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Articles by David Reutter

Precedential Settlement Eliminates Solitary Confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) has agreed to operate a Capital Case Unit (CCU) “as a general population unit that exclusively houses prisoners sentenced to death.” That change in conditions is part of a settlement agreement to a lawsuit that challenged death row prisoners’ conditions of confinement.

The agreement was announced on November 18, 2019. It resolves a lawsuit brought by the ACLU in January 2018, which alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments from placing death row prisoners in solitary confinement for years or decades on end.

“The use of long-term solitary confinement on anyone is torture,” said Amy Fettig, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The conditions Pennsylvania’s DOC was subjecting people on death row to — spending their entire lives in a tiny, filthy cell without any normal human contact, congregate religious services, sufficient access to exercise, sunshine, the outdoors, or environmental and intellectual stimulation — weren’t just deeply unconstitutional; they were horribly inhumane.”

Under the settlement, death row prisoners will be able to use the phone on a daily basis for 15 minutes, have contact visits, have at least 42.5 hours of out-of-cell activity a week — to ...

Pennsylvania Board Revokes Psychologist’s License Over Prisoner Suicides

The Pennsylvania Board of Psychology revoked the license of psychologist James Harrington and imposed $62,233 in civil penalties and costs. The revocation was based on seven suicides over an 18 month period at SCI Cresson, which has closed since the deaths nearly a decade ago.

The December 3, 2019, order said three suicides and 17 others who attempted suicide while under Harrington’s care were foreseeable and preventable. The order found Harrington abdicated his ethical responsibility to intervene when mentally ill prisoners were placed in solitary confinement and prevented from leaving their cells for treatment.

The board’s order focused on Harrington’s role as the top psychologist responsible for treating the prisoners. It noted his “treatment” of prisoners that included allowing a prisoner with schizoaffective disorder to attend a mental health meeting naked and ordering the prisoner to sing, “I’m a Little Tea Pot.”

Harrington also approved a behavior modification plan for the prisoner that placed the prisoner in isolation with only an anti-suicide smock and food loaf while removing all bedding, including a mattress, and not providing psychological treatment.

The order also outlined the case of prisoner John McClellan, Jr., who threatened to hang himself and who ...

$425,000 Settlement in Arkansas Detainee’s Death from Asthma Attack

Sharon L. Alexander, 41, was arrested on December 13, 2016, for robbery after a scuffle with a store loss prevention clerk, tried to prevent the theft of $234.16 in clothing. Alexander was taken to the Pulaski County Jail. A medical intake form showed she was 100% disabled, suffered from sickle cell anemia, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. She possessed an asthma pump upon arrest, but it was taken from her upon booking.

After she was booked, Alexander was placed in a cell. Late the next morning, Guard Eddie Turner watched three other detainees assist Alexander down the stairs of the cell block. He had Alexander sit down, and she told him she suffered from sickle cell, was cold, and had been throwing up. Turner called for medical assistance, but a nurse later told him that would be checked the next day. Detainee Paradise Williams helped Alexander complete the form, which included a request that she be provided her asthma pump ...

Prisoner’s Death from Methadone Over-Prescription Results in Summary Judgment, Settlement

by David Reutter

In a November 30, 2018 decision, the Seventh Circuit upheld a summary judgment order in favor of county defendants in a lawsuit alleging they were deliberately indifferent to the medical needs of a pretrial detainee who died.

On March 30, 2010, Patrick McCann assaulted and threatened ...

Teachers’ Unions Divest Stock Holdings in Private Prisons

by David Reutter

Pension funds for teachers are abandoning their investments in private prisons. The divestures follow an appeal by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, for public pension funds to liquidate their holdings in for-profit prison companies and other firms involved in immigrant detention. ...

Iowa: Prisoners Entitled to Full Hearing on Termination of Parental Rights

by David Reutter

The Iowa Supreme Court held on November 30, 2018 that an incarcerated parent is entitled to participate in the entire hearing for termination of parental rights.

The Court announced the new procedure in the appeal of a mother whose rights were terminated. At issue was the process ...

A Blow to Prison Privatization: Florida Democratic Party Rejects Profiteers’ Contributions

by David M. Reutter

Calling it a victory in the battle against mass incarceration, activists within the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) won passage in July 2018 of a resolution banning donations from private prison companies, their affiliated political action committees (PACs) and lobbyists.

The resolution was adopted during a gala ...

Maine Prisoner’s Challenge to Confiscation of Funds States Declaratory Judgment Claim

by David Reutter

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court held on October 16, 2018 that a trial court erred by dismissing a petition challenging a prison rule that requires any prisoner who earns money for work to have 10 percent of his wages, up to $1,000, deposited into a “personal escrow ...

LA County Jail Guards’ Conviction for Assaulting Visitor Upheld

by David Reutter

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the convictions of three guards who assaulted a handcuffed visitor at the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail in February 2011.

Gabriel Moses Carrillo and his girlfriend, Griselda Torres, were visiting Carrillo’s brother at the facility. Deputy Pantamir ...

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 ...