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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Matthew Clarke

Suicides Plague Wisconsin Jails; Attempted Suicide Suit Settles for $13.1 Million

by Matthew T. Clarke

There has been a rash of suicides in Wisconsin jails, including six in 2005 and four in the first half of 2006. One jail, in LaCrosse County, experienced prisoner suicides in 1997, 2002, 2005 and 2006. La Crosse County Sheriff Mike Weissenberger blamed the problem on ...

Guards Convicted of Stealing, Bringing Drugs into Washington State Private Jail

by Matthew T. Clarke

Security Specialists Plus (SSP) is a 60-employee firm operating out of Bellingham, Washington?s Irongate industrial area. It provides animal control services to unincorporated parts of Whatcom County, hires out private security guards, and serves legal documents. It also has a contract to incarcerate about 50 of the county?s prisoners at its Baker Creek Place private jail. The minimum-security prisoners are in work-release programs or on the county?s prisoner work crews. The 13-year-old, approximately $500,000-per-year jail operation has recently come under scrutiny due to several problems, including a guard who smuggled marijuana into the facility, a guard who stole money from a prisoner and a guard with multiple felony convictions.

On August 3, 2006, SSP guard Joshua Oscar Caleb Kulsrud, 25, was arrested by deputies at the jail on suspicion of smuggling tobacco to prisoners. When his backpack was searched, the deputies discovered marijuana. During questioning Kulsrud admitted that he intentionally failed to monitor prisoners when they provided urine samples for drug screening tests.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Kulsrud?s actions were lazy, negligent and incompetent, and not due to bribes from prisoners. Kulsrud pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana the ...

Texas Supreme Court Clarifies Tort Claim Act Notice Requirement

by Matthew. T. Clarke

The Supreme Court of Texas has held that an accident investigation by a
governmental under certain circumstances, suffice for the notice
required by the Texas Tort Claims Act, § 101.101, Texas Civil Practice and
Remedies, bode. It also held that failure to give notice is not
jurisdictional; therefore allegations of lack of notice may not be raised
via plea to the jurisdiction or the denial of such a plea be the subject
of an interlocutory appeal.

Brian Edward Simons, a Texas state prisoner, was injured while attempting
to back out a stuck auger on a post hole digger attached to a prison
tractor. The prison system (TDCJ) investigated the accident thoroughly,
interviewing multiple witnesses and Simons. Simons filed suit under the,
Texas Tort Claims Act. TDCJ filed a plea to the jurisdiction alleging that
Simons had not given TDCJ actual notice of the claim six months prior to
filing suit as required by § 101.101. The plea to the jurisdiction was
denied. TDCJ filed an interlocutory appeal.

The court of appeals held that TDCJ's accident investigation gave it
sufficient actual notice of the claim. Texas Department of Criminal
Justice v. Simons, 74 S.W.3d ...

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bars Federal Review of Michigan Indigent Filing Fees Statute As Applied

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bars Federal Review of Michigan Indigent Filing Fees Statute As Applied

by Matthew T. Clarke

On August 31, 2004 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an indigent
Michigan state prisoner could not challenge the Michigan laws that allowed
the state courts to refuse to waive the filing fees for indigent prisoners
as they applied to him. The prisoner could challenge the constitutionality
of the statutes in general, so long as he did not previously raise the
issue in state court.

James L. Howard, a Michigan state prisoner, filed a civil rights action in
federal district court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging he was denied access
to the courts by a Michigan state statute, MCL § 600.2963, which requires
certain filing fees be paid by prisoners before filing civil suits. Both
the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court had previously
rejected Howard's appeals for failure to pay a filing fee after the courts
refused to waive such fees pursuant to the same statute.

MCL § 600.2963 requires prisoners seeking to file a civil suit in forma
pauperis in state court to submit a 12-month history of their prison
account. The court ...

Iowa Jail Employee's Whistleblower Jury Award Reduced to $258,027

by Matthew T. Clarke

On December 31, 2003, a federal judge in Iowa reduced a whistle-blowing
former assistant jail administrator's $250,000 jury award for emotional
distress to $130,000 while letting stand the remaining award of $128,027
for lost wages and benefits plus interest. The court also ...

9-11 Detainees' Suit Survives Government's Motion to Dismiss

By Matthew T.Clarke

On. September 27, 2005, a federal district court in New York issued a
70-page, unpublished memorandum and order granting in part and denying in
part the defendants' motion to dismiss civil rights conditions-of
confinement claims brought by two 9-11 detainees.

Fhab Elmaghraby and Javaid Iqbal are Muslim men from Egypt and Pakistan,
respectively, who were arrested on criminal charges following 9-11 and
imprisoned at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn,
New York. They were designated "of high interest" to the government and
placed in Administrative Segregation Maximum Special Housing Unit (MAX
SHU), a super-high security unit invented especially for the "high
interest" prisoners at MDC. The conditions in MAX SHU were much harsher
than general population, or even "normal" SHU. Elmaghraby remained in MAX
SHU from October 1, 2001, until August 28, 2002; Iqbal from January 8,
2002, until the end of July 2002.

