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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by John Dannenberg

Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, 2d Ed., by Dan Manville

Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual, 2d Ed., by Dan Manville

(PLN Publishing, Dec. 2014). 368 pages, $49.95 paperback

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Renowned attorney Dan Manville, co-author of the Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, has produced another must-have book for everyone who’s incarcerated.

Doing time necessarily involves fighting the prison disciplinary system, and because disciplinary charges can extend your time in custody, successfully appealing wrongful write-ups has a direct impact on your eventual freedom. If unsuccessful in appealing a disciplinary conviction, you’ll want to challenge it in court. But obtaining justice in the courts requires extremely careful use of the administrative appeals process. As Manville thoughtfully writes, his latest book, the Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual,“is best used to keep inmates out of court by winning either at the misconduct hearing or during the prison appeal process.”

With around 2.2 million prisoners in the United States, disciplinary convictions result in an enormous number of appeals and court challenges. The truth is that most prisoners fail to win because they fail to follow strict procedural rules designed to catch the unwary. To make matters worse, the process for pursuing administrative appeals, and later court challenges, varies from state ...

Systemic Changes Follow Murder of Colorado Prison Director

Systemic Changes Follow Murder of Colorado Prison Director

by John Dannenberg

Just over a year after Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements was killed by former prisoner Evan Ebel, who had been released directly from long-term solitary confinement, there have been significant and far-reaching changes in Colorado’s prison system.

Following a police chase, Ebel, 28, was killed in a shootout with Texas law enforcement officers on March 21, 2013. Autopsy results later obtained by The Denver Post confirmed that he died from a gunshot wound to the forehead. Prior to the chase, Ebel had been stopped in his 1991 black Cadillac DeVille for a traffic offense and shot Texas deputy James Boyd multiple times, hitting him in the shoulder and chest and grazing his head.

Ebel spent nearly all of his eight years in prison in solitary confinement, known in Colorado as administrative segregation (ad-seg). His father, well-known attorney Jack Ebel, who was close to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, had previously said his son suffered from behavioral problems as a child, and that solitary damaged him even more.

“What I have seen over six years is, [Evan] has a high level of paranoia and [is] extremely anxious,” Jack ...

The Redbook – A Manual on Legal Style

by Bryan Garner (Thomson West, 2nd Ed., 2006). 510 pages (spiral bound), $15.00.

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

The Redbook is a comprehensive reference manual that provides guidance with every facet of preparing legal documents. Reviewed by judges and attorneys, the Redbook authoritatively instructs litigants in the mechanics of writing (e.g., punctuation, spelling, citations, footnotes); grammar (all parts of speech, “legalese,” troublesome words); and preparing specific documents such as business letters, case briefs, affidavits, pleadings and motions. The detailed table of contents – 24 pages, not included in the 510 page count – is thoroughly indexed to help locate answers to your questions without time-consuming searches.

The Redbook is much more than a reference tool, though. Its bold-faced head notes draw your eye quickly to important subjects. Short tutorial paragraphs follow, educating you about each sub-category within a given topic. This tutorial design provides a superb self-instruction course on English language writing, independent of its focus on legal writing. This text is recommended as the single reference book (beyond a dictionary or thesaurus) necessary for any serious incarcerated writer.

Have you ever stopped to ponder whether you’re inaptly (or ineptly) using an incorrect word? Is it ...

Arrest-Proof Yourself, by Dale Carson and Wes Denham

(Chicago Review Press, 2007). 282 pages (paperback), $14.95.

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

In short, Arrest-Proof Yourself is a colorfully-written manual on how to avoid being arrested. The book’s principal thesis is a hypothetical “electronic plantation” where all persons who are arrested – even if later exonerated – must serve an irrevocable life sentence of being blacklisted from future employment, socially ostracized, etc. as a result of their arrest record. The book is written in street language to garner the attention of younger people who, statistically, are more likely to face arrest. The authors emphatically counsel the reader, wherever possible, to simply avoid being seen by the police; but if stopped, they provide advice on how to act and, more importantly, how not to act.

Authors Carson and Denham speak from years of experience: Carson was a former police officer in both state and federal jurisdictions while Denham is a private investigator. Carson, now a defense attorney, today defends the very people who, in Arrest-Proof Yourself, he tries to prevent from needing his services. Throughout the book the authors speak about how police officers love to arrest people, which not only makes them happy but also improves their job ...

Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One’s in Jail, by Wes Denham

(Chicago Review Press, 2010). 263 pages (paperback), $16.95.

Book review by John E. Dannenberg

Arrested: What to do When Your Loved One’s in Jail is a detailed “how-to” manual for educating the uninformed about the harsh realities of what jail entails, with the ultimate goal being to guide family members as to 1) whether they should bother to try to help their loved one who’s in the pokey, and 2) if so, how to best accomplish such assistance.

Author Wes Denham speaks from years of experience; he is a private investigator, often hired by families who want to aid an incarcerated loved one. Denham is cynical of both the system as well as the motives of prisoners who mainly want to get out of jail. Arrested is an incredibly insightful and pragmatic treatise for the outsider tying to cope with the ugly realities of jails, guards and prisoners. The book’s 27 chapters are written in a blatantly sincere style that minces no words, often spiked with humorous cynicism. It could be described as a fun read were its subject matter not so serious and visceral.

