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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

7th Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Illinois Prisoner's Civil Rights Lawsuit

by Matthew Clarke

On February 7, 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of an Illinois prisoner's civil rights lawsuit.

Guards at the Menard Correctional Center were preparing prisoners to be walked to the chow hall when Joseph Wilborn emerged from his cell and attacked them. He was found guilty of a disciplinary infraction for the attack.

Wilborn filed a federal civil-rights action alleging that guards beat and pepper-sprayed him after he was restrained and compliant, and he was denied prompt medical care.

The guards' consistent testimony was that they briefly struggled with Wilborn and subdued him within two or three minutes. During the struggle, they struck his neck, shoulders, biceps and thighs while he attempted to thrust his head backward at them. Further, he was pepper-sprayed while still struggling and before he was handcuffed, but was not struck after he was restrained.

Wilborn and his former cellmate testified that the guards continued to beat and pepper spray him after he was restrained and compliant. They took him to the medical unit where he was briefly examined before being given a disciplinary infraction and transferred to Tamms Correctional Center.

During intake at Tamms, two nurses noted ...

FBI Training Manuals, Guidelines May Be Exempt from FOIA Disclosure

by Matthew Clarke

On February 1, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that generalized law enforcement records such as training manuals and guidelines could fall under Exemption 7 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7), without requiring the agency seeking to withhold the documents to show a linkage to the enforcement of a particular federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus and San Francisco Bay Guardian (collectively, "the ACLU”) became concerned about FBI surveillance of Muslim-Americans and submitted a FOIA request for documents about surveillance and infiltration, including records of "[t]raining for FBI agents regarding Islam, Muslim culture, and/or Muslim, Arab, South Asian, or Middle Eastern communities in the United States."

After receiving no disclosures, the ACLU filed suit. The FBI then released more than 50,000 pages of redacted materials, but withheld 47,794 pages while providing an index identifying the withheld documents and reason for withholding.

After finding that the FBI had failed to show a " 'rational nexus' between the enforcement of a federal law and the documents it claims are exempt from disclosure," the court granted summary judgment to ...

Tenth Circuit upholds class certification of immigration detainees forced to labor

On February 9, 2018, the Tenth Circuit court of appeals upheld the certification of two classes of immigration detainees who were forced by GEO Group to labor without pay or to "volunteer" to labor for $1 per day.

Nine immigration detainees held at the Aurora Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed facility operated by the GEO Group for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging their being forced to labor to clean common areas without pay violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1589, and their being paid $1 a day for "voluntary" labor in other areas of the facility violated the Colorado unjust enrichment law, a common law equitable theory of recovery. They moved for certification of two classes: (1) all detainees housed at Aurora in the past 10 years; and (2) all detainees who participated in Aurora's voluntary work program in the past three years. The classes total about 67,000 people.

The court certified both classes. GEO filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Tenth Circuit noted that its decision was limited to whether the certification of a class was an abuse of discretion. The lawsuit centered on the ...

Ninth Circuit Disfavors First Amendment Bivens Claim Against Private Reentry Center

by Matthew Clarke

On February 7, 2018, the Ninth Circuit court of appeals held that a federal prisoner could not pursue a claim that a privately operated reentry center's employees had violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).

Federal prisoner Juan D. Vega was transferred to the Pioneer Fellowship House Residential Reentry Center in Seattle, Washington. He immediately experienced difficulties because his counselor and other employees would not permit him to visit a law library or receive attorney visits to support the five cases he had pending in court. When he was informed that he was required to work while at the Center, he told them he had been medically unassigned from work in the federal prison. He sought a medical exemption from the work requirement, but found a job within a few weeks and successfully completed the first level of his program.

A Center counselor wrote an Infraction Report stating that Vega had refused to obtain employment. He was transferred to a Federal Detention Center the next day without having been afforded a hearing. A week later, a Center official issued a disciplinary committee report stating that ...

Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

by Matt Clarke

In March 2017, a state court judge approved a $2.9 million settlement between Ohio and two men who each spent almost 17 years in prison after having been wrongfully convicted of rape and ...

Inspector General Finds Substandard Conditions at California Jail Used by ICE

by Matt Clarke

A surprise inspection by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General revealed a number of substandard conditions at an Orange County, California jail used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees.

The Theo Lacy Facility is a 3,000-bed jail that contracts with ICE to hold over 500 male immigrant detainees. It has a history of problems, including a 2013 grand jury investigation that found sheriff’s deputies slept or played video games instead of performing their duties, and used jailhouse enforcers to punish other prisoners; a 2015 federal complaint alleging deputies abused detainees and denied them medical care; and a 2016 hunger strike over poor conditions. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2009, p.26; Feb. 2009, p.1].

On November 16, 2016, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an unannounced inspection of the Theo Lacy jail. The OIG’s subsequent report, issued in March 2017, found conditions that “raised serious concerns, some that pose health risks and others that violate [ICE standards] and result in potentially unsafe conditions at the facility.” The report recommended that ICE take immediate action to strengthen oversight and ensure compliance with its standards.

The inspection found that ...

Texas County Settles Suit Over Jail Prisoner’s Death for $250,000

by Matt Clarke

In April 2017, the estate and heirs of woman who died after she was allegedly denied medical care at the Tom Green County jail in San Angelo, Texas received $250,000 to settle a lawsuit against the county, sheriff, three jailers and two jail nurses.

When Jerry ...

Tablets and E-messaging Services Expand in Prisons and Jails, as do Fees

by Matt Clarke and Ed Lyon

Global Tel*Link (GTL), one of the largest prison and jail phone service providers in the United States, has steadily expanded into other services that target corrections agencies. The telecom firm is now competing with Securus Technologies for a share of a lucrative and unregulated market: Providing tablet computers and e-messaging services to prisoners.

GTL supplies a custom tablet which it offers to prisoners at no cost. The company then recoups its investment and turns a profit by charging user fees for apps and services available through the devices.

Under a recent contract awarded to GTL by the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), prisoners pay $0.49 for each electronic message. The company also charges a monthly fee to access its streaming music service and video games in tiered subscriptions, priced from $5 to $15 per month.

Offering about 3 million songs, GTL’s music service costs twice as much as Spotify or iTunes for less than one-tenth the number of available songs. And with video games usually available outside prison for no more than $8 each, two months of GTL’s gaming fees could pay for all eight of the most popular games available from ...

Colorado Federal Jury Awards $50,000 to Prisoner Assaulted by Deputy in Court

by Matt Clarke

On May 12, 2017, a Colorado federal jury awarded $50,000 to a former jail prisoner who was assaulted by a deputy while speaking with a judge in a Denver courtroom.

According to court documents, Deputy Brad Lovingier restrained Anthony Waller with handcuffs, leg irons and a ...

Prisons and Jails Impose More Restrictions on Mail, Visits to Curtail Contraband

by Matt Clarke

Citing a need to stop the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, some prisons and jails have placed new and stringent restrictions on both prisoner mail and visitation.

Beginning in April 2017, prisoners in the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) must be strip-searched and change into new underwear and a jumpsuit that zips up the back prior to meeting with outside visitors. After the visit, they are again searched then change back into their regular prison clothes. Female prisoners have to wear jumpsuits but are not required to change their underwear. Visitors may no longer make certain vending machine purchases in state prisons, either.

Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia DOC, explained that the new rules were needed because “visitors pass contraband to offenders at visitation through things like potato chip bags purchased in the vending machines.”

Except for legal and privileged correspondence, Virginia prisoners also no longer receive their actual mail. Instead, each letter – which is restricted to five pages – and its envelope are photocopied, and the copies are given to prisoners. Newspapers and magazines sent from publishers are still delivered without being photocopied. West Virginia has implemented a policy of providing ...


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