Plaintiffs allege that while in MAX SHU they were severely abused both
physically and verbally; subjected to unnecessary, repetitive, abusive
strip and body cavity searches; kept in extended solitary confinement
without any review of their classification status; denied of adequate food,
exercise, basic medical care, adequate bedding, and personal hygiene ...

Prisoner's Civil Suit Filed When Given to Prison Officials in Texas

By Matthew T. Clarke

On December 8, 2004, the Texas Court of Appeals held that a prisoner's
lawsuit was considered filed the day he turned it over to prison officials
for mailing.

Edwin H. Witherspoon, a Texas state prisoner, filed a civil rights suit
against prison officials in state court. The officials filed a motion to
dismiss, alleging the suit had not been filed within 31 days following
Witherspoon's receipt of a final written decision from the prison system's
grievance system as required by § I4.005(b), Texas Civil Practice and
Remedies Code. The trial court granted the motion. Witherspoon appealed.
On appeal, Witherspoon claimed that he received the final grievance
decision on December 10, 2003, and mailed his original petition and other
lawsuit-initiating documents to the district court three days later by
placing them in a postage-prepaid, properly-addressed envelope and turning
the envelope over to the prison's access to courts representative. The
petition was file-stamped by the district court on January 27, 2004.
Witherspoon blamed the late filing on negligence by the district court clerk.

The Court of Appeals noted the Texas Supreme Court had recently held that a
prisoner's petition was deemed filed ...

No Forfeiture of Good Time for Frivolous Habeas in Texas

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has held that the statute
providing for forfeiture of good time belonging to a prisoner who filed a
frivolous lawsuit does not apply to state habeas corpus actions.

George William Bieck, a Texas state prisoner, filed his twenty-first state
application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to Article 11.07, Texas
Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP). The CCA held that the issues raised in
the habeas application were identical to those raised in his sixteenth
habeas application. Thus, the habeas application was frivolous.

On its own motion, the CCA asked the parties to brief whether the statute
requiring prisoners to forfeit good conduct time for filing frivolous
lawsuits, § 498.0045, Texas Government Code, applied to state habeas
corpus. Holding that this issue was not resolvable using the plain text of
the statute the statute, the CCA considered extratextual factors.

The definitions of "lawsuit" in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law,
Flack's Law Dictionary, Pallentine's. Law Dictionary and Barron's Law
Dictionary vary with two of them excluding habeas corpus from the
definition of "lawsuit" and two of them including it. Thus, they- provide
no help.

The courts ...

Dismissal for Want of Jurisdiction is Judgment With Prejudice in Texas

by Matthew T. Clarke

On May 28, 2004, the Supreme Court of Texas held that a dismissal of a suit
against a governmental entity for want of jurisdiction under the Texas Tort
Claims Act is a dismissal with prejudice that bars further suit against the
government or its agents. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code (TCP&RC) §

George Sykes, a former Harris County, Texas, jail prisoner, his wife and
son filed suit in state district court against Harris County and the jail's
major under the Texas Tort Claims Act, TCP&RC § 101.021, after Sykes
contracted tuberculosis from being housed in a bunk next to a prisoner who
had active tuberculosis. Skyes alleged the county was negligent in failing
to quarantine the infected prisoner and failing to warn Sykes of the other
prisoner's infection. Several months after suit was filed, Sykes died.
Harris County asserted government immunity from suit (an extension of
sovereign immunity to governmental entities) alleging that housing Sykes
next to an infectious prisoner was not a use of tangible or real property
so as to authorize waiver of sovereign immunity under the Texas Tort Claims
Act, TCP&RC § 101.021. The district court ...

New Jersey Auditor: Life Skills Academy Prison Contract Improperly Monitored

by Matthew T. Clarke

A report by the New Jersey State Auditor released in July 2005, finds that the $1.5 million Life Skills Academy (LSA) contract was not properly monitored by prison system officials. The problems included prisoners who had graduated from the program previously and were facilitating the program being listed as new graduates, ineffective tracking of prisoner attendance and program attendees being graduated with only 757 of the required hours.

Life Skills Academy, Inc. of Trenton, New Jersey has an unusual past and even more unusual financing. It is supposed to teach troubled prisoners decision-making skills. The eight subjects taught in its classes include: ?effective communication,? ?goal setting,? ?emotional control.? It has eight employees and twenty coordinators.

LSA began life in 1994 as the New Jersey chapter of Amer-I-can, a prisoner rehabilitation program founded by football star Jim Brown. Brown?s program started in the late 1980?s and eventually included 11 state chapters. Brown persuaded then Assembly Speaker Garabed Haytaian to secure the New Jersey chapter $1.5 million in funding and allow Trenton street activist Shahid Watson to run the chapter.

Later in 1994, when Haytaian--who was running for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination--came ...


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