Pregnant prisoner chained up in hospital 24 hours a day

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Alexander McLeish, whose daughter is a pregnant prisoner, is furious she was shackled while in hospital


A prisoner who was admitted to hospital after serious complications during her pregnancy was shackled to a security officer on a metre-long chain while she slept, showered and used the toilet.

Donna McLeish, 21, an inmate at Cornton Vale, the women’s prison in Stirling, was also placed under 24-hour surveillance by three guards from private security firm Reliance during a separate hospital visit despite the fact she was only able to walk using crutches at the time.

McLeish, who is seven months pregnant, was sentenced in January to two years in prison for assault following a glass attack on a woman at a nightclub. She told of being handcuffed to the Reliance officer when she was admitted to hospital in March with a blood clot on the placenta.

Gerard Sweeney, McLeish’s solicitor, yesterday confirmed his client was considering legal action against Reliance and said he feared for her health.

“When I visited Miss McLeish in hospital she was sitting on the bed and there were two Reliance officers, one male and one female. I was quite surprised to see this. Miss McLeish told me she was chained to one of the officers for a 24-hour period, including when she was showering, when the chain would be passed under the shower curtain. It was a big long chain more than a metre, attached to the officer’s wrist.

“When she was toileting she was still chained and when she was sleeping she was chained too. Obviously I thought that was just outrageous. I spoke to the officers and they confirmed it. Most startlingly, the security officers were present during clinical examinations male and female officers.”


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Professor Sheila Kitzinger campaigns to stop the shackling of pregnant prisoners


Reliance, which has been fined in the past for having prisoners escape on its watch, said in a statement yesterday: “We have recently modified our procedures in agreement with the Scottish Prison Service [SPS] to ensure that pregnant female prisoners are not handcuffed at any stage of their transportation to hospital or their stay in hospital.”

“We did have a case in March where a pregnant female prisoner was mistakenly handcuffed when a risk assessment showed that was unnecessary. The cuffs were removed, and an apology was made.”

McLeish is understood to have detailed her experiences in a letter to the SPS. The SPS said yesterday it was unable to say how long she had been kept in chains but conceded it was a mistake.

“Absolutely there was a mistake for which we have apologised,” said a spokesman, Tom Fox. “There are procedures for heavily pregnant females which state that they are not to be under the same sort of restraints as other prisoners.”

Yesterday McLeish’s father Alex told the Guardian he had seen his daughter attached to the chain.

He said: “I don’t want or expect her to have five-star treatment but I just would like her health and safety to be looked after and for her to have a bit of dignity.”


Guantánamo drives prisoners insane, lawyers say

Next month, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who was once a driver for Osama bin Laden, could become the first detainee to be tried for war crimes in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. By now, he should be busily working on his defense.

But his lawyers say he cannot. They say Hamdan, already the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, has essentially been driven insane by solitary confinement in a tiny cell where he spends at least 22 hours a day, goes to the bathroom and eats all his meals. His defense team says he is suicidal, hears voices, has flashbacks, talks to himself and says the restrictions of Guantánamo “boil his mind.”

“He will shout at us,” said his military defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer. “He will bang his fists on the table.”

His lawyers have asked a military judge to stop his case until Hamdan is placed in less restrictive conditions at Guantánamo, saying he cannot get a fair trial if he cannot focus on defending himself. The judge is to hear arguments as soon as Monday on whether he has the power to consider the claim.

Critics have long asserted that Guantánamo’s climate-controlled isolation is a breeding ground for insanity. But turning that into a legal claim marks a new stage for the military commissions at Guantánamo. As military prosecutors push to get trials under way, they are being met with challenges not just to the charges, but to Guantánamo itself.

Conditions are more isolating than many death rows and maximum-security prisons in the United States, said Jules Lobel, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who is an expert on U.S. prison conditions.

Pentagon officials say that Guantánamo holds dangerous men humanely and that there is no unusual quantity of mental illness there. Guantánamo, a military spokeswoman said, does not have solitary confinement, only “single-occupancy cells.”

In response to questions, Commander Pauline Storum, the spokeswoman for Guantánamo, asserted that detainees were much healthier psychologically than the population in U.S. prisons. Storum said about 10 percent could be found mentally ill, compared, she said, with data showing that more than half of inmates in U.S. correctional institutions had mental health problems.

With their filings, Hamdan’s lawyers are setting the stage for similar challenges to the procedures of Guantánamo in some 80 expected war crimes cases, lawyers for other detainees say. “The issue of mistreatment of prisoners, the miserable lives they live in these cells, will come up in every case,” said Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer for 35 detainees.

