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Articles by Anthony Accurso

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. ...

NY State Prisons Finally Stop Using Faulty Drug Testing Equipment; Class Action Lawsuit Filed by Victims

Nadezda Steele-Warrick, a prisoner at Albion Correctional Facility, was on the right track. After her 2015 conviction for assault, she had been a model prisoner, obtaining her GED, securing a spot in preferred housing, and working as a teacher’s assistant and exercise coach. She even earned her way into a family reunification program, which allowed her husband and son to stay with her overnight in private settings. She’d passed random drug screenings throughout her nearly four years in prison, and the reunification program rules required testing just before and after such visits.

During a day off from teaching classes in April 2019, Steele-Warrick was reading a book in her cell when guards informed her that her second drug test came back positive. At her disciplinary hearing, her husband testified that he did not see her use any drugs during their visit. She was found guilty of the violation and spent 11 days in a disciplinary Keeplock cell. She didn’t have access to hygiene items except during the one hour per day she was allowed out of her cell.

She was denied visitation with her family until her release in May 2019.

It turns out that she ...

Funding and Leadership Failures Result in Less Criminal Justice Data

Several late or missing reports from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) highlights a trend toward less reporting and accountability by the federal government.

The Crime and Justice Research Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for more funding for and access to criminal justice data, sent a letter on October 18, 2019 to the Department of Justice expressing concern about the federal government’s failure to post research data critical to assessing trends in crime, policing and prisons.

This data is critical for nonprofits and legislators when proposing policy initiatives based on trends and issues arising in a criminal justice context.

 “How can lawmakers and policy experts engineer legislation to address a problem across several distinct political and bureaucratic regimes if they have no idea what they’re dealing with in the first place?” asked Pacific Standard magazine.

Several important data sets have yet to be released or were significantly delayed. These include the Survey of Prison Inmates, the BJS Background Checks for Firearms Transfers Report Series, and the Deaths in Custody Reporting Program (DCRP). The DCRP data is especially important since its data includes information on suicides of people in custody, a number that was increasing ...

The Ongoing Push to End Outrageous Prison Phone Charges

Groups in several states are drawing increased attention to the high cost of jail and prison phone rates, and pushing to reduce or eliminate such charges. HRDC, the publisher of PLN, has been a leader in this movement since 1992 and founded the Prison Phone Justice Campaign in 2012 to end the financial exploitation of prisoners and their families.  It has achieved significant reductions in the cost of prison and jail phone calls. But much more is still needed. PLN has reported extensively on this issue over the past 28 years.

Unless someone has been through the criminal justice system themselves, or tried to stay in contact with a family member or friend in jail or prison, they are unlikely to be aware of the $1.75 billion industry that gouges consumers by providing phone services to prisoners.

There are few providers for inmate calling systems, though the two largest providers, Securus and Global Tel*Link, form a virtual duopoly in the market. Securus has contracts with about 3,400 prisons and jails in the United States, and Global Tel Link has over 2,400, according to a December 31, 2019 story from NBC News.

These companies “negotiate” ...

California Exonerees Not Quite Innocent Under the Law

Many prisoners who get their convictions overturned, especially after serving lengthy prison terms, rightly expect to be compensated when they prove they never should have been prosecuted. However, exonerees in California often face a difficult battle for compensation, made all the more challenging by homelessness.

Glenn Payne is one of many persons whose conviction was overturned after serving prison time for a crime he didn’t commit. Payne spent 13 years in prison for a 1991 child molestation conviction that was overturned because the hair identification evidence linking him to the crime was discredited. At age 55, he’s regaining peace of mind as a free man who no longer has to register as a sex offender.

The state of California has laws in place to govern claims for compensation for those subjected to wrongful convictions. Payne doesn’t qualify, though, because his lawyers did not submit evidence that he was innocent of the crime by the end of the two-year filing deadline. Such a hurdle can be nearly impossible to overcome, especially in cases like Payne’s where the evidence was destroyed prior to his release.

Of the 76 former prisoners who have filed for compensation since 2006, the ...

Suicide or Murder? Jeffrey Epstein’s Death Still Drawing Attention to Bureau Inadequacies

by Anthony W. Accurso

Months after the August 2019 death of Jeffrey Epstein, rumors and theories are still circulating that cast doubt on the cause of death.

The 66-year-old billionaire became the center of the nation’s attention after he was arrested July 6, 2019, on new charges of sex trafficking of minors in New York and Florida over a decade ago. A month later, on August 10, 2019, he was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City, where he was being kept in custody by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to await trial.

The MCC has long been a notorious hellhole, which critics have labeled a “gulag” and “Little Gitmo.” Hundreds of suspected “terrorists” were rounded up by the FBI in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, often on the flimsiest of evidence – i.e. being Muslim – and many were jailed without bail at the MCC. They were denied rights to make a phone call or speak with an attorney, and some were held in cells lit 24 hours a day and shackled when escorted. They were almost all released after being held for an average of three months. PLN ...

$2 Million Settlement After Woman Dies While Jailed for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

by Anthony W. Accurso

A woman was booked into jail in Mineral County, Nevada on traffic violations, and died days later due to medical neglect.

Kelly Coltrain, 27, was visiting her family in July 2017 to celebrate a family reunion and her grandmother’s 75th birthday. After the celebrations, she was ...