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Articles by Kevin Bliss

Illinois Supreme Court: Settlements with Private Companies When Contracted for Government Service Are Public Record

The Illinois Supreme Court on December 19, 2019 held that settlement agreements reached by private contractors, if directly related to the services they provide, are public record. It said the plain language of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), when viewed in light of legislative intent, showed that it was created to ensure that governmental entities could not avoid disclosure obligations by contracting services to private companies.

Illinois Times journalist Bruce Rushton filed a FOIA request in August 2015 concerning a wrongful death settlement between the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the estate of Alfonso Franco, who died due to the substandard care of his contracted healthcare provider, Wexford Health Sources, Inc. IDOC agreed with Rushton and requested the documents be turned over by Wexford, which refused. Rushton and the Illinois Times filed suit in April 2017.

The lower tribunal granted summary judgment to Wexford, agreeing that the document did not directly relate to the governmental service the company performed, and that section 2.20 of FOIA exempted private contractor settlement agreements. (See PLN, June 2019.)

Rushton and the Times appealed, and the appellate court reversed the summary judgment. Wexford then petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for ...

DOJ to Treat Immigrants Like Criminals by Collecting DNA Samples

In March 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that federal Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents will begin collecting DNA samples for criminal investigation from immigrants designated for detention in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, including children and those legally seeking asylum.

During the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., granted an exemption to the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 for immigrant detainees. Under the law, genetic samples are required to be collected from anyone who is arrested, facing charges or convicted for a crime anywhere in the country – including non-citizens detained at the border. But at the time, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – the agency that includes both ICE and CBP – successfully argued that she lacked sufficient manpower to sample the number of detainees, which fluctuated between 337,000 and 556,000 annually during the Obama administration.

Now the Trump administration is reversing that agreement, even though the number of detainees spiked to almost 860,000 last year. Attorney General William P. Barr argues that the exemption is outdated because testing is now faster and cheaper. He also worries that criminals who have had no contact ...

ICE Diverts Needed Face Masks from Medical Professionals

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a request for bids on its website in March 2020 for 45,000 N95 protective face masks for 26 of its enforcement and removal operation field offices. This came at a time that the nation’s frontline healthcare workers are experiencing a mass shortage of such personal protective equipment (PPE).

On March 19, the first day of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “shelter-in-place” order, ICE agents raided immigrant communities in the Los Angeles area while wearing N95 protective masks. Critics said this placed healthcare officials at risk by depriving them of needed PPE — and also violated state regulations ordering everyone to remain in place except to perform essential activities necessary for survival.

A stay-at-home order is not only to prevent those who do not have COVID-19 from acquiring it, but also to prevent those who do have it from spreading it.

Reporters for The Guardian, Miriam Lopez and Seth Holmes, reported that the raids separated families and other loved ones when support could be critical. They also said the raids increased the potential for spreading the virus in overcrowded detention sites while creating a distrust among the public concerning the necessity to ...

Paroled New Yorker Wrongfully Confined; Awarded $3,250

Clarence Delaney, Jr. was granted $40 per day for 88 days of unlawful confinement by the State of New York, receiving a total payment of $3,250. He also was able to recover his 42 USC § 1983 filing fee, in a state Court of Claims ruling on May 22, 2019.

Delaney was sentenced on January 6, 2017 to two to four years of parole supervision after completing a 90-day program at Willard Drug Treatment Center. This judgment was recorded in the remarks section at the bottom of Delaney’s Uniform Sentence and Commitment Order. He was to be transferred to Willard within 10 days of arrival to the Department of Corrections reception center and no more than 30 days after the judgment was entered.

Delaney arrived at Downstate Correctional Facility (Downstate) on February 20, 2017, with a post-sentencing classification form that did not mention Willard or his parole supervision. It stated only that Delaney was sentenced to the two to four years with a conditional release date of January 28, 2019. The box marked “Execute as a sentence of parole supervision” was not checked.

Delaney immediately notified Downstate of the error and continued through the grievance procedure when ...

Women Advocate for the Release of COVID-19 At-Risk Prisoners in Indiana

A prisoner advocacy group in April began urging residents to call Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and the state Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Robert Carter to demand the release of nonviolent prisoners, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions amid the COVID-19 health threat, one of many such groups springing up around the country.

Advocates in the group, IDOCWatch, include Emily Bernard, a healthcare administrator, and her daughter Jasmine Lovelace, a law student at Indiana University. Bernard said the public is under the incorrect perception that medical treatment in prison is free, but the reality is that prisoners must make a payment to the healthcare provider. IDOCWatch is advocating for health care on request without a charged co-pay for the elderly, the vulnerable and all immuno-compromised prisoners

IDOCWatch co-founder Nick Greven noted that prisoners in other states are already being released due to the virus. California, New York and Ohio are states that have released prisoners to reduce the risk of infection and spreading.

The organization’s Facebook page states that Indiana is the most overcrowded prison system in the nation and a “potential disaster zone for widespread outbreak.”

On April, Indystar.com reported that “five prisoners who ...

