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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

California Prisoner Denied Medical Treatment Settles Suit with Prison Medical Staff

by Christopher Zoukis

 Carlos Quiroz, who alleged that he lost 80 percent of the vision in his left eye due to medical neglect while incarcerated in three different California prisons, agreed to a settlement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and prison medical staff.

     Quiroz had been held in the California State Prison at Wasco, Lancaster and Corcoran since 2004. According to Quiroz, medical staff at each facility disregarded his previously prescribed medications for glaucoma, instead telling him that he only had a simple eye infection. He claimed that this resulted in the loss of more than 80 percent of his vision in his left eye. Quiroz maintained that a cornea transplant was necessary in order to possibly restore his lost vision, but that medical staff denied his request. In addition, the prison medical staff failed to properly diagnose and treat an ongoing kidney and urinary tract problem.

     On October 16, 2006, Quiroz filed a civil rights complaint in federal court, alleging that numerous wardens, doctors and medical staff subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment through their deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. He also claimed that he was discriminated against based on his ...

Jewish Prisoner Denied Kosher Meals Settles with Arizona Prison Officials

by Christopher Zoukis

Officials at Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, a private prison operated at the time by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company now known as CoreCivic, agreed to settle with a prisoner who was denied kosher meals required by his religious beliefs in Judaism. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

     During certain periods in 2010, the Saguaro facility was on lockdown, meaning the prisoners remained locked in their cells and would have their meals brought to them. Robert S. Cardines Jr., who was incarcerated at Saguaro at this time, was allegedly given bologna and other processed meats, and his requests for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were denied. Because the meat and dairy products provided were not kosher, they violated his religious dietary laws, and he couldn't eat them.

     On September 2, 2010, Cardines filed a pro se complaint in federal court against CCA Regional Director of Operations Daren Swenson, Warden Todd Thomas, and Assistant Wardens Ben Greigo and J. Bradley. Cardines argued that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated, as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). He filed another claim for ...

Man's Arrest Based on False Information Results in Settlement with City of Los Angeles, LAPD

by Christopher Zoukis

 Robert Craig Bell, who was arrested and jailed based on information that later was found to be false, agreed to a settlement with the city of Los Angeles and two LAPD officers.

     On May 8, 2008, LAPD Detective Dennis Derr and Officer Torres arrested Bell, based on information from a minor, for attempted kidnapping with the intent of committing a sex crime. A search of Bell's home and vehicle followed. When the minor's information was subsequently found to be false, the charge was dropped and Bell released.

     Bell filed a complaint in federal court against Derr, Torres and the city of Los Angeles, alleging false arrest, unreasonable seizure, deprivation of due process and illegal search in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. He maintained that the entire incident caused him severe emotional distress, and he suffered physical pain while handcuffed.

     Bell sought damages for lost income, bail paid, attorney's fees, pain, suffering and emotional distress. He also sought special and exemplary damages. On January 18, 2012, the parties reached a settlement agreement, and the case was dismissed by Judge A. Howard Matz on January 25, 2012. Details of the agreement ...

Wrongfully Deported California Permanent Resident Granted Retrial

by Christopher Zoukis

    Jose Luis Tapia-Fierro, who was a legal permanent resident of California when he was deported after a conviction of involuntary manslaughter, was granted the right to appeal his deportation decision even after waiving his appeal rights at the deportation hearing. Tapia-Fierro also accepted a settlement of approximately $80,000 for attorneys' fees and costs.

     Tapia-Fierro arrived in the United States in 1986 and received permanent resident status the following year. In 1999, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, resulting in a 34-month prison sentence. On May 24, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") initiated removal proceedings, alleging that he was a noncitizen convicted of an aggravated felony. At the hearing, Tapia-Fierro allegedly waived his appeal rights and was deported.

     On August 2, 2001, Tapia-Fierro was arrested and charged with illegal re-entry into the United States. He was convicted and sentenced to 67 months imprisonment, his sentence being increased based on his having a prior aggravated felony conviction.

     On August 19, 2005, Tapia-Fierro filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court against the U.S. Attorney General. He claimed that he had been wrongfully convicted of re-entry because he ...

Corrections Corporation of America Settles Medical Neglect Suit with Louisiana Prisoner

by Christopher Zoukis

 Emmett Ellerbe, a prisoner at Louisiana's Winn Correctional Center who was allegedly denied adequate medical treatment, reached a settlement with the prison, the warden and the medical staff. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

     Winn Correctional Center is a private prison operated at the time by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company now known as CoreCivic. While at Winn, Ellerbe maintained that he was suffering from bleeding hemorrhoids, and that numerous requests for treatment were rejected by Medical Director Pat Thomas, prison Doctor Alphonso Pacheco and Warden Tim Wilkerson. Ellerbe was able to obtain a treatment recommendation from an outside specialist, but prison officials refused to follow the prescribed treatment. Instead, Ellerbe asserted that he was prescribed medication that caused his condition to worsen, developing an infection that required surgery.

