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Prisoner Education Guide

Prison Legal News: September, 2008

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Volume 19, Number 9

In this issue:

  1. Massachusetts’ Mental Health Treatment Policies Prove Deadly for Public, Prisoners (p 1)
  2. South Carolina Prison Officials Allegedly Forced to be Executioners (p 6)
  3. Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, by Silja Talvi ;Seal Press, 359 pp. $15.95 (p 7)
  4. From the Editor (p 8)
  5. “I CAN Learn” Software Procurement for Kentucky DOC Questioned (p 8)
  6. Millions Paid in Mississippi Jail Deaths; Ten Guards Sentenced for Abuses; Corruption Continues (p 10)
  7. California “Restitution Center” Prisoner’s Suit for Underpayment Certified as Class Action (p 14)
  8. GEO Group Expands into Mental Health Facilities for Business Growth (p 16)
  9. Of 426 California Prisoner Deaths in 2006, 66 Found to be Preventable (p 18)
  10. New Jersey Joins Other States in Restricting Internet Use by Sex Offenders (p 19)
  11. Florida DOC Ends Unofficial Transfer-for-Sale Policy (p 20)
  12. Arizona DOC Guard Reinstated Despite Error Resulting in Prisoner’s Murder (p 21)
  13. Survivors Guide to Medical Research in Prison (p 22)
  14. Perfecting the Death Penalty (p 24)
  15. PLN Wins Kansas Censorship Suit (p 25)
  16. Judgment in Florida’s Closed Management Conditions Lawsuit Terminated Under the PLRA (p 26)
  17. Texas Federal Judge Acquits VitaPro Defendants (p 27)
  18. New Jersey Prisoners’ Jail Escape Leads to Firings and Suicide (p 28)
  19. California DOC Whistleblower Promoted to Head of Audit/Compliance Department (p 29)
  20. Burgeoning Immigration Detainee Population Stresses ICE (p 30)
  21. Failure to Treat Immigrant Detainee’s Fatal Penile Cancer Ruled “Beyond Cruel” (p 32)
  22. Massive Beef Recall Reaches California Prisons (p 33)
  23. Virginia Felons Notified of Possible Exculpatory DNA Evidence – Eventually (p 34)
  24. Settlement Agreement Reached in Overcrowding Claim Against Florida Jail (p 35)
  25. Physical, Mental and Substance Abuse Problems Fuel Recidivism (p 36)
  26. Former Immigration Detainee Awarded $100,001 Against CSC/Esmor, Plus $137,808 in Attorney’s Fees and Expenses (p 36)
  27. Too Many Prisoners, Not Enough Guards Cause Crisis in Texas (p 38)
  28. Sixth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Challenge to Ohio Parole System (p 39)
  29. Minnesota Sheriff Profited from Jail Breakfast Scam (p 39)
  30. Prison Legal News Attends CCA Shareholder Meeting (p 40)
  31. $250,500 Verdict for False Imprisonment at Florida Jail (p 40)
  32. New York Prisoner Awarded $21,500 for Finger Injury (p 41)
  33. News in Brief: (p 42)
  34. $200,000 Settlement in Wyoming Prisoner’s Suicide Death (p 44)

Massachusetts’ Mental Health Treatment Policies Prove Deadly for Public, Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

As America’s prisons continue their transformation into mental health institutions, little thought is given to mentally ill prisoners who languish within the harsh confines of prison environments with little if any treatment. That all changes, at least temporarily, when a mentally ill prisoner who has been held in solitary confinement for years is set free without any supervision, and then commits multiple murders.

While the mainstream media recently covered such a story about a homicidal ex-offender – who was released from the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC) and killed a newlywed couple in Washington state several months later – as well as the usual sound bites and hand wringing, past history proves that once the furor dies down it will be back to business as usual.

For the past several decades America’s prison system has become the new warehouse for the mentally ill, which is no secret among those overseeing our nation’s detention facilities. Eventually, about 95 percent of those incarcerated will one day be released; they will either successfully reintegrate into society or prey upon it. That, of course, presupposes that the mentally ill survive their time behind bars.

A December 2007 special series ...

South Carolina Prison Officials Allegedly Forced to be Executioners

On December 18, 2007, Ira Baxley and Terry Bracey, former South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) officials with 22 and 23 years of service, respectively, filed suit in federal court against DOC Director Jon Ozmint and Director of Operations Robert Ward, claiming they were forced to perform executions against their will.

