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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Derek Gilna

Colorado Officials Lead Efforts to Modernize Afghan Prisons

Bill Zalman is the leader of a team of prison officials from Colorado that has been tapped to help train the wardens of Afghanistan’s prisons in modern correctional practices.
The head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David T. Johnson, selected Colorado because he said that state is a leader in the corrections field, along with California and Maryland. He also mentioned he had toured the Colorado prison in Cañon City and reviewed many of the vocational training programs there, which included a 3,000-head goat farm and a culinary arts program. The executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), Ari Zavaras, stated that prisoners not only learn trades but also develop a work ethic that helps reduce recidivism.

Johnson said he had selected state prison experts to do the federally-funded training in Afghanistan rather than federal prison officials, largely because state systems were closer in size to those of the smaller countries that they were helping. “Our corrections system is the most effective human-rights tool we have in Afghanistan,” he said, apparently without irony.

According to Zalman, stationed in Kabul, “Prison is prison the world around ...

Florida: Woman Settles Lawsuit Against Sheriff’s Officers for $67,500 after Arrest While in Premature Labor

In June 2010, Melanie Dawn Williams, who had been arrested by officers after allegedly running a red light on her way to the St. Vincent’s Medical Center emergency room in Jacksonville, Florida when she was in premature labor, accepted a settlement in her lawsuit instead of going to trial ...

New Research: Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes They Did Not Commit

A September 2010 article in the New York Times highlighted an interesting phenomenon that has become more evident in an era where DNA evidence is available to help conclusively prove guilt or innocence – the fact that many people confess to crimes they did not commit, and serve lengthy prison terms as a result. Now, due to numerous real-life examples and research by experts, it is recognized that such confessions occur much more frequently than originally presumed.

Peter J. Neufeld, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said the new research is dramatic. “In the past, if somebody confessed, that was the end. You couldn’t imagine going forward.” Neufeld noted that rather than focusing on whether confessions were physically coerced, one should also “look at whether they are reliable.”

According to records compiled by Professor Brandon L. Garrett of the University of Virginia Law School, since 1976 at least 40 people have given confessions that were later shown to be false by DNA evidence. Prof. Garrett observed that it has been known for some time that the mentally impaired, mentally ill, young, and easily led can often be coerced into confessions, but cited the example of Eddie J. Lowery to ...

Ohio Governor Spares Death Row Prisoner, Cites Problems with Evidence

Kevin Keith, 46, on Ohio’s death row for murdering two women and a 4-year-old child, and scheduled for execution on September 15, 2010, was spared by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. In commuting the death penalty portion of Keith’s sentence on September 2, Governor Strickland stated, “This case is clearly one in which a full, fair analysis of all of the unanswered questions should be considered by a court.”

Commutation was the last resort for Keith, who had exhausted his state court appeals and whose petition was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Ohio Parole Board had unanimously recommended the denial of Keith’s clemency request. Before granting the commutation, Gov. Strickland listened to the appeals of a diverse group of individuals from both political parties, attorneys general, judges and prosecutors, after Keith’s attorneys uncovered evidence that they argued cast doubt on his guilt.

Defense lawyers had raised various issues, including that the assault that resulted in the murders Keith was convicted of committing was actually carried out by another man, who said he had been hired for $15,000 to carry out the crime. They also maintained that the police photo lineup was prejudicial because ...

BOP’s Furlough Notification Policy Not to be Addressed for Seven Years

A September 2010 report by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice cast light on deficiencies with the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) furlough policy, and in doing so inadvertently highlighted the power of the federal prison employees’ union to delay changes in BOP policies.

In 2003, the BOP drafted a proposed policy that would have required BOP officials to notify crime victims and witnesses when a prisoner was temporarily released on furlough or transferred to another institution. Seven years later, however, the BOP has yet to implement that policy. Citing the requirements of a collective bargaining agreement with the National Council of Prison Locals, an arm of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a policy change that could have an effect on conditions of employment for AFGE members must be negotiated.

According to a September 2, 2010 New York Times article, “Agency and union officials meet for three days each month to discuss such issues, one at a time and usually in the order in which they were proposed ... the agency now says that it may not be able to fix the [furlough notification policy] problem until 2017 – a time frame called ‘excessive ...

Ninth Circuit Holds Private Prison Companies Can Be Sued Under Bivens for Violating Federal Prisoner’s Rights

On June 7, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Richard Lee Pollard, a prisoner in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the Taft Correctional Institution (TCI) in California, could assert a Bivens claim against employees of a private prison company.

