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Articles by Jayson Hawkins

New Details Emerge on Senseless Death in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jail

Magic as Rehabilitation

For many, the answer is to distract themselves with dominoes and television. Others turn ...

Georgia Prisoners Lacked Food, Water, Leading to Melee

Innovative Vermont Prison Superintendent’s Demotion for Sexist Language Proves Controversial

by Jayson Hawkins

Former Vermont prison Superintendent Ed Adams has found himself the subject of repeated media scrutiny over the last few years, and his story is illustrative of the problems that surround prison reform, public records availability, and bridging the often jarring disconnect between societal norms and prison reality.

Adams worked as a guard for well over a decade before rising to become senior superintendent of Vermont’s only female prison in 2013. A few years later, he took over administration of the Southern State Correctional Facility, the state’s second largest prison. In 2016, he earned Department of Corrections manager of the year honors, and all the way through April 2018, his performance evaluations showed an overall assessment of “outstanding,” the highest grade given.

But Adams had been dogged by allegations of sexual harassment while running the women’s prison, and at the Southern State facility he was repeatedly accused of “creating a hostile work environment” through his reported use of sexist language, inappropriate sexual comments, and threats of retaliation toward prison staff, Vermont Digger reported in March 2020.

In September 2018, he was placed on administrative leave, and three months later, he accepted a demotion to probation officer at ...

The Role of Prosecutors in Mass Incarceration

Prosecutors are by far the most obscure variable in the criminal justice equation. They enjoy enormous discretion in their decision making, and much of what they do occurs in private meetings. Past efforts to study and quantify the role of prosecutors in the justice process have shed only limited light on how they make decisions, but a recent study published by the Southern California Law Review offers important insight into the decisions prosecutors routinely make and how those decisions could have an outsized impact on incarceration rates.

The study was carried out by Shima Baradaran Baughman at the University of Utah College of Law and Megan S. Wright at Pennsylvania State University. Five-hundred ...

Privatized Food Service Problems at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail

Much of the audit’s 34 pages focused on flawed record-keeping and Trinity either over charging for meals or failing to reimburse the county for commissions as stipulated in the contract. The county was overcharged at the Shuman Center, for example, by $8,413, including more than $6,000 for food donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the jail, the county was overbilled more than $1,600.

There also is a discrepancy concerning meals from a program called Trinity Take-Out, which allows prisoners to order specialty items like cheeseburgers and chicken sandwiches at prices ranging from $12 to $20. Trinity’s contract with the county provides ...

California First State to Eliminate Post-Prison Fees

Prior to the bill’s passage, Californians who were enmeshed in the criminal justice system were subject to a variety of fines and fees. The debts accumulated while in prison or jail did not disappear upon release. At least 45 individual fines and fees could be assessed from prisoners, two-thirds of which were administrative fees. The goal of these fees was to recoup some of the cost of the prisoner’s passage through the courts and penal system, and even though the original intent was not to administer further punishment through fees, the effect was decidedly punitive.

The majority of people who pass through the criminal justice system in California and elsewhere are already poor, and even a short stint in ...

Julian Assange’s Potential Fate in U.S. Prisons

Assange is under a 17-count indictment in the U.S. for violations of the Espionage Act and one unsealed count, bringing the total to 18 counts. American Justice Department officials allege that Assange violated the Espionage Act when he published classified documents obtained by Chelsea Manning, who was a U.S. Army soldier at the time.

On September 28, the London court considering Assange’s extradition heard testimony describing prison conditions at the facilities where Assange would likely be held. The testimony revolved around four key issues: 1) the general conditions at the facilities, 2) whether Assange would be able to interact with other prisoners regularly, 3) the standard of medical care available, and 4) what, if any, “special administrative measures” (SAMs) prison officials might impose on Assange that could make his imprisonment worse.

The Court heard from Joel Sickler, a prisoner advocate, and Yancey Ellis, a defense attorney. They both testified that Assange would likely be detained at the Alexandria Detention Center (ADC) until trial, ...

Maine Superspreader: Few Masks at Wedding Lead to Big Problems at Prison

Within two weeks, other staff members and inmates at the jail began to test positive for COVID-19. By October 6, nearly 90 cases tied to the lock-up had been recorded — an incredible number for a jail with only 116 prisoners.

The cramped conditions of incarceration often render social distancing impossible, which has forced facilities to focus on other means of continuing the spread of the coronavirus. Mask wearing ranks at the top of that list, yet a policy reportedly in place at the York County Jail discourages the practice. Media revealed an email to staff saying prisoners ...

California Prison Guards Keep Jobs After Aiding Attacks on Sex Offenders

The attorneys argued that the allegations against the officers were substantiated only by the testimony of prisoners and that evidence of that sort would not hold up before the State Personnel Board.

A parallel investigation by the state Office of the Inspector General (OIG), which is tasked with overseeing the conduct of corrections department employees, concluded on January 10, 2020 that the evidence in this particular case was adequate to pursue the termination of the six guards identified by the warden. Inspector General Roy Wesley, however, expressed concern that it might set a dangerous precedent when it came to firing officers based solely on the word of prisoners.

Dana Simas, a spokesperson for CDCR, disagreed with the assertion that the department was dismissive ...