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Articles by Derek Gilna

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 ...

Canadian Woman Wins Settlement for Death of Son Born in Jail

by Derek Gilna

Julie Bilotta obtained a settlement from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in the Canadian province of Ontario after staff took nine hours to call emergency personnel when she went into early labor. Her son, Gionni, suffered a traumatic birth in September 2012, and succumbed to chronic breathing problems around a year later. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.63].

Bilotta, who was eight months pregnant and in custody for probation violations on drug charges, began to go into labor about 11 a.m., but the nurse on duty failed to react to her pleas for help. According to Bilotta’s mother, Kim Hurtubise, “She was screaming, she was in a locked-down cell with another inmate ... inmates were saying ‘help her’ and they didn’t come into her cell until 5 p.m. The ambulance showed up an hour later and the baby was hanging by the feet,” she said.

“The baby was bruised from the waist down,” Hurtubise added. “They had to put the baby on a ventilator to breathe. They thought he was having seizures, they had to do a CT scan. My daughter had to have a blood transfusion.” Gionni’s short life was marked by a ...

Two Chicago Prisoners, Released Due to Police Misconduct, Seized by ICE

by Derek Gilna

In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes saw their confessions in a 2000 murder trial that resulted in their convictions set aside by Cook County Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish. But as soon as they were released from prison they were immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Solache, 46, and Reyes, 43, confessed to the 1998 murders of Mariano and Jacinto Soto at the couple’s home in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. The men had recently arrived from Mexico to work as laborers, living in the same apartment building as Adriana Mejia, who received a life sentence for planning the killings to kidnap the Soto’s infant daughter.

Tried separately, Solache and Reyes were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison (Solache was originally sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life without parole). The pair, who did not speak English at the time of their arrest, claimed their confessions were beaten out of them by Chicago Police Department Detective Reynaldo Guevara, a 30-year veteran.

Accused of abusing suspects and bullying witnesses in several cases, Guevara has been the subject of multiple investigations. In cases where he was questioned about ...

Washington Prisoner Has First Amendment Right to Threaten to File Suit

by Derek Gilna

In June 2012, following a dispute with officials at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), prisoner John Thomas Entler filed written complaints in which he said he would file lawsuits and seek criminal charges if his grievances were not addressed. He was then disciplined for those statements under a Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) regulation that bars prisoners from “intimidating or coercing prison staff.”

After Entler objected to what he considered unjustified deductions from his prison trust account and other issues, including the failure of a staff member to make legal copies, he filed several complaints pursuant to DOC grievance procedures. When he received a work assignment that he argued violated his religious beliefs, he again complained and threatened to file suit.

Shortly thereafter, prison officials “issued Entler a serious infraction for his July 19 letter to the Religious Programs Manager threatening to sue to protect his religious freedom ... [because] Entler’s threat to sue was intimidating and coercive in violation of [DOC] Rule 663.”

Upon being found guilty of infractions by prison staff and disciplined, Entler threatened to contact the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice, and was subjected to additional discipline. He filed ...

California Supreme Court Modifies Settlement to Revise Parole Process

by Derek Gilna

California state prisoner Roy Butler, serving an indeterminate prison term for second-degree murder, sought habeas corpus relief on December 12, 2012, contesting the California Parole Board’s process of calculating the length of his sentence. Butler and the state agreed to a settlement “requiring the [Parole] Board to calculate the ‘base terms’ of an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence for use at the inmate’s initial parole hearing.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.32].

Prior to 1977, the imposition of a statutory sentence between a minimum and maximum period of imprisonment vested absolute control over the amount of time actually served to the Parole Board, leading to often widely disparate sentences. Although such sentences were largely eliminated after that date, Butler argued that recent statutory changes required a modification of the 2013 settlement. The Court of Appeal rejected his argument and he sought review of that adverse decision.

According to the California Supreme Court, “The [2013] settlement agreement was premised on the idea that ‘base terms’ played some role – defined by statute – in determining release dates for those sentenced to indeterminate terms. Given this premise, the elimination of ‘base term’ calculations from any such role is ...

Pennsylvania: Class-action Suit Against USP Lewisburg Reinstated

by Derek Gilna

Sebastian Richardson, a former prisoner held in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, has won an important legal victory against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). In a July 15, 2016 ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s decision that denied his lawsuit class-action status after the BOP transferred him from Lewisburg to another facility.

