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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Prison Staff Records Left in Prison's Barber Shop

Prison Staff Records Left in Prison's Barber Shop

by Christopher Zoukis

On August 4, 2011, a prison guard at Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Des Moines, Iowa, a medium-security state prison which houses more than 1,300 prisoners, found sensitive employee records in a file drawer in the prison's barber shop, a location converted from an administration office several months prior. The records, forms related to the prison's severe weather plan, were about a decade old and contained the names and social security numbers of 23 prison employees.

As a result of the records being found in an area where prisoners could have had access to them, the Iowa Department of Corrections paid for 1 year of credit protection, through August 2012, for the affected prison guards at a cost of $1,920. The union subsequently asserted that this was not sufficient protection for their affected members and that the protection should be expanded. Eventually the case was sent to arbitration, where the state was found negligent by arbitrator Jay Fogelberg, and ordered to pay for 3 years of additional credit protection for the affected employees. Of the 23 affected employees, 17 accepted the additional protection, which ...

Study Finds Victims of Bullying More Likely to Enter Criminal Justice System

Study Finds Victims of Bullying More Likely to Enter Criminal Justice System

by Christopher Zoukis

A new study suggests a direct link between childhood bullying and later imprisonment for bullying victims. The study, presented at the American Psychological Association's 121st Annual Conference, finds that childhood and teenage victims of bullying, almost 30 percent of American youth, are more likely to have conduct disorders and enter the American criminal justice system than those not harassed. This is the first study to examine individuals who were bullied throughout their adolescence, not during a specific period of time during their childhood.

The study, conducted by Dr. Michael Turner of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina, was based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor and Bureau of Justice's 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which followed 7,335 subjects, aged 12 to 16, for a total of 14 years. Participants were placed into one of four groups: never bullied, bullied as children, bullied as teens, and bullied as children and teens. Of the study participants, 74 percent were not bullied. Of those that were, 15 percent were bullied prior to turning 12 ...

Medicaid Helps Ohio Slash Prison Medical Costs

Medicaid Helps Ohio Slash Prison Medical Costs

by Christopher Zoukis

A controversial decision by Ohio Governor John Kasich to expand Medicaid under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has extended health coverage to all Ohio state prisoners, helping the state save $10.3 million in prison medical care costs in 2014 alone. That is on top of savings due to wholesale changes in the state’s prison medical care system, which was under federal court supervision until 2012.

Kasich’s July 1, 2013 decision to expand Medicaid resulted in medical benefits being extended to prisoners under age 21, over age 65, those who are pregnant and prisoners hospitalized for more than 24 hours, according to Joseph Rogers, an analyst for the Ohio Legislative Services Commission. All remaining state prisoners became eligible for benefits in March 2014.

The governor’s directive, which was opposed by state lawmakers, meant that the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University, which treats most prisoners who require hospitalization, began billing Medicaid directly for prisoner health care instead of billing the state, which is self-insured.

In an additional money-saving move still being considered, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) chief Gary C. Mohr asked ...

Oklahoma Early Release Program Leads to Only Isolated Cases of Recidivism

Oklahoma Early Release Program Leads to Only Isolated Cases of Recidivism

by Christopher Zoukis

Only two of the nearly 1,500 prisoners granted early release by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) from March to October 2014 have returned to prison, notwithstanding news reports indicating that lawmakers and “several” corrections officials have not been supportive of the releases.

The approximately 1,500 prisoners were granted early release due to the DOC’s renewed application of the Earned Credits program, which allows for the restoration of good behavior credits taken due to misconduct. The program has been on the books for about 20 years but was not widely used until recently.

Terri Watkins, a DOC spokeswoman, said the increased use of the program is part of a series of changes implemented by newly-appointed DOC Director Robert Patton.

While the Department of Corrections appears poised to expand its use of early releases, state Rep. Aaron Stiles said the program was “all about saving money.” He added that “several” corrections employees contacted him with a fear of speaking openly, and said they had made recommendations that “certain [prisoners] not be released, but they get overruled by upper level DOC administration.”

Watkins disagreed ...

Prisoner’s Right to Counsel Violated by Eavesdropping on Attorney Phone Calls

Prisoner’s Right to Counsel Violated by Eavesdropping on Attorney Phone Calls

by Christopher Zoukis

Charges against a Washington man awaiting trial on felony drug and stolen property charges were dropped by a Yakima County Superior Court after an investigation found that a prosecutor and sheriff’s detective had listened to phone calls made to his lawyer.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Federspiel dismissed the charges against Daniel Woolem following a two-day hearing and a court-ordered report from former Yakima County prosecuting attorney and retired U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan, who had been appointed to investigate the matter.

“Under the limited, unique and specific facts of this case based upon the record, it is the court’s opinion that of the available remedies, the only meaningful and appropriate remedy that addresses the violation of the defendant’s right to counsel is the dismissal of the pending charges against Mr. Woolem,” Federspiel wrote.

