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Articles by Edward Lyon

Kim Kardashian West Declares War on Mass Incarceration

Nationally known actress, fashionista and activist Kim Kardashian West has two new loves. One of them is the law and the other is a burning desire to help society’s lowest esteemed class, its convicted criminals.

Kardashian, the wife of rapper Kanye West, has recently completed a one-year legal study and apprenticeship. Later this year she will take what is called the “baby bar.” If she clears that hurdle, Kardashian will be able to enter into another three years of studying the law and then be able to take the regular state bar exam.

Her particular area of concern is the mass incarceration of U.S. citizens, which numbers around 2.2 million people and is proportionally higher than any other country in the world.

One of the recent causes she successfully tackled was the case of Alice Marie Johnson, who received a 25-year prison term on a first-time non-violent drug offense. She became so passionate about Johnson, a great grandmother, that she went to visit President Donald Trump at the White House. President Trump favorably responded to Kardashian’s entreaty and granted Johnson clemency in 2018. She had served 21 years in prison.

In a direct attack on mass incarceration, ...

Former Prisoners Succeeding in Hospitality Industry

Regarding employment for newly released prisoners, two stereotypical jobs often come to mind, washing dishes and bussing tables at diners or restaurants. While those jobs are certainly still available, more and more prisoners are taking advantage of hospitality education and training to become cooks and chefs, filling an increasing demand in eateries across the United States and in Great Britain.

As is so often the case, California is leading the way in this area with San Quentin prison’s Quentin Cooks (QC). A culinary training program begun in 2016, QC was founded by restaurant chefs Lisa Dombroski and Helaine Helnitzer. QC’s aim is to impart basic to advanced cooking skills that are required in order to work in a commercial kitchen to prisoners. Teamwork and understanding of interaction with coworkers from diverse backgrounds also are part of the training.

The course lasts for 12 weeks with an average of nine men per class. Of the five successfully completed classes, 29 men were released. Twelve got jobs at well-known establishments like Oakland’s Homeroom and the Smoke Berkely barbecue restaurant.

The programs continues under the tutelage of local Marin County chef Huw Thornton and his assistant Adelaar Rogers.

Graduates receive ...

$110,000 Settlement for Outed Wisconsin Prisoner Informant

Regular readers of Prison Legal News may remember the April 2019 article (page 61) chronicling the story of Wisconsin prison guard Sergeant Robert Wilcox. Wilcox placed images of a rat, signifying an informant, next to the names of five prisoners working for a gang intelligence investigator, Captain Jason Wilke. Wilcox left the altered roster in a desk, where it was viewed and copied by other prisoners at the Redgranite Correctional Institute (RCI).

The informants’ lives were allegedly endangered and Captain Wilke and his family began receiving threats as well. The prisoners were transferred to other prisons for their safety. Wilke reported the threats to law enforcement since prison administrative personnel, in violation of policy, refused to do so. He eventually took early medical retirement, fearing retaliation by prison officials for having sought law enforcement protection.

Wilcox, a member of the Redgranite Governing Board (city council), was suspended for a day. He subsequently quit his job at the RCI.

Prisoner Joseph Benson, one of the informants outed by Wilcox, filed for relief in a federal court under 42 U.S.C., § 1983 in a pro se filing. Attorney Ben H. Elson of Chicago’s People’s Law Office stepped in and ...

$70,000 Settlement For Oregon DOC Prisoner Dying from Flu

Oregon citizen Tina Ferri began serving a 70-month sentence for felony assault and methamphetamine possession at the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODC) Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF) for women in October of 2017.

In March of the following year, an Oregon appeal court reversed her assault conviction, but by then Ferri had died of flu. She was 53-years-old and had entered the ODC without significant health problems.

Ferri caught the flu shortly after entering the CCCF. That outbreak was particularly virulent. As the infirmary filled to capacity, newly infected patients were quarantined to their assigned cells. Their cellmates were not moved if they were not infected, needlessly exposing others and compounding the contagion problem.

Even more egregious was the ODC’s and CCCF’s near total lack of overall preventative measures to guard against a flu outbreak. For the 2017 flu season, ODC purchased 4,650 vaccines for its 14,550-prisoner population. Only 4,550 prisoners requested a vaccination, which meant that only 31.27 percent of Oregon’s prison population were inoculated against the flu for that year.

The situation was even more dismal at the CCCF, where 519 vaccines were purchased for 1,645 prisoners. Only 300 prisoners requested a vaccination,18.23 percent of ...

$1.25 Million Jury Award to Rikers Prisoner Over Jail Beating

In January 2018, Jose Guadalupesettled a lawsuit for a total of $1,250,000 for a “severe beating” he suffered at the hands of jailers in the city’s notorious Rikers Island complex. He would eventually net a bit less than half of that amount after paying attorney’s fees and settling claims filed against him by the four people he was accused of robbing, which was the reason for him being incarcerated at Rikers Island to begin with.

New York state passed the earliest Son of Sam Law (SOSL) after David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, was arrested in 1977 for a spree of random killings. The law was intended to prevent convicted persons from reaping a profit by barring them from selling book or movie rights about their crimes. Critics attacked the law as a violation of the First Amendment and in 1991 the Supreme Court declared the statute unconstitutional in Simon and Schuster v. New York Crime Victims Board, 502 U.S. 105 (1991).

However, New York and other states subsequently passed new versions of the SOSL to get around the Supreme Court decision. New York’s, passed in 2001, bars a convicted person from receiving more than $10,000 ...

“Free” E-Tablets Are Anything But

by Ed Lyon

A lengthy article concerning e-tablets in state prisons was published in the April 2018 issue of PLN (p.44). One of the warnings set out in that article concerned the high fees accompanying apps for those devices. JPay stands out as a major provider of e-tablets, a variant ...

Long-running Maricopa County, Arizona Jail Lawsuit Ends

by Ed Lyon

With all of the negative publicity concerning the Maricopa County, Arizona, jails associated with former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the unconstitutional conditions there began under Sheriff-elect Jerry Hill. It was during Hill’s tenure in 1977 that the lawsuit Graves v. Hill ...

Seventh Circuit Upholds Denial of Wisconsin Prisoner’s Request to Marry Psychologist

by Ed Lyon

John Nigl began his 100-year prison stretch in 2001 at Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin. From April of 2013 until January of 2015, Nigl received psychological counseling from Dr. Sandra Johnston. Their sessions ceased when Johnston left her employment. The two shared a kiss when Johnston left. ...

Washington State Prisoner’s Suicide Leads to $350,000 Settlement

by Ed Lyon

Shannon Rose Jefferson, a Native American, was a frequent resident at the Whatcom County Jail (WCJ) in Washington State. During the last 16 years of her life, Jefferson was held at the WCJ over 20 times. Jail records covering those prior detentions indicated she had attempted suicide ...

New Mexico Prison Guards Win $700,000 Age Discrimination Settlement

by Ed Lyon

Several long-time employees of the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) filed age discrimination and retaliation complaints against that agency with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Senior Warden Anthony Romero was 38 years old when he reviewed three candidates for promotion to a vacant major position; ...