department of Corrections. It's all about Criminal Justice, which is more interested in getting even with people who made bad choices and admittedly did bad things. Too often, rehabilitation rests squarely on the shoulders of the inmates.

    Incorporating more online instruction into Texas public classrooms is undoubtedly the future for teaching children. But even young ones who've grown up with computers and digital tools like smartphones and iPads need help learning how to get the most benefit from the interactivity that's possible.

    The potential for using innovative technology to improve classroom outcomes is just beginning to be understood.

    My Rotary Club, in conjunction with Fort Worth's Riverside Middle School and Texas Wesleyan University, is conducting one of the first pilot projects in the country to quantify whether e-readers improve students' reading and comprehension abilities.

    The Kindling Literacy Project is developing a methodology for evaluating the impact of e-readers on seventh- and eighth-grade students' academic achievement. The Rotary Club of Fort Worth has committed to spending about $18,900 a year for three years to purchase e-readers for Riverside's reading enhancement/improvement classes and the library. Additionally, a reading/essay competition will award 15 students in each grade (sixth, seventh and eighth) a personal e-reader.

    Now, allow me to state the obvious: Teaching adults isn't the same as teaching children. Ask anyone who has worked as an adult literacy trainer.

    Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who serves on the Senate Education Committee with Shapiro, knows that. She was a literacy trainer back in the days before she was elected to office.

    Adult education research clearly indicates that online instruction is only beneficial if it is combined with face-to-face interaction with a teacher, said Jon Engel, the adult education director of Community Action Inc. of Hays, Caldwell and Blanco Counties, based in San Marcos.

    "This is often referred to as high tech-high touch," said Engel, who serves on the board of Literacy Texas.

    Now, add the challenges that come with a student population that's confined to prison. State "correctional" facilities do not permit any type of Internet access for inmates. Judges across the state include bans on use of online technology as part of sentencing.

    At Windham, students are never unsupervised when using computers.

    State lawmakers, faced with an unprecedented budget shortfall, are in an unenviable situation. But that doesn't excuse Shapiro's portrayal of Windham as a "waste of money." One can't help but think she's got one eye on an upcoming U.S. Senate race and the other on her tough-on-crime conservative voter base.

    Windham is succeeding. Shapiro's characterization of the district as anything but an asset flies in the face of the district's evaluation submitted to the Legislative Budget Board in January.

    In 2010, Windham administered 6,664 GED tests; 5,498 students passed and were awarded GEDs. That's an 82.5 percent passing rate.

    For inmates released in 2008, 15.8 percent of those who participated in literacy training returned to prison; 21.2 percent of nonparticipants returned.

    A 1990 state auditor's report said for every 1 percent reduction in recidivism, the state would avoid incarceration costs of more than $6 million. Imagine what the number is in 2010 dollars.

    "Students come to us with a pervasive history of school failure, a limited ability to visualize a productive future and a lack of self-confidence," said Marjie Haynes, director of Windham's division of instruction. "Beyond providing reading and vocational classes, we offer cognitive thinking classes. Because if we can't change the way they think, they won't succeed at anything when they get out."

    Windham provides inmates an opportunity to complete their sentences with skills they didn't have when they landed in prison. But more than that, it provides hope for a better future. In that sense, the students at Windham aren't any different from the children in the state's public school system.

    Jill "J.R." Labbe is editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

    Read more: Wrongheaded ideas about prison school

    Senate Education Committee's plan to cut prison school district shortsighted

    Posted Mar. 19, 20112
    By J.R. LABBE

    State Sen. Florence Shapiro doesn't think much of GEDs and vocational certificates. The chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and some of her committee colleagues said they had little value during a Thursday hearing on how to close the state's budget gap.

    Interesting, this, coming from lawmakers who remain committed to other types of standardized testing that measure academic competency. Might Texas schoolchildren at last be freed from the ritual known as TAKS?

    Not likely.

