Charles McClelland, Houston police chief, at the podium
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

The push for criminal justice reform did not start with the shooting death of Michael Brown, but the events in Ferguson and elsewhere appear to have created momentum for change. More than 100 police chiefs from across the U.S. are in Washington, D.C., this week to push Congress and the White House to make “common sense” changes in criminal laws and sentencing options for nonviolent drug offenders.

(via Flickr/neil conway)

Starting Thursday, more than 150 people from all parts of the criminal justice system with gather at Washington University to ponder a radical remake of the way this country uses incarceration.

The conference is the first major undertaking for the Smart Decarceration Initiative. Carrie Pettus-Davis, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, is one of the organizers.

Jeff Smith
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 2:43 p.m., Sept. 15 with audio from "St. Louis on the Air" - If you’ve developed even a fleeting interest in St. Louis politics, then you probably know the basic story of how former state Sen. Jeff Smith transformed from a rising star to a convicted felon.

After all, usually when Smith’s name appears in print, it’s followed by a comma and the words “who went to prison for lying to federal authorities about a campaign finance issue.” He’s also discussed bits and pieces of his incarcerations in interviews, essays and even TED Talks.

The Missouri Eastern Correctional Center hosts Washington University's prison education pilot program.
Katelyn Mae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

The question of quality of life for imprisoned persons is a difficult one.

What kind of opportunities do prisoners deserve? And if imprisonment merits any kind of effort to improve quality of life, which initiatives are most important? Most helpful? Most appropriate?

Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, MO
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

If there’s one thing Stuart Grebing has learned to love in his 28 years in prison, it’s his Cadillac. At the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center in Bonne Terre, a “Cadillac” is defined as “Coffee prepared with a full range of condiments.“ It’s one of the terms important to life in Bonne Terre.

It's not the only word that doesn't quite mean what non-inmates assume. Take, for example, the word jail. In prison, “jail” is a verb; it's something you can do well.

Office of Sen. Durbin

At least half of all prison suicides are committed by inmates held in so-called solitary confinement, according to several state and national studies. 

While a first-of-its-kind report on segregation practices in federal prisons shows improvement, with the number of inmates held in solitary confinement on the decline. Still, said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., “There’s still much more work to be done.”

Tom Cummins
Provided by Criminal Justice Ministry

When volunteer prison chaplain Tom Cummins knocks on the door of a prison cell, the inmate’s voice is nearly always welcoming, sometimes delighted.

“I deal almost exclusively with those in isolation,” he said. “The guys know what society thinks of them. They are part of the throwaway society like papers tossed aside, abandoned, out-of-mind, in prisons that are hidden in the country, off a side road. When anyone treats them like a child of God, they flourish. A chaplain can help bring them back to a sense of being part of a whole community.”

The Rev. Dietra Wise Baker
Rebecca Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

First of a two-part series.

Prison chaplains wear hope on their sleeves. Many talk about ex-prisoners who transform their lives in prison and, after release, become contributing citizens and good parents.

One of the chaplains, the Rev. Dietra Wise Baker said that most judges and others who work in the justice and corrections systems are “loving,” but the system is flawed.

Piper Kerman
Sam Zalutsky

Will Piper get back with Larry? Will Alex return to Litchfield Prison? If she does, will Piper be able to resist her charming nemesis?

“Orange Is the New Black” author Piper Kerman answered one of these questions and hinted at another in an interview, prior to her upcoming St. Louis appearances at Lindenwood University next Tuesday, Sept. 9 and Maryville University next Wednesday and Thursday, co-sponsored by Left Bank Books.

Commentary: What Is The Point Of Prison?

May 6, 2014
(via Flickr/neil conway)

The saga of Mike Anderson, a man convicted of armed robbery 13 years ago and amazingly never put in prison (except for a few months at the time he should have been released), is seemingly at an end. A circuit judge decided that making Anderson serve his sentence would “serve no purpose” and released him to live the rest of his life a free man.

