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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Federal Prisons Use Nurses and Cooks as Guards While Officials Push to Fill Private Prisons

by Christopher Zoukis

The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) houses over 181,400 prisoners in more than 120 facilities nationwide. As a rule, federal prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. With the Trump administration demanding a 12 to 14 percent workforce reduction – which equates to 5,000 to 6,000 BOP job positions, including an estimated 1,800 guards – the Bureau has become more reliant on two controversial practices: augmentation and privatization.

BOP policy states that all employees are regarded as “correctional workers first.” As such, when a required security post is vacant, civilian workers may be forced into what the Bureau calls “augmentation.” In practice this means nurses, secretaries, teachers and other non-security staff are given keys, handcuffs and a radio, and directed to fill guard posts. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.12].

Kristan Morgan, a nurse practitioner at a federal prison in Tallahassee, said she has been required to report for guard duty in scrubs and running shoes.

“We get a radio and set of keys, and we don’t know which keys fit which doors,” she related.

Augmentation is supposed to be reserved for emergency situations. But an article in USA Today reported increasing ...

Ninth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Jail Where Three Detainees Died

by Christopher Zoukis

In an unpublished June 7, 2018 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially reversed a district court’s ruling that Cowlitz County, Washington was entitled to summary judgment in a case that alleged county jail officials violated the civil rights of three detainees who died within a nine-month period.

The estates of Stephanie Deal, Jenny Lynn Borelis and Daniel D. Bush filed claims against Cowlitz County and Corrections Director Marin Fox Hight in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They argued the policies and customs at the jail posed a substantial risk of serious harm, which resulted in the deaths of the three detainees.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, citing a failure by the plaintiffs to present evidence to support their claims. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit partially reversed that order. In doing so, it cited a recent decision that compelled that result – Gordon v. County of Orange, 888 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2018) [PLN, Oct. 2018, p.48].

According to the appellate court, Gordon changed the individual liability standard for medical-needs claims involving a pretrial detainee. Because it was now possible that “reckless ...

Experts Call for Improvements in Prisoner Dental Care

by Christopher Zoukis

Over four decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976) that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment guarantees prisoners the right to be free from “deliberate indifference” to their “serious medical needs” – a right that extends to dental care. But the interpretation of that ruling has led to widespread complaints about the quality of dental treatment that prisoners receive.

As Texas A&M dental professor Dr. Jay Shulman recently said, prison medical care, including dental care, “violates the constitution only when it’s so bad that it is ... reckless, deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.”

“For the most part, prison systems are not worried about inadequate [dental] care,” he added. “Prisons are typically not going to do any more than they have to to comply with the Eighth Amendment, which means the care doesn’t have to be good. It just has to not be so bad as to constitute deliberate indifference and infliction of pain. That’s the correctional standard.”

Dr. Nicholas Makrides, the U.S. Public Health Services’ chief dental officer, who also serves as chief dentist for the federal Bureau of ...

Prison Systems Solve Bed Space Problems by Using Out-of-State Facilities

by Christopher Zoukis

Several state prison systems are facing a dilemma: too many prisoners and not enough beds. An increasingly popular solution to this problem is to transfer prisoners to facilities in other states, sometimes thousands of miles away, where there is surplus bed space available. That extra space is typically found in private, for-profit prisons.

In February 2018, Idaho announced the transfer of 250 men from medium- and high-security state prisons to the Karnes County Correctional Center in Texas. The 550-bed facility is operated by private prison firm GEO Group. Denise Tyler, founder of the Idaho Inmate Family Support Group, said her organization has received dozens of letters from prisoners protesting the move.

“They feel like they’re being punished and their overall morale has dropped because they have been ripped away from their family and support system,” Tyler stated.

According to the Idaho Department of Correction (DOC), the prisoners will remain at the Texas facility until the state executes a long-term contract to house up to 1,000 prisoners in out-of-state facilities. Henry Atencio, director of the DOC, said his department is out of better options.

“We wish we didn’t have to send inmates out of state; we ...

Long-Term Segregation Can Establish Imminent Danger of Serious Physical Injury for PLRA Purposes

by Christopher Zoukis

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a mentally ill prisoner who spent 11 years in solitary confinement and had a history of attempted self-harm could plausibly allege that continued segregation would place him in imminent danger of serious physical injury. The ruling overturned a district court’s order to the contrary, and the case was allowed to proceed.

Maurice L. Wallace, serving life without parole, attacked a guard in 2006. He was placed in solitary confinement, where he continued to remain 11 years later. Wallace is seriously mentally ill and during his time in solitary has been litigious.

