News in Brief
Arizona: The U.S. Department of Justice declared April 24 to 30, 2016 to be the inaugural National Reentry Week in an effort to recognize the plight of the more than 600,000 prisoners who are released annually from federal and state prisons, plus 11.4 million others who cycle through local jails each year. In honor of the event, FCI-Safford held a reentry day on April 29, 2016, with a focus on exposing prisoners to ways they can succeed on the outside and avoid returning to prison. “It is the philosophy of the Bureau of Prisons that preparation for reentry begins on the first day of an inmate’s incarceration,” said FCI-Safford Warden Steve Lake. “Today’s event highlights our goal to prepare inmates to be successful when they reintegrate into society.”
Arizona: A pair of students-turned-filmmakers received accolades for their short documentary film “Rethinking Reform: Prisons in America,” which won the High School West Division of C-SPAN’s 2016 StudentCam competition. Senior Dani Zubia and tenth-grader Sofia Taglienti worked with the Metropolitan Arts Institute in Phoenix to produce the seven-minute video, which touches on private prisons as well as treatment and rehabilitation. “I loved being able to write a script and see it come to life,” Taglienti said. “It’s a great way to enact social change artistically, and bring attention to important topics,” Zubia added. The film made its national debut on C-SPAN on April 26, 2016 and is available online at www.studentcam.org.
Arkansas: Former prison chaplain Kenneth Dewitt, 67, pleaded guilty in July 2016 to sexually assaulting three female prisoners at the McPherson Unit in Newport. He had originally faced 50 counts of sexual assault, but agreed to a plea bargain in exchange for ten years on each of three charges, run concurrent, with five years suspended – for a total prison term of five years. According to Arkansasonline.com, Dewitt had resigned in September 2014 after he confessed to having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. He received the Arkansas Department of Correction’s “Employee of the Year” award in 2013, during the time he was sexually abusing prisoners. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.63].
Arkansas: On April 18, 2016, four detainees at the Pulaski County Jail – John Johnson, 23; Marlon James, 45; Jose Hernandez, 42; and Robert Young, 28 – as well as 28-year-old Victor Thompson, an accomplice on the outside, were charged in a drug smuggling scheme involving the use of an “improvised retrieval device” constructed from torn sheets, trash bags and paper. The makeshift fishing pole was used to snag a bag containing 4.1 grams of marijuana that had been tossed between the fences at the jail. Pulaski County Sheriff’s spokesman Carl Minden acknowledged that contraband was a problem. “People are always trying to throw stuff over the fence,” he said. “It’s a pretty hard throw.” Young and Thompson also face additional charges of illegal use of a communication device for coordinating the smuggling scheme over the jail’s telephone system.
Australia: An employee of private prison company Serco was suspended for attacking an asylum-seeker at Western Australia’s Yongah Hill Detention Centre on May 30, 2016. A detainee alleged in a written complaint that the worker “grabbed my collar and dragged me to [a] classroom, puts me down then pulled me up and threw me out of the classroom.” The detainee said he was “traumatized and humiliated” by the attack and had to seek medical attention for chest pains and an injured hand. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not dispute the immigrant’s claims.
California: California State Prison-Sacramento guards deployed a non-lethal grenade and fired a single rifle round after three prisoners jumped a fourth and repeatedly stabbed him on May 16, 2016. One of the attacking prisoners was struck by the bullet, ending the brutal assault. Both the prisoner who was shot and the stabbing victim were taken to a nearby hospital for medical attention, where they were listed in fair condition. Two other prisoners were treated in the prison’s medical unit. Spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the maximum-security facility had been placed on limited movement pending an investigation into the incident; three handmade stabbing weapons were recovered from the scene.
Cambodia: On May 29, 2016, General Department of Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna announced the groundbreaking for a new, privately-operated facility being built on the grounds of the existing Prey Sar prison complex. Private company Kunry Khon Holding will provide modern housing for offenders who are wealthy enough to rent cells in the state-of-the-art facility. Prisons across Cambodia have been criticized for their treatment of prisoners, poor healthcare services and lack of adequate water. Am Sam Ath, a representative of Licadho, a human rights group, said education for prisoners is much more important to improve the reintegration of offenders back into society than building new prisons.
