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Prison Legal News: January, 2011

Issue PDF
Volume 22, Number 1

In this issue:

  1. Medical Examiners Lack Qualifications, Competence, Oversight (p 1)
  2. Kentucky Jail Under Investigation After Prisoner Dies; Sexual Abuse, Financial Mismanagement Also Alleged (p 10)
  3. From the Editor (p 10)
  4. St. Louis Lockups Violate Constitutional Rights, ACLU Asserts (p 12)
  5. Mentally Ill Prisoner Terrorized, Forced to Wear Pink Underwear by Arizona Jailers (p 16)
  6. California Prison Settles Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit for $15,000 (p 18)
  7. Texas Capital Defendants with Hired Attorneys Rarely Receive Death Sentences (p 18)
  8. $16 Million Award Upheld in Wrongful Conviction Resulting from Undisclosed Evidence and Relationship (p 20)
  9. UNICOR-Made Military Helmets Recalled, Production Suspended (p 20)
  10. $300,000 Settlement for New York Guard’s Fondling of Prisoner (p 21)
  11. Kansas No Longer a Leader in Post-Release Prisoner Programs (p 22)
  12. North Carolina Prison Censorship Class Action Suit Settled (p 22)
  13. Federal Rapid REPAT Program Not Working in Rhode Island (p 23)
  14. Georgia Prisoners Strike for Wages, Better Medical Care and Food (p 24)
  15. Oregon Prisoner Holds Counselor Hostage, Gets New 68-Month Sentence (p 25)
  16. California: Confiscation of Prisoner’s Mail May Violate First Amendment (p 26)
  17. California: Harsh Sentencing Laws and Health Care Costs Strain Corrections Budget (p 26)
  18. Released Prisoners Need Not Exhaust Grievance Remedies Before Filing Suit (p 27)
  19. Budget Deficits Lead to Fewer Supermax Beds (p 28)
  20. California: Validity of Parole Board’s Psych Evaluation Procedures for Lifers Questioned (p 28)
  21. Fourth Circuit Vacates Pornography Restriction on Federal Defendant (p 29)
  22. Connecticut Restricts Prisoners’ FOIA Requests (p 30)
  23. U.S. Department of Justice Releases Report on Deaths in Jails (p 30)
  24. Former Ohio Prison Guard Dies Shackled to Hospital Bed (p 32)
  25. Seventh Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment for Guard in Illinois Jail Taser Case (p 32)
  26. Oregon Jail Guard Latest to be Indicted for Sexual Misconduct (p 33)
  27. Civilly Committing Sex Offenders Strains Some States’ Budgets (p 34)
  28. California: Parole Agents Saw and Spoke to Kidnap Victim, Yet Failed to Identify or Rescue Her (p 34)
  29. Political Patronage Scandal Rocks Massachusetts Probation Department (p 36)
  30. Federal Restitution Law Failing Crime Victims (p 38)
  31. Massachusetts: Court Lifts Stay of Discovery in Challenge to Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners (p 38)
  32. Mississippi Supreme Court Holds Substance, Not Label, of Prisoner Petitions Governs (p 39)
  33. Audit Report Finds Georgia Sex Offender Registry Needs Complete Overhaul (p 40)
  34. Probation Officers Working in Los Angeles Juvenile Facilities Engage in Misconduct, Avoid Disciplinary Action (p 40)
  35. Capital Appeals Attorney Sentenced to Prison for Theft (p 41)
  36. California Governor Orders Corrections Officials to Retain Parole Files Indefinitely (p 41)
  37. Delaware’s Parole Board Suffers from Infighting (p 42)
  38. Oregon Federal Halfway House Director Removed Due to Embezzlement (p 42)
  39. $389,548.55 Total Award in Texas Jail Strip Search Suit (p 43)
  40. Washington Supreme Court Holds No Liberty Interest in Sex Offender Release to Community Custody (p 43)
  41. Indiana DOC Hires Convicted Former Legislator for Re-Entry Job (p 44)
  42. Former Texas Youth Commission Official Gets Ten Years in Prison (p 44)
  43. North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Felon’s Right to Possess Firearm (p 44)
  44. Seventh Circuit Holds No Public Interest Requirement in Prisoner’s First Amendment Retaliation Suit for Providing Affidavit to Help Dead Prisoner’s Family (p 44)
  45. California Supreme Court Clarifies Application of Presentence Good-Conduct Credit Statute (p 45)
  46. Speedy Sentencing Procedure Applies to Probation Revocations, California Supreme Court Holds (p 46)
  47. Massachusetts DOC Injunction Requiring Broadcast of Jum’ah Services via Closed-Circuit Television Upheld (p 46)
  48. Federal Prisoners Making Solar Cells (p 46)
  49. Cavity Searches of Civil Commitment Patients for Cellphone Upheld by Eighth Circuit (p 47)
  50. News in Brief: (p 50)

