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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

New York: $100,000 to Settle Suit over Rape of Trans Prisoner Held in Men’s Prison

by Christopher Zoukis

The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a male-to-female transgender prisoner who was raped while housed in a men’s prison. The February 5, 2018 settlement included no admission of liability.

LeslieAnn Manning is ...

New Jersey County Pays $95,000 to Female Lawyer “Wanded” Between Legs at Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

Bonita Bourke is a 56-year-old attorney and former president of the Warren County, New Jersey Bar Association. She regularly visits clients at the Sussex County jail, and as with all visitors to the facility, must pass through security before entering. One day in August 2014, Bourke said ...

Black Liberation Army Members Convicted of Murdering Cops Granted Parole

by Christopher Zoukis

Herman Bell served 46 years behind bars in New York. The 70-year-old was convicted of the 1971 murders of two NYPD officers, and received a sentence of 25 years to life. Denied parole on seven previous occasions, Bell, who long argued he was a political prisoner, was granted parole and released from the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in April 2018.

The reaction to the Parole Board’s decision was swift and severe. New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said “[i]t should be clear to any reasonable person that no one believes that cold-blooded cop-killers like Herman Bell should ever be released from prison.”

He was wrong, though. Some people do believe that even murderers like Bell should have the possibility of redemption and release. They include the state lawmakers who created the indeterminate sentencing scheme in New York, the judge who sentenced Bell and the two of three Parole Board members who voted to grant his release.

“If rehabilitation is a goal of incarceration, we should applaud the parole board’s decision to release a person whose institutional record warrants it,” stated Lisa Packard, managing attorney for the Office of the Appellate Defender ...

Private Prison Company Pays to Play; Federal Election Commission Fails to Act

by Christopher Zoukis

GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies, donated $225,000 to the pro-Trump Super PAC Rebuilding America Now during the 2016 election cycle. Within a few months after President Trump’s inauguration, in April 2017, GEO was awarded a $110 million federal contract to build a 1,000-bed immigration detention facility.

The Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan public interest watchdog organization that monitors elections for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), recognized the particular stench that accompanies improper political influence. So the group filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), alleging GEO Group had violated the FECA by making donations to the PAC while holding federal contracts – which is prohibited. That was on November 1, 2016. Since then the FEC has utterly failed to act.

Therefore, on January 10, 2018, CLC filed suit against the FEC in federal court. The complaint seeks to require the agency to do its job, which is to enforce the FECA.

CLC’s lawsuit over GEO Group’s PAC donation is straightforward. Federal law prohibits a federal contractor, such as GEO, from “directly or indirectly ... mak[ing] any contribution of money or other thing of value ... to ...

Solitary Confinement Reforms Sweeping the Nation but Still Not Enough

by Christopher Zoukis

Solitary confinement is “worse than any torment of the body” – so said famous British author Charles Dickens. French historian Alexis de Tocqueville, who toured American prisons in 1831, added that solitary “devours the victim incessantly and unmercifully; it does not reform, it kills.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of “administrative segregation,” a common form of solitary confinement, though in his concurrence to the majority opinion in Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187 (2015), Justice Anthony Kennedy revealed his revulsion at the long-term use of solitary in correctional facilities. “The human toll wrought by extended terms of isolation long has been understood, and questioned, by writers and commentators,” he wrote. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.28].

“We’re talking about putting someone in a room the size of a parking space,” agreed Robert T. Gonzales, chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights. “This is inhumane.”

Yet the use of security housing units and restrictive housing units within U.S. prisons remains widespread, affecting as many as 80,000 to 100,000 prisoners according to a 2015 report by the Arthur Liman Public Interest ...

Top Federal Death Penalty Lawyer Demoted, Reassigned

by Christopher Zoukis

Kevin Carwile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney in charge of the agency’s death penalty prosecution unit, has been demoted over allegations that he fostered a “sexualized environment” in his workplace.

The New York Times reported on the accusations against Carwile on March 31, 2018 in an article that highlighted multiple accusations of sexism, favoritism and harassment. According to the Times, Carwile has been investigated at least a dozen times since he was tapped to run the death penalty unit in 2010.

Before overseeing the capital punishment division, he was head of the DOJ’s gangs unit. He was bounced from that post in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” scandal involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which federal agents allowed criminal gangs to transport guns to Mexico in the hope of building a better case against them. According to the Times, Carwile incorrectly told investigators that the BATFE learned about the firearms being moved illegally after it had already happened.

During his time as head of the death penalty unit, Carwile reportedly held men-only meetings, sent emails only to male employees and gave the best cases to men. One former ...

Rikers Island Beat Down Suit Settles for $165,000, but Victim Won’t See a Penny

by Christopher Zoukis

On October 30, 2012, several guards at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City used batons to beat handcuffed prisoner Gabino Genao, 31, into unconsciousness. In the wake of that incident, guards Moises Simancas, April Jackson and Tyrone Wint resigned, pleaded guilty to criminal charges ...

$750,000 Settlement Paid by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for Wrongful Death

by Christopher Zoukis
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a mentally ill prisoner who died after prison guards sprayed him in the face and in his breathing tube with pepper spray. The deal ...

Trump Calls Prison Reform “Very Important” as First Step Act Passes in the House

by Christopher Zoukis

Does “tough on crime” President Donald J. Trump support prison reform? If his comments at a January 2018 listening session can be believed, the answer is a qualified “yes” – qualified because his focus is mainly on reentry services, not on prison conditions or sentencing reform.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has spearheaded the administration’s prison reform efforts. Kushner has a personal interest in this area; his father, Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in federal prison after being convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. According to CNN, Jared Kushner has held several listening sessions involving key criminal justice stakeholders.

The January 2018 session included Kushner, Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and several prison reform experts. A roundtable discussion was held with input from everyone, including Trump, who referred to prison reform as “very important” and a “very big topic.”

“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system,” he said. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second ...

Federal Judge Dismisses Class-action Suits Over Jail Phone Rates, Commissions

by Christopher Zoukis

On August 10, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed four related class-action lawsuits in which prisoners challenged the rates and commission kickbacks associated with jail phone service contracts.

A group of attorneys representing California prisoners held in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda counties filed class-action complaints alleging that the cost of phone calls at those facilities violated the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s unlawful takings provision, the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The plaintiffs said county officials contracted with prison and jail telecom firms Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies, which charged “unreasonable, unjust and exorbitant rates” for phone calls made by prisoners, then kicked back “extortionate and outrageous ‘commissions’” to the county jails.

Under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission took decisive action to reduce prison and jail phone rates; thus far in President Trump’s administration, however, the FCC has taken a hands-off approach to the prison telecom industry and refused to defend its own order capping intrastate (in-state) rates. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].

Phone calls from county jails can be extremely expensive, reaching over $1.00 per minute ...


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