Skip navigation

Articles by David Reutter

Fund to Pay Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners in Michigan Is Broke Once Again

With the 2016 passage if its Wrongful Imprisonment Act, Michigan became one of 33 states with legislation creating a fund to compensate wrongfully convicted people, paying them $50,000 per year of their incarceration. But by early 2020 the fund didn’t even have enough money to pay off existing claims.

One of those left out is Nathaniel Hatchett, 39. Arrested at age 17 for sexual assault, he spent 10 years in prison before DNA evidence proved he did not commit the crime, and the charges were dismissed in 2008. A Michigan Court of Claims ordered the state to pay Hatchett $500,000 by January 16, 2019. But there were so many cases ahead of his that now the money still isn’t available in the compensation fund.

“It was good to get a judgment, but it’s not worth the paper it’s written on since they refuse to pay him,” said Hatchett’s attorney Wolfgang Mueller. “My client is hurting. He’s unemployed. They need to give him his money.”

Though the state has put $13 million into the compensation fund, its balance stood at just $323,800 as of March 4, 2019, leaving some exonerees, like Hatchett, unable to receive their court-ordered ...

Audit: Privatizing Florida’s Prison Health Care Was Costly and Deadly Mistake

When former Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, he pushed to privatize health care for Florida prisoners. He promised the move would save taxpayers millions of dollars and it did, at least until 2014. An audit ordered by the state legislature found that since those initial savings, privatization has cost many millions more.

 “The contracts the [Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC)] entered into between 2012 and 2015, while they saved substantial amounts of money, resulted in substantial reductions in service,” said Karl Becker, senior vice president at CGL Companies and one of the audit’s authors. “Those savings you achieved during that time, you are probably paying for now” through lawsuits and increased costs.

FDOC was the subject of a class-action lawsuit that challenged the conditions of confinement, and the provision of medical care was a large feature of that suit. It took a while, but FDOC turned things around and had in place a very adequate medical system. Then Scott, the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, a giant health care company that was fined $1.7 billion for defrauding Medicare and Medicaid while Scott was in charge, became Florida’s governor. His agenda was to privatize as ...

$1 Million Settlement in Atlanta Detainee’s Death From Untreated Diabetes

A $1 million settlement was reached in May 2019 in a lawsuit alleging the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC) left a pretrial detainee in an unlit confinement cell to die from untreated diabetes.

When Wickie Yvonne Bryant, 55, was booked into ACDC on September 14, 2015, it was noted that she suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, diabetes, and hypertension. She said that she was taking medication for all three diagnoses. An intake test revealed an “extremely elevated blood-glucose level” of 353 mg/dl, but she refused to take insulin, saying it made her sick.

She was subsequently prescribed Metformin, an oral diabetic medication. Yet, from her intake until October 5, 2015, Bryant refused her “diabetic treatment,” which meant blood testing and medication. She submitted a request on September 20 advising officials about her medical and mental health treatment at several medical facilities.

Despite laying out her history of care regimen, ADCD’s medical staff never requested that information, nor did they offer mental health care. Her refusal to take medication for two straight days required staff, per ACDC policy, to inform a doctor to examine Bryant. That, however, never happened.

Then, on October 5, guard Marian Bullard-Whitaker moved ...

Florida Lowers Minimum Age for Prison Guards But Fails to End Staff Shortages

A new law that reduces the minimum age to be a Florida prison guard has not helped resolve “critically low” staffing levels. Effective July 1, 2019, the minimum age to be a guard was reduced from 19 to 18.

Florida has struggled for over a decade in retaining staff to oversee its more than 96,000 prisoners. In 2012, the Florida Department of Corrections went from 8-hour to 12-hour shifts in a move to reduce the number of guard positions. That move pushed many veteran career guards to retire, as they were vested in the Florida pension plan after ten years of service.

The aftermath has seen a revolving door for guards. Hiring guards and getting through the correctional training program to certify them is not a problem. Retaining them for even two years is the issue. For many, the low pay is a severe deterrent, especially when the same certification earns a higher wage at a local jail.

“Staffing at the department has reached critically low levels, and many of the staff currently employed are extremely inexperienced,” Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials wrote in a legislative budget request filed in September 2019. The lack of ...

Prosecutors Sue Firm for Selling Bureau of Prisons Adulterated Food, Spices

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) sued a vendor and its owner for scamming over 80 prisons of $530,000 by selling diluted spices and food products.

The suit, filed November 1, 2019, was brought under the False Claims Act (FCA), also known as “Lincoln’s Law,” for violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The FDCA considers food to be adulterated if any substance is substituted, or any substance has been added or mixed or packed “to increase its bulk weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.”

BOP said part of its mission is to provide its 185,000 prisoners “healthy, nutritrionally-sound, and appetizing meals that meet the needs of the general population and those at nutritional risk. To purchase the food necessary to create the nearly 3.3 million meals per week, BOP utilizes a quarterly bid process that involves each prison posting a request for quotation (RFQ). The winning vendor provides the lowest bid.

Charlene Brach submitted bids as FlavorPros, LLC, and does business as Richards and Daniels, LLC. She underbid other vendors and was awarded contracts in South Carolina and across the ...

1.25 Million Corizon Settlement in Mentally Ill Michigan Prisoner’s Dehydration Death

he Michigan Department of Corrections and its medical vendor, Corizon Health, agreed in October 2019 to pay $1.25 million to settle a lawsuit involving the death of a mentally ill prisoner who died of dehydration after guards turned off the water in her confinement cell.