Medical Examiners Lack Qualifications, Competence, Oversight

by Matt Clarke

Most people will only have direct contact with a medical examiner, also known as a forensic pathologist, after they are dead. Thus, medical examiners have a certain mystic quality and are perceived as both doctors and sleuths who use scientifically-proven forensics techniques to reconstruct crimes, determine causes ...

Kentucky Jail Under Investigation After Prisoner Dies; Sexual Abuse, Financial Mismanagement Also Alleged

The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center, a jail in Paintsville, Kentucky, became the focus of a Kentucky State Police investigation after the death of a prisoner in March 2009. Additionally, a jail guard was accused of sexual harassment and later indicted. Those incidents followed allegations of financial mismanagement related to ...

From the Editor

Welcome to our first issue of 2011. As we noted in last month’s issue, our second book, The Habeas Citebook: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, was printed and started shipping. We have already received a lot of very positive feedback from readers and reviewers alike. A lot of work and ...

St. Louis Lockups Violate Constitutional Rights, ACLU Asserts

A troubling investigative report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri (ACLU-EM) has exposed a culture of abuse, corruption and cover-ups at the City Justice Center and the Medium Security Institution in St. Louis (CJC/MSI).

The most damning evidence came from six current and former guards whose ...

Mentally Ill Prisoner Terrorized, Forced to Wear Pink Underwear by Arizona Jailers

In the world of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, safety and security demand that male prisoners wear pink underwear. Indeed, this is so important to Arpaio and his staff that detainees who refuse to change into pink underwear when ordered to do so are forcibly stripped by jail guards.

At ...

California Prison Settles Prisoner’s Excessive Force Suit for $15,000

On January 28, 2010, California prisoner Garrison S. Johnson, proceeding pro se, signed a settlement agreement to resolve a federal lawsuit he had filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming violations of his civil rights by officials with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Johnson had ...

Texas Capital Defendants with Hired Attorneys Rarely Receive Death Sentences

by Matt Clarke

In February 2010, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) published an issue brief on the relationship between hired defense counsel and the death penalty. The brief concluded that defendants charged with a capital crime who hired a private attorney, even if only for a ...

$16 Million Award Upheld in Wrongful Conviction Resulting from Undisclosed Evidence and Relationship

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a $16 million jury verdict in a civil rights action that alleged a police detective had violated the due process rights of a defendant convicted of child molestation by not preserving the victim’s diary as evidence and by failing to disclose ...

UNICOR-Made Military Helmets Recalled, Production Suspended

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into military contracts issued to ArmorSource, an Ohio company, and then subcontracted to Federal Prison Industries (FPI), commonly known as UNICOR, following the recall of 44,000 potentially defective combat helmets. According to U.S. Representative Chris Carney, “FPI has ...

$300,000 Settlement for New York Guard’s Fondling of Prisoner

The New York State Department of Correctional Services agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a prisoner’s Eighth Amendment claim involving a sexual assault.

Arthur Kill Correctional Facility prisoner Stephen Lewis advised his unit guard on November 8, 2007 that he had lost his ID card. The guard told ...

Kansas No Longer a Leader in Post-Release Prisoner Programs

The Kansas program that as recently as two years ago was cited as a model for reintegrating prisoners into society after their release no longer exists, according to state Rep. Pat Colloton, who heads the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.
Despite hard statistics that showed recidivism rates for ...