The case of Salim Hamdan is already a landmark because the Supreme Court used an earlier case against him to strike down the Bush administration’s first military commission system in 2006. But that case, like most of the legal battles over Guantánamo, did not affect conditions there.

Lawyers for detainees argue that the effects of intense isolation have gradually turned the prison camp into something of a highly fortified mental ward. Hamdan’s lawyers say his place as one of the best-known detainees has not spared him.

In more than six years of detention, Hamdan has had two phone calls to his family and no visits. He has been disciplined, legal filings say, for having a Snickers bar that was given to him by his lawyers and for possessing too many socks.

“Conditions are asphalt, excrement and worse,” he wrote his lawyers in February. “Why, why, why?”

At Guantánamo, there are no family visits, no televisions and no radios. A new policy will for the first time permit one telephone call a year.

In the cells where Hamdan and more than 200 of Guantánamo’s 280 detainees are now held, communication with other detainees is generally by shouting through the slit in the door used for the delivery of meals. Mail is late and often censored, lawyers say.

The military prosecutors declined to comment on the claims about Hamdan’s condition. As is common at Guantánamo, their legal filings were not made public before the scheduled court date. But defense filings released by Hamdan’s lawyers recited some of the prosecution arguments.

The prosecutors argued that the way that Hamdan was being held did not constitute solitary confinement in part because “detainees can communicate through the walls.” They said that Hamdan had denied having mental problems and that he was no model detainee, spitting at guards, threatening assault and throwing urine.

Speaking generally, Storum said detainees were enemy combatants held safely. “We are holding the right people,” she asserted, “in the right place, for the right reasons, and doing it the right way.”

Prosecutors have said Hamdan, now about 39, helped bin Laden elude capture after the 2001 terror attacks. He is charged with transporting weapons for Al Qaeda and being a bin Laden bodyguard and driver.

In recent weeks, his case has drawn wide notice because the defense asserted that senior Pentagon officials exerted improper influence over military prosecutors and pressed cases for political reasons.

Hearings on that issue, also scheduled for next week, may expose the internal workings of the military commissions. The former chief Guantánamo prosecutor, Colonel Morris Davis, who has become a critic of the way the war crimes system is run, is slated to testify for Hamdan.

But the claim about Hamdan’s mental health could expose the workings of Guantánamo. According to military statistics, three-quarters of the detainees have been held recently in two “camps” that look much like American prisons. Camp5 and Camp6, heavily guarded concrete buildings, hold men who have yet to face trial. Behind a heavy door, each cell has a handful of sanctioned items including a cup and a Koran.

Officials concede that the daily two hours of recreation in a chain-link pen is sometimes offered in the dark. From inside their cells, detainees cannot see the outdoors. From the exercise pens they sometimes can see only a sliver of sky.

Michael Mone Jr., a Boston lawyer, visited a client last month in Camp5, where Hamdan is held. Mone said his client, an Uzbek detainee, asked why he could not be held in a place where he could see the sun.

This winter, lawyers for Abdulghappar Turkistani, a detainee in Camp6, received a letter describing life there. “Losing any contact with anyone,” he wrote, “also being forbidden from the natural sunlight, natural air, being surrounded with a metal box all around is not suitable for a human being.”

Reporters are not permitted to interview detainees, and some international groups, like Amnesty International, have been denied access to them. In leaked reports in 2004, investigators for the International Committee of the Red Cross, who do see detainees, said their treatment, including solitary confinement, amounted to torture. But the Red Cross usually keeps its conclusions private.

As a result, much of what is known about current conditions at Guantánamo comes from lawyers, who visit regularly under tight restrictions. Many describe the men as depressed or delusional. Some, they say, show obvious signs of what some of them call “Guantánamo psychosis.”

Four detainees are believed to have committed suicide in 2006 and 2007, but the military has never released the official details.

Some of the men are increasingly paranoid and some are losing touch with reality, said Rebecca Dick, a Washington lawyer who visited two Afghan detainees in March. “One client said, ‘I’m talking to the ceiling now,’ ” Dick recalled.

Six detainees, according to military officials, are now on hunger strikes. They are fed liquid nutrition through tubes inserted in their nostrils daily.

Stafford Smith said one of his clients, a hunger striker, was fixated on a mathematical formula that he believed proved that he would be the next to die. Another detainee, Stafford Smith said, has smeared feces on his cell walls. “When I asked him why he was doing it, he told me he had no idea,” Stafford Smith said.

