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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Florida: $60,000 Settlement for Juvenile Offender Raped During “Test of Heart” Ritual

by David M. Reutter

A Florida juvenile offender who was beaten and raped by other prisoners as a guard stood by and watched has received a $60,000 settlement from the state.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Florida imprisons more children in adult prisons than any ...

Alabama Prisoners Suffer Nation’s Highest Homicide, Suicide Rates

by David Reutter

Alabama’s prison murder rate, already the nation’s worst, is on the rise – along with an increase in assaults that do not end in fatalities, as well as prisoner suicides. Prison officials agree that the root problems – mainly overcrowding and understaffing – are correctable. But the state has not fully addressed those problems.

Nationally, about five of every 100,000 prisoners are murdered and another 16 commit suicide. In Alabama the number of prison homicides is over 30 per 100,000 – six times the national average and twice that of the next-highest state – while the number of suicides has risen to 37 per 100,000, more than twice the national rate.

In 2017, a federal district court found the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) had failed to provide prisoners with constitutionally sufficient mental health care, calling it “horrendously inadequate.” As with the homicide rate, the court found the DOC’s “skyrocketing suicide rate” was due to preventable factors that had not been addressed by prison officials due to a “culture of cynicism towards prisoners.”

In October 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into all DOC facilities housing male prisoners ...

Arkansas and Oklahoma Rehab Programs Sued for Using Court-ordered Defendants for Forced Labor

by David Reutter

A federal lawsuit filed in October 2017 accuses an Arkansas-based drug rehab center of “human trafficking and forced labor” for abusing a court-ordered pre-trial diversion program. The rehab center reportedly compelled defendants to provide cheap labor for welding companies, chicken processing plants and manufacturers – including a plastics firm owned by state Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren.

The Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP) is supposed to provide substance abuse treatment as an alternative to prison. Courts in both Arkansas and Oklahoma send defendants to DARP, with a stern warning that failure to complete the program will result in jail or prison time. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.8].

With a second facility in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, DARP enrolls as many as 80 men at any given time, who work for no pay. Founder Raymond Jones and Pastor Glenn E. Whitman, who run the non-profit, were named as defendants in the suit. In addition to Hendren’s company, Hendren Plastics, Inc., DARP provided workers to R&R Engineering, Inc., Western Alliance, Inc. (formerly known as Jer-Co Industries, Inc.) and Simmons Foods, Inc. Those companies were also named in the lawsuit.

“This forced labor scheme was developed by defendant Raymond Jones ...

Prison Food and Commissary Services: A Recipe for Disaster

by David M. Reutter

Food plays an integral role in our lives. It not only provides the nutrition necessary to sustain our existence, it feeds the sense of community we all crave. Social bonds are made as we break bread with those who sit and dine with us at the meal table. It may sound trite, but food feeds not just the body but also the soul.

The role of food is more pronounced for prisoners than for those who are not incarcerated. A primary reason for that difference is the fact that prison and jail schedules revolve around meal times. Another is that prisoners are limited to eating the fare provided in the dining hall (commonly called the chow hall or mess hall), or what they can buy from the commissary; they lack the food choices that most people take for granted.

The answer to the question “what’s for chow?” is often determinative of whether a prisoner goes to the dining hall or eats out of his or her own pantry. The latter occurs only if the prisoner has money to buy food items from the commissary or can hustle up something to eat. The poorest prisoners are ...

Virginia Parole Board Changes “Three-Strikes” Interpretation

by David M. Reutter

Virginia’s parole board is changing a policy under which the state’s “three-strikes” law was used to deny parole to 262 prisoners who previously had never been incarcerated before their current charges. The change came on the heels of an investigative report by the Virginian-Pilot, which found that state officials had abused the three-strikes law and “converted young men from first-time offenders to three-strikers in one swift motion.”

In 1982, Virginia passed a three-strikes law to deny parole to anyone convicted of three separate crimes involving murder, rape or robbery with a deadly weapon – with the term “separate” defined as “lacking a common act, transaction or scheme.”

“The idea of a three-strikes law is that you committed a crime, sat in jail and should have realized the wrongs of your ways, but then you go out and do it again,” said Washington, D.C. attorney Evan Werbel, adding that after the third conviction, “the three-strikes law basically says, ‘Enough is enough, and he’s never going to be rehabilitated.’”

Virginia abolished parole in 1995 for the types of crimes covered by the three-strikes law – but it was still used to deny parole ...

Tennessee Judge Ends Sentence Reductions for Prisoners Who Agree to Sterilization; Receives Reprimand

by David Reutter

A Tennessee state court judge has reversed course on a controversial sentence reduction program following an uproar from civil rights and prisoners’ rights advocates. He later received a public letter of reprimand from the Board of Judicial Conduct.

White County General Sessions Judge Sam E. Benningfield, Jr. said his only agenda in cutting the sentences of male and female prisoners who voluntarily agreed to undergo long-term birth control procedures was to address the problem of unwanted and drug-addicted babies.

