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Articles by David Reutter

Florida Imposes Broad Budget Cuts, but Prison Officials Increase Pay Through Double-Dipping

Florida Imposes Broad Budget Cuts, but Prison Officials Increase Pay Through Double-Dipping

by David M. Reutter

While the State of Florida has to contend with across-the-board budget cuts due to a financial shortfall caused by the faltering economy, high-ranking Florida Department of Correction (FDOC) officials are padding their pockets by drawing state retirement checks as well as bi-weekly paychecks.

The recent economic downturn has resulted in budgetary problems for Florida, which is primarily dependent on tourism to fill its coffers. Since the state has no personal income tax, it relies on sales tax proceeds to fund government operations. The decline in tax receipts resulted in a 10% reduction in all state agency budgets; Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a record $459 million from the state budget in May 2007.

For the FDOC that meant staff cuts. During the 2007 legislative session, prison officials scared the public into believing that proposed FDOC budget cuts would mean eliminating 1,800 guard positions, closing prisons and releasing prisoners early. That successful scare tactic resulted in less severe cuts and a reduction of only 331 positions. The FDOC planned to cut 199 probation officers and 132 administrative jobs, including a number of prison chaplains. No ...

Trifecta for Michigan DOC: Three Reports Find Deficient Prison Medical Care

Trifecta for Michigan DOC: Three Reports Find Deficient Prison Medical Care

by David M. Reutter

From the advent of federal oversight of medical services for Michigan prisoners, the focus has been on three Michigan Dept. of Corrections (MDOC) facilities that house the state’s sickest prisoners in close proximity to Duane Waters Hospital in the Jackson area. Health care at those prisons – the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility, the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center and the Parnall Correctional Facility – is provided by a private contractor, Correctional Medical Services (CMS).

Despite federal court monitoring of MDOC health care, which has been ongoing since the mid-1980s, little progress has been made to improve the quality of the care provided. To the contrary things seem to have worsened, which has resulted in egregious examples of medical neglect. Last year PLN reported several preventable deaths and injuries among Michigan prisoners caused by substandard medical care, as well as a court order holding the MDOC in contempt. [See: PLN, May 2007, pp.1, 7].

In an effort to hasten the end of federal court oversight, which is part of a long-standing class-action lawsuit known as the Hadix litigation, the MDOC proposed closing the Southern ...

Alabama Jail Guard Fired, Convicted, Held Civilly Liable in Prisoner’s Assault

Alabama Jail Guard Fired, Convicted, Held Civilly Liable in Prisoner’s Assault

by David M. Reutter

In a rare conclusion to a guard’s violent attack on a prisoner, a Jefferson County, Alabama jail guard was fired, prosecuted, convicted and found liable in a civil lawsuit. The guard, Antonio Allums, continues to ...

Monetary Sanctions Permitted for Milwaukee Jail’s Violation of Consent Decree

Monetary Sanctions Permitted for Milwaukee Jail’s Violation of Consent Decree

by David Reutter

Wisconsin’s First District Court of Appeals has held that an intentional contempt finding against the Milwaukee County Jail (MCJ) entitles prisoners who were injured by the contemptuous conduct to recover monetary sanctions.

In March 1996, MCJ prisoner Milton Christensen filed a pro se lawsuit that alleged dangerous conditions at the facility. An amended class action complaint was later filed by the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. The trial court summarized the complaint by stating it alleged conditions at MCJ were “substandard,” resulted in “the infliction of needless pain and suffering,” and created “a threat to the inmate’s mental and physical well-being.” The cause of the unconstitutional jail conditions was overcrowding.

In May 2001, the trial court approved a 48-page settlement agreement and consent decree. Relevant to the subsequent contempt proceeding, the court noted that MCJ was not to keep prisoners in the jail longer than thirty hours without assigning a bed. The midnight population count was not to exceed 1,100, and prisoners would not be kept in the booking area longer than thirty hours.

The court found that between November 2001 and April ...

Massachusetts’ Mental Health Treatment Policies Prove Deadly for Public, Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

As America’s prisons continue their transformation into mental health institutions, little thought is given to mentally ill prisoners who languish within the harsh confines of prison environments with little if any treatment. That all changes, at least temporarily, when a mentally ill prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement for years is set free without any supervision, and then commits multiple murders.

While the mainstream media recently covered such a story about a homicidal ex-offender – who was released from the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) and killed a newlywed couple in Washington state several months later – as well as the usual sound bites and hand wringing, past history proves that once the furor dies down it will be back to business as usual.

For the past several decades America’s prison system has become the new warehouse for the mentally ill, which is no secret among those overseeing our nation’s detention facilities. Eventually, about 95 percent of those incarcerated will one day be released; they will either successfully reintegrate into society or prey upon it. That, of course, presupposes that the mentally ill survive their time behind bars.

A December 2007 special series ...

GEO Group Expands into Mental Health Facilities for Business Growth

by David M. Reutter

Since 1984, the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections) has focused on operating private prisons as its business model. It is now finding a more lucrative niche in privatizing mental health facilities and civil commitment centers for sexual predators. The company has been able to procure multiple contracts in Florida to develop and refine its expanded, and lucrative, business model.