Pollard overcame various procedural challenges before winning the right to pursue his claim. He had alleged that while incarcerated at TCI, he slipped on a cart left in a doorway and suffered possible fractures of both elbows. Employees of GEO Group, Inc., under contract with the BOP to operate TCI, transferred him to an orthopedic clinic outside the prison. Despite Pollard’s complaints, GEO employees forced him to put his arms through his jumpsuit and to wear a “black box” restraint device on his wrists.

After diagnosing serious injuries to both of his elbows, the outside orthopedists recommend that Pollard’s left elbow be placed in a posterior splint for approximately two weeks. Pollard claimed that his elbow was not put in the proper splint by prison medical staff and that he was unable to feed or bathe himself. He also said he was forced to return to work ...

Correctional Medical Care Has Controversial Litigation History

Correctional Medical Care, Inc. (CMC), a private company that provides health care for prisoners in at least eight jails in New York and Pennsylvania, is embroiled in a lawsuit that alleges misconduct by corporate officials.

The president of Pennsylvania-based CMC, Emre Umar, was named in the suit as being responsible for the harassment and firing of a CMC employee at a jail in Monroe County, New York who claimed she had an affair with him. The former employee, April D’Amico, stated in her federal lawsuit that Umar had told her “that she was a valuable employee; that he would always take care of her; and that if she ever tried to use their relationship against him that he ‘would destroy’ her.”

Alleging that she wanted to end their relationship, D’Amico claimed Umar harassed her by calling her dozens of times, then fired her when she failed to respond. She was terminated in February 2009.

The attorney representing Umar and CMC responded that D’Amico’s allegations were “baseless,” and that he is seeking not only dismissal of the lawsuit but has also raised counter-claims that D’Amico’s own misconduct cost the company “hundreds of thousands of dollars ...

Report: New Jersey DOC Should Upgrade Prisoner Reentry Programs

A report by Rutgers University released in January 2010 concluded that the New Jersey Department of Corrections could be doing more to help prisoners successfully reintegrate into society upon their release. The report was based on the results of a survey of 4,000 prisoners completed in August 2009, comprising about 40% of the total number of New Jersey state prisoners released annually.

The report noted that “while the majority of people completing the survey reported feeling hopeful about their reentry prospects, there are reasons for concern ....” Among those concerns were chronic health and mental health problems that require post-release follow-up treatment; difficulty in obtaining food stamps, public housing and other assistance for released prisoners with drug-related convictions; the lack of job placement resources; the absence of strong family ties in the community to assist with reentry; the burden of fees and fines owed; and a general lack of familiarity with money management, preventive health care and other societal skills among prisoners pending release.

It is generally accepted that the “revolving door” problem of recidivism exists partly due to a prisoner’s lack of skills to cope with a society that has moved on while he or she has been ...

Federal Prisoner’s Death at FCI Pekin Triggers FBI Investigation

The November 13, 2009 death of Adam Montoya, a prisoner at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Pekin, Illinois, resulted in an investigation by the FBI.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that “an autopsy concluded that the 36-year-old inmate suffered from no fewer than three serious illnesses – cancer, hepatitis, and HIV.”
According to the findings of the coroner and pathologist who examined Montoya, however, the only medication in his body at the time of death was a “trace” of Tylenol.
“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” said Coroner Dennis Conover. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”

By “out there,” one can only assume Conover was referring to the fact that Montoya had been in the custody and control of the Bureau of Prisons and its medical staff, who are required to provide prisoners with medical care.

Montoya, whose cause of death was internal bleeding that resulted from a burst spleen, exhibited symptoms of cancer and hepatitis that would have been hard to miss – including dramatic weight loss, a swollen abdomen and yellow eyes, according to the coroner. His father, Juan Montoya, stated that his son “consistently ...

Study Finds Discriminatory Jury Selection in Southern States

A study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, has found widespread discrimination in jury selection in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. The discriminatory practices appear to be most prevalent in serious criminal cases, including capital cases.

The study, published in August 2010, “uncovered shocking evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection in every state. We discovered majority-black counties where capital defendants nonetheless were tried by all-white juries. We found evidence that some prosecutors employed by state and local governments actually have been trained to exclude people on the basis of race and instructed on how to conceal their racial bias.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 outlawed race-based discrimination in jury selection, but the Equal Justice Initiative found that “135 years later illegal exclusion of racial minorities persists.” Although the U.S. Supreme Court limited the discriminatory use of peremptory juror strikes in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the court’s refusal to apply its ruling retroactively resulted in the execution of death row prisoners convicted by all-white juries where jurors were excluded on the basis of race. Other condemned prisoners still ...


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