The appeal under review by the Seventh Circuit involved allegations that prolonged isolation exacerbated Wallace’s mental illness, increased his risk of suicide and violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Because Wallace asked for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, the district court reviewed his litigation history for compliance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

The PLRA’s “three strikes” provision prohibits a prisoner from proceeding with a civil action in forma pauperis when, on three or more previous occasions, a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit or ...

Wealthy? Upgrade to a First Class Criminal Justice Experience!

by Christopher Zoukis

They say money can’t buy happiness, and more money just leads to more problems. But when it comes to the criminal justice system, wealth can get an accused murderer out on bail, a celebrity a great plea deal and a sex offender an upgraded jail stay.

The money bail system is a classic example of the difference that wealth makes in our nation’s justice system. When real estate tycoon Tiffany Li was charged with orchestrating the murder of her children’s father in 2017, bail was set at $35 million – a record amount for San Mateo County, California. Not a problem – Li, her family and friends are loaded, and quickly came up with $66 million in cash and real estate to make her bond. Li was picked up from jail by a bodyguard and whisked away in a Cadillac Escalade. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.60].

Meanwhile, in New York, there are people who have been accused of petty crimes languishing in jail because they cannot post $1.00 in bail. Literally one dollar.

Having money can get you a better plea deal, too. In Palm Beach, Florida, “Real Housewives of New York” star Luann de ...

Federal Judge Orders Washington Prison Officials to Properly Feed Ramadan Participants

by Christopher Zoukis

In what could be the fastest injunction ever granted in a prison-related case, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton issued a temporary retraining order in favor of Muslim prisoners mere hours after they filed a lawsuit alleging that Washington prison officials were refusing to honor fasting requirements during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The lawsuit, filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of four men held at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, said the facility’s rigidly enforced Ramadan sign-up policy resulted in some Muslims not being able to eat. According to CAIR, the four prisoners lost an average of 20 pounds each between the beginning of Ramadan in mid-May and the day the lawsuit was filed on June 10, 2018.

One of the plaintiffs, Jeremy Livingston, said he arrived at the prison after the Ramadan sign-up date at the end of January, and was denied meals despite requesting them when he got there.

Other prisoners who were denied Ramadan meals resorted to “stealing” their regular meals so they could be consumed between sundown and sunrise, as required by their religion. But when guards learned that non-approved Muslims were in possession of ...

$17 Million Payout for Yet Another Wrongful Conviction in Chicago

by Christopher Zoukis

On June 29, 2018, a federal jury awarded over $17 million to a Chicago man who spent 21 years in a maximum-security prison for a murder he did not commit.

Jacques Rivera, now 52, was convicted of the 1988 gangland killing of 16-year-old Felix Valentin. The only ...

Lawsuit by Washington AG Against GEO Group for Wage Violations Proceeds, Granted Class-Action Status

by Christopher Zoukis

In December 2017, a federal judge denied a motion by GEO Group, the private operator of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington, to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state’s Attorney General, Bob Ferguson. The suit alleges that GEO violated the state’s minimum wage law by paying NWDC detainees just $1.00 per day for their labor at the facility. Washington’s minimum wage is currently $11.50 per hour.

GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, provides detention services at NWDC under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The company had requested that the court either add ICE as a co-defendant or dismiss the case. The court rejected both options.

“This is an important step toward holding this multibillion dollar company accountable for exploiting its detainee workers in Washington by not following our minimum wage laws,” Ferguson stated.

With 141 prisons and detention centers in operation worldwide, GEO’s gross revenue exceeded $2.26 billion in 2017. It has owned the 1,575-bed NWDC since 2005, operating it for ICE under a contract valued at $57 million annually. The facility houses immigrant detainees awaiting resolution of deportation cases, which are civil rather than criminal ...

Defy Ventures Founder Steps Down Amid Accusations of Misconduct

by Christopher Zoukis

Catherine Hoke used to work on Wall Street, employed by a private equity firm. She left the world of high finance to start the Prison Entrepreneurship Program for Texas prisoners in 2004. But after five years Hoke was forced out and banned from all Texas prisons, after she admitted to having relationships with program graduates following their release.

Hoke is a big believer in second chances, though, so she gave herself one. In 2010 she founded Defy Ventures, a nonprofit dedicated to helping former prisoners stay out through training and mentorship to help them start their own businesses. Defy, based in New York City, now has programs in over 20 prisons and jails in Nebraska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York and – as of October 2018 – at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington State. It also has a large Internet presence, teaching business classes via online lectures. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.20].

According to the organization, the recidivism rate for program graduates is less than five percent over a three-year tracking period, based on March 2018 data.

Defy Ventures, whose tagline is “Transforming your hustle,” has become a Silicon Valley darling, receiving grants from ...


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