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Articles by Joe Watson

$500 Settlement for MA BOP Prisoner Over Lost Mail

by Joe Watson

Edward Vincent DiPietro settled with officials at the Bureau of Prisons Federal Medical Center-Devens in Ayer, Mass. in August 2008 for $500 after he alleged that prison employees Henry J. Sadowski and Carolyn Sabol lost legal books he had ordered and refused to compensate him for the ...

$153,955 Jury Award for TN Jail Guard Fired Over Support for Sheriff’s Election Foe

by Joe Watson

A mom who was fired from her job as a Tennessee jail guard because she supported the county sheriff’s election foe was awarded $153,955 in August 2008 by a U.S. District Court jury.

Christie Wimley had worked on the day shift for the Warren County, Tenn. Sheriff’s ...

$10,000 Awarded to SC Man Kicked in the Mouth By Sheriff’s Deputy

by Joe Watson

Robert Barnes saved a York County, S.C. sheriff’s deputy from facing criminal assault and battery charges by settling prior to trial in July 2008 for $10,000 for injuries he sustained when the deputy kicked him in the face as he sat on the floor of the county ...

Sentences that End with Food

by Joe Watson, Edible Baja Arizona

The men at Tucson’s state prison get comfortable cooking

Every Saturday afternoon, Matt Patton helps me escape from prison, 18 ounces at a time.

He stops at my bunk inside this institutional warehouse and reaches into the Styrofoam ice chest he has in tow. His hand swims around and brings to the surface a recycled plastic jar filled with something fuchsia inside and capped with a twist-on lid.

“Nope, this one’s cherry-chocolate brownie,” Patton says, and tosses it back into its icy pond. He tries again. “And this one’s cappuccino—not your flavor, either,” he says, his arm now multiple hues of blue.

And then, finally, eureka!

Patton towel-dries the winning jar and hands me a prison miracle: chocolate ice cream.

Made within the confines of the minimum-security Whetstone Unit at Tucson’s state prison complex, Patton’s ice cream—made of milk, ice, instant cocoa, and other ingredients of dubious origin—is more like a soft-serve Wendy’s Frosty.

As I twist off the top, I wonder if this stuff is safe to eat. Is the milk still good, or past its expiration date? How many unwashed hands did Patton include in the process?

Who cares? I decide, as ...

States Use Medicaid Expansion under Obamacare to Lower Prison Healthcare Costs, Reduce Recidivism

by Joe Watson

Despite constant backlash against the Affordable Care Acts (ACA), states across the country are depending on the federal legislation to not only reduce healthcare costs for prisoners and parolees, but also to help lower recidivism.

Passage of the ACA – better known as Obamacare – included an expansion of Medicaid, the jointly funded state-federal health insurance program for low-income residents, which states now have the option of extending to anyone who earns up to 138% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,800 for an individual and $32,500 for a family of four.

About 35% of the people who will qualify in states electing to expand Medicaid coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, will be former prisoners and detainees. And many of those states – including Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon – have begun enrolling offenders even before their release.

“Enrollment improves access to basic health services, including substance-use and mental-health services and can in turn benefit the health of the communities and families to which prisoners return,” said Dr. Josiah Rich, director of the Providence, R.I. – based Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. “There is a possibility that there will ...

When Laws Are Unjust: A Primer on Jury Nullification

by Joe Watson

The 2014 trial of Jacob Lavaro—a 19-year-old from Austin, Texas, who was facing five years to life for making a pound-and-a-half of pot brownies— has again provoked the ire of criminal justice reform advocates, including prominent political commentator Thom Hartmann, who is endorsing a new tack in defeating draconian drug laws.

Short of a long-needed end to the failed "war on drugs," Hartmann says, Americans should learn about the constitutional power of jury nullification.

"You know that based on all the evidence presented by the prosecution that the defendant is probably guilty," Hartmann explains, "but you and other jurors on the case have serious doubts about convicting him because you know that doing so will ruin the defendant's life.

"You're trapped," Hartmann continues. "The law says one thing, but your conscience says the other. So what do you do?"

According to Hartmann, "you declare the defendant 'not guilty' regardless of the evidence and let him walk free, 'nullifying' the unjust or unfair law."

While jury nullification has been around since the country's founding— with John Hancock and John Adams among its original proponents—it has long been held, since an 1895 Supreme Court decision, that jurors had no ...

“Beat Up Squad” at New York Prison Accused of Killing Mentally Ill Prisoner

by Joe Watson

A number of prisoners at the medium-security Fishkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York swore under oath that fellow prisoner Samuel D. Harrell III was kicked and beaten to death by as many as twenty guards in April 2015.

According to at least 19 signed affidavits, the ...

Is Risk Prediction Real Criminal Justice Reform or Junk Science?

by Joe Watson

With its criminal justice system bursting at the seams, one state has decided to take a controversial step to alleviate the pressure.

In 2015, Pennsylvania officials indicated the state would become the first in the nation to mandate the widespread use of risk predictors (also referred to ...

New York DOCCS Has Paid $10 Million to Prisoners Beaten by Guards Over Five-year Period

by Joe Watson

Widespread abuse by prison guards across New York State has led to at least 175 monetary awards to prisoners from 2010 to 2015 totaling around $10 million, a newspaper investigation found. Those numbers only include cases involving guard brutality; other payouts, such as for inadequate medical care ...

Heroin Overdose Antidote Becoming More Widely Available, Including Behind Bars

by Joe Watson

Just months after New York's prison system launched a heroin overdose prevention program by training prisoners to administer naloxone – an opioid overdose antidote also known as Narcan – Maryland made it easier to obtain the medication without a prescription.

According to the Baltimore Sun, the state of Maryland adopted recommendations made by its Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force last year and invested $150,000 annually to distribute naloxone. Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, also signed an expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law that exempts from liability paramedics, firefighters, first responders and other trained individuals who administer the antidote, which reverses the effects of an opioid overdose by helping the victim breathe on his or her own again. The expansion of the law was a response to a dramatic rise in heroin and opioid-induced deaths across the country.

The wider availability of naloxone has coincided with the implementation of overdose prevention programs in prisons and jails in New York, California and Rhode Island, among other jurisdictions.

The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) began a pilot program in February 2015 at the medium-security Queensboro Correctional Facility. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.22]. While ...