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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

Vermont Cancels Contract with Pennsylvania to House State Prisoners

In February 2018, the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDC) gave six months’ notice to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) that it was canceling a contract under which around 260 Vermont prisoners were incarcerated in the DOC.

The cancellation follows the deaths of three Vermont prisoners who were incarcerated at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill and a flurry of complaints that DOC guards were threatening and abusing Vermont prisoners and denying them medical treatment.

In March 2018, Vermont Governor Phil Scott issued a request for proposals on housing the 260 prisoners. The next month, VDC met with potential bidders seeking to contract with the state to house its excess prisoners.

In June 2017, Vermont transferred its prisoner surplus from a private prison in Michigan to Camp Hill. However, its agreement with Pennsylvania to house those prisoners was not a traditional contract, but an interstate compact, which curtailed the ability of Vermont to set limits on how its prisoners are treated. This caused tension between Vermont and Pennsylvania after allegations of prisoner maltreatment surfaced.

“So the folks from Vermont are treated like they’re from Pennsylvania,” according to Vermont Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille. “We want to ...

Low Pay, High Staff Turnover Drive Texas Prison Guard Shortage

by Matthew Clarke

Of the 26,000 guards who work in Texas’ 104 state prisons, 28 percent left their jobs in 2017 – an increase from the prior year’s 22.8 percent turnover rate and “the highest in recent memory,” according to Bryan Collier, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The high rate of staff attrition was accompanied by an inability to fill 3,930 open guard positions, resulting in a peak vacancy rate of 15.22 percent in April 2018.

Statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cast the TDCJ’s staffing problems in stark relief. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in May 2018, while the job turnover rate was 4 percent. But some state prisons saw turnover rates as high as 59 percent.

The TDCJ breaks down its employment data by counties, not by facilities, and three counties had turnover rates exceeding 50 percent. Two were in the oil-rich Permian Basin near the New Mexico border, where an oil and fracking boom that began in 2012 has been competing for workers. Even as the boom abated in 2017, alternative employment opportunities – like a new cheese factory near ...

Nebraska County, Jail Medical Provider Settle Suit Over Medication Denial for $10,000

by Matt Clarke

In April 2018, Saunders County, Nebraska and Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc. (ACH) agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former jail prisoner who was denied medication for a brain tumor.

When John Gillock, 43, was arrested on a misdemeanor theft charge, he ...

Ninth Circuit Modifies Deliberate Indifference Analysis for Pretrial Detainees’ Inadequate Medical Care Claims

by Matt Clarke

On April 30, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held it was error to apply a subjective standard to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging inadequate medical care that resulted in the death of a pretrial detainee.

Matthew Shawn Gordon was arrested on drug charges and booked into jail in Orange County, California in September 2013. During the intake process, jail nurse Debra Finley used an assessment form designed for alcohol withdrawal (CIWA) instead of another form designed for opiate withdrawal (COWS). Gordon told her he had a 3 gram-per-day heroin habit. She consulted with a doctor, who directed that Gordon receive Tylenol, Zofran and Atarax for four days, but did not order him placed in the jail’s medical observation unit.

Gordon was instead housed in the general population. About 14 hours later, fellow prisoners discovered him unresponsive in his bunk; he was declared dead at a hospital. A jailer admitted that although he had performed three “wellness checks” on Gordon after he was placed in the general population unit, it was impossible to see whether he was alive or breathing from the distance and vantage point where the checks were done.

Gordon’s ...

Federal Jury Awards $6 Million to Epileptic Colorado Prisoner, but New Trial Ordered

by Matthew Clarke

On March 7, 2018, a Colorado federal jury awarded $6 million to a prisoner in a lawsuit over his mistreatment by a guard while he was experiencing an epileptic seizure.

Jayson M. Oslund, a Colorado state prisoner, had a history of epilepsy and was taking anti-seizure medication before he entered the prison system. Despite being aware of his condition due to a previous incarceration, the medical provider at the Sterling Correctional Facility refused to prescribe him anti-seizure drugs. About 30 months later, Oslund suffered a grand mal seizure, fell, struck his head and was rendered unconscious. At the prison’s infirmary, he received anti-seizure medication and five stitches for a head wound, then was sent back to his housing unit.

