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Articles by Matthew Clarke

Fifth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Prisoner's Lawsuit Over Guard's Failure to Protect Him From Another Prisoner's Attack

 by Matt Clarke

On August 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P. dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights lawsuit alleging a prison guard failed to protect him from being stabbed by another prisoner.

Texas prisoner Christopher Bryan Torres was a ...

Does Increased Guard Violence Mean Texas Prisoners Are at Greater Risk?

There has been no corresponding spike in serious prisoner-on-staff assaults, which hovered between 72 and 108 per year during the decade. In only two years did the number top 100.

A TDCJ spokesman tried to tie the increased staff use of force to an increase in the number of violent and mentally ill prisoners. But the system’s statistics show an increase of only 4 percent in the number of violent prisoners incarcerated in TDCJ between 2009 and 2019. 

What has increased is the number of guards being criminally prosecuted for assaulting — or even murdering — prisoners. Such criminal prosecutions have become more common, with 19 TDCJ guards sentenced for using excessive force against prisoners since 2015. None of the cases involved a death and few in jail time, with most requiring a ...

Beyond Harsh: 86 Mississippi Prisoners Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Offenses

Some states have since repealed or amended their “three-strikes” laws due to unjust outcomes. Mississippi has not. This led to a buildup of 86 prisoners serving LWOP in Mississippi state prisons for nonviolent crimes, The Clarion-Ledger reported on March 18, 2020.

The Mississippi state prison system holds about 19,000 prisoners. Of them, 2,600 are serving long sentences enhanced by prior offenses—including the 86 convicted of nonviolent offenses and sentenced to LWOP. Incarcerating the prisoners with enhanced sentences costs Mississippi taxpayers over $38 million each year, the newspaper reported. This helps explain why Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate of ...

Justice Department and GEO Group Challenge California’s Ban on Private Prison and Detention Facilities

Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, A.B. 32 bars any entity with a prison, jail or detention facility in the state from signing or extending a contract for its operation with a private firm after January 1, 2020. It also prohibits the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from entering into any new contract to house prisoners outside of the state in privately operated detention facilities. However, the law allows exemptions necessary to comply with a court-ordered population cap.

According to the DOJ complaint, five of eight exceptions provided for in A.B. 32 apply only to California’s contracts and not to those entered into by the U.S. government. They cover facilities that:

• provide services to a juvenile pursuant to a state juvenile court order;

• provide mental health evaluation or treatment to a person under a state court commitment order;

• ...

Alabama DOC Report: Staff Beat, Hog-Tied, and Denied Medical Care to Fatally Injured Prisoner Seeking Help; Then Covered It Up

DOC prisoners found Billy Smith on November 13, 2017, dazed and injured on a bathroom floor at the Elmore Correctional Facility after another prisoner, Bryan Blount, allegedly punched him in the head and knocked him out. An “ambulance unit” of prisoners took the bloodied Smith to the shift commander’s office. He was placed on a gurney and parked in a grassy area outside the office where it was cold and raining. Then he was ignored.

According to the report, which was revealed on February 18, 2020 by BuzzFeed News and Injustice Watch, Lt. Kenny Waver threatened to spray Smith with a chemical agent because he refused to sit down when he first arrived. Smith continued to complain that he was cold ...

Kansas Prison Dental Instructor Sentenced to 32 Months for Molesting Female Prisoner

A man who taught female Kansas state prisoners how to make dentures was convicted on March 6, 2020 of molesting a prisoner, sentenced to 32 months in prison and required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.

Thomas Co, 73, was the supervisor of the dental lab program at the Topeka Correctional Facility, the state’s only women’s prison. He taught the prisoners to make dentures that were used for other prisoners and for people receiving dentures through the state’s social services programs.

Co arrived at Topeka in 2013 and complaints about sexual harassment of the women in the dental lab program began almost immediately. The complaints escalated to unwanted kissing and touching and eventually escalated sufficiently to justify criminal charges after an internal investigation determined that Co should be fired. He was terminated in 2018.

