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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

Some Arizona Prison Logs Show Temperatures up to 119 Degrees; Others Falsified

by Matt Clarke

Since February 2015, a settlement and stipulation in Parsons v. Ryan has required the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) to monitor and log indoor temperatures at state prisons. According to the Phoenix New Times, not only do the logs show excessive summer heat – as high as 119 degrees in some facilities – other logs have signs they were falsified by prison officials.

Every unit at ASPC-Douglas, near the border with Mexico, showed triple-digit indoor temperatures over the July 4, 2017 weekend. The log for the Gila Unit indicated it was 119 degrees at 16:00 on June 17. At the same time, the Papago Unit recorded 109 degrees. The next day, Gila recorded 113 degrees at 16:00, while both the Mohave Unit and the CDU reported 109 degrees, and the Papago Unit showed 104 degrees.

During a heat wave in June 2017, the women’s prison in Perryville recorded triple-digit indoor temperatures while the temperature inside the medical holding enclosures at the prison in Stafford hit 100 degrees.

“Obviously, these are very dangerous temperatures for anybody,” stated David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, which represents Arizona prisoners in the Parsons litigation. He ...

Oklahoma Prisoners, Advocacy Group File Short-lived Lawsuit Alleging Corruption

by Matt Clarke

In August 2017, Oklahoma state prisoners and the non-profit All In One Project filed a federal civil rights suit arguing political contributions made by private prison firms to state officials led to contracts with those companies that included a 98 percent occupancy rate at private prisons. The contracts allegedly caused Oklahoma to have a very low (10 percent) parole grant rate and unconstitutional conditions of confinement in its prisons, such as overcrowding and excessive levels of violence.

According to court documents, the All In One Project’s “membership consists of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system, including, among others, individuals serving life sentences, family members of these individuals, ‘lifers groups’ made up of individuals serving life sentences at various Oklahoma prisons, and individuals serving the parole terms equivalent to life sentences.”

The lawsuit accused Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, high-ranking government officials and legislative leaders of engaging in an “incarceration-for-profit scheme,” noting they received over $175,000 in campaign contributions from CoreCivic during the previous election cycle alone. The company was previously known as Corrections Corporation of America.

Those and similar donations by private prison firm GEO Group were allegedly in exchange for contracts guaranteeing a ...

Indiana DOC Settles Prisoner’s Retaliation Suit for $80,000

by Matthew Clarke

In August 2017, the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) agreed to settle a prisoner’s conditions of confinement lawsuit after he alleged DOC officials had retaliated against him for filing the complaint.

Robert L. Holleman, an Indiana state prisoner, filed a pro se federal civil rights suit complaining ...

Arpaio’s Infamous Tent City is Gone but Arizona State Prison’s Tent City Remains

by Matthew Clarke

Soon after he was sworn in as sheriff for Maricopa County, Arizona, Paul Penzone began phasing out the infamous Tent City jail erected by his predecessor, Joe Arpaio, who was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal court in July 2017 but later pardoned by President Trump. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.42].

The final prisoner transport out of the Tent City jail occurred on October 7, 2017, but another Tent City, this one maintained at the Arizona State Prison (ASP) complex in Florence, remains in use.

The Tent City jail in Maricopa County, comprised of Korean war-era military tents, reportedly cost just $80,000 to build in August 1993, and Sheriff Penzone said closing it will save taxpayers about $4.5 million per year in operating expenses. Prisoners who were housed in the tents were moved to other county jail facilities.

“This facility is not a crime deterrent, it’s not cost-efficient and it’s not tough on criminals,” Penzone stated.

The ASP Tent City, also known as the North Unit, is controversial because it exposes up to 400 minimum-security prisoners to excessive heat, as the canvas tents are windowless and painted white.

“It felt as ...

Texas Towns with Private Prisons Experience Job Losses

by Matthew Clarke

Over a decade ago, with the promise of cost savings as well as stable jobs for the community, local governments in Texas agreed to issue bonds to finance the construction of prisons and jails operated by for-profit companies. But when state and federal authorities stopped sending enough prisoners for the facilities to break even, the companies pulled out of their deals, leaving cities and counties with empty jails and debt payments on the bonds sold to finance them.

In 2007, Burnett County, Texas issued $40 million in municipal bonds to build a new jail. A private operator, Louisiana-based LaSalle Southwest Corrections, was awarded a contract to operate the facility for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), which used it to house prisoners enrolled in a drug treatment program. LaSalle also signed a deal with the U.S. Marshals Service to hold some of its prisoners.

But the company lost $4 million on the deal. LaSalle had also been cited for failure to provide adequate healthcare in 2009, and for failing a security review in 2014. It pulled out in 2014, just five years after the facility opened, and the TDCJ sent its prisoners elsewhere. But the ...

