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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Monte McCoin

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 ...

Florida Guard Gets 21 Months for Attacking Prisoner, Planting Weapon

by Monte McCoin

On December 14, 2017, former Floridaprison Sgt. Willie L. Walker was sentenced to almost two years in federal prison for attacking a prisoner and then planting a weapon to justify the beating.

In March 2015, prisoner William Hernandez was summoned to an office after a search of his housing unit at the Gulf Correctional Institution. As Hernandez entered the room, Walker immediately and without cause blasted him with pepper spray, began to punch and kick him, and hit him in the head with the O.C. spray can. Hernandez fell to the floor but Walker continued to strike and kick him. Then, in an attempt to claim he had acted in self-defense, Walker planted a shank at the scene and falsified reports about the incident.

The attack left Hernandez with severe injuries, including a fractured nose and a head wound that required several staples. Walker was found guilty of the assault on September 30, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle sentenced Walker to 21 months plus a year of supervised release and forfeiture of all retirement benefits accrued while he was employed as a prison guard. Prosecutors had recommended 24 months in prison followed by ...

D.C. Man Subjected to 77 Days Overdetention; Marshals Service Denies Responsibility

by Monte McCoin

Carlton O. Harris, a 28-year-old journeyman roofer, was mistakenly held at the District of Columbia’s jail for 77 days without a chance to see a judge or be appointed a defense attorney after a misdemeanor charge against him was dropped. Harris, a father of two, feared retaliation from guards if he complained about the lack of due process.

“I know I had a right to a lawyer,” he said, “but when you’re in their custody, it’s out of your control. You kind of got to sit back and let them do their job. You speak up, they can go real bad. They can put you in a room, cuff you and beat you down. You can speak up, but it turns out you’re going to have to shut up.”

Harris had voyaged into a jail bureaucracy that has already cost D.C. taxpayers more than $18 million in lawsuit settlements since 2005. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.32; Oct. 2006, p.29]. His ordeal began with his March 28, 2017 arrest following a dispute at his home; prosecutors dropped the case the next day, but Harris was returned to the jail to await extradition to ...

Hawaii: OCCC Mental Health Care Fails, Prison Staff Fired

by Monte McCoin

Dr. Mark Mitchell believes that he and a number of other prison medical staffers were fired because they were in the process of returning the Oahu Community Correctional Center’s (OCCC) mental health care system to compliance with U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) standards.

“I think we rocked the boat,” Mitchell told Hawaii News Now during a July 6, 2017 interview.

Mitchell was hired as a branch administrator in September 2008 just as the DOJ filed a lawsuit which claimed OCCC failed to provide “constitutionally adequate mental health care to detainees.” Shortly afterwards the DOJ approved Mitchell’s corrective action plan, which included hiring several trained mental health workers. His plan was to stabilize prisoners either through medication or counseling, then encourage them to continue treatment upon their release. The plan also set specifics as to how quickly prisoners are diagnosed, the number of treatment hours they receive, the process for suicide checks and pre-release requirements.

The DOJ settled its lawsuit in June 2015, saying that OCCC was in compliance. See: United States v. State of Hawaii, U.S.D.C. (D. Hawaii), Case No. 1:08-cv-00585-JMS-KSC. The following month, Dr. Lori Karan, OCCC’s medical director ...

Pennsylvania: Philly D.A. Sentenced to Five Years for Corruption, Disbarred

by Monte McCoin

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who in 2009 drew acclaim as the first African-American D.A. in the city and the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, was sentenced on October 24, 2017 to five years in prison for accepting a bribe. He had been disbarred the week before.

Williams was initially indicted on March 21, 2017 in a 23-count charging document that detailed a sprawling corruption case against the disgraced top prosecutor. Investigators accused him of repeatedly selling his influence in exchange for cash, luxury trips and lavish gifts such as a 1997 Jaguar XK8 convertible. The charges were later expanded to 29 counts in a May 2017 superseding indictment that included accusations Williams had fraudulently used thousands of dollars from his campaign fund for personal expenses, misused city vehicles and misappropriated money intended to fund his mother’s nursing home care.

Williams pleaded guilty on June 29, 2017 to a single count of a Travel Act violation and resigned. He was taken into custody immediately despite his tearful plea to the court to remain free until sentencing for the sake of his three school-age daughters. “Your profound dishonesty has to be deterred,” said U.S. District ...

