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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Kevin Bliss

Tennessee Sheriff, Captain Arrested 
for Improper Use of Prisoner Labor

by Kevin W. Bliss

Sheriff Jimmy Brown and Captain Adam Brewer, with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, were arrested in May 2018 following an investigation into inappropriate conduct.
At the request of 22nd District Attorney General Brent Cooper, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury began reviewing the activities of the Sheriff’s Office. They discovered that between 2015 and 2017, Sheriff Brown, 71, allowed various county employees to use jail prisoners to perform labor at their personal residences. In addition, he would release detainees without requiring them to post bond as ordered by the court. The sheriff also reportedly violated the law in connection with confiscated illegal moonshine and a still.

Captain Brewer was accused of falsifying timesheets and misleading investigators as to the accuracy of reported hours worked at the Sheriff’s Office.

A local grand jury returned indictments, charging Brown with two counts of official misconduct, one count of misuse of inmate labor for personal gain and one count of tampering with evidence. Brewer was charged with one count of official misconduct.

Brown, who was elected sheriff in August 2010 and re-elected in 2014, lost his re-election bid on August 2, 2018. Both he ...

Virginia DOC Called Out for Use of Solitary Confinement

by Kevin W. Bliss

After releasing a 67-page investigative report in May 2018 on the use of solitary confinement by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and the effects of solitary on prisoners, especially those with mental health issues, the ACLU of Virginia called on Governor Ralph Northam to curb the use of segregation.

In its report, “Silent Injustice,” the ACLU said it found that one in every 20 prisoners in state prisons had spent time in isolation, with the average stay lasting 2.7 years. Solitary confinement in the VDOC – officially known as “restrictive housing” – keeps a prisoner in a locked cell 22 to 24 hours a day with few privileges. Officially, solitary is used to punish rule infractions, to hold high-risk prisoners or to protect prisoners from each other. But the ACLU argued it is also used to house the mentally ill and exact retribution against prisoners who file grievances.

The ACLU’s report contends that segregation has especially detrimental effects on prisoners with mental health issues, resulting in feelings of panic, hallucinations and paranoia. For the 15 percent of VDOC prisoners being treated for some type of mental health issue – and the ACLU says ...

Alabama Sheriff Pockets Excess Jail Food Funds, 
Buys Beach House, Loses Re-election Bid

by Kevin W. Bliss

In June 2018, Sheriff Todd Entrekin withdrew from his re-election campaign in Etowah County, Alabama, conceding to his only opponent, Rainbow City Police Chief Jonathon Horton. Entrekin will serve out the rest of his second term and hand over the position in January 2019. He withdrew under a cloud of suspicion, with a lawsuit pending against him and 48 other county sheriffs, filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in January 2018, for failure to produce public records.

Entrekin refused to produce documents showing how money from his jail’s food account was being spent, stating only that prisoners are fed balanced, nutritious meals that are well above minimum calorie counts and respectful of religious restrictions. However, he also reported on ethics forms that he personally earned $250,000 in each of the past three years – in addition to his salary – by keeping excess funds not spent on food for prisoners’ meals.

Under a 1939 state law, a number of Alabama counties still turn the unused portion of their jail food account over to the sheriff for their personal benefit. [See: PLN, March 2018, p ...

Family of Wrongfully Convicted Missouri Prisoner Receives $14 Million

by Kevin Bliss

The family of former Missouri prisoner George Allen received a $14 million settlement in a wrongful conviction suit filed against the state, the City of St. Louis and others responsible for his illegal imprisonment.

Mary Bell was raped and murdered in her LaSalle apartment in 1982. Police focused on Kirk Eaton, a known sex offender, as a possible suspect. George Allen was picked up several weeks later because he was walking through the neighborhood and resembled Eaton. According to the complaint, it was readily apparent that Allen was mentally ill and that police officials, including Terry James and Mark Burford, “saw an opportunity to close what had become an emotionally charged case.”

The complaint alleged that Allen’s confession was coerced and crucial forensic evidence was withheld. It added that Allen was fed information by James and Burford about the crime scene that only the perpetrator would know; the officers then had Allen repeat that information in his taped confession to make it appear he was guilty. They also suppressed semen found at the crime scene because it did not match Allen’s blood type.

Allen was convicted and spent 30 years in prison while asserting his innocence ...

Sentenced to Prison Slavery

by Kevin W. Bliss

Most Americans were taught that slavery was banned in 1865 with the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But prisoner rights advocates note that the amendment’s exception clause actually allowed slavery to persist – in prisons.

The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Following the Civil War, states in the vanquished Confederacy worried that their war-torn economies would be overwhelmed by the increased cost of production incurred by plantation owners forced to pay market wages for labor since they could no longer own slaves.

