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Articles by Kevin Bliss

New Jail Healthcare Provider Coming to Albuquerque – Again

by Kevin W. Bliss

New Mexico’s Bernalillo County is terminating the contract with its jail’s private healthcare contractor effective July 25, 2023. County Manager Julie Morgas Baca sent word to YesCare – the corporate descendant of Corizon Health – on January 26, 2023, pulling the plug two years early on a $64.9 million four-year contract that began in September 2021.

It is the second contract canceled in two years with a healthcare contractor at the county’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque. When county commissioners voted to hire YesCare, it was because previous provider Centurion Detention Health Services had quit in a firestorm that followed nine jail deaths in just one year.

Tennessee-based YesCare is the golem Corizon Health brought to life with much of the firm’s viable business when it successfully petitioned a Texas court to let it slough off its liabilities into another new corporation called Tehum Care Services. That firm then promptly declared bankruptcy. Known as the “Texas Two-Step,” the procedure is legal but ethically dubious; Tehum told the federal bankruptcy court for the Southern District of Texas in May 2023 that it had 30 unsecured creditors owed a total of $38,438,751. See: In Re: Tehum Care ...

Third Connecticut Prison Lockdown in Five Months

by Kevin W. Bliss

When an apparently intoxicated prisoner allegedly assaulted a guard at Connecticut’s largest prison on June 13, 2023, the lockup was put on lockdown. It was at least the third time this year that a state Department of Correction (DOC) prison was shutdown.

The first incident also occurred at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (CI). After prisoners registered over 50 new COVID-19 infections in just two weeks, Warden Daniel Dougherty placed the prison on lockdown on January 7, 2023. It wasn’t lifted until over two weeks later. DOC said that more than 700 state prisoners and 659 staffers tested positive for the disease in December 2022 and January 2023.

Then on May 19, 2023, New Haven CI went on a lockdown that lasted three days. DOC officials did not say what sparked the investigation that prompted it, however.

Connecticut’s 13 active prisons – five more are shuttered – hold some 10,000 prisoners. Over 30 have died from COVID-19 since March 2020. Civil rights activists blame inattention to prevention. “They don’t have proper cleaning items to clean their cells with, they don’t have proper PPE [personal protective equipment], they don’t have hand sanitizer, they don’t have paper masks,” said Katal ...

New York City Stops Reporting Rikers Island Deaths Amid Rampant Guard Misconduct

by Kevin W. Bliss, Chuck Sharman and Benjamin Tschirhart

On May 31, 2023, Luis Molina, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC), announced his agency would no longer make public reports of in-custody deaths. Why? Molina blamed the federal monitor overseeing a long-running class-action lawsuit to improve conditions at the city’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex, claiming Steven J. Martin was weaponizing the data to make DOC look bad.

Molina’s ire was apparently piqued a day earlier, when Martin reported to the federal court for the Southern District of New York that Molina had mischaracterized five detainee deaths in ways that made them appear less preventable than they were. There were 19 deaths at the jail in 2022, and three more by May 2023.

The gloves then came off as Martin accused Molina and DOC of “inaccuracies and a lack of transparency” in another filing in the case on June 8, 2023. In a third filing on June 12, 2023, Martin told Judge Laura Taylor Swain that “it is difficult for the Monitoring Team to keep the Court appropriately apprised of matters when the City and [DOC] take positions and actions that shift day to day and ...

California Prisoners Embracing Arts

by Kevin W. Bliss

In November 2022, about 20 prisoners at California Institution for Men (CIM) in Chino staged a dance show.

You read that right.

Smashing what New York Times reporter Brian Selbert called “prison culture codes of masculine behavior,” the men said no one was more surprised than they were at where they ended up.

“Nobody dances in prison,” Kenneth W. Webb recalled saying back in 2018, when the idea was suggested by a fellow prisoner at California State Prison (CSP) at Lancaster, Dimitri Gales.

Webb, then 27, was early in a 50-year sentence for fatally shooting another 18-year-old at a party in 2008. Gales, a year younger, was serving 18-years-to-life for involuntary manslaughter for
his role in a gang shooting.

“It sounded super crazy,” Gales agreed. But he and Webb drafted a proposal for prison officials that emphasized the rehabilitative benefits of dance.

Receiving approval, they taught the class themselves, working out dance and hip-hop routines for about 20 fellow prisoners. They were also taking Words Uncaged classes with the program’s founder, Cal State-L.A. English professor Bidhan Chandra Roy. He introduced them to Dimitri Chamblas, the recently recruited dean of the School of Dance at California Institute ...

Iowa DOC Changes Policy After Ombudsman Calls Out Unfair Prisoner Discipline

by Kevin W. Bliss

In its Annual Report on December 15, 2022, the Iowa Ombudsman Office (IOO) called out the state Department of Corrections (DOC) for unfairly addressing abuse of K2 by prisoners and also failing to protect those in protective custody (PC). But Ombudsman Bernardo Granwehr said policy changes had been made to address his concerns.

Like many states, Iowa has struggled with K2, a synthetic drug easily smuggled into lockups. There it is cut into hundreds of doses and resold at a massive profit, making it extremely appealing to traffickers.

