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Articles by David Reutter

DC Circuit Court: “Three Strike” Prisoners Must Show Imminent Danger to File Lawsuits

Ninth Circuit: No Summary Judgment for Prison Officials Who Allegedly Allowed Attack on Nevada Prisoner

Before the court was the appeal of Nevada prisoner Robert Wilk. He was attacked by prisoner Ysaquirle Nunley on February 11, 2014, at High Desert State Prison (HDSP). Nunley, on October 20, 2013, threatened to attack and kill Wilk, who immediately reported the threat.

HDSP’s units 7 and 8 were protective units that shared a common yard. Prisoners in the units were on different schedules to use the yard, but opportunities existed for prisoners of the two units to have contact. At the time of the threat, Wilk and Nunley were housed in Unit 7.

Wilk was placed in segregation after reporting the threat. On October 30 and again in November, he attended a classification meeting where Warden Dwight Neven, Associate Warden Jennifer Nash, and caseworker Cary Leavitt were either present or represented. Wilk was informed Nunley would be placed on his “enemy list” and told he was still in disciplinary segregation. Based on that, Wilk agreed to move to ...

Lives at Stake as Pennsylvania County De-privatizes Prison

Since it was built in 1996 – by Wackenhut Corrections Corp., which became GEO Group in 2004 – GWH has been privately managed. Providing the first private prison in Pennsylvania, the firm bragged of saving taxpayers $30 million in construction costs while providing services on par with those in publicly operated prisons. Instead, problems and scandal have plagued GWH.

During a six-year stretch under GEO Group’s management from 2002 to 2008, 12 prisoners died, spawning a number of wrongful death lawsuits that claimed rampant understaffing had created a dangerous environment for prisoners and guards. In 2008, Community Education Centers (CEC) took over the GWH contract.

“CEC was OK,” said a guard who requested anonymity out of fear of losing his job if he spoke openly. “They didn’t want to pay overtime, so ...

Eleventh Circuit Vacates COVID-19 Injunction Against Miami Jail

That was the June 15, 2020, finding by the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which vacated a preliminary injunction requiring officials at Miami’s Metro West Detention Center (Metro West), the largest jail in Florida and one of three jails run by Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitations Department (MDCRD), to employ numerous safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

PLN previously reported on a U.S. District Court’s grant of the preliminary injunction, as well as the Eleventh Circuit’s May 5, 2020, stay of that order. [See PLN, June 2020, page 28]. That stay was set to expire June 15, 2020, the same day the Eleventh Circuit issued its ruling.

On June 16, 2020, MDCRD reported that 592 prisoners and 123 employees at Metro West had tested positive for COVID-19. One inmate had died and 30 remained in medical isolation, while 82 employees had returned to work.

That was four days after ...

Fourth Circuit: Opening of Detainee’s Legal Mail Outside His Presence Violates Right to Free Speech

Before the court was an appeal brought by Grant Haze. Haze alleged that while awaiting trial from July 2011 to September 2013 at the Wake County Public Safety Center and the Wake County Detention Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, the defendants interfered with his legal mail on at least 15 occasions. His civil rights complaint alleged violations of the First, Fourth, and Sixth Amendments.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. It found that the defendants acted only negligently on the free speech claim, that Haze failed to show injury to support the access to courts claim, and that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) barred the Fourth and Sixth Amendment claims.

On appeal, Haze’s principal contention was that the defendants violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The Fourth Circuit recognized that opening a person’s legal mail outside of their ...

DOJ Finds Frequent Use of Excessive Force in Alabama Prisons

The DOJ’s July 23, 2020, report is the second one it has issued that found systematic constitutional violations exist in ADOC prisons. In April 2019, the DOJ issued notice that it had reason to believe that ADOC violates prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights by “failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe and sanitary conditions.” That report found the “serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision, and overcrowding, contribute to and exacerbate these constitutional violations.” [See PLN, September 2019, p. 44.]

