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Articles by Kevin Bliss

Do County Jails Treat Black Women Worse Than Other Prisoners?

by Kevin Bliss

Black women in pretrial detention were treated worse than any other group of detainees due to the inherently racist, sexist, and economically prejudiced practices in the criminal justice system, according to an Al Jazeera report published July 7, 2021.

The United States currently incarcerates over two million ...

Louisville Jail Moves to Have Free Phone Calls for Prisoners by First of the Year

by Kevin Bliss

Louisville, Kentucky’s Metro Department of Corrections (MDOC) who operates the city jail has been ordered by the Metro Council Budget Committee to stop charging prisoners for phone calls from the jail by December 31, 2021.

MDOC currently contracts with Dallas, Texas communications giant Securus Technologies for its jail phone system. Current calls cost prisoners and their families $1.85 for 15-minute calls to local landlines, inter- and intrastate calls have additional per-minute fees. Calls to cell phones have a flat $9.99 fee.

Lawmakers told MDOC director, Dwayne Clark, to create a new plan eliminating phone fees for prisoners and families by the beginning of next year. The current plan is too much of a hardship on families of the prisoners. “We should not be funding our jail on the back of the families whose loved ones are inmates and should be doing all we can to keep families connected to their loved ones, to ease reentry and reduce recidivism,” stated Budget Committee Chair Bill Hollander.

Mayor Greg Fischer estimated the MDOC would generate revenue of $700,000 from telephone kickbacks for the year 2021. The city plans to use the better revenue forecasts and federal American Rescue Act funds” ...

Wisconsin Feels Effects of Staffing Shortage in State Prisons

by Kevin Bliss

Staffing shortages in Wisconsin’s maximum security prison, Waupun Correctional Facility, prompted the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) in June of 2021 to ask for guards at the state’s other prisons to voluntarily report to Waupun to work a two week pay period on a rotational basis through December. Many claim the shortage was due to former Governor Scott Walker’s signing Act 10 into law in 2011. This bill put an end to collective bargaining.

Working a shift outside a guard’s normal posting is colloquially known as a “force.” It occurs when staff is needed for weekends or holidays. Yet, this is the first time anyone has been sent across the state to another prison for a force. The WDOC covers housing, food, and mileage costs for this force.

WDOC prison population is lower than the national average. However, statistics from the Vera Institute of Justice show the population has increased 464% since 1983 and 20% since 2000. The increased population has required a proportional increase in the need for guards, which has not occurred.

Waupun is currently understaffed by 45.3%, meaning it has 134 vacancies out of a possible staff of 296. This prison may be by ...

First Prisoner Elected to Hold Public Office in Washington DC

by Kevin Bliss

Joel Castón, 44, a prisoner of the District of Columbia Jail, may be the first incarcerated elected official in the nation. He won the special election June 15, 2021 for the Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat, beating out four others for the position—who were also fellow prisoners.

A Georgetown Prison Scholar who has served 26 years for a murder conviction at age 18, Castón was doing research for a podcast he hosted when he found that convicted felons could not only vote in the District of Columbia (even while still incarcerated), but could hold office as well. After considering what it meant to give residents of the jail a voice, Castón threw his hat in the ring as a write-in candidate. He then prepared a quick campaign based on the principles of dignity and inclusion. And, with the help of the jail staff, Castón made a campaign video for release.

Castón won the first election hands down. But, an error in his voter registration address caused him to be disqualified. A special election was held June 15, 2021 to fill the open seat. This time, though, four candidates ran against Castón—Aaron Brown, Keith Littlepage-El, Gary Proctor, ...

Virginia Department of Corrections Confirms Visitation Not Primary Means of Contraband Introduction

by Kevin Bliss

The Virginia Mercury reported this year that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that a vast majority of contraband being introduced into the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) has not been coming from visitation as indicated by the Department. Statistics show stopping visitation did not have the effect of reducing incoming contraband by the expected amount.