Last month a lawyer for nine detainees who are members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority told a congressional committee that one of them, Huzaifa Parhat, said that life at Guantánamo was like having already died. The lawyer, Sabin Willett, said Parhat asked the lawyers to pass on a message. He told them to tell his wife to remarry.

Military officials often dismiss such descriptions as accounts by gullible lawyers manipulated by terrorists trained to make false claims of mistreatment.

Detainees’ lawyers say the military methodically understates the mental illness at Guantánamo for public relations reasons.

In military commission proceedings in recent weeks, there have been hints that some of the men facing charges may be deteriorating psychologically. A military lawyer for a Sudanese detainee said her client appeared frantic and asked that he be evaluated. When a judge asked a Saudi detainee the name of a lawyer, the detainee’s answer was: “I have been here for six years. Thank God I can even still remember the names of my own family.”

But Hamdan’s case is the first in the current military commission system to try to air fully the claim that Guantánamo is warping the minds of the men held there.

Mizer said Hamdan talked unendingly about his desire to be moved to Camp4, the only place at Guantánamo where detainees are permitted to live communally. Camp4 is believed to house 50 or fewer detainees whom officials classify as highly compliant.

Hamdan blames his lawyers for failing to get him out of Camp5, Mizer said, and will talk only about that. “He refuses to talk about his case,” he said.

The trial is now set to begin on May 28. But twice in recent months, Mizer said, Hamdan has said he was dismissing Mizer from the case. “He said I don’t ever want to see you again,” Mizer said.

There is only one subject, he said, that Hamdan discusses: Getting out of his cell in Camp5 at Guantánamo Bay.


Prison Chaplain Accused Of Choking Wife

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — A chaplain at San Quentin State Prison is free on bail after being arrested for allegedly choking his wife with an electrical cord.


Rafeeq Hassan was taken into custody Thursday after prison staff called deputies to report a domestic disturbance in a staff housing area.


Marin County authorities said when deputies arrived, they determined that Hassan had choked his wife with his hands and an electrical cord during an argument.

Hassan was booked into Marin County Jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, threatening with a weapon and corporal injury on a spouse.


His wife was treated at the scene by San Rafael firefighters.


Hassan is a longtime Muslim prison chaplain who has lived at San Quentin for seven years.


U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations


The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

Indeed, the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences.

The United States has, for instance, 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation, according to data maintained by the International Center for Prison Studies at King’s College London.

China, which is four times more populous than the United States, is a distant second, with 1.6 million people in prison. (That number excludes hundreds of thousands of people held in administrative detention, most of them in China’s extrajudicial system of re-education through labor, which often singles out political activists who have not committed crimes.)

San Marino, with a population of about 30,000, is at the end of the long list of 218 countries compiled by the center. It has a single prisoner.

The United States comes in first, too, on a more meaningful list from the prison studies center, the one ranked in order of the incarceration rates. It has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)

The only other major industrialized nation that even comes close is Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The others have much lower rates. England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

The median among all nations is about 125, roughly a sixth of the American rate.

There is little question that the high incarceration rate here has helped drive down crime, though there is debate about how much.

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America’s extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Whatever the reason, the gap between American justice and that of the rest of the world is enormous and growing.

It used to be that Europeans came to the United States to study its prison systems. They came away impressed.

“In no country is criminal justice administered with more mildness than in the United States,” Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American penitentiaries in 1831, wrote in “Democracy in America.”

No more.

“Far from serving as a model for the world, contemporary America is viewed with horror,” James Whitman, a specialist in comparative law at Yale, wrote last year in Social Research. “Certainly there are no European governments sending delegations to learn from us about how to manage prisons.”

Prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared,” Michael Tonry, a leading authority on crime policy, wrote in “The Handbook of Crime and Punishment.”

Indeed, said Vivien Stern, a research fellow at the prison studies center in London, the American incarceration rate has made the United States “a rogue state, a country that has made a decision not to follow what is a normal Western approach.”

The spike in American incarceration rates is quite recent. From 1925 to 1975, the rate remained stable, around 110 people in prison per 100,000 people. It shot up with the movement to get tough on crime in the late 1970s. (These numbers exclude people held in jails, as comprehensive information on prisoners held in state and local jails was not collected until relatively recently.)

The nation’s relatively high violent crime rate, partly driven by the much easier availability of guns here, helps explain the number of people in American prisons.

“The assault rate in New York and London is not that much different,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group. “But if you look at the murder rate, particularly with firearms, it’s much higher.”

