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Articles by Derek Gilna

Connecticut Supreme Court Abolishes Death Penalty as Cruel and Unusual Punishment

by Derek Gilna

In a decision rendered in August 2015, after the filing of numerous amicus briefs by the American Civil Liberties Union and other prisoner rights organizations, the Connecticut Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, has effectively abolished the death penalty in that state. The matter had come before the Court in the matter of State of Connecticut v. Eduardo Santiago, where the Court stated that a "prospective" abolition of the death penalty by the Connecticut legislature in 2012 that kept intact the death penalty for defendants who had already been sentenced was unconstitutional.

"Upon careful consideration of the  defendant's claims in light of the governing constitutional principles and Connecticut's unique historical and legal landscape," the Court held, "we are persuaded that, following its prospective abolition, this state's death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose." The "execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment,"  the Court said.

In a 92-page opinion authored by Justice Palmer, the Court traced the evolution of punishment in Connecticut since it early days as an ...

New Study Links American Psychological Association to CIA Torture of Terror Detainees

by Derek Gilna

Psychologists are supposed to operate by a strict code of conduct that prohibits questionable practices such as facilitating potential physical and psychological damage to individuals, but a new study has revealed that many psychologists abandoned their code of ethics to assist American Central Intelligence Agency operatives in devising "Enhanced Interrogation" techniques.  The law firm of Sidley and Austin, retained by the 130,000-member American Psychological Association (APA), has prepared a report that reveals that many healthcare professionals engaged in questionable practices that many experts have termed to be torture.

According to the report, "APA made these ethics policy decisions as a substantial result of influence from and close relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense (D0D), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other government entities, which purportedly wanted permissive ethical guidelines so that their psychologist could participate in harsh and abuse interrogation techniques being used by these agencies after the September 11 attacks on the United States."

The report then focused on "APA's issuance of ethical guidelines that determined when psychologists could ethically participate in such interrogations," while acknowledging the pressure brought to bear on healthcare professionals to participate in activities that were justified in ...

Prison Rape Elimination Act Finally Extended to ICE Detention Facilities, But Not to Private or County Jails

by Derek Gilna

Ten years after the federal government passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), which applied to Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities, the Justice Department by rule has finally extended those same protections to the undocumented in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.  PREA was passed by Congress after numerous studies determined that federal prisoners in the BOP system were often victims of sexual assault.

Although immigrant rights organizations lauded the move, as a positive one, they were quick to point out that it will not immediately affect those individuals confined in private facilities contracting with ICE to house immigration detainees. DHS and ICE hold approximately 34,000 detainees on an average day. Additionally, Juvenile rights advocates are also concerned about the risk of sexual abuse faced by the increasing number of unaccompanied children illegally entering the U.S. in recent months.

Most experts agree that sexual abuse is underreported by at least half in the BOP system, which generally houses American citizens and adult undocumented individuals convicted of crimes.  However, such individuals have various constitutional protections available to them and access to a grievance process and legal assistance, as well as telephone ...

Dramatic Changes to Boost Number of Clemency Petitions and Pardons

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on April 23rd, 2014, announced significant changes in the Office of Pardon Attorney (OPA), which processes Pardons, Clemencies, and Commutations.  The former head of the pardon office, Ronald Rogers, had been criticized for the paucity of pardons issued during President Obama’s administration (the fewest in recent history).  To date, Obama has granted only ten clemencies.

Attorney General Holder’s announcement of the new emphasis on pardons said that the OPA will now focus on applications related to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2011.  He also assured that consideration would not be limited to just drug offenders.  The Attorney General noted that the limited retroactivity offered under Fair Sentencing meant that many are still unfairly imprisoned based only upon the year of their conviction and nothing else. Thus, the stage is set for relief on a scale that should have a significant impact on the number of people in federal prison.

Prisoner-Rights attorneys are being encouraged to submit applications to the office without limitation, and Attorney General Holder has indicated a new willingness to cooperate with the defense bar to help the justice system “deliver outcomes that are fair ...

California District Court Certifies Immigration Detainee Phone Access Class Action

by Derek Gilna

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California has certified for class action status a lawsuit by various immigration detainees against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The complaint, filed in December of 2013, alleged that DHS and ICE have provided telephone services that are unduly restrictive and expensive, and that the immigrant’s “constitutional and statutory rights are being violated while they are held in government custody pending deportation proceedings.

Prison Legal News has not only reported on exploitative prison phone systems, but has also participated in many lawsuits where prisoner communications with their family, friends, and legal representatives have been restricted.

According to the Court’s opinion, “ICE contracts with Yuba County, Sacramento County, and Contra Costa County to hold immigration detainees in the Yuba, Elk Grove and Richmond Facilities.”  These facilities are “geographically isolated from the San Francisco Immigration Court” as well as from “the immigration attorneys who practice removal defense, most of whom are based in or near San Francisco.”  In addition, the facilities are often geographically isolated from detainees’ family members or friends who might be able to help them in their immigration ...