Arrested steels the reader who is faced with the difficult decision ...

California Parole Board Agrees to Implement Policy to Fix Terms at Lifers’ Initial Hearings

by John E. Dannenberg

On December 16, 2013, the California Board of Parole Hearings (Board) and life-sentenced state prisoner Roy Butler entered into a settlement agreement wherein the Board agreed to fix base and adjusted base terms (guidelines for the minimum amount of time that should be served) for all lifers at their initial parole suitability hearings.

Butler, 46, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging his denial of parole by the Board; he had served 26 years and been denied parole five times. Butler raised two issues in a May 28, 2013 supplemental petition: 1) there was no evidence to support his denial of parole, and 2) the Board should have fixed his base term under the long-standing provisions of the old Indeterminate Sentence Law (ISL) rather than not fixing his term until he is found suitable for parole release.

On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal, Division 2 (1st DCA) took an aggressive stance when reviewing the ISL’s continuing viability in requiring the setting of minimum terms for all lifers at the outset of their incarceration, thereby reopening the “proportionality” issue (like time for like crimes) raised in that Court by this writer in ...

FCC Order Heralds Hope for Reform of Prison Phone Industry

by John E. Dannenberg and Alex Friedmann

"After a long time – too long – the Commission takes action to finally address the high cost that prison inmates and their families must pay for phone service. This is not just an issue of markets and rates; it is a broader issue of social justice." – FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel

On August 9, 2013, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a landmark decision, voted to cap the cost of long distance rates for phone calls made by prisoners and enact other reforms related to the prison phone industry. [See: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.42].

The FCC's 131-page final order was released in September and published in the Federal Register on November 13, 2013. It has not yet gone into effect due to a 90-day waiting period following publication in the Register, plus legal challenges have since been filed by the nation's two largest prison phone companies.

The order, entered in response to a petition for rulemaking submitted to the FCC, is the result of a decade-long effort to lower prison phone rates and implement much-needed changes in the prison phone industry.

Prison Phone Services: A Primer

The billion-dollar prison phone industry is ...

Federal Court Orders California to Release 9,600 More Prisoners

by John E. Dannenberg

On June 20, 2013, a plainly frustrated three-judge federal court not only told California officials that they shall comply with the court's prior order to reduce the state's prison population to 137.5% of design capacity by December 31, 2013, but also suggested how the state should comply based on reports by experts who had previously examined available strategies.

Ominously, in its 51-page scathing opinion, the court merely "deferred" its previous threat to hold state officials – including Governor Jerry Brown – in contempt; the court did not put down the contempt hammer it was holding over their heads.

For the past three decades California has embarked on a continuous imprisonment binge. "Tough on crime" advocates of all stripes fanned the flames of prison construction, longer sentences (including the state's infamous "three strikes" law), fewer sentence reduction credits, low parole rates, gubernatorial veto power over lifer paroles and the widespread use of technical parole violations, all designed to keep every available prison bed filled.

Future growth projections for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) looked like charts from a red hot Silicon Valley startup company – increasing exponentially. Something had to give, and it ...

Valley Fever Declared a Public Health Emergency at Two California Prisons; Court Orders Prisoner Transfers

by John E. Dannenberg

On April 25, 2013, Dr. John Galgiani, an expert hired by attorneys representing prisoners in the long-running Plata v. Brown class-action lawsuit over medical care in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), filed an 80-page affidavit with the federal court overseeing the case in which he described conditions at Central California facilities where prisoners have been afflicted by a disease known as Valley Fever.

Valley Fever (coccidioidomycosis) is a potentially fatal fungal infection that causes flu-like symptoms. It is contracted by inhaling spores from infected soil, but is not contagious once a person is infected. The spores frequent the southwestern United States, with about a quarter of reported infections occurring in California and over 70 percent in Arizona, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease has been an ongoing problem at the CDCR's Pleasant Valley and Avenal State Prisons, where the soil contains Valley Fever spores that are spread through dust and when the dirt is disturbed. [See: PLN, July 2010, p.22; June 2008, p.22; Aug. 2007, p.1]. Other state prisons are located in the area where Valley Fever is prevalent but have not experienced as ...

Plata and Coleman Showdown in California

by John E. Dannenberg

A three-judge federal court tightened the noose around the neck of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April 2013 when it issued a lengthy order denying a motion by state officials to delay or modify the court's prison population reduction order that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2011. See: Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011) [PLN, July 2011, p.1]. The court also denied the CDCR's request to end the federal receivership over the state's prison mental health care. The sockdolager came when the court threatened the CDCR and California Governor Jerry Brown with contempt if they did not follow the court's directives after decades of litigation.

On April 5, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton issued a 68-page order in Coleman v. Brown, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. CIV S 90-520 LKK/JFM (PC) – the 23-year-old case that resulted in a special master being appointed by the court to oversee mental health care in CDCR facilities – denying the defendants' motion to "terminate all relief in this action, vacate the Court's judgment and orders ...


Federal Prison Handbook



Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual



Federal Prison Handbook




Prisoner Education Guide side