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Articles by David Reutter

Danish Funds Invest In American Private Prisons

A February 18, 2020 story by Danwatch, a Danish investigative website, uncovered three Danish pension funds that had invested into two of America’s biggest prison profiteers: CoreCivic and the GEO Group. PKA, Villiv, and Lærernes Pension are pension funds for Danish social educators, social workers, nurses, and medical secretaries.

PKA invested the equivalent of about $8.5 million in the two private prison companies. Lrernes Pension has invested about $1.1 million in CoreCivic, and Villi invested about $160,000 in the two companies.

The Denmark pension fund investments come as America’s largest pension funds and banks have increasingly divested themselves from these prison profiteers. Politically, the companies are becoming pariahs, as some state Democratic parties and political groups are refusing to accept donations from private prison companies.

American public opinion of private prison companies has been trending against the profiteers. The Obama administration issued an executive order to phase out federal use of private prisons, but that order was reversed by President Trump. Both CoreCivic and GEO Group ...

Wisconsin Supreme Court Reverses “Dangerousness” Finding in Involuntary Commitment of Schizophrenic Man

D.J.W. was subjected to a January 30, 2017 commitment order from the Langlade County Circuit Court to the custody of the County for six months. The court also ordered involuntary psychotropic medication and treatment. The County sought recommitment for one year as the expiration of the initial commitment period approached. Dr. John T. Coates was appointed to examine D.J.W. He and D.J.W were the only witnesses at the hearing.

The Circuit Court determined that D.J.W. was a danger to himself and was incapable of making an informed choice to accept or refuse medication. It granted recommitment and involuntary medication for one year. D.J.W. appealed.

The court of appeals affirmed, concluding the finding of D.J.W.’s dangerousness “was not clearly erroneous.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court granted D.J.W.’s petition for review.

In Wisconsin, involuntary commitment is regulated ...

Michigan Settles Sex Abuse Claims by 1,300 Former Juvenile Offenders Housed With Adults for $80 Million

On January 29, 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $80 million to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by juveniles who were housed in adult facilities where they were allegedly subjected to sexual assault and other harms.

The action consolidated in state court numerous lawsuits filed against MDOC in both state and federal courts. The class included persons incarcerated in MDOC while younger than 18 at any time during the period from October 15, 2010 to February 24, 2020. All of these juveniles were charged, convicted, and sentenced as adults, and MDOC placed them in adult facilities upon receiving them.

The complaint contained allegations related to 12 “John Doe” prisoners, all of whom alleged they were anally raped or coerced to engage in anal or oral sex, sometimes by guards but most often by adult prisoners with whom the juveniles were housed and left to fend for themselves. The events they described read like lurid movie portrayals of new prisoners being “fresh meat.” [See PLN, April 2020, p.50.]

John Doe #2 reported a physical assault and sexual harassment while at Oaks Correctional Facility in 2011. He was placed in solitary ...

Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Pay-To-Vote for Florida Felons Who Completed Sentences

The court’s September 11, 2020, opinion was written by Chief Judge William Pryor. The case was before the court after Florida appealed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s April 7, 2020, order that found Florida law constituted an “unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.” [See PLN, June 2020, p. 62.]

The controversy started when a 64.55% super-majority of voters in 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to people who had completed “all terms of sentence,” except those convicted of murder and sex offenses.

During its 2019 legislative session, Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature passed SB 7066. It defined that re-enfranchisement prerequisite to mean “any portion of a sentence that is contained the four corners of the sentencing document,” including “full payment of LFOs (legal financial obligations) ordered by the sentencing court as part of the sentence.” [See PLN, Oct. 2019, p. 58; Sept. 2018, p. 14]

The Eleventh Circuit divided its en banc majority opinion into three parts. The first addressed ...

Conditions at South Carolina Juvenile Facility Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued notice on February 5, 2020 that it has found the “totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents” it discovered at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, violated the juveniles’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.

After stating its intent in September 27, 2017, to investigate BRRC, the DOJ conducted three onsite visits, reviewed documents and videos, and conducted dozens of interviews with juveniles, staff, and management within South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The DOJ noted that the DJJ was very cooperative and took steps to address concerns raised on site.

This is not the first time DJJ came under scrutiny for its failure to provide constitutional conditions of confinement for juveniles committed to its custody. In the 1990s, a federal court issued an injunction requiring DJJ to implement minimally acceptable standards to remedy the unconstitutional confinement conditions at its facilities. See: Bowers v. Boyd, 876 F.Supp. 773 (D.S.C. 1995). It developed and implemented a plan that resulted in that case being terminated in 2003.

