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Articles by David Reutter

Pennsylvania Policy Requiring Control Number for Qualification as Legal Mail Unconstitutional

Finding that no legitimate penological interest existed to support a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PDOC) policy that required a PDOC-issued control number be included on correspondence for it to qualify as legal mail, a Pennsylvania U.S. District Court issued an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the policy.

Prior to October 2002, any mail that indicated it was from a court, attorney, or otherwise marked as legal mail was opened in a prisoner’s presence. The new policy, however, gave no regard to the source listed on the return address. Instead, prison officials relied only on whether there was a control number on the envelope when determining if the mail should be opened in the prisoner’s presence.

There are two methods by which a PDOC prisoner can receive legal mail. One allows for legal correspondence to be hand-delivered unsealed, which provides for inspection, sealing and then delivery to the prisoner without further interference by prison staff. The other method is via postal mail.

When legal mail is sent through the postal service, the new PDOC policy required that it include a control number issued by the office of Chief Counsel. To obtain such a control number, the sender had to ...

Florida’s Felon Disenfranchisement “Mess”

Since George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election by prevailing in Florida by a razor-thin margin of 537 votes, intense scrutiny has been focused on Florida’s election laws and procedures.  Civil rights activist have kept the focus on the disenfranchisement of felons, which it has been estimated to reach 600,000 persons in Florida alone.  Blacks represent the highest proportion of the disenfranchised.  They are also usually Democrat voters.

Florida is one of seven states that bans felons from voting.  Florida’s ban has been enforced by election supervisors using a list of felons supplied by the state when purging voters from the rolls.  For the 2000 election, Florida contracted with Atlanta based DBT, which was later bought by ChoicePoint, to compile the felons list.  A day after the elections, voters caused an uproar because that list caused a larger number of non-felons to be prohibited from voting at the same time felons were allowed to vote.

In July 2004, ChoicePoint spokesman Chuck Jones said state election officials were advised in 1998 that the list to purge felons from voter rolls would have a glitch.  The glitch involved Hispanics not appearing on the list if they identified themselves ...

Ruling in Execution Records Limits Virginia FOIA Disclosures

The Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling in death penalty public records case that could “become a license to withdraw records,” said Megan Rhyne, Executive Director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

The ruling reversed a Fairfax County Circuit Court’s order that ordered full disclosure of “the detailed floor plan of the execution chamber (C-Unit) at Greenville Correction Center, the detailed diagram of the control panel and wiring for the electric chair, the manufacturer’s installation and instruction manuals for the electric chair”, and redacted portions of the current and prior execution manuals.

It was acknowledged by The Virginia Supreme Court that legislative preference is for “openness”, but it also found there is an exemption of certain documents, such as engineering and architectural drawings, of governmental buildings to protect security.

The court adopted the standard of other jurisdictions, requiring the circuit court to accord “substantial weight” to The Virginia Department of Correction’s (VDOC) determinations.

“Once satisfied that proper procedures have been followed and that the information logically falls within the exemption clause, courts need go no further to test the expertise of the agency, or to question its veracity  when nothing appears to  raise the issue of ...

Start-Up Apparel Company Rests Its Fortunes on Back of Prisoner Labor

A new company, Tight Lines Y’all, has started operations thanks to the availability of prisoner labor to produce its signature items. When Terry Lewis became inspired to start a company he faced the usual obstacles of needing a location and employees.

Prison Industries, a division of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDOC), offered an avenue for eliminating those obstacles. It would provide labor in a prison building to produce Tight Lines Y’all “3N1” bow ties, which is made from three separate pieces of material and can be tied in a multiple of ways to produce the look of different ties.

To do business with Prison Industries, companies cannot have a current operation in the United States. “We are not going to let them close down a business to come to us,” said Phil Burckhalter, director of Prison Industries. We are looking for someone to grow their business or bring back a phase of their business that is outside the United States.”

They also welcomed start-ups such as Tight Lines Y’all, which founder Terry Jones says allowed him to save 25 percent in labor. “It was a good fit for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t have ...

New Law Allows for Release Consideration for Kentucky Prisoner after 54 Years

A new law is giving the hope of parole to aged Kentucky prisoner s. Amongst those is prisoner Willie Gaines Smith, who has served 54 years in prison.

Kentucky legislators approved a program that allows Kentucky Corrections Commissioner LaDonna Thompson to make a decision, which the parole board must follow, on which prisoners will be released. The program allows aged prisoners who are not sex offenders or on death row and are considered to be low risk to qualify for release.

The law is purely about the economics of housing aged prisoners. Kentucky pays millions of dollars annually to house infirm prisoners, and the new program looks to shift that financial burden onto the federal government, who would pay private nursing homes through Medicaid to care for prisoners released on medical parole.

Smith has been in prison since August 31, 1960, for a murder and robbery he committed. In 1963, Smith was deemed insane. That diagnosis is a major contributing factor in his continued imprisonment. His co-defendant, Hassie Cane Martin, was paroled in 1981.

His mental infirmity should not be a disqualifier for parole, says one attorney. “Why has he served 54 years? Having a mental illness does not make ...

Florida Prison Food Contractors Charged With Theft

Florida authorities have charged three people with stealing $1.5 million from the state prison system through a food procurement contract.