Canada: Gionni Lee Garlow was born on a mattress on the floor of a segregation cell at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in September 2012 as guards ignored his mother’s pleas for help. He died just over a year later from respiratory problems. His mother, Julie Bilotta, filed a $1.3 million lawsuit that accused corrections officials of negligence that led to her son’s birth in prison and short life. On May 9, 2016, Bilotta joined several former prisoners, health experts, attorneys and advocates at a public forum to try to find solutions for the troubled jail. The event was organized by Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS) and the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project.
Colombia: In June 2016, the Colombian Congress approved an extension of a 2015 law that allows prosecutors to hold criminal suspects for extended periods of time. Although lawmakers acknowledged that Colombian prisons are overcrowded and inhumane, the legislation was pushed through prior to the congressional summer recess in order to prevent the release of nearly 2,000 child sex offenders. In April, a constitutional court had ruled that all prisoners who had been held longer than was legally allowed would be freed en masse on July 7, 2016. PLN has reported previously on squalor, violence and corruption within Colombian prisons. [See, e.g., PLN, June 2016, p.25].
District of Columbia: Quincy Green provided what seemed to be an iron-clad alibi when questioned about a fatal shooting in May 2016. He was ordered to wear a GPS ankle bracelet from a previous gun arrest, and the tracking device showed he was in his apartment about a mile away when the shooting occurred. Yet Green was seen on video committing the murder. How was this possible? A technician for Sentinel, the private company that provides the District’s electronic monitoring services for pre-trial detainees, had placed the GPS monitor on Green’s prosthetic leg. He simply removed the artificial limb with the device and put it in a box in his living room while he left the apartment. “We believe it was absolutely human error,” said Sentinel spokesman Chris McDowell.
Florida: On June 9, 2016, some 200 to 300 prisoners rioted at the Franklin Correctional Institution. “It was a major disturbance. The damage was extensive,” said Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. According to Moscoso there were no injuries that required medical attention or treatment, and no escapes. The FDOC’s Office of Inspector General was investigating. “There haven’t been any criminal charges as of yet, but inmates will be receiving disciplinary reports” based on violations of various facility rules, Moscoso stated.
Florida: Governor Rick Scott appointed Emery Gainey as interim Marion County Sheriff as an emergency response to the May 20, 2016 indictment of former Sheriff Chris Blair on three felony charges – two counts of perjury in an official proceeding and one count of official misconduct. Blair was charged after video surveillance contradicted his account of events surrounding the beating of suspect Dustin Heathman. Prosecutors dropped all of the charges due to a July 2016 plea deal that called for the sheriff to resign and not seek re-election. Blair isn’t the first Marion County lawman to be booked into his own jail; in 1998, former sheriff Ken Ergle admitted to stealing $170,000 from a fund used for undercover investigations.
Florida: A Florida man with vengeance on his mind chose a horrific method to try to seek revenge on his 14-year-old son’s killer. In 2014, Joel Jones used a Craigslist ad to trick a woman into meeting him under the pretense that he would hire her for a job. He then raped her at knifepoint, released her and called 911 on himself. He immediately asked the police to send him to prison, and later admitted that he planned the crime so he could be locked up with the man who had murdered his son. On June 9, 2016, Jones, 49, was sentenced to 25 years in prison with no possibility of good time. “This case is not really about what someone did to your child, but what you did to someone else’s child,” the judge told Jones when imposing the sentence.
Georgia: Attorney Will Claiborne has filed at least five lawsuits against prison healthcare contractor Corizon for providing inadequate medical care at the Chatham County Jail. The latest suit, submitted to the court on May 20, 2016, was brought on behalf of former prisoner Eddie Prince Robinson, who claimed he lost his eyesight due to “deliberately indifferent” medical staff at the jail. Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher is named as a defendant in the case, along with Corizon Health, Inc., two of the company’s doctors and John Does 1 through 99. According to the lawsuit, Does 1 to 49 are licensed Georgia nurses who should have taken action to ensure Robinson received his eye medication, while Does 50 to 99 are current or former Chatham County Sheriff’s Department staff who, Robinson claims, failed to heed his pleas for help for his “obvious medical needs.”
