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Articles by Chad Marks

$300,000 Settlement in Lincoln County Missouri Jail Attempted Suicide Suit

by Chad Marks

Mark A. Jaconski was arrested on June 17, 2015, for outstanding traffic warrants and taken to Mercy Hospital for a “fit for confinement” determination. Hospital officials made that determination and Jaconski was transported to the Lincoln County Jail in Missouri.

No mental health screening was done of ...

Undiagnosed MRSA Forced Arizona Prisoner to Have Heart Surgery

by Chad Marks

Walking 200 feet to the chow hall was excruciating, said 35-year-old Arizona prisoner Waylon Collingwood. Held at ASPC-Lewis, he had already been to the medical department several times in July 2019 to seek help for his symptoms, which also included vomiting and nausea, only to be wrongly ...

Prisoner Co-payments for Health Care Services Eliminated in California

by Chad Marks

In 1994, California lawmakers passed a bill that charged prisoners a $3.00 fee when they visited the infirmary for medical or dental care in city and county jails.

Twenty-five years later, on September 10, 2019, the California senate voted in favor of Assembly Bill 45, which eliminates ...

Los Angeles County to Pay $53 Million for Strip Searches of Female Prisoners

by Chad Marks

In 2010, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of female prisoners at the Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Los Angeles who were forced to undergo humiliating strip and visual body cavity searches.

The searches were conducted outdoors in a bus garage area, where the women were forced to disrobe in front of 40 other women; sometimes they were so close to each other that their bodies touched. Many were forced to stand in oil from buses that regularly idled in the garage. There was blood mixed in with the oil, left by previous female prisoners who were menstruating during the invasive searches.

Guards would curse at the naked prisoners while ridiculing them and making jokes and other degrading comments. Prisoners who were menstruating were ordered to remove their pads and tampons; without being allowed to first wash their hands, guards would order the prisoners to use their fingers to open their mouths so they could be inspected.

Many of the women were exposed to cold outdoor temperatures, and sometimes the searches took place while it was raining. At times, men could observe the group searches. The lawsuit was certified as a class action in November ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses District Court’s Order Requiring Halal Meals

by Chad Marks

Abdulhakim Muhammad, a state prisoner in Arkansas, filed suit under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 cc-1 to 2000 cc-5. He argued that the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) refused to provide him with a daily serving of halal meat in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs.

The federal district court held a bench trial and granted an injunction in favor of Muhammad in May 2018. The court ordered prison officials to provide him with one serving of fish three or four days per week and one serving of halal or kosher beef, chicken or turkey the other three to four days a week.

The defendants appealed, arguing that Muhammad failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and that the district court erred on his RLUIPA and Free Exercise claims, as well as the scope of injunctive relief.

In an August 13, 2019 ruling, the Eighth Circuit agreed that Muhammad had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. As a result, the appellate court did not reach the issue of whether the ADC had violated his rights under RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause.

The Court ...

Overzealous Prosecutors Seek to Lock Up Prisoners Released Under First Step Act

by Chad Marks

In December 2018, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law. Among other reforms, the legislation reduced some of the penalties for crack cocaine offenses. For many years, there were complaints that crack cocaine sentences were overly harsh and disproportionately affected black defendants.

Since the enactment of the First Step Act, more than 1,100 prisoners have been released under the provisions lessening sentences for crack cocaine. Monae Davis, 44, benefited from the new law: Six years were shaved off his 20-year prison term. That resulted in Davis being released and reunited with his family earlier than expected.

But his freedom might be short-lived. Prosecutors in the Western District of New York, with U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. at the helm, are trying to appeal his release.

In 2009, Davis entered into a plea agreement with the federal government and admitted that he was involved with 50 grams of crack cocaine, resulting in a 20-year sentence. If arrested today, the mandatory minimum for that crime would be five years.

Prosecutors are now saying the judge erred in releasing Davis under the First Step Act, and want him back in jail. They contend that in his plea ...

