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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Edward Lyon

Tablets and E-messaging Services Expand in Prisons and Jails, as do Fees

by Matt Clarke and Ed Lyon

Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the largest prison and jail phone service providers in the United States, has steadily expanded into other services that target corrections agencies. The telecom firm is now competing with Securus Technologies for a share of a lucrative and unregulated market: Providing tablet computers and e-messaging services to prisoners.

GTL supplies a custom tablet which it offers to prisoners at no cost. The company then recoups its investment and turns a profit by charging user fees for apps and services available through the devices.

Under a recent contract awarded to GTL by the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), prisoners pay $0.49 for each electronic message. The company also charges a monthly fee to access its streaming music service and video games in tiered subscriptions, priced from $5 to $15 per month.

Offering about 3 million songs, GTL’s music service costs twice as much as Spotify or iTunes for less than one-tenth the number of available songs. And with video games usually available outside prison for no more than $8 each, two months of GTL’s gaming fees could pay for all eight of the most popular games available from ...

Missouri Prison Litigation Reform Act's Fee Requirement Affirmed

by Edward B. Lyon

Twenty-one Jefferson City, Missouri Correctional Center prisoners filed a class action challenge to the state's Prison Litigation Reform Act's (MPLRA) fee requirement for habeas corpus petitions in Cole County's circuit court. The court denied service of process, dismissed the class action for failure to state a claim, then dismissed the accompanying habeas petitions without prejudice so they could be filed separately. Missouri's supreme court accepted and ruled on the claims of the MPLRA violating the federal and state's constitutions.

That court found no error in the habeas petitions' dismissal. It noted no prisoner was precluded from seeking habeas relief in a higher court. The claims of the MLPRA violating the constitutions were not explained and were deemed abandoned.

The claim of insufficient resources to de legal work were denied because no prisoner demonstrated how these conditions "hindered [their] efforts to pursue a legal claim." No prisoner
showed a denial of meaningful court access. 

Likewise, no prisoner demonstrated a procedural bar to court access because of a required filing fee, a substantive right to seek habeas relief or conditional confinement actions under MPLRA. 

See: Bromwell, et al. v. Nixon, et al., Case No. SC91668, (Mo. Sup. Ct. 2012)

The High Cost of Texas Prison Rape Data

by Edward B. Lyon

A recent request for sexual assault data in Texas prisons since 2013 was estimated to cost $1,132,024.30. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) stated it needs over 61,000 hours to "hand search" more than 260,000 "responsive documents" from 2,000 cases for non-exempt "basic information." This amounts to 130 pages per case.

The Texas Attorney General recommended requesting data from the TDCJ's Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) offices. The Safe Prisons/PREA program charged $551.39 for division level audits.

These basic data tables show that in 2016, TDCJ's police agency, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), "opened 238 sexual assault cases in state-run facilities and another 4 in private prisons." The tables further show a TDCJ-wide total of 26,730 initial investigations in state prisons and 693 in private prisons, with 474 extortion reports in state prisons and 13 in private prisons. The OIG does not usually open a case if an initial investigation does not recommend it.


Nebraska Prisoner Prevails on Religious Rights Lawsuit

by Edward B. Lyon

On August 21, 2014, a settlement between prisoner Harold Wilson and defendants Diane Sabatka-Rine, Mario Peart and Michael Edison was agreed to by all parties. Nebraska will pay $15,000 in attorney fees and guarantee Wilson access to his Wiccan religious materials and provide worship time ...

Dallas Teens Have Sex in Jail

by Edward B. Lyon

Juvenile males detained in the Medlock Youth Treatment Center began outcrying to therapists in April 2017 about sexual activities there. The lead outcrier reported multiple acts, including oral sex, spanning November-April 2017, including at least five 13-17 year-olds.

The center's staffing was critically low in the fall of 2017. To maintain the required 24-to-1 prisoner-to-guard ratio, up to 24 children slept in a multi-purpose common room two nights each week. As staffing shortages continued, this sleeping arrangement became commonplace.

When guards went on break, children would take advantage of those absences to have sex. The supervising guard's office was situated such that not all the children could be seen, and this was also exploited. So lax was overall supervision that detainees had sex while one guard sat with her back to them, while other guards read or played with their cell phones, while one watched sports on the supervisor's office TV, and during staff meetings.

To remedy this problem some detainees were transferred to a facility with single bunk cells. Supervisors promised disciplinary action against jailers who do not properly supervise detainees.


Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Wisconsin Property Claim

by Edward Lyon

Wisconsin prisoner Christopher Streckenbach submitted two boxes of personal property for his son to pick up at a visit. The son never came within the policy's 30 day period. The property was weighed for mailing by mailroom supervisor VanDensen, but Streckenbach's account was $2 short of funds for postage. The property was destroyed as dictated by prison policy.

Streckenbach filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit claiming his property was destroyed without notice to him, and even though the policy had existed since 2013, he and other prisoners had never received notice of the policy.

The district court granted summary judgment for VenDensen and the assistant and senior warden, holding the supervisor had qualified immunity and Streckenbach provided no legal theory to support his claim.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding VanDensen not responsible for general notice requirements since they were posted on bulletin boards and the defendants were not vicariously liable for mistakes others make. The court did hold that "Complaints need not plead law or spell out theories of liability" citing Johnson v. Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 364 (2014). The court further noted the policy was changed in 2015, eliminating the visitation ...

Fifth Circuit Dismisses Louisiana Prisoner's § 1983

by Edward Lyon

Prisoner James Davis claimed injuries resulting from a traffic accident to an Avoyelles Parish transport van he was riding in. He sued the deputy driver, a jail captain he alleged ordered a city policeman to falsify facts in the accident report, other deputies he said interfered with his hospital stay, and a jail nurse who refused to comply with a prescription for an extra mattress and pillow. He cited due process denials at a disciplinary hearing for refusing to call witnesses, punishment with extended lockdown for leaving a hospital waiting area, and a retaliatory transfer to a parish prison for filing an administrative review procedure (ARP).

The district court held there was no deliberate indifference to Davis's medical needs for the denial of an extra mattress and pillow and no evidence supporting his version of the disciplinary proceedings and lockdown sentence. The retaliatory transfer claim was time-barred, and appointment of counsel was refused.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed all except as applied to his state tort claims, holding since Davis's ARP was never answered, the limiting statute was tolled. This was remanded so the district court could "choose to dismiss the state law claims [of negligence ...


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