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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Monte McCoin

Georgia Toddler Initially Denied Kidney Due to Father’s Parole Violation

by Monte McCoin

Officials at Emory Healthcare canceled a planned October 2017 surgery to harvest a kidney from an Atlanta toddler’s father, who had volunteered to be a living donor. According to news reports, the hospital postponed the donor arrangement after the father, Anthony Dickerson, was arrested on a parole violation several days before the surgery.

Two-year-old A.J. Burgess was born without kidneys, and was not expected to live without a transplant. Dickerson was found to be a perfect match for his son.

According to the family’s attorney, Mawuli Davis, Dickerson had already complied with an extensive living donor evaluation, but in the week leading up to the surgery he was jailed for five days due to a parole violation. “He made it his business to say, ‘Once I get out, I’m gonna promise to my son that he can get a kidney,’” A.J.’s mother stated.

Dickerson was released the day before the scheduled procedure, but when the family arrived at the medical center on October 3, 2017, Emory Healthcare officials told them that because Dickerson had been arrested, he would need to provide proof of compliance with his parole conditions for 90 days before the ...

Mississippi Attorney General Settles with Third Company in Epps Bribery Scandal

by Monte McCoin

PLN has previously covered the continuing fallout from a massive bribery scandal involving former Mississippi DOC Commissioner Christopher B. Epps, including RICO lawsuits filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood against several companies involved in the scandal.

In May 2017, Alere, Inc., which had purchased Branan Medical Corp., one of the firms named in the bribery scheme, settled a suit filed by the Attorney General’s office for $2 million. And in August 2017, Global Tel*Link, the nation’s largest prison telecom provider, agreed to settle the RICO lawsuit filed against it for $2.5 million while admitting no wrongdoing. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.16; Oct. 2015, p.42].

Hood announced on November 29, 2017 that a third company had settled. Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, which provides electronic monitoring, paid $1.3 million to resolve the litigation. “As a company that continues to contract with the state, Sentinel Offender Services agreed to cooperate and settle the case for $1.3 million on a $2 million contract,” the Attorney General said in a statement. “We successfully disgorged them of their ill-gotten profit and then some.”

The Sentinel settlement brought the total damages paid to Mississippi taxpayers ...

Pervasive Masturbation in Cook County Jail Spurs Class-action Suits, Injunction

by Monte McCoin

Two class-action lawsuits claim hundreds of women who work at the jail and courtroom lockups in Cook County, Illinois have been subjected to a hostile work environment as a result of policies maintained by Sheriff Tom Dart and Public Defender Amy Campanelli that allegedly tolerate prisoners who masturbate in front of female staff members.

On November 8, 2017, six attorneys employed with the public defender’s office in Cook County filed a class-action suit that alleges nearly 200 women working in courthouse lockup areas are forced to endure “daily abuses” from detainees, including masturbation in their presence, “verbal threats laden with explicit sexual violence, exposure of detainees’ genitals, and physical attacks.”

According to the complaint, at one point Sheriff Dart instituted a program that gave pizza to prisoners who masturbated in front of staff if they went 30 days without a second sexual misconduct incident. The lawsuit claims the program actually worsened the problem because detainees who hadn’t previously committed indecencies were incentivized to do so to qualify for a pizza reward for not doing it again.

U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly issued a preliminary injunction on November 28, 2017 that requires detainees who ...

Tennessee Drug Court Judge Imprisons Participants for Smoking Cigarettes

by Monte McCoin

In November 2017, Hamilton County, Tennessee Judge Tom Greenholtz sent several drug court participants to jail for a night after their drug tests came back positive – for nicotine.

“We routinely test for nicotine as we do for other controlled substances,” Greenholtz told Chattanooga TV station News Channel 9. “It shows how serious we are about combatting this.”

Ignoring the fact that nicotine is not a controlled substance and smoking cigarettes is not a crime, the judge said he punished defendants for smoking because he thought it would give them a “better chance at life.”

Indeed, a Columbia University study, published in 2017, found that 11 percent of people who kept smoking while in recovery programs relapsed, compared with around 8 percent who stopped smoking during treatment.

PLN has previously reported on growing scrutiny regarding drug court programs. For 20 years, they have sought to reduce illegal drug use by mandating substance abuse treatment within an overburdened criminal justice system that is generally more punitive than treatment-oriented. However, rather than diverting defendants to drug courts who otherwise would have gone to prison, participants tend to be those who would have received non-prison sentences anyway ...

Illinois Taxpayers Still Paying for a Paid-off Jail

by Monte McCoin

Residents in Tazewell County, Illinois pay a half-cent public safety sales tax on most purchases inside county lines. The tax was approved by voters in 2000 to pay for the construction of a new $17 million jail. Although the Tazewell County Justice Center building was paid off in 2011, the tax continues to be collected and the sheriff’s annual budget continues to grow.

East Peoria Commissioner Dan Decker publicly questioned the math of the matter. If the public safety sales tax revenues are necessary to manage, maintain and operate the Justice Center, how was it able to keep up with the bills in previous years when $2 million payments were being made on the bonds?

“That’s what I don’t understand,” Decker stated.

According to an October 8, 2017 news report in the Journal Star, Tazewell County Administrator Wendy Ferrill said the tax has raised an average $5.9 million in each of the 15 years it has been collected. It is estimated to raise $6.4 million in 2018. Another county official, Board Chairman David Zimmerman, said, “We absolutely need [the sales tax revenue]. If you took away the half-cent [tax] it would be a catastrophe ...

