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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

ND Supreme: 6-Month Sentence for Contempt Binding

by David Reutter

The North Dakota Supreme Court held that N.D.C.C. 27-10-01.4(1)(b) prohibits a prisoner’s incarceration for contempt of court for more than six months where no specific extension was ordered by the district court or referees.

Tricia Taylor was granted visitation with her two children, but custody was granted to their fathers. In 2015, Taylor fled to the South Dakota Cheyenne River Indian Reservation with the children. She obtained an order from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court awarding temporary custody of the children to her sister.

She was arrested for parental kidnapping, and when released, she was arrested for contempt of court for failing to obey the court’s order to return custody to their fathers. In 2016, in interlocutory review, Taylor asserted that she could not return custody as ordered. Judicial referees and the district court upheld the contempt conviction, and Taylor did not appeal.

After serving six months for contempt, Taylor filed a motion to quash the contempt and grant immediate release per N.D.C.C. 27-10-01.4(1)(b). The district court denied the motion, and Taylor appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The Court reversed the district ...

$750,000 Settlement After Opioid Withdrawal Death in Kentucky Jail

by David M. Reutter

Opioid addiction has reached epidemic proportions. Handling withdrawal from those drugs is something that many jails are unprepared to handle. Kentucky’s Mason County Detention Center (MCDC) was so unprepared that it allowed Jenny Fulton, 27, to deteriorate and die over a four day period. In April ...

Record Number of Florida Prisoners Died in 2016, 2017

by David M. Reutter

A record number of prisoners – 356 – died while in the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) in 2016. Even more died during 2017.

Topping the chart in 2016 was Dade Correctional Institution (DCI) with 13 deaths – twice the number of any ...

Prisoner Abuse at Parchman: Minimum Punishment and Impeded Investigations

by David M. Reutter

A federal investigation into an assault on a prisoner by guards at Mississippi’s State Penitentiary at Parchman included a claim that then-Superintendent Earnest Lee impeded the prison’s own review of the incident.

As previously reported in PLN, another FBI investigation resulted in federal charges against four guards involved in the attempted cover-up of a March 9, 2014 assault at Parchman. That incident left an unnamed prisoner temporarily blinded; he also suffered severe blood loss, a broken orbital bone and permanent partial vision loss. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.63; Nov. 2016, p.63].

Guard Lawardrick Marsher, 29, admitted he had repeatedly punched and kicked the prisoner. Lt. Robert Sturdivant, 47, then spearheaded the cover-up. The guards wrote false reports and lied to federal investigators; the Department of Justice found they “falsely minimized and falsely justified the force used by officers.”

The four guards pleaded guilty to the federal charges and were sentenced in June 2017. Marsher and Sturdivant each received 50 weekends in jail, five years’ probation and 150 hours of community service. Guard Deonte Pate, 24, was sentenced to 12 weekends in jail and probation for his role in concealing the incident, while guard ...

CoreCivic Prison in Tennessee Plagued with Problems

by David M. Reutter

Less than two years after opening the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in January 2016, the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) imposed a $43,750 fine against the prison’s private operator, Nashville-based CoreCivic.

Formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, and the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, CoreCivic had already swapped Warden Todd Thomas at Trousdale for Blair Leibach from the company’s Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility. The TDOC levied the fine for not properly conducting prisoner counts – one of the four most serious of 66 non-compliance issues cited in a March 2017 annual audit, along with the improper use of solitary confinement, inadequate staffing and allegations of excessive force.

“Count is one of the most important functions that prison officials perform – it verifies the number of inmates and detects escapes,” said PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who served time in a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s. “The failure to adequately perform one of the most basic security functions of a correctional facility speaks volumes about [CoreCivic’s] ability to operate TTCC.”

“We’ve got work to do; clearly, we’ve got work to do,” CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger admitted.

In November 2017, a performance ...

Poor and Mentally Ill Languish in Mississippi Jails for Months or Years Awaiting Indictments

by David M. Reutter

Some people arrested on felony charges in Mississippi face months, a year or even longer in jail before they are indicted. Some are never indicted before their release. All have one thing in common: they are too poor to afford an attorney or post bond.

