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Articles by Edward Lyon

“There you go, Agent Orange!” Former South Carolina Sheriff Federally Indicted for Assaulting Jail Detainee

by Ed Lyon

Charles B. Lemon, the former Sheriff of South Carolina’s Marlboro County, pleaded not guilty on February 6, 2024, to federal civil rights charges laid out in an indictment unsealed two weeks earlier. Lemon and former Deputy Dep. David A. Cook were both accused in a brutal assault ...

Texas Prisons are Fire Traps

by Ed Lyon

With almost 122,000 prisoners, Texas has the largest state prison system in the U.S. According to a report on January 9, 2023, it appears to be the most fire prone system, as well.

Fire and safety spending by the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) rose from $2.9 million for fiscal year 2020 to $8.6 million the next, and it rose again for the 2022-2023 to $14.3 million. TDCJ officials are currently begging the state legislature to more than double the current bi-yearly fire and safety budget to $30 million.

Yet for decades TDCJ has pooh-poohed fire safety concerns in its prisons. In 2012 the State Fire Marshal discovered 237 buildings in the prison system that were required to have fire alarms but did not. Others had inoperative alarms waiting for repairs. In a 2019 inspection, the State Fire Marshal uncovered over 3,000 fire safety violations.

At the beginning of 2023, fire safety violations had skyrocketed to more than 8,000 violations. Fires are common in TDCJ’s close-custody and restrictive-custody housing areas. Since these prisoners seldom are allowed out of their cells, not as many guards are needed – allegedly. But even if that’s true, staff preparedness has ...

The World’s Biggest Prison

by Ed Lyon 

In February 2023, officials in El Salvador began admitting detainees to a new prison that is the largest in the world.

The prison, which has its own utilities, is isolated on 56 acres in the middle of a 410-acre plot of thick forest. The cells are spread over eight “pavilions,” each consisting of two cellblocks. Each cellblock, in turn, holds 32 of the 80-prisoner cells.

But what Salvadoran prison officials call a cell would be a dormitory in most U.S. prisons. Each of the new prison’s 512 cells holds 80 prisoners. Cells are ungenerously equipped with two sinks and two toilets – but at least there is running water and flush capability.

Each cell covers about 1,076 square feet, only slightly smaller than the average two-bedroom apartment in the U.S., according to 2018 government statistics. Beds, or bunks, consist of iron sheets without mattresses. In fact there are no mats or linens at all. There is no reported recreation available, either. Prisoners will be spending a great deal of their time in their “iron sheet cabin” beds.

For this humongous prison, holding 40,960 prisoners, a guard force of just 650 is tasked with providing security and keeping ...

U.S. Prisoner Numbers Slowly Declining

by Ed Lyon

New data released in December 2022 by the federal Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showed a steady decline in prison population from 2011 to 2021 – nearly 25% overall. The number of people imprisoned today – 1,163,665 – reflects the largest slice of U.S. mass incarceration, but it is only a slice; over a half-million other Americans are locked up in local jails, and 100,000 more have been involuntarily committed to state hospitals or are being held in immigration and juvenile detention centers.

According to the BJS report, Prisoners in 2021, the number of Americans imprisoned in December 2021 was 1,163,665 – about the same as 25 years earlier. Since the total population has grown by 23% since then, that means incarceration rates today are lower. However, with 350 of every 100,000 citizens in prison, the U.S. rate remains higher than in any other country.

Prison numbers peaked in 2009 at 1,553,574 and by 2011 stood at 1,538,874. Over half of the decline since 2011 was recorded just between 2019 and 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. This strongly suggests that falling prison population numbers do not reflect a dip in arrests nor ...

California Easing Housing Hurdles for Released Prisoners

by Ed Lyon

As retributive minded states likeTexas pursue ever more draconian measures and policies to deny housing to released prisoners (PLN, May 2021, pp. 34-35), California is beginning to enact measures and policies to assist released prisoners in obtaining housing.

Easing housing restrictions for the formerly incarcerated began in 2020, with “Fair Chance” ordinances that prohibited landlords from performing criminal background checks on rental housing applicants in Berkely and Oakland. As a result, a full 33% of applicants surveyed reported they have been able to reunite with family or secure their own housing because of those new ordinances, according to Margaretta Wan-Ling Lin, a University of California researcher and Executive Director of the nonprofit Just Cities.

Since then, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed its own Fair Chance on December 20, 2022 – the first county in the U.S. to protect formerly incarcerated citizens from housing discrimination. The county is home to over 5,000 former prisoners and detainees, who are hugely overrepresented in its homeless population; a 2022 survey found that at least 30% of 9,700 homeless people had interactions with the criminal justice system, and 7% pointed the finger directly at their criminal record for ...

Warden Ousted from Troubled Alabama Prison After DUI Arrest

by Ed Lyon

A state prison warden was arrested on August 30, 2022, on suspicion of driving under the influence in Cullman, Alabama. Jeffrey Baldwin was then placed on mandatory leave from his post at Elmore Correctional Facility (CF) by the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Thwarting any effort to ...

$20,000 Settlement for Ohio Prisoner’s Slip-and-Fall Injury

by Ed Lyon

On July 23, 2021, Magistrate Scott Sheets presiding in the Ohio Court of Claims approved a settlement, under which the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) agreed to pay $20,000 to a former state prisoner who claimed he was injured while incarcerated when he slipped and ...

$32,500 Medical Malpractice Award to Ohio Prisoner for Ripped-Out Catheter

by Ed Lyon

On February 28, 2022, Judge Patrick E. Sheeran of the Ohio Court of Claims approved a settlement under which the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) agreed to pay a prisoner $32,500 to resolve his claims that prison medical staff ignored post-surgery instruction and removed his ...

Student Loan Debt and Prisoners

by Ed Lyon

After Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) took action in August 2022 to forgive up to $20,000 in federal or federally insured student loan debt, nearly 22 million of some 44 million Americans affected rushed to sign up. Prisoners were not excluded from the plan, which was ...

South Carolina Judge Halts State Executions by Electrocution and Firing Squad

by David M. Reutter and Ed Lyon

On September 6, 2022, the Richland County Court of Common Pleas granted an injunction in a challenge brought by four condemned South Carolina prisoners to 2021 state legislation making electrocution the default method of execution unless a prisoner opts instead for lethal injection ...