Corey was just as tough when it came to prosecuting drug crimes, insisting that dealers go to prison regardless of their criminal histories. Enrollment in that program fell more than 30 percent from to , according to a review of state court data. Black defendants saw a much greater slide than whites. Blacks bore the brunt of her tough-on-crime policies.
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But I can say Jacksonville as whole has a very disturbing history of race and race relations. Throughout her time in office, Corey maintained an airtight relationship with law enforcement, insisting that the best way to support the black community was by prosecuting criminals. Perkins Bar Association for black attorneys in Jacksonville during a candidate forum. Peoples-Waters, a Jacksonville defense attorney who tried a case against Bustamante last year, said prosecutors feel more comfortable doing what they believe is right now that Corey is gone and Nelson is in charge. Reached by telephone in May, Corey disputed the notion she was a micromanager or that her system was inflexible.
But she also believes traffickers and those carrying guns deserve much harsher treatment. After graduating from the University of Miami in with a degree in psychology, Bustamante spent four years teaching public school students with disabilities in Broward County and Nashville, Tennessee. She became a fierce advocate for children with autism, but quit teaching for a more lucrative career as a lawyer. For the next two semesters, she helped prosecutors and watched trials, writing in an employment application letter that she loved the work. But on Aug. She would begin work on Oct.
Starting in misdemeanor court, she handled more cases than almost any other prosecutor in the office. She also was the fastest prosecutor to decide whether to file charges. No Florida city has a larger African-American population than Jacksonville — and its Southern roots have long translated to tough-on-crime policies. Deputies roam Westside and Northwest Jacksonville, where violent crime is more common than in white neighborhoods. Cruisers hunt for jaywalkers, bicycles without reflectors or cars with dark window tint, an expired tag, or passengers without seat belts.
Officers then use these minor infractions as motive for a search. Average sentences for those black defendants were more than twice as long. He got 13 months in prison. Nathaniel Nesmith was detained that same year for riding a bike at night without lights. The year-old black man had a small amount of crack concealed in his hat. He was sentenced to 15 months. He got pulled over for an improper right-hand turn. Officers found three hydrocodone pills, an open bottle of cognac and a strange gray powder in a plastic bag.
The year-old black man received 15 months behind bars. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and his staff did not return calls seeking comment. During a panel in March, he recognized that implicit bias plays a role in officer discretion and said he requires training to address stereotypes. Aggressive policing in minority neighborhoods over the years has contributed to longer rap sheets among blacks.
The more points defendants score, the more time they are likely to spend in lockup. Across Jacksonville, blacks made up nearly a third of the population, but 64 percent of drug convictions in and They also accounted for eight out of every 10 convictions where defendants scored at least 44 points at sentencing — the benchmark for prison. Bustamante prosecuted 17 of those defendants. All but one was black — and their high point totals invariably led to long prison sentences.
That shows her disparities were significantly impacted by the fact that the pool of defendants she prosecuted contained a greater number of blacks who committed serious crimes or had longer rap sheets. But even when those cases are removed from consideration, Bustamante remains at the top of the list of Duval prosecutors with the widest sentencing disparities. Black leaders acknowledge that heavy policing is just one reason for lopsided arrest rates and sentence lengths.
They say economic decay is also to blame. Law enforcement leaders in Jacksonville insist their intent is not to harass the black community, but to weed out gangs and guns. Stopping it at the bottom was always the goal. Blacks in Jacksonville were three times more likely than whites to be armed during a drug bust in and , according to the Herald-Tribune and Times-Union review.
Bustamante handled 15 drug cases where guns were discovered. Just one of the defendants was white.
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And she falls to No. Bustamante handled hundreds of cases each year during her nearly five years as a prosecutor — everything from traffic offenses to battery, prostitution and grand theft. In and , 75 percent of her felony drug cases were settled through negotiated pleas or some form of pretrial diversion. But the disparities in sentences between black and white defendants would still be evident in her numbers, with white defendants receiving an average of nearly six months behind bars and blacks getting more than twice as long.
And because so many of the white defendants who were shown leniency got no jail time, their average sentences were six times lower than the comparable average for black defendants. Wellington Barlow, a retired criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville. Additionally, they are built on some of the least desirable and most contaminated lands in the country, such as old mining sites, Superfund cleanup sites, and landfills. According to a GIS analysis of a dataset of state and federal prisons by independent cartographer Paige Williams, at least federal and state prisons are located within three miles of a Superfund cleanup site on the National Priorities List, with of those prisons located within just one mile.