Illinois: Bradley C. Scarpi’s sons said guards told their suicidal father to “shut  up” and “do what you want to do” shortly before he hanged himself with a bed sheet at the St. Clair County Jail in 2014. A lawsuit filed on May 24, 2016 by Scarpi’s estate claims he was housed in a maximum-security observation cell which required cell checks every half hour, but that he had not been placed on suicide watch. The suit seeks unspecified damages for constitutional violations that resulted from the jail’s failure to provide Scarpi with adequate mental health care. In March 2016, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which represents Scarpi’s family, filed a separate lawsuit against the St. Clair County Jail over the death of mentally ill prisoner Joshua B. Jurcich, who also committed suicide.
Indiana: Aramark kitchen worker Charles Gish was arrested on April 29, 2016 after a routine search when he reported to work revealed a large, unusual lump in his pants. Upon being confronted, Gish removed three packages from his clothing that contained “unknown substances.” Indiana State Police transported him to the Madison County Jail where he was booked on four felony counts of trafficking with an inmate a controlled substance and a single count of misdemeanor trafficking with an inmate tobacco. PLN has reported extensively on misconduct by employees of private prison food service contractor Aramark. [See, e.g.: PLN, July 2016, p.63; Aug. 2016, p.63; Dec. 2015, p.1].
Kansas: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) officials had no response to questions from the Lawrence Journal World regarding a lawsuit filed against the company by a former employee in early June 2016. Demonae Serial-Starks claims she was working as a guard at the Leavenworth Detention Center when she learned she was pregnant. Her suit alleges that CCA supervisors intentionally discriminated against her due to her pregnancy in violation of the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. Serial-Stark’s attorney, Ryan L. McClelland, stated in the complaint that CCA co-workers and supervisors made her working conditions “intolerable.” She also filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which, in March 2016, issued two Notices of Right to Sue based on alleged disability rights violations by CCA.
Kentucky: The Kentucky State Police said in a May 12, 2016 press release that the former medical director at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex would face 10 counts of third-degree rape, seven counts of third-degree sodomy and 10 counts of second-degree sexual abuse. Robbie E. Markham, 41, is accused of carrying on a sexual relationship with a prisoner at the facility for several months while employed by private medical contractor Correct Care Solutions. During the course of the investigation, Markham’s vehicle was searched and a firearm and ammunition were found; consequently, she was also charged with first-degree promoting contraband. A joint investigation by the State Police and WKCC internal affairs continues.
Massachusetts: A 31-year-old prisoner at the Old Colony Correctional Center was charged on May 23, 2016 for hatching a plot to kill President Obama as an act of faith in his quest to become a Muslim holy warrior. Alex Hernandez mailed two letters detailing the plot that were intercepted by FBI and Secret Service agents. An undercover agent visited the prison twice, promising Hernandez falsified travel documents. In his comments to the agent, Hernandez stated, “There is always a head. He’s the one who’s always in charge. So if you attack the head, everything will go down a little bit.” A cell search uncovered photos of Osama Bin Laden and the 9-11 terrorist attacks, as well as a list of all 44 presidents of the United States with the word “kill” inscribed next to those who were assassinated.
Michigan: PLN previously reported on the arrest and resignation of former Eaton County booking deputy Allan Coker after he was caught stealing from people being booked in and out of the county jail. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.63]. Coker was sentenced on May 5, 2016 to 30 days in jail, two years of probation and 100 hours of community service; he also must pay $87 in restitution. Coker surrendered his State of Michigan corrections officer certificate as part of his plea deal. Eaton County prosecutor Doug Lloyd said in a press release, “What Allan Coker did could have rocked a foundation of trust needed in order for corrections officers to control the jail population.”
Michigan: In 2007, Davontae Sanford “confessed [to multiple murders] after several hours of police interrogation over the course of two days,” according to the Innocence Project at the University of Michigan. Although Sanford attempted to recant his testimony, he pleaded guilty mid-trial when he realized his defense attorney was providing ineffective assistance. On June 8, 2016, Sanford walked out of the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility after serving more than eight years for crimes he did not commit. The Michigan State Police has recommended that prosecutors seek perjury charges against the Detroit police officer who assured Sanford he would be released if he confessed to the crimes.
