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Articles by Derek Gilna

OIG Report Slams CoreCivic’s Management of Leavenworth Prison

by Derek Gilna

An April 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) strongly criticized private prison company CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), which operates the Leavenworth Detention Center (LDC) in Kansas. The U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), which contracts with CoreCivic to manage the facility, was also a target of the OIG’s criticism.

As previously reported in PLN,Core­Civic had already come under fire for secretly recording privileged conversations between LDC prisoners and their attorneys, then sharing the recordings with federal prosecutors. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.36; Oct. 2016, p.44].

According to the OIG report, “unbeknownst to the USMS, LDC officials had uninstalled beds prior to an American Correctional Association (ACA) inspection in 2011.” The beds – the third added to cells designed for two prisoners – were removed “to conceal from ACA that the LDC was triple-bunking detainees.”

The ACA is the main accrediting body for both public and private correctional facilities, tasked with carrying out inspections before it certifies a facility as compliant with its self-promulgated standards. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1].

Triple-bunking violated both ACA standards and the $697 million, 20-year ...

$160,000 Settles New Jersey Jail Class Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

After eleven years of litigation and five failed consent decrees, Camden County, New Jersey corrections officials have finally agreed to pay $160,000 to settle a federal civil rights suit that alleged severe overcrowding, sanitation, poor nutrition and environmental violations of prisoners’ rights. Approved by the court ...

North Carolina Reforms Solitary Confinement Policies Following Vera Report

by Derek Gilna

The non-profit Vera Institute of Justice, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, published a report in December 2016 that detailed excessive use of solitary confinement in North Carolina’s prison system. The report, titled “Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative: Findings and Recommendations for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety,” contained “an assessment of DPS’s use of segregation and ... ways to decrease its use.” At the time of the report, almost 8% of the state’s prison population was held in solitary.

 “Advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the use of solitary confinement, and media outlets like Solitary Watch and The Marshall Project have published reports, news articles, and fact sheets on the topic,” the report stated. It also noted that “the National Commission on Correctional Health Care recently issued a position statement on isolation encompassing 17 principles and calling for the elimination of ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ (defined as more than 15 consecutive days).”

In addition to those organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice has also recognized that long stints in solitary confinement can cause serious mental health problems in ...

Sentencing Project Report Examines Increasing Number of Life Sentences

by Derek Gilna

The non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project released a report in May 2017, titled “Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences,” that explores the high number of prisoners serving life sentences despite declining prison populations across the nation. According to the report, “The number of people serving life sentences in U.S. prisons is at an all-time high.”

In 2016, a staggering 161,957 prisoners were serving life sentences, both with and without parole, constituting one of every nine state and federal prisoners. Further, an additional 44,311 prisoners were serving “virtual” or life-equivalent sentences of at least 50 years, for a total of 206,268 people or 13.9 percent of the prison population.

Not surprisingly, the report notes, “The majority are male (96.7%), most are people of color (67.6%), and nearly all (91.5%) have been convicted of a violent offense.... Nearly half (48.3%) of life and virtual life-sentenced individuals are African American, equal to one in five black prisoners overall.” Further, around 12,000 prisoners are serving life or life-equivalent sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.

The increase in life and virtual life ...

$950,000 Settles Mistreatment of Mentally Ill Prisoner

by Derek Gilna

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former prisoner Jermaine Padilla after prison staff physically abused him while he was having a mental health crisis. On April 25, 2017, the CDCR agreed to a $950 ...

Cook County Strip-search Class-action Claimants to Receive Additional Payments

by Derek Gilna

In May 2017, insurance companiesfor Cook County, Illinois preliminarily agreed to add $52 million to a previous settlement reached in 2010 concerning blanket strip searches of prisoners held at the Cook County Jail. The agreement resolved claims related to a federal class-action lawsuit filed by former prisoners ...

Montana DOC Agrees to Modification of ADA Class-action Settlement

by Derek Gilna

In March 2017, the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to modifications to a class-action settlement originally entered into in 1994 to resolve medical, dental and mental health complaints stemming from a 1991 prison riot. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “five prisoners were murdered in the Maximum Security Unit, and after which corrections officers stripped, flex cuffed, physically abused, assaulted, humiliated, beat, and even tortured prisoners who had been housed in Maximum Security at the time of the riot.”

The U.S. District Court has maintained jurisdiction over the case since 1994, and attorneys representing the plaintiffs directed the court’s attention to apparent violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. The parties agreed to the appointment of an independent expert, who determined that numerous ADA violations had occurred, then entered into negotiations to modify the original settlement.

Under the new agreement, “no inmate shall be disciplined, placed on a behavior management plan, classified, or reclassified to a higher level of security based upon his Disability or upon behavior that is a product of his Disability, [without] a prompt and appropriate evaluation by Qualified Mental ...

$1.23 Million Settles Indiana Jail Conditions Suit

by Derek Gilna

Officials in Floyd County, Indiana agreed on July 24, 2017 to settle a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged jail officials kept prisoners in padded cells, “deprived [them] of clothing, bedding, and hygiene products,” and tased and pepper-sprayed them. Named as defendants in the 2014 complaint were former sheriff Darrell Mills, jail staff and the Floyd County Commissioners, who were accused of violating the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.

 The class members in the suit consisted of “All inmates confined from June 12, 2012, to present in the Floyd County Jail who were not on a suicide watch, but were housed in a padded cell where they were deprived of clothing, bedding, and hygiene products.”

The complaint also alleged that “upon information and belief, video footage was taken of the above abuses. This video footage, which includes clear and graphic depictions of Plaintiffs’ naked bodies, is available to Floyd County Sheriff employees, other members of Floyd County government, and to the general public.”

Under the terms of the $1.23 million settlement, class members will receive a maximum of $25,000 while an additional $15,000 will be distributed to each of the ...

Pennsylvania Class-action Targets Company Providing Inaccurate Background Checks

by Derek Gilna

Helen Stokes, a 65-year-old Pennsylvania woman with no criminal record, was nonetheless continually denied credit due to inaccuracies in her background report that a property credit reporting company refused to correct. Consequently, she filed a class-action complaint in federal court that alleged damages as a result of ...

National Registry of Exonerations Report: Blacks Suffer More False Convictions

by Derek Gilna

On March 7, 2017, the National Registry of Exonerations published a report that found African-Americans are much more likely than whites to be wrongfully convicted and spend more time in prison before being exonerated. The report noted that although blacks represent just 13% of the U.S. population, they constitute 47% of the approximately 2,000 exonerated individuals listed in the National Registry.

The registry was created in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, and provides detailed information about every known confirmed exoneration in the United States since 1989. The cases catalogued in the registry include those in which a person was wrongfully convicted and later cleared based upon evidence of their innocence.

The report, which focused on cases involving murder, sexual assault and drug crimes, was produced jointly by the National Registry and the Newkirk Center for Science and Society at the University of California, Irvine. According to the study, “There is no one explanation for the heavy concentration of black defendants among those convicted of crimes they did not commit ... [the] causes ... run from inevitable consequences of patterns in crime and punishment to deliberate acts of racism.”

 One ...


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