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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Islamic Organization Petitions to Let Muslim Women Prisoners Wear Hijabs

In May 2013, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a uniform policy for all local, state and federal correctional facilities to allow Muslim women to wear hijab head coverings while incarcerated and when photos are taken, such as during the booking process.

According to an interview with Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news outlet, Nadhira Al-Khalili, CAIR’s legal counsel, said, “I’m working on several pending cases in different states and I’m in touch with an attorney for the [DOJ’s] Office of Civil Rights.”

The executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, Dawud Walid, said the city of Novi, Michigan had adopted a policy to allow Muslim women to keep their hijab while in jail. “If hijab is allowed in the military, and U.S. driving licenses permit women IDs with hijab, then the same logic can be applied,” he noted. “Hijab doesn’t impede the identity of women.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons allows Muslim women prisoners to retain and wear hijab headscarves pursuant to BOP Program Statement 5360.09. While some federal facilities require prisoners to remove their hijab for inspection upon arrival at the prison ...

Pennsylvania Jail Official Indicted for Groping Co-workers

Ronald Edward Lensbouer, 44, the Chief Corrections Officer at a jail in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, faces charges of indecently assaulting two female guards at the facility.

According to court records, Lensbouer was charged on June 5, 2013 in two separate cases with four misdemeanor counts each of indecent assault and harassment, and two summary charges of harassment – all misdemeanors.

An affidavit of probable cause filed in both cases stated the guards had to fight and struggle to free themselves from being groped by Lensbouer, their supervisor. Lensbouer had made lewd comments to both women from late 2010 through 2012. In separate incidents in December 2012, he allegedly placed his hands down each woman’s pants while they worked in control rooms at the jail.

The same affidavit indicated that Lensbouer had confessed to the offenses during a May 7, 2013 interview with police. Borough Police Chief Randy Cox stated they were unable to take action on three other reports of similar misconduct by Lensbouer because the statute of limitations had expired.

County Commissioner Joe Betta said Lensbouer was suspended without pay. Betta expressed frustration that he had to push for months for an investigation, and that he didn’t hear ...

Jails Market Electronic Cigarettes to Prisoners

Jail administrators have found a new revenue stream: exploiting prisoners’ addiction to nicotine by selling them electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, for a substantial profit.

Even as municipalities like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles enact restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, county jails across the country are peddling the nicotine vapor devices to prisoners. The profit margins on such sales can be as high as 400 percent.

At the Macon County Jail in Tennessee, Sheriff Mark Gammons buys Marlboro or menthol flavored e-cigarettes at $2.75 each, then resells them for $10. He said he had “taken pains” to not encourage smoking among prisoners, but budget problems led him to market e-cigarettes. He hopes to make $20,000 to $50,000 the first year, which will be used to increase the wages of jail staff; his guards earn a top salary of $10.58 an hour. “I just want my boys to make as much as they can,” Gammons said.

E-cigarettes use a small battery to heat a solution which produces a water vapor that is inhaled. Nicotine is the most popular additive. Manufacturers have noticed the trend of selling e-cigarettes to prisoners and now produce plastic, non-reusable versions that ...

Crime Declines while Anti-crime Funding Increases

Crime is down in the United States, but spending measures included in the $1.1 trillion federal budget passed by Congress in January 2014 will ensure that many law enforcement agencies receive more funding.

Insiders give much of the credit for the fiscal year (FY) 2014 funding increases to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, who is known as a strong proponent of crime-fighting expenditures. Senator Mikulski said the expanded funding represents a “truly bipartisan agreement that a significant number of members [of Congress] worked night and day [on] over the holidays.”

The big winners in federal law enforcement spending include the FBI, which received $8.3 billion, an increase of $248.7 million over FY 2013, and the federal Bureau of Prisons, which received $6.77 billion – an increase of $90.2 million.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also getting a boost in funding with a budget of $1.18 billion – more than $49 million over last year.

Little was said about how these funding increases square with the most recent federal statistics on crime, which reflect a decade-long downward trend. Indeed, even as legalization of medical marijuana becomes more commonplace across the nation (as ...

Sweden’s Shrinking Prison Population

Sweden’s prison population has seen such a sharp drop in recent years that the nation’s prison service announced in November 2013 that it had closed four correctional facilities and a remand center.

Prisons in Aby, Haja, Batshagen and Kristianstad were closed in 2013; two will likely be sold and the others transferred to other government agencies for temporary use. “We have seen an out-of-the-ordinary decline in the number of inmates,” said Nils Oberg, head of Sweden’s prison and probation services. “Now we have the opportunity to close down a part of our infrastructure that we don’t need at this point in time.”

Sweden’s prison population has been dropping by around one percent per year since 2004, but declined six percent between 2011 and 2012. Oberg stated that he expects to see another six percent drop during 2013 and in 2014.

He said no one knows for sure why Sweden’s prison population has dropped so sharply. “We certainly hope that the efforts we invest in rehabilitation and preventing relapse of crime has had an impact, but we don’t think this could explain the entire drop of six percent.”

One contributing factor may be related ...

