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Articles by Edward Lyon

Dark Web Creator Petitions President Trump for Clemency

Somewhat analogous to Star Wars’ young Aniken Skywalker’s journey to the Dark Side of The Force, Ulbricht’s Silk Road moved to the Dark Web. Silk Road quickly became a virtual hotspot for selling all manner of illegal goods, including narcotics, fake passports, and credit card information.

During Silk Road’s short-lived tenure between 2011 and 2013, it reputedly became the world’s largest virtual black-market economy. Paying for the illicit items available on Silk Road was accomplished through Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency. Ulbricht had reportedly made more than $100 million by the time he was arrested in 2013.

As Ulbricht’s 2015 trial for money laundering, conspiracy, and computer hacking progressed, allegations of six murder-for-hire plots were brought up. During final arguments, the prosecutor told the jury none of the alleged contract murders ever happened. Why then bring unadjudicated offenses before a petit jury to support the charged offenses that culminated in two life-without-parole ...

North Carolina Criticized for Prisoner Transfers During Pandemic

On June 16, 2020, North Carolina’s Wake County Superior Court ordered the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) temporarily to cease the majority of prisoner transfers. Except for medical emergencies or cases of life endangerment, ordered Judge Vinston Rozier, Jr., DPS may not move prisoners unless they have first been tested for the COVID-19 or held in medical quarantine for 14 days.

The decision granted a request filed in a suit mounted by the state chapters of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, which were concerned with DPS prisoner movements during the pandemic.

On April 1, 2020, DPS reported the first active cases in its prison population of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. By the next day, there were two infected prisoners at the state’s Neuse Correctional Institute (NCI).

That same day, April 2, 2020, some 200 prisoners at the Goldsboro facility staged a protest, refusing to leave the recreation yard and return to their cells until officials promised stricter measures in response to the pandemic. Instead, 36 of the protesters were transferred to the Pasquotank Correctional Institution (PCI). Shortly afterward, the maximum-security prison near Elizabeth City – which previously had no ...

COVID-19 in Hawaii’s Lockups: Still a Success Story but Cracks Starting to Show

Four DPS guards also tested positive, one at OCCC, another at the medium-security Halawa Correctional Facility – the state’s largest prison – and two more at the minimum-security Waiawa Correctional Facility. The federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) also announced that a staff member had tested positive at Honolulu’s Federal Detention Center (FDC).

BOP previously announced in July 2020 that two FDC Honolulu detainees had received positive test results, though one set of results did not come back before the female detainee had been released. BOP said the infected individuals were in isolation and their contacts were being traced and tested.

None of those who tested positive had died. The infected DPS staff members have been quarantined, ...

Prisons Banning Black Culture and History Books

here is one word that rarely, if ever, is used to describe anything that occurs in prisons. That word is fair. For example, study after study of prison demographics all conclude that although Black citizens are the minority of the U.S. population, they comprise the majority of the nation’s prison population. Just how fair is that?

Once in prison, a person has a lot of time to read. Many prefer to read, read about their culture, their histories, their present circumstances and possible futures. A Black prisoner in Texas found that classic Black-centered books like The Color Purple had been banned — but Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and two books authored by former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke were available.

In Wisconsin, Black prisoners are not allowed to read 100 Years of Lynching by Ralph Ginzburg but — once again — Mein Kampf is freely available.

The Illinois Department of Corrections’ Danville prison unit confiscated and banned over 200 Black-centered culture and history books being used in a humanities-based, accredited college program. [PLN, October 2019, p. 59] The reason given was “racial stuff.” No kidding. A good many of the books were eventually returned, but ...

From Super Villain to Super Man, Tennessee Prisoner Still Executed

When 18, Sutton killed two men in North Carolina and his father’s mother. The year was 1980 when prisons across the country were even more horribly overcrowded than they are now. When severe overcrowding in prisons occurs, violence and survival of the fittest amongst the prison population becomes paramount. At one point, a prisoner struck Sutton on the head so hard that one of his eyes popped out of its socket.

In 1985, prison predator Carl Estep announced his plans to murder Sutton. The situation ballooned into what former warden and corrections commissioner James E. Aiken characterized as a “kill or be killed” situation. Sutton survived — Estep did not. Since Sutton’s co-combatant refused a plea offer for a 30- to 40-year long prison ...