Baxley, a major and SWAT team leader, said he executed eight prisoners and participated in two other executions. Bracey was a major in charge of the DOC’s Rapid Response Team, which is used for emergencies and shakedowns. He likewise claimed to have involuntarily executed prisoners. The executions were by electrocution and lethal injection.

Both men alleged they were not properly trained and not given any counseling. They said the executioner position was supposed to be voluntary, but their rank, extra pay and status as heads of special units were at risk had they refused to perform executions. After Baxley notified Director Ozmint that he did not want to be “forced to be an executioner against his well,” he was told if “he did not like it, he could transfer.”

Of course Baxley and Bracey could have refused or transferred to different DOC job positions, but apparently their prestigious ...

Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, by Silja Talvi ;Seal Press, 359 pp. $15.95

Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, by Silja Talvi, Seal Press, 359 pp. $15.95

Reviewed by Alexis Paige

Silja J.A. Talvi’s new book, Women Behind Bars: The Crisis of Women in the U.S. Prison System, is an important one. It is an exhaustively-researched book I wish to forcibly press into the hands of everyone I know. Women Behind Bars is not important in the sense that it belongs in the literary cannon, but in the sense that anyone who thinks she comprehends the dizzying permutations of the crisis of women in the American criminal justice system, is in for a rude awakening. She may well discover—as I did—that her awareness only scratches the surface of understanding the rabbit hole that incarcerated women are flushed down daily, and in droves. Men, too, certainly and in greater numbers face the punishing wrath and infuriating machinations of the criminal justice system, but here the focus is on the experience of prison unique to women. It is time we lock this issue onto our collective radar, and Talvi is one brave voice for saying, “one of the most profound indicators of a criminal justice ...

From the Editor

The link between solitary confinement and mental illness is well known, well documented and largely ignored by the prison officials and policy makers who decide to imprison tens of thousands of American prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day for months, years and decades on end. PLN has frequently reported on control unit conditions, their proliferation and expansion. The most significant progress that has been made in the past ten years has been a series of court rulings holding that it violates the Eighth amendment to hold the mentally ill in control units. However, this illustrates the poverty of litigation in that it is perfectly constitutional to keep the sane in control units until they become mentally ill. The United States is also unique as it is the only country, besides South Korea, which keeps prisoners in total isolation for decades at a time. This month’s cover story explores the connection between long term isolation, suicide, and public safety in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is one of many states that confines prisoners in isolation for years and decades on ends, with predictable results.

One thing about the United States is that abysmal prison and jail conditions are fairly uniform around ...

“I CAN Learn” Software Procurement for Kentucky DOC Questioned

“I CAN Learn” Software Procurement for Kentucky DOC Questioned

by Matt Clarke

The “I CAN Learn” educational software produced by New Orleans-based JRL Enterprises, which was adopted by the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC), is under scrutiny for ineffectiveness and questionable procurement practices.

In 2004, then-KDOC Commissioner John Rees was introduced to “I CAN Learn” by his friend and JRL lobbyist Mark Smith. JRL had hired Smith to hawk the program in Washington, D.C. He had been friends with Rees since the 1990’s, when they both worked for private security companies (Rees was formerly employed by Corrections Corporation of America).

Rees recommended the purchase of the “I CAN Learn” remedial math program at a cost of $210,000 over five years. The money came from the Kentucky Centralized Inmate Commissary Inc., a semi-private fund known as the canteen board which is funded by profits from prison vending machines.

The procurement was unusual because it was authorized by the Commissioner’s office – bypassing the usual procurement process – and was funded through the semi-private canteen board fund, which is not subject to oversight by the legislature’s Contract Review Committee. The Committee reviews all state contracts with a value in excess ...

Millions Paid in Mississippi Jail Deaths; Ten Guards Sentenced for Abuses; Corruption Continues

“The house always wins,” Warden Don Cabana proclaimed to the Sun Herald, a Mississippi newspaper, in July 2007. However, Harrison County, home of the Harrison County Adult Detention Center (ADC), has agreed to pay $3.5 million to the family of Jessie Lee Williams, Jr., who was brutally murdered at ...

California “Restitution Center” Prisoner’s Suit for Underpayment Certified as Class Action

A prisoner housed at a “restitution center” who spent two years working in the community sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for failure to reimburse her work-related expenses per state statute, or to apply $6,300 that had otherwise been properly deducted from her wages to her restitution account.