The series of events raises troubling questions on the front end of the Missouri criminal justice system: How could a person guilty of a serious crime be able to escape punishment without anyone noticing?

Illinois Sends $7 Million To Prison Diversion Program

Dec 29, 2013
(Flickr/neil conway)


Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s office has announced $7 million in grants aimed at funneling non-violent offenders away from prison and into community-based services. 

The funds come through Adult Redeploy Illinois, a program that encourages local jurisdictions to treat and supervise certain offenders, using tools like drug courts and mental health courts.

Quinn's office says the program saves up to $17,000 per year for each offender.

Provided by Perennial

A local program re-purposing broken chairs helps heal women with criminal convictions as they prepare to re-enter society.

The hit TV series “Orange Is the New Black” explores the lives of women behind bars. But even after their release, orange remains an important color to some of St. Louis' former female inmates. So do purple, green and the entire rainbow.

Incarcerated parents in Missouri could spend more time with their children under a bill given first-round approval by the Missouri House.
The legislation endorsed Monday would set up a test program that would provide transportation for children who live more than 50 miles away from their parent's prison to visit them.
Two Missouri men's prisons and two women's prisons would be selected for the program's trial. The Department of Corrections would have to submit a final report on the program's effect in 2017.

(Flickr/neil conway)

Gov. Pat Quinn's budget cuts that will force the closure of some prisons and other state facilities will stand.

The Illinois House didn't consider an override vote Wednesday before adjourning on the last day of veto session. A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says the speaker didn't think it was necessary action to take.

Last week, the Senate voted to reject cuts of $56 million to funds for the Tamms high-security prison and other sites.

Quinn opposed the override.

(Flickr/neil conway)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn can't proceed with plans to close prisons - at least for now.

A state appeals court has denied his administration's request to dissolve a temporary restraining order that prevented him from closing prisons in Tamms and Dwight, three halfway houses and juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. 

The Fifth District Appellate Court entered its order on Wednesday, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees received it on Friday.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Proposed amendment to appear on November ballot

A Missouri appeals court panel has upheld the ballot summary for a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the process for selecting appellate judges.

In its ruling Monday, a three-judge panel of the Western District Court of Appeals certified the summary that voters will see on the November ballot.

(via Flickr/neil conway)

Updated 3:25 p.m. to show denial of all-time statistic.

The number of people locked up in Illinois prisons has hit an all-time high while Gov. Pat Quinn battles with state employees over closing several correctional facilities.

State records analyzed by The Associated Press show the population hit 49,154 over the weekend. That's 19 inmates more than the Corrections Department's previous record, set on Oct. 6, 2011.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

Legal fight between Quinn and Union continues

The legal fight between Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and the union that represents prisons workers continues this week.

Quinn had wanted the prisons closed by last Friday. Instead that day an arbitrator said the administration violated its contract with the prison workers' union by moving to close the facilities before they'd finished what's called "impact bargaining."

Union spokesman Anders Lindall says impact bargaining doesn't only affect employees facing layoffs.

KellyB. | Flickr

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says it has started checking the roll of people receiving unemployment benefits for those who might be ineligible because they're in jail.
Spokesman Greg Rivara says the department found 420 people receiving benefits who were behind bars sometime during the first two weeks of the review. Now the department will check to see if they might have been only briefly locked up and were still eligible or if they really weren't available to work. Availability to work is a key part of the criteria to determine unemployment eligibility.

(via Flickr/neil_conway)

Illinois lawmakers are telling Gov. Pat Quinn to reduce prison crowding with a new early release program.

The House voted 68-50 Thursday to reinstate sentence credits for prisoners who stay out of trouble behind bars or participate in self-improvement programs.

Non-violent inmates could qualify for as much as six months' time off their sentences.

Quinn shut down a similar program in 2009 after The Associated Press reported his Corrections Department released violent inmates weeks or even days after arriving at prison.