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Articles by Kevin Bliss

$100,000 Paid by Pennsylvania DOC to Family of Pro Se Prisoner Litigant Who Committed Suicide

by Kevin Bliss

A Pennsylvania prisoner’s long and contentious history with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) came to a bitter end on September 29, 2021, with an agreement by the state to pay $100,000 to his brother after the prisoner hanged himself.

The prisoner, Joel Snider, 44, was found ...

JPay Founder Ryan Shapiro Indicted for Securities Fraud

by Kevin Bliss

On January 6, 2022, Ryan Shapiro, the 44-year-old founder of prison financial services firm JPay, was charged in federal court in Boston with conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Also named in the criminal complaint was Shapiro’s friend and neighbor in Florida, hedge fund manager Kris Bortnovsky, 40. ...

Living and Dying on Rikers Island: The Latest Installment

by Kevin Bliss 

When 55-year-old William Brown, a pretrial detainee from Brooklyn, suffered a medical emergency and died on December 15, 2021, it was the 16th death recorded for the year of someone incarcerated at Rikers Island, the sprawling and troubled New York City jail complex. Former Mayor Bill ...

Lawsuit Over Winter Power Outage at Brooklyn’s Troubled Federal Detention Center Granted Class Certification

by Kevin Bliss

Class-action status was granted on May 25, 2021, to a federal lawsuit brought by a half-dozen prisoners held by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at its Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York, who said that when the power went out in January 2019 and ...

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 ...