California Penal Code §§ 6220-6236 authorizes select prisoners who owe restitution and are willing to work to live in state “restitution centers” while maintaining outside jobs. The state must first reimburse certain work-related expenses from their earnings, and then divide the balance equally among housing costs, victim restitution and a savings account for each prisoner.

Prisoner Elveta Francis was allowed to serve two years of her three-year sentence at such a center. After she got out, she was dismayed to learn that of the $79,442.60 she owed in restitution, only $72.10 of over $6,300 deducted for that purpose had been credited to her account. Moreover, CDCR refused to give her any accounting when she requested a breakdown of the deductions. Therefore she sued not only for herself, but on behalf of other prisoners who were similarly situated. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed ...

GEO Group Expands into Mental Health Facilities for Business Growth

by David M. Reutter

Since 1984, the GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections) has focused on operating private prisons as its business model. It is now finding a more lucrative niche in privatizing mental health facilities and civil commitment centers for sexual predators. The company has been able to procure multiple contracts in Florida to develop and refine its expanded, and lucrative, business model.

This evolution in the type of services provided by GEO is a major transformation from the private investigation firm founded in 1954 by former FBI agent George R. Wackenhut. By 1958, Wackenhut was providing security guard services. With a nationwide need for more prison beds in the 1980s due to tough on crime rhetoric and harsh sentencing laws, the company saw an opportunity for increased profits when it entered into prison and jail operations in 1984.

That expansion resulted in Wackenhut Corrections – renamed as the GEO Group, Inc. in 2003 – becoming the self-proclaimed “world leader” in providing prison design, construction, financing and operations to state and national governments. The company does business in the United States, Australia, South Africa and the U.K. It manages or owns 67 prisons or residential treatment facilities with a total design ...

Of 426 California Prisoner Deaths in 2006, 66 Found to be Preventable

by John E. Dannenberg

In August 2007, former California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) federal healthcare Receiver Robert Sillen issued a report titled Analysis of CDCR Death Reviews, prepared by the CDCR’s Death Review Committee (DRC). The 11-page “public version” of the report analyzes the causes of all prisoner deaths in calendar year 2006, and is anticipated to influence the outcome of a three-judge federal panel that is presently considering imposing a population cap on the CDCR due to inadequate healthcare.

The DRC, chaired by the Statewide Medical Director, consists of physicians, registered nurses, healthcare administrators and prison guards. It meets two to four times a month to discuss and analyze each CDCR death. A doctor prepares a preliminary report on each death before the meeting; suicides are reviewed separately by mental health professionals. Each review covers the prisoner’s medical records and any patient/nurse interactions.

If a “significant departure” from community standards of healthcare is discovered, the responsible medical providers are reviewed for fitness to continue employment in the CDCR. As a direct result of this peer oversight process, 56 CDCR medical practitioners were disciplined between June 2005 and July 2007; 41 of those cases were ...

New Jersey Joins Other States in Restricting Internet Use by Sex Offenders

New Jersey Joins Other States in Restricting ?Internet Use by Sex Offenders

On December 27, 2007, New Jersey enacted legislation to restrict convicted sex offenders’ Internet use. Acting Governor Richard J. Codey relied on public hysteria over several well-publicized cases of online sexual predators to justify his sponsoring and signing the bill.

“We live in scary times,” said Codey. “Parents have to worry about people preying on their kids even while they’re in the safety of their own homes.”

Codey’s statement is particularly ironic in light of a recent Human Rights Watch report on sex offender laws in the United States, which found that over 90% of sex crimes against children are committed by someone they know. The newly-enacted Internet restrictions will do nothing to prevent such offenses.

The New Jersey law restricts Internet usage for any sex offender who used a computer during the commission of a sex offense. It also imposes restrictions on sex offenders who are on lifetime parole supervision, regardless of whether they used a computer as part of their crime. There are about 4,200 parolees who would fall under the law’s requirements; exemptions are allowed for computer access as part of employment ...

Florida DOC Ends Unofficial Transfer-for-Sale Policy

by David M. Reutter

It has long been an established fact among Florida prisoners that if you wanted a transfer to a certain prison, you could pay well-connected lawyers to make that transfer happen. After Florida then Department of Corrections (FDOC) Secretary James R. McDonough learned of this practice, he not only brought it to a swift end but also disciplined staff members who had engaged in such improper conduct.

McDonough’s intervention in the transfers-for-sale scandal was his last act as FDOC Secretary before he resigned in January 2008. When he took over the reins at FDOC almost two years earlier, McDonough accepted the helm of a state prison system that was rotten to its core [See: PLN, Dec. 2006, pg 1].

