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Articles by David Reutter

Guard’s Lethal Scalding of Prisoner Unresolved after Two Years

by David Reutter

More than two years after prisoners Darren Rainey’s dead body was removed from the shower in the mental health unit at Florida’s Dade Correctional Institution (DCI), no official cause of death has been ruled and the case sits dormant in law enforcement files.

Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner, was moved at 7:38 P.M. on June 23, 2012, from his cell to the shower as punishment for defecating in his cell and refusing to clean it up. The escorting guard, Roland Clark, locked Rainey into the shower.

According to grievances obtained by The Miami Herald through public records requests, prisoner Harold Hampstead reported witnessing Rainey’s death. He said he was subject to a searing hot shower for the duration of the time in shower, and that other prisoners had been subject to scalding hot showers as punishment. “I can’t take it no more, I’m sorry. I won’t do that again,” Hampstead wrote he heard Rainey scream over and over. “I then seen [sic] his burnt dead body go about two feet from my cell door on a stretcher.”

Hampstead wrote that he and other prisoners heard Rainey start screaming at about 8:55. That ...

Mother Jones Reporter Discovered Working in CCA Prison

by David Reutter

Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently made a statement to Mother Jones magazine in response to the discovery of reporter who had been employed at one of its prisons in Louisiana. The operation was uncovered when a reporter was arrested after being spotted outside the perimeter of Winn Correctional Facility.

Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan’s office was called at approximately 9:30pm on March 13, 2015, by guards at the CCA-operated prison. The guards had spotted someone on prison grounds via a light from a cellphone. The person left in a rental car when guards tried to stop him.

The car was tracked to Mother Jones senior producer James West. Monica Bauerlein, co-editor of Mother Jones, issued the following statement, “James West was stopped by police while doing newsgathering in a public place and arrested when he refused to show the contents of his camera.” Jordan said West did not carry media credentials and had a camera-equipped drone with him.

Then, on March 17, a guard resigned his position at the prison after being a no-show for two days. The guard, who had been employed at the prison since December, was Shane Bauer ...

Pennsylvania Sees Rash of Corrupt Guards

by David M. Reutter

Between 2012 and 2014, at least 14 Pennsylvania jail and prison guards were arrested. Most of the arrests stem from corrupt acts while on duty, and the seriousness of the acts ranger from tawdry to downright predatory and reprehensible.

Contraband has always been an issue for houses of incarceration. Guards who bring contraband items have varying motives to violate policy to smuggle it for prisoners.

According to Chester County Prison guard John W. Feister, pity led him to bring a cellphone to pretrial detainee Travis S. McNeal. “He felt sorry for (McNeal), so he gave him a cell phone,” said Feister’s attorney Edward Gallen.

Feister was from out-of-state and said he could not afford to make collect calls to his family. Jail officials received an anonymous call advising that a detainee had been seen on a cell phone. After the phone and its charger were found in McNeal’s cell, he showed his gratitude by telling officials that Feister, who had been terminated a month earlier for being absent from his post, brought him the phone. Feister pleaded guilty to giving a telecommunications devise to an inmate and received a three to 12 month prison sentence ...

Cost Overruns Halt Construction of Massive Michigan Jail

by David M. Reutter

Cost overruns of $91 million pushed Michigan’s Wayne County to end development of its partially finished new 2,000- bed jail.

Wayne County Commissioners decided in 2010 to build a new jail. Its contract with AECOM Services of Michigan, Inc. provided costs of the project would remain under $220 million. In December 2010, the County issued $200 million in bonds to pay for the jail. The Commission approved the sale of up to $300 million.

Following the August 2013 decision to end the jail project, the County sued AECOM. It alleged a failed design and construct led to the cost increase, that AECOM failed to “perform their contractual obligations in a timely manner and without errors and omissions,” and it proceeded without County approval on “design and construction activities” that “increased the projects construction costs by almost $50 million.”

Because the County “had no ability to exceed the $220 million in initial construction costs,” it was forced to “terminate the project.” When construction was halted, the County had already spent $154 million on the project. The lawsuit seeks to recover those loses.

In the wake of the decision to end construction, the ...

Two Alabama State Court Judges Disciplined

by David M. Reutter

Almost 35 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed “debtors’ prisons” – in which defendants are threatened with jail if they fail to pay fees and fines – courts continue to struggle to follow the ruling. The recent troubles of an Alabama judge demonstrate that ongoing struggle.

According to an October 2015 complaint filed by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission against Circuit Court Judge Marvin Wayne Wiggins, poor defendants in his courtroom were given a stark choice: Donate blood or go to jail.

In a recording made by one defendant, Wiggins spoke from the bench about a blood drive underway outside the courthouse and added, “... if you do not have any money and you don’t want to go to jail, as an option to pay it, you can give blood today ... or the sheriff has enough handcuffs for those who do not have money.”

Of the 47 defendants who gave blood outside the courthouse that day, only six were not from Wiggins’ court.

 “Judge Wiggins’ conduct regarding the incarceration of criminal defendants and his conduct in threatening to incarcerate those defendants who do not have ‘any money’ unless they gave blood were so ...

