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Articles by Lonnie Burton

Study: Public Misperceptions About Sex Offenders Skew Policy-Making

by Lonnie Burton

Public opinion toward crime is complex. Research shows that Americans strongly favor punitive measures to address criminal behavior while also demanding the rehabilitation and treatment of offenders. When it comes to sex offenses, it gets even more complicated.

A 2015 study authored by Christina Mancini, an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Kristen Budd of MiamiUniversity (Ohio) found that numerous misperceptions about sex crimes--such as the myth of "stranger danger," the perception of abnormally high sexual recidivism, and offense amplification--have been the impetus behind laws passed by "get tough" legislators spurred on by a misinformed public.

The study found, for instance, that 75% of sex offenders are known to their victims, and that "stranger danger" feats are largely exaggerated. In addition, the "vast majority" of individuals convicted of a sex offense will never reoffend. This is in contrast to the common myth among the public that sex offenders can never be "cured" and will inevitably reoffend. According to the study, a mere 11% of treated sex offenders will commit another sex offense. And finally, the impression that sex offenders always progress to "more serious and predatory offenses" (offense amplification) has been primarily communicated by news accounts ...

Fourth Circuit Reinstates Prisoner’s Lawsuit Over Coerced Penis Surgery

by Lonnie Burton

On June 7, 2016, a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit partially reinstated a lawsuit brought by a West Virginia state prisoner who claimed prison officials had coerced him to have surgery to remove marbles from his penis.

Prior to his incarceration at the Huttonsville Correctional Center, Adrian King had marbles implanted in his penis during a body modification procedure. When he was booked into Huttonsville in March 2012, he informed the processing officer of the marbles and a tattoo he also had on his penis. The guard told King, “This isn’t a pornographic video, put [your] clothes back on.” The presence of the marbles was thus never recorded in the booking report.

Several months later, King was called to medical for an examination after another prisoner informed staff that he saw King and other prisoners implanting marbles into their penises. Upon examination, the nurse verified that King’s marbles had not been recently implanted and there was no sign of infection.

Nevertheless, King was taken to segregation and told by a deputy warden to “get comfortable,” as he would remain in isolation, and have his parole eligibility revoked, until he ...

Despite Past Problems, Prison Privatization in Ohio May Expand

by Lonnie Burton

Ohio Governor John Kasich believes in privatization of some government functions as both a way to save the state money and improve the services that residents receive. So in 2011 he submitted a budget plan asking the legislature for authorization to sell as many as five state prisons to for-profit companies. But following the first sale, a series of embarrassing reports revealed numerous problems under private management.

The first – and thus far only – prison to be sold, the 1,798-bed Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, was transferred to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic) in 2012. CCA paid the state almost $73 million for the facility, and in exchange received a 20-year contract to house Ohio state prisoners along with a 90% bed guarantee provision. [See: PLN, Aug. 2015, p.42].

According to Neil Larusch, a Conneaut City Councilman who toured Lake Erie shortly after it was sold, the prison’s population quickly grew by 300 prisoners, requiring double bunking. He also noted that CCA hired the bare minimum of guards, resulting in a toxic mix of violence, drugs and squalid living conditions. Some prisoners, for example, were left without running water ...

BOP Potentially Liable for Valley Fever Outbreak at Privately-run California Prison

by Lonnie Burton

On May 20, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstated lawsuits filed by two federal prisoners who had sued the government and two prison contractors for failing to protect them from “valley fever,” an infectious disease, at a privately-run federal prison.

The Taft Correctional Institution is located in Kern County in central California. Although Taft is owned by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), its day-to-day operations are contracted out to a private prison company. Until 2007, Taft was run by the GEO Group, and since that time it has been operated by Management and Training Corp. (MTC). Taft was built in the San Joaquin Valley, where the soil is infested by coccidioidomycosis, commonly known as “cocci” – a fungus that when inhaled can cause a flu-like illness or pneumonia and is sometimes fatal.

In 2003, the number of prisoners at Taft infected with valley fever reached epidemic levels. The warden admitted there were “more cases of diagnosed valley fever at Taft than in all other federal prisons combined.”