East Mississippi Prison Nightmare

On May 30, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center and law office of civil rights attorney Elizabeth Alexander filed an 83-page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, seeking class-action relief for mentally ill prisoners confined in “barbaric and horrifying conditions” and “a perpetual state of crisis” at the privately-operated East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF).

According to the complaint, prisoners at EMCF live in dangerous conditions and are constantly at “grave risk of death and loss of limbs” due to a lack of adequate food, sanitation and basic medical care and medication.

The suit alleges that many prisoners are housed in cells with no lighting and broken toilets, forcing them to defecate on food trays or in plastic bags that they toss through slots in the cell doors. So filthy is EMCF that rats often climb over prisoners’ beds, and some prisoners catch them and put them on leashes as pets.

According to the lawsuit, one prisoner went blind from glaucoma and another had a finger amputated after receiving no treatment for gangrene. Another prisoner had a testicle removed after it swelled to the size of a softball from cancer ...

New York Prisoner Awarded Almost $16 Million Due to Poor Medical Treatment

In March 2012, a New York state prisoner was awarded $15.7 million after being left a quadriplegic due to inadequate medical care. The judgment was entered by a New York Court of Claims which found that a prison physician had failed to evaluate or order further tests when prisoner Sergio Black’s symptoms dramatically worsened in a short period of time.

“The Court does not find this was merely an error of medical judgment,” wrote Judge Diane L. Fitzpatrick, “but rather deviation from the standard of care.”

Finding the state “100 percent” responsible for Black’s injuries, the judge awarded damages totaling $15,707,898, including $3.5 million for pain and suffering.

Black’s medical problems developed after he was injured during a basketball game in June 2006 at the Five Points Correctional Facility. At that time, Black told medical personnel he had collided with another player and “couldn’t move for 30-60 seconds.” Having complained of a “back strain” a few weeks earlier, Black wasn’t seen until July 6, 2006. X-rays taken later that month revealed only common “spurring.”

In November 2006, Black fell during another basketball game and was carried to the prison infirmary, where ...

Unwanted Reprieve from Execution Upheld by Oregon Supreme Court

As previously reported in PLN, Oregon death row prisoner Gary Haugen filed a legal challenge to Governor John Kitzhaber’s November 2011 decision to impose a moratorium on the state’s death penalty, which had the effect of granting Haugen a temporary reprieve from execution. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.30; Dec. 2012, p.47].

The Oregon Supreme Court held on June 20, 2013 that the reprieve was “valid and effective” irrespective of whether Haugen wanted to accept it. In a 40-page opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas A. Balmer, the Court ruled that a circuit court had erred in finding in favor of Haugen’s unprecedented challenge.

When Governor Kitzhaber halted all executions in the state, he said Oregon’s capital punishment process had “devolved into an unworkable system that fails to meet the basic standards of justice.” Haugen, on death row for the 2007 murder of a fellow prisoner – his second murder conviction – disputed the governor’s authority to grant him a temporary reprieve because he did not want to accept it.

Haugen contended that he should be able to choose whether to pursue further appeals or allow his death sentence to be carried out; he further argued ...

Book Review: Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America

by Allen M. Hornblum, Judith L. Newman
and Gregory J. Dober

(Palgrave MacMillan, 2013). 266 pages. $27.00

Book review by Christopher Zoukis

According to Oswald Spengler, writing in The Decline of the West, “Moral is a conscious and planned causality of conduct, apart from all particulars of actual life and character, something eternal and universally valid, not only without time but hostile to time and for that very reason ‘true.’” He adds that “Every moral action is a piece of this sacrifice, and an ethical life-course is an unbroken chain of such sacrifices. Above all, the offering of sympathy, compassion, in which the inwardly strong gives up his superiority to the powerless.”

What happens when educated, powerful people withhold sympathy and compassion from those without power? What happens when individuals set aside Spengler’s definition of morality and adopt a philosophy that the end justifies the means? Answer: despicable events occur, events like those described in Against Their Will – a difficult and frankly frightening book by Allen M. Hornblum, who has written extensively on medical experimentation on prisoners, Judith L. Newman and occasional PLN writer Gregory J. Dober.

This book is difficult to read not because it’s dry ...

Four West Virginia Officials, including Circuit Court Judge, Face Federal Charges

A former West Virginia judge is facing up to ten years in federal prison after pleading guilty to charges that he conspired to protect a county sheriff from allegations of drug-related activity.

Former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury, 57, pleaded guilty on October 2, 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, and will be sentenced in January 2014. He resigned from his elected post the same day and consented to voluntary disbarment in a letter to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

Thornsbury was charged with conspiring with Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum and other officials to offer a lighter sentence to a defendant from whom Crum had bought drugs and owed a $3,000 debt for campaign signs. According to federal prosecutors, that defendant, George White, is now serving a 1-to-15-year sentence imposed by Thornsbury, who offered a more lenient sentence if White would fire his attorney and hire another one preferred by the judge. The offer was intended to silence White’s lawyer, who was providing information about Sheriff Crum to federal investigators and the news media.

“For a judge to violate someone’s constitutional rights is really beyond ...


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