Prison Legal News:
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Volume 22, Number 9
In this issue:
- Remembering Attica Forty Years Later (p 1)
- Extra Earned Time Sentence Reductions Save Oregon $25 Million (p 12)
- From the Editor (p 14)
- 800,000 Ex-Offenders Regain Voting Rights – 5.3 Million More to Go (p 15)
- Female Prisoners Removed from CCA Facility in Kentucky (p 16)
- PLN Files Censorship Suit Against Michigan Jail over “Postcard Only” Policy (p 19)
- Reform Comes to Maine Supermax: New commissioner cuts population by more than half; prisoner rights advocates help in the reform (p 20)
- $73,700 Jury Award for Guard’s Sexual Encounters with Massachusetts Prisoner (p 23)
- New Mexico Spends $20 Million in Federal Stimulus Money to Fund Prison Jobs (p 24)
- Sixth Circuit Upholds Tennessee’s Financial Obligation Re-Enfranchisement Law (p 24)
- Ninth Circuit Finds Maricopa County Jail’s Cross-Gender Strip Searches Unreasonable (p 26)
- $60 Million in Strip Search Settlements for Cook County Jail Prisoners (p 26)
- California: OAL Disapproves Proposed Parole Board Regulation Formalizing Lifer Risk Assessments (p 27)
- Feds Pay Wrongfully Convicted D.C. Men $1.9 Million (p 28)
- Florida Reenacts Reconstruction-Era Felon Disenfranchisement Rule (p 28)
- EEOC Files Suit Against GEO Group for Sexual Harassment at Arizona Prisons (p 29)
- Georgia Deputy Fired for Refusing Threesome with Sheriff (p 30)
- Feds Intervene in Suit, Allege “Sadistic” Stun Gun Use at Ohio Jail; Jail Settles (p 30)
- Federal Court Dismisses Virginia Lifers’ Parole Suit (p 32)
- New Laws Improve Job Prospects for Former Prisoners (p 32)
- Florida Prisoner’s Suicide Suit Settles for $500,000 (p 33)
- $85,000 Settlement in Philadelphia Wrongful Imprisonment Suit (p 34)
- Former Federal Prisoner Seeks Almost $280,000 in Attorney Fees from BOP (p 34)
- Prisoners Used to Clean Foreclosed Houses in Georgia (p 35)
- Third Circuit Upholds Unanimity Requirement for Pennsylvania Pardon Recommendations (p 35)
- Texas Chaplain Who Complained of Jail Conditions Reinstated, Suit Settled (p 36)
- Protective Order Denied in Privately Run Florida Juvenile Facility Class-Action Suit (p 36)
- $4.5 Million Settlement in Texas County Jail Strip Search Suit (p 37)
- Florida’s House Speaker Wants to Quicken Executions (p 38)
- Third Circuit Upholds Pennsylvania Sex Offender Treatment Parole Requirement (p 38)
- Michigan Prisoner’s Failure to Protect Case Settles for $100,000 (p 39)
- Florida Courts Criticize Indefinite Detention While Awaiting Civil Commitment Trials (p 40)
- North Carolina Prisoner’s First-Degree Murder Conviction is Valid Basis to Deny Awarding Good Time Credits (p 40)
- Parole Violator Leaps to Death at Alaskan Jail (p 41)
- North Carolina Jail Prisoner Housed with TB Infected Cellmate Receives $2,250 Settlement (p 41)
- New Mexico State Auditor Investigates Prison Contracts (p 42)
- Washington State Closes McNeil Island Prison (p 42)
- Canadian Prison Guards Hold Prisoners at Gunpoint for 10 Days (p 43)
- Smoke ’Em if You Got ’Em, Says Oklahoma DOC (p 43)
- California: Orange County Jail System Ordered to Remedy ADA Violations (p 44)
- Oregon Settles Prisoner’s Heart Failure Medical Mistreatment Case for $390,000 (p 44)
- Arizona County to Pay Ex-Prisoner $325,000 in Jail Guard Beating (p 45)
- An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country, by Susan Rosenberg (Kensington Publishing Corp. 2011), 400 pages, $14.95 paperback (p 46)
- UNICOR Wins $20 Million No-Bid Body Armor Contract (p 46)
- Federal Stimulus Money Not Spent as Intended by San Diego County Probation Department (p 47)
- Paperwork SNAFU Leaves Mentally Ill Woman Jailed in Louisiana for Eight Months (p 48)
- California State Auditor Reports on CDCR Malfeasance (p 48)
- Official Capacity Not the Same as Governmental Agency in Texas Civil Suit (p 49)
- News In Brief (p 50)
This year, September 9 will mark the 40th anniversary of the rebellion at Attica State Prison in upstate New York. As one of the prisoner leaders, L.D. Barkley, announced to the world, the rebellion was “but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.”
The sound of Attica was heard loud and clear, but the fury at the time was reserved to the assault force: several hundred violently angry white state police officers and prison guards who carried out the massacre that ended the rebellion on September 13, 1971, with 43 men dead. The fury of the oppressed themselves has been a work in progress since that time.
L.D. was one of many politically aware prisoners in New York and elsewhere who identified with the struggle for liberation world-wide, with consciousness growing out of the civil rights movement, the urban uprisings of the 60s, and the ideology and practices of Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party. This consciousness was given voice in the writings of George Jackson and Eldridge Cleaver, especially Soledad Brother and Soul on Ice, whose searing indictments of injustice, racism and cruelty in California prisons echoed across the country and inspired resistance.