    Shame on Shapiro and her colleagues for dismissing what is for thousands of Texans an avenue of hope through a wilderness of economic despair.

    The GED (General Educational Development) exam provides adults who did not complete high school the opportunity to certify their academic knowledge and skills. Today, a high school diploma or GED remains the primary ticket to many entry-level jobs. In many cases, it's also the prerequisite for advancement in employment, occupational training and postsecondary education.

    According to the American Council of Education, Texas consistently ranks as one of the highest states in the nation for adults taking the GED test. Shapiro and her colleagues last week basically told thousands of people -- their constituents -- that they are wasting their time.

    My ire comes from having spent the better part of the last two years working with the Tarrant Literacy Coalition on expanding the quantity and quality of literacy training available to the more than 200,000 low-literate adults in Tarrant County.

    Part of our effort focuses on helping students who succeed in the classroom receive tangible proof of their achievement -- their GEDs. The coalition has a GED Fund that subsidizes the cost of the test, which can range from $80 to $120, depending on where the student takes the exam.

    Shapiro's criticism of GEDs and vocational certificates was an aside to a larger gripe on Thursday. She doesn't think providing educational opportunities to about 70,000 convicts in 90 Texas prisons is worth the paltry $128 million that the state biannually spends on it.

    She called the Windham school district, whose staff and curriculum are funded by the Texas Education Agency, "the biggest waste of money I think I've seen."

    Given the scope of programs that the Texas Legislature has spent money on in the years since the Plano senator first hit Austin in 1993, that's saying something.

    Guess she prefers to have all 154,000 convicts in the state's prisons sit around on their bunks all day doing nary a flipping thing to prepare for life when they are released back into our communities. Guess none of the thousands of prisoners released annually -- more than 41,000 in 2009 -- end up in chi-chi Collin County, Shapiro's stomping grounds when she's not in Austin.

    She did throw down a challenge.

    "When we're cutting funding for public schools and furloughing thousands of school employees, they're going to have to convince us why they should receive any continued funding," Shapiro was quoted in the Austin American-Statesman.

    Let the convincing commence.

    On a pure dollars-and-sense level, the state loses money. Lester Meriwether, who serves on the Governor's Interagency Literacy Council and is past president of Literacy Texas, said a portion of the allocation to the Windham school district counts as part of the state match for federal dollars to the overall adult education program.

    Not enough? How about the Justice Department report that says the link between academic failure and delinquency, violence and crime is welded to reading failure. More than 70 percent of the inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level. Trust me when I say Texas is no exception to that statistic.

    Penal institution records show that recidivism rates for those who receive no education while incarcerated are almost 75 percent. Compare that to the 16 to 25 percent rate for offenders who receive literacy and vocational assistance.

    The inmates who today are choosing to take classes can learn skills that put them on a road to productivity when they are released, or they can learn from their fellow cons how not to get caught the next time they burglarize your house or steal your car. Which will it be, Texas?

    Jill "J.R." Labbe is editorial director of the Star-Telegram.

    Read more: Senate Education Committee's plan to cut prison school district shortsighted

    New budget cut target: Prison school system

    By Mike Ward
    March 17, 2011

    In a significant new move to find ways to reduce whopping cuts for public schools, legislative leaders this afternoon revealed that they are considering a plan to cut Texas’ prison schools from the budget to save $123 million.

    “This is the biggest waste of money I think I’ve seen,” Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said. “When we’re cutting funding for public schools and furloughing thousands of school employees, they’re going to have to convince us why they should receive any continued funding.”

    The Windham School District, established in 1969 as the largest public school system inside prisons, has more than 1,100 employees, a majority of them based in Huntsville, Shapiro said.

    The Windham superintendent makes an annual salary of $115,000, she said.

    About 70,000 of Texas’ 154,000 convicts are students in the school district, which operates vocational and academic classes inside the 112 state prisons.

