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Articles by David Reutter

Deaths Due to Neglect in U.S. Jails Reflect Nation’s Values

While brutality and murders committed by police officers – particularly against unarmed black men – have gained increased public attention over the past few years, the deaths of people in jail due to the negligence or deliberate indifference of corrections staff rarely register even a blip on the public’s radar. Such apathy reflects poorly on our values as a nation.

“[I]t’s crucial that the lives of those behind bars be taken into account,” wrote Truthout news analyst William C. Anderson, when reporting on deaths in Alabama county jails.

The ubiquity of cameras, in both cell phones and video security systems, as well as police body cams, has helped raise awareness of police brutality and shootings. In jails, surveillance cameras, if present at all, often fail to record abuse by jailers, which tends to occurs in areas not being filmed, or the cameras “malfunction” on a questionably regular basis. Even more rare is video of sick prisoners who are neglected and left suffering within their cells. Such cases often involve prisoners who are unruly due to their malady, or intoxicated or undergoing withdrawal from drug use.

Sheneque Proctor, 18, may have fit both profiles when she was placed in Alabama ...

Mississippi: Hinds County Jails in Crisis, Face Mandated Reforms

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a letter in May 2015 that described the findings of an investigation which concluded two jails in Hinds County, Mississippi were violating prisoners’ rights. The county has since entered into a settlement agreement that implements a number of reforms in its jail system.

Specifically, the DOJ investigation found that Hinds County had violated prisoners’ rights by “(1) failing to provide conditions of confinement that offer reasonable safety and protection from violence, and (2) holding prisoners in the jail beyond their court ordered release dates.”

The DOJ focused on conditions at the Hinds County Adult Detention Center in Raymond and the Jackson City Detention Center in Jackson. Both facilities are operated by the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office. The Raymond jail has 594 beds and the Jackson facility contains 192 beds.

“Hinds County Adult Detention Center and the Jackson City Detention Center are facilities in crisis,” said Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “Making these facilities safe will require broad systematic reforms and a commitment to improve staffing and operations.”

Federal investigators found that “grossly deficient staffing is the most immediate problem facing the jail ...

Too Little, Too Late: Prosecutor Remorseful for Sending Innocent Man to Death Row

The district attorney who prosecuted Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man exonerated after spending 30 years on death row, called capital punishment “an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society.” That statement was made in a column expressing remorse for his role in convicting an innocent defendant.

Ford, 64, was charged with the November 5, 1983 murder of a Shreveport jeweler during a robbery. In late 2013, credible evidence came to the attention of prosecutors “supporting a finding that Glenn Ford was neither present at nor a participant in the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman.” He was released from prison on March 10, 2014 and given a $20.04 debit card by prison officials.

Under Louisiana law, Ford was entitled to $330,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction. However, a state court judge denied compensation, stating Ford likely had a role in the robbery that resulted in Rozeman’s death as he was in possession of items taken during the robbery.

“I can take no comfort in such an argument,” wrote A.M. “Marty” Shroud III, the lead prosecutor at Ford’s trial, in a March 2015 column published in the Shreveport Times. “As a prosecutor ...

Cost of Incarceration Assessment Handcuff Poor Releasees

The imposition of cost of incarceration fees upon released prisoners is a “permanent financial sentence” that overwhelms those trying to successfully integrate into society.

Fees for room and board are authorized in at least 43 states.  “We’re seeing it all over, medical co-pays, cost of incarceration claims, you name it”, said Randall C. Berg, Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute.

Prisoners who are hit with such fees are often shocked when the bill comes before them.  In Florida, cost of incarceration fees have been on the books for decades.  The statute sets the costs at $250,000 for persons sentenced to life and $50 per day for all other sentences.  The cause of action to seek such claims was subject to the statute of limitations for civil claims, but in recent years Florida’s legislature eliminated any limitation on the state to seek incarceration costs.

In most cases, a Florida prisoner will not be assessed cost of incarceration.  The likelihood of such an assessment, however, increases significantly when a prisoner pursues litigation against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). 

Jeremy Barrett, 36, sued FDOC a month after his release from a three year sentence, claiming negligence for ...

Reforms at New Orleans Jail Slow to Materialize; Death Reporting Problematic

Federal monitors overseeing implementation of a consent decree concerning conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) in New Orleans said they were “very concerned” about the lack of progress in implementing the agreement’s provisions. Forty-nine prisoners died at OPP between April 2006 and November 2016, including several deaths that were not accurately reported, and problems have persisted at a new jail that opened after OPP closed last year.

As previously reported by PLN, after Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finished haggling over costs and funding in a class-action lawsuit, a consent decree was reached in June 2013 to partially settle the case. The agreement required prompt action to reform unconstitutional conditions related to medical care, suicide prevention and safety measures, staffing and classification of pre-trial detainees. [See: PLN, June 2014, p.44; March 2010, p.30].

Under the agreement, Gusman was to hire a consultant, restructure OPP’s human resources department and hire a new human resources director; the Sheriff’s office was also required to hire a classification manager and a staff member to develop new policies and procedures at OPP, and purchase and install $70 ...

