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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

South Carolina’s Treatment of Mentally Ill Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

A South Carolina Court of Common Pleas found the South Carolina Department of Corrections’ (SCDC) “mental health system exposes seriously mentally ill inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.”

The court began its order by stating that of the 70,000 cases that has come before it over 14years, “[t]his case, far above all others, is most troubling.”  The class action before it was “brought on behalf of approximately 3,500 state inmates who meet the definition of being seriously mentally ill.”

The court made six threshold findings.  First, the mental health program at SCDC is severely understaffed, particularly with respect to mental health professionals, to such a degree as to impede the proper administration of mental health services.  Second, seriously mentally ill prisoners are exposed to a disproportionate use of force and solitary confinement when compared with non-mentally Ill prisoners.

Third, mental health services at SCDC lack a sufficiently systematic program that maintains accurate and complete treatment records to chart overall treatment, progress or repression of prisoners with mental illness.  Fourth, SCDC’s screening and evaluation process is ineffective in identifying prisoners with serious mental illness and ...

Illinois Prisoner Granted Transfer in Injunctive Relief in Rare Ruling

by David Reutter

The U.S. Southern District Court of Illinois granted a preliminary injunction for prisoner Calvin Mitchell as failed against Correctional Officer Stephen Baker and Warden Kim Butler. The order required that Mitchell be transferred away from the Menard Correctional Center for protection against Baker's threats and assaults against Mitchell, in violation of Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment constitutional protections.

Mitchell filed a 42 U.S.C. §1983 complaint against Baker alleging that Baker's continued threats and abuse placed him in danger. Two evidentiary hearings were conducted by the district court, and Baker failed to appear at either hearing and failed to request a continuance.

Witnesses appeared for Mitchell to request and testified to seeing assaults and threats on Mitchell by Baker or Menard staff associated with his lawsuit. Menard's IA officer verified that Mitchell's mom had called his office to complaint of Baker's threats. Mitchell's prison counselors affirmed that they had authorized Mitchell's transfer to another prison. They contended that the transfer was not because of the threats, but their records did not reflect the reason for the transfer.

The district court acknowledged that granting an injunction against the prison is ...

Negligent Handling of Property Not Barred by Sovereign Immunity

by David Reutter

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a trial court's denial of Stephen Palmer's claim of "conversion" of his personal property by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). It reversed and remanded his claim of negligent handling of that property.

Palmer, a DOC prisoner, complained that the actions or inactions of John Doe Sergeant, COI Disabiela, Sgt. Myers, John Doe, and Superintendent John Kerestes caused him to lose possession of his personal property. He was involuntarily placed in a restricted housing unit (RHU) for disciplinary reasons. His desk lamp and typewriter ribbons were not properly inventoried or stored, so they were lost.

Palmer's institutional grievances were denied. His suit in the trial court was held to be frivolous. He appealed to the Commonwealth. The court upheld the trial court's sovereign immunity bar of the "conversion" claim. The taking of the property to place a prisoner in RHU constituted "lawful justification for the taking, so sovereign immunity attached. There was also no proof of any intent to deprive him of the property, or to damage it.

The commonwealth did reverse and remand the trial court's denial of Palmer's negligence claims. The record and ...

South Dakota Res Judicata Ban of State Constitutional Due Process Claim Upheld

by David Reutter 

The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld a trial court's summary judgment dismissing a wrongful death suit brought by Lynette Johnson (Johnson) against the South Dakota Department of Corrections (DOC) and several of its officials. It held that there was no evidence of extreme or outrageous conduct in DOC's preparation of its incident report, there was no material facts supporting the fraudulent misrepresentation claim, and there was no error in applying res judicata  bar to state constitutional due process claim already ruled and the federal court.

Johnson's husband, officer Ronald Johnson (Ronald), was killed by prisoners in a failed escape attempt. DOC voluntarily published on incident report evaluating its performance and recommending charge. Johnson learned that the reported omitted important facts, like the warden's decision to reduce the killer's custody despite reports of their previous plan to kill a guard and escape. The report also misrepresented that the staff had followed all rules and procedures, but they had not.

Johnson filed a lawsuit in the state court. The suit was removed to the federal district court where the federal constitutional due process claim was dismissed based on a finding that the killers ...

Minnesota Supreme Court Declares "Exoneration-Compensation Statute" Unconstitutional

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that its reversal on appeal of a second degree manslaughter conviction, standing alone, did not qualify as an "exoneration" under Minn. Stat. § 590.11. Simultaneously, the court held that § 590.11 was irrational and violated the Constitutional Equal Protection provisions. The court severed § 590.11(1)(1)(i), in its entirety to remedy the violation.

Danna Back was convicted of second degree manslaughter in the 2007 shooting between two of her past lovers which left one of them dead. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that where Back did not possess or fire the gun, and she had no duty to protect or control either party, the conviction could not stand.

In 2014, the Minnesota legislature enacted the Exoneration-Compensation Statute, § 590.11, intending to compensate individuals who had served prison time under a wrongful conviction.

Back applied for the compensation. The Minnesota District Court held that back did not qualify because she had not been "exonerated" per § 590.11. the court of appeal reversed that denial and concluded that the statute violated constitutional Equal Protection rights because it was irrational. The statute required the prosecutor to dismiss the criminal charges in ...

