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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Brandon Sample

Maryland Ban on Prisoner's Book Rescinded

The Maryland Department of Corrections (MDOC) has rescinded its ban on "The Marshall Plan: The Life and Times of a Baltimore Black Panther," a book written by Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a Maryland prisoner.

Acting MDOC warden Wayne Webb banned Conway's book citing its depiction of other prisoners. Rick Bennetti, a spokesman for the MDCO said prisoners are not allowed to be depicted without first notifying the victims of their crimes.

"[MDOC] procedures dictate that any inmate photographed for media/other publication purposes be cleared through the proper victim notification process. This means they check to see if there is a victim notification request by the victim or victim's family in the inmate's file requesting they be notified should there be a photo/interview/media request of the inmate," Binetti said. "Generally, speaking, victims ask that the inmate not be allowed to be interviewed/photographed."

The MDOC rescinded theban on Conway's book after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit.


Former BOP Guard Convicted In Murder-For-Hire Scheme

Second BOP Guard Convicted In Assault-For-Hire

A second Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard involved with arranging the assault of a prisoner has been convicted of federal civil rights violations.

On July 8, 2010, Michael Kennedy was found guilty of violating the civil rights of Richard Delano, a former prisoner at the United States Penitentiary I in Coleman, Florida. Delano was killed in 2005 after his cellmate, John "Animal" McCullah, assaulted Delano in exchange for a pack of cigargettes that was provided by Kennedy.

Kennedy helped arrange the assault with McCullah after one of his co¬workers, Erin Sharma, was injured a month prior by Delano. Delano had allegedly grabbed Sharma's arm through the food trap in his cell door, bruising Sharma's arm.

Sharma and Kennedy conspired to make the assault happen, lying, for instance, to the shift lieutenant in order to get Delano moved in with McCullah.

Sharma was convicted in July of 2009 for violating Delano's civil rights. Sharma was sentenced to life in prison. Sharma is currently appealing her conviction and sentence.

McCullah, the assailant, has been transferred to the BOP's Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado. He has not been criminally charged for Delano's death.

Kennedy is currently awaiting ...

BOP Dentist Gets Slap On The Wrist for Sex Abuse

A federal judge has sentenced a former Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) dentist to five months imprisonment, five months home confinement, and a $3,000 fine for having sex with a female prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Florida.

Godfrey Onugha was charged with criminal sexual abuse after a semen sample found on the female prisoner's shirt matched Onugha's DNA. The prisoner approached investigators after Onugha forced her to perform oral sex on him in the dental x-ray room. Onugha claimed the encounter was "consensual," but pled guilty to the charges in May of 2010.

"Staff sexual abuse of prisoners has severe consequences for victims, undermines the safety and security of prisons, and can lead to other crimes," said Pamela C. Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Sexual abuse of federal prisoners was recently only a misdemeanor, subject to one year in prison. Congress has since made it a felony, and increased the maximum penalty to 15 years.


No More Than 20 Percent Can Be Deducted To Pay Filing Fees

The provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) authorizing monthly deductions from a prisoner’s account to satisfy the filing fee in a civil case does not permit prison officials to deduct more than 20 percent of a prisoner’s income, regardless of the number of cases or appeals the prisoner has filed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided July 13, 2010.

The Fourth Circuit’s decision comes in response to a motion for return of fees filed by Don Juan Torres. Torres had been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in two appeals after the district court dismissed two suits for failure to state a claim.

Under the PLRA, a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis is required to pay the full filing fee in a civil case or appeal, albeit in installments.

The monthly installments, according to the statute, must be equal to “20 percent of the preceding month’s income credited to the prisoner’s account.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The prisoner must have at least $10 in their account, though, before any deductions can occur. Id.

In Torres’ case, prison officials interpreted § 1915(b)(2) as requiring ...

Cook County Jail Agrees to Improvements

It took a federal lawsuit by the United States Department of Justice to get Cook County to finally agree to remedy decades of inadequate conditions at its infamous Cook County Jail (CCJ).

The sweeping deal between Cook County and the Justice Department, announced in May 2010, requires CCJ to hire 600 more guards, revamp medical and mental health care, and pay for court monitors who will report to U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall regarding the settlement's implementation.

The Justice Department filed suit after a federal inquiry revealed widespread problems at CCJ including, but not limited to, prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, unnecessary prisoner deaths, unnecessary amputations, horrible medical, dental, and mental health care, and beating by guards. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder personally signed the lawsuit.

