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Articles by Kevin Bliss

Captain at Jail Where Epstein Died Offered New Position of Authority; Warden Remains on Desk Duty

Darden, 48, was a jail captain at the BOP’s Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in New York City when billionaire Jeffrey Epstein reportedly committed suicide in his cell on August 10, 2019, after a high-profile arrest for sex trafficking involving underage girls.

Kerri Kulec, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), said MCC guards Tova Noel and Michael Thomas — who worked under Darden — were placed on administrative leave following Epstein’s suicide, during which they were allegedly asleep on the job and later falsified records to cover up the fact.

Three days after Epstein’s death, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that the BOP would transfer MCC Warden Lamine N’Diaye to a leadership position at FCI Fort Dix. But in January 2020, citing “serious questions that must be answered,” Barr stopped the transfer while the FBI and DOJ’s inspector general continued to investigate Epstein’s suicide.

In a November 2019 interview, Barr admitted that the ...

Commitment to New Jersey’s “Special Treatment Unit” a Potential Death Sentence

Sex offenders who had completed their criminal sentences in the state of New Jersey were being civilly committed to a facility that had a higher death rate due to COVID-19 than any prison in the United States as of early June.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1999 allowed courts in New Jersey to commit sex offenders who “are likely to engage in repeat acts of predatory sexual offenses” to the Special Treatment Unit (STU) in Avenal, New Jersey. The state’s attorney general petitions the court just prior to a sex offender’s release from prison and he or she is remanded to the facility for “treatment” until deemed mentally fit for release. Some remain there the rest of their lives.

“We call it the ‘Pine Box Release Program,’” former resident Russell (who requested his last name not be used) told The Appeal and Type Investigations, “because the only way you were leaving it was in a box, dead.”

STU houses 441 “residents” and is located on the grounds of the East Jersey State Prison, run by the Department of Corrections. Involuntarily institutionalized because psychiatric experts have determined they are a threat to themselves or others, ...

Families Accuse Arkansas Prison of Poor Communication on COVID-19 Prisoners

As of June 14, Cummins had 963 positive cases of coronavirus out of the 1,900 prisoners housed there, with 65 positive staff cases. Prisoners Derick Coley, Morris Davis and Jim Wilson all contracted the virus and died suddenly and with little contact from the prison.

For-profit provider Wellpath is in charge of health care at the prison. According to NPR affiliate KUAR, at the time of Coley’s death “it appears that the most trained medical staff in the building that night were licensed practical nurses.”

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Coley was serving a 20-year sentence for a “terroristic act in relation to a shooting.” His girlfriend, Cece Tate, stated that Coley, 29, had stayed in contact with her and their daughter using a contraband cell phone.

Tate tested positive in April and all calls ceased. Tate and Coley’s sister, Tytiuna Harris, made several calls ...

An Aging Florida Prisoner’s Plea for Commutation

“I am 54 years old. By recidivism statistics, my risk category is less than 1%.”

by Kevin Bliss

[Editor’s Note: On April 28, 2020 PLN writer Kevin Bliss sent the following letter to Florida Secretary of Corrections Mark Inch. Bliss, who is imprisoned at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Florida, ...

$1 Million Payout to Family of Man Who Died After Seizures in Montana Jail

by Kevin Bliss

The family of Roger Lee Wells will receive $1 million in compensation for his death on March 10, 2018, after he suffered several consecutive seizures without ever receiving proper treatment at the Cascade County Detention Center located in Great Falls, Montana.

Wells was arrested a week earlier on a domestic violence charge. He was housed in the medical/geriatric pod of the detention center and slept on the floor of the overcrowded cell with two others. He submitted several written requests to the medical department explaining the need for his anti-seizure medication, yet never received it.

It is the responsibility of the medical staff to address all written requests for medication within a 48-hour period. According to Wells’ attorney, none of his written requests were responded to. His family attempted to drop off his medication at the county jail, but the jail refused to accept it. Wells finally told a nurse while doing her rounds about his medication. After looking into the situation, the nurse ordered the medication for Wells. It arrived at the jail the day after he died.

Wells had his first seizure around 3 a.m. on March 10. His second seizure occurred as jailers were ...

Reports: COVID-19 More Prevalent Than Reported in Nation’s Prisons and Jails

by Kevin Bliss

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report May 6 based on data gathered from 54 state and territorial health departments, claiming about 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among prisoners in state and federal prisons, jails and detention centers.

Two weeks later, Reuters prepared an independent study surveying only 13% of the nation’s incarcerated population and found 17,300 confirmed cases, already more than three times the number reported by the CDC. The Reuters report stated that facilities that performed mass testing of their detained population have reported as much as a 65% infection rate.

