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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Cheese Made Using Prison Labor Cut from Whole Foods

by Christopher Zoukis

Chuck Hellmer had a problem. His upscale goat cheese company, Haystack Mountain, was selling cheese to Whole Foods, but he couldn't find a reliable source of goat milk. Without the milk, he would be unable to fill the high-end giant's cheese order.

"A couple of weeks, and we weren't going to be able to supply our customers with cheese," Hellmer told NPR.

Fortunately for Hellmer and his company, the prison industrial complex came to the rescue. Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI) proposed setting up a goat dairy inside a prison. Leveraging the peculiar labor supplied by the prison, CCI could produce the goat milk Hellmer needed, and at the right price.

Prison laborers are notoriously underpaid, if they are paid at all. Wages range from a few cents an hour up to the couple of dollars a day that CCI prisoners are paid to milk goats. Indeed, the abolishment of slavery inside the United States has one notable exception: prisoners. One of the same arguments used by pre-civil war plantation owners to defend slavery is used by modern prison officials to defend prison labor: it costs a lot less.

Joey Grisenti, who runs the CCI ...

Canada to Apologize, Pay $10.5 Million to Former Guantanamo Detainee

by Christopher Zoukis

The Canadian government has agreed to pay $10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an enemy combatant for over a decade. Canadian officials also agreed to apologize to Khadr for his ...

Ohio Experiences Continued Problems with Aramark

by Christopher Zoukis

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) over­paid food service giant Aramark $57,193 for food provided to nonexistent prisoners, investigators found.

The overpayment was uncovered by the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG). According to a June 15, 2017 report, the OIG began investigating Aramark after learning of a dispute between the company and the Michigan Department of Corrections over billing discrepancies in excess of $3 million. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.46].

Aramark has held the contract to provide meals to Ohio state prisoners for over four years. The state pays the company around $60 million annually to feed more than 50,000 prisoners in 31 ODRC facilities. Meals provided by Aramark cost the state around $1.31 each.

In January 2017, the union representing ODRC employees submitted its third bid to take over prison food services upon completion of Aramark’s contract the following June. The price per meal quoted by the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) was $1.226 – low enough to save the state $4.4 million per year.

After rejecting OCSEA’s initial bid in 2013, state prison officials fined Aramark $235,000 for several contract violations – including ...

Co-pays Deter Prisoners from Accessing Medical Care

by Christopher Zoukis

More than four decades have passed since Estelle v. Gamble, the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held prisoners cannot be denied necessary medical care under the Eighth Amendment. But when cash-strapped state Departments of Corrections charge co-pays for health care provided to sick prisoners – who earn meager wages and are the least able to afford such fees – the effect can often be the same.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 38 states charge prisoners a co-pay for medical services. Another four allow such fees to be charged by local jails. The co-pays range from $2.00 per nurse or doctor visit to a one-time $100 annual charge. Federal prisoners are also subject to fees for medical care, and charging co-pays has been a longstanding practice in prison systems. [See: PLN, Jan. 1996, p.8].

Officially, the fees are meant to reimburse corrections agencies for the cost of providing medical services. In fact, however, they don’t come close to doing so. The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that Pennsylvania, which charges prisoners a $5.00 co-pay, collected just $373,000 of the $248 million spent on prison health care in 2014 – ...

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 ...


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