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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: May, 2008

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Volume 19, Number 5

In this issue:

  1. Washington Jail Prisoners Suffer from Overcrowding, Abusive Guards, Inadequate Health Care and Indifferent Politicians (p 1)
  2. From the Editor (p 10)
  3. When Courts Get it Wrong: Clark v. Beard (p 10)
  4. NY Court Dismisses Prisoner’s Assault Claim, Voids $500,000 Jury Award (p 11)
  5. Deadly Staph Infection 'Superbug' Has a Dangerous Foothold in U.S. Jails (p 12)
  6. $100,000 Damage Award Vacated for Seven-Year Service Delay (p 15)
  7. Summer of Discontent (p 16)
  8. Prison Doctors, Tainted by Regulatory Board Discipline, Administer Wisconsin Prisoner Care (p 24)
  9. My Space Becomes “No Space” for Online Sex Offenders (p 26)
  10. $2 Million Confidential Settlement In CCA Prisoner’s 2004 Beating Death Revealed (p 28)
  11. Washington DOC Pays PLN $541,000 for Illegally Withholding Records (p 28)
  12. Habeas Hints: Amending Petitions (p 30)
  13. Crazy In America: The Hidden Tragedy Of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill, by Mary Beth Pfieffer (Carroll & Graf, 2007, 280 pp. $15.95) (p 32)
  14. Texas Prison Health Care: On the Brink of Unconstitutionality, Again (p 34)
  15. Georgia Prisoner Assaulted By Jailer Awarded $5,300 (p 34)
  16. Texas Youth Commission Wants Increased Pepper Spray Use Despite Settlement (p 36)
  17. Wrongful Termination of Georgia Jail Guards by New Sheriff Settles for $7 Million (p 36)
  18. $3,175,000 Judgment against Private Health Contractor for Illinois Prisoner’s Stroke (p 37)
  19. North Carolina Execution Laws Trump Medical Board’s Ethics Declaration (p 38)
  20. Alabama DOC Charges Prisoners Unlawful Fees to Cover Budget Shortfalls (p 38)
  21. Alabama Parole Board Employee Pleads Guilty to Misuse of Computer Information (p 39)
  22. Michigan Prisoner Beaten By Guards Awarded $6,004 (p 40)
  23. Innocent California Prisoner Paid $3,171,000 For 12 Years Wrongful incarceration (p 40)
  24. South Florida Federal Court Censors Online Plea Agreements (p 41)
  25. News in Brief: (p 42)
  26. $56,274 Verdict in Negligent Rhode Island Maintenance Claim (p 44)

Washington Jail Prisoners Suffer from Overcrowding, Abusive Guards, Inadequate Health Care and Indifferent Politicians

Since the mid-1990s, Washington State jail populations have increased exponentially. Obsolete facilities built decades ago to hold a handful of prisoners are now packed like sardine tins, with as many prisoners sleeping on the floor as in bunks. Overcrowding has resulted in numerous problems in terms of security and meeting prisoners? medical needs.

But such problems pale in comparison to those caused by guards who beat and sexually abuse prisoners; healthcare personnel who are either too incompetent, or too unconcerned, to adequately diagnose and treat prisoners? medical and mental health issues; and politicians who are content to simply sweep these types of problems under the rug.

Overcrowding, Understaffing

Historically, cities in King County that don?t have their own jails have sent criminal defendants to the King County Jail in Seattle or the Regional Justice Center in Kent. But a growing jail population in King County, plus an anticipated boom in coming years, has led to the conclusion that the jail will be forced to stop housing misdemeanor defendants by 2012 because there will only be room for those charged with felonies.

Consequently, King County and a number of western Washington cities have rented beds in other county jails for ...

From the Editor

This issues marks PLN?s 19th anniversary of continuous publishing and we have now published 219 consecutive issues of PLN. Few magazines even publish ten issues, much less a hundred. Moreso considering the obstacles PLN has faced since it?s inception of being published behind bars, with a $50 budget, etc.

