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Articles by Dale Chappell

Maine: Superior Court’s Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction Not Supported by the Record

by Dale Chappell

A sua sponte dismissal for lack of jurisdiction by a state Superior Court was improper, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court held on April 19, 2018, when the record was “otherwise devoid” of any indication the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction in the case.

Steve Anctil, a state prisoner, filed a pro se petition under Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80C, seeking review of a disciplinary decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC). He argued that the DOC committed several procedural and constitutional errors, and asked the Superior Court to vacate the DOC’s decision and award damages. Anctil also filed an application to proceed without payment of fees, with an attached certificate of his prison trust account.

The Superior Court, however, was not inclined to hear the case. Without any input from the DOC and on its own initiative, the Court dismissed Anctil’s petition with a single sentence: “After review of the pleadings the Court orders: case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.” The Court did not indicate why it lacked jurisdiction, and Anctil appealed.

A court may dismiss a case for lack of jurisdiction only when it is clear from the petition, or when a party raises the ...

Despite Lack of FCC Action, States Can Still Make Prison and Jail Calls Affordable

by Dale Chappell

Although prison phone service providers and law enforcement officials won their lawsuit to block the FCC’s $.11-per-minute cap on intrastate (in-state) prison phone calls [see: PLN, July 2017, p.52], states can still lower the rates – to even below $.11 per minute – and some have done so. Interstate (long distance) phone rates remain capped by a 2013 FCC order at $.25 per minute for collect calls and $.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.1].

Governors and city and county officials have the power to stop the price-gouging of prisoners and their families by prison telecom companies, said Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN and directs the national Campaign for Prison Phone Justice. While a number of states have lowered prison phone rates, at the county jail level “things are really a disaster,” he noted.

Many counties continue to charge $15, $18 or even more for a 15-minute intrastate call. The problem is “commission” kickbacks from phone service providers, noted Aleks Kajstura, legal director for the Prison Policy Initiative. Whereas government agencies usually contract with a vendor that can provide the ...

Federal Compassionateless Release

by Dale Chappell

For thousands of federal prisoners who have filed for compassionate release after the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) expanded eligibility criteria in 2013, the response has been a familiar and consistent refrain: “Denied.” Over the following four years, just six percent of compassionate release requests were approved out of 5,400 filed. Of the prisoners who made those requests, 266 died while awaiting an answer.

Congress created the compassionate release process in 1984, the same year it voted to abolish parole, to provide early release to federal prisoners with “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. When it found the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was rarely granting compassionate release – over a six-year period beginning in 2007, not one non-medical request was granted – Congress expanded the criteria to “broaden” the scope for prisoners eligible for relief.

Regardless, the BOP has refused to grant relief in most cases, though it recently granted early release to a convicted state lawmaker under questionable circumstances. [See: PLN, Mar. 2018, p.61; Dec. 2014, p.50]. One of the BOP’s oldest prisoners, Carlos Tapia-Ponce, 94, had his compassionate release request denied due to the severity of his crime, which involved cocaine trafficking. He ...

Ex-Prisoner Awarded $150,000 after 'Savage Beating' Arranged by Guards

by Dale Chappell

Sussex County, New Jersey, has agreed to pay a former prisoner $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging guards at the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility (KDCF) – the county’s jail – put a “hit” on him and had him beaten.

After Robert Woodruff was convicted of burglary and ...

“Egregious” Lack of Care by Jail’s Medical Contractor Leads to $1 Million Settlement

by Dale Chappell

An “egregious” lack of medical treatment that resulted in the death of a jail prisoner led Albany County, New York and its private health care contractor to settle a lawsuit filed by the prisoner’s family for over $1 million.

Mark Cannon died in 2014 after he suffered ...

Indiana’s SOMM Program Declared Unconstitutional by Federal Court

by Dale Chappell

Indiana’s Sex Offender Management and Monitoring (SOMM) program violated the Fifth Amendment by compelling prisoners to incriminate themselves or face longer prison terms, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana held on September 28, 2017.

