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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Michigan’s New Prison Food Service Provider Failing to Meet Contract Terms

by David M. Reutter

After privatizing its prison food services in 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has continued to report problems with its current vendor, Florida-based Trinity Services Group – largely the same problems it experienced with its previous contractor, Pennsylvania-based Aramark Correctional Services. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1].

By the time the state’s contract with Aramark was canceled in 2015, two years into its three-year term, 186 of the company’s employees had been subject to stop orders by the MDOC due to inappropriate – including sexual – relationships with prisoners or for bringing drugs or other contraband into correctional facilities.

Similarly, by August 2017, two years into its three-year contract, 176 Trinity employees had been subject to stop orders that prevented them from working in MDOC facilities. The company had also racked up $3.8 million in fines for contract violations. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.48].

When it terminated Aramark, the MDOC had cited persistent quality problems, including maggots in food serving areas, undersized portions and unauthorized meal substitutions. As reported by PLN, subsequent issues with food portions and substitutions by Trinity preceded a peaceful protest by prisoners at the Kinross Correctional Facility in March ...

Controversy Surrounds Angola Prison Warden’s Retirement, Indictment of Family Members

by David M. Reutter

One month after a November 2015 investigative report by the New Orleans Advocate, Louisiana State Penitentiary warden Burl Cain, 73, announced his retirement. He stepped down from his longtime position at the Angola prison effective January 1, 2016.

The report outlined a series of private real estate deals that Cain had entered into with relatives and friends of favored prisoners, in apparent violation of prison system rules. Cain had a business relationship with Charles Chatelain, the stepfather of Angola prisoner Jason Lormand; he also had a real estate partnership with William Ourso, a close friend of prisoner Leonard Nicholas.

Investigations by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC), the State Police and the Inspector General’s Office ensued. According to LDPSC Undersecretary Thomas Bickham, Cain’s business relationships did not violate departmental policy because rules barring “non-professional relationships with offenders or offenders’ family and friends” do not actually mean what they say.

“The longstanding consensus in the department of this rule,” Bickham wrote, “is that it is intended to prohibit an employee from entering into a secretive personal and/or romantic relationship with an offender or a member of that offender’s family.”

While he ...

Political Contributions Drove Juvenile Prison Privatization

by David M. Reutter

Florida is moving to privatize all of its state-run juvenile detention centers. The move comes despite allegations of abuse at two of the state’s private juvenile detention centers.

“These programs offer unique services and facilities that should be maintained. We are therefore committed to an orderly transition from public to private operation for the benefit of our employees and the youth in our care,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.

Questions abound about whether the DJJ’s quality-assurance system can guarantee the public is receiving what it pays for and whether youths are cared and treated for in a humane manner. State officials have acted to douse the fire of unconstitutional conditions by closing three youth facilities that became the focus of scrutiny of their operations.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation in 2010 of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center. Shortly after the investigation began, the DJJ closed both facilities.

That move, however, did not stop the DOJ from issuing a December 2011 report that was highly critical about not only the state’s operation of those facilities, but its oversight of them ...

Florida Legislator Tackles Abuse of Juvenile Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

A Florida legislator who was disturbed by publicized accounts of violence being inflicted on the state’s juvenile prison is using his experience as an auditor to get to the bottom of the problem and recommend change.  To his surprise, The Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections (FDC) is listening and acting on the information.

As PLN has reported, Florida prisoners under the age of 19 have been subjected to abuse from guards and “test of heart” from gang members upon entry into a prison.  That story detailed the May 7, 2013, attack on prisoner Gesnerson Louisius, who was severely injured when a broomstick was rammed up his rectum by other prisoners.

State Rep. David Richardson read the story, originally published by the Miami Herald, and set on a mission to end such abuse.  He drew on his 30 years of experience as an auditor unraveling corporate and financial malfeasance.

Using a state law that allows legislators unlimited, unannounced access to the state prisons, Richardson began showing up at prisons housing juveniles to poke around and interview prisoners.  He considered Sumter Correctional Institution “ground zero for officer-on inmate violence.”  Prisoners told him ...

Alabama DOC Agrees to Implement Suicide Prevention Measures

by David Reutter

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed to an interim settlement in a class action lawsuit that requires it to implement suicide prevention measures. The agreement was approved on January 12, 2017, by the federal district court overseeing the action.

The prisoners, who were represented by the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, reached an agreement that requires ADOC to hire a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) at each major prison. At the treatment hubs, Bullock, Donaldson, and Tutwiler, there must be two licensed LMHPs on site for at least eight hours on business days, at least one LMHP on weekends.

Any prison employee or contractor can present a prisoner for suicide watch, which requires the prisoner to be under “constant watch” until evaluated. If the prisoner is determined to be acutely suicidal, constant watch will continue. Those who are nonacutely suicidal must be close monitored “at staggered intervals not to exceed 15 minutes.”

Both constant and close monitoring will be contemporaneously documented at staggered 15 minute intervals “on a record maintained on each individual cell door.” Prior to release from suicide watch, an evaluation must occur. Once so released, there must be “at least three follow-up ...

