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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Oklahoma Parole Board Members Charged with Violating Open Meeting Act

Oklahoma City District Attorney David Prater announced on March 13, 2013 that all five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (“Board”) had been charged with criminal violations of the state’s Open Meeting Act in connection with some 51 early release requests that the Board considered but did not list on its public agendas since 2010.

The Board members were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Open Meeting Act, an offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for each willful violation pursuant to 25 Okla. Stat. § 313, 314. Additionally, a willful violation of the Act can result in invalidation of actions taken during a meeting not in compliance with the Act.

Board Chairman Marc Dreyer, 66, and members Currie Ballard, 54, Richard L. Dugger, 74 (a former district attorney), and Lynnell Harkins, 73, were charged with 10 counts of willful violation of the Act – one for each month they voted on early release requests after April 2011, when a state Assistant Attorney General held a training session on open meeting requirements for the Board. Board member David E. Moore, 65, was charged with nine counts.

District Attorney Prater issued a news release ...

Prison Health Care Provider under Fire in Illinois

In 2011, the State of Illinois signed a 10-year, $1.36 billion contract with Wexford Health Sources, a for-profit company, to provide medical services to Illinois prisoners. Since the contract went into effect there have been numerous complaints concerning the level of medical care that prisoners are receiving – or rather not receiving. In fact, more than 170 federal lawsuits have been filed against Wexford by Illinois prisoners since the company’s contract was announced in September 2011.

The relationship between the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and Wexford has been in the spotlight before. Six years ago, former IDOC director Donald Snyder pleaded guilty to accepting $50,000 in bribes from lobbyists, including a lobbyist for Wexford. He was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison; Wexford was not implicated in the bribery scandal. [See: PLN, March 2009, p.50; Dec. 2007, p.40].

Last year the John Howard Association, a prison watchdog group, released a report which found that Wexford had never been audited prior to the $1.36 billion contract award, and that no one is currently reviewing the quality of care the company provides to Illinois prisoners.

The report recommended a number of remedial actions, including increasing ...

California State Bar Recommends District Attorney’s Disbarment

The State Bar of California has recommended the disbarment of Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Michael Alexander, 64, who was deemed “not eligible to practice law” until the California Supreme Court makes a final decision in his case.

In an April 5, 2013 ruling, State Bar Court Judge Lucy Armendariz held that Alexander had violated three rules of professional conduct – communication with a represented party, moral turpitude and suppression of evidence – and that his “lack of insight into his wrongdoing” and attempts to blame others warranted his disbarment.

“His lack of candor and truthfulness in his dealings with the court and opposing counsel demonstrate that he did not comprehend his special duty as a prosecutor to promote justice and seek the truth, and not merely to convict,” Armendariz stated.

Alexander had previously made three appearances before the State Bar Court. His past transgressions included two convictions for driving without a valid license, prosecutorial misconduct and practicing law without paying Bar dues. Three months after taking office as District Attorney in 2010, Alexander was suspended for 60 days for a variety of past misconduct, including failure to return unearned fees and improper ex parte communications with a judge. He was ...

Sixth Circuit: Disciplinary Conviction Does Not Bar Excessive Force Claim

Prisoners who claim they were assaulted by guards in violation of the Eighth Amendment are not barred from challenging such abuse in court even if they were found guilty of disciplinary charges in connection with the incident, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has held. Moreover, it is erroneous for a district court to rely on a guard’s written account of the incident when videotape evidence is readily available.

In overturning a grant of summary judgment in favor of a prison guard, the Court of Appeals ruled that the guard’s alleged act of slamming a handcuffed prisoner into a wall and then to the floor was an event legally distinct from the prisoner’s alleged assault on the guard moments earlier. Prison guards who use excessive force after subduing prisoners are not immunized from court oversight as a result of disciplinary infractions against the prisoner, the Sixth Circuit wrote.

Michigan state prisoner Toran V. Peterson filed suit in federal court, claiming that a prison guard identified only as “Jones” had, without provocation, pushed up on his handcuffed arms to “slam” him into a wall, then lifted him three feet off the ground to slam him to the floor ...

