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Articles by Lonnie Burton

Ninth Circuit: Washington Civil Rights Suit Not Tolled by State Presentment Statute

by Lonnie Burton

On April 7, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss filed by county defendants who asserted that a former prisoner’s 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit was time-barred. The appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a state tort claims statute gave him an extra 60days to file his federal complaint.

Although the Ninth Circuit’s decision did not go into detail regarding the nature of the suit, court records show that Eric Boston was housed in the Kitsap County, Washington jail for six weeks between January and February 2011. Boston’s complaint concerned “injuries he sustained” during that time period, and named Conmed, Inc., a private company contracted to provide medical care to Kitsap County prisoners, as a defendant along with the county.

The issue in the case was whether Boston filed his suit within the three-year statute of limitations. Boston filed a tort claim under RCW 4.96.020 on January 3, 2014, exactly three years after the start of his jail stay. He did not bring suit in federal court until March 10, 2014, more than three years after he was released from ...

California Agency Addresses In-person Visits at Jails after Governor Vetoes Bill

by Lonnie Burton

Under new rules adopted by a state regulatory agency in February 2017, any California jail that offered in-person prisoner visitation at the beginning of 2017 may not limit visits to video calls. Further, all future jails in the state will have to provide space for in-person, face-to-face visits, except facilities currently under construction.

In June 2017, state lawmakers took two additional steps to fight the trend toward providing video calls in local jails by requiring them to provide the first hour for free and preventing them from offering video calls exclusively.

Those moves followed Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of a bill in late 2016 that would have required California jails to provide the option of in-person visits. Senate Bill 1157 would have mandated that all county jails make space for face-to-face visitation by 2022. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.38]. Governor Brown rejected that plan, however, citing the high cost of retrofitting facilities that do not currently have visitation areas.

In his veto message, though, the governor noted the importance of in-person visits, writing that banning them “could have an adverse impact” on rehabilitation. He then directed the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) to develop ...

New York Times Reveals Racial Bias Rampant in Upstate New York Prisons

by Lonnie Burton

In December 2016, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an official probe into allegations of racial bias by guards in the state’s prison system. The governor’s announcement came shortly after the New York Times published evidence of racial discrimination it had uncovered following an investigation that examined nearly 60,000 prison disciplinary cases.

“I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The Times’ investigation delved into 59,354 disciplinary cases from 2015. It found that at some prisons the rate at which black and Hispanic prisoners were punished was twice that of white prisoners. Non-white prisoners also ended up in solitary confinement more often, and were held there for longer periods of time. There was also evidence of racial disparity among prisoners subjected to use of force by guards.

In addition, the Times reviewed 14,000 parole decisions spanning three years. It found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic prisoners were released after their first hearing, compared with one in four white prisoners. The disparity was more pronounced among offenders ...

Report Slams Takeover of Washington DOC Food Services by Correctional Industries

by Lonnie Burton

In October 2016 report by Prison Voice Washington detailed the adverse effects of a takeover of food services in Washington state prisons by Correctional Industries (CI). The report, titled “Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons: How the DOC Makes Healthy Food Choices Impossible for Incarcerated People and What Can be Done,” described how shifting prison food services to CI has cost the state millions of dollars – from higher food costs, increased health care expenditures and more prisoner violence stemming from discontent over poor-quality meals.

The report also revealed that the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) was in violation of Executive Order 13-06, signed by Governor Jay Inslee, which mandates that state agencies serve healthy, nutritious food to people in their charge.

The Washington DOC incarcerates over 18,000 prisoners, and the food provided by CI in state prisons “is now unhealthier than it has ever been,” the report found. For example, CI has eliminated all freshly-prepared food and every main course is now “a reheated, highly processed CI product with high amounts of sodium.”

Unprocessed meat is never served. No fresh vegetables are provided, other than carrots and celery. Breakfasts have been eliminated ...

