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Articles by Matthew Clarke

$200,000 Awarded to Missouri Prison Guard Over Sexual Harassment, Retaliation

On October 3, 2019, a Missouri jury entered judgment in favor of a former Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) employee who alleged she had suffered workplace sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation. The jury awarded her $200,000 in compensatory damages.

Ana Barrios was hired by the DOC as a probation and parole assistant at the Kansas City Community Release Center in September 2014. A year later, she was promoted to corrections officer and the release center was turned into a minimum-security prison to house prisoners nearing parole. At the same time, it was renamed the Kansas City Re-Entry Center.

Within a year of the renaming, workplace abuse she experienced led her to quit her job.

With the assistance of attorneys Mark Eldon Meyer and Cyril Jerome Wrabec, Barrios filed a lawsuit against the DOC in state court. She alleged the sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation she suffered was “continuous, ongoing, unbroken [and] adopted as a pattern” by the DOC.

Barrios testified that the sexual harassment began within six months of being hired and often centered around the other DOC employees dislike that she was dating a Black man.

For instance, at a celebration of the prison’s name ...

Nebraska Prison Employee Labor Agreement Contains Unusual Provision

On December 27, 2019, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, the union that represents Nebraska Department of Corrections (DOC) workers, announced a “Letter of Agreement” that provides for increased worker pay and creates a new career ladder for DOC guards.

The letter contained an unusual provision — that the union must oppose any bill proposed in the Nebraska Legislature related to the “classification and compensation” of DOC guards. Should any such bill pass the Legislature, the agreement becomes null and void.

Like many prison systems throughout the nation, the DOC has struggled with poor pay for guards, resulting in staffing shortages that lead to extended shifts, mandatory overtime and canceled vacations. The poor working conditions stressed guards, causing more of them to quit, and driving a higher turnover rate.

The agreement between the union and the state increases starting pay for corporals and unit caseworkers from $18.44 per hour to $20. Sergeant starting pay rises from $20.60 per hour to $24. The agreement also allows those three groups of workers to receive raises, based upon experience and contingent upon satisfactory work reviews, adding $1 to their hourly wages each year for ...

Tenth Circuit Reinstates Colorado Prisoner’s Claim that Requires BOP to Release Him from Imprisonment for Marijuana Possession

On December 16, 2019, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of Colorado federal prisoner Aaron Sandusky’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, thereby remanding the case for further proceedings. The writ claimed that a congressional appropriations rider prohibits the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from using its funds to prevent any state from implementing its own laws regarding the “use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The implications of this ruling include requiring the DOJ to cease using funds to imprison Sandusky on marijuana-related charges, which would result in his release.

Sandusky was the president of G3 Holistic Inc., a California-based medical marijuana cooperative that grew and sold plants and products. In 2012, he was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and possess with the intent to distribute both marijuana plants and mixtures containing marijuana. He received two concurrent 120-month federal sentences.

After an unsuccessful appeal in June 2015, Sandusky filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California sentencing court, seeking to “vacate, set aside, or correct” his sentence, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The petition claimed ineffective assistance of counsel ...

$500,000 Settlement From Psychiatrist for Failing to Treat New Mexico Prisoner Who Committed Suicide

In November 2019, the family of a New Mexico prisoner who committed suicide while incarcerated at a privately operated prison agreed to a $500,000 settlement against the psychiatrist, Andrew Kowalkowski, who subcontracted with Corizon. Earlier in 2019, the family entered into confidential settlements with the two other defendants in the lawsuit — GEO Group and Corizon.

Michael Mattis, 24, pleaded no contest to residential burglary and entered the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2014. He had no prior criminal history but a known history of mental illness.

After he arrived at the Northeastern New Mexico Detention Facility near Clayton, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychotic disorder. According to court documents, psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Kowalkowski had a single video interaction with Mattis, then directed prison staff to closely monitor him, but prescribed him to be taken off of any form of medication.

Later that month, Mattis was transferred to the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in Santa Rosa. There, prison staff put Mattis in a cell behind a staircase where he could not be closely monitored. Over the ensuing months, his mental health deteriorated.

Kowalkowski scheduled two additional video sessions, but Mattis refused to ...

Nevada Supreme Court Holds Firefighting Prisoner Cannot Challenge Worker’s Compensation Based on Prison Pay

Following his release, a former Nevada Department of Corrections (DOC) prisoner who was injured while working as a firefighter for the Nevada Division of Forestry (NDF) challenged the calculation of his post-release worker’s compensation benefits based on his miniscule prison salary. On December 26, 2019, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of the petition for judicial review challenging the calculation.

While Darrell E. White was participating in a voluntary DOC work program with the NDF fighting fires he fractured a finger stepping off of a “porta potty trailer and hitting his right hand on the bumper of the crew bus.” White filed a worker’s compensation claim, which was accepted by the NDF’s insurance carrier, Cannon Cochran Management Services, Inc. He was released from prison seven months after he was injured.