A manifesto demanding reform had come out of California’s Folsom Prison in 1970 and made its way around the country and into Attica, and the prisoners there had delivered a manifesto of their own to New York state authorities, which was ignored, several months before the rebellion. George Jackson was assassinated at San Quentin on August 21, 1971; a few days later the prisoners at Attica staged a surprise protest at breakfast, during which nobody ate and nobody talked. The guards were stunned and unnerved at the unanimity of the protest action.
A number of the prisoners had been involved in previous, smaller rebellions at the Tombs jail in New York City and the state prison at Auburn. Various chapters of political groups on the outside had formed inside, including the Black Panther Party and the Puerto Rican Young Lords, and the Black Muslims had a large organized contingent at Attica as well as in all other New York state prisons at that time. Political literature flowed freely, and the groups were often able to gather in the exercise yards and at various work sites and other locales in the institution. Grievances against the guards, the administration and the system were many and widely shared, especially on the part of the Black and Latino prisoners who came mainly from New York City, and almost all the rest from other big city environments like Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester.
The entire staff at Attica at the time was white except for one Puerto Rican ...
by Dennis Cunningham, Michael Deutsch & Elizabeth Fink
On November 1, 1989, Oregon replaced its indeterminate parole matrix sentencing system with a determinate sentencing guideline system. Like similar shifts across the U.S., this was part of a “tough-on-crime” and “truth-in-sentencing” movement that required prisoners to serve at least 80% of their sentences.
Citing a 2009 report by the Pew Center on the States, the Oregon auditors noted that the national incarceration rate jumped from 207 prisoners per 100,000 residents in the 1980s to 506 per 100,000 residents in 2007. Between 1982 and 2007, prison and jail populations grew 274%, adding about 1.6 million prisoners. Likewise, state prison expenditures topped an estimated $47 billion nationwide in 2008 – a 300% increase since 1988.
Such costs are driving states to implement or increase sentence reduction programs, the auditors found. According to a 2009 National Conference of State Legislatures report, “at least 31 states had some form of earned time policy,” and “in 2009 alone, 19 pieces of legislation addressing earned time policies were enacted across 13 states, many of which ...
Early prison releases saved Oregon at least $25 million in 2009, according to an audit report by the Secretary of State’s office released in December 2010.
By the end of the 1980s, 43 state prison systems and countless county jails were under federal court consent decrees, injunctions or both in an attempt to bring American prison conditions into line with some semblance of humanity. That was a time when prisoners were experimented on for medical purposes. The Arkansas prison system employed 27 civilian employees while the “guards” were shotgun-toting prisoners riding herd on the rest. The prison and jail population was also a fraction of what it is today.
While judicial reform played an integral part in the major shifts that took place, and for the first time in ...
The modern era of prison reform in the United States was ushered in 40 years ago this month in a hail of blood and gunfire at Attica State Prison in New York. Afterwards the refrain was that every prison was Attica and Attica was every prison. Today it is hard to believe that former California governor Ronald Reagan would usher in family visits for prisoners, Jerry Brown on his first go-around as governor would sign into law an “Inmate Bill of Rights,” and federal law enforcement grants would be doled out to fund prisoner rights litigation clinics.
“Public opinion surveys report that 8 in 10 Americans support voting rights for persons who have completed their sentence and nearly two-thirds support voting rights for persons on probation or parole,” the report found. Such public support has resulted in legislative reforms across the nation, including nine states that repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws; three states that expanded voting rights to persons on parole or probation; eight states that eased the process for people seeking to have their voting rights restored; and three states that improved data and information sharing.
Litigation efforts related to restoration of voting rights have had mixed results. In January 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Washington’s ...
Since 1997, an estimated 800,000 former offenders have regained their voting rights as 23 states eased or eliminated felony disenfranchisement statutes and policies, according to a recent report by The Sentencing Project. Still, only seven states – Texas, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Maryland, Nebraska and Connecticut – accounted for 773,000, or 96.6%, of those re-enfranchised voters. See related articles in this issue of PLN concerning recent changes in Florida’s disenfranchisement rules and a Sixth Circuit ruling in a Tennessee voting rights case.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private-prison company, runs the Otter Creek Correctional Center (OCCC) in Wheelwright, Kentucky. The facility was a medium-security men’s prison until Indiana removed its male prisoners in 2005 following a riot several years earlier.
When CCA threatened to close OCCC in the fall of 2005, which would have resulted in the loss of local jobs, the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC) sent 400 female prisoners to the facility. More than 160 female prisoners from Hawaii soon joined them.
Inadequate Medical Care,
Problems at OCCC began almost immediately. OCCC prisoners regularly complained about inadequate medical care, including denial of access to treatment and medication shortages. Also, the number of grievances filed at OCCC was almost twice as high as at the state-run Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, and the CCA prison had a higher number of staff vacancies.
The Community Alliance on Prisons, a Hawaii-based organization that advocates for prisoners and their families, reported receiving numerous complaints from OCCC prisoners ...
Five years of staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse, inadequate medical care, security lapses and other problems finally forced Kentucky and Hawaiian officials to remove about 600 female prisoners from a privately-operated prison.
On August 9, 2011, Prison Legal News filed a federal lawsuit against Livingston County, Michigan and the county’s sheriff, Bob Bezotte, alleging First and Fourteenth Amendment violations due to improper censorship at the Livingston County Jail. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.
PLN claims that the county has “adopted and implemented written mail policies and practices that unconstitutionally restrict correspondence to prisoners via postcards only....” Livingston County is one of several jurisdictions that have adopted mail policies that only allow prisoners to send or receive correspondence via postcards. Such policies have been successfully challenged in other states. [See the article in this issue of PLN concerning a postcard policy at a jail in Boulder County, Colorado].
