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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Local Police Department Disbanded in Wake of Speed Trap Embezzlement Scheme

Although the short stretch of I-75 that runs near Arlington Heights, Ohio is toll-free, many unwitting motorists have paid for the privilege of passing through that area. The small village of 800, referred to as a “speed trap” by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, had one of the busiest courts in the region – despite being the smallest community – as a result of aggressive ticket-writing by the Arlington Heights Police Department. According to a 2007 report, a whopping 93% of the town’s 3,596 court cases that year stemmed from traffic tickets.

To critics, such practices are a form of revenue-based policing, which often results in divisions between the police and the community they are meant to serve. Such practices came under widespread fire following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri throughout 2014.

In March 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report that examined contributing factors to strained community-police relations in and around Ferguson, concluding that profit motivation on the part of the police and municipal government had indeed been damaging. Those findings led to efforts to reform revenue-based policing throughout Missouri. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.54].

Unfortunately for the residents of Arlington Heights, some of the ...

Prisoner’s Escape from Illinois Jail Aided by Former Guard, Incompetence

A convicted murderer’s brazen escape from an Illinois jail was aided by a former guard who provided him with information that “substantially assisted him,” as well as apparent incompetence among jail staff, according to the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office.

Kamron T. Taylor, 23, made a bid for freedom from the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee in the early hours of April 1, 2015.

The 5’9”, 170 pound Taylor had overpowered and choked unconscious a 10-year veteran guard with military experience. Wearing the guard’s uniform and using his keys, Taylor passed through at least three sets of doors after camera verification by control room staff. He then used the guard’s key fob to find the guard’s Chevrolet SUV in the parking lot, and drove away with a .38 handgun that had been left in the vehicle.

Taylor was being held at the jail awaiting sentencing after he was found guilty of first-degree murder in February 2015, stemming from a 2013 shooting during a botched robbery.

According to authorities, Taylor’s 3 a.m. escape was assisted by former jailer Tonya D. Grant, 50, who was Taylor’s aunt. Grant was charged with obstruction of ...

Peanut Company Executives Appeal Prison Sentences in Rare Corporate Prosecution

In Georgia, a state where the death penalty is regularly imposed in cases involving multiple deaths resulting from criminal conduct, executives of the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) received relatively light federal prison sentences for their roles in corporate criminal malfeasance that resulted in the deaths of nine people. The case underscores the tilt in justice’s scales where wealthy defendants employed by powerful corporations are concerned.

In a 2009 probe, peanut products traced back to a Blakely, Georgia processing plant owned by PCA were identified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as being responsible for a salmonella outbreak that killed nine people and sickened more than 700 others in 2008 and 2009. FDA investigators reported that the outbreak was likely caused by mice droppings in the plant, which was cited for unsanitary conditions.

Georgia prosecutors declined to prosecute PCA executives, instead leaving it to federal authorities to bring charges.

As a result of an ensuing criminal investigation, federal prosecutors asserted that PCA executives falsely certified that the company’s products had been tested for pathogens and were found to be safe. Further allegations included charges that PCA executives knew the peanut products, including peanut butter, had been tainted ...

Federal Halfway House Contractor Files Unsuccessful Suit Against Bureau of Prisons

On August 3, 2015, Bannum, Inc., a provider and operator of halfway houses for federal prisoners following their release, filed an amended complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the federal Bureau of Prisons and various BOP officials, alleging they had “engaged in a pattern of conduct over the past several years that has had the effect of debarring Bannum from receiving any new contracts from the BOP.” The lawsuit requested declaratory relief, a permanent injunction and $10,000,000 in damages.

Bannum’s suit was unusual in that the company has been a BOP contractor since 1984 and in good standing for close to three decades. Until 2011, the company operated up to 17 halfway houses, also known as Residential Reentry Centers. But after a falling out with the BOP, that number plummeted to six.

According to Bannum, the issue was twofold: various federal officials were angry that the company dared to assert its contractual rights when the BOP violated them, and several high-ranking BOP employees left their positions and were subsequently hired by Dismas Charities, Inc., a Bannum competitor. Those employees included defendants Osoria Toston, formerly a BOP Contract Oversight Specialist and ...

Some Lawsuits Resolved Against New Mexico Prison Doctor, Others Still Pending

Since 2013, former New Mexico prison doctor Mark E. Walden, nicknamed “Dr. Fingers,” has faced allegations that he sexually abused a number of state prisoners. As a result of the alleged sexual assaults, he has been sued at least 15 times by 77 prisoners who were housed at facilities where Walden was employed. While the latest case was filed in January 2017, seven lawsuits have settled since 2013.

Walden, who worked for private medical services provider Corizon Health, had worked at two New Mexico state prisons operated by the GEO Group: Guadalupe County Correctional Facility (GCCF) from 2010 to 2012, and Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility (NNMDF) from February 2012 to July 2012.

The lawsuits filed as a result of Dr. Walden’s alleged improprieties have listed Walden, Corizon and GEO as defendants. Per the terms of the New Mexico Corrections Department’s (NMCD) contract with Corizon, the company and not the state agency must defend against litigation involving medical-related services.