    Most all the students are over age 18 and graduate with GEDs or vocational certificates that Shapiro and other senators said have little value.

    After a closed-door meeting this morning, Senate and House leaders agreed to move ahead with a plan to cut the Windham budget — perhaps zeroing out all funding, perhaps cutting the district to about $20 million or less and converting its educational programs to be operated as part of rehabilitation initiatives within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    “I’m not even sure this district needs to continue to exist as it is now,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston.

    New budget cut target: Prison school system

    February 25, 2011

    You're nobody as a writer till you've been banned from TDCJ

    "What do Jon Stewart, William Shakespeare, Sojouner Truth, Juan Williams, Jenna Bush, 50 Cent, John Grisham, Noam Chomsky, Stephen King, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, Gore Vidal, George Orwell, Gustave Flaubert, George Carlin, and Sister Helen Prejean have in common?," asks the Texas Civil Rights Project? "They have each written at least one book banned in Texas prisons."

    The Texas Tribune reported yesterday that, TCRP "released a report ... on the list of 11,850 books banned by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — everything from a collection of DaVinci's sketchbooks to the works of Salman Rushdie. Even some winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the O. Henry Award aren't allowed." Further,

    Censorship rates have increased in the last five years though the number of inmates has leveled off, said Scott Medlock, director of the organization's Prisoners' Rights Program. And while inmates can appeal a ruling by requesting a review from a TDCJ committee, Medlock said 87 percent of appeals are denied.

    "If the low-level mail employees make the wrong decision, that's one thing," Medlock said. "But if you have [virtually] no opportunity to appeal, that's even more disturbing."

    Congrats to TCRP on performing the tedious legwork to document this ongoing phenomenon.

    Posted By Gritsforbreakfast



    Lane Murray fostered prisoner education

    Aug. 6, 2009

    Lane Murray led the Windham School District within the state prison system.

    A funeral Mass is scheduled in Huntsville today for Lane Murray, a national leader in prisoner education and the founding superintendent of the school system that has educated Texas inmates for 40 years.

    Murray, 87, died Monday.

    She led the Windham School District within the state prison system from the district's creation in 1969 until her retirement in 1994.

    At the time of Murray's appointment, much of the public was still skeptical about the value of educating adult prisoners, said Steve Steurer, executive director of the Correction Education Association.

    Since then, experts said, peer-reviewed research has documented Murray's conviction that educating offenders reduced the likelihood they would commit crimes after their release.

    “Study after study has shown that the higher the educational level, the lower the recidivism rate,” said Debbie Roberts, the Windham district's current superintendent.

    Murray was born Joyce Elaine Stone in the northeast Texas town of Celina. She grew up on a West Texas cotton farm and graduated from Sudan High School. She earned a bachelor's degree from Texas Tech University, a master's from Sam Houston State University and a doctorate from the University of Houston.

    From 1960 to 1969 she taught at Texas A&M University, the first woman to hold a full-time faculty position in its College of Education.

    George Beto, who headed what was then known as the Texas Department of Corrections, chose her to run its fledgling school system. Its initial staff of eight instructors has grown to 1,300, including more than 800 certified teachers, said Bambi Kiser, a spokeswoman for the school district.

    Murray developed the district's non-graded instructional system and oversaw curriculums and assessment measures. By the time she retired, all 50 campuses were accredited by the Texas Education Agency, and each of Texas' 254 counties sent students to the district's schools.

    She was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1989.

    Murray served two terms as president of the Correction Education Association, a national advocacy group. One of her most impressive achievements, Steurer said, was creating consistently high standards throughout a large system at a time when individual unit wardens held great power.

    Roberts, who started work for the prison system as a 19-year-old college student in 1973, said Murray was one of the few women in a position of authority at the time.

    “It was very male-dominated,” Roberts said. “For all of us young women starting our career in corrections, she was a mentor.”

