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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Joe Watson

3 Murders in 10 Months at Oklahoma Prison Run by CCA

by Joe Watson

Three prisoners were murdered in a span of 10 months at an Oklahoma facility run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit prison operator in the country.

The trio of homicides occurred at the Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville--one of four Oklahoma state prisons operated by CCA--between October 2014 and August 2015.

Lewis Hamilton, 36, was the most recent of the victims, found stabbed to death at the 1,670 bed Davis prison on August 5. Silas Royal, who is already serving a 25 year sentence for manslaughter, is the main suspect in Hamilton’s murder, according to Oklahoma DOC spokeswoman Terri Watkins.  Hamilton was serving a life sentence for murder.

“We will investigate in full, and then (CCA) will conduct a full investigation,” Watkins said.

In December 2014, Eric Grimm, 28 was also killed at Davis. According to the state medical examiner’s office, Grimm was strangled to death. His cellmate was considered a suspect, but has not yet been charged.

And in October 2014, Tory Czernecki was also strangled to death. The 22 year old was serving a 15 year sentence for first degree rape.  Joshua Wheeler, 25, has since been charged ...

Missouri’s Release of Pot Dealer Doing LWOP Gives Hope to Nonviolent Drug Offenders Incarcerated Nationwide

By Joe Watson

Jeff Mizanskey, a 62-year-old Missouri state prisoner serving life without parole (LWOP) on a nonviolent drug conviction, was released on Sept, 2, 2015, eliciting cautious optimism that thousands like him will someday also be set free.

Mizanskey had served more than 20 years for conspiring to sell six pounds of marijuana before Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted Mizanskey’s sentence in May, allowing the state’s parole board to grant his release four months later.

Mizanskey’s third nonviolent marijuana conviction came in 1991, triggering a mandatory LWOP sentence under a three-strikes law that Missouri has since repealed.

“I’ve spent a third of my life in prison…one third,” Mizanskey told reporter outside the maximum security Jefferson City Correctional Center after his release.” Nobody deserves to be in there for marijuana.”

And yet, others like Mizanskey are locked up across the country, with at least 75 prisoners nationwide serving life sentences or de facto life (defined as at least 470 months by federal standards) for marijuana convictions.

Even more staggering are the data from a 2013 ACLU report titled “A Living Death: Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenders” that says that about 3,278 prisoners in America are ...

Former Sheriff Arpaio Guilty of Criminal Contempt, Receives Presidential Pardon

by Joe Watson

Former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s words, rather than his misdeeds, finally landed him on the verge of going to prison – but he was pulled back from the brink after receiving a presidential pardon.

The self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” who was ousted by voters in November 2016 after nearly a quarter-century in office, was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal district court on July 31, 2017. Arpaio, 85, had been charged with willfully violating an injunction in a racial profiling case, Melendres v. Arpaio, by continuing to have his deputies target Hispanics during traffic stops.

In her written judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton said Arpaio had exhibited “flagrant disregard” for a December 2011 injunction that was intended to halt the former sheriff’s harassment of Hispanics and his raids of Phoenix-area businesses that allegedly employed undocumented immigrants.

“Not only did [Arpaio] abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise,” Judge Bolton wrote, citing Arpaio’s own public comments 20 times in her order.

In June 2017, former Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) chief ...

IRS Audit Prompts New Mexico County to Convert Bonds Used for ICE Facility

by Joe Watson

An Internal Revenue Service audit of tax-free bonds used to develop an immigrant detention facility in New Mexico was closed once the bonds were converted to taxable status.

Otero County issued $62.3 million in tax-free revenue bonds in 2007 to finance the construction of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing center in Chaparral, New Mexico. The facility is operated by a private company, Utah-based Management & Training Corp.

Over the past several years, the IRS has been conducting similar audits at local jails that contract to house prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) or ICE. Under the tax code, the federal government is considered a private party, and private parties do not qualify for tax-free status. USMS and ICE officials have signed contracts with jails nationwide to house detainees in state and local bond-financed facilities, leading to tax disputes between the bond issuers and the IRS. [See: PLN, Sept. 2015, p.18].

According to the Bond Buyer, a trade publication, “the tax code classifies a bond as a private activity bond (PAB) if more than 10% of the proceeds are used for a private party and more than 10% of debt service payments ...

TN Prison Counselor Suspended for Posting Insults on Facebook

by Joe Watson

A counselor at the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), a close-security prison located in southwestern Tennessee, was suspended for three days after she posted profanity-laced insults on the Facebook page for the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) in April 2017, in the wake of an assault on three guards.

