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Articles by David Reutter

Victim-centered Sexual Abuse Investigations Abandon Concept of Neutrality

by David Reutter

Criminal justice reform advocates are pushing back against a new trend to “always believe the victim” in sexual assault cases, which has given rise to “victim-centered and offender-focused” investigations.

The victim-centric trend has led to a 20-point manifesto called the “You Have Options” law enforcement program, which encourages a departure from traditional police investigative techniques.

One of the points allows the “victim or other reporting party [to] remain anonymous” – which makes it hard for the accused to address the claims of their unknown accuser. Another allows victims to “report using an online form or a victim may choose to have a sexual assault advocate report on their behalf.”

Disturbingly, another point requires investigators to “collaborate with victims during the investigative process and respect a victim’s right to request certain investigative steps not be conducted.” For example, the alleged victim may ask that witnesses not be interviewed.

The University of Texas (UT) created a new blueprint to train campus law enforcement officers when conducting sexual assault investigations. According to Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the most egregious directive in the blueprint is that traditionally “neutral” investigators should actively work to ...

Study Shows “Ban-the-Box” Policies May Result in Racial Bias by Employers

by David Reutter

Increasingly, criminal justice reformers are pushing for “ban-the-box” policies, ordinances and statutes, which are intended to eliminate from job applications the box that asks, “Have you been convicted of a felony?” [See: PLN, March 2017, p.26; Oct. 2014, p.46]. Many jurisdictions have adopted such policies, but a new study found they may help those with felony records while hurting people of color who lack criminal histories.

Twenty-three states have passed ban-the-box laws for public government jobs; nine apply the law to private employers, too. In November 2015, President Obama directed federal agencies to remove the felony question box from their job applications. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.41].

Sonja Starr, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, and Amanda Agan, a professor of economics at Prince­ton, conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of ban-the-box policies. The study examined callback rates for 15,000 job applicants seeking actual low-skill, entry-level positions in a variety of industries at 4,300 businesses.

The job positions were located in New Jersey and New York, both before and after those states enacted ban-the-box laws in 2015. The fictitious applicants were 21-22 years old and randomly assigned ...

Eleventh Circuit: Florida Prisoners Must be Provided Kosher Meals

by David Reutter

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) must provide prisoners with the option of receiving kosher meals, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held in affirming a district court’s grant of summary judgment and a permanent injunction.

As previously reported in PLN, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the FDOC in 2012 under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief requiring state prison officials to provide kosher meals. [See: PLN, May 2014, p.14].

The FDOC put its full strength into fighting the suit, costing taxpayers nearly $500,000. In its July 14, 2016 ruling, the Eleventh Circuit began by noting the FDOC’s flip-flopping on the provision of kosher meals since 2004, culminating in a pilot program at the Union Correctional Institution in 2011.

“The only choice for prisoners outside the pilot program with [orthodox] religious obligations was, in the words of one prisoner, to ‘[d]o what a hungry man does, and pray [] for understanding,’” the Court of Appeals wrote.

The district court’s December 2013 preliminary injunction, which later became a permanent injunction, changed the legal landscape by ordering the FDOC to provide kosher meals and ...

Prisoner Labor Focus of Controversy in Texas, Alabama

by David Reutter

The use of prisoner labor and poor prison conditions are behind calls for action in Texas and Alabama, and have led to concerns over the use of prison labor nationwide.

Most people believe slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that amendment includes an exception clause which permits slavery “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted....”

Prison Legal News has long advocated against the use of prisoner slave labor, including in prison industry programs, where workers toil for scanty wages or none at all, often in unsafe conditions. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.60].

Texas Correctional Industries (TCI), which was created in 1963, is one of the most egregious offenders. TCI produces “mattresses, shoes, garments, brooms, license plates, printed materials, janitorial supplies, soaps, detergents, furniture, textile, and steel products,” according to its website. It provides prison-made products to a variety of government agencies.

Yet TCI pays most of its prisoner workers nothing – unless they are employed in industry programs that partner with private, for-profit businesses.

“Texas’s prisoners are the slaves of today, and that slavery affects our society economically, morally and political ...

Eleventh Circuit: Procedural Dismissals do Not Count as Strikes Under the PLRA

by David Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit held last year that a district court erred in finding the dismissals of a prisoner’s prior civil rights actions due to “lack of jurisdiction” and for “want of prosecution” counted as strikes under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The Court of Appeals further held the district court abused its discretion in denying the prisoner in forma pauperis status.

That ruling came in an appeal brought by Georgia prisoner Waseem Daker, who alleged that prison officials were violating his civil rights by denying him the use of a law library and time for Muslim religious practices. The district court agreed with the Georgia Department of Corrections that six previous filings by Daker were frivolous and counted as strikes under the PLRA; on that basis, and after finding he was not indigent, his case was dismissed.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that Daker was “a serial litigator” serving a life sentence who “has submitted over a thousand pro se filings in over a hundred actions and appeals in at least nine different federal courts.” To determine whether “Daker’s six dismissals for lack of jurisdiction and want of prosecution qualify as strikes under the ...

