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Articles by Dale Chappell

Alaska Supreme Court Upholds Dismissal of Delusional Prisoner’s Medical Malpractice Claim

Adam Israel had been in custody of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) since 2005 for the stabbing death of his mother. Based on a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia – he claimed that family members, possibly including comedian Steve Martin, had conspired to keep him in state custody to prevent him from testifying to rapes and murders they had committed – he was held in a mental institution.

In October 2014, he filed a pro se medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that he was “fraudulently diagnosed” as schizophrenic, and that this had prevented him from release on parole and other rehabilitative progress. He said the delusions he suffers are actually real, claiming that he could see electro-magnetic fields emitted from “poltergeists” because of a genetic mutation resulting from family inbreeding.

Israel asked the court to allow him to demonstrate, but Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner called his testimony “bizarre and, at least from a lay perspective, consistent with that of someone suffering from paranoid ...

$300,000 a Year Not Enough to Convince Psychiatrists to Work in California Prisons

Despite an offer of a $300,000 annual salary plus government benefits, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has yet to convince psychiatrists to fill the vacancies in the prison system. About 40 percent of the state’s psychiatry jobs are empty, including those at the state’s prison and mental health institutions, according to data from 2018, the last year the numbers were available from CDCR 

Elizabeth Gransee, a spokesperson for California Correctional Healthcare Services, said the vacancy rate is 28 percent if accounting for contract psychiatrists, including those who treat via telepsychiatry video conferencing. “We are continuously improving recruitment of health care staff including mental health care providers,” she responded in an email to the Sacramento Bee. “[CDCR] continues to make substantial improvements in the delivery of health care and we will continue to ensure our population has access to the care they need.” 

Dr. Stuart Bussey disagrees. He is the president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, and says that in addition to ...

More Than Half of Chicago’s COVID-19 Cases Linked to Cook County Jail

The study examined the relationship between jail cycling and community infections across different neighborhoods in the state of Illinois, one of the nation’s largest jails. That data showed that as of April 19, 2020, almost 1 in 6 coronavirus cases in the state were linked to people who cycled through the Cook County Jail in Chicago in March.

Jail cycling happens when people are arrested for minor infractions and put in jail for a short time and then released. According to studies, about 95 percent of people booked into jails across the country were arrested for non-violent crimes, and 42 percent were proven innocent. The numbers add up fast. According to the FBI, about 28,000 people are arrested every single day in this country. That means over 10 million people are arrested and cycled through a county jail every year in the U.S.

Jail cycling has ...

Wildfires Threaten Prisoners in West, While New California Law Helps Prisoner-Firefighters to Continue Work After Release

The new law (designated as AB 2147) allows releasees to petition the court to dismiss their convictions after completing their sentences, which would then allow them to obtain certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT), something most fire departments require to get in the door. It’s not that prisoner-firefighters couldn’t be firefighters after release, but that they couldn’t get the additional certifications to obtain actual employment after release. The state categorically barred anyone with a felony conviction from obtaining an EMT certification. Now that obstacle has been removed for some.

“Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” Newsom said as he signed the bill into law.

Assembly member Eloise Gómez Reyes, who sponsored the bill, said the new law has a broader purpose. “Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have ...

National Guard Called in to Help Run Indiana State Prisons

Back in May 2020, as COVID-19 infected the nation’s prisons, the National Guard was brought in to help IDOC with detection and treatment of COVID-19 in state prisons. It was an effort to stay ahead of the game, or at least keep up with the wildfire spread of the disease. But things got out of hand and the National Guard switched from medical workers to actually running the prisons.

At first, teams of four National Guard members were deployed to Plainfield, Pendleton, and Westville Correctional Facilities. They expected to be there until the end of May, maybe a few weeks. Members with experience as EMTs, firefighters, and other health-care background were selected to bolster IDOC’s medical staff.

“These medical professional quickly augmented the governor’s efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in correctional facilities during this public health crisis,” the National Guard’s website said about its work in state prisons.

By August 2020, entire National Guard units were deployed to operate some of ...

