Our View: Prisoner Education a Step Toward Better Life

By The Jackson Sun 

People go to prison for reasons too many to mention. But what we know is that, except for the most dangerous violent criminals, the vast majority of prisoners someday will get out and return to their home communities. What happens to them next can mean the difference between lifelong problems and becoming productive citizens. A small program at Lipscomb University in Nashville is a good model that can offer hope and opportunity to prisoners who are serious about turning their lives around.  Image courtesy

On Dec. 13, Lipscomb will graduate nine inmates with post-secondary associate’s degrees. Eight will come from the Tennessee Prison for Women, and one from another penal institution. These women have spent their time behind bars working to improve their lives through education. Lipscomb began this program eight years ago. It provides professors who go to the prison each week to conduct college classes. Lipscomb also has regular students join in classes held at the prison. This helps offer inmates a valuable non-prison point of view of life, along with a more real-world mix of people they someday will meet in the workplace.

In its essence, prison is punishment for breaking the law. It is not a pleasant environment, and those who have been there will attest that there are no “country club” prisons. But that doesn’t have to mean that some inmates can begin to improve their lives, even while serving their sentences.

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Texas Judges Rarely Disciplined, Seldom Publicly

By Matt Clarke

In 2009, former Harris County, Texas state district judge Woodrow “Woody” Densen was caught on surveillance video keying a neighbor’s car, causing significant damage. The video received widespread media coverage. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief and agreed to pay a $1,500 fine and over $6,000 in restitution. [See: PLN, June 2010, p.50; Aug. 2009, p.1].

Six months later, in October 2010, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) imposed disciplinary sanctions on Judge Densen: It gave him a public warning.

The slap on the wrist that Densen received was infinitely more discipline than the SCJC meted out to the vast majority of judges who were the subject of complaints. Less than 4% of the 1,192 complaints against judges received by the SCJC in fiscal year (FY) 2011 resulted in any disciplinary action.

For example, on August 4, 2011, PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann filed a complaint with the SCJC against Angelina County Judge Derek C. Flournoy, related to comments made by Judge Flournoy in a criminal case. Following a sentencing hearing, Flournoy was quoted in a news report as saying to the defendant, Marco Sauceda, “I haven’t heard from you and I have no idea why you didn’t speak [at the sentencing hearing]. That causes me some trouble.”

According to Friedmann’s complaint, “In drawing a negative inference from Mr. Sauceda’s decision not to testify or speak, Judge Flournoy ran afoul of over four decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence that prohibits courts from penalizing or drawing negative inferences when defendants exercise their Constitutional right not to speak or testify.” The complaint noted that the Supreme Court had specifically addressed this issue in Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314, 330 (1999), and the Texas Court of Appeals had acknowledged that defendants have a right to remain silent during sentencing hearings in Lucero v. State, 91 S.W.3d 814, 816 (Tex. App. 2002).

Regardless, the SCJC declined to take any disciplinary action against Judge Flournoy – a typical outcome for most complaints filed against Texas judges.

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