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Articles by Derek Gilna

Prison Policy Institute Study Says Juvenile Justice System Problems Mirror Adult Issues

by Derek Gilna

The Prison Policy Institute (PPI) in 2018 published a study of the juvenile justice system, which concluded that it “mirrors” many of the same problems of the adult criminal justice system.
This study is important in that the average daily population of juvenile detainees averages 53,000 ...

Illinois Ends Medical Co-Pays for Prisoners, 
But DOC Healthcare Criticized

by Derek Gilna

In June 2018, Illinois lawmakers voted to end the practice of charging $5.00 co-payments to state prisoners for each medical visit – a disproportionate fee, since prison wages in the state range from $0.09 to $0.89 per hour. The move came shortly before the release of a scathing report that documented over a dozen preventable deaths among the 41,000 prisoners held by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC).

The October 2018 report was prepared by court-appointed experts in a federal lawsuit, Lippert v. Ghosh. The experts said that compared to conditions when the case was filed in 2012, prison medical care is “either no better or in fact worse in 2018.” The suit was certified as a class-action in April 2017. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.35].

Led by correctional health expert Dr. Mike Pusis, the report found that of 36 fatalities in the year ending June 1, 2014, more than one-third could have been prevented with adequate healthcare. The state chapter of the ACLU, which joined the case as a co-plaintiff in 2013, decried the unnecessary deaths.

“We knew four years ago that prisoners in Illinois were subject to needless pain ...

Vera Institute Announces Increase in Federal 
Funding to House Former Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

On August 30, 2018, the Vera Institute of Justice announced an expansion of federal assistance to provide housing for prisoners who are reentering society. The “Opening Doors to Public Housing Initiative,” a program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), seeks to substantially increase the availability of post-release housing.

As noted by Margaret diZerega, project director at the Vera Institute of Justice, “All of society benefits when formerly incarcerated people are able to reintegrate safely and successfully back into the community.”

“By partnering with housing authorities, residents, law enforcement, and community partners, we can assess admissions policies for people with conviction histories and facilitate safe reentry,” she added.

Of the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year, and the 10 million who cycle in and out of local jails annually, a large number are freed with limited financial resources. If they lack family or friends to move in with after release, they require some form of housing in order to avoid homelessness. But in many places, the public housing authority (PHA) has restrictive policies that exclude people with criminal records.

The BJA’s new program is ...

New Mexico DOC Guards Receive $2.5 Million Settlement for Sexual Harassment

by Derek Gilna

Six female prison guards employed by the New Mexico Corrections Department (DOC) at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (CNMCF) in Los Lunas entered into a $2.5 million settlement with the department in late January 2018, though the terms of the agreement were not made public until July.

The six guards – Mary Kennedy, Niadra Lemons, Allison Eastman, Antoinette De La Cruz, Benita Joe and Nicole Romero – filed a complaint in state court in 2015 that alleged a “culture of physical aggression and open, ratified sexual misconduct” at CNMCF.

The lawsuit accused 25 current and former male DOC employees of “unthinkable and constant sexually based violence and harassment,” alleging they urinated and masturbated in front of the plaintiffs, fondled and groped them, screamed sexist comments and obscene names, propositioned them, and sent unwanted sexual pictures and videos. Although their actions were known to supervisory staff, no remedial action was taken.

One of the plaintiffs said male colleagues phoned her repeatedly at work, demanding sex and calling her a “fucking bitch.” Another reported that on a dry-erase board, in clear view of supervisors, was written the phrase: “If you don’t swallow then you should ...

Audit Criticizes Milwaukee County Jail’s Contracted Medical Services

by Derek Gilna

In August 2018, a comprehensive audit report revealed that the private healthcare provider at Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County Jail and House of Correction (HOC) was not in compliance with the terms of a court-ordered consent decree requiring specific staffing levels for medical personnel. The time period under review coincided with the term of controversial sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr., who resigned in August 2017.

The audit, conducted by the Milwaukee County Office of the Comptroller, found the county jail system’s healthcare contractor, Miami-based Armor Correctional Health Services, never reached the staffing threshold needed to adequately treat and care for the 2,100 prisoners held at the jail and HOC.

The county is under a consent decree requiring it to maintain healthcare staffing levels at 95 percent. Instead, Armor’s overall staffing level averaged 89 percent for the 22-month review period, from November 2015 to August 2017. Understaffed positions included a psychologist, registered nurse and psychiatrist, the audit found. The company was fined for the shortfalls, but the report recommended increasing the fines.

Following the release of the audit, which was conducted at the request of Milwaukee County board chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., he expressed his disappointment with Armor.

“The ...

Colorado County Pays $800,000 for Latest Excessive Force Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Philippa Grace McCully, a 21-year-old college student and cancer survivor arrested in 2014 for erratic driving that she blamed on a reaction to various prescription psychiatric drugs, was taken to a jail in El Paso, Colorado for processing.

