Skip navigation

Articles by Derek Gilna

American University Removes Statue of Imprisoned Native American Activist

by Derek Gilna

American University, a private college in Washington, D.C., bowed to pressure from a federal law enforcement group and removed a statue of Native American activist and prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of the 1975 murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Peltier, 71, a former leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has always maintained his innocence. He is considered to be a political prisoner by Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.

On December 9, 2016, an artist identified only as Rigo 23, with the permission of American University, installed a nine-foot-tall redwood statute of Peltier with a base fashioned to represent the dimensions of the prison cell in which he is confined. The artist said the statute is “a symbol of Native struggle for self-determination in North America.”

However, school officials had the statue removed in early January 2017 after receiving a letter of opposition from the FBI Agents Association.

“[T]he removal of this political work of art is an extreme and particularly shameful example of censorship of political expression. American University ...

Denver Man, Accused of Rape Due to Mishandled DNA, Has Lawsuit Dismissed

by Derek Gilna

Shawnnon Hale, 24, wrongful accused of felony rape and jailed for 61 days, was released from custody in Denver, Colorado in early 2015 when the police crime lab acknowledged it had mislabeled a DNA sample that incorrectly identified him as the perpetrator. As a result of his arrest and incarceration, Hale filed a federal civil rights suit accusing crime lab technicians Eric Duvall and Brian Pirot of “objectively unreasonable” actions.

The complaint claimed that “Defendants Duvall and Pirot engaged in their respective actions and inaction with reckless disregard and/or gross negligence,” which resulted in Hale’s “unreasonable seizure ... causing him to suffer a loss of freedom, loss of income, reputational damage and mental and emotional distress.”

Hale had steadfastly maintained his innocence both before and after his arrest for sexually assaulting a woman who had been at a party he attended in July 2014, stating he never had contact with her. “No, that’s not possible,” he said. Denver police officers had recovered a cigarette butt that allegedly contained his DNA, but it was discovered after his arrest that the DNA sample had been misidentified by the crime lab.

“The Denver Police Department is in ...

Prisoner Rights Event Prompts Florida Prison System Lockdown

by Derek Gilna

The "Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March," held in Washington, D.C. on August 19, 2017, apparently prompted a statewide lockdown by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to prevent any displays of solidarity with the free-world marchers, according to prisoners’ rights advocates. The protest in the nation’s capital called for the removal of the exception clause in the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits “slavery and involuntary servitude” except “as a punishment for crime.”

Organizers of the march argue this exception has encouraged the use of prison slave labor in the U.S. penal system and perpetuates a form of slavery. Indeed, prisoners typically are forced to work for paltry wages or no pay at all in several states.

Speakers at the D.C. march, which attracted numerous participants, noted that previous demonstrations had sparked hunger strikes and other peaceful protests within prisons, in solidarity with outside prisoner rights organizations. Florida prison officials apparently were attempting to forestall such incidents.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said this was the first time he recalled the FDOC locking down all facilities and canceling visitation for what it termed a ...

California Prison Officials Shift Responsibility for Work Injuries to Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

California state prisons are known to be dangerous and violent places, but prisoners employed in industry programs at those facilities are also at serious risk of work-related injuries, as indicated by records maintained by the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA).

According to CALPIA, there have been over 600 injuries suffered by prisoner workers since 2012, ranging from amputations, crushed fingers and eye injuries to carpel tunnel syndrome and other routine injuries and accidents. California prison officials have attempted to deflect blame for many of those incidents, characterizing the injured prisoners as careless or negligent – even though working conditions in most prisons are clearly substandard.

“In spite of training and proper safety equipment provided by CALPIA, there are times when inmates violate training protocols,” remarked CALPIA spokeswoman Michele Kane.

Workers in non-correctional settings are covered by numerous rules and regulations designed to protect them from injuries and provide reasonable financial compensation if accidents occur. The federal Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) publishes comprehensive standards for all industries to improve working conditions, but prisoners typically lack even basic protections.

Ironically, OSHA recently found that guards “at two West Virginia federal facilities still lack safety gloves to ...

HOPE and SCF Probation Programs Criticized in Study

Although incarceration levels in the U.S. have receded slightly this decade – to around 2.2 million people in 2016, according to the Prison Policy Initiative – the number of offenders on some form of probation or community supervision has increased. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 4.65 million people were on probation or parole at the end of 2015, the most recent data available.

