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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Derek Gilna

ACLU Sounds Alarm: LA Council Free Speech Restrictions

by Derek Gilna

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees free speech to all Americans, but apparently the Los Angeles, California City Council and the Los Angeles Police Department(LAPD) feel that their compliance with that core citizen protection is optional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California has reported that the LAPD has been detaining and arresting its citizens who speak more than 20 seconds overtime at L.A. city council hearings, in probable violation of the First Amendment.

On October 25, 2017,  the council introduced an ordinance that appears to be aimed especially at those individuals at public meetings who voice criticisms against the LAPD for its policies and practices, making that "an arrestable offense to violate any posted rules of public facilities." This proposed ordinance would apparently give the LAPD the authority to arrest its own critics at public meetings and charge them with trespassing, chilling criticism and violating First Amendment rights of expression.

In response, the ACLU has started a petition objecting to the proposed ordinance, and according to Melanie Ochoa, ACLU Southern California staff attorney. who posted a letter to both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles city ...

$27,000 Settles California Prisoner Pro Se Civil Rights Suit

by Derek Gilna

California state prisoner Ronald Martinez filed suit in 2011, asserting that his Eighth Amendment rights had been violated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). He eventually obtained a $27,000 settlement from the state, which was finalized in January 2017.

The settlement was remarkable ...

Despite AG’s Policy Change, OIG Reviews “Smart on Crime” Initiative

by Derek Gilna

In June 2017, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. Smart on Crime, instituted in 2013 under Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, “encouraged federal prosecutors to focus on the most serious cases that implicate clear, substantial federal interests” and to avoid over-charging low-level drug offenders, according to the report.

However, current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the initiative in a May 10, 2017 memo that undercut its central theme. He ordered federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials to disregard direction from the Obama administration and pursue charges that typically result in mandatory minimums.

“Prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Sessions wrote. “The most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

When it attempted to study the impact of the Smart on Crime initiative, the OIG discovered that its ability to do so was “limited because [prosecutors] do not consistently collect data on charging decisions ... [and in] the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices’ case management system, [which] allows federal prosecutors generally to track information about their cases, data fields relevant ...

Settlements in Arizona DOC, BOP Lawsuits Over Release Debit Card Fees

by Derek Gilna

The parties in a class-action suit filed in federal district court, which alleged Bank of America (BOA) charged excessive fees for debit cards given to Arizona state prisoners upon their release, reached a preliminary settlement in April 2017. Prisoner advocacy groups had argued that BOA deducted fees from the debit cards that prisoners received when they were released, which contained their own funds, each time they tried to withdraw money or check the card balance.

“Under a program for Arizona’s Department of Corrections, the State of Arizona provides recently released inmates with a prepaid card (‘BofA CashPay card’) containing funds issued by BofA (‘DOC Program Prepaid Cards’),” a statement announcing the settlement said.

The fees were not charged to regular BOA bank customers, and groups like Arizona Justice Alliance and Reinventing Reentry complained, stating the fees were exploiting released prisoners.

Prison Legal News has previously covered exploitive release debit cards and the mutually-beneficial contractual arrangements between the banks that issue them and corrections officials. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.38].

BOA’s contract with the Arizona DOC commenced in 2012, and since then the bank had collected $168,000 in fees – all of which will be ...

Ninth Circuit Blocks Deportation of ICE Detainee Who Received $125,000 for County Jail Rape

by Derek Gilna

In August 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the deportation of Audemio Orozco-Ramirez, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2013, confined at the Jefferson County jail in Montana and held pending a civil removal order. While incarcerated ...

Report Critical of BOP’s Solitary Confinement Policy for Mentally Ill Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report highly critical of the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) policy of confining mentally ill prisoners in Restrictive Housing Units (RHUs). The report detailed not only the failure of the BOP to properly treat prisoners with mental health conditions, but also its apparent inability to even determine which offenders are mentally ill.

According to the Marshall Project, an independent criminal justice news agency, “Even at a most basic level, the [BOP] does not seem to know how much of its population is in need of mental treatment.... The bureau has released various estimates that can be contradicted just months later by its own staff.”

As noted by the OIG, “As of June 2016, of the 148,227 sentenced inmates in the BOP’s 122 institutions, 9,749 inmates (7 percent) were housed in its three largest forms of RHU: Special Housing Units (SHU) in 111 institutions; 2 Special Management Units (SMU) at the U.S. Penitentiaries (USP) in Lewisburg and Allenwood, Pennsylvania; and the USP Administrative Maximum Security Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado.”