Despite the recent decline in the murder rate in the United States, it is still about four times that of many nations in Western Europe.

But that is only a partial explanation. The United States, in fact, has relatively low rates of nonviolent crime. It has lower burglary and robbery rates than Australia, Canada and England.

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, Whitman wrote.

Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

Those figures have drawn contempt from European critics. “The U.S. pursues the war on drugs with an ignorant fanaticism,” said Stern of King’s College.

Many American prosecutors, on the other hand, say that locking up people involved in the drug trade is imperative, as it helps thwart demand for illegal drugs and drives down other kinds of crime. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, for instance, has fought hard to prevent the early release of people in federal prison on crack cocaine offenses, saying that many of them “are among the most serious and violent offenders.”

Still, it is the length of sentences that truly distinguishes American prison policy. Indeed, the mere number of sentences imposed here would not place the United States at the top of the incarceration lists. If lists were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States. But American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher.

Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Many specialists dismissed race as an important distinguishing factor in the American prison rate. It is true that blacks are much more likely to be imprisoned than other groups in the United States, but that is not a particularly distinctive phenomenon. Minorities in Canada, Britain and Australia are also disproportionately represented in those nation’s prisons, and the ratios are similar to or larger than those in the United States.

Some scholars have found that English-speaking nations have higher prison rates.

“Although it is not at all clear what it is about Anglo-Saxon culture that makes predominantly English-speaking countries especially punitive, they are,” Tonry wrote last year in “Crime, Punishment and Politics in Comparative Perspective.”

“It could be related to economies that are more capitalistic and political cultures that are less social democratic than those of most European countries,” Tonry wrote. “Or it could have something to do with the Protestant religions with strong Calvinist overtones that were long influential.”

The American character — self-reliant, independent, judgmental — also plays a role.

“America is a comparatively tough place, which puts a strong emphasis on individual responsibility,” Whitman of Yale wrote. “That attitude has shown up in the American criminal justice of the last 30 years.”

French-speaking countries, by contrast, have “comparatively mild penal policies,” Tonry wrote.

Of course, sentencing policies within the United States are not monolithic, and national comparisons can be misleading.

“Minnesota looks more like Sweden than like Texas,” said Mauer of the Sentencing Project. (Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population; Minnesota, about 300; and Texas, almost 1,000. Maine has the lowest incarceration rate in the United States, at 273; and Louisiana the highest, at 1,138.)

Whatever the reasons, there is little dispute that America’s exceptional incarceration rate has had an impact on crime.

“As one might expect, a good case can be made that fewer Americans are now being victimized” thanks to the tougher crime policies, Paul Cassell, an authority on sentencing and a former federal judge, wrote in The Stanford Law Review.

From 1981 to 1996, according to Justice Department statistics, the risk of punishment rose in the United States and fell in England. The crime rates predictably moved in the opposite directions, falling in the United States and rising in England.

These figures,” Cassell wrote, “should give one pause before too quickly concluding that European sentences are appropriate.”

Other commentators were more definitive. “The simple truth is that imprisonment works,” wrote Kent Scheidegger and Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in The Stanford Law and Policy Review. “Locking up criminals for longer periods reduces the level of crime. The benefits of doing so far offset the costs.”

There is a counterexample, however, to the north. “Rises and falls in Canada’s crime rate have closely paralleled America’s for 40 years,” Tonry wrote last year. “But its imprisonment rate has remained stable.”

Several specialists here and abroad pointed to a surprising explanation for the high incarceration rate in the United States: democracy.

Most state court judges and prosecutors in the United States are elected and are therefore sensitive to a public that is, according to opinion polls, generally in favor of tough crime policies. In the rest of the world, criminal justice professionals tend to be civil servants who are insulated from popular demands for tough sentencing.

Whitman, who has studied Tocqueville’s work on American penitentiaries, was asked what accounted for America’s booming prison population.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the answer is democracy — just what Tocqueville was talking about,” he said. “We have a highly politicized criminal justice system.”

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Guards fired every round during prison riot

The state lawmaker who represents Florence said guards in three towers at the maximum-security prison fired every round of lethal and nonlethal ammunition at their disposal Sunday to quell the melee that erupted when a white-supremacist prison gang taunted African-American inmates on Adolf Hitler’s birthday.

Two inmates who died were shot by guards, said state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West.

McFadyen said she had been told by corrections officers that the riot at the United States Penitentiary in Florence erupted at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday when the white supremacists began yelling slurs toward African-Americans and a fight ensued.

