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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Virginia Jail’s Video Calling System Replaces In-Person Visits

by David Reutter

Visitation is a major aspect of jail and prison operations. For corrections officials, it is wrought with logistical, staffing and security concerns; as a result, they have increasingly turned to video calling, which, in addition to addressing those concerns, can also be profitable.

The Virginia Beach Correctional Center (VBCC) abandoned non-contact in-person visits in 2005 and installed a video calling system. That system required prisoners’ family members and friends to come to the jail to visit via video terminals.

In recent years the video calling system had been known to malfunction for hours or even days at a time, and it finally broke down on March 31, 2018, with 122 video terminals in need of repair. The contractor that had installed it was no longer in business. Using the in-person glass visitation booths to allow visits was rejected as a security risk, said VBCC Chief Deputy of Operations Victoria Thomson.

“What we’ve done to try to get the families to have more contact, or some contact, with their loved ones is we’ve provided free telephone calls,” she added.

However, the free five-minute calls created a “dangerous situation,” according to Virginia Schelleng, whose son was held ...

Former Guard Who Scalded Florida Prisoner 
to Death Hired, Fired by Police Department

by David Reutter

On June 23, 2012, Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) guard Roland Clarke placed Darren Rainey, a prisoner at the Dade Correctional Institution (DCI), into a shower and locked the door. He then turned on the hot water using specially-rigged controls in another room. The 50-year-old Rainey, who suffered from schizophrenia, was being “cleaned” after defecating in his cell. Two hours later, when Clarke returned, he found Rainey dead with large amounts of his skin peeling off due to the scalding water. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, pp.1,14].

The case went largely ignored for two years before it gained notoriety following an investigation and news report by the Miami Herald, which prompted Clarke to resign from the FDOC in 2014. He was quickly hired as a road patrol officer by the Miami Gardens Police Department.

Investigations by the department’s Internal Affairs (IA) office into his conduct since then have included an incident in which Clarke ran a red light in his police truck and crashed into another vehicle. He also was reprimanded in 2016 for calling a tow truck to remove a car that belonged to a drowning victim without securing a wallet and cell phone, which ...

Florida Private Prisons Seek $4 Million for Employee Raises

by David M. Reutter

In a show of continued support for privately-operated prisons, the Florida legislature considered giving the state’s for-profit prison contractors a $4 million raise.

The GEO Group, MTC and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, have had contracts to operate prisons in Florida since the 1990s. While state law requires a seven percent savings to comparable public prisons, that cost analysis is flawed and not given serious consideration. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.52; March 2011, p.36].

The most important consideration is apparently campaign contributions. The GEO Group, which operates four facilities in Florida, is a major contributor to the Republican Party and state GOP candidates. In 2016 alone the company gave almost $2 million in political donations, including $40,000 to Senate President Joe Negron and $100,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee.

State Senator Jeff Brandes, who chairs the Criminal Justice Budget Committee, defended the increase in payments to for-profit prison firms as being a matter of fairness.

“The issue here is that a couple of years ago we raised salaries for correctional officers in our public facilities, but we never extended that pay increase to correctional officers in private facilities,” he ...

Alabama Prisoner in Failed Execution Attempt will Not Face Another

by David M. Reutter

In March 2018, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed not to set another execution date for death row prisoner Doyle Lee Hamm. The settlement resolved a lawsuit that followed a failed attempt to execute Hamm, 61, on February 22, 2018.

Hamm was sentenced to die for the execution-style murder of Cullman hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham, which occurred during a 1987 robbery.

In the seven months that preceded the attempted execution, Hamm’s attorney, Columbia Law School professor Bernard Harcourt, warned ADOC officials that Hamm had no accessible veins. Harcourt even proposed an alternative method of execution by oral lethal injection, but the ADOC refused.

Years of drug use, as well as chemotherapy following a February 2014 diagnosis of large-cell lymphoma cancer and B-cell carcinoma, had left Hamm with deeply compromised veins and abnormalities in his lymph nodes. As a result, Harcourt warned that an attempt at intravenous lethal injection would amount to cruel and unusual punishment in Hamm’s case.

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor agreed, but they were the minority who dissented to the Court’s denial of Harcourt’s request to stay the execution – a decision handed down the same ...

CCS Seeks to Hide Internal Review in Jail Detainee’s Death; $180,000 Settlement

by David Reutter and R. Bailey

Correct Care Solutions, a for-profit company that provides medical services at correctional facilities, contested the release of documents concerning the death of Dino Vann Nixon at the Forsyth County Jail (FCJ) in North Carolina.

Upon being booked into FCJ on drug trafficking charges on ...

Alaska Supreme Court Reverses Disciplinary Case Where Prisoner Not Allowed to Call Witnesses

by Matt Clarke and David Reutter

On April 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of Alaska held that a prisoner had been improperly denied his right to call witnesses at a prison disciplinary hearing, and his failure to raise that issue during administrative appeals did not waive the issue.