White notified Cannon Cochran that he had not received adequate medical treatment while incarcerated and wanted to be seen by a medical provider to rehabilitate his finger. The company scheduled an appointment. Following the appointment, White was immediately scheduled for surgery and deemed temporarily disabled for 144 days due to his finger injury.

Cannon Cochran informed White that it had calculated his monthly wages ...

Tornado Rips Through South Carolina, Displacing Federal Prisoners

A deadly tornado ripping through South Carolina on April 13, 2020 has forced the federal Bureau of Prisons to start moving hundreds of prisoners from FCI Estill.

The prison, located west of Charleston in Hampton County, took a direct hit from the tornado, an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale with wind speeds of 175 mph. As one resident noted on Facebook: “Razor wire was hanging in the trees miles away from the prison.”

Scott Taylor, a BOP spokesman, stated, “As a result of the extensive damage to the facility and infrastructure, we will begin relocating inmates from FCI Estill.” Taylor said no prisoners or staff were injured.

FCI Estill, at the time the tornado hit, housed 956 prisoners. The prisoners were moved to the maximum-security prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The prisoners are expected to be in Lewisburg 18 to 24 months.

Lewisburg was recently expected to be a northeastern regional quarantine unit during the coronavirus pandemic. Those plans were scrapped when the beds were needed for the Estill prisoners.

Shane Fausey, president of the Council of Prison Locals 33, said staffing will be a serious problem. The prison recently had 30 staff members moved to prisons ...

Riverside, California Jails Become Coronavirus Incubator

by Matt Clarke

Jails throughout the nation have become hotspots for coronavirus infection, endangering the lives of prisoners, staff, and the public.

The Riverside County jail system in California reported the death of Sheriff’s Deputy Terrell Young, 52, on April 2, 2020. He drove prisoners, one at a time, from ...

Another Prisoner Dies at Tennessee Prison Run By CoreCivic

The September 14, 2019, death of prisoner Albert Dorsey, 60, at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF), a private prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, was initially called a suicide by the medical examiner. The prison’s report said he died alone in his cell that “no one else had access” to.

However, when his autopsy was released in January 2020 it revealed he had been killed. That makes him the fourth prisoner murdered at HCCF since October 2014.

The murders at HCCF, a minimum-to-medium security prison, account for 30% of the prisoner homicides reported in Tennessee over the past five years. Yet HCCF holds only 9% of the state’s prisoner population.

CoreCivic operates three other prisons in the state: Whiteville Correctional Facility, South Central Correctional Facility, and Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center. All are minimum-to-medium security except for South Central, which is minimum-to­close, meaning some prisoners there require “heightened supervision.”

Minimum-security prisoners require the least supervision while medium-security prisoners may have “minor disciplinary issues,” according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

About 35% of Tennessee’s prisoners are incarcerated at one of the prisons operated by CoreCivic. Yet 63% of the state’s prison homicides occur there. When asked about the disparity ...

Texas Prison Health Care Costs at Record High Despite Population Reduction

Despite a reduction in the Texas prisoner population, state prisons are spending record amounts on prisoner health care. The reason is not an improvement in the health care afforded prisoners. Pending lawsuits allege inadequate health care — especially for Texas prisoners infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Instead, the driving factor in rising prisoner health-care costs is an aging prison population that is costing more to care for.

In FY 2019, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisoner health care costs exceeded $750 million. That is a 53% increase over FY 2012, when the costs were less than $500 million.

During that period, the TDCJ prisoner population declined by 3%, but the number of prisoners over the age of 54 increased by 65%. The prisoners who are 55 and older make up one-eighth of the prisoner population, but account for almost a half of TDCJ’s hospitalization costs. This increasingly costly older prisoner population swamped cost-saving measures, such as increasing the use of telemedicine and using discounted medications implemented by TDCJ’s health-care providers.

The reason the Texas prisoner population is aging is not because more older people are being prosecuted for crimes in Texas. Rather, it is because ...

Arizona DOC Raids Prisoner-Generated Funds to Pay for Lock Repairs; Whistleblower Says Records Being Falsified

After the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) received $17.7 million from the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review to repair defective cell locks at a maximum-security prison, a whistleblower revealed that paperwork showing the repairs had been made was falsified, The Arizona Republic reported in December 2019.

Now the DOC is planning to use $4.1 million in prisoner welfare funds to pay for the repairs. Those funds are generated by fees charged prisoners when they make phone calls or use a tablet computer or video kiosk. The DOC receives between $8 million and $9 million for the fund annually, of which $500,000 was already being transferred to a “building renewal” fund.

“We’re taking funds that are supposed to go towards furthering inmates’ opportunities and we’re fixing facilities problems with it,” said Joint Committee member Rep. Randy Friese.

As previously reported in PLN (September 2019, p. 24), the DOC has been under increasing pressure to repair faulty locks at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye since April 2019, when leaked surveillance videos showed prisoners who had opened their own cells ambushing guards.

The DOC initially took disciplinary action against Sgt. Gabriela Contreras and four other guards, whom it ...