Skip navigation

Prison Legal News: October, 2010

Issue PDF
Volume 21, Number 10

In this issue:

  1. Crime Labs in Crisis: Shoddy Forensics Used to Secure Convictions (p 1)
  2. Prisoners of the Census in New York: Democracy on the March! (p 18)
  3. From the Editor (p 22)
  4. New York Prisons Avoid Budget Axe (p 23)
  5. Are Doctors Complicit in Prison Torture? The Maine Medical Community Looks at Solitary Confinement (p 24)
  6. State Auditor Issues Report on Washington Department of Corrections (p 26)
  7. $13 Million Settlement in DC Mass Arrest of Protestors (p 26)
  8. Settlement Allows North Carolina Prisoners to Receive Compensation for Writings (p 28)
  9. Expanded Eligibility for New York Medical Parole Has Little Effect (p 30)
  10. Ex-Cons Face Tougher Job Market in Great Recession (p 30)
  11. Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, by Jonathan Simon (Oxford University Press 2007), 344 pages (p 32)
  12. New York Prison Chaplain Accused of Smuggling Weapons (p 33)
  13. Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, 4th Edition, by John Boston and Daniel Manville, Oxford University Press, 960 Pages, $39.95 (p 34)
  14. Former President of Florida Sheriff’s Association Enters Plea in Kickback Scheme (p 34)
  15. $3.125 Million in Settlements in Oregon Prisoner’s Beating Death (p 35)
  16. Tennessee Judge Facing Misconduct Charges Tries to Depose Disciplinary Counsel (p 36)
  17. Pennsylvania Prisoner Awarded $185,000 in Civil Rights Claim; Harassment Continues (p 36)
  18. Ninth Circuit Says Qualified Immunity Warranted for Comb-Binding Denial (p 37)
  19. Washington Prisoners Need Not Show Prima Facie Case Upon Challenging Prison Discipline (p 38)
  20. Virginia Issues Report on Monitoring of Sex Offenders Subject to Registration (p 38)
  21. Georgia Ends Contact Visits for Death Row Prisoners (p 39)
  22. Texas Controversy: Governor Guts Forensic Science Commission (p 40)
  23. For Lease: Never-Used 525-Bed Oregon Jail, $45 Million or Best Offer (p 42)
  24. Seventh Circuit Upholds Ban on Dungeons & Dragons (p 42)
  25. New York Prison Superintendents Live in Lap of Luxury on Taxpayer Subsidy (p 43)
  26. Third Circuit Reverses $642,398.57 Attorney Fee Award for RFRA Claim by Immigration Prisoner (p 44)
  27. U.S. Supreme Court: No Bivens Remedy Available Against PHS Staff (p 44)
  28. Fraudsters Sentenced in Cornell Prison Construction Scheme (p 45)
  29. Successful Appellate Ruling Invalidating Statute Creates Prevailing Party for Attorney Fee Award (p 46)
  30. Exhaustion Excused Where Warden Misled Prisoner During Grievance Process (p 46)
  31. Ninth Circuit: Los Angeles County Not Liable for Occasional Over-Detentions (p 47)
  32. Female Assistant Attorney General Pleads Guilty in Wife-Beating Case (p 48)
  33. Sexual Abuse of Youths at Tennessee Juvenile Facility Widespread (p 48)
  34. Fake Rape Claim Puts Woman in Prison (p 49)
  35. News in Brief: (p 50)
  36. Limitations Period in Suit Over Delay in Providing Surgery Begins When Prisoner is Recommended for Surgery (p 52)

Crime Labs in Crisis: Shoddy Forensics Used to Secure Convictions

To millions of people whose knowledge of crime labs comes from television shows such as CSI, Bones, Crossing Jordan and the venerable Quincy M.E., the forensic experts who work at such labs seem to be infallible scientists who use validated scientific techniques to follow the evidence to the truth ...

Prisoners of the Census in New York: Democracy on the March!

New York is the most recent state to pass new rules about how people in prison are counted in the U.S. Census. The law (A11597/S8415), passed by the New York Senate on August 3, 2010, provides that for purposes of political redistricting, incarcerated persons count as residents of ...

From the Editor

This month’s cover story looks at the ongoing scandal at the nation’s crime labs. The problem is so pervasive – PLN has reported on it extensively over the years – that several books could easily be written on the topic. Yet just as wrongful convictions tend to be the exclusive ...

New York Prisons Avoid Budget Axe

by David M. Reutter

With the State of New York having 5,000 empty prison beds and a large budget deficit, it would seem the logical decision would be to save taxpayer dollars by closing some prisons. That, however, is not the choice of New York’s elected officials.

Rather ...

Are Doctors Complicit in Prison Torture? The Maine Medical Community Looks at Solitary Confinement

In the past few years an outcry has arisen over the involvement of military and CIA medical professionals and psychologists in torture, including psychologically destructive solitary confinement of “war on terror” detainees at the Guantánamo prison camp. Some critics have even suggested criminal prosecution of the medical staff involved or ...

State Auditor Issues Report on Washington Department of Corrections

On December 7, 2009, the Washington State Auditor’s Office released a report on an audit of the Department of Corrections (DOC) that covered the time period from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009.