$375,000 Settlement for Ohio Woman Pepper Sprayed in Jail’s Restraint Chair

by Matt Clarke

In August 2017, a lawsuit brought by a woman who was pepper sprayed at the Montgomery County jail in Dayton, Ohio – despite being held in a restraint chair – settled for $375,000.

Amber Swink was 24 years old when police received a domestic disturbance call ...

Texas Couple Wrongly Convicted in “Satanic Panic” Receive $3.4 Million

by Matt Clarke

An Austin, Texas couple wrongly convicted of sexually abusing a child at the day-care center they ran in the 1990s has been declared innocent and received over $3.4 million in compensation from the state.

Starting in the 1980s, the United States experienced an episode of mass hysteria now known as “Satanic Panic,” during which it was widely believed that Satanists had infiltrated the child-care industry and were sexually abusing children, brainwashing them and using them in satanic rituals. The first large-scale prosecution of alleged day care Satanists was the McMartin Preschool case in California. One of the last was that of Austin, Texas couple Dan and Frances “Fran” Keller, who both spent 21 years in prison.

The Kellers were convicted of sexually assaulting a three-year-old girl in 1992 and sentenced to 48 years. In 2015, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned their convictions because the physician who gave the only scientific evidence against them at trial realized he was mistaken.

During a 2013 hearing, emergency room doctor Michael Mouw testified he was wrong when he testified at the Kellers’ trial that tears he found in the girl’s hymen indicated sexual abuse. Years later, he ...

Lawsuit Against Private Prison Firm Over Prisoner’s Death at Texarkana Jail

by Matthew Clarke

The family of a prisoner who died at the Bi-State Jail in Texarkana has filed a federal civil rights suit alleging his death resulted from inadequate medical care.

The jail is unique in that it straddles the border of Texas and Arkansas in a city that spreads out over four counties in two states. The 164-bed facility, opened in 1985, is run by a for-profit company, LaSalle Corrections, and used by law enforcement agencies in both Texas and Arkansas.

On July 19, 2015, Michael Sabbie, 35, was arrested on suspicion of verbal assault, a Class C misdemeanor, in Texarkana, Arkansas after he had an argument with his wife during which he allegedly threatened her. He was booked into the jail.

During the intake process, Sabbie told a nurse he had heart trouble, diabetes, mental illness, a communicable disease, asthma and hypertension, and reported he had suffered from congestive heart failure. He also complained of shortness of breath and told the nurse he had pneumonia prior to his arrest. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.43].

Sabbie’s complaints about shortness of breath continued over the next two days. He was seen twice by nurses, but sent away without treatment ...

Colorado Prison Gang Leader Commits Suicide at Wyoming Prison

by Matthew Clarke

On August 26, 2017, Benjamin Davis, 42, the founder and leader of a white supremacist prison gang called the 211 Crew, was found hanging in his cell at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. Davis was suspected of having ordered the 2013 murder of Tom Clements, director of Colorado’s Department of Corrections (DOC), though no evidence established a direct link between the gang and Clements’ death.

Clements was killed by Evan Ebel, 28, a 211 Crew member who had been released early due to a clerical error after serving a stint in solitary confinement. In March 2013, Ebel first murdered pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon and stole his car and uniform. He then drove to Clements’ home in Monument, near Denver, and fatally shot him. Ebel fled south into Texas, where he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.1].

According to a 2016 Texas Rangers report, Davis is believed to have ordered Clements’ assassination. Police also found DNA from a third murder victim on a pipe bomb discovered in the trunk of Ebel’s car. They arrested six other members of the 211 Crew based on Ebel’s text and phone ...

Fourth Circuit Reinstates Prisoner’s Lawsuit Over Denial of Rastafarian Services

by Matthew Clarke

On December 5, 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part the dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit challenging the denial of Rastafarian group religious services at a North Carolina state prison.

Torrey F. Wilcox is an adherent of the Rastafarian faith incarcerated at the Marion Correctional Institution (MCI). Superintendent Dwayne Terrell and Assistant Superintendent of Programs Randy Teague suspended Rastafarian services at MCI, citing lack of a staff chaplain. They refused to provide certified non-custodial staff to monitor the group service even though that had been done for other religious groups. Wilcox filed a grievance challenging the discontinuation of services and exhausted his administrative appeals. The response to his initial grievance said the Office of Religious Services, headed by Betty Brown, had authorized Terrell and Teague to suspend Rastafarian services.

About two months after the suspension, MCI hired Chaplain Menhinick. Menhinick initially told Wilcox that the services would be restarted, but later informed him that “Terrell had made an executive decision not to open the Rastafarian worship service.” Wilcox filed a federal civil rights suit against Brown, Terrell, Teague and Chaplain Menhinick.

In performing the PLRA screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § ...


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