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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Derek Gilna

Over-Incarceration a Worldwide Problem, Report Finds

by Derek Gilna

Earlier this year, London-based Penal Reform International and the Thailand Institute of Justice issued a report on incarceration worldwide that draws heavily on research funded by the United Nations.

The 60-page report not only identifies areas of concern, as well as data that explores international incarceration trends, but also includes recommendations for reforms. According to the authors, “over 10.35 million prisoners [were] living in prisons around the world in 2016, either in pre-trial detention or having been convicted and sentenced,” indicating that over-incarceration is not a practice confined to the United States.

“The growth of the world prison population has exceeded the rate of general population growth since 2000, and, in many countries, this increase has led to more overcrowded prisons,” the study states. “Data suggests that the number of prisoners exceeds official prison capacity in at least 120 countries.”

It also appears that other nations face many of the same problems that exist in the U.S., including abusive police tactics, excessive pre-trial detention, over-sentencing, over-use of life imprisonment, arbitrary imposition of the death penalty and too much emphasis on non-violent drug crimes.

Criminal justice systems examined in the report include those ...

Oklahoma County Pays $150,000 to Settle Suit Over Jail Suicide

by Derek Gilna

Nathan Daniel Bradshaw, 32, hung himself at the Tulsa County, Oklahoma jail, five days after his arrest on a bench warrant for a larceny charge, and died shortly thereafter in a Tulsa hospital. Last year, county commissioners approved a payout of $150,000 to his family in ...

Exonerated Prisoner Invests Portion of $20 Million Settlement to Start Barber School

by Derek Gilna

No one appreciates the challenges of re-entering society like a former prisoner, especially one who was wrongfully convicted.

For exonerated ex-prisoner Juan Rivera of Illinois, his experiences led him to invest some of his multi-million dollar wrongful conviction settlement into training low-income students at a barber’s school in Chicago’s South Side, according to a March 2018 news article.

Rivera was convicted three times for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl and sentenced to life, even though DNA evidence excluded him as the perpetrator. Then 19 years old with an IQ of 79, he signed a confession written by police officers after three days of questioning. Rivera’s conviction was overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court in 2011 and the charges were dismissed the following year. He was stabbed twice during the two decades he served in prison.

The number of known wrongful convictions in the United States has risen to almost 2,300, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, with most of those who have been released serving over 10 years, like Rivera and Kristine Bunch. Bunch spent 17 years in prison for the arson death of her young son before she was exonerated ...

Justice Sotomayor Slams Solitary Confinement, but Supreme Court Declines to Accept Colorado Solitary Case

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Supreme Court receives thousands of petitions for writ of certiorari from federal appellate rulings each term and denies the vast majority of those applications, generally with a one-sentence rejection.

However, the Court’s October 9, 2018 order denying the petitions of Colorado state prisoners Jonathan Apodaca, Donnie Lowe and Joshua Vigil, who challenged the Colorado DOC’s solitary confinement practices, was accompanied by a withering concurrence by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“A punishment need not leave scars to be cruel and unusual...,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, adding, “Courts and corrections officials must accordingly remain alert to the clear constitutional problems raised by keeping prisoners like Apodaca, Vigil, and Lowe in ‘near-total isolation’ from the living world ... in what comes perilously close to a penal tomb.” (citation omitted).

The consolidated cases arose from a now-discontinued practice in the Colorado DOC where prisoners held in solitary confinement were allowed just one hour of exercise a day, five days a week in a 90-square-foot room containing only a chin-up bar. That constituted their entire out-of-cell recreation for periods ranging from 11 to 25 months.

Apodaca, Vigil and Lowe filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § ...

Arkansas: $21,000 Settlement in Jail Release Debit Card Class-Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action complaint filed against the Benton County, Arkansas Sheriff’s Office and Keefe Commissary company, over the practice of issuing fee-laden debit cards to prisoners containing their release funds, has settled for just over $21,000 plus attorney fees and incentive awards.

Arrestees processed into the ...

Class-action Settlement in Mississippi “Debtors’ Prison” Case

by Derek Gilna

In April 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced a settlement in a federal class-action suit filed against the city of Corinth, Mississippi that accused the municipality and its chief Municipal Court judge, John C. Ross, of running a “modern day debtor’s prison” that discriminated against poor defendants. The comprehensive settlement effectively ends the practice of forcing indigent defendants to sit in jail due to their inability to pay fines or cash bail for minor, non-violent offenses.

According to the lawsuit, under the challenged Municipal Court practices, “A person arrested for a misdemeanor or municipal charge will not be released from jail unless they pay a monetary amount predetermined by a bail schedule and without any consideration of ability to pay. The City does not bring an arrestee before a judicial officer for an initial appearance until the next scheduled court date, which is only held once per week.”

“Thus,” the complaint continued, “[w]hen court does occur and persons are adjudicated and given a fine, they are required to pay the entire fine or make a down-payment, and if they cannot do so they again are jailed, sitting out their fine at ...

Colorado Accused of Failing to Comply with Settlement in Mental Health Care Suit

by Derek Gilna

On June 13, 2018, attorneys representing mentally ill defendants held in Colorado jails moved to reopen a 2012 class-action settlement in which the state agreed to cease “warehousing” mentally ill prisoners and provide them with timely evaluations. According to plaintiffs’ counsel, “Under the terms of [that] settlement agreement, the Department [of Human Services] is required to admit a pretrial detainee to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (“CMHIP”) within 28 days of ... admission date for an evaluation or restorative treatment and to maintain a monthly average of no more than 24 days for all pretrial detainees to be admitted to CMHIP for evaluation or treatment.”

However, over the next three years not only did the state of Colorado fail to comply with the terms of the settlement, it apparently also tried to conceal its non-compliance. “[T]he State provided Disability Law Colorado with incorrect data making it appear the State was in full compliance with the deadlines, but Disability Law Colorado uncovered that almost 80 individuals were waiting three times as long – once again in a crisis situation.”

In an attempt to remedy this failure by the state, the parties agreed in ...

Two Former Oklahoma Death Row Prisoners Obtain $3.15 Million Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Last year, Yancy L. Douglas, 43, and Paris Lapriest Powell, 44, former death row prisoners in Oklahoma, accepted a total $3.15 million settlement in their federal civil rights lawsuits brought against their prosecutor and the State of Oklahoma. Douglas and Powell were exonerated, and their wrongful ...

Arizona: Lawsuit Spurs Significant Reforms for Death Row Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

A federal lawsuit that settled in March 2017 resulted in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) drastically improving conditions of confinement for death row prisoners. Pursuant to the settlement, most of the state’s 120 condemned prisoners were moved from solitary confinement in the Browning Unit at the ...

With Help from ACLU, Parolee Wins $10,000 Settlement Plus $100,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

After serving a 16-year sentence for forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, California state prisoner Sherman D. Manning was released on parole in February 2016 under the custody of the state’s Division of Adult Parole Operations. Following months of harassment and retaliation by that agency, Manning, with ...


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