Santa Rita Jail Accused of Slave Labor in California Class Action

Current and former prisoners at Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California, filed a class action lawsuit on November 18, 2019 against the county, Sheriff Gregory Ahern, and Aramark Correctional Services for violating a California prison labor law, the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Represented by attorney Dan Siegel, eight named plaintiffs contend their unpaid kitchen jobs amounted to slave labor. The county contracts with Aramark, a $16.2 billion private enterprise, to provide meals for the county’s jail populations at $94.5 million a year.

“The work plaintiffs performed was not a part of daily housekeeping duties in the jail’s personal and communal living areas,” reads the complaint. “Rather, it was forced labor for the profit of Aramark.”

The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, uses prisoner labor in its industrial kitchen to prepare meals for Aramark. The kitchen also prepares meals for Aramark’s contracted services with Amador and San Joaquin counties. The suit alleges that the company “receives an economic windfall as a result of the uncompensated labor of prisoners confined in Santa Rita Jail.”

“Santa Rita and therefore the county are stealing the wages that have been earned ...

$41,850 Settlement in Heart Attack Death at California Jail

The surviving family of Kevin Lee McLaughlin, who died of a heart attack in California’s San Luis Obispo County Jail (SLOCJ) in April 2017, attempted to withdraw from a $41,850 settlement negotiated in its wrongful death lawsuit, which claimed deliberate indifference to McLaughlin’s emergency medical needs resulting in his death. But a judge has prevented them from seeking a larger amount.

McLaughlin was arrested on January 23, 2017, for felony assault with a deadly weapon after he pushed a chair at his elderly mother. With a history of arrests at SLOCJ, the 60-year-old was listed as a high-risk detainee due to his high blood pressure, advanced heart disease, history of alcohol abuse, and reliance on psychotropic medication for anxiety and depression.

On January 26, 2017, SLOCJ Dr. Kristopher Howalt prescribed McLaughlin a 1,200 mg daily dose of Ibuprofen, increasing that to 1,600 mg daily on February 14, 2017. At the time of his death nearly two months later, McLaughlin was still on Ibuprofen despite a 2005 warning from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the drug elevates heart attack risk and a 2015 FDA warning that it should be avoided altogether by people with high ...

Illinois Prison Guilty of Censoring Free Speech Over Facebook Posts

An Illinois federal district court held on September 9, 2019, that Larry Harris was retaliated against when he was punished and transferred to a less-desirable prison because of what his daughter, Amanda Carrasco, posted on her Facebook account.

Harris filed a § 1983 complaint against officials of Danville Correctional Center on March 27, 2017. He alleged that the warden, Victor Calloway, had Harris placed in segregation in retaliation for statements his daughter had posted stating that a guard at the institution was stealing canteen from prisoners’ orders, purposely overcharging, and stealing taxpayer dollars.

Harris said that Lt. Charles Campbell wrote him a disciplinary report for threats and intimidation. He was transferred to Big Muddy River Correctional Center on a bad-adjustment transfer. He named Neil Flannery, Felicia Adkins, and John Peterson as co-defendants “acting in conspiracy” with Campbell and Calloway to silence his and his daughter’s freedom of speech.

Flannery and Adkins sat on the disciplinary board that refused to hear Harris’ evidence and based their decision solely on Campbell’s statement. Peterson was the grievance officer who would not fully investigate Harris’ grievance.

Harris requested $71,000 for his illegal segregation, permanent housing at Shawnee Correctional Center, employment as ...

Former Prisoners Find Career Success and Help Others to Achieve the Same

Ex-felons are gaining more opportunities to rebuild their lives after release without having the stigma of incarceration hanging over their heads. With such measures as Ban the Box, Second Chance Employment, and self-startups, people with criminal convictions are getting a leg up on employment, a major factor in recidivism reduction.

The ABA Journal highlighted three such individuals in its July 2019 edition. The first, David Figueroa, grew up on the streets of Chicago. After two stints in prison, Figueroa decided he wanted something different. At age 29 he began work at a construction site. He also took several life skills classes being offered at a community-based organization. From there, he pooled his savings and in 2014 started his own business - Second Renovations.

Figueroa says he makes an effort to hire convicted felons. He starts them off at $12 an hour and provides them with power tools necessary for the job. He teaches construction skills to his employees and helps them to develop good work habits. “I’m really hard on my guys for the first 30 days because a lot of them don’t have any work experience,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very hard to get these guys ...

Massachusetts Prison Retaliates Against Prisoners for Assault on Guards; Court Grants Preliminary Injunction in Class Action

After January 10, 2020, prisoner riot left three guards injured at Massachusetts’ Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC), prisoners and their loved ones said prisoners were subjected to retaliation, losing their property, being tased, locked down 23 hours a day and denied access to phones and visits. Attorneys and prisoners’ rights groups also claimed they had been unable to contact some of their clients inside the Lancaster maximum-security prison.

“Assaults have been widely reported,” said Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts.

She added that “a number of people” who were beaten by guards then endured further physical abuse after they quizzed guards for a motive behind their behavior.

“When one of their officers is assaulted, the entire prison will pay,” Matos said, reporting what some of SBCC’s nearly 1,000 prisoners had relayed from their guards.

Three guards in Unit N1 were surrounded and assaulted during the January melee. Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union (COFU) President Derek O’Connor said one guard had to “fight his way out,” while another suffered a broken jaw and the last required surgery.

SBCC Superintendent Steven Kenneway immediately put the prison on lockdown. That stretched for 11 days until January 21, ...