The report examined cash handling, payroll, credit cards, local funds and the status of recommendations ...

$13 Million Settlement in DC Mass Arrest of Protestors

by David M. Reutter

The District of Columbia agreed to pay $13,302,500 to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the illegal arrest of 680 people. Those people were arrested on April 15, 2000 in connection with the protest against the Prison Industrial Complex during the International Monetary Fund-World ...

Settlement Allows North Carolina Prisoners to Receive Compensation for Writings

by David M. Reutter

North Carolina’s Department of Corrections (NCDOC) has entered into a settlement agreement that allows prisoners to prepare for publication and receive compensation for manuscripts so long as the prisoner “authorizes a family member to handle all issues and correspondence related to the business aspect of ...

Expanded Eligibility for New York Medical Parole Has Little Effect

by Matt Clarke

In April 2009, New York passed a statutory amendment that expanded the state’s compassionate release program for terminally ill prisoners. The amendment permitted medical parole for prisoners convicted of certain violent crimes who were physically or cognitively unable to present a threat to society, if they ...

Ex-Cons Face Tougher Job Market in Great Recession

by David M. Reutter

Those who have the black mark of a felony conviction face prejudice in the job market even when the economic picture is rosy. In these times of the Great Recession, that black mark has the ex-con jobless rate six times higher than those without a felony ...

Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear, by Jonathan Simon (Oxford University Press 2007), 344 pages

Review by Ian Head

This past spring, a 12-year-old student in Queens, New York was arrested, handcuffed and taken to a local precinct for doodling on her desk during class. Paraded out of the building in tears by police, this was just the latest in a string of horrific incidents ...

New York Prison Chaplain Accused of Smuggling Weapons

Zul Qarnain Abdu-Shahid, 58, a Muslim chaplain for the New York City Department of Corrections (NYDOC), was arrested on February 3, 2010 for attempting to introduce contraband into the Manhattan Detention Complex; he was temporarily held on $50,000 bond after his arraignment. Abdu-Shahid allegedly had a pair of scissors ...

Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual, 4th Edition, by John Boston and Daniel Manville, Oxford University Press, 960 Pages, $39.95

Reviewed by Paul Wright

The Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual (PSHLM) by Dan Manville first appeared in 1983. It was designed to give prisoners an overview of the legal system, a basic overview of what their rights are and guidance on how to actually litigate a suit in federal court. The ...

Former President of Florida Sheriff’s Association Enters Plea in Kickback Scheme

In February 2010, former Okaloosa County, Florida Sheriff Charlie Morris pleaded no contest to state racketeering and money laundering charges related to an employee bonus kickback scheme that netted him thousands of dollars.

To enter the plea, Morris was transported from federal prison where he was serving a 71-month sentence ...

$3.125 Million in Settlements in Oregon Prisoner’s Beating Death

On July 2, 2009, the estate and family of a mentally ill Oregon man who died in police custody settled claims against Multnomah County, a former deputy sheriff and jail nurses for $925,000. The case remained pending against the City of Portland, American Medical Response (AMR) ambulance service and ...

Tennessee Judge Facing Misconduct Charges Tries to Depose Disciplinary Counsel

by Matt Clarke

Cocke County, Tennessee General Sessions Judge John A. Bell, while facing a judicial misconduct complaint, sought to depose Joseph S. Daniel, disciplinary counsel for the Tennessee Court of the Judiciary, in February 2010. Bell also asked to review all complaints filed against Tennessee judges due to delayed ...

Pennsylvania Prisoner Awarded $185,000 in Civil Rights Claim; Harassment Continues

by David M. Reutter

A Pennsylvania federal jury has awarded $185,000 to a prisoner in a civil rights action alleging conspiracy, retaliation, obstruction of access to the courts and defamation of character.

Pennsylvania state prisoner Andre Jacobs prosecuted the lawsuit pro se. His complaint involved events that occurred at ...

Ninth Circuit Says Qualified Immunity Warranted for Comb-Binding Denial

On December 2, 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a prison librarian was entitled to qualified immunity for denying a prisoner’s request to comb-bind his legal papers.

Oregon prisoner Frank Phillips intended to file a petition for writ of certiorari, challenging his conviction in the U ...

Washington Prisoners Need Not Show Prima Facie Case Upon Challenging Prison Discipline

by David M. Reutter

On February 4, 2010, the Washington State Supreme Court held that prisoners challenging prison disciplinary decisions do not have to make a prima facie case of prejudice to obtain review in a personal restraint petition. However, they still must show that the disciplinary hearing was so ...

Virginia Issues Report on Monitoring of Sex Offenders Subject to Registration

by Matt Clarke

In January 2010, the Virginia State Police (VSP) issued a report on the monitoring of sex offenders who are required to comply with registration laws. The report noted a high rate of compliance (94%) with the Sex Offender Registry (SOR) requirements.

The report was signed by Colonel ...

Georgia Ends Contact Visits for Death Row Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

Three non-execution deaths on Georgia’s death row in as many months, including two suicides, resulted in a focus on conditions for condemned prisoners at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. The response by prison officials was to end all contact visits with family and loved ...

