In 1987 I entered the Washington state prison system with a 304 month prison sentence. In 1988 I met Ed Mead, a political prisoner and veteran prison activist, at the Washington State Reformatory (WSR) in Monroe, Washington. Ed had been imprisoned since 1976. In that period he had been involved in organizing and litigating around prison conditions and issues. He had also started and published several newsletters, including The Chill Factor, The Red Dragon, and The Abolitionist. By late 1988 Ed and I were jointly involved in class action prison conditions litigation and other political work.
As the 1980s ended it became readily apparent that collectively prisoners were in a ...
In May 1990, the first issue of Prisoners' Legal News (PLN) was published. It was hand typed, photocopied and ten pages long. The first issue was mailed to 75 potential subscribers. Its budget was $50. The first 3 issues were banned in all Washington prisons, the first 18 in all Texas prisons. Since then we have published 180 consecutive issues, grown to offset printing of 48 page issues and now have over 4,200 subscribers in all 50 states as well as numerous other countries. This is how it happened.
Since PLN started in 1990 we have been censored in prisons and jails around the country. We have always attempted to resolve censorship issues administratively, but in cases where the goal was to keep PLN out of prison at any cost, that obviously wasn't possible. We have aggressively challenged censorship across the nation and have won all but one of our battles. I would like to thank all the fantastic attorneys who have represented PLN in censorship and public records litigation over the years. Thanks also go to those attorneys who volunteered to represent us in suits that we wound up not having to file after all. A brief summary of PLN's closed cases are:
Washington Parole Suit: In 1994 Ed Mead and Paul Wright sued the Washington Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board challenging their order that Ed have no contact with any felons for the purpose of publishing PLN. In an unpublished ruling, judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma upheld the ban. The case was dismissed as moot by the Ninth circuit when, after three years, Ed was discharged from ISRB supervision. The suit was sponsored by the ACLU of Washington. Frank Cuthbertson and Mike Kipling ...
by Paul Wright
A paraplegic jail prisoner who was transported to a hospital in a non-handicap accessible police car was awarded $600,000 by a federal jury on November 12, 2003 for injuries he claimed resulted from that forced mistreatment.
Philip Munoz, a 36 year-old T-10 (wheelchair-bound) paraplegic was ...
by John E. Dannenberg
This issue marks PLN's 180th consecutive issue and our 15th anniversary. When I first started PLN in 1990 I didn't think it would last this long. I am pleased to report that it has and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
This month's cover story is a history of PLN and what we have done over the years. I hope that in five years I can report a lot more progress in terms of what we have been able to accomplish.
In addition to thanking PLN's many volunteers, writers and contributor I would like to thank our readers and subscribers. With over 4,200 subscribers we now have the highest circulation in our history. We hope to continue increasing our circulation. With more than 2.2 million imprisoned Americans, our readership is far lower than what it should be.
We have a lot of news and information in this issue so I will keep this brief. If you believe in an independent, prisoner rights press please make a donation so we can continue our work. Enjoy this issue and please encourage others to subscribe.
by Paul Wright
As a teenager, I worked on the staff of The Black Panther newspaper. By worked," I mean, I did whatever I was told to do; whatever was needed to help get the paper ready for printing. That meant writing articles, typing out others articles, justifying them, proofreading texts for errors, giving graphic arts to physically doing layout of the text or graphic on the page, to punching out headlines for articles.
Members of the BPP Ministry of Information did everything -- but actually print the paper. The Black Panther Party did this every week, for over a decade, and sold over 100,000 copies weekly!
That was no small feat.
But, neither is this.
That Prison Legal News has survived for 15 years is utterly remarkable. That it is written, edited, collated and prepared for publication by men and women who are themselves prisoners, is all the more remarkable.
It would be a Herculean feat all by itself -- and then we consider the content.
Articles, mostly written by jailhouse lawyers, on the maddening warp and woof of the law; written accurately, almost (but not quite!) dispassionately, on cases won and cases lost. It is ...
I know a little something about newspapers.
For many years, Schroeter has been a friend of Prison Legal News (PLN) and an advocate for the rights of prisoners. To mark its 15th anniversary, I recently met with Schroeter at his Seattle home to discuss his career, observations of prisoners' rights issues, and PLN's role in this cause.
PRISON LEGAL NEWS: What is your impression of the current state of prisoners' rights?
LEONARD SCHROETER: I think it's horrible. Nobody gives a shit about people in prisons. But of course, nobody ever did. There never was any decency. See, I believe at this point everything is worse in America on ...