    Murray leaves three children, Stone and Mark Murray and Joyce Murray Boatright; seven grandchildren and eight great-grandhcildren. Her late husband was Thomas F. Murray, a Sam Houston State University education professor.

    Mass for Murray will be celebrated at 2 p.m. today at St. Thomas Catholic Church, 1005 Avenue F, Huntsville. In lieu of flowers, her family asked that donations be made in her memory to Casa Juan Diego, P.O. Box 70113, Houston, 77270, or to another charity.

    Lane Murray fostered prisoner education

    TX Bill To Open Books For Inmates to 100's Of Nonprofits! -
    Please send your support!

    April 3, 2009

    Hey y'all,
    There is currently a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow any nonprofit to send educational and reference books to prisons in Texas, not just book stores and publishers.

    Someone from Inside Books will more than likely be speaking at the hearing, and we are encouraging other book projects to send letters of support to State Rep. Dyana Mercado.

    Especially necessary are other groups that send books to prisoners in Texas.

    The more of us that back this, and show how important this is to helping recidivism and education among the incarcerated.

    Right now, only book stores and publishers can send books to people imprisoned across the US. If this bill passes, not only would it set a precedent for the other 49 states to pass similar bills, but it would take the weight that only two dozen book projects across the country carry in supplying to three million imprisoned people with literature, and spread it out across thousands of nonprofits!

    Please read the text of the bill and send emails and letters of support to Rep. Mercado.

    The more people sign on, the better chance it has of passing.

    The Hearing is Thursday, April 9th, so the sooner people and groups send in their letters of support, the better.

    Inside Books Project,
    Austin, TX

    From: "Dyana Mercado" ..
    I spoke with John today also about the bill and coming to support us at our public hearing.

    We would really appreciate you all coming out, we are hoping for a hearing on Thursday, April 9th.

    Please feel free to forward this information to any others that may be interested.

    Dyana Limon-Mercado
    Communications Director

    State Representative; Marisa Marquez
    District 77, El Paso, TX


    From: Dyana Mercado



    Rep. Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso), who sits on the House Committee on Corrections, filed bills that would position Texas to support the national trend of humanizing the corrections system. HB 3649, 3653 and 3654 all relate to improving jail standards.

    HB 3649 would make reference and educational material more available to Texas inmates by allowing certain organizations to mail books directly to them. Marquez was motivated by studies which positively correlate reduced recidivism rates to correctional education.

    "We commend Rep. Marquez's efforts to improve public safety by increasing the educational base and spiritual growth of incarcerated persons. It's a fact that the more schooling an imprisoned person receives, the less likely he or she is to get in trouble upon release," said Ana YÃ-Ãez-Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    The most requested items by prisoners tend to be dictionaries and religious books. In 2005, only 85 out of 106 Texas prison facilities even had libraries.

    "Many facilities are lacking in GED and career training materials. This bill aims to help prisoners be prepared to make successful transitions back into society and reduce recidivism," concluded Marquez.

    Rep. Dora Olivo (D-Fort Bend) also joint authored two bills with Marquez. HB 3653 and 3654 intend to develop health care standards for imprisoned women, and ensure safe birthing environments for the mother, child and correctional staff.

    Marquez is serving her first term in the Texas House of Representatives. She represents District 77, containing downtown El Paso, UTEP , and neighborhoods near Fort Bliss. She sits on three committees: Corrections, County Affairs, and Rules & Resolutions.


    Jul/Aug 2008
    -- Mother Jones Magazine (US)

    Slammed: Welcome To The Age Of Incarceration
    What Happens When You Lock Up 1 In Every 100 American Adults?

    By Jennifer Gonnerman

    The number first appeared in headlines earlier this year: Nearly one in four of all prisoners worldwide is incarcerated in America. It was just the latest such statistic. Today, one in nine African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 is locked up. In 1970, our prisons held fewer than 200,000 people; now that number exceeds 1.5 million, and when you add in local jails, it's 2.3 million -- 1 in 100 American adults. Since the 1980s, we've sat by as the numbers inched higher and our prison system ballooned, swallowing up an ever-larger portion of the citizenry. But do statistics like these, no matter how disturbing, really mean anything anymore? What does it take to get us to sit up and notice?

