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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

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 ...

Colorado: Defendants Settle After Death of Prisoner Denied Medical Treatment

by Matt Clarke

The estate of a man who died in a Colorado jail of a treatable foot malady has settled a lawsuit alleging Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) and other defendants caused his death by denying him medical care and surgery.

When Dennis Choquette was booked into the ...

Fifth Circuit: Louisiana Must Allow Prisoner to Wear Dreadlocks

by Matt Clarke

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s judgment dismissing a lawsuit brought by a prisoner who sought an injunction requiring the Louisiana Department of Corrections (DOC) to allow him to wear dreadlocks. In its decision, the Court declared the DOC’s grooming policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and enjoined the DOC from enforcing it as to the plaintiff.

Christopher Jerome Ware, a Louisiana state prisoner, was incarcerated at the Bossier Parish Medium Security Jail awaiting transfer to the DOC. Ware had been a Rastafarian since 2011 or 2012, and wore dreadlocks – self-described “compacted strands of ‘coarse-feeling, flexible’ hair” that extended to just below his shoulders. His religious beliefs required that he not cut or style his hair; the dreadlocks were not braided and were no more than 1 inch thick.

The Bossier Parish jail permitted dreadlocks, but the DOC’s grooming policy did not.

Anticipating problems upon his transfer to state prison, Ware filed a federal lawsuit alleging the DOC’s grooming policy violated RLUIPA by imposing a substantial burden on his religious beliefs. Following a two-day bench trial during which eight witnesses testified, the district court found “the grooming ...


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