     On May 6, 2010, Ellerbe filed a pro se civil rights complaint in federal court against Thomas, Pacheco, Wilkerson and CCA, arguing that they acted with deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He claimed that he was denied medical treatment and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Ellerbe sought an order requiring the ...

Department of Defense: Art Created by Guantαnamo Bay Detainees Belongs to U.S.

by Christopher Zoukis

Professor Erin L. Thompson of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City created a stir when she decided to curate an exhibit of art created by “enemy combatants” detained at Guantanamo Bay. The exhibit, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay,” displayed 36 works, including paintings and sculptures, all of which were created by the detainees.

The reaction to the exhibit was swift and vocal. Lee Ielpi, who lost his firefighter son on 9/11, said he was “shocked that John Jay would allow such a thing; it's disgusting and should be trashed.” Ielpi was especially incensed that some of the art was for sale.

“It is an absolute travesty to give credence to terrorists, and how do you put a price on it?” he said.

Thompson defended the exhibit, saying the art could provide insight into the minds of terrorists.

“We study terrorism, and I firmly believe that to prevent terrorism we need to understand the minds of terrorists and the minds of people wrongly accused of terrorism,” Thompson said. “So this art is really an invaluable window into the souls of people we need to ...

Prisons Don’t Damage Only Prisoners; Guards at Risk of PTSD and Suicide, Too

by Christopher Zoukis

In Prison Legal News, much of our reporting addresses the abuses that the U.S. carceral system inflicts on prisoners. But prisoners (and their families) aren’t the only ones whose lives are impacted by mass incarceration. New research is exposing the harm that our nation’s prisons do to guards and other employees.

Fleet Maull, Ph.D., an author and corrections consultant, has noted that “[t]he rate of PTSD and suicide among correctional officers [COs] is often compared to that of combat military veterans.”

A 2011 survey conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach – which seeks to provide “resources for improving the health and functioning of corrections staff” – confirmed the high rate of PTSD among prison guards. The study revealed that 14 percent of military veterans reported symptoms of PTSD, while 34 percent of guards who responded to the survey said they experienced PTSD symptoms.

“COs often compare starting their shift to entering a combat zone; making it quite common for them to shift into hyper-vigilance,” said Maull. “With this state of hyper-arousal, the body is flooded with adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol – a primary cause of chronic stress related to health risks ...

Ohio: Federal Lawsuit Over Jail Beating Settles for $70,000

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal lawsuit alleging various constitutional and state law violations related to the beating of a jail detainee in Euclid City, Ohio settled in October 2017 for $70,000.

On January 14, 2015, Lucille Dumas was arrested in connection with a traffic stop. As she was being ...

Percentage of Americans with Felony Convictions Increases, Especially for Blacks

by Christopher Zoukis

A January 2018 report from Pew Charitable Trusts indicated that the number of U.S. residents with a felony record rose sharply in every state between 1980 and 2010. The report analyzed data from a University of Georgia study published in September 2017, which showed that several states have seen a double-digit increase in the percentage of people with a felony record during that 30-year period. As of 2010, around 19 million Americans had been convicted of a felony.

In Georgia, the state with the largest increase, four percent of adults were felons in 1980. Three decades later, a full 15 percent of the state’s population had felony records. Florida, Indiana, Louisiana and Texas all had felony conviction rates above 10 percent in 2010. Across the country, every state has seen a significant increase in the percentage of residents with felony records.

Fordham University law professor and criminal justice expert John Pfaff called the study “incredibly important.” The results exposed a significant flaw in criminal justice reform efforts: While states have been working to reduce their prison populations, there has been less of an effort to deal with the collateral consequences of felony convictions.

“Georgia has ...

Who is in Private Prisons? New Study Provides Surprising Answers

by Christopher Zoukis

The election of pro-business and law-and-order candidate Donald Trump to the presidency has been a boon to companies that operate for-profit prisons and immigration detention centers. So perhaps now is a good time to ask a question that has seen surprisingly little attention: Who is in private prisons, in terms of both detainees and staff members?

In a December 2017 study published by the International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, sociology professor Brett C. Burkhardt, Ph.D., provided answers to this seemingly simple question. Burkhardt, with Oregon State University’s School of Public Policy, analyzed data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to provide a demographic breakdown of both prisoners and employees in the private prison industry, which he then compared to their counterparts at government-operated facilities.

The most startling of Burkhardt’s findings concern who is employed in for-profit prisons. According to the BJS data, private prisons employ guards that are disproportionately female and black in comparison with state and federal prisons. Specifically, Burkhardt found that women comprise nearly half the staff in privately-operated prisons, compared to about 25 percent in government facilities. Blacks make up about 40 percent of private prison workers but only 22 ...


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