Tennessee District Attorney Ends Sterilization in Plea Bargains; Prosecutor Fired

The District Attorney for Davidson County, Tennessee has banned the practice of seeking sterilization as part of plea bargains in criminal cases. The policy was implemented after an assistant prosecutor refused to discuss a plea unless a mentally ill defendant agreed to be sterilized.

When Glenn Funk, who had worked as a criminal defense attorney for 25 years, was elected as District Attorney in September 2014, there were concerns as to how well he would perform his duties. His involvement in the case of Jasmine Randers in early 2015 fulfilled his campaign promise to take a direct and active role in prosecutions.

Randers, 36, had suffered from mental health issues since the age of 15 and was hospitalized numerous times. “Treatment” for her condition mainly took place in America’s most populous de facto mental health facilities: jails.

When a dirty, disheveled and pregnant Randers arrived at the Nashville International Airport on October 9, 2012, she was on the run from a Minnesota commitment order. She spent the next 30 days at a Nashville mental health facility before her mother came to pick her up. Hours after they arrived home, Randers hopped on a Greyhound.

She traveled to Nevada, Utah ...

Prison Rodeos: A Bunch of Bull?

Rarely does the public find anything entertaining about a person who has been convicted of a crime and sent to prison. That is not the case with prison rodeos, however, which draw people from all over the U.S. and even other countries.

Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas have all operated prison rodeos in modern times. The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola hosts the nation’s longest-running rodeo, which began in 1965 as a way to entertain prisoners and guards. The event was opened to the public in 1967 with a 4,500 seat arena, and a new stadium completed in 2000 increased the capacity to 7,500. The rodeo has been closely associated with longtime Warden Burl Cain, who retired in early 2016. [See: PLN, June 2012, pp.1, 10].

The Angola rodeo runs twice each year – once in the spring and every Sunday in October – under the salacious tag line, “Guts or Glory.” Between these combined events, the rodeo raises a substantial sum – $5 million in 2013, for example. In 2015, CBS Sunday Morning projected $4 million in revenue from the October rodeo alone.

While lucrative, controversy surrounds such events.

“A lot of people go to see the inmates ...

Colorado’s “Make My Day” Law No Longer Applies to Prisoners

by David Reutter

On the heels of the dismissal of murder charges against two Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF) prisoners under the state’s “Make My Day” law, lawmakers quickly rolled back the self-protection statute’s applicability to prisoners.

Prosecutors charged SCF prisoners Antero Alainz and Aaron Bernal with second-degree murder in the 2011 death of prisoner Cleveland Flood, who was classified as a habitual offender and serving a 48-year sentence on a burglary charge.

In December 2014, a Colorado judge dismissed murder charges against Alainz, and Bernal was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the killing of Flood in July 2015. The courts cited the state’s “Make My Day” law in both cases. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63; Dec. 2015, p.63].

According to Alainz, Flood entered the cell he shared with Bernal uninvited while armed with a shank, and Alainz claimed that he and Bernal had acted in self-defense. An autopsy found Flood had 90 stab wounds all over his body.

Under Colorado’s “Make My Day” law, enacted in 1985, any “occupant of a dwelling” may use “any degree of physical force” against a person who breaks into the dwelling and poses a threat, no matter ...

Preliminary Injunction Granted in Class-action Suit Challenging Private Probation Services in Tennessee

Another victory in the fight against debtors’ prisons was achieved with the grant of an injunction by a Tennessee federal district court. The preliminary injunction, issued in a class-action lawsuit in December 2015, prohibits a private probation company from jailing probationers because they are unable to pay fees related to their supervision.

The suit “addresses one aspect of the growing privatization of the criminal justice system,” the court wrote. Rutherford County contracted with Pathways Community Corrections, previously known as Providence Community Corrections (PCC), which operates in 45 states, to provide misdemeanor probation services.

The payment of “all required supervision fees, court fines, and court costs” is a rule of probation, and a probationer who is unable to make payments is technically in violation of his or her supervision conditions. Other conditions, such as community service work, drug tests and various offense-related classes, may also be required and incur fees.

PCC charged probationers $45 a month for simply being on probation plus $20 for each drug test, which could be administered at a PCC employee’s whim. It also charged set-up fees, community service fees and even a “picture fee.” Those required to participate in trash removal as community service work ...

Alaska Prisons and Jails Filled with Mentally Ill Prisoners

Correctional facilities in Alaska are confronted with a record number of prisoners with mental illnesses. In February 2016, KTUU reported that 65% of Alaskan prisoners suffered from some form of mental health problem while 80% had drug or alcohol addictions. The lack of resources to properly treat those prisoners has resulted in disastrous, even deadly consequences.

According to the Alaska Department of Corrections (ADOC), 42% of state prisoners have a diagnosable mental illness or cognitive disability. Of those, 20% are considered “severely and persistently” mentally ill.

Many prisoners with mental health problems are confined for crimes that were committed due to their mental illness. In June 2016, Alaska Dispatch News reported ongoing discriminatory treatment in the parole process for prisoners with mental health issues, including violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. Treatment for mental illness is not easily obtainable, and prisons and jails have become de facto mental health facilities. In fact, there are three times as many beds in Alaska’s jails as there are at the state’s psychiatric hospital, which focuses mainly on people having mental health emergencies.

The 50 beds available at the Alaska Psychiatric Institution (API) are designed for short-term placement ...


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