Darlene Martin, 66, was sent to prison for retail fraud. She was placed in the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV) in December 2013. Beginning in June 2014, she began complaining other prisoners were harassing her and wanting to perform oral sex on her.

Shortly afterward, she began exhibiting signs of mental illness. On June 10, 2014, she was placed in solitary confinement “as punishment for exhibiting signs of mental illness, specifically cursing and yelling,” the complaint alleged.

Between June 10 and June 22, Martin was “hog tied while naked, subjected to excessive force, deprived of food and water, forced to stand, sit, and lay in, while naked, her own feces and/or urine” by guards or while observed by them.

MDOC records reflect that Martin was at risk of heat-related illness and that she was unable to comply with her mental health treatment plan, causing medical officials to administer psychotropic drugs ...

Another Settlement in Sexual Assault Case at Pennsylvania Lackawanna County Prison

Pennsylvania's Lackawanna County paid $1.1 million to settle yet another lawsuit alleging several Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) guards sexually assaulted female prisoners. That brings the total for lawsuits the county has agreed to settle over the last three years to $2.4 million, most of which was paid by its insurance company.

PLN has reported on the sexual assault scandal and the previous settlements. In those cases, two settlements of $750,000 and $500,000 were reached in 2016. They alleged that guard Joseph Black sexually assaulted two women while held at LCP. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to indecent exposure and other offenses and was sentenced to 45 months to eight years in state prison. A $60,000 settlement was reached in June 2018 related to former guard Jeffrey T. Staff sexually assaulting a prisoner. [See PLN, December 2018, p. 26.]

The latest settlement was reached in early June 2019 is a global deal covering two lawsuits based on the claims of three women, who were represented by attorney Matthew Comerford. The complaint filed by Fox and Thompkins also includes the unsettled claims of former LCP prisoners Allison Demy and Joanne Perri.

That complaint details an open culture ...

Muslim Georgia Prisoner Wins RLUIPA Reversal in 11th Circuit Over Vegetarian Meals

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in an unpublished opinion, reversed the dismissal of a Georgia prisoner’s First and Eighth Amendment damage claims that alleged he was denied a vegan diet that conformed to his Muslim religious beliefs.

While held at Valdosta State Prison (VSP) in 2015, prisoner Marquise Ali Robbins, filed a civil rights action asserting claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First and Eight Amendments. Robbins alleged that he opted to receive VSP’s “restricted vegan meal,” which is intended to be consistent with the dictates of Islamic dietary rules.

Robbins asserted his diet contained insufficient “nutritional value,” “lacked sufficient calories” and contained only half the nutritional value as provided other prisoners. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, finding Robbins failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

On appeal, it was noted that Robbins was transferred from VSP to Hays State Prison. The Eleventh Circuit found this mooted all injunctive relief claims, so it affirmed dismissal of the claims under RLUIPA and the First and Eighth Amendment that sought such relief.

The court, however, found the First and Eighth ...

$1.5 Million Settlement in Georgia Youth’s Rape at Juvenile Detention Center

The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) agreed to a $1.5 million settlement in a lawsuit alleging a 14-year-old was the target of several beatings and attacks and was raped in a shower by a 17-year-old detainee.

The lawsuit identifies the victim as “N.T.” and relates to conditions of confinement he endured at Augusta Youth Development Campus (AYDC) in 2011. The complaint named 15 officials who worked for DJJ. AYDC is DJJ’s facility to house committed youths in its system and who have been identified with mental health problems.

DJJ was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice report in 1998 that found systematic and pervasive violations of juveniles’ constitutional rights. Among the problems were staff shortages, staff use of excessive force, a culture of violence and sexual assault, and lack of mental health care. A Memorandum of Understanding required DJJ to make changes, and DJJ was removed from supervision in 2009 after it met its obligations. The complaint alleged that after the consent decree ended, “a pattern of pervasive system-wide abuses in DJJ facilities across the state returned.”

When N.T. entered AYDC on March 8, 2011, he had a history of psychiatric hospitalization in ...

PrimeCare Medical Pays Bulk of $252,000 Settlement in Pennsylvania Jail Detainee’s Suicide

A $252,000 settlement was reached in October 2019 in a lawsuit brought by the estate of a pretrial detainee who hanged himself at Pennsylvania’s Northampton County Prison (NCP).

Kyle A. Flyte, 21, was booked into NCP on March 5, 2017 and was placed on “Level II Suicide Watch” the next day. He was evaluated by PrimeCare Medical psychiatrist Kishor Kumar Dedania on March 7. Dedania released Flyte from suicide watch and he was moved to a disciplinary confinement cell.

The complaint alleged the disciplinary action was based on Flyte not being honest about his drug use prior to entering NCP. While Flyte said he had not used drugs, a drug test for opioids returned a positive result. Consideration of the effect of isolation on someone with suicidal tendencies was not considered, nor were the change in circumstances concerning Flyte’s possibilities for bail.

On the morning of March 8, Flyte violated rules by hanging a blanket across the bars of his cell. He then used a shoelace and hanged himself between the half-hour guard rounds. No one investigated why a blanket was hung across the bars until a guard made rounds at 10:26 a.m.

Flyte was taken ...