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News In Brief:

Arkansas: Sebastian County jail prisoner Gary Van Wolf, 64, awaiting trial on sex charges involving children, was strangled to death and left in his cell on September 16, 2010. According to a report by the Sheriff’s Office, jailers had left prisoners unsupervised for about an hour during the time that Van Wolf was killed. Three jail employees were reprimanded. The suspect in the murder, prisoner Ashley Eugene Kaufman, 25, had learned about Van Wolf’s charges when they made video court appearances.

Arkansas: No charges will be filed against Tucker Maximum Security Unit Sgt. Billy Hayes, who was manning a security checkpoint when he shot and killed Lester McGowan, a parolee who attempted to drive away after officers tried to stop him on June 20, 2009. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.24]. A Department of Corrections investigation determined that the shooting was justified because McGowan was a threat to people on the prison’s property. Hayes fired a round through the back window of McGowan’s car, hitting him in the back.

California: Steven “Matt” Schultz, serving 26-years-to-life at Folsom Prison, was sentenced in October 2010 to an additional 50-years-to-life term for killing another prisoner two years earlier. Schultz pleaded guilty to using a box cutter blade to slash the throat of Shannon Graling, a convicted child molester, in the prison’s recreation yard. Graling was serving a 401-year sentence at the time he was killed.

California: The California Rehabilitation Center in Norco was placed on lockdown on October 10, 2010 following a fight involving 10 to 15 prisoners; four were sent to a hospital in serious condition with stab wounds. No explanation was provided for the brawl.

Dubai: In June 2010, the Civil Claims Court awarded Dh200,000 (about $54,700) to an Armenian businessman, identified as “SC,” who was beaten by guards at the Dubai Central Prison on August 1, 2007. SC, who suffered spinal injuries that required surgery, was one of several detainees assaulted during a cell inspection. The prisoners were forced to move between two lines of police and prison staff, who beat and kicked them. Twenty-four guards and the director of the prison were found guilty of abuse of power, conspiracy and assault in 2008; they received sentences of three to six months, which were later suspended. SC was permanently disabled as a result of the beating.

Florida: Frank Singleton wasted no time in renewing his criminal career after being released from the Palm Beach County jail in March 2008 – he tried to carjack a woman in the jail’s parking lot. Singleton was quickly captured, as he couldn’t drive away because he didn’t know how to operate the car’s manual transmission. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on October 1, 2010 to six years in prison plus four years’ probation. Asked why he had tried to carjack the vehicle, Singleton reportedly said he “didn’t feel like walking.”

Florida: Danny Lee Tucker, a 410-pound prisoner, died at the Hernando County Jail on October 13, 2010. Tucker, 58, had been booked into the facility about two weeks earlier due to violation of a domestic violence injunction. He was placed in the jail’s medical section due to his “extreme obesity” and other health-related problems. Tucker was the second prisoner to die at the Hernando County Jail in a three-month period.

Illinois: On October 4, 2010, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced a new laundry program at the Cook County jail. Under the program, military veterans incarcerated on nonviolent charges work in two shifts to clean and sort the clothing, towels and bedding used by the jail’s 9,200 prisoners. Sheriff Dart said the prisoners will receive job skills plus the county is expected to save $100,000 a year by having prisoners handle the jail’s laundry services, which previously had been contracted to an outside vendor. Aramark Correctional Services is overseeing the new laundry program.

Illinois: Timothy Fuller, 42, a guard at the Cook County Jail for 15 years, was charged on October 4 with trying to smuggle marijuana and cocaine to a prisoner in the jail’s Division 11 building. He had agreed to bring in the drugs in exchange for $400, but the go-between was a female undercover officer. Fuller had requested that a woman deliver the drugs so he could “flirt with her and, he later suggested, take her out on a date.” Instead, Fuller was suspended, jailed under a $40,000 bond, and faces a termination hearing.

Kansas: The Wyandotte County jail is purchasing 37 laptops that will allow visitors to video-visit with prisoners using Skype, a popular Internet-based phone system. Visitors need a computer, Internet access and a webcam in order to use the service. Prisoners can receive two free Skype sessions a week; visitors will be charged $.25 per minute after the free sessions. A similar Skype system at the Ada County jail in Idaho has generated $2 million in revenue. The video sessions will be recorded, except for visits with attorneys or chaplains.

Kazakhstan: It was reported in October 2010 that prisoners protesting horrific conditions in Kazakhstan prisons – including torture, beatings and rapes – were mutilating themselves by cutting open their stomachs. “Protests are still going on and it looks like they will, unfortunately, continue and more people will self-mutilate,” said Tanja Niemeier, a political advisor. “It is the only way they have of protesting at the desperate conditions they face.” More than 100 Kazakhstan prisoners have slashed their stomachs to draw attention to their complaints. The United Nations has accused the Central Asian country of covering up the abusive nature of its prison system.

