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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Pell Grants for Prisoners: New Bill Restores Hope of Reinstating College Programs

Pell Grants for Prisoners: New Bill Restores Hope of Reinstating College Programs

by Christopher Zoukis

It’s been over 20 years since Jon Marc Taylor, Ph.D., a Missouri state prisoner and author of the Prisoners’ Guerrilla Handbook to Correspondence Programs in the U.S. and Canada, published an op-ed in the New York Times urging federal lawmakers not to ban Pell grants for prisoners. In the two decades since his plea the higher education landscape in our nation’s prison system has shifted drastically due to a lack of funding and public support. However, it now appears that might change and Dr. Taylor’s dream may finally come true.


The Restoring Education and Learning Act

On May 21, 2015, U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (MD) introduced the Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act, H.R. 2521, which would make state and federal prisoners eligible for Pell grants – a form of federal financial aid for post-secondary education programs. Prisoners have been restricted from Pell grant eligibility since 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA) into law.

The REAL Act originally had 17 co-sponsors, including Representatives Danny K. Davis (IL), Barbara Lee (CA), Robert ...

San Diego Deputies Faulted for Jail Death

San Diego Deputies Faulted for Jail Death

by Christopher Zoukis

A civilian review board found that sheriff’s deputies lied and failed to take steps that could have saved a prisoner who swallowed meth before being booked into a San Diego Jail.

A sheriff’s official said jail staff thought Bernard Victorianne was suffering from psychological problems, not medical ones. On the September 2012 night that Victorianne, 28, was booked, however, he was screaming that “something was burning his insides.” He received no medical care and was put in solitary confinement rather than a medical observation unit where he would have been monitored.

A deputy reported that he had monitored Victorianne at an evening count. Video surveillance, however, showed the deputy passing by the cell rapidly. The next morning, Victorianne failed to retrieve his breakfast from his cell door; a deputy went in and tried waking Victorianne, who never responded. The deputy reported that he thought he saw Victorianne breathing, while another deputy stood in the doorway.

The two deputies violated policy requiring them to get the prisoner’s acknowledgement that he was OK, instead leaving after 41 seconds. When Victorianne’s body was found it was cold with rigor mortis setting in ...

Dehydration Death of North Carolina Prisoner Prompts Investigations, Firings, Resignations

North Carolina prisoner with a history of mental illness who was found dead in a transport van after being transferred to another prison died due to dehydration, according to the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office.

However, the state pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Michael Anthony Kerr, 54, said records provided by the Department of Public Safety were so scanty and incomplete that she was unable to determine whether his death was accidental, a suicide or a homicide.

Prison records indicate that Kerr was held in solitary confinement for 35 days prior to his death and had spent the last five days of his life handcuffed and largely unresponsive. Prison officials repeatedly turned off the water to his cell because he had flooded it, and put him on a diet of milk and nutraloaf. The milk was later ordered withheld.

“They treated him like a dog,” said Kerr’s sister, Brenda Liles.

Kerr died on March 12, 2014 as he was being transported from the Alexander Correctional Institution to the Central Prison hospital in Raleigh, a three-hour trip, for mental health care. The medical examiner’s report noted that when Kerr arrived in Raleigh he was unresponsive and could not be ...

Forty Defendants, Including 24 Guards, Convicted in Widespread Corruption Scandal at Baltimore City Jail

Forty Defendants, Including 24 Guards, Convicted in Widespread Corruption Scandal at Baltimore City Jail

by Christopher Zoukis

The confessed leader of a powerful gang inside the Baltimore City Detention Center was the government’s star witness at the trial of eight remaining defendants in a widespread racketeering, drug smuggling, bribery, extortion and money laundering operation that resulted in criminal charges against dozens of guards, prisoners, jail workers and other defendants.

Tavon “Bulldog” White, 36, who pleaded guilty on August 6, 2013 to one count of racketeering, admitted that he headed the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) at the state-run Baltimore jail. Under the terms of a plea agreement, White confessed to conspiring with guards to smuggle contraband into the facility. He also admitted to impregnating four female guards – one of them twice – including two who were tattooed with his name. Altogether, he fathered five children with the women.

A sweeping federal indictment announced in April 2013 alleged that White directed the BGF operation that supplied contraband ranging from cell phones and tobacco to prescription pills and other drugs to fellow gang members, who then sold them for a huge profit. He was the first prisoner to plead guilty in the ...

Transgender Prisoner Denied Adequate Treatment Hangs Herself

Transgender Prisoner Denied Adequate Treatment Hangs Herself

Petersburg, Virginia: At approximately 2:30 PM on February 24, 2015, Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg Medium inmate Ashley Jean Arnold (given name: Steven Roy Arnold), 32, ended her life by hanging herself in her prison cell. Arnold had sought medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria in the two years leading up to her death, but prison officials repeatedly delayed care rendered and denied additional treatment components requested.

            Born a biological male, Arnold served in the U.S. Navy as a fighter jet mechanic and even won an award for being sailor of the year for her squadron prior to being indicted and convicted of federal criminal charges related to child pornography. She was sentenced to a term of 300 months in federal prison and housed at FCI Petersburg.

            For several years Arnold sought expanded access to medical and psychological care for her gender dysphoria (which the Federal Bureau of Prisons calls gender identity disorder). She sought treatment in line with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the only such standards of care for the treatment of transgender individuals, which includes hormone replacement therapy, real-life experience, counseling and other ...

Florida Prosecutor Suspended for Ex Parte Contact with Judge During Murder Trial

Florida Prosecutor Suspended for Ex Parte Contact with Judge During Murder Trial

by Christopher Zoukis

A Florida prosecutor who engaged in text messages, cell phone calls and dinner dates with the judge presiding over a capital murder trial has been suspended for two years by the Florida Supreme Court. The judge who engaged in the ex parte communications resigned and was later disbarred.

