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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Derek Gilna

Bureau of Prisons Houses More “Terrorists” than Guantanamo

According to the New York Times, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confines more than twice as many prisoners for “terrorism-related” offenses than the controversial and oft-maligned U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“As of October 1, 2011, the ... [BOP] reported that it was holding 362 people convicted in terrorism-related cases, 269 with what the bureau calls a connection to international terrorism, up from just 50 in 2000. An additional 93 inmates have a connection to domestic terrorism,” the Times stated. The Times also noted that many of those prisoners were prosecuted as part of the government’s “zero-tolerance” approach to any conduct remotely related to terrorism. The BOP, for its part, has set up two special Communication Management Units (CMUs) to house such prisoners, who are disproportionately black and Muslim.

At a time when many legal experts of both conservative and liberal persuasions are calling for an end to the draconian federal sentencing guidelines and decrying the rising federal prison population, the U.S. government is unrelenting in seeking maximum penalties for defendants with ties to terrorism, no matter how attenuated they may be.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks galvanized federal and state law enforcement into ...

CIA Slammed for Torture Abuses at Secret Lithuanian Prisons

Despite a lawsuit filed in the European Court of Human Rights by Saudi-born alleged terrorist Abu Zubaydah, Lithuanian prosecutors have declined to pursue charges related to two CIA-operated prisons located in that country. Human rights groups Amnesty International and Reprieve have claimed, according to the Associated Press, that Zubaydah was secretly flown by the CIA from Morocco to Lithuania in 2005.

Zubaydah had been arrested in Pakistan as a suspected high-level al-Qaeda operative who was involved in the 9/11 attacks. He said he spent about a year in the Lithuanian CIA prison before being moved to Afghanistan; he is currently being held in U.S. military custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Zubaydah’s attorney filed a complaint with the European court alleging that Zubaydah was a victim of torture and secret imprisonment, and was subjected to simulated drowning and other torture techniques that included forced nudity, confinement in small boxes and sleep deprivation.

Amnesty International and Reprieve said they had provided “sufficient evidence” to the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office to proceed with a probe into the existence of the secret CIA prisons. ABC television ran a story in 2009 that claimed Lithuanian officials had supplied the CIA with ...

Arrests of Federal Prison Guards Soar 90% Over Past Decade; Misconduct Cases Double

According to a September 2011 report by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), arrests of federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guards increased almost 90% over the previous ten years, while staffing in the BOP grew only 24% over the same period of time. From fiscal year 2001 to 2010, a total of 272 BOP guards were arrested. The report did not state how many cases originated from privately-operated prisons.

The OIG also noted that misconduct investigations involving BOP guards had doubled from 2,299 in FY 2001 to 4,603 in FY 2010, with more than half of the offenses committed during the guards’ first two years on the job, and recommended that the BOP improve its hiring, training and supervision of rookie officers. Also affecting the rise in misconduct cases was an increasing number of female prisoners and young offenders, and an increase in the number of private facilities holding federal prisoners.

The BOP’s past hiring practices for guards often resulted in a lower quality of applicants, according to the report. Salaries and benefits for state prison guards have generally tended to be lower than for sworn officers in municipal police departments ...

Federal Sex Offender Civil Commitment Process Under Fire

Among other provisions, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 allows the federal government to indefinitely detain “sexually dangerous” offenders through a civil commitment process, which requires mandatory court hearings after such offenders have been certified by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as eligible for commitment. The Adam Walsh Act was named for the kidnapped and murdered son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh. [See: PLN, June 1996, p.12].

Under 18 U.S.C. § 4248, the federal government must obtain a “Certification of a Sexually Dangerous Person” before it can proceed in a civil commitment action. Under § 4247(a)(5), a “sexually dangerous person” is defined as one who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation, and who is “sexually dangerous to others” or suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality or disorder, as a result of which he would have “serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”

To order civil commitment, a federal district court must find at an evidentiary hearing (no jury trial is required) that the government has met its burden of proof by clear and convincing ...

U.S. Supreme Court Holds AG Rules Required Before SORNA Sex Offender Law is Applied Retroactively

On January 23, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Stephen Breyer, reversed the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which had held that the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (Act) applied retroactively even in the absence of a rule by the U.S. Attorney General setting forth specifics as to registration requirements for previously-adjudicated sex offenders.

The Supreme Court found in favor of plaintiff Billy Joe Reynolds, who had challenged federal district and appellate court decisions that he had violated the Act, which requires people convicted of certain sex crimes to give state governments information such as their names and current addresses for registration purposes.

The Act also states that “[t]he Attorney General shall have the authority to specify the applicability of the [registration] requirements ... to sex offenders convicted before the enactment of this chapter...,” § 16913(d). According to the Court, “In our view, these provisions, read together, mean that the Act’s registration requirements do not apply to pre-Act offenders until the Attorney General specifies that they do apply.”

The Act became law on July 27, 2006, and on February 28, 2007 the U.S. Attorney General promulgated an Interim ...