Hickman’s Egg Farm Puts Prisoners to Work at High Cost to the Community, Residents Say

by Chad Marks

Since 1995, hundreds of Arizona prisoners have held part-time jobs at Hickman’s Family Farms near Arlington, part of an effort by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to help them successfully reenter society after serving their sentences. But in October 2018, local residents joined with environmental activists to file a $264 million federal lawsuit alleging the egg farm operation in Arlington and nearby Tonopah produces enough ammonia and other noxious gasses to affect their health. Two other lawsuits have since been filed by prisoners who were injured on the job at the farm.

Billy Hickman, vice president of operations for the company, admitted to U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow that the egg farm produces ammonia, about 1,000 pounds per day, but said he didn’t know it was polluting the air or even where the toxic gas was going.

“It seems like a rather cavalier attitude these people have, like, we’re sorry about your problem, but we’re making all this money,” stated Stephen Brittle with Don’t Waste Arizona. “But we have environmental laws to protect people from those kind of people.”

In September 2019, a federal lawsuit was filed by prisoner Mary Stinson after she lost ...

Eighth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s Suit Over Inadequate Shoes

by Chad Marks

Geronimo DeLuna was housed at theMower County jail in Minnesota when guards made him wear shoes that were too small for his feet. The improperly-sized footwear, according to DeLuna, resulted in a blister that caused a severe infection requiring multiple corrective surgeries over a 10-day period.

Along with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, DeLuna filed suit in federal court. He raised a claim of negligence, arguing the too-small shoes resulted in a Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infection. He also cited inadequate medical care and failure to adequately train jail staff in providing suitable shoes, among other causes of action.

The defendants moved for summary judgment. The district court concluded that DeLuna failed to show the county had breached a duty of care, and failed to show how any such breach proximately caused his injuries. Further, the court concluded the county was entitled to vicarious official immunity. In particular, it found that providing prisoners with “suitable” shoes was a discretionary duty, and that the guards did not act willfully and maliciously when providing DeLuna with shoes that were too small for him.

DeLuna appealed to the Eighth Circuit, arguing the district court’s ruling was erroneous and that ...

New York City’s Rikers Island Jail Expected to Close by 2026

by Chad Marks

The Rikers Island jail complex, one of the largest urban lockups in the United States, will soon be closing its doors if New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way. Operating under a 2015 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which found a consistent pattern of civil rights abuses at the jail, the facility’s population has shrunk to around 7,000 – one-third as many prisoners as the 21,000 housed there in 1991. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.32].

“Closing Rikers Island is a key piece of creating a smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system in New York City,” de Blasio said.

Along with gang activity, prisoner-on-staff assaults and excessive use of force by guards – a “deep-seated culture of violence,” as described in a 2014 report by the DOJ – the jail complex’s nine facilities have steadily deteriorated. One, the George Motchan Detention Center, was shuttered in June 2018. But closing the rest of Rikers Island comes with a hefty price tag.

Even without detailed cost estimates, the city says it needs to budget $8.7 billion for a replacement plan to construct smaller, 1,150-bed jails in each of four boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens ...

NBC Sends Anchorman Lester Holt to Prison as Part of its “Justice for All” Series

by Chad Marks

NBC anchorman Lester Holt has been to many prisons as part of his news reporting. But he had never slept in a locked cell for a few nights – until he went to the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in April 2019.

Holt said he and others at NBC wanted to shed light on overcrowding in prisons throughout the U.S. As part of his plan to “go big,” he met with some of the 5,500 prisoners at Angola, most serving life sentences. Holt also joined them on a bus ride to the fields to pick crops, went to the hospice ward where he met dying prisoners and spent two nights in the closed cell restriction unit that houses unruly prisoners.

“For two nights I slept and to a limited extent lived like an inmate in Angola, housed in a tiny cell in the same facility where the most difficult inmates are kept, and chillingly just a few steps away from death row,” Holt said. “Journalism thrives on access. To understand the issues of criminal justice reform that are now riding atop a bipartisan wave, it was important to me to get close. And so I did.” ...