According to a 2015 study funded by the Mississippi legislature, 55 percent of felony cases in Hinds County are resolved without an indictment, which rarely takes less than 90 days. A review of the Hinds County jail roster by the Clarion-Ledger on August 18, 2016 found that 18 percent, or 139 detainees, were not indicted within three months of being jailed. In October of that year, 60 of those detainees still had not been indicted.

The Clarion-Ledger found that most of the 139 detainees were “young and black.” Because they were poor, they were assigned overburdened public defenders who have 300 to 400 cases each. Of those detainees, the 79 who were eventually indicted waited more than five months; some waited a year or more.

The delays can cause tensions to boil over. As reported in PLN, a 2014 riot at the Hinds County jail left one prisoner dead and ...

Lawsuit Alleges Inadequate BOP Mental Health Treatment in SMU

by David M. Reutter

A federal class-action suit filed in June 2017 paints the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania essentially as a solitary confinement warehouse filled with prisoners who suffer from serious mental illness. The suit alleges that prisoners are given crossword and Sudoku puzzles in place of counseling or treatment. 

In 2009, USP Lewisburg was converted to a Special Management Unit (SMU) where prisoners spend 23 hours per day in their cells. According to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the “SMU is a multi-level program whose mission is to teach self-discipline, pro-social values, and the ability to co-exist with members of other cultural, geographical, and religious backgrounds.” Any prisoner whom the BOP determines is in need of “greater management” and meets other specific criteria can be sent to the SMU, which is supposed to be non-punitive.

The SMU has three levels with a one-year completion period. Level 1 takes 6-8 months and requires compliance with behavioral expectations. Level 2 lasts 2-3 months and requires demonstration of potential for positive “community” integration, and Level 3 requires 1-2 months and demonstration of positive “community” interaction skills.

“Individuals suffering from serious mental illness who are not properly treated find ...

Virginia: Undocumented Immigrant Receives $12,000 Settlement for Overdetention

by David M. Reutter

In May 2017, the sheriff’s office in Henrico County, Virginia entered into a $12,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit alleging an undocumented immigrant was held in jail beyond his scheduled release date.

Following his arrest for drunk driving, James S. Alfaro-Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from ...

Clock is Ticking on Understaffing in Florida’s Prison System

by David M. Reutter

Increases in use-of-force incidents, violence and disturbances in Florida prisons have been blamed on understaffing, a problem ticking like a time bomb in the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC).

Guards employed by the FDOC, which is the third-largest prison system in the U.S., are among the lowest-paid in the nation. Poor wages result in increased staff turnover and difficulty recruiting more employees. Florida’s legislature sanctioned a study that found the FDOC was in need of 734 more guards to adequately staff state prisons; rather than fully address the issue, though, lawmakers funded only 215 of the vacancies.

“I have inexperienced officers supervising inexperienced officers – plus a 41 percent increase in the gang population,” said FDOC Secretary Julie Jones, who noted the average guard had less than two years’ experience.

Maria Kazouris, a labor attorney representing Florida prison guards, reported that understaffing at some facilities meant her clients work 48-hour weeks and are refused time off for vacation or illness.

“In the case of one officer, she has to spend the day in the hospital while her husband, who has cancer, gets chemo, so she is up 24 hours, between work and taking care ...

Arkansas Conducts Four Executions in One Week Due to Expiring Lethal Injection Drugs

by David M. Reutter

As its lethal injection drug supply neared expiration last year, Arkansas embarked upon the most ambitious death penalty plan since capital punishment was revived by the Supreme Court in 1976: The state scheduled eight executions over an 11-day period in April 2017. Protests and court challenges ensued, and in the end Arkansas executed four prisoners before its supply of midazolam, one of the drugs used in lethal injections, expired.

As PLN has reported previously, in recent years the state’s machinery of death has experienced resistance and difficulty in finding the drugs necessary to carry out executions. Many states use a three-drug lethal injection “cocktail” that has become increasingly hard to obtain as pharmaceutical manufacturers object to the use of their products in executions. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.14; July 2016, p.58; March 2014, p.46].

That became evident after Arkansas announced its plan to execute Bruce Ward, Don Davis, Ledell Lee, Stacy Johnson, Jack Harold Jones, Jr., Marcel Wayne Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee between April 17 and April 27, 2017. On April 15, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary restraining order that prohibited the state from using its supply ...


 

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