The DOJ found DJJ fails to keep the average daily population of 100 juveniles at BRRC reasonably safe from harm ...

Lawsuit Over Hellish 9-Day Prisoner Transport Reinstated

The lawsuit was filed by Danzel Stearns. Two ISC employees picked him up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on September 17, 2016, under contract with Union County, Mississippi, to extradite him to the county courthouse in New Albany to stand trial on a charge there. The firm, based in West Memphis, Tennessee, should have covered the 1,145-mile trip in less than 17 hours.

But instead of heading east toward Mississippi, its drivers headed west and “wandered through 13 states,” passing through some twice to pick up and drop off as many as 17 other prisoners and detainees at a time and overcrowding the van “before finally delivering a sick, sleep-deprived Stearns for prosecution on a minor drug charge,” his suit stated.

The transport made no overnight or lengthy stops. The two drivers took ...

Seventh Circuit Protects Guards Who Allegedly Failed to Protect Wisconsin Prisoner

Before the court was the appeal of prisoner Daniel A. Schillinger, who was confined at Wisconsin’s Secure Program Facility when he was assaulted on September 17, 2015. While on the recreation yard, a prisoner named Terry approached Schillinger as he was playing chess.

Terry made threats and demanded Schillinger buy canteen items for him.

Guards Randy Starkey and Josh Kiley approached and asked, “Are you guys horse playing or are you for real?” Terry responded, “No, it’s all good.”

As the recreation yard was closing, Starkey and Kiley asked Schillinger if he was going to be okay. He responded he didn’t know because Terry made threats and he did not trust him. Another prisoner overheard Starkey say that he thought there was going to be a “rumble.”

When Schillinger arrived at ...

Fourth Circuit Holds South Carolina DOC Lawyers Entitled to Qualified Immunity

The Court’s August 20, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by former prisoner Marion K. Campbell, who was convicted in December 2011 of distribution of cocaine. He alleged Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations from a memorandum written by Chris Florian, SCDC’s deputy general counsel who interpreted the state’s Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010. Florian concluded the Act made prisoners who committed a “no parole offense” were now eligible for parole, but they were still required to serve 85% of their sentence if they were not granted parole. That interpretation was approved by David Tatarsky, SCDC’s general counsel.

Prisoner Michael Bolin challenged the memo. The South Carolina Administrative Law Court endorsed Florian’s interpretation of the Act. The South Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that under the Act an offense under S.C. Code Section 44-53-375(B) is no longer a “no parole offense.” That meant persons convicted of those offenses were eligible for work and good time credits. See: Bolin ...

Animal Shelters Provide Cooler Temperatures Than Florida Prisons in Summer

With the heat of summer’s arrival, Florida prisoners endure living in outdated infrastructure. The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), in a July 14, 2020 email to prisoners, said it “is making efforts to ease the negative impact of extreme heat in the coming months.” That email was sent shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated funding for a prison modernization plan.

To assure prisons can endure hurricanes and heavy use, they are made of concrete and steel, which makes them heat sinks. “Prisons are mostly built from heat-retaining materials, which can increase internal prison temperatures. Because of this, temperatures inside prisons often exceed outdoor temperatures,” said Alexi Jones, a policy analyst with Prison Policy Initiative. “Moreover, people in prison do not have the same cooling options that people on the outside do.”

Summer is the hardest time of year for Florida prisoners. With temperatures regularly in the low to upper 90s and heat indexes that well exceed 100 degrees, living and sleeping in a Florida prison tests one’s mettle to extremes that not even domesticated animals must endure.

Florida law provides that the purpose of prison is punishment, so amenities such as air conditioning are not politically ...

Report: Arkansas Let Asymptomatic Prison Employees Infected with Coronavirus Continue to Work

In late April 2020, prisoners at Arkansas’ Cummins Unit knew that the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, was spreading among not only the prison’s inmates but also its staff. But a prisoner identified as Marco was shocked to learn that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was telling infected guards to report to work, according to a story in Mother Jones.

Despite offering median pay for guards that is higher than at least 12 other states – including every neighboring state except Texas – Arkansas reported 651 unfilled guard positions in March 2020, a vacancy rate of nearly 14 percent. That was at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, before the number of infected guards began climbing. As of August 7, 2020, it stood at 303, with 42 of those not yet recovered.

As he lay sick with the disease, Marco overheard a guard tell other prisoners that many of his coworkers had tested positive. The guard, who was passing out toilet paper and soap, said, “All of us got it, but they’re telling us to work anyway if we’re not showing symptoms.”

DOC spokesperson Solomon Graves confirmed the policy to Mother Jones, saying ...