    Apparently, it takes a looming financial crisis. For there is another round of bad news, the logical extension of the first: The more money a state spends on building and running prisons, the less there is for everything else, from roads and bridges to health care and public schools. At the pace our inmate population has been expanding, America's prison system is becoming, quite simply, too expensive to sustain. That is why Kansas, Texas, and at least 11 other states have been trying out new strategies to curb the cost -- reevaluating their parole policies, for instance, so that not every parolee who runs afoul of an administrative rule is shipped straight back to prison. And yet our infatuation with incarceration continues.

    There have been numerous academic studies and policy reports and journalistic accounts analyzing our prison boom, but this phenomenon cannot be fully measured in numbers. That much became apparent to me when, beginning in 2000, I spent nearly four years shadowing a woman who'd just been released from prison. She'd been locked up for 16 years for a first-time drug crime, and her absence had all but destroyed her family. Her mother had taken in her four young children after her arrest, only to die prematurely of kidney failure. One daughter was deeply depressed, the other was seething with rage, and her youngest son had followed her lead, diving into the neighborhood drug culture and then winding up in prison himself.

    The criminal justice system had punished not only her but her entire family. How do you measure the years of wasted hours -- riding on a bus to a faraway prison, lining up to be scanned and searched and questioned, sitting in a bleak visiting room waiting for a loved one to walk in? How do you account for all the dollars spent on collect calls from prison -- calls that can cost at least three times as much as on the outside because the prison system is taking a cut? How do you begin to calculate the lessons absorbed by children about deprivation and punishment and vengeance? How do you end the legacy of incarceration?

    This is not to say that nobody deserves to go to prison or that we should release everyone who is now locked up. There are many people behind bars who you would not want as your neighbor, but in our hunger for justice we have lost perspective. We treat 10-year sentences like they're nothing, like that's a soft penalty, when in much of the rest of the world a decade behind bars would be considered extraordinarily severe. This is what separates us from other industrialized countries: It's not just that we send so many people to prison, but that we keep them there for so long and send them back so often.

    Eight years ago, we surpassed Russia to claim the dubious distinction of having the world's highest rate of incarceration; today we're still No. 1.

    If awards were granted to the country with the most surreal punishments, we would certainly win more than our share. Thirty-six straight years in solitary confinement (the fate of two men convicted in connection with the murder of a guard in Louisiana's Angola prison). A 55-year sentence for a small-time pot dealer who carried a gun during his sales (handed down by a federal court in Utah in 2004). Life sentences for 13-year-olds. (In 2005, Human Rights Watch counted more than 2,000 American inmates serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. The entire rest of the world has only locked up 12 kids without hope of release.) Female prisoners forced to wear shackles while giving birth. (Amnesty International found 48 states that permitted this practice as of 2006.) A ban on former prisoners working as barbers (on the books in New York state).

    America is expert at turning citizens into convicts, but we've forgotten how to transform convicts back into citizens. In 1994, Congress eliminated Pell grants for prisoners, a move that effectively abolished virtually all of the 350 prison college programs across the country. That might not seem like a catastrophe, until you consider that education has been proven to help reduce recidivism. (This was the conclusion of a recent paper by the Urban Institute, which reviewed 49 separate studies.) As the New York Times' Adam Liptak has pointed out, our prisons used to be models of redemption; de Tocqueville praised them in Democracy in America. Many prisons still call themselves "correctional facilities," but the term has become a misnomer. Most abandoned any pretense of rehabilitation long ago. Former California governor Jerry Brown even went so far as to rewrite the state's penal code to stress that the primary mission of that state's prisons is punishment.

