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Articles by Anthony Accurso

New York Governor Cuomo Creates Prison Nursing Home During Pandemic

In June 2020, 96 elderly male prisoners were transferred to the Adirondack Correctional Facility in the mountainous North Country of New York State. Three years ago, the facility was converted to house teenagers prosecuted as adults, but the young prisoners were all transferred out to create a place to house vulnerable prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the North Country area has seen some of the lowest rates of infection in the state, at least one of the elderly prisoners was confirmed to have the virus shortly after arriving despite (being at that time) asymptomatic.

There are two places that have seen higher than average rates of infections and deaths compared to the general population: prisons and nursing homes. At the Adirondack facility, Cuomo has merged the worst of both worlds to create an extremely dangerous situation. Not only are these men at increased risk for severe symptoms of the virus due to their age, but their conditions of confinement ...

California Judge Reconsiders Six Months’ Jail for Cookie Theft at Rehab Program

He was ‘‘acclimated in groups, he was talking openly about issues that he had and how they affected his life,” said his public defender, Dana Drusinsky. “He’s a really endearing person, so [the treatment facilitators] were all proud of him.”

Then he stole a cookie.

In November 2019, Fields and other from Harbor Light were preparing food packages for charity. According to the local CBS affiliate, Fields “ate a leftover cookie without permission” and “Harbor Lights asked him to leave the program afterward.”

Fields was offered a deal: He could resume treatment if he agreed to restart the program, including the 30-day blackout period. Not wanting to lose contact with his mother, he refused the deal he saw as punishment.

The circuit court then sentenced him to six months in jail. “The treatment program is justifying it by saying that he stole and he needed to be reprimanded,” said Drusinsky. ‘The way the drug court ...

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 ...

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 ...