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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Qualified Immunity Denied to Supervising Driver's License Examiner in Oklahoma Prisoner's Rape

by David M. Reutter

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a state driver's license examiner who exercised supervisory control over a prisoner acted as a state actor and can be held liable for raping her. Pamela Smith, a former prisoner of Oklahoma's Tulsa Community Correction Center (TCCC), brought this action. TCCC prisoners are required to participate in the prisoners' works program. Smith was assigned to perform janitorial services at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) at the Tulsa Northside Center.

TCCC trained two DPS employees, Ed Spencer and defendant Don Cochran, in the supervision of prisoners. Spencer would pick Smith up at TCCC each work day and return her to TCCC. While Spencer was the supervisor of two DPS Centers, Cochran normally supervised Northside. So, supervision of Smith was Cochran's responsibility.

DPS was allowed to use TCCC prisoners to perform DPS work, but TCCC retained "full jurisdiction and authority over discipline and control of prisoners." Prisoners were prohibited from using alcohol or drugs, engaging in sex, receiving visitors, using the telephone, or leaving the DPS facility except to return to TCCC. Any violation was to be reported by the supervisor to TCCC.

During ...

Public and Press Have First Amendment Right to Access Court Docket Sheets

by David M. Reutter

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the public and press enjoy a qualified First Amendment right of access to court docket sheets. This case was filed by the Hartford Courant and The Connecticut Law Tribune, challenging the Connecticut state court system's practice of sealing cases and hiding their existence from the public and press. PLN previously reported the filing of this action. [PLN, December 2003, pg. 1].

Between 2002 and 2003, the newspapers learned that, over the prior 38 years, the Connecticut state court system had adjudicated what appeared to be thousands of cases where sealing procedures prohibited court personnel from allowing the public to access the files in those proceedings and, in certain comparatively rare instances, from acknowledging the existence of these case altogether.

Some of the cases were sealed pursuant to a variety of statutory authorizations, including those directed at protecting juvenile offenders or involving bar grievance procedures. On February 9, 2003, The Hartford Courant published an account that insinuated that judges selectively sealed divorce, paternity, and other cases involving fellow judges, celebrities and wealthy CEOs at the behest of these prominent individuals.

The Connecticut General Assembly began an investigation ...

Exculpatory Evidence Must Be Disclosed at Prison Disciplinary Hearing

Exculpatory Evidence Must be Disclosed at Prison Disciplinary Hearing

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner is entitled to receive exculpatory evidence in a prison disciplinary hearing when a liberty interest is implicated. This habeas corpus proceeding was brought by Clyde Piggie, a prisoner at Indiana's Maximum Control Facility. After the district court denied the petition, Piggie appealed.

Piggie sought relief from three convictions of insubordination by the prison's disciplinary team. On two consecutive days, Piggie refused to obey an order by defying an order to cuff up and return his food tray. On the second day, Piggie was also charged with battery for pushing a guard during a cell extraction. Piggie was found guilty of all charges. A loss of telephone and recreation privileges for 60 days was imposed on the two refusing to obey charges; the battery conviction resulted in loss of 180 days good time credits and demotion in his good time earning class.

The district court held the loss of privileges did not implicate a liberty interest protected by due process, and Piggie received all process due on the battery charge. On appeal, Piggie challenged only ...

Private Capitol Punishment: The Florida Model

by Ken Kopczynski, 111 pp. 2004, Authorhouse, softbound

Reviewed by David M. Reutter

As the prison industrial complex has expanded, the privatization of prisons has increased. The pages of PLN have chronicled the mental and physical abuse, as well as medical neglect, suffered by those warehoused in privatized prisons. Private Capitol Punishment: The Florida Model provides a view of the other side of the coin: It details the escapades of officials employed by the State of Florida to oversee and monitor the state's private prisons.

Private Capitol Punishment is the true story of Ken Kopczynski's experiences in exposing the corruption and politics of Florida's private prison industry. While the officials Kopczynski exposed oversaw Florida's private prisons, he uncovered that they were players profiting from the worldwide push to privatize prisons.

The author, Ken Kopczynski, is a Legislative and Political Affairs Assistant for the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FPBA), the union which represents guards working for the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). He also is the Executive Director of the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), established to educate the public about the for-profit private prison industry ( All profits from Private Capitol Punishment go to PCI ...

Vermont Auditor's Report Blasts CCA and CMS

by David M. Reutter

The Keys to Success report issued by the Vermont State Auditor on May 26, 2004, concludes the Vermont Department of Corrections' (VDOC) "failure to monitor its contracts with private companies and individuals has resulted in significant financial impacts, services that were paid for and not received, and, in some cases, serious reports of poor living conditions, substandard medical and dental care, and inadequate programming" for prisoners.