When we first started it was easy to thank everyone who had supported PLN and made the magazine a success. As the years passed that list grew longer and longer to the point we could no longer thank everyone individually. And along the way some of these supporters died. We would like to thank everyone who has supported PLN over the years: our writers, subscribers, donors, lawyers, advertisers, staff, volunteers and work study students. PLN has grown slowly but steadily over the years even as the rest of the prison press collapsed and went under.

Today PLN has six full time employees and a number of volunteers and work study students who publish the magazine, get it to readers and do a lot more each month. In addition to the magazine there is also the advocacy we do on behalf of prisoners, especially with the media; the censorship litigation ...

When Courts Get it Wrong: Clark v. Beard

by Mumia Abu Jamal

When courts decide cases, the most important elements are the law, the facts and how to apply the relevant law to the facts.

When courts err in any of these elements the result is usually one that can be called into question, since it results in an injustice for one of the parties.

Of course we are looking at this topic in terms of generalities. The courts are tested when they are asked to decide questions raised by parties who stand in different social and political positions. Then we see that generalities are often subject to change, to preserve power relations in a given relationship.

Those generalities came into question recently when several death row prisoners in Pennsylvania, whose death sentences had been reversed by ?courts of competent jurisdiction,? tried to force the state to remove them from death row housing, where they remained.

The court they initially chose was the Court of Common Pleas, the trial level court which sits in each of the state?s 67 counties. Although a court of ?extraordinary jurisdiction,? it is also a court composed of elected jurists who are acutely aware of the social and political relationships that impact ...

NY Court Dismisses Prisoner’s Assault Claim, Voids $500,000 Jury Award

NY Court Dismisses Prisoner's Assault Claim, Voids $500,000 Jury Award

On March 15, 2007, a New York Civil Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Riker's Island prisoner George Craig, who alleged that the City was liable for injuries he suffered when he was attacked by another prisoner who was apparently in an area of the jail he was not supposed to be in.

Following a jury trial, Craig was awarded $500,000 for past pain and suffering. The jury found that the City of New York was 70% liable for Craig's injuries and the attacker was 30% liable. At the close of trial Craig moved for a directed verdict and the City renewed its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

The Court granted the City's motion and dismissed Craig's motion in its entirety. According to the Court, although municipalities have a duty to protect prisoners from harm, that duty is limited to those risks of harm which are reasonably foreseeable. In the instant case the Court held that Craig failed to prove the attack was foreseeable and that jail officials knew or should have known he was in danger.

In reaching ...

Deadly Staph Infection 'Superbug' Has a Dangerous Foothold in U.S. Jails

by Silja J.A. Talvi

Dr. Jeff Duchin, the communicable diseases chief for Seattle/King County Department of Public Health holds his soap-lathered hands in an attention-grabbing newspaper cover photo. Above his dignified image is a highly magnified picture of fuzzy bacterium. The bacterium doesn?t appear to be particularly frightening, but it is. This "superbug," known as methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has the power to disable, disfigure and kill the people who come into contact with it.

Like so many other regional and national newspaper and magazine stories about MRSA's creeping presence in the nation, this feature in the Nov. 26, 2007, issue of the Seattle Times was chock-full of useful, preventative information. Among the key, common sense suggestions were for readers to remember that MRSA isn't limited to the transfer of blood or bodily fluids. While not airborne in the way that tuberculosis is (although MRSA has been known to be transmitted by sneezing), the bacterium spreads with tremendous ease by way of skin-to-germ contact. The article advised people to remember to wash their hands regularly; to avoid unbleached public washing facilities; not to share towels, razors, or any kind of shared drug paraphernalia; and ...

$100,000 Damage Award Vacated for Seven-Year Service Delay

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a $100,000 excessive force judgment, and ordered dismissal of the action due to a seven-year delay in service on the defendants.

On August 9, 1995, Robert Efaw was confined in the Navajo County Jail in Winslow, Arizona when guards Jack Kerr and Teresa Williams entered his cell and assaulted him. He was struck ?more than 20 times in the face, throat, and head, and [the guards] ?four-pointed? him by handcuffing his hands and feet to the bed with his arms splayed above his head. Plaintiff was hospitalized later that night.? Kerr prepared an ?Offense Report? that claimed Efaw had attacked Kerr and Williams ?when they entered his cell and that Kerr hit the Plaintiff and shackled him in order to subdue him.?

