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Articles by Matthew Clarke

Nevada DOC Moves to End Discrimination against HIV-positive and Disabled Prisoners

by Matt Clarke

On June 20, 2016, Rebecca Bond, chief of the Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), sent the Nevada Attorney General a letter calling out the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) for unlawfully discriminating against prisoners with HIV, mobility devices and other disabilities – including hypertension, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis – in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

A little over two weeks later, on July 6, 2016, the DOC announced it would no longer apply segregation policies that deny prisoners with HIV access to work programs where they could earn credits to reduce the length of their sentences.

Shortly afterwards, on July 21, DOC Director James Dzurenda announced that prisoners with HIV would no longer be segregated from the general prison population. He also announced other changes, including new protections intended to keep prisoners’ HIV status confidential, and training for both prisoners and prison staff about how HIV is transmitted.

The DOJ letter not only demanded that the DOC change its discriminatory policies and practices, but also to pay damages to prisoners who had been subjected to discrimination.

Faced with the threat of a federal lawsuit, Dzurenda stated the DOC “will ...

Policing for Profit: Law Enforcement Agencies Abuse Civil Asset Forfeiture

by Matt Clarke

While crime may not pay, policing can be very profitable when law enforcement agencies are allowed to seize assets not only from criminals but also people merely suspected of breaking the law. No criminal convictions – or even charges – are needed before property or money can be taken through civil forfeiture. That is because the property itself is “prosecuted” for having been used in a crime or obtained from the proceeds of illicit acts, and the owner has to prove the property is innocent.

The legal precedent for the modern era of civil forfeiture was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bennis v. Michigan, 516 U.S. 442 (1996). The Court held in Bennis that the innocent owner defense in civil forfeiture cases was not constitutionally required by the due process clause.

Civil forfeiture existed long before that ruling, though, and has a history in maritime law, including piracy and customs enforcement, when the owners of vessels carrying contraband could not be brought before U.S. courts. Instead, law enforcement officials seized the ships and their illegal cargo. Forfeiture of assets due to criminal conduct was traditionally rare and required that the owner of the property ...

Suicide at Texas Jail Results in Firings, Lawsuit, Investigation and Legislation

by Matt Clarke

On July 10, 2015, Sandra Bland was stopped while driving in Prairie View, Texas. The 28-year-old Illinois native was in the process of moving to Waller County when she was stopped by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia, allegedly for changing lanes without signaling.

A verbal altercation ensued over whether Bland had to put out the cigarette she was smoking, and Encinia arrested her for allegedly assaulting him. Three days later Bland was found hanging in an isolation cell at a jail operated by the Waller County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Her death was ruled a suicide. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.44].

In January 2016, a grand jury indicted Encinia for perjury after a review of his vehicle’s dashboard camera footage showed him reaching into Bland’s vehicle to pull her out and threatening her with a Taser – directly controverting his official report that she cooperated with his request to exit the car on her own before assaulting him. Encinia was fired shortly thereafter, and he and Waller County were sued by Bland’s family.

The county and Encinia’s former employer, the Texas Department of Public Safety, reached a $1.9 million settlement in September ...

Ohio Closes Prison Farms, Auctions Equipment, Plans to Sell Farmland

by Matt Clarke

On April 13, 2016, Gary Mohr, Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC), announced plans to phase out farming operations at all ten of the state’s prison farms, and sell around 7,000 of the 12,300 acres of prison farmland.

Mohr’s announcement came just a little over a year after the ODRC requested and received $8.9 million from the Ohio General Assembly for improvements at the prison system’s farms. The closures will affect as many as 220 prisoners employed during peak periods; 72 staff positions will also be impacted.

The Ohio Civil Services Employees Association (OCSEA), which represents 30,000 state employees, including those whose positions at ODRC farms will be eliminated, said the closures would affect 56 farm coordinators who are union members.

“Unfortunately, we believe the impetus for this change is purely political,” said union president Christopher Mabe. “It has nothing to do with [ODRC’s] core mission of recidivism or safety. This is about dollars and cents for corporate interests.”

The Ohio prisons operating the farms include Chillicothe (1,809 acres), Mansfield (1,485 acres), Marion (995 acres), Pickaway (1,200 acres) and Southern Correctional Complex ...

Wrongfully Arrested for Murder, Prisoner Dies in California Jail; Corizon Loses Contract

by Matt Clarke

When police were notified about the death of Terry Cameron, 58, in March 2016, they quickly arrested her husband, Melvin Stubbs, 65. Stubbs was a diabetic amputee who used a wheelchair. Nonetheless, police said there were signs of a struggle, Stubbs and Cameron both had defensive wounds, Cameron’s face was covered with a pillow and the answers that Stubbs gave during police questioning were inadequate – sufficient evidence to justify his arrest, they claimed. But ninety minutes after Stubbs was booked into jail he was dead.