Solitary to the Streets: Studies Find Such Releases Result in Higher Recidivism Rates, Violent Behavior

by Lonnie Burton

Several studies have shown that prisoners released directly to the streets from solitary confinement are more likely to reoffend, commit new crimes sooner and exhibit violent behavior after release. The most recent study, “From Solitary to Society,” authored by Samarth Gupta and published in the Harvard Political Review, also found that prisoners held in long-term isolation are 33 percent more likely to commit suicide than those in general population.

Supporters of solitary confinement (a term that includes administrative segregation and other forms of restrictive housing) have long touted the purported benefits of harsh conditions in solitary – which often include spending 23 or 24 hours a day locked in a small cell with little human interaction. They argue that such conditions may serve as a way to deter prisoners from committing disciplinary offenses and future crimes.

Data from prison systems in a number of states tell a different story, though. Statistics indicate that prisoners who have spent time in segregation are more likely to reoffend than those who have served their sentences in general population. If you include prisoners who are released directly from solitary to the streets, the numbers – and the adverse effects – ...

$4,000 for Injuries After Prison Staff Ignore Bottom Bunk Directive

by Lonnie Burton

On August 18, 2015, the state of Michigan agreed to pay a prisoner $4,000 to settle a lawsuit in which prison staff deliberately ignored a medically-issued "bottom bunk detail" and the prisoner later fell from the top bunk injuring his shoulder.

Timothy Murphy had been incarcerated ...

$5,000 to Transgender Prisoner in Maryland Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

by Lonnie Burton

On August 17, 2015, an administrative law judge in Maryland ruled that state prison officials were guilty of sexually harassing and mistreating a transgender prisoner and awarded her $5,000 in damages. The ruling was the first of its kind for a transgender prisoner alleging harassment at ...

$4,000 Awarded to Subject of Esquire Article

by Lonnie Burton

Timothy Murphy and Joe Hoffman dug a makeshift tunnel in an attempt to escape from Michigan's Kinross prison in March 2007. While their effort was ultimately foiled at the last minute, a feature article in the August 2008 edition of Esquire magazine entitled "The Tunnel" detailed ...

$5.75 Million Payout in Death of Rikers' Prisoner Denied Medical

by Lonnie Burton

In a settlement of a lawsuit previously mentioned in Prison Legal News, New York City agreed on September 27, 2016, to pay $5.75 million to the mother of a mentally ill Rikers Island prisoner who died on his cell floor in September 2013, naked and covered in feces. The settlement–yet another in a long string of multi-million dollar payouts to families of prisoners who died at Rikers–was the largest ever paid by the city in a prisoner-related lawsuit.

Bradley Ballard’s death was as tragic as it was preventable. At age 39, suffering from schizophrenia and diabetes, Ballard was arrested in June 2013 for a parole violation. He was sent to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue, where he stayed for 38 days before transferring to the mental health unit at Rikers. Soon thereafter, Ballard was placed on lockdown for dancing “inappropriately” in front of a female guard. According to the lawsuit, “not a single nurse, doctor, or other medical or mental health provider entered his cell” during his lockdown.

A week later, after being deprived of his insulin, psychiatric meds, and even running water, Ballard was found dead on his cell floor. Ballard’s genitals had also been ...

South Carolina S.C. Refuses to Order Defendant Maimed from Jail to Psych Hospital

by Lonnie Burton

On November 16, 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court reversed a lower court order involuntarily committing a defendant who was found incompetent to stand trial to a psychiatric hospital. The state high court ruled that the applicable law did not authorize the circuit court to issue such an order, requiring the defendant to remain in jail.

Rocky Linkhorn was arrested and charged with several sex offenses against children. The trial court found Linkhorn "incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to become fit in the foreseeable future." Thereafter, the circuit court ordered the solicitor to initiate proceedings to involuntarily commit Linkhorn to a mental health hospital with the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN). After a hearing, the circuit court, over DDSN's objections, ordered them to take custody of Linkhorn and prohibited DDSN from refusing involuntary commitment of similarly situated individuals. DDSN appealed, and the South Carolina Supreme Court certified the appeal and took the case.

The issue on appeal was Linkhorn's age at the time his disability manifested itself. Molar South Carolina law, a person may only be involuntarily committed if that person suffers an "intellectual disability than manifested itself prior to ...


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