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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Gary Hunter

Affluenza Epidemic Rampant in Our Nation’s Criminal Justice System

by Gary Hunter

Af-flu-en-za /n. <L. affluentia, see AFFLUENCE + <LL. Influens, see INFLUENCE/: an acute and infectious disease caused by greed and favoritism in the judicial system and characterized by preferential treatment and lenient sentences for wealthy offenders.

 Following his testimony in the criminal prosecution of Ethan Couch, a Texas teenager who killed four people and injured two others while driving drunk, psychologist G. Dick Miller said, “I wish I hadn’t used that term. Everyone seems to have clipped onto it. We used to call these people spoiled brats.”s corruptive as cancer and more lethal than leukemia, affluenza rots the very fabric of our nation’s judicial system. Its victims number in the millions each year while courts, prosecutors and corrections officials help to fuel the festering malady. We have entered into an era that one journalist has called the “total moral surrender” of our criminal justice system, also known as the age of affluenza.

Couch was initially sentenced to probation, resulting in an eruption of public outrage. But that outrage is overshadowed by other examples where the wealthy have committed crimes and escaped serious punishment, as well as rampant, unrestrained corruption on the corporate level that likewise results in ...

Denver Sheriff’s Deputy Accused of Ignoring and Instigating Prisoner Attacks

by Gary Hunter

Video surveillance cameras captured jail guard Gaynel Rumer walking briskly past a cell where a prisoner was being beaten and tortured without ever looking inside. According to a lawsuit filed by Jamal Hunter the sheriff’s deputy actually encouraged the attack because he did not like the way Hunter would tease him. Several prisoners testified that they listened to Hunter scream until he lost consciousness as he was beaten and had his genitals scalded with hot water. Some who testified say they are still haunted by Hunter’s screams of agony.

According to Hunter’s suit he lived on a cell block controlled by gang members who brewed illegal alcohol and dealt in various other illicit activities. Hunter was singled out for retaliation because he supposedly snitched on his attackers and talked about them behind their backs. Other cell block residents say that Rumer often smelled of alcohol and would share personal information about other prisoners with the gang members. According to testimony, when Rumer did not initiate conflicts between prisoners on the block he would often ignore them and let combatants fight out their differences.

Rumer denies all allegations against him. According to his attorney Thomas Rice, “The Denver ...

California Health Care Facility Found Deficient and Unconstitutional

In July 2013, at a cost of $840 million, the California Health Care Facility (CHCF) opened its doors for the purpose of providing care for over 1,800 prisoners. Less than a year later, in February 2014, a court-appointed overseer halted admissions citing unsanitary conditions and deficient medical care.

The facility was supposed to be a major solution to the woes that have kept the state’s prison system under federal oversight for more than a decade. Instead, CHCF deficiencies have been so great it required oversight as well.

A report submitted by court-appointed medical receiver J. Clark Kelso said that patients were found with catheter leaks, diaper leaks, scabies, open wounds, and swollen or cracked feet. One patient noted in the report attempted unsuccessfully to call nurses for thirty minutes before he eventually died from excessive bleeding.

Rebekah Evenson, an attorney for the prison, said, “This place was supposed to fix a lot of what was wrong. But they not only were not providing care, but towels or soap or shoes.”

According to the report the facility failed to keep sufficient amounts of medical supplies, was understaffed in key administrative areas, experienced “glitches” in its health record and warehouse ...

Seventh Circuit: Jailhouse Lawyer’s Help No Reason to Deny Appointment of Counsel

The U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court ruling that denied appointment of counsel to a prisoner because he received legal help from another prisoner.

Ladell Henderson had a fifth grade education and had been diagnosed with a low IQ when he filed suit against prison officials for deficient medical care. Incarcerated at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center since 1995, he was found to have high blood pressure in 1999.

The following year he was diagnosed with diabetes. In 2009, after experiencing diabetic hypoglycemia and tremulous convulsions, Henderson was informed by a physician that he had a “bad kidney problem” and would die without dialysis. He subsequently learned that he had not been provided certain treatments over the years that could have prevented his kidney failure.

In October 2010, with the help of another prisoner, Henderson filed a federal lawsuit alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs and requesting appointment of counsel because he had little education and a low IQ.

The district court acknowledged “that his filings have been prepared by other inmates,” but still denied Henderson’s request for appointment of counsel.

In July 2011, Henderson filed an amended complaint, a settlement proposal, a ...

Illinois: Exonerated Prisoner Calls $80,000 Award a Travesty, Retrial Ordered

Nathson E. Fields spent 18 years in prison due to a conveniently “lost” file that would have cleared him. Fields was a member of the El Rukn street gang when he was convicted of a double homicide in 1986. After a dozen years on death row and another six in general population, he was granted a retrial and cleared in 2009, then filed a wrongful conviction suit.

On April 28, 1984, at about 10:15 a.m., Talman Hickman and Jerome “Fuddy” Smith were shot to death on Chicago’s East 39th Street. Over 100 witnesses were interviewed, including a woman who described two black men with a “light complexion” fleeing the crime scene. Both wore ski masks but appeared to be in their “early 20s.” Fields had a dark complexion, was 30 years old and did not fit the description given to detectives.

Fields’ “street file” was kept by Chicago detective David O’Callaghan. Defense attorneys requested the file during Fields’ trial but prosecutors and police officers denied its existence; hiding street files was common practice in the Chicago Police Department. Years after his conviction, Fields’ file was found buried in a cabinet with cold cases dating back to 1944 ...

