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Articles by Anthony Accurso

How to Fail at Running a Prison During a Pandemic

A firsthand account from FCI Seagoville in Texas, one of the epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic

by Anthony W. Accurso

[Editor’s note: As of July 22, the Bureau of Prisons website reported 1,220 prisoners had tested positive for coronavirus at Seagoville, the highest number at any BOP prison. Ten staff had tested positive.]

As I write this, I am incarcerated at a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility near Dallas, Texas known as FCI Seagoville. As of early July, my institution is making headlines as the federal prison with the largest uncontrolled infection rate of the novel coronavirus in the United States.

While the BOP has ostensibly been preparing for this moment and disseminating guidelines for how to manage the pandemic at each facility, this institution has managed to fail spectacularly at preventing the virus from breaching the prison walls, and containing it once it did. In retrospect, the measures taken by the prison’s administration were flawed from the beginning and marred by noncompliance by correctional officers (COs).

The entire BOP system has been on some form of modified operation (aka “lockdown”) since April 1, 2020. This lockdown was supposed to reduce the possibility of introducing the virus ...

New Initiatives from Philadelphia, Koch Industries, Work to Get Ex-Offenders Jobs

Last January, Koch Industries, through the Charles Koch Institute, announced a partnership with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) to develop the Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative, a program that educates businesses on the benefits of hiring ex-offenders.

“We have to figure out how we keep folks successful and from recidivating and going back to prison, or even jail, and part of that is (getting) a job,” said Jenny Kim, deputy general counsel and vice president, public policy for Koch Industries. “That is what the Getting Talent Back to Work initiative is about.”

With nearly 7 million jobs open at the time, the U.S. labor force simply didn’t have enough workers, she added. Though unemployment has since shot up as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a two-decade plunge continues in what’s called the “labor force participation rate” – the share of eligible people either working or looking for work.

About 61.5 percent of Americans who could work were in the labor force in June 2020, a decline of 1.5 percent from the level a year earlier and 5.6 percent below the level 20 years ago. ...

Colorado Parole Board Cannot Confine Parolee Beyond Statutory Max

In February 2018, Jimmie Graham’s parole officer alleged he violated three conditions of his parole: changing his residence without permission, failing to report to the parole office, and committing a new felony — escape. The escape case was quickly dismissed, and Graham pleaded not guilty to the two remaining violations.

The Parole Board found him guilty, and, noting that he had been revoked from parole eight times previously, sentenced him to confinement for the remainder of his prison term. They cited § 17-2-103(11)(b), C.R.S., which allows for various tiers of re-confinement for parole violations, and § 17-2-103 (11)(f)(II), which makes tampering ‘with a parolee’s GPS monitoring device punishable as a violation under § 11(b).

Graham filed a habeas petition with his district court (which was denied), and then appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court found that paragraph (b) contained multiple subsections at the time he was on parole. Sections ...

$12.5 Million to Settle Class Action Suit Over Strip Searches of NYC Jail Visitors

The Popularity of YouTube Prison Lifestyle Videos

With prison reform a hot topic that has gained nationwide attention over the last decade, prison lifestyle videos on YouTube offer a window into the prison experience for many Americans.

Collectively, the four most popular prison channels on YouTube have more than 2.1 million subscribers. The most popular with 1.2 million is the After Prison Show, hosted by Joe Guerrero, which features videos about reintegrating into society and what it was like in prison. What started out as grainy amateurish vlogs has been going strong for three years now.

After 700 videos, Guerrero now earns a six-figure income from his social media presence and was able to quit his job as a laborer in a concrete factory.

About seven months after he started, he posted a video about how to make a prison tattoo gun, which racked up 2.3 million views. Before prison, Guerrero’s social media experience was limited to MySpace. “Until now, my life has been a constant failure,” said Guerrero. “I told myself that if I’m going to make it this time or if I’m going to fail, I want to show people what it’s like. A lot of people have no idea ...

Man Sentenced to One Year For Shoplifting Dies In Prison During Pandemic

A New Jersey man who was sentenced to one year in prison died on May 10, 2020, while in custody at the Central Reception and Assignment Facility in Trenton, where prisoners go before they are sent to a regular prison. 

According to court records, Ricardo Williamson was given a one-year sentence on a single charge of fourth-degree shoplifting for stealing watches and perfume totaling about $200 from the Macy’s at the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, New Jersey. Williamson said he committed the crime to support his drug addiction.