Former Broward County Assistant State Attorney Howard M. Scheinberg received the two-year suspension in June 2013 after appealing from the Florida Bar’s recommendation of a one-year penalty for his inappropriate contact with the judge, which violated Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct. In imposing the harsher sanction, the Supreme Court cited “the serious nature of his misconduct, and the harm it caused to the administration of justice.” See: Fla. Bar v. Scheinberg, 129 So.3d 315 (Fla. 2013).

Scheinberg had exchanged some 471 text messages and 949 cell phone calls with Broward Circuit Court Judge Ana I. Gardiner, 52, during lengthy proceedings in the 2007 capital murder trial of Omar Loureiro, whom Gardiner sentenced to death.

The state’s first female Hispanic judge, Gardiner was disciplined by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), which regulates, investigates and prosecutes ...

Missouri Prisoner Exonerated in 1983 Prison Murder; Brady Violations Cited

Missouri Prisoner Exonerated in 1983 Prison Murder; Brady Violations Cited

by Christopher Zoukis

Reginald “Reggie” Griffin, 53, was sentenced to death for the July 12, 1983 stabbing of James Bausley in a yard at the Moberly Correctional Center (then known as the Missouri Training Center for Men). In August 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court vacated Griffin’s conviction after finding the state had withheld evidence related to another prisoner who was likely involved in the murder.

That prisoner, Jeffrey Smith, was found with a sharpened screwdriver while attempting to leave the yard shortly after Bausley was killed; Smith was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon. The state Supreme Court found the prosecution had violated its Brady obligations by failing to disclose that information to Griffin, which would have bolstered his “alternate perpetrator” defense at trial. See: State ex rel. Griffin v. Denney, 347 S.W.3d 73 (Mo. 2011), cert. denied.

The 2011 vacatur of Griffin’s conviction was not the first time the Missouri Supreme Court had ruled in the case; it had previously vacated Griffin’s death sentence after finding the state wrongly relied on the criminal record of another prisoner with the same name as Griffin during the penalty ...

Prosecutorial Misconduct Results in New Trial in Connecticut Murder Case

Prosecutorial Misconduct Results in New Trial in Connecticut Murder Case

by Christopher Zoukis

In a rare public rebuke of a prosecutor found to have engaged in a “deliberate pattern of misconduct,” the Connecticut Appellate Court vacated a defendant’s murder conviction based on the prosecutor’s improper remarks during closing arguments.

Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Terence D. Mariani, Jr. was chided in an opinion by Judge Michael R. Sheldon, writing for a three-judge panel in the direct appeal of Victor Santiago, who was found guilty of killing a Waterbury bar owner during a 1998 robbery. Santiago was not arrested in the case until 2010, when his estranged wife implicated him and his two brothers in the murder.

In ordering a new trial for Santiago, who had received a life sentence, the Appellate Court held that Mariani deliberately “flouted” a trial court’s ruling that limited references to Santiago’s alleged involvement in the Latin Kings gang to establish a basis for Santiago’s wife’s fear of him. The court noted that Mariani repeatedly referred to Santiago’s connection with the Latin Kings during his closing arguments.

Santiago’s lawyer had complained that Mariani called her client a “gang banger” and made other references to the Latin ...

Philadelphia Prosecutor Busted for Filing False Police Report Against Ex-Boyfriend

Philadelphia Prosecutor Busted for Filing False Police Report Against Ex-Boyfriend

by Christopher Zoukis

Assistant District Attorney Lynn M. Nichols, 47, assigned to the homicide unit in Philadelphia, was arrested on October 4, 2013 for filing a false police report as part of a scheme to seek revenge against an ex-boyfriend.

Nichols, a 22-year veteran of the District Attorney’s office, resigned following her suspension for ethical violations related to the scheme.

Her troubles involved a pickup truck driven by her ex-boyfriend that was owned by another woman, who had reported it stolen. In October 2012, to protect her boyfriend, Nichols convinced a Philadelphia police officer to remove the truck from the National Crime Information Center’s database of stolen vehicles.

A year later, months after breaking up with her boyfriend, Nichols went to the home of the truck’s owner and told her she knew where it had been stored for the last year. The two conspired to get revenge against
Nichols’ ex. Nichols called 911 from the woman’s home phone, pretended to be the woman’s sister and filed a false police report claiming the vehicle had been stolen that day.

When the officers who took the report left, Nichols called a police ...

Alaska Supreme Court Suspends Former Deputy Attorney General

Alaska Supreme Court Suspends Former Deputy Attorney General

by Christopher Zoukis

Former Alaska Deputy Attorney General and prosecutor Patrick Gullufsen, 66, was suspended from the practice of law for 18 months in July 2013 after a Superior Court found he had “blatantly lied” about forensic analysis of DNA evidence during the 2010 trial of Jimmy Eacker, who was found guilty of murder.

Eacker’s conviction was tossed out in early 2011 when Superior Court Judge Anna Moran determined that Gullufsen’s conduct amounted to a “flagrant, regardless or negligent disregard of the State’s obligation under the Alaska Constitution.”

Eacker later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

According to court records, Eacker was identified as the chief suspect by a “cold case” squad investigating a 1982 murder. While he was a key suspect in the 1980s, it was not until 2006 that an evidence custodian came across DNA evidence from the case and had it tested. Gullufsen used the DNA evidence to suggest to the jury that blood and semen at the crime scene proved Eacker’s guilt.

However, he failed to tell the jury – or the defense – that a state ...


 

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