Skip navigation

Articles by Steve Horn

HRDC Files Suit Against Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority for censoring publications, books and other materials sent to prisoners.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western ...

First Step Act Passes – Includes Federal Sentencing, Prison Reforms

by Steve Horn

On December 21, 2018, President Donald Trump signed into law the 56-page First Step Act (S. 756), a bill that will usher in an array of reforms within the federal criminal justice system. The bill went to the president’s desk just days after passing the Senate on an 87-12 vote.

Seen by its proponents as a major policy victory, others have cautioned that – while a positive step in the right direction – the legislation still leaves much to be desired. From the most sinister lens, critics point out it will likely benefit the private prison industry while excluding certain prisoners from some of its beneficial provisions.

The First Step Act has 36 distinct sections which address many aspects of federal sentencing and prison-related policies. They range from placing prisoners in facilities closer to their families to sentencing reform and de-escalation training for guards, plus creating a risk and needs assessment system. The bill also calls for studies on medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment for prisoners, and an expansion and accompanying audit of Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR), the Bureau of Prisons’ industry work program.

“Everybody said it couldn’t be done,” Trump said at the bill’s signing ceremony ...

Thurgood Marshall, Jr.’s Controversial Position on Board of Private Prison Firm

by Steve Horn

He’s the descendant of a slave and the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was the lead attorney in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated U.S. public schools. An attorney who served as White House Cabinet Secretary during President Clinton’s administration, Thurgood Marshall, Jr. also sits on the board of directors of CoreCivic, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.

Marshall, Jr. has held a board position with CoreCivic – formerly Corrections Corporation of America – since 2002, though that has seldom been mentioned in the mainstream media. One criminal justice-focused news outlet, The Marshall Project – named after Thurgood Marshall – has only once reported on Marshall, Jr.’s affiliation with CoreCivic, burying it at the very bottom of an article titled “What You Need to Know About the Private Prison Phase-Out.”

In 2018 The Marshall Project received a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, a multi-million dollar philanthropic organization that acts as a major funder of criminal justice reform in the United States. As it turns out, that same year Marshall, Jr. was finishing up his second of two six-year terms on the Ford ...

PLN Files Cert Petition with Supreme Court Over Florida DOC Censorship

by Steve Horn

On September 14, 2018, Prison Legal News submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), which has banned PLN statewide since 2009.

In October, eight friend of the court (amicus) briefs, on behalf of over 100 organizations and individuals, were filed on PLN’s behalf in support of its petition.

The cert petition followed an adverse May 17, 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, authored by Judge Ed Carnes, which upheld the district court’s judgment in favor of the FDOC on a First Amendment censorship claim, and in favor of PLN on a due process claim. The suit was filed against Florida prison officials in 2011 following an earlier, unsuccessful round of litigation over a similar issue. [See: PLN, Dec. 2011, p.32; Nov. 2005, p.29; Feb. 2004, p.27].

The appellate court found the FDOC’s censorship of PLN’s monthly publication was justified based on security concerns related to certain advertisements, including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps and third-party phone services. The ruling was despite the fact that no other ...

HRDC Sues Oklahoma County Jail for Censoring Books

by Steve Horn

The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), which publishes Prison Legal News, filed a lawsuit on May 9, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma against Pontotoc County and Sheriff John Christian, for blocking the distribution of HRDC books sent to prisoners at the county jail.

HRDC alleges that beginning in April 2017, jail staff began rejecting two books – the Habeas Citebook and Protecting Your Health and Safety.

“Defendants censored these books and did not deliver them to the intended prisoner recipients at the Jail. Since April 2017, HRDC separately sent thirty of the books ... to various prisoners at the Jail,” the complaint states. “Twenty-nine of the books were returned to HRDC in their original packaging with writing on the outside stating simply ‘Refused.’”

HRDC contends that the censorship policy at the Pontotoc County jail violates both its First Amendment rights as a book publisher seeking to distribute reading materials and its due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Fourteenth Amendment applies because jail officials “failed to provide HRDC any notice or opportunity to appeal these censorship decisions,” the complaint notes. HRDC is seeking injunctive and declaratory ...

Washington: Jail Detainee Obtains $1 Million Settlement for Spinal Injury

by Steve Horn

Bryan Telford, who was held as a pretrial detainee at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle, Washington in September 2016, recently obtained a $1 million settlement in a lawsuit filed against the county.

Telford suffers from frequent fainting – known as syncope – and suffered a serious spinal injury when he fainted and fell at the King County jail. His lawsuit, filed in state court, argued that jail officials did not do enough to treat him after that incident. The complaint also alleged guards mocked and ridiculed him following the syncope episode on September 27, 2016.

“When he awoke, the plaintiff asked to by (sic) taken to Harborview Medical Center because of his extreme pain, but his request was denied,” the complaint stated. “However, one of the correctional officers told the plaintiff to get his ‘ass’ back to his bunk before they ‘tazed’ him.... Another officer began to clap his hands and said, ‘And the Academy Award goes to....’”

Further, a female guard threatened Telford with solitary confinement in “the hole” if he continued to complain about his injuries from the fainting incident; he was placed in solitary and charged with a disciplinary infraction ...

Podcast Produced by Wisconsin Prisoner Tackles Criminal Justice Topics

by Steve Horn

A Wisconsin state prisoner is leading the way in getting a new podcast out to the public that covers issues faced by people behind bars. Podcasts are radio-style audio series that can be downloaded and played on computers or smartphones.

Dant’e Cottingham, held at the Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls, co-founded a podcast called Incarcerate US with his fiancée, Julie Cottingham. Julie, who is not in prison, serves as creative producer for the show; she told Prison Legal News that they both hope the podcast can shine a light on major issues in carceral facilities, which can eventually lead to reforms.

“[Dant’e] believes wholeheartedly that there is a way to prevent other teens from following in his footsteps and he knows through experience that there is a more effective way for the criminal justice system to deal with teens/other citizens,” Julie stated, noting that the 40-year-old Dant’e had been imprisoned since age 17. “He’s a passionate prison reform activist who believes that telling the stories of mass incarceration is vital to prison reform.”

In an interview with PLN, Dant’e said a major part of his motivation for starting Incarcerate US is ...

Washington State: Jail Phone Rates Increase as Video Replaces In-Person Visits

by Steve Horn and Iris Wagner

A comprehensive set of public records obtained by Prison Legal News from the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) and most of the state’s county jails indicates that the average cost of local and in-state phone calls made by Washington prisoners has steadily increased in ...

Florida ICE Detention Center Restricts Detainees’ Observance of Ramadan

by Steve Horn

In the midst of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for those of the Islamic faith, the Glades County Detention Center in Florida implemented a policy that banned some Muslim prisoners from participating in the religious observance.

One of the most fundamental parts of Ramadan is ...

Landmark Stanford Prison Experiment Criticized as a Sham

by Steve Horn

It’s a study widely taught in high school and college psychology textbooks as a prime example of how, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s also a study whose findings may very well have been falsely represented.

The study ...