According to PLN’s complaint, PLN sent sample copies of its monthly publication, as well as a book titled Protecting Your Health and Safety, and subscription and book flyers, to fifty-six prisoners at the Livingston County Jail between January 17 and June 15, 2011. All of PLN’s correspondence was censored pursuant to the facility’s postcard-only policy.
The jail also censored legal mail sent to jail prisoners by Human Rights Defense Center attorney ...
He has cut its population by more than half.
He has stopped – so far, after several weeks under his new rules – its brutal “cell extractions” by guards of uncooperative prisoners. Extractions normally end with prisoners strapped into a restraint chair. There were 54 extractions in 2010 and 74 in 2009, the Department of Corrections says, and before publicity about them in recent years the annual number was in the hundreds.
Ponte also has ordered that a prisoner can’t be placed in the supermax for longer than 72 hours without his personal approval.
His approach to the supermax, while provoking grumbling from some staff at the Warren prison, is applauded by prisoner rights activists. To press on with reforms, Ponte has created a department-wide committee to which he has added representation from activists. The committee is being guided by the recommendations of a remarkably bold report commissioned last year by the legislature at the behest of activists.
“I’m holding all of their feet to the fire,” Ponte says of prison ...
Less than three months into his job, Maine’s new corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, has begun to dramatically reform the Maine State Prison’s long-troubled solitary confinement “supermax” unit.
After being convicted of drug offenses in 2003, Christina Chao, 31, was sent to SMCC.
Shortly thereafter she began having sex with prison ...
A Massachusetts federal jury has awarded $73,700 in damages to a woman who was repeatedly sexually assaulted while imprisoned at the South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC).
“The funds can be used for anything the governor determined to be a government service,” said Tony Anaya, head of the state office that tracks the use of federal stimulus dollars. “There are specific prohibitions. The money can’t be used for projects such as casinos, gaming, swimming pools.”
All of the stimulus funds must be spent by September 30, 2011. The money can be used to construct new buildings or renovate existing structures; it can also be used to create new jobs or fund existing jobs, but “can’t be used to fund a new position that would be ongoing unless there is going to be a new source of funding when the stimulus money ends,” according to Anaya.
Of the first $24.1 million spent from the ...
Like most other states, New Mexico received a large amount of federal money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Of the billions of dollars in stimulus funds, $260 million was earmarked as a “state fiscal stabilization fund” intended to plug holes in New Mexico’s budget. Other stimulus money was allocated for different uses, but close to $58 million was available for Governor Bill Richardson to spend at his discretion.
Tennessee law disenfranchises convicted felons but allows reinstatement of their voting rights upon completion of their sentence and satisfaction of certain conditions. In 2006, the Tennessee legislature passed an amendment to the disenfranchisement law that conditioned restoration of voting rights on the payment of outstanding victim restitution and child support obligations. Tenn.Code.Ann. § 40-29-202(b) and (c).
Terrence Johnson, Jim Harris and Joshua Roberts, convicted Tennessee felons, would have been eligible for reinstatement of their voting rights but for their outstanding restitution and/or child support obligations. Represented by the ACLU of Tennessee, they filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 financial obligation amendment. PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann was also a named plaintiff in the case, raising a due process claim related to a restitution order, but agreed to settle and regained his voting rights in 2008.
The district court granted the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), and the remaining plaintiffs appealed.
The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Tennessee statute that bars the restoration of voting rights to ex-felons who have outstanding restitution or child support obligations.
Charles Edward Byrd, while a pre-trial detainee in a minimum-security MCSO facility, sought relief for a cross-gender strip search conducted while he and other prisoners were clad in their boxer shorts. Byrd alleged that there were sufficient male guards available to perform the search, which involved a female police cadet “grab[ing] [his] balls and [his] scrotum.”
Byrd alleged in his complaint that the method of the search violated his “right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches, and [his] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to equal protection under the laws and substantive due process protection to be free from punishment.”
Maricopa County Special Response Team officers, responding to several fights and a suspicion of contraband, had ordered a search of a 90-bed housing unit where Byrd was held. Once the prisoners were lined up, four to six at a time were told to remove all of their clothing except for their thin, pink boxer shorts. Cadets from the detention office training ...
On January 5, 2011, the en banc Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a prisoner’s lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Two separate settlements totaling almost $60 million were approved between November 2010 and January 2011 for Cook County, Illinois jail prisoners who were strip searched before being released. Both settlements stemmed from federal court cases filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, one in 2004 and the other in 2006 ...
In January 2009, the Board circulated a document which adopted a mandatory, standardized process for psychologists to use in preparing Comprehensive Risk Assessments for lifer parole hearings. In May 2010 this writer petitioned the OAL for a determination that the Board’s “Psychological Report Process” consisted of “underground regulations” – i.e., rules of sufficiently general application that were invalid unless formally adopted pursuant to the state’s Administrative Procedure Act (APA). [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.28].
In November 2010, the OAL issued a determination holding that the challenged Psychological Report Process should have been adopted pursuant to the APA. Within a month of the OAL’s decision, the Board responded by proposing to add section 2240 to Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations. It was that proposed regulation which the OAL disapproved.
In its decision of disapproval, the OAL explained that the proposed regulation failed to meet the necessity and clarity standards of Government Code ...
In May 2011, California’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) disapproved a proposed regulation submitted by the Board of Parole Hearings intended to formalize procedures requiring Board psychologists to evaluate the risk for future violence of life-sentenced prisoners being considered for parole.
Joseph Wayne Eastridge and Joseph Nick Sousa, along with two co-defendants, were ...
The U.S. Department of Justice agreed in April 2011 to pay almost $1.9 million to two former prisoners wrongfully convicted of murder, who spent a combined 49 years in prison for a District of Columbia homicide.
The vote by the clemency board reversed the automatic restoration of civil rights for non-violent offenders that was put into effect in 2007 by the administration of former Governor Charlie Crist. Upholding a campaign promise, Crist changed a rule enacted during the Reconstruction era to prevent former slaves from voting and integrating into society. Almost two in 10 African Americans in Florida are ineligible to vote due to the state’s disenfranchisement rule.
According to the Florida Parole Commission, approximately 154,000 ex-offenders had their rights restored under the 2007 rule change despite insufficient funding for the Commission, which handles non-automatic restoration petitions. [See: PLN, July 2010, p.16]. Many Republicans were perturbed about Crist’s rule change because of ...
On March 9, 2011, Florida’s executive clemency board unanimously voted to make it more difficult for ex-felons to have their civil rights restored – including the right to vote, sit on a jury and hold public office. Rather than automatic restoration upon completing their sentence, ex-felons convicted of non-violent offenses will have to remain crime-free for five years before they can apply to regain their rights (seven years for violent offenders, who must also have a hearing before the board).
According to the suit, female employees at the Arizona State Prison-Florence and Central Arizona Correctional Facility were sexually harassed and assaulted by male staff members, and women who reported such incidents to supervisors faced retaliation.
The case has its origins in a sexual harassment complaint filed with the Arizona Civil Rights Division and the EEOC by a female GEO employee in June 2009. The lawsuit alleges that male staffers verbally and physically harassed female employees, such as grabbing and pinching a female employee, and forcing a female employee onto a desk and kissing and inappropriately touching her. The suit also alleges that GEO Group was aware of the harassment but failed to take steps to stop or prevent it.
The Arizona Attorney General’s office had previously investigated the complaints and filed suit. Under federal law, the EEOC may collect punitive and compensatory damages – remedies unavailable under Arizona state law. On April 11, 2011 the district ...
On September 29, 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against private prison firm GEO Group, alleging that the company and some of its male supervisors permitted a “sexual and sex-based hostile work environment” at two GEO-operated prisons in Florence, Arizona.
The story began developing in April 2011 after the indictment of Clayton County Deputy Alicia Nicole Parkes, who was charged with a felony for using a cellphone to videotape another employee in the bathroom. The sheriff’s office employee who reported the videotaping, LaDonna Williams, claimed she was fired when she refused to engage in a sexual encounter with Parkes and Sheriff Kem Kimbrough.
Williams, a high school dropout, said she did not qualify for her job at the sheriff’s office but Sheriff Kimbrough paid for her GED with county funds. When asked about that by a reporter, Kimbrough said he had “no idea” why the county paid for Williams’ GED.
“He heard that I had failed my test, but I was still allowed to work there. I failed my NCIC test, my GCIC,” said Williams. “The chief of staff told me that the only reason I was hired was because Sheriff Kimbrough wanted me.”
She began receiving personal advances shortly after being hired. “[The Sheriff] gave me a card ...
An employee at Georgia’s Clayton County Sheriff’s Office said she was fired because she refused to have a sexual threesome with the sheriff and a female deputy.
According to the suit, from January 2008 to May 2010, guards used Tasers at least 180 times on jail prisoners. Internal reviews found no wrongdoing by the guards, but the lawsuit claimed that stun guns were used in a “gratuitous and torturous” manner on prisoners who posed “no threat of violence or harm to themselves or others.”
A 24-year-old woman arrested for driving without a license, for example, was allegedly Tasered four times after she refused to be strip searched in front of male guards. “She was left lying naked, face down on the floor of her cell,” the suit stated. In another incident, a pregnant woman was allegedly Tasered after she was unable to remove a tongue ring because her hands were slippery. The woman had asked to use a paper towel; guards Tasered her and then let her use a paper towel.
The sheriff’s office argued in court filings that stun ...
On November 3, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to join a lawsuit filed by Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS) against the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, alleging “excessive, cruel, and inhumane” use of stun guns at the Franklin County Jail.
The prisoners had sought to represent a class of over 6,000 parole-eligible men and women incarcerated for violent offenses committed before January 1, 1995, when Virginia’s General Assembly abolished parole. They contended that the Virginia Parole Board had adopted practices subsequent to January 1, 1995 that deprived them of a “fair and meaningful opportunity” to be considered for parole.
The district court granted the defendant Parole Board members’ motion to dismiss the suit under Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6). In so ruling, the court found that statistics with respect to parole release, as well as the changes related to the Board’s practices and procedures, were essentially irrelevant as a matter of law.
The district court held that neither the Constitution nor Virginia law created a liberty interest in release on parole protected by the federal due process clause. In regard to parole consideration (as opposed to release), on the other hand, the court found that the prisoners’ limited federal liberty ...
On October 25, 2010, a federal district court dismissed a complaint brought by eleven Virginia Department of Corrections prisoners who alleged due process and ex post facto violations with respect to their parole hearings.
Central to this new hiring initiative has been the removal of questions about an individual’s criminal history from initial job applications, and the deferral of criminal background checks until the final hiring stage. Such changes, known as “Ban the Box,” follow studies that indicate it is sound employment policy to hire ex-felons.
Chicago, Boston and San Francisco took the first steps to abandon practices that often barred former offenders from municipal jobs. Boston, for example, has a nondiscrimination law that covers municipal hiring and hiring by companies that do business with the city. Criminal record reviews are not conducted except for police, child care workers, teachers, disabled care workers and other sensitive positions. In such cases the background check comes near the end of the employment process, just before the applicant is hired. If the job offer is withdrawn due to a criminal record the applicant may challenge the decision not to hire.
Other cities that have taken steps to improve their hiring policies to accommodate ...
More than 25 cities and counties have taken steps to remove unfair barriers in their employment practices relative to hiring ex-offenders, according to a resource guide produced by the National Employment Law Project.
A $500,000 settlement has been reached in a lawsuit stemming from the 2006 suicide of an 18-year-old Florida prisoner. The suit was filed by the parents and estate of Aleshia Napier against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), two private medical contractors and a prison psychiatrist.
When Eugene Robinson saw his photo in the Week’s Most Wanted section of the Philadelphia Daily News on August 4 ...
The City of Philadelphia has agreed to pay $85,000 to a man who was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned for a year for a crime he didn’t commit.
The motion was filed pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412, and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. According to Defontes’ pleading, the EAJA “waives sovereign immunity and permits the Court to award ... attorneys fees and costs ... if it finds that: 1) the government has acted in bad faith, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons in the conduct of this litigation, or 2) the government’s position on the merits of the case was not substantially justified ... [and] the Court may award fees pursuant to section 1927 based on a finding that government’s counsel has unreasonably multiplied the expense of these proceedings or acted in bad faith ...
In an unusual case, Nicole Michelle Defontes is seeking nearly $280,000 in “attorney’s fees, expert fees, and costs to challenge the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) violations of its own rules and regulations,” according to a motion filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Named as defendants in Defontes’ legal action were John T. Rathman, the warden of the Federal Detention Center (FDC) in Miami; Carlos Rodriguez, Community Corrections Manager for the Southern District of Florida; and then-BOP Director Harley Lappin.
There is a glut of foreclosed houses throughout the nation due to the economic downturn. Sales of many of the homes were delayed by problems with documentation and improper signing of foreclosure documents, causing the inventory of foreclosed properties to grow. That, in turn, has increased the pressure on lending institutions to quickly process foreclosed homes to get them back on the market.
Apparently using prisoners is one way to accomplish that goal, despite the fact that prison labor takes jobs away from non-incarcerated workers at a time when the national unemployment rate is around 10 percent. The city of Lakeland, Georgia is also reportedly using prison labor to construct a city call and police building.
Sources: www.homeforeclosuressale.com, www.workers.org
According to several October 2010 news reports, foreclosed homes in Covington and Newton County, Georgia were being cleaned by prisoners. It was not mentioned whether the prisoners came from local jails or state prisons, but the reports referenced the use of “prison labor.” One local newspaper opposed the idea, though others viewed it as banks taking advantage of a cheap source of labor to process vacant homes.
Article IV § 9(a) of Pennsylvania’s constitution authorizes the governor to commute or pardon a prisoner. Such authority is exercised upon a recommendation of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons under Article IV § 9(b). Prior to 1997, § 9(a) authorized a recommendation upon a majority vote.
In 1994 the governor commuted Reginald McFadden’s life sentence for murdering a 67-year-old woman, upon a majority vote of the Board of Pardons. Just 92 days after his release, McFadden raped and murdered another woman. He also murdered a man and a 78-year-old woman.
In the wake of McFadden’s carnage, Pennsylvania voters amended the state constitution to require a unanimous vote on commutation and pardon recommendations; the amendment also required that the Board’s membership include a crime victim.
The constitutional amendment took effect on November 4, 1997. Eight days later, the Pennsylvania Prison Society and other plaintiffs challenged the amendment in federal court.
On March 13, 2006, the district court held “that the new requirement of Board unanimity in recommending pardons for prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment ... violated the Ex ...
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Pennsylvania law requiring a unanimous vote on pardon and commutation recommendations.
In January 2011, Gail Hanson was reinstated as a volunteer chaplain at the Cameron County Jail in Brownsville, Texas. She had been banned from the facility after she publicly criticized conditions at the jail, and her reinstatement was part of a settlement in a civil rights lawsuit against the county ...
The 14-count complaint includes causes of action against YSI, two counselors at Thompson Academy, the facility administrator and FDJJ’s Secretary. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for failure to protect juveniles from harm, violation of their right to court access, retaliation, denial of due process, denial of necessary medical care, and denial of adequate and nutritious meals, plus declaratory relief and damages for incidents involving “Staff-on-Youth Sexual Assault.”
In the latter regard, a 14-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by a male counselor at the facility, twice. According to a news report, attorneys for the YSI defendants claimed that if such sexual encounters had occurred they were consensual, because “the teenager was gay and enjoyed performing oral sex on the counselor.”
The defendants argued they were entitled to a protective gag order due to actions by the plaintiffs or their counsel that “saturated the media” with information ...
A Florida federal district court has denied a motion for a protective order filed by the defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought by five current or former residents of Thompson Academy, a juvenile facility managed by Youth Services International, Inc. (YSI) with funding from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ).
On January 12, 2011, a Texas federal court approved a $4.5 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit involving suspicionless strip searches of people booked into the Bexar County Detention Center (BCDC) in San Antonio, Texas for minor offenses. The settlement will award between $100 and $1,000 to ...
Speeding up Florida’s execution machinery is a top priority for state House Speaker Dean Cannon. Cannon’s efforts to achieve that goal have included abolishing a commission that oversees death penalty cases and trying to reorganize the state’s Supreme Court.
Most unexpected in the 2011 legislative session was the abolishment of the Florida Commission on Capital Cases. The agency, which compiles detailed case status information on death row prisoners, maintains a website that has attracted 800,000 visitors. The Commission also provides Continuing Legal Education (CLE) classes for capital case defense attorneys, and supplies the governor’s office with information about condemned prisoners who have exhausted their appeals and are eligible for death warrants.
The Commission on Capital Cases had five employees and a $370,000 budget. At a May 5, 2011 Appropriations Committee meeting on a budget conforming bill late in the legislative session, the Committee passed a Cannon-sponsored provision to repeal the state law that created the Commission, thereby abolishing the agency. There were no previous discussions or hearings on the provision.
Cannon’s plan to speed up executions – he noted that more death row prisoners die of natural causes than by ...
by David M. Reutter
In 1987, Clifford Newman was convicted of several sex offenses and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Despite losing all of his appeals he continued to maintain his innocence.
In 2000, Pennsylvania enacted a law making parole eligibility for sex offenders contingent upon completion of a sex offender program (SOP) offered by the Department of Corrections (DOC). See: 42 Pa.Cons.Stat.Ann. §§ 9718.1(a) & (b)(1)(ii). The DOC has complete discretion over the content and operation of the program.
Newman claimed that he was ineligible for SOP participation because he refused to admit his guilt. As a result, he was denied parole in 2007.
He then filed a federal lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Parole Board, challenging the SOP parole requirement. The district court granted the Board’s motion to dismiss and Newman appealed.
The Third Circuit first addressed Newman’s claim that the Board “violated his First Amendment rights by requiring him ‘to state a belief that he does not hold to be true’ – i.e., his guilt – in order to obtain parole.” The appellate ...
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a sex offender treatment requirement did not violate a Pennsylvania prisoner’s constitutional rights.
In 2007, Joseph Lyons, 42, was serving a larceny sentence at a Jackson, Michigan prison. He was forced to share a cell with Vernard “Bone” Meadows, 31 ...
The State of Michigan has agreed to pay a prisoner $100,000 to settle a failure to protect lawsuit filed in federal court.
The problem stems from the Jimmy Ryce Act, which established the civil commitment process and created the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) in rural Arcadia. Civilly committed sex offenders and those awaiting commitment trials are detained at FCCC.
The law allows the state to file a civil commitment petition before a sex offender’s sentence expires. If a petition is filed, instead of being released the sex offender is transferred to FCCC to await a civil commitment trial, which must take place in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred. While the law requires a trial within 30 days, court-appointed defense attorneys often waive the time limit because it takes more time to find experts to testify on their clients’ behalf.
“Once the right to the thirty-day trial is waived, however, these proceedings often seem to take many years,” stated Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeals, which ...
Florida sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences may face a legal morass that leaves them stuck in indefinite detention while awaiting trial on whether they should be civilly committed. During such pre-trial detention they receive little to no treatment, and thus cannot earn their release by completing the civil commitment program.
On August 27, 2010, North Carolina’s Supreme Court reversed a grant of habeas corpus relief to a prisoner serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, holding that prison officials acted properly in withholding various good time credits accumulated against his sentence.
Alford Jones, convicted in 1975, is one of a group of prisoners who committed first-degree murder between April 8, 1974 and June 30, 1978. Relying upon the ruling in State v. Bowden, 668 S.E.2d 107 (N.C. App. 2008), Jones argued that his life sentence was statutorily defined as a sentence of eighty years.
The Wayne County Superior Court reviewed Jones’ habeas petition and agreed that he was entitled to be awarded good time, gain time and merit time by the North Carolina Department of Correction (NCDOC). The court concluded that Jones had served the entirety of his sentence once the credits were applied, and ordered his release. [See: PLN, May 2010, p.34].
On review, the Supreme Court agreed that the state law at issue, N.C.G.S. § 14-2 (Cum. Supp 1974), provides that a “sentence of life imprisonment” is “a term of 80 years in the state’s prison ...
by David M. Reutter
Ralph Kosbruk, 44, was convicted of sexually abusing a minor in 2005, according to the Alaska Department of Public Safety’s sex offender registry. On January 1, 2011, he was booked into the Anchorage Correctional Center East for an undisclosed parole violation.
Just hours later Kosbruk leaped to his death from a second-tier balcony, stated Department of Corrections (DOC) spokesman Richard Schmitz. An autopsy was requested even though foul play was not suspected.
Kosbruk became the fifth prisoner to commit suicide by jumping from heights inside Alaskan correctional facilities since the state began keeping such statistics in 1984, according to Laura Brooks, the DOC’s director of behavioral health. Kosbruk’s suicide is at least the second such incident in less than three years. In October 2008, a 46-year-old man jumped to his death from a second-story catwalk at the jail.
Citing medical privacy laws, Brooks would not reveal how Kosbruk responded to an initial suicide screening when he was booked into the facility.
“I can tell you that if someone came in and made statements that raise any kind of suspicion, they ...
Just hours after being arrested, an Alaskan parole violator jumped to his death inside an Anchorage jail.
The suit was filed in June 2010 by former prisoner Frank Baldwin, who claimed that he spent months in a cellblock with detainee ...
The defendants in a lawsuit related to a tuberculosis (TB) outbreak at North Carolina’s Brunswick County jail have agreed to settle the case for $2,250.
“We think there was about $10 million worth of business done during this high risk period,” said Balderas. “What we’re concerned with right now is bid rigging, possible collusion from a former state employee and potential extensive billing. The competitive bidding process might have been bypassed or manipulated.”
According to Balderas, the contracts involved work on roofs, water systems and perhaps security cameras as well as basic maintenance in and around state prisons.Williams said at least one former DOC employee may have violated the rules in regard to contracts involving three companies. “We want an objective evaluation of the matter, which is why we contacted the state auditor,” he said.
As it turned out, Williams was right. The audit results, released in June 2011, implicated former DOC facility manager Lauri Chapman in a ...
On November 12, 2010, New Mexico State Auditor Hector Balderas revealed that his office was investigating whether a former state prison employee violated rules when awarding construction and maintenance contracts to three vendors between 2007 and 2010. Balderas said New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Joe Williams contacted him after questionable contracts and transactions were discovered, and asked him to fully investigate the situation.
Citing $12 million in annual savings, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WDOC) has closed the 1,200-bed McNeil Island Corrections Center. A 2009 audit, however, found there would be no actual savings because it would cost the same amount to continue operating the island’s civil commitment center.
With the McNeil Island prison’s April 2010 closure, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will need an additional $12 million to continue housing 280 sex offenders at the Special Commitment Center (SCC) on the island. That is the estimated amount required to run the ferry, provide fire protection and operate the water treatment plant for the SCC, according to the audit.
Most of those duties had been provided by 150 minimum-security McNeil Island prisoners, who earned 42 cents an hour as virtual slave laborers. Lawmakers gave DSHS $5.6 million to fill 32 to 35 job positions to compensate for the loss of the prisoner labor.
SCC’s director was uncertain if those funds would be sufficient to continue operating the civil commitment center. “We’ll see,” said Kelly Cunningham. “It’s what I’m working with. There’s no way to determine what ...
by David M. Reutter
The incident began with an anonymous snitch note that claimed someone had smuggled a homemade zip gun into the prison in a stereo, which arrived via a package and passed an X-ray scan. Another note after the stereo was delivered resulted in the warden placing the facility on lockdown.
When the prison workers’ union threatened to invoke a refusal-to-work provision in the Canadian Labour Code due to security concerns, the warden sent in a specialized tactical unit in full riot gear. Sapers’ report cited videotaped evidence that the team used automatic rifles with laser sights, handguns, and physical and chemical restraints in an “intimidating, overwhelming and provocative display of force.”
The tactical team leader filed daily reports that described the prisoners as being “verbally resistant/physically uncooperative.” Sapers found those reports to be lies that were refuted by the videos. “Indeed, if anything, the inmates are seen to ...
In January 2010, a Canadian prison tactical unit held prisoners at gunpoint during a search of British Columbia’s Kent Institution. “For 10 days, this team followed its own rules of engagement with almost complete impunity,” stated a report by federal correctional investigator Howard Sapers. “It operated in a virtual management vacuum.”
Since then, predictably, a black market for tobacco has thrived. Some prisoners reportedly make as much as $4,000 a month from selling contraband tobacco.
In August 2010, the DOC decided to partially lift its smoking ban by authorizing smoking at twelve minimum-security prisons. Smoking remains restricted at higher security facilities.
The decision to modify the smoking ban resulted from a reassessment of the health care costs associated with smoking by minimum-security prisoners.
According to Jerry Massie, a spokesperson for the DOC, smoking by minimum-security prisoners does not significantly increase health care costs because such prisoners generally are not incarcerated for long.
Massie also indicated that guards had more important things to do than chase down smokers. “We’re short-staffed. Do we want to spend time chasing tobacco around the yards?” he said. Not mentioned was how many DOC employees had been caught smuggling tobacco into the prison system since the smoking ban began.
Massie denied claims that the DOC decided to lift the ban in order to ...
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) has partially reversed its six-year-old smoking ban. Citing increased prisoner health care costs caused by smoking, the DOC banned cigarettes in all its facilities in 2004.
Following remand from the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Pierce v. County of Orange, 525 F.3d 1190 (9th Cir. 2008) [PLN, Feb. 2009, p.34], U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins held on January 7, 2011 that mobility- and dexterity-impaired pretrial detainees in Orange County jails faced discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq. Judge Collins ordered the county to create a plan to remedy those violations, which were found to be sufficiently widespread as to justify system-wide relief.
In 2001, Timothy Conn filed a class-action suit, along with other detainees, alleging that Orange County jail facilities did not provide reasonable accommodations to disabled prisoners and that, as a consequence, such prisoners were excluded from programs, activities and services available to non-disabled detainees.
Conn has severely clubbed hands, no mobility in his lower body and only limited use of his upper body. Classified as a paraplegic or incomplete quadriplegic, he is confined to a wheelchair. The district court rejected the county’s attempt to limit the class to prisoners with disabilities precisely matching Conn’s, as opposed to the more broadly ...
by Mike Brodheim
“This poor woman had two valves diseased, both of them stressing her heart out, giving her heart failure,” said Dr. Sanjiv Kaul, head of cardiovascular medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), speaking of Katherine Anderson, a 31-year-old Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) prisoner. “Any person with decent common sense ...
Clifford Linebarger, 29, was arrested at a local dentist’s office after a ...
The Board of Supervisors for Pima County, Arizona has agreed to pay $325,000 to a former prisoner for injuries he received in a beating by jail guards that resulted in blood clots and a heart attack.
Susan Rosenberg was raised on the 1950s anti-segregation movement, became an activist within the 1960s anti-war movement, and believed in armed resistance throughout the 1970s global liberation movement. March 8, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of breaking into a Pennsylvania FBI office and discovering the phrase COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) – a government project being used to systematically destroy the American civil rights movement. By the 1980s, Rosenberg was on the COINTELPRO-inspired short-list; a list that, over the years, included many who were assassinated, imprisoned or forced into exile.
Susan Rosenberg’s memoir, An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country, is a bit more than reflections from prison by a former member of the Weather Underground. To be blunt, it is the story of a 1970s activist who was neither assassinated nor outgrew her “idealistic youth.” She was punished, made an example of, and had her soul suspended in a prison gulag for 16 years. More than anything, this book is honest. Being sentenced to 58 years for mere possession of weapons is enough to make anyone question their tactics and associations.
Having spent 12 years in prison myself, this book speaks to many of ...
Book review by Bruce Reilly
The U.S. military is one of UNICOR’s top customers; in addition to making furniture, clothing and other equipment for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), UNICOR has received numerous military contracts over the years. Apparently the Army has not been deterred by the recall of 44,000 UNICOR-manufactured combat helmets in May 2010 after they failed ballistic testing. [See: PLN, Jan. 2011, p.20].
The Army’s current order in the no-bid UNICOR contract is for the manufacture of bulletproof “outer tactical vests,” apparently to be supplied to Pakistani military authorities.
The UNICOR plant at the federal prison in Yazoo City, Mississippi is slated to produce the vests. At that facility, UNICOR prisoners earn from $.23 to $1.15 per hour. Approximately 70 BOP prisons employ around 20,000 prisoners in industry programs. On its website UNICOR touts the fact that it manufactures five different types of body armor, which cost between $170 and $325 each.
UNICOR also claims that it has supplied parts for F-15 ...
On March 9, 2011, the U.S. Army announced that it had awarded a $20 million no-bid contract to Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, to fulfill an order for body armor.
In an effort to deal with the depressed economy, Congress approved a federal stimulus package in 2009. As part of the stimulus $139 million was set aside to help combat violence against women. Of that amount, California received $13.2 million, which in turn was doled out to counties by the California Emergency Management Agency.
San Diego County applied for $258,590 in grant money. Its application was approved on the condition that it provide $86,197 in matching funds. The money was intended to pay for a probation officer to monitor sex offenders, staff to assist the additional officer, 20 new GPS monitoring systems, training and supplies, plus services for victims of crime – specifically housing, child care, transportation and counseling. Under the terms of the stimulus funds, those services were to be delivered between October ...
According to an internal audit disclosed in November 2010, the San Diego County Probation Department did not allocate federal stimulus funds for the purposes intended under the terms of the stimulus program. The good news is that the audit seems to have served its intended function; after release of the audit findings, the probation department adjusted its practices to increase its level of compliance.
Melissa E. Poche, 55, was homeless when she was arrested in July 2009 on four misdemeanors. Deciding the arrest was punishment enough, the District Attorney’s office dropped the charges; the resulting paperwork, however, showed that only one charge had been dropped.
“Our intent was not to file formal charges against her,” said District Attorney Hillar Moore. “That’s what we thought we did, but apparently we didn’t.”
As a result, Poche was lost in the system. The Baton Rouge jail sent her to the East Carroll Parish jail. When that jail became overcrowded, she was sent back to Baton Rouge. Because she had no money she was unable to make bond.
Meanwhile, Poche’s family was looking for her and even filed a missing person report. They finally located her by running an Internet search that found her name on a jail population list. Their ...
A paperwork error was blamed for a schizophrenic and bipolar woman being held in Louisiana jails for eight months even though the charges against her were dropped and she had not been appointed an attorney. Louisiana state law requires that prisoners be released if they are not appointed an attorney within 72 hours.
Of the eight substantiated allegations during that time period, three involved the CDCR.
The auditor’s report, issued pursuant to the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act, also provided an update on previously-reported investigations. Of the 12 previous investigations updated in the report, four involved the CDCR.
The Whistleblower Protection Act defines improper governmental activity as any action by a state agency or employee, during the performance of official duties, that violates any state or federal law or regulation; that is economically wasteful; or that involves gross misconduct, incompetence or inefficiency. Under the Act, the Bureau of State Audits is empowered to conduct investigations; however, it has no enforcement powers. The Bureau maintains a whistleblower hotline so state employees and members of the public can report suspected improper governmental activities confidentially.
When an allegation of improper activity is substantiated, the Bureau forwards the details to the head of the state agency, who in turn ...
In January 2011, the California State Auditor presented an investigative report to the governor and legislative leaders that summarized substantiated allegations of improper activities involving several state agencies, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The reported investigations were completed between January and June 2010.
On June 24, 2010, a Texas Court of Appeals held that suing employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) in both their official and individual capacities was not the same as suing both the governmental entity and the employees, and thus the employees did not have to be dismissed from the lawsuit.
Robert Hampton, a Texas state prisoner, filed suit in state district court under the Texas Theft Liability Act, common law conversion, and state and federal constitutional provisions against unlawful taking and denial of due process after TDCJ employees removed $710 from his prison trust account.
Hampton had been found guilty of the disciplinary offense of “trafficking and trading.” From the beginning of the investigation into Hampton’s activities, prison officials froze $710 in Hampton’s trust account so that those funds were unavailable for his use. Many months later, when Hampton filed a grievance over the unavailability of the funds, prison officials replied that he had forfeited the money due to his trafficking and trading offense.
Prison officials apparently believed that because a relative of another prisoner had placed the $710 into his trust account, the money was in payment for goods that ...
by Matt Clarke
California: On May 20, 2011, a riot at CSP-Sacramento sent six prisoners to outside hospitals. The incident reportedly involved around 150 prisoners who began fighting in a rec yard; the brawl ended after guards used pepper spray and fired a warning shot. At least two prisoners were treated for serious stab wounds, including one who required surgery. There were “dozens” of other injuries according to a prison official. Two days later more than 180 prisoners rioted at San Quentin State Prison, resulting in four being hospitalized with stab ...
Arizona: A Maricopa County deputy and two jail guards were arrested in May 2011 and charged with drug offenses, money laundering and human trafficking. One of the guards, Marcella Hernandez, said she was pregnant with the child of Francisco Arce-Torres, an alleged member of the Mexican Sinaloa cartel. Hernandez and the other jail guard, Sylvia Hajera, as well as deputy Ruben Navarette, face felony charges related to drug smuggling and trafficking illegal immigrants from Arizona to California. According to a news report, Navarette was previously assigned to the Sheriff’s human trafficking unit and was cross-trained as a federal immigration agent. Nine other people were busted during the drug and trafficking investigation.