The October 7, 2003, suicide death of PLN contributing writer James Quigley at Vermont's Northwest State Correctional Facility erupted a firestorm of criticism that has caused a torrent of attention to be beamed on all aspects of VDOC. In March 2004, two New England lawyers, at the State's behest, issued an investigative report into the deaths of seven Vermont prisoners. [PLN, Sep. 2004]. The Auditor's review of VDOC contracts was requested by a number of legislators, prisoners, prisoner rights advocates, and the Vermont State Employees Association.

Since 2000, VDOC has entered into more than 100 contracts at a cost of more than $50 million to provide a wide variety of services to prisoners, from substance abuse counseling and having medical and mental health treatment. This is not ...

"Therapeutic Seclusion" of Civilly Committed Sex Offenders Contrary to Professional Judgment

"Therapeutic Seclusion" of Civilly Committed Sex Offenders Contrary to Professional Judgment

by David M. Reutter

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that civilly committed sex offenders are entitled, as a matter of due process, to the exercise of professional judgment as to the needs of residents, and fact issues exist in this case of whether the use of seclusion could be justified on either security or treatment grounds. This action was filed by an unspecified number of Wisconsin civilly committed sex offenders, who are being held for an indeterminate time beyond their prison sentence. They are nominally considered mental patients. Their claims arise from events while they were held at the Wisconsin Resource Center. In June 2001, the plaintiffs were moved to the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center, so this action proceeded for monetary damages only.

Individual treatment plans used at the Resource Center contemplated the possibility that misconduct would lead to what the state calls "therapeutic seclusion": placement in a cell that contains only a concrete platform (which serves as a bed), a toilet, and a sink. Residents in seclusion often were deprived of clothing and other amenities. They were only allowed out of their cell for ...

Florida's $4 Administrative Processing Fee for Prisoner Banking Fees Challenged

by David M. Reutter

A class action suit filed in Florida's Leon County Circuit Court challenges a new law enacted by the Florida Legislature in its 2004 session. That Legislature amended § 944.516, Florida statutes, to add subpart (1)(h), effective July 1, 2004. The new law allows the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to charge an "administrative processing fee" of up to $6 each month to prisoners for "banking services."

The FDOC decided in July 2004 that it would charge each prisoner $4, to be deducted from each prisoner's account on the last business day of the month. The new law requires FDOC to place a lien on the prisoner's account if no funds are available.

FDOC prisoners are prohibited from possessing cash. To allow prisoners to purchase items at the prison canteen, including writing materials, stamps, radios, food, personal hygiene items, and other items not provided by FDOC, each prisoner has an "inmate account." That account is controlled by the FDOC and is accessible to purchase canteen items by the prisoner using an identification card with a bar code to be scanned by the canteen operator to access the prisoner's account. Prisoners may also ...

PLRA Fee Cap Upheld, Applied to Parole Case; Allows Fees-on-Fee Award

The Eleventh Circuit Court held the attorney fee cap of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies to parole cases and is constitutional and allows a fees-on-fees award. Georgia prisoner Coleman Jackson filed a joint motion for habeas corpus and complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Jackson alleged the ...

Class Action Challenges Treatment of Florida's "Sexual Predator" Civil Detainees

by David M. Reutter

A federal class action has been filed in the Federal District Court in Ft. Myers by eight residents of the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC), seeking to enforce their rights to mental health services and treatment under the United States Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act. FCCC is a state institution that indefinitely holds sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences, but purportedly require additional treatment to keep them from re-offending.

While it is deemed a civil treatment facility, FCCC is located inside the barbed wire fences of a former state prison in Arcadia, Florida. It is the only facility in Florida designated to house and provide treatment services for men confined under Florida's Sexually Violent Predator Act.

Florida Statute §§ 394-910-394.931 provides for Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) to involuntarily detain and civilly commit persons judicially determined to be a "sexually violent predator." To be confined under the Act, an individual must be found to have a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for long-term control, care, and treatment.

Once committed ...

Settlement Brings Alabama DOC's Diabetic Treatment into 21st Century

by David M. Reutter

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed on January 15, 2004, to settle a lawsuit brought by diabetic prisoners by upgrading their medical care. The agreement sets a precedent for management and care of diabetic prisoners that is a first in the nation.

An investigation in 2003 by the Southern Poverty Law Center's legal team revealed a shocking lack of basic care for diabetic prisoners within the ADOC. One diabetic had a series of seizure-like convulsions, but had never been evaluated by a prison doctor to determine the best way to control his blood sugar.

Prior to the lawsuit, an ADOC medical contractor failed to promptly diagnose prisoner with diabetes, adequately monitor blood sugar levels, treat injuries or infections, or administer necessary tests to evaluate whether the disease was causing other problems. That medical contractor, NaphCare, Inc., has since had its contract terminated. NaphCare's shameful history and treatment of ADOC prisoners was the subject of a PLN cover story. [PLN October 2003].

Due to this lack of care, some prisoners had toes amputated and experienced loss of vision and other serious injuries. They were also at a greater risk for kidney failure, heart attack ...


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