According to the investigation, phone calls between Woolem and his attorney at the time, Tim Schoenrock, were recorded in May 2011 at the Yakima County jail. Sheriff’s Detective Robert Tucker listened to the first call on May 3. Tucker claimed that he stopped listening as soon as he realized a lawyer was ...

Bankers Being Jailed For Twice As Long As Other White Collar Criminals by New Federal Agency

Bankers Being Jailed For Twice As Long As Other White Collar Criminals by New Federal Agency

by Christopher Zoukis

A new federal agency formed in 2008 has quietly been locking up bank executives who have misused public bailout funds.

Bankers who are prosecuted in federal court as a result of an investigation by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("SIGTARP") are sentenced to an average of 69 months, roughly twice the length of sentences imposed on other white collar criminals, according to that agency. Some have been sentenced to as much as 23 years imprisonment, like Virginia bank executive Edward J. Woodward, who was also ordered to pay $333 million in restitution in connection with falsifying bank records to obtain federal bailout funds.

SIGTARP was created to supervise use of government bailout funds for the auto and finance industries. The agency has a staff of 170 and an annual budget of only $41 million, a fraction of the funds allotted to other regulatory agencies like the Security and Exchange Commission.

SIGTARP has pursued criminal charges against 107 senior bank officers since its inception, resulting in $4.7 billion in restitution paid to government ...

Sesame Street Creates Muppet with Father in Jail

Sesame Street Creates Muppet with Father in Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

Sesame Street has a new muppet character: Alex, whose father is incarcerated. “My dad’s in jail,” he says in an online video. “I don’t like to talk about it.”

Alex is featured in Sesame Street’s online teaching kit, “Little Children, Big Challenges,” which is a series of resources for children and their parents dealing with adversity, from bullying to divorce. The fuzzy blue-haired muppet is depicted as facing a wave of questions from his peers about “carceration.” Sofia, a neighbor, explains that incarceration “is when someone breaks the law, a grown-up rule, and then they have to go to jail or prison.” Alex says of his father, “I just miss him so much.... Sometimes I just feel like I want to pound a pillow and scream as loud as I can.”

Jeanette Betancourt, vice president for outreach and educational practices at Sesame Workshop, said the video is intended to give support and comfort to children like Alex.

“We are not looking at the cause of the incarceration of the parent, but the impact of the incarceration on the lives of children and their ...

Texas Prison Guard Union Urges Death Row Reforms

Texas Prison Guard Union Urges Death Row Reforms

by Christopher Zoukis

In a move that surprised many in the prison reform community, the president of the local chapter of a Texas prison guards’ union wrote a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) on January 20, 2014, urging ...

Doctor Involved in Botched Oklahoma Execution Unsuccessfully Sued in Federal Court

Doctor Involved in Botched Oklahoma Execution Unsuccessfully Sued in Federal Court

by Christopher Zoukis

The family of Oklahoma prisoner Clayton Lockett, whose botched execution caused international outrage, filed a federal lawsuit that accused the doctor who oversaw the April 29, 2014 execution of “human medical experimentation in torturing [him] to death.” The district court dismissed the case and the family has filed an appeal.

David Lane, a civil rights attorney, said he obtained information that Dr. Johnny Zellmer, an emergency room physician at McAlester Regional Medical Center, was filling in for another doctor on the execution team on two days’ notice and was poorly trained in execution protocols. Lane stated, “I called [Zellmer] and said, ‘Dr. Johnny, I’m a civil rights lawyer in Denver and I have inside information that you participated in the execution of Clayton Lockett. If you tell me you had nothing to do with that execution, I will not sue you,’” Zellmer reportedly replied, “Y’all have to talk to the prison about that.”

Lockett’s execution attracted widespread condemnation after witnesses reported seeing him writhing and groaning on the death gurney during the lethal injection process. The drug used to kill Lockett, Midazolam, had ...

North Carolina Guard Gets Three Months for Killing Prisoner

North Carolina Guard Gets Three Months for Killing Prisoner

by Christopher Zoukis

A North Carolina guard was ordered to serve three months in jail after being found guilty of beating to death a prisoner who had been arrested on an open container charge and minor drug violation.

Video footage from the Wake County Detention Center showed guard Markeith Council, 28, pick up Shon Demetrius McClain and slam him head-first into the floor, twice, after a brief altercation.

Council, a former college football player, is 6’3” and weighs 290 pounds; McClain was 5’6” and weighed 145 pounds. McClain died 13 days after the June 4, 2013 incident from blunt force trauma to his head.

A jury found Council guilty of involuntary manslaughter in December 2013 after viewing the video and hearing testimony from witnesses. [See: PLN, Sept. 2014, p.56].

Council claimed that he was worried about “what was going on around [him],” and “didn’t have time” to reach for his pepper spray when subduing McClain.

“This is a very sad case. It’s a case where someone didn’t need to die,” stated Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.

While a jail spokesman claimed that Council had suffered minor injuries ...