Michigan: The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office led an investigation that resulted in the arrest of a male nurse employed by private medical contractor Correct Care Solutions for sexually assaulting a female prisoner at the county jail and sending her letters written under a pseudonym. Percival Kuizon is accused of forcing a 21-year-old prisoner to give him oral sex in the medical unit on multiple occasions during her two periods of incarceration. The victim told a fellow prisoner that visits with the nurse made her “extremely uncomfortable”; the other prisoner notified guards of the inappropriate contact, and Kuizon now faces a charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a prisoner. Correct Care Solutions spokesman Jim Cheney said in a May 2016 email that Kuizon was no longer employed by the company.
Mississippi: On May 22, 2016, former George County jail nurse Carmon Sue Brannan was ordered to stand trial for her role in the death of prisoner William Joel Dixon, 29, on September 24, 2014. Brannan is accused of manslaughter and negligence without malice for failing to provide “sufficient medical treatment” for Dixon in the days preceding his death. She remains free on $25,000 bond until Special Judge Richard McKenzie hears the case on October 10, 2016. Three circuit court judges have recused themselves because George County Chancery Clerk Cammie Brannan Byrd is Carmon Brannan’s sister.
Mississippi: PLN previously reported on the escape and subsequent shooting death of prisoner Rafael McCloud by a woman he had taken hostage. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63]. On July 2, 2016, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace announced that a guard had been fired and policy changes had been made at the jail in response to McCloud’s escape. “I take responsibility for my staff, and this should have never happened,” Pace said, though he declined to name the employee who was terminated. The sheriff said the 109-year-old jail was originally designed to house misdemeanor offenders, trustees, those awaiting trial, convicted offenders and juveniles. “We have identified certain areas where we will no longer house high-risk inmates because of the design of the cells,” Pace stated.
Mississippi: About 17 prisoners became severely ill after drinking homemade alcohol at the Yazoo City Correctional Institution. More than a dozen of the prisoners were admitted to a hospital, and family visits and prisoner movement were suspended as a precaution. Fox News reported on June 17, 2016 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was investigating the alcohol poisoning, which was believed to involve botulism. Mississippi Department of Health spokeswoman Liz Sharlot said the rare but potentially life-threatening condition also affected a state prisoner who had been moved to a facility in Oklahoma; he had consumed the homemade hooch before his transfer.
Montana: A pair of Tennessee women became the fourth and fifth defendants to be arraigned under a June 2, 2016 indictment charging them with various drug distribution crimes. According to court records, Rachel Leanna Ross, 25, and Lauren J. Hoskins, 26, joined Ian Scott Barclay, Cordero Robert Metzker and Erin Marie Bernhardt in a conspiracy to smuggle meth into the state prison in Deer Lodge. If convicted, each could face more than 100 years in prison and over $15 million in fines. A sixth defendant was charged in a separate indictment.
New York: On May 19, 2016, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark announced the indictments of 17 individuals, including Rikers Island guards and prisoners, after an extensive investigation into contraband smuggling at the jail complex. New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte told reporters that jail officials were “taking aggressive steps to stem the flow of contraband into our facilities.” He elaborated, “From investing in X-ray machines and expanding K-9 teams to increasing visitor searches and overhauling our officer recruitment and vetting process, we have put comprehensive reforms in place to root out contraband on Rikers Island.”
New York: New York City Department of Correction guards accidentally allowed the release of a prisoner who answered to another person’s name while awaiting transport between the Brooklyn State Supreme Court and the Rikers Island jail complex. When guards called the name of a prisoner who was being released, Layquan Johnson answered and provided details requested by the officers. He was then discharged and walked out the front door, according to DOC officials. “Any erroneous release is unacceptable and this incident is under investigation,” a Department of Correction spokeswoman said on May 5, 2016. The supervisor involved in Johnson’s erroneous release was suspended.
New York: A 41-year-old Algerian immigrant was held at the Rikers Island jail complex for five months, unaware that he could have been released by posting $2 bail. In 2014, Aitabdel Salem assaulted a police officer during a shoplifting arrest and was jailed with his bail set at $25,000. Prosecutors initially were unable to secure an indictment, meaning Salem was eligible to be released after paying $1 bail for each of two other minor offenses. His attorney did not share that information with him. When the miscommunication was discovered, Salem was released but re-incarcerated a short time later on $30,000 bail after he missed a court date on the assault charge. His new attorney argued on Salem’s behalf at a May 2016 court hearing, saying, “If you’re a defendant in a criminal case you certainly have a right to rely upon the system [to know] what your next court date is.”
