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Articles by Brian Dolinar

Louisiana Prisoners Used as Slave Labor During Hurricane Ida, Families Left in the Dark for Weeks

by Brian Dolinar

When Hurricane Ida made landfall this past summer, it was the deadliest and most destructive to hit Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, many prisoners were not evacuated and left for days in their cells without food or clean water, standing chest-high in flood water.

This time around, prison officials evacuated some, and left others behind who were used essentially as slave labor to lay sandbags in preparation of the storm. Families went for weeks without getting a phone call from their loved ones, left to worry about their wellbeing. On top of everything, the hurricane happened in the midst of a pandemic, with the authorities unprepared to face the challenges.

Louisiana incarcerates more people per capita than any state in the US, with 1,094 out of every 100,000 residents behind bars. According to Prison Policy Initiative, Louisiana locks up a higher percentage of its population than any other nation. Among some 50,000 people incarcerated, about 12,000 are held at local jails in parishes, what Louisiana calls its counties.

On August 29, 2021, Hurricane Ida touched down in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane. In Louisiana, it left behind a recorded $25-35 billion in damages and 33 ...

Eleven Guards Fired after Death at Houston Jail

by Brian Dolinar

As other cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York have slowly begun to decarcerate their county jails, the Harris County Jail in Houston has resisted reform efforts. Over the years, Prison Legal News (PLN) has documented the persistent problems at the jail in Houston. The recent death of Jaquaree Simmons resulted in 11 guards being fired, and another six suspended. Despite the sheriff’s swift action, details of the man’s death suggest the widespread acceptance of abuses in the Lone Star State of Texas.

In October 2009, PLN ran a cover story about the Houston jail after the Department of Justice released an investigation concluding that “certain conditions at the Jail violate the constitutional rights of detainees.” From 2001 through June 2009, 142 prisoners died in Harris County’s jail—most were pretrial detainees. A new sheriff, Adrian Garcia, took over the jail in 2009 promising to do better, but an investigation by the Houston Chronicle showed that little progress was made. Between 2009 and 2015, 55 people died in the jail while awaiting trial.

Among them was Kenneth Christopher Lucas who died at the jail in 2014 while being restrained in an incident that was captured ...

Hunger Strike, Ceiling Collapse, Lawsuit Spotlight Deteriorating Conditions at Women’s Prison in Illinois

by Brian Dolinar and Panagioti Tsolkas

"I’ve been incarcerated since the age of 18, I grew up in the penal system,” shares Mishunda Davis. “I went from the Cook County jail, to Dwight prison, to Lincoln, and I have never seen as many condemned buildings as I’ve seen since arriving here at Logan. I know because I’ve lived behind these prison walls for 20+ years. Logan is by far in the worst shape.”

“Years of living like this was the spark,” says Davis. “I chose to starve for a change.” 

The worsening conditions at Logan Correctional Center, the main prison for women incarcerated in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), recently grabbed headlines when three women organized a hunger strike. They wanted to expose the toxic and dangerous environment for all women there.

The Chicago Tribune reported in June 2021 news of the hunger strike. Women had been made to stand in raw sewage for days. There were 49 women who were moved to fix what IDOC spokesperson Lindsey Hess called “plumbing issues.” The women were housed in an old unit which had been previously shut down due to its crumbling infrastructure. 

Conditions were so bad for three of the ...

Prioritizing Incarcerated People for Vaccine Quickly Reduced COVID in IL Prisons

New Surge of COVID Is Spreading “Like Wildfire” in Illinois Prisons

Part of the Series: Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19

With COVID-19 raging throughout the United States, there is a growing sense of desperation among people in prison. Pablo Mendoza, who recently got out of prison, said that those inside “are ...

Illinois Prison Phone Rates are Lowest Following Grassroots Activism

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

“There were a lot of times my sons tried calling me,” recalled Annette Taylor, who regularly receives calls from her two sons in prison, “but there was no money on the account.” Those were some of the “hardest calls,” she said. “I would worry something was ...

Profiting Off Mass Incarceration: Detroit Pistons Owner Buys Private Prison Phone Company

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The election of Donald Trump has already given an economic boost to those profiting from mass incarceration. The stock prices of the two biggest private prison builders – CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group – doubled after Trump took office.

Companies that charge for expensive ...

With General Inch in Charge, We Can Expect Further Militarization of the Prison System

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

The appointment of retired Army General Mark S. Inch to head the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a major blow to those working for prison reform under Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on August 1, 2017 that Inch would be taking over the position. ...

Orange Crush: The Rise of Tactical Teams in Prison

by Brian Dolinar, Truthout

Since Ferguson, there has been a public outcry over militarized police who shoot down African Americans on the streets of our cities, but less is known beyond prison walls about guards who regularly brutalize those incarcerated. In Illinois, there is a notorious band of guards called the ...

When Jail is Used as Drug Treatment

By Brian Dolinar, Smile Politely

Some in our community say that those in the local jail are dangerous people that shouldn’t be let out on the streets. Yet the tragic story of Toya Frazier, who recently died in the jail, is the more common case of someone who was no ...