But under the Thirteenth Amendment, with a workforce composed of prisoners not entitled to wages, the Southern states realized they could lease prisoners to plantations at low cost, saving them money while generating revenue for prison coffers. To this day, prisoners harvest crops at gunpoint in facilities like the Angola prison in Louisiana and the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

A 2014 survey for the National Center for Education statistics found that 61 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million state and federal prisoners were employed – mostly in low-paid institutional support ...

BJS Report Finds Prisoner Sexual Abuse Allegations Continue to Rise

by Kevin W. Bliss

A July 2018 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found the number of alleged incidents of sexual victimization among state and federal prisoners increased 180 percent from 2011 to 2015. However, the number of substantiated claims grew just 63 percent during that same time period.

The Sexual Victimization Report by Adult Correctional Authorities was first authorized in 2003 with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). But the standards that govern which incidents are reported took until 2012 to be adopted by the U.S. Department of Justice. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Sept. 2013, p.1].

Part of the lengthy delay could be attributed to PREA requirements that prisons and jails create partnerships with local rape crisis centers, which are supposed to provide support services to incarcerated victims of sexual assault – from a rape crisis hotline to in-person counseling. Correctional facilities also had to develop programs to educate staff and prisoners about sexual victimization. Other sections of PREA address such issues as prevention planning, responsive planning, collecting data and conducting audits.

The PREA standards require detention facilities to give prisoners multiple ways to report sexual victimization, which includes ...

Dismissal of Pro Se Prisoner’s Sexual Assault, Excessive Force Case Reversed

by Kevin Bliss

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit filed by Pennsylvania state prisoner Gregory L. Ricks against Paul Keil and D. Shover, guards at SCI Graterford, after his case was dismissed by a district court for failure to state a claim.

Ricks was on his way to Graterford’s law library during morning movement when he was stopped and subjected to a pat-down search by Keil. Ricks stated that Keil pressed his erect penis against his buttocks during the search, and claimed it could be seen on the surveillance tapes of that area.

Ricks said he immediately stepped away and turned to Keil’s supervisor, Lt. D. Shover, who was overseeing the pat-down. He told Shover that Keil had just sexually assaulted him. Shover became belligerent and slammed Ricks against the wall, resulting in a black eye, busted nose and lips, and injuries to his head, neck and back. Ricks said Shover then cuffed him and returned him to his cell.

The district court held that one incident of minor sexual touching did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Further, Shover’s failure to intervene did not constitute participation in the incident, and Ricks’ allegations of ...

Report on Capital Punishment in Pennsylvania Released; Moratorium Continues

by Kevin W. Bliss

In June 2018, a death penalty task force commissioned by Pennsylvania’s General Assembly in 2012 finally released its report. Finding that neither judicial economy nor fairness is served – because 97 percent of all capital cases are converted to lesser sentences after post-conviction judicial review – the task force recommended disqualifying mentally ill prisoners and the intellectually disabled from the death penalty, instituting a process to review the proportionality of capital sentences and creating a state-funded capital defender office.

The last recommendation resulted from a finding that private counsel represented just 20 percent of death row prisoners. The other 80 percent were represented by “indigent defense practitioners,” some of whom “failed to meet professional standards.” Pennsylvania has no statewide office of public defenders, relying instead on each county to maintain its own.

“The public defenders that get worse results are public defender offices in the counties that are not nearly as well resourced and not nearly as well trained,” said Marc Bookman, co-director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation.

As a result, the task force noted that capital defendants “receive poor representation, resulting in reversible errors and, in some cases, the risk of convicting ...

Multiple Charges, Lawsuits Filed Against Lackawanna Prison Staff for Sexual Abuse

by Kevin Bliss

Employees at the Lackawanna County Prison (LCP) in Scranton, Pennsylvania have been under a year-long investigation into the sexual abuse of women prisoners at the facility. The culture of abuse, said to have continued for over a decade, is so pervasive that those accused include the highest-ranking ...

Seventh Circuit Reversal: Guards Immune from Prosecution in Wrongful Death Claim

Daniel Martin was booked into the Clay County, Indiana, jail on December 13, 2013, for drunk diving. His intake was performed by officers Landon Herbert and Zachary Overton. The two logged a 0.16 percent blood-alcohol content on Martin, and stated that he was coherent and without great impairment of coordination. Martin was placed in a two-man cell on the top bunk where video showed he fell while climbing down, striking his head on a table mounted on the opposite wall. He damaged his spinal cord and ultimately died from the injuries five months later.

Martin's estate sued on his behalf, stating that Herbert and Overton failed to provide adequate medical care. The suit alleged that no person with Martin's level of intoxication should have been assigned to a cell where the only open bunk was on top. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment citing qualified immunity. The district court ruled that the facts surrounding the immunity claim were under dispute and therefore must be litigated.

On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that even judged in the most favorable light of the plaintiff, Herbert and Overton could not have been expected to ...


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