    Our cell blocks are packed with men and women who cannot read or write, who never graduated from high school -- 75 percent of state inmates -- who will be hard-pressed to find a job once they are released. Once freed, they become second-class citizens. Depending on the state, they may be denied public housing, student loans, a driver's license, welfare benefits, and a wide range of jobs. Perhaps there is no more damning statistic than the fact that within three years, half will be convicted of a new crime.

    Recently, there have been some hopeful signs. In April, the Second Chance Act was finally signed into law; it will provide federal grants to programs that help prisoners reenter society. But our punishment industry -- which each year spends millions lobbying federal and state lawmakers -- has grown so massive and so entrenched that it will take far more than one piece of legislation to begin to undo its far-reaching effects.

    Just look at our felony disenfranchisement laws, which prohibit 5.3 million people from voting -- including 13 percent of African American men. These numbers actually underestimate the scope of the problem, as many ex-prisoners believe they cannot vote even if they can. And so the legacy of our prison boom continues: We've become a two-tier society in which millions of ostensibly free people are prohibited from enjoying the rights and privileges accorded to everyone else -- and we continue to be defined by our desire for punishment and revenge, rather than by our belief in the power of redemption.

    h prohibit 5.3 million people from voting -- including 13 percent of African American men. These numbers actually underestimate the scope of the problem, as many ex-prisoners believe they cannot vote even if they can. And so the legacy of our prison boom continues: We've become a two-tier society in which millions of ostensibly free people are prohibited from enjoying the rights and privileges accorded to everyone else -- and we continue to be defined by our desire for punishment and revenge, rather than by our belief in the power of redemption.

    Part of a series, available at:


    Inside Books Project promotes inmate education

    By Stephen Keller

    Activists, music and book lovers alike gathered Saturday night at the Austin Museum of Art to view and purchase original works by Texas inmates. Live music and a keg of beer drew a large crowd for the event benefiting the Inside Books Project.

    Inmate art made on anything from napkins to toilet paper lies atop tables covered in black cloth, while folk musician Matt Hoggle strums his guitar and sings a haunting rendition of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" to volunteers and art patrons at the Inside Book Project's annual art show at the Austin Museum of Art.

    Next to the pieces sit letters from Texas prisoners expressing their gratitude for the books as well as letters sent by project members.

    The nine-year-old project held the fundraiser Friday for the first time at the museum. Group member Scott Odierno said the organization receives between 700 and 800 letters a month from inmates requesting books. Project members then send the requested books to the prison's library and a written reply to the inmate.

    The letters personalize the process for both the volunteers and inmates, said Allison Galloway, project spokeswoman and administrative manager for the museum's art school said.

    Visitors were greeted by art, music and a keg. Sweet Leaf Tea also donated beverages for the event, and the bands played for free.

    "We're a nonprofit organization with absolutely zero budget," said Galloway. "It's all individual donations down to the matting."

    The group mostly sends books for illiteracy and job-skill training in addition to dictionaries, pulp fiction books and black, Hispanic and Native American cultural history books. Though, Galloway said the project limits the amount of pulp fiction it sends out.

    "Prisoners do not have access to literary materials they need and a lot are illiterate," Galloway said.

    Odierno said he believes the books can better inmate's lives when they are released from prison, and can curb violence by taking their minds off the prison environment.

    "It helps people educate themselves, some people just want to pass the time," Odierno said. "We're basically doing what the state should be doing. They should be helping these people."

    Galloway said the group meets three times a week to read letters and package books, but with the sheer number of requests, the project can get about four to six months behind. To catch up, the members conduct a non-stop four day push twice a year.

    In its recent push, the group mailed 1,754 packages, said Danielle Handler, who has volunteered for the project for five years.

    "We're caught up through September," Handler said.

    Lauren Lohen, a UT social work graduate student and student radio talk show host, said she supports the group's cause.

    "I think it will give them an outlet so they at least have a fighting chance at being rehabilitated, " Lohen said.

    Inside Books Project


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