Incarcerated Flavors

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Month: June, 2013

Indiana woman sentenced to die at 16 for murdering teacher to be released

Published June 16, 2013

| Associated Press


INDIANAPOLIS –  An Indiana woman put on  death row at age 16 for killing an elderly Bible school teacher is scheduled to  be released Monday after serving a prison term that was shortened after the  state Supreme Court intervened.

Paula Cooper’s death sentence at such a young age sparked international  protests and a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II. Now 43 years old,  Cooper is being given a second chance at her life.

Cooper was 15 when she and three other teenage girls showed up at Ruth  Pelke’s house on May 14, 1985, with plans of robbing the 78-year-old Bible  school teacher. Pelke let Cooper and two of the teen’s companions into her Gary  home after they told her they were interested in Bible lessons.

As the fourth teen waited outside as a lookout, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times  with a butcher knife. Then she and the other girls ransacked the house. The four  girls fled with Pelke’s car and $10.

Cooper’s three accomplices were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 25 to  60 years. But Cooper, who confessed to Pelke’s slaying, was convicted of murder  and sentenced to die in the electric chair. At the time — in 1986 — she was  the youngest death row inmate in the U.S.

Some people believed Cooper deserved to die, but the punishment enraged human  rights activists and death penalty opponents around the world, including those  who viewed the teen as a victim of a racist criminal justice system.

Pope John Paul II urged that Cooper be granted clemency in 1987, and in 1988  a priest brought a petition to Indianapolis with more than 2 million signatures  protesting Cooper’s sentence.

The Indiana Supreme Court set Cooper’s death sentence aside in 1988 and  ordered her to serve 60 years in prison after state legislators passed a law  raising Indiana’s minimum age limit for execution from 10 to 16. The state’s  high court also cited a 1988 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court barring the  execution of juveniles younger than 16 at the time of the crime.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute  anyone younger than 18.

“People still know about this case,” Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, who  was the Lake County prosecutor during Cooper’s murder trial, told The  Indianapolis Star. “The name Paula Cooper still resonates, and she’s going to  attract some attention when she is released.”

But, he said, Cooper has done her time and may yet contribute to society.  Crawford said he has come to oppose the death penalty since Cooper’s  conviction.

Cooper’s sister, Rhonda Labroi, said she hopes people will see Paula as more  than a killer. After getting in trouble 23 times during her time in prison,  Paula Cooper turned to education, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2001.

“She was just a child at the time that happened, and now she is an adult and  people should wait and see and give her a chance,” Labroi said. “Give her an  opportunity. Maybe she’ll do some wonderful things for children who are growing  up and aren’t so fortunate, like she was.

“There are second chances,” she said. “It seems like God has given her  another chance. I think if people give her a second chance, she’ll do fine.”

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I living and breatheing why is it everyday

I living and breatheing why is it everyday so many are left grieving. Life has a horrific cycle for those that fail to adhere. They here what they want to see and are blind to the truth.

It is time to stop trying to do it all alone, how you think the white house got built with all those people under the dome. No one man is really in charge, its a shared idea that is voted upon for the goodness of the whole.

They pockets are swollen and ours left folding. we look at each others with our chest poked out, mad cause I made it out how is that possible when I’m still in. In the midst of those that have lost all hope.

I am a visionary and soon to be legendary gifted even more when I’m not lifted. Hopping to the Hip for I am the vibration that makes the beat. So start moving with me and lets turn up the heat. Its time to eat an my people are starving, with seeds to plant and no where for harvesting.

I’ve seen my darkest days in full, if this is suppose to discourage us from what we envision, I’ll be the first to say its going to be a long day…..pack a lunch for we have fasted and meditated so our decision is written among the stars.

We are just living up to what our thoughts have already fashioned for us, Caution watch for variables…


Study finds 25 percent juvenile recidivism rate in Lackawanna County

 One in every four juvenile offenders from Lackawanna County who had a case that closed in 2007 committed another misdemeanor or felony within two years, a statewide study found.