North Carolina Prison Censorship Class Action Suit Settled

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit that challenged the way the North Carolina Department of Corrections (NCDOC) administers its policies related to the receipt of books and magazines by prisoners.

The suit sought to enforce the First Amendment rights of NCDOC prisoners to receive reading materials ...

Federal Rapid REPAT Program Not Working in Rhode Island

A federally-funded program designed to help states remove illegal immigrants held in state prison systems if they agree to immediate deportation from the U.S. has had no impact in Rhode Island, according to Steve Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union.

The Rapid REPAT (Removal ...

Georgia Prisoners Strike for Wages, Better Medical Care and Food

by Naomi Spencer

Prisoners at seven Georgia state prisons called a strike on December 9, 2010 to protest against unpaid labor practices, poor conditions and violations of basic human rights.
Thousands of prisoners participated in the protest by refusing to work and remaining in their cells. Prisoners coordinated the action ...

Oregon Prisoner Holds Counselor Hostage, Gets New 68-Month Sentence

On May 11, 2010, an Oregon state prisoner was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to an additional 68 months for holding a prison counselor hostage.

John Anthony Brown, 42, was confined at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF), the Oregon Department of Corrections’ (ODOC) intake facility and women’s prison ...

California: Confiscation of Prisoner’s Mail May Violate First Amendment

In a First Amendment case alleging improper confiscation of a state prisoner’s incoming and outgoing mail, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston denied a motion for summary judgment filed by prison officials.

In 2007, Marcus Harrison, a validated member of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) housed at California ...

California: Harsh Sentencing Laws and Health Care Costs Strain Corrections Budget

In May 2010, responding to a legislative request for information related to the impact of correctional operations on California’s budget, State Auditor Elaine Howle submitted a report subtitled “Inmates Sentenced Under the Three Strikes Law and a Small Number of Inmates Receiving Specialty Health Care Represent Significant Costs.”

The ...

Released Prisoners Need Not Exhaust Grievance Remedies Before Filing Suit

The Ninth Circuit has held that former prisoners need not exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge the conditions under which they were once confined. In so ruling, the Ninth Circuit joins the Second, Third, Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Circuits; each has ...

Budget Deficits Lead to Fewer Supermax Beds

Throughout the 1990s, “Supermax” prisons and control units – commonly called Security Housing Units (SHUs) or Intensive Management Units (IMUs) – sprang up across the nation. Between 1995 and 2000 the general prison population increased by 28 percent, but according to a study by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America ...

California: Validity of Parole Board’s Psych Evaluation Procedures for Lifers Questioned

The process by which California’s Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) administers psychological evaluations to parole-eligible prisoners serving life sentences has been questioned by the state Senate and also was the subject of a recent ruling by the Office of Administrative Law (OAL).

Prompted by a petition filed by this ...

Fourth Circuit Vacates Pornography Restriction on Federal Defendant

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has vacated a set of supervised release conditions that prohibited a defendant from possessing pornography, entering places where pornography could be obtained, having contact with children and requiring that the defendant undergo numerous sex offender tests.

Dwight Armel was found ...

Connecticut Restricts Prisoners’ FOIA Requests

by David M. Reutter

Last year, Connecticut enacted an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that prevents disclosure of certain records requested by “any individual committed to the custody or supervision of the Commissioner of Correction or confined in a facility of the Whiting Forensic Division ...

U.S. Department of Justice Releases Report on Deaths in Jails

by Matt Clarke

In July 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report on mortality in U.S. jails from 2000 through 2007. During the 8-year period covered by the report, 8,110 prisoners died in U.S. jails. The number of deaths ...

Former Ohio Prison Guard Dies Shackled to Hospital Bed

by Matt Clarke

For five years, Jeff Maier, 53, was an Ohio prison guard. Then for 13 months he was an Ohio state prisoner. The change from one side of the bars to the other occurred after Maier was discovered smuggling drugs into the facility where he worked. Following his ...

