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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Chad Marks

Federal Judge Orders Prison Doctor to Face Deliberate Indifference Claims

by Chad Marks

A federal judge in Indiana ruled on June 12, 2018 that prison doctor Paul Talbot must answer a complaint filed by state prisoner Billy J. Lemond.

Lemond was incarcerated at the Pendleton Correctional Facility when he required back surgery. On August 24, 2015, he underwent decompressive laminectomy surgery at an outside hospital. Dr. Gautam Phookan, who performed the procedure, prescribed a 30-day supply of pain medication and physical therapy. Two days later, Lemond was discharged and returned to Pendleton. 

Once at the prison, Dr. Talbot, employed by private medical contractor Corizon, changed Lemond’s pain medication from Norco to Tramadol, and from 30 days to just five days. He also decided that physical therapy was not needed.

Lemond filed suit arguing that Dr. Talbot had violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Specifically, the doctor had failed to provide him with prescribed pain medication and failed to order physical therapy for eight months; as a result, Lemond suffered unnecessary pain and loss of mobility.

Dr. Talbot moved to have the suit dismissed on summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when the movant shows there is ...

Report Outlines Eight Ways to Shorten Excessive Prison Sentences

by Chad Marks

The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population and around 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Our incarceration rate is 19 percent higher than Turkmenistan’s, 36 percent higher than Cuba’s and 57 percent higher than Russia’s. There is no other democracy that has a prison system anything like in the U.S., either in terms of incarceration rates or numbers. We spend about $80 billion a year on corrections alone.

Mass incarceration is a problem that liberals often approach as an issue of economic injustice and structural racism. Conservatives usually see it as a matter of government overspending and overreach. Recently, lawmakers have begun lessening penalties for drug-related crimes and low-level property offenses, resulting in prison populations flattening out. 

While those developments have helped in some ways, they are not the answer to the real question, which is how to fix the decades-long practice of sending so many people to prison for far too long.

The Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) issued a report in November 2018 titled “Eight Keys to Mercy,” which outlines eight ways to help reduce the nation’s massive prison population. Jorge Renaud, the author of the report ...

Challenges, Secrecy Continue to Surround Use of Lethal Injection Drugs

by Chad Marks

Through December 31, 2018, there have been 1,490 executions in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. Almost 90 percent have been carried out by lethal injection, which is considered more humane than hanging, electrocution or the gas chamber. But executions have not gone without problems. Through 2010, it was estimated that seven percent of lethal injections were blundered, causing pain to the prisoner before he died.

Until 2009 most states performed executions using the same three-drug protocol: a barbiturate as an anesthetic, a paralytic to prevent body movement and potassium chloride to induce cardiac arrest. But one by one, every supplier approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has imposed distribution controls on its products to block their use in executions. As a result, states began to experiment with different lethal injection drugs. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.14; July 2016, p.58; Mar. 2014, p.46; Nov. 2012, p.44; June 2011, p.1].

One of those alternative drugs is midazolam. In April 2014, Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections (DOC) attempted to use midazolam to execute Clayton Darrell Lockett, 38, who had been sentenced to death for the 1999 ...

High Risk, Low Pay for California Prisoners Who Fight Fires

by Chad Marks

Since the 1940s, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has maintained a firefighting corps composed of prisoner volunteers. In late 2018, when the Camp and Woolsey fires destroyed the town of Paradise and hundreds of homes in upscale Malibu, over 1,400 prisoners contributed 15 percent of the firefighting manpower to California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).

Since 1983, at least six prisoner firefighters have died in the Conservation Camp Program (CCP), including three between 2016 and 2017, when over 16,000 wildfires burned nearly two million acres across the state. Two prisoners were crushed, Shawna Lynn Jones by a falling boulder and Matthew Beck by a 120-foot tree. Jones, 22, was just months away from completing her sentence. Another CCP volunteer, Frank Anaya, sustained a fatal cut to his femoral artery in a chainsaw accident. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.46; June 2004, p.22; Mar. 2001, p.14].

Though no firefighters died battling the two big blazes in 2018, CAL FIRE’s “Green Sheet” report for the second week of November that year listed five firefighters who were treated and released from a burn center on the first day of the ...


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