Co’s trial involved allegations of molestation by six women, but he was found guilty on only one charge. Shawnee County District Judge Cheryl Rios allowed Co to post a $50,000 appeal bond after the trial.

Sherman Smith, managing editor for The Topeka Capital-Journal, broke the story about Co in 2019. His investigation turned up at least a dozen women ...

Due to Steps Taken by New Mexico Officials, Only Sex Offenders Present When Prison Overwhelmed by COVID-19

New Mexico’s Otero County Prison Facility is unusual in that half of it is used by the federal government and half by the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC). Both sides are run by private prison operator Management & Training Corporation, or MTC. The state side has the only Sex Offender Treatment Program in the DOC, which means almost all the 539 prisoners are convicted sex offenders. There is a 44-bed dormitory physically separated from the rest of the facility utilized to house non-sex-offenders.

The federal side holds prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and the Department of Homeland Security—mostly on drug charges. Next door is the Otero County Processing Center, which holds detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

In early March 2020, prisoners and staff began testing positive for COVID-19 on the federal side of the prison. Nonetheless, the DOC continued to pack more sex offenders into its most crowded prison, shipping them to Otero from the 10 other state prison systems. At the same time, the DOC quietly removed all 39 non-sex-offenders from Otero. The practice of shipping in more sex offenders did not cease until the first state prisoner tested positive in late March. ...

$135,000 Settles Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit by Former Michigan Prison Guard

Twelve months after starting work at the DOC in January 2016, Ashley Menchaca transferred to the evening shift at the Woodland Correctional Facility. The supervisors for her shift were guard Captains Melissa Godfrey and Paul Schrieber and Sergeants Ahmet Ferizovic and [first name unknown] Long.

According to court documents, the supervisors began harassing Menchaca almost immediately. Long told her to stop having “resting bitch face,” and threatened her with disciplinary actions.

She was assigned to the “work gate,” a position considered punitive because it has no rotation, includes continuous direct supervision, and requires the guard to sit for long periods, often without relief to use the bathroom or check work emails on a department computer as required by regulations.

In one instance, Long aggressively grabbed her hat and yanked it down over her eyes as he passed through her post. Soon thereafter, Ferizovic asked another guard who worked with her to help him “fix” her.

Ferizovic also repeatedly threatened to discipline her for checking her ...

Eleventh Circuit Holds Trafficking Victims Protection Act Applies to CoreCivic “Voluntary Work Program”

Plaintiffs Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez-Galicia, and Shoaib Ahmed are current and former immigration detainees who were held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a facility owned and operated by CoreCivic as an immigration detention facility under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE requires CoreCivic to follow the Performance-Based National Detention Standards, one of which requires that it offer detainees an opportunity to participate in a “voluntary work program.” The standards allow detention centers to require detainees to “maintain their immediate living areas in a neat and orderly manner,” but specifically states that they “shall not be required to work” and that all other work assignments are voluntary.

The plaintiffs filed a federal complaint alleging the “voluntary work program” at Stewart was anything but voluntary. They alleged CoreCivic coerced detainees into performing labor by “the use or threatened use of serious harm, criminal prosecution, solitary confinement, and ...

Texas Prison System Bans Greetings Cards, Postcards, Colored Paper in Mail

The mail restrictions are part of what prison officials refer to as their “Inspect 2 Protect” initiative, which included using drug-sniffing dogs on visitors and employees arriving at the prisons, and a ban on prisoners receiving money transfers into their trust fund accounts or electronic commissary purchases from anyone not on their visitor or phone lists.

The mail restrictions specifically prohibit mail from general correspondents on colored paper, decorated paper, card stock, construction paper, and linen or cotton paper. It also prohibits letters containing “unidentifiable substances,” such as perfume, lipstick, bodily fluids, powdery substances, artwork using paint, glitter, glue or tape, and stickers.

According to TDCJ spokesman Jeremy Desel, the policy change is a response to a significant amount of drugs smuggled into prison on paper that was dipped in liquid drugs, then dried and mailed to prisoners. He said searches turned up greeting cards containing SIM cards for use in contraband ...