In response to the outbreak, the BOP and the Centers for Disease Control initially developed a plan that included prevention protocols, but then quickly ...

State Sentencing Reforms Doing Little to Reduce Nation’s Prison Population

by Lonnie Burton

With almost 7 million people under some sort of correctional supervision, including probation and parole, the United States continues to lead the world in terms of tough-on-crime policies and incarceration rates. Although there have been slight declines in the U.S. prison population since 2010, the number of people held in prisons, jails and other detention facilities remains extremely high.

A recent study by The Sentencing Project, a research organization based in Washington, D.C., entitled “The State of Sentencing 2015: Developments in Policy and Practice,” noted that punitive sentencing practices like mandatory minimums, habitual offender laws, three strikes legislation and restrictions in sentence reduction policies have resulted in a national prison and jail population of 2.2 million. Another 4.7 million people are being monitored on probation or parole.

The study found that in 2015, lawmakers in at least 30 states passed legislation that may contribute to a further decline in the nation’s prison population as well as minimize the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. Among the changes highlighted in the report:

• Three states (MD, OK and ND) passed mandatory sentencing reform, allowing trial judges to depart from mandatory minimums under certain circumstances, including ...

Corrections Corporation of America Held in Contempt of Court for Falsifying Records at Idaho Prison

On May 23, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed an Idaho federal district court ruling that found Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) -- a private prison company -- in contempt of court for failing to comply with a settlement agreement when the company was caught falsifying reports related to staffing numbers at its Idaho prison. The Ninth Circuit's decision is now final as CCA has declined to seek review of the ruling by the Supreme Court.

CCA runs the state-owned Idaho Corrections Center (ICC) in Kuna, Idaho. In March 2011, a lawsuit was filed against CCA alleging that ICC was inadequately staffed resulting in a dangerous environment that can and did fail to protect the prisoners from assault and other physical violence. In a settlement agreement signed in September 2011, CCA agreed to a specific number of increased custody staff, including a three-person "Warden's Crew," which would be available to enhance security response time. The agreement was for two years and required CCA to issue staffing reports to prove compliance with the settlement.

Just over a year later, however, Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials began to receive reports that ICC had been falsifying ...

Ohio Pays More Than $9.6 Million to Three Men Wrongfully Convicted in 1975 Murder

by Lonnie Burton

On February 22, 2016, the State of Ohio and two men imprisoned for decades for a murder they did not commit agreed to a settlement totaling more than $5.9 million. A third defendant convicted in the same case separately settled his claims for $3.65 million ...

Chicago Pays $4.95 Million to Family of Prisoner Who Died After Police Beating

In April 2016, the City of Chicago agreed to pay $4.95 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by police officers while in custody in 2012. The settlement came after a federal judge ruled that police had used excessive and “brute force” without cause and ...

Judge Orders Missouri DOC to Disclose Names of Pharmacies that Supply Execution Drugs; Appellate Court Reverses

On March 21, 2016, a circuit court judge in Cole County, Missouri ruled in favor of several news media agencies and ordered the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to release the identities of the pharmacies that supply lethal drugs used to execute prisoners. The court rejected the DOC’s argument that the pharmacies were part of its “execution team” and thus exempt from disclosure under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which requires that all DOC records be open to the public “unless otherwise provided by law.”

The case began when a group of media outlets, led by The Guardian, submitted a written request to the DOC’s custodian of records requesting access to several documents, including “the name, chemical composition, concentration, and source of the drugs approved for use in lethal injection executions.” The DOC failed to produce any documents responsive to the request, arguing that the “source” of the drugs was nondisclosable because the providing pharmacies were part of the execution team and thus exempt from disclosure under section 546.720 of the Sunshine Law. That section, enacted in August 2007, states that identities of members of an execution team – which are exempt from disclosure – include personnel “who provide ...

$1.5M Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Beating

Cherokee County, Oklahoma officials agreed to pay $1.5 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by jail guards in 2011. The Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority approved the settlement in an executive session meeting on January 27, 2016.

According to court records, Daniel Bosh was ...


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