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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Illinois: $4.75 Million Settlement in Jail Seizure Injury Case

by David Reutter

Cook County, Illinois has paid $4.75 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging it failed to provide doctor-ordered accommodations for a pretrial detainee who suffered seizures.

In October 2014, Michael Joseph Borys was booked into the Cook County Jail on a misdemeanor charge. He was seen ...

Lawsuit, Ballot Initiative Seek to Reform Felon Disenfranchisement in Florida

by David M. Reutter

In 1868, in response to the abolition of slavery following the Civil War (except for prisoners), Florida enshrined in its constitution the permanent disenfranchisement of people convicted of a felony. The deprivation of felons’ voting rights was combined with Black Codes that criminalized offenses state lawmakers believed were mostly committed by blacks, as a means of sending freed slaves to prison and ensuring they could not vote.

While the civil rights movement helped to change racial attitudes, Florida has held strong to its disenfranchisement policy. It is one of only four states, the others being Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia, to require executive clemency to restore voting rights.

“[Felon disenfranchisement] is understood as an issue of law and order, and in Florida that’s the end of the discussion,” said Scott Paine, a political analyst for the Florida League of Cities. “It is not seen in other terms, no matter the merits of other arguments. At the same time, this may be less about the state as a whole than about a particular administration’s perspective.”

Over a four-year period, former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who earned the nickname “Chain Gang Charlie” as a state senator ...

Michigan Department of Corrections Foregoes Privatized Food Services

by David M. Reutter
After enduring five years of poor service, inadequate staffing and several scandals with its privatized food-service vendors, Michigan has decided to bring its prison services back into government service.
“As the contract with Trinity was approaching its end, we took the opportunity to re-examine our operations,” said Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Director Heidi Washington in a statement. “After discussing options with Trinity, it was determined it was in the best interest of both parties not to renew our agreement, we believe the department’s needs would be better met by returning to state-run food service.”
Since MDOC privatized its food service following a legislature mandate in 2012, it has watched the quality and quantity of food decline while the amount of contraband and other security incidents by privatized staff have increased.
Previous stories in Prison Legal News detailed the problems MDOC incurred after privatizing its kitchens. As we reported, prisoners were served food with maggots and items that were nibbled on by rodents at the order of the first vendor, Aramark. Staffing shortages and staff that brought in drugs or who had sex with prisoners were a regular problem.
It was hoped that changing ...

FRCP Rule 25 Allows for Extension of Time to Substitute Party Upon Death

by David Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a Florida federal district court’s order denying a motion to reopen a case and substitute parties due to the death of the original plaintiff. The district court erred in finding it could not extend the 90-day time period for substitution set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 25.

The suit was initially filed in 2016 by Gustavo Adolfo Lizarazo, who was arrested on June 8, 2012. He alleged that while being detained at a jail in Miami-Dade County, multiple officers “repeatedly kicked, struck and punched him in the face and abdomen,” resulting in a fractured right orbital socket and exploded orbital floor.

Lizarazo died on November 17, 2016, and his attorney filed a Joint Motion for Stay of Proceedings due to his death. Lizarazo’s father, Gustavo Antonio Lizarazo, was served by the defendants in anticipation that he would be appointed the personal representative of his son’s estate.

The district court entered an order on December 29, 2016 that granted a 90-day stay; it required Lizarazo’s attorney to file reports every month on the status of the probate proceedings. The court also administratively closed the case and said it ...

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 ...


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