As a result, state correctional systems are exploring new ways to reduce the costs of supervision while maintaining public safety. However, programs known as “Honest Opportunity Probation and Enforcement” (HOPE), coupled with “Swift, Certain, and Fair” (SCF) sanctions for those who violate the conditions of their supervised release, may not produce sufficient cost savings to justify the increased risk posed by releasing offenders back into the community before completing their sentences.

That was the conclusion of a field study authorized by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance and conducted by the non-profit Criminology and Public Policy organization with the assistance of the Justice Policy Institute.

The study, titled “Outcome Findings from the HOPE Demonstration Field Experiment,” covered research based on elements of HOPE and SCF programs involving more ...

BJS Studies Show Number of Prisoners, Probationers Continues to Drop Slightly

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has published three new studies based on calendar year 2015 data, with one indicating the total number of prisoners nationwide declined to the lowest level since 2005. The number of people on probation also decreased slightly, but the number of parolees and amount of bed space in local jails rose. According to the studies, the drop in the prison population was driven by an almost 7% decrease in federal prisoners.

The BJS found the “total number of prisoners under the jurisdiction of state and federal correctional authorities” was 1,526,800 at the end of 2015, a decline of 35,500 from the previous year. The prison incarceration rate dropped 3%, from 471 prisoners per 100,000 population in 2014 to 458 per 100,000 in 2015. More than half of state prisoners were incarcerated for crimes of violence whereas almost half of federal prisoners were serving time for drug offenses.

The slight decline in the number of prisoners was matched by a modest decrease of 1.5% in the number of people on community supervision, which included those on probation, parole and all other post-release supervision. Of the ...

HRDC/PLN Obtain Landmark Nationwide Censorship Settlement with Private Prison Company

by Derek Gilna

On July 24, 2017, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization and publisher of Prison Legal News, entered into a settlement with private prison firm Management and Training Corp. (MTC), which has contracts to operate detention centers nationwide. The settlement agreement resolved what HRDC argued ...

Almost 270 Die in Pre-trial Detention in Canadian Jails in Last Five Years

by Derek Gilna

According to data gathered by the Reuters news agency, which culled records from various Canadian provincial governments, almost 270 prisoners awaiting trial have died over the past five years. Apparently pretrial bail practices in our northern neighbor are in serious need of reform, according to prisoners’ rights advocates.

“Canadians are dying in prisons here in Canada on a regular basis and it gets very little attention,” said attorney Kevin Egan, who represents prisoners in a lawsuit against Ontario’s provincial prisons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s justice minister directed requests for comment to the provincial governments that supervise the facilities.

As in the U.S., Canadian prisoners who have not yet been convicted are presumed innocent. Such individuals comprise approximately 59 percent of all provincial prisoners, whereas in the United States, pretrial detainees represent only 20 percent of the total prisoner population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

The reason for this disparity is clear: Canadian Crown prosecutors have become so risk-adverse that they routinely oppose bail requests, fearing that prisoners might commit more crimes while on pretrial release. As Rick Woodburn, president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, noted, “Each time a Crown attorney releases somebody ...

Federal Court Approves Landmark BOP ADX Mental Health Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Following a two-day hearing, Colorado federal district court judge Richard P. Matsch approved a landmark settlement in December 2016 that ended a five-year class-action lawsuit over the horrendous mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners. As a result of the settlement, federal prison officials agreed to sweeping changes in ...

Ohio State Criminal Convictions Threatened by Evidence Technician’s Misconduct

by Derek Gilna

Recent court filings make it clear that G. Michele Yezzo, an evidence technician for 33 years with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), had a long history of behavioral problems that put the credibility of her findings in criminal cases in doubt.

According to the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP), the Office of the Ohio Public Defender and the Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center at Case Western Reserve University Law School, which together formed a task force, all of the cases that Yezzo worked on should be reviewed.

The groups worry that hundreds of Ohio state criminal convictions in cases in which Yezzo was involved may be tainted. In fact, one prisoner has already been freed after serving 23 years, and petitions for new trials in other cases have been filed citing irregularities in Yezzo’s lab work as well as her disturbing disciplinary record.

In one of those cases, attorneys for Kevin Keith, 53, filed a motion for a new trial in October 2016 in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas. The motion alleged the evidence that led to Keith’s arrest and conviction in a 1996 triple homicide was flawed, quoting a ...


Federal Prison Handbook



Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual



Prisoners Self Help Litigation Manual