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Articles by Monte McCoin

North Carolina Prison Guard Sues Over Religious Discrimination

by Monte McCoin

As PLN has reported numerous times, before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015) [PLN, Aug. 2015, p.50], Muslim prisoners were routinely denied their right to grow a beard as required by the tenets of their faith. [See, e.g ...

Israeli Supreme Court Orders Increased Personal Space for Prisoners

by Monte McCoin 

Researcher Lila Margalit, with the Israel Democracy Institute’s Amnon Lipkin-Shahak Center for Security and Democracy, published a blog entry on June 7, 2018 that detailed a landmark 2017 judgment entered by the Israeli Supreme Court. The decision established a minimum area of personal space for ...

Metropolitan Detention Center Guards Convicted in Sex Abuse Scandal

by Monte McCoin

PLN previously reported the 2017 arrests of a trio of Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) guards for repeatedly and violently sexually abusing at least six female prisoners who had been housed at the federal jail in Brooklyn, New York. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1; Jan. 2018, p.63].

On January 19, 2018, former lieutenant Carlos Richard Martinez was convicted by a jury of sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a ward and violating the civil rights of his victim, a young Dominican woman who testified about the attacks under the pseudonym “Maria.” U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman has not yet imposed sentence in the case.

Eugenio Perez, a lieutenant in charge of training MDC staff on policies and procedures required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), was convicted by a jury on May 14, 2018 for raping five other women who had been incarcerated at MDC. Perez could face life in prison for his crimes.

On November 8, 2017, the third federal jailer caught up in the scandal, former guard Armando Moronta, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual abuse of a ward for attacks on three female prisoners. At the same time ...

Harvard Student Group Advocates for Prison Education, Reform

by Monte McCoin

The Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Advocacy, a student-led group known as HOPE, was established in the 1950s as part of Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House Association. Since its inception the organization has provided tutoring and educational programs for incarcerated men, women and juveniles, but in recent years it has expanded its focus to include a wide range of advocacy projects.

“It’s really anything that has to do with criminal justice reform,” said Leah S. Yared, who serves as HOPE’s educational co-director.

Twice in 2018, HOPE sponsored events to raise awareness concerning the use (and misuse) of solitary confinement as a correctional management practice. For each of the 24 hours between April 19 and 20, 2018, and again on November 29 and 30, student volunteers from the organization individually occupied taped-off 7-by-9-foot rectangles that had been set up in various locations across the Harvard campus. For the duration of the day-long vigils, which were intended to simulate the cramped conditions faced by prisoners held in control units, other volunteers were present and engaged with people who passed by to educate them about solitary confinement and circulate information about the organization’s advocacy campaigns.

Throughout the past ...

Trump Establishes Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry

by Monte McCoin

On March 7, 2018, President Trump issued an executive order that launched the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry. The order revoked a presidential memorandum that had established a similar Federal Interagency Reentry Council as a U.S. Department of Justice initiative during the Obama administration.

Trump’s executive order formed the new council to “provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives,” by identifying strategies to reduce both crime and recidivism through programs that address “mental health, vocational training, job creation, after-school programming, substance abuse, and mentoring” for people who have been in prison. According to the order, “Incarceration is necessary to improve public safety, but its effectiveness can be enhanced through evidence-based rehabilitation programs.”

Trump called for the heads of multiple federal agencies to serve as council members, including executives from the Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, Department of the Treasury, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Office of Management and Budget. Andrew Bremberg ...

Florida: Suit Continues Against CoreCivic for Rape of Developmentally Disabled Child

by Monte McCoin

In November 2017, a U.S. District Court judge set a February 2019 trial date in a civil suit to resolve allegations that CoreCivic – formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America – failed to prevent the sexual assault of a teenage boy with developmental disabilities while he was housed at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Lecanto, Florida.

According to the complaint, the child, identified in court documents as C.W., was not properly screened for risk of sexual victimization during intake at the privately-operated jail on May 18, 2016. “Despite having the knowledge that [the boy] was mentally disabled and highly vulnerable to sexual assault, [the boy] was placed in an adult jail facility where other inmates were provided the opportunity to bully [him],” the complaint states.

