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Articles by David Reutter

United Nations Official Says Connecticut’s Use of Solitary May Amount to Torture

“The [Connecticut] DOC appears to routinely resort to repressive measures, such as prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in cell restraints, and needlessly intrusive strip searches,” said Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “There seems to be a state-sanctioned policy aimed at purposefully inflicting pain or suffering, physical or mental, which may well amount to torture.”

“These practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities,” Melzer added. “The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies.”

Those comments were in response to a May 2019 letter from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale University, which alleged Connecticut “systematically ...

Seventh Circuit: Indiana District Court Erred in Denying Counsel to Prisoner

That ruling came in an appeal brought by Indiana prisoner Leonard Thomas, who sued numerous prison officials at the Westville Correctional Facility. His complaint alleged his requests for mental health care were denied or ignored and that officials failed to protect him from self-harm.

Over a 20-month period, “Thomas’s case traveled a lengthy journey, which included amendments to his complaint and denials of his requests for counsel,” the Seventh Circuit wrote. His failure to respond to a district court order resulted in dismissal of the case.

The Seventh Circuit first considered the question of appointment of counsel because it resolved the other issues on appeal. While civil litigants do not have a statutory right to court-appointed counsel, the district may request an attorney represent a party.

In exercising that discretion, the district court must inquire if (1) “the indigent plaintiff made a reasonable attempt to obtain counsel … and if so; (2) given the difficulty of the case, does the ...

Survey of 8,000 Prisoners’ Political Views Finds Surprising Results

They reported that:

• A plurality of white respondents back President Trump, undercutting claims that people in prison would overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.

• Long stretches in prison appear to be more politicizing: The more time respondents spend in prison, the more motivated they are to vote and to discuss politics.

• Perspectives change inside prison. Republicans behind bars back policies like legalizing marijuana that are less popular with GOP voters on the outside; Democrats inside prison are less enthusiastic about assault weapons bans than Democrats at large.

• Political views diverged by race. Black respondents are the only group pointing to reducing racial bias in criminal justice as a top concern; almost every other group picked reducing the prison population as a key priority.

The survey was inserted into The Marshall Project’s print publication, ...

Judge Awards $273,246 Payment to New York Prisoner Beaten by Guard

On January 16, 2020, a New York federal magistrate judge awarded $273,246.88 to a Sing Sing Correctional Facility prisoner who alleged a guard brutally beat him and lied about the incident.

The civil rights action was brought on May 3, 2017, by prisoner Morgan Greenburger. His complaint alleged that he was placed on “special watch” on May 11, 2016, after he told guards that he had eaten a toothbrush. Special watch requires guards to have constant supervision of prisoners to prevent them from injuring themselves.

Greenburger alleged that while under such supervision, he requested a urine bottle from guard Phillip R. Roundtree. Wait “a few minutes,” Roundtree told him. “Greenburg waited, again asked for the urine bottle, waited another fifteen minutes, and asked a third time, informing Roundtree that it was becoming an emergency,” according to court records.

Roundtree responded by screaming at Greenburger and threatening to beat him if he asked again. Greenburger said he was trying to avoid conflict but that he needed to use the bottle. After asking, “you sure you want it?” Roundtree opened the cell door and placed the urine bottle inside near the door.

“As Greenburger reached for the bottle, ...

Nevada Court Rules Prison Officials Withheld Evidence from Prisoner

The order accepted the factual findings in a magistrate’s report and recommendation, but it rejected the conclusion that both parties’ motions for summary judgment should be denied. The facts showed that in November 2014, staff at the High Desert State Prison received an anonymous tip that Melnik was introducing methamphetamine into the prison. As a result, they began monitoring his mail. Letters were intercepted on December 10 and 12, and a small pouch of meth was found taped onto the letters in each envelope.

Melnik was issued two disciplinary charges for unauthorized use of mail and possession/sale of intoxicants. At a disciplinary hearing conducted February 10, 2015, Melnik testified the meth was not his and that he was set up by members of the Aryan Warriors prison gang because he refused to participate in illegal activity. He also requested, and was denied, copies of the envelopes and letters at issue.

The district court ...

Injunction Orders Protection for Prisoner Witnesses in California Disability Lawsuit

The court’s July 2, 2020, order found that the plaintiffs had shown a likelihood of success on the merits on their claim that the defendants and their employees had violated the court’s March 17, 2020, order and the Americans with Disabilities Act by retaliating against the two class members (witnesses). The March order specifically ordered the defendants not to take retaliatory action against any of the prisoner witnesses in the suit.

In its July order, the court found that the plaintiffs had demonstrated they were “likely to show at Defendants and their employees have retaliated against the Witnesses for participating in this lawsuit and for supporting the Motion to Stop Defendants from Assaulting, Abusing, and Retaliating Against Incarcerated People with Disabilities” at RJD and statewide.

The plaintiffs were likely to prove that the defendants had “been unable or unwilling to address the safety concerns of the Witnesses in their current housing placements at RJD,” wrote the court. “In light of ...

Lockdowns Follow “Coordinated” Gang Fights at Oklahoma Prisons

The lockdowns began on September 15, 2019, after fights between gangs at prisons in Hominy, Sayre, Fort Supply, Lawton, and Stringtown occurred within 24 hours of altercations at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita.

“It has to be a coordinated effort,” said Bobby Cleveland, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. “They even had fights at the minimum-security prison.” He noted that prisoners use contraband cellphones to coordinate illegal efforts.

Following the lockdowns, guards conducted shakedowns of the prisons and confiscated homemade weapons. “A lot of shanks . . . broken broom handles, broken faucets, faucet heads that have a cord attached to them,” said Matt Elliott, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (OCDC). “The types of weapons inmates typically use and fight with.”

Prisoner Chad Burns, 27, was killed in a fight at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy. He was serving a 15-year sentence for 2016 convictions on charges of weapons, assault and battery, robbery, and burglary. Of the 36 ...

Prisoner Law Consultant in Michigan Pleads Guilty to Defrauding BOP

Pham, 50, a “Managing Partner” at Michigan-based RDAP Law Consultants, and those he supervised contacted federal criminal defendants and prisoners through unsolicited emails and telephone calls to assist them, for a fee, to qualify for the RDAP.

Despite knowing many of the clients did not abuse drugs or alcohol and were ineligible for the program, Pham coached them on how to feign or exaggerate a drug or alcohol disorder to gain entry to the program, which allows prisoners to qualify for up to 12 months early release.

The scheme earned RDAP Law Consultants $2,628,137 in client fees from September 2102 through January 2019. When the scheme began, Pham was living in a residential reentry center.

Pham was originally supposed to be sentenced in March 2020, but that was suspended until at least August. 


$5,400 Payout by Montana DOC Over Ex-Prisoner’s Claim of Religious, Gender Discrimination

The November 7, 2019 Conciliation Agreement resolved complaints brought by prisoner May Simmons, who was held at the Montana Women’s Prison (MWP). Simmons filed a complaint with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Human Rights Bureau on August 20, 2018.

The complaint contained three claims: failure to afford equal opportunities in trade skills for women as provided men; failure to provide Simmons with a Jehovah’s Witness Bible or services; and failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for Simmons’ disabling condition.

The Conciliation Agreement provided for Simmons to receive $1,000 and her attorney, Eric Holm, received $4,400 in attorney fees. It also required MDOC to provide Simmons, who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, with a typewriter and two ribbons for use in her cell until her release (which occurred on December 15, 2019). Additionally, prisoners of the Jehovah’s Witness denomination were to be “permitted to use the chapel for the exercise of their religion to the same extent and pursuant to the same rules as all other religious denominations within ...

Seventh Circuit: Transfer of Indiana Prisoner Based on Substance of Grievances Not Retaliatory

Indiana prisoner Robert Holleman was described by the Seventh Circuit as “the quintessential jailhouse lawyer.” From 2012 until November 2015, Holleman was confined at Pendleton Correctional Facility. While there, he worked as a law clerk, helped others file lawsuits and pursue legal remedies, and successfully prosecuted several of his own lawsuits.

His civil rights complaint recounted “a troubled history between himself and officials at Pendleton,” specifically its superintendent, Dushan Zatecky. That history of retaliation included termination as a law clerk, removal from preferential housing, placement in segregation, and subjection to a sham investigation.

Those instances were cited as context for the alleged retaliation that formed the basis for his lawsuit. In March 2015, Holleman sued over cold conditions at Pendleton. Then, in October 11, 2015, he contributed statements to a newspaper about allegedly poor medical care provided to prisoners at Pendleton. Three days later, he filed a grievance alleging the nutritional value of lunches was inadequate.

Zatecky’s ...