In 2008, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) signed a contract with US Foods for the company to handle FDOC’s food vendor program. Thomas J. Tomblin Jr., 63, was named as US Foods project manager, which required him to identify and vet potential vendors and act as the point of contact between the company and FDOC.

According to an arrest affidavit, Tomblin had become friends with Tyrone and Christy Walker after years in the food supply business, the relationships resulted in the Walkers paying Tomlin $15,700 a month “to initially promote and then protect MSF (M&S Foods) contract with USF (US Foods).”

The Walker’s business, M&S Foods, was picked by Walker to provide the meat to Florida prisons after the FDOC signed the October 23, 2008 contract with US Foods. M&S Foods contracted on November 11th, 2008, with Southeastern Protein Purveyors in Georgia to manufacture, package, and ship meat with M&S Foods’ label to Florida prisons.

The Walkers initially charged .01 cents per pound as a brokerage fee, but they increased ...

Wisconsin Parole Hampered by Prison Bureaucrats

An “irrational” and unaccountable system is preventing Wisconsin’s parole eligible prisoners from satisfying requirements to merit release on parole.

About 15% of Wisconsin’s more than 32,000 prisoners have sentences that allow them to be paroled. They are the remnant that lingers in the state’s prisons prior to the January 1, 2000 implementation of a truth in sentencing law, which requires prisoners to serve every day of the sentence imposed by a judge. The law applies to all crimes.

The approximate 2,800 prisoners, who are parole eligible, including 400 at minimum security prisons, cost about $100 million annually to house. Under the law at the time of their sentencing, they become eligible for parole after serving 25% of their sentence. They must be released upon serving two-thirds of their time.

Once they reach the 25% threshold, parole commissioners decide their fate. The commissioners’ power is limited to truly eligible for parole, prisoners must meet certain standards, such as taking substance abuse programs and good performance in a minimum security setting.

Therein lies the quandary, Prisoners may only meet those standards if placed in the required settings by the program review committee at their prison. The Wisconsin ...

Guard’s Suspension for Dragging Injured Maine Pretrial Detainee Upheld

Louisiana officials are resorting to unconventional tactics to combat the “international” problem of cellphones within its jails and prisons. Prisoner use of the contraband phones has become so widespread that rarely a day goes by that guards fail to find one.             

Several factors drive the proliferation of cellphones in jails and prisons. For prisoners, they are free of security restrictions that record their calls and restrict who they can call. Plus, collect calls to their families and friends come at an exorbitant cost charged by profiteering prison phone companies. For guards, they can earn extra money.

 “That $50 cellphone might sell for $200, so you have a $150 temptation to the correctional officer or visitor who’s coming into the prison,” said Burl Cain, warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary.

 “We find cellphones with inmates almost daily,” he said. “We found one today. We found one over the weekend.”

As PLN has reported, prison and jail officials nationwide are battling this contraband issue. One expert says it’s an issue that reaches beyond U.S. borders. “This is an international issue,” said Tod Burke, criminal justice professor at Virginia’s Radford University. “Every state that has a jail or prison has ...

Florida Judges’ Outlandish Behavior Tarnishes Bench

A prerequisite for holding a judgeship is maintaining an impeccable reputation of upstanding and ethical conduct in all affairs. Along the eastern shores of Florida known as the Space and Gold Coasts, the spotlight has shone upon the wayward conduct of numerous judges.

In Broward County, scandals from the conduct of public officials are a regular occurrence. The Sheriff there went to prison for corruption. Bad behavior by judges is so widespread that one attorney says there is a “systematic problem.”

Since 2001, 17% of the 62 formal disciplinary cases filed against sitting judges have been in Broward County, according to records from Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Committee. Those figures do not include recent arrests or reflect resignations before charges were filed.

Amongst those who resigned is Judge Lawrence L. Korda. His 2007 resignation came after he was caught smoking marijuana in a park. That incident pales in comparison to a 2001 arrest of another judge, which resulted in public intoxication charges of a judge found naked from the waist down and drunk at a resort hosting a state judicial conference.

More recently, three judges have been arrested for drunk-driving charges. The first arrest was of Judge Cynthia Imperato in ...

Prisoner’s Master Carpenter Skills Nets Opportunity to Serve and Receive Freedom

A Virginia man who was sentenced to prison in several counties has avoided being sent to prison, and his skill set is being attributed to remaining in jail and release.

Lawrence “Junior” Wood faced 36 different counts in six different counties. The charges ranged from obtaining money by false pretenses to forgery. Wood reached a plea agreement on the charges, resulting in sentences of one to two years. Since none of the judges announced the sentences to run concurrently, they were all to run consecutive to each other.

For the last seven years, Woods have remained at the Rappahannock County Jail. “I’ve talked to the Department of Corrections, and they say they always pick up within 30 to 60 days,” said Culpeper County Circuit Judge Susan Whitlock. “It’s a marvel to me that he has been in jail for 7 years.”

While there is no official rationale for Wood remaining in jail all those years, there is circumstantial evidence that it occurred because of the fact he is a master carpenter. Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie Smith found a use for him and put him to work.

 “He proactively built the addition onto the Rappahannock jail,” said Culpeper Sheriff ...


 

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