Activists, however, said his May 15, 2017 order establishing the program was an unconstitutional infringement on the right to procreate. The incentive program cut 30 days off the sentences of male prisoners who had vasectomies and women who received a birth control implant called Nexplanon. Forty-two men agreed to vasectomies while 32 women agreed to the implants, which are intended to prevent pregnancy for up to four years. None of the male prisoners actually received vasectomies.

The ACLU of Tennessee said the program was an unconstitutional, coercive intrusion on the rights of vulnerable people.

“Offering a so-called ‘choice’ between jail and coerced contraception or sterilization is unconstitutional,” the organization said in a statement. Judge Benningfield was “imposing ...

Retaliatory “Rough Ride” by Prison Guards States Eighth Amendment Claim

by David Reutter

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Virginia state prisoner had stated a claim for violation of his constitutional rights when guards gave him a “rough ride” in a prison van in retaliation for filing grievances and lawsuits.

Paul C. Thompson was placed in handcuffs, leg irons, shackles and a black box restraint device, then loaded into a prison van on April 8, 2010 for transport to the Mecklenburg Circuit Court for a proceeding. Prison guards Diming and Cooper refused Thompson’s request to secure his seat belt.

The van then made an uneventful ride down a “windy, sharply-curved road for about an hour and a half.” The guards stopped at a convenience store and turned back in the direction of Deep Meadow Correctional Center after they received a call saying the court proceeding had been canceled.

According to Thompson, Cooper drove “erratically, exceeding the speed limit and crossing the white and yellow traffic lines.” Not seat-belted, Thompson was thrown from one side to the other, and sudden stops and accelerations caused him to be thrown forward and backward. In response to Thompson’s pleas to stop driving dangerously, Cooper and Diming allegedly laughed and ...

Numerous Deaths, Sealed Settlements in North Carolina Jails

by David M. Reutter

After two North Carolina prisoners died in county jails, lawsuits filed by their families resulted in settlements. Under state law, the details of those agreements should have been public record; in fact, in the absence of accepted standards for jail health care or strong regulatory oversight, such information may provide the best measure of the quality of medical care provided to prisoners held in county jails.

Yet state court judges sealed the settlements in both cases.

North Carolina’s public records law allows an exception if a court finds “the presumption of openness is overcome by an overriding interest” that “cannot be protected by any measure short of sealing the settlement.” Yet Jonathan Jones with the North Carolina Open Government Coalition and Sunshine Center at Elon University called the decision to seal the settlements in the jail death cases “incredibly disappointing.”

“We’re talking about spending taxpayer dollars on claims of wrongdoing by the government, and often these are settled without an admission of guilt,” he said. “But even though there’s no admission of guilt or responsibility, there’s a transfer of funds, and citizens need to know whether or not their government bodies are being ...

Guards Sentenced for Beating Prisoners at Kentucky Jail

by David M. Reutter

Three Kentucky River Regional Jail guards have been sentenced to federal prison terms for beating prisoners in two separate incidents – including one where a prisoner died.

In 2013, guards Damon Wayne Hickman and William C. Howell entered the cell of Larry Trent, 54, to remove a mattress. As they opened the door, Trent ran from the cell. Howell used a stun gun to subdue him, and Trent was prone on the floor when Hickman kicked him in the ribs, prosecutors said.

Trent was dragged back to his cell and the beating continued. “Both deputies, without justification, punched, kicked and stomped on Trent,” the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement. “Witnesses further testified that, before closing the cell door, Howell stepped into Trent’s cell and kicked Trent in the head while Trent was on the floor and posing no threat. After the assault, Hickman and Howell had other inmates clean up Trent’s blood from the floor and walls outside of his cell.”

Trent, who was awaiting trial on a DUI charge, died from internal bleeding caused by a displaced pelvic fracture and blunt force trauma to his head, torso and extremities ...

Coast Guard's Detention Based on Ethnicity Violates Fourth Amendment

by David M. Reutter

 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that removal proceedings against an alien must be terminated because Coast Guard officers committed an egregious Fourth Amendment violation, plus violated an immigration regulation when they seized him based on his Latin ethnicity alone.

Louis E. Sanchez, 45, entered the United States without inspection in 1988 at age 17. He has lived in Ventura County, California. He was granted Family Unity Benefits and Employment Authorization on May 11, 2004, which expired two years later. His subsequent applications were denied due to three misdemeanor convictions for violations of California's Vehicle Code.

Sanchez and two adult Latino friends, and one of the friend's 14-month-old son, took a fishing trip on February 25, 2010, in Sanchez's pleasure boat. About 30 minutes into the trip, the Coast Guard responded to a 911 request for a tow back to the harbor.

Upon arrival at the Channel Islands Harbor, about eight Coast Guard officers awaited on shore for Sanchez and his companions. Once they disembarked the boat, they were frisked and detained. The officers requested their names and asked for identification; Sanchez handed over his driver's license. The Coast Guard could ...


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