Tenth Circuit Holds Sex Offenders Who Leave U.S. Must Still Register

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held on December 23, 2011 that a Utah sex offender must register in his home state even if he intends to permanently leave the U.S. to live in another country. Kevin Daniel Murphy, convicted of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, absconded from the Bonneville Community Correction Center in Salt Lake City in 2007 before fleeing to California, Mexico and then to Belize.

Murphy moved to Belize under an assumed name because he erroneously thought that Belize’s government would not extradite him. However, he was deported to the United States because he lacked proper immigration papers, and was subsequently prosecuted and convicted in federal court for violating the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 48 U.S.C. § 2250. Murphy appealed his conviction and two-year sentence.

The Tenth Circuit found that Murphy’s intention to leave the country did not relieve him of his obligation to register. “For [registration] purposes, a sex offender continues to reside in a state even after a change in residence or employment, both of which trigger reporting obligations, even if the offender eventually leaves the state,” the appellate court wrote. “Therefore, even ...

“Fusion Centers” Gather Intelligence on U.S. Citizens

Homeland Security-financed agencies called “fusion centers,” ostensibly formed to collect information to prevent 9/11-type terrorist attacks, have expanded their scope of operations to include ordinary street-level crime. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently expressed concerns about a fusion center in Cleveland, Ohio, claiming the center’s secrecy and data-mining practices pose a threat to privacy.

“It really is an unprecedented amount of surveillance of Americans,” stated Mike Brickner, communications and public policy director for the ACLU of Ohio. “That’s a very big jump in my mind from where the mission started to where they are now.”

Julia Shearson, executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, agreed, saying, “at minimum, we join those requesting that fusion centers be held accountable to taxpayers through increased oversight and transparency.”

The Department of Homeland Security describes fusion centers as “focal points within the state and local environment for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information....”

William Schenkelberg, director of the Cleveland-based Northeast Ohio Regional Fusion Center, said the centers arose from the perceived failure of law enforcement agencies, pre-9/11, to share intelligence data. According to Schenkelberg, fusion centers share criminal trends, tips and ...

United States District Court in New York Sides with Prisoners in § 1983 Action against Former New York Governor George Pataki and Others

United States District Court in New York Sides with Prisoners in § 1983 Action against Former New York Governor George Pataki and Others

By Derek Gilna

In a July 6, 2010 decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York the Court rejected a motion for summary judgment and found that genuine issues of fact existed as to whether prisoners' civil confinements comported with Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process, and whether state prisoners' right to pre-deprivation hearing was clearly established.

The case arose as a result of the actions of former New York State Governor George Pataki and other officials in his administration in "unilaterally... promulgating on September 12, 2005, an executive initiative requiring indefinite civil confinement in State psychiatric hospitals of criminal inmates who, at the completion of their terms of imprisonment, were deemed to be ‘sexually violent predators...’ this was known as the Sexual Violent Predator initiative...." according to the decision of Judge Jed S. Rakoff, District Judge.

The unilateral action on the part of former Governor Pataki followed a seven-year campaign to convince the State Legislature to enact legislation that sanctioned the post-conviction confinement of prisoners. The action never came to a vote ...

New Jersey Comptroller Criticizes, Questions Halfway House Contracts

In a June 15, 2011 letter and separate audit report, the New Jersey State Comptroller’s office sharply criticized a number of issues related to the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) contracts with private halfway houses. Singled out for special attention was Education and Health Centers of America, Inc. (EHCA), a non-profit corporation that operates about half of the halfway houses under contract with the DOC.

The Comptroller stated, in reference to EHCA, “One of the issues that we found is there are questions about the eligibility of one of those halfway houses to be a part of this program. We sent a letter to the [DOC] suggesting that on this issue they seek formal legal advice from the [State] Attorney General’s Office and they’ve agreed to do that.”

The Comptroller’s office noted that of the $400 million New Jersey had paid to EHCA since 1997, $390 million went to an affiliated for-profit company, Community Education Centers, Inc. (CEC). EHCA subcontracts with CEC for the “operation, support services, management, and maintenance” of EHCA’s halfway houses.

This arrangement skirts a state law requiring halfway houses to be non-profit facilities. While EHCA owns the halfway houses, it basically serves ...

Most Second Chance Act Money Goes to Government Agencies

by Derek Gilna and Brandon Sample

When the Second Chance Act (SCA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, the legislation was intended to fund programs to help former prisoners find jobs, reintegrate into society and stay out of jail. Years later, however, it appears that most SCA grants are being funneled to government agencies rather than community organizations that provide reentry services for ex-offenders.

Rules promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and left undisturbed by Congress, give the DOJ authority to dole out SCA funds according to criteria established by the DOJ. Sadly, this is not an isolated practice but part of a decades-long trend in which Congress passes bills with broadly-brushed legislative goals, then leaves entrenched bureaucracies like the DOJ to fill in the details as they see fit.

In fiscal year 2011, SCA grants totaling $2.9 million were distributed to various non-profit community organizations for Adult Offender Mentoring. Some of the grants, which averaged $300,000 each, went to organizations that have tenuous connections with prisoner reentry – such as Goodwill Easter Seals in Miami Valley, Ohio and the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. Another $3 million went to community groups ...


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