New Zealand Court Decision: Voting Ban Violates Human Rights of Prisoners

by Monte McCoin

On May 26, 2017, the Court of Appeal of New Zealand issued a decision in the case of Attorney General v. Taylor, which upheld High Court Justice Paul Heath’s July 25, 2015 determination that a blanket ban on the ability of prisoners to vote was a violation of the nation’s Bill of Rights.

In December 2010, the New Zealand Parliament amended the Electoral Act of 1993 to exclude all prisoners from voting in the country’s elections. Previously, the Act restricted the voting prohibition to prisoners sentenced to three or more years by disqualifying them from registering to vote. A group of five plaintiffs, all disenfranchised prisoners except one, filed suit against New Zealand’s Attorney General alleging that the 2010 amendment was inconsistent with the right to vote affirmed and protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act of 1990. Justice Heath agreed and the Attorney General appealed.

Court of Appeal Justices Kós, Randerson, Wild, French and Miller heard the case in October 2016 and considered the High Court’s ruling in terms of jurisdictional issues, human rights issues and the legislature’s power to pass laws. In a 60-page ruling, the appellate court agreed with Justice Heath’s determination ...

Prisoners in Solitary Confinement Benefit from Nature Videos, Study Shows

by Monte McCoin

Researchers have found that prisoners considered the highest security risks were less stressed and less violent after watching videos with nature scenes than those who did not. Ecologist Nalini Nadkarni at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City published the study’s findings on September 1, 2017 in the academic journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

The experiment built on past research that has shown prisoners’ physical and mental health can be improved by regularly seeing plants. “I thought, wow, if we could just calm them with nature rather than with Kevlar vests and riot gear, that would be really great,” Nadkarni said of her 2010 idea for the study. But it took years to find a prison willing to let her test her hypothesis.

According to, Nadkarni’s team divided prisoners serving time in solitary at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon into two groups of 24. Those in one group could choose to exercise or, up to five times per week, watch 45-minute-long videos showing natural scenes such as mountains, forests and oceans. Those in the other group were offered exercise but no videos. The researchers found that prisoners who ...

USP Atlanta Escapes Result in Convictions

by Monte McCoin

PLN previously reported the February 3, 2017 arrest of federal prisoner Justin B. Stinson, who was caught sneaking back into the minimum-security prison camp at USP Atlanta carrying a duffel bag filled with a cell phone, scissors, two 1.75 liters of Jose Cuervo tequila, two cartons of Newport cigarettes, four boxes of Black & Mild cigars and food items. [See: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.33].

Stinson’s escape to procure the contraband was one of a series of breakouts at the prison dating as far back as 2013. He pleaded guilty to one count of escaping from federal custody and was sentenced in June 2017 to an additional 15 months, to be served after the completion of his current sentence on a weapons charge.

On June 6, 2017, two other defendants pleaded guilty to helping multiple prisoners escape and return to USP Atlanta. Deldrick D. Jackson, 41, and his fiancée Kelly M. Bass, 38, admitted they received roughly $4,000 from prisoners for using a smartphone app to meet them at a point of egress from the facility, then drive them to restaurants, hotels and homes in an improvised “taxi service.” Jackson has not yet been ...

Cook County Jail Locked Down on Mother’s Day; Over 200 Workers Absent

by Monte McCoin

On Sunday, May 14, 2017--Mother’s Day--86 guards called out sick at the Cook County Jail in Chicago while another 120 cited the Family Medical Leave Act to justify their absences. The jail was locked down except for “essential movement,” but its visitation schedule remained in effect despite around 32 percent of employees on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift failing to report for duty.

According to the ChicagoSun-Times, 420 guards had called out sick on Mother’s Day in 2016 and more than 520 were no-shows on Father’s Day about a month later.

Mass sick-outs by staff at the Cook County Jail are rather commonplace, particularly in the days surrounding major sporting events. PLN previously reported that more than 950 employees called out sick during a blizzard over the February 1, 2015 Super Bowl weekend. Shortly thereafter, between May 2-3, 2015, jail officials were unsure whether to blame the “Pacquiao-Mayweather flu” or the “Kentucky Derby flu” for 637 no-shows. [See: PLN, Nov. 2015, p.63]. The trend continued with 235 absences on Super Bowl Sunday in 2016. This year, the big game saw 239 no-shows across two shifts. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p ...


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