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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

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 ...

$64,900 Award in Arkansas Excessive Force Claim; Warden Held Not Liable

by David M. Reutter

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a judgment against the warden of Arkansas’ Cummins Unit, finding he did not have sufficient knowledge that the guards under his supervision were inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on prisoners.

The appeal, by Warden M.D. Reed, was ...

Authorities Listen in on Attorney-Client Calls at Jails in FL, CA and TX

by David Reutter & Matt Clarke

In December 2007, it was reported that an investigator at Florida’s Charlotte County Jail was caught listening to telephone conversations between a prisoner and his attorney. As a result, the investigator, Kenneth Hill, was reprimanded and placed on road patrol.

Hill was investigating charges of introduction of contraband and attempt to defraud involving jail prisoner David Price. In all, Hill monitored five phone calls between Price and his lawyer, Michael Powell, in an attempt to learn about a possible drug exchange.

In a deposition taken by Powell, Hill admitted he had listened to the conversations. Later, however, Hill wrote a memo to the State Attorney’s office recanting what he said in his deposition. When internal affairs investigators questioned him, Hill stated he “did not listen to the conversations to gain an upper hand in court, for a loophole in the defense, or with any devious intent.”

When asked whether an attorney-client phone conversation should be monitored, Hill said, “That is a good question! If the attorney wants to speak in private, they should not be on a recorded line. You can’t know all of that.”

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has since implemented a policy that allows lawyers to put their phone numbers on a do-not-monitor list. Further, jail employees are required to discontinue monitoring if they realize a prisoner is having a conversation with an attorney.

PLN reported a similar incident at a Florida jail in 2006, when Broward County officials recorded two weeks of privileged conversations between prisoners and their attorneys. A resulting lawsuit was settled in February 2008 for “a few thousand dollars,” according to one of the lawyers involved in the case. See: Sawchuck v. Jenne, U.S.D.C. SD Fla., Case No. 0:06-cv-61182-KAM. [PLN, June 2007, p.12].

Attorney-client phone snooping isn’t limited to Florida jails. In June 2008, the Sheriff’s Department in San Diego County, California was found to be using a system that recorded all jail phone calls, including those between prisoners and their counsel. Angry defense lawyers noted that prosecutors had access to the improperly recorded attorney-client calls.
Indeed, Jim McMahon, with the Alternate Public Defender’s office, said phone conversations with his incarcerated client were included on a disc turned over by prosecutors as part of discovery in the case. “I’m not at all comfortable with the DA being supplied with confidential, privileged phone calls with my client,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department claimed the attorney calls had been recorded due to an “inadvertent glitch” in the phone system, according to the Union Tribune. The system was not supposed to record calls placed to phone numbers in an attorney database, but the database was severely deficient – it did not include all attorneys’ numbers nor their cell phones or direct lines. A California state law expressly prohibits eavesdropping on attorney-client calls.

Further, the practice of Hunt County, Texas prosecutors obtaining recorded phone calls from jail prisoners – including attorney-client calls – has come under fire. Defense attorneys in the capital murder trial of Bradon Dale Woodruff filed pre-trial motions concerning the known use of recorded attorney-client calls by Hunt County prosecutors in prior criminal cases involving defendants Adam Kelly Ward and Abigail Louann Whytus.

Attorney Dennis Davis, who represented Ward and Whytus, was surprised when he received recordings of jail phone calls from the prosecutor in response to discovery requests. The recordings included conversations with attorneys, family members and an expert witness on the issue of Ward’s competency. “They basically assassinated his character with those [phone call] outtakes,” said Davis.

That was just fine according to some Texas prosecutors. “Certainly, there is attorney-client privilege, and you can waive that. Once you’re put on notice that this is being recorded, then you have waived that right,” stated Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow. “I don’t see a legal or ethical problem, assuming that they have been notified.” However, Sumrow noted he could not recall his office ever requesting jail phone recordings between a prisoner and his attorney.

Hunt County prosecutor Noble Walker defended his office’s actions in court.

“When you pick up the dang phone, it tells you that you are subject to being recorded,” he stated, adding that the issue is whether prisoners have an expectation of privacy in the phone calls.

“All the law that I’m familiar with says it’s unlawful and unethical to record attorney-client communication,” countered Dallas defense lawyer Barry Sorrels.