The United States holds more than 2 million people in some form of incarceration, either serving a sentence or awaiting trial, more than any other nation in the world.

Scant testing and inconsistent reporting have resulted in a massive understating of the people inside the system who are infected with COVID-19. Aaron Littman, professor at the University of California School of Law in Los Angeles, said of the dramatically low CDC tally, “We don’t have a particularly good handle” on cases of COVID-19 in our prison systems and jails, “and in some places we have no handle at all.” ...

Sale of Clandestine Surveillance Equipment Available to the Government and “Select Clients”

by Kevin W. Bliss

Special interest groups are becoming more concerned with the government surveillance equipment provider, Special Services Group (SSG). As of early 2020, it had about $2.6 million in contracts with over a dozen U.S. agencies, including the FBI, CIA and ICE, selling covert surveillance equipment such as concealed cameras in vacuum cleaners, children’s car seats and tombstones.

CEO Cliff Emery also sits on the board of directors of the nonprofit national security focus group, the National Defense Industrial Association. His company’s website states that it does not advertise nor place product information on the website. Law enforcement, government agencies and “select clients” can contact the company for more information on any product in their brochure, titled the Black Book.

SSG’s logo is the pyramid with the floating eye seen on the back of the $1 bill. Government transparency advocates have expressed concern that others besides law enforcement can purchase its items.

Freddy Martinez, policy analyst for Open the Government, said, “I think one of the biggest concerns I have is the cost/size/capabilities of these devices. They keep getting cheaper, smaller and more capable all the time, and it’s unlikely that only law enforcement will be the ...

Policy Change Leads to Gang Riot at Utah Prison

by Kevin W. Bliss

On January 11, 2020, a group of about a dozen protesters gathered outside the administrative offices of the the Utah Department of Corrections (UDOC) in Draper. They were there to express their anger over a policy change, one that ended a five-year-old effort to segregate members of the rival Sureño and Norteño gangs in the state prison system and resulted in a bloody riot at Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) on November 6, 2019.

Roni Wilcox helped to organize the protesters, all of whom are related to prisoners at the Gunnison facility. After the November riot left her loved one stabbed nine times, she and Sue Steel, the wife of another prisoner, reached out to 30 politicians to discuss the policy change that put prisoners’ lives in jeopardy. Of the 30, only UDOC Public Information Officer Kaitlin Feldsted responded, issuing a statement that said UDOC constantly works to increase the security and safety of prisoners while helping them move away from gang activity and toward successful reentry.

Feldsted’s statement included a list of measurements to be implemented, which included new conflict resolution programs and new security equipment for better contraband and weapons controls. But Wilcox and ...

COVID-19 Changes the Face of Education in the Nation’s Prison Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced prisons across the country to alter the educational programs they offer. The change has highlighted the inequality in available technology between different state prison systems and revealed that many educators are concerned not only with education, but also with the prisoners’ emotional and social well-being.

Maine Correctional Facility, for example, offers education via the video meeting application Zoom, using the internet from an administrative computer. Officials at Saginaw Correctional Facility in Michigan waived a ban on communication between volunteers and prisoners so that Delta College professors could instruct pupils via email. “At Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York, college classes are postponed and graduation is cancelled,” The Marshall Project reports.

According to Mia Armstrong, writer for Slate.com, just as the U.S. education system inherently has glaring inequalities based on the individual’s financial means, so too there are disparities among prisons. “Many college administrators say corrections officials have bent over backwards to make sure college classes continue, but without laptops, tablets or an easy way to securely access the Internet, many college programs have had to put their semesters on pause. With classes on hold, some incarcerated students won’t be eligible ...

Prisoners Replace New Orleans Sanitation Workers Striking for Coronavirus Hazard Pay

Waste disposal workers, called “hoppers,” of Orleans Parish went on strike May 5, 2020, demanding the city of New Orleans provide them with better personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazard pay due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to Pay Day Report. People Ready, contracted through Metro Disposal to provide workers, fired the strikers and replaced them with prison laborers from a nearby work-release center in Livingston Parish.

Striking sanitation workers continued to protest outside Metro Service Group’s New Orleans East headquarters, wearing signs that read “I AM A MAN.”

Workers demanded that the company have trucks repaired, provide proper PPE daily (such as masks and gloves), sick leave during the pandemic, hazard pay of $150 a week and a pay increase from $10.25 per hour to $15 per hour. The company has a $10.7 million annual contract to collect trash in Orleans Parish north of Interstate 10.

Sanitation worker Jerry Simon stated that People Ready staffing services fired the entire crew after they went on strike. They then contracted with Lock5, LLC to provide prison workers at a rate of $9.25 per hour. Lock5 receives 64% of those wages for expenses. Prisoners end up retaining about ...