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Articles by David Reutter

Sexual Assault of Colorado Prisoner Deemed Constitutional Violation; Her Case Can Proceed

HRDC Prevails in Censorship Suit Against Kentucky Prison System, Wins $104,711

A Kentucky federal district court awarded the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) and its co-counsels $104,711.37 in attorney fees and costs in a lawsuit alleging the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) censored books sent to prisoners.

The court’s May 15, 2020, order resolves all issues in a lawsuit HRDC brought in July 2017 that alleged KDOC violated First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint challenged KDOC’s policy and practice of banning books sent by HRDC and other publishers “because the books were not purchased by prisoners, but rather were sent to them as gifts, and/or because the sender was not on a pre-approved vendor list.” It also alleged KDOC failed “to provide senders of censored mail constitutionally adequate notice and an opportunity to appeal the censorship of the mail to the intended prisoner.”

From July 2016 to the filing of the complaint, HRDC sent 158 soft-cover books to prisoners. It identified 26 books HRDC sent to prisoners “which were censored by Defendants.” More may have been censored, but since KDOC “failed to provide HRDC any notice or opportunity to appeal these censorship decisions” it had to rely on prisoners informing it of the censorship. Thus, how ...

Florida Prisoners Win 3.9 Million in Media Credits in MP3 Player Lawsuit

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) agreed to place 3.9 million Tablet Media Credits into the accounts of prisoners who bought songs through the now-defunct digital music player program.

In 2011, FDOC allowed prisoners to purchase MP3 programs through a contract with Access Corrections. Over the six-year life of the contract, prisoners bought 30,299 players at around $100 apiece, plus 6.7 million songs for $1.70 each. FDOC received $1.7 million in commissions from Access. [See PLN, February 2019, p.26].

A “widely distributed advertisement” promised prisoners who participated in the digital music program that, “Once music is purchased, you’ll always own it!” Songs that could not be stored on the player due to memory space would go on a “cloud-based library” by connecting to a kiosk. Then, in 2017, FDOC terminated the program to enter into a contract with JPay, Inc., for a Tablet Program. Prisoners were required to turn over their MP3 players by January 23, 2017.

A class action lawsuit filed on February 19, 2019, alleged the confiscation of the MP3 players and loss of music was a violation of the Takings Clause under the Fifth Amendment. The parties reached a settlement on May ...

North Carolina Prisoner Escapes to Flee Coronavirus Death Sentence

Fearing his existing medical condition could transform his sentence to death if he caught COVID-19, federal prisoner Richard Cephas elected to escape. After nearly a month on the run, Cephas turned himself in on April 20, 2020, resulting in a new charge for the escape.

Cephas was a prisoner at the Federal Prison Complex in Butner, North Carolina. He worked as an orderly, so he was aware the prison lacked soap for prisoners to wash their hands frequently. Prisoners were told they should use soap they purchased. Gloves and masks were not issued until five days after Cephas escaped. The prison’s layout makes social distancing virtually impossible.

Cephas says he suffers from neutropenia, a medical condition that makes him more susceptible to COVID-19 because his body struggles to create sufficient white blood cells to combat infections. Butner officials reported the prison’s first positive coronavirus case on March 26, 2020. As the numbers grew and Cephas received no reply to requests to be released on home confinement, he became more fearful for his life.

“I take ownership of having to serve my time,” said Cephas, who had 18 months to serve on a 66-month sentence on a ...

Coronavirus Pandemic Could Vastly Reduce Prison Voting

In the months prior to the COVID-19 pandemic being declared, voting rights activists were gaining momentum in helping those in jail register and arrange to cast ballots. In the aftermath of the pandemic’s outbreak, activists now worry that eligible voters in prisons and jails will be prevented from voting.

The United States Supreme Court has declared that persons in jail have a right to vote so long as they are not convicted felons or otherwise ineligible to vote under state law. There are about 470,000 people detained in America’s jails, making them a large bloc of voters.

Jailed voters “have the most direct vantage of how elected officials — judges, prosecutors, sheriffs — are actually doing their jobs,” said Dana Paikowsky, a jail voting expert at the Campaign Legal Center. “From the perspective of democratic accountability, this is one of the most important segments of our electorate.”

Several jurisdictions recognize this and have acted to assure jailed voters are able to have their vote counted. Typically, such voters cast absentee ballots. Jurisdictions like Chicago have taken a more direct approach.

A law that became effective in January 2020 requires Cook County to set up a polling ...

CoreCivic Detention Center Demanded Detainees Sign Liability Release to Receive Masks

by David M. Reutter

Detainees at CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) in California were enthusiastic when told they would be issued face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19. The mood changed quickly when employees conditioned that issuance on the signing of a contract that held CoreCivic “harmless” from wearing the mask.

