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Articles by Derek Gilna

Five Years after Implementation, PREA Standards Remain Inadequate

“We should not be tolerating rape in prison.” – President Barack Obama, July 2015

by Derek Gilna

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, was a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation, and its passage signaled that public officials could no longer ignore the problem of sexual abuse in our nation’s penal system

While there is no longer any debate that rape and sexual assaults in prisons and jails are not to be tolerated, implementation of the PREA standards has been painfully slow and, as a result, prisoners continue to be sexually victimized. Prison Legal News has reported extensively on this problem, including cover stories in August 2006, May 2009 and April 2012.he Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), passed unanimously by Congress in 2003, was a rare instance of bipartisan cooperation, and its passage signaled that public officials could no longer ignore the problem of sexual abuse in our nation’s penal system.

Tulsa County, Oklahoma jailer Ashley Michelle Smith was arrested and charged with sexually battering a prisoner on September 29, 2017. She is accused of having an inappropriate relationship, and was previously placed on administrative leave while an investigation was conducted.

Although PREA ...

Fourth Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Deaf Prisoner’s Civil Rights Claim

by Derek Gilna

Thomas Heyer, who is completely deaf, was initially convicted of possessing child pornography, then violated his supervised release and was imprisoned for eighteen months in 2007. Before he was released from federal prison, prosecutors filed an Adam Walsh petition seeking to civilly confine him as a “sexually dangerous person.” While civilly confined at a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at Butner, North Carolina, Heyer filed a civil rights suit for deliberate indifference to his medical condition, based upon that institution’s failure to provide him with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. He also alleged violations of the Rehabilitation Act.

The federal district court granted summary judgment to the BOP, and Heyer appealed. On February 23, 2017, the Fourth Circuit vacated most of the summary judgment order and reinstated Heyer’s claims.

The appellate court noted that the Adam Walsh Act required Heyer to remain in civil custody “until such time as the government determines that his ‘condition is such that he is no longer sexually dangerous to others, or will not be sexually dangerous to others if released under a prescribed regimen of medical, psychiatric, or psychological care or treatment.’” Heyer had argued that the BOP’s ...

New York City Agrees to Settle with Rikers Island Rape Victims for $1.2 Million

by Derek Gilna

In May 2017, the City of New York agreed to pay $1.2 million to two female prisoners to resolve claims of rape and sexual assault by a male guard at the city’s Rose M. Singer facility on Rikers Island. Rikers, one of the nation’s largest jail ...

Michigan Sheriff Settles PLN Censorship Suit for $295,000

by Derek Gilna

In June 2017, Prison Legal News obtained a substantial settlement from the Livingston County, Michigan Sheriff’s Office in a censorship lawsuit. The Livingston County jail agreed to settle after five years of litigation that challenged the facility’s mail policies and practices.

According to PLN managing editor Alex ...

Federal Halfway House Closures Threaten to Extend Prison Time, Delay Reentry

by Derek Gilna

The Trump administration has proposed a reduced budget for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) that would require the agency to cut its staff. As another result of budget cuts, the BOP has quietly terminated the contracts for more than a dozen halfway houses. Consequently, federal prisoners who had already received placement dates at those post-release facilities will spend more time in prison, and will have even less time to organize their reentry process of finding employment and housing.

At least sixteen halfway house contracts have been cancelled as of October 2017 according to BOP spokesman Justin Long, who claimed it was due to financial reasons. “The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment,” he said.

However, it is well known that it is more expensive to keep a person in prison than in a halfway house, and it is even more costly to re-incarcerate someone who has violated his terms of supervised release, perhaps because he was given insufficient time to prepare for that release. Halfway houses have been under greater pressure in recent years due to the large number ...

Global Tel*Link Fails to Derail Prison Phone Suit but Dodges Class Certification

by Derek Gilna

An order entered by Western District of Arkansas federal judge Timothy L. Brooks on September 28, 2017 gave a mixed result to both sides in a hotly-contested lawsuit over excessive costs for prison and jail phone calls.

In this case, one of the nation’s largest prison phone companies, Global Tel*Link (GTL), was defending yet another in a series of lawsuits filed by prisoners and their families who have long had to pay inflated phone rates. The plaintiffs alleged “that GTL charged them excessive rates to cover the costs of site commissions it paid to correctional facilities, and charged them deposit fees that unreasonably exceeded the cost of processing deposits into prepaid accounts.”