Two Federal Courts Find Prison Gerrymandering Unconstitutional

by David Reutter

Two federal district courts, one in Florida and the other in Rhode Island, have held prison gerrymandering unconstitutional, though one of the orders was overturned on appeal. The rulings are the first of their kind.

“This is a big win for democracy,” said Adam Lioz of the Washington, D.C.-based public policy group Demos, who assisted in representing the Rhode Island plaintiffs. “Prison gerrymandering distorts representation and should no longer be tolerated. This decision should pave the way for other courts to address this long-standing problem.”

Both cases were brought alleging violation of the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of “one person, one vote.” They asserted that prison gerrymandering, in which prisoners are counted as residents of the district where they are incarcerated, watered down the strength of residents’ political representation by bolstering the power of residents who lived in the same district as non-voting, unrepresented prisoners. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.1].

The Florida case challenged the inclusion of 1,157 prisoners held at the Jackson Correctional Institution (JCI), which is in a rural county in Florida’s panhandle. The Rhode Island case took issue with 3,433 prisoners housed at the Adult Correctional ...

Private Probation Company Agrees to End Drug Testing Absent Court Order

by David Reutter

In a preliminary consent order, Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company, agreed to stop its practice of drug testing probationers without court approval. The order was entered in a class-action case challenging Sentinel’s practices in a Georgia county that uses the company to manage its probation ...

Corizon Loses Indiana DOC Medical Contract Amid Lawsuits

by David Reutter

In 2005, at the urging of then-Governor Mitch Daniels, the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) awarded a contract to privatize medical care for prisoners. The winning bidder, Prison Health Services, merged in 2011 with Correctional Medical Services to form Corizon Health, which later won renewal of a three-year, $300 million contract to provide medical, dental, vision, mental health and substance abuse treatment services to IDOC’s 28,000 prisoners.

In February 2017, however, state prison officials declined to renew Corizon’s contract, instead awarding it to Wexford Health Sources. Consequently, Corizon announced the following month that it planned to lay off almost 700 employees in 22 IDOC facilities. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.32].

PLN has reported extensively on Corizon and the company’s business model, which appears to consist of delaying or denying medical care and reducing staffing costs to increase profits; in turn, that has resulted in numerous prisoner deaths and injuries. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.20; March 2014, p.1].

Yet the IDOC’s watchdog over Corizon’s contractual performance was a former Corizon employee.

Dr. Michael Mitcheff was working as an emergency room physician at two Indiana hospitals when, in 1994, he was investigated for ...

Parole Remains Elusive for Virginia Prisoners

by David Reutter

Virginia has more than 3,500 prisoners eligible for parole, representing over 9% of its prison population of 38,000 – a significant number considering that the state abolished parole over 20 years ago. Still, even for those long-serving prisoners who are still eligible, the odds of being granted parole are slim.

Virginia ended parole in 1995 during the heyday of the “tough on crime” era. Prisoners sentenced since then have been required to serve their full prison term, less good time credits. This is one of the more restrictive examples of punitive “truth in sentencing” laws that were enacted in exchange for federal prison construction grants under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The Act provided funding to states that required certain prisoners to serve at least 85% of their sentences, on average.

The over 3,500 offenders in Virginia’s prison system sentenced before the 1995 law went into effect have been subject to a parole board that emphasizes “self protection” by making “cautious” decisions. The chairwoman until recently was Karen Brown, a prosecutor for 16 years; the four current members include a former public defender, a city councilman and prison official, an ...

Florida Lawmaker Visits Prisons, Audits Private Prison Contracts

by David Reutter

In prison after prison across the state, over a period of two years, Florida state Representative David Richardson found that toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pillows, sheets, shirts and soap were often withheld from prisoners, especially those in solitary confinement. Further, food had been denied as a form of punishment and medical conditions went untreated.

Richardson, a retired forensic auditor, has used his legislative authority to enter state prisons unannounced to view conditions without the “dog and pony show” typically provided to official guests. He presented his findings to his colleagues in the state House in April 2017 and urged them to require more accountability over Florida’s private prison contracts, offering a level of scrutiny not often seen on the floor of a legislative chamber.

“All nine contracts that I had audited had the numbers fudged,” Richardson declared moments before the House voted 89-26 for its draft of the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget.

Part of the problem, Richardson said, is that the agency in charge of monitoring private prison contracts – the Department of Management Services (DMS) – had no experience in corrections, making it susceptible to being “hoodwinked” by for-profit prison companies.

“I want one agency accountable ...


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