OMDC holds immigration detainees for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and criminal defendants for the U.S. Marshals Service. As of April 11, 2020, at least 16 detainees at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19. One of those was a woman in “A” pod, which holds immigration detainees.

The women in that pod had been anxious to protect themselves, and made handmade face masks with rubber bands, panty-liners, and cut-up T-shirts. The detainees complained they lacked personal protective equipment and soap to wash their hands, so when they learned they were being issued facemasks, it was seen as good news.

Then, however, CoreCivic’s profitability took precedence over protecting the detainees from a deadly disease. Prior to passing out the masks, the unit manager handed out contracts written in English, telling the women they must sign before they were issued a mask.

The document included a section saying ...

First Prisoners and Staff, Including a Warden, Dead from COVID-19 in Louisiana; Hundreds Infected

Like most prison systems, the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LDOC) has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic in crammed facilities that make for easy transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus. As a consequence, the number of positive tests for the disease within LDOC facilities continues to grow, and it had resulted in at least 10 deaths as PLN went to press.

LDOC reported its first prisoner death on April 18, 2020. The name of the 69-year-old victim was not released, but officials said he had been at the state penitentiary in Angola since 1978, serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. The man, who reportedly requested and agreed to a do-not-resuscitate order, died just three days after being transferred to an outside hospital.

Two other LDOC prisoners also died from COVID-19 in April 2020, including a woman at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women (LCIW), as well as three staff members. Details on the dead prisoners were unavailable from LDOC, but the female prisoner was identified as Dorothy Pierre in a Facebook video posted by other women held at LCIW who are part of a group called Voice of the Experienced (VOTE).

LDOC identified its lost staffers ...

Report: Tennessee Prison Population Climbs, Bucks Nationwide Trend

Incarceration is not the answer to crime, concludes a December 19, 2019 report by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force (CJITF). “Despite incarcerating more people and spending over $1 billion annually on corrections in the state budget, Tennessee has the fourth highest violent crime rate in the nation and a high recidivism,” the report states. “These trends are especially noteworthy in light of 34 States reducing both their imprisonment and crime rate” between 2008 and 2017.

The CJITF was created by a March 2019 executive order by Gov. Bill Lee. It comprised a diverse body of criminal justice stakeholders from all three branches of government and was tasked with carrying out a comprehensive review of Tennessee’s criminal justice system.

From 1978 to 2008, Tennessee’s prison population exploded by 367%, increasing from under 6,000 prisoners to over 27,000. While the prison population nationwide declined by 7% from 2008 to 2017, Tennessee’s prison population grew by 6%. In 2017, Tennessee incarcerated 429 of every 100,000 citizens, which is 10% higher than the national average. Its female prison population grew by 30%, pushing its female incarceration rate to 53% above the national average.

Since 2009, Tennessee has increased ...

New York Federal Guard Sentenced to 25 Years for Sexually Abusing Prisoners

New York federal judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto on July 31, 2019, sentenced former Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant Eugenio Perez to 25 years in prison. A jury in May 2018 found Perez guilty of six counts of deprivation of civil rights, four counts of aggravated abuse, five counts of sexual abuse in a federal prison, six counts of sexual abuse of a ward, one count of sexual abuse of a ward, and one count of abusive sexual contact.

The charges stem from incidents that occurred between January 2013 and September 2016 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Five prisoners testified that Perez lured them into isolated locations, used physical force and intimidation to force the prisoners to engage in sexual acts with him, and used his authority to assure they did not report the abuse.

The victims all gave corroborating statements describing Perez’s genitals, which he nicknamed “horse.” Four of the prisoners testified Perez forced them to perform oral sex.

At his sentencing, Perez, who faced a life sentence, begged for leniency. “I ask for mercy, not just for me but for my family,” Perez said through tears.

The judge, however, teared up when speaking with ...

$500,000 Settlement for Colorado Prisoner Beaten During Seizure

Colorado prison officials agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a guard severely beat a prisoner who was experiencing a seizure.

Prisoner Jayson M. Oslund entered the Colorado Department of Corrections for the second time in September 2010. He had a documented history of epilepsy, for which he was given medication to reduce the possibility of seizures. Despite that history, staff at Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF) refused to provide him medication to treat his epilepsy.

Oslund was sent from his food service job assignment on March 7, 2013, because he was feeling ill. Once he returned to his housing area on the second tier, Oslund experienced a seizure. He fell and split his head open and was knocked unconscious. He required five stitches. Later that day, Oslund had a second seizure.

When guard Mitchell Mullen arrived, he grabbed Oslund while he was convulsing and yelled, “Stop resisting.” Mullen then began to slam Oslund’s head into the ground.

Oslund awoke disoriented and dizzy to find himself in an isolation cell. When he asked a guard why he was in segregation, the guard responded, “I don’t have time for you.” Oslund informed him that he could ...