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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

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 agencies ...

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 caregivers,” she stated. “We’re tackling this ...

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 been used in ...

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 during the ...

Cell Phones Confiscated from Prisoners Given to Charities

Cell Phones Confiscated from Prisoners Given to Charities

by Christopher Zoukis

Thousands of cell phones seized from prisoners nationwide have been donated to charitable causes, including domestic violence programs and Cell Phones for Soldiers.

Cell phones are considered contraband in every prison and jail in the U.S. In many jurisdictions, their possession or use by a prisoner is a criminal offense, including in the federal Bureau of Prisons. [See: PLN, June 2011, p.34]. Despite such penalties there is a burgeoning market for cell phones behind bars, and many end up being found by prison officials. In California alone, 12,151 phones were seized from prisoners in 2013.

As the confiscation of contraband cell phones has become more common, many have been donated to charitable organizations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections gave more than 1,100 cell phones to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The phones are refurbished by Verizon HopeLine and then provided to domestic violence victims. Phones that cannot be reused are recycled, with the proceeds donated to the program. The Alabama DOC sends confiscated cell phones to HopeLine and proceeds from the sale of refurbished phones are used for grants for domestic violence shelters.

Many of California’s contraband ...

Vice President’s Son Discharged from Navy Due to Drug Use

Vice President’s Son Discharged from Navy Due to Drug Use

by Christopher Zoukis

In an embarrassing coda to Vice President Joe Biden’s long career as one of the chief architects of the War on Drugs, one of his sons was booted from the U.S. Navy after testing positive for cocaine. ...

Tennessee Jail Considers Charging for Toilet Paper, Underwear

Tennessee Jail Considers Charging for Toilet Paper, Underwear

by Christopher Zoukis

On August 19, 2013, commissioners in Anderson County, Tennessee approved a resolution authorizing an expansion of pay-to-stay fees at the county jail. The resolution included a $50 daily fee for prisoners serving misdemeanor sentences, the removal of the existing ...

ACLU Awarded $50 Million to Help End Mass Incarceration

ACLU Awarded $50 Million to Help End Mass Incarceration

by Christopher Zoukis

On November 7, 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it had received the largest grant in the organization’s history: $50 million from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. The donation will fund an eight-year campaign to slash America’s ...

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 ...