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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

New York: Inhumanity in the Guise of Education at Rikers Island Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

The New York City Board of Correction (BOC), which provides oversight of the city’s jails, has approved the use of controversial “restraint desks” for violent prisoners aged 18 to 21 held at the Rikers Island jail complex. The desks – used in classrooms where programming is provided – allow for free movement of the hands and arms but shackle the prisoners’ ankles to the bolted-down base.

According to Winette Saunders, head of youth programming for the BOC, the desks make prisoners feel more secure and thus more willing to attend classes at the jail.

“They feel more comfortable knowing that everyone is in restraints,” Saunders said at a Board of Correction hearing in January 2017.

The desks are used in Enhanced Supervision Housing units, which have replaced solitary confinement for prisoners under the age of 21. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.21]. The desks allow the prisoners seven to 10 hours out of their cells; however, unlike their cells, where they could take a few steps, the desks leave them completely immobilized.

The BOC members who voted to allow use of the desks for another six months were not completely sold on the idea.

“The young ...

Drug Addicts Suffer Preventable Deaths in U.S. Jails

by Christopher Zoukis

There is a growing epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, over 33,000 opioid-related deaths occurred in 2015, representing a quadrupling of such fatalities since 1999. It is estimated that three-quarters of crimes are related to drugs and two-thirds of prisoners have a history of substance abuse.

People who end up in jail are increasingly users of heroin, painkillers and methadone. And while the offenses for which they were arrested are frequently minor, the punishment they receive sometimes amounts to a death sentence. This focus on opioid-related deaths is a more specific aspect of the larger problem of people dying in jails due to inadequate healthcare in general. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.44].

PLN reviewed details surrounding the deaths of ten opioid addicts in county jails across the United States. All were preventable. Had their addictions been treated as a medical issue and not as part of the criminal justice system, their deaths could have been avoided.

Jennifer Lobato, 37, was booked into the Jefferson County jail in Colorado in March 2015 for shoplifting $57 worth of merchandise from an Old Navy store. She vomited, collapsed ...

Palestinian Prisoners Stage Hunger Strike

by Christopher Zoukis

Around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017, a date also known as Palestinian Prisoners Day. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies, the strike was meant to protest the “difficult humanitarian conditions” inside Israeli prisons.

Al Jazeera reported that the prisoners’ demands included bi-monthly family visitation, increasing the duration of visits and installing public telephones in areas where prisoners are held. The ability of Palestinian prisoners to communicate with their families is severely limited due to their detention inside Israel, as opposed to the occupied Palestinian territories where the majority of prisoners resided prior to their incarceration. This means that family members who want to visit their imprisoned loved ones must apply for permits, which are not always granted.

Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli policy of holding prisoners from occupied territories within Israel violates the Geneva Convention.

“Palestinian prisoners are placed inside Israel as opposed to the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said Shakir. “This is a crippling restriction on access to family and loved ones.”

Amnesty International also condemned Israel’s incarceration ...

$8.4 Million Judgment in Defamation Suit

by Christopher Zoukis

A retired Army colonel who was denied a promotion due to a rape accusation has been awarded $8.4 million in a defamation lawsuit filed against his accuser.

Col. David “Wil” Riggins, a highly-decorated veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, was up for promotion to brigadier general in July 2013 when he was accused of raping a fellow cadet at West Point in 1986. The accuser, Susan Shannon of Everett, Washington, claimed that Riggins sexually assaulted her after she was provided free beer on the West Point campus and drank herself unconscious. Shannon, 52, further alleged that Riggins had “smugly admitted he did indeed rape” her.

Riggins vehemently denied the claim, and reportedly waived his right to an attorney and gave a statement. When an Army Criminal Investigative Division investigation was launched, he reported he had a short relationship with Shannon in 1983 that included at least one consensual sexual encounter. Shannon called Riggins’ version of events “a complete fabrication.”

When Shannon resigned from the military academy in the spring of 1986, court records indicated that she denied having been sexually assaulted. It wasn’t until July 15, 2013 – around 27 years later, and just 13 ...

Seventh Circuit Approves Use of "Correctional Cure-All" and Insensitive Treatment of Sick Prisoner

by Christopher Zoukis

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled against a prisoner who claimed that his serious medical needs were treated with deliberate indifference at an Illinois prison.

Nathaniel Harper was imprisoned at Centralia Correctional Center when he became ill with stomach pains, vomiting and constipation. Harper alleged that nurse Terri Dean laughed at him during the course of his initial evaluations. He was ultimately seen by Dr. Venerio M. Santos and admitted to St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment of suspected intestinal blockage.

