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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Dale Chappell

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 ...

California Law Allows Transfer to Jail in Another County, But Prisoner Must First Exhaust Administrative Remedies, Court of Appeal Holds

by Dale Chappell

In a case of first impression, the California Court of Appeal held that State law does allow a prisoner to request a transfer to a jail in another county for good cause, but the prisoner must first exhaust his or her administrative remedies.

Tikisha Upshaw has a "keep separate order" from another prisoner at the Santa Rita County Jail. This order has caused Upshaw numerous problems, including threats to her safety and obstacles to programs and attorney visits. When Upshaw moved the Alameda County Superior Court to transfer her to a county jail in a neighboring county, the State did not oppose her request and the Court granted her motion.

The Sheriff, however, did not agree and asked for reconsideration, which the Court granted — and then denied Upshaw's motion. Upshaw next filed a petition for mandate in the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District, asking the Court to require the Superior Court to grant her request.

Section 4007 allows a transfer to a jail in a contiguous county "when the jail becomes unfit or unsafe for the confinement of prisoners," and allows a judge to designate a neighboring county jail to house "any ...

Ex-cons Turn Prison Workouts into Real Jobs, Transform Lives

by Dale Chappell

When criminal defense attorney William Kroger visited his clients in California prisons, he noticed that just a few months behind bars seemed to whip many of them into shape. Because the state had removed all weightlifting equipment from its prisons over 20 years earlier, Kroger wondered: How were they getting those impressive results? So he enlisted personal trainer Trey Teufel to find out.

Commitment and ingenuity, Teufel discovered, helped prisoners achieve “total body fitness.”

“By wrapping up 50 or so magazines in bed sheets they created dumbbells that varied from 35 to 50 pounds,” he said. “They would also do pushups with anther cell mate on their back to make them much more difficult.”

Learning from the prisoners, Kroger and Teufel wrote the book Felon Fitness: How to Get a Hard Body Without Doing Hard Time to help those not in prison get into shape. The “back to basics, kick your ass” workout may help with America’s obesity epidemic, Teufel said.

Some former prisoners, too, are taking what they learned during rec time and turning it into a legitimate livelihood.

After serving a seven-year sentence in New York state prisons on charges related to ...


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