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Articles by Derek Gilna

Study Examines Professional License Restrictions for Ex-offenders

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) released a study in April 2016 that cataloged the thousands of state laws and regulations which restrict or bar people with criminal records from obtaining licenses needed to work in various professions. NELP cited an American Bar Association report that identified “over 12,000 restrictions for individuals with any type of felony and over 6,000 restrictions based on misdemeanors.”

In its study, NELP noted that “because the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts people of color,” such restrictions “perpetuate racial disparities in employment.” In short, after serving their time or completing their terms of community supervision, the estimated one-third of Americans who have some form of criminal record face daunting obstacles due to “extrajudicial penalties” – including licensing limitations.

As “no national data exists as to the number of people denied licenses because of these collateral consequences,” the study compared the impact of those consequences to the barriers a convicted felon faces in getting a “callback” for a job interview. “For example, after submitting a job application, people with [criminal] records are only half as likely to get a callback as those without a record,” the study stated.

In fact, according to NELP, “No research ...

$60,000 for Nevada Prisoner Forced to Remove His Own Teeth

Michael Sanzo, formerly incarcerated at the High Desert State Prison near Indian Springs, Nevada, received a $60,000 settlement as a result of “unbearable pain” that forced him to remove six of his own teeth after he was denied timely dental care.

Sanzo, who served five years after pleading guilty ...

Medicare Penalties Await Released Prisoners Who Apply After Age 65

Add potential penalties for late Medicare registration to the list of hurdles that prisoners must clear if they are released after their 65th birthday. Medicare regulations impose a penalty of 10% per year for each year of delay after age 65, when eligible individuals can begin receiving Medicare benefits. Incarceration is not considered a valid excuse for avoiding the penalty, even though prisoners cannot receive benefits.

Generally, eligible persons are supposed to sign up for Medicare Part B during their initial enrollment period, which begins three months before they reach age 65 and ends three months after they turn 65. If they are already receiving Social Security when they turn 65, they will be enrolled in Medicare automatically.

Medicare Part A, which provides for payment of some hospital-related expenses after an enrolled individual reaches age 65, even if they are not yet eligible for Social Security, is free. Most people or their spouses paid the Medicare Part A fees as part of their withholding tax while they were employed. Medicare Part B, which covers some doctor bills and other medical expenses not covered by Part A, may be obtained when someone reaches age 65, but has a modest premium of ...

Obama Sets Record for Commutations Granted, and for Those Denied

Former President Barack Obama has been widely commended for granting a record 1,927 applications for clemency during his two terms in office from January 20, 2009 through January 19, 2017, consisting of 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons. Those figures are higher than the clemencies granted by the previous six presidents combined.

The record number of clemency applications granted by Obama, in part to address draconian federal prison sentences – including commutations for 568 prisoners serving life sentences – will perhaps be the most enduring part of his presidential legacy.

To say the announcement of Obama’s clemency initiative created excitement among the federal prison population would be an understatement. Prisoners who met the required guidelines, including having served at least ten years for non-violent offenses, submitted tens of thousands of applications. For the first time, federal prisoners could apply for commutations using the Bureau of Prisons’ computer system.

Of the 33,149 commutation and 3,395 pardon applications received during Obama’s two terms in office, 18,749 and 506 were denied, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Over 4,750 more applications were closed without presidential action. Thus, in addition to granting a record number of ...

Colorado Town to Pay $775,000 for Relying on Bogus Snitch

As a result of two federal lawsuits brought on behalf of eight plaintiffs, in October 2016 the Colorado town of Trinidad agreed to pay $775,000 to the victims of its police department’s incompetence and over-reliance on a snitch who was bent on fingering those she held vendettas against ...

Pennsylvania DOC Ordered to Evaluate Mumia Abu-Jamal for Hep C Treatment

Pennsylvania state prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, serving a life sentence for murder and diagnosed with hepatitis C, sued the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) in federal court when he was refused treatment for that life-threatening disease.

On January 3, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Robert D. Marian granted Abu-Jamal’s motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering the DOC to let a doctor examine him within 14 days regarding his suitability for hep C treatment – an order which, given his diagnosis, effectively guarantees he will eventually receive medical care. Abu-Jamal, a well-known political prisoner who was successful in having his death sentence overturned, is a Prison Legal News columnist.

