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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Major Scabies Outbreak at CoreCivic Facility in Tennessee

by David M. Reutter

Three lawsuits, filed in June and July 2017, allege corrections officials ignored an outbreak of scabies at the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility (MDCDF) in Nashville, Tennessee. Affecting 89 prisoners, the outbreak also spread to at least 17 members of the jail staff and 16 courthouse workers and attorneys. The facility’s private operator eventually paid for scabies treatment for 55 county employees.

With 1,348 beds, MDCDF is operated under a five-year, $100 million contract by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a company headquartered in the affluent Nashville suburb of Green Hills.

Scabies, a skin infestation caused by parasitic mites, is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact and exposure to clothes and bedding. It typically results in rashes and intense itching, and is treated with prescription ointments strong enough to kill not only the mites but also their eggs.

A lawsuit related to the scabies outbreak was filed by four courthouse employees and lawyers in June 2017. Another claim was filed in July 2017 by 17 CoreCivic employees at MDCDF, and a suit on behalf of 39 female detainees was filed the same month.

The detainees’ lawsuit states that some of the women who suffered scabies while ...

Two Georgia Prison Transport Guards Slain

by David M. Reutter

On June 13, 2017, a pair of Georgia prisoners being transported from the Baldwin State Prison near Milledgeville to the state’s Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson breached a partition on the prison bus. Within seconds they overpowered and disarmed two transport guards before killing them. A manhunt ensued, ending when the prisoners surrendered 260 miles away in Tennessee; during the 60-hour escape, they allegedly stole four vehicles, burglarized two houses, tied up an elderly couple in their home and led police on a high-speed chase.

Donnie Russell Rowe, 44, and Ricky Dubose, 24, were serving sentences for separate armed robbery and assault convictions. Dubose had been sentenced to up to 20 years, while Rowe was serving life without parole. The pair were once cellmates, and officials speculated that’s when they planned their escape.

The transport bus was carrying 33 prisoners. According to video recovered from the vehicle, Rowe and Dubose quickly went through the door that separated the prisoners from the guards. It appears the door was unlocked, or the pair was able to unlock it or had surreptitiously wedged it open when they boarded the bus. Both appeared to be out of their leg ...

Florida Prisoners with Disabilities to Receive Accommodations Under Settlement

by David M. Reutter

In July 2017, Disability Rights Florida, the state’s federally-funded Protection and Advocacy organization that advocates for disabled individuals, settled a historic lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections over the FDOC’s systematic failure to comply with federal measures intended to protect prisoners with physical disabilities.

The FDOC has a long history of classifying disabled prisoners to facilities that are ill-equipped to handle their needs. Once there, they face serious obstacles to obtaining even basic accommodations, leaving them unable to function in the prison environment or disconnected from family and friends.

For example, prisoner David Belle was born with severe birth defects and is missing both feet and most of the fingers on his right hand. Prison officials at the Gulf Correctional Institution assigned him to a second-floor cell and told him he could either keep his prosthetic legs or use a wheelchair. It took a fall down the stairs to convince staff to move him to the bottom floor and give him a wheelchair. The warden and an assistant told Belle they would have someone “take care of him” if he did not stop filing grievances.

The 43-page settlement agreement changes how prisoners with disabilities are ...

Two Cellmates Die at Private Louisiana Jail

by David M. Reutter

A bizarre incident that resulted in the deaths of two pretrial detainees at the Richwood Correctional Center (RCC) in Louisiana reflects how understaffing and inadequate training at privately-operated jails can have life-changing consequences.

Following a traffic stop, Vernon Ramone White, Sr., 28, was arrested on charges of having no license, no insurance and an outstanding bench warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. Two days after his October 10, 2015 arrest, White was involved in a fight with another prisoner. Guards placed him in a lockdown cell – “an isolation cell for problematic inmates” – with Erie Moore, who was in isolation due to his “erratic and violent” behavior.

Despite the fact that Lt. Hardwell and Capt. Douglas learned on the morning of October 13, 2015 that White and Moore were involved in an altercation, they were not separated. At 5 p.m., Moore was observed on video gesticulating wildly, pointing and pacing. A few minutes later he was seen creating a mask from a Styrofoam tray and holding it to his face.

At 5:13, White banged on the cell door but guards did not respond. A minute later Moore grabbed White, who unsuccessfully tried to ...

Class Action Suit Over Private Probation Company's Illegal Fees

by David M. Reutter

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class action lawsuit against Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation company, on behalf of persons in Atlanta who were forced by Sentinel to pay illegal fees while on "pay-only" probation for traffic violation.

Georgia law allows for courts to place defendants on "pay-only" probation when they are "unable to pay the court imposed fines and statutory surcharges when such defendant's sentence is imposed." The courts typically impose a jail sentence that is suspended in lieu of the probation.

If a violation is alleged, the defendant can be jailed, with limited procedural safeguards, for failure to pay.

Because Georgia criminalizes traffic offenses and many other low-level offenses, it has a higher rate of people on probation than any other state, and the highest number of people on probation, in absolute terms," the complaint states.

That created a huge market for Sentinel to operate within, and it had contracts to supervise people on probation in over 70 courts throughout Georgia. Corporate greed is at the root of the recent class action. Similar motivation resulted, as PLN reported, in other lawsuits against Sentinel. See PLN ___.

