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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Derek Gilna

Lawsuit Filed in Death of Kentucky Prisoner Held in Five-point Restraints

by Derek Gilna

A wrongful death suit has been filed in state court in Oldham County, Kentucky by the family of 30-year-old Steven Lee McStoots, who died of suffocation when he was strapped face-down on a mattress in five-point restraints at the Kentucky State Reformatory. McStoots had been forcefully removed from his cell after refusing to take medication; his hands were cuffed behind his back and his ankles shackled to a bed by at least four prison guards.

According to Sam Carl, the family’s attorney, McStoots’ January 16, 2013 death resulted from the use of what he claimed was an outdated and inappropriate restraint technique. Prison officials, however, argued that the mentally-ill McStoots was agitated and in danger of harming himself when he was placed in restraints.

Carl disagreed that McStoots posed a threat. “He had settled down and was not a danger to himself or others at the time he was carried into the cell where he died,” Carl stated. “I don’t know that I’ve seen a case where a person has died on videotape under questionable circumstances and use of restraints [that are] sometimes characterized as cruel and outdated.”

Five-point restraints involve a person being tied ...

Troubles at California Jail Lead Sheriff to Forgo Reelection

by Derek Gilna

Orange County, California’s jail system has been a hotbed of abuses for many years, accumulating a reputation for lawlessness on the part of prisoners and staff members alike. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.28; Jan. 2016, p.29]. The inability of the current Sheriff-Coroner, Sandra Hutchens, to resolve problems at the county’s jails has apparently resulted in her unexpected decision to retire at the end of her term and not seek reelection.

That decision was announced in June 2017, hours after the release of a 108-page report that highlighted unsafe jail conditions and an epidemic of misconduct by staff during Hutchens’ tenure.

According to the ACLU of Southern California, which published the report, “Orange County has the second-largest jail system in California, with an average daily population of approximately 6,000 incarcerated individuals and roughly 64,000 annual bookings. In 2009, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) operated the ninth-largest jail system in the United States.”

The ACLU interviewed over 120 current and former prisoners using written questionnaires and personal interviews. Their findings revealed that “OCSD deputies use force [against prisoners] that is not proportionate to the threat presented in cases where infractions do occur or ...

Wisconsin Paid Former Prison Employees $105,000 to Settle Harassment Cases

by Derek Gilna

Last year, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) paid $105,000 to settle a pair of federal civil rights lawsuits filed by two former employees. Both of the women claimed they were fired in retaliation for their testimony alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor at a state ...

ACLU Reaches Confidential Settlement in CIA Detainee Torture Lawsuit

by Derek Gilna

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) entered into a confidential settlement with the CIA over “a torture program” designed and used against military detainees by two contractors, psychologists James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in October 2015, claimed the defendants created “a torture program with a scientific veneer” – including “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding, a practice now banned by the CIA.

Plaintiffs Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud argued they suffered “lasting psychological and physical damage from this torture,” to which a third detainee, Gul Rahman, also was subjected before he died. Rahman’s estate was a party to the lawsuit and settlement.

According to the complaint, the three detainees “were subjected to solitary confinement, extreme darkness, cold, and noise; repeated beatings; starvation; excruciatingly painful stress positions; prolonged sleep deprivation; confinement in coffin-like boxes; and water torture.”

The ACLU noted that “all three [plaintiffs] were kidnapped by the CIA, and tortured and experimented upon according to Mitchell and Jessen’s protocols,” and that Rahman had “died as a result of his torture.”

The settlement ...

Exonerated Prisoner Awarded $15 Million for Misconduct by Baltimore Police

by Derek Gilna

On October 5, 1994, Sabein Burgess’ life changed forever when his girlfriend, Michelle Dyson, was brutally murdered at her home in Baltimore, Maryland. Burgess discovered his girlfriend’s body, called for help and then returned to cradle Dyson’s head in his hands until police officers arrived. As horrible ...

Settlement in Class-action ADA Suit Against Shasta County, California Jail

by Derek Gilna

Everett Joseph Jewett, a disabled prisoner held in the medical unit at a jail in Shasta County, California, filed suit in federal court in 2013 alleging the facility had failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. After five years of intense discovery and motion practice, and the filing of five amended complaints, the parties finally agreed to settle the case pending final approval by the district court.