And it is literally holding people at gunpoint at these sites and exposing them. In many of these places, prisons began to fill in the gap, occupying lands left degraded by industrial activities and offering often-unfulfilled promises of employment to impoverished communities. SCI Fayette — which is located in the small rural community of LaBelle, about a minute winding drive from Brownsville — is a perfect example of this.
By the mids, when its owners filed for bankruptcy and abandoned the site, an estimated 40 million tons of coal refuse had been dumped there. At some places the waste piled up some feet. Since it opened in , more than 5 million tons of coal ash has been deposited at the dumpsite, which is right across the road from SCI Fayette.
Coal ash can cause or contribute to many serious health conditions, including respiratory problems, hypertension, heart problems, brain and nervous system damage, liver damage, stomach and intestinal ulcers, and many forms of cancer including skin, stomach, lung, urinary tract, and kidney cancers. Therefore, many environmental experts say the risks posed by such reclamation efforts outweigh the so-called benefits.
Right when the coal ash dumping started, LaBelle residents began complaining to the DEP that fugitive dust was making them sick. Over the years, they reported suffering from respiratory problems, kidney failure, and several types of cancer. But the DEP did little more than issue fines. It allowed the prison construction to go forward, essentially putting the health of the entire prison population, as well its staff, at risk.
It's putting everybody at risk.
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However, prisoners and staff at SCI Fayette have been experiencing health issues that are similar to those reported by local community members. In fact, SCI Fayette is also exposed to two other potential sources of pollution: The boiler system for the prison burns coal for its power and creates additional coal ash waste , and a new coal terminal along the riverbank, right next the prison, transfers 3 to 10 million tons of coal per year from boats to rail. According to the report, 81 percent of the 75 prisoners who responded to a health survey ALC sent out claimed to suffer from respiratory, throat, and sinus conditions; 68 percent experienced gastrointestinal problems; 52 percent reported adverse skin conditions; and 12 percent said they were diagnosed with a thyroid disorder.
The report also noted 11 of the 17 prisoners who died at SCI Fayette between and had died of cancer. All of these numbers, McDaniel says, were well above what would be considered normal, though he acknowledges that the health survey was limited in its scope given the number of respondents.
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ALC is currently crunching the numbers on a second, more detailed, health survey that it sent out to all the prisoners at SCI Fayette in and received responses to. The Center is also pushing the state corrections department to conduct an independent and comprehensive health study of the prisoners, prison staff, and community members.
The state corrections department did not respond to repeated requests for interviews. Worden also said potable water at the facility is tested for bacteria, and TTHM and HAA5 — byproducts of adding chlorine to disinfect water — on a monthly basis, in addition to the testing required of Tri County Joint Municipal Authority, which supplies water to the prison.
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In June last year, Citizens Coal Council and MCC entered an interim agreement on the lawsuit under which the company agreed to a one-year moratorium on disposal of coal ash at the site. The dump is scheduled to start operating again this July, though given recent market trends, where cheap natural gas is driving power generation away from coal, its long-term future is uncertain. The occasional crop duster flies overhead, surprisingly close to prison grounds. Inside the fence, the scene is even starker — drab buildings with small slits for windows, dusty open space, and sparse, treeless lawns that the prisoners use for soccer games.
At Avenal, as at other Central Valley prisons, incarcerated people are sitting ducks for valley fever, which is endemic to the dry Southwestern US. Research indicates that prisoners are much more likely to contract the disease than are members of the general population. In , a particularly bad year, infection rates for the highest risk California state prisons were dozens of times above those in nearby communities, according to Centers for Disease Control data.
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Although the fungus is poorly understood, researchers suspect that out-of-town prisoners bused to the Central Valley are especially susceptible because they are not native to the region. Locals may develop some kind of immunity that shields them from the worst valley fever symptoms.
In the past decade, more than 3, California prisoners have become sick from valley fever and more than 50 have died from it. Though infection rates decreased significantly after , to fewer than cases each in and , last year saw another spike with prisoners infected. Experts predict infection rates will continue to climb throughout the Southwest due to a combination of drought, climate change, and intensive agriculture.
Avenal State Prison, along with the nearby Valley State Prison, has struggled with particularly high valley fever infection rates. In , a federal court order mandated that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation remove African American and Filipino prisoners — who are genetically at a much higher risk of getting seriously sick from valley fever — from Avenal and Pleasant Valley state prisons. Some 2, prisoners were transferred.
Then in , the department began offering all California prisoners the option of taking a newly available valley fever immunity test and diverting those who test vulnerable from these two prisons. Prisoners can decline the skin test, but cannot decline to be transferred if they test vulnerable.