Harper was operated upon to repair a bowel obstruction, and remained hospitalized for 38 days due to complications. He eventually underwent nine surgeries, and left the hospital with a colostomy bag.

Harper also left with a recommended course of treatment that included use of the pain management drug Vicodin. But Dr. Santos immediately discontinued the Vicodin, substituting the "correctional cure-all" -- Tylenol. The doctor also refused to order the follow-up ultrasound recommended by treating physicians, and refused to provide him with an appropriate diet. Harper further complained that Nurse Dean stole his pillow and refused to change his colostomy bag.

 Harper sued for damages under 42 U.S.C ...

Bureau of Prisons Selects New Health Care Accrediting Body

by Christopher Zoukis

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has contracted with the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) to provide accreditation services at the 122 BOP institutions that provide medical, dental and mental health services to prisoners.

The AAAHC was founded in 1979 and according to its website is "the leader in ambulatory health care accreditation with more than 6,000 organizations accredited."

"AAAHC advocates for the provision of high quality health care through the development and adoption of nationally-recognized standards," notes the AAAHC website. "We provide a valuable survey experience founded on a collaborative, consultative, educational approach to peer-based, on-site review. The AAAHC Certificate of Accreditation demonstrates an organization's commitment to provide safe, high quality services to its patients."

In English, this means that the AAAHC will send a group of doctor and nurse "surveyors" to tell the institutions what they are doing wrong, and how they might fix it. If the institution meets the AAAHC standards, it will receive accreditation. Which the BOP is paying for.

If this accreditation process is in any way similar to the American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditation process, federal prisoners should not expect improvements in medical care as a result of ...

$150,000 in Damages Ordered Paid to Injured Prisoner

By Christopher Zoukis

The Bureau of Prisons lost a tort claim brought by a prisoner who was attacked by another prisoner in 1991.

The plaintiff, Stephen E. Usselman, alleged that he was placed in the special housing unit at Federal Correctional Institution Sheridan, Oregon and was housed with a higher ...

$15.000 Settles Multiple Civil Rights Complaints

by Christopher Zoukis

The Bureau of Prisons settled multiple civil rights lawsuits brought by prisoner David Y. Merritt in March 2002.

Merritt, an imprisoned government informant, filed several lawsuits against the Bureau of Prisons in federal court between 1995 and 2001. He alleged a litany of constitutional violations, including denial ...

BOP Fails and Prevails in Prison Guard Discrimination Complaint

by Christopher Zoukis

Robert T. Aranda, an "inmate systems officer" (prison guard), was a very litigious Bureau of Prisons employee. Between 1996 and 1998, while working at multiple BOP facilities in several capacities, Aranda filed at least six complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). He alleged variations of racial (Hispanic) and gender (male) discrimination against many bureau employees, as well as retaliation for his many filings.

In one instance, Aranda alleged discrimination because he was required to write a letter explaining why he deserved better ratings on his performance reports. In his EEOC complaint, Aranda said that "writing that letter made me feel like they thought I was illiterate and had come out of the feilds [sic]."

Administrative Judge Glenn G. Meyers heard all of Aranda's claims in August 2001. After two days of evidence, including the testimony of 18 witnesses, Judge Meyers found for Aranda in part, and the Bureau of Prisons in part. The judge found that three of Aranda's discrimination claims, which alleged "non-selection" for promotion, were legitimate cases of discrimination based on national origin and sex.

The judge found for the Bureau of Prisons on all other claims of discrimination.

Aranda also ...

$330,000 Settles Guard-on-Prisoner Sexual Assault Claims

by Christopher Zoukis

The Bureau of Prisons agreed to pay four female prisoners an aggregate total of $330,000.00 in order to settle claims that they were all subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of prison guard Johnsie Donaldson. All four women agreed to settle their claims against the Bureau of Prisons officials, but not against Donaldson.

Shanell Stewart, Mary Payne, Herlinda Arroyo-De Hernandez, and Carol Birdsong were prisoners at Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, California between October 30, 2000 and December 31, 2001. According to the complaint, filed in federal District Court, they were all “sexually assaulted physically, verbally and sexually abused and harassed, [and] subjected to repeated invasions of privacy, threats, retaliation and harassment when they complained about the abuse.”

The four women collectively sued Kathleen Hawk-Sawyer, the former director of the Bureau of Prisons; Robert M. Haro, regional director for the western region; Michael Benov, warden of FCI Dublin; Paul Schultz, former warden of FCI Dublin; Dr. Stephen Formanski, mental health worker at FCI Dublin; and Johnsie Donaldson, prison guard at FCI Dublin and alleged assailant.

The women alleged that on multiple occasions, Donaldson forced himself on them, demanded oral sex, and threatened them with ...


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