The child’s mother, Lesley Butzer, who filed the suit on C.W.’s behalf, alleged that her son was raped by at least one male prisoner between October 3 and October 5, 2016, and that CoreCivic officials prohibited contact between the mother and son following the attack.

The suit seeks more than $75,000 in damages. Neither the attorney for the plaintiff nor CoreCivic’s lawyers commented about ...

Military-Style Attack on Brazilian Prison Kills 20 Prisoners, One Guard

by Monte McCoin

On April 10, 2018, a group of gunmen attacked the Santa Izabel Prison Complex near the northern Brazilian city of Belem. The state security service said 21 people were killed in the military-style assault on the facility. One guard was killed; government officials identified prisoners and outside collaborators as comprising the rest of the deaths. In addition to the fatalities, at least four guards were injured in the mass escape attempt, one seriously.

According to a statement from Brazilian officials, “The attempt was supported by an extremely heavily armed group. According to preliminary reports, the prisoners also had weapons inside the prison.” Police investigator Rodrigo Leao said investigators ultimately recovered two assault weapons, three handguns and two other firearms.

The Secretariat of Public Security and Social Defense for the state of Pará said the attack began with “explosions at one of the prison’s walls.” An intense gun battle then ensued, with volleys exchanged from both within and outside the facility.

According to a report from NPR, some prisoners managed to escape but officials did not release the results of a headcount conducted after the chaos ended.

As previously reported in PLN, Brazil has one of ...

Former Jailhouse Lawyer Bobby Battle Dies at Age 80

by Monte McCoin

Former prisoner Bobby Battle, an Oklahoma City native with a sixth-grade education who filed a lawsuit that ultimately led to historic reforms and the desegregation of Oklahoma prisons, died on December 25, 2017 at the age of 80.

“He must have just had native intelligence, one of those people who was educated even though they have poor formal education,” attorney Stephen Jones recalled. “Bobby just taught himself about federal civil rights and prison reform and the cases and went forward.”

In 1970, Battle was housed for two months in the “dungeon,” a subbasement area at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, after he filed a complaint with the warden about a 275-pound guard who beat a much smaller fellow prisoner. His experience led him to research and prepare a 1972 lawsuit that would continue making its way through the courts for nearly 30 years and become the most expensive prison litigation in state history.

That suit launched an FBI probe in 1974 that found understaffing, inadequate medical facilities, inadequate access to legal materials, racial segregation and discrimination, and unconstitutional limits on legal mail. The case was ultimately certified as a class-action after four other prisoners joined ...

States Implementing New Technology to Fight Contraband Smuggling Via Drone

by Monte McCoin

Prison Legal News has reported several times on the trend of prison contraband smuggling via remote-controlled aerial drones, both in the U.S. and other countries. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2018, p.14; Nov. 2017, p.52; Sept. 2016, p.18].

South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Bryan Stirling announced on May 28, 2018 that the department was implementing a new technique to combat illicit drone activity – it would use its own fleet of drones to conduct 24-hour surveillance of prison yards.

“You are seeing us use technology to survey our prisons from the sky. We are going to show up if people are coming into our prisons up to no good. There’s a great potential that we are going to see them,” Stirling said. He added the DOC was even using drones that had been confiscated in previous smuggling attempts to “fight fire with fire.”

He explained the department had hired two former military drone pilots to randomly rotate among the state’s 21 prisons and man the controls for day and night surveillance of the perimeter and grounds of each facility. The drone cameras have night-vision and heat-sensitive capability; when there ...

Florida: Federal Prison Guard Sentenced for Accepting Bribe

by Monte McCoin

Former FCC Coleman guard Albert Larry Harris, Jr., 27, was sentenced to 24 months in prison on February 15, 2018 after Senior U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore accepted his guilty plea for taking a bribe as a public official.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Ocala, Florida, Harris provided tobacco and drugs to prisoners in exchange for large cash payments. He was arrested after he accepted a $5,000 bribe and 200 strips of Suboxone, a medication prescribed for opiate addiction and withdrawal, as well as for pain.

The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General and the FBI, was initiated after three prisoners reported Harris’ misconduct. One of the prisoners set up a “drug deal” between Harris and an undercover agent; another reported that Harris had approached him in an attempt to locate a cocaine dealer. Authorities also traced money orders that Harris received in contraband transactions with other prisoners.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Bodnar, Jr.