On July 29, 1996, a federal court dismissed Efaw?s initial lawsuit on technical grounds. Efaw then secured counsel and filed an amended complaint on October 4, 1996 that named Kerr, Williams and several other defendants. By January 9, 1997, Efaw had served all but Williams and one other defendant, who were no longer employed by Navajo County when service was attempted. Despite being granted an additional 180 days to ...

Summer of Discontent

by John E. Dannenberg

Underlying the purported societal goal of prisoner rehabilitation lurks the reality of what impedes it: systemic violence that defines the adversarial relationship between all men and women behind bars, prisoners and guards alike.

Driven by racial animus, drugs, anger, gang rivalry, perceived disrespect and lack of public accountability, this violence exacts a heavy toll in human misery, injury and death. The fact that many prisoners are serving lengthy sentences as a result of tough-on-crime laws, and thus feel they have little to lose, is also a contributing factor.

In this report PLN chronicles some of the riots, protests, assaults and murders that gained media attention in 36 states and Canada during the hot summer months of June through August 2007, when temperatures soared and tempers flared. A rising tide of crowded prisons, brutal staff, medical neglect and long sentences combined with judicial and legislative indifference and hostility has resulted in a dramatic rise in rebellions and upsirings throughout the American gulag. Due to space limitations, this article is only a snapshot of the summer months. More happened before and after this time period.

This article does not include any staff-on-prisoner assaults that were reported over the ...

Prison Doctors, Tainted by Regulatory Board Discipline, Administer Wisconsin Prisoner Care

by David M. Reutter

Whenever prisoners complain about inept healthcare, prison officials accuse them of being manipulating whiners, or assert they are being administered the ?community standard of care? by competent medical professionals. A review by The Capital Times has revealed that the community standard of care rendered to Wisconsin prisoners is often provided by doctors who have been disciplined by the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board (MEB).

Of the current 23 doctors employed by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC), four physicians, or 17 percent, have been disciplined by the MEB for incidents that occurred prior to their employment with the state prison system.

Since 2002, WDOC has had 37 different doctors in its employ. Of those, eight (22 percent) have been disciplined for incidents that occurred prior to or during their tenure with the department. In comparison, of the 23,000 licensed physicians in Wisconsin, only 1.5 to 2 percent have been disciplined by the MEB.

In its report, The Capital Times identified one WDOC doctor with a standard of care so disturbing that it unsettled his professional colleagues. Dr. Thomas Williams joined the WDOC in July 2004; the following year he was in charge of the infirmary ...

My Space Becomes “No Space” for Online Sex Offenders

My Space Becomes "No Space" for Online Sex Offenders

by David M. Reutter

After online social networking giant, under pressure, disclosed on July 24, 2007 that it had purged 29,000 sex offender profiles from its website, state Attorney Generals clamored for lists of those who had been removed while politicians began beating the drum of government regulation.

MySpace, a division of Fox Interactive Media Inc., which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's media conglomerate News Corp., has about 185 million registered users. In December 2006, the company hired Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database of the approximately 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. The database, and software to identify and remove sex offender profiles from the site, was launched in May 2007.

The information sought by the state Attorney Generals included the names, e-mail addresses and related information for MySpace members located in their states. Rather than automatically turn such information over to the authorities, MySpace initially required them to use legal processes such as subpoenas. The company has since caved in.

On January 14, 2008, MySpace and the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, which represents 49 states and the District ...

$2 Million Confidential Settlement In CCA Prisoner’s 2004 Beating Death Revealed

$2 Million Confidential Settlement In CCA Prisoner's 2004 Beating Death Revealed

by Alex Friedmann

PLN has previously reported on the death of Estelle Richardson, a mentally ill prisoner who died at the CCA-operated Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in Nashville, Tennessee on July 5, 2004.

Richardson was found unresponsive in ...