U.N. Considers Revisions to Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners

The U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice held its 22nd session in late April 2013. A significant item on the Commission’s agenda was the development of revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). Originally adopted in 1955, SMRs are rules that regulate the bare minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners in all countries. They are so significant that the U.S. State Department has called them “the most important set of guidelines” governing how prisoners and detainees are treated.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), in this case the ACLU, Amnesty International and Penal Reform International, have continuously advocated updating the SMRs to ensure they conform with contemporary international human rights standards. According to the ACLU, the NGOs are “advocating for progressive amendments aimed at strengthening this historic document by bringing it in line with international law and norms regarding the rights of people deprived of their liberty.”

In December 2012, the ACLU attended the U.N. Inter-Governmental Expert Group Meeting (IGEM) in Buenos Aires. While at the meeting, the ACLU pushed for more stringent protections against long-term solitary confinement, reductions in prison violence, the ability of prisoners to be represented by retained counsel at ...

No Free Speech Protection for Prisoners Who Copy Excerpts from Books

Prisoners who copy "arguably inflammatory” or “incendiary” passages from the books they check out from a prison library or are allowed to purchase are not entitled to rely on the First Amendment to protect them from disciplinary punishment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on August 2, 2012.

In dismissing Wisconsin state prisoner Toni Toston’s free speech claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner wrote that Toston could face disciplinary sanctions for possessing a handwritten copy of the “Ten-Point Program” included in books about the Black Panther Party, notwithstanding that the passage appeared in two books he had checked out from the prison library and a book he was allowed to order from an outside vendor.

Toston filed suit alleging free speech and due process violations when he was sent to segregation for 90 days for “possessing gang literature” after a guard found his handwritten copy of the Ten-Point Program in his locker. The offending passage, from To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton (1972), states:

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community. 2. We want ...

ADX Prisoner Not Allowed to Communicate with Family Members or Receive Publications under SAMs

In another series of court rulings upholding the use of Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a prisoner at the federal ADX supermax facility in Florence, Colorado was prohibited from receiving certain publications and communicating with his nieces and nephews.

The federal Bureau of Prisons’ use of SAMs originated in a regulation promulgated in 1996 – 28 C.F.R. § 501.3 – that was amended in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and finalized in 2007. See: 72 FR 16271, 16275 (April 4, 2007). The regulation, titled “Prevention of Acts of Violence and Terrorism,” provides that “upon direction of the Attorney General, the Director, Bureau of Prisons, may authorize the Warden to implement special administrative measures that are reasonably necessary to protect persons against the risk of death or serious bodily injury.”

Imposed pursuant to a request by a “federal law enforcement agency or the head of a member agency of the United States intelligence community,” SAMs can be used to house prisoners in restricted confinement and to curtail or eliminate their ability to communicate with others – including the public, the media, other prisoners and family members. Seemingly mundane activities such as “carrying of religious materials, recreation, and exercise time” have ...

South Carolina Sheriff Indicted; Fourth Sheriff to Face Criminal Charges in Three Years

A South Carolina Sheriff has been removed from office following his indictment on criminal charges of misconduct and furnishing contraband to prisoners.

Chesterfield County Sheriff Sanford (“Sam”) Marion Parker, Jr. was suspended by Governor Nikki Haley on March 20, 2013 after the charges were announced by the Attorney General’s Office. Following his arrest, Sheriff Parker was released on a $150,000 personal recognizance bond.

In a 20-page indictment, Parker was accused of using two state prisoners assigned to his custody to work on his home and personal property; in return, the prisoners were allowed to effectively reside outside the jail, go on shopping trips (some of them out-of-state), have access to guns and sheriff’s vehicles, and have unsupervised visits with women, among other perks.

Further, Parker allegedly gave firearms owned or seized by the county to private citizens, including an M-14 rifle and a sniper rifle. He was accused of using a boat purchased with county funds as a personal shrimping boat, and keeping county vehicles at his home for personal use – including a five-ton military truck, a trailer and a John Deere “Gator” vehicle.

Prosecutors also accused Parker of appointing deputies and “Reserve Officers” who never received ...

 

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