DOJ’s latest investigation was extensive. It interviewed 55 staff members and 270 prisoners during on-site visits at four prisons, conducted over 800 telephone interviews with prisoners and family members, and received and reviewed over 400 letters from prisoners. It also received hundreds of emails from prisoners and family members.

ADOC houses about 16,600 prisoners at 13 prisons. The report “identified frequent uses of excessive force ...

Denial of Recruitment of Counsel for Wisconsin Prisoner Affirmed by Seventh Circuit

This was the second appeal brought by Wisconsin prisoner Randy McCaa. His civil rights action alleged that the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his threats to commit suicide or harm himself in other ways. The first appeal came after the district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

The Seventh Circuit found the district court’s denial of McCaa’s fourth motion for recruitment failed to sufficiently address McCaa’s ability to present his case himself. It remanded for reconsideration of the recruitment of counsel, but it did not require such appointment. [See PLN, December 2018, p.56.]

On remand, the district court again denied McCaa’s motion to recruit counsel. In this second appeal, McCaa asserted the district refused to comply with the Seventh Circuit’s mandate. The Seventh Circuit disagreed.

It noted that on remand the district court “took a fresh look at the issue” and reached the same conclusion in “a detailed and persuasive opinion” that explained why the court believed “this was not an appropriate case for attempting recruitment of counsel.”

Two reasons were given for that ...

Third Circuit: District Court Erred in Ruling Against Pennsylvania Prisoner’s Civil Rights Complaint

Prisoner Casey Dooley, pro se, filed a civil rights action in state court that the defendants removed to federal court. His complaint alleged an Eighth Amendment violation resulted from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (PDOC) refusal to assign him the mental health classification associated with the greatest mental health resources.

Dooley argued that because the jury found him guilty but mentally ill (GBMI), he should be designated as a D Stability Code under PDOC’s regulations. Under that regulation, prisoners who have been found GBMI are to be assigned the D Stability Code. During the grievance process, PDOC officials denied relief because the trial court documents allegedly no longer identified him as GMBI. They argued the judge determined after an evaluation that Dooley was not GMBI. Dooley countered that the sentencing court noted he “needs some psychiatric assistance.”

In his complaint, Dooley alleged the failure to designate him as D Stability Code caused him to “suffer” agonizing mental health pain and trauma and serious depression, ...

New Jersey Guard Acquitted in Sex Scandal

The March 13, 2020, verdict by a Hunterdon County Superior Court jury resolves all of the criminal charges against Ambroise. He was charged in two other cases alleging he sexually assaulted prisoners. Prosecutors dropped charges in one case against Ambroise, 36, and in November 2018 a jury acquitted Ambroise in the second case.

The latest acquittal came in a case alleging Ambroise allowed two female prisoners into an area of the prison where guard Ronald Coleman allegedly sexually assaulted them. Coleman, 40, was scheduled to go to trial in May 2020 on charges that he sexually assaulted two women prisoners on separate occasions in 2015 and 2016.

Ambroise is the only guard to be acquitted in a sexual abuse scandal at the prison. It was uncovered as the result of a 2017 NJ Advance Media investigation that found a pattern of sexual exploitation and assault at the prison. Guards Thomas Seguine, Ahnwar Dixon, Joel Herscap, and ...

$225,000 Windfall in Lehigh County, Pa. But Officials Don’t Cut Jail Phone Costs

Pinsley’s March 5, 2020, letter noted that research shows “that contact with families during incarceration is closely associated with a more successful reentry and a reduction in reoffending.” He noted that prisoners face “enormous social and economic challenges resulting from their time behind bars.”

Pinsley recommended “the county use these funds to either reduce the cost of calls or provide additional assistance.” The county also could “invest in preventive measures that reduce the likelihood of incarceration and violence in our communities. The scourge of violence, particularly which afflicts our inner-city communities has had a devastating impact on families and neighborhoods,” he wrote.

County Executive Phillips Armstrong and Director of General Services Rick Molchany said revenue the jail generates goes back into its operations. They also noted, without providing details, that they had bolstered efforts to reduce recidivism. Under the new contract, jail detainees still pay the same amount for calls. The cost ranges from 21 cents to 25 cents ...