The county’s 25 percent recidivism rate among young offenders topped the state average of 20 percent and was the second-highest in Northeast Pennsylvania, behind only Wyoming County at 28 percent, according to the study released Tuesday by Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission.

Read the report

The study marked the first comprehensive examination of juvenile recidivism in the state. It defined recidivism as a subsequent delinquency adjudication or criminal court conviction for either a misdemeanor or felony offense within two years of a 2007 case closure.

Of the 265 juveniles in Lackawanna County with cases that closed in 2007, 67 had committed another crime by 2009, the study found. Another 102 cases were expunged.

Among other regional counties, rates included: Susquehanna, 23 percent; Luzerne, 21 percent; Wayne, 20 percent; Pike, 12 percent; and Monroe, 9 percent. Statewide, rates ranged from a high of 45 percent in Clarion County to a low of zero percent in Sullivan and Clinton counties.

Lackawanna County officials tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, pointing out the flipside of a 25 percent recidivism rate is a 75 percent non-recidivism rate.

“I think a 75 percent success rate is a very good thing,” said Deputy District Attorney Frank Castellano, who handles juvenile cases for the district attorney’s office. “That is showing us that three-quarters of the young people who come through the juvenile system are taking advantage of the care, treatment, rehabilitation and programs that the juvenile court has to offer.”

Rich Clifford, chief juvenile probation officer, said the county’s proactive approach to the problem of juvenile delinquency is evident in the support for police resource officers in area schools.

“They have done a terrific job,” he said. “Overall, they handle the small problems so the big problems don’t occur.”

The study was designed to be a benchmark against which to measure the effectiveness of the state’s Juvenile Justice System Enhancement Strategy. The state started implementing evidence-based practices and other elements of the strategy in 2010.

The study’s authors cautioned against comparing the recidivism rates of individual counties because of limitations created by expunged cases, in which records are erased and unavailable for analysis.

Mr. Clifford said Judge Trish Corbett, who presides in juvenile court, is probably more aggressive than many other judges around the state in expunging records to remove a potential barrier to higher education or the military for juveniles who successfully complete their programs.

“Our kids who have done very well, who have gone through high school and have achieved some stuff, can probably get their records expunged two to three years out,” he said

Families of men in the Merle Cooper Program

Families of men in the Merle Cooper Program at Clinton, as well as past graduates of the program, have been calling us in record numbers to express their outrage at the announced closing of what they have found to be the best of DOCCS’ rehabilitative programs.  There is now a link to a petition where you can join in the call to stop the elimination of the Merle Cooper Program.  
If you wish to support our brothers in prison who are struggling to improve themselves, please consider clicking on this link to sign the petition:

To learn more about the program, see Corey Parks’ article in the Sept 2012 edition of  Building Bridges at

In it Corey says: “Merle Cooper gave me new ways to think and challenge myself as an individual. The skill classes gave direction, small groups gave me ways to reflect, and community meetings allowed me to obtain insight into what led to my criminal behavior, and empathy for my victim.  Even at times of not following a rule or enduring some personal issues, there was always a staff member or participant who would talk to me about my problems. Today I have employment, go to college, and offer mentorship to people in need. I am thankful for all my experiences because it made me the person I am today.
Judith Brink
Director, Prison Action Network
Editor, Building Bridges

Sept. 14 at Riverside Church NYC: End Mass Incarceration/Close Attica Posted October 23, 2012 by NYSPJN


The New York State Prisoner Justice Network was one of the organizers for a historic program to End Mass Incarceration/Close Attica at Riverside Church on September 14th, 2012. It was massive, brilliant, and inspiring!

First and foremost, the people: nearly 2000 people were in attendance, filling the immense awe-inspiring arched nave to the balconies. Although many came from upstate and from distant states, the crowd was mainly New York City and represented the broadest array of NYC-based anti-mass incarceration and prison justice forces. Judging by when the wildest cheering was heard, it seems we are a radical bunch! People cheered loudest at the strongest statements from the stage: abolish prisons, challenge capitalism, overthrow white supremacy, support justice for women, lgbt folks, Muslims, youth, and everyone targeted by the criminal INjustice system. There were also loud ovations for unity and connecting the dots to mold our separate issues into a powerful movement.