In fact, McDonough’s new office at FDOC headquarters in Tallahassee had been sealed off as a crime scene by state and federal law enforcement officials. “That was an indication we had a problem in the department,” McDonough observed.

The scandals that preceeded McDonough’s appointment as FDOC Secretary included theft of state property, widespread steroid use by staff, drunken orgies involving prison employees, the murder of several prisoners and the acceptance of kickbacks by former Secretary ...

Arizona DOC Guard Reinstated Despite Error Resulting in Prisoner’s Murder

Arizona’s state personnel board has overturned disciplinary actions against two prison employees who were implicated in errors leading to the murder of a prisoner at ASPC Florence. The board determined that although mistakes occurred, they should not have resulted in the termination of one guard or the other staff member’s suspension. Evidently the loss of a prisoner’s life does not warrant the loss of a guard’s job.

Captain James Long and guard Dorinda Cordova were among a dozen prison officials, including the warden, who were fired, forced to resign or otherwise sanctioned in January 2007 following a fatal incident in which a minimum security prisoner was placed in a cell with a known violent killer. William Harris was erroneously celled with Michael Gaston, who stabbed Harris to death within an hour.

Prior to the September 7, 2006 murder, Cordova had mistakenly classified Harris as “maximum custody” rather than “minimum custody,” which resulted in his being placed in a cell with Gaston during a bed shortage.

Cordova was fired and subsequently appealed to the personnel board, which reduced her punishment to an 80-hour suspension. She is suing for back pay, though state officials noted that she was ...

Survivors Guide to Medical Research in Prison

When one thinks of all the “Survivor Guides” that could be written for prisoners, the last one that comes to mind is for participating as a trial subject in medical research experiments. Yet medicine is science. Scientific theories and developments must be tested to become valid, and the introduction of new drugs or treatments is part of this scientific process. Therefore, human “guinea pigs” are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. To be a subject in a research trial is an important responsibility – trial subjects participate in finding possible cures and therapies for themselves, their loved ones and the greater good of society.

However, history has shown that unscrupulous and unethical researchers have exploited prisoners and other vulnerable populations (such as children or the mentally ill). With a shortage of trial subjects outside the prison population, and a greater demand for vaccines, lifestyle drugs and profits, prisoners are attractive medical research subjects. They are readily available, inexpensive to use, and held in a highly controlled environment.

Therefore, included below are some concerns and recommendations that prisoners should take into account when participating in medical or experimental studies.

Informed Consent

The first thing that you as a ...

Perfecting the Death Penalty

When the death penalty was resurrected in 1976, following a brief four-year hiatus, death penalty lawyers made a fateful tactical decision. They decided to abandon the goal of abolition and instead elected to chip away gradually. Rather than arguing that the death penalty is always unconstitutional – that it is necessarily arbitrary, that it is necessarily racist or class-ist, that it is necessarily cruel and unusual, that it is always wrong for the state to execute – lawyers representing the condemned chose to home in on a particular feature of their client’s case that made his death sentence unconstitutional, while leaving other death sentences intact.

A lawyer’s job is to save her client, not to save the world. For that reason, the legal strategy that death penalty lawyers have embraced over the past generation is undoubtedly the correct one. Lawyers will save individual lives, but not every life, because abolition will not come from the courts – especially not the current Supreme Court. The courts believe in perfection, and perfection is the enemy of abolition.

Abolition will come anyway, because perfection (even if there is such a thing) costs a bundle. You can send a murderer to prison for life, or ...

PLN Wins Kansas Censorship Suit

by Michael Rigby

On October 1, 2007, in a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas held that a Kansas prison policy limiting the amount of money prisoners can spend on publications, a total ban on gift subscriptions, and the failure of the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) to provide notification of censored or undelivered items--to either the prisoners or the publishers--was unconstitutional.

In 2002 PLN filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging a KDOC policy that prohibited prisoners from receiving gift subscriptions (that is, those paid for by family or friends) and limited the amount of money prisoners could spend on publications. Under the policy, prisoners at the highest custody level were allowed to spend $40 a month on publications from their canteen funds (excluding newspaper subscriptions), and prisoners at the lowest custody level were prohibited from ordering publications altogether. In addition, the KDOC did not provide notification to publishers or prisoners when publications were denied.

After consolidating PLN’s case with two ongoing lawsuits filed by KDOC prisoners Kris Zimmerman and Joseph Jaclovich, US District Court Judge G. Thomas VanBebber granted summary judgment to the prison system ...