TCIX Warden Kevin Genovese suspended Luann Courtright Dickson without pay the following month after learning she had referred to a prisoner’s family member as “a stupid bitch” and a “fucked up idiot,” and prisoners at TCIX as “bastards.” Screenshots of those comments were obtained by PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who then lodged a formal complaint with the TDOC.

“Ms. Dickson was apparently unaware that the [Facebook] page is not only available for TDOC employees and their supporters, but to all members of the public – including family members whose loved ones are incarcerated (‘inmate lovers,’ as she called them),” Friedmann wrote in his complaint letter. “Beyond the fact that Ms. Dickson exercised extremely poor judgment in posting her comments on the TDOC’s Facebook page – regardless of the circumstances, which involved serious assaults on staff members at TCIX that day – her remarks ...

Wiccan Prisoner Settles with NV DOC Over Denial of Hardbound Religious Books

by Joe Watson

Donald Towne, a Nevada state prisoner and practicing Wiccan, reached a settlement of unspecified remedies in July 2008 in his pro se lawsuit against the state’s Department of Corrections (NDOC).

Towne alleged that his constitutional rights were violated during his incarceration at Lovelock Correctional Center by Warden William Donat, NDOC Director Howard Skulnick, and two other NDOC affiliates who Towne said denied him access to many Wiccan books because they were only in hardbound form. Per NDOC policy, only softbound books were allowed in the institution.

In August 2007, Towne sued Donat, Skulnick, et al., in a U.S. District Court presided over by Judge Edward C. Reed, Jr., alleging violations of his right to free speech, free exercise of religion, and due-process. Meanwhile, NDOC made several defenses including Towne’s failure to state a claim, statute of limitations, and failure to exhaust administrative remedies, before ultimately agreeing to settle with Towne. See: Towne v. Donat, U.S.D.C. (D. Nev.), Case No. 3:07-CV-00349.

Settlement for IN Man Deprived of Critical Meds While Incarcerated in County Jail

by Joe Watson

Gary L. Marshall, a former Hancock County, Ind. jail prisoner, settled for unspecified damages in June 2008 after he suffered multiple seizures while incarcerated, which he attributed to the jail’s alleged refusal to give him several psychotropic drugs he was prescribed for anxiety and insomnia.

Marshall was incarcerated on Sept. 13, 2004, and the next day Marshall’s son Jason brought his dad’s medications to the jail, but was told that he was only permitted medications for life-threatening issues or ailments. The jail allegedly refused to distribute any other type of drugs, including psychotropic or narcotic drugs. Over the next several days, Marshall began having health problems, including seizures so severe he was placed in a padded cell. Marshall was transported from the jail and hospitalized from Sept. 21 to Sept. 27. After he was returned to the jail, he was still allegedly denied his medications.

Two years later, Marshall filed suit against the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Nick Gulling, and jail guards Roger Sitton and Sally Aldridge in U.S. District Court, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, to redress violations of his Fourteenth Amendment rights, including depriving Marshall of necessary medication while ...

NV Prisoner with Hand Injury Settles for Used TV, Medical Evaluation and $40.70 in Copying Fees

by Joe Watson

Robert Finley, a Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) prisoner, settled in August 2008 for a used television, $40.70 in legal copying fees and a medical evaluation with follow-up treatment for the hand he injured when a prison guard allegedly slammed it in a cell door.

Finley ...

IN Woman Settles Wrongful Arrest Lawsuit

by Joe Watson

Anna Michelle Young, who was wrongfully arrested and incarcerated two days after Christmas in 2003 in Hancock County, Ind., agreed to settle her suit against Sheriff Nicholas Gulling, et al, in August 2008 for unspecified damages.

The Hancock Superior Court allegedly ordered the clerk of the court to mistakenly issue a warrant for Young’s arrest on Dec. 19, 2003, for failure to appear. The warrant was served eight days later by a sheriff’s deputy who arrested Young and processed her into the Hancock County jail.

Young allegedly explained to the deputy and other jail employees that her arrest was improper, but the jail took no action to verify Young’s claims. Once she was taken before Hancock County’s superior court, the court purportedly acknowledged that she had been mistakenly arrested and detained, and it ordered Young to be immediately released.

On Dec. 21, 2005, Michael J. Tosick, attorney for Young, filed suit against Gulling, as well as two jail employees. The case was removed to U.S. District Court, and Young sought relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. §§ 1983, 1988, including the recovery of her own costs and attorney’s fees, as well as damages. The ...

$7,500,000 Class-Action Settlement for Illegal Strip-Searches in Camden, NJ

by Joe Watson

A class-action, Fourth Amendment lawsuit originally filed by Laverne Hicks and Michael Velez, two New Jersey men who had each been stopped by state police for alleged traffic violations and subsequently strip-searched and jailed by Camden County, was settled in June 2008 for $7,500,000.

Charles ...


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