Alabama Prisoner Convicted of Kidnapping Minor Can be Labeled Sex Offender

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Alabama prisoner failed to state a claim against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), when he alleged that its application of a 2011 sex offender (S.O.) statute to his 2005 conviction violated his procedural and substantive due process rights and his ex post facto rights.

In 2013, Adam Waldman, an ADOC prisoner, was designated an S.O. based on his 2005 conviction for first degree kidnapping of a minor. Waldman filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint alleging that this designation did not apply when he committed his crime, but was enacted in 2011 by the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act (ASORCNA). He argued that the designation changed the conditions of his confinement without notice or a hearing; it was applied even though he had no conviction as a sex offense, and the punishment did not exist at the time of his offense.

The federal district court dismissed the claim for failure to state a claim for relief. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The Eleventh Circuit noted that Waldman's claims concerning post-release conditions were not ripe for consideration. Waldman was serving two life ...

Kansas Uniform Trust Code Established Exclusive Venue For Prison Trust Fund Proceedings

by David Reutter

The Kansas Supreme Court held that a prison trust fund is an actual trust, subject to the provisions of the Kansas Uniform Trust Code (KUTC), therefore the lower courts erred in applying a general statute to establish venue instead of the specific statute that assigned exclusive venue.

Mike Matson, a Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) prisoner, filed a civil suit in the Leavenworth District Court alleging that KDOC's Internal Management Policies and Procedures had implemented fees against his prison trust fund in violation of state laws and the U.S.C. Fifth Amendment.

The suit was filed pursuant to the KUTC, K.S.A. 580-101, which specifies that the venue for a trust is the location where it was principally administered. However, without any hearing or opportunity to respond, Leavenworth granted the defendants' motion to transfer venue to the Norton District Court. The Norton court asserted that per K.S.A. 60-609(a), venue was authorized in its district because some portion of the suit could be heard in that county. The Norton Court granted summary judgment to KDOC.

Matson appealed in 2013. He argued that the district courts' reliance on the general statute, 60-609(a ...

Class Action Member May File Independent Suit to Protect Individual Need

by David Reutter

A California federal district court granted limited injunctive relief to a state prisoner in a deliberate indifference suit against the California Correctional Training Facility (CTF) doctors. The court held that an individual member of a pending class action suit was not barred from seeking relief on individual needs not protected by the suit.

In 2003, California prisoner, Eric Gonzalez was attacked by a cellmate because he was a sex offender. As a result, Gonzalez developed serious panic attacks and PTSD symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia, sleeping disorders, etc. as diagnosed by psychologist, Dr. Katz, in 2007.

In 2008, doctors unsuccessfully attempted to treat Gonzalez with medications and therapies. In October of 2008, the Mental Health Interdisciplinary Treatment Team (IDTT), inclusive of CTF's Dr. Katz, Dr. Bony, Ph.D., and Dr. Bill Zika concurred that Gonzalez had a serious mental health need that required placing him in a single cell for his safety. The IDTT recommended change of housing status to the "custody staff" who has authority to make housing changes.

In 2008, Gonzalez was placed in a single cell. In 2009, psychiatrist, Dr. Hutchinson interviewed Gonzalez and confirmed the diagnosis, added that Gonzalez's panic attacks ...

Prison Tattoos Tell a Story

by David M. Reutter

Tattoos are virtually a rite of prison passage, and the designs, where they are placed and what they signify often have more meaning than just self-expressive body ink.

Once considered taboo, tattoos have gained wider acceptance in today’s society, especially among the younger generation. About 23% of people sport a tattoo, though the rate among prisoners is typically much higher. Of Florida’s approximately 100,000 prisoners, nearly 75,000 have a total of 300,000 tattoos.

Florida’s prison system was the subject of two recently-published articles about tattoos because the Department of Corrections’ prisoner database lists tattoos by type and location.

A 2010 study found that prison tattoos reflect the criminal lifestyle; the study made a distinction between prison and non-prison tattoos, with prison tattoos being those obtained while incarcerated or that had images reflecting prison life such as clocks, spider webs, prison bars or gang-related symbols. The study included Texas prisoners and college students at Texas Tech University.

Prison tattoos were found to indicate the prisoner harbored “a greater commitment to the criminal lifestyle with an irrational perception of entitlements or sense of power.” They also “tended to blame others for their involvement in ...

Louisiana Death Sentence Reversed, Charges Dismissed, Lawsuit Filed

by David M. Reutter

Following the reversal of his homicide conviction by the Louisiana Supreme Court in November 2016, death row prisoner Rodricus Crawford, 29, was released on $50,000 bond after serving three years in prison. A new prosecutor reviewed the case and, on April 14, 2017, announced the dismissal of the charges.

Crawford, from Shreveport, was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his one-year-old son, Roderius Lott. Attorney Cecelia Kappel, with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, worked on Crawford’s case and recalled his faith that justice would eventually prevail.

“Every time I’d go see him on death row and say we lost another motion, he’d say, ‘I’m going home,’” she observed.

Crawford’s son had what seemed to be a cold when he slept with his father the last two nights of his life. The third morning, Crawford, then 22, found the boy was not breathing. Family members attempted CPR and called paramedics, who pronounced the child dead. They also noticed he had a split lip and bruise-like markings on his hip and head. Crawford later told police that his son had fallen in the tub when he went to ...


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