Judgment in Florida’s Closed Management Conditions Lawsuit Terminated Under the PLRA

Judgment in Florida’s Closed Management Conditions Lawsuit Terminated Under the PLRA

by David M. Reutter

Nearly seven years after it was entered, a Florida federal district court has terminated a revised offer of judgment that was “intended to minimize the potentially harmful effects of” closed management (CM) which is Florida’s version of a special housing unit.

Prior to the initiation of the civil rights complaint by prisoner Mark Osterback, Thomas Gross, and Darryl E Williams; CM was a horrid experience. When it implemented its CM rules in 1994, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) began converting regular housing units into CM units. At its peak, FDOC had CM units at 11 prisons, with plans to continue the growth of isolation as a form of imprisonment.

The proliferation of CM units was causing prisoners to land within the harsh confines of CM for extended periods for even the most minor infractions. Upon placement in the CM cell, prisoners were stripped of all property, confined to their cells for 24 hours a day, prohibited from any contact with other prisoners unless they went to their one hour recreation period three times a week, and they could only receive one book a week ...

Texas Federal Judge Acquits VitaPro Defendants

by Matt Clarke

On April 22, 2008, Houston, Texas, federal judge Lynn Hughes acquitted former Texas prison chief James “Andy” Collins, 57, and former president and CEO of VitaPro Foods Yank Barry of federal charges for bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and misuse of a social security number. This ended the unsavory tale of alleged corruption in a $33 million sweetheart deal which had Texas paying more for the Canadian-made soy-based meat substitute than it did for Texas-raised beef and Texas prisoners being forced to consume the inedible product which allegedly caused numerous medical problems, including outbreaks of boils and vomiting.

Hughes delayed the jury trial, originally begun in August 2000, just before then Texas governor George Bush’s first presidential election, claiming he was shocked that the prosecution’s main witness, Patrick Graham, was a convicted felon. Graham’s conviction stemmed from prison procurement and construction corruption in his company, The M-Group, which employed Collins in 1996. In August 2001, the trial recommenced and the jury convicted Collins and Barry, but Hughes refused to sentence them. Instead, he decried problems with the court reporter’s transcription and granted continuance after continuance while allowing Collins and Barry to travel freely while ...

New Jersey Prisoners’ Jail Escape Leads to Firings and Suicide

About an hour into his shift on December 15, 2007, Union County, New Jersey jail guard Rudolph Zurick discovered that prisoners Jose Espinosa and Otis Blunt were missing.
Zurick immediately took steps to have the jail locked down. When it became apparent that Blunt and Espinosa were long gone, Zurick requested to go to the hospital. Although he had sustained no physical injuries, the guards’ union policy entitled him to a medical visit due to the trauma of the event. Zurick later received psychological counseling and retained a lawyer.

Espinosa, 20, and Blunt, 32, had escaped by digging through cinder block walls in their cells, covering the holes with pictures of bikini-clad pinup girls in an apparent homage to a well known escape scene from the movie Shawshank Redemption. The prisoners left a note thanking Zurick for his assistance. “Thank you officer Zurick for the tools needed. You’re a real pal. Happy holidays,” they wrote.

The note, embellished with a picture of a smiley face and a middle finger salute, was evidently meant to mock the guard. However, he apparently took it too personally. On January 2, 2008, the day that Zurick was to talk to investigators about the ...

California DOC Whistleblower Promoted to Head of Audit/Compliance Department

California DOC Whistleblower Promoted to Head of Audit/Compliance Department

What goes around apparently comes around. In 2004, a 35-year veteran California civil servant received $500,000 in a whistleblower lawsuit against his employer, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), after facing retaliation for refusing to cover up over $29 million in wasted payments related to sick-leave and overtime abuse. Four years later, in June 2008, he was promoted to head the CDCR’s audits and compliance department.

Richard Krupp, 57, was officially reassigned and promoted to do what he perhaps does better than any of his peers – ferret out waste, fraud and abuse in the prison system. Once a prison guard, he rose to a managerial position with the CDCR’s personnel section. It was there that a routine audit identified $29 million in misspent funds.

Krupp was assigned by his supervisors to write a report whitewashing the audit findings. He refused. In fact, Krupp put his own pencil to the numbers and discovered the actual dollar figure was even higher. As his reward, he was removed from his post and consigned to a dead-end job reviewing student requests to interview prisoners, a retaliatory job assignment over which ...