The ruling was entered in a class-action suit that began four years ago when Donald Lacy filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) violated his constitutional rights by revoking his good-conduct time (GCT) after he refused to incriminate himself in order to comply with the SOMM program.

Lacy, convicted by a jury of child molestation in 2008, has always maintained his innocence. When he refused to admit guilt as required by the SOMM program, he was disciplined for failing to participate and lost good-conduct time. Lacy continued to maintain his innocence and was at risk of losing all his GCT – more than 2,000 days – after being hit with over a dozen disciplinary actions for refusing to comply with SOMM.

Lacy was not alone. Other prisoners filed lawsuits after losing their GCT for failing to admit guilt or refusing to admit to past criminal conduct for ...

A&E Reality Show Puts Undercover Volunteers, Hidden Cameras in Jails

by Dale Chappell

A group of people who had neither been arrested nor convicted of a crime nevertheless spent two months in county jails – as part of a reality show with hidden cameras, in order to expose the harsh experience of life behind bars.

The revealing program, called “60 Days In,” was created by TV channel A&E to show its viewers what things are like for prisoners held in local lock-ups, by following volunteers jailed on fictitious charges. None of the guards or other prisoners knew the volunteers were undercover – only a small group of jail officials, who agreed to the filming but had no control over what was revealed in the show.

To explain the presence of a roving video crew, jail officials told prisoners and guards that a documentary was being filmed. Other cameras were hidden at the facility. The footage caught guards conducting shakedowns and harassing prisoners, as well as the brutal living conditions at the jails.

“Stay in your own lane,” advised one volunteer on how to stay safe.

“I am at this jail’s mercy, that they can essentially do with me whatever they please,” said another. “It was quite intimidating ...

Nevada DOC Cuts Prison Sagebrush Program After Federal Funds Withheld

 

by Dale Chappell

The Nevada Department of Corrections has cut the Sagebrush in Prisons program, citing overtime costs and lack of staff oversight, after the federal government withheld funding for the program.

This means the 300,000 sagebrush plants that fire districts were expecting this year will come from other sources, likely private companies — at a much greater cost.

 When asked why the Bureau of Land Management has not released the $250,000 for the program, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's office said “the program is under review.”

 This also means that the cost of sagebrush plants will double. Plants from the prison program averaged $1.30 each, whereas private sources would cost an average of $2.25 per plug, the Nevada Department of Forestry said.

 So far, private donations would allow two Oregon prisons and a Wyoming prison to do what they can. But it would be just a fraction of the 10 prisons that were in the program last year.

 “We don't have anyone to run the program,” DOC Spokeswoman Brooke Santina said. “For now, with the overtime issues we have been facing, we can't dedicate an officer to a program unless ...

Florida Prisoners 'Laydown' in Non-Violent Protests

by Dale Chappell

In early 2018, Florida prisoners began a "laydown," a non-violent protest about prison conditions and unpaid "slave labor." The laydowns are to last as long as necessary to get the point across.

Supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee ("IWOC"), the laydown entails a work stoppage, a boycott against commissary, and other forms of "non-participation." IWOC and Operation PUSH, another prisoner support group, stress that the protests are peaceful, and are designed as an economic impact on the prison system.

On of the key factors is that Florida prisoners are required to work without any pay, which some have likened to "slave labor," with the prison system legally enslaving people under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for unpaid work as punishment. Prison officials claim that they are "rehabilitating" prisoners, but as one prisoner said, "slavery does not teach one work ethic nor how to be free."

 Instead, prisoners are forced to hustle just to get basic necessities, such as toilet paper and soap. The prison system is teaching prisoners to become thieves and predators, some say, rather than rehabilitating them. On top of that, the prisoners and their families are gouged by sky-high commissary prices ...

Indiana County Pays $28,000 to Settle Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit

by Dale Chappell

LaPorte County, Indiana has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former prisoner who claimed county jailers used excessive force against him.

The suit, filed by Marcin Kulbacki, alleged that guards at the LaPorte County jail tased him and otherwise used excessive force, causing head and ...


 

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