Washington DOC Pays PLN $541,000 for Illegally Withholding Records

The Washington Department of Corrections will pay Prison Legal News $541,000 for illegally withholding public records. It is the largest records-related settlement in Washington state history, and it brings the total amount PLN has won against the state DOC in the past decade to $1.3 million, mostly in ...

Habeas Hints: Amending Petitions

This column is intended to provide ?Habeas Hints? to prisoners who are considering or handling habeas corpus petitions as their own attorneys (?in pro per?). The focus of the column is on habeas corpus practice under AEDPA, the 1996 habeas corpus law which now governs habeas corpus practice throughout the United States.


When a habeas corpus petitioner files a habeas petition or other pleading, s/he doesn?t ordinarily intend to amend it. Nevertheless, in some cases, an amendment is desirable: For example, amendments can be used to submit newly discovered evidence in support of a petition, to bring the court?s attention to favorable new case law, or to cure a defect that has been identified by one?s opponent. In this column, I discuss the basic procedural requirements which govern the process of amending documents in U.S. District Court, and I provide some ?Habeas Hints? to assist pro pers in getting requests for amendment heard and granted.

Procedural Requirements for Amendments

An amended habeas corpus document [we?ll call it an ?Amendment?] takes the place of a document that has been previously filed by the court. Therefore, in most situations, the Amendment needs the approval of ...

Crazy In America: The Hidden Tragedy Of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill, by Mary Beth Pfieffer (Carroll & Graf, 2007, 280 pp. $15.95)

Reviewed by David Preston

Imagine how tough your life would be if you were trying to cope with schizophrenia or severe depression. Plenty tough, right? Now imagine yourself, a schizophrenic, being suddenly torn from the shelter of your family, denied medication, and tossed into a punishment cell, essentially a sensory-deprivation box, for weeks, months or years at a time. Incredibly, this scenario is all too common in America, and Mary Beth Pfeiffer, in her new study, Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy Of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill, explains just how and why it happens. Pfeiffer's book recounts the life (and death) stories of six men and women whose mental illness leads them into conflict with an uncomprehending and, for the most part, uncaring legal system.

One subject, Shayne Eggen, is already a veteran of juvenile psych wards by age sixteen. As a young adult Shayne lapses into psychosis during one of her rare periods of freedom and, under the influence of a delusion, stabs a sheriff?s deputy with a steak knife. Shawn is then sentenced to two and one half years in an adult women's prison but, due to her inability to adapt to prison life, serves ...

Texas Prison Health Care: On the Brink of Unconstitutionality, Again

by Matt Clarke

According to Texas prison healthcare officials, medical care in the state?s prison system is teetering on the brink of becoming unconstitutional.

?We?re toed up to the line. No doubt about it,? proclaimed Dr. Ben Raimer, University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) vice president for correctional healthcare. ?Right now, the system is constitutional ? but we?re on a thin line.?

This ominous statement harkens back to 1993 when, in the closing days of the landmark Ruiz prison-reform civil rights lawsuit, federal District Court Judge William Wayne Justice declared that the Texas prison healthcare system was constitutional ? but just barely. [see PLN, July 1994, p.14].

UTMB is responsible for the operation of infirmaries in two-thirds of the state?s 112 prisons; Texas Tech University runs the rest. UTMB also operates the flagship of the prison healthcare system, an eight-story hospital located in Galveston that was built 24 years ago. Now, just as the prison healthcare system is crumbling, the brick facade of the hospital building is coming down. A lack of funding has made it impossible to repair either the building or the system.

For the hospital, the fix was to erect fences around the parts ...

Georgia Prisoner Assaulted By Jailer Awarded $5,300

On June 21, 2007, a federal jury in Georgia awarded $5,300 to a prisoner who claimed he was assaulted by a jailer while imprisoned in the Dougherty County Jail.

Plaintiff Kelvin Boyd alleged that in 2000 jailer Santos Ruiz-Gonzalez hit him on top of the head with a pair ...

Texas Youth Commission Wants Increased Pepper Spray Use Despite Settlement

by Michael Rigby

Less than three months after agreeing to a court settlement limiting the use of pepper spray on juveniles, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) has failed to curb its use and is actually planning to increase the use of chemical weapons on young people in its care. The pepper spray issue is the latest disgrace facing the agency in a scandal-plagued year.