But field testing for K2 is not conclusive. Guards use field-test kits whose manufacturers state that results need to be confirmed in a certified laboratory. Since certain component chemical compounds of the drug are commonly found elsewhere, false positives occur in about 38% of field tests.

Nevertheless, IOO found that many state prisoners lost privileges for alleged rule violations based solely on these undependable drug tests – without any confirmation by a lab. It recommended a change in DOC policy to verify field tests and reinstate lost privileges to prisoners when those laboratory results come back negative. Earlier in 2022, the report stated, DOC “had suspended use of ...

Arizona Exploiting Prisoner Labor for Profit

by Kevin W. Bliss

A new constitutional amendment proposed to Congress in June 2023 would remove the exception for prisoners to the U.S. ban on slavery. The effort follows a report from Arizona in December 2022, which found that private firms in the state used over two dozen undocumented migrant ...

“Night of Terror” in Indiana Jail Sees Detainees Assaulted by Fellow Prisoners Who Purchased Cell Keys From Guard

by Kevin W. Bliss

An Indiana jail guard and a jail detainee are headed to trial in the summer of 2023 on charges that the guard sold the detainee access to keys that he used to unlocked the female housing area to a group of male detainees. But officials at the Clark County Jail insist the women who filed lawsuits alleging they were sexually assaulted are exagerrating those attacks.

“In fact, the surveillance footage shows male and female inmates talking in open areas and casually walking back and forth,” former Sheriff Jamey Noel posted on a now-defunct website,, which he created to counter rumors about the incident.

On the night of October 23-24, 2021, two pods holding female detainees were overrun by male prisoners who stole access keys from a control module and allegedly paid off guard David J. Lowe to look the other way. Lowe was quickly fired, arrested and charged with felony criminal escape and official misconduct, after reportedly admitting he sold access to the keys for a $1,000 bribe. [See: PLN, Dec. 2021, p.62.]

In suits filed in federal court for the Southern District of Indiana in July 2022, a group of women detained at ...

“Abdication of Responsibility”: Heads Roll in Tennessee DOC Over Botched Execution Protocols

by Kevin W. Bliss

A day before releasing a scathing report on the state’s execution procedures, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) fired the deputy commissioner of the Department of Corrections (DOC), Debbi Inglis, along with Inspector General Kelly Young. The last day of work for both was December 27, 2022.

Lee halted executions in May 2022, just before Interim DOC Commissioner Lisa Helton admitted in an explosive court filing that the state hadn’t followed its own protocol for testing execution drugs. Lee then tapped former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to investigate.  [See PLN Nov. 2022, p.44.]

Stanton’s report, which the governor released on December 28, 2022, blasted DOC for not following its own lethal injection protocol. The compounding pharmacy tasked with mixing the drugs didn’t even have a copy. And the only DOC employee who received whatever testing reports were provided lacked the training to understand what they meant – a misalignment of duties and authority the report called an “abdication of responsibility” by DOC.

“The fact of the matter is not one [DOC] employee made it their duty to understand the current Protocol’s testing requirements and ensure compliance,” the report stated.

Tennessee utilizes a three-drug combination for lethal injections: ...

Prisoner Counselors STORMING California Prisons to Aid in Addiction Recovery

by Kevin W. Bliss

On October 28, 2022, the first graduates of the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) at California State Prison (CSP) in Lancaster received their certificates. The new class of 29 will offer peer-to-peer drug abuse recovery and counseling to prisoners across the state. Upon release they can work toward state certification to continue counseling addicts outside.

Participants collectively refer to themselves as STORMING Cohorts, an acronym for a Scarred Team of Recovering Men Inspiring New Generations – alluding to the psychological storms they pull themselves through, as well as those they assist.

OMCP first began at Solano County State Prison in 2009. It has since expanded to Central California Women’s Facility and Valley State Prison, both in Chowchilla. The one-year program culminates in certification as an addiction treatment counselor by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Enrollment requires two CDCR staff references and an interview. Candidates can have no serious disciplinary infractions and must submit a 500-word essay outlining how they maintain their recovery and could help others do the same. They must also have at least five years left on their sentences after graduation. Participants receive 350 hours of masters-degree-level curriculum in neurobiology, pharmacology, ...

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Caves to Criticism, Accepts Resignation of Formerly Incarcerated Clerk

by Kevin W. Bliss

On January 5, 2023, new Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kyra Bolden announced she had accepted the resignation of her formerly incarnated clerk, Pete Martel. In doing so, the justice bowed to complaints that Martel, who served 14 years for shooting at police during a 1994 robbery, had too much access at the court to sensitive material concerning the cops.

Martel was released from prison in 2008 after serving time for armed robbery and assault during a Genesee County convenience store robbery that ended in a shootout with cops. Once released, he became an advocate for improving prison conditions while working as a mitigation specialist, helping convicted felons with legal matters for the State Appellate Defenders Office in Lansing.

“He should use his experience in an advocacy role to try to make a difference,” declared Justice Richard Bernstein, whose criticism of Bolden for her choice of clerk led to Martel’s resignation. “That’s the crucial thing here: He can do great things as an advocate, but this court should not be advocates.”

These are extreme arguments. Bernstein said because someone once shot at a cop – even though he served his time for the crime – he doesn’t ...