There, the 100-pound, 5-foot-tall woman was slammed to the floor while restrained, resulting in serious injuries; she was then refused prompt medical treatment.

McCully filed suit and, in July 2018, received settlements totaling $675,000 from the jail and $125,000 from its medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, LLC.

According to McCully’s civil rights complaint, a sheriff’s deputy “grabbed [her] feet and brutally pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from underneath and behind her, causing Plaintiff to slam forcibly onto the cell floor, audibly hitting her head and knees against the hard concrete surface ... at the same time [another deputy] pulled Plaintiff’s legs out from behind her, [and] excessively forcefully shoved Plaintiff down hard by her left shoulder using his right arm, simultaneously restraining her arms from behind....”

McCully further claimed that she “suffered severe injuries, including but not limited to a fractured left knee, left knee hyperextension with bone contusion, left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) avulsion tear, torn left ...

Seventh Circuit: Illinois Prisoner Entitled to Retrial After Appointment of Counsel Denied

by Derek Gilna

On August 20, 2018, the Seventh Circuit granted a new trial to a prisoner whose multiple motions for appointment of counsel were denied in a federal lawsuit against guards employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Fredrick Walker, incarcerated at the maximum-security Pontiac Correctional Center, claimed that on August 21, 2013, Timothy Price, a guard who was charged with delivering his meal, dropped his tray. After Walker objected to the lack of a replacement meal, he alleged that he was forcibly extracted from his cell, transferred to a more restrictive unit and beaten by other guards.

Walker filed a federal civil rights suit, alleging that “Officers Price, French, and Stahl violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force, failing to intervene to stop the use of excessive force, and exhibiting deliberate indifference” to his need for medical care. Walker informed the district court that he had mental health problems, little knowledge of the law or access to legal resources, and was being assisted by a “jailhouse lawyer who helped him with research and drafting” his pleadings.

His six requests for appointment of counsel over the course of the litigation were denied; the case eventually went to ...

Seventh Circuit Remands Lawsuit Over Book Confiscation at Cook County Jail

by Derek Gilna

In an August 23, 2018 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed in part and remanded a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former Cook County, Illinois prisoner who alleged jail officials had confiscated books and magazines sent to him by a friend.

Gregory Koger, who was held at the Cook County jail for 300 days in 2013, and his friend, Barbara Lyons, alleged that jail officials had “violated the First Amendment ... by limiting inmates to three pieces of reading matter (plus religious material) at a time,” and by confiscating more than 30 books from Koger. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.40].

The jail argued – and the district court agreed – that Lyons lacked standing to sue, that her donations of books all ended up in Koger’s hands (even though they were later confiscated) and that the jail’s policy did not affect any of her legal interests. The jail also argued that since Koger had been released, he lacked justiciable claims for an injunction; further, he could not raise a damages claim due to the rulings in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981) and Hudson ...

Lawsuits Filed Over South Dakota Replacing Prison Law Libraries with Tablets

by Derek Gilna

Two federal lawsuits were filed by South Dakota prisoners in May and June 2018 against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) over the introduction of tablet computers to replace prison law libraries and paralegals and attorneys who assist prisoners. Billed as a cost-saving measure, the tablets are prone to malfunctions, one lawsuit complained, while the other alleged the use of the tablets resulted in a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In September 2017 the DOC closed its prison law libraries and canceled its legal assistance contracts when the state’s 3,000 prisoners each received a free tablet computer – one that provides access to legal research services through Lexis/Nexis. The tablets also allow longer phone calls and text messaging with people on the outside, and permit prisoners to purchase subscriptions to movies and music.

One of the lawsuits, filed by prisoner Rex Gard, argued that the Lexis/Nexis access has been, “despite frequent assurances that repairs were underway, only intermittently active since 2017, leaving many inmates with no access to the case law and statutes theoretically available on the tablets.” See: Gard v. Fluke, U.S.D.C. (D. SD), Case No ...

Seventh Circuit Vacates ADA Summary Judgment Against Cook County Sheriff

by Derek Gilna

On July 30, 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a partial summary judgment order issued by a district court that found the Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois liable for various violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

After holding an evidentiary hearing on the issue of liability and injunctive relief, the district court had referred the remaining issues to a jury to determine damages. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.56]. The appellate court set that order and the jury verdicts aside, and remanded the case for a trial on the merits.

As noted in the Seventh Circuit’s opinion, the five plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit “contend that Cook County and Thomas J. Dart, the Sheriff, failed to provide reasonable modifications with respect to two structural barriers at the courthouses: ramps and bathroom facilities. In order to access the courthouses for their monthly appearances, the [incarcerated] plaintiffs had to traverse steep entrance and exit ramps in their wheelchairs. Once inside, they waited in holding cells until their cases were called, which could take several hours. The holding cells contained bathroom facilities – typically a combination sink and toilet, set off by a ...