The article said that the VDOC focused overwhelmingly on prisoners’ visitation as the primary means of contraband introduction into prison facilities. Starting from that flawed perspective, draconian visiting rules were implemented. The VDOC began requiring prisoners to be stripped, searched and changed into state issue underwear and jumpsuit in 2017. After their visitation was over they were again subjected to a strip search and clothing change.

The following year, the VDOC stated women could not wear tampons to visitation when menstruating. The Department had picked up a new type of body scanning device which could detect contraband hidden in body cavities and a tampon gave a false positive reading.

Spokeswoman Lisa Kinney emphasized the VDOC’s position with a comment she made at that time. “There have been many instances in which visitors have attempted to smuggle drugs into our prisons by concealing ...

Erie County Sheriff Settles AG Lawsuit for Violating New York Reporting Directives

by Kevin Bliss

A suit against Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard was settled in June 2021. The New York State Commission of Correction (Commission) filed the suit  against the Eric County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) for their inability to comply with a directive regulating the reporting and investigating of incidents “of a serious or potentially problematic nature.”

The lawsuit alleged that the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility (the Facilities) failed to report several incidents occurring after the directive was issued, including sexual misconduct and staff assaults on prisoners.

In 2017, the Commission held a hearing and determined the ECSO failed to properly report several incidents of assault, erroneous release, and suicide. This failure prompted the Commission to develop a set of directives regarding reporting and investigating incidents within the jails. First, all serious incidents of sexual misconduct and assault must be reported to the Commission within 24 hours. Reports of erroneous releasee or suicide attempts must be filed promptly. Serious incidents occurring within the Facilities must be reported immediately using eJusticeNY Integrated Justice Portal’s online submission form.

In March 2021, the Commission filed suit against the sheriff of Erie County claiming there were at least eight ...

Washington DC Jail’s Suicide Proof “Safe Cell” Use Not Safe for Prisoners

by Kevin Bliss

Washington, D.C.’s jail safe cell use has been under scrutiny since 2013 when a rash of suicides prompted the jail to hire Lindsay Hayes, a nationally renowned jail and prison suicide prevention expert, to evaluate the jail’s operations and offer recommendations to make it more effective with fewer deaths and more humane conditions. Prisoner rights activists are concerned that conditions have still not changed since then, even after a 2015 lawsuit ordered the county to make changes.

The use of isolation in confinement by jails and prisons has been a major focus in the nation recently. Yet, that has not included the use of “safe cells” for those under suicide prevention watch. These cells are similar to other solitary confinement cells in prison with a few additions. Overhead fluorescent lights are left on 24 hours a day. A hard, plastic box with no mattress serves as a bed. Access to water for drinking or flushing the toilet must be specifically requested each usage. And the only clothing issued is a type of smock made out of blankets and Velcro which hangs loosely on the body, not fully covering anything.

Hayes recommended avoiding the use of isolation as ...

New Clemency Rules Expected to Expedite Civil Rights Restoration in Florida

by Kevin Bliss

The Florida Cabinet and Governor Ron DeSantis collaborated to restructure the state’s clemency rules, streamlining the application process and automating certain aspects in an effort to expedite civil rights restoration for ex-offenders.

The Cabinet, comprised of Governor DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, and ...

Criminal Justice System Encourages Racism According to MIT Study

by Kevin Bliss

Michigan Institute of Technology (MIT) Department of Economics professor Peter Temin released a report last April titled “Mass Incarceration Retards Racial Integration.” He says that it was systemic racial prejudice which initiated the move toward mass incarceration and now it was that same intense level of incarceration ...

$30,001 Jury Verdict Over Discriminatory ICE Notification Policy By Minnesota Jail

by Kevin Bliss

Myriam Parada was awarded $30,001 from the Minnesota District Court January 28, 2021 for false imprisonment in the Anoka County Jail. The county’s unwritten policy was to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whenever a foreign-born United States resident was booked into the jail. The American Civil ...