Kentucky: Eleven prisoners on a jail work detail cleaning up debris at the Harlan County courthouse were charged after they got high on some “nerve pills” they found, which were apparently leftover evidence. The prisoners were charged with possession of contraband and placed in segregation for three months. The pills were sent to a lab for identification.

Louisiana: The state Department of Corrections is considering selling two prisons as a way to cut costs due to budget shortfalls. “Everything has to be put on the table,” said Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc. The state may sell the Winn Correctional Center in Atlanta and the Allen Correctional Center in Kinder to private prison companies. Winn is already run by CCA, while Allen is operated by the GEO Group. The sale would generate an estimated $70 million. “That’s $70 million to help us get through a very difficult year,” LeBlanc stated. In October 2010, the Louisiana prison system sold a piece of property used in livestock operations for $1.2 million, and the department is trying to sell 2,000 acres near the Hunt Correctional Center. The state is facing an estimated $1.6 billion budget deficit during the next fiscal year.

Minnesota: On October 9, 2010, around 200 unionized prison guards attended a rally to protest $68 million in proposed budget cuts for Minnesota state prisons. The guards, members of AFSCME Council 5, were concerned that the prison population was increasing and prisoners were becoming more violent. The funding cuts, which would prevent the hiring of more staff at the state’s eight prisons, would exacerbate those problems, they claimed.

New York: Montgomery County jail prisoner Louis Torres, Jr., 30, attempted to escape from a transport van on October 13. He popped the lock on the van’s door and jumped from the vehicle while it was returning to the jail from the courthouse, where he had been charged with parole violations. Torres struck his head and was pronounced dead after being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

New York: Roberto Morales, a New York City jail guard, was arrested on October 8, 2010 and charged with sexually assaulting a transgender prisoner at the Manhattan Detention Complex. The assault occurred in a stairwell at the jail in September 2009, when the prisoner was being held in a male housing unit; Morales was implicated based on DNA from a rape kit. A 13-year veteran with the city’s Correction Department, he was suspended and is facing a felony charge of committing a criminal sexual act. The prisoner, who was not named, has filed a lawsuit against the city. “This is just a case of complete and utter indifference to a transgender woman,” said the prisoner’s attorney, Ilann M. Maazel.

Oklahoma: On Sept. 7, 2010, two prisoners at the McDonald County Jail, Justin Forcum and Eric Bishop, escaped by climbing out through a hole in the roof. They then allegedly stole a truck and went to buy some drugs. Forcum and Bishop drove back to the jail, parked the truck and set it on fire to create a diversion. They were caught when they tried to sneak back into the facility through the hole they made when they escaped. “I really couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe they came back, you would think if you got out you’d stay out instead of trying to sneak back in,” said Undersheriff Bud Gow.

Oregon: A detainee at the Coos County Jail was taken by ambulance to a hospital on Sept. 21, 2010 after she was found unconscious and not breathing. It was later determined that Amanda M. Colmenero, 22, had hidden a container of drugs believed to be methamphetamine in her vagina when she was arrested, but the container ruptured while she was in a holding cell. Colmenero was hospitalized in critical condition.

South Africa: Thirteen police officers were arrested in September 2010 on charges of misconduct, gross negligence and aiding in the escape of eight prisoners. The prisoners had been taken to court in Johannesburg but were not restrained with leg irons or handcuffs, and thus were able to make their escape. Seven of the eight prisoners, charged with murder and robbery, were quickly recaptured.

Venezuela: Thousands of prisoners went on a hunger strike in early September 2010, including 3,400 at the Tocoron prison in the northern Aragua state; 1,137 at the Vista Hermosa facility in southeast Bolivar state; and 80 at the Minima prison in Carabobo state. They were protesting overcrowding and poor medical care, and seeking improvements to visitation areas. Conditions in Venezuelan prisons are abysmal; according to Venezuelan Prison Watch, 221 prisoners died in the first quarter of 2010.

Washington: On October 13, 2010, the union that represents 6,000 prison guards in Washington state filed suit in an attempt to forestall job cuts by the Department of Corrections. The lawsuit, filed by Teamsters Local 117 in King County Superior Court, claims the state is altering prison workers’ wage, hour and employment conditions without engaging in collective bargaining. The Washington DOC had recently cut almost 300 prison jobs and closed the Larch Corrections Center.

West Virginia: The Gilmer Federal Correctional Institution remained on lockdown for several weeks following a riot that erupted in the prison’s recreation yard on September 23, 2010. The disturbance, which involved about 75 prisoners in two rival groups, lasted four or five minutes before guards regained control of the yard using “chemical munitions.” Three prisoners were treated at local hospitals for minor injuries. The Federal Bureau of Prisons and the FBI are investigating the incident.

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