The Alameda County Coroner’s Office later determined the cause of Cameron’s death was not homicide but rather acute bacterial meningitis.

“What they did to him was horrible,” stated Manuel Primas, Stubbs’ former brother-in-law. “His last thought must’ve been, ‘My wife just died and I’m in here for murder.’ And then he died. That’s a hell of a way to go.”

Oakland police said Stubbs had not been answering questions about Cameron’s death very well, “due to what looks like a medical condition.” The symptoms of meningitis, a contagious disease, include mental confusion. But it wasn’t until they received the coroner’s report on Cameron ...

Two Non-profit Foundations Provide Funding, Leadership for Criminal Justice Reform

by Matt Clarke

On April 12, 2016, the MacArthur Foundation announced grants totaling nearly $25 million to support 20 jurisdictions working to create fairer and more effective systems of local law enforcement. The grants are part of the $100 million Safety and Justice Challenge Initiative, a five-year funding push to reform our nation’s criminal justice system at the local level.

Additionally, on January 23, 2017, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation announced that former White House advisors Lynn Overmann and Kelly Jin had joined the foundation to continue the work they began under the Obama administration’s Data-Driven Justice Initiative. With the Trump administration’s recent punitive change in criminal justice policy, the Arnold Foundation will use data and analytics to address reform efforts.

Although largely overlooked by the “end mass incarceration” movement, which focuses on state and federal prisons, the population of prisoners in local jails has tripled since the 1980s. There are around 11.6 million jail admissions each year in the U.S., about 20 times the number of prison admissions.

A chief focus of these reform efforts is to reduce racial disparities among jail populations. Like prison systems, local jails include disproportionately high numbers of ...

Texas Judges Jail Defendants too Poor to Pay Fines, Debts

by Matt Clarke

The original 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas included a prohibition against imprisoning people who were unable to pay their debts. In the modern Texas Constitution, that concept is enshrined in the state’s Bill of Rights: “No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.” Yet despite that clear mandate, Texas judges routinely jail people who are unable to pay fines for traffic citations and other minor offenses.

The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. In two separate, unanimous decisions, it held that incarcerating people too poor to pay fines violated the federal Constitution – unless, as was ruled in 1983, it could be demonstrated that a defendant “willfully refused” to pay. Ironically, one of the high court’s decisions involved a Texas case over unpaid traffic tickets, Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395 (1971).

Texas state law and an instruction manual for Texas judges declare that, before jailing a defendant for failure to pay fines, the court must first hold a hearing on the defendant’s ability to pay and, if he or she is financially unable, offer community service as an alternative. An indigent defendant is to be imprisoned only ...

Local Sex Offender Residency Restrictions Challenged in Texas

by Matt Clarke

In many U.S. cities, local ordinances prohibit registered sex offenders from living in certain areas – generally within 1,000 feet or more of schools, playgrounds and daycare centers. But when a city is just a few dozen blocks in size, such ordinances can effectively force sex offenders to move out of the area altogether. The Texas legislature has taken up that issue on behalf of the state’s smallest cities – those with fewer than 5,000 residents – which are known as “general-law” municipalities.

In November 2015, Texas attorney Richard Gladden – who represents Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, Inc. (TVRJ), a nonprofit organization that advocates for better legislation on sex offender residency and registration ordinances – sent 46 Texas general-law cities a letter of intent to sue over allegedly unlawful residency restrictions. The letter maintained that such ordinances violate state law because a general-law city is only authorized to enact ordinances mandated by the state government. Along with his letter of intent, Gladden enclosed a copy of a 2007 letter from the Texas Attorney General’s Office to the chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services that explained the AG’s position on the issue ...

New York: Disciplinary Segregation Settlement Finalized; $1.6 Million in Attorney Fees Awarded

by Matt Clarke

On March 31, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin granted final approval to a historic settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and New York State that will usher in comprehensive reform of disciplinary solitary confinement in the state’s prison system ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Suit Over Denial of Ramadan Meals; $3,600 Settlement

by Matt Clarke

On January 4, 2016, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a Muslim prisoner who was denied several sack meals during Ramadan.

Michael L. Thompson, incarcerated at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, filed a federal civil rights action alleging ...


Federal Prison Handbook



Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual



Federal Prison Handbook




Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual