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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

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 ...

Florida: Private Prison Company Allowed to Overcharge State, Mistreat Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

An audit personally overseen by Florida state Rep. David Richardson concluded the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) had approved a pricing scheme that allowed Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now known as CoreCivic, to operate the Lake City Correctional Facility (LCCF) at a significantly higher cost than if the state had run the prison itself.

Other reports by Rep. Richardson have led to staff changes at the privately-managed Gadsden Correctional Facility for women and the closure of the Lancaster Correctional Institution (LCI) for youthful offenders.

Since Governor Rick Scott began a drive to privatize prison operations – trying to make good on a promise from his successful 2010 campaign to trim $1 billion from the state’s corrections budget – Richardson has visited some 70 Florida prisons under a law that allows state legislators to enter a facility at any time for a review and inspection.

As recently reported in PLN, Richardson began visiting prisons housing youths after reading media reports of rampant abuse and violence. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.22]. That investigation led to LCI’s closure.

Since then, Rep. Richardson’s work has turned into a one-man quest to bring accountability to Florida’s seven privately-operated prisons ...

Michigan’s Macomb County Jail Under Fire for Lack of Medical Care, Deaths

by David M. Reutter

Since 2012, at least eighteen prisoners have died at the Macomb County Jail (MCJ) in Michigan, a rate twice the national average. As a result, seven lawsuits have been filed against the jail and its private medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions. Nevertheless, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said he remained satisfied with the performance of guards and healthcare staff at the facility.

The treatment of prisoners at MCJ has been in the public eye since the July 7, 2013 death of Jennifer Myers, 37, who was serving a 30-day sentence for failure to pay child support for her three children. Myers, a heroin addict, was arrested in a sweep of parents who were behind on their child support payments--a $1,700 delinquency that subjected her to Macomb County’s “pay or stay” policy after a judge told her to pay $500 or spend a month in jail.

Myers, who first became addicted to opioids prescribed for back pain, was unable to pay. Then she became sick in jail. In the days before her death, she progressively deteriorated from sepsis resulting from a viral infection likely complicated by her hepatitis C.

“Well, she was in there 10 days, she lost ...

Michigan’s New Prison Food Service Provider Failing to Meet Contract Terms

by David M. Reutter

After privatizing its prison food services in 2013, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) has continued to report problems with its current vendor, Florida-based Trinity Services Group – largely the same problems it experienced with its previous contractor, Pennsylvania-based Aramark Correctional Services. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1].

By the time the state’s contract with Aramark was canceled in 2015, two years into its three-year term, 186 of the company’s employees had been subject to stop orders by the MDOC due to inappropriate – including sexual – relationships with prisoners or for bringing drugs or other contraband into correctional facilities.

Similarly, by August 2017, two years into its three-year contract, 176 Trinity employees had been subject to stop orders that prevented them from working in MDOC facilities. The company had also racked up $3.8 million in fines for contract violations. [See: PLN, Feb. 2017, p.48].

When it terminated Aramark, the MDOC had cited persistent quality problems, including maggots in food serving areas, undersized portions and unauthorized meal substitutions. As reported by PLN, subsequent issues with food portions and substitutions by Trinity preceded a peaceful protest by prisoners at the Kinross Correctional Facility in March ...

Controversy Surrounds Angola Prison Warden’s Retirement, Indictment of Family Members

by David M. Reutter

One month after a November 2015 investigative report by the New Orleans Advocate, Louisiana State Penitentiary warden Burl Cain, 73, announced his retirement. He stepped down from his longtime position at the Angola prison effective January 1, 2016.

The report outlined a series of private real estate deals that Cain had entered into with relatives and friends of favored prisoners, in apparent violation of prison system rules. Cain had a business relationship with Charles Chatelain, the stepfather of Angola prisoner Jason Lormand; he also had a real estate partnership with William Ourso, a close friend of prisoner Leonard Nicholas.

Investigations by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (LDPSC), the State Police and the Inspector General’s Office ensued. According to LDPSC Undersecretary Thomas Bickham, Cain’s business relationships did not violate departmental policy because rules barring “non-professional relationships with offenders or offenders’ family and friends” do not actually mean what they say.

“The longstanding consensus in the department of this rule,” Bickham wrote, “is that it is intended to prohibit an employee from entering into a secretive personal and/or romantic relationship with an offender or a member of that offender’s family.”

While he ...

Political Contributions Drove Juvenile Prison Privatization

by David M. Reutter

Florida is moving to privatize all of its state-run juvenile detention centers. The move comes despite allegations of abuse at two of the state’s private juvenile detention centers.

“These programs offer unique services and facilities that should be maintained. We are therefore committed to an orderly transition from public to private operation for the benefit of our employees and the youth in our care,” said DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters.

Questions abound about whether the DJJ’s quality-assurance system can guarantee the public is receiving what it pays for and whether youths are cared and treated for in a humane manner. State officials have acted to douse the fire of unconstitutional conditions by closing three youth facilities that became the focus of scrutiny of their operations.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division conducted an investigation in 2010 of the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and the Jackson Juvenile Offender Center. Shortly after the investigation began, the DJJ closed both facilities.

That move, however, did not stop the DOJ from issuing a December 2011 report that was highly critical about not only the state’s operation of those facilities, but its oversight of them ...

Florida Legislator Tackles Abuse of Juvenile Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

A Florida legislator who was disturbed by publicized accounts of violence being inflicted on the state’s juvenile prison is using his experience as an auditor to get to the bottom of the problem and recommend change.  To his surprise, The Secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections (FDC) is listening and acting on the information.

As PLN has reported, Florida prisoners under the age of 19 have been subjected to abuse from guards and “test of heart” from gang members upon entry into a prison.  That story detailed the May 7, 2013, attack on prisoner Gesnerson Louisius, who was severely injured when a broomstick was rammed up his rectum by other prisoners.

State Rep. David Richardson read the story, originally published by the Miami Herald, and set on a mission to end such abuse.  He drew on his 30 years of experience as an auditor unraveling corporate and financial malfeasance.

Using a state law that allows legislators unlimited, unannounced access to the state prisons, Richardson began showing up at prisons housing juveniles to poke around and interview prisoners.  He considered Sumter Correctional Institution “ground zero for officer-on inmate violence.”  Prisoners told him ...

Alabama DOC Agrees to Implement Suicide Prevention Measures

by David Reutter

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed to an interim settlement in a class action lawsuit that requires it to implement suicide prevention measures. The agreement was approved on January 12, 2017, by the federal district court overseeing the action.

The prisoners, who were represented by the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, reached an agreement that requires ADOC to hire a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) at each major prison. At the treatment hubs, Bullock, Donaldson, and Tutwiler, there must be two licensed LMHPs on site for at least eight hours on business days, at least one LMHP on weekends.

Any prison employee or contractor can present a prisoner for suicide watch, which requires the prisoner to be under “constant watch” until evaluated. If the prisoner is determined to be acutely suicidal, constant watch will continue. Those who are nonacutely suicidal must be close monitored “at staggered intervals not to exceed 15 minutes.”

Both constant and close monitoring will be contemporaneously documented at staggered 15 minute intervals “on a record maintained on each individual cell door.” Prior to release from suicide watch, an evaluation must occur. Once so released, there must be “at least three follow-up ...

Tennessee’s Death Penalty on Hold

by David M. Reutter

Capital punishment is on hold in Tennessee. The Tennessee Supreme Court halted execution to allow lower courts to hold hearings on the new lethal injection protocol. Meanwhile, attorneys for death row prisoners are arguing the death penalty is arbitrarily imposed, and a new U.S. Supreme Court case affirmed a fundamental right to life that extends to condemned prisoners.

PLN has reported on the difficulty death penalty states are incurring when trying to obtain the drugs to carry out lethal injection. Tennessee is no different. To resolve that problem, Tennessee in 2013 changed its official lethal injection method from the typical three-drug combination to a single drug.

Prisoners argue that drug, pentobarbital, a sedative, creates a risk of pain and lingering death. They also assert physicians prescribing the drug for executions violate the Controlled Substances Act, which provides listed drugs may only be prescribed for a “legitimate medical purpose.” The Tennessee Attorney General countered with expert testimony to argue that pentobarbital will “likely cause death with minimum pain and quick loss of consciousness.” While the drug may take a while to stop the heart, that does not render it cruel and unusual punishment, the ...


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