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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

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 ...

Report Faults Vermont Policies in Prisoner Deaths; Retaliation Precedes PLN Writer's Suicide

by David M. Reutter

An independent investigation into the deaths of seven prisoners concludes that Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC) policies were partly to blame for some of the deaths. The deaths occurred between November 25, 2002, and October 7, 2003. After the suicide death of PLN contributing writer James Quigley, the Vermont Agency of Human Services retained Michael Marks, a Vermont lawyer, and Philip McLaughlin, a former New Hampshire attorney general, to address the issues those deaths appeared to implicate. Those issues included the provision of medical service, mental health service, and the grievance process.

The VDOC can accommodate up to 1,000 prisoners, but is expected to reach 1,900 in the next three years. Some 500 Vermont prisoners are currently housed in a Corrections Corporation of America prison in Kentucky. The report found the VDOC system is rife with communication problems and is under "tremendous stress" from budget cuts and the increased population. The report examined in great depth the circumstances of each prisoner's death and the conclusions to be drawn from those facts. Recommendations for change were included for administrative and legislative action.


The bulk of the investigative report addressed the events that ...

Manipulation of Crime Statistics and Use of Tax Dollars for Campaigning Revealed

by David M. Reutter

The public entrusts its law enforcement officials to protect it from crime and to use the tax dollars it provides to fulfill that duty. The manipulation of that trust has come to light. An Atlanta audit reveals that police officers caused more than 22,000 crime reports to disappear. An investigation in Tacoma County, Washington, is underway to determine if the county illegally used public tax dollars to promote a sales tax ballot initiative for more criminal justice measures.

The Tacoma investigation revolves around Proposition 1 on the November 2003 ballot. The measure sought three_tenths of 1 percent in the sales tax to pay for more cops, prison guards, prosecutors, and judges.

The investigation was launched by the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) after three citizens filed complaints alleging the County used $60,000 in tax dollars to send flyers to likely voters and to campaign for the proposition. The campaign included creating programs addressing the proposition on the County's government cable channel, KRCC. Despite the County's effort, Proposition 1 failed when 59 percent of voters rejected it.

The Atlanta audit shocked many civilians, but law enforcement officials were not surprised. "It's been a ...

Florida's Felon Disenfranchisement Law Under Spotlight

by David M. Reutter

Since the 2000 presidential election, Florida's voting laws have been under scrutiny. One of the issues being debated is Florida's constitutional provision that permanently disenfranchises felons.

When Florida gave blacks the right to vote as a condition of the state being readmitted to the Union after the Civil War, the 1868 State Constitution expanded the number of crimes that required disenfranchisement.

Before the 2000 election, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the disenfranchisement law. The suit contends that, despite inclusion in the State's 1868 Constitution, the ban has a discriminatory intent to affect blacks. Another lawsuit filed by the Florida Conference of Black Legislators led to a court orders requiring the Florida Department of Corrections to assist 125,000 felons, who had finished their sentences, apply for their voting rights. [Editor's Note: In mid July, 2004, a state appeals court reinstated portions of the suit. PLN will report he ruling in an upcoming issue.]

A 2001 report by a University of Minnesota sociologist counted more than 600,000 disenfranchised felons in Florida, not including those still in prison, on probation, or on parole ...

Court Vacates Connecticut Jury Award of $30,000 for Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

by David M. Reutter

A Connecticut federal district court vacated a jury award of $30,000 because the prisoner plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Connecticut prisoner Lori Hock sued guard Paul Thipedeau for violating her Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

By sending letters ...


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