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Articles by Derek Gilna

Report Cites Epidemic of Law Enforcement Injustices to LGBT Community

by Derek Gilna

Citing a system that appears to be based upon "maintaining structures of power based on race, poverty, ability and place," the LGBT organization Center for American Progress (CAP), takes American law enforcement to task.  CAP's Movement Advance Project, an independent think tank, provides a new look at "a growing body of work documenting and analyzing the experiences of LGBTQ in the criminal legal system," and doesn't like what it sees.

The report states: "in 2011-2012, 7.9% of individuals in state and federal prisons identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, as did 7.1% of individuals in city and county jails."  This is approximately double the percentage of LGBT adults in the U.S. This same percentage also applies to juvenile detainees, with 40% of girls and 14% of boys identifying as LGBT, as opposed to 7 to 9 percent of the general population.

These statistics show that there are three major factors increasing the chance that LGBT individuals will be incarcerated.  The first is that LGBT individuals are often stigmatized not only in society, but in their own homes.  They may have trouble obtaining and maintaining employment because of discrimination against their status. This ...

Report Decries Human and Financial Cost of Flawed California Prosecutions

by Derek Gilna

"We ignore flaws with the system at our own peril." Thus do the authors of "Criminal (In)justice: A Cost Analysis of Wrongful Convictions, Errors, and Failed Prosecutions in California's Criminal Justice System," summarize the incalculable financial and human cost of flawed California state criminal prosecutions.

That organization's report, "examines 692 adult felony criminal cases where California missed the mark in public safety by failing to prosecute the right person or by pursuing a flawed or unsustainable conviction. (The wronged individuals)...served more than two thousand years in prison and jail, at a total cost to California taxpayers of more than $282 million." Covering convictions from 1989 to 2012,  the study noted that these flawed prosecutions "burdened the system with 483 jury trials, 26 mistrials, 16 hung juries, 168 plea bargains, and over 700 appeals and habeas petitions."

First, the report covers "Characteristics of Injustice," discusses the fact most prosecutorial errors were related to violent crimes, rather than drug or property crimes.   That category accounted for "a greater percentage of the wasted $221 million than failed prosecutions for other crimes," with "flawed homicide convictions alone account for 52% of the $221 million."  The report found ...

2013 Deportations of Undocumented Reach Record High

by Derek Gilna

Since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, deportations of undocumented immigrants have climbed every year, and 2013 was no exception. In fiscal year 2013, 438,421 individuals were deported from the United States, according to newly released DHS statistics.

This occurred even while the Obama Administration sought comprehensive immigration reform legislation, and despite issuance of an executive order granting relief from deportation and work permits to 580,946 young undocumented students. In the past 6 years, the number of people removed from the country against their well far surpassed the totals of the previous administration of George W. Bush, reaching 2 million people. According to some immigrant-rights advocates, President Obama has become the “deporter in chief,” having surpassed in five years more individuals than Bush did in his eights years in office.

The non-partisan Pew Research Center has conducted surveys which disclose that Americans of Hispanic descent disapprove of the large number of deportation, most of whom are Hispanics. According to Pew, 89% of Hispanics support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, but feel that deportation relief should be an even higher priority.

Part of ...

Tennessee Private Probation Firm Probed for Alleged Abuses

by Derek Gilna

Various misdemeanor probationers in Rutherford County, Tennessee have filed a federal lawsuit against Rutherford County, Pathways Community Corrections (PCC), previously known as Providence Community Corrections, and various probation officers, seeking injunctive relief and class action status to terminate what they term abusive practices in the administration of the county's probation program. At issue was the alleged practice of PCC of extoringt money from indigent defendants by threatening them with jail for non-payment.

PCC contracts with Rutherford County to handle supervisory tasks for people who are on probation for misdemeanor and traffic cases, charging an additional $45 to individuals per month of supervision. It also charges $20 per drug tests. People who are unable to pay these costs and fees often found their probation revoked when they were unable to pay what plaintiffs termed a "secured money bond."

Plaintiffs alleged that PCC applied most monies received from probationers to its inflated fees rather than the court costs that were the subject of the original proceedings, perpetuating the cycle of indebtedness.

According to the district court judge, "Plaintiffs argue that when Defendants determine a secured money bond would be the best method to ensure the probationer's attendance ...

Embattled Private Probation Company Ceases Operations

by Derek Gilna

In July 2016, Pathways community Corrections, a private probation company, announced that it had voluntarily ceased operations in Tennessee following a series of complaints, a federal lawsuit and an investigation by state officials that uncovered evidence the company had unfairly extracted money from poor probationers. According to Kevin Walter, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which filed a complaint against Pathways in 2015, “They no longer provide any private probationary services in Tennessee.”

