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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

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 ...

Colorado Supreme: No Presentence Confinement Credit

The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that Section 18-1.3-405, C.R.S. (2017) prevents the award of presentence confinement credit (PSCC) in cases involving multiple charges or jurisdictions unless the case under review is the sole cause for detention and the prisoner would have been released if that charge did not exist.

In 2004, Amber Torrez was arrested in Denver County for a Denver County murder and an unrelated Jefferson County assault. She was held in Denver County until her December 2006 trial that resulted in a “not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) verdict, followed by her placement in the Colorado Mental Health Institute Pueblo (CMHIP).

In June of 2008, Torrez was found competent to proceed in the Jefferson County trial. She pled guilty and was sentenced to serve 10 years.  She moved the trial court to award her 1,579 days PSCC. She argued that she was in custody at all times on both charges and could not receive PSCC on the Denver charge because no sentence was imposed for a NGRI verdict, so no PSCC had been awarded.

The trial court held that Torrez was not entitled to PSCC on the Jefferson case because that was ...

Organizations Acting as Government Subject to Public Records, Open Meetings Laws

by David Reutter

A Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision that the Jefferson County Economics Development and Oversight Committee, Inc. (EDOC) is not subject to provisions of the State Public Records and Open Meetings Acts and remanded the case for further review. 

Jefferson County, Jefferson City, and Dandridge all passed resolutions supporting the creation of the EDOC. They appointed a board of mostly county officials, funded from the county budget. Its charter stated that its purpose was to coordinate business development in the county among governmental agencies. Because of this, Oliver Wood and others filed a complaint that the EDOC was performing a public service and should be subject to the Public Records and Open Meetings Acts. 

The court held that a private organization must be evaluated by a totality of factors to determine if it serves as a governmental agency and that the EDOC fit these criteria. 

The defendants argued that the EDOC did not make decisions, only recommendations, and that it was not created by legislation or determined to be a public entity. The plaintiffs argued that the EDOC served a public purpose. They used testimony given over Jefferson County’s proposed “mega ...

ND Supreme: 6-Month Sentence for Contempt Binding

by David Reutter

The North Dakota Supreme Court held that N.D.C.C. 27-10-01.4(1)(b) prohibits a prisoner’s incarceration for contempt of court for more than six months where no specific extension was ordered by the district court or referees.

Tricia Taylor was granted visitation with her two children, but custody was granted to their fathers. In 2015, Taylor fled to the South Dakota Cheyenne River Indian Reservation with the children. She obtained an order from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court awarding temporary custody of the children to her sister.

She was arrested for parental kidnapping, and when released, she was arrested for contempt of court for failing to obey the court’s order to return custody to their fathers. In 2016, in interlocutory review, Taylor asserted that she could not return custody as ordered. Judicial referees and the district court upheld the contempt conviction, and Taylor did not appeal.

After serving six months for contempt, Taylor filed a motion to quash the contempt and grant immediate release per N.D.C.C. 27-10-01.4(1)(b). The district court denied the motion, and Taylor appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The Court reversed the district ...


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