Williamson agreed to a plea deal stipulating to a one-year sentence, but James Sheehan, his court-appointed attorney, asked the court to consider time served (he had already spent four months at the Passaic County Jail) because Williamson, 62, suffered from multiple chronic illnesses that required intensive medical care.

The prosecutor, Melissa Simsen, countered, arguing that there were “services (in prison) where the defendant can get medical treatment, so I don’t think it will be a hardship.”

‘‘You continue to engage in criminal activity with this condition, so to say, ‘Well judge, I shouldn’t have to go to jail because my medical health is fragile and I could get ...

Unsealed Documents Expose Treatment Failures at San Diego Jail

by Anthony W. Accurso

In response to a motion filed by the ACLU, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California unsealed documents in June 2019 related to the failures of San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and its mental health provider, Correctional Physicians Medical Group (CPMG).

San Diego County operates seven jails, which regularly hold around 5,200 prisoners, about one-third of whom are on some form of psychotropic medication to manage a serious condition. This makes the jail system the largest provider of mental health services in the region. “There’s something wrong with that,” said Sheriff Bill Gore in a 2017 interview. “That shouldn’t be the case.”

The Sheriff’s Department awarded a five-year contract worth $21 million to CPMG, but canceled it in January 2017 after just 27 months. The company had been formed by Steven Mannis, an emergency room doctor who later admitted in a deposition that he had virtually no experience in psychiatry.

According to court filings, “No one was in charge of training” at CPMG. “The only alleged ‘training’ occurred at ‘Journal Club,’” a voluntary quarterly performance review for CPMG providers.

The unsealed documents relate to the death of Rubin Nunez in ...

California Prison Reform Results in Housing Challenges for Former Prisoners

Over 600,000 people are released from prisons across the U.S. each year, and a growing number of reentry providers are prepping to absorb increasing numbers as states reform their systems.

In California, though, as the state implements long-overdue reforms in the criminal justice system, people are being released so fast that existing services are drastically insufficient to meet the needs of this population.

After California was forced by a federal court to confront the crisis of overcrowding in its prisons after the turn of the millennium, the state’s legislature began implementing reforms that have reduced prison populations 25% over the last decade. The three-strikes laws were amended, lifers were allowed to start applying for reduced sentences, and more individuals were made eligible for parole.

While such a reduction in prison populations is certainly welcome, many parolees face significant challenges in obtaining the housing and services that meet their reentry needs. As a stop-gap measure, many recovery residences — formerly “sober living homes” — have been pressed into service as halfway houses for all kinds of parolees.

Crystal Wheeler served 22 years in prison until her release in 2012. She struggled with PTSD resulting from her husband’s ...

California Publishes Use of Force in Prisons Report

In June 2019, California’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published its annual report, “Monitoring the Use of Force,” for incidents the previous year at all juvenile and adult facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The OIG’s office reviewed 6,426 incidents where an allegation of excessive force was made. Inspector General Roy Wesley wrote in an accompanying letter to state lawmakers that “The department’s overall compliance rate remains low, with the Department finding only 55% of incidents in full compliance with its policies and procedures.”

“Use of force is sometimes necessary when dealing with incidents that may pose a safety and security risk for both inmates and staff,” Vicky Waters, department spokeswoman, said in response to the report. “It is a priority for our department that all staff follow policies, protocols and procedures, and we will continue to collaborate with the [OIG] to ensure full compliance.”

“Whatever training they’re using to reinforce the policy isn’t working,’’ said Don Specter with the Prison Law Office, which stresses that there is very little accountability when violations of policy occur. “The good news is that when they review the use of force they figure out that ...

Arkansas Supreme Court Denies Prisoner Preliminary Injunction on Religious Issues

On June 6, 2019 the Supreme Court of Arkansas denied a prisoner’s appeal of a circuit court’s refusal to issue a preliminary injunction regarding Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) policies as applied to his free exercise claims as a follower of the Nation of Islam (NOI).

Malik Muntaqim filed suit against the ADC for denying him issues of NOI’s periodical, The Final Call, between 2013 and 2015 and because the ADC refuses to allow him to lead services specific to his faith. He brought these claims under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). However, for the purposes of the appeal, the Court only addressed the First Amendment claims because Muntaqim failed to ask for findings from the circuit court regarding the RLUIPA claims.

After his first interlocutory appeal, the circuit court held a hearing to determine whether he could meet the two-factor test for a preliminary injunction. Those factors are “(1) whether irreparable harm will result in the absence of an injunction and (2) whether the moving party has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits.” See Muntaqim v. Hobbs, 2017 Ark. ...