Burgeoning Immigration Detainee Population Stresses ICE

by Matt Clarke

The Bush administration’s hard-nosed approach to immigration enforcement has caused an explosion in the immigrant detainee population, which has grown from a daily average of 19,600 in 2005 to 29,700 in 2007. This increase parallels a rise in deportations, from around 186,600 in FY 2005 to 276,900 in FY 2007. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reacted to this increasing number of detainees by contracting with local jails and private prison firms for additional bed space.

The expanded use of imprisonment for immigration violators stems from the “deport them at any cost” philosophy of the current administration, which resulted in the elimination of ICE’s “catch and release” policy and a decrease in the use of alternatives such as release on bond and electronic monitoring. The justification for this approach is that less than a third of non-incarcerated immigration detainees voluntarily leave the country when ordered to do so, even if they are being supervised or monitored.Increasing the number of ICE detainees comes at a cost for both taxpayers and prisoners. The budget for ICE detentions grew from $864 million in FY 2005 to $1.6 million in FY 2008. A ...

Failure to Treat Immigrant Detainee’s Fatal Penile Cancer Ruled “Beyond Cruel”

Failure to Treat Immigrant Detainee’s Fatal Penile Cancer Ruled “Beyond Cruel”

by John E. Dannenberg

A U.S. District Court (C.D. Cal.) has ruled that the repeated failure of U.S. immigration authorities over an eleven-month period to provide medical testing and treatment for a detainee’s cancerous penile lesion that ultimately proved fatal was “beyond cruel and unusual punishment.” The court held that a civil rights damages suit brought by the decedent (and now his survivors) could proceed.

Francisco Castaneda, an illegal Salvadoran immigrant, was housed at a San Diego detention center on charges of drug possession and intent to sell. He was later transferred to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On March 27, 2006, he complained to medical staff of a painful, growing lesion on his penis. An ICE physician’s assistant recommended a urology consult and an immediate biopsy.

The subsequent chronology of events included an odyssey of efforts to obtain medical care that, according to U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson, “can be summarized by one word: nothing.” Judge Pregerson termed it the worst case of cruel and unusual punishment he had ever seen.

On April 11, 2006, ICE officials ...

Massive Beef Recall Reaches California Prisons

A major meat processor, Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company of Chino, California, recalled 143.3 million pounds of beef in early February 2008 after undercover video showed sick and “downed” cows being forced to get up so they could be processed. Workers were observed prodding some of the sickly animals with a forklift to get them moving. By law, diseased or weakened animals must be removed from the food chain during pre-slaughter inspections, but Westland was caught violating that protocol.

The company “voluntarily recalled all raw/frozen beef products because the product may contain foreign material/non-microbial contamination.” Recall notices went out nationwide, including to the California Correctional Center State Prison in Susanville. There, prison officials complied by returning 3,866 pounds of breakfast links, soy/beef patties, bulk soy/beef and Salisbury patties.

Since California’s 33 prisons use a common menu, other facilities may have been affected as well. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered a recall of all meat processed at Westland’s plant # 336 between February 1 and February 15, 2008, by the time notices went out much of the food product had already been consumed. According to the USDA, the practice of ...

Virginia Felons Notified of Possible Exculpatory DNA Evidence – Eventually

Virginia Felons Notified of Possible Exculpatory DNA Evidence – Eventually

by Gary Hunter

On January 9, 2008, Virginia’s state Forensic Science Board (FSB) voted 6 to 5 against notifying convicted defendants that DNA evidence had been discovered in their criminal cases. Instead, the FSB decided, it would be up to state authorities to determine whether DNA testing was warranted.

From 1973 to 1988, forensic serologist Mary Jane Burton diligently saved swabs and swatches of semen and blood samples in the cases she investigated. At that time DNA research was a little known science. Burton’s foresight in preserving evidence led to the exoneration of Marvin Anderson two decades later.

Anderson, wrongfully convicted of rape in 1982 and paroled in 1997, never stopped searching for a way to prove his innocence. He had previously inquired about DNA but the state told him none existed in his case. However, in 2001 his attorney, Peter Neufeld with the Innocence Project, discovered DNA evidence did in fact exist; it had been carefully preserved by Burton. That evidence led to Anderson’s exoneration. He received a full pardon from then-Governor Mark Warner in August 2002.

Not only did DNA evidence exist in Anderson’s case, the Virginia Department ...