Destined to Fail: the Negative Effect of Collateral Consequence Laws

Incarceration is intended as a deterrent to crime. But at least one report indicates that the opposite may be true. Dr. Tracy WP Sohoni of the University of Maryland received a federal grant to study the formal restrictions placed on a person as a result of being arrested and/or convicted for breaking a law. What she found was enlightening and more than a little disturbing.

Dr. Sohoni’s 2014 dissertation is a scientific study premised on three hypotheses. States with the most and harshest collateral consequence laws will; 1) have higher recidivism rates for new crimes; 2) have higher rates of parole violations; and 3) the scope of those collateral consequence laws will be reflected in recidivism rates. That is to say, the broader the scope of a collateral consequence law on everyday life the greater the negative effect it will have on successful reentry rates.

Dr. Sohoni’s study shows that collateral consequences have a negative effect on a person’s voting rights, ability to obtain employment, housing opportunities, access to public assistance and obtaining certain driver’s licenses. Additionally, collateral consequences place a greater burden on the poor and minority groups who are already disproportionately incarcerated in higher numbers.

She also ...

Federal Guard Has Sex with Coworkers and Impregnated by Prisoner

Nancy Gonzalez was a guard at New York’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) when she became pregnant with a prisoner’s baby. The father Ronell Wilson was convicted in 2006, of the point-blank shooting of two undercover policemen. Ms. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to the charge of illegal sexual contact with an inmate and was eventually convicted to a year in prison. In her defense Gonzalez disclosed that she also had sex with at least eight other co-workers, two whom were supervisors, and one other prisoner.

MDC warden Frank Strada insists that Gonzalez’ behavior was an isolated incident. In a letter to the Judge Strada wrote that Gonzalez “knowingly placed her own personal desires above her professional duties. Ms. Gonzalez’s betrayal has left many of her former co-workers feeling confused, angry, and less safe in their daily job.”

American University law professor and corrections expert Brenda V. Smith disagrees. She says that Gonzalez’s actions suggest that her behavior was not uncommon at the MDC facility. “I’m sure there are correctional officers who were not so surprised by her conduct. She just happened to be the one who got caught,” said Smith.

Defense attorney Anthony Ricco characterized his client as suffering from ...

Negligence not Grounds for Prosecution in Deaths of Wisconsin Prisoners

It was a Thursday in late July 2009 when Myron Weston, a prisoner at Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF), drank cleaning fluid from the supplies given to him to perform his janitorial duties. A short time later he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed. By Friday he had managed to move his mattress to the floor where he lay, drenched in sweat, in front of a fan. On Saturday, when guards realized Weston had vomited on himself they gave him a clean mattress but never sent for medical attention. On Sunday, when Weston collapsed after trying to stand, guards finally called an ambulance. It was too late. Weston died a short time later.

Weston had told his captors several months earlier that he had previously tried to commit suicide by ingesting dangerous chemicals and taking pills. But no one ever considered the consequences of giving him a janitorial job with the very chemicals he needed to kill himself.

Department of Corrections (DOC) spokeswoman Joy Staab blames the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which she says prevents the sharing of prisoners’ health information for purposes of confidentiality.

“HIPAA prevents many DOC employees from knowing an ...

New York Based Ex-Offender Assistance Program Sues Landlord for Discrimination

On October 30, 2014 the Fortune Society filed suit in United States District Court for the Eastern District in Brooklyn alleging that a New York City apartment complex’s refusal to rent to ex-offenders amounts to racial discrimination and violates both the federal Fair Housing Act and New York State law. Since its construction, the owners of the Sand Castle apartment complex have implemented a blanket ban on renting to anyone with a criminal conviction.

The suit alleges that the use of prior convictions to disqualify applicants creates a clear disparate impact against Blacks and Latinos on the basis of race. Roughly 95% of Fortune Society’s clients are either Black or Latino. According to Fortune, Blacks and Latinos are disqualified at a rate between three and four and one-half times higher than whites and that the use of past convictions to disqualify these minorities is the Defendant’s way of attracting white tenants.

The Fortune Society is a highly respected non-profit organization that has helped ex-offenders successfully transition back into society for nearly fifty years.  They assist ex-offenders with education, employment, health and housing programs. Through what is called a “scattered-site” program Fortune has successfully cultivated relationships with over 100 landlords throughout ...

Human Rights Report Reveals Inequities in U.S. Sentencing Practices

“Nation Behind Bars” is a 36 page report exposing the egregious effects that decades of unfair sentencing practices have had on U.S. citizens. Pointing back to the “tough on crime” stance taken by many politicians in their quest for election during the last three decades the report cites the need for policy makers to take a more responsible approach to law-making. The report encourages lawmakers to increase their efforts to ensure proportional punishment within the nation’s judicial process.

One of its first suggestions cites the need to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws and recommends the creation of sentencing commissions to ensure that criminal sanctions are fair and appropriate. Over two million citizens are currently imprisoned in the United States. This country has seen a 430 percent increase in incarcerated citizens between 1979 and 2009. Federal prisons have grown by over 700 percent in the last three decades. State prisons have grown by more than 240 percent during that same period.

“The ‘land of the free’ has become a country of prisons,” said Jaimie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and a co-author of the report.  “Too many men and women are serving harsh ...


 

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