The class action suit ...

Public Records in Private Accounts Subject to PRA Disclosure

The Vermont Supreme Court held that “public records” under the Public Records Act (PRA) include any documents generated in the course of public agency business, even if the record is stored in a private account. The court held that failure to ask an employee to search a private account for public records, per PRA request, requires reversal for an adequate search.

On December 11, 2015, Brady Toensing filed a revised PRA request with the attorney general’s office (AGO) seeking records generated from January 1, 2011 forward. The request named nine employees and their communications with 27 individuals across three domains. The request specifically applied to records in employees’ private accounts, as well as agency accounts.    

The deputy AG denied the request, arguing that PRA does not extend to private accounts, the legislature never intended that the agency search private accounts, and Toensing did not provide sufficient justification to search a private account and violate privacy interests.

On appeal, Toensing moved for a declaration that records related to an individual’s employment with the agency are public records, and PRA requires a good faith search for records located even in private accounts. He moved for reversal of the denial where no ...

FOIL Exemption Applies to Civil and Criminal Law Enforcement

by David Reutters

A New York appellate court held that the New York State Education Department correctly redacted or exempted public records compiled for auditing special education costs because they were compiled for civil law enforcement purposes. The court also held that a request for award of attorney fees was improperly denied where The department voluntarily disclosed a portion of the requested documents after the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) petition was filed. The denial was reversed for further review by a New York supreme court.

In 2013, after discovery of a widespread fraud in billing for special education services for disabled pre-schoolers, the legislature amended Education Law Section 4410 to allow the recovery of overpayments and disallowed costs to require The department to establish auditing guidelines and to require each municipality to submit audit plans that comply with the set guidelines.

Pamela Madeiros submitted a FOIL request for review of any audit standards and plans associated with the amended Section 4410 (11) (c) and 8 NYCRR 200.18. The Department asserted that the records were exempt from disclosure, per Public Officers Law S 87 (2) (e), because they were compiled for law enforcement purposes and disclosure would interfere with ...

ND DOC Immune Claims of Injury Suit Unless Act Intentional

by David Reutter

The North Dakota Supreme Court held the North Dakota Department of Corrections (NDDOC) is immune from litigation unless an employee injury is due to intentional act of conscious purpose.

Delmar Markel was a guard at North Dakota Youth Correctional Center when he was injured during an escape which was facilitated due to faulty locks on the doors. He later filed a complaint alleging negligence and retaliatory discharge. The NDDOC moved to dismiss the negligence claim arguing it was immune from litigation under the Workforce Safety Insurance (WSI) Act’s hazardous employment clause. As to the retaliatory discharge claim, it argued Mackel failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court dismissed the retaliatory discharge claim but not the negligence claim. 

The district court held an injury was intentional when the employer had knowledge that an injury was certain to occur and willfully disregarded that knowledge. While this case was still in the discovery phase, the legislature amended (section sign) 65-01-01 of the WSI Act to read, “the sole exception to an employer’s immunity from civil liability under this title…is an action for an injury to an employee caused by an employer’s intentional act done with conscious purpose of ...

Sufficient Facts for Discrimination Hearing

by David Reutter

A Colorado federal district court held that deaf prisoners and prisoners in contact with deaf persons alleged sufficient facts to survive dismissal of the Americans with Disabilities Act claim. The court said the prison’s archaic, faulty communication system for hearing impaired prisoners failed to accommodate their disability. 

Plaintiffs Cathy Begano, Kandyce Vessey, and Jennifer Saugause are all deaf prisoners at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) who use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Bionca Rogers is not deaf, but her deaf parents also communicate with ASL. The plaintiffs requested the use of a videophone to call family and friends. DWCF refused the request, replying that deaf prisoners are provided a teletypewriter (TTY) for phone privileges. Yet for this equipment to work, both parties must have functioning TTYs. None of the plaintiffs’ families or friends owned one, and the one at DWCP repeatedly malfunctioned. In addition, Roger’s TTY access was revoked because she was not deaf.

The plaintiffs filed suit seeking injunctive relief and compensatory damages. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, claiming Rogers lacked standing, that Begano, Vessy, and Saugause failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that regulations related ...

Washington DOC Not Subject to Absolute Immunity from All Litigation

A Washington state court of appeals held that the Department of Corrections (DOC) is not automatically subject to any immunity from litigation against actions outside their quasi-judicial function. Nonetheless, its officers do not owe a duty to report a charge’s behavior to the sentencing court.

An abusive alcoholic, John McKay, was on community control supervision with a no contact order for threatening to kill his wife. His supervising officer, Mark Deabler, violated his control release when he drunkenly rammed his van into the garage of someone who refused to tell him where his wife could be found. He received 30 days county jail time for the violation and was charged with malicious mischief for the incident. He pled guilty to the offense and received a sentence of three-to-60 months drug rehabilitation.

Released to his parents’ custody, McKay was to continue under the supervision of Deabler until he was able to report to the drug rehab center on November 5, 2012. 10 days before he was to report, McKay chanced upon his wife while out to dinner. Following her home, he later came back with stolen guns and went on a shooting spree that ended with his suicide.

The victims of ...


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