Skip navigation

Articles by Joe Watson

Idaho: FBI Declines to Press Criminal Charges against CCA for Falsified Staffing Records

Idaho: FBI Declines to Press Criminal Charges against CCA for Falsified Staffing Records

by Joe Watson and Mark Wilson

The FBI will not pursue criminal charges following a 15-month investigation into allegations that the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center and ...

Equal Justice Initiative Files Suit Over High Levels of Violence at Alabama Prison

Equal Justice Initiative Files Suit Over High Levels of Violence at Alabama Prison

by Joe Watson

The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) filed suit against the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) on October 13, 2014, alleging the department had done nothing to stem what the non-profit organization called an ...

Idaho Judge Reviews Jail's Medical Care after HIV-Positive Prisoner's Petition

Idaho Judge Reviews Jail's Medical Care after HIV-Positive Prisoner's Petition

by Joe Watson

An HIV-positive prisoner's habeas corpus petition finally forced a judge in December 2013 to review prisoner health care at the Twin Falls County, Idaho jail.

"As far as I know, no district judge has ever addressed the issue of the level of appropriate medical treatment expected under the law at the Twin Falls County Jail for inmates," County District Judge Randy Stoker said at a December 4 hearing. "And yet we are constantly in here hearing complaints about the jail in bond hearings."

Teddy Gene Escamilla, who also suffers complications from hepatitis C and liver failure, filed his petition in Stoker's court on November 27, 2013, arguing that the jail is not providing adequate medical care, thereby violating his Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

According to Escamilla's attorney, Dan Brown, the jail took more than two weeks to get Escamilla's HIV medication after his October 14 arrest for allegedly driving under the influence.

Escamilla said he was not allowed to bring his medication with him to the jail upon his arrest, and when his wife brought medicine to ...

ACLU Prompts Kansas Jail to Change Religious Meals, Mail Policies

ACLU Prompts Kansas Jail to Change Religious Meals, Mail Policies

by Joe Watson

Prisoners at the Allen County jail in Iola, Kansas had been forced to violate their religious beliefs or go hungry until the ACLU persuaded jail officials to honor the U.S. Constitution.

According to the jail’s former policies on meals, per the prisoner handbook, “No one will be allowed to have special food for diets based on religious or other related reasons. You can simply choose not to eat.”

Such a policy, of course, violates state and federal laws that require correctional facilities to accommodate prisoners’ religious beliefs, noted Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of Kansas. Bonney, in a letter addressed to Allen County officials, described the policy as unconstitutional because it required prisoners to “choose between starvation and remaining true to their religious creeds.”

While Allen County attorney Alan Weber said the policy in the handbook was old and agreed to remove it, he claimed that, for at least two decades, not a single prisoner had made a special food request based on religious preferences.

“I’ve been here 20 years and it’s not happened,” he said.

The Allen County jail ...

Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Stages Media Event to Promote Meatless Meals

Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Stages Media Event to Promote Meatless Meals

by Joe Watson

When prisoners at the Maricopa County, Arizona jail lined up for chow on April 15, 2015, they were in for a surprise – helping to serve the midday meal was former Playboy model and Baywatch TV star Pamela Anderson.

Anderson visited the jail at the invitation of infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to help promote his 2013 decision to remove meat products from prisoners’ meals. Anderson, a longtime vegetarian and spokeswoman for the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), offered her support for the meat-free diet.

“I believe people can be rehabilitated from the inside out,” she said in a statement. “Jails are full of people wanting to change, to make amends, to learn healthier habits and understand compassion and empathy.”

“When we heard about the vegetarian jail in Maricopa County, that’s 8,300 people a day not eating meat and it’s a wonderful example for other jails around the country that could have health impacts on the inmates as well as saving taxes,” PETA senior vice president Dan Mathews told ThinkProgress. “[I]t’s an efficient ...

Soldiers Sentenced to Die, but No Executions on Military Death Row Since 1961

Soldiers Sentenced to Die, but No Executions on Military Death Row Since 1961

by Joe Watson

The guilty verdict and death sentence handed down on August 28, 2013 against U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan for a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas that left 12 soldiers and one civilian dead and more than 30 others wounded highlighted a curious fact: no one on the military’s death row at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas has been executed since 1961.

Lawyers and military experts say that statistic is driven by the complexities of the military’s judicial system, legal questions surrounding the crimes for which capital punishment is an option and the often-secluded culture of military service.

“The military is a community of solidarity, a brotherhood and sisterhood, all to its own,” defense attorney Teresa Norris told CNN for a special report. “There is a real reluctance to execute fellow soldiers unless it’s absolutely the worst kind of case and this is the only way.”

