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Articles by David Reutter

Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Pay-To-Vote for Florida Felons Who Completed Sentences

The court’s September 11, 2020, opinion was written by Chief Judge William Pryor. The case was before the court after Florida appealed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle’s April 7, 2020, order that found Florida law constituted an “unconstitutional pay-to-vote system.” [See PLN, June 2020, p. 62.]

The controversy started when a 64.55% super-majority of voters in 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to people who had completed “all terms of sentence,” except those convicted of murder and sex offenses.

During its 2019 legislative session, Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature passed SB 7066. It defined that re-enfranchisement prerequisite to mean “any portion of a sentence that is contained the four corners of the sentencing document,” including “full payment of LFOs (legal financial obligations) ordered by the sentencing court as part of the sentence.” [See PLN, Oct. 2019, p. 58; Sept. 2018, p. 14]

The Eleventh Circuit divided its en banc majority opinion into three parts. The first addressed ...

Conditions at South Carolina Juvenile Facility Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued notice on February 5, 2020 that it has found the “totality of the conditions, practices, and incidents” it discovered at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC), South Carolina’s long-term juvenile commitment facility, violated the juveniles’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.

After stating its intent in September 27, 2017, to investigate BRRC, the DOJ conducted three onsite visits, reviewed documents and videos, and conducted dozens of interviews with juveniles, staff, and management within South Carolina’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). The DOJ noted that the DJJ was very cooperative and took steps to address concerns raised on site.

This is not the first time DJJ came under scrutiny for its failure to provide constitutional conditions of confinement for juveniles committed to its custody. In the 1990s, a federal court issued an injunction requiring DJJ to implement minimally acceptable standards to remedy the unconstitutional confinement conditions at its facilities. See: Bowers v. Boyd, 876 F.Supp. 773 (D.S.C. 1995). It developed and implemented a plan that resulted in that case being terminated in 2003.

The DOJ found DJJ fails to keep the average daily population of 100 juveniles at BRRC reasonably safe from harm ...

Lawsuit Over Hellish 9-Day Prisoner Transport Reinstated

The lawsuit was filed by Danzel Stearns. Two ISC employees picked him up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on September 17, 2016, under contract with Union County, Mississippi, to extradite him to the county courthouse in New Albany to stand trial on a charge there. The firm, based in West Memphis, Tennessee, should have covered the 1,145-mile trip in less than 17 hours.

But instead of heading east toward Mississippi, its drivers headed west and “wandered through 13 states,” passing through some twice to pick up and drop off as many as 17 other prisoners and detainees at a time and overcrowding the van “before finally delivering a sick, sleep-deprived Stearns for prosecution on a minor drug charge,” his suit stated.

The transport made no overnight or lengthy stops. The two drivers took ...

Seventh Circuit Protects Guards Who Allegedly Failed to Protect Wisconsin Prisoner

Before the court was the appeal of prisoner Daniel A. Schillinger, who was confined at Wisconsin’s Secure Program Facility when he was assaulted on September 17, 2015. While on the recreation yard, a prisoner named Terry approached Schillinger as he was playing chess.

Terry made threats and demanded Schillinger buy canteen items for him.

Guards Randy Starkey and Josh Kiley approached and asked, “Are you guys horse playing or are you for real?” Terry responded, “No, it’s all good.”

As the recreation yard was closing, Starkey and Kiley asked Schillinger if he was going to be okay. He responded he didn’t know because Terry made threats and he did not trust him. Another prisoner overheard Starkey say that he thought there was going to be a “rumble.”

When Schillinger arrived at ...

Fourth Circuit Holds South Carolina DOC Lawyers Entitled to Qualified Immunity

The Court’s August 20, 2020, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by former prisoner Marion K. Campbell, who was convicted in December 2011 of distribution of cocaine. He alleged Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment violations from a memorandum written by Chris Florian, SCDC’s deputy general counsel who interpreted the state’s Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010. Florian concluded the Act made prisoners who committed a “no parole offense” were now eligible for parole, but they were still required to serve 85% of their sentence if they were not granted parole. That interpretation was approved by David Tatarsky, SCDC’s general counsel.

Prisoner Michael Bolin challenged the memo. The South Carolina Administrative Law Court endorsed Florian’s interpretation of the Act. The South Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that under the Act an offense under S.C. Code Section 44-53-375(B) is no longer a “no parole offense.” That meant persons convicted of those offenses were eligible for work and good time credits. See: Bolin ...

Animal Shelters Provide Cooler Temperatures Than Florida Prisons in Summer

With the heat of summer’s arrival, Florida prisoners endure living in outdated infrastructure. The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), in a July 14, 2020 email to prisoners, said it “is making efforts to ease the negative impact of extreme heat in the coming months.” That email ...

Report: Arkansas Let Asymptomatic Prison Employees Infected with Coronavirus Continue to Work

In late April 2020, prisoners at Arkansas’ Cummins Unit knew that the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, was spreading among not only the prison’s inmates but also its staff. But a prisoner identified as Marco was shocked to learn that the state Department of Corrections (DOC) ...

$550,000 Settlement in Georgia Prisoner’s Starvation Death

Lucero entered the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) ...

Disabled Detainee at Cook County Jail Wins Class Certification in Lawsuit

a disabled prisoner at the Cook County Jail (CCJ) in Chicago, won class-action certification to represent all of the jail’s disabled prisoners housed in its Division 10 as he proceeds with a lawsuit alleging violations of federal laws protecting the ...

Doctor at Florida Detention Center Spread COVID-19 to Prisoners