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994: 25 Years Later, Where Do We Stand?

Some 25 years ago, President Bill Clinton signed into law the biggest incendiary device that lit the fire of mass incarceration: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (VCCLEA). “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools,” he said as he signed the bill into law before a wall of uniformed police officers.

Under the VCCLEA, the federal government coerced the states to adopt harsher sentences and require that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. States that refused to go along lost out on $12.5 billion in grants ($19 billion in today’s terms) to build new prisons and bulk up police forces. Most states jumped on board.

But states had already been hiking up their sentences because violent crime was rampant in the early 1990s. So requiring even longer sentences, especially with the 85 percent rule and abolishment of parole, meant lots more prisoners in jail for lots more time. This “Truth-In-Sentencing” scheme filled prisons to capacity, prompting the prison ...

First Wrongful Death Claim Against San Quentin Prison Filed Over COVID-19 Death

by Dale Chappell

The family of one of the prisoners who died of COVID-19 at San Quentin prison in California has filed the first wrongful death claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the prison. Papers filed by the family’s lawyers on September 10, 2020, detailed how prison officials ignored the risks of the coronavirus and transferred 121 prisoners to San Quentin from a known COVID-19 hotspot without testing them — and then housed those prisoners in an open dorm with San Quentin prisoners without any precautions.

In short order, more than 2,237 prisoners became infected and 26 died (one guard also died). The transferred prisoners came from the California Institution for Men in Chino, where more than 600 cases of COVID-19 were reported with at least nine deaths.

Known for being the home of California’s death row, San Quentin also houses large numbers of low-level, non-violent prisoners, with many being older and at-risk for COVID-19. One of those prisoners was Daniel Ruiz who, at age 61, had at least four identified medical problems that put him at risk for death of COVID-19, according to the papers filed. He was one of 40,000 prisoners identified across the state ...

New Study Shows “Tough on Crime” Generation Spent More Time in Prison Despite Falling Crime Rate

The collaboration of experts from the State University of New York at Albany and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed data from 1.6 million prisoners, focusing mainly on North Carolina during 1972 to 2016, as it was representative of the idea of longer prisons sentences in an attempt to curb crime across the country.

The highly detailed study found that the crime rates for rape, aggravated assault, burglary, and other violent crimes were higher in the 1970s than in the 1990s. Yet, those adults who came of age during the 1990s had higher rates of arrest and incarceration than their counterparts just 20 years earlier.

Titled “Locking Up My Generation,” the study’s authors identified a “cohort effect” that filled the nation's prisons in record time, which they defined as a group that shares “common historical or social experiences.” To be more specific, it’s a ...

ICE Deportations Fueling Spread of COVID-19 to Latin American Countries

After being detained by ICE in the Krome Detention Center in Florida for three weeks, “Carlos,” a Colombian national who flew to Indianapolis under a travel visa to go shopping with his aunt for toys and clothes for his newborn son, was put on a plane and sent back to Colombia by ICE. What nobody knew was that Carlos was infected with COVID-19 and brought it back to his country, along with several others on that plane. And nobody on the plane was given masks.

Nicholas Barrera, another Colombian deported by ICE, spent four months in Krome and another ICE facility in Wakulla County, Florida. Protected in a “sanctuary city” in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Barrera was picked up by ICE in Florida (not a protected area) for a broken headlight. He was deported, leaving his wife and kids back in Maryland. He tested positive for ...

Can Kentucky Keep Charging Prisoners for Their Jail Stay if They Are Found Not Guilty?

That’s what happened to David Jones, who was held for 14 months in the Clark County Detention Center in 2013 before the state conceded that Jones was innocent of the charges. He was released, but not without a departing gift from the jail: a bill for over $4,000 to cover the cost of his incarceration.

After an initial payment, Jones filed a lawsuit in the federal and state courts, claiming that the law was unconstitutional. But the courts disagreed and dismissed his lawsuits. First, the federal court ruled that because Jones was billed for his stay in jail after his release and no money was taken from him out of his control, he had no constitutional ...