Scott Walker, an Alaska state prisoner, began working as an orientation assistant in the Special Management Unit at the Goose Creek Correctional Center in October 2013. He wrote up an outline of orientation topics and awaited further instructions. Ten months later, Criminal Justice Technician Brooke Baumgartner met with Walker and learned he had continued to be paid but had not actively worked in nine months. He told her he had tried to inform four officers about the payroll mistake, but could only name two.

He also said he had sent several “Request for Interview Forms” to prison employees addressing the situation. Such forms are returned to a prisoner’s file after they are received by staff.

Baumgartner did not find any of the forms in Walker’s file, and one of the two staff members Walker named said he never mentioned the payroll error. The payments to Walker while he wasn’t working were estimated ...

Contraband Found in Prisoner’s Rectum Supports Conviction

by David Reutter

In December 2017, a Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed a conviction for possession of contraband by a state prisoner. The court rejected the prisoner’s claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction, as testimony presented at trial indicated the contraband had been retrieved from the prisoner’s rectum.

While at SCI Fayette, guard Albert Wood observed a prisoner hand something to prisoner Edwin Greco Wylie-Biggs while they were transitioning from the cell block to the dining hall. Both were taken to another area for a strip search.

As part of the search, Wylie-Biggs was required to bend over and spread his buttocks. When he did so, a “clear plastic bag containing a small blue balloon could be seen sticking out of his rectum,” the court wrote. The bag was removed and the substance it contained subsequently tested positive for synthetic marijuana, known as K2.

A jury found Wylie-Biggs guilty of possession of contraband and he was sentenced to three to six years in prison, run consecutive to his prior sentence. On appeal, he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. The Superior Court rejected his claim and affirmed the conviction and sentence. See: Commonwealth v ...

Public Outcry Forces Florida DOC to Back Down on Limits to In-Person Visitation

by David M. Reutter

Following an onslaught of pressure from the public and action by the Florida legislature’s Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC), the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was forced to withdraw a rule proposal to reduce in-person visitation time by half.

At an initial April 3, 2018 public hearing on the proposal, more than 100 people showed up to speak against the rule change. Prison officials had announced the hearing just a week earlier by filing a notice in the Florida Administrative Register.

“I really don’t want my visits or anyone’s visits to be taken,” said 11-year-old Cody Calhoun, who told prison officials he would be “devastated” if the change went into effect.

“Why would you even take [visits] away?” he asked. “I mean, they’re already having a bad enough time in prison. Why would you make it worse? Please. I need to see my dad on the weekends.... I love playing with him and it brings me closer to him.”

The FDOC, however, refused to back down.

“No one would argue that visitation isn’t valuable, that the family connections aren’t important, that having those connections contributes to the reduction of recidivism,” said FDOC ...

CoreCivic’s Actions Against Sexual Harassment Compel Reversal of Jury Verdict

by David Reutter

 The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Georgia federal district court’s grant of judgment of law for Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, in a lawsuit alleging it failed to take prompt remedial action against sexual harassment.

Felecia Wilcox worked for CCA’s federal prison, McRae Correctional Facility. She filed a formal complaint with CCA that alleged her co-worker, Larry Johnson, slapped her on the buttocks twice. CCA told Jackson not to associate with Wilcox or be anywhere around her.

In the days that followed that July 10, 2009, complaint, Jackson repeatedly rolled his eyes at Wilcox and once punched a machine in her presence to intimidate her. Wilcox filed a second complaint on July 23, reiterating the July 10 claim and stating she feared Jackson would touch her again, that he had touched her previously, and that he said he can touch her if he wanted to.

CCA brought in an outside investigator, who interviewed Wilcox. That investigator heard that two additional times Jackson had sexually harassed Wilcox and had made a sexually explicit remark on another occasion. The investigator also interviewed 16 other employees and learned that Jackson had sexually harassed several of ...

Sixth Circuit: § 1983 Actions Classified as Personal Injury Claims

by David Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held on January 22, 2018 that civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are considered personal injury claims. With that principle established, the Court found that such a claim can survive a plaintiff’s death and allow for party substitution under Ohio law.

Keith Crabbs was taken into custody in March 2012 after a court in Franklin County, Ohio revoked his bond. That revocation was based on Crabbs quarreling with a witness outside the courthouse and appearing late for his trial on a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Officials at the Franklin County Jail failed to collect Crabbs’ DNA pursuant to an Ohio statute that mandates collection of a DNA specimen from anyone “arrested on or after July 1, 2011, for a felony offense.” The failure to obtain a DNA sample triggered an “ID hold.” A jury acquitted Crabbs, but the hold required him to undergo a DNA cheek swab before he was released.

Crabbs sued Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott in his official capacity, alleging the DNA collection and ID hold policies, when applied to acquitted defendants, violated the Fourth Amendment. Crabbs died while the case was ...


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