Also confounding attempts to analyze the BOP’s ...

Prison Policy Initiative Report Addresses Jail Populations

by Derek Gilna

The non-profit, Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) published a report on May 31, 2017 that argued local jails, which hold “one of every three people behind bars” in the United States, have for too long been ignored by state policymakers. “Jails may be locally controlled, but jail practices reflect state priorities and change state-wide outcomes,” the report said.

The number of individuals held in local jails is staggering: In addition to the 1.6 million people incarcerated in federal and state prisons, 646,000 are locked up in more than 3,100 jails throughout the U.S.

Adding to the human tragedy of this excessive confinement, over two out of three jail prisoners are pretrial detainees who have not been convicted of a crime and are thus presumed innocent. Unfortunately, the use of money bail in our criminal justice system inflates jail populations unnecessarily, as indigent defendants are unable to post bonds to secure their release. It comes as no surprise that local jails are filled with people who are mostly poor.

As noted in the PPI report, “65% of the jail population meets medical standards for having a diagnosable substance abuse disorder; 15.3% of ...

Texas: Federal Court Grants Injunction Against Discriminatory Money Bail System

by Derek Gilna

U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, of the Eastern District of Texas, issued a 193-page opinion on April 28, 2017 that effectively gutted what she termed a “discriminatory money bail system” in Harris County, which includes Houston.

PLN has long covered problems with the money bail industry, in which a defendant’s release from jail before trial is conditioned on their financial resources. [See, e.g.: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.38; Aug. 2016, p.36; Nov. 2012, p.1; Sept. 2012, p.36].

On June 6, 2017, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused to halt implementation of Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas declined to issue a stay the same day.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit heard arguments and officially declined to overrule the lower court on October 3, 2017 – leaving Judge Rosenthal’s order intact.

“This case requires the court to decide the constitutionality of a bail system that detains 40 percent of all those arrested only on misdemeanor charges,” Judge Rosenthal’s opinion began, “many of whom are indigent and cannot pay the amount needed for release on secured money bail.”

Finding ...

New FAMM Report Offers Solutions for BOP Recidivism

by Derek Gilna

After extensive research, Families Against Mandatory Minimum (FAMM), which advocates for sentencing reform, published a report in May 2017 that highlighted numerous suggestions for reducing recidivism rates for federal prisoners.

According to FAMM, “almost one-half (49.3%) of the offenders released in 2005 were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions within eight years of their release.” FAMM surveyed almost 2,000 federal prisoners prior to publishing its report.

FAMM argued that any plan to reduce the number of federal prisoners must take into account the fact that half of those released are rearrested. Emphasis must be placed, the report said, on increasing meaningful programming for the approximately 183,000 offenders held in Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities to better prepare them for release.

The report suggested five areas in which the BOP could improve, including job training, educational opportunities, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and/or cognitive behavioral therapy, and placements in community-based facilities – including halfway houses – to ease the transition of ex-offenders into society.

FAMM advocated for the BOP to use improved risk-assessment tools, “to categorize (and periodically reassess and recategorize) prisoners as being at ...

Estimated 10.35 Million Prisoners Worldwide, Three Million in Pre-trial Detention

by Derek Gilna

The Institute of Criminal Policy Research (ICPR), part of the Birkbeck University of London, has collected statistics that indicate approximately three million people were held in pre-trial/remand detention worldwide as of the end of November 2016. According to the ICPR, its data “shows the number of people held in pre-trial detention and other forms of remand imprisonment in 216 prison systems in independent countries and dependent territories.”

Roy Walmsley, director of the ICPR’s World Prison Brief, said, “Prisoners in pre-trial detention or remand are those who, in connection with an alleged offence or offences, are deprived of liberty following a judicial or other legal process but have not been definitively sentenced.”

As part of its research, the ICPR determined that more than 467,000 people in the United States, 282,000 in India, 212,000 in Brazil, 108,000 in Russia, 92,000 in Mexico, 76,000 in the Philippines, 63,000 in Indonesia and 61,000 in Thailand were in pre-trial detention. China was estimated to have 200,000 pre-trial detainees.

Since a similar study was published in 2000 the totals in Africa and Europe have dropped over 20%, but they increased in ...


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