The pro se lawsuit, previously covered in PLN, alleged violations of Richardson’s civil rights stemming from numerous incidents of violence at the high-security USP Lewisburg. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.16].

As noted by the Third Circuit, Richardson claimed that prison officials “frequently placed inmates in cells with hostile cellmates, unnecessarily increasing the risk of inmate-on-inmate violence.... He further alleges that if an inmate refused to accept a hostile cellmate, he would be placed in painful restraints as a form of punishment.... Richardson claims that he was subjected to this policy and that it violated his Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights.”

“[The prisoners] are not a threat to anyone, they’re not a danger to anyone,”
said Dave Sprout, with the Lewisburg Prison Project. “They’re just being punished for not having ...

Temple University Marks 20 Years of Transformative Inside-Out Prison Program

by Derek Gilna

In 1997, Temple University professor Lori Pompa instituted a ground-breaking program at a Philadelphia county jail known as the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings university students and prisoners together in a correctional setting to discuss criminal justice and other academic issues. From that modest start, the program has expanded to 150 jails and prisons worldwide, involving more than 30,000 participants on the inside and outside.

Temple participants gathered in October 2017 for a celebration of the program’s 20-year milestone, in events held at both the university and Graterford Prison. Professor Pompa thinks the program has had an impact in terms of educating the general public about the bloated U.S. corrections system, stating, “Our levels of incarceration have to some extent been allowed to get so out of control because the vast majority of people don’t know what’s happening. It’s how change happens in the world, it’s almost one person at a time. So we’re multiplying those persons.”

Pompas’ first job within the prison system was as a tutor at the now-closed Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia; she later taught classes about corrections, and brought students to tour the facility and interact with prisoners.

“It was very ...

Previous NY Escapee Fails to Negotiate Privileges in Exchange for Revealing Security Flaws

by Derek Gilna

New York state prisoner David Sweat became famous – or rather infamous – when he and fellow prisoner Richard W. Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York in 2015. The pair led authorities on a three-week search through the rural area, known for its dense pine forests, until Sweat was shot and recaptured, and Matt was killed. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.63; Jan. 2017, p.26; Feb. 2016, p.63].

The escape and manhunt focused unwanted attention on security shortcomings, not only at the Clinton facility but also at other state prisons as journalists probed for details. Sweat, who was already serving a life sentence, received an additional three-to-seven years for the escape.

“Who wants to spend their life in here? I didn’t do it to be famous.... I did it to get out of this madness. I wanted to start a new life,” Sweat said in a book about the incident, Wild Escape, written by Chelsia Rose Marcius and released on February 27, 2018.

Transferred to the Security Housing Unit at the Five Points Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in upstate New York, Sweat began looking for deficiencies in its ...

Federal Class-action Accuses CoreCivic of Exploiting Immigrant Detainee Labor

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action suit filed on April 17, 2018 in the Middle District of Georgia accuses private prison behemoth CoreCivic – formerly Corrections Corporation of America – of exploiting immigrant detainees who perform work in the company’s ICE detention facilities, specifically at the Stewart Detention Center in central Georgia.

The complaint alleges violations of state and federal labor laws. According to one of the attorneys representing the proposed class, Azadeh Shahshahani, legal director for Project South, “CoreCivic is exploiting the labor of detained immigrants to enrich itself. It must be stopped.”

CoreCivic, the largest private prison operator in the U.S., has been the target of numerous lawsuits in states where it maintains detention facilities for inadequate medical treatment and employee misconduct, and has been fined millions of dollars by various government agencies for contract violations. Prison Legal News has extensively covered these various scandals, which include the common threads of cutting corners and exploiting prisoners in order to increase profits.

Although legal precedent does not uniformly restrict corrections officials from compelling healthy prisoners to work, the complaint notes that the legal status of detained immigrants is different: “Immigration violations are civil violations, and immigration detention ...

Wrongfully-convicted California Prisoner Exonerated, Receives $15 Million

by Derek Gilna

How do you calculate the cost of years of your life – lost forever – when you are behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit, while knowing that those who put you there perverted the criminal justice system to do so? For Frank O’Connell of Los ...


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