As previously reported in Prison Legal News, Dr. Walden is accused of repeatedly sexually abusing prisoners by giving them inappropriate rectal exams for a variety of unrelated conditions and fondling their genitals. Most of his victims were young adult ...

New York State Closes 14 Prisons Amid Decline in Crime Rates

Since 2009, New York State has closed 14 prisons in an effort to reduce costs and better utilize correctional resources as its prison population has decreased. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.1; April 2009, p.1].

While it’s unusual that a prison system would opt to close facilities, the backside of the story is how the shuttered prisons are being put to use. Of the 14 closed facilities, two are now being used to help rather than incarcerate people: Bayview Correctional Facility and Fulton Correctional Facility. More importantly, the prison closures have coincided with a decline in crime rates – indicating it’s possible to downsize prisons without incurring an increase in crime.

Bayview Correctional Facility, a 153-bed women’s prison, closed in 2013. Since then it has been acquired by the NoVo Foundation, supported by musician Peter Andrew Buffett and his wife Jennifer, and is being converted into the Women’s Building – a location where women and girls can go for training, office and conference space, and events related to women’s rights. It also plans to offer child-care services.

This transformation is possible due to a 50-year lease and a partnership with the Goren Group, a women’s ...

Legacy of Mass Incarceration: Parental Incarceration Impacts One in Fourteen Children

A recent study by the research firm Child Trends revealed a stunning consequence of our nation’s policy and practice of mass incarceration: one out of every fourteen children in the U.S. has a parent who is currently or has previously been incarcerated. In other words, a staggering seven percent of America’s youth – an estimated five million children – has a parent who has spent time in prison or jail. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.34].

For black children the numbers are even bleaker: one out of every nine black children under 18 has a parent who is or has been incarcerated. Further, according to a May 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children has an incarcerated parent.

The Child Trends study was based on the National Survey of Children’s Health, with the goal of understanding both the prevalence and consequences of parental incarceration. The study found the number of children impacted by parental incarceration is about three times higher than indicated by earlier reports, which only counted children with a parent currently in prison or jail.

Sadly, the study’s authors noted their estimate of five ...

Three California Jail Guards Charged with Murdering One Prisoner, Assaulting Another

Three California jail guards have been charged with assaulting and murdering a mentally ill prisoner after he was found unresponsive in his cell shortly after midnight on August 27, 2015.

Santa Clara County jail deputies Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Matthew Farris were arrested in September 2015 and charged with the beating death of Michael Tyree, 31, a schizophrenic homeless man who had finished serving a five-day sentence for petty theft and was awaiting transfer to a mental health facility. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63].

The guards were also charged with assaulting Juan Villa, another prisoner, shortly before killing Tyree, according to prosecutors.

“These men violated the law, human dignity, and a job that they were sworn to do,” said Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen. A coroner’s report determined that Tyree’s death was due to multiple blunt force injuries to his liver and spleen, resulting in internal bleeding. At a news conference, Sheriff Laurie Smith said she felt “disappointment and disgust” about what had happened, and noted the three jailers were the only people with access to Tyree at the time of his death.

According to the charging documents, on the evening of August 26 ...

Constitutional Amendment Ensures Executions will Continue in Oklahoma

Despite a number of botched executions in recent years – which drew widespread criticism for subjecting condemned prisoners to cruel lethal injection practices – Oklahomans have voted to add a provision to the state constitution enshrining and ensuring the state’s ability to put people to death in whatever manner it sees fit.

The constitutional amendment, approved by 67 percent of voters on November 8, 2016, states that “any method of execution shall be allowed, unless prohibited by the United States Constitution,” and that no method of execution employed by the state “[shall be] deemed to be, or constitute, the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.”

Ironically, as the infliction of “cruel and unusual” punishment is expressly forbidden under the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Oklahoma amendment appears to be an attempt at self-inoculation on the part of a state plagued with a seeming inability to kill prisoners in a non-cruel and unusual way.

As reported by Al Jazeera in September 2016, drawing on data provided by the Death Penalty Information Center, Oklahoma has executed 112 prisoners since 1990. As such, it is the state with the highest per-capita execution rate, and second in total execution numbers only to ...

Increased Access to Higher Education Programs for California Prisoners

Some California prisoners, including those confined at the notorious Pelican Bay supermax, are enjoying access to higher education courses provided by the state’s community colleges. A 2014 law eliminated the requirement that all classes taught by community colleges must be open to the public; as a result, such colleges can now offer programs exclusively for prisoners. This allows them to comport with prison security requirements and receive state funding for prison education courses at a time when California community colleges are suffering low enrollment rates and thus low revenues. Consequently, doors to educational opportunities are now open to thousands of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prisoners.

In September 2014, California Senate Bill 1391 was signed into law. Amending Section 84810.5 of the Education Code and adding a new section, 84810.7, the statute not only waived the public availability requirement for community college courses, but also provided $2 million to create 18-month pilot programs and supply staffing, classroom space and educational materials for incarcerated students.

The participating schools include Lassen Community College in Susanville, which is paired with High Desert State Prison; Folsom Lake College, paired with the Folsom Women’s Facility; Chaffey Community College in ...


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