On September 13, 2007, two advocacy groups--Advocacy, Inc. and Texas Appleseed--filed suit against TYC in state court over the agency?s increasing use of pepper spray. According to the groups, pepper spray incidents increased from 196 uses in 2006 to 1,220 in just the first 11 months of 2007.

At issue in the lawsuit was a directive instituted in August 2007 by TYC Acting Executive Director Demitria Pope expanding the use of pepper spray. The advocacy groups alleged that Pope enacted the directive, which amended a previous rule that designated the use of pepper spray as a last resort, without proper authorization. The groups contended that Pope?s usurpation of the previous directive violated the state?s Administrative Procedures Act.

Fifteen days after the lawsuit was filed TYC agreed to settle the case by distributing ...

Wrongful Termination of Georgia Jail Guards by New Sheriff Settles for $7 Million

A $7 million settlement has been reached between the sheriff of Georgia?s Clayton County and 34 employees he fired on his first day in office. The employees alleged they were discriminated against based on their race and political preference.

Upon taking office as Clayton County?s Sheriff in January ...

$3,175,000 Judgment against Private Health Contractor for Illinois Prisoner’s Stroke

$3,175,000 Judgment against Private Health Contractor for Illinois Prisoner's Stroke

On January 26, 2007, an Illinois prisoner who claimed he suffered a stroke due to negligence on the part of Health Professionals, Ltd. a private company that contracts with the State to provide health care to prisoners ...

North Carolina Execution Laws Trump Medical Board’s Ethics Declaration

North Carolina Execution Laws Trump Medical Board's Ethics Declaration

by John E. Dannenberg

In September 2007, the Wake County, North Carolina Superior Court ruled that because executions are not "medical procedures," a state law that requires a physician to attend executions was not trumped by another state statute that sets forth professional conduct requirements for doctors.

The North Carolina Medical Board (Board) had issued a Position Statement on capital punishment that prohibited a doctor's professional participation in state executions. The Board ruled that taking part in executions was "a departure from the ethics of the medical profession"; it was the only such position taken by a regulatory medical board in the United States.

In response, the North Carolina Department of Correction (NCDOC) sought declaratory and injunctive relief, asking the superior court to find the state?s statute requiring such participation superior to the law related to the regulation of physicians? ethics.

The court first recognized N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15-188 (2005) [the NCDOC shall provide "the necessary appliances for the infliction of the punishment of death and qualified personnel" to perform those tasks required to carry out the sentence of death]; § 15-190 (2005) [the "surgeon or physician" of ...

Alabama DOC Charges Prisoners Unlawful Fees to Cover Budget Shortfalls

by Matt Clarke

On June 1, 2007, the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts released an audit report critical of the funding practices of the state's Department of Corrections (DOC).

The DOC operates 19 prisons, 10 work release centers, three community work centers and a pre-release center, and contracts with two out-of-state facilities to accommodate its more than 25,600 in-custody state prisoners. The department is funded at $349 million a year, which works out to $37 per prisoner per day -- about half the national average. Due to this underfunding, guards are poorly paid, aging prisons are poorly maintained and prisoner healthcare is abysmal, leading to lawsuits.

Instead of seeking a more appropriate level of funding, the DOC has been trying to close the budget gap -- estimated to reach $30 million in 2008 -- by accepting contractual kickbacks for expensive prison phone calls and by hitting prisoners with various fees that have totaled $13 million since January 2001.

A 15-minute out-of-state phone call originating from an Alabama prison costs a prisoner's family $14.15, or almost a dollar a minute. This money is often collected from financially-strapped families whose primary breadwinner is unable to contribute to their income ...

Alabama Parole Board Employee Pleads Guilty to Misuse of Computer Information

On June 15, 2007, Stacey Bell, 31, formerly an administrative assistant to the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, pleaded guilty in Elmore County District Court to violating the Alabama Computer Crime Act, § 13A-8-102. She was given a six month suspended sentence, 12 months probation and 25 hours community service at the Elmore County Humane Shelter.