Things started going bad for Pathways – formerly known as Providence Community Corrections – after a federal lawsuit exposed a scheme in which probationers were held in jail for lack of funds to post bail while wealthier offenders were allowed to bond out. A federal class-action filed by affected probationers in Rutherford County, Tennessee resulted in an injunction that prevented the company from issuing arrest warrants with a bond requirement when people couldn’t afford to pay. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.42].

According to the lawsuit, Pathways engaged in a conspiracy “to funnel misdemeanor probation cases in which court debts are owed to a private company, which then extorts money out of individuals who have no ability to pay court costs ...

Illinois Prisoner Wins Federal Civil Rights Suit over Mail Censorship

by Derek Gilna

Kevin A. Williams, a state prisoner at the Pontiac Correctional Center in Illinois, was serving a 65-year sentence for murder. While at Pontiac he ordered a copy of his victim’s death certificate, but prison staff blocked his receipt of that document and an accompanying unsigned note from the court clerk that said Williams would have a “place in hell.”

Williams filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court alleging violation of his First Amendment rights, which was eventually dismissed. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and overturned the dismissal.

As the appellate court noted in its September 20, 2016 ruling, ‘“prisoners have protected First Amendment interests in both sending and receiving mail,’ Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 782 (7th Cir. 1999), [but] a prison can confiscate an inmate’s mail if confiscation ‘is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.’”

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals held prison officials must produce “some evidence to show that the restriction is justified.” In the current case, Williams was told he could not have the death certificate “because it posed a threat to the safety and security of the institution and would negatively impact [his] rehabilitation ...

Report Finds Federal Informants at Risk of Retaliation; Court Penalizes Informant for Trial Outcome

by Derek Gilna

Last year the Federal Judicial Center (FJC), part of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, published a study that found criminal defendants who cooperated with the government were often harmed or threatened with harm. However, a recent federal appellate decision raises the troubling possibility that informants may not get sentence reductions in exchange for their testimony if prosecutors fail to secure a conviction.

The 155-page FJC study, released in February 2016, goes to considerable lengths to catalogue incidents where informants faced retaliation, based on reports from various agencies on the judicial, prosecutorial and correctional side of the criminal justice system. Among the violent acts intended to intimidate informants and their families, the study cited the following examples:

• “The home he and his family resided in was shot up the day before he was scheduled to testify.”

• “[They] burned his house down.”

• “Name posted on Top Snitches Facebook page.”

• “Told family members to put his name on”

• “Flyers posted in his neighborhood that he cooperated.”

The FJC study noted that “Among all types of harm or threat, respondents most often reported threats of physical harm to defendants ...

Supreme Court Voids North Carolina Law Barring Sex Offenders from Facebook

by Derek Gilna

In a unanimous decision, on June 19, 2017 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a North Carolina statute that prohibits convicted sex offenders from accessing “a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” N.C. Gen Stat. Ann. §§ 14-202.5(a), (e).

While over 1,000 sex offenders in North Carolina had been prosecuted for violating the law, the Supreme Court found their access to such websites was protected under the First Amendment.

Lester Peckingham, a convicted sex offender, was arrested after he posted a joyous comment on his Facebook page concerning the dismissal of a traffic ticket he had received.

He was convicted of violating the statute that prohibits sex offenders from accessing social networking sites, including Facebook, and received a suspended sentence. There were no allegations that Peckingham ever had contact with a minor through the Internet or his Facebook page, or had violated any other state law.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, noted that the statute could not stand: “In order to survive intermediate scrutiny, a law must be ‘narrowly tailored ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Civil Rights Suit against Cook County Jail

by Derek Gilna

Kevin Dixon was a pretrial detainee at the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois when he was diagnosed with a paratracheal mass. Unfortunately, according to the Seventh Circuit, medical personnel at the facility “were aware of the problem, but they accused [him] of malingering, gave him over-the-counter analgesics, and ordered him to seek psychiatric care.” Later taken to a hospital when his condition rapidly deteriorated, Dixon died of lung cancer in January 2009.

After her appointment as the administrator of his estate, Dixon’s mother filed a § 1983 federal civil rights action against Cook County and a doctor and nurse who worked at the jail’s Cermak Acute Care Facility. According to the complaint, “County policy resulted in such poor communication among the medical providers who saw Dixon that nobody put all the pieces together, figured out what was wrong and how serious it was, and took appropriate steps, ... [and] the individual defendants knew about (or had reason to know of) Dixon’s condition and were deliberately indifferent in the face of that knowledge.”

The county and individual defendants filed a F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause ...

New York State Attorney General Settles Suit Against Jail’s Medical Provider

by Derek Gilna

In July 2016, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman filed a lawsuit against Armor Correctional Health Services, the medical provider for the jail in Nassau County. The suit alleged a dozen prisoners had died at the facility, in large part due to substandard medical care ...


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