San Quentin’s “Ear Hustle” Podcast Makes History, Receives Praise

by Monte McCoin

Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, both incarcerated at California’s San Quentin State Prison, made broadcasting history by creating “Ear Hustle” – the first podcast from behind prison walls.

The nine-episode first season of “Ear Hustle” has made quite a mark with the media. According to an October 23, 2017 article in the Mercury News, the podcast has been featured in Rolling Stone, Columbia Journalism Review, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, the Financial Times and even Vogue. Sarah Larson, a New Yorker staff writer, said “Ear Hustle” may be “the best new podcast I’ve heard this year.” More than 1,000 postcards have come in from listeners with questions, comments and accolades about the show.

“When we began talking about this, somebody had to tell me what a podcast was,” Woods said. He and Williams, along with volunteer outside adviser Nigel Poor, work long hours to produce the digital audio files that can be downloaded from the Internet for listening. “We’re trying to do a podcast that talks about everyday life in prison, and to do stories that show the people inside in a more realistic, three-dimensional way,” said Poor. “That includes the people incarcerated as ...

Overworked South Koreans Relax at Prison-themed Retreat

by Monte McCoin

Two hours west of Pyeongchang in South Korea, home of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, guests pay 500,000 Korean won (about $470 U.S.) to stay for a week at Prison Inside Me, a jail-themed meditation center in the snowy mountain village of Hongcheon. Hundreds of customers from around South Korea have checked in since the facility opened in 2008, including office workers, stay-at-home moms and high school students. 

According to a February 10, 2018 report from Canadian news outlet CBC, South Korea is the most overworked nation in Asia, where fourteen-hour days and six-day workweeks aren’t uncommon. South Koreans work an average of 2,069 hours a year.

Suk-won Kang recently visited Prison Inside Me for the third time. “I’m overworking. That’s the main reason I’m here,” he said. The 57-year-old engineer was clocking nearly 70 hours a week at a Kia and Hyundai plant in Seoul. In workaholic South Korea, going to the prison-themed retreat wasn’t punishment; it was his vacation.

Kang occupied one of 28 solitary confinement cells during his stay, enjoying its minimal amenities of a window, table and writing supplies, a tea set, a yoga mat and a panic ...

Four Guilty in Federal Student Loan Scam Using Prisoners’ Identities

by Monte McCoin

On January 12, 2018, Mercedes Diaz, 28, was sentenced to two years in prison for her role in an identity theft scheme that preyed upon 181 prisoners in Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Florida and Illinois between August 2010 and October 2012. Diaz, along with co-conspirators Heather Carr, Marcelle Green and Trammel Thomas, used the prisoners’ identities to apply for federal student loans through community colleges in Colorado and Arizona. The scam netted the group $582,000 in fraudulent student financial aid.

Previously, Carr had been sentenced to four years and 9 months in prison for using her employment at a bank to obtain prisoners’ names, birth dates and Social Security numbers. A federal jury found Thomas guilty of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government and six counts of aiding and abetting mail fraud, while Green entered a guilty plea to similar charges. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in April 2018.

“They took advantage of 181 individuals who had no way of monitoring their credit reports when they are in a prison cell,” U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez said before sentencing Diaz. He added that it will now be that much harder for ...

French Officials to Install Phones in 50,000 Prison Cells

by Monte McCoin

In a bold move designed to reduce cell phone trafficking and improve rehabilitative efforts, on January 2, 2018, French officials opened the bidding process for a telecom provider to install landline telephones in each of 50,000 cells in 178 prisons. The justice ministry said the program was being launched after “successful tests of this experiment” at a facility in Montmedy in northeast France.

Authorities noted a 31% drop in contraband cell phone seizures since installing phones in cells at Montmedy in July 2016, compared with the same period a year earlier.

“The phones have eased tensions inside the prison,” the ministry said. “It helps with civil reintegration, by maintaining family ties,” it added, saying the main goal was to “cut cell phone trafficking.”

The International Prison Observatory, a French advocacy group, welcomed the move but criticized the high cost of making calls. “A phone in each cell allows a degree of intimacy when speaking with family members,” noted François Bes, a member of the organization. “More important, the fact that you can call when you want can let them speak with children after school,” she said. The new freedom that allows ...

California Jail Doctor Faces Medical Board Discipline for Negligent Care

by Monte McCoin

According to an October 2017 news report, an investigation by the Medical Board of California found that Dr. Michelle A. Thomas was negligent in the care of five prisoners at the Fresno County Jail in 2014 and 2015. Thomas could face a reprimand, probation or revocation of her medical license if the accusations are upheld.

The doctor was found to have removed prisoner Daniel Trebas’ wheelchair without determining whether he could use a walker or other mobility aid. The wheelchair was returned after video surveillance showed he could not walk. Court records indicate that Trebas has filed a lawsuit for damages and injuries caused by the removal of his wheelchair.

In another case, Dr. Thomas allegedly provided negligent care to a prisoner identified as K.C., whose gastric feeding tube split and spilled his stomach contents. Thomas told a nurse that the tube should be taped shut, but the prisoner was later sent to a hospital by an on-call physician. The Medical Board said Thomas’ order was an “extreme departure from the standard of care.”

Dr. Thomas was also accused of negligence in the treatment of three pregnant prisoners at the jail. All of the women ...


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