Jewett’s original complaint alleged that the Shasta County jail was in violation of the ADA because it did not have a solitary confinement unit for disabled prisoners, who were instead classified as being held in administrative segregation; because detainees with disabilities were not housed in “the most integrated setting appropriate to [their] needs”; and because disabled prisoners were held in medical areas when they were not “actually receiving medical care or treatment.”

According to Jewett, those failures to adhere to the ADA unfairly penalized a dozen disabled detainees at the jail, who were unable to participate in programs offered to non-disabled prisoners in the general publication.

Jewett also sued the jail’s private health care provider, the California Forensic ...

U.S. Supreme Court: Prevailing Prisoners Must Pay 25 Percent of Damage Awards Towards Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

On February 21, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a 5-4 decision, that when a prisoner wins a monetary judgment in a federal lawsuit and is entitled to attorney fees as the prevailing party, he or she is obligated to pay the first 25 percent of those fees from any damages awarded.

At issue in the case was the interpretation of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2), which states: “[A] portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant. If the award of attorney’s fees is not greater than 150 percent of the judgment, the excess shall be paid by the defendant.”

The Supreme Court held that that statutory provision, included as part of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, “pretty clearly tells us that the prisoner has to pay some part of the attorney’s fee award before financial responsi­bility shifts to the defendant. But how much is enough? Does the first sentence allow the district court discretion to take any amount it wishes from the plaintiff’s judgment to pay the attorney, from 25% down to a ...

Supreme Court Reverses Ninth Circuit Ruling Banning Pretrial Full-body Shackling

by Derek Gilna

In an opinion issued May 14, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that banned the full-body shackling of pretrial detainees, based on the issue of mootness. The decision, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, noted that the “question presented is whether the appeals were saved from mootness either because the defendants sought ‘class-like relief’ in a ‘functional class action,’ or because the challenged practice was ‘capable of repetition, yet evading review.’”

Since 2013, federal criminal defendants in San Diego, California, including pretrial detainees who are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, have been subjected to full-body shackles in non-jury proceedings. The restraints involve “a defendant’s hands [being] closely handcuffed to­gether, these handcuffs are connected by chain to another chain running around the defendant’s waist, and the defendant’s feet are shackled and chained together.”

The Supreme Court noted that all the plaintiffs in the case had already pleaded guilty, and rejected the Ninth Circuit’s argument that “class-like relief measures” did not prevent mootness of their claims. “The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure establish for criminal cases no vehicle comparable to the [Fair Labor Standards ...

Human Rights Defense Center Files Censorship Suit Against Illinois DOC

by Derek Gilna

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, filed suit in federal court in Chicago on February 13, 2018, arguing the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) had censored or refused to deliver its publications sent to state prisoners in violation of its rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. A motion for a preliminary injunction was filed in conjunction with the complaint.

The defendants in the case include IDOC director John Baldwin and the wardens of all IDOC facilities; the suit alleges that “certain prisons within the state of Illinois have withheld all or part of issues of Prison Legal News, as well as books published and/or distributed by HRDC.”

One of the attorneys representing HRDC, Alan S. Mills with the Uptown People’s Law Center, said the IDOC often fails to deliver the publications and then does not explain the reason for the non-delivery. “They check off the little box sometimes, which says ‘security,’ but that’s all they say. So there’s no way for us to know which articles they think are a ...

British Columbia Supreme Court Sweeps Aside Solitary Confinement in Province

by Derek Gilna

A Justice of the British Columbia, Canada Supreme Court has effectively gutted the province's solitary confinement policy as violative of prisoners’ human rights. Portions of the court's order were stayed for one year to give the province's department of corrections time to make the required changes. The court also found that the plaintiffs were entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs, although the amount had yet to be determined.

            In its sweeping order, authored by Justice Leask, the court found that "administrative segregation ... is a form of solitary confinement that places all Canadian federal inmates subject to it at significant risk of serious psychological harm, including mental pain and suffering, and increased incidence of self-harm and suicide. Some of the specific harms include anxiety, withdrawal, hypersensitivity, cognitive dysfunction, hallucinations, loss of control, irritability, aggression, rage, paranoia, hopelessness, a sense of impending emotional breakdown, self-mutilation, and suicidal ideation and behaviour."

            "The risks of these harms are intensified in the case of mentally ill inmates. However, all inmates subject to segregation are subject to the risk of harm to some degree," the court continued. "The indeterminacy of administrative segregation is a particularly problematic feature that ...


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