Texas Controversy: Governor Guts Forensic Science Commission

by Matt Clarke

Texas Governor Rick Perry caused considerable controversy on Sept. 30, 2009 when he replaced three members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, just two days before the commission’s hearing on a report that an innocent man may have been executed during Perry’s tenure. As a result the ...

For Lease: Never-Used 525-Bed Oregon Jail, $45 Million or Best Offer

A seemingly good idea before the housing market collapsed, the 525-bed, $58 million Wapato Jail has sat empty in Portland, Oregon since construction was completed in 2004. County taxpayers are paying approximately $5 million annually on debt service for the facility plus $400,000 to maintain the empty building each ...

Seventh Circuit Upholds Ban on Dungeons & Dragons

Seventh Circuit Upholds Ban on Dungeons & Dragons

by Brandon Sample

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) may prohibit the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) role-playing game and D&D-related publications without violating the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided on January 25, 2010.

Kevin Singer, a prisoner at Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution, had been playing D&D since he was a child. Until 2004 he was allowed to play D&D and order and possess D&D-related materials at Waupun; however, that changed after Bruce Muraski, the facility’s Disruptive Group Coordinator, received an anonymous note from another prisoner.

The note claimed that Singer and three other prisoners were trying to form a D&D “gang,” and asked Muraski to check into the ...

New York Prison Superintendents Live in Lap of Luxury on Taxpayer Subsidy

On the heels of a report that suggests ways to trim costs of New York’s prison system, several state legislators are calling for an end to subsidizing luxurious homes for prison superintendents.

Residences for prison guards and superintendents date to the 1800s. They were utilized as incentives to attract ...

Third Circuit Reverses $642,398.57 Attorney Fee Award for RFRA Claim by Immigration Prisoner

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an immigration detainee’s $642,398.57 attorney fee award, finding that “the District Court’s degree of success inquiry under § 1988 was based on an impermissible reconstruction of the jury verdict.”

Hawa Abdi Jama, a Somalian immigrant and a Muslim, was detained ...

U.S. Supreme Court: No Bivens Remedy Available Against PHS Staff

On May 3, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that employees of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) may not be sued for constitutional violations under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).

While detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Francisco Castaneda ...

Fraudsters Sentenced in Cornell Prison Construction Scheme

A man who bilked almost $13 million from Cornell Corrections Corp. has been convicted of federal fraud and conspiracy charges, while two co-defendants pleaded guilty.
In February 2010, Robert B. Surles was convicted by a federal jury in Atlanta, Georgia of conspiracy and 15 counts of wire fraud as part ...

Successful Appellate Ruling Invalidating Statute Creates Prevailing Party for Attorney Fee Award

by David M. Reutter

The Washington State Supreme Court has held that a litigant who successfully gets an appellate court to vacate a prison disciplinary infraction and declare a statute unconstitutional is a prevailing party under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, entitling him to attorney fees. The Court further held ...

Exhaustion Excused Where Warden Misled Prisoner During Grievance Process

Failure to exhaust administrative remedies may be excused when prison officials mislead a prisoner during the grievance process, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided on January 11, 2010.

In May 2002, prisoner Gerson Nunez was strip-searched upon his return to the Federal Prison Camp (FPC ...

Ninth Circuit: Los Angeles County Not Liable for Occasional Over-Detentions

In an official-capacity action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, the plaintiffs alleged they remained in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department, in violation of their constitutional rights, for periods of time ranging from 26 to 29 hours after a ...

Female Assistant Attorney General Pleads Guilty in Wife-Beating Case

An Oregon Assistant Attorney General (AAG) who defends against prisoners’ appeals in criminal cases was recently arrested for punching and strangling her wife; she entered treatment and pleaded guilty two weeks later.

On February 12, 2010, AAG Susan R. Gerber, 40, returned home to find that her wife of five ...

Sexual Abuse of Youths at Tennessee Juvenile Facility Widespread

by David M. Reutter

A February 2010 news report by The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, revealed that juvenile offenders are regularly sexually abused at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.

The investigation followed a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) study that found Woodland Hills had one of the ...

Fake Rape Claim Puts Woman in Prison

A New York woman who falsely claimed she had been raped was sentenced in February 2010 to 1 to 3 years in prison on perjury charges.

In 2005, Biurny Peguero Gonzalez told investigators that William McCaffrey, a Bronx construction worker, raped her at knifepoint. Gonzalez had accepted a ride from ...

News in Brief:

Afghanistan: An Afghan prisoner being held at a U.S. military base attempted to escape on August 7, 2010, grabbing a rifle and fatally shooting two Marines before being killed by return fire. The location of the base was not disclosed.

Alabama: On August 17, 2010, Steven Giardini, a former ...

Limitations Period in Suit Over Delay in Providing Surgery Begins When Prisoner is Recommended for Surgery

The statute of limitations in a lawsuit claiming medical negligence by prison officials in delaying a prisoner’s surgery begins to accrue when the prisoner is first recommended for surgery by a specialist, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey decided on February 19, 2009.

Cecil Fearon ...