The two inmates who were killed were shot after refusing to follow repeated orders from correctional officers and were fired upon only as a last resort, said McFadyen.

The spokesperson for the Florence prison, Leann LaRiva, confirmed in a release today that the guards did fire on inmates, and she identified the two inmates killed as Brian Scott Kubik and Phillip Lee Hooker.

Kubik, 40, was serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted in federal court in Oregon as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm. Hooker, 41, was serving a 25-year sentence for armed robbery on charges out of Milwaukee. Kubik was white, and Hooker was black.

LaRiva said the riot, involving 150 to 200 inmates, was racially motivated. She said inmates were armed with homemade weapons, including rocks, sharpened metal, plastic and wood.

McFadyen said that the corrections officers repeatedly fired what are called “no man” rounds — warning shots into the yard away from human targets. The intent is to scare and warn, not to hit a target, she said.

LaRiva said the guards verbally warned the inmates to settle down, then fired “tactical distraction rounds” before using lethal force.

“The quick and effective response by staff prevented further loss of life,” she said in the new release.

Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, said the FBI’s Denver-based “evidence-response team” is currently going through the recreation yard where the riot erupted, collecting evidence.

He said the FBI is working with U.S. Bureau of Prisons investigators to determine what happened.

LaRiva said the prison is still on lockdown.

In a statement released last night, LaRiva said five inmates were taken to local hospitals for treatment. There was no further word on their condition.

McFadyen said that at the height of the riot, the total federal prison campus was on lockdown, with officers from the other three prisons on the four-prison campus being called into quell the riot.

The other three prisons include the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, or “Supermax”; the medium security Federal Correctional Institution; and a minimum security camp.

McFadyen has repeatedly warned that the U.S. Penitentiary, where the riot occurred, was about to blow.

Early last year, Ken Shatto, the guard union leader, and McFadyen held a news conference warning of the danger.

Shatto said that in February 2007, tower guards were forced to fire lethal and nonlethal rounds to stop inmates from killing one another.

“Today, I’m trying to head off full-blown riots,” Shatto said then. “That’s where I think we are headed.”

McFadyen said today that although Supermax receives more publicity, the U.S. penitentiary is extremely dangerous because of the “domestic gangs” there.

She said the gangs, such as the white-supremacist gang, are “very organized” and that many of their members are “doing life without any opportunity for parole.”


Ariz. deportation policy a model, feds say

The nation’s top immigration officials want other states to copy an Arizona program that releases non-violent, illegal-immigrant inmates from state prisons and deports them.

Only New York has a similar program, in which eligible inmates are turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for immediate deportation.

Arizona has referred 1,443 state prisoners to ICE, saving $18.6 million, since the program began in 2005, said Dora Schriro, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections. On average, inmates were released 210 days early.

Also, 28 were caught after slipping back across the border and were convicted of new crimes in Arizona. Three of them received initial sentences ranging from 2½ to 3½ years. Their crimes included aggravated assault, domestic violence and burglary.

Eligible inmates typically were convicted of crimes from drunken driving to lower-level drug charges. Early this month, the state turned over three inmates for deportation. Two were convicted of drug charges, one for driving a stolen car.

Schriro said Arizona was the first state to team up with ICE under the Rapid Repatriation program to help state prison officials identify illegal immigrants when they are booked.

“It’s a great program. It keeps criminals off the streets of Arizona. It saves the state lots of money,” ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said.

Deportation figures

Statewide, ICE deported 42,449 immigrants in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Of those, 12,455, or 29 percent, had criminal records. Through mid-March of this fiscal year, ICE had deported 21,355 people, including 5,649 criminals.

Julie Myers, assistant secretary of homeland security for ICE, said that those inmates do not include violent criminals. Rapists and murderers do not qualify for early deportation, and only those who could be paroled are considered.

“People who are eligible for this program do not have significant criminal histories in Mexico or any other country,” Myers said. “For the worst of the worst, it’s absolutely imperative to keep them off any streets.”

Among Arizona’s 38,300 prison inmates, about 5,400 are designated criminal aliens, meaning they are in the country illegally or have valid visas but broke a law. Of those, 1,600 inmates, or 4 percent, of the prison population, are eligible for early deportation.

A Corrections Department review last fall reported that 40 percent of illegal immigrants were convicted of violent assaults and ineligible. Among those who could be released early, 37 percent were convicted of drug or alcohol charges and 18 percent committed property crimes.

