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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Edward Lyon

Correct Care Solutions Redux: Poor Medical Care Leads to More Deaths, Lawsuits

by Ed Lyon

Correct Care Solutions (CCS) is one of the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare providers for prisoners, with annual revenue exceeding $1 billion. The Nashville, Tennessee-based firm supplies medical and mental health services to more than 100 state and federal prisons and 330 jails in 38 states, plus immigration detention centers. It also has operations in Australia.

Over the years, CCS has acquired several other prison medical providers, including Correctional Healthcare Companies, ConMed, Physicians Network Association and the mental health care subsidiary of private prison company GEO Group.

According to October 2018 news reports, CCS has been named as a defendant in at least 1,395 federal lawsuits since 2003 – most of which were dismissed. There is no way to aggregate the number of suits filed in state courts nationwide. At least 28 medical-related deaths have occurred at facilities where CCS provides healthcare. [See: PLN, Sept. 2018, p.32].

A lawsuit over one of those deaths was filed by the mother of Kendra Nelson, who died at a jail in Portsmouth, Virginia in July 2016. Nelson began suffering from heroin withdrawal the morning after her arrest. A deputy documented her withdrawal symptoms, but CCS staff medically cleared her ...

Mentally Ill Wisconsin Prisoners Held in Solitary Improperly Reclassified

by Ed Lyon

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has employed a unique method to reduce the number of seriously mentally ill prisoners being housed in solitary confinement: Their mental health classification competency levels were administratively changed without an assessment or input from mental health professionals.

When Wisconsin DOC psychologist Bradley Boivin returned to work from medical leave in 2016, he discovered class­ification changes had been made regarding 13 of the prisoners assigned to his caseload at the Waupun Correctional Institution.

He learned that the reclassifications were instituted pursuant to a memo issued in July 2015 from DOC Deputy Secretary Cathy Jess. Jess had instructed “psychology staff to reassess the mental health classification of the most seriously ill inmates in solitary confinement.” That is, they were not to reassess the prisoners’ actual mental health, but rather their “classification.”

As a result, the DOC could report that fewer seriously mentally ill prisoners were being held in solitary – not because they had been released from segregation, but rather because they were no longer classified as seriously mentally ill. According to one Wisconsin prisoner, Rayshun Woods, prisoners with the highest mental illness classification, MH-2, were being downgraded “just so they will ...

Under “In-House Parole,” New Mexico Prisoners Remain in Prison

by Ed Lyon

Parole is generally defined as conditional release from prison before a sentence has expired. But in New Mexico, every month dozens of “release-eligible” offenders join a pool of paroled state prisoners who nevertheless remain incarcerated. Called “in-house parole,” the practice affects nearly 1,000 prisoners a year at an estimated cost of $10.6 million annually. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.42].

The problem is especially acute for New Mexico’s female prisoners. Women make up a little over 10 percent of the prison population – a percentage that is steadily growing. There are fewer release facilities available for female parolees per capita than their male counterparts; as a result, up to two-and-a-half times as many female parolees as male parolees remained in prison at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

Missing paperwork and administrative backlogs are sometimes to blame. At the Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Facility near Grants, documents exchanged by the state Corrections Department (DOC) and private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly CCA) indicated that caseworkers at the facility failed to submit files to the parole board – which is separate from the DOC – in time for the expected release date of prisoner Joleen ...

Indiana Prisoner Obtains $85,000 Settlement After Being Beaten and Tased

by Ed Lyon

Brandon Garwood was incarcerated at a jail in Cass County, Indiana in October 2015. He was being held on a charge of endangering another person while driving drunk.

On October 2, 2015, video cameras showed Garwood peacefully laying on his concrete slab bed when five jailers entered ...

Female Texas Prison Guards Allege Sexual Harassment, Abuse, Discrimination

by Ed Lyon

During the 10-year period ending in 2017, over 3,500 complaints of sexual harassment and gender bias were filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The state’s largest agency, TDCJ employs 37,000 people, including more than 22,000 guards – 38 percent of whom are female. Women have worked as guards at men’s prisons in Texas since a 1988 Equal Opportunity Act lawsuit.

Sgt. Tanisha Woods said sexual harassment is less prevalent at women’s prisons in Texas. Yet some female guards at men’s facilities have voiced a preference for working with prisoners rather than abusive male coworkers – despite the fact that prisoners sometimes expose themselves, even masturbating in the presence of female staff members.

“You think it’s the inmates you have to worry about,” said a woman formerly employed as a guard, who asked not to be named, “but it’s actually the people you work with.”

The TDCJ now requires bi-annual “discrimination training” and maintains an Employee Assistance Program consisting of free counseling. Prison officials stress that the department’s culture “is not what it once was,” touting a “zero tolerance policy” toward sexual harassment and gender bias. As a result ...

New Mexico Prisoners Suffer and Die Under Privatized Health Care

by Ed Lyon

Since it first contracted out prisoner medical care to a private company in 2004, the New Mexico Corrections Department (DOC) has been named along with its contractors in over 220 lawsuits filed by prisoners or their estates.