Pennsylvania: Compassionate Release Reforms Fail to Achieve Aim

by David M. Reutter

Despite a 2008 change in state law intended to make it easier for Pennsylvania prisoners to be granted compassionate release, it is still rare for such releases to be granted.

In 1971, shortly after turning 18, Leon Jesse James was involved in a fatal shooting and sentenced to life without parole (LWOP). Such sentences effectively impose a living death penalty. Advocates of LWOP call it justice for victims, while critics assert that life without parole sentences are overbearing and result in unnecessary punishment that imposes substantial costs on taxpayers when prisoners grow old behind bars. It costs an estimated $872,036 to incarcerate each Pennsylvania lifer over their lifetime – an average of 23.4 years.

Lawmakers revised the state’s compassionate release law, 42 Pa. C.S. § 9777, almost a decade ago as part of a broader criminal justice bill. Julie Hall, a criminologist and gerontologist at Drexel University, believes the change actually made compassionate release more difficult.

The law currently allows prisoners to be released to an outside hospital or nursing facility if their petition is granted by a judge who considers strict criteria; a prisoner must show that he or she is seriously ...

Another Florida Prisoner Death, Another Cover Up?

by David M. Reutter

Faced with the death of yet another prisoner – one of 346 in 2014 alone – Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officials have refused to release video surveillance of the prisoner’s cell, citing security concerns. The Miami Herald has sued for the video’s release.

Questions surround the circumstances of the June 2014 death of prisoner Steven Michael Zerbe, 37, at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution – one of the state’s toughest and most punitive facilities. Zerbe, who was legally deaf and blind, told his mother and prison officials that in the eight months he was held by the FDOC he had been beaten, raped and knifed. When transported to a hospital in Pensacola six days before he died, Zerbe – who was serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated battery – was suffering from respiratory failure, acute liver failure and pneumonia.

In the nearly three years since his death, Zerbe’s mother, Bonnie Zerbe, has tried to obtain answers as to how and why he died. Medical Examiner Andrea Minyard, who initially did not want to perform an autopsy until pressured by Bonnie, concluded that Zerbe’s death was due to complications of lymphoma. Yet he was never diagnosed with ...

Attorneys with Disciplinary Records Part of Flaw in Pennsylvania’s Death Penalty System

In February 2015, just a month into his term as Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolf imposed a moratorium on capital punishment in the state, calling it “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible.” [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.44].

Afterwards, the Reading Eagle issued a report that pinpointed the largest problem with the state’s death penalty system: poor representation by ineffective attorneys who have histories of discipline for professional misconduct.

The system is “flawed,” said Governor Wolf. “If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible.”

As noted by Slate, Pennsylvania’s criminal justice process is indeed flawed – with no law on the books requiring the recording of police interviews and no guidelines for eyewitness identification of suspects, for example. And perhaps most troubling, Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not contribute funding to indigent defense, instead leaving such matters in the hands of often cash-strapped counties.

Such conditions, according to some critics, have resulted in a grave state of injustice – especially where poor defendants facing capital charges are concerned. These criticisms seem to be supported by strong ...

Louisiana’s High Incarceration Rate Economically Motivated

It’s a well-known fact that the United States has around five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates approximately 25% of the world’s prisoners. Within that disturbing statistic is Louisiana, which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the nation – with the U.S. Department of Justice reporting that, based on 2015 data, 776 out of every 100,000 residents in the state were in prison. That is substantially higher than Russia’s rate of incarceration (492 per hundred thousand) and China’s (119 per hundred thousand). As such, Louisiana is the global leader in imprisonment.

The average incarceration rate in the U.S., for both state and federal prison populations, was 458 per 100,000 in 2015. In the view of most public officials, jails and prisons are a necessary evil.

“I wish we didn’t have to have jails, but as long as there are human beings, we’re going to have them,” said Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington. “Not everybody’s going to follow the law, we’re adequately prepared, we have plenty of room and we’re set for the future.... And I don’t have apologies for what we do.”

Whittington runs a profitable three-jail system that has a ...

Overcrowding in Arkansas Prisons, Jails Spurs Call for Reforms

Overcrowding in Arkansas prisons and jails is straining resources, fomenting violence and resulting in an increase in lawsuits. The underlying cause is apparently tighter rules mandating tougher parole guidelines – which has resulted in a state prison system increasingly filled by prisoners denied parole and those re-incarcerated due to (often minor) parole violations.

In May 2013, two days following his release from prison, Darrell Dennis kidnapped and murdered 18-year-old Forrest Abrams. In the wake of that high-profile crime, the Arkansas Board of Corrections implemented new rules that restricted parole availability and triggered harsher penalties for technical violations of supervised release.

The tighter rules had an immediate impact on the prison population, resulting in a 17.7% increase from the previous year. That jump in 2013 was more than seven times the national average.

By August 2015, the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADOC) set a new population record, reaching around 19,000 prisoners – 3,000 more than its manageable population limit.

As reported by the Arkansas Times in June 2016, the ADOC took in 4,243 more prisoners in 2015 than it had in 2008. Of these, 4,158 were incarcerated due to parole or probation violations. Further, as reported ...


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