An Arizona law passed in 1996 allows the state to turn over illegal immigrants to ICE for deportation before they complete their sentences and sets conditions for doing so. Inmates must serve at least half of their sentences, not be convicted of a violent or sexual offense, and agree not to fight their removal from the country.

If the deportee returns to the United States and is caught, the immigrant will serve the remainder of the original sentence and face up to 20 years in prison on charges of illegally re-entering the United States.

Myers said the government has stepped up enforcement on re-entry cases.

The enforcement idea gained prominence in Los Angeles, where ICE and federal prosecutors teamed up to imprison serious criminals under the nation’s re-entry laws. The government prosecuted 678 cases in 2007, up from 173 in 2006. Immigration cases outnumber all other types of prosecutions, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

In the federal fiscal year ending Oct. 31, the government prosecuted 74 people on felony re-entry charges in Arizona, up from 12 the year before, Picard said.

Reduced backlog

The number of Arizona’s early releases was small until 2005. That’s when ICE and the Department of Corrections struck an agreement to train corrections officers on immigration procedures and ICE transferred responsibility of deporting inmates to a division with more staff.

That allowed the agencies to begin reducing a backlog of inmates awaiting deportation. Schriro said the state projects 928 early releases this year and 249 in 2009.

Myers said the federal government has approached all the other states and is close to inking agreements with “a handful” in the next few months. She said populous border states with overcrowded prisons are a priority.

One Florida state lawmaker plans to introduce a bill to bring the program to the Sunshine State.

“These people are going to be deported when they get done anyhow,” Florida state Sen. Mike Bennett said. “Why not speed the process and get them out of here?”

In Arizona, the political climate is tilting toward tougher enforcement, which could spur resistance to releasing immigrants early. At the same time early releases are picking up, the Border Patrol is locking up more first-time border-crossers for 15 days typically.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says early release is a bad idea.

“Why are we giving these guys breaks? Why don’t they do the full time, just like a U.S. citizen?” he asked. “If they are worried about money, if they don’t have the room, I have a tent city. I’ll take as many as you want.”

“Everybody knows they come right back (to the country),” Arpaio added.

Illegal immigrants serving sentences in county jails aren’t eligible for the early-release program.

Around the country, jailers don’t know the immigration status of their inmates unless they know to call ICE to ask. Arizona is rare exception because the prison system and Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies have access to ICE’s immigration databases.

Elsewhere, only 10 percent of the 3,100 local jails have access to immigration databases.

For now, local jailors call ICE’s support center in Vermont to find out if an inmate also is an illegal immigrant. The center handled a record 728,000 queries in the past fiscal year.

Gunmen attack Brazil prison, use helicopter, in failed bid to free inmates

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Armed men firing from pickup trucks and flying in a helicopter attacked a maximum-security prison holding some of Brazil’s highest-profile inmates but were repelled by guards, authorities said Monday. No inmates escaped.

The federal prison attacked late Sunday houses Colombian drug lord Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia and Brazilian gang leader Luiz Fernando da Costa — and authorities were investigating whether the gunmen were trying to free either of the men.

“The prison was attacked by gunmen wielding heavy caliber weapons,” Wilson Damasio, the director of Brazil’s Federal Penitentiary System, told reporters. “The idea was obviously to free inmates. There is no other reason for attacking a penitentiary.”

The helicopter flew over the prison during the attack but never landed, according to justice ministry spokesman who declined to give his name in keeping with department policy.

Shots were fired at the control towers of the prison, and guards counterattacked with their own gunfire and by lobbing grenades, Brazil’s Globo TV reported.

All of the attackers got away and no one was injured at the prison, located in the Mato Grosso do Sul state capital of Campo Grande in southwestern Brazil.

Ramirez Abadia — nicknamed “Chupeta,” or “Lollipop” — is accused of leading the powerful Norte del Valle cartel, which emerged as Colombia’s most powerful drug gang in the mid-1990s. A Brazilian judge found him guilty of money laundering, corruption, conspiracy and use of false documents.

Ramirez Abadia’s gang laundered drug profits from Mexico and Spain, moving money through Uruguay to Brazil and funneling it into hotels, mansions, businesses and cars in Brazil.

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled last month that Ramirez Abadia could also be extradited to the United States to face racketeering charges — a decision that is up to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Silva has not indicated whether he will approve the extradition.

Da Costa is Brazil’s most notorious drug trafficker. Better known as “Fernandinho Beira-Mar” — Portuguese for “Seaside Freddy” — da Costa was captured in 2001 in the Colombian jungle and accused of giving cash and weapons to leftist rebels in exchange for cocaine.