In 2007, the DOC switched from Wexford Health Sources, based in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Corizon Health, located in Brentwood, Tennessee. Corizon is the nation’s largest private prison and jail health care provider.

By 2016, New Mexico prisoners had filed 150 lawsuits over inadequate care by Corizon and the DOC’s failure to audit the company, which had been awarded another four-year, $151 million contract in 2012. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.32].

The DOC was able to produce records for just 20 of nearly 160 audits it should have completed between 2012 and 2015.

Dr. Bianca McDermott, Corizon’s chief of behavioral health in New Mexico, filed a Fraud-Against-the-Taxpayers Act complaint in 2013, citing the company’s low staffing levels and the DOC’s failure to do anything about them. Her complaint was investigated by then-Attorney General Gary King, but no charges were filed. Instead, McDermott claims she was “retaliated against, harassed, and ultimately terminated.” She filed a whistle-blower suit ...

#MeToo Movement, Misconduct Claims Impact Federal and State Judges

by Ed Lyon

The #MeToo movement seeks to expose incidents of sexual harassment and sexual abuse by men against women. The movement has resulted in accusations against a number of high-profile figures, including actors, businessmen and politicians. Members of the judiciary have not been excluded from claims of sexual misconduct, in cases that long predate the #MeToo trend.

In 1998, Waco, Texas federal judge Walter Smith made sexual advances to a deputy clerk in his chambers. The woman escaped but he continued to pursue her, even sending her roses. Her complaints eventually reached Chief Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“What exactly do you want me to do about this?” Hudspeth reportedly asked the victim.

The woman quit her job to end the harassment. Sixteen years later, in 2014, attorney Ty Clevenger deposed the victim for an appeal he had filed of a sanction handed down by Smith in a 2009 case – entering the woman’s testimony into the public record.

Two Fifth Circuit Judicial Council investigations followed. As a result of the first, Judge Smith was reprimanded and suspended in December 2015. But the investigative report noted that he did “not understand the ...

California Muslim Prisoner Defeats Summary Judgment Order in Mixed Appellate Ruling

by Ed Lyon

Darrell Eugene Harris is a Muslim prisoner confined in California’s prison system. He filed a civil rights suit raising state and federal claims against prison guard S. Escamilla.

Harris alleged that Escamilla removed his Koran from a protective cover, threw it on the ground and then stepped on it. After the Koran was desecrated, Harris was unable to use it for his daily readings, causing a substantial burden on his ability to exercise his religious beliefs.

The district court granted summary judgment to Escamilla and Harris appealed.

In an unpublished ruling on May 24, 2018, the Ninth Circuit held the district court erred in its grant of summary judgment, finding Escamilla was not entitled to qualified immunity on Harris’ First Amendment claim and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Harris’ damages claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), since monetary damages are not available under RLUIPA. Further, since Harris had since been transferred to another facility, his RLUIPA claims seeking injunctive and declaratory relief were moot and thus should be dismissed.

However, Harris had sufficiently pleaded coercion in a state law claim pursuant to California’s ...

Death Sentences and Executions Ebbing in the “Capital of Capital Punishment”

by Ed Lyon

Harris County, Texas is known for many things. The county seat is Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States and the largest in Texas. It has its own shipping channel and a modern port for ocean-going vessels. It is also known as “the death penalty capital of the world,” “the capital of capital punishment” and “the buckle of the American death belt.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that the death penalty, as then applied, was unconstitutional. Four years later the Court allowed capital punishment to resume; Texas restarted death penalty prosecutions in 1982.

There were 1,465 executions in the United States from 1976 through the end of 2017; 545 occurred in Texas, over a third of the total. Harris County alone was responsible for 126 of those executions.

Jeff Newberry, with the University of Houston Law Center, summed up the main reason for Harris County’s high death penalty and execution numbers: District Attorney Johnny Holmes. Holmes held the D.A.’s office from 1979 until 2000. Under his leadership, prosecutors secured over 200 death sentences. Holmes once told the Houston Chronicle, with respect to his efforts to obtain death penalty ...

Voting rights: Tennessee Man Convicted of Murder No Longer Infamous

by Ed Lyon

Tennessee places a great deal of reverence on voting rights. The state’s citizens do not automatically lose their voting rights upon conviction of a felony unless that crime is among those on a list qualifying the convictee "infamous" or ineligible to vote.

Randy L. May was convicted in a Tennessee court of first-degree murder and assault intending to commit first-degree murder. The court declared May infamous, resulting from his murder conviction.

Only after May’s conviction did Tennessee’s legislature include first-degree murder as an infamous crime.

He sought relief via Tennessee’s habeas corpus jurisprudence. Both the district and appeal courts denied May relief, the latter holding that retroactive application of infamy was permissible.

Tennessee’s Supreme Court granted review and disagreed, reversing the appeal and district court’s holdings and restoring May’s voting rights. “The right to vote ... qualifies today as a fundamental liberty ... and, when illegally abridged, should be restored through the 'Great Writ.’" The court also held that a statute that retroactively declares “all felonies infamous crimes” is not permissible and may not be retroactively applied.

See: May v. Carlton, 245 S.W.3d 340 (Tenn. 2008)


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