Each of the speakers and panelists is a brilliant thinker and powerful, clear, poetic orator: Angela Davis, founding mother of the anti-incarceration movement; Michelle Alexander, generator of the movement’s current anti-racist renewal under the banner of End the New Jim Crow; Jazz Hayden, formerly incarcerated, documenter of police Stop and Frisk abuse in New York City and currently a target of it himself; Cornel West, fiery and spiritual, a moral compass for a nation gone awry; Marc Lamont Hill, the youngest panelist, as deep a thinker as he is a dramatic spokesperson for a new generation of activists – these were the panelists. In addition to the panel there were speakers: Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association, who combined hard facts about prison abuse at Attica and throughout the system with passionate commitment to the women and men who are living under its heel every day; Pam Africa, international spokewoman against oppression everywhere, and pillar of the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal; Mumia, by recorded message and live call-in, off Death Row but still incarcerated with a life sentence; and Juan Mèndez, by video, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, quietly serious, deeply dedicated to human rights, and himself a survivor of imprisonment and torture. This impressive array was moderated by asha bandele and Suzanne Ross, long-time justice activists whose political insight was essential to conveying the meaning of the event. Behind the scenes, a whole army of volunteers, as well as the extremely supportive staff at Riverside Church, carried out the literally hundreds of tasks that made this evening the success that it was.

From two hours of profound and nuanced ideas about the problems and the solutions for building a movement against mass incarceration, some highlights:

Pam talks about the world’s most famous political prisoner: Jesus, framed by the powerful, tortured, loved by the people. Soffiyah describes vividly the lives of the men incarcerated in Attica: prisoners of color guarded by white guards, amid an atmosphere of total repression. Mumia speaks in heartbreaking personal detail of his decades in solitary confinement — this year when he could touch his loved ones for the first time, he says, he was overwhelmed by the intensity of his emotions.

The panel is asked for their overview of the mass incarceration system. Angela says the culture and technology of incarceration overflow the prison system and pervade the so-called “free” world. Michelle says mass incarceration is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time; racially targeted mass incarceration is payback for the gains of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Asked what they see happening in our movement, Marc says the growing gap between rich and poor has been waking people up to the nature of the system. People are seeing the contradiction between first class jails and second class schools, and are connecting the issues of education, housing and jobs to incarceration. Jazz says he sees growing awareness everywhere: a program like this couldn’t have happened 10 years ago. Cornel adds  a spiritual dimension: we are seeing precious humans living in subhuman conditions because of a system based on white supremacy and greed. Several panelists refer to our movement’s need to pay attention to the different ways that different communities are targeted: Angela says the specific oppression of women and lgbt folks in prison casts light on the underpinnings of the whole system. Marc and Cornel refer to homophobia as a barrier to building unity. All say we don’t have to agree on everything but we have to coalesce, to connect the dots among the different issues and also connect the different parts of our movement into a powerful whole.

Several panelists provided thoughtful perspectives on the interaction, and sometimes tension, between reforms and the goal of long-term system change or abolition. Everyone wanted the whole system dismantled and replaced with more human, humane, equitable alternatives, and everyone said that reform is not enough. Marc Lamont Hill pointed out that for real people struggling to survive in real prisons, fighting for less abuse, better medical care, or libraries can make a crucial difference. He summarized the solution as both/and, with the right connection achievable not in theory but only in the practice of fighting for change.

For members of the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, a light-bulb moment was Michelle describing her ideal of the kind of structure she envisions for our movement: an organization driven by vision and not by funding, an overarching network that connects the different issues and mobilizes people based on what fires them up. We looked at each other and said: “Hey, that’s us!” We left with renewed energy, inspiration, and commitment.

For those who have internet access, parts of the program are viewable at