It's difficult to talk about Leonard Schroeter's law career without discussing one topic in particular: civil rights. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1951, Schroeter went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), then headed by the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Decades later, in Russia during the Soviet era, Schroeter assisted the Samizdat" movement -- namely, underground writers of forbidden" literature and political criticism. He also served as the Principal Legal Assistant to the Attorney General of Israel, and founded the Seattle law firm Schroeter, Goldmark & Bender.
On February 5, 2004, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) agreed to pay $90,000 to a prisoner who was refused safety glasses and later suffered an eye injury while working at a prison recycling center.
Plaintiff Brian Dodd, a Gulf War veteran serving a short sentence ...
by Michael Rigby
Exhaustion of Administrative
If you are confined and are suing in federal court prison or jail staff for an incident that occurred while locked up, you are required to exhaust the administrative grievance system that exists. There are no exceptions to exhaustion of the grievance system if the incident you are suing occurred while confined and you bring the lawsuit while still confined. This requirement was imposed in 1996 by what is known as the Federal Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions . . . . until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Many states now have imposed a requirement of exhaustion of the administrative grievance system prior to filing in state court.2
Prison Condition Defined
The question faced by most prisoners is what does the term prison conditions" mean. Recently, the United States Supreme Court defined the term prison conditions" very broadly, as applying to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong.3 This means that any incident involving your confinement in ...
by Daniel E. Manville
The Court of Appeal of Louisiana, First Circuit, reversed summary judgment granted by the Twenty-Third Judicial District Court of Ascension Parish (Louisiana) to the Ascension Parish sheriff in a case involving conditions of confinement at the Ascension Parish jail. The appeals court ruled that the Louisiana Prison Litigation Reform Act (LaPLRA), La.Rev.Stat.Ann. § 15:1184(E) did not apply retroactively to the prisoners' claims for damages.
In 1997, eighteen prisoners of the Ascension Parish Jail, in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, sued Sheriff Jeffrey F. Wiley and numerous other defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that jail conditions were unconstitutionally unsanitary. Specifically, Plaintiffs complained that cells had no running water or toilets. Prisoners had to relieve themselves through a grate-covered hole in the middle of the floor. The hole could only be flushed by a guard outside the cell, and the hole regularly overflowed, spreading sewage across the cell floor. Further, each cell had two prisoners who had to share a one-gallon plastic jug of water, which was irregularly provided by guards. The water was used for drinking, washing hands, and washing feces off the grate covering the sewer hole in the cell. Moreover, Plaintiffs ...
by Robert H. Woodman
The HPD crime lab debacle exploded in November 2002 after news reports exposed the lab's sloppy work and shoddy procedures. An outside audit later found that technicians were poorly trained, routinely misinterpreted data, and kept records in disarray. The lab was shut down for a time (the DNA division is still closed), its work given to outside laboratories, and retesting ordered in over 400 cases. Several top administrators eventually resigned or were fired, though all escaped criminal prosecution. Three months later Josiah Sutton, a prisoner serving 25 years for a 1999 rape, was released after being exonerated by a retesting of DNA evidence originally analyzed by the HPD crime lab. [See PLN, July 2003, p. 26].
On January 4, 2004, state lawmakers and city officials met to discuss the lab ...
More than two years after the closure of its DNA division, the Houston Police Department (HPD) crime lab remains a lesson in how not to run a forensics unit. Recent developments include the discovery of 280 boxes of misplaced evidence and a revelation that an analyst from a private laboratory consulted with police and prosecutors on how to report the results of DNA testing in a capital murder case.
When wells at the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) and Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) state prisons became contaminated, water was severely rationed until repairs could be made.
In June, 2004, when maximum-security SVSP's well water was determined to be contaminated, the 4,500 prisoners there were restricted initially to three six ounce cups of water per day for all purposes. Toilet flushes were reportedly delayed for up to ten hours. Following complaints, water rations were increased to 64 ounces per day and toilet flushes to every three hours, according to SVSP spokesman Lt. Eloy Medina, who reported morale pretty good." Three-minute showers were added later.
The problem began when one of the 1996 prison's two wells became contaminated with nitrate pollution from leaking septic systems and regional agricultural fertilizers leaching into the groundwater. An emergency hookup to adjacent Soledad State Prison brought some relief, but not enough to quench SVSP's daily thirst for 700,000 gallons. An interim solution was to permit the contaminated water to be used for showers and toilets only. The long term solution will be a water filtration system, anticipated to be installed by the ...
by John E. Dannenberg
An uncontrolled and untreated chronic infection of Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a highly contagious, stubborn, disfiguring and sometime fatal bacterial disease, has permeated the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF), unabated, for at least four years. BCCF officials have refused to treat the infections, inform prisoners ...
by John E. Dannenberg
Stevens' pro per petition contended that the restrictive condition which impeded his ability to earn a living bore no relation to his crime or to conduct that was inherently criminal, nor was it tethered to any reasonably foreseeable criminal conduct. After the court issued an order to show cause, respondent California Board of Prison Terms (BPT) modified its restriction to allow Stevens limited use of the Internet now just forbidding computer access to pornographic web sites or communication ...
