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Articles by Bill Barton

Alabama Says It Will Reform Prisons, the Nation’s Deadliest

Back in 2014 Alabama was sued in federal court regarding failures in taking care of the medical and mental-health needs of prisoners. Approximately three years later, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson found the ADOC “horrendously inadequate” in meeting those needs and also criticized severe staff shortages in the system. He then subsequently ordered the state to hire more than 2,000 additional correctional staff by 2022.

The possibility of a DOJ lawsuit against the state has apparently spurred Republican Governor Kay Ivey to convene a criminal-justice panel. “We’ve done a great job of identifying the issues,” panel member Chris Englund, a Democratic state representative, said. “But ...

Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gatti Help Prisoners in Mississippi Sue State Over “Inhumane and Unconstitutional Conditions”

Lawyers representing music stars Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and Mario “Yo Gotti” Mims, along with Carter’s entertainment company, Team Roc, filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Mississippi on January 14, 2020, on behalf of 24 prisoners held at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. The suit’s named defendants are then-Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) Commissioner Felicia Hall and Marshal Turner, superintendent of the Parchman prison until April 2020.

The suit was filed by Blackmon & Blackmon of Canton and Alex Spiro and colleagues from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York. Prior to filing, Team Roc sent a letter to Hall and then-Gov. Phil Bryant accusing MDOC of operating prisons that are “inhumane and unconstitutional.” Bryant’s term ended in January 2020 when his former lieutenant governor Tate Reeves, was inaugurated.

Spiro said the group was ‘‘prepared to pursue all potential avenues to obtain relief for the people living in Mississippi’s prisons and their families,” and concluded the letter with a warning: “Roc Nation and its philanthropic arm, Team Roc, demand that Mississippi take immediate steps to remedy this intolerable situation.”

Since December 29, 2019, at least 30 men have died in Mississippi prisons, most at ...

Rhode Island Corrections’ Union President Fined for Excessive Political Donations

The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted in December 2019 to fine correctional officers’ union president Richard Ferruccio for allowing the union’s Political Action Committee (PAC) to exceed the state’s limit on annual campaign contributions for three successive years. Ferruccio agreed to pay the $1,020 penalty after the board voted to approve the fine.

The PAC exceeded the state’s $25,000 cap by $4,075 in 2017, $1,350 in 2018 and $4,775 through the first three quarters of 2019, according to the board’s findings.

Traditionally, the union has a vocal role in proceedings at the State House, particularly on criminal justice reform issues, including its recent opposition to the plan to close the high-security unit at the Adult Correctional Institution while a new unit is built. The PAC is also known to issue political endorsements during election season.

During 2019, the PAC donated $1,000 apiece to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, Congressman James Langevin, Treasurer Seth Magaziner, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

According to Richard Hahn, the PAC’s treasurer, the union has started new policies ensuring that it complies with state law, and he apologized for the past violations.

In other actions, the board fined ...

Report: Oaks of Justice Pitch to Help Prisoners Return Home Appears Shady

It’s scarcely news that people incarcerated in federal prison are often desperate for any possible chance to return home. Unfortunately, prisoners aren’t really in a position to verify the legitimacy of assorted offers of shortened sentences, and misinformation is rampant.

On its website, the group Oaks of Justice claims that it can assist federal prisoners in obtaining early release and completing their sentences at home while being monitored by surveillance systems worn on their wrists like a smart watch. According to its website, the wrist monitors track respiration, pulse, and alcohol or drug use.

The company also claims that its program is part of the First Step Act. Oaks of Justice says users of its service must remain within boundaries, a so-called “geo-yard,” set at the time of release.

Company founder Joanne Barefoot Morgan (aka Winnie Joanne Barefoot) has claimed that federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials and President Donald Trump support the program, according to a January 2020 report by The Marshall Project. A spokesperson for the BOP said the Bureau has no such deal with the company.

Dolores Wallace’s sister was serving a 3 ½-year sentence in federal prison. She asked Dolores to look into ...

Michigan Permits Prisoners to Seek Financial Assistance for College

In October 2019, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a 2020 budget that allowed prisoners to seek college financial aid through a state program that had long been out-of-bounds to prisoners.

The Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) reimburses tuition expenses for Medicaid-eligible students at participating private and public colleges. The 2020 budget allocates $64.3 million to TIP, administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury (DOT).

“It makes a statement saying that education changes lives,” said Terrell Blount, a program associate for the Vera Institute of Justice. “It reduces recidivism. Everyone agrees people should be held accountable for what they’ve done or committed, but that doesn’t mean that they should be deprived and have their educational opportunity taken away from them.”

Blount said the expansion of eligibility is a “big win” for Michigan, which is now among 18 states that allows aid to imprisoned students.

According to Kyle Kaminski, of the Michigan Department of Corrections, “there are currently four Michigan colleges that offer credit-bearing postsecondary education courses in Michigan prisons: Jackson College, Mott Community College, Delta Community College and Calvin College.

“In the winter semester 2019, Kaminski said, 770 incarcerated students participated in for-credit classes, not including correspondence ...

D.C. Juvenile Offender Finally Released After 26 Years Behind Bars

David Bailey was a reckless and violent 17-year-old when he shot and killed two people outside a Washington, D.C. night club. He was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 35 years to life.

According to The Appeal, “both of Bailey’s parents struggled with heroin dependency, according to court documents, and he was born opioid-dependent, which resulted in long-term symptoms. His father was violent toward his mother and as an infant he was passed between homes. He dropped out of school at age 13 and latched onto older children and adults who spent their days on the streets. He began selling marijuana and crack cocaine.”

During 26 years in prison, Bailey was written up for only one argument and one physical fight. Otherwise, his record was basically clean. He learned to read and write on his own, and obtained his GED. Programs aimed at rehabilitation were part of his day-to-day life while locked up, and he did his best to provide emotional and financial support to his two daughters.

James Zeigler, Bailey’s attorney, said he “had taken anger management courses, reformed his erratic behavior, and turned his life around.”

Citing modern neuroscience, the Supreme ...

Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders DOC to Free Terminally Ill Prisoners After DOJ Investigates Mistreatment

On January 28, 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) voided several regulations used by the state Department of Correction (DOC) to justify denying 29 petitions by prisoners for medical parole, also known as “compassionate release.” The ruling came in a case by one of a number ...

Former Captain at Louisiana Private Prison Sentenced for Conspiracy to Violate Ban on Cruel and Unusual Punishment

by Bill Barton

Roderick Douglas, 38, of Monroe, Louisiana, was sentenced to serve 60 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy with five other guards at Richwood Correctional Center (RCC) to violate the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Douglas was sentenced June 5, 2019, by U.S. ...

Virginia Governor Suspends Policy After Eight-Year-Old Strip Searched During Prison Visit

On December 6, 2109, Governor Ralph Northam suspended a Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) policy that authorized strip searches of minors.

An 8-year-old girl had been subjected to a strip search November 24, 2019, at Buckingham Correctional Center (BCC) in Dillwyn, before authorities allowed the child to ...

California’s New “Progressive” Governor Seeks to Halt Parole for Some Murderers and “Serious” Offenders

Then convicted Newport Beach sex offender Trenton Veches won parole in mid-March 2019, it was granted despite opposition by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has otherwise displayed a progressive criminal justice reform position, including his controversial death penalty moratorium announced in March. But since taking office in ...