Bell had accessed privileged victim information about her boyfriend?s former girlfriend on the Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) database. Her boyfriend then used that information to locate and contact his former girlfriend. The incident was reported to the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center, which maintains LETS. Bell was fired and prosecuted. Presumably Bell herself is now listed on LETS, but not as a crime victim.


Michigan Prisoner Beaten By Guards Awarded $6,004

On November 17, 2006, a Michigan jury awarded state prisoner Robert Brooks $6,004 for a beating he received at the hands of two guards.

Brooks, who was serving time in a maximum-security Michigan prison for a 1982 murder, claimed he was attacked and beaten in his cell by guards ...

Innocent California Prisoner Paid $3,171,000 For 12 Years Wrongful incarceration

An East Palo Alto, California auto mechanic who served 12 years in state prison for a first degree murder he did not commit was paid $421,000 by the state plus $2.75 million by the County of Santa Clara.

Rick Walker was convicted in 1991 for the stabbing and suffocation death of his former girlfriend Faith Hopewell and sentenced to 26 years-to-life. Fortunately for him, a family friend, attorney Alison Tusher, re-examined his case, dug up new evidence and convinced the Santa County Superior Court to declare Walker ?factually innocent? and order his release in 2003.

Walker?s subsequent suit for wrongful prosecution, brought by San Francisco attorney Matt Davis, resulted in the $2.75 million settlement. But the suit had charged prosecutor Deputy District Attorney with mishandling witness testimony, an issue dropped with the settlement. Davis commented, ?While it can?t get him back the 12 years of his life that were taken away, it?s the best the system can do in terms of providing him some justice.?

The District Attorney?s office subsequently charged Mark Swanson in the killing, who took a deal for voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping and robbery in 2004 to have a 15 year ...

South Florida Federal Court Censors Online Plea Agreements

Recently, the South Florida federal court system has been removing plea agreements from its online court docket. While a plea agreement is still reflected on the docket sheet, attempts to open the online record result in a notice that the user does ?not have permission to view this document.?

The removal of plea agreements from the district court?s website is in response to an internet site,, which boasts it has identified over 5,000 informants and undercover agents by publishing plea agreements from state and federal court records. The site then sells that information to interested subscribers.

In an interview with the Daily Business Review, Southern District of Florida Chief Judge William Zloch said the court is following guidelines adopted by the Judicial Committee. ?This has been requested by the defense bar,? he said. ?The defense wants to keep them private. They even request such files be sealed.?

Not all defense attorneys agree. Plea agreements are ?critical documents they are holding back. It severely impedes our ability to research potential government witnesses at trial,? stated David O. Markus, president of the Miami Chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. ?The more information out there ...

News in Brief:

Alabama: On September 11, 2007, Morgan County Community Corrections Director Alison Nix resigned her job as head of the county?s sentencing alternative program after the Community Corrections and Court Services Commission voted to fire her after it was learned she was improperly billing the county $504 for mileage on fraudulent trips. In one case Nix claimed she had visited a prisoner at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka and prison records show she did not visit the prison on the day in question. In other cases she billed mileage for meetings she did not attend.

California: On April 18, 2008, five prisoners were injured after Hispanic prisoners attacked white prisoners in the yard of the Chino State Prison. No cause was given for the attack and prison guards subdued the prisoners using pepper spray.

California: On April 22, 2008, several hundred illegal immigrant prisoners awaiting deportation at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster rioted in what began as a fight between rival gang members. The facility is run by the Los Angeles County Sheriff?s Department on contract for the Department of Homeland Security. Ten prisoners suffered minor injuries during the uprising.

Florida: On April 17 ...

$56,274 Verdict in Negligent Rhode Island Maintenance Claim

A Rhode Island state jury awarded a prisoner $56,274 for a claim that alleged prison officials failed to properly maintain exercise equipment, which cased the prisoner injury. The action was filed by prisoner James Bernardo, who was imprisoned at Rhode Island?s Minimum Security Facility of the Adult Correctional ...


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