Oklahoma: Four people were charged on June 23, 2016 for unrelated incidents involving possession of marijuana at the CCA-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility. All of the cases were investigated internally by prison staff and by the Cushing Police Department. Those charged were identified as Khala Sherie Lewis, 24, of Oklahoma City; Rakista Hampton, 32, of Stillwater; Sheila Russell, 51, of Sapulpa and prisoner Taray Marquez Brown, 28.
Oklahoma: When Ashley Hart came to work at the GEO Group-operated Lawton Correctional Facility on May 31, 2016, her supervisor noticed a strong smell of marijuana coming from her body. The supervisor accompanied Hart to a restroom where the private prison employee removed a bag of marijuana from her rectum and turned over the drugs. Hart denied having any other contraband and was transferred to the Lawton City Jail. While changing into jail clothes, another bag of marijuana fell out of her bra. City jail staff then asked if she had more contraband, and Hart removed two more bags from her vagina. According to KWSO.com, the total combined weight of the marijuana and packaging came to 159 grams – about one third of a pound. Hart was charged with multiple counts of introduction of contraband into a penal institution.
Pennsylvania: What’s in a name? For one Lancaster County prisoner, a name meant 17 months of wrongful incarceration. On May 24, 2016, Lancaster County Prison Warden Cheryl Steberger admitted in a statement that a mix-up in documents regarding two prisoners with similar names had resulted in the overincarceration of one of the men when the other received new charges and the resulting additional sentence was added to both prisoners’ files. Steberger said the county has since audited jail records for duplicate names, and no other prisoners appear to have been affected by similar mistakes. “It was a breath of fresh air,” Tom Zeager, with the prison reform group Justice Mercy, said of Steberger’s admission. “Probably in the past it would have not been reported.”
Pennsylvania: Two men who were sexually assaulted while serving time at the Butler County Prison petitioned a judge on June 7, 2016 for permission to apply for house arrest due to the trauma of the attacks. On the same day, their alleged assailant, 27-year-old Luis Quinones, also faced a judge, who determined there was sufficient evidence to move the case against him to county court. Quinones is accused of sexually harassing the two prisoners while working in the kitchen for private prison food contractor Trinity Services Group. His victims, who were not identified, are represented by attorney Michael Pisanchyn.
Pennsylvania: A former Lancaster County Prison kitchen worker will serve six months of house arrest and appear on the Pennsylvania sex offender registry for the next 15 years after admitting to having sex with a prisoner multiple times inside the facility’s walk-in produce cooler. Jacqueline Jannell Uber, 25, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of institutional sexual assault on May 26, 2016. At sentencing, Senior Judge Joseph C. Madenspacher asked the former prison employee if she knew that having sex with a prisoner was illegal. “In all honesty, yes,” Uber replied.
Scotland: In June 2016, a court ruled that staff at the privately-operated Kilmarnock Prison were not responsible for the beating death of a rape suspect by another prisoner. Ten years earlier, in June 2006, Michael Cameron, 21, was kicked and stomped and had boiling water poured on him while surveillance video recorded his death. A court of inquiry heard claims that jailers should have known Cameron should not have been housed in the same unit with his killer at the Serco-run facility. Sheriff Susan Sinclair said of Serco staff, “There can be absolutely no criticism of either for their actions on that evening. They did everything that could possibly safely be done.” Prisoner David Martin received an 18-year sentence for Cameron’s murder; Martin’s co-defendant, Andrew Kiltie, was deemed unfit to stand trial.
Tennessee: A Whiteville Correctional Facility guard was arrested and charged with rape of a child, aggravated child abuse, incest and sexual exploitation of a minor. James Fitzgerald, an employee of Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that manages the facility, was seen on cell phone video committing explicit sex acts on a female child. A family member gave the phone to police officials, who arrested Fitzgerald on June 6, 2016. Authorities at the Whiteville prison declined to comment when asked whether Fitzgerald was still employed by CCA.
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