Complicating the litigation was the fact that it was one of four lawsuits pending in the Western District of Arkansas raising various claims related to prison phone services – including whether phone calls made by prisoners were intrastate (in-state) or interstate (long distance). GTL was named as a defendant in two of the cases while its competitor, Securus Technologies, was named in the other two.

GTL, Securus and other prison phone providers have a simple business model: exploit the desire of prisoners’ families ...

Eighth Circuit Vacates Supervised Release Order Barring Wife from Contact with Husband

by Derek Gilna

Cynthia Louis Hobbs was convicted, along with her husband, of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and sentenced to 56 months in prison and five years of supervised release. After she left prison in November 2014, her supervised release was uneventful until her husband was released. In January 2016, federal officials sought to revoke her supervised release for numerous violations.

During the subsequent revocation proceedings, the government sought an order of “no contact” with Hobbs’ husband, alleging that her violations were somehow linked to her husband’s release. The district court judge agreed, noting that “My understanding from speaking with the probation officer and reviewing the record, is that Ms. Hobbs was doing very well on supervision when she was living independently and Mr. Hobbs was still incarcerated.... And then this contact occurs with her spouse, and those positive steps forward cease and, in fact, she absconds from supervision. That time line seems to the court to be instructive.”

Probation officials offered no proof, however, that Hobbs had had any contact with her husband after he left prison. Notwithstanding that fact, the district court modified the conditions of Hobbs’ supervised release, stating, “The defendant ...

Seventh Circuit Dissent: “A Dog Would Have Deserved Better Treatment”

by Derek Gilna

William A. Miller, incarcerated at FCC Terre Haute, a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility in Indiana, entered prison with a serious health problem – a thalamic brain tumor that required a lower bunk assignment, or “pass,” issued by prison medical officials. He was initially given a lower-bunk pass, but for reasons unknown, a year later was assigned an upper bunk. While in that bunk he fell and fractured his back.

Before BOP prisoners can obtain judicial relief they must go through the administrative remedy process and file what are known as “BP’s.” After his complaints to lead guard Gary Rogers went unanswered, Miller filed administrative remedies, which were all denied, then brought a Bivens action that named Rogers, Warden Helen Marberry and a nurse as defendants.

Rogers and Marberry moved for summary judgment, arguing that neither was personally responsible for issuing the lower bunk pass that would have prevented Miller’s debilitating fall (nor was the nurse responsible). The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, dismissing the case, and Miller died in June 2016 while the litigation was pending.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on January 30, 2017, but not without controversy. According ...

Seventh Circuit Reinstates Prisoner’s Lawsuit, Rejects District Court’s IFP Concerns

by Derek Gilna

Rahim McWilliams, an Illinois state prisoner, injured his hand in a fall and filed a claim in federal court for damages, claiming lack of proper medical treatment and permanent disfigurement. He alleged he was indigent and sought a waiver of the filing fee with an in forma pauperis (IFP) form. The district court, citing the absence of some identifying information on the form, as well as contradictory language as to funds McWilliams had received, denied the IFP request and dismissed the case for failure to pay the filing fee. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded.

In a January 5, 2017 ruling, the appellate court noted that McWilliams had used a court-provided IFP form which included various boxes the applicant must check. It also required “prisoner applicants to provide an inmate identification number, the name of the applicant’s institution, and records from the applicant’s inmate trust account.” McWilliams had answered all the questions but neglected to name his institution and identification number.

He had also indicated on the IFP form, in response to a query as to whether he or anyone living at the same residence had received in excess of $200 from other sources not specifically ...

Family Files Wrongful Death Suit Against County Jail in New York

by Derek Gilna

The family of deceased prisoner Jimmy Richardson filed a federal lawsuit against the Schenectady County Jail in New York in April 2017, alleging that the facility and its medical contractor, Correctional Medical Care, wrongfully withheld medication that could have prevented his death.

The complaint alleges that the defendants knew Richardson, 53, suffered from heart disease, but initially denied him his prescription medication when he was booked into the jail, resulting in his death on January 17, 2016.

“While [Richardson] was obviously not the healthiest person, he had been successfully managing his medical conditions for several years. It was not until the defendants denied him his medication for several weeks ... that [he] died,” the complaint states. It also alleges that jail medical records purporting to show Richardson received medication were falsified.

Richardson had submitted various sick call requests, stating, “I am Hurting so Bad I need Help!” Jail records indicate that he did not receive any pain medication other than Tylenol until shortly before he died, when the lawsuit claims that he received excessive doses of morphine. The suit also alleges that on the eve of his death, Richardson sought medical care but instead was threatened ...


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