Other Texas counties, including Dallas, Denton, Collin and Rockwall, have acknowledged recording attorney-client phone calls at their jails. Dallas County officials admitted they sometimes send the recordings to prosecutors, while Denton, Collin and Rockwall County said they randomly monitor the calls.

State District Judge Richard A. Beacom, Jr. denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder charge against Woodruff due to the improper monitoring of his attorney-client conversations; however, he ruled on Sept. 18, 2007 that any evidence obtained from the phone calls could not be used at trial.

“Although the Court does not believe that the Office of the Hunt County District Attorney acted with malice or without some case authority to support their actions, this Court believes that the practice of the State listening to a defendant’s telephone conversations with his attorney is a violation of the 6th Amendment,” Judge Beacom held.

Sources: Sun-Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune, Dallas Morning News

United Kingdom Creates Foreigner Only Prisons

In mid-2007, the United Kingdom (UK) designated two detention facilities to be occupied solely by foreign national prisoners. If the plan is successful, the government intends to expand the practice beyond the Bullwood Hall and Canterbury prisons.

The move comes as the proportion of foreign prisoners to English prisoners continues to increase. There are 11,300 foreigners who face deportation after they complete their sentences among the UK’s prison population of 83,000.

The so-called “specialist prisons” aim to provide better services to incarcerated foreign nationals. Due to language and cultural barriers, prison officials had reported difficulty in providing care to mentally ill foreign prisoners. It was hoped that by having all foreign nationals in one place rather than spread throughout the prison system, services could be improved to meet their needs.

The government itself will also benefit. Officials from the UK’s Border and Immigration Agency hope to identify each prisoner’s immigration issues so as to hasten their deportation. In 2007, approximately 4,000 foreigners were deported after being discharged from prisons in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. This year, 2,400 have been deported as of June 2008.

The deportations are deemed necessary because “the ...

Arkansas Law Discloses Legislators’ Business Ties to State

Of concern to taxpayers should be the private business interests of their legislators. An Arkansas law enacted in 2007 requires disclosure of those interests when a lawmaker or his or her spouse owns at least 10 percent of a business that contracts with the state. Under the law, Act 567 (HB 2662), state agencies are required to disclose any current such contracts and those entered into within the past five years.

The law hit its mark. The largest business interest that has been disclosed involves a company controlled by Senator Percy Malone, an Arkadelphia Democrat and legislator since 1995 who is president and majority stock holder of W.P. Malone, Inc., which owns Pharmacy Care of Arkansas. The firm operates as Allcare Pharmacy.

Allcare provides prescription drugs and other medical services to prisoners in the Arkansas Department of Correc-tions through a subcontract with Correctional Medical Services (CMS). Malone declined to put a monetary value on the business that Allcare does with CMS, stating such information was “proprietary.”

Malone’s company engages in a significant amount of direct business with state agencies, too. For providing prescription drugs to 4,400 Medicaid recipients, Allcare was paid $2.89 million in the last ...

Once Again, Former Florida DOC Secretary Faces Liability in Prisoner Beating; Case Settled for $400,000

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the former warden of the Florida State Prison (FSP) was not entitled to qualified immunity in a civil rights suit brought by a prisoner who alleged his beating by guards was not an isolated incident, but that ...

Out-going Kentucky Governor Issues 101 Pardons, Commutations

In December 2007, during his last hours in office, out-going Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher made state history by issuing 101 sentence commutations or pardons. While some of those acts of executive clemency appear to be meritorious, others smack of cronyism.

One of Fletcher’s commutations converted Jeffrey Devan Leonard’s death sentence to life without parole. Leonard was convicted for the 1983 murder of a store clerk. His case sparked controversy because his trial lawyer, Fred Ra-dolovich, was indicted on perjury charges for falsely claiming he had prior experience in four death penalty cases.

Radolovich actually had no experience as the lead attorney in a capital case, and his representation of Leonard was grossly deficient; he admitted he did not even know his client’s name during the trial.
Prosecutors dropped the per-jury charge in exchange for Radolovich’s law license. Leonard’s appeals were fully exhausted and he was awaiting an execution date at the time his sentence was commuted. Fletcher’s general counsel, David Fleenor, said “we’re not go-ing to execute somebody who clearly was denied a basic right.”

Nine Kentucky lawmakers wrote letters supporting the pardon application of Burgess Harrison Yonts, son of state Rep. Brent ...


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