Seventh Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment for Guard in Illinois Jail Taser Case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for a guard who Tasered a federal pre-sentencing detainee at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee County, Illinois. The prisoner alleged the guard’s use of the Taser amounted to an unconstitutional exercise ...

Oregon Jail Guard Latest to be Indicted for Sexual Misconduct

On May 13, 2010, Oregon jail guard Darin L. Fox was charged with having sexual contact with female prisoners. He was arrested and booked into the Clackamas County Jail, where he had worked since 1998. He was then released on his own recognizance.

While investigating complaints of sexual misconduct involving ...

Civilly Committing Sex Offenders Strains Some States’ Budgets

by Matt Clarke

The twenty states that have civil commitment programs will spend close to a half-billion dollars in 2010 to incarcerate and provide treatment for some 5,200 civilly-committed sex offenders. The per-offender cost for civil commitment is much higher than the cost of incarcerating people in prison, and ...

California: Parole Agents Saw and Spoke to Kidnap Victim, Yet Failed to Identify or Rescue Her

While providing a legal analysis of claims against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), a June 25, 2010 letter from the California Department of Justice noted that Jaycee Lee Dugard – the now-30-year-old woman who was kidnapped and held captive for 18 years by a paroled sex offender who ...

Political Patronage Scandal Rocks Massachusetts Probation Department

A May 2010 investigative report in the Boston Globe took the Massachusetts Probation Department to task for bypassing qualified candidates for available job positions, instead employing at least 250 friends, relatives and financial backers of politicians and top court officials. According to the Globe, “[r]eports of irregularities in the ...

Federal Restitution Law Failing Crime Victims

by Mike Rigby

A federal law meant to ensure that victims of violence, fraud and other property crimes are compensated for financial loss does not work as intended.

According to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) passed by Congress in 1996, crime victims who suffer identifiable monetary losses are entitled ...

Massachusetts: Court Lifts Stay of Discovery in Challenge to Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

by David M. Reutter

The Disability Law Center, Inc. (DLC) has obtained an order lifting a stay of discovery in its suit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC). As previously reported in a 2008 PLN cover article, DLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Massachusetts prisoners claiming the failure ...

Mississippi Supreme Court Holds Substance, Not Label, of Prisoner Petitions Governs

Mississippi courts must construe prisoner filings based on their substance, and not how they are labeled, the Supreme Court of Mississippi decided.

Dennis Dobbs, a Mississippi state prisoner, filed a “Petition for an Order to Show Cause” with the Marshall County Circuit Court complaining about the lack of air-conditioning and ...

Audit Report Finds Georgia Sex Offender Registry Needs Complete Overhaul

by David M. Reutter

The federal Jacob Wetterling Act of 1994 imposed a duty on the states to establish sex offender registry programs, including life-long registration for offenders classified as sexually violent predators. In 1996, Megan’s Law required the states to provide public sex offender registries and community notification ...

Probation Officers Working in Los Angeles Juvenile Facilities Engage in Misconduct, Avoid Disciplinary Action

According to a report released in June 2010 by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review (OIR), a civilian oversight agency, lax internal investigations in the county’s Probation Department have allowed sworn probation officers to commit serious acts of misconduct while employed at juvenile detention facilities, yet avoid ...

Capital Appeals Attorney Sentenced to Prison for Theft

by David M. Reutter

Former Louisiana death penalty defense attorney Jelpi Picou, 49, was sentenced on August 23, 2010 to five years in prison for stealing over $200,000 from a publicly-funded agency he had directed since 2004.

Picou was sentenced by Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Robin Pittman for ...

California Governor Orders Corrections Officials to Retain Parole Files Indefinitely

The killing of a 17-year-old girl by a sex offender whose parole records had been destroyed resulted in a minor political frenzy in California.

The Associated Press requested the parole records of John Albert Gardner III, who was charged with the murder of Chelsea King, 17, in San Diego County ...

Delaware’s Parole Board Suffers from Infighting

by David M. Reutter

Internal strife within Delaware’s Board of Parole (Board) has provided ammunition to a move by the governor to abolish the Board. The squabble has resulted in claims that the Board’s chairman is acting without legal authority and refusing to set hearings requested by the ...