"We have achieved a rigorous, comprehensive agreement that will remedy the unconstitutional conditions that were found at the Cook County Jail," said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. "Inmates are entitled to conditions of confinement that pass constitutional muster."

CCJ is the largest single building county jail in the country, frequently housing in excess of 8,500 prisoners a day.

Under the terms of the settlement, CCJ must install more cameras, investigate unusual prisoner injuries ...

Heck Does Not Apply to Released Prisoner Seeking Damages for Sentence Miscalculation

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Heck v. Humphrey does not bar a released federal prisoner's false imprisonment claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held on July 6, 2010.

Anthony Morrow sued the United States under the FTCA after his release from federal prison claiming that his incarceration had been prolonged unlawfully by ten extra days due to a miscalculation of his sentence.

The district court dismissed Morrow's suit, holding that Heck precluded relief. Heck held that a prisoner could not pursue monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if a favorable judgment on those claims would necessarily imply the invalidity of the prisoner's conviction or sentence. Although decided in the § 1983 context, Heck has been held to apply to FTCA claims as well.

While Heck may apply to FTCA claims, the Eleventh Circuit held that Heck did not apply in Morrow's case because (1) Morrow was no longer in custody and (2) a favorable judgment would "in no way impl[y] the invalidity of his conviction or of the sentence imposed by his conviction," the court wrote.

The court seemed ...

Pre-SORNA Offenders Not Required to Register Until Attorney General’s Regulations Issued

On March 13, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit joined in a growing circuit split over the applicability of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to offenders who failed to register prior to February 28, 2007, the date the Attorney General promulgated regulations implementing the act.

SORNA is Congress’ effort to keep tabs on sex offenders. Passed in 2006, the Act requires sex offenders who travel in interstate commerce to register with state authorities and to keep their registrations current. Failure to register can put you in federal prison for up to ten years.

William Hatcher was charged with violating SORNA’s registration requirements after he moved from one state to another and failed to register. He moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that SORNA’s registration requirements did not apply because his failure to register occurred before the Attorney General issued regulations specifying the applicability of the Act to persons convicted before SORNA’s enactment. The district court denied Hatcher’s motion. Hatcher entered a conditional plea and appealed.

The Fourth Circuit, joining the Eleventh Circuit, reversed. “SORNA’s registration requirements did not apply to pre-SORNA offenders until the Attorney General issued ...

Eighth Circuit Vacates Special Condition of Supervised Release on Possessing Materials Depicting Nudity

A special condition of supervised release prohibiting the possession of "any material, legal or illegal, that contains nudity or that depicts or alludes to sexual activity or depicts sexually arousing material" sweeps too broadly and must be vacated, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decided July 21, 2010.

Jerry Simons was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment and 20 years of supervised release after pleading guilty to violating the registration provisions of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act. At sentencing, the district court imposed a special condition of supervised release prohibiting Simons from possessing or having under his control "any material, legal or illegal, that contains nudity or that depicts or alludes to sexual activity or depicts sexually arousing material."

Simmons appealed the condition arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, infringing on his "First Amendment right to view nonobscene material that contains nudity." He also argued that the condition gave too much discretion to the probation office to determine what constitutes "sexual activity" and "sexually arousing material."

The Eighth Circuit agreed with Simons that the condition was overbroad. The court began its analysis by noting that it had upheld special conditions of supervised release ...

Gang Colors Restriction Held Unconstitutional

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has vacated a special condition of supervised release barring the "wearing of colors, insignia, or obtaining tattoos or burn marks (including branding and scars) relative to" criminal street gangs.

The court held that the condition was unconstitutionally vague.

While serving a 121-month sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, New York, Warren Green was charged with possession of a homemade weapon and marijuana inside a federal prison. Green pled guilty to both charges and was sentenced to 18 months. As a special condition of Green's supervised release, the court ordered Green not to associate with members of the "Bloods street gang or any other criminal street gang." In addition, the court banned Green from wearing "colors, insignia, or obtaining tattoos or burn marks (including branding and scars) relative to . . . gangs."

Green appealed the two special conditions of supervised release arguing that they were unconstitutional.

Turning first to the restriction on association with criminal street gangs, the court held that the term "criminal street gang" was not ambiguous because it was defined by 18 U.S.C. 521(a). "The statutory background of the federal criminal law gives ...


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