This evolution in the type of services provided by GEO is a major transformation from the private investigation firm founded in 1954 by former FBI agent George R. Wackenhut. By 1958, Wackenhut was providing security guard services. With a nationwide need for more prison beds in the 1980s due to tough on crime rhetoric and harsh sentencing laws, the company saw an opportunity for increased profits when it entered into prison and jail operations in 1984.

That expansion resulted in Wackenhut Corrections – renamed as the GEO Group, Inc. in 2003 – becoming the self-proclaimed “world leader” in providing prison design, construction, financing and operations to state and national governments. The company does business in the United States, Australia, South Africa and the U.K. It manages or owns 67 prisons or residential treatment facilities with a total design ...

Florida DOC Ends Unofficial Transfer-for-Sale Policy

by David M. Reutter

It has long been an established fact among Florida prisoners that if you wanted a transfer to a certain prison, you could pay well-connected lawyers to make that transfer happen. After Florida then Department of Corrections (FDOC) Secretary James R. McDonough learned of this practice, he not only brought it to a swift end but also disciplined staff members who had engaged in such improper conduct.

McDonough’s intervention in the transfers-for-sale scandal was his last act as FDOC Secretary before he resigned in January 2008. When he took over the reins at FDOC almost two years earlier, McDonough accepted the helm of a state prison system that was rotten to its core [See: PLN, Dec. 2006, pg 1].

In fact, McDonough’s new office at FDOC headquarters in Tallahassee had been sealed off as a crime scene by state and federal law enforcement officials. “That was an indication we had a problem in the department,” McDonough observed.

The scandals that preceeded McDonough’s appointment as FDOC Secretary included theft of state property, widespread steroid use by staff, drunken orgies involving prison employees, the murder of several prisoners and the acceptance of kickbacks by former Secretary ...

Judgment in Florida’s Closed Management Conditions Lawsuit Terminated Under the PLRA

Judgment in Florida’s Closed Management Conditions Lawsuit Terminated Under the PLRA

by David M. Reutter

Nearly seven years after it was entered, a Florida federal district court has terminated a revised offer of judgment that was “intended to minimize the potentially harmful effects of” closed management (CM) which is Florida’s version of a special housing unit.

Prior to the initiation of the civil rights complaint by prisoner Mark Osterback, Thomas Gross, and Darryl E Williams; CM was a horrid experience. When it implemented its CM rules in 1994, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) began converting regular housing units into CM units. At its peak, FDOC had CM units at 11 prisons, with plans to continue the growth of isolation as a form of imprisonment.

The proliferation of CM units was causing prisoners to land within the harsh confines of CM for extended periods for even the most minor infractions. Upon placement in the CM cell, prisoners were stripped of all property, confined to their cells for 24 hours a day, prohibited from any contact with other prisoners unless they went to their one hour recreation period three times a week, and they could only receive one book a week ...

Former North Carolina Lawmaker’s Son Submits Highest Bid, Gets Prison Contract

Last year, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation began examining the award of a prison pest control contract to the son of the state’s former House Speaker. The contract raised questions because the winning bid was roughly three times higher than the lowest bidder for the same job.

The contract was to provide pest control services at two new prisons that were being built, and the investigation focused on Black Pest Control, a Charlotte company owned by Jon Black, whose father is former House Speaker Jim Black. Black’s company won the contract to provide pest control for prison construction projects in Bertie and Greene counties.

Black’s bid for those 2003 projects was $124,000. His company received the job despite another firm bidding $42,000 for the same work. In 2005, Black Pest Control won the bid for another prison project in Columbus. It obtained that contract for $73,600 even though another company had bid $20,600, but later withdrew from the job.

Prior to winning the contracts, Black Pest Control had no experience in its 65-year history of working on prison projects. Then again, it never before had such a profitable reason for doing ...

Maryland Juvenile Justice Official Resigns Over Past Abuse Allegations

Just seven months after he was hired as director over Maryland’s juvenile detention facilities, Chris Perkins, 38, resigned his $76,000 a year position when a Montana judge unsealed a report that found Perkins had abused children at a Montana boot camp.

The 21-page report detailed treatment of juveniles while Perkins was director of the Swan Valley Youth Academy, which was operated by Colorado-based Cornerstone Programs Corp. from 2003 to 2006. In fairness, Perkins’ alleged treatment of children under his care was no different from the treatment inflicted on juvenile offenders in many other states’ boot camp programs.

According to the report, Swan Valley Staff used “intimidation,” “brute force” and “threats” to create an “environment of fear” and a “culture of terror.” The report detailed incidents of staff forcing youths to exercise naked for hours at a time, making them drink hot water, repeatedly slamming them against a wall, and placing them in isolation for extended periods of time.

Cornerstone’s chief executive, Joseph Newman, said he suspended Perkins in November 2005 after Montana’s Public Health and Human Services Department began investigating allegations of abuse at Swan Valley. State officials found 19 licensing violations and concluded that Perkins ...

 

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