A few hours later, Oslund suffered a second seizure. Guards were summoned and, while Oslund was convulsing, incoherent and unaware of his surroundings, Officer Mullen allegedly violently slammed Oslund back-first into the cell wall, causing his head to strike the wall, then forcibly took him down, landing on top of him and shouting “stop resisting” while Oslund’s head struck the concrete floor. When Oslund regained consciousness, he was in a segregation cell and unable to balance himself sufficiently ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds Convictions of Louisiana Jail Staff for Failing to Stop Abuse

by Matthew Clarke

In February 2018, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a former Louisiana jail lieutenant’s conviction for depriving a prisoner of his civil rights under color of state law in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Specifically, the ex-jailer had pleaded guilty to failing to intervene while a prisoner was being beaten by other guards. His sentence of 54 months in federal prison and three years of supervised release also was affirmed.

Bret Broussard was a lieutenant at the Iberia Parish Jail in New Iberia, Louisiana when guard Bryon Lasalle beat S.S., a handcuffed and compliant prisoner, with a baton. Broussard was in charge of the narcotics unit, which used the jail’s chapel to assault certain prisoners because there was no video surveillance in that area. He was present during most of the 10-minute beating, only leaving when Lasalle placed one end of a baton or flashlight between his legs and the other end into S.S.’s mouth and forced him to mimic oral sex. [See: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.46].

Broussard’s unit had previously used the chapel to assault at least five other prisoners as punishment for misconduct. They did so after ...

Lawsuit Alleges Texas County Jailers Beat, Paralyzed Prisoner

by Matthew Clarke

A lawsuit filed in federal district court alleges guards at the jail in Milam County, Texas beat a compliant prisoner without any reason, causing him to become paralyzed, then “released” him while he was in the hospital so the jail wouldn’t have to pay his medical bills.

John L. Robertson, 41, was on probation for an assault charge when he asked his probation officer to help him find treatment for a drug problem. On June 20, 2016, he voluntarily entered the Milam County jail to await transfer to a drug treatment facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The transfer never happened.

According to court documents, on July 14, jailer Jonathan Mendoza ordered the prisoners in Robertson’s cell to go to the recreation yard. Some of the younger prisoners were delaying and saying they didn’t want to go, so Robertson told them they should stop wasting time and just do what they were told. Mendoza cursed at Robertson, saying he did not want him telling anyone else what to do.

After the prisoners returned from rec, Mendoza and jailers Cindy McBee and Joshua Hughes came to the cell. Mendoza cursed and threatened Robertson while he ...

Mother of Prisoner Who Died at Texarkana Jail Challenges $200,000 Settlement; Nurse Pleads Guilty

by Matthew Clarke

On November 11, 2017, notice of a $200,000 settlement was filed in a federal lawsuit over the death of a diabetic Texarkana jail prisoner who died after a nurse ignored her repeated requests for a blood sugar test. Soon thereafter the mother of the prisoner filed ...

New Rule Sparks Uprising at California Sex Offender Civil Commitment Facility

by Matt Clarke

On January 14, 2018, about 400 to 500 civilly committed sex offender “patients” met in the common area of California’s Coalinga State Hospital to protest a stringent new rule that went into effect that day. The rule banned the possession of electronic devices with Internet access or writable storage media, such as MP3 players, e-book readers, video games, flash drives and computer-like devices.

If a patient agreed to allow a device to be searched, it would be mailed to an address of the patient’s choosing. If no consent to a search was given, the device would be destroyed.

Hospital officials said the new rule was prompted by an epidemic of child pornography at the facility, which houses civilly committed sex offenders after they have completed their prison sentences. However, patients and their advocates claimed the rule was in retaliation for offenders at the facility influencing the outcome of a local election.

Supporting the patients’ version of events is the fact that only 18 of the hospital’s nearly 1,300 patients were charged with possession of child pornography between September 2016 and January 2018. Considering that about a sixth of the sex offenders housed at Coalinga State Hospital ...

Texas Uses Failed Private Prison to Hold Civilly Committed Sex Offenders

by Matt Clarke

In 2015, Texas converted its outpatient program for civilly committed sex offenders into a “tiered” treatment program, in which participants start out in a “total confinement facility” at twice the cost of the original program. The state awarded Correct Care Solutions a $24 million contract to provide housing and treatment at the Texas Civil Commitment Center (TCCC) in Littlefield, formerly a failed private prison known as the Bill Clayton Detention Facility.

Correct Care had just acquired GEO Care, a subsidiary of the GEO Group – a for-profit prison firm whose 2009 abandonment of the Littlefield facility had almost forced the city into default on its bonds. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.45]. GEO Care had a poor reputation, having been sued multiple times for providing inadequate health care. The company was known for having cooked alive a Florida psychiatric hospital patient who was left in a scalding hot bath, and for providing such abysmal care at a Texas immigration detention center that it sparked a riot.

The state’s contract with Correct Care required it to hire about 100 employees to provide treatment and housing for 277 civilly committed sex offenders at TCCC, which it rented from Littlefield ...


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