Settlement Agreement Reached in Overcrowding Claim Against Florida Jail

Settlement Agreement Reached in Overcrowding Claim Against Florida Jail

The parties to a class action suit filed by prisoners at Florida’s St. Lucie County Jail (SLCJ) have reached a settlement. The civil rights complaint alleged constitutional violations caused by overcrowding, which resulted in limited access to medical treatment, improper screening for mental health issues, and trouble with plumbing, fire hazards, food service and security.

The class action was the fourth lawsuit brought due to overcrowding at SLCJ since 1980. One of the attorneys representing the class, Robert J. Wilson of Frierson & Watson, had acted as co-counsel in previous actions. Wilson stated in the class certification portion of the suit that he felt an “ethical obligation” to file the complaint.

Wilson acknowledged that provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act might make it difficult for him to receive compensation, yet allegations regarding the lack of medical care for prisoners like Willie Mae Hampton caused him to proceed. Hampton, a sickle cell patient, developed tumors on the back of her head and neck; she received no medical care at SLCJ despite suffering deterioration in her eyesight, which caused her to experience difficulty walking.

Further, mental health treatment was at issue due ...

Physical, Mental and Substance Abuse Problems Fuel Recidivism

by Gary Hunter

In February 2008 the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center issued a report detailing three major factors fueling the high recidivism rate in U.S. prisons. These factors included Physical Health and Reentry, Mental Health and Reentry and Substance Abuse and Reentry.

While the study only examined subjects in Texas and Ohio the longitudinal and survey methodologies used allow for a legitimate amount of generalization to the U.S. prison population as a whole.

The study included 838 men and 262 women. The 262 women and 414 men were taken from a sampling in Harris County (Houston) Texas. The remaining 424 men came from Cuyhoga County (Cleveland), Ohio. The study itself focused on deterrents to successful reentry into the urban lifestyle.

Physical health at the time of release from prison has a profound effect on a parolee’s success. For both, men and women hepatitis, tuberculosis and HIV were the most common communicable diseases reported. While the rates for each of these ailments were similar for both sexes, 12.5%, 4.5% and 4% averaged respectively, they were still lower than the national average as a whole. About 20% of men and 33% of women reported having some ...

Former Immigration Detainee Awarded $100,001 Against CSC/Esmor, Plus $137,808 in Attorney’s Fees and Expenses

A federal jury has awarded a former detainee $100,001 against a private company that operated a New Jersey detention center for the U.S. government. The jury found for the plaintiff on her negligent supervision and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims, but rejected her Alien Tort Claims Act ...

Too Many Prisoners, Not Enough Guards Cause Crisis in Texas

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) confirmed on January 9, 2008 that an entire wing on the Dalhart Unit was being closed indefinitely. Nearly 300 prisoners were transferred throughout the prison system because the unit had been dangerously short-staffed for months. Records show that Dalhart had been operating at just over 60 percent of its normal staffing requirements since September, 2007.

Other Texas prison units also were troubled by staff shortages. Beto Unit, in North Texas, shuffled 282 of its administrative segregation prisoners and filled the ad-seg housing blocks with minimum custody prisoners. This “repurposing” relieved shortages that had the facility operating at around 66 percent of its staffing level.

TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons said the closure of the Dalhart wing addressed “an area where we had chronic shortage of staff. [But] we haven’t closed that wing [on Beto]. There are still inmates there.”

Nevertheless, Lyons’ comments weren’t reassuring. The same day TDCJ officials confirmed the wing closure in Dalhart, a group of TDCJ employees publicly voiced their concerns about system wide staff shortages. “The situation is serious. It’s very scary right now,” said William Cook, a guard at the Polunsky Unit.

Senator John Whitmire, chairman ...

Sixth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Challenge to Ohio Parole System

by Matt Clarke

The Sixth Circuit court of appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal of a challenge to the Ohio parole system brought by Ohio attorney Norman Sirak.

This is a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against Ohio Adult Parole Authority officials alleging that changes to the Ohio parole guidelines made in 1998 were unconstitutional as applied to prisoners sentenced prior to July 1, 1996, the date of a sentencing law revision. The suit included state law, bad faith, due process, equal protection and ex post facto claims. The Sixth Circuit upheld the district court’s granting of summary judgment on the majority of the claims, accepting an alternate ruling on one claim.

The court held that plaintiffs could not raise state law claims in a § 1983 action as § 1983 does not provide relief for violations of state law. It also held that plaintiffs had failed to prove bad faith by defendants and this would not have stated a claim upon which relief could be granted anyway. Therefore, it upheld the dismissal of the state law and bad faith claims.