Norris, a former military defense attorney turned civilian, represented former Army Pfc. Dwight Loving, who was sentenced to die in 1989 after robbing and killing two cab drivers – ...

CDCR Violates State Law by Outsourcing Prisoner Lawsuits to Private Attorneys

CDCR Violates State Law by Outsourcing Prisoner Lawsuits to Private Attorneys

by Joe Watson

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has again lost a fight with the State Attorneys' Union over outsourcing prison litigation to a private law firm in Sacramento.

The State Personnel Board, California's civil service watchdog, ruled in September 2013 that a $6 million contract between CDCR and the firm Williams & Associates to defend against prisoner lawsuits violates an "implied statute" from California's constitution "prohibiting state agencies from contracting with private entities to perform work that the state has historically and customarily performed and can perform adequately and competently."

The contract was the second between CDCR and Williams & Associates; the first, known as "Williams I," was for three years and $5 million through summer 2012 and was struck down by the board.

Williams I was initiated because California Attorney General Kamala Harris—whose office is supposed to defend CDCR against prisoner lawsuits— claimed that budget cuts and furloughs had created a shortage of qualified state attorneys, thereby forcing her to return the work to CDCR and its own lawyers.

"Williams II," which is supposed to run through 2015, was inked after CDCR ...

Former Montana Jail Guard Exposes Culture of Prisoner Abuse

Former Montana Jail Guard Exposes Culture of Prisoner Abuse

by Joe Watson

The departure of a career Missoula County, Montana jail guard has exposed multiple allegations of excessive force against prisoners under the direction of one out-of-control supervisor and the residual culture of prisoner abuse that permeates the jail.

As he terminated his 15-year career in September 2013, ex-guard Tim Boileau filed grievances alleging that, between 2008 and 2011, there were a half-dozen instances of prisoner abuse involving Sgt. Jeff Roderick, a jail supervisor whose behavior was purportedly enabled and subsequently whitewashed by Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen.

Though he found gratification working with prisoners and attempting to initiate change, Boileau said the work conditions were unbearable.

"If you acquiesce to the system of no personal responsibility, you can maintain your job," Boileau said. "There's an issue of reporting and reprisal."

As head of the Detention Officers' Association of Missoula County Union from 2009 to 2012, Boileau presided over a union complaint against Roderick protesting his promotion to supervisor despite Roderick's history of violence and prisoner abuse.

Though the complaint cited evidence of the union's claims against Roderick—including jail video surveillance—Ibsen responded that he was "forced to ...

Study Finds Prison Education Beneficial to Utah Prisoners and Taxpayers

Study Finds Prison Education Beneficial to Utah Prisoners and Taxpayers

by Joe Watson

When Utah prisoners get an education behind bars that they can use to find work upon their release, good things happen, according to a University of Utah report released by the state's Department of Corrections (UDOC) in July 2013.

The report, authored by economics professor Richard Fowles, found a 13-to-1 return on the state's investment—$13.66 returned on every dollar spent—when prisoners receive vocational education in prison and get jobs after their sentences are complete. To calculate this number, Fowles used data from Utah's Office of Education and UDOC and considered prison education costs to police, courts, corrections and "tangible crime costs" of $1,800 per taxpayer.

Naturally, educating and ultimately employing offenders also significantly decreases Utah's recidivism rate, according to the report. While Utah reportedly has a base recidivism rate of 50% (within 36 months of a prisoner's release), this figure drops to 41% with a prison education and 31% with a prison education and a job.

"(The report) shows that we're actually doing something out here, rather than just warehousing individuals," said UDOC Lieutenant Vic Smith. "The benefit ...

Report Says Prison Privatization Expanding Internationally

A recent report from The Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C., concludes that the mass-privatization of American prisons has encouraged, not deterred, many countries—including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Brazil—to hand over the responsibility of its prisoners to for-profit companies.

"Research to date on private prisons has found that they perform no better than publicly operated facilities, are not guaranteed to reduce correctional costs, and provide an incentive for increasing correctional and detention populations," The Sentencing Project says in its August 2013 report on international trends in prison privatization.

"Despite these repeated failings," the report argues, "many countries, including those facing serious problems in the quality and capabilities of their correctional systems, have followed the United States in adopting a flawed and shortsighted scheme."

The report finds that Florida-based GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the United States, made 14% of its 2012 revenue off "international services," while G4S, a United Kingdom-based for-profit prison operator, claims to be the "largest security service provider in the world."

GEO Group, G4S and Britain's Serco, all of which "dominate" the international market, the report says, have found at least 11 countries spread across North and South America, Europe ...