The California Court of Appeals granted habeas corpus relief sought by a paroled child molester who complained that the condition of parole forbidding him from either using a computer or getting on the Internet was unreasonable. Ramon Stevens was convicted in 1997 of lewd conduct on a child. When arrested, he had a photo album of naked boys and a video recording of him having sex with an adult male. A search of his home computer revealed he had not used the computer for pornography, for contacting the victim, or for any criminal activity. When he was released onto parole in 2002, a special parole condition was You shall not possess or have access to computer hardware or software including the internet.
by Marvin Mentor
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the strict scrutiny test, not the more deferential legitimate penological interest test, applied when determining the constitutionality of the California Department of Corrections' (CDC) policy to require double-celling based upon race during the first 60 days intake processing in state prison. As such, CDC's 25 year-old policy was found suspect, and the case returned to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to determine if that policy in fact violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Garrison Johnson, a black prisoner serving 36-life since 1987 for murder, robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, has moved to five of CDC's 33 prisons. Each time, he began with 60 days intake processing, where he was required to double-cell with another black prisoner. Johnson complained that he was humiliated by this racial segregation and that it violated his Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Ninth Circuit had upheld CDC's policy. See: Johnson v. California, 321 F.3d 791 (9th Cir. 2003); PLN, Apr.2004. It noted ...
U.S. Supreme Court Holds California Policy Of Double-Celling By Race During Prison Intake Must Pass Strict Scrutiny," Not Rational Relationship" Test
In a recently-published report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the U.S. Department of Justice documented the soaring costs of the justice system in the United States.
The BJS report is for the year 2001 and includes statistics on expenditures and employment in the justice system at the local, state, and federal levels from 1982 through 2001. The report encompasses police, jails and prisons, judicial and legal activities. The outstanding feature of the report was the dramatic increase in overall expenditures to $167 billion in 2001. This represents an increase of 366% (165% in constant dollars) over the $36 billion in justice system expenditures in 1982.
The federal government bore the brunt of the change, increasing its expenditures by 583% from 1982 through 2001 compared to 446% for the states and 298% for local governments. At each level of government, jails and prisons were the main reason for the increase. The corrections" component of the federal budget increased 861% from 1982 through 2001 compared to an increase of 538% for the states and 455% for local governments. Seen another way, the cost of the justice system rose from $158 per person in 1982 to ...
by Matthew T. Clarke
Texas prison officials learned how serious the problem was during a months-long undercover investigation that began in the fall of 2003. Electronic monitoring by the FBI had revealed that a member of the Texas Syndicate, a violent prison gang, was making and receiving wireless calls from the Darrington prison near Houston.
In the spring of 2004, investigators decided to raid the prisoner's cell--but they forgot to turn off the water. As they entered, the prisoner flushed the cell phone down his toilet. Prison officials, determined to recover the phone, quickly shut down the water lines and ordered several unlucky prisoners into the sewer traps with rakes to drag the bottom.
What happened next must have surprised everyone. They were pulling up cell phones like they were going fishing," said Lt. Terry Cobbs of the prison system's inspector general's office. And you'd think they'd be those inexpensive disposable phones like you buy at Wal-Mart. But we've even been seeing camera phones.
Other states are experiencing similar ...
Though drugs and weapons have long been a bane to prison officials everywhere, prisons around the country and the world are now experiencing a new contraband problem: cellular telephones.
A recent study revealed that hundreds of sex offenders live in state-regulated nursing homes nationwide.
An Oklahoma-based advocacy group, A Perfect Cause, performed a computer search of the nation's sex-offender registries and cross-matched it with the addresses of the nation's state-regulated nursing homes. This revealed that 380 sex offenders live in 289 state-regulated nursing homes in 32 states. Five states had no sex offenders in nursing homes and the records in thirteen states could not be checked. The study found 70 registered sex offenders in Texas state-regulated nursing homes, 144 of them in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Although state and local officials were surprised at the results of the study, they were unable to say how much of a threat the sex offenders were to other nursing home residents. If the number of new crimes committed is any measure, they are little threat indeed. No new offenses by sex offenders living in Texas nursing homes have been reported. Although there were recent re-offenses in New York and Minnesota, such crimes are very rare nationwide.
Sex offenders end up in nursing homes the same way other residents do: they get old and/or infirm. Most ...
by Matthew T. Clarke