Many of Aging Kansas State Prison Population Could Be Released

The legislatively established Kansas Criminal Justice Reform Commission issued a November 2019 report on the matter, recommending the state add several hundred beds for substance abusers and aging prisoners as well as sentencing reforms.

Governor Laura Kelly is in favor of these remedies and is forging ahead with renovations to two existing buildings close to the Winfield Correctional Facility, which will add 241 more beds at a cost of $9.3 million. Another building remodel at the Lansing prison will cost $3.5 million. Estimates for an entirely new 1,200-bed prison run from $135 million to $145 million, making the renovation plans fiscally sound by comparison.

Kansas prisons are already so overcrowded the state pays the private prison firm CoreCivic to house over a hundred state residents in an Arizona prison.

Kansas American Civil Liberties Union director Nadine Johnson applauds the ...

Dallas County, Texas Jails Finally Enter the 21st Century on Phone Rates

Another positive change will be making electronic tablets available to the county jail’s population. It will cost detainees $5 per month to rent a tablet with educational programming included.

Movies, music and video games will be available for 99¢ to $12.99 per item. Incoming e-mail messages will be free. It will cost 24¢ for a prisoner to send responses.

Sheriff Marian Brown was initially worried about tablet monitoring and usage capabilities. Securus Technologies assuaged Brown’s trepidations, assuring her the only outreach possible will be to the ultra-secure Securus intranet — and then only when the tablets are docked at stations located outside of the prisoners’ cells overnight.

Sheriff Brown has opted for a positive, ...

Texas Execs Sentenced for Providing Bad Food to BOP

In the early 2000s, the Texas Legislature actually passed a general session law requiring the state prison system to purchase the “best quality” foods available. Presumably there is a similar federal statute applicable to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the only prison system in the United States that is larger than the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

According to a March 2, 2020, report by BOP’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the BOP does not have any quality assurance plan to ensure the foods offered to its prisoners meet industry or legal standards.

To illustrate just how serious the feds have seemingly become concerning the safety of the foods it serves prisoners, a plethora of criminal prosecutions against vendors of substandard food products began in 2014.

In February 2020, two executives of West Texas Provisions, Inc., in Amarillo, Texas, were sentenced to 46- and 42-month terms in the BOP. The two had conspired ...

COVID-19 and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice

by Ed Lyon

I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”That’s a famous quote from Luke Skywalker, a character in 1977’s Star Wars, as his Millennium Falcon spacecraft emerges from faster-than-light speed only to find Alderaan, its destination planet, has been destroyed. But this phrase of foreboding was also recently echoed by Dr. Carolyn Salter, former mayor of Palestine, Texas—and for extremely good reason as it turned out.

Located in Anderson County, Palestine is home to five prison units of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), the largest state prison system in the U.S. with over 135,000 people in custody. Palestine’s Beto and Coffield prisons are reportedly TDCJ’s largest prisons, and the total population of all five Anderson County jails hovers around 14,000.

With staff numbering about 2,000, TDCJ is also the largest single employer in the county, just as its 37,000 statewide employees make it the largest employer in Texas. [PLN, November 2015, pp. 56-57]

As early as February 2020, penology experts across the nation were warning that prisons could, and probably would, become huge Petri dishes for COVID-19. The overwhelming majority of prisoners are housed two to a 6-by-8½-foot closet with a tiny sink and ...

Alabama Should Release Elder Prisoners at Risk for COVID-19

by Ed Lyon

The efficacy of states continuing to retain elderly prisoners has been questioned by corrections experts for decades. The problems with continuing to needlessly incarcerate senior prisoners has become even more germane amidst the ongoing coronavirus crisis as activists, along with prison reformists, urge Alabama to release its aged state prisoners.

Statistics compiled from the five largest prison systems in the United States show that about 20 percent of the nation’s prisoner population are elderly – defined as 50 and older in the unique environment of a prison setting, according to many researchers and some state departments of correction. “That’s because people in prison are physiologically seven to ten years older than their chronological age due to a range of factors, including, but not limited to, the conditions and stress of incarceration and—outside of prison—a lack of access to adequate medical care and histories of substance use,” according to an article by the Vera Institute of Justice.

At first glance, Alabama’s statistical data indicates the state’s elderly prison population is well below the national average. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) warehouses around 22,000 prisoners and operates at a daily average of 170 percent of design capacity.

ADOC’s ...