Tennessee’s Death Penalty on Hold

by David M. Reutter

Capital punishment is on hold in Tennessee. The Tennessee Supreme Court halted execution to allow lower courts to hold hearings on the new lethal injection protocol. Meanwhile, attorneys for death row prisoners are arguing the death penalty is arbitrarily imposed, and a new U.S. Supreme Court case affirmed a fundamental right to life that extends to condemned prisoners.

PLN has reported on the difficulty death penalty states are incurring when trying to obtain the drugs to carry out lethal injection. Tennessee is no different. To resolve that problem, Tennessee in 2013 changed its official lethal injection method from the typical three-drug combination to a single drug.

Prisoners argue that drug, pentobarbital, a sedative, creates a risk of pain and lingering death. They also assert physicians prescribing the drug for executions violate the Controlled Substances Act, which provides listed drugs may only be prescribed for a “legitimate medical purpose.” The Tennessee Attorney General countered with expert testimony to argue that pentobarbital will “likely cause death with minimum pain and quick loss of consciousness.” While the drug may take a while to stop the heart, that does not render it cruel and unusual punishment, the ...

Threats by Arkansas Prison Administration Warrants Transfer

by David Reutter

The Eighth Circuit of Appeals reversed and remanded a federal district court's denial of prisoner James Walker's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 petition seeking his transfer to a federal prison or some other state's prison because he had a reasonable fear that his life was in great danger if he continued to be housed in any Arkansas prison.

Walker was convicted and sentenced for the 1963 murder of an Arkansas policeman. Walker served almost 11 years as a model prisoner at the Tucker prison. He had enjoyed dozens of furloughs while there.

In 1974, apparently at the request of superintendent A.L. Lockhart of the Cummins prison, Walker was transferred to the Cummins prison, so that A.L. Lockhart could teach the "cop killing son of a bitch" a lesson.

In 1975, Walker was granted another furlough, but he did not return from that furlough. When he was arrested in California almost five years later, Walker filed a motion to block extradition asserting that he would be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment (loss of life) if he were forced to return to the Arkansas prison system.

His motion was denied, and he ...

Violation of State Regulation Not a Constitutional Violation

by David Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court's summary judgment granted in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit. The suit was brought by the Simpson estate, against Sheriff Mark E. Gorbett and Deputies Lehman, Williams, York Tindell, and Harbaugh in their official and individual capacities. The suit alleged deliberate indifference resulted in the death of Dennis Simpson, a prisoner.

Simpson had been convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to serve three weekends in jail. When he reported to serve his second weekend, he registered a 0.23% blood alcohol content. He spend 13 hours in a holding cell until he was believed to be sober. He was then placed in a regular cell. Despite the fact that he weighed 368 pounds, he was placed on a top bunk because no bottom bunks were available. He later went into seizure-like convulsions, fell from his bunk, and died from head injuries.

The estate sued defendants because they failed to provide adequate medical care, constitutional condition of confinement, and adequate training. Deputies Lehman and Williams were dismissed from the suit because they were not involved, and that dismissal was not appealed.

The estate appealed ...

Ohio Supreme Court Holds That Longer Second Continuance on Parole Eligibility Is Not Proof of Punitive Action

by David Reutter

The Ohio Supreme Court held that an Ohio prisoner's mandamus, alleging that the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRS) failed to comply with its clear legal duty to properly assess his parole eligibility, lacked merit.

In 1995, Harold Stith was sentenced to serve 22 years to life in an Ohio prison. In 2010, the Adult Parole Authority (APA) conducted its first parole review and imposed a 29-month continuance of Stith's sentence. In 2013, the second hearing ended with a 59-month continuance. In 2015, Stith filed a writ of mandamus against the ODRS. He argued that the parole board failed to carry out its clear legal duty to provide him fair and meaningful consideration for parole.

In 2016, the Tenth District Court of Appeals dismissed the writ because Stith failed to state a claim for relief. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal.

Stith argued that the 59-month continuance after the initial 29-month continuance was not "ethical, fair and/or just" but punitive. The Supreme Court held that there is no clear legal duty or right concerning the timing of parole hearing. Such timing is discretionary, and the fact that a second continuance was longer than ...

$5001 Jury Award to Illinois Prisoner in Harassment and Conspiracy Suit

by David Reutter


An Illinois federal jury awarded $50,001.00 in damages to the plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations related to abuse and harassment of the plaintiff.

On April 2, 2017, Craig A. Childress filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against several defendants for their on-going abuse and constant harassment. Allegations included violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and conspiracy to deprive Childress of those same rights.

This notice documented a series of incidents to show a continuing pattern of abuse and harassment by employees of Rushville Treatment and Detention Facility. Childress is a spinal cord injured paraplegic with a flaccid neurogenic bladder due to an incident with law enforcement officials in 1996. And, as such, Childress requires special medical treatment for his condition.

On long van transportations, Childress averred he needs his hands free for self-catheterization. After repeated requests to this effect, he stated Shift Commander Sally Hougas called him to her office on June 20, 2012 to threaten him with assignment to temp management and confinement with a "black-box" if he didn't stop his complaining about being cuffed during these transportations.

When he and others ...


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