Incarcerated since 1981, Abu-Jamal filed suit in September 2016 seeking medical care after he began to exhibit symptoms of hepatitis C; however, the DOC maintained that he did not qualify for treatment. The latest generation hep C drugs cost around $84,000 to $90,000 per patient. Most medical experts agree that these drugs, including Harvoni and Solvaldi, are over 90% effective at curing hepatitis C. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.22; July 2014, p.20]. Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is the DOC’s private medical services ...

Riot at Private Prison in Arizona Prompts Review, Reforms and Change in Contractor

In July 2015, the privately-run Arizona State Prison Complex at Kingman (ASP Kingman) was rocked by a protracted riot in which 16 people – both guards and prisoners – suffered injuries. Following the disturbance, the state scrapped its contract with Management & Training Corporation (MTC) and handed operation of the prison to a different contractor.

The riot caused over $2 million in damage and forced the relocation of more than 1,000 prisoners to other facilities. Further, Governor Doug Ducey ordered the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to review security procedures at five other private prisons in the state. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.63].

The resulting report by state prison officials found that a “culture of disorganization, disengagement, and disregard of ADC ... policies and fundamental inmate management and security issues” had existed at ASP Kingman prior to the disturbance, and played a substantial role in the incident. The match that apparently ignited the riot came in the form of a fight between two prisoners that MTC staff failed to control.

The 183-page ADC report found that private prisons in Arizona, managed by the GEO Group, CCA (recently rebranded as CoreCivic) and MTC, were in substantial compliance with state regulations relating to prison ...

Studies on Financing of Judicial Campaigns Indicate Need for Reform

Several recent reports have examined the impact that skyrocketing campaign spending has on state court judicial elections, and whether the infusion of cash into such races is compromising judicial impartiality and integrity.

One study, “Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-2014,” was prepared by three non-partisan organizations: Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The study noted that judges in 39 states are elected and the vast majority of legal matters are handled by state-level courts. As such, it sought to address the degree to which election funding has impacted judicial impartiality.

Speaking to the power of money in judicial elections, the report compiled spending data on every state appellate and supreme court electoral race in all 50 states, and came up with a not-so-surprising conclusion: candidates for judicial positions who spend more than their opponents win those elections over 90 percent of the time.

Another non-partisan report, “More Money, More Problems: Fleeting Victory for Diversity on the Bench,” released by the Center for American Progress (CPA) in October 2015, found much the same result, but noted that white judicial candidates had ...

PLN Exclusive! Wisconsin DOC Audit Reveals Contract Violations by Community Corrections Provider

Genesis Behavioral Services, a private company, contracts with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide community corrections services to male offenders at a facility in Kenosha – including certified substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence intervention and cognitive intervention programs. However, a recent audit spurred by complaints from a whistleblower revealed that Genesis routinely violated the terms of its contract.

According to the DOC audit, released on January 10, 2017, Genesis operates a 20-bed residential facility called Options House, which is staffed by three counselors, five resident assistants and an office assistant. Genesis entered into a new two-year contract with the DOC to provide community corrections services on May 1, 2016.

Last August the DOC received “an unsolicited ten-page spreadsheet” from a resident “regarding the lack of programming, recordings and paperwork he had prepared relating to the daily operations” at Options House. The whistleblower provided “a daily account of activities that were not in compliance with the contract program schedule” from June 20 through August 9, 2016. Deficiencies at the facility included residents watching numerous movies unrelated to the curriculum, such as Independence Day, Happy Gilmore and Hunger Games; sessions beginning late or ending early; and some sessions not being ...

Three Reports Provide Data on Prisoners Held in “Restrictive Housing”

An October 15, 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), covering the time period from 2011-12 – the most recent period for which statistics are available – indicated that on an average day, “up to 4.4 percent of state and federal inmates and 2.7 percent of jail inmates were held in administration segregation or solitary confinement.” Compiled from data taken from the National Inmate Survey, those figures were up only slightly from the prior survey, which covered 2008-09.

According to the BJS report, “nearly 20 percent of prison inmates and 18 percent of jail inmates had spent time in restrictive housing” at some point during their incarceration.

“Restrictive housing” is a term generally applied to solitary confinement and other forms of segregation that result in prisoners being held in their cells for 22-23 hours per day. The report also revealed that various categories of prisoners were much more likely than others to be confined in restrictive housing.

BJS statistician Allen J. Beck noted that “younger inmates, inmates without a high school diploma, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual inmates were more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older inmates, inmates ...


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