Finding that Ohio state prisoners do not have a liberty interest in parole under the ...

Minnesota Sheriff Profited from Jail Breakfast Scam

Minnesota Sheriff Profited from Jail Breakfast Scam

In October 2007, Hubbard County, Minnesota officials announced they had reached a settlement with Sheriff Gary Mills. For eight years, Mills had practiced an archaic tradition of providing breakfast for the county jail’s prisoners and then having the county reimburse him. The practice stemmed from times when sheriffs lived at the jails and their wives did the cooking.

The problem was that Mills was spending between $0.50 and $1.00 a meal but billing the county $2.00 per meal. When the county commissioners decided to cut Mills off from this lucrative but arcane income supplement, they voted to give him a monthly $1,000 stipend to replace the lost income for as long as he was sheriff.

When new commissioners came into office in January 2007, however, they did away with the stipend. Mills then sued the county for improperly reducing his income. The commissioners investigated the claim and discovered that since the 1970s, state law had prohibited counties from overpaying sheriffs for providing jail meals.

Therefore, the county filed a counterclaim for all of the profits that Mills had taken in for providing breakfasts, plus his stipend payments. The counterclaim ...

Prison Legal News Attends CCA Shareholder Meeting

Prison Legal News Attends CCA Shareholder Meeting

by Alex Friedmann

From 1992 to 1998, I served time at the South Central Correctional Center in Wayne County, Tennessee, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison firm. On May 16, 2008 I attended CCA’s annual shareholder meeting at the company’s corporate office in Nashville ... as an investor. I’ve been to several other CCA shareholder meetings over the years, usually in the company of Harmon Wray – a tireless advocate for criminal justice reform through his work with the United Methodist Church and Vanderbilt Program in Faith and Criminal Justice. Harmon died unexpectedly in July 2007, so this year I went alone.

All of CCA’s board members were present plus most of the corporate officers, including general counsel Gustavus A. Puryear IV. Gus and I don’t have much in common. He’s a multi-millionaire and I’m not. He’s a member of the exclusive, notoriously discriminatory Belle Meade Country Club; I’m not. He’s been nominated for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench in Middle Tennessee, the same jurisdiction where CCA is headquartered. I’m trying to derail his nomination (for details, visit

We didn’t exchange ...

$250,500 Verdict for False Imprisonment at Florida Jail

A federal jury from the Middle District of Florida awarded $250,500 to a man who claimed he was falsely imprisoned by the misuse of a Florida law – the Marchman Act – that permits the civil detention of persons who are grossly incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

While Greg W. Stakey ...

New York Prisoner Awarded $21,500 for Finger Injury

On September 13, 2007, a court of claims in Syracuse, New York, awarded $12,500 to a state prisoner for pain and suffering related to a broken finger.

While imprisoned at the Oneida Correctional Facility on October 24, 2001, state prisoner Patrick Ashley fell on a staircase and broke his ...

News in Brief:

Canada: On August 26, 2008, six prisoners escaped from the Regina Provincial Correctional Center. The men had been awaiting trial on serious charges, mostly murder. Jail officials would not tell the media how the escape occurred.

Colorado: On March 23, 2008, 40-50 prisoners at the Larimer county Detention Center became ill with gastrointestinal problems after eating a batch of chili.

Connecticut: In May, 2008, prisoners at the Brooklyn Correctional Institution donated $3,000 to the United Services Domestic Violence Program to buy domestic violence investigation kits for the Plainfield and Putnam Police Departments. Putnam Police Chief Rick Hayes said that the kits would assist patrol officers investigate, document and prosecute domestic violence cases better.

Delaware: On May 15, 2008, Sye Newton, 23,a prisoner at the Young correctional Institution took another unidentified prisoner hostage for 5 and a half hours. The hostage was released after negotiations with prison officials with the reverend Derrick Johnson mediating.

Florida: In 1975 Russell Trawick escaped from a Florida state prison where was serving a ten year sentence for stealing $150 worth of money orders. In March, 2008, he was arrested in Missouri where he had married and lived uneventfully until his arrest. He has ...

$200,000 Settlement in Wyoming Prisoner’s Suicide Death

$200,000 Settlement in Wyoming Prisoner’s Suicide Death

To settle the claim that a prisoner who committed suicide was not properly treated, Wyoming’s Cambell County Detention Center (CCDC) has paid the prisoner’s estate $200,000. Nick Ashby, 38, was booked into CCDC on July 21, 2003, for violating a court ...


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