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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

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 ...

Florida Prisoner Awarded Costs in Successful Records Request Litigation

Florida Prisoner Awarded Costs in Successful
Records Request Litigation

by David M. Reutter

Florida's First District Court of Appeals has held that a prisoner who successfully challenges a public agency's failure to produce public records is entitled to recover all reasonable costs of the litigation. Florida prisoner Dale William Weeks successfully litigated a writ of mandamus to compel the "State Attorney for the First Judicial Circuit to copy and send him certain records that he claimed were public." See: Weeks v. Golden, 764 So.2d 633 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000). Weeks then sought the reasonable costs of enforcing his public records request pursuant to § 119.12(1) Florida Statutes. The trial court denied that motion, but the First District again reversed. See: Weeks v. Golden, 798 So.2d 848 (Fla. 1st DCA 2001).

Upon remand, Weeks sought costs totaling $448.95, which included the filing, fee service of process, postage, envelopes, and copying costs pursuant to the Statewide Uniform Guidelines for Taxation of Costs in Civil Cases (SUGTCC), the trial court only awarded Meeks $140.50, which represents the cost of filing and service of process. Meeks appealed.

The First District found the SUGTCC has been interpreted to ...

Court Continues Oversight and Orders Corrections in Georgia Jail

by David M. Reutter

"The Court is totally out of patience with the assurances and promises that compliance will be achieved" with the Final Settlement Agreement signed on January 24, 2000. So said Judge Shoeb, U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia, when ordering Fulton County, Georgia, to ease overcrowding at its jail and provide adequate medical care to its pre-trial detainees. This case was brought by HIV detainees at the jail, and PLN has previously reported this litigation. See: PLN September 2000.

Despite two years elapsing since the settlement agreement was approved, the Court found the defendants were "far from compliance" in several areas. First, the Court found the Fulton County Jail exceeded its physical capacity by a significant number. The jail was originally designed for 1,332 prisoners, but before construction was completed double bunks were installed to increase capacity to 2,250. Since the settlement agreement, the jail's population hit a high of 2,544 and a low of 2,266. The significant factor in overcrowding is the detention of persons held for misdemeanor offenses.

The latest report showed 208 persons held upon misdemeanors who were not formally charged. These detainees await a formal decision ...

Florida Work Release Prisoners Ripped Off by Private Transport Company

Florida Work Release Prisoners Ripped Off
by Private Transport Company

by David M. Reutter

In response to a new law, effective Oc-tober 1, 2003, that prohibited state prisoners from driving state vehicles, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) hurriedly entered into a no bid contract with Sunshine Transportation to transport its work release prisoners to and from their employment.

FDOC's work release programs allow prisoners to work up to twelve months in the community before they are released. While in the program, prisoners live in minimum security dormitories in the community. In turn, they contribute 45% of their income to pay the FDOC for their housing costs and ten percent goes to a personal savings account to be given to them upon their release. The transportation costs charged by Sunshine Transportation were automatically deducted from whatever wages were left.

Sunshine Transportation refused to take the contract unless it was guaranteed a minimum number of prisoner passengers. The company was chosen because it was the only company that agreed to provide van service statewide. To facilitate the contract, FDOC officials sent letters to all local work release programs "encouraging" them to sign the agreement with Sunshine Transportation. Local officials then ...

Private Settlement Agreement Prohibits Award of Attorney Fees and Costs

Private Settlement Agreement Prohibits Award
of Attorney Fees and Costs

by David M. Reutter

In a case of great importance to lawyers litigating prisoner actions where private settlement agreements are a consideration, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a $379,000 award for attorney fees and costs granted after a settlement agreement was reached in litigation brought by a class of juveniles at the South Dakota State Training School at Plankinton. PLN reported the district court's order awarding fees and costs. See: Christina A.v. Bloomberg, 167 F.Supp.2d 1094 (D.S.D. 2001). [PLN January 2003].

The defendants appealed the finding that the juveniles were a prevailing party because (1) the settlement agreement changed the relationship between the parties and (2) the court retained jurisdiction in its dismissal order to enforce the agreement. The Court found the award appropriate under Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc., v. West Virginia Dept. of Health and Human Resources, 121 S.Ct. 1835 (2001).

Buckhannon held the "catalyst theory" of prevailing party status is no longer appropriate for the award of attorney fees because "[I]t allows an award where there is no judicially sanctioned change in the relationship of ...

Local Rule Cannot Justify Summary Judgment When Factual Dispute Exists

by David M.Reutter

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held the failure to file an opposing pleading, as required by local rule, in response to a motion for summary judgment is not grounds for entry of final judgment against the non-moving party when genuine disputes of material facts exist; additionally, although qualified immunity law changed, previous factual disputes in this case had not.

Andres M. Martinez alleged in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action that while at California's Calipatria State Prison excessive force was used against him by guards breaking up a fight in an adjacent cell. The facts are highly disputed by the parties.

Martinez states he and his cellmate placed a bed sheet over their cell opening to keep the noxious pepper spray guards were using out of their cell. When asked by guards to remove the sheet, they advised they would when the gas dissipated. Guards then fired two plastic bullets, one of which struck Martinez in the head, and a taser cartridge into the cell. When guards entered the cell, they pushed Martinez into a seated position, and despite his lack of resistance, tasered him twice in the left arm. Martinez was beat ...

Applicability of FTCA to BOP Causes Circuit Split

Applicability of FTCA to BOP
Causes Circuit Split

by David M. Reutter

Three recent federal circuit court rul-ings exhibit a dispute between the circuits as to whether the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) applies to property claims against the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Each of these cases, filed by federal prisoners claim the BOP is liable for its employee's acts of negligently losing or destroying a prisoner's property under the FTCA.

The FCTA "provides generally the United States shall be liable to the same extent as a private party, `for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employee.'" See: 28 U.S.C. § 1345(h). This broad waiver of sovereign immunity, however, is subject to thirteen exceptions listed in 28 U.S.C. 2680(a)_(n). At issue in the three appellate cases is the construction of the waiver that "shall not apply to&.[a]ny claims arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty or the detention of any goods or merchandise ...


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