Oregon Federal Halfway House Director Removed Due to Embezzlement

The executive director of a non-profit transition center for federal prisoners was fired after allegations of embezzlement surfaced in June 2010.

The Oregon Halfway House (OHH) is a 75-bed transition center for federal prisoners located in Portland, Oregon. The program “provides job placement assistance, counseling, and a safe and drug-free ...

$389,548.55 Total Award in Texas Jail Strip Search Suit

On February 5, 2009, a former jail prisoner in Wood County, Texas was awarded $60,000 by a federal jury after being subjected to an unlawful strip search. She had previously settled claims against the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) for $135,000.
Chandra Rae Jimenez, 45, co-owned a bar ...

Washington Supreme Court Holds No Liberty Interest in Sex Offender Release to Community Custody

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) may lawfully deny sexually violent predators early release to the community, the Supreme Court of Washington decided August 20, 2009. In so holding, the court concluded that RCW 9.94A.728(2) does not create a protected liberty interest in release to “community custody ...

Indiana DOC Hires Convicted Former Legislator for Re-Entry Job

A former Indiana democratic state representative convicted of impersonating a public servant was hired by the Indiana Department of Corrections to run its re-entry program at the Branchville Correctional Facility.

In June 2009, Dennie Oxley II attempted to avoid arrest for public intoxication by claiming he was a state lawmaker ...

Former Texas Youth Commission Official Gets Ten Years in Prison

On April 22, 2010, a former Texas Youth Commission (TYC) official convicted of sexually abusing a young offender was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Ray Edwards Brookins, formerly the assistant superintendent of TYC’s West Texas State School, was convicted of the 2004 sexual abuse of a prisoner who ...

North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Felon’s Right to Possess Firearm

On August 28, 2009, the Supreme Court of North Carolina concluded that a 2004 law prohibiting felons from possessing a firearm violated the North Carolina constitution in an as-applied challenge to the law.

Barney Britt was convicted in 1979 of possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. After ...

Seventh Circuit Holds No Public Interest Requirement in Prisoner’s First Amendment Retaliation Suit for Providing Affidavit to Help Dead Prisoner’s Family

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prisoner who alleges retaliation for free speech is not required to show that the speech engaged in concerned a matter of public interest.

Jimmy D. Bridges, a Wisconsin state prisoner, filed a civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C ...

California Supreme Court Clarifies Application of Presentence Good-Conduct Credit Statute

In an opinion of technical value, but little if any benefit to anyone (including the defendant in the case), the California Supreme Court held that a defendant need spend only four days in presentence confinement -- not six days, as argued by the State -- in order to become entitled to receive ...

Speedy Sentencing Procedure Applies to Probation Revocations, California Supreme Court Holds

California prisoners facing revocation of probation must be sentenced within 90 days after making a request under Penal Code 1381 or the probation revocation proceeding must be dismissed, the Supreme Court of California decided March 9, 2009.

David Wagner was placed on probation in 2003 after pleading guilty to unlawfully ...

Massachusetts DOC Injunction Requiring Broadcast of Jum’ah Services via Closed-Circuit Television Upheld

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld an injunction requiring the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) to broadcast Friday Jum’ah services via closed circuit television to Muslim prisoners in segregation.

The injunction comes in response to a suit under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized ...

Federal Prisoners Making Solar Cells

Spire Corp., a solar cell manufacturer, has inked a deal worth approximately $55 million with UNICOR, the prison labor arm of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), to establish a solar module manufacturing program at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Otisville, New York.

Under the terms of the deal, Spire ...

Cavity Searches of Civil Commitment Patients for Cellphone Upheld by Eighth Circuit

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a strip search of 150 Minnesota civil commitment patients, but warned that it was “a close question of constitutional law,” which reached the outer limits of acceptable conduct.

On October 28, 2003, staff at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) found a cellphone ...

News in Brief:

Arizona: Infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, best known for his harsh and humiliating treatment of prisoners, staged a Christmas carol contest on December 21, 2010. Ten prisoners sang for a chance to get a full traditional dinner on Christmas Eve, with Arpaio judging the contest along with a jail ...