National Jail Experts Decry Conditions at Monterey County, California Jail

by Derek Gilna

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union has highlighted substandard conditions at the Monterey, California County Jail.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP charged that jail officials have failed to provide prisoners with adequate medical and mental health care and ignored requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying disabled prisoners access to jail services, programs and activities.

Made public as part of that lawsuit were a series of reports by national jail conditions experts that plaintiffs have incorporated into their motion for class action certification.  “These reports make clear that there are serious structural and systemic problems with the jail and that conditions inside the facility do not meet constitutional and ADA standards. Rather than continue to waste taxpayer money litigating these issues, county officials should address them with serious and detailed remedial plans,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Bien.

According to the Sheriff’s own incident reports, more than 150 incident of prisoner-on-prisoner violence occurred from January of 2011 through early September of 2012. More than 100 of these incidents resulted in prisoners seeking medical attention, and the violence was not just confined to a small percentage of the jails pods ...

Self-Inflicted Prisoner Deaths Continue to Rise in Great Britain

by Derek Gilna

Self-inflicted prisoner deaths continued to rise in Great Britain in 2013. 74 prisoners either committed suicide or died accidentally due to their own actions.  There were an additional 123 deaths from natural causes, 4 apparent killings, and 14 unclassified prisoner deaths.

The British Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has compiled statistics that show that prisoners are most at risk early in their confinement, before they have made the psychological adjustment to being jail.  One of the British prisoners committed suicide on his very first day in custody.

According to critics of the MOJ, we should all be alarmed that more people died in prisons last year than ever before.  It’s worrying that the lessons of previous deaths in custody are being ignored.  Ministers need urgently to address this problem, find out what the causes are, and do all they can to make sure this tragic statistic is never repeated.

MOJ statistics reported, “Death in prison custody increased to 215 in 2013--the highest number of deaths recorded in prison custody in any calendar year--from 198 in 2012.  The death rate in 2013 increased to 2.55 deaths per 1,000 prisons compared with 2.23 in 2012.” The ...

Agency of U.S. Department of Justice Curbs Its Use of "Felon" and "Offender"

by Derek Gilna

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), a U.S. Department of Justice Agency, has instituted a policy discouraging the use of the terms "felon" and "offender" in its communications referring to released prisoners. This policy apparently applies only to this agency and not the entire Department of Justice (DOJ).

OJP agency head and Assistant Attorney General Karen Mason stated: "During National Reentry Week last week, federal prisons and prosecutors’ offices and local organizations held job fairs, community town hall meetings, special mentoring sessions, and outreach events aimed at raising public awareness of the obstacles facing those who leave our prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities each year." Mason noted that the American Bar Association also has identified "more than 46,000 collateral consequences of criminal convictions, penalties such as disenfranchisement and employment prohibitions that follow individuals long after their release."

The DOJ recently published the "Roadmap To Reentry: Reducing Recidivism Through Reentry Reform At the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)."  According to the report, "More than 600,000 individual citizens return to neighborhoods across America after serving time in federal and state prisons.  Another 11.4 million individuals cycle through local jails. And nearly one in three ...

New Law Addresses Imported Fish Caught by Slaves, Ignores U.S. Prisoner Labor

by Derek Gilna

A law passed by in 2016 by Congress and signed by the President, the Port State Measures Agreement, prohibits the importation of fish caught using slave labor. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the new law closed a loophole in the 1930 Tariff Act that prohibits that practice unless there is a shortage of that particular fish in the U.S. market. However, prisoner rights advocates were quick to point out that there is no such prohibition of U.S. companies profiting from the forced labor of prisoners.

The non-profit Human Trafficking Center, the "Center," notes that, "The 13th Amendment reads, 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except for punishment of a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States..." According to the Center, exploitive prison labor practices have netted huge profits for many private companies.

The Bureau of Prisons' Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, earned over $500 million based upon the labor of over 20,000 prisoners, who earn from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour. As a result of this cheap labor, Prison Legal News has noted that UNICOR effectively has forced several ...

DOJ Announces Dramatic Changes to Expedite Clemency Petitions

by Derek Gilna

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on April 23, 2014 announced significant changes in the Office of Pardon Attorney, which processes Pardons, Clemencies, and Commutations.  The former head of the pardon office, Ronald Rogers, had been criticized for lack of pardons issued during President Obama’s administration, the fewest in recent history.  To date, Obama has granted only ten clemencies.

Attorney General Holder’s announcement of the new emphasis on pardons said that it will focus on application related to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2011, but that it would not be limited to just drug offenders.  He noted that the limited retroactivity offered under Fair Sentencing meant that many are still unfairly confined in prison based only upon the year of their conviction, rather than any other factor.

Under the current system, the President only sees the applications for relief that make it to his desk after being approved by the DOJ- the very agency that prosecuted those who are now seeking relief.  Holder eased out the old DOJ attorney who was clearly unsympathetic to the petitions he was supposed to be impartially reviewing, and replaced him with one who is committed to putting thousands ...


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