Skip navigation

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

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 ...

Dear Librarian: Filling the Information Gap for Prisoners with No Internet Access

For most Americans, life without Google or Wikipedia would be quite different, and living without Internet access probably unimaginable. One might ask, “How would I obtain the information I need to live my life?” Yet for most of America’s 2.3 million prisoners there is no Google, no Facebook, no Internet at all.

While a growing number of states and the federal Bureau of Prisons allow prisoners access to limited and monitored email – usually for a fee – that does not include the ability to peruse the Internet. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.35; Dec. 2009, p.24].

As such, most prisoners have to obtain information the old-fashioned way: relying on family and friends on the outside as well as (usually outdated) encyclopedias and almanacs in prison libraries. But a program offered by the New York Public Library helps shine a light for some prisoners. Through NYPL’s Correctional Services Program, a team of librarians and researchers receive about 60 letters a month from prisoners seeking information of some kind.

From queries about post-release opportunities to pleas for baseball statistics, the team does its best to provide answers. The Correctional Services Program, which runs lending libraries in New York state ...

Jail Official Convicted of Illegally Recording Phone Conversations Loses Appeal

A former high-ranking official at a New Jersey county jail, convicted on federal charges for illegally listening to and recording the private phone conversations of jail union leaders, has lost his appeal and will remain in federal prison.

Kirk Eady, 46, of East Brunswick, New Jersey, was convicted in March 2015 on charges of illegal interception of wire, oral or electronic communications of others. On September 10, 2015 he was sentenced to 21 months in prison plus three years of supervised release.

Eady appealed, seeking to overturn his conviction and sentence on the grounds of inappropriate application of sentencing guidelines, inappropriate use of a government witness as an “expert” and improper jury instructions. His appeal was rejected by the Third Circuit on May 4, 2016.

According to the criminal complaint, Eady was a deputy director at the Hudson County Correctional Facility and represented the county in labor negotiations with unions representing guards and other employees at the jail. From March to July 2012, Eady intercepted conversations between several members of the union who, according to court documents, had criticized Eady’s work performance.

He had intercepted the calls by using an online prank service known as “Evil Operator,” which, for ...

New Federal Study Shows Half of Incarcerated Veterans Have Mental Disorder

A report compiled by a well-respected prisoner group indicates that while the Massachusetts Department of Corrections is diligent in collecting profits from prisoners' commissary purchases, it has failed to spend those funds on prisoner benefit purchases, as required by state regulation -- to the tune of a $2 million surplus for the most recent fiscal year ending in June, 2015.

The stunning revelations are contained in a report authored by Gordon Haas, Chairman of the Norfolk Lifers Group, a prisoner group that has operated in Massachusetts prisons for several decades, advocating for better conditions and the protection of prisoners' rights. Lifers Group is comprised primarily of prisoners serving life sentences at the maximum security MCI Norfolk and has long examined the Massachusetts DOC's abuses of its fiscal responsibilities. In October, 2015, lifer Gordon Haas and his group published a report on the DOC's income and expenses relating to accounts funded primarily by commissions from prisoner commissary purchases via the Keefe Commissary Network.

Massachusetts regulations 103 DOC 476.10 and 476.11 dictate that the Department of Corrections maintain certain accounts that are intended to